Saturday, April 23, 2011

French Horse Artillery 1813-1815

As I have said before the primary purpose of this blog is a repository of information that I have come across while surfing the net and this post is a good example.

Recently someone mentioned to me about having some cheap Foundry Horse Artillery and this made me wonder if they were 'duped' as I was a few years back into picking up a Foundry Horse Artillery 'bargain' which on receipt turned out to be a 4pdr battery which was fine for the early years but not of much use in the final years of the empire as the Gribeauval 4pdr and 8pdr had been phased out in favor of the AnXI 6pdr by 1812.

But this got me wondering, was I really sure about this particularly in view of the catastrophic losses in the winter of 1812, and I vaguely recalled a comment someone had mad on TMP about the Gribeauval's being brought out of retirement in 1813 to reequip the French Army. So I decided to ask the expert's at The Napoleon Series and I thank Paul Dawson, Anthony Gray and other's for their responses which are summarized below (my apologies in advance for any misinterpretation or error and omission).

Central Europe
In theory and practice, based on the returns I (Paul Dawson) posses, a French Horse Companie consisted of 4x 6-pdr and 2x 24-pdr howitzers. Although in September-October 1813 some batteries had no howitzers, or were down to two guns.

The impact of 1812, was perhaps, not as detremental as believed, based on my own new research. In terms of artillery equipment, from the stores returns I have copies of, and field returns, there was no shortage of equipment. The artillery had sufficient guns, carriages and munitions. In order to provide the man power, Artillerie du Marine were converted to foot artillery companies.

A swathe of conscripts were directed to the army in September 1812, a percentage being sent to the artillery.

What the artillery and equipment trains lacked by August 1813 was sufficient number of draught horses. However, the short fall was made up with the use of Mules. The army consumed large numbers of draught horses, and the army never thought it had sufficient. This does not mean that the army in 1813 lacked horses, or equide resources, it certainly did not.

By November 1813, there was a shortage of artillery equipment, men, uniforms, and horses. This was not brought about by military defeat solely, Napoleons gross miss-understanding of the strategic situation, consciously choosing not to feed his army but to spend the resources on building a new army in France, but more importantly through the collapse in the value of stock held by the Banque du France and the value of the Franc/gold exchange, making money virtually useless and robbing the state of credit. Resources were available for purchase but lack of credit resulted in insufficient quantities of horses, muskets, etc being obtained.

Artillery companies which were reduced to two guns, were often amalgamated with other companies in the same regiment to make single, full strength companies. Lack of time in the Winter of 1813-1814 to train men, perhaps a conscious decision by the Allies, robbed Napoleon of men and arms. By July 1814, the army was reduced greatly in strength. weak regiments amalgamated with others as part of an overall army reduction policy. What the army lacked in 1815 was horses. Most of the armies horses were put out to loan to reduce costs and they had to be brought back to the army, a process which took time, a comodity which in 1815 Napoleon lacked. In terms of equipment and material, and men, the artillery in 1815 had all the resources it needed, due to the reduction of the army.

Given the paucity of stores sent into Spain in 1813-1814, I suspect the equipment in use before this date remained in use. I have found, it does not mean that such orders dont exist, no orders for guns and equipment to be sent to the artillery in Spain. In 1812 Marmonts army had a single AnXI gun, I think, a 3-pdr mountain gun. In essence the French used two artillery systems side by side for sake of logistics. The AnXI and modified forms there of in Germany, and the older Gribeauval equipment in Spain, as it was the same equipment as the Spanish used, so, the munitions were readily available in the campaign theatre, and eased the resupply situation, assuming arms dumps were captured.

Marmont would surely have inherited the remaining pieces that Masséna brought back from the campaign in Portugal in 1811

Most of the accompanying vehicles were lost, and draught animals slaughtered, on the retreat – but I (Anthony Gray) have not read about significant losses of artillery pieces on the retreat (some at Sabugal, 1811)

Eblé proposed in a letter to duc de Feltre 11 juin [1810] No. 97 pièces justificatives pp. 629-639 to establish a parc for the army consisting of:

36 caissons de 12
40 caissons de 8
40 caissons de 4
125 d'infanterie
3 forges
6 voitures chargées de rechange, charbon etc
2 voitures d'artifices
12 affûts de rechange
Total 264 voitures

Girod de l'Ain, Le général Eblé, Revue d’Artillerie, Tome 42, avril – septembre 1893; Revue d’Artillerie, Tome 43, octobre 1893

From the same correspondence cited above...

