Uniforms of the Ages: Russian Guards in the Napoleonic Wars

Russia’s Imperial Guard is overlooked by many Napoleonic historians, as the Imperial guard of Napoleon is concentrated upon. Yet the personal guard of Alexander I (Paul I before his death in 1801) is still a massive part of the history, as Russia and Austria held against the French invaders. Russia’s common infantryman wore a dark green coat with white pants and a plumed shako, but the guards wore more elaborate and complex uniforms that rivaled any ornate French uniforms. Grand Duke Constantin Pavlovich’s Imperial Guard became an integral part of the Eastern Napoleonic Wars and helped the Russians all the way to Paