Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort's Own)

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"95th Rifles" redirects here. For the Soviet division, see 95th Rifle Division.
The Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort's Own)
Active 1802–1816 as 95th Rifle Regiment, 1816–1966 as Rifle Brigade
Country  United Kingdom
Branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Type Infantry
Role Light Infantry
Size Four Battalions
Garrison/HQ Peninsula Barracks, Winchester
Nickname The Rifles
The Grasshoppers
The Sweeps
March I'm Ninety-Five
Insignia
Identification
symbol
In 1958 the Rifle Brigade was absorbed into the Greenjackets Brigade as 3rd Greenjackets, The Rifle Brigade. Though the brigade wore a Greenjackets shoulder flash each individual unit wore its own epaulette badge, the Rifle Brigade wore a black RB, the 2nd wore KRRC, and the 1st wore 43/52. Each regiment kept its own coloured NCO's stripes and marksmanship badges.The rifle regiments serving under Wellington who were attached to the Prince of Orange's staff wore an orange ribbon on their shakos so they wouldn't be shot at from the Prince of Orange's men on the day.

The Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort's Own) was an infantry rifle regiment of the British Army. Formed in January 1800 as the "Experimental Corps of Riflemen" to provide sharpshooters, scouts and skirmishers, they were soon renamed "The Rifle Corps". In January 1803 they became an established regular regiment and were titled the 95th Regiment of Foot (Rifles). In 1816, after the final defeat of Napoleon, they were again renamed, this time as "The Rifle Brigade".

The unit was distinguished by its use of green uniforms as standard in place of the traditional red—the first regular infantry corps in the British Army to do so.

Formation[edit]

In 1800, an "Experimental Corps of Riflemen", was raised by Colonel Coote Manningham and Lieutenant-Colonel the Hon. William Stewart, drawn from officers and other ranks from drafts of a variety of British regiments. The Corps differed in several regards from the Line infantry of the British Army. Most significantly, the Rifles were armed with the formidable Baker rifle, which was more accurate and of longer range than the musket, although it took longer to load. As the rifle was shorter than the musket, it was issued with a 21-inch sword bayonet.

Riflemen wore dark green jackets rather than the bright red coats of the British line infantry regiments of that time; close-fitting pantaloons, rather than breeches; black facings and black belts rather than white; a green plume on their "stovepipe shakoes" which the light infantry also wore, as well as other accoutrements unique to Rifles regiments.

95th Rifles reenactors firing whilst kneeling and in the Plunkett position

Training and tactics[edit]

The riflemen were trained to work in open order and to be able to think for themselves. They were to operate in pairs ahead of the main infantry, which were bunched in close formations. They were taught to make best use of natural cover and to harass the enemy with aimed shots. These tactics, which had originated in campaigns in North America, were unorthodox for the time. It was generally considered impractical for individual soldiers to aim at specific targets (see "Battle tactics of Napoleon and his enemies" by Nosworthy) and conventional tactics favoured the mass volley from a close formation and the bayonet.

The treatment of soldiers in the new Rifle Corps was markedly different from that which prevailed in the line infantry. Although flogging existed as a means of enforcing military discipline, it was seldom used. The unit held regular shooting and sporting competitions, and men were rewarded for their achievements. Officers would regularly dine with their men and so became familiar with each man in their respective companies, an unusual practice at the time.

the black and the green,
the finest colours ever seen.

A play on the word colours.[1][2]

To aid speed and mobility, the Rifles used bugles to transmit commands rather than the drums used by Line infantry and for the same reason did not carry Colours.

The Baker Rifle[edit]

The new regiment was armed with the Baker rifle which, though it generally took twice as long to load[3] due to the rifled barrel and required a separate calibre of ball (leading to supply problems), was considerably more accurate and effective at a longer range than the standard issue Brown Bess musket of the line regiments and regular light infantry companies.

This rifle was an accurate weapon for its day, with reported kills being taken at 100 to 300 yards (91 to 274 m) away. During the Peninsular War, Rifleman Thomas Plunket of the 1st Battalion, 95th Rifles, shot the French General Auguste-Marie-François Colbert at a range that may have been even greater.[4] He then shot a second French officer who rode to the general's aid, proving that this was not just a lucky shot. By comparison, a standard issue Brown Bess musket was unlikely to hit a man-sized target at ranges beyond 80 yards (73 m).

