The Austrian Army circa 1800 Part II

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ARTILLERY

The Austrian artillery of our period was a creation of the Lichtenstein system of the 1750s. Known for its economy and standardization of equipment, this system of guns and equipment would remain in use until 1850. The system produced a series of 3,6, 12 and 18pdr calibre guns, together with 7 and 10pdr howitzers, based around standardized carriage and wheel designs. In the 1780s more mobile cavalry artillery guns were added with their Wurst seats, on which sat most of the crew. Heavier 12, 18 and 24pdrs were divided into two types: Batterie Geschiitz (siege guns) and Verteidigungs Geschiitz (defence artillery).

The artillery was a single force within the army under the Director General of Artillery. From 1772 it was organized into the Feldartillerie (field artillery), the Garnisonsamt (garrison force) and the Feldzeugamt (administrative organization with responsibilities across the artillery service). The field artillery was mustered in three regiments (increased to four in 1802), each comprising four battalions that subdivided into four companies, expanded to a total of 22 in wartime (18 for the Wars of Liberation). In 1805 an artillery company was composed of 4 officers, 14 NCOs, 159 gunners and 5 others.

By 1790, Austria’s artillery was considered the best in Europe, primarily because of its technical specialists, the bombardiers. No other army possessed similar artillery personnel. Prince Lichtenstein had established a specialist Artillery Korps school near Budweis (Bohemia) in I 744, which also included depots and laboratories. Officers together with able NCOs and gunners were instructed in both the theoretical and practical aspects of artillery subjects. After a move to the Artillerielyceum in Vienna in 1778, the Bombardier Regiment was established as the elite of the artillery in 1786, when its home was renamed the Bombardier Korps school. The Korps was composed of four companies, expanded to five in 1802. The bombardier companies were commanded by the lecturers and comprised 1 Hauptmann, 3 Leutnants, 24 Oberfeuerwerker, 36 Feuerwerker, 6 Kadetts and 108 Bombardiers.

This unit was the main training school for the NCOs and officers, drawing on the most intelligent and able recruits, who were trained for up to seven years in a mix of advanced academic and military subjects. Winter work focused on theory, summer on practical exercises. They would join military exercises and perform garrison duties. The first five years focused on arithmetic, geometry, two years of advanced maths, mechanics and ballistics. Throughout, they undertook the same general artillery training as gunners, with additional classes in geometric drawing, topography and surveying, fortress warfare, tactics, logistics, staff and adjutant work. After five years, most were appointed as Feuerwerkers or Korporals and joined the regiments, particularly the howitzer crews. The best candidates were promoted to Oberfeuerwerker and stayed for a further two years, focusing on physics and finally, chemistry and technology, after which they would join the regiments. Most would be commissioned within an additional four years.

Gunners were paid one-third more than the equivalent ranks in the infantry and this, together with the humane conditions prescribed by the 1757 regulations, enabled the artillery to recruit freely amongst the more intelligent men in the rest of the army and to seek civilian volunteers, especially skilled tradesmen, across the Austrian Empire. Volunteers, who had to be Imperial subjects, were chosen for their self-reliance and decisiveness, alongside the ability to absorb the technical details of the arm. The training and knowledge required meant that service was for life, reduced to 14 years under the 1802 reforms.

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CAVALRY

The Austrian cavalry had started the French Revolutionary Wars as completely dominant over their French counterparts. By 1801, they still believed themselves to be the best horsemen in Europe, and in March 1809 there was a total of 44,490 cavalrymen and 42,791 horses in the forces of the Hapsburg Empire. By this time, however, any notions of supremacy had received a nasty shock. While the Austrians’ tactics and training remained stagnant, their French counterparts had creating cavalry that could function en masse. The majority of the Austrian cavalry was parceled out in ‘penny packets’ to the various infantry formations, which led to occasion after occasion where they would be thrown over by superior enemy numbers at the point of attack. Individually their cuirassiers, dragoons, chevauxlegers and Uhlans were still good, but coordination was all but nonexistent. The limitations in the command system employed prevented the cavalry from reaching their full, lethal potential, and successive reorganizations did little to correct the problems.

Cavalrymen were recruited in much the same way as infantrymen. They were supposed to come from the ranks of those who had already completed their infantry training, but this stipulation was largely ignored. Cavalry regiments (especially Hungarian units) were rarely short of those wanting to join their ranks. This was reflected in the bounties paid to men enlisted in the smaller south German states, which provided so much of the Austrian army’s manpower: an infantry recruit received 35 florins, whereas a cavalry recruit took only 29 – such was a clear indication of the preference for the mounted arm amongst the mass of potential recruits.

The rank system used in the cavalry was much like that of the infantry, and as in the infantry the quality of the officer corps was critical to the efficacy of the regiment. Such was apparent in the 1806 regulations, which claimed that poor-quality soldiers with good officers had a combat superiority over well-trained soldiers with poor officers. Yet finding fine officers amongst a higher command influenced by nepotism and politics was no easy business. Many commanders went into battle lacking experience of active service. As Archduke Charles reported from the Netherlands in 1794, so dissatisfied with their commanders were the officers of the Kinsky Chevaux-legers that ‘they have sworn that the first such gentleman who delivers an order to attack will be forced to take part in the charge’ As with the infantry, the Inhaber (colonel-proprietor) had an unusual amount of control over the regiment, dictating everything from general orders through to who received a regimental commission. Each regiment actually bore the name of its Inhaber, meaning that there was a regimental name change with the appointment of a new commander.

Again as with the infantry, there were distinct differences between those regiments formed in ‘German’ and ‘Hungarian’ areas of the empire; the former included all non ‘Hungarians’ such as Walloons and Italians, and the latter Croatians, Slovenians and Transylvanians. Hungarian cavalry were all hussars, and therefore acted as the light cavalry. The other ‘German’ cavalry regiments provided the heavy and medium cavalry, although the chevauxlegers were classed as light cavalry but had more in common with medium dragoons. Cavalry took more time to train than infantry, and this led to little difference between peacetime and wartime establishments. A ‘Reserve Division’ was also kept active, this serving an emergency resource during times of war.

In 1792 the Austrian cavalry had numbered 40,000 troops. These men were organized as follows: two regiments of carabiniers; nine regiments of cuirassiers, six regiments of dragoons; seven regiments of chevaux-legers, one ‘Staff-Dragoon’ regiment; nine regiments of Hungarian hussars; one regiment of Skekler Grenz (border) hussars; and one regiment of Uhlans. Regiments were organized into ‘divisions’, these comprising two squadrons, with two Flügel (‘wings’) per squadron and two Zugen (platoons) each. Carabinier and cuirassier regiments had squadrons numbering around 150 men all ranks, while the medium and light cavalry regiments had 170-180. Carabinier and hussar regiments had four divisions totalling eight squadrons; the Skekler Grenz hussars had five divisions; the Uhlans had two divisions; and all other regiments had three divisions. There was also a standard-escort, which totalled 24 men in the carabiniers and hussars and 18 men in the other regiments.

In 1798 structural changes swept through the Austrian cavalry, mainly affecting the German regiments. The number of cuirassier regiments was taken up to 12, this being achieved by creating a new formation, the 12th Cuirassiers, and by converting both of the carabinier corps. Dragoons and Chevauxlegers were compressed into 15 light dragoon regiments, and the hussars were expanded to 12 regiments. An additional Uhlan regiment was created, as was a new corps of mounted Jagers (Jager Regt,. zu Pferd ‘Bussy). Also, from this date Austrian cavalry regiments were numbered consecutively across all their types.

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