Daily Archives: July 6, 2012

French vs. German Foragers

In yesterday’s post, we read about the animosity between the French and German troops in Ney’s IIIrd Corps.  Today’s post is an interesting observation about the differences between French and German foragers.  The observer states that the French were much better foragers than the Germans.  The interesting thing is that the observer was German, a Württemberger, General graf von Scheler.  Von Scheler was also in Ney’s Corps, the same Corps as yesterday’s eyewitness.

In a report to the King of Bavaria, von Scheler discussed why the German troops suffered more than the French from lack of rations:  “The principle cause by far lies in the different natures of the German and French soldier.  Already when we crossed the Vistula all regular food supply and orderly distribution ceased, and from there as far as Moscow not a pound of meat or bread, not a glass of brandy was taken through legal distribution or regular requisition.  Beyond the Vistula, as soon as the few stocks of food had been exhausted, the order of the day was at once issued: ‘Let each man take wherever he can find it, and live as well or as badly as he can manage.’ ”

“At this point the difference between the German and French soldier became very apparent, and to the serious disadvantage of the former.  In this repect the French soldier revealed an extraordinary knack and on these exhausting detachments lived only for the good of his comrades, almost ignoring his own welfare…”

“The Germans were quite different…  Too many detachments were required for each to be led by an officer … And so the soldier, left to his own devices, thought first of filling his own belly when he found anything to eat.  In the actual hunt for food he was much too slow…  Instead of being content with a quick refreshment, he wanted first to cook everything properly…  As a result he was late, could not overtake the regiment, which had received orders to march in the meantime; and he either turned marauder and stayed in the rear, or else threw his booty away to lighten his load, and rejoined the regiment with little or nothing.”

“…there remained no other method, unfortunately, except to leave most of the supplies to chance or to the zeal of individuals, because the sending-out of detachments had to be abandoned, seeing that a number of men vanished to no purpose, whereas the French foraging parties returned well-laden to camp.”

“… the temperament of the German soldier was not suited to conducting this foraging with the same cunning, speed, self-sacrifice, and camaraderie as were required when swift marches and few halts were customary.”

Faber du Faur, an artillery officer and artist, also served with the Württemberg contingent in the IIIrd Corps.  He did a painting showing troops foraging Near Eve on June 29.  The following description accompanies the painting:  “There has never been a campaign in which tropps have relied so much on living off the land, but it was the way it was done in Russia that caused such universal suffering – for the soldiers of the army as well as for the inhabitants.  Because of its rapid marches and its enormous size, the army faced a dearth of everything and it was impossible to procure event the barest necessity.”

“It was around this time that we reached Eve that one can date the start of this

Near Eve, 9 June
By Faber du Faur

fatal requisitioning and the destruction of the surrounding countryside, which, naturally, had devastating consequences.  Every day, as we broke camp, we could see clouds of marauders and isolated bodies of troops make off in all directions, setting off to find the barest of essentials.  They would return to camp in the evening, laden with their booty.”

“Inevitably, this kind of behavior made an unfortunate impression on Lithuania, which had so long been under the yoke of Russia and, instead of any benefit from its new alliance, saw only the pillaging and oppression wrought by its new allies.  In addition, discipline was sapped, and tolerating or turning a blind eye to these misdemeanors, whether or not they really benefited the troops, only speeded up the destruction of this potentially formidable army.”

Sources: 1812: Naplolen’s Defeat in Russia Antony Brett-James

With Napoleon in Russa: The Illustrated Memoirs of Major Faber du Faur Edited and Translated by Jonathan North