“Thrice Blue And Thrice Damned To The Devil!”: SYW Prussian Frei-Infanterie

“Dreimal blau und dreimal des Teufels!”

Last month I played a small historical refight of the Combat of Pretzsch, to introduce my mate Lewys to Tricorn (my 18th Century version of Shako).  However, the Prussian order of battle required a battalion of Prussian Frei-Infanterie and although I did have a single formed battalion (Frei-Bataillon 8 ‘Du Verger’) in my collection, Lewys being the awkward bugger that he is, wanted to deploy them as skirmishers.  To my eternal shame, I had to give him a couple of stands of skirmishing Grenzer.

So following our Combat of Pretzsch (game report and scenario to follow), the King of Prussia has had to submit an Urgent Operational Requirement for more light infantry!  As you might have noticed from this blog, I’ve recently been filling out my Prussians with the excellent Eureka figures.  However, Eureka don’t make any skirmishing or firing Prussian infantry, so I went ‘back to my roots’ with an order for Old Glory 15s figures (sold here in the UK by Timecast).  Barrie at Timecast provided his usual exemplary service and they were back here within a few days (barring a bag of Jäger awaiting re-stock) and the uniforms are very straightforward, so they were all painted within two days.

Frederick and the Pandour‘: This print by Carl Röchling recalls an incident when a Pandour had the temerity to take a pot-shot at Frederick.  Pointing his cane at the man, the King shouted “You, Sir!”.  The Croat freebooter was apparently shamed enough to lower his weapon and let Frederick continue on his way.  History doesn’t record if the Pandour was then set upon by a dozen outraged Prussian Hussars, but it seems likely…

The History Bit

During the Silesian Wars of the 1740s (i.e. the two Prussian-Austrian wars fought during the larger War of Austrian Succession), Frederick’s armies and lands had suffered near-constant depredations at the hands of the Austrian light troops; the Hungarian Hussars and the light infantry from the Imperial ‘Military Border’ known variously as ‘Grenzer’, ‘Croats’ or ‘Pandours’.  These men were experts of the so-called Petit-Guerre and constantly attacked military supply convoys and raided deep into Prussian territory, seemingly at will.

When the Seven Years War kicked off in 1756, Frederick was determined to counter the ‘Pandour Threat’.  He’d already raised small regular corps of Jäger-zu-Pferde and Feldjäger zu Fuß, but they were going to be nowhere near sufficient to the task.  He therefore commissioned three foreign adventurers; Le Noble, Mayr, Angelelli and the Prussian Kalben to each raise a Frei-Bataillon, the ranks of which would be filled with volunteers of dubious morals, attracted by the prospect of adventure, pillage and loot.  Despite the ‘low cunning’ of the rank-and-file, these first four units actually performed admirably (and on occasion even heroically) throughout the war, both when engaged in the Petit-Guerre and when in direct support of the main Prussian armies.

Frei-Infanterie-Battalion F1 ‘Le Noble’

However… From 1757-1758 the Frei-Infanterie were expanded by the addition of a further ten units, primarily raised from Austrian and French PoWs.  These units were very much of a lower quality, suffering from low morale and high desertion rates.  Some only lasted for a few months before surrendering or deserting en masse and in some cases being amalgamated into the better units.

A few Frei-Infanterie units formed green-coated and rifle-armed Jäger Detachments and some even formed very small Hussar Detachments to aid in scouting and message-transmission.  A few of these units (such as Wunsch’s, which proved to be the best of the second batch of units) also eventually became multi-battalion Frei-Infanterie Regiments, though in some cases it was because the 1st Battalion had been captured.

The third batch of Prussian light troops were known as the Frei-Corps and were intended from the outset to be combined-arms ‘legions’, capable of independent action away from the main armies.  Some of these units were primarily mounted Hussars or Dragoons and never did raise an infantry component, though most did become combined-arms formations and at the top of the scale was the impressive ‘Kleist’ Frei-Corps which at its peak had 6,000 men, including a regiment each of Hussars, Dragoons and Uhlans, a regiment of Hungarian ‘Croats’, a Jäger battalion and even a battery of horse artillery.  In the last years of the war, Kleist’s Corps often took its place in the line of battle as the equal of a regular formation.

