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Rifleman - an allied soldier in a historical reenactment of World War II.

A rifleman is a soldier in a light infantry unit.



Portuguese Army huntsman (caçador) of the Peninsular War

Although ultimately originating with the 16th century handgunners and the 17th century musketeers and streltsy, equipped with firearms to support pikemen (with whom they were integral), the term rifleman originated from the 18th century. Much later it became the term for the archetypical common soldier.

As the effectiveness of firearms increased, the balance of these pike-and-musket units shifted, until the pikes were supporting the muskets. The last pike regiments were dissolved by the 1720s with the invention of the bayonet. This innovation replaced the pike, and in effect converted the musket into a pike for those situations where it might still be useful - such as following up volleys with a charge, or defending against cavalry.

Smooth-bore weapons such as the musket had always been recognised as inaccurate, requiring massed volleys to be effective. Aimed fire, with targets individually chosen and fired upon on the initiative of the soldier, was not possible until the development of rifling in the barrel. This imparted spin to the bullet, greatly increasing the 'trueness' of the trajectory, rather than the randomness of a musket ball that actually 'bounced' down the barrel. Rifles, although deadly accurate, were disadvantaged by being very slow to re-load. This meant that the soldiers chosen for this role needed to be resilient, brave and resourceful, as well as being good shots. Trained to act in teams of two, each defending the other while they re-loaded, they were still vulnerable - especially to cavalry, trained as they were to fight in isolated and dispersed groups rather than as a mass that could present a solid wall of bayonets. These factors - the time and expense required in training, the limited number of suitable recruits, and the specialised roles and situations where they were most effective - meant they were highly prized, given special privileges, and 'husbanded' rather than squandered. In essence, an élite.

Units of 'Rifles' reached their heyday up to and including the Napoleonic Wars, with the British riflemen (partially derived from units of colonial militia - see Rogers' Rangers or the Royal Americans) truly excelling in the American War of Independence. Regular units of Rifles were formed in the British Army in 1800 (the 60th Regiment of Foot and the 95th Regiment of Foot). From around 1840, with the advent of the first military breech-loading rifles, the weapon entered an age of industrialised warfare, where it was mass-produced and accessible to all infantrymen. Much faster and simpler to load, able to be used while prone, impossible to be double-loaded after a misfire; the high level of training and highly specialised roles gave way to generality. The term 'rifleman', once used solely as a mark of distinction and pride, became a commonplace description of all soldiers, no matter what their actual status was. Nevertheless the term still retained a certain élan, that is still found today.

Modern Tactics

Modern riflemen are armed with select-fire assault rifles, hybrids of sub-machine guns and rifles. Riflemen are the basic modern soldiers from which all other soldierly functions stem. Though by tradition certain infantry units are based on the rifleman, they employ a variety of other specialized soldiers in conjunction with the rifleman.

In the context of the modern Fire team, "Rifleman" can be used to indicate a basic position such as scout, team leader, or designated marksman. In the same context, the terms Automatic Rifleman and Assistant Automatic Rifleman are used to describe a soldier who carries a light support weapon (or services and reloads it for the shooter).

The term "Long-Rifleman" is often used by police forces, anti-terrorist units and small-scale team-based military forces worldwide. It is an assignment rather than a rank, and refers to a marksman or sharpshooter (not a sniper, who is additionally an expert in fieldcraft), one who is meant to expand the team's effective range with a long, scoped rifle.



  • Regiment Ardense Jagers, armoured infantry battalion
  • 1st Regiment Jagers te Paard, mechanized reconnaissance battalion
  • 2nd/4th Regiment Jagers te Paard, mechanized reconnaissance battalion with electronic warfare unit



Finnish infantry units are also known as Jäger (Finnish pl. Jääkärit, Swedish pl. Jägarna), a legacy of a Finnish volunteer Jäger battalion formed in Germany during World War I to fight for the liberation of Finland from Russia.


A Chasseur designation was given to certain regiments of French light infantry (Chasseurs à pied) or light cavalry (Chasseurs à cheval).

Chasseurs à pied - Foot Huntsmen

The name Chasseurs à pied (light infantry) was originally used for infantry units in the French Army recruited from hunters or woodsmen. Recognized for their marksmanship and skirmishing skills, the chasseurs were comparable to the German Jäger or the British light infantry. The Chasseurs à Pied, as the marksmen of the French army, were regarded as elite light companies and regiments.[1]

Chasseur alpins - Alpine Huntsmen

The elite mountain infantry of the French Army. Trained to operate in mountainous terrain and in urban warfare.

