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Dodgy terminology - this time "divisions"

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Dodgy terminology - this time "divisions"

Postby DaveH » May 9th, 2016, 9:35 pm

Ever since I really got into research, I have regularly discovered that many of the claims made for French prowess in this period have turned out to be false when I have looked at the original materials (or at least a printed work written directly from them). While to some extent, much of this obviously happened when the Germanic record was closed off from 1914 onwards at the same time as Napoleon III's propaganda about his uncle's regime was being spread by both British and Americans authors for historical/political reasons, I remain stunned by how often terminology has been mangled to "prove" some point - obvious examples being the corps system, staffs and most recently, Bourcet's mythological staff college a few threads down on this section of the board. In all these cases, a word has been picked up and given the Alice in Wonderland treatment (where the Queen of Hearts says a word means whatever she wants it to mean), such as "staff" where the distinction between a commander's entourage has been mixed with a separate General staff.

I have been rereading Schneid & others: European Armies of the French Revolutionary Wars, in order to review it (yes, I was halfway and had to start again!), finding regular references not only in the French section but also others to a presumed French advantage of organised divisions. Strange, I thought this was buried when it was pointed out that the French had established "permanent divisions" - but in 1780 as peacetime commands, much as Austrian used its Generalkommandos based on its provinces and other nations used Military districts. Attempts to demonstrate a French "permanent division" in the field had grown out of the fact that it was the Prussians, who actually devised them in the late 19th century as part of their Korps system. The division is the key all-arms formation with a defined command including general Staff officers.

The reference every time is to an essay by Steven T. Ross from 1965 (well within that period of dodgy terminology) 'The Development of the Combat Division in Eighteenth-Century French Armies' in French Historical Studies, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Spring, 1965), pp. 84-94, (Duke University Press). This is behind a paywall at http://www.jstor.org/stable/285876?seq= ... b_contents but helpfully Ross summarise dthe claim in his own book: The A to Z of the Wars of the French Revolution (1998/rep 2010) and on p.58, he summarises the "division" https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=HOe ... ns&f=false eulogising the French formation. and claiming that the French Republicans had invented the "combat division". So, we have already moved off the "permanent" idea as Ross mentions the 1780 peacetime arrangement. This new process began in 1792 when commanders were allocated more than one brigade and in 1793 when regular and volunteer units were combined, but these were always just infantry, but apparently, these commanders (undoubtedly with a few AdCs and so having a "staff") began to get cavalry and artillery in their commands. Bizarrely, the strengths of this new standard formation varied widely and some had no artillery while others had quite a lot, but they could operate on their own or as part of a larger formation (ooh, a corps maybe? Oh, except this doesn't appear until 1800 - allegedly! :lol: ). So, this "combat division" was an all arms formation (when it had artillery? :!: ), which strengthened the French army.

Where did Ross get his ideas? Well, we can get some clues from the original 1969 article - the first few paragraphs list - oh, quelle surprise - up pop Spencer Wilkinson, that admirer (and copier) of all things French and Quimby (1957), a disciple of Wilkinson plus several US authors of that same "dodgy terminology" period post-WW2. So, only Colin from that source list is even worth considering!

So, Colin would be worth a read, but given my previous encounters with the "dodgy terminology", I started thinking about how we might describe Austrian formations. Starting with the 1769 Regs is a good idea and one Google Books hit with "division" sought inside it shows this https://books.google.co.uk/books?redir_ ... on&f=false some 23 references to a "division" (although not all components of an army). the most obvious is perhaps p.70: " welche Brigaden zusammen eine Division benennt werden". referring to Feldmarschalleutnants (FML - Lt General), this means "whose brigades together are called a division". Oh, hang on - 1769 and an FML commands a division, no doubt with his allocated staff (the number of [adjutant] staff is specified elsewhere for each General rank). It was also Austrian practice under the same regs to allocate a few General Staff officers from HQ to help the leaders of the main formations understand the HQ plan and intentions.

If we then go to Neerwinden, an Austrian victory of 1793, which, as Lynn in Bayonets of the Republic admits, doesn't get much coverage in French, we find an OB like Nafziger's version http://www.cgsc.edu/CARL/nafziger/793CEA.PDF where the Austrian FMLs have "columns" (George hasn't read the 1769 regs and is using French sources) made up of brigades of infantry and cavalry, the infantry bringing their battalion guns. Austrian practice was to keep the heavier and mobile Cavalry guns in the reserve, but these could be allocated out when required. Go on to this interesting piece http://www.kuk-wehrmacht.de/gefechte/17 ... inden.html and the Austrian commander Coburg is describing (in line with the old-style map) the Austrian "Treffen" - usually translated as battleline.