A priest harangues some Frei-Corps ruffians in a print by Adolph Menzel (my sincere thanks to Dr Stephen Summerfield for this image)

Despite the dubious quality of many units, these freebooters in Prussian service generally beat the Pandours at their own game, forcing Austria and her allies to divert valuable troops and resources to defending their lines of communication.  However, despite the invaluable service performed by many of these units, Frederick had little gratitude for what he considered to be a necessary evil.  At the end of hostilities they were ordered to march to Prussian fortresses, where they were disarmed at gunpoint, with many soldiers being then conscripted into the Garrison Regiments.  Their commanding officers were forced to hand over arms and uniforms (which were actually the officers’ property) without compensation.  Not even Kleist’s magnificent corps or the first four Frei-Infanterie units were spared this purge.

Note that there was no official numbering system for these units.  The historian Hans Bleckwenn gave them an arbitrary numbering system based on their date of formation and this has continued to be used by many other historians such as Christopher Duffy and the contributors to the Kronoskaf website, as it makes it easy to track the identity of units whose names changed and it also makes battle-maps easier to label.  Bleckwenn prefixed them all with the letter ‘F’ and gave the Frei-Infanterie Arabic numerals (e.g. F2 ‘Von Mayr’), while the Frei-Corps were identified by Roman numerals (e.g. FII ‘Von Kleist’).  However, other historians have used different numbering systems, which can cause some confusion.

Here’s a run-down 0f the uniforms of the Frei-Infanterie Battalions/Regiments and their associated Jäger and Hussar detachments.  I’ll list the latterly-raised Frei-Corps in a future article, once I’ve painted ‘Green’ Kleist’s lads.  Note that the predominant uniform style of the Frei-Infanterie was a dark blue uniform coat with light blue facings and ‘small-clothes’ (i.e. waistcoat and breeches), hence the nickname ‘Triple-Blues’ (or ‘Double-Blues’), referenced in the title of this article.  Light blue wasn’t used as an identifying colour by the regular Prussian infantry, so was a combat-indicator of low-born ne’er-do-wells, ruffians and general beastliness.

Frei-Infanterie Uniforms:

 

Notes

Jäger and Hussar of Frei-Bataillon F2 ‘Von Mayr’.

* These units had an organic Jäger Detachment for at least part of their existence.

These units had an organic Hussar Detachment for at last part of their existence.

Pompom colours on the table above are shown as they are arranged on the pompom, from top to bottom.  So red over light blue means exactly that.

All units had light blue smallclothes and dark blue coats with red tail-turnbacks and red piping on tail-pockets.

Aside from F9 which had Brandenburg-style cuffs (i.e. with a flap above the cuff, edged with red piping and two buttons arranged vertically) and F8 and F14 who had Hungarian-style pointed cuffs, all other units had Swedish-style cuffs with two buttons along the top edge of the cuff and no flap (though some sources suggest that F5 may also have had Brandenburg cuffs).

There is no record of any of these units having flags of any description.  The only Frei unit known to have carried flags is Frei-Corps FII ‘Kleist’, which was authorised colours for its regiment of Hungarian ‘Croats’ and guidons for its regiments of Dragoons, Hussars and Uhlans.

Officers of all units had scalloped hat lace in the button colour, plus silver-and-black corner-rosettes.

NCOs of all units had button-coloured lace edging to hat, cuffs and collar (where the unit had a collar), plus quartered black-and-white pompoms and black-and-white corner-rosettes.

F1 Officers:  Silver lace down front seam of waistcoat.

F1 Jäger Detachment:  Dark green coat with light green lapels, cuffs, collar, turnbacks and smallclothes.  White buttonhole lace. Buff belts.  Black casquet cap with ‘FR’ cypher in white and black fur edge to front-piece.

F2 Officers:  Silver lace down front seam and on buttonholes of waistcoat.

F2 Jäger Detachment:  Light green coat and smallclothes with red collar, cuffs and turnbacks.  Black belts.  Green cockade and corner-rosettes on hat.

F2 Hussar Detachment:  Light blue uniform with mirliton, dark blue pelisse edged in white fur, all laced white.  Red sash.  Dark blue shabraque with light blue vandycking, edged with white lace.

