Friday 16 July 2010

Origins of the Bersaglieri - inspired by the Chasseurs

The famous Bersaglieri and their running is a remnant of the Chasseur craze - this is from the wiki. Image is Bataille de Traktir sur la Tchernaïa Gosselin, 1855

The relatively poor Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia could not afford large numbers of cavalry, so a quick-moving infantry corps of marksmen was needed. These troops were trained to high physical and marksmanship standards. Like the French chasseurs à pied who inspired their creation, a level of independence and initiative was encouraged so that they could operate in looser formations where direct command and control was not required. They fired individually and carried 60 rounds instead of the standard 40 rounds of traditional line infantry. The first uniform was black with brimmed hats, called "vaira". These were intended to defend the head from sabre blows.

The first public appearance of the Bersaglieri was on the occasion of a military parade on 1 July 1836. The First Company marched through Turin with the rapid, high-stepping gait (130 paces/minute) still used by the Bersaglieri in World War II and later. The modern Bersaglieri still run both on parade and even during barracks duty - on penalty of punishment if they do not. The new corps impressed King Carlo Alberto, who immediately had them integrated as part of the "Armata sarda" - the Piedmontese regular army.

Throughout the nineteenth century, under La Marmora’s leadership, the Bersaglieri filled the role of skirmishers, screening the slow-moving line and column formations, but acting as special shock troops if required. They were originally intended to serve as mountain troops, as well; the climber Jean Antoine Carrel was a Bersagliere. When the Alpini Corps were created in 1872 a strong rivalry arose between the two elite corps.

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