The Rifle Brigade: Wikis

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The Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort's Own)
Active 1816–1966
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Branch British Army
Type Infantry
Size Four Battalions
Nickname The Rifles
The Grasshoppers
The Sweeps
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 regiment of the British Army, formed in 1800 to provide sharpshooters, scouts and skirmishers. It 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.


The Baker Rifle

The new regiment was armed with the Baker rifle which, though it took two or three times as long to load[1] and required a separate calibre of ball (leading to supply issues), 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 (270 m) away. During the Peninsula War, Rifleman Thomas Plunkett of the 1st Battalion, 95th Rifles shot the French General Auguste-Marie-François Colbert at a range that may have been even greater.[2] 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.


95th Rifles Re-enactors firing whilst kneeling and in the Plunkett Position

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.

The 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.

A depiction of a Rifleman of the 95th, 1815.

Training and tactics

The riflemen were trained to work in open order and 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 that time. It was considered impractical to 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 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.

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.

Military operations

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 Corps took part in the British victory at the Battle of Copenhagen as marksmen aboard Royal Navy ships which were under the command of the legendary Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson. In 1802 the 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, Kent where it underwent training, along with the Light Infantry regiments 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.

2nd Battalion

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, with the 95th subsequently forming 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. In October, 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 eventually saw Montevideo captured on the 3rd February 1807 after a siege that had begun in January. The 95th subsequently saw action at Colonia against a Spanish force that had crossed from Buenos Aires where 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 mis-managed 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. In the aftermath of the disastrous expedition, Popham and Whitelocke were court-martialled, with Popham reprimanded and Whitelocke dismissed from the Army. The Light Brigade of the Crimean War made famous in Tennyson's poem, was a cavalry unit and not related to the Light Brigade of the Napoleonic Wars described here.

The Baltic 1807 - 1808

Copenhagen on fire

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 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.


In August the 2nd/95th was part of the expedition commanded by Sir Arthur Wellesley to Portugal 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 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/95th was force marched in an attempt to arrive with the main force for the Battle of Talvera but despite covering a notable distance they arrived on the 29th July 1809, after the battle.[3]

An example of the ability of the Rifles was at the Battle of Nivelle in 1813 (see also 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 inflicting 231 casualties and suffering 14 killed including Cadoux.

Prince Albert

The 95th, having seen distinguished service in the Napoleonic Wars, became The Rifle Brigade on 23 February 1816. Following this, the number was reassigned in 1823 to the newly formed county regiment of the 95th (Derbyshire) Regiment of Foot. 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

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.

First World War

The Rifle Brigade fielded 28 battalions in 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 in the course of the war. They were awarded many battle honours, 10 Victoria Crosses and many 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 WWI. The battalion saw action including 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 was one of the first uses of the tank in large scale battles by the British.

Lt Harold Woolley of the Queen Victoria Rifles was awarded a VC for an action on Hill 60, thereby becoming the first Territorial to win a VC.

Second World War

"Churchill Crocodile tank in support of the Rifle Brigade during the first attack on the village. Many of the houses in Sint Joost were destroyed by these flamethrowing 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 the freedom of movement that fitted their traditions 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 getting away 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 in to 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 21. Panzer Division at the Battle of Alam El Halfa on the 31st 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 and Lieut. Col. 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 other three were formed into 61st Infantry Brigade, but continued their accustomed role of co-operating with armour when conditions allowed. Their brilliant 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.


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.


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 Regiment in 1966, it became its 3rd Battalion. In 1970 it was reduced to company strength before being reconstituted at Shoeburyness in 1972. In 1992 the 1st battalion were 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, Wiltshire to become the 4th Battalion of the newly formed regiment - The Rifles.

See also


  1. ^ Rifles, Mark Urban,p34
  2. ^ No eyewitnesses give the range of Plunkett's shot, and the descriptions of Plunkett's and Colbert's positions are too vague to allow any measurement. People writing much later made unlikely claims of 400-800 yards, but did not provide any supporting evidence.[1]
  3. ^ Rifles, Mark Urban,pp21-22


External links

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