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Modern Application Of Traditional Troop Designations


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Once in a while - usually while reading the Sharpe series - I miss all the distinctive colorful troop designations of the 18th/19th century in the technically exciting, but boringly unified armed forces of the present. All right, many nations in fact have stuck with traditional regimental names like dragoons, hussars, grenadiers etc.; the British and French are notable in this, but for the most part that's largely ceremonial, and going back to the mid-/late 19th century there has been little difference between the various types of infantry and cavalry.

 

OTOH, of course those designations didn't pop out of thin air but had a special meaning, usually in reference to the typical weapons used, which have since been superseded by newer technology which in turn led to new designations. Musketeers, pikers and arquebusiers also vanished before the "classical" designations referred to here when their defining arms went away. Still, these classical names survived various changes in means and tactics; grenadiers no longer used grenades, dragoons developed from mounted infantry into medium cavalry, and the voltigeur concept of jumping on a horse behind the rider never really worked in the first place. So I find it interesting to muse about applying distinctive equipment and roles to them up to present day.

 

Some are easy. Grenadiers were heavy shock infantry; it's no accident that Germany termed its mechanized infantry Panzergrenadiere. Jäger/chasseurs/tirailleurs/rifles by and large are still light infantry for fighting in difficult terrain. This leaves fusiliers as bog-standard line infantry, today usually of the motorized kind, maybe using APCs but not IFVs; indeed "fusil" is still the French term for a long gun. The problem would be to distinguish between fusiliers and grenadiers in the time after line tactics went away but before motorization and eventual mechanization. The weapon of the carabiniers is also very much alive, and while in fact most combat troops carry carbines these days, they were widely used as interior security troops even in Napoleonic times, and the Italian Carabineri famously have a dual civilian/military police role like other gendarmerie-type forces.

 

Other easy types: cuirassiers are heavy armored cavalry - give them the heaviest tanks in service at any time, natch. Hussars are on the other end of the spectrum, and in fact the French still have several light armor regiments of that name, performing the classical missions of reconnaissance and quick strikes just like in the 18th century. Don't really need to expend much thought on artillery, there was only really ever the distinction between foot and horse troops with the later addition of rockets, easily conforming to drawn and self-propelled guns and MLRS.

 

Now the more tricky parts. Dragoons - eventually medium cavalry as mentioned, so as long as there are light, medium and heavy tanks organized in regiments (of whatever size), it's easy to make them the medium tier. This vanishes with the advent of the MBT; their original role of fighting both mounted and dismounted is now taken over by the (Panzer) grenadiers. Make them air cavalry/air assault troops, perhaps? This develops shortly after the MBT.

 

Similarly, lancers/uhlans; light cavalry armed with lances, actually something true for most late cavalry until motorization. In fact "lancer" is French for "to launch" and still is present in contemporary military parlance, as in "frégate lance-missile" for guided missile frigate. Which is apropos, because lancers could take over the tank destroyer role - though this breed is dying as the Cold War progresses and dedicated vehicles, either gun- or missile-armed, are no longer found in distinct formations if at all, morphing with general light armor. So what about helicopter gunships instead?

 

Voltigeurs - well, their original concept is pretty much like the Soviet tank desantniki of WW II, but this is a very short-lived fashion. Of course the term really means "jumper" - predestined to become parachute troops.

 

Further thoughts?

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Dragoons could be a form of medium cavalry but they could also be IFV mounted infantry, since they can be used for mounted combat as well which would fit they role of preforming both as mounted infantry and as a medium cavalry as well. The American Cavalry Fighting Vehicle (M3 Bradley) and the M113 ACAV are prime examples of that,

Edited by Kentucky-roughrider
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Shall we re-introduce 'velites' for light infantry, 'hastari and principes' for the armoured infantry and 'triary' for the service types (clerks, cooks etc) who have to pick up their weapons and go into action only when necessary?

 

A tank squadron would be called a 'turmae'.

 

All of which raised a point that came to my mind about an hour ago.

 

Mail armour has come and gone and then come and gone again. Is there a possibility that mail will again become the armour of choice, using modern hi-tech materials?

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Weren't triarii rather Guards/Immortal style of things, veterans kept in reserve for decisive push/to provide stout defense and rally others?

 

True, but we don't have those any more

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voltigeurs?

 

 

Hm, actually since the greatest challenge here is not finding current roles as per my original post but getting there through the period of largely unified infantry and cavalry between the time of line tactics and motorization, this prompts me to think that voltigeurs could become bicycle troops which became popular in the late 19th century; though in fact some German WW II division TO&Es listed their divisional bicycle (reconnaissance) battalions as fusiliers, the latter are much better seen as bog-standard foot infantry at a time grenadiers would be motorized but not mechanized (technically of course the first APCs showed up in late WW I already, but didn't catch on).

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Weren't triarii rather Guards/Immortal style of things, veterans kept in reserve for decisive push/to provide stout defense and rally others?

 

The republic didn't have a standing army so comparisons with eg Napoleon's old guard aren't entirely correct.

 

pre Marius all Roman soldiers paid for their own equipment and were grouped accordingly. Triarii were men who were reasonably wealthy but not aristocrats, who went to the equites. Most were older men who had made a bit of coin and so were quite likely to be veterans of past campaigns. The triarii were the last line in the manipular system and the sign of a hard fight was that "it came down to the triarii".

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