The Austrian Army in 1812


As might be expected of the most ancient and conservative of the great powers in 1812, the Austrian army was organized on principles developed for the feudal armies of the Middle Ages. Each regiment was originally raised by a wealthy noble called the "Inhaber" who also acted as honorary colonel. When the Inhaber was a famous or royal personage a "Second Inhaber" was chosen from among the nobility to perform his duties. The powers of the Inhaber were great, and beyond appointing company officers the Inhaber had much legal authority over his regiment like a medieval lord. Even in 1812 some regiments still were so raised although most Inhabers were appointed by the Hofkriegsrat. Each regiment was identified by the Inhaber's name as well as a number, and when the Inhaber changed so did the regimental name. The Inhaber was often of the same nationality as the regiment, be it German, Bohemian, Moravian, Hungarian, Galician, etc. and this reflected the Habsburg vision of their army as the feudal people in arms under the control of the aristocracy.

Larger units such as brigades, corps and armies were created for use in a single campaign only and so did not function very effectively. Staff work was virtually nonexistant, despite the hard work of Archduke Charles in the years leading up to the 1809 campaign. With the removal of Charles from high command the staff was reduced in efficiency and returned to the old days of petty aristocratic bickering and power struggles. Schwarzenberg was chosen to command in 1812 partly at the request of Napoleon, who saw some military merit in him, but primarily because he was impeccably conservative and from one of the most ancient families in Europe.

Even though the Emperor of Austria was also King of Hungary, the Hungarian army was kept separate in its uniform and organization. The Hungarians wore their tight blue trousers with "Hungarian knots"and low boots rather than breeches, gaiters and shoes like the "German" regiments.It should be noted that the "German" regiments included all Waloon, Bohemian, Moravian, Galician, Croatian and Italian units too. Hungarian cavalry included only the national hussars with their distinctive dress, and even Hungarian general officers had a uniform based on the hussar costume. German companies had 218 men; Hungarian 238. Each regiment had three field battalions of three two-company divisions each and a depot division of two large companies numbering 881 men. Theoretical totals were thus 3,999 men in an Austrian regiment and 4,359 in a Hungarian one, although they were seldom at full strength.

The Austrians did not have the multiplicity of infantry types as did the French and most other powers. To make up for the lack of shock troops like the French Garde, the grenadier companies of all regiments were permanently detached to make up grenadier battalions. These were named for their current commander and were under the direct control of the field commander. In Russia these were the battalions Kirchenbetter and Bresinsky. There was also a special class of infantry originally raised to defend the Croatian and Transylvanian borders (or Grenz) against the Turks. During the long Napoleonic Wars these Grenz regiments became absorbed into the main army and performed rather well, despite being somewhat smaller at 2,980 men each. In Russia the St. George Grenz No. 6 was in Trautenberg's Division.

There were numerous landwehr units throughout the Empire, and in time of local invasion or great stress, as in 1809, they were called out to increase army strength. On the whole they performed poorly and the experiment was not long maintained. The Austrian government had a continual fear of revolt in their polyglot Empire and so would rather risk losing wars than trust their citizenry. The Hungarian militia, or "Insurrection", was even more independant than the Hungarian army units. The Emperor could not call it out and require service; he had to ask the Hungarian Parliament of Nobles for its use and it could be, and was, refused him on occassion. None of these landwehr units served in Russia.

The last infantry type were the Tyrolian Jaegers, or hunters. They were raised from the Tyrolian mountain people who were both experienced hunters and marksmen and intensely conservative and devoted to the Habsburg family. Even though they were listed as a regiment -- to 1809 the Tyrolian land- und feld-I.R. 46, then the 64th I.R. Chasteler -- they were never so employed. Instead, individual battalions were attached to a corps to act as light infanty as needed. During the long wars the number of battalions steadily increased, even after the French took the Tyrol from Austria and gave it to Bavaria. In the end jaeger units were also raised in Bohemia and Moravia as well as Austria as the Czech regions became a primary recruiting ground for the army. Jaeger battalions 5 and 7 served in Russia.

The cavalry, being a survivor of a more aristocratic and ancient arm, had a greater multiplicity of unit types. The true heavy cavalry were the cuirassiers, of whom none served in Russia. The standard heavy cavalry were the dragoons. Light cavalry included chevaulegers, a peculiar light cavalry carryover from the past, hussars, derived from Hungarian cavalry, and lancers who imitated the traditional Polish cavalry. Dragoon, hussar and chevauleger units served with Schwarzenberg in 1812. Heavy cavalry had 144 men per squadron and six squadrons per regiment; light 180 men per squadron and eight squadrons per regiment. With the inclusion of officers a heavy regiment could number 906, hussars and uhlans 1493 and chevaulegers 1391 men. A reserve squadron of around 180 men was set aside as a reserve.

