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The British Skirmisher

#2
In 'The British Light Infantry Arm' (ISBN 071345599), David Gates implies that the 60th were the first and raised as a direct consequence of the disaster at the Monongahela. He also says that 'after 1758, every regiment of foot included a company of ... light infantry' and goes on to explain that 'In Europe as well as in America, the British had been slower than their adversaries to introduce units of light trops ... In the Wars of the Austrian Succession, the British had no regiments of this description whatsoever ... in 1759, a battalion of light infantry, 'Keith's Highlanders', was sent to Germany'

So I think the 60th have it.
 
#3
Rembrandt said:
Correct me if I'm wrong but were the German and Austrian skirmishers not really a seperate identity from their resepctive armies? I thought that it was not until the Seven Years War in Europe (1759 - 63) that they formed their own light infantry companies. Up until then they used civilian Jagers and Serbs, similar to the British using American colonists. I know that the French organised their first skirmishers in 1743, but could it not be said that the Highlanders were in some respects the army's first light infantry? It says on the Light Infantry website that they acted as "Light Troops" at Fontenoy for example.
I think the concept of regular trained soldiers acting as "skirmishers" only needed to emerge during the C18th -because before then most missle equipped infantry would have been "skirmishers".

Between 1700-1750 there was a trend over the previous 50 years for infantry to become more highly drilled and to operate as automata - cadenced step - musktetry drill with reliable iron ramropds and flintlocks etc - bayonets that enabled musteteers to hold ground against cavalry etc.

There was always a need for people to carry out the work of skirmishers on campaign, providing scouts raiders and a security screen. A lot of armies used people from war like tribes or societies.

The Imperialists used Hungarian Hussars and Croats, the Brits and French used native Indians in the americas. I think the highlanders fitted this description. Less good were units formed from european riff raff such as the Preussian and French Frei Korps. The French "light Infantry" might be arguied to have started with Maurice de Saxe's legion trained according to his ideas. These included the revolutionary idea of training soldiers to shoot at the target with officers spotting and coachingthe firers.

There was also a value in using tribemen and bandits for this taks because they might be 1) cheap (fighting for booty) 2) Naturally had the skills and thuggery to be good at this. 3) Couldn't be used as line infantry through lack of training.
 
#4
I agree with Vasco. There is no record of the British Army having dedicated sharpshooter regiments until the American Revolution. The (technically) British Army didn't exist before 1701 btw until after the first act of union. Prior to that there were three armies, the English, Scots and Irish, all with different establishments but all pledging allegiance to the English monarch. There was no Welsh establishment because Wales is a principality - not a country.
 
#5
GDav said:
I agree with Vasco. There is no record of the British Army having dedicated sharpshooter regiments until the American Revolution.
Technically they weren'tsharpshooters, but the Brits did raise Light infantry and commissioned some freicorps/mercinaries.

E.g in the Seven Years War:

60th of foot - raised 1756 as a freicorps

The American Colonial "Rogers Rangers" - neither regular nor provincial, but paid by the King
His Britiannic Majesty's Forces in Germany included a unit of highlanders 42nd Foot
There were huntsmen based Germans - "Freytag's Jaeger Corps"

The Duke of Cumberland is alledged to have said that until regular troops can get into the woods and behave like irregulars there will e no intelligence"

The British Army raised 80th Light infantry -raised 1757 dispanded 1763 (?) Laudon's.
 
#6
No-one. The type of tactics used didn't call for infantry skirmishers because most battles were held on open European plains with two phalanxes of men meeting each other head on, or against untrained natives who attacked head on with no idea of the repercussions of volley fire.
 
#7
Rembrandt said:
So who exactly were in the employment of the British army pre 1740 to act as skirmishers, if anybody was at all?
There are two different roles for "Skirmisher"

On camapign there has always been a need for lightly armed self motiviated people who will provide security, carry out reccoinnaisance raids etc. Before the Light infantry were founded the army used dragoons(mounted infantry) and before that Irish Kerns, mounted longbowmen border Hobilars etc. Durign C18th European wars these were irregulars such as highlanders, Croats, hussars and Frie corp Indians. These were used in preference to expensively trained and recruited (but poorly p[aid and often ill treated) regulars who might desert if given the chance.

