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Waterloo section strength :

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Waterloo section strength :

Postby Iain » October 28th, 2016, 5:58 pm

Hi All ! Some tactics !

I would like to be contradicted relative to The Guards Brigade section-strength and deployment at Waterloo. In particular, the Light Companies: (for my Guards friends on Facebook, I'm talking about Left Flank 2SG at the Hougoumont farm)

I’m judging the following theory relative to one simple fact…, the fact that bivouacs were composed of two blankets, 2 muskets, 4 bayonets and 4 soldiers.

As usual, my research is related to Matthew Clay and his activities on the 17th and the 18th.
His ‘Old Soldier’ at the time was as you all know, Robert Gann…, and in his narrative, he also mentions a few close mates who died or were wounded. Obviously half-section mates of his !

In today’s Brigade, a section is based on 7 Guardsmen ! This of course is a formation composed of an NCO commander, a corporal and 5 men. This formation has a tactical strategy with 3 sections making up a platoon.
But in 1815, right and left flanking etc., was an unknown tactic and to determine a section strength, I’m basing my theory on a simple bivouac. Lol…
Looks too simple to consider; but nonetheless, ‘ça coule de source’!

Clay mentions that on arriving at the Mont St. Jean Ridge, the Company was sectioned off in fours. (as above ‘using two blankets;’ while the other two soldiers kept their blankets rolled and ready for action whenever needed)
As such and instead of seven per section, it wouldn’t be too fanciful to imagine a section of EIGHT ? Including an NCO.

Today’s Guard duty…- Two on – two off. (not just in hours; but also confirming Clays’ writings at Quatre Bras when he was with Robert Gann. (Gann kept watch, while Clay fetched water) Also…, this is typical of today’s guard duty, either on active service or in front of Buckingham Palace.
What’s more, keeping up a steady musket fire of 3-per minute, a double buddy-buddy system would certainly have kept the enemys’ heads down.

I love contradictions…, lol.
Sections of EIGHT ? Yes or no ????

Kind Regards…, Iain.
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Re: Waterloo section strength :

Postby jf42 » October 28th, 2016, 10:17 pm

Sections of eight- tactically? No.

British infantry operated in files of two men, who would march and fire as a basic tactcal unit and could conveniently mess together and share blankets in bivouac or, as you describe, be combined into a section of four for that purpose. Other than that, informal organisation for messing in the field was separate from organising for action in battle.

I am not sure about the Guards but generally speaking, for action infantry battalions were subdivided into divisions or or platoons; the infantry company being essentially an administrative unit for mustering, pay and supply.
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Re: Waterloo section strength :

Postby Andrew » October 30th, 2016, 6:35 am

From Dundas, quoted in Rogers' Wellington's Army;

'The company is formed three deep...Each company is a platoon...Each company forms two subdivisions, and also four sections. But as sections should never be less than five files, it will happen when the companies are weak that they can only (for the purpose of march) form three sections.

'The battalion is in ten companies; 1 Grenadier, 8 Battalion, 1 Light. The eight battalion companies will comprise four grand divisions; eight companies or platoons; sixteen subdivisions; thirty two sections, when sufficiently strong to be so subdivided, otherwise twenty-four or the purpose of march. The battalion is also divided into right and left wings. - When the battalion is at war establishment each company will be divided into two platoons. - When the ten companies are with the battalion, they may then, for the purpose of firing and deploying, be divided into five grand divisions.'

Rogers says that 'the last phrase was in reference to the prevalent custom, at the time that Dundas wrote his Rules and Regulations, of taking the flank companies (the light and grenadier companies) away from their regiments and forming them into light infantry and grenadier battalions respectively.'

Therefore, from my calculations, a section comprised of a minimum of five files of three men; fifteen men; but could go up to about twenty depending on the actual strength of the battalion.

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Re: Waterloo section strength :

Postby Iain » November 3rd, 2016, 7:16 am

JF and Andrew…, sorry for my absence. The Forum didn’t warn me of your answers.

Very interesting, although confusing in places. (“each company is a platoon” and “eight battalion companies”)

From your calculation Andrew, “a section being 5 x 3 men” seems tactically logical…, but slightly illogical when it boils down to a 4-man bivouac.
Then again, there were so many deaths and stragglers in those days that one more man would allow them to adapt immediately to any situation.

Clay was certainly with Gann as a ‘duo’ due to his total admiration for the bloke. But with him mentioning that he and Philpot (later killed) guarded the south gate together, that could indicate a three-man team.

In the meantime and basing my philosophy around the precious bivouac, I’m inclined to opt for JF’s “files of two.”
What’s more, although slightly fantasy for 1815, this would relate lovely to today’s ‘buddy-buddy’ tactics. ;) (one providing covering fire while the other advances)

Thanks to both of you…, Iain.
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Re: Waterloo section strength :

Postby Andrew » November 4th, 2016, 12:28 pm

Iain wrote:JF and Andrew…, sorry for my absence. The Forum didn’t warn me of your answers.

