Royal Prussian Army of the Napoleonic Wars

Royal Prussian Army of the Napoleonic Wars

The Royal Prussian Army was the principal armed force of the Kingdom of Prussia during its participation in the Napoleonic Wars.

Frederick the Great's successor, his nephew Frederick William II (1786–97), relaxed conditions in Prussia and had little interest in war. He delegated responsibility to the aged Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick, and the army began to degrade in quality. Led by veterans of the Silesian Wars, the Prussian Army was ill-equipped to deal with Revolutionary France. The officers retained the same training, tactics, and weaponry used by Frederick the Great some forty years earlier. [Citino, p. 110] In comparison, the revolutionary army of France, especially under Napoleon Bonaparte, was developing new methods of organization, supply, mobility, and command. [Citino, pp. 108-9]

Prussia withdrew from the First Coalition in the Peace of Basel (1795), ceding the Rhenish territories to France. Upon Frederick William II's death in 1797, the state was bankrupt and the army outdated.

War of the Fourth Coalition 1806-1807

He was succeeded by his son, Frederick William III (1797–1840), who involved Prussia in the disastrous Fourth Coalition. The Prussian Army was decisively defeated in the battles of Saalfeld, Jena, and Auerstedt in 1806. The Prussians' famed discipline collapsed and led to widescale surrendering among infantry, cavalry, and garrisons. While some Prussian commanders acquitted themselves well, such as L'Estocq at Eylau, Gneisenau at Kolberg, and Blücher at Lübeck, they were not enough to reverse Jena-Auerstedt. Prussia submitted to major territorial losses, a standing army of only 42,000 men, and an alliance with France in the Treaty of Tilsit (1807).


The defeat of the disorganized army shocked the Prussian establishment, which had largely felt invincible after the Frederician victories. While Stein and Hardenberg began modernizing the Prussian state, Scharnhorst began to reform the military. He led a Military Reorganization Committee, which included Gneisenau, Grolman, Boyen, and the civilians Stein and Könen.Citino, p. 128] Clausewitz assisted with the reorganization as well. Dismayed by the populace's indifferent reaction to the 1806 defeats, the reformers wanted to cultivate patriotism within the country. [Craig, p. 40] Stein's reforms abolished serfdom in 1807 and initiated local city government in 1808. [Craig, p. 41]

The generals of the army were completely overhauled — of the 143 Prussian generals in 1806, only Blücher and Tauentzien remained by the Sixth Coalition; [Koch, p. 183] many were allowed to redeem their reputations in the war of 1813. [Craig, p. 42] The officer corps was reopened to the middle class in 1808, while advancement into the higher ranks became based on education.Koch, p. 181] King Frederick William III created the War Ministry in 1809, and Scharnhorst founded an officers training school, the later Prussian War Academy, in Berlin in 1810.

Scharnhorst advocated adopting the "levée en masse", the military conscription used by France. He created the "Krümpersystem", by which companies replaced 3-5 men monthly, allowing up to 60 extra men to be trained annually per company.Koch, p. 183] This system granted the army a larger reserve of 30,000-150,000 extra troops The "Krümpersystem" was also the beginning of short-term compulsory service in Prussia, as opposed to the long-term conscription previously used. [Dierk Walter. "Preussische Heeresreformen 1807-1870: Militärische Innovation und der Mythos der "Roonschen Reform". 2003, in Citino, p. 130] Because the occupying French prohibited the Prussians from forming divisions, the Prussian Army was divided into six brigades, each consisting of seven to eight infantry battalions and twelve squadrons of cavalry. The combined brigades were supplemented with three brigades of artillery. [Craig, p. 46]

Corporal punishment was by and large abolished, while soldiers were trained in the field and in tirailleur tactics. Scharnhorst promoted the integration of the infantry, cavalry, and artillery through combined arms, as opposed to their previous independent states. Equipment and tactics were updated in respect to the Napoleonic campaigns. The field manual issued by Yorck in 1812 emphasized combined arms and faster marching speeds. [Citino, p. 130] In 1813, Scharnhorst succeeded in attaching a chief of staff trained at the academy to each field commander.

Some reforms were opposed by Frederician traditionalists, such as Yorck, who felt that middle class officers would erode the privileges of the aristocratic officer corps and promote the ideas of the French Revolution.Koch, p. 186] The army reform movement was cut short by Scharnhorst's death in 1813, and the shift to a more democratic and middle class military began to lose momentum in the face of the reactionary government.

The reformers and much of the public called for Frederick William III to ally with the Austrian Empire in its 1809 campaign against France. When the cautious king refused to support a new Prussian war, however, Schill led his hussar regiment against the occupying French, expecting to provoke a national uprising. The king considered Schill a mutineer, and the major's rebellion was crushed at Stralsund by French allies. [Koch, pp. 190-1]

French invasion of Russia

The Franco-Prussian treaty of 1812 forced Prussia to provide 20,000 troops to Napoleon's Grand Armee, first under the leadership of Grawert and then under Yorck. The French occupation of Prussia was reaffirmed, and 300 demoralized Prussian officers resigned in protest. [Craig, p. 58]

During Napoleon's retreat from Russia in 1812, Yorck independently signed the Convention of Tauroggen with Russia, breaking the Franco-Prussian alliance. Stein arrived in East Prussia and led the raising of a "Landwehr", or militia to defend the province. With Prussia's joining of the Sixth Coalition out of his hands, Frederick William III quickly began to mobilize the army, and the East Prussian "Landwehr" was duplicated in the rest of the country. In comparison to 1806, the Prussian populace, especially the middle class, was supportive of the war, and thousands of volunteers joined the army. Prussian troops under the leadership of Blücher and Gneisenau proved vital at the Battles of Leipzig (1813) and Waterloo (1815). Later staff officers were impressed with the simultaneous operations of separate groups of the Prussian Army.