I don't think there was perceived as a need for skirmishers on the battlefield itself before about 1795. During the C 18th the armies discovered the virtue of foot drill and the miracle of marching in step. Successwas about cohesion, robotic performance of drills and packing musketry fire into a small space. The catalyst for forming light infantry is America because of the nature of the country and the guerilla war waged by the French and their Indian allies. We have to invent "light infantry" who are licenced to NOT do things by numbers.

When the French deploy a largenumber of skirmishing sharpshootersin the Revolutionary wars in Europe, the Brits deploy an increasign proportion of light infantyr as skirmishers.
 
#8
We didn't invent them however - we copied the Kentucky 'long-rifle' sharpshooters, through necessity.

That's the point, prior to then we didn't have skirmishers. Dragoons were mounted infantry yes but they were heavies - not suited to the raiding and skirmishing that light dragoons were formed for.

Small groups of infantry trying to act as skirmishers in European conditions would be cut to pieces by cavalry. The only security for infantry was the phalanx with its protective pikes or stakes driven into the ground - until the advent of salvo and volley fire and (reasonably) that did not start to be adopted by the British until the late 17th century. Then you go to fight in America and find that the tactic is useless because your enemy is hiding in the bushes and fighting a guerilla style campaign instead of open European style battles.

The army has evolved over the years to cope with the various different types of tactics and technology that it has either faced - or embraced.

As to light infantry, I believe we continued to call them 'sharpshooters' or 'rifle' units rather than 'light' for quite a considerable period of time after the advent of the Baker Rifle.
 

Cutaway

LE
Kit Reviewer
#9
If we go further back to the pike & musket days, the armies generally drew up sensibly enough with the Inf in the centre and Cav on each flank. Often a line of skirmishers was pushed forward to probe the en, (and perhaps goad him into an unplanned attack,) and to check for unseen units in dead gnd.

This line, which consisted of matchlock musketeers who either foolhardy, had thrown an unlucky six or had just slammed their tabs in for an interview without coffee, revelled in the name of the 'Folorn Hope.'

Bugger ! I just know what my position on the field would have been some three hundred and sixty odd years back.
 
#11
GDav said:
We didn't invent them however - we copied the Kentucky 'long-rifle' sharpshooters, through necessity.

That's the point, prior to then we didn't have skirmishers. Dragoons were mounted infantry yes but they were heavies - not suited to the raiding and skirmishing that light dragoons were formed for.

As to light infantry, I believe we continued to call them 'sharpshooters' or 'rifle' units rather than 'light' for quite a considerable period of time after the advent of the Baker Rifle.
A couple of corrections if you will forgive the nitopick.

Dragoons were formed originally as mounted infantry, riding cheaper and lighter horses in the C17th. They were paid less, armed with muskets and expected to fight dismouted. These were exactly the people who were used for pickets raiding etc. Just google "Dragoons English civil war" to read many examples.

During the C18th they workedtheir way up the military social scale until they were equipped as line cavalry and some given the honorfic "Dragoon Guards"

You are right that the imperus for British Light infantyr came from America, but I don't think the Brits copied the Kentucky riflemen of the American War of Independence. This process was underway 20 years earlier -championed by General Gage. There were plenty of trappers and frontiersmen in Pennsylvania New York and on the Canadian Border.

The first units raised as Light infantry were called just that - the 60th and 80th were raised as Light troops in the Seven years war 20 years before the Baker rifle was invented. The Germans had "jaegers" equipped with rifles around this time.

By the time of the American Revolution each British Battalion had a light company - which was often brigaded to form a "light Battalions". In the field their kit had a rather modern look,. judging bysomepictures, The brim of the tricorne was cut away to leave somethig like a jockey or baseball cap. The skirts of the red coat was shortened to abotu the samelenght as a combat jacket. Even the red coat would fade to a reasonably tactical russet brown.

Captain Patrick Ferguson formed a unit of Colonial Loyalists armed with his own patent breech loading rifle in 1776/7. These were inspired by the American Riflemen and called "Rangers". The 60th and 95th were Rifles. The 43rd 51st and other Light infantry were called that.

