One of the units formed after the debacle of 1806/7, the 1st Pommeranian Infantry Regiment was also known as Infantry Regiment Number 2. However it was one of those regiments not destroyed in the routs of Jena and Auerstädt, so was allowed to keep its previous flags and traditions, merely enduring a change of name.
The original regiment was raised by Oberst von Zeiten on 20 February 1679. The regiment was numbered 8 in the old Prussian army and during the 1806/7 campaign was on garrison duty in several fortresses. The regiment had a proud history, having served at Namur in 1695, Ramilles and Ostend in 1706, Malplaquet and Mons in 1709, Prague in 1744 and 1757, Breslau and Leuthen in 1757, Hoherswerda in 1759, Torgau in 1760 and Freiberg in 1762.
In 1808 the regiment was re-formed with the standard organisation for a Prussian infantry regiment of the time. It had two grenadier companies (detached to the Pommeranian Grenadier Battalion, later the 1st Battalion of the 2nd Grenadier Regiment "Kaiser Franz"), two musketeer battalions and one fusilier (light infantry) battalion. From 1813 a company of volunteer rifles (Freiwilliger Jäger) was also attached.
In 1812 the regiment provided its 2nd musketeer and the fusilier battalion to form the 3rd Combined Regiment by amalgamation with a battalion from the Colbergisches IR Nr 9. It saw action against the Russians at Dahlenkirchen and Kiopen before returning to Prussia under the Treaty of Tauroggen, having lost 8 officers and 320 men in that campaign.In the Liberation War against France the regiment was very active. At Lüneburg in 1813 it captured six guns, a colour of the Saxon Prinz Maximillian Infantry and the 4th battalion fanion of the French 152e Ligne Regt. At Dennewitz the same year it captured another 12 guns but lost five officers and 171 men. The Pommeranians also fought at Leipzig where the regimental history credits the regiment with capturing three eagles and seven colours or fanions, 66 munition wagons, 15 cannon and 800 enemy soldiers for the loss of 15 officers and 375 men.
In 1815 the regiment was present at Ligny and La Belle Alliance (Waterloo) as part of 5 Brigade in II Korps. It lost 18 officers and 516 men during the campaign and entered Paris as part of the victorious Allied armies.
After the Napoleonic Wars the regiment was redesignated 2nd Grenadier Regiment "King Frederick William IV (1st Pommeranian)" in 1860. It continued to distinguish itself on many battlefields before being disbanded at the end of WWI.
Re-formed after the debacle of 1806/7, the 2nd West Prussian Infantry Regiment was also known as Infantry Regiment Number 7. Formerly known as Infantry Regiment 58, it was formed on 12 September 1797 at Königskrone. It was active in East Prussia in the 1807 campaign, fighting at Braunsberg and Hagelberg.
In 1808 the regiment was re-formed with the standard organisation for a Prussian infantry regiment of the time. It had two grenadier companies (detached to the West Prussian Grenadier Battalion, later the 2nd Battalion of the 2nd Grenadier Regiment "Kaiser Franz"), two musketeer battalions and one fusilier (light infantry) battalion. From 1813 a company of volunteer rifles (Freiwilliger Jäger) was also attached.
In 1812 the regiment provided its 1st musketeer battalion and the fusilier battalion to form the 5th Combined Regiment by amalgamation with a battalion from the 1. Westpr IR Nr 6. It saw action against the Russians at St Olav, Schlockhof and Thamdorf, where it captured 9 officers and 378 men from the Russians. The regiment returned to Prussia under the Treaty of Tauroggen, having lost 8 officers and 320 men in that campaign.In the Liberation War against France the regiment was very active. The battalions of the regiment were present, still as the "5th Combined Infantry Regiment", at Gross Görschen and Bautzen. It also saw action, now as the 2nd West Prussian Regiment, at Dresden, Kulm, Peterswalde and Leipzig. During 1814 the regiment was present at Etoges, Laon, Pontavaire and finally Paris.
In 1815 the regiment was present at Ligny as part of 3 Brigade in I Korps. The regiment had lost 82 officers, 160 NCO's, 161 volunteer riflemen and 2159 soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars.After the Napoleonic Wars the regiment was redesignated the 7th Grenadier Regiment "King's Grenadier Regiment (2nd West Prussian)" in 1860.