The Iron Cross was introduced as a military decoration by King Frederick William III in 1813. After the publication of his "On War", Clausewitz became a widely-studied philosopher of war. [Citino, p. 143]

Wars of Liberation

The German General Staff, which developed out of meetings of the Great Elector with his senior officers [Koch, pp. 190-1] and the informal meeting of the Napoleonic Era reformers, was formally created in 1814. In the same year Boyen and Grolman drafted a law for universal conscription, by which men would successively serve in the standing army, the "Landwehr", and the local "Landsturm" until the age of 39. [Craig, p. 69] Troops of the 136,000-strong standing army served for three years and were in the reserves for two, while militiamen of the 163,000-strong "Landwehr" served a few weeks annually for seven years.Koch, p. 216] Boyen and Blücher strongly supported the 'civilian army' of the "Landwehr", which was to unite military and civilian society, as an equal to the standing army. [Craig, p. 70]

The 1813 Campaign in Germany

The 1814 Campaign in France

Hundred Days

Prussian Army (Army of the Lower Rhine)

This army was composed entirely of Prussians from provinces old and newly acquired alike. Field Marshal Blucher commanded this army. [Bowden, Scott, Chapter 2]

Blucher’s Prussian army of 116,000 men, with headquarters at Namur, was distributed as follows:
*I Corps (Graf von Zieten), 30,800, cantoned along the Sambre, headquarters Charleroi, and covering the area Fontaine-l'Évêque-Fleurus-Moustier.
*II Corps (Pirch I [ [ Georg Dubislav Ludwig von Pirch] : " 'Pirch I', the use of Roman numerals being used in Prussian service to distinguish officers of the same name, in this case from his brother, seven years his junior, Otto Karl Lorenz" 'Pirch II'] ), 31,000, headquarters at Namur, lay in the area Namur-Hannut-Huy.
*III Corps (Thielemann), 23,900, in the bend of the river Meuse, headquarters Ciney, and disposed in the area Dinant-Huy-Ciney.
*IV Corps (Bülow), 30,300, with headquarters at Liege and cantoned around it.

Besides the I, II, III, and IV Army Corps Blucher took with him in to the Netherlands, Prussia also had a reserve army stationed at home in order to defend its borders. It consisted of:

* V Army Corps Commanded by General York)
* VI Army Corps Commanded by General Tauenzien
* Royal Guard (VIII Corps) Commanded by the Sovereign Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz [Plotho, Carl pp36-55]


This army was part of the Prussian Army above, but was to act independently much further south. It was composed of contingents from the following German nations: Hessen-Kassel, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Mecklenburg Strelitz, Oldenburg, Saxe-Weimar, Saxe-Gotha, Anhalt-Bernburg, Anhalt-Dessau, Anhalt Kothen, Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt, Schwarzburg-Sondershausen, Lippe and Schaumberg-Lippe. [Plotho, Carl, p.54]

Fearing that Napoleon was going to strike him first, Blucher ordered this army to march north to join the rest of his own army.Hofschroer, Peter p.182] The Prussian General Kleist initially commanded this army before he fell ill on June 18th and was replaced by the Hessen-Kassel General Von Engelhardt. Its composition in June was" [Plotho, Carl, p.56]

* Hessen-Kassel Division (Three Hessian Brigades)
* Thuringian Brigade
* Mecklenburg Brigade

Organisation of the Royal Prussian Army

taff system

Frederick William III's generals

Army General Headquarters

Ranks of the Prussian Army

Organization of Army

Royal Guard

Infantry of the Guard

Cavalry of the Guard

Artillery of the Guard

Cossacks of the Guard

Infantry of the Line



Landwehr infantry

Cavalry of the Line

Heavy cavalry

Light cavalry

Landwehr cavalry

Artillery of the Line

Foot artillery

Horse artillery

Artillery Train



Formations and tactics





tandards and guidons

Bands and music



*cite book|last=Citino|first=Robert M.|authorlink=Robert M. Citino|title=The German Way of War: From the Thirty Years' War to the Third Reich|year=2005|publisher=University Press of Kansas|location=|pages=428|isbn=0-7006-1410-9
*cite book|last=Clark|first=Christopher|authorlink=Christopher Clark|title=Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia 1600–1947|year=2006|publisher=Belknap Press of Harvard|location=Cambridge|pages=776|isbn=067402385-4
*cite book|last=Craig|first=Gordon A.|authorlink=Gordon A. Craig|title=The Politics of the Prussian Army: 1640 – 1945|year=1964|publisher=Oxford University Press|location=London|pages=538|isbn=0-19-500257-1
*cite book|last=MacDonogh|first=Giles|title=Frederick the Great: A Life in Deed and Letters|year=2001|publisher=St. Martin's Griffin|location=New York|pages=436|isbn=0-312-27266-9
*cite book|last=Reiners|first=Ludwig|coauthors=Translated and adapted from the German by Lawrence P. R. Wilson|title=Frederick the Great, a Biography|year=1960|publisher=G. P. Putnam & Sons|location=New York|pages=304|isbn=
*cite book|last=Ritter|first=Gerhard|authorlink=Gerhard Ritter|title=Frederick the Great: A Historical Profile|year=1974|publisher=University of California Press|location=Berkeley|pages=207|isbn=0-520-02775-2

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