Military operations[edit]

As the Rifle Corps[edit]

Four months after its formation, the Rifle Corps was judged ready for its first operation. On 25 August 1800, three companies, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel William Stewart, spearheaded a British amphibious landing at Ferrol, Spain, where the Rifles helped to dislodge the Spanish defenders on the heights. Despite the Rifles acting in a valiant manner, the expedition was defeated and withdrew on 26 August. In 1801, detachments of the Rifle Corps took part in the British victory at the Battle of Copenhagen, as marksmen aboard Royal Navy ships that were under the command of the legendary Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson.

As the 95th Regiment[edit]

In 1802, the Rifle Corps was brought into the line of the British Army as the 95th Regiment of Foot, the 95th Rifles. In 1803, the 95th moved to Shorncliffe Army Camp, Kent, where it underwent light infantry training, along with the 43rd and 52nd Regiments of Foot, under the tutelage of Colonel Coote-Manningham and Sir John Moore; the latter, like the 95th, would gain fame during the Peninsular War. In 1805, a 2nd Battalion was raised at Canterbury, Kent, and later in the year the 1st/95th deployed to Germany as part of a British expedition, under the command of Lord Cathcart, designed to liberate Hanover from occupation by France. The 95th subsequently formed the advance guard on the way to Bremen. In February 1806, the 95th formed the rearguard for the withdrawal to Cuxhaven and subsequently returned home to the UK.

A depiction of a Rifleman of the 95th, 1815

South American expedition[edit]

In October 1806, five companies of the 1st/95th and three companies of the 2nd/95th departed for Spanish-controlled South America, Spain then being allied with France. It was part of a second invasion force that was designed as reinforcements for the first invasion against Buenos Aires, launched earlier in 1806 by Sir Home Popham without the Government's knowledge. The first invasion had already failed, although Brigadier-General Sir Samuel Auchmuty, commander of the second invasion force, was unaware of this failure.

The 2nd/95th, as part of Auchmuty's force, took part in the siege and subsequent storming of Montevideo, in what is now Uruguay, and which saw Montevideo captured on the 3 February 1807, after clearing the surrounding area of Spanish troops in January. The 95th subsequently saw action at Colonia against a Spanish force that had crossed from Buenos Aires; the Rifles held off the force until it could be repulsed, with the 95th gaining much praise from Auchmuty for their part in the defeat of the Spanish force. The 95th subsequently saw action in June at San Pedro where they, the 40th and light companies, fought against the Spanish force that had crossed from Buenos Aires and defeated them.

Lieutenant-General John Whitelocke, the newly arrived overall commander, subsequently launched an ill-advised and mismanaged assault on Buenos Aires in which the companies of both battalions of the 95th were involved as part of the Light Brigade, commanded by Robert Craufurd. During the assault on Buenos Aires on 5 July, the 95th and the rest of the British force suffered heavy casualties in bitter fighting to capture the city. The Light Brigade had suffered so heavily that they had to take refuge in a church and surrendered soon after. Whitelocke eventually surrendered his force. After Whitelocke negotiated the withdrawal of British forces, the men were released and they returned home later that year. The 95th would go on to fight for near the entirety of the Peninsular War in Spain. In the aftermath of the disastrous expedition, Popham and Whitelocke were court-martialed, with Popham reprimanded and Whitelocke dismissed from the Army. (The Light Brigade of the Crimean War made famous in Tennyson's poem, was an unrelated cavalry unit.)

The Baltic 1807–1808[edit]

Copenhagen on fire, 1807

The remaining companies of the 95th were involved in the expedition to Denmark that year. They took part in the Battle of Copenhagen in 1807 as part of Arthur Wellesley's brigade. The expedition, commanded by Lord Cathcart, was intended to capture the Danish Fleet to prevent it falling into the hands of France. The expedition proved to be a thorough success with the Danish Fleet being captured at which point the British withdrew. In 1808 the 1st/95th took part in an expedition to another Scandinavian country, Sweden, an expedition that was commanded by Sir John Moore and designed to help Sweden during their war with Russia. However, once they had reached Gothenburg in May, the troops remained aboard the anchored ships for two months due to a misunderstanding between the British and Swedish governments and returned to Britain before being redirected to Portugal to take part in the Peninsular War, a war designed to help Portugal and Spain in their fight against the French, and where the 95th Rifles would gain their fame.