F3 Hussar Detachment:  Yellow uniform with mirliton, black pelisse edged with white fur, red sash, red lace and yellow cords on mirliton.

F4, F5 and F14, instead of lapels, had small coloured ‘tabs’ of material extending forward from the top breast-button to the front seam.

F7 Officers under the second (1759) uniform wore gold ‘Brandenburg’ lace buttonholes – three pairs on each lapel, three below each side of the lapel, three on each pocket, three each side of the waist at the rear and two on each cuff.  NCOs had gold edging to the lapels, in addition to collar and cuffs.

F7 Jäger Detachment:  Light olive green coat and smallclothes with red lapels, collar, cuffs and turnbacks.  Buff belts.  Black cockade and white corner-rosettes on hat.

F8 had three pairs of yellow lace buttonholes on each lapel, plus a diagonal buttonhole in the top corner, another pair below each lapel, two on each pocket, one either side of the rear waist and one on the (pointed) cuff.  NCOs had the same yellow lace, but with the addition of the usual gold rank-lace edging, while officers wore the same style of lace as the men, except in gold.  A second version of the uniform (probably worn from 1760 when the regiment was increased to three battalions) deleted the diagonal corner lace from the lapels, removed the lace from the pockets and changed the cuffs to the Swedish style, with two lace buttonholes.  Officers’ lace at this time was changed to the fancy Brandenburg style, with the addition of three Brandenburgs on each pocket.

F8 Jäger Detachment:  Dark olive green coat with light yellow-olive green lapels, collar, shoulder-strap, cuffs, turnbacks and smallclothes.  Buff belts.  Black cockade and white corner-rosettes on hat.  Lace as for the rest of the regiment, plus gold aiguillette for officers.

F9 had Brandenburg-style cuffs with a flap edged in red piping and two buttons with white lace buttonholes visible above the top edge of the cuff.  They also had three pairs of white lace buttonholes on each lapel, another pair below each lapel and one either side of the rear waist.  Officers had the same style of lace, plus two lace buttonholes on each pocket.  At some point the NCOs changed to silver lace buttonholes without NCO lace edging and the officers changed to Brandenburg-style lace without lace on the pockets.

F10 had elaborate Brandenburg-style lace for all ranks except NCOs; three pairs on each lapel, plus another pair below, a pair on each cuff and a single buttonhole either side of the rear waist.  Officers also had a pair on each pocket.  Shoulders straps were white.  NCOs just wore two simple lace buttonholes below each lapel and on each cuff, without any lace edging.  One source also shows white lace edging on the other ranks’ waistcoats and hats.

F10 Hussar Detachment:  The uniform was all light blue with white lace and white fur pelisse-edging, worn with a mirliton cap.  Sash was mixed light blue and white.  Shabraque was light blue edged in broad white lace.

F11 wore yellow aiguillettes (gold for officers).

F11 Jäger Detachment:  Dark green coat with light green collar, cuffs, turnbacks and waistcoat (these may have been shades of olive green, like F8 above).  Yellow aiguillette.  Buff belts and breeches.  Green hat cockade and corner-rosettes.

F12 lace was much the same as that described for F10 above.  Most unusually they had a grenadier company, wearing uniforms of reversed colours (light blue with dark blue facings and smallclothes) and a bearskin cap with red bag and a white metal plate, bearing a black eagle badge.

F13 officers had silver aiguillettes.

F14 had Brandenburg-style buttonhole lace arranged 1-2-3 down the breast (below a light blue tab at the top button), a single Brandenburg at the rear waist and another on the (pointed) cuff.  Officers also had vertical pockets with three Brandenburgs.

Here are my painted Frei-Infanterie Battalions:

Frei-Bataillon F1 ‘Le Noble’

Frei-Bataillon ‘Le Noble’ (F1 under Bleckwenn’s classification system) was raised in June 1756 by the former Pfalz Lieutenant Colonel Franciscus de le Noble, who continued to command the unit throughout the war until disbandment in 1763.  The unit initially consisted of five companies, each of 100 men taken from the districts of the Holy Roman Empire, ten of whom were rifle-armed (and differently-uniformed) Jäger, for a total of 500 men, plus a headquarters detachment and a battalion gun detachment consisting of two 1pdr guns (which were probably replaced by 3pdr guns later in the war, in common with most other such units).  This increased during the winter of 1758/58 to a little over 800 men (presumably with a commensurate increase in Jäger?).

