The Origins of Rifle Regiments
250 years ago, during the French and Indian Wars, British General Braddock led his red coats in their formations through the forests south of today’s city of Pittsburgh to attack Fort Duquesne. They marched right into an ambush, planned and carried out by a seemingly invisible enemy of French and their native allies. Braddock himself was mortally wounded and as he lay dying, he engagingly said, “We shall learn to do it better next time”.
The significance of his defeat was quickly recognized in England. Old-fashioned field regulations were not up to new battlefield conditions. In a short time of five months, with the help of three professional soldiers from Switzerland, the British Army raised a new regular regiment employing new tactics. They would combine the marksmanship and skills of frontier scouts with the discipline of trained soldiers to create a new breed of fighting men; they were later known in France as Chasseurs; in Germany they became Jaegers; and in the UK and Canada, they were called ‘Riflemen’ or simply ‘Rifles.”
The new Regiment (recruiting 4,000 American settlers) was named the 62nd Royal Americans. The emphasis (retained today) was on shooting, adaptability and initiative and was maintained as the Regiment’s evolved through the 60th (Royal American) Regiment of Foot. In 1797, its 5th Battalion became the first British official Rifle Corps dressed in green. Over the years its name changed to the 60th Duke of York’s Own Rifle Corps and later the King’s Royal Rifle Corps or 60th Rifles. The Queen’s Own Rifles is a direct descendent of this “Rifles” lineage and we have been allied with the KRRC and their descendants since 1956. Currently, one of our allied regiments is the Royal Green Jackets. [Now “The Rifles Regiment”.]
Peculiarities of Rifle Regiments
They get their name from the fact they were the first to be equipped with a ‘rifled’ weapon as opposed to a smooth bore used in the rest of the British Army. They marched at a pace of 140 to the minute, rather than the more leisurely pace of line infantry at 110 paces or Highland Infantry at 90 paces to the minute. This allowed them to deploy to the front and flanks of the Army quickly and silently. As they were widely dispersed in ‘skirmish order’ their orders were unable to be passed verbally so were passed by bugle calls.
‘Doubling’ – moving at twice the pace –also became a standard tactical movement. This still occurs on ceremonial occasions. Rifle Regiments often do what they call a “Double Past”, which means, once formed up in dressed ranks, they pass the saluting base at the double, keeping their ranks straight, giving an “eyes right” as they pass the inspecting officer. Because they fought widely dispersed to the front and the flanks of the main body of the army the individual Riflemen were treated as individuals whose initiative and creativity was admired and indeed encouraged. Their dress was different, emphasizing camouflage rather than ostentation. Historically, we see them dressed in dark (rifle) green, rifles at the trail, relying on accurate and rapid shooting combined with rapidity of movement, a simplified drill, individual initiative, and single words of command followed by the execution of several drill movements.