Friday, April 6, 2012

3rd Regiment Eclairers (Scouts) of the Guard

After the disastrous Russian campaign,  Napoleon was faced with the daunting task of rebuilding his shattered cavalry arm but in addition to the poor condition of his few surviving cavalrymen, Europe's finest horseflesh had also perished in Russia.  Nonetheless he managed to somehow cobble together cavalry, his force built around a reconstituted Guard.  The scarcity of decent horses alone meant that the Guard cavalry in 1813 was a pale shadow of what had marched into Russia barely over a year earlier.  They were also vastly outnumbered by the Allied cavalry which included hordes of cossacks. The ability of the cossacks to scout out enemy movements, disrupt communications and generally harass the French and their allies so impressed Napoleon that despite the difficulties faced in reconstructing his cavalry, he ordered the formation of a regiment of mounted scouts - Eclairers - to be attached to the Guard.  Owing to the critical shortage of horses, the scout regiment - which was otherwise well-mounted - never numbered more than four under-strength squadrons in 1813.

3rd Regiment, Eclairers of the Guard

Up until the formation of the Eclairers, the French did not possess a cavalry unit that could fulfill the role of irregular mounted troops like the cossacks.  The idea was to have a regular cavalry unit that could operate independently, often behind enemy lines and act as scouts, guides etc, in other words roles that regular light cavalry found difficult to perform - essentially regular light cavalry that could perform an irregular role. Most importantly, they had to out-cossack the cossacks!  In order to do this Napoleon depended on his loyal Polish light cavalry - amongst the few cavalry on the French side in Russia that were able to get to grips with the elusive cossacks.  The Poles also had their own cossack units - such as the Krakow cossacks, which augmented the spare French light cavalry of 1813 and it was also experienced Polish officers and men that formed the core of the first eclairer  regiment.

The regiment I have recreated is the same as that depicted above by French artist and uniform expert Patrice Courtelle.  They wore virtually the same campaign uniform as the 1st Regiment of Guard Lancers.

Always vastly outnumbered they nonetheless performed beyond expectations, so well in fact that after the 1813 campaign Napoleon ordered two more regiments formed.  These regiments never numbered more than  a dozen squadrons - less than 3,000 men in all (probably half that number in the field) - but it says something of their usefulness that at a time of critical shortages of both men and horses for cavalry in general, Napoleon had ordered the formation of three new  regiments.

The last of these was the 3rd Regiment, formed in 1814 and as before, attached to the Guard.  They were uniformed differently from the first two regiments, with their uniform copying that of the (Polish) Guard lancers, which included the czapka instead of the tall shako.  Like the others they were also armed with lances, sabres and pistols.  Earlier scouts had been armed with the dragoon musket but these were considered worse than useless and were soon discarded in favour of pistols which were more useful in close combat.

Command stand, 3rd Guard Eclairers.

The Perry's new Guard Lancers required little conversion to make them into scouts.  I just armed the NCO with a pistol rather than a lance, and replaced all the Perry lances with non-bending copper rod ones cut to size.  Took a punt on the lance pennants as I've seen illustrations of the scouts both with and without them.  As they are a Guard unit I assumed they were issued so I have them tied up to the lance head. I read somewhere they took the pennants off as they could be spotted from a distance and cossacks didn't use them for that reason.  These guys are a little too well dressed to have been on campaign that long, so I kept the lance pennants.  But if I take a dislike to them I may remove them at a later date!

Other touches were giving the troopers raw leather gloves rather than the officer's expensive whitened chamois ones.  The bugler is the one described in the literature (such as Buhkari's Osprey) - same as the 1st (Polish) Lancers - a sky-blue jacket with white piping and epaulettes with red shoulder-tabs.  The officer also has the red leather pocketed cartouche belt - the NCO also has one but of simple canvas.

The Perrys figures are beautifully sculpted but I suspect the mass production casting processes means they require quite a bit of cleaning up before you can start painting.  This seems to be the case recently with a lot of their figures but is more just a pain in the arse than any serious decline in quality.  This was particularly noticeable after I'd painted  up some of the wonderful Paul Hicks-sculpted Poles, which are very fine castings requiring no prep work before painting (see previous post).

The Guard scouts in 1814 were vastly outnumbered but performed brilliantly, even ambushing cossacks (see the Courtelle illustration above) and generally out-scouting them as well as keeping them off Napoleon's back.  The fact Napoleon was able to keep maneuvering and repeatedly catching and defeating a more numerous enemy, while at the same time often avoiding being trapped by Allied armies, was in no small measure due to the effective service of his scout cavalry, whose performance during their brief existence was the stuff of legend.

Unfortunately they were not re-formed for the 100 Days in 1815.  Most of the Poles who had formed the core of the Eclairers, those that survived, had dissipated after Napoleon's capitulation in 1814.  A half squadron of Guard lancers had accompanied him into exile but there were barely enough to form one full squadron of the 1st Guard Lancers for the Belgium campaign - most of the rest were Frenchmen.  I suppose because he was not facing Russians, Napoleon saw no need for the Eclairers - one can only imagine how different history may have been if he had those scouts reporting on the Prussian army after Ligny - or informing Ney of Wellington's dispositions at Quatre Bras!

Well, that's my latest indulgence in yet more French cavalry. The next lot may be the rest of the Paul Hicks Poles - and I've got an FPW brigade of Wurttemburgers to complete at some stage too.