J. Eysten. Pontonniers. pp. 242-252. : https://www.yumpu.com/nl/document/view/20159262/pontonniers-j-eysten-1ste-luitenant-der-artillerie-boekje-pienter
George Diederich Benthien, 29.x.1767 in Wittingen (Hannover) - 1.viii.1836 in Herzogenbusch. : https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Diederich_Benthien https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Diederich_Benthien
Doorloopend Verhaal van de dienstverrichtingen der Nederlandsche pontonniers onder den majoor G. D. Benthien, 1797-1825. 1 Jan. 1911 by J. Eysten (Author), George Diederich Benthien (Author), in Bijdragen en Mededeelingen van het Historisch Genootschap, Teil 32 (1911), pp. 100-177. : https://www.dbnl.org/tekst/_bij005191101_01/_bij005191101_01_0007.php
The Engineers Work to Save the Army: https://napoleon1812.wordpress.com/2012/11/25/the-engineers-work-to-save-the-army-2/
Mihajlovskij-Danilevskij, Aleksandr Ivanovič (1789-1848). Le passage de la Bérésina / traduit du russe du général Danilewski, d'après des documens authentiques. 1842. 259 p., cartes. : https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k1184318.r
I've seen them mentioned in two books: the first is 1812: The Great Retreat by Paul Britten Austin published by Greenhill in 1996 and the second is Mikaberidze already mentioned. So the information has been in print in English for over 20 years.
Thanks very much for the information as Eble and the Berezina are two favorite subjects of mine.
In 1811 the Dutch pontonniers became the 11th Company of the 1st bataillon. According to Dutch sources this was present at the Berezina too. It build the first bridge together with the 7th Company. The Dutch captain in command of building the first bridge seems however to have been in command of the 7th company at the time. Possibly some reorganization gave the Dutch company the number 7?
Benthien left his memoires of which however only a transcript survives. They were never intended to be published, but were used by various authors. The memoires themselves have disappeared, but a transcript of them was used by J. Eysten for a publication on the career of Benthien, published in 1911. I've noticed that outside of the Netherlands the Dutch contribution to the bridges over the Berezina is rarely mentioned.
The bottom line on the French pontonnier battalions is that they belonged to the artillery and were uniformed as such. And their commander in 1812, General Eble, was an artillery officer.
And it was they who built the Berezina bridges, not the engineers or sailors.
In his book on the Berezina (The Battle of the Berezina: Napoleon's Great Escape-page 112), Alexander Mikaberidze listed the following as being present at the Berezina:
1st Pontonniers Battalion: 2d, 7th, and 9th companies.
2d Pontonnier Battalion: 2d, 3d, 4th, 5th companies.
Total strength: 400.
There were also 450 sapeurs du genie (combat engineers) and sailors (bataillon du Danube).
How many of the pontonniers were Dutch and in what companies were they assigned? Were the Dutch pontonniers when they were taken into the French service maintained in their companies or were they mixed with Frenchmen?
I checked my sources and I must make a correction. The pontonniers transferred to the engineer arm in 1927, rather than 1940, though remained a separate corps, not part of the Engineer Regiment.
Thanks Rob. Friends helping friends. 😀
It's slightly more complicated than that. In the new kingdom of Holland in 1806 first the pontonniers and than the engineers, miners and sappers had been combined with the artillery into a single corps. After 1810 the French organization meant that the engineers, miners and sappers were separated from the artillery again. In the newly raised army of the United Netherlands of 1813/14 the pontonniers were joined with the miners and sappers into a single bataillon. The pontonniers were separated again and transferred to the artillery arm in 1821. They remained part of the artillery until 1927. During WW2 the Dutch adopted the British organization and after 1950 the American. In both the pontonniers were part of the engineers, so post-war history treats them as such, even in earlier periods.
