Napoleonic–Era Marines


Royal Marines Landing

Marines have traditionally been sea-going infantry, able to fight as well on land as on board ship. During the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, all navies had a complement of marines on board their vessels, and when there was a shortage of such troops, resorted to using soldiers from the army.

On board ship, marines were associated with helping to maintain discipline and enforce regulations below deck, suppressing mutinies, and performing guard duties. British marines (they received the title “Royal” in 1802) were to stand guard whenever punishment was inflicted. In the Royal Navy it was normal practice to maintain a social barrier between the marines and seamen, to ensure that the former did not form a bond with the seamen in the event of mutiny. However, this policy did not always succeed, as many marines took part in the mutinies at Spithead and the Nore in 1797.

Marines played an important role in the amphibious warfare that was a notable feature of the era. Small landing parties could consist of a mix of marines and armed seamen, while for specific operations large detachments of marines would be involved. In 1808 a party of 300 marines from all the Royal Navy ships on the Portugal station were brought together and landed at Figueras in support of a local uprising. A Royal Marine battalion was added to Sir Home Popham’s forces on the north coast of Spain in 1812, taking part in many landings, including the capture of Santander.

Apart from amphibious operations, marines were used extensively on land. They formed garrisons in friendly ports, especially when enemy colonies were captured. In Europe, French marines formed the garrisons of many coastal fortifications. French colonial garrisons also included detachments of these men.

In battle at sea, marines had a number of roles to play. Detachments would be used to fire disciplined volleys of musketry at opposing ships when they came into range; individual marines in the rigging would fire onto enemy decks, aiming at officers and gun crews. Boarding parties would consist of both marines and sailors, and the former would help defend against such onslaughts. On the capture of an enemy vessel, marines played a prominent role in securing the prize and guarding prisoners of war.

The employment of artillerymen from the army on board ship often gave rise to disputes over who had authority over such non-naval personnel. In 1804 the British Admiralty formed the Royal Marine Artillery to man the mortars and guns on bomb vessels, and these troops were landed (often with howitzers) in support of naval operations on land in the Iberian Peninsula and in America during the War of 1812. The French had no marine infantry units as such after 1795, but did have units of marine artillery who were trained and equipped as infantry and expected to perform all the duties of marines. After 1803 many French marines found themselves in the armies marching across Europe, especially in the campaigns of 1813 and 1814, as Napoleon sought ever-more troops to bolster his dwindling forces.

Royal Marines

In addition to its ordinary crew, every warship from sloops through frigates and ships of the line was supplied with a contingent of marines, who comprised about a fifth of a ship’s company. Approximately 120 marines served aboard a 74-gun ship, whose full complement numbered about 550. About 150 served aboard a first rate. Marines (who were designated ‘Royal Marines’ from April 1803) had originated as soldiers, drawn from foot regiments and assigned for service at sea. Unlike many sailors, marines were never pressed, but rather were composed entirely of volunteers who normally agreed to serve for the duration of the war. Many other differences separated sailors and marines, as one contemporary observer noted:

No two races of men, I had well-nigh said two animals, differ from one another more completely than the ‘Jollies’ and ‘Johnnies’. The marines … enlisted for life, or for long periods as in the Regular Army, and, when not employed afloat, are kept in barracks, in such constant training, under the direction of their officers, that they are never released for one moment of their lives from the influence of strict discipline and habitual obedience. The sailors, on the contrary, when their ship is paid off, are turned adrift, and so completely scattered abroad, that they generally lose … all they have learned of good order during the previous three or four years. Even when both parties are placed on board ship, and the general discipline maintained in its fullest operation, the influence of regular order and exact subordination is at least twice as great over the marines as it can ever be over the sailors.

When hostilities began in February 1793 the marines numbered only 5,000, but by 1802 they had expanded enormously to 30,000, a figure which remained about the same until fighting with France ended 12 years later. The Royal Marines were based at four locations: Chatham, Portsmouth, Plymouth and Woolwich.

The Marines performed two functions: when at sea when their ship was not in the presence of an enemy they stood watch at various points in the ship such as at the admiral’s and other officers’ quarters, the magazine, the spirit room (where alcohol was stored) and other areas that required some form of security. In this capacity, marines served to prevent indiscipline and mutiny, and it is unsurprising that their own quarters, separate from those of the sailors, were strategically located near the wardroom, thus providing a buffer between the officers and seamen. When not acting as sentinels, marines assisted in various tasks, such as in adding their strength to those seamen engaged in heavy lifting and hoisting. Marines often assisted in hauling ropes, turning the capstan when raising the anchor to get under way, and carrying heavy loads. Marines were not required to work amongst the rigging, but might do so as volunteers keen to acquire the skills of an able seaman.