So, there it is - call it a column, call it a Treffen, call it a collection of Brigades - they all amount to a division with infantry, cavalry, organic artillery and sometimes allocated reserve artillery, plus both adjutant staff General Staff officers . And that was 1793.

So, Steven Ross, the source of many of the later claims about French all arms divisions: misusing terminology and ignoring what the others were doing. No-one had permanent divisions, just brigades under a division rank commander.
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Re: Dodgy terminology - this time "divisions"

Postby DaveH » May 10th, 2016, 3:06 pm

Oh, quelle surprise (as they say in France :lol: ), it seems that there are a whole range of interpretations of events, depending on which book you read. Ross had dated these "combat divisions" to 1794 and the word "permanent" had gone.

In European Armies and the Conduct of War, Hew Strachan says on p.43 https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=-za ... ot&f=false that the ancien regime had bequeathed its 1780 peacetime administrative system, but the sheer size of French forces made a divional system "indispensible" - so here we are, back with "how do you run big armies?", not tactical innovations. Carnot's demi-brigades were to be concentrated into divisions (okay, makes sense) and the enhanced status of the artillery meant they would have some guns attached. Divisions then operated separately on individual tasks, although it was late 1795 (that lull in the First Coalition) before the idea was fully accepted. Carnot's approach was to direct that these divisions be massed for battle at the key point.

There are obvious similarities here to what has been attributed to Bourcet and his "staff ideas" - indeed, Strachan notes on p.34 that Bourcet should be given the credit for using divisions, ideas he set out in Principes de la guerre de montagnes (1764-1772). Ah yes, much discussed recently in the context of staffs viewtopic.php?f=22&t=3195 and the manuscript itself was dated to 1775. Bourcet was thinking about the management of independent columns in the mountains. In his 1744 campaign, he had massed French troops in these columns (or 'divisions' as Strachan claims) in order to mass them against the Sardinian army in the Alps. Broglie, we are then told, applied these ideas to normal country, (p.35), creating separate infantry and cavalry divisions [or groups of brigades, I suppose? :lol:] with "a staff to control each column". Oh, hang on: columns, divisions?

Broglie's actual idea is explained by Chandler in campaigns of Napoleon https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=hNY ... ns&f=false p.159, quoting Broglie's 1761 instruction: "The two infantry lines will be divided into four divisions during the campaign" taking a quarter of the infantry of each battleline [or Treffen as the Austrians called them], commanded by a Lt-General and joined by some artillery. The formation was abandoned after Broglie's death, but features in Guibert's writings and according to Chandler, this "permanent division" system reappears in the Revolutionary armies in February 1793.

We can see from Ross's essay that Spencer Wilkinson and Robert Quimby have had a hand in mangling the definitions to create a Ruling Theory of French divisions (either permanent or combat) to create some kind of tactical advantage. What of Colin - fortunately, his work has been translated as 'The Transformations of War' and appears here https://archive.org/stream/transformati ... 2/mode/2up - well, I say fortunately, but of course translation errors have often been the key source of many myths about our period! Colin himself on p. 112 claims Guibert and others managed to achieve more efficiently what Frederick the Great had done with "an antiquated instrument". This was written within living memory of France's crushing defeat at Sedan in 1870, so the agenda is fairly clear. According to Colin, Broglie created "permanent divisions" in 1759, keeping them in close columns until they could be concentrated for battle - ah, columns being confused with divisions again. Instead of the two battlelines of traditional 18th century warfare, we have groups of troops being fed into the battle, ideas formed by Guibert. Interesting, as Guibert was born in 1743 and actually published 'Essai general de la tactique' in 1773 https://archive.org/details/essaignraldetac01guibgoog - the dangers of a bad translation of course, as Guibert is examining what Broglie did and conclude the quote by saying this enables the battle lines to be formed much later and closer because "columns are easier to move about than lines".

