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Drapeaux of the French Army    1804-15
Foreign Corps    The Swiss, Germans & Irish




Of the foreign soldiers who served the Emperor Napoleon none were more renowned that the Swiss. The four Swiss infantry regiments of the Grand Army covered themselves with glory on numerous occasions, particularly during the terrible Retreat from Moscow in 1812. At the crossing of the Berezina River (26-29 November 1812) the defense of the eastern bridgehead was entrusted to the Swiss, who held off the Russians while French engineers constructed pontoon bridges across the river. When their ammunition was exhausted, these redoubtable soldiers charged repeatedly with the bayonet. "They were, right to the end of the retreat, invincible," one eyewitness later commented. "They outdid nature, and spread a radiance of heroism over that wilderness of snow."

As was traditional for such troops in French service, the uniform coats of Napoleon's Swiss were red. It was remarked that their gallantry was contingent on regular pay: "No money, no Swiss" was a byword in the Grand Army. Their colors were of the standard pattern for line infantry regiments.


3rd Battalion, 1st Swiss Infantry    1804-12


2nd Battalion, 2nd Swiss Infantry    1804-12


1st Battalion, 3rd Swiss Infantry    1804-12


1st Battalion, 4th Swiss Infantry    1804-12


1st Swiss Infantry    1812-14


2nd Swiss Infantry    1815    The Hundred Days

Fanions d'alignement     1st Battalion, 3rd Swiss Infantry    1810


Grenadier Company


Fusilier Companies


Voltigeur Company



In marked contrast to the gallant Swiss, the German corps of the Grand Army were of mediocre quality. Mostly they were raised from the soldiers of defeated enemies: the defunct Electorate of Hanover and the Kingdom of Prussia. The Hanoverian Legion was supposed to have comprised a light infantry regiment of two battalions and a horse chasseur regiment of four squadrons but enough men could be found for only one battalion of infantry and one chasseur squadron. The Westphalian infantry regiment experienced similar problems; only one of its two planned battalions was raised. The Prussian infantry regiment consisted mostly of former soldiers of the Kingdom of Prussia. These men were well trained but, like most Germans, their commitment to the French cause was less than enthusiastic. The uniforms of the Hanoverian legion were red for the infantry, blue for the chasseurs; those of the Westphalian infantry regiment were white; and those of the Prussian infantry regiment were blue. Colors and standards were of the French pattern. By 1811 all had been disbanded, with their troops being distributed among other units.


Hanoverian Legion    Infantry Battalion    1808-11


Hanoverian Legion    Chasseur Squadron    1808-11


Regiment of Westphalia    1806-09


Regiment of Prussia    1806-11



The Irish Legion was raised in 1803 and received the flag depicted below left after Napoleon proclaimed himself Emperor in 1804. It was earmarked for an invasion of Ireland that never came off and thereafter was employed in various theaters of war. Appropriately, the soldiers of the Irish Legion wore green uniform coats. Originally a fine unit, its quality deteriorated over the years as the proportion of Irishmen diminished and the ranks were filled with miscellaneous foreigners. In 1811 the Irish Legion was redesignated as the 3rd Regiment of Foreign Infantry; the following year it received a color of the standard pattern for infantry.


Irish Legion    1804-11


3rd Regiment of Foreign Infantry    1811-14

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