fusil n : a light flintlock musket
Fusilier was originally the name of a soldier armed with a light flintlock musket called the fusil. The word was first used around 1680, and has later developed into a regimental designation.
HistoryVarious forms of flintlock small arms had been used in warfare since the middle of the 16th century. At the time of the English civil war (1642-1652) the term firelock was usually employed to distinguish these weapons from the more common matchlock musket.
The special value of the firelock in armies of the 17th century lay in the fact that the artillery of the time used open powder barrels for the service of the guns, making it unsafe to allow lighted matches in the muskets of the escort. Further, a military escort was required, not only for the protection, but also for the surveillance of the artillerymen of those days. Companies of firelocks were therefore organized for these duties, and out of these companies grew the fusiliers who were employed in the same way in the wars of Louis XIV. In the latter part of the Thirty Years' War (1643) fusiliers were simply mounted troops armed with the fusil, as carabiniers were with the carbine. But the escort companies of artillery came to be known by the name shortly afterwards, and the regiment of French Royal Fusiliers, organized in 1671 by Vauban, was considered the model for Europe.
The general adoption of the flintlock musket and the suppression of the pike in the armies of Europe put an end to the original special duties of fusiliers, and they were subsequently employed to a large extent in light infantry work, perhaps on account of the greater individual aptitude for detached duties naturally shown by soldiers who had never been restricted to a fixed and unchangeable place in the line of battle.
Fusiliers by country
French ArmyTraditionally, the French Army used the title "fusiliers" to designate ordinary role infantry, as opposed to grenadiers and light troops such as voltigeurs and chasseurs.
Today, however, such regiments are simply known as "infantry", although most modern French army regiments descend from fusilier regiments.
Only the French Navy and French Air Force use the title fusilier today. The navy's marines are known as sea fusiliers (Fusiliers Marins) and the Air Force's ground infantry are known as Air Fusiliers.
British ArmyThe distinctive head-dress of fusilier other ranks in the British service was a raccoon skin cap, generally resembling, but smaller than and different in details from, the bearskins of the Foot Guards. Fusilier officers however wore a bearskin like their counterparts in the Guards. Attached to the various types of fusilier headdress, including the modern beret, is the hackle. This is a short cut feather plume, the colour or colours of which varied according to the regiment. Prior to 1914 hackles were scarlet over white for the Northumberland Fusiliers; primrose yellow for the Lancashire Fusiliers; white for the Royal Fusiliers; white for the Royal Scots Fusiliers; grey for the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers; white for the Royal Welch Fusiliers; white and green for the Royal Munster Fusiliers and blue and green for the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. The eight regiments of fusiliers that existed in 1914 have been reduced by a series of disbandments and mergers to:
Prior to March 2006, a further two regiments of fusiliers existed in the British Army:
These two regiments were then amalgamated into larger regiments. The names exist within battalions of these new regiments:
Canadian ArmyThere are five fusilier regiments patterned on the British tradition forming part of the militia (part-time reserve) of the Canadian Forces. Le Royal 22e Régiment, although not fusiliers, wears fusilier ceremonial uniform because of its alliance with The Royal Welch Fusiliers.
German ArmyPrussia and several other German States used the designation Fusilier to denote a type of light infantry, dressed in green, that acted as skirmishers. In the Prussian Army they had been formed in 1787 as independent battalions, with many of the Officers having had experience in the American Revolutionary War. The Prussian reforms of 1808 absorbed the Fusiliers as the third battalion of each line infantry regiment. Now wearing blue uniforms, they were distinguished by black leather belts, and a slightly different arrangement of cartridge pouch.
In the Prussian Army of 1870, Infantry Regiments 33 to 40 plus Regiments 73 (Hanover), 80 (Hesse-Kassel) and 86 (Schleswig-Holstein) were all designated as fusiliers, as was the Guard Fusilier Regiment. In addition the third battalions of all Guard, Grenadier and Line infantry regiments retained the designation 'Fusilier Battalion'. They were armed with a slightly shorter version of the Dreyse Rifle (Füsiliergewehr), that took a sword bayonet (Füsilier-Seitengewehr) rather than the standard socket bayonet. Although still theoretically skirmishers, in practice they differed little from their companions, as all Prussian infantry fought in a style that formed a dense 'firing' or 'skirmish' line.
By the 1880s the title was honorific, implying 'specialist' or 'elite', and did not have any tactical significance. In a sense all infantry were becoming fusiliers, as weapons, tactics and equipment took on the fusilier characteristics - that is: skirmish line, shorter rifles, sword bayonets and black leather equipment. Nonetheless these titular units remained in existence until the end of the German Imperial Army in 1918, as follows:
- Guard Fusilier Regiment
- Fusilier Regiment Count Roon (East Prussian) No.33
- Fusilier Regiment Queen Victoria of Sweden (Pomeranian) No.34
- Fusilier Regiment Prince Henry of Prussia (Brandenburg) No.35
- Fusilier Regiment General Field Marshall Count Blumenthal (Magdeburg) No.36
- Fusilier Regiment von Steinmetz (West Prussian) No.37
- Fusilier Regiment Field Marshall Count Moltke (Silesian) No.38
- Lower Rhineland Fusilier Regiment No.39
- Fusilier Regiment Prince Charles Anton of Hohenzollern No.40
- Fusilier Regiment Field Marshal Prince Albert of Prussia (Hanoverian) No.73
- Fusilier Regiment von Gerdsdorff (Electoral Hessian) No.80
- Fusilier Reqiment Queen (Schleswig-Holstein) No.86
- Grand-Ducal Mecklenburg Fusilier Regiment No.90
- Fusilier Regiment Emperor Francis Joseph of Austria King of Hungary (4th Royal Württemberg) No.122
In addition, there was the following regiment:
This was a special case, as it was also classed as 'Schützen' (Sharpshooter): this designation originally signified a type of 'Jäger' (Rifleman), and thus the regiment wore the Jäger-style dark green uniform.
The various Fusilier regiments and battalions in the German Imperial Army of 1914 did not have any single distinctions of dress or equipment to distinguish them as fusiliers. Individual regiments did however have special features worn with the dark blue full dress. Some of these features were maintained on the field grey dress of the trenches right up to 1918. As examples in full dress, the Guard Fusiliers had nickel buttons, yellow shoulder straps and black plumes and the 80th Fusiliers special braiding on collars and cuffs deriving from their origin as the Elector of Hesse's Guards.
In World War II the elite German Division 'Großdeutchland' contained a regiment titled 'Panzer Fusiliers', to maintain the old German traditions. The modern German Army has no fusiliers.
Netherlands ArmyIn the Royal Netherlands Army, one of the two foot guards regiments, the Garderegiment Fuseliers Prinses Irene is a regiment of fusiliers.
Belgian ArmyThe Belgian Army has no specific regiment called fusiliers, but the general denomination for infantry soldiers is Storm fusilier (Dutch: stormfuselier - French: fusilier d'assaut).
The Belgian Navy used to have a regiment of marine infantry composed of marine fusiliers in charge of the protection of the naval bases. This unit has now been disbanded in the 1990s reforms however.
Portuguese and Brazilian ArmyThe Portuguese and Brazilian marines are called Fuzileiros Navais (Naval Fusiliers). In the Brazilian Army, all infantry soldiers are called fusiliers.
fusil in German: Füsilier
fusil in French: Fusilier
fusil in Portuguese: Fuzileiro
fusil in Russian: Фузилеры