In the last article we looked at the 32e's prodigies of valour as part of the Armée d'Italie and the Demi-Brigade earning the sobriquet 'La Brave'. In this part we look at the role the Demi-brigade played in Napoleon's Egyptian Campaign.
By mid May 1798 (Floreal, Year VI) a balanced force of some thirty thousand men had been assembled at Toulon for the expedition to Egypt. Only the 13e Demi-Brigade was anywhere near full strength and most of the regiments recently of the Armée d'Italie, including the 32e Demi- Brigade, were at or below half strength. The 32e appears to have comprised approximately 1,850 men of all ranks. The 18e, 32e and 75e Demi-Brigades were issued with distinctive red-striped 'pantalons de route' before leaving Toulon.
Sailing via Malta, the fleet at last sighted Egypt on 30 June. The army's first task was to take the port of Alexandria. The landing was difficult, taking from midday until 3 AM to land 5,000 men under squally and moonlit conditions on the beaches near Marabout. General Bonaparte briefly reviewed the troops of Kléber, Menou and Bon's Divisions (the latter including the 32e Demi-Brigade) at 3 AM, and then proceeded to advance on Egypt's second city with the objective of opening the port for the rest of the army to disembark. Exhausted by the heat, the troops reached the city by 8 AM. By lunchtime it was in their hands. General Menou seized the triangular fort, while General Kléber took the Pompey gate and General Bon captured the Rosetta gate. [It is also alleged that the Egyptians may have left one of the gates to the city open, but so far I have not been able to verify this.]
By 10 July the Army had assembled at Rahmaniya after its long, dusty march from the coast. Between the 13th and the 15th the army fought what amounted to a series of skirmishes deployed in the hollow divisional squares devised by General Bonaparte. The most notable action took place near a village called Shubra Khit. The Mamelukes contented themselves for the most part with feats of horsemanship and skirmishing, but refused to charge the French in force, rarely coming within musket range. As a result the 14th Dragoons were unable to catch them in pursuit, and for the most part the cavalry remained inside the hollow squares. The main action at this time was fought between the flotillas of the rival armies upon the Nile. While the Moslem flotilla appears to have been a supply fleet, the French were dangerously outnumbered until General Bonaparte brought up some of his artillery and with a lucky shot was able to blow up the Moslem flagship. Much of the fighting was decided by a fierce hand-to-hand struggle, although Captain Moiret states that the Moslems lowered their flags in the pretence of surrendering and many used this ruse to make good their escape. This action lasted all morning from about 8.30 AM up until noon.
By 21 July the army had reached the site of the famous Battle of the Pyramids, where the waiting Mameluke army of Murad Bey was drawn up close upon the Nile in the proximity of the village of Embabeh, opposite Cairo, a considerable distance from the Pyramids that give the subsequent battle its name. Here the Mamelukes had entrenched their guns in the vicinity of the village together with their infantry, while on their left they arrayed their magnificent Mameluke cavalry. Estimates of the size of the army vary, but it is thought that the number of Mamelukes could not have exceeded 6,000 and the number of infantry, comprised of Albanians and Egyptian Fellahin (Peasants) not more than 20,000, including all of the itinerant servants who would have been non-combatants for the most part.
The 32e Demi-Brigade formed part of General Bon's 2nd Division, which was designated as 'Reserve' although it appears to have taken as active a part in the proceedings as any of the other divisions at the Battle of the Pyramids. This Division initially formed the left of the army closest to the Nile and faced the fortified positions of Embabeh in which the Mamelukes had entrenched their guns and placed their Fellahin (peasant infantry) and Albanian troops.
During the initial phase of the battle the Mamelukes charged repeatedly against the right of the French army (Generals Desaix' and Reynier's Divisions), as the French Divisional squares advanced. Once these attacks were spent the French switched their attention to the fortified positions to their front and left. Despite 'prodigies of valour' by the defenders, Vial's and Dugua's Divisions moved around the left of the Embabeh position, cutting off the village from the main body of the exhausted Mameluke cavalry. Together with the Division of Vial (previously Menou's 4th Division), General Bon's Division assaulted the redoubt and the village.
