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Re: Napoleonic infantry in square

Oh my bad!

Was interesting to note on that page that Prussia completely dumped the hollow square when the army was reconstituted in late 1812. Basically Frederick would have been mostly against the idea of a formation that was rather inherently immobile (or at least took time to set up/break down), as his whole doctrine was based on rapid advances at unpredictable angles. As you guys know Frederick's ideas were basically gospel for the 1806 Prussian forces. There are reports that a square was used in a desperation situation in 1806 against a combined arms French force at the Battle of Lubeck, but it is uncertain what type of square that was meant to be. It was also completely unsuccessful in a campaign that for the Prussians was, of course, a complete disaster.

So for the Prussians at least they would not have been big fans of it for the most part, or really any kneeling infantry at all. Frederick was even against the idea of trenches and fortifications unless it was a truly desperate situation, according to the small English translation of his Instructions for His Generals sitting in my room here. :grin:

Re: Napoleonic infantry in square

Yes I agree in terms of Prussia & Russia. Solid squares seem to have been the norm. I have seen zero evidence for a hollow square or kneeling ranks. Same probably goes for Austria.
So any defensive/in square set for these nations would have to take that into account.

I dare say though that light troops/Jagers, would of knelt down at times though, in the act of skirmishing definitely.

Re: Napoleonic infantry in square

Russian squares were hollow, unless they were caught by a sudden attack of a foe on the march, then marching columns could build a solid square.
Suvorov's squares were of a battalion or regimental strength with 1-2 companies on each side and one inside as a reserve. They were primary battle formations to be used against "basurmans" (Muslims), as opposed to lines or columns, used against European armies.
Squares were attacking (!) formations, they were supposed to repel initial fierce charge of muslim cavalry and then counter-attack in this formation, hence no chance for kneeling line. Two rear lines were shooting, the front line used bayonets. This tactics was used in European wars as well, as it's depicted in here:

This is an episode of Borodino battle, when French cuirassiers are repelled by Lithuanian and Izmailovsky Leib-Guards regiments, standing in squares. At first they shot salvos at the approaching front line of cuirassiers, which routed in disarray and squashed subsequent lines of approaching cavalry and, after bayonet charge all cavalry was routed altogether.
This cavalry attack was repeated and repelled once again later this day.

Best regards,


Re: Napoleonic infantry in square

A-ha, thats some great info there. Really nice artwork too.
So as I thought, the Russian line wouldn't of utilised kneeling ranks so no real need for such poses in a Russian set. But the squares were hollow though.

Would the Prussians & Austrians of followed a similar method do you think Strelets?

Re: Napoleonic infantry in square

Roger W
A-ha, thats some great info there. Really nice artwork too.
So as I thought, the Russian line wouldn't of utilised kneeling ranks so no real need for such poses in a Russian set. But the squares were hollow though.

Would the Prussians & Austrians of followed a similar method do you think Strelets?
Yes, that's a useful insight into Russian tactics, so thank you Mr Strelets. And if I am not mistaken, the artwork you have attached is part of the magnificent panorama painting of Borodino in Moscow.

Re: hollow squares v. mass. A realisation that squares were defensive (most of the time, but maybe offensive in the Russian army!) and should also have allowed a degree of firepower against attacking cavalry, added to some simple maths, indicates that hollow squares would always be used where possible, subject to training of the troops themselves being up to the task of forming square.

A battalion of 600 R&F in hollow square would have between 100-200 men on each face, depending on whether the square was a perfect square or a rectangle. Given a four-ranks deep line on each face, that is a frontage of between 25 and 50 men, which is enough - certainly if doubled (two ranks firing) - to provide 50-100 firing muskets on each face, enough to give attacking cavalry something to think about.

A corresponding mass of 600 R&F might have a frontage of 30 men and a depth of 20 ranks. The frontal firepower would be max 60 muskets, the firepower to each side only 40, assuming ordered ranks and two ranks able to fire.

The hollow square simply has more firepower, and is less of an artillery target. Tactically, a better option.

Re: Napoleonic infantry in square

It's back to the point that Roger made early on in this thread.

Squares (or rectangles) were offensive (or at least mobile) much of the time; be it to retire or to advance in the face of a cavalry threat (if time allowed, or masse if not). Think Lutzen, Bautzen, Pyramids, Jena, Auerstadt, Eylau, anything across the Marchfeld. Entire divisions marching to the battlefield of Lutzen or some units in square covering the flanks of the remainder. This is the difference between the standing square and combination kneeling/crouching one that the paintings of Waterloo bring to mind. The latter are often associated with the British as they were so often fighting a defensive battle.