Very interesting, although confusing in places. (“each company is a platoon” and “eight battalion companies”)

From your calculation Andrew, “a section being 5 x 3 men” seems tactically logical…, but slightly illogical when it boils down to a 4-man bivouac.
Then again, there were so many deaths and stragglers in those days that one more man would allow them to adapt immediately to any situation.

Clay was certainly with Gann as a ‘duo’ due to his total admiration for the bloke. But with him mentioning that he and Philpot (later killed) guarded the south gate together, that could indicate a three-man team.

In the meantime and basing my philosophy around the precious bivouac, (needing 4 men) I’m inclined to opt for JF’s “files of two.”
What’s more, although slightly fantasy for 1815, this would relate lovely to today’s ‘buddy-buddy’ tactics. ;) (one providing covering fire while the other advances)

Thanks to both of you…, Iain.


Iain,

I get confused too! As JF says above, the company was actually an administrative unit, the platoon a tactical unit; even though they contained the same people. However, I think you are also right to say that companies/platoons split down further into convenient pairs and groups of pairs limited to people within their own sections. As an ex-soldier, I do not need to explain the advantages of the buddy-buddy system and the idea of putting a young soldier with a more experienced one. The 'eight battalion companies' Dundas refers to are the eight centre companies of a ten company battalion, that is, excluding the grenadier and light companies.

I would slightly take issue with opting for 'files of two' as a section, as the quote I used is from the 'authority' (ie the regulations). I accept that regulations were not always followed on campaign, but organisations were likely to be than tactics/drill. Having said that, I accept my own area of expertise does not lie with British battalion organisations!

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Re: Waterloo section strength :

Postby Iain » November 5th, 2016, 5:33 am

Thank you Andrew..., very interesting.

Quote: "I accept that regulations were not always followed on campaign,"
Totally agree, even at home and even today. The image below was taken at the Pirbright Guards Depot.

I was on Facebook with some old friends this morning with some of whom are in this image and as you can see, the Scots Guards 'platoon' is being called a squad. (the Platoon Officer here is now Sir Lachlan Hector Charles Maclean of Duart and Morven, 12th Baronet, CVO, DL.)
And what do we have ? A platoon being called a squad/section !

I’m going to stay with my bivouac theory ! Lol…

Kind Regards…, Iain.
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Re: Waterloo section strength :

Postby jf42 » November 5th, 2016, 11:35 pm

But, Iain- in what way was that group a platoon, i.e subsection of one company in an infantry battalion? Or was it a squad in a training depot?
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Re: Waterloo section strength :

Postby grumpy » November 7th, 2016, 10:09 pm

It is surely ill-considered to use modern usages as a guide to the distant past.

My reading suggests that the file of two men was the building block, that "sections" were rarely if ever a tactical, manoeuvre or administrative entity, that the platoon was the fire unit, and that the company [two or one platoons] was the administrative and manoeuvre unit.

Difficult, potentially confusing, but definitely different from now, or indeed the Great War.
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Re: Waterloo section strength :

Postby jf42 » November 8th, 2016, 12:38 am

"The past is a another country. They do things differently there." (L.P. Hartley)
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Re: Waterloo section strength :

Postby Iain » November 9th, 2016, 7:26 am

Thanks All...

JF..., that image is from the Guards Depot during the 18-weeks training. In fact, a platoon is composed of 3 sections of 7 men.
In the meantime, I received a remark from someone saying that Guards recruits are not permitted to be structured as platoons..., hence the term squad. Whether he's right or not is another question.
But of course, today's Army is totally different from 1815.

Something interesting I found during my research in relation to the knapsacks is the image below. (a sketch of the Guardsmen firing over the wall of the garden)
Clearly in sections of two.

viewtopic.php?f=43&t=3298

-------------------------

Don’t like changing subjects but there’s something I’ve just noticed with the page below.

I was always under the impression that it was only the Coldstreamers who fortified the farm walls during the night…, while the Germans were in the wood and the orchard and the SG Light Company either in the orchard or the sunken lane.

In the meantime…, is it possible that I’m misreading this letter ?
(note, Captain Evelyn, Dashwood and Erlington led the 1st sub-division of the SG into the wood during the first attack on the French)

Quote from the bottom of the page giving reference to the fortified walls.
“A: Captain Evelyn and the Light Company of the 3rd Regt. made the “defence” – Evelyn was xxxx a very ingenious man, and acquired great…………
Can’t read the remainder.

Does this mean that the Coldstreamers were assisted by the SG when loop-holing the walls during the night ?
For me..., this is extremely important !

Regards…, Iain.
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