Home Forums Horse and Musket Napoleonic French Artillery – required reading;-)

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    Avatar photoJonathan Gingerich

    A very interesting article by Peter Fitzgerald on the Calpe Miniatures site. Seems the French didn’t just have two versions of artillery (Gribeauval and An XI) but yet a third – 1807/8.
    Not sure who the digs at “experts” are aimed at, as there are a few out there! 🙂

    Avatar photoGeneral Slade

    As a Napoleonics player I feel a vague sense of guilt about how little attention I pay to artillery.  I’ve bought books on the subject but I have never actually read any of them and when the experts start debating the advantages of one system over another I’m afraid my eyes start to glaze over.

    Avatar photoPatrice

    I don’t do Napoleonics (except some small RPG skirmishes sometimes) but that’s an interesting article, thanks.


    Avatar photoDeleted User

    Napoleonic artillery is a particular interest of mine, so thanks for the link.


    Having written that, I must admit I can’t see how it would effect gaming. Indeed, for me this is true for most of the minutiae of the period.


    Avatar photoJonathan Gingerich

    Well I suppose calling it required reading might suggest it is Important😉 Who knows? Perhaps the 3-D printing revolution will allows us to create 1807/8 carriages with Gribeauval tubes at will. Meanwhile I have to agree that any two bracket model will do. I’m still waiting for a manufacturer to offer a correctly equipped Russian jaeger, after all. But I do find the minutiae a very enjoyable part of the hobby. Right now I’m working out how to present the change from iron to gold-colored spurs in the Russian artillery.

    Also, the information does tend to separate the sheep from the goats. Granted Fitzgerald does not cite his sources, he has a good reputation and the narrative is convincing. It is a subject a number of people have been investigating and this is the first time I’ve seen this explanation. That is, that the reworked equipment constituted a new design. There has been mention of modifications, but as an ad hoc design. There is the larger context, the argument whether French artillery had intrinsic advantages. I think that debate has been settled for the thoughtful hobbyist, but it doesn’t stop  the echos.

    I do think understanding artillery is key to the later Napoleonic period.  All the big battles from Aspern-Essling  seem to feature enormous artillery bombardments  substituting for volley fire to break the opponent. Did Waterloo start late because the mud held up the artillery, or did it start late because the French doctrine required a preparatory bombardment.  How much of a physical obstacle was the gun line backed by multiple caisson lines? How vulnerable was a grand battery to infantry or cavalry attack? At Waterloo, the French were hit by the British heavies masked by the routing French infantry. But how degraded was subsequent French efficiency? Or for that matter, how effective was the Allied artillery after the cuirassiers repeatedly swept Wellington’s right flank?  Barbero sees the whole battle as a struggle to clear the field in order to bring the battery forward to blast the Allied center.

    My own thinking about Borodino has been greatly influenced by this. I sat down to try and understand why there were only about 100 guns in the French battery and realized that was as many as would fit between the woods on either side. That, in turn, led me to think that the capture of the village of Borodino was quite important. I had read Duffy way back when who felt it was just a waste of the overexposed L-g. Jaeger. But if they had properly prepared their position, perhaps they could have hung on like the Allies as Hougoumont.  The front of the great redoubt was protected by a woods at effective cannon range. The French could not bring batteries in without getting smashed. But the capture of the village allowed Eugene to establish batteries to bombard the great redoubt from the north, leading, eventually, to a successful French assault.

    On the flip side, I think I calculated that the Russians could cover the front with guns 10 yards apart three times! Which makes me suspect that: the Russian batteries were not at full strength; the Russian emphasis on 12lbers was an inefficient use of its manpower; French casualties have been minimized. Compare the respective casualties at Wagram and its massive artillery duel.

    Which raises another question, how effective was counter-battery fire? For all the yakking about doctrine eschewing it, few ever point out that when the enemy battle line is one enormous battery backed by infantry, it’s not really possible to target one and not the other.

    I think we have some feel for how long a battalion could stand exchanging volleys at what distances, but I’m not sure we have a very good handle on the basics of grand batteries. – It’s bit like another interest of mine, the battle of Jutland. The combat was highly statistical but we have scant data. To this day it is unclear if the British BC losses were due to inadequate armor, reckless munition handling, or a problem in their propellant chemistry. And what about the remarkable impotence of the torpedoes? You can pretty much justify all kinds of guesses.

    Avatar photoJonathan Gingerich

    I see Kevin Kiley has finally posted a rebuttal to the notion there was an 1808 pattern of French artillery. Basically, he cites (a translation of) N Persey’s “Notions élémentaires sur les formes des bouches à feu et sur les systèmes d’artillerie à l’usage des élèves de l’École royale de l’artillerie et du génie / Cours de balistique à l’usage des élèves de l’École royale de l’artillerie et du génie”. Since Professeur Persey doesn’t mention an 1808 pattern, it must not exist! You would think Kevin would have weaned himself off of proving a negative…

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