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"Russian Jaegers" Topic

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP08 Nov 2010 10:10 a.m. PST

Always thinking that the best light infantry were on the ranks of the British and French Armies, I take note that it seems the Russians had very good ones.
General George Catheart who had served with the Russian Army and was well placed to make international comparisons, said:
"…individual intelligence is the main requisite, and the French are, without questions, by nature the most intelligent light infantry in the world… The Russians, like the British, are better troops of position than any of the other nations, but it is difficult to excel in all things, and their steadiness in the ranks, which after all is the great object to be desired, as well as their previous domestic habits, render them naturally less apt for light infantry purposes than more volatile nations, yet in both services particular corps, duly practiced in this particular branch, have proved themselves capable of being made by trainning equal to any men that could be opposed to them."
The Russian Jaeger Regiments has good regulations for marcksmanship, mobility, craftiness and skilful used of terrain. They had learn how to reload lying on his back and to fire from behind obstacles and folds in the ground. they must trick their enemies by pretending to be dead or by putting out his shako as a target. They told the men not to waste time polishing their muskets…

So, if the Russians were crack on that, on which battles they surpassed the french?.

Any guidance would be very apreciated.


Larry R08 Nov 2010 10:52 a.m. PST

Are you talking about Sir George Cathcart? 1794-1854? If so I think he was talking about the Crimean War, he was killed during the Battle of Inkerman

Esquire08 Nov 2010 11:14 a.m. PST

Just FYI -- There can be a disagreement about the extent to which Russian Jaegers engaged in true skirmish tactics. I am not a Russian player and do not own such figures -- thus, not a real student. I just know that the debate does go on.

Timbo W08 Nov 2010 12:25 p.m. PST

Hi Armand,

uh-oh, this could well get messy quickly!

The Russian Egers in the Napoleonic Wars don't have a great reputation overall for skirmishing. However, some regiments were pretty good, eg the Lifeguard Eger and the regiments that had served in Finand previously. I think one problem, especially in 1812 and 1813 was that the battles were so bloody that a lot of poorly trained reinforcements had to be used tp keep their numbers up.

Just my two-pennyworth before the big guns arrive and start blowing bits off one another..

Time to run away now!

summerfield08 Nov 2010 2:22 p.m. PST

Dear Armand
The best light infantry came from wooded or mountainous terraine. Consider Russia. The invasion route from the west is almost devoid of woods and mountains. The Drissa Camp was an attempt to compensate but would have failed in the vasteness of Russia. Experience, when and how to deploy is so important. It is the porblems as ever were the Generals capable of using light infantry.

The best Russian Jager came from border areas especially with Norway and the Baltic states of Estonia and Lithuania. Some interesting light infantry units raised in 1812 for the militia.

Now most of the reports of their ability come from French sources. Alas Russian sources available in French or English are rare. The answer to your question is that I do not know. It could be a mythe. I have seen no evidence just opinion.


summerfield08 Nov 2010 2:24 p.m. PST

From Steven Smith
"The author of Commentaries on the War in Russia and Germany in 1812 and 1813 (1850) had an interesting 'career' during the Napo Wars:

"Sir George Cathcart was born on 12 May 1794; he was the third surviving son of Sir William Schaw Cathcart, first Earl Cathcart.

George Cathcart was commissioned as a cornet in the Second Life Guards on 10 May 1810 and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant into the 6th Dragoon Guards on 1 July 1811. In 1813 he succeeded his elder brother as aide-de-camp and private secretary to his father in Russia: Lord Cathcart was both ambassador to the Czar and military commissioner with the Russian army. As aide-de-camp Cathcart carried despatches from his father to the various English officers who were attached to different Russian armies. He was present at all the major battles in the campaigns against the French in 1813 and entered Paris with the allied armies on 31 March 1814.

He was aide-de-camp to the Duke of Wellington in 1815 at the battles of Quatre Bras and Waterloo and was in Paris with Wellington until 1818. …." See:


Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP08 Nov 2010 7:19 p.m. PST

"…individual intelligence is the main requisite, and the French are, without questions, by nature the most intelligent light infantry in the world… The Russians, like the British, are better troops of position than any of the other nations, but it is difficult to excel in all things, and their steadiness in the ranks, which after all is the great object to be desired, as well as their previous domestic habits, render them naturally less apt for light infantry purposes than more volatile nations, yet in both services particular corps, duly practiced in this particular branch, have proved themselves capable of being made by trainning equal to any men that could be opposed to them."