When their ship engaged the enemy, the marines’ principal function was to provide small-arms fire, usually from the quarterdeck, when an opposing ship came within range of their muskets. They would also lead boarding parties or repel boarders on to their own vessel. Where their firepower and close-quarter fighting skills were not required, marines assisted at the guns, usually in some simple capacity that would enable them to leave this temporary post to assume their customary role elsewhere. During operations they provided a spearhead for soldiers or sailors, particularly against fortified positions and naval installations. Marines were also used in cutting-out operations, which involved seizing enemy vessels at anchor and either sailing them away as prizes or setting them alight. Marines could also be sent ashore to guard prisoners, weapons, powder or buildings.

References and further reading Brooks, Richard. 2002. The Royal Marines: A History. London: Constable and Robinson. Chartrand, René. 1990. Napoleon’s Sea Soldiers. London: Osprey. Fremont-Barnes, Gregory. 2005. Nelson’s Sailors. Oxford: Osprey. Lavery, Brian. 1989. Nelson’s Navy: The Ships, Men and Organisation, 1793-1815. London: Conway Maritime.


Marvie and Bastogne December 1944 I


After a probing attack by a single Kompanie drove a company of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment out of Wardin on 19 December, but was then repulsed outside Marvie Hauser threw the whole regiment in on the 23rd.

Oberst Paul von Hauser’s ‘Kampfgruppe 901′, comprising his own 901 Panzergrenadier Regiment, the PzKpfw IVs of 6 Kompanie, II/130 Panzer Regiment, and 5 Batterie of II/130 Panzer Artillerie Regiment, was now thrown against the defenders in Marvie. These comprised some of Templeton’s M18s and the 30 M4s of CCB/10th’s Team ‘O’Hara’, now reinforced by II/327th Glider Infantry Regiment. Hauser’s first probe against Marvie was a disaster: a single grenadier company got half a dozen half-tracks into the village before they were ejected, and the four PzKpfw IVs and Jagdpanzer IV in support were shot to pieces, only one tank surviving. Hauser’s next attack did not take place until 23 December, by which time the Karnpfgruppe had been subordinated to Kokott’s 26 Volksgrenadier Division. After shelling Marvie at 1725 hrs, 901 Panzer-grenadier Regiment launched a three-pronged assault directly at the village and either side of it. The flanking attacks were both rebuffed and 6 Kompanie’s PzKpfw IVs suffered at the hands of O’Hara’s M4s and Templeton’s M18s. In the centre, though, the grenadiers overran one platoon of paras and got into the eastern edge of Marvie but, when dawn came on Christmas Eve, that was the whole extent of their victory. Although fighting continued until Patton’s tanks broke through to Bastogne on Boxing Day, Hauser’s Kampfgruppe had only managed to dent, not pierce, the American perimeter. The result was the same in the simultaneous attack on Senochamps.


The US 101st Airborne has been almost completely surrounded at Bastogne. The US 82nd Airborne Division is pushed out of Hoffalize as the German offensive continues. U.S. forces retake Stavelot and halt the German LXVII Corps.

General der Infanterie Heinz Kokott, Commanding General 26 Volks Grenadier Division: “Towards 1000 hours the weather cleared up – for the first time since the start of the offensive. This had been dreaded by everybody [not by me] for it was well known what a clear day would mean! And after barely two hours, the first enemy fighter-bombers appeared in the sky – though not yet in great numbers!

“With that moment, the enemy was able to bring a dreaded and very effective weapon into battle, and – on the basis of the assurances and promises which had been given by the very highest command to both the combat leaders and men prior to the offensive – it could only be hoped that this time the German air force could knock the enemy out of the skies!

“During the morning . . . Rifle Regiment 39 reported a successful advance . . . towards Assenois as well as fierce, but slowly progressing, fighting in the wooded terrain between Assenois and Villeroux. Everywhere the enemy fought determinedly and also made some counter attacks but was forced back steadily.”


The 26th Reconnaissance, along with elements of the 5th Infantry Parachute Division, seized Sibret during the dark, early morning hours.