Peninsular War[edit]

In August 1808 the 2nd/95th was part of the immediate forces sent in the Portuguese expedition initially commanded by Sir Arthur Wellesley and covered the landings at Mondego Bay. On 15 August they had the distinction of firing the first shots of the Peninsular War during a skirmish at Óbidos against the French, but also unfortunately suffered the first British officer fatality of the war, a Lieutenant Ralph Bunbury.

On 17 August 1808 the 95th, as part of 6th Brigade which included the 5th/60th Foot, took part in the Battle of Roliça, the first pitched battle of the war, which saw the 95th distinguish themselves greatly.

The 1st battalion was part of John Moores 1808/1809 campaign which ended with evacuation after defeating the French at Battle of Corunna. The majority of the 1st battalion was rested and refitted in the UK, though a few small detachments of the 95th were stranded behind which then formed up with other detachments as part of a defence force (1st Battalion of Detachments) in Portugal.[5] The 1st returned to the peninsula a few months later in May 1809 and in July was force marched in an attempt to arrive with the main force for the Battle of Talavera but despite covering a notable distance they arrived on the 29 July 1809, just after the battle.[6] The Battalion would go onto participate in most of the major battles in the Peninsular War.

A third battalion was formed in 1809 and joined the peninsular army in 1810. The 3 battalions of the 95th fought in numerous major battles and skirmishes during the Peninsular War as part of the elite Light Division, including the battles of Bussaco, Vittoria and Nivelle as well as the sieges of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz 1812.

An example of the ability of the Rifles was at the Battle of San Marcial when a company of the 95th Rifles under the command of Captain Daniel Cadoux held off an entire French division at Vera before withdrawing, inflicting 231 casualties and suffering just 14 killed including Cadoux.

Waterloo Campaign[edit]

The three battalions had been dispersed to various locations with the abdication of Napoleon and the total French defeat in 1814. The majority of the regiments companies were sent back to England for rest and refitting while several companies had been retained in north-east France at Leuze, Aisne under General Thomas Graham. Five companies of the 3rd battalion were in North America, having been sent in late 1814 to participate in the final stages of the War of 1812. With the return of Napoleon from exile, all of the companies in England crossed the channel and landed in Belgium in May 1815, joining with those already present, so that the entire regiment, bar the five companies still in America, became part of Wellington's Anglo-Dutch army. The first battalion went onto fight at the Battle of Quatre Bras, while all three battalions would fight at the Battle of Waterloo.[7]

As the Rifle Brigade[edit]

At the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the size of the British Army was reduced, in line with precedence the more recently formed regiments were disbanded first. The unique skills of the 95th were considered too valuable to loose so the 95th, having seen distinguished service in the Napoleonic Wars, was taken out of line of the British Army and became the "Rifle Brigade" on 23 February 1816 (the number was reassigned in 1823 to the newly formed county regiment of the 95th (Derbyshire) Regiment of Foot). To this day Rifle regiments place in the British Army order of precedence is after the infantry regiments and before the SAS (which is another more modern regiment with special skills which was taken out of the line for similar reasons).

Prince Albert

The Duke of Wellington served as Colonel-in-Chief of the brigade from 1820 until his death in 1852. It was granted the title "The Prince Consort's Own Rifle Brigade" in honour of HRH Prince Albert, The Prince Consort, the Rifle Brigade's former Colonel-in-Chief.

Crimean War[edit]

When the Crimean War broke out in 1853 the Rifle Brigade sent two battalions which fought at the Alma, where one of the battalions led the advance across the Alma River, Inkerman and at the Siege of Sevastopol. The regiment won eight Victoria Crosses during the Crimean War, more than any other regiment.

Timothy O'Hea's Victoria Cross[edit]

In 1866, Private Timothy O'Hea of the 1st Battalion, was awarded the Victoria Cross for an act of bravery in peacetime, while his unit was stationed in Canada. On 9 June 1866, at Danville, Quebec, on the main railway between Montreal and Quebec City, a fire broke out in a car containing 2,000 lb (900 kg) of ammunition. Despite the extreme danger, O'Hea took charge of extinguishing the fire and saved many lives.

