The Battle of Tolentino > Arms-Strategies

INFANTRY

The infantry corps during the Napoleonic period was divided into two basic types: (1) line infantry troops; (2) light infantry troops.

Foto di un fucile modello 1798

LINE INFANTRY

Line infantry troops could have three formations, according to the purpose they were used for: (1) Line (for firing); (2) Column (for attacking); (3) Square (for defending the cavalry). Line infantry troops were the core of footmen; they always fought in close formations which were accurately drawn up and kept strictly aligned by Officers or Corporals, so as to be effective during the fight. The line was so called because it was formed ranging all its components in three rows which were half a metre far from one another; the first row used to fire after kneeling down, the second standing behind the first, the third in the gaps between the soldiers of the second row. This kind of formation allowed the maximum of both action and fire, provided ranks were accurately dressed. Alignment was extremely important and required such a long time to be achieved that, even if the line of fire had to be slightly altered, it was preferred to move the whole unit in the chosen direction and then realign it; all of this made the formation rather stiff and difficult to move; actually, it was only able to move forward at extremely low speed. On the other hand, the amount of fire the line was able to develop was amazing; fire had to be ordered and could be made in different ways: by volleys of bullets fired either by the whole unit or by the line, or by continuous fire (in this case only the first two rows fired, while the one at the back reloaded and passed arms). A battalion (with its eight companies ranged in line one next to the other, presented a 160 m front) was about 3 m deep and was able to fire over 3,000 shots a minute on the enemy troops. It was the common formation for attacking and presented a front of only two companies (45/50 m), always dressed in three rows, and a depth of three companies (20 m). The column was able to change its direction and advance faster, offering the enemy fire a smaller target for a shorter time, and pushing against the enemy line with all its mass and speed. On the other hand, its ability to fire was very reduced, because only the head companies were able to shoot, and also because bayonet charges were often preferred to firing. Attack was nearly always made by means of parallel columns preceded by companies of light infantry in scrambled order; they had the task of acting as a shield and of disturbing the enemy with their fire. In this case the advancing columns were opportunely spaced to let the light troops withdraw in the intervals before the final charge and position themselves in line. We have already talked about two formations that were extremely easy to attack by the cavalry, which was able to rout and disarrange them in only one charge; in this case, it was necessary to adopt a close square formation (rightly called square) whose sides were all fronts. Actually, this formation was unable to move, but it presented the enemy with a thick, impenetrable mass of bayonets. The squares were ranged in a chessboard and suitably oriented, so that the enemy cavalry would be pushed back by the bayonets and canalized in the so-called "destruction corridors", where they would be submitted to a lethal cross-fire. A square might be composed of a total number of 800 soldiers. One of the biggest tactical mistakes Murat and his generals made was ordering the Neapolitan army to form the squares during the battle of Tolentino. The French revolutionary armies had also introduced a fourth formation, which was called "l'ordre mixte"; it was a combination of line and column. It was made by at least three battalions: the one in the centre was dressed in line, the other two were ranged in column. Such a formation had the advantages of both formations, because it had the striking power of the columns and, at the same time, it submitted the enemy to a continuous fire, which weakened its defence, until armies clashed. If a small group of infantrymen was isolated and had to defend themselves from the attacks of the enemy cavalry, they used to range in hedgehog formation, that is in a circle, turning their backs on one another and using bayonets to push back enemy charges. Light infantry could be used in formations similar to the line, but it could also be employed in scrambled order as a movable shield, to back up ranging, aligning and approaching line troops; it could also be used to disturb similar line operations on the enemy's side. To achieve that purpose, lightly built and agile men were assigned to light infantry; they were also trained for firing on targets, which line infantrymen were not trained for. Riflemen detachments, which both the Russian and the Austrian armies had got, and which the French army hadn't, were composed of marksmen who had rifled arms of great range and precision. They were used in scrambled order, in pairs, or in quartets, far from one another both to avoid becoming targets for artillery and to defend themselves with bayonets from cavalry attacks. The marksmen's main task was to shoot artillery gunners, trucks, enemy commanders and officers that were ranging the troops.


ARTILLERY


Field artillery was transported during campaigns and was divided into: (1) foot artillery; (2) horse artillery. In field foot artillery all the piece attachés, called gunners, marched near the cannons. In field horse artillery the piece of artillery was loaded either on dragging horses or on caissons and gun-carriage. These batteries had a greater mobility and could be used in several places during the same battle, so that it was much more difficult for enemies to capture them. Artillery pieces were of different kinds: 12.8 and 6 lb guns (corresponding to the weight of the iron cannonballs they shot) and howitzers, which were usually classified according to their calibre. Gun munitions were of two types: (1) iron balls; (2) grape-shot boxes. Iron balls could perform either direct shots on targets or rebound shots, which were possible on hard ground and allowed to increase range using the rebounds of the ball. Furthermore, every time the ball crashed into the ground, it showered the surrounding enemies with stones and fragments that wounded them. The grape-shot box was a special box full of musket balls that transformed the piece in a big rifle whose shot had devastating effects on closely ranged troops and on cavalry charges. The howitzers, besides the above-mentioned munitions, were able to shoot grenades in parabolas (grenades were big empty iron balls full of gunpowder, which exploded either in air or on impact thanks to a quick-match that was used as a rough fuse). A French 8 lb cannon was able to shoot a ball at a maximun of 1,500 m or of 800 m with a straight shot; a grape-shot range arrived as far as 450 m; one cannon needed 13 gunners. A rebound shot was able to increase the range of the 50/70%.

CAVALRY
Foto di una pistola da cavalleria modello 1798
The army cavalry corps during the Napoleonic period were divided into two basic types:
(1) light cavalry;
(2) line cavalry.
Light cavalry was used for exploring, for raiding and for pursuing enemies. It was composed of lightly-built men and it had to enter the battlefield whenever a sudden intervention was needed either to protect infantrymen or to reverse negative phases in the combat. Line cavalry was used as a crushing force in battles where sidearms were employed; infantrymen had to range in square formations before facing the terrible impact of cavalry charges.

The infantry corps during the napoleonic period was divided into two basic types: line infantry troops and light infantry ones.

Line infantry troops could have three formations, according to the purpose they were used for: LINE FORMATION (for firing), COLUMN (for attacking) and SRUARE (for defending the cavalry)

LINE FORMATION
Line infantry troops were the core of footmen; they always fought in close formations, which were accurately drawn up and yept aligned by Officers or Corporals, so as to be effective during the fight. The Line was so called because it was formed ranging all its components on three lines which were 1 ½ m far from one another; the first line used to fire after kneeling down, the second standing behind the first, the third standing behind the other two, in the gaps between the soldiers of the second line.
This kind of formation allowed the maximum of both actir and fire provided rants were perfectly dressed.
Alignment was extremely important and required such a long time to be achieved, that even if the line of fire had to be slightly altered, it was preferred to move the whole grey in the chosen direction and then, realign all of this made the formation rather stiff and most easily movable; actually, it was only able to move forward as extremely low speed.

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