Despite being offered quarter, the garrison apparently for the most part preferred to die. Captain Moiret, an eyewitness to the event tells us that
our soldiers who had, with difficulty, been restrained by their officers while the negotiations took place, now fell furiously on the village. Instead of amusing themselves by shooting, they marched right up to the field pieces and repeatedly stabbed the gunners with bayonets and seized their guns.Such was the poor quality of the Egyptian infantry that they had nothing with which to resist the formed ranks of bayonets. Private Millet described the scene as 'atrocious. The corpses of men and horses presented a horrifying spectacle, so bloody was the massacre'. The infantry was exterminated.
Général de Brigade Rampon is purported to have formed three small squares covering the advance of the remainder of the Division as it attacked the defences in column, and these were probably formed of the 32e Demi-Brigade. If this is the case, then the 32e probably formed the rear portion of the Divisional Square as it advanced, as each square was one Demi-Brigade across the front and rear of the square to give the maximum firepower, and half a Demi-brigade in depth.
The remaining Mamelukes were driven back, many to the bank of the Nile, by the advancing French line of Divisional squares. Here many of the army were drowned or were crushed under the horses' hooves. The Mamelukes were richly equipped and considered a great source of plunder for the troops. A Gascon private of the 32e is credited with being the first to think of hammering his bayonet into the form of a hook for fishing Mamelukes out of the river Nile; a profitable pastime that later led many historians to conclude that the French bayonets were supposedly more flimsy than may actually have been the case.
By the end of July 1798, General Bonaparte had instituted new linen uniforms for the men. However, these were to prove insufficiently hard-wearing and by August these were all but worn out, again being replaced, this time by cotton ones, in September. These uniforms were worn throughout the Syrian Campaign. Because of a shortage of blue dye the colours of the uniforms for the various regiments varied greatly, prompting Napoleon to comment that they presented a 'charming spectacle...' during one assault on the port of Jaffa. The 32e were outfitted in what appears to have been a 'dusky pink' habit-veste with dark blue facings and turn-backs. One regiment, the 88th, was even purported to still be wearing its Egyptian uniform on parade in Grenoble in 1802!
In 1799 the 32e Regiment formed part of l'Armée de l'Orient's expedition to Syria, although each regiment appears to have left its 3rd Battalion behind to form the garrison of Egypt. The regiment, still forming part of General Bon's Division, took part in the blockade of El Arish. The fort itself, defended by 1,000 Arnauts (Balkans light infantry) and Maghribi (Moroccans) and approximately 100 Mamelukes, was pounded by artillery for two weeks. During this time a Mameluke relief column was surprised and defeated in its camp, leaving substantial supplies in French hands. The Dizdar (fortress commander) Hassan Agha held out until a breach was finally made, at which point the fortress was surrendered.
According to Captain Moiret, during this time the troops were fed on a diet of 'biscuits, camel meat and a little rice' on the long march across the desert of El Arish.
The next objective was Gaza, which after a brief skirmish with Mameluke horsemen on the approaches, was taken without a fight. No effort was made to defend the city or to remove or destroy substantial supplies within it. The French captured 15,000 pounds of gunpowder and almost 100,000 rations.
After Gaza, the army advanced on Jaffa, an important walled town. Generals Lannes and Bon were ordered to invest the town, which was defended, by 1,200 Janissary infantry, 2,500 Arnaut and Maghribi infantry and 300 Mamelukes. Jaffa was subjected to several days of artillery fire between the 3rd and 6th of March until a breach was made, while saps were laid to within 150 yards of the walls. At this point the garrison was summoned to surrender. The garrison commander Abdullah Agha refused the summons, instead answering by executing the French envoys. At once orders were given for General Lannes to set about storming the breach, while General Bon's Division, including the 32e demonstrated against the North wall of the town. Despite General Lannes' successfully storming the breach and capturing a gun tower upon which the Tricolor was raised, the fighting continued into the next day. General Bon was able to turn his diversion into a successful breakthrough by infiltrating troops along the weak shore defences and capturing the northern walls, the harbour and several ships. Although the part played by the 32e is not specifically stated, they would have more or less certainly have taken part in this attack in which only thirty Frenchmen were killed while the Ottomans lost over 1,000 men. Bonaparte noted that 'the soldiers' fury was at its height; everybody was put to the sword', which attests the ferocity of the French troops and the effectiveness of the bayonet at close quarters. Abdullah Agha and the remaining Turkish forces (about 3,000 men) continued to hold out in some of the strongpoints around the town, until French officers promised to spare them, which persuaded them to surrender. It is then that General Bonaparte refused to accept this arrangement and had General Bon's division execute the Turks, sending only about 800 Egyptians back to their homes. Again, while not specifically mentioned, the 32e must likely have been involved in the conduct of this atrocity under the General in Chief's direct orders.
