The battles between British and French forces during the Peninsular War (1807-14) and the Hundred Days campaign of 1815 saw both sides deploy specialist units of skirmishers trained in marksmanship and open-order combat. These ‘light’ troops fulfilled several important roles on the battlefield, such as ‘masking’ large bodies of close-order troops as they manoeuvred in battle, firing upon enemy troops to provoke them into attacking prematurely, and harassing enemy artillery crews and senior officers with aimed fire. On occasion, the skirmishers were tasked with special missions requiring individual initiative, such as the capture or defence of key battlefield positions, especially those situated in difficult terrain.
While Napoleon’s skirmishers carried the smoothbore musket, notoriously inaccurate and short-ranged, several elite units fighting for Britain were armed with the rifle, a far more accurate weapon that was hampered by a slower rate of fire. As well as the legendary 95th Rifles, Britain fielded rifle-armed German troops of the 60th Regiment and the King’s German Legion, while France’s light troops were fielded in individual companies but also entire regiments. In this study, David Greentree assesses the role and effectiveness of rifle-armed British troops and their French open-order opponents in three very different encounters: Roliça (August 1808), the first British battle of the Peninsular War; the struggle for a key bridge at Barba del Puerco (March 1810); and the bitter fight for the La Haye Sainte farmhouse during the battle of Waterloo (June 1815).
About the author and illustrator
David Greentree graduated in History at York before completing an MA in War Studies at King’s College London and qualifying as a lecturer in Further Education. In 1995 he accepted a commission in the Royal Air Force and has served in a variety of locations, including Afghanistan and Oman. He lives in Hampshire, UK. Adam Hook studied graphic design, and began his work as an illustrator in 1983. He specializes in detailed historical reconstructions, and has illustrated Osprey titles on subjects as diverse as the Aztecs, the Ancient Greeks, Roman battle tactics, several 19th-century American subjects, the modern Chinese Army, and a number of books in the Fortress series. He lives in East Sussex, UK.