Wednesday, March 13, 2013

4eme Chasseurs d'Afrique: The Travellers - 4 from 6

Constantin Guys 1854 sketch of the Chasseurs d'Afrique made in the Crimea

Whilst I await a range of figures to include the Chasseurs d’Afrique in 28mm, I've put in a concerted effort to fill a glaring gap in my developing army list or order of battle for Balaclava. The normal wargaming reference world such as the cornerstone Osprey Publishing are conspicuously silent on the subject of the French army of the East in general, let alone the Chasseurs. In fact, from what I can ascertain, the English speaking world continues a long standing myopia when it comes to who fought at Balaclava.

I have; however, after countless hours of intense Internet searching and translation managed to glean the following details on the principle regiment involved at Balaclava – the 4eme ‘Traveller’ Chasseurs d’Afrique. The ‘Travellers’ were so called from the frequency with which they were posted and deployed in their short regimental history.

Firstly, let me note that of the two French cavalry regiments brigaded and present under General Morris at Balaclava (1st and the 4th), only the 4eme Chasseurs d’Afrique were recorded as being committed - famously silencing the Russian battery on the Fedioukine Hills. This is confirmed by that regiment retaining the ‘Balaklava’ battle honour as opposed to the 1st Chasseurs d’Afrique who merely include the mutual Crimea campaign honour.

So, how many  of the 4eme were there and how were they organised? Colonel Coste de Champeron was the regimental Commander who personally commanded two squadrons in the field. On that note, it was a long practice of the French to organise and deploy in demi-squadrons both organisationally as well as operationally. Many references mention the detachment of demi-squadrons of Chasseurs d’Afrique in specific campaigns in Algeria and they are often paired off by odds-and-even numbered squadrons. Thus the 1st and 3rd squadrons would form one demi-squadron, as would the 2nd and 4th squadrons and so forth. Each demi-squadron is commanded by a Major. At Balaclava, the Major of the first demi-squadron may be presumed to have acted as 2iC to Colonel de Champeron and the second demi-squadron (first in the attack) was commanded by Major Abdelal.

So we know that the 4eme Chasseurs d’Afrique is at least four squadrons strong. A look through some often oblique references suggest that by the Crimea campaign, the Chasseurs in fact only fielded four of their six squadrons for the campaign. A look at the history and evolution of what I can find on the regiment is revealing.

According to Lieutenant Colonel (H) Henri Azema of the 1st and 9th Regiment Chasseurs d'Afrique (RCA), the regiment was formed by 3rd December 1839 from authority by a Royal decree on 31stAugust of the same year. The regiment came into being with a foundation compliment of four squadrons – made up from the sixth squadrons from the 2nd and 3rd regiments and volunteers. Thus we can already see that the standard structure of a Chasseurs d'Afrique regiment is six escadron.

In his Les Regiments de Chasseurs d’Afrique Azema also states that the 4eme Chasseurs d’Afrique had by 1841 five squadrons and one squadron of Spahis (native irregular cavalry). It is a tantalising notion from a modeller and wargamer perspective that one squadron might be of Spahis - but if so, they most likely were not present at Crimea amongst the French 'Army of the East'.

Thanks to the efforts on the French website Chasseursdafrique (see References Link on my Blog) we have access to two secondary historical sources (in French), one of which is by the military historian M Sapin Ligniares. We find that the Chasseurs departed Algeria with only four of their squadrons, the administration raising a further two to bring the total strength of the 4eme to eight squadrons. The first four, together with their Colonel and the Eagle (standard) left for the Crimea. The remaining four squadrons were under the command of the Lieutenant-Colonel to continue controlling the frontier.

In a wider discussion, the same sources refer to the strength of the Spahis regiments at that time, which by our period had attained six squadrons with a numerical total strength of 950. This is consistent with cavalry organisation in the French military by the Crimea campaign, at least as it pertains to the army d'Afrique.

Thanks to Google Books we have access to the weekly journal, All Year Round 1861 (Volume 4) as edited by Charles Dickens. In this volume, the contributor (I'm guessing the Journalist George Augustus Sala) observes the activities of an unidentified regiment of Chasseurs d’Afrique in Lebanon during the summer of the previous year (1860). As an investigative journalist, being of an enquiring mind, he sought out and published the following details.

Paraphrased: Consisting of principally French citizens, this regiment had six (6) squadrons of 160 ‘horses’ each. Each squadron had one 1st Captain, a 2nd Captain, two (2) lieutenants and two (2) sub-lieutenants. Each two squadrons (demi-squadrons) had a Major (Chef d’escadron) and the Regiment’s Commanding officer was a Colonel with a Lieutenant Colonel as his 2IC. In total, a regiment (paper-strength) has 960 all ranks.

