It is commonly accepted that British infantry battalions formed in two rank lines. I have no reason to doubt it, however reviewing the few drill manuals I have, I can not find anything on it. George Nafziger in his Imperial Bayonets says that it was common practice to do so because the battalions were often very understrength, But he also says there is nothing in the drill manuals.
Does anyone know of any manuals that state they are to do it? Thanks!
The practice of using two ranks started in North America during the 7 Years War (French and Indian War) and continued during the American War of Independence. There was a conflict between those officers who had served in North America and seen that it worked in practice, versus those who wanted to follow Prussian drills as laid down in the drill manuals. The American view prevailed in the end.
Inspection Reports show many Battalions being drawn up in two ranks being criticised for doing so. That criticism merely proves that the practice of using two ranks was widespread.
The introduction to the 1824 Regulations state that they retrospectively included many drills which were adopted during “the late wars”. One of these is the use of two ranks.
I am just posting this quickly, but will quote sources in a separate post.
Thanks! I too think it was theory being outstripped by practice. It make sense if for nothing else it would be easy to form into a two rank line from a march column.
You need p.16 of part three of the 1792 Regulations (i.e. the Battalion bit) it describes the depth of the formation as three ranks but describes the reasons why two ranks might be appropriate. It does also talk about low strength battalions in time of peace. It goes on to talk about two ranks and open files.
All the best
I think Nafziger might be wrong to suppose that the British formed in two ranks because they were often under strength. Certainly, under Wellington they appear to have formed in two ranks no matter what the strength of the battalions. The guards battalions at Waterloo had over a thousand men each and they formed in two ranks (I believe they may have split into two 'wings', because a line that long was somewhat unwieldy, and at some points could have formed four deep because of the threat of cavalry. The one thing they didn't do is follow the drill manuals and form three deep).
I don't know of any drill manuals that prescribe forming two-deep. I think it must be a case of the practice outstripping the theory and the theory taking a long time to catch up.