French Guardsman versus Russian Jaeger: 1812-14" is a volume in the Osprey Combat Series in which it's time for the "poor bloody infantry" to take center stage, as the "Combat"-series pits history's warriors against one another. This volume provides, in 80 pages, a comparison of the Russian Jaeger against Napoleon's Young Guard during the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815). It is written by Laurence Spring.
Jäger (usually written as Jaeger in English) is a German military term from the 18th Century to describe elite light infantry, especially skirmishers. The word Jäger, which means "hunter" or "huntsman" in German, is usually translated into English as "rifleman" or "ranger". The Jeune Garde (Young Guard) was expanded to become the main strike force of the French field armies. Young Guard was a term used to distinguish the carefully selected conscripts of the new regiments from the veterans of the `Old Guard'.
In the introduction, the author gives his reasons for focusing, in the narrative to follow, on the battlefield performance of three of Napoleon's Voltigeur regiments - the 1ste, 2nd and 14th - and that of the two Russian Lifeguard Jaeger units, together with the 19th Jaeger Regiment, as the sources consulted made it possible to form a much more detailed picture of their combat performance than for many other regiments.
The introduction is followed by a concise comparison of the development and training of these Russian and French units in "The Opposing Sides", divided in "origins and combat role", "enlistment and training", "motivation, morale and logistics", "leadership" and "weapons and tactics". Two "combat"-inserts of color plates, depicting a Russian Jaeger of the 19th Jaeger Regiment and a French soldier of the 14th Voltigeurs from front and back, are also to be found in this section.
The bulk of the book consists of a description of three battles that stretch over the last years of the Napoleonic Wars, and in which the decline of the Young Guard and the rise of the Russian Jaeger arm is starkly exposed. The three clashes used are: Krasnyi (17 November 1812); the Battle of Leipzig (16 October 1813) and especially the fighting near Güldengossa, south of Leipzig; and Craonne (7 March 1814). These three examples are described using first-hand accounts of these encounters, and are followed by an analysis and conclusion (from both the Russian and the French perspective) by the author, ensued by a "reckoning" in which he describes the fate of those soldiers who served in the Young Guard and the Jaeger regiments. An "unit organizations" and "orders of battle" is also added.
The overall narrative is accompanied with clear, detailed maps and some outstanding split-screen artwork showing key moments from both sides' perspective. The artwork is done by illustrator Marc Stacey, and especially his "death in the snow at Krasnyi" is superb, showing the appalling weather conditions in which this battle took place. Many other illustrations enliven the narrative. A great read on this subject!
The strength of the Osprey format is also its weakness: at 80 pages, there's no room for anything more than a "Reader's Digest"-type coverage of the topic, always leaving you with just a taste of what's to offer but not the full meal. This is compensated with an abundance of pictures and/or illustrations, maps and full-color artwork you (usually) won't find in a regular history book.
For further reading on the Napoleonic Wars, I recommend: "1812: Napoleon's Fatal March on Moscow" by Adam Zamoyski and "Russia Against Napoleon: The Battle for Europe, 1807 to 1814" by Dominic Lieven.
This is a great little title in the Osprey Combat series. However, it informs the reader more about the Russian Jaegers than the French Guardsman and the book does tend to favour the Russian side, which possibly reflects the author's main interest. For example, the three battles covered involved two French defeats, namely 2nd Krasnyi 1812 and Leipzig 1813, and one French victory, Craonne 1814. I would have found it more interesting had the book compared the Battle of Dresden 1813 with Leipzig, considering the French Young Guard, one of the two groups covered by this book, played a major role in Napoleon's incredible victory against overwhelming odds. It would have also offered the author an opportunity to explore both their defensive and attacking abilities, which they employed during the battle. Second Krasnyi 1812 also seemed an odd choice, since it involved a disintegrating and suffering French army on the retreat, so troop abilities on both sides could not really be compared equally. Saying that, the book, especially containing only 80 pages, expresses some wonderful descriptions of Napoleonic warfare between two of the main opponents. It is also full of some interesting snippets, such as on page 37, describing how the Russians troops suffered during the 1812 campaign when they were sitting before a fire had to keep turning around to stop their backs freezing over. Then there is the description and artwork, of Russian Grenadier Korennoi holding off the French to enable his comrades to escape at Leipzig and the snippet on the wounded Nazarov, from the Finland Guards Regiment, who, after recovering from his wounds, finds one leg had become shorter than the other. The book is also full of interesting prints, maps and breakdown images of a soldier from the French 14th Voltigeur Guard Regiment and the Russian 19th Jaeger Regiment. The Orders of Battle are not very helpful or detailed, so further reading is required in that area. But overall, a great little book and one can only hope Osprey plan to bring out another Napoleonic title in the Combat series, covering Cossack versus Lancer.