He remarked that the Chasseurs had three regiments at that time and that they all had such a structure. He clearly discussed this at the time with members of the regiment and made notes at the time. The idea of the Chasseurs d’Afrique having six squadrons by Balaclava is consistent with the abovementioned 1841 estimate, retained it would appear by 1860 – just five years after Balaclava. As is also clear, this is entirely consistent with the above reference to the Spahis regimental strength of 950.

Henri Philippoteaux's Chasseurs d'Afrique charging the Hills, Balaclava. 
So, we have a structure; although what or who made up the sixth squadron by the Crimean campaign is less clear. Whilst a squadron of Spahis may very well have constituted the regiment sixth squadron, it seems unlikely that they formed part of the expedition. Certainly, they are not represented in Henri Philippoteaux's famous painting they are not depicted  save for the dress of the unit standard bearer. Further, also referred to as Bachibouzouks, the Spahis were raised in large numbers (six regiments) and placed under the Command of the famously heroic and dashing General Yousouff (Yusuf). It seems that they were to operate independently from the 'line'. I think, therefor that we can dismiss the idea that Spahis were present amongst those troops of the Regiment.

What about a return for Balaclava and breakdown of the numbers? Again, thanks to Google Books we have access to Fraser’s Magazine for Town & Country, Volume LII Number CCCVII published in 1855. In this journal, we have a transcribed letter written by the colonel of the 4eme Chasseurs d’Afrique (Colonel de Champeron) on 20th November 1854 before Sebastapol. He remarks that in spite of hardships and combat, his regiment fields 133 horses per squadron- mainly Arabs and Barbs (also Berber Horse) both of whom are famously hardy breeds. So, we have the numbers per squadron only 26 days after the battle. I really don’t think you can ask for better evidence than that.

Let us assume that horses means horses and not an interchangeable term for horse and/or troopers. Let us also assume that with the impact of disease common on campaigns (cholera being prevalent) and other illnesses, the loss in men will match that of the losses in mounts at least for the French regiments and by November – before the winter that was to come. With such reasonable assumptions in mind, if the 4eme has only four squadrons let us calculate that the 4eme can field 532 fighting 'effectives'.

Alexander Kingslake, in his ‘The Invasion of the Crimea: Battle of Balaclava’ Vol 6 (2d ed. 1868) cites specifically that the 4eme Chasseurs d’Afrique had but four squadrons which charged in two demi-squadron lines – Major Abdelal led the first, supported by the Colonel’s. This account carries weight as it was Kingslake's crowning work in a comprehensive series of eight volumes. The first volume was published in 1863; however, and Kinglsake is noted for his partizan views on the participants and the campaign. This does not necessarily challenge the detail and he does pay some notable attention to the French part in the battle. Having said that, we need to remember that this is an historical account written by a legal man perhaps better described as a travel writer and historian. Kingslake was not a military man, not a military historian and certainly no Frenchman but he was actually there during the campaign. Kingslake tells us they charged with their four squadrons which amounted to ‘only a few hundred horsemen’ suffering ten killed in the action (two officers/eight other ranks) and 28 wounded. If I am any judge, his account is too detailed concerning the squadrons actually involved in the charge to be wrong. I’ll come back to this.


Yet, General d’Allonville (commanding the 1st and 4th Chasseurs) is often attributed (probably simplistically) with having 1500 cavalry under his command (see Wikipedia Balaclava Order of Battle). Evenly divided, this accords each regiment with 750 horses and men which does not balance well with the November return of 532 for the 4eme Chassuers d’Afrique. If we take the aforementioned reference (Dickens) of 160 per full squadron, then even a four squadron regiment can only field 640. With the 1st Chasseurs d’Afrique, the Brigade must have fallen far short of the claimed 1500 – being 1280.

If; however, they fielded six squadrons each, they would have fielded at least at the commencement of the campaign a field strength of 1920. Whilst this is excessive of the 1500 estimate we must observe that the referred order of battle is for Balaclava and not the campaign. If we apply the November returns figure for the 4eme squadrons consistently to both regiments and extend that back 26 days then the brigade would number 1596 – the nearest figure to the stated 1500 sabres. If accurately 'estimated', the 1500 figure was always just too rounded to be specific and I suspect 'calculated' without proper reference to the facts.


The evidence is clear for both the Regiment and Brigade. At best they could have started their campaign with 1280 fighting effectives plus Brigade command and supports - not 1500. By Balaclava, at least the 4eme fielded 532 across four squadrons and this is the regiment I need to depict. At my 1:10 representative troop scale this means my 4eme Chasseurs d'Afrique will be around the 53 figure mark - just shy of the strength of the entire British Light Brigade.

No comments:

Post a Comment