Artillery, as in other armies like the British, had three theoretical regiments but were actually split into companies or batteries and distributed to the corps as required. By 1812 the artillery was very experienced and had been organized into large and effective position batteries when possible as the French did. Also, similar to the Britiish army, there was a separate fuhrwesenkorps that moved and supplied the guns. The field artillery had 3, 6 and 12 pound guns and 6 pound howitzers. The 3 pounders were used as cavalry "horse guns" and given to a few border and landwehr units even though they were of little use and were eventually replaced by 6 pounders. Construction and siege units included the engineers, sappeurs, miners and pontonier formations. Small quantities were attached to each corps, and all were present in Russia.

The troops were armed and fought as in most other armies and the individual soldiers were often of high quality. Brigadier Gerrard of the French army is reported to have said; "I would rather face a battery of guns than a battalion of Hungarian infantry." Unfortunately the officer class was singularly inept and untrained. Officers were chosen and promoted on the basis of the status of their families, and, for the most part, they viewed service in the military as a comfortable life-long job that asked nothing of them. This sad fact remained true until the end of the Empire. There were officers in the First World War who, after three years sevice in that deadly campaign, were still under-lieutenants because they lacked family connections. As a consequence, elaborate plans and the ability to change plans during a battle were blueprints for disaster with the Austrians. For the most part they fought best in defensive battles from fixed positions and would repeatedly give up winnable battles in order to "preserve the army and save the Empire." The few generals who could inspire and direct offensive operations, such as Archduke Charles, seldom lasted long in this museum of an army.

Tactics had to take into account the quality and lack of training of the officers. Maneuver and control were difficult enough in a trained army given the rough ground battles were fought on. Despite the elaborate drill of the manuals simple, compact formations were all that was attempted in the field. This was largely due to resistance of the officers to any changes, such as Archduke Charles' "division masse" which imitated the French "ordre mixte". The Austrian favorite was the large "battalion masse" -- one company (55-60 men) wide and 18 ranks deep. It could be in "open order" for marching and manuever, with gaps between every company of three lines, or "closed masse" with all ranks adjacent when attacked by enemy cavalry. This last formation served the same purpose as infantry "squares". The shortage of light infantry units put the Austrians at a severe disadvantage in campaigning, both restricting their movement and increasing casualties from enemy light infantry when in combat.

In the end the Austrian army won because of the same reasons Austria and the Habsburgs survived so long -- stubborn tenacity, good alliances and refusing to give up a cause. Certainly the 1812 campaign in Russia is an example and interesting twist on this pattern. Expediency forced a Napoleonic marriage and alliance upon Austria, and her troops served Napoleon no better or worse than they did anyone else. In fact, compared to the total disaster that overtook the Grande Armée the service of the Austrians was successful and rather distinguished and they exited Russia with relatively low casualties and intact as a corps.


The Illustrations are, from top to bottom: Hussar Rgt. No. 4, Hessen-Homberg; Drummer from I.R. No.9, Czartoryski; Jaeger from Tyrolian Jaeger Bat. No. 5; Field Artillery Gunner; Grenadier Officer of Hungarian I.R. No. 2, Hiller.

The illustrations of Austrian soldiers are based on ones made by Brian Fosten and published in three fine books by Philip Haythornthwaith from Ospry Publishing of London (12-14 Longacre, London WC2E 9LP). These are the best source available in English today on the Austrian army of the Napoleonic wars. The Osprey series on historical military uniforms and history are, in general, an essential source for military historians and we reccommend them highly.
Austrian Army of the Napoleonic Wars (1): Infantry
Austrian Army of the Napoleonic Wars (2): Cavalry
Austrian Specialist Troops of the Napoleonic Wars


The Saxon Army in 1812

The Saxon Army of 1812 was a mixed lot. The infantry, even though re-equiped in the French mode and somewhat retrained, was universally considered mediocre at best. Although not an entirely true evaluation, the infantry was an ignored and nominal branch of the Saxon military establishment. The cavalry, in distinction, was well equiped and trained and among the best in Europe. Napoleon considered the Saxon cavalry alone worth an alliance with Saxony. By 1812 the Saxon infantry had turned more to jaegers and light infantry as this suited the needs of Napoleon and led to a better quality soldier given the Saxon temprement.

These illustrations show the appearance of the Saxon soldiers of 1812. The top illustration of infantry shows, from left to right, Prinz Anton Rgt., Von Rechten Rgt., Konig Rgt., and Jaegers. The bottom illustration of cavalry shows the Prinz Albrecht Chevaulegers on the left and the Von Zustrow Cuirassiers on the right.


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