The Dutch pontonniers in French service at the Bérésina had been engineers in Dutch service. You can take the pontonnier out of the engineers but you can't take the engineer out of the man. 😀
The pontoon battalions in the Grande Armee were not engineers, but artillerymen, as they were in most armies of the period. The French began with one battalion of pontonniers in 1792 at Strasbourg and were mustered in to the army the next year. They were recruited from Rhine River bargemen. There was initially only one battalion with a second being formed on the Rhine in 1797-1799 and a third was formed in Italy in 1800. The 2d and 3d battalions were consolidated into one battalion in 1801 and the strength of the two battalions was anywhere from six to fourteen companies, the first battalion being the larger.
At the Berezina both the pontonniers and engineers were assigned a bridge to build, but only the pontonniers, thanks to Eble's foresight, had the necessary equipment. The engineers, along with sailors, were assigned to him. The pontonniers were the only troops of Eble's that actually went into the water as did Eble to set the example.
Neither were they sappers, and that term is just a little different in French, sapeurs. Sappers were those who dug the trenches, the saps, in siege operations. The French sapeurs, more properly sapeurs du genie, were combat engineers. Those who did the pick and shovel work were pionniers.
When the wars began the French engineer arm was an officers-only organization, but in October 1793 Lazare Carnot by decree created 12 battalions of sapeurs du genie which converted the engineers to a combat arm. The miner companies were transferred from the artillery to the engineers. It would be 20 years before the British Royal Engineers created their own engineer combat troops, the Corps of Sappers and Miners.
The Bridge that Changed History, Timothy Larkin: The Military Engineer Vol. 53, No. 353 (May-June 1961), pp. 188-190. :
I adore such statements 😉
A few more on topic:
J. Eysten. Geschiedenis der Nederlandsche Pontonniers : onder toezicht van den chef van den generalen staf bewerkt door J. Eysten. 1908. Text: xv, 255 p.,  leaves of plates -- Atlas: 12 leaves in portforio. Includes bibliographical references. : Microfilm negative: Universiteits-bibliotheek Utrecht.
Frédéric Guillaume de Vaudoncourt. Relation impartiale du passage de la Berezina par l'armée française, en 1812 par un témoin oculare. 1814. 48 p., faltkarte. :
2e édition revue et corrigée. 1815. : https://archive.org/details/relationimparti00vaudgoog
Koninkrijk in wording: Een toegang tot de jaren 1813 – 1815: Bibliografie:
Asselin, Henry (1884-1978). L'âme et la vie d'un peuple: La Hollande dans le monde. 1921. viii, 235 p. :
1931: nouvelle ed: xi, 229 p. : see pp. 85-89. :
В. Харкевичъ. Березина : 1812 : военно-историческое изслѣдованіе. 1893. 210, 171 S. :
T. 1: https://runivers.ru/lib/book4284/42902/
T. 2: https://runivers.ru/lib/book4284/
The Bridge that Changed History TIMOTHY LARKIN The Military Engineer Vol. 53, No. 353 (May-June 1961), pp. 188-190 (3 pages)
LES PONTS DE LA VICTOIRE Wagram – juillet 1809
Some information concerning capitain Busch cmdr. of the 7e comp. :
Jean Jacques Busch, 26.iv.1772 Strassbourg - 11.x.1822 Strassbourg : LdH 25 prairial an xii (14.vi.1804);
Etat militaire du Corps de l'artillerie de France. 1811.:
p. 150: Lieut. 1 vend. An vi; Capt. 9.iii.1806; https://books.google.com/books?id=fZes3dVrGtkC&pg=PA150
p. 372: https://books.google.com/books?id=fZes3dVrGtkC&pg=PA372
Some additional items:
De overtocht van het leger van Napoleon Bonaparte over de Berezina in 1812. In Armamentaria, vol. 47 (2012/2013), p. 68-71. : https://www.nmm.nl/zoeken-in-de-collectie/detail/268163/
Overtocht van Franse troepen over de Berezina, 1812 by Jan Hoynck van Papendrecht. : :
Mark Edward Hay. The Dutch Experience and Memory of the Campaign of 1812: a Final Feat of Arms of the Dutch Imperial Contingent, or: the Resurrection of an Independent Dutch Armed Forces? : https://marsethistoria.nl/images/Hay.pdf
Might take a look at: "Bridge Builders at the Brezina": http://www.theminiaturespage.com/boards/msg.mv?id=182308