“Bitter fighting had taken place – particularly inside the town [of Sibret] and around an anti-tank gun barricade in the southern part – and for a time the battle was fluctuating and dramatic. In the end, however, the brave defenders had succumbed to the incessant assault from all directions. Reconnaissance Battalion 26 stimulated by its success and the personal example set by the battalion commander kept at the heels of the withdrawing enemy and stormed into the enemy artillery which was then just ready for displacement in the area north of Sibert. In addition to a sizeable number of prisoners, more than 20 guns of all types with ammunition were captured, as well as a great number of tanks and armored vehicles with motors still running and also many truck and jeeps. The enemy had suffered bloody losses. The reconnaissance battalion’s losses had also been considerable.”

“On the afternoon of 21 December, the reinforced Rifle Regiment 39 fought its way up to Assenois against stubbornly fighting enemy forces and penetrated the southern part of the village. The Engineer Battalion and elements of the Replacement Training Battalion (subordinated to Rifle Regiment 39) were advancing further to the right and were fighting in the Bois Bechu Forest, or the southern part of the Bois Hazy Forest respectively, which resulted in loose contact with Regiment 901 of there Panzer Lehr Division, located between Remoifosse and Marvie.

“The enemy carried out several counterattacks which, though at times leading to critical situations for the Engineer Battalion and the Replacement Training Battalion could in the long run, always be checked.

“Reconnaissance Battalion 26 in its continued advance came across stubborn enemy resistance outside Senonchanps and at the same time was being attacked from the area north of Villeroux. The battalion was in quite a predicament, especially since those elements which had been committed for the protection of the left flank, had failed to get past enemy occupied Chenogne and were engaged in a battle for the village.

“With great difficulties and utmost effort only, the reconnaissance battalion, during fluctuating battles, was able to check the powerful armored counterthrusts of the enemy from the Senonchanps area and the north thereof as well as attacks from Villerous.


Team Brown, 420th Armored Field Artillery Battalion and tanks of Combat Command B, 10th Armored Division were located in the Senonchamps areas. Also located in the path of Reconnaissance Battalion 26 was Battery B, 797th AAA Automatic Weapons Battalion (Mobile). Its 50 caliber (12.7 millimeter) ‘meatchoppers” help stopped the German advance on Sensonchamps. The counterthrusts were made by elements of and Combat Command B, 10th Armored Division.


“The enemy pressure between Assenois and Villeroux also became so great by late afternoon that the attack by the left wing group of Rifle Regiment 39 towards Villerous gained ground with little progress only.

“A noticeable relief for the fighting of Reconnaissance Battalion 26 arrived by the early evening of 21 December, after Chebogne had been captured by the left flank covering party and after elements of the left wing group of Rifle Regiment 39 had at last pushed their way up between Assenois and Villerous to about the highway south to and past the railroad line southwest of Villerous.

“Towards evening the enemy gave up his attacks against the right flank of Reconnaissance Battalion 26 and began to concentrate for a stubborn defense inside Villerous. Elements of Rifle Regiment 39 at first made futile attempts to attack these defenses. Late in the evening, Reconnaissance Battalion 26 made several attempts – while neutralizing the enemy forces near Senonchamps – to push up to the north, or northeast respectively, towards the Mande – St. Entienne road. Heavy fire from the north, however, as well as a number of furious enemy counterthrusts from the east, between Senonchamps and the highway, prevented these elements from reaching the road and from ‘digging in’ on both sides of the road.

“Late in the evening, the division, prompted by the mounting losses of Reconnaissance Battalion 26, ordered these attacks against the road to be discontinued temporarily.. The division could afford this after it had been found that the reconnaissance battalion had the northern and northeastern edges of the Bois de Fragotte – and Bois de Valet Forests well in hand and that it was in a position to dominate the Bastogne – Ortheuville road [to the west with fire and at least hinder traffic.”


To the north and northeast of Bastogne the day was quiet. The Germans had apparently decided that there was no road through the 506th and 501st Parachute Infantry Regiments to Bastogne. For the next few days the action would be in the areas to the south and southwest of Bastogne.

The German forces that have bypassed Bastogne do not have the strength or supplies because of the growing effectiveness of Allied air support. The U.S. 101st Airborne Division in Bastogne holds out.