Chasseurs à cheval - Horse Huntsmen

The Chasseurs à Cheval, (light cavalry) were generally not held in as high esteem as their infantry counterparts, or the identically armed light cavalry units of hussars. During the French occupation of Algeria regiments of Chasseurs d'Afrique were raised. These were light cavalry recruited originally from French volunteers and subsequently from the French settlers in North Africa doing their military service. As such they were the mounted equivalent of the Zouaves.

Modern French Army Huntsmen

The modern French Army comprises bataillons of Chasseurs à pied (mechanized infantry : 16e BC),Chasseurs-Alpins (mountain troops : 7e, 13e, 27e BCA) and regiments of Chasseurs à cheval (1er-2e RCh and 4e RCh : light armored regiments). In addition one regiment of Chasseurs d'Afrique (training unit : 1er RCA) has been re-raised to commemorate this branch of the French cavalry. Since May 1943 there has been a "Régiment de Chasseurs Parachutistes" (1er RCP).

All of these units have different traditions :

  • Bataillons de chasseurs are light infantry units created after 1838. Some of these battalions were converted to specialized mountain units as Bataillons de Chasseurs Alpins in 1888, as an answer to the Italian Alpine (Alpini) regiments stationed along the Alpine frontier.
  • Régiments de chasseurs are units of the "Arme Blindée Cavalerie" : armoured units. The basic organic unit is called regiment and not bataillon to avoid confusing cavalry and infantry chasseurs.
  • The airborne infantry units called Régiments de chasseurs parachutistes were created in 1943 with airborne troops from the French Airforce (GIA or Groupe d'Infanterie de l'Air), who were transferred into the Army.

Although the traditions of these different branches of the French Army are very different, there is still a tendency to confuse one with the other. For example when World War I veteran Léon Weil died, the AFP press agency stated that he was a member of the 5th "Regiment de Chasseurs Alpins". It was in fact the 5th Bataillon.

French rifle units were designated Tirailleurs (Fr. 'Skirmishers').



Italian Rifle units were designated Cacciatori or Bersaglieri.

The Netherlands

  • Garderegiment Grenadiers en Jagers, guards regiment, an amalgamation of the Garderegiment Grenadiers and the Garderegiment Jagers. Consists of one air mobile infantry battalion
  • Regiment Limburgse Jagers, line infantry (former 2nd Infantry Regiment). Consists of one armoured infantry battalion



Portuguese "Huntsmen's Battalions" (Batalhões de Caçadores) were the elite light soldiers of the Portuguese Army during the Peninsular War. They wore distinctive brown uniforms for camouflage. They were considered, by the Duke of Wellington, as the "fighting cocks of his army".

In the first half of the 20th century the Batalhões de Caçadores were transformed into border defense units.

In the 1950s the title "Caçadores" was also given to the light infantry battalions and independent companies responsible for the garrison of the Portuguese overseas territories. There were units of this type mobilized both in European Portugal and locally in each overseas territory.

At the beginning of the 1960s several special forces companies of the Portuguese Army were named "Special Huntsmen" (Caçadores Especiais). These units wore a brown beret in the colour of the uniforms of the caçadores of the Peninsular War. Later these units were abolished and the brown beret started to be used by most of the units of the Portuguese Army.

In the 1950s a paratrooper unit was formed in the Portuguese Air Force, known as "Parachutist Hunters" (Caçadores Paraquedistas). Later, battalions of Caçadores Paraquedistas were also created in Angola, Mozambique and Portuguese Guinea.

In 1975, the designation "Caçadores" was discontinued in the Portuguese Armed Forces. All former units of caçadores started to be known simply as "Infantry".

Portuguese Riflemen were known as Caçadores.


  • Vânători de Munte, or Mountain Huntsmen, one of the most active of the Romanian military elite forces


The Imperial Russian Army, which was heavily influenced by the Prussian and Austrian military systems, included fifty Jäger or yegerskii [егерский] regiments in its organisation by 1812.


  • Brigada de Cazadores de Montaña "Aragón I" (Mountain Huntsmen Brigade "Aragón I")

Spanish Riflemen were as Cazadores.


United Kingdom

A historical reenactment with the British 95th Rifles regiment

From their inception the British Rifle Regiments were distinguished by a dark green dress with blackened buttons, black leather equipment and sombre facing colours that gave them what was really a modern aspect - designed for concealment rather than display. This has been retained until the present day for those British units that still carry on the traditions of the riflemen. Their most famous weapon was the 'Baker rifle'.

United States

The 24th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment was also known as the "Hecker Jaeger Regiment” after Friedrich Hecker, its original commander.

See also

References and notes

  1. ^ Steven T. Ross (1996). From Flintlock to Rifle: Infantry Tactics, 1740-1866. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 0714641936.  

Further reading

External links

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