What Cathcart is expressing is fairly common for the period, that is:
1. Native intelligence [independent thinking] was necessary for effective skirmishing…

2.Certain 'volatile' nations, like the French, Some Central German cultures like Hanover and Hess, the Cossacks and Croatians and other Austrian outlanders were 'naturals'.

3. It was the culture that made them good skirmishers, not training or experience, so he states that only "particular corps" had proved capable when "duly practiced."

As for the effectiveness of the Russian Jaegers, they had existed since the SYW. There were more that 150,000 of them raised between 1805 and 1814, so quality could hardly be uniform. Like most troops, [including the French] some did well and some didn't. The Russians were at war constantly from 1805 to 1814, with Sweden, the Ottoman Empire, the Causcus produced large numbers of experienced light infantry. The influx of huge numbers of men from 1812 to 1814 also created inexperienced Jaeger units. This is what Leiven says in his book Russia Against Napoleon p. 116-117 [And I quote an entire page because I can't say it better.]

The need to expand and retrain the Jaegers [after 1807] was widely reconginzed at the tome of th earmy. Both Mikhail Barclay de Tolly and Petr Bagration [as well as Kutusov], for example, had been commanders of Jaeger regiments. Some senior officers found it hard to believe that Russian peasants could make good light infantry, however.

Nevertheless one should not exaggerate the failings of Russia's Jaeger Regiments. On the whole the jaegers performed well in the rearguard actions during the retreat to Moscow and at Borodino. The key point was that by 1812, the Russian army had over fifty jaeger reigments, which in principle meant well over 100,000 men. Differences in quality between regiments were inevitable. Fourteen line infantry regiments were redesingated as light in October of 1810 and one would expect them initially to be poor skirmishers since all sources agree that in the Russian army true jaeger regiments were much better at operating independently than the infantry of the line. On the other hand, those jaeger regimetns which had fought in Finland, on the Caucasus or against the Ottomans in 1807-12 were likely to be best.

On active service there were plenty of targets and no constraints on the use of live ammunition. The historian of the 2nd Jaegers writes that the campaign in Finland's forests weas excellent training for light infantry in marksmanship, the use of terrain and small-scale warfare. General Langeron recalls the the 12th and 22nd Jaegers were among the best marksmen in his corps, since they had years of experience fighting Circassian sharpshooters in the Caucasus. According to the history of the 10th Jaegers the same was true of the Ottoman campaignes, during which the regiment was sometimes required to cover more than 130 kilometres in five days as it fought a 'small war' of skirmishes and ambushes in the foothills of the Balkans. Ottoman raiding parties often had better guns and were better marksmen than the Russian jaegers, at least until the latter learned from experience.

The difference in qulatiy between Russsian Jaeger regiments in 1812 was often evident to their enemies. The first Russian skirmishers encountered by the Saxon army after invading Russia were the inexperienced troops of General Oertel's corps. A Saxon officer recorded that "the Russian army was not yet that which it became in 1813…they did not understand how to skirmish in open order." Some weeks later the Saxons got a great shock when they first encountered the veteran jaegers of the Army of the Danube, fresh from many campaigns in the Balkans. These men were "the excellent Russian jaegers of Sacken's corps. They were skilled in their movements as they were accurate in their shooting, and they did us great harm with their much superior firearms which were effective at twice our range."

Like all individuals, from the French Duesheme to the Cavalry Maiden Captain Nadezhda Durova, Cathcart was seeing limited numbers of Russian skirmishers in particular places at particular times, so it is difficult to make generalizations over a decade and tens of thousands of men in more than 150 battalions. Cathcart does a pretty good job generalizing considering…

There are instances of Russians besting the French, but of course, only the Russians report that… Alexander and Iurii Xhmodikov, in their Tactics of the Russian Army in the Napoleonic Wars 2 vols. give a number of instances.


Sparker08 Nov 2010 7:53 p.m. PST

I would have thought the main prerequisite for a good jaeger is a good, fairly accurate weapon (in relative terms). And I think that all authorities agree that Russian muskets were so atrocious that they made the Broiwn Bess seem like a well balanced and finely made weapon!

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP08 Nov 2010 8:57 p.m. PST


Note that the Saxons were sure the Russian Jaegers had better weapons than they did…twice the range! Perhaps they were armed with rifles.

