Prussian Line Infantry Drill
This article is based on the Prussian Infantry Reglement of 1750 which had been translated into French by M. Gourlay de Keralio in 1762. This book comes from Dr Marco Pagan's collection
Exercise for the Foot, 1750
The following sections contain sketches of the deployment of a battalion in various circumstances. All sketches use the legend presented here to illustrate the location of the various officers and NCOs.
Deployment for exercise
The following diagram illustrates the formation of the first battalion of an infantry regiment on the field of exercise.
At the beginning of the Seven Years' War, each infantry battalion was organised in 8 firing platoons. These platoons deployed three ranks deep.
When the Prussian infantry was strengthened in 1757, each battalion was organising in 5 firing divisions, each consisting of two platoons. The Prussian infantry fired by platoon from right to left. It was able to maintain this platoon fire while advancing.
The following diagram illustrates the formation of the first battalion of an infantry regiment for firing.
The following diagram illustrates the formation of a battalion of infantry in square.
The following diagram illustrates the formation of the first battalion of an infantry regiment marching by platoon and wheeling.
Here follows an excerpt from William Faucitt's 1757 translation of "Regulations for the Prussian Infantry" explaining how to rally a battalion:
"How a BATTALION, when dispersed, must form itself again.
The principle advantage of the evolutions consists in a Battalion's being able to form itself quickly; for which reason, it is particularly required, that every man shall know his platoon, rank, file-leader, and right-hand man perfectly well, and can find his proper place both by day and by night; that, whenever a battalion is suddenly alarmed, or repulsed by the enemy, or has performed the evolution of dispersing, it may be formed again with the utmost celerity: Colonels, therefore, or Commanding Officers must, every spring, accustom their Battalions to disperse, by that means to teach them to form themselves.
II. When a Battalion is to disperse, the Commanding Officer orders an Officer to march forward with the colours, together with all the non commissioned Officers in the rear of the Battalion, and all the Drummers and Fifers, gives the word;
Club your fire locks!
To the right about!
The Drummers then beat the troop, and the Battalion disperses; the Colonel or Commanding Officer changes the front with the colours, and orders the Drummers to beat to-Arms; upon which the men shoulder their fire-locks nimbly, face to the colours, fall briskly into their respective platoons and ranks, and dress to the right.
The Officers immediately examine their platoons, and whether every man has his proper place; and the Major rides along the Battalion, to see if it has formed right.
III. after this has been performed a few times, the Commanding Officer gives the word,
Colours! Non-commissioned Officers and Drummers! March to your posts!"
In its actual version, our article only describes drill procedures with the musket during battle.
All illustration come from the Prussian Infantry Reglement of 1750 from Dr Marco Pagan's collection,
Basic stance and marching
The default stance of the Prussian infantryman in battle was with arm shouldered, the men lined up so as to have elbows touching between each file, and an arm’s length between each rank (or a space of about 2 feet by 2 feet 2 inches). This kept the formation tight, but gave the men enough space to operate within. when marching, the weapon would often be supported, either by crossing the left arm round the stock behind the hammer, or by sinking the weapon down, rendering the left arm straight.
Infantrymen marched in lockstep, each pace being by the end of Frederick II's reign being 28 German inches long. each step was done by carrying the foot directly in front, keeping the knees straight, the foot remaining almost parallel to the ground and facing a bit outwards. Balance was maintained on the other leg in the process. The result was a steady pace, with a slight pause halfway through. This style of marching was the one adopted by most armies during and after the war, and is in some way reminiscent of the modern slow march used to this day by the British army of today – though much simpler in nature.
the rate of march varied, according to circumstances and time, but as per Frederick's instructions in 1747, a Prussian regiment could be expected to sustain a march between 70 and 75 steps a minute, with the advance starting at 90-95 steps a minute. a quick march of 120 steps a minute was used for wheeling and deploying. These were no regulated by drum, as it was expected that the rates would be imprinted in the soldier's mind.
When shouldered (command: Das Gewehr auf die Schulter), the musket is to lay on the left shoulder at a near vertical angle, with the lock at a level below the breast, the butt-plate at about the level of the belt/pelvis. The barrel is to be pointed outward. The legs are to be straight, feet are to face outward, and the heels no more than about a fist’s length from each other. The right arm is to be held straight, palms facing to the back and inward. Finally, the back is to be straight, shoulders held back, head held up and cocked to the right.
Loading and Firing
The soldier was taught to load and fire his musket in 16 basic steps. These were to be performed automatically by the soldier on the battlefield. The description below is based on a series of plates created in 1759, depicting the use of the musket in the Prussian army:
1. Den Hahne in die Ruh:
i) the soldier brings his weapon down to waist level with the left hand just before the lock-plate, left arm straight and close to the body;
ii) then he half-cocks his musket, and opens the pan if it is shut.
2. Ergreift die Patron (Take the cartridge):
i) the soldier quickly reaches back for his cartridge box, and quickly pulls out a cartridge with his thumb and first two fingers;
ii) he then brings the cartridge opposite his mouth about a fist’s length away.
3. Oeffnet die Patron (Open the cartridge): the cartridge is bitten open, exposing the powder.
4. Pulver auf die Pfann (Powder in the pan):
i) the soldier brings the cartridge down to the pan, rotating his right wrist so that his palm faces downwards, and pours the powder into the pan, holding on to the cartridge with the thumb and first two fingers;
ii) he then with last two fingers holds the frizzen.
5. Schliesst die Pfann (Close the pan):
i) the soldier now shuts the pan with the frizzen in one swift motion (similar to the previous movement);
ii) The soldier then place the right hand on the stock, while still holding on to the cartridge.