The unit had a reasonably good reputation and spent most of it’s time in direct support of the field armies, most noticeably at the battles of Breslau, Leuthen and Hochkirch.  It was however, captured en masse in June 1760 at the Second Battle of Landeshut.  The unit therefore became a Regiment during the winter of 1760/61, with a 2nd Battalion being raised.  However, as the 1st Battalion remained in captivity, the unit continued to operate as a single battalion, spending the rest of the war with Prince Henry’s army in Saxony.

For models I’ve used standard Old Glory 15s Prussian Musketeers, with the Firing Line pack used for the skirmishers.  In Shako/Tricorn a light infantry battalion may either fight as a formed unit or may break down into to skirmisher stands, so the whole lot wouldn’t be deployed on table as shown here.  If there was a sufficiently large Jäger Detachment (150 men or more) they might also create an additional, permanently-detached skirmisher stand, but Le Noble’s Jäger Detachment was very weak (which is a good job, as I can’t find any suitable figures with the required headgear).

F1 ‘Le Noble’ had a reasonably colourful coat, with light blue cuffs, lapels, collar and shoulder-strap and white metal buttons, though without lace.  One mistake I made was that the pompoms should be light blue over dark blue, but I mistakenly painted them plain light blue.  That said, it’s not very noticeable, so I’m not going to correct it.

Frei-Bataillon F3 ‘Von Kalben’/’Von Salenmon’/’Favrat’

Frei-Bataillon F3 ‘Von Kalben’ was raised in September 1756 by the Prussian officer Heinrich Detlev von Kalben, consisting of five companies, each of 100 men, plus a headquarters detachment and a battalion gun detachment of two 1pdr guns, which were replaced by 3pdr guns during the winder of 1758/59.  There was no Jäger Detachment.  The unit was increased to 800 men during the winter of 1757/58 thanks largely to a draft of conscripted PoWs and in 1760 a tiny Hussar Detachment of just twelve men was added.

Frei-Bataillon ‘Kalben’ (F3) was initially attached to Bevern’s corps as part of the Prussian invasion of Bohemia of 1757, but was soon detached along with Frei-Bataillon ‘Mayr’ (F2) to raid the counties of the Holy Roman Empire, where they caused massive disruption to Reichsarmee recruiting-parties and acquired a large amount of booty. 

However, Kalben didn’t have much opportunity to spend his new-found wealth, as later that year, the battalion was re-assigned to Bevern’s corps and at the Battle of Breslau on 22nd November 1757, Kalben was mortally wounded.  Command of the battalion passed to Kalben’s close friend, Konstantin Nathanael von Salenmon, an experienced mercenary officer of Bohemian-Jewish ancestry.  The battalion was henceforth known by the name ‘Salenmon’ and fought under its new commander at Leuthen.

In 1758, having been reinforced by the addition of conscripted PoWs, the battalion was assigned to the invasion of Moravia, as part of a light corps under Generalmajor von Mayr.  However, when the brigade came under Austrian attack the conscripted PoWs deserted en masse and the weakened battalion was smashed, with 300 men being captured by the Austrians.  The surviving 200 men were assigned to Frederick’s main army, with whom they fought at the Battle of Hochkirch and again suffered heavy casualties.

Salenmon

On 14th October 1760, Salenmon himself was taken into captivity along with 40 men of the battalion and the rest of the garrison of the fortress of Wittenberg.  A month later the rest of the battalion followed Salenmon into captivity when they surrendered along with the rest of Finck’s army at Maxen

As with Frei-Bataillon ‘Le Noble’ a new 2nd Battalion was raised to replace the captive 1st Battalion and the unit officially became a Regiment.  The post of Chef remained vacant until the Autumn of 1761, when command passed to Franz Andreas Jacquier de Berney Favrat.  The unit was then known as Frei-Battaillon ‘Favrat’ until the end of the war.