The title Rifles or sharpshooters seems to have been popular with the volunteer rifle movement in the mid C19th. (the HAC raised a company of Jaegers) By this time the whole of the British Army were armed with rifles.

GDav said:
Small groups of infantry trying to act as skirmishers in European conditions would be cut to pieces by cavalry. The only security for infantry was the phalanx with its protective pikes
The intellectual origins of the idea of Skirmishers on the battlefield seems to have been a Frenchmen, the Maquise de Follard and an adopted Frenchmen, Maurice Prince de Saxe.

About 1730 Follard introduced the idea that lines of intantry were hard to manouvre and firepower was less importtant than shock action. He wanted the infantry to revert to the pike and to fill the gaps between pike blocks with skirmishing infantry.

In 1739 de Saxe published a book that advocated training 70 men per Regiment as skirmishers armed with breech loadign rifles and trained to shoot accurately at 300 paces. He outlines the drills to use to integrate the skirmishers with the main body of a battalion. De Saxe is also the earliest record of units of around section strenght. His Centuries of 15 men are commanded by a Sergeant with a corporalas 2IC
 
#12
Rembrandt said:
I was aware of the Border Horses, Hobilars etc. but what you told me really does give me an insight into light infantry. I'm waiting on the Osprey book British Light Infantry of the Seven Years War so perhaps I'll better understand it after I've read it.
Why not contact the National Army Musuem. They can probably goive you chapter and verse.
 
#13
Pteranadon said:
GDav said:
We didn't invent them however - we copied the Kentucky 'long-rifle' sharpshooters, through necessity.

That's the point, prior to then we didn't have skirmishers. Dragoons were mounted infantry yes but they were heavies - not suited to the raiding and skirmishing that light dragoons were formed for.

As to light infantry, I believe we continued to call them 'sharpshooters' or 'rifle' units rather than 'light' for quite a considerable period of time after the advent of the Baker Rifle.
A couple of corrections if you will forgive the nitopick.

Dragoons were formed originally as mounted infantry, riding cheaper and lighter horses in the C17th. They were paid less, armed with muskets and expected to fight dismouted. These were exactly the people who were used for pickets raiding etc. Just google "Dragoons English civil war" to read many examples.

During the C18th they workedtheir way up the military social scale until they were equipped as line cavalry and some given the honorfic "Dragoon Guards"

You are right that the imperus for British Light infantyr came from America, but I don't think the Brits copied the Kentucky riflemen of the American War of Independence. This process was underway 20 years earlier -championed by General Gage. There were plenty of trappers and frontiersmen in Pennsylvania New York and on the Canadian Border.

The first units raised as Light infantry were called just that - the 60th and 80th were raised as Light troops in the Seven years war 20 years before the Baker rifle was invented. The Germans had "jaegers" equipped with rifles around this time.

By the time of the American Revolution each British Battalion had a light company - which was often brigaded to form a "light Battalions". In the field their kit had a rather modern look,. judging bysomepictures, The brim of the tricorne was cut away to leave somethig like a jockey or baseball cap. The skirts of the red coat was shortened to abotu the samelenght as a combat jacket. Even the red coat would fade to a reasonably tactical russet brown.

Captain Patrick Ferguson formed a unit of Colonial Loyalists armed with his own patent breech loading rifle in 1776/7. These were inspired by the American Riflemen and called "Rangers". The 60th and 95th were Rifles. The 43rd 51st and other Light infantry were called that.

The title Rifles or sharpshooters seems to have been popular with the volunteer rifle movement in the mid C19th. (the HAC raised a company of Jaegers) By this time the whole of the British Army were armed with rifles.
There are always exceptions to the general rule, which makes it so easy to nitpick - and so enjoyable. Dragoons were effectively heavy cavalry however, even though they may have been lighter in equipment than horse regiments. Some horse became dragoons however and some became dragoon guards - some dragoon regts became dragoon guards, which was lighter again - the title just being a sop to pride because most never had a royal guard role.

Yes there were experiements going on with light troops in both the cavalry and infantry roles but in general it was the use of guerilla tactics by American revolutionaries which drove it on. It was the introduction of the Baker rifle which gave us the 'rifle companies' and regiments at a time when the rest of the army was still dragging the Brown Bess around.

(that's all off the top of my napper btw because I'm at work and don't have time to check reference sources).
 
