Napoleon's Swiss Troops
Publication Date: March 20, 2012
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Ever since the 15th century Switzerland had been exporting professional soldiers to serve as mercenaries for foreign monarchies. Napoleon, therefore, was not the first to make full use of the martial qualities of the Swiss and obtained Swiss agreement to expand the recruitment of regiments for service in the French Army. Napoleon would use Swiss troops on the battlefields of Italy and Spain, and in 1812 re-organize the four original regiments into a single division for the invasion of Russia, with each regiment having three full-strength battalions. In all theatres where they were engaged, Swiss contingents would often be relied upon to act as rearguards so other forces caught in a tight situation could escape. Time and again they would be asked to save the day for the French soldiers with whom they fought, in Italy and Spain and most famously for Napoleon himself, in Russia. In November of 1812, meeting up with Napoleon's main force retreating from Moscow at the Berezina River, the Swiss on the west bank guarded the approaches to the pontoon bridges from the Russian attack to the south. 1,200 Swiss, out of approximately 8,000 that entered Russia, were left to face, along with 8,000 men from other units, the 30,000-strong Russian army. The Swiss held their ground and when their ammunition ran out they charged the Russians with bayonets.
This book reveals the proud combat history of the Swiss troops of Napoleon's army as well as the colourful uniforms they wore.
David Greentree was born in Portsmouth in 1970. He attended Portsmouth Grammar School, where he developed an interest in military history. He studied for a BA in History at York before taking an MA in War Studies at King's College London and qualifying as a lecturer in Further Education at Cardiff. In 1995 he accepted a commission into the Royal Air Force, and has since served in a variety of locations, including Afghanistan. He is currently working in the Ministry of Defence in London.