The uniform of Frei-Bataillon F2 ‘Von Kalben’ was the plainest of all the Frei-Infanterie units.  The coat was plain dark blue, without lapels or collar.  However, a splash of colour was provided by the standard red coat-linings and light blue small-clothes.  The metal colour was yellow and the unlaced hates were decorated with light blue pompoms.  These figures are again by Old Glory 15s.

Frei-Bataillon F8 ‘Du Verger’/’Quintus Icilius’

As mentioned above, I did already have one painted Frei-Bataillon from the 90s and this is it.  Frei-Bataillon F8 ‘Du Verger’ was raised in March 1758 in Saxony from French deserters and comprised five companies, totaling just over 800 men, including 50 Jäger (10 in each company) and two 1pdr battalion guns (upgraded to 3pdrs in 1759). 

The Commanding Officer, Major Johann Antonius Kensinger du Verger was from French Huguenot stock and had previously served as an officer in the Dutch Army.  However, in 1759 he fell out of favour with the King and was arrested and imprisoned!  Nevertheless, in 1762 he managed to escape and joined Austrian service.  In the meantime, command of his battalion passed to one of the King’s favourites; Major ‘Quintus Icilius’.

Quintus Icilius

Quintus Icilius was another descendant of French Huguenots and had started life in 1724 as Carl Gottlieb Theophilus Guichard.  Initially trained for the priesthood, but with a deep interest in military affairs, he decided to follow a different path and was commissioned into the Dutch Army, with whom he fought against the French during the campaigns of 1747-48.  Leaving military service, he then decided to follow a scholarly path and his research took him to the libraries of England’s universities, where he wrote a very well-received history of the wars of ancient Greece and Rome.  Returning to the continent, he became friends with Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick, who in turn recommended him to King Frederick II. 

Guichard soon became a firm favourite at court and would often have long discussions with the King on points of ancient military history.  During one of these discussions, the two men were discussing the Battle of Pharsalus and the King pronounced of the name of a Roman Centurion as ‘Quintus Icilius’.  Guichard dared to correct the King’s pronunciation to ‘Quintus Caecilius’ (they were apparently both wrong…).  Amused, the King ordered that Guichard would henceforth be known as ‘Quintus Icilius’.

So in 1759 Quintus Icilius was ordered to take command of Du Verger’s former battalion of French ne’er-do-wells.  The unit did well under Quintus Icilius’ command and spent most of its time campaigning as part of the King’s main army.  In 1761 the unit was expanded to a full Regiment of three battalions and over 2,400 men (150 of whom being Jäger).

Following the looting by Saxon troops of Frederick’s palace at Charlottenberg in 1760, the King was determined to launch a reprisal raid against the Saxon king’s hunting-lodge/palace at Hubertsburg Castle.  However, due to the strict Prussian officers’ code of honour, General Von Saldern had already refused point-blank to carry out such an act and it seemed unlikely that any other Prussian officer would agree to such a plan.  However, a non-Prussian toady such as Quintus Icilius had no such scruples and in February 1761 he took one of his battalions to sack Hubertsburg, making himself considerably wealthy in the process!

As mentioned above, I painted these chaps back in the 1990s and I used Lancashire Games Mk 2 figures.  They’re by no means the best figures in the world, but they do have a certain ‘corn-fed’ charm to them.  The unit’s uniform is one of the more attractive ones on the list above, having much the same uniform as F1 ‘Le Noble’, though with the addition of yellow buttonhole lace (gold Brandenburg lace for the officers).

Anyway, that’s it for now!  Sorry it’s been a bit slow here just lately.  Mrs Fawr isn’t very well at the moment and when not attending to her, I seem to spend most of my time just scrolling through the news… 🙁

This entry was posted in 15mm Figures, Eighteenth Century, Painted Units, Seven Years War & War of Austrian Succession, Seven Years War Prussian Army, Shako Rules, Tricorn (18th Century Shako Rules). Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to “Thrice Blue And Thrice Damned To The Devil!”: SYW Prussian Frei-Infanterie

  1. Andrew McGuire says:

    That was fascinating reading, as always. I look forward to the report of the refight and seeing how these reprobates performed. Best wishes again to Mrs Fawr.

    • jemima_fawr says:

      Thanks Andrew! Yes, the game report (and scenario) will be here soon. 🙂 And thanks for your kind comments re Mrs Fawr.