First World War[edit]

The Rifle Brigade fielded 28 battalions during the First World War, from its original complement of 4 regular and 2 reserve, seeing service primarily on the Western Front, but also in Macedonia. The regiment lost 11,575 killed during the course of the war. They were awarded 52 battle honours, 10 Victoria Crosses and numerous other decorations.

The 8th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade (together with the 7th & 9th battalions) was part of the 41st Brigade of the 14th (Light) Division of XV Corps. They were mainly made up of volunteers from the outbreak of World War I. The battalion saw action including at the Ypres Salient and the Somme. Notably the action they were in at Hooge, Belgium (30–31 July 1915) saw the first use of flamethrowers by the Germans, Sidney Clayton Woodroffe was awarded the VC for his actions in this battle.

Alfred George Drake, a corporal in the 8th Battalion, was posthumously awarded the VC for his actions on 23 November 1915, near La Brique, Belgium.

They also participated in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette (15 September 1916) during the Somme Offensive which saw the first ever deployment of the tank in battle.

Second World War[edit]

Churchill Crocodile tank, in support of the Rifle Brigade during the attack on Sint Joost, 20–21 January 1945. Many of the houses in the village were destroyed by these flame throwing tanks.

The Rifle Brigade raised seventeen battalions to fight in the Second World War. In 1937, the regiment formed the first motor battalions, a role that would allow the Rifle Brigade freedom of movement which fit their tradition of speed and initiative. The 1st Battalion of the regiment was forced to surrender during the Battle of France in 1940 with the survivors of the 2nd Battalion KRRC and the now embodied Territorial Army battalion of the Queen Victoria's Rifles (KRRC). After a four day epic battle to hold Calais only 30 men escaped by Royal Navy launch just at the point of surrender, late afternoon 26 May, but not before they had fought a gallant last stand using up the last of their ammunition as they pulled back into the port.

The 1st Battalion was reformed in the UK and took part with the 2nd Battalion in the battles in North Africa. The 1st Battalion's four 6-pounders were credited with destroying 19 tanks from the 21st Panzer Division at the Battle of Alam el Halfa on the 31 August 1942. The 2nd Battalion Rifle Brigade fought with distinction in the Western Desert Campaign, especially in the "Snipe" action during the Battle of El Alamein, where the four 6-pounders of that battalion, supported by a Royal Artillery 6-pounder Anti-Tank battery, destroyed fifty-one German and Italian tanks in a battle that lasted sixteen hours. Lieutenant Colonel Turner received the Victoria Cross for his actions fighting with the guns.

Four battalions of the regiment fought in the Italian Campaign, the 1st returning to England in December 1943 to prepare for the invasion of North West Europe. The remaining three battalions were formed into 61st Infantry Brigade, but continued their accustomed role of co-operating with armour when conditions allowed. Their capture of the hills of Perugia involved four successive night attacks. The 1st and 8th Battalions landed in Normandy in June 1944, and fought their way through France, Belgium and the Netherlands to end the war in the vicinity of Hamburg. The regiment was awarded 57 battle honours for World War II.

Post-World War II[edit]

From spring 1946 a number of surplus Rifle Brigade subalterns were transferred to No1 T-Force, a British Army unit which was active in the Ruhr. Their role was to carry out reparations work, evacuating military and industrial equipment needed to rebuild British industry. The 1st Battalion went on to serve in the Mau Mau Rebellion in Kenya and the Malayan Emergency.

Amalgamations[edit]

In 1958 the 1st Battalion was the last surviving battalion that traced its lineage back to the 95th. It was renamed the 3rd Green Jackets Regiment of the Green Jackets Brigade. When the brigade was amalgamated into the Royal Green Jackets in 1966, it became its 3rd Battalion. In 1970 it was reduced to company strength before being reconstituted at Shoeburyness in 1972 under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Robin Evelegh. In 1992 the 1st battalion was disbanded and the 2nd and 3rd battalions were renumbered as the 1st and 2nd respectively. On 1 February 2007 the 2nd battalion were ceremonially rebadged at Kiwi Barracks in Bulford to become the 4th Battalion of the newly formed regiment – The Rifles.

