The Potsdam Giants was the Prussian infantry regiment No 6, composed of taller-than-average soldiers. The regiment was founded in 1675 and dissolved in 1806 after the Prussian defeat against Napoleon. Throughout the reign of the Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia (1688–1740) the unit was known as the "Potsdamer Riesengarde" ("giant guard of Potsdam") in German, but the Prussian population quickly nicknamed them the Lange Kerls ("long guys").
The Regiment was founded with a strength of two battalions in 1675 as “Regiment Kurprinz” under the command of Prince Frederick of Brandenburg, the later King Frederick I of Prussia. In 1688 the later King Frederick William I of Prussia became the nominal Commander of the Regiment by his birth as his father expected him to play with his own Regiment and receive some military training. After Frederick William I ascended to the throne in 1713 he proceeded to decrease expenses of the court and strengthen his military. He let Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Dessau improve the drill and weapons of his army and hired 40,000 foreign mercenaries. He believed in harsh discipline.
He had already begun to recruit taller soldiers for it. The official name of the regiment was the 'Grand Grenadiers of Potsdam' or 'Potsdam Grenadiers' for short. However, when the number of tall soldiers increased, the regiment earned its nickname 'Potsdam Giants'. Their uniform was not in any way idiosyncratic for the time, consisting of a red mitre, a Prussian blue jacket with gold lining, scarlet breeches and white gaiters.
The original required height was 6 Prussian feet (about 6'2" or 1.88 meters), well above average then and now. One of the tallest soldiers, the Irishman James Kirkland, was reportedly 2.17 meters (just under 7 ft 2 in) in height. Kirkland's fellow-Irishman, the poet Tomás Ó Caiside, also served in the regiment.
Another member of the regiment was Daniel Cajanus. The king—who was about 1.6 meters himself—needed several hundred more recruits each year. He tried to obtain them by any means, and once confided to the French ambassador that "The most beautiful girl or woman in the world would be a matter of indifference to me, but tall soldiers--they are my weakness." He gave bonuses to fathers of tall sons and landowners who gave up their tallest farm workers to join the regiment. He recruited tall soldiers from the armies of other European countries. Foreign rulers like the Emperor of Austria, Russian Tsar Peter the Great and even the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire sent tall soldiers to him in order to encourage friendly relations. Several soldiers were given by Tsar Peter I as a gift in return for the famous Amber Room.
If the man was not interested in joining the regiment, the king resorted to forced recruitment and kidnapping—his agents kidnapped tall priests, monks, innkeepers, etc., from all over Europe. Once they tried to abduct an Austrian diplomat. He even forced tall women to marry tall soldiers so they could breed more tall boys. If some regimental commander failed to inform the king of a potential tall recruit under his own command, he faced royal displeasure.
Pay was high but not all giants were content, especially if they were forcibly recruited, and some attempted desertion or suicide.
Although Prussia briefly intervened in the Great Northern War, the Potsdam Giants never saw battle during his reign. Some sources state that there was a military reason to create a regiment of "Long Guys" because loading a muzzleloader is easier to handle for a taller soldier. Another source states that many of the men were unfit for combat due to their gigantism.
The king trained and drilled his own regiment every day. He liked to paint their portraits from memory. He tried to show them to foreign visitors and dignitaries to impress them. At times he would try to cheer himself up by ordering them to march before him, even if he was in his sickbed. This procession, which included the entire regiment, was led by their mascot, a bear.
When the king died in 1740 the regiment had a strength of 3,200 men, but his successor Frederick the Great did not share his father's sentiments about the regiment, which seemed to him an unnecessary expense. The regiment was largely disbanded and most of its soldiers were integrated into other units of the Prussian Army. The regiment itself was downgraded to a battalion (Garde - Grenadier No 6) and employed during the War of the Austrian Succession at Hohenfriedberg in 1745 and at Rossbach, Leuthen, Hochkirch, Liegnitz and Torgau throughout the Seven Years' War. The battalion surrendered near Erfurt and Prenzlau after the Prussian defeat at the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt in 1806 and was disbanded.
Since 1990 a private association at Potsdam tries to draw on the tradition of the "Lange Kerls" and preserve the memory of that unit.
- Potsdam at Marco Polo
- Rolf Fuhrmann: Die Langen Kerls - Die preussische Riesengarde 1675/1713-1806, Zeughaus Verlag, Berlin 2007
- Jürgen Kloosterhuis: Legendäre „lange Kerls“. Quellen zur Regimentskultur der Königsgrenadiere Friedrich Wilhelms I., 1713–1740, Berlin 2003, ISBN 3-923579-03-9
- Kurt Zeisler: Die Langen Kerls. Das Leib- und Garderegiment Friedrich Wilhelms I., Frankfurt/Main 1993
J.N.W. Bos. 2000. Biography of Frederick William I the Soldier King of Prussia (1657-1713) Accessed 2007-10-03.
- 'Lange Kerls' association (German)