The objective of the campaign was the capture of St.-Jean d'Acre, a vital position for the security of Egypt, the residence of the Pasha Djezzar himself and one of the main routes for enemy forces marching from Turkey and the Ottoman Empire. This city, the third largest in Syria, had a population of 16,000, a large strategic port and modern walls built from around the mid-1700s, capable of withstanding most modern artillery. The garrison comprised 5,000 men, further reinforced by another 2,000 men on 15 March, just days before the French arrival.
The massacre at Jaffa precluded any hope of surrender, so the French could not expect a quick victory. Added to this, on the 18th the French siege artillery was seized by a British flotilla and quickly added to the city's defences. Despite this setback, General Bonaparte directed the investment of the city, which was effectively completed on 19 March, and field artillery was improvised into a weak siege train comprising 8-pdr and 12-pdr cannon.
The 32e regiment fought at the Siege of Acre between 17 March and 21 May 1799. During this time eight major assaults were made on the defences. This activity was briefly interrupted by the presence of a relief force of some 33,000 men under Ahmet, the Pasha of Damascus, advancing to break the siege after having gathered in several groups of Mameluke refugees and Palestinian Yarliyya. Initially Général de Brigade Junot was dispatched to reconnoitre the area to the south of Lake Tiberias and east of the siege lines. Here on the 8th of April he repulsed a superior force near Nazareth. Alarmed by the apparent strength of the enemy, Bonaparte ordered General Kléber with 1,500 men to join him and this combined force in turn routed some 5-6,000 Turks near Canaan on the 11th of April. A further clash took place at Saffet on the 13th. Next Napoleon sent Général de Brigade Murat with two battalions to seize the crossing of the Jordan to the North of Lake Tiberias, where he surprised a Turkish Encampment on the 15th, his infantry charging it in square and literally at the run. However on 16 April 1799 Kléber encountered the 25,000 cavalry and 10,000 infantry of the Pasha's army near Fula on the Plain of Esdraelon. As retreat was out of the question, Kléber resolved to attack the enemy before dawn on the following day but due to delays only arrived at about 6am. The surprise failed and a desperate battle developed around the two French squares, continuing until about 4 PM when their ammunition was virtually exhausted. At this point Kléber's command was relieved by the timely arrival of General Bon's Division.
The 32e formed part of the relief force. Marching 25 miles this force arrived in the rear of the enemy and detaching its cavalry to attack the enemy camp, deployed two infantry squares for the assault on the Pasha's main force. With the firing of several accompanying cannon the infantry launched itself at the Turks in square, enfilading their positions, but the cannons' report seems to have been enough to panic the Pasha's rabble of an army and the relief column's attack soon drove them in disorder from the field. The Comte de Lavallette, an ADC to General Bonaparte, states that 'the effect was dramatic' and Private Millet recalled that 'our thirst for vengeance had put out our thirst for water and kindled our thirst for blood' which underlines the ferocity of the events which then unfolded as Kléber's men, keen for vengeance, stormed the village of Fula at the point of the bayonet.
The battle had lasted a little under 10 hours and amazingly Kléber's command had suffered only two killed and sixty wounded, while the Army of Damascus was utterly routed, leaving behind around 1,000 casualties and a substantial number of prisoners, as well as supplies and booty. With his flair for the dramatic, Bonaparte chose to call the Battle after the nearby Mount Tabor, a local peak that features prominently in the Christian Bible.
On 21st April Rear-Admiral Jean-Baptiste Perrée evaded the British blockade, bringing nine heavy siege guns (18-pdrs and 24-pdrs) and ammunition to the besiegers' lines. This was the first time that the besiegers had real siege artillery, having had to make do with 8- and 12-pdrs from the regular artillery to batter at the walls. Now the siege commenced in earnest.