« J’acquiers d’ailleurs journellement la preuve que la mesure que j’ai l’honneur de lui proposer est la seule qui puisse assurer le service de l’artillerie de l’armée de Portugal, parce qu’il faut qu’elle ait à sa suite toutes les munitions dont elle peut avoir besoin jusqu'à l’entière conquête de ce royaume. Il faut, en outre, qu’il y ait à Astorga, à Salamanque des munitions pour remplacer les premières consommations et les moyens d’alimenter ces dépôts par Valladolid. Je ne crois donc pas faire à V.E. une demande exagérée en lui proposant de former le parc de »: …

Which I have (very) roughly translated as “I learn with every day that passes that the measures I have put in place will ensure the necessary supply of ammunition to support the successful conquest of Portugal. Astorga and Salamanca will furnish all the munitions necessary to supply the immediate needs of the army; whilst reserves can be forwarded from the depot at Valladolid to replace those used during the campaign.

At this point, the invasion army at Masséna’s disposal comprised only the VI and VIII corps, the II corps was originally to operate on the left bank of the Tejo / Tajo, but was called in by Masséna to operate together with the other two corps once he realised he would not have the troops necessary to invade. The artillery (or rather the parc) set out in the post above, I assume, therefore specifically related solely to the needs of the five divisions of the VI and VIII corps (and their supporting light cavalry brigades and the division of dragoons). Don't hold me to all this - I'll check now.

Reading between the lines ... The French army of Portugal was furnished with the artillery pieces available and, as Paul Dawson suggested above, the ammunition to supply the guns was to be found in Astorga and Salamanca. Now, it could be that French stores had been moved forward to Salamanca. But, given that Junot had only just besieged and taken Astorga, the only munitions that could have available to support the army of Portugal from that town would have been of Spanish origin (or certainly manufactured / stored there prior to the invasion in 1808). Moreover, there must have been some consistency in calibre between the [French] artillery pieces and the [Spanish] munitions.

Noël has one « compagnie du 6e de cheval » to commence the siege and was reinforced on the 24th by « deux escouades d’artillerie à pied du 8e et de régiment de Berg », p. 94. Brindle translates this as “two bodies from the 8th and the Berg regiment”, p 83. I need to look up my notes, from a work supplied by Steve Smith some time ago, as to the exact components of artillery regiments with the army of Portugal – but I would take “escouade” to mean literally a “gang”, i.e. less than a full company, of foot artillery from the 8th regiment plus some Berg artillery.
JNA Noel, Souvenirs Militaires d’un officier du premier empire, (Paris – Nancy : Berger Levrault, 1895) and ~, (ed.) Rosemary Brindle, With Napoleon’s guns: the military memoirs of an officer of the First Empire, (London : Greenhill, 2005)

Noel had marked out and constructed several batteries. The siege parc, when it arrived, allowed him to deploy a breaching battery consisting of 24 and 16 pdrs, in addition at least two 12 pdrs were deployed against a fortified house (outwork) that enfiladed their works, and he mentions the deployment of (some) howitzers in support of the breaching batteries.

Interesting re the 12-pdr caissons. 12-pdrs were used in the campaign theatre. The lack of howitzer caissons is not unexpected, as it seems the ratio of howitzers to field guns was low.

12-pdrs were used in Spain from February 1808. 12x 12-pdr, 12x 4-pdr and 12x howitzers being dispatched that month. SHDDT C8 274

20th May 1808, Bessieres had the following guns under his command AN AF IV 1606

7x 24-pdrs
18x 12-pdr
3x 8-pdr
6x 6-pdr
8x 4-pdr
2x 6 pouce howitzers

On 18th January 1810 the following guns were to be dispatched to Spain: SHDDT C8 fol. 367

24x 4-pdr
12x 12-pdr
12x howitzers
72x 4-pdr caissons
24x 12-pdr caissons
24x howitzer caissons
50x infantry caissons
6x forges

So in essence in the later years of the first empire there are two systems in active use, the Gribeauval in Spain and the AnXI in central Europe. If you have any 4pdr's they are still valid but only in Spain and southern France in 1814.

PS This was my first attempt at blogging from my iPad, a painful experience if you need to edit.


CarloAntonio said...

Wow !! Many thanks for this info!!

Rob Edgar said...

It is interesting isn't it and very useful I think.

Although this blog isn't written looking for praise from anyone, it is nice to here that others find the information here is of use.