Battle honours[edit]

The Rifle Brigade Memorial in London

The Regiment was awarded the following battle honours:

  • Copenhagen, Monte Video, Rolica, Vimiera, Corunna, Busaco, Barrosa, Fuentes d'Onor, Ciudad Rodrigo, Badajoz, Salamanca, Vittoria, Pyrenees, Nivelle, Nive, Orthes, Toulouse, Peninsula, Waterloo, South Africa 1846-47, South Africa 1851-2-3, Alma, Inkerman, Sevastopol, Lucknow, Ashantee 1873-74, Ali Masjid, Afghanistan 1878-79, Burma 1885-87, Khartoum, Defence of Ladysmith, Relief of Ladysmith, South Africa 1899-1902
  • The Great War (21 battalions): Le Cateau, Retreat from Mons, Marne 1914, Aisne 1914 '18, Armentières 1914, Neuve Chapelle, Ypres 1915 '17, Gravenstafel, St. Julien, Frezenberg, Bellewaarde, Aubers, Hooge 1915, Somme 1916 '18, Albert 1916 '18, Bazentin, Delville Wood, Guillemont, Flers-Courcelette, Morval, Le Transloy, Ancre Heights, Ancre 1916 '18, Arras 1917 '18, Vimy 1917, Scarpe 1917 '18, Arleux, Messines 1917, Pilckem, Langemarck 1917, Menin Road, Polygon Wood, Broodseinde, Poelcappelle, Passchendaele, Cambrai 1917 '18, St. Quentin, Rosières, Avre, Villers Bretonneux, Lys, Hazebrouck, Béthune, Drocourt-Quéant, Hindenburg Line, Havrincourt, Canal du Nord, Selle, Valenciennes, Sambre, France and Flanders 1914–18, Macedonia 1915-18
  • The Second World War: Calais 1940, Villers Bocage, Odon, Bourguébus Ridge, Mont Pincon, Le Perier Ridge, Falaise, Antwerp, Hechtel, Nederrijn, Lower Maas, Roer, Leese, Aller, North-West Europe 1940 '44-45, Egyptian Frontier 1940, Beda Fomm, Mersa el Brega, Agedabia, Derna Aerodrome, Tobruk 1941, Sidi Rezegh 1941, Chor es Sufan, Saunnu, Gazala, Knightsbridge, Defence of Alamein Line, Ruweisat, Alam el Halfa, El Alamein, Tebaga Gap, Medjez el Bab, Kassarine, Thala, Fondouk, Fondouk Pass, El Kourzia, Djebel Kournine, Tunis, Hammam Lif, North Africa 1940–43, Cardito, Cassino II, Liri Valley, Melfa Crossing, Monte Rotondo, Capture of Perugia, Monte Malbe, Arezzo, Advance to Florence, Gothic Line, Orsara, Tossigniano, Argenta Gap, Fossa Sembalina, Italy 1943–45
  • Category:Battle honours of the Rifle Brigade

See also[edit]

Peninsula Barracks in Winchester, the home of the Rifle Brigade

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "This book is a history and study of the spirit, philosophy and character of a Regiment of the British Army, the Rifles Brigade ... 'And when a great Regiment salutes its Colours it is expressing this truth. Its members are commemorating their predecessors who suffered, endured and died in its service, and are dedicating themselves to do likewise.' (Bryant (1969). The Lion and the Unicorn pp. 315–316 ) ... The Regiment I have chosen had no Colours; it had only a silver badge worn by all its members, bearing the names of almost every famous victory in more than a century and a half of British history. In the hour of crisis its Riflemen could not rally, like others round the colour, for they fought in extended order, every man depending for courage on the invisible colours carried in his heart —
    'the black and the green,
    the finest colours ever seen.'"
    (Bryant 1972, p. 11)
  2. ^ Harington 1974.
  3. ^ Urban 2003, p. 34.
  4. ^ The shots were at a sufficiently long distance to impress others in the 95th Rifles, whose marksmanship (with the Baker rifle) was far better than the ordinary British soldiers. However no eyewitnesses give the range of Plunket's shot, and the descriptions of Plunket's and Colbert's positions are too vague to allow any measurement. People writing much later made unlikely claims of 400 to 800 yards (370 to 730 m), but did not provide any supporting evidence (Hadaway 2000).
  5. ^ http://www.napoleon-series.org/military/organization/c_detach.html
  6. ^ Urban 2003, pp. 21–22.
  7. ^ http://www.napoleon-series.org/military/organization/Britain/Infantry/Regiments/c_95thFoot.html

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Historical Re-enactment Groups (UK)