Interestingly, Colin then moves to talk about Neerwinden - where there are eight columns formed into three corps. Columns, corps - no sign of these fabled divisions and up has popped "corps" 7 years before some authors claim corps were devised by the French in the Marengo campaign. :!: Now these "divisions" (aka "columns") fight independently at various points. After discussing the French defeat at Wattignes in 1793 (that's Carnot, above, with Jourdan), caused by an Austrian division being thrown into the French flank, Colin continues: "Brought up in the same school, the French and Austrian generals, who operate in the Alsace and on the Saare, follow the same principles". Colin concludes p.114 by referring to Neresheim, something of a defensive victory won by Archduke Charles in a holding action against Moreau in 1796: Here both sides put their armies into action piecemeal. Oh, hang on, so these Austrians (using the 1769 regs) are fighting in the same way - so why does Ross claim that the French had some tactical advantage with combat divisions? Colin then goes on to explain his view that Napoleon won his battles by using these separate formations (call them divisions, corps, columns) to march dispersed but to concentrate them on the field of battle as Carnot had directed.

So, there is nothing peculiar to the French in 1793-5 then?
Last edited by DaveH on May 13th, 2016, 12:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Dodgy terminology - this time "divisions"

Postby TheBibliophile » May 11th, 2016, 7:59 am

Interestingly I am reading at the moment F L Robertsons "The Evolution of Naval Armament" which as you would expect, occasionally contrasts advancements on land to advancements at sea.
He does suggest that Gribeauval copied the ideal of standardisation of shot size... from the Austrians- where he went further was on the standardisation of wheels, carriages and accessories.
The Spanish had also standardised shot sizes as early as the 1500s
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Re: Dodgy terminology - this time "divisions"

Postby DaveH » May 11th, 2016, 9:22 am

Except Lichtenstein's system, which was (unlike the claims made for Gribeauval) actually based on an initial blueprint, which set out standard sizes for everything. Specifically on shot, KGL Muller notes the Austrians cast their shot in graphite moulds to maintain that, whereas the French still had to resort to the two rings held at 90 degrees to each other (as Coudray describes, not that nonsense in Tousard about go/no go rings) to get even a decent attempt at roundness.

Lichtenstein wasn't the first to go for the concept of standardisation, but his advance was a complete scheme of artillery based on better on better production methods. Gribeauval was a siege engineer/miner, who happened to be in charge of French artillery for part of a time of change and who was subsequently lionised for a single introductory paragraph he wrote in a report to paris about the Austrian artillery.

It is no different with these divisions - that has been a pro-French attempt to suggest that the Rev/Nap armies had some innovation first, simply because it actually arose in the Germanic world, especially after the beating they had suffered in 1870. It is a consistent theme throughout many books written post-1914. This has become apparent on many subjects now, including artillery, staff and now divisions.
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Re: Dodgy terminology - this time "divisions"

Postby TheBibliophile » May 11th, 2016, 10:46 am

I know it is off topic Dave, but it is fair to give the French credit where credit is due, specifically in the field of ship design.
By and large and there were exceptions) French naval design and indeed Spanish naval design, were ahead of British innovation. There was a much more scientific approach to shipbuilding over the water, whereas british builders used to rely on experience, with very little in way of science.
An example is that if a French battle squadron met a British one, and the French took a British ship, it was very rarely pressed into French service, however if, as often happened, the British took a French ship in action, it was often taken into service and its lines copied.
Most British ship design copied the French. It wasnt until the likes of Robert Seppings came along that this changed.

The debate was always about sea stability versus speed. narrow beam ships against broad beamed ships.
A narrow beamed ship is potentially fast, but with increasing height or heavier cannon, lacks stability.
A broader beamed ship is very stable but sails like a pig.

The french mastered ship design quicker.

We tended to produce well meaning ships, then stuff them with too many cannon, which made them top heavy and also low in the water, meaning that lower ports could not easily be used in rough seas.
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Re: Dodgy terminology - this time "divisions"

Postby DaveH » May 11th, 2016, 5:00 pm

Certainly, the French do seem (from my limited knowledge) to have been on the receiving end of the dodgy agenda-driven work about our period (and after reading about Nelson in 1799, there is plenty of disinformation there) on matters nautical. This time, of course, it is British authors eulogising the Royal Navy in the late 19th century as, well, better than anyone else. Interestingly, American authors do not seem to speak up for them in this sector in complete contrast with their approach to French land forces - maybe because the US was more concerned with land issues at the time?
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Re: Dodgy terminology - this time "divisions"