In any case, what we think are prerequisites for a good jaeger might make sense to us, but that doesn't necessarily count for much in understanding what Napoleonic military men thought were essential. A Col. Grawker of the 52nd Lights wrote a book in 1823 called The Essentials of Good Skirmishing. and he never discusses the qualities or relative accuracy of weapons as one of the essentials.

Considering the French abandon rifled weapons altogether and still were considered 'good' at skirmishing, weapon accuracy doesn't seem to rank very high. Certainly rifles were more accurate than smoothbores, but that was across the board. And which Russian muskets are you referring to? The Russians had weapons from all over, and the Tula muskets were basically copies of other successful muskets like the Tower Brown Bess. And that doesn't count the 100,000+ British muskets the Russians received in 1812 and 13.


nvrsaynvr08 Nov 2010 10:23 p.m. PST

"all authorities"?? I'd be impressed if you could cite one…

The jaegers were good. Bagration, Barclay, and Kutuzov were chiefs at one time or another. The regiments figured heavily in the vanguard on retreat or advance. They were frequently brigaded with cossacks in "flying columns" and among the first to be combined into single battalions because they saw so much action.

Did they "surpass" the French? Did anybody surpass anyone in the latter years of the wars?

Sparker10 Nov 2010 5:21 p.m. PST

"all authorities"?? I'd be impressed if you could cite one…

Ewwww! Hand bags at twenty paces is it!

My authority is Phillip Haythornthwaite, published in Osprey Men at Arms 185. The redoutable Mr Haythornthwaite cites a variety of primary sources quoting how bad the variety of Russian muskets were. I can't give you chapter and verse as I dont have access to my library.

von Winterfeldt11 Nov 2010 6:00 a.m. PST

You can hardly call Mr Haythornthwaite being an authority about the Russian Army, can he read Russian?

Handbags down to 5 paces – otherwise nobody will hit.

matthewgreen11 Nov 2010 7:45 a.m. PST

Talking of Ospreys I have had a quick look at Laurence Spring's Warrior on Russian infantry. He does read Russian, though I don't know how systematic his research was.

His conclusion is that Russian muskets were variable rather than universally bad. As evidence he cites a Reginald Haber in 1805 and supplies two quotes. One from the St Petersburg Arsenal where he is impressed by the quality of weapons – defective ones being taken out of service and cannibalised. The other from Tula where he says the weapons looked the part but were apt to burst. I'm to lazy to give the full quotes.

He also adds that the jager weapon was different again – a much lighter rifle with 8 grooves; he also says they used imported Baker rifles.

Variable. Something that sums up the Russians of the era well enough. In wargames terms more use of random factors? Or perhaps we have data on which were the good and bad units.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP11 Nov 2010 10:13 a.m. PST

As for the quality of Russian Muskets, which year are we talking about? 1800, 1805, 1812? The muskets were no more variable in quality than the quality of Osprey books now. [Probably less so]

Both Lieven in his book Russia Against Napoleon and ALexander and Iurii Zhmodikov's Tactics of the Russian Army in the Napoleonic Wars discuss the problems with Russian firearms.

The Russians' biggest problem was the lack of skilled craftsmen. The new muskets produced after 1808 were excellent, but because of their inability to produce top-quality interchangable parts, production was still slow.
Lead was in short supply, as Russia had no natural sources. Then there was the problem of varying thickness of paper in Russian cartridges. Because of this problem calibres had to be greater than initially planned. Some balls rattled around in the barrels. [Lieven p.106]

Then again, Tula was evacuated during the French invasion which also disrupted production.

When one Russian General did an inspection of the army in 1808, [Toll if IIRC], they found about 15% of the weapons defective [unusable or repairable] and nearly 30 different makes, and 14 different calibres. One problem was that Russian wounded had their weapons taken, and then when returned to service given whatever weapons were available, regardless of what muskets their regiment was issued. Much of this was the result of three years of active service thousands of miles from supply bases in Russia [1805-1087]

This problem had been corrected to a large extent by 1812.


Widowson26 Nov 2010 11:52 p.m. PST

According to Osprey and Murray, the NCOs and 12 sharpshooters per company were rifle-armed in the Russian jager infantry. So that's about 10%, perhaps a bit more.

In certain circumstances with experienced troops, that could be effective.

The evidence, little as it is, would indicate that experienced units of Russian jagers were good skirmishers.

Of course the conscripts of 1812-1814 were not so good, but one would expect the French to be just as bad. As for the French (and others) having a natural talent for skirmishing, I would guess that such an advantage would be acquired by jager units who saw a lot of action, or any other troops for that matter.

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