General der Infanterie Heinz Kokott, Commanding General 26 Volks Grenadier Division: By 23 December the circumference of the ring around Bastogne would be approximately 25 kilometers (15.5 miles)


“The entire southern sector, which now had become the point of the main effort, could be supplied solely by way of the Doncols – Lutremange road. It had to be shared by: Panzer Lehr Division, 5th Parachute Infantry Division and the 26th Volks Grenadier Division. It can well be imagined what congestion this was bound to bring about, since the supply elements for three divisions could be carried out only during the hours of darkness: And this on a poor, rundown and narrow road! It was fortunate that at first there was little enemy fire – and this only on certain points – directed against this artery.”

“On late evening of 21 December, the orders for 22 December had arrived from corps. They stated:

“1. . . . the overall command for the encirclement front around Bastogne is being passed on to the commander of the 26th Volks Grenadier Division.

“2.. For that purpose, Regiment 901 of the Panzer Lehr Division and the 2nd Artillery Battalion of the Volks Artillery Corps are being subordinated to the 26th Division.

“3. The (reinforced) 26th Division on 22 December relieves the security detachments of the 2nd Panzer Division which are still located between Recogne and Champs [in the north, southwest of Noville], closes the encirclement between Champs and Senonchamps [on the western side of the encirclement, a distance of 4.8 kilometers (3.0 miles)] and continues the attack for the capture of Bastogne.

“The 5th Parachute Infantry Division (left neighbor) had reported that it had formed flank protection between Hollange and Remichampagne and that a sizeable advance section of the division had reached the Neufchateau highway near Vaux-les-Rosieres and had crossed the highway far to the west. No enemy resistance.

“The division was now inclined to judge the situation in a more favorable light – based on the mor than reassuring description by corps – both with regard to enemy strength inside Bastogne and also regarding the steady drive by the Panzer divisions [to the west] and the advance of the 5th parachute Infantry Division.

“The: When the corps charged a single infantry division with the encirclement of Bastogne and at the same time with the capture of Bastogne – in other words: it took the success of the attack for granted -, then such an order could only be based on the knowledge of the enemy’s inferiority in numbers and in his shattered morale.”

“The confidence, placed by both leaders and men into the precise and realistic workings of the staffs of corps and army, excluded right from the start any doubts as to a tactically faulty, thoughtless or unfeasible order to any of its subordinate commands.


Regiments 77 and 78 in the east were so thin on the ground that they were maintaining only security forces in some locations. In the south losses in Reconnaissance Battalion 26 and Rifle Regiment 39 had been considerable. Infantry companies were down to 40 men. The Replacement Training Battalion sent reinforcements to the 26th and 39th.

The attack would continue in the southwest with Reconnaissance Battalion 26 was to attack along the axis Senonchamps – Isle-la-Hesse.


“The initial mission of Rifle Regiment 39 was the capture of Villeroux. Then the immediate objective or Isle-la-Pre was to be aimed for, with the main effort on both sides of the railroad line and road (Neufchateau – Bastogne). The eastern [right] section of the regiment, after capture of the northern part of Assenois, was to flow up staggered rearwards to the right and to fight its way forward to the northern edges of the Bois d’Hazy Forest.

“Regiment 901 was ordered to join with most of its forces to the left of the attack by the eastern section of Rifle Regiment 39.”


The division was concerned that forces in the north might be brought to the southern sectors to reinforce the defenders there. However, it did not have the resources to prevent this.


“The regiments had finished their preparations and arrangements – as per orders issued – by the morning hours of 22 December.”

“It was a bitter, cold day. There was every indication that the weather would be clear – i.e. fir for commitment of the air force. The ground was frozen solidly. An icy wind was blowing over the snow-covered countryside.”

“Between 0700 and 0800 hours, the reinforced Rifle Regiment 39 and Reconnaissance Battalion 26 began the attack. Heavy fighting for the village of Villeroux flared up Despite the fact that the village was being covered intensively by fire, thus causing considerable losses to the defender, almost every house and every cellar had to be fought for.

“After 0900 hours – the day had been clear – the first fighter-bombers of the day appeared; they were more numerous than on the previous day. While not intervening in the closely knit battles in the village, they all the more swooped down on the villages immediately behind the firing line, where the reserves, staffs, supply dumps, advanced message centers and similar installations were located, with the result that all normal movements from rear to front were, at least, greatly handicapped.

“Similar to those at Villeroux, there were fierce engagements in Assenois (north) and the wooded section north west of Assenois. Everywhere the enemy fought with great tenacity, stubbornness and skill against Rifle Regiment 39.

“Reconnaissance Battalion 26 had been attacking since 0800 hours from the Bois de Fragotte Forest towards Senonchanps. There also the enemy opposed the assault with all its strength.”