Postby Senarmont198 » May 12th, 2016, 10:07 pm

TheBibliophile wrote:Interestingly I am reading at the moment F L Robertsons "The Evolution of Naval Armament" which as you would expect, occasionally contrasts advancements on land to advancements at sea.
He does suggest that Gribeauval copied the ideal of standardisation of shot size... from the Austrians- where he went further was on the standardisation of wheels, carriages and accessories.
The Spanish had also standardised shot sizes as early as the 1500s


Gribeauval went 'several' steps ahead of the Austrians in artillery-which included advances in artillery education (and France had the first military technical schools in Europe-see Frederick Artz, The Development of Technical Education in France 1500-1850) and the other European nations copied the French model), quality control and strict production standards in artillery production both of gun tubes and vehicles). Along with that, the organization, doctrine and tactics were further developed under Gribeauval, most notably Duteil's Usage which was the only artillery doctrinal publication of the period that addressed issues above the company/battery level.

Gribeauval was a school-trained artillery officer and not an engineer. He was a graduate of the French artillery school at La Fere. In his career he was the commander of a company of miners, who at that time belonged to the artillery and were usually commanded by artillery officers (the French engineer arm at the time was composed entirely of officers and wouldn't have their own troops, the new battalions of sapeurs du genie as well as finally getting control of the miner companies from the artillery until Lazare Carnot in October 1793 got that task accomplished). Gribeauval had an established reputation as an artillery officer and artillery innovator before the Seven Years' War and he was one of the artillery officers chosen by the French Minister of War to be seconded to the Austrian army because the Austrians had a shortage of senior artillery officers.

French artillery officers also had been taught to be skilled at siege operations and Gribeauval became famous for his defense of Schweidnitz during the war and that was brought to Frederick the Great's attention. He also vastly improved the Austrian engineer arm and became more than familiar with the Liechtenstein artillery system.

For that experience with the Austrians and his knowledge of the Prussian field artillery arm he was chosen by the Duc de Choiseul to reform the French artillery and create a field artillery arm which the French did not have at the time. His new system incorporated new innovations such as casting methods for gun tubes, the iron axel and many improvements to make his new artillery system superior to both the Austrian and Prussian artillery systems and Gribeauval designed his new system for a war of movement and maneuver.

Gribeauval also instituted the practice of officer inspectors in the armories and foundries to ensure quality control in artillery production. There were 130 of them.

The Prussians had begun major improvements in their field artillery arm in the 1740s which was a nasty surprise to the Austrians in 1740-1748 and Prince Liechtenstein's new system was an answer to that problem, which in turn was a nasty surprise to the Prussians in 1756.

There are excellent references to use for Gribeauval, the first is probably Gribeauval: Lieutenant General des armees du roi 1715-1789 by Pierre Nardin. Howard Rosen's excellent 1981 PHD thesis, La Systeme Gribeauval, was done from archival material and is an excellent overview of the system itself, it's technical improvements, and the 'argument' that Gribeauval had with Valliere fils over which artillery system was more efficient and modern-Gribeauval's or Valliere's older System of 1732. Engineering the Revolution by Ken Alder is very useful. There are very useful artillery manuals for the period which are readily available, such as those be DeScheel, Gassendi, d'Urtubie, and Tousard, the last being done for the United States Army based on French and British artillery manuals.

Lastly, I was fortunate enough to find four period technical drawings of the Gribeauval System, probably taken from Diderot's Encyclopedie which are in large format and I finally framed and hung them in my library at home. They are excellently done and clearly demonstrate the level of technical expertise of the artillery officers and technicians that drew them for the production of the gun tubes, vehicles, and ancillary equipment.
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Re: Dodgy terminology - this time "divisions"

Postby Senarmont198 » May 12th, 2016, 10:13 pm

TheBibliophile wrote:I know it is off topic Dave, but it is fair to give the French credit where credit is due, specifically in the field of ship design.
By and large and there were exceptions) French naval design and indeed Spanish naval design, were ahead of British innovation. There was a much more scientific approach to shipbuilding over the water, whereas british builders used to rely on experience, with very little in way of science.
An example is that if a French battle squadron met a British one, and the French took a British ship, it was very rarely pressed into French service, however if, as often happened, the British took a French ship in action, it was often taken into service and its lines copied.
Most British ship design copied the French. It wasnt until the likes of Robert Seppings came along that this changed.

The debate was always about sea stability versus speed. narrow beam ships against broad beamed ships.
A narrow beamed ship is potentially fast, but with increasing height or heavier cannon, lacks stability.
A broader beamed ship is very stable but sails like a pig.

The french mastered ship design quicker.