To quote from Nafziger:
"One of the many current misconceptions of the square is that it was a fixed formation, barley able to move. This is not true. When the Prussians retreated off the fields after their defeat at Jena-Auerstädt, their rear-guard was a Saxon grenadier battalion in square. It out marched the pursuing French infantry and held the French cavalry at bay. ... I the battle of Jena, in his memoirs Baron Seruzier, commander of the artillery of Morand's Division, III Corps (Davout), states, 'J'en étais là quand notre division, formée en carrés d'infanterie marchant au pas de charge, parvint à notre hauteur#'" (Nafziger 2009, p. 33). As Nafziger notes, such a rate was rare (hence 'I was there'), but is shows the clip at which they could move and that they could be as mobile as any other formation.

(Wargames rules that have static squares are missing a key element).

Regards, James

#My translation: I was there when our division, formed in infantry squares marching at the pas de charge (120 paces per minutes, per Nafziger) reached our head (of our formation, I presume as I do not have the original to get the context).

p.s. Also beware of making the mistake of the column v line myth that is derived largely from Oman and has been refuted again and again...

Nafziger, GF (2009) Imperial Bayonets. The Nafziger Collection, West Chester, Ohio, USA.

Re: Napoleonic infantry in square

Of course the French know how to make infantry squares. In 1806 Davout crushed a Prussian army three times larger than his at Auerstaedt thanks to the squares. The same goes for the battle of the pyramids won by Napoleon over the Mamelukes. Noted that each time a classic infantry succeeded in defeating an elite cavalry.
In fact this formation is very well known to the French, they know very well that a cavalry charge cannot overcome a square and yet ... Ney's relentlessness at Waterloo is incomprehensible.
The question of the man kneeling is not just about infantry squares.
Some generals have also questioned themselves in the case of an army deployed in line.
From 1809, the Austrians even officially abandoned this.
Even the French have asked themselves the question.
Marshal Ney noticed that when soldiers put one knee on the ground, they had difficulty reloading their rifle in this position and that it was then difficult to ask them to get up because once lowered, they were safe from enemy fire.
These changes of position also slowed down the movement of troops.
Unlike the British army, which is all about defense (Spanish War, Waterloo), the French army is very mobile. I think during the last years of the Empire it was increasingly rare for the front row to drop to the knee.

Re: Napoleonic infantry in square

Agreed Wagram.

I believe the French were very adaptable when it came to tactics, based on the large pool of commanders they could pick from. So many amazing Marshals & Generals in the Grand Armee, each expected to command their own corps like a "miniature" army in itself & each with various experience & skill.

From my own reading over the years, I believe the French were capable of performing both sorts of square. A holding defensive sort like famously portrayed by the British, with kneeling ranks. Or a fully standing, more mobile version, like how Russia, Prussia etc utilised.

It is also true that many nations did not like troops kneeling, just as you point out.
I imagine for light troops & skirmishers/Jagers this may of been a bit more relaxed due to the way they engaged the enemy, utilising terrain a bit more etc, like a hunter/poacher would, which many such fellows in those units were previous to their military service.

I suppose in summing up, when it comes to potential "in square/defense" type sets (which I do hope are in the pipeline), sets representing Britain/KGL/Hannover or its close allies such as Portugal or Brunswick, I would basically do a 50/50 set of kneeling & standing.
Maybe for the Brunswickers a slightly smaller ratio of kneeling poses but I would still include a good few. My personal belief is still that they had kneeling ranks like their comrades in redcoats, due to the nature of Wellingtons strategy of holding ground to the utmost limit. Both at Quatre Bras & Waterloo. Not to mention knowledge collected by some from the Peninsular war.

France, Strelets could take their pick. Include both kneeling & standing, or just standing. As both would work. I would be happy with either. Alternatively, maybe a set of line in a more stationary square, and a set of guard infantry stood and more mobile? Or vice versa? Either way theres options there for France.

Russia, Prussia & Austria I would not include kneeling poses....unless they are for casualties or alike. I would do a range of poses all standing prepared for cavalry , some maybe firing & reloading, all designed in such a way to recreate a nice mini diorama of a square.

What is most important for a set of infantry in square, is the right numbers in a box & ratio of poses to create a square.
So for example a British/KGL set, should have a 50/50 split between kneeling & standing, so both ranks can be made, on all 4 sides.
With the other sets, who's men when in square stood only, again enough to properly make all 4 sides.
That way, no matter how many boxes someone buys, a square can be accurately recreated.

I have found this thread really enjoyable!!

Re: Napoleonic infantry in square


Interesting debate.

All Napoleonic armies used squares. Not aware of any authors who suggested the British drill was different to the practice of others re squares.

The Austrian Masse, a column which became a solid 'square' was specifically mentioned as it was different. Same with the British 2 deep line. I feel if there was only the British using a kneeling front rank in a square, it would have been remarked upon and praised by the more partisan British authors. But its not.

The strength of the square was not presenting a flank or gap to the oncoming cavalry. A solid wall of men with baynots would deter most horses and riders from closing. Not sure standing or kneeling makes much difference to that. Although more difficult to run away if your kneeling I guess! Square stays firm, it sees off the horse, wavers or not well formed and its in trouble.

Plenty of examples of Cavalry riding down squares as well as them repelling attacks.