#14
For those that have seen the film of Last of the Mohicans, you may recall the scene wherein a body of redcoated infantry was ambushed on either side by the pesky natives. I understand that this was based on an episode that happened to the 60th.

The bottom line was that the British Army realised that red was not really the best colour for hiding, and introduced (rifle) green clothing for some.
 
#16
GDav said:
(that's all off the top of my napper btw because I'm at work and don't have time to check reference sources).
You should check your sources. You are a war out. The developments you attribute to the 1770s happen in the 1750s.

The question that started the thread was a good question about a slightly obscure topic. I posted what I found out.

Origins of skirmishers

David Chandler - The art of warfare in the age of Marlborough
Maurice de Saxe - Ma Revieiries

Development of British Light infantry in the Seven Years war and American Revolution:

- De Savery The Histoy of His Britiannic Majesties Forces In Germany in the Seven Years War
- Cassells Biographical dictionary of the Armeican War of Independence
- "Uniforms of the Seven Years War

Role of Dragoons in the C17th
- Wagner :European weapons and warfare 1618-48
- C B Rogers Generals of the English Civil War
- Weller Hastings to Culloden
 
#17
I don't think I am a war out. Without checking a thing I know that, although there were light companies by the time of the American Civil War that actual light infantry regiments were not conceived until then. Cavalry is much the same but the use of light cavalry predates that of light infantry.

It is a very good question but I would have to stand by my earlier remarks that the army has evolved to meet new challenges, even before the New Model Army.

If it hadn't we'd still be using the longbow and pikes.
 
#19
Interesting thread. Know it's old, but just wanted to ask a question:

The (technically) British Army didn't exist before 1701 btw until after the first act of union.
Is this right? I'm pretty sure the British Army in some ways pre-dates the (Parliamentary) Union - actually in 1707 - which is why some people were so upset when the Royal Scots (the first "British" regiment, raised under a Royal Warrant in the 1600s) were amalgamated out of existence.

Prior to that there were three armies, the English, Scots and Irish, all with different establishments but all pledging allegiance to the English monarch.
That's definitely not right. The monarch was not an "English" monarch; he was separately king of England (with Wales), Ireland (where he was sometimes just "Lord" rather than "King", if I recall correctly) and Scotland. If anything his pedigree was Scottish rather than English, the crowns having been first united by James VI, King of Scots, whose claim wound its way back to Robert the Bruce (and through him, interestingly, England's ancient Saxon royalty).
 
#20
If we go further back to the pike & musket days, the armies generally drew up sensibly enough with the Inf in the centre and Cav on each flank. Often a line of skirmishers was pushed forward to probe the en, (and perhaps goad him into an unplanned attack,) and to check for unseen units in dead gnd.

This line, which consisted of matchlock musketeers who either foolhardy, had thrown an unlucky six or had just slammed their tabs in for an interview without coffee, revelled in the name of the 'Folorn Hope.'

Bugger ! I just know what my position on the field would have been some three hundred and sixty odd years back.
Thanks for that Cuts. Up until now I'd only associated that term with a breach-storming party.

Fowler's Modern English Usage: forlorn hope

now means only 'a faint hope, an enterprise which has little hope of success', but its form has nothing to do with the English word hope. It was a 16th century adaptation of Dutch verloren hoop, literally meaning 'lost troop', and in English originally meant 'a picked body of men detached to lead an attack'. The current figurative use, first recorded in 1641, has driven out all memory of the original meaning.




Oxford Companion to Military History: forlorn hope

Forlorn hope (from Dutch: verloren hoop, lost troop), a party of soldiers assigned to a particularly perilous duty. In the British civil wars the term applied both to musketeers posted in front of an army's main body, with the task of disorganizing the enemy's advance, and to a detachment which led an attempt to storm a fortress.

During the Peninsular war the British army regularly used forlorn hopes to lead the assault on a breach in a fortress's defences. Despite the extraordinary danger, there was no shortage of volunteers, although it was a rare stormer who had not fortified himself with alcohol. Officers might expect (but were not guaranteed) promotion, and men regarded it as an honour to lead the attack. Their poor prospects of survival are underlined by the fact that the term now means a desperate venture or faint hope.
 

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