On 7 May thirty Ottoman transports arrived bearing 1,000 men of the Shifflick Regiment (considered the best regiment in the Ottoman Empire), prompting General Bonaparte to press his attack. On that same evening the French set off a mine and a conducted a night assault that gained a lodgement, in which picked men of the 18e and 32e Regiments held out until the French artillery could create a breach in the wall on the following morning. As the French again attacked with 200 of their elite Grenadiers, the British deployed Royal Marines to support the Shifflicks and Arnauts; falling back, an ambush was established around the walled palace gardens. With grenades, snipers and 68-pdr carronades the defenders massacred the French and drove back the survivors. General Lannes was wounded in the neck and General Bon mortally wounded in the fighting on the 10th against Turkish sorties.
It was becoming obvious that the defenders were growing stronger while the besiegers were growing weaker. General Bonaparte finally called off the siege on 21 May after suffering almost continuous counter-attack from the defenders and the loss of several cannon.
While the main army fought in Syria, elements of the army comprising the 3rd battalion of each Demi-Brigade were left to form the garrison of Egypt, and employed in conducting counter- insurrection operations. Chef de Bataillon Duranteau commanding the 3rd Battalion from the 32e Regiment was involved in burning the village of Bordein when it rebelled on the 24th February, putting the inhabitants to the sword. This is mentioned in General Bonaparte's letter to the Directory of 19th June 1799, in which he states 'I must make known my satisfaction with Generals Dugua and Lanusse and Chef de Bataillon Duranteau…' thus recognising the importance of the internal security of Egypt and the part played by the 32e in countering insurgents.
Meanwhile the main army was ordered to retreat from Syria. Having failed to secure Acre, and since the change in season meant that it was now possible for the enemy to land troops along the Egyptian coastline, the soldiers would be required to defend against any incursions from the sea. By June the army had retired safely back to Egypt.
On the 11th of July the Turks landed their Army of Rhodes, which has been variedly estimated in number, but is not likely to have exceeded 10,000 men, in Aboukir Bay, near Alexandria. The Ottoman forces under Mustapha Pasha set about constructing two or three lines of entrenchments and gun positions upon the heights across the tongue of land that formed the peninsula. Behind these were the Old Redoubt and Aboukir Castle. Elite Janissaries armed with muskets and sabres were deployed to defend the entrenchments. The first line of entrenchments focused principally on the high ground to the left and right of the main position.
The French army, quickly assembled, comprised the cavalry under General Murat, and the infantry of Generals Destaing, Lanusse and Lannes. General Bonaparte attacked on the 25th of July, opening the battle with a bombardment of the entrenchments, followed by infantry assaults upon the first line of entrenchments with the bayonet. Generals Destaing and Lanusse assaulted the position upon the left and General Lannes that upon the right. The 32e, being present, formed part of General Lanusse's Division together with the 18e Demi-Brigade and was involved in making the frontal assaults on these defences.
General Murat's cavalry meanwhile were deployed in the centre of the French line. As the French infantry attacks developed, the Turks took troops from the centre to reinforce their flanks. Seeing an opportunity, Murat advanced through this widening gap in the centre virtually unopposed, wheeling left and right and unlimbering his artillery to pour canister into the emplacements. As the Turks broke and ran the cavalry charged, cutting down the fugitives or driving them into the sea. Within an hour the French had secured the first line of the defences.
Next, Generals Lannes and D'Estaing led an unsuccessful attack against the centre of the Turkish second line. As the French infantry fell back, the Turks ran forward intent upon decapitating the wounded, the Sultan having promised a reward to any man that returned home with a Christian head. Once again Murat had the opportunity to ride down many of these enthusiastic defenders.
After some rest, presumably required due to heat and exhaustion, the battle recommenced at three in the afternoon, after which Joachim Murat is credited with advancing on his own initiative along the shoreline on the right flank, unlimbering his guns and firing into the extreme left of the second line of entrenchments, forcing the defenders to withdraw. Then, under a storm of shot from the Turkish gunboats, he formed his cavalry into line and conducted a superb cavalry (and dromedary) charge, rolling up the second line of entrenchments and driving the Turks back onto Mount Vizir. As the French infantry surged forward in support, Murat led his cavalry into the Janissaries' camp and put them to flight.