We tended to produce well meaning ships, then stuff them with too many cannon, which made them top heavy and also low in the water, meaning that lower ports could not easily be used in rough seas.


The French navy was revitalized after being ground to destruction in the Seven Years' War and it saw multiple successes against the Royal Navy in the War of the American Revolution, not the least of which was guaranteeing the allied victory at Yorktown in 1783.

Afterwards, the navy was neglected and was badly handled and treated during the French Revolution. Suffice it to say that the French navy's officer corps wasn't up to the task of taking on the Royal Navy, but after Napoleon took over in late 1799 the navy underwent a revitalization in ships and crews. Unfortunately, the naval officer corps in the senior ranks was not up to the task of defeating the Royal Navy decisively. Napoleon built an excellent navy, militarized the crews, but could not break the old habits of those French admirals that commanded it. His best admirals were either killed in action or died before 1805.

That being said, the navy did provide excellent troops and junior commanders to the Grande Armee, supplying it with artillerymen, engineers, and infantry as well as artificers. One of the navy's successes on land was the build up and control of the Danube during the second Danube crossing that led to the victory at Wagram in July 1809.
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Re: Dodgy terminology - this time "divisions"

Postby Josh&Historyland » May 12th, 2016, 11:57 pm

Senarmont198 wrote: Unfortunately, the naval officer corps in the senior ranks was not up to the task of defeating the Royal Navy decisively. Napoleon built an excellent navy, militarized the crews, but could not break the old habits of those French admirals that commanded it.


Would not those "old habits" be the habits derived from the successful actions in the Americas though? Napoleon is rather famous for treating his admirals like General's and his fleets like armies. As far as I always understood it there was nothing inherently wrong with the King's navy, no more than was present in 1783 anyway, but that the Revolution rather crippled it and it never recovered. Despite Napoleon's attempts to resuscitate it.

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Re: Dodgy terminology - this time "divisions"

Postby TheBibliophile » May 13th, 2016, 7:58 am

Josh&Historyland wrote:Would not those "old habits" be the habits derived from the successful actions in the Americas though? Napoleon is rather famous for treating his admirals like General's and his fleets like armies. As far as I always understood it there was nothing inherently wrong with the King's navy, no more than was present in 1783 anyway, but that the Revolution rather crippled it and it never recovered. Despite Napoleon's attempts to resuscitate it.

Josh.


Josh, Napoleon purged the higher level command structure of the French navy as many were old Royalists and he suspected them.
Sen is correct that the French navy was stronger Pre-Revolution than after it. However, whilst he can point to success at Yorktown, I can equally point to Rodneys complete defeat of a French fleet at the Battle of the Saintes in '82.

In the last quarter of the 18th century, the French did have some tremendously capable senior commanders, eg Suffren, De Grasse. But by the time of the Revolution, many of these had either died, retired or been removed.

During the War of Independence, France obviously joined the American cause and in time they sent a fleet to assist. This arrived around 1778 or 1779. At this time the Brits were having some success against the American colonists around Long Island but the arrival of the French in strength caused a British withdrawal back to Sandy Hook, which is in the bat close to New York. The war was subsequently lost and the Navy returned home in 1789.
Had the French not arrived, it is likely that a reversal in the fortunes of the Colonists would have occurred.

I note the comment you made about "Napoleon treating his Admirals like Generals".
I am not sure about this, for all the naval reading I have done, I have not seen this suggested. What I have seen suggested many times, is that he didn't understand the Navy, or the sea. Why should he, he was fighting successful campaigns on land and was an artillery officer, after all. He also had a tendency to grown impatient with his naval officers.

There is also a myth that Trafalgar finished the French off at sea. It did not. True, many ships were taken and subsequently lost. However the French rebuilt. The problem was that the British strategy of Blockade kept them mostly bottled up in port, this was a big undertaking by the British, it tied up much of their battle fleets on semi permanent stations in all weathers outside of places like Cadiz, Brest, Ferrol, Boulougne and Toulon. It also used up Frigates, which operated further inshore than the blockading big boys.
This meant though that largely, the Royal Navy was able to operate in the open seas freely, her trade secure, picking off the odd french merchant, coasting ships, or any French frigate or ships of the line lucky enough to get out.

Being blockaded meant french crews lacked both sea time and battle experience. In short, the veteran sailors of the Royal Navy were better trained,had much more experience in action, were better fed, had better medical provision and crucially were better gunners.

In a battle, there really, generally, was only one result.
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