6. Links Schwenkt das Gewehr zur ladung (Fire-lock to the left to charge): the soldier, with both hands, raises the right side of the musket (i.e. the muzzle), in the process fully extending the right arm. At the same time, the soldier pivots on his left foot, to face slightly to the left, his feet no more than a hand’s length from each other. As he pivots, he raises his right hand to about a fist’s length from the muzzle, whilst letting the musket sink through his left hand to where the musket’s banding starts, rendering the butt opposite the soldier’s hanger, with the left arm held slack, the hand of which by the hilt of his hanger.
7. Patron in Lauf (Cartridge in barrel):
i) the soldier then reverses his tight wrist, raising his elbow in the process. This pours the remaining contents of the cartridge into the barrel;
ii) The soldier then places his thumb and two top fingers on the top of the ramrod, above the nose piece of the musket. The elbow is to be placed close to the body.
8. Ziehet den Ladestock (Pull out the ramrod): the ramrod is quickly drawn out in two swift motions, and inverted. He then shortens the musket by the belt-buckle, as in the similar Hessian manual. The ramrod must remain parallel to the barrel in the process.
9. Ladestock in Lauff (Ramrod into barrel): shove the ramrod down the barrel two at least a fist’s length, and then move the hand up to the top of the ramrod and force the cartridge down the barrel, seating it to the bottom. Rotate the wrist which has to face outward, grab the top of the ramrod, and withdraw it quickly from the muzzle, stretching out his arm in the process. Rotate the ramrod once more, and then shorten it with the belt buckle: this time only far enough so as to have the fist parallel to the barrel (~10”)
10. Den ladestock an seinen Ort (Ramrod into its place): the ramrod is inserted quickly into the first thimble/band, using a clenched fist. Once it passes it and has gone to the second band, the hand quickly goes up to the tip of the ramrod, and with the ball of the forefinger (to avoid the bayonet) pushes the ramrod completely downwards. While this is being finished, the weapon is brought up, barrel outwards, and with the right hand placed behind the hammer. The soldier pivots on his left foot, so as to face directly to the front, with the left hand moving from before the lock to the butt of the stock. In the process, the musket is to be kept straight, ready to be shouldered. The left arm must remain close to the body, the rear of the butt-plate about the level of the belt or pelvis.
11. Das Gewehr auf dem Schulter (Shoulder your fire-lock): the soldier releases the musket from his right hand, and assumes the shoulder arms position, letting the weapon sink in the process.
12. Mit der rechten Hand ans Gewehr (Right hand on fire-lock): the soldier grips the musket with his right hand the stock behind the lock.
13. Das Gewehr Hoch (Fire-lock up): the soldier then lifts the weapon with the right hand, and grips the musket with his left hand at the area just before the lock, and brings it up so that the musket is held straight and directly before the soldier, the lock about breast level and facing outwards. Both elbows are to be held square.
14. Spannt den Hahn (Cock the fire-lock):
i) the soldier then proceeds to fully cock the fire-lock;
ii) he then places his right elbow close to his body, whilst keeping the left elbow square. The right hand is to remain gripping the stock the whole time.
15. Schlagt an (Aim): the soldier forces down his musket, bracing the butt against where his right shoulder meets the arm, and sliding his left hand forward so that his hand now grips the swell of the musket – behind the last ramrod pipette. At the same time, he takes a slight step back with his right leg, so as to be about a foot or so from the front foot, with the right leg remaining straight, and the left leg being slightly flexed. The soldier at this point was to brace his musket firmly, with the stock braced against his cheek, looking down the barrel to aim. The soldier was to aim at the knee of an enemy soldier at about four paces.
16. Feuer: the soldier briskly pulls the trigger, and prepares for further orders.
Steps 1-12, were to be done when the soldier was ordered to load. When in battle, the commands were naturally simplified: steps 11-13 were simplified with the command Fertig (Ready).
Individual use of the Bayonet
Prussian infantry seems to have gone into battle with bayonets fixed – a common practice at the time in many XVIIIth century armies. When using the bayonet, the Prussians seemed to have had the following command when on the parade ground (starting from a shouldered position).
Vorwerts faelt das Gewehr (Lower your fire-lock):
i) the soldier grips the stock of the musket with the right hand ii) then raises it so that the musket is poised as above when receiving the order das Gewehr hoch iii) then the soldier takes a moderate step to the back with his right leg, simultaneously lowering his musket to a level below the breast, with the lock below the level of the right breast, left hand gripping the musket just before the lock, the right hand gripping the stock just behind the lock. The musket in addition is supported by the left arm at the elbow. The bayonet as a result points straight, rather than tilted up.
In addition, based on contemporary descriptions, the Prussians are often believed to have used a more modern method of carrying the bayonet into battle: the fire-lock this time has the lock at just above belt-level, pressed against the hip, with the weapon tilted up so that the bayonet point is at breast-level, the left hand grasping firmly the musket between the lock plate and rearmost pipette. However, this may be a mistaken representation of the aforementioned method of charging with bayonet, especially after translation of the manuals from original German to other languages, such as English or French. Either way, it was this method which became standard in Europe, starting in the second half of the XVIIIth century.
Faucitt, William: Regulations for the Prussian Infantry. To Which Is Added, the Prussian Tactick, Being a Detail of the Grand Manoeuvre, as Performed by the Prussian Armies, London: 1759
Heilmann, Johann: Die Kriegskunst der Preussen unter König Friedrich dem Grossen
Keralio, Gourlay de: Reglement pour l'infanterie prussienne, Vol. 1, Berlin: Estienne, 1762
Windham, William; Townshend, George Lord Vice: A plan of DISCIPLINE for the use of THE NORFOLK MILITIA, 1759
User:Ibrahim90 for the initial version of this article
Dr Marco Pagan for providing the sources