During the melee, Murat rode up to the white-bearded Turkish General Pasha Mustufa and summoned him to surrender, in reply to which he received a pistol-shot to the jaw from the Pasha. Murat slashed the pistol together with two fingers from the Pasha's hand, while two of the General's accompanying hussars dismounted and took the Pasha prisoner. Of the entire Turkish army, only 150 men and the Pasha were taken prisoner.
While the reserves in the town and fortress of Aboukir held out until 2 August, the battle was effectively over. Napoleon is reputed to have said 'Did the cavalry take an oath to do the whole business today?' as a compliment to Murat's part in the victory. Although the cavalry proved decisive, some of the credit should go to the hard-fighting infantry (including the 32e), which fought to seize the lines of entrenchments.
On the Night of 23-24 August, Napoleon left for France after learning of the Directory's series of defeats and the crisis at home. General Kléber was left sealed orders appointing him to the command.
By October 1799 General Kléber instituted a new uniform. For the 32e Regiment this uniform comprised a Brown habit-veste with Red collar and Orange turn-backs and Black or Blue piping. In addition to the new uniform a leather cap with earflaps and a pouffe was instituted. This pouffe or 'stuffed sausage' was white and blue for the 32e Regiment. [The uniform must have looked pretty appalling and can only have further demoralised the troops.]
By November 1799 the army began to grow discontented. The troops had received no pay for seven months and the enemy, aided by the English Commodore Sir Sydney Smith encouraged discontent by pamphleteering the French. Thus encouraged, many started to demand a return to France at any price. While only the 2e Légère went so far as to actually voice their discontent (as a result being disbanded for a time by the Commanding General), Captain Moiret tells us that 'the 3rd, 14th and 2nd Dragoons and the 32e of the Line were not entirely above reproach,' clearly indicating that the discontent affected even the most experienced veterans of the army.
During the negotiations for the withdrawal from Egypt, General Kléber spoke to his men saying
Would anyone of us wish to return to his native land, naked, robbed of everything like a vagabond, chased from the country where he had once made himself feared...Our fellow countrymen must see us arrive with our tattered flags, our arms on our shoulders and with warlike music and drums going before us. Watching us they will say 'Behold those heroes betrayed by fortune, but never abandoned by victory: behold the terrible 32e...
Kléber signed a treaty with the Turks on the 28th of January 1800, but the British did not ratify this. As a result of his stirring speech the army was persuaded to continue the struggle when faced on 18 March with the British decision not to recognise the treaty. In the face of English duplicity, it was not until after the battle of the Nile that a treaty was finally concluded with General Menou, following the assassination of General Kléber by Muslim fanatics on the 14th of June, 1800.
On the 8th of March, 1801 the British made a further landing at Aboukir Bay [by now a favourite venue for landings] and a series of sharp actions were fought as the British advanced to Alexandria. On 21 March Menou arrived with reinforcements and decided to attack the British before dawn and drive them back into the sea. The armies were more or less equally matched, with a slight numerical advantage in Artillery and Cavalry to the French. General Rampon's 'Centre' Division comprising the 32e and 21e Regiments and elements of the 2e and 25e Regiments was engaged in supporting the attack of General Lanusse's 'Left' Division during the opening part of this, the Battle of Alexandria. Later as the battle developed, Rampon drew off his division to attack the British Guards with whom volley and artillery fire was exchanged until General Menou called off the attack and withdrew. During the battle Generals Lanusse and Abercromby were both mortally wounded and several brigade commanders injured, including Sir John Moore.
It then seems that a stalemate developed. Captain Moiret of the 75e states that
For five months the armies confronted each other at Alexandria without any military move being made by either side, because at first the English were engaged by the Army of Cairo and the French were all too few in numbers to attack.
It seems however that the British were content to reduce several of the outlying forts at Alexandria. Menou meanwhile withdrew into the main fortress of Alexandria itself, while the British investing the fortress with 6,000 men, moved inland towards Cairo. After a action at Rahmaniya on the 9th May, French communications between Cairo and Alexandria were effectively cut.
After the investment of Cairo on 21 June by the Turks, General Belliard, the garrison commander, surrendered Cairo on the 27th in return for safe conduct back to France. Upon hearing of this capitulation, General Menou was eventually forced to negotiate the complete evacuation of Egypt along with the garrison of Alexandria, which included the 32e Regiment. The much- depleted French army departed for home on 12th October 1801, and the 'Oriental Adventure' was finally over, to the relief of the homesick troops.