      • Andrew McGuire says:

        I’m currently rereading (well, some of it for the first time, probably) Christopher Duffy’s The Army of Frederick the Great (1st edition, which I really should replace with the second). Your comments on these odd units add a lot of detail – may I ask your source(s)? I’m aware of the Krono-thingumma website, but as you will note, have yet to familiarise myself with it, let alone avail myself if it.

        In other news, my copy of Shako is due imminently, as is a copy of Dennis Showalter’s biography of Fritz. I already own Duffy’s and Asprey’s, though heaven knows where they are. Do you have any other recommendations for details of units and operations? I’d be particularly interested in Prince Henry’s campaigns, including of course the battle of Freiburg, which is only mentioned in passing in all the books I’ve read, which of course focus on Frederick to the exclusion of other Prussian commanders.

        • jemima_fawr says:

          Duffy radically altered his opinion of Frederick between the 1st and 2nd Editions (being much more positive towards Frederick in the end Edition), so it’s worth perhaps reading both if you have the patience. I remember that Duffy’s ‘Frederick the Great: a Military Life’ is also good, but it’s probably 20 years since I’ve read it! I’ve also got David Fraser’s and Giles McDonogh’s biographies, but they all blur into one in my head! Duffy’s ‘Army of Maria-Theresa’ was very useful in its day, but that’s since been superceded by his superb latter two volumes on the Austrian Army: ‘Instrument of War’ and ‘By Force of Arms’, which are in the process of being reprinted by Helion. Helion’s ‘Like a Brazen Wall’ on the Battle of Minden is excellent and their book on Hastenbeck has just arrived today. I’ve also got some German books by Dorn & Engelmann (two on Prussian uniforms and one on the battles of Frederick) that are very good and Bleckwenn’s boxed set on uniforms, which is my most prized possession! The Ospreys for the period are also generally excellent – both the Men At Arms books and the Campaign books.

          Sadly however, and as you’ve noticed, there is precious little on Prince Henry’s campaigns or other independent commands such as Bevern’s, but Kronoskaf are thankfully covering a lot of that ground and Helion are bringing out interesting books all the time.

          • Andrew McGuire says:

            Thank you for your prompt and detailed response. There’s another Fritz biography by Tim Blanning which I’ve noticed on Amazon but I wonder how much military detail these bios have. I have the Osprey books on the Prussian infantry and cavalry but not the campaign guides. I’ll look into the others, if feasible.

  2. Steve J says:

    Really nice units there and nice to see them having the option to form a skirmish line if required. Lovely bit of background history too. Hope Mrs Fawr feels better soon and best not to look too much at the news, especially today:(.

    • jemima_fawr says:

      Thanks Steve! Yes, it’s not exactly going to give you swarm of skirmishers, but a few skirmishers in just the right spot can be very useful (I think that sums up SYW battlefield skirmishing in a nutshell).

      Yeah, easier said than done re the news-clicking, especially for a ‘spotter’ of Cold War Soviet kit! 😉

  3. Ian Wilson says:

    Love gaming the SYW and associated conflicts and this is an excellent piece, very informative.

  4. Neil Youll says:

    Another enjoyable post. I’ve just painted some OG Friekorps myself. A bit of a rest after 24 combined Hanoverian Grenadiers!

    • jemima_fawr says:

      Thanks Neill. Oh yes, British/Hanoverian grenadiers are quite definitely the most difficult thing to paint, with the possible exception of Highlanders! 🙁

  5. Norm says:

    Fantastic post – thanks

  6. Stefan says:

    Great to see the much-maligned “Double Blues” given pride of place – and some first-rate brushwork, too!

    May I ask what tweaks you introduced to Shako for the mid-18th C.? I’m quite fond of Shako 1st ed. actually, and always thought their one-page SYW adaptation very well thought out.

    • jemima_fawr says:

      Cheers! My apologies for the continuing delays, but my SYW ‘Tricorn’ conversion for Shako will be here soon. Yes, that one page of conversion notes provided the original germ of an idea back in the 90s, but we quickly decided that we didn’t like it, so started again from scratch and it seemed to work. 🙂

  7. Pingback: The Combat of Zinna 1759: A Scenario for ‘Tricorn’ | Jemima Fawr's Miniature Wargames Blog

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