A brief History of Jägers and Light Infantry

As some of you may already know, I am planning to offer the 5-day Jäger Course in the coming years. The Jäger Course will be an immersive light infantry training experience, in which students will learn to work as small squad-sized elements, living for a week out of just what they carry in their packs. As an introduction to this concept, I am going to write a series of articles detailing what light infantry is, how they operate, and why light infantry tactics are critical to the modern American Partisan.

What is Light Infantry?

Light infantry is commonly defined as foot soldiers who operate ahead of a main body of infantry to harass the enemy through scouting, raiding, and skirmishing, often behind enemy lines. The concept of light, mobile troops for skirmishing has been around since ancient times with the Greek Hoplites. However, light infantry only became truly predominant in the late 18th Century into the Napoleonic era, which saw entire regiments of such troops fielded by every major European power. Light infantry tactics since then never really went away, and to this day almost every modern military fields some type of light, semi-irregular unit dedicated to harassment missions in advance of the main forces.

What is unique about light infantry?

English Light Infantry of the Napoleonic Wars.  Known by the French as “Green Englishmen” for their uniforms, in stark contrast to the red uniforms of English line infantry.

In the Napoleonic era, it was quickly determined that unique tactics and equipment needed to be adopted for these new formations of troops. While light infantry had been in use for about a century previously, it was here that many fundamental principles were established for light infantry that remain mostly unchanged to this day.

First and foremost, light infantry rely on high mobility to infiltrate through enemy rear areas and achieve surprise. For this reason, light infantry must be exactly that; light. The maximum load that a soldier can carry indefinitely while remaining combat effective is roughly 45 pounds total. A light infantryman can conduct a several mile patrol to his objective, conduct a raid or ambush, and then hike several more miles away to establish a patrol base where he reorganizes for his next action. He simply cannot do this for days on end while carrying half his body weight’s worth of gear on his back.

Second, light infantry tactics do not rely on massive firepower. I’ll say it again, light infantrymen do not rely on massive firepower to accomplish their mission. Firepower is heavy, and so is the ammo required to sustain it. Thus, light infantry rely more on accuracy at stand-off ranges, making the most out of the ammunition that they can carry with them. In the 18th and 19th centuries, light infantry were normally equipped with rifles while their counterparts in the line and heavy infantry carried muskets. Rifles took longer to load, but were far more accurate than the (relatively) rapid-firing muskets. This necessitated an added emphasis on marksmanship skills for light infantrymen.

Finally, light infantry rely on stealth and surprise. The biggest strength of a light, mobile force is the ability to strike where the enemy is least prepared for them. Conversely, the biggest weakness of light infantry is their lack of heavy firepower, and their inability to win when decisively engaged by a large enemy force. Thus, it is important for light infantry to conceal their movement and presence, to be able to strike and disappear into the terrain. Early light infantry formations, including the Prussian Jägers, recognized this truth and were often issued green uniforms as opposed to the bright red, blue, and gold uniforms of regular troops in their day. For the light infantryman, being detected prematurely is normally fatal.

In summary, the light infantryman has always had an unconventional approach to the battlefield. He carries less equipment in order to remain mobile and achieve surprise. He places a high priority on marksmanship skill to make the most of his ammo, for he only has what he can carry. Finally, he must rely on stealth and surprise to stay alive. Considering all of this, it is not difficult to see how the mission and skills of the light infantryman are more similar to those of a resistance fighter than those of regular troops.


Finnish Jägers on skis during the Winter War

Jägers are the German form of light infantry, one of the oldest in existence with a history dating back to the 1630s. The word “Jäger” (pronounced YAY-grr) in German means “hunter,” which fits the nature of light infantry quite well. Jägers were normally units comprised of gamekeepers, huntsmen, and foresters whose civilian careers made them ideal recruits for the specialized units of skirmishers, riflemen, and scouts.

One of the first major uses of Germanic Jägers was during the American Revolutionary War, when some Jäger units were sent over to fight alongside the British. These Jägers were also the first units to be issued rifles instead of muskets, which isn’t surprising considering that rifles were a German invention.

In the Napoleonic era, Prussian Jägers often worked in 2-man teams to protect each other while reloading, one of the earliest versions of a “buddy pair.” They were allowed significant freedom of maneuver on the battlefield in order to cause as much havoc as possible in the enemy lines. In some cases, Jägers were common citizens who supplied their own rifles and kit, and formed units out of necessity to protect their homes from Napoleon’s invading troops.

In WWI, Germany continued to field specialized Jäger regiments with incredible success in Rumania and northern Italy. It was not uncommon for Jägers to penetrate so deep into enemy territory that the enemy would be too shocked at their appearance to put up meaningful resistance. A young lieutenant named Erwin Rommel routinely convinced large numbers of enemy troops to surrender to his small detachment by casually walking up to them and stating that they were behind German lines, and needed to surrender.

In the inter-war period, Germany was forced to disband its Jäger regiments, but they kept training light infantry tactics in secret. In fact, German Jägers had such a great reputation that Finnish soldiers would sneak out of their country to secretly train as Jägers with the German Reichswehr. They brought this training back to Finland with them and formed their own Jäger units. The skills and tactics that they learned greatly benefited the Finns when they had to fight off the Soviet invasion during the Winter War. Many of those Finnish Jäger units still exist to this day, carrying on the traditions of their predecessors.

Relevance of Light Infantry

You might be thinking that this is all a quaint history lesson, but what does this have to do with the American Partisan of today? Aren’t these techniques outdated? The answer to that is a resounding no. Light infantry is just as valid as it’s ever been, and I believe it’s an excellent model for the modern patriot to follow considering the tools at his disposal. As I said earlier, light infantry tactics do not rely on massive firepower. Most of us don’t have heavy crew-served weaponry like machine guns, nor do we have the ability to rely on armored vehicles, artillery, or air support. All these are tools that modern line infantry use, so it would be foolish to train with a line infantry mindset and light infantry tools.

It is for this reason that I have dedicated Von Steuben T&C to teaching American patriots to train and fight as light infantry. My training paradigm takes the German Jäger concept combined with elements of USMC squad doctrine to create an effective model for the modern minuteman. My Team Leader Class series is an introduction to light infantry fundamentals, and focuses on how to organize and train a team to operate independently. My Patriot Sharpshooter and Support Weapons courses teach marksmanship and weapons employment techniques. And, God willing, I will eventually have the ability to run the full 5-day Jäger Course for an immersive light infantry experience.

In the meantime, I will write a series of articles about light infantry weapons, equipment, and operational concepts. If you want to come out and get training, shoot me an email. I’ve got a Team Leader Class in NC on March 5-6 and a Force-on-Force Lab on March 26-27. I am continually adding new classes to my training schedule, so be sure to check it once in a while for new listings.  My email is vonsteubentraining@protonmail.com.

The VonSteuben T&C Logo.  The Oak Leaves are a traditional symbol for Jäger troops.

Published by vonsteubentraining

Mike is the owner and chief instructor of Von Steuben Training & Consulting (VSTAC). A self-described “Tactical Scholar,” he spent 6 years in the Marine Corps as a radio operator and small-unit tactics instructor. He has dedicated his life to honing the tactical prowess of himself and his fellow patriots, guided by the wisdom of his commanding officer, Jesus Christ. He can be contacted via email at vonsteubentraining@protonmail.com

4 thoughts on “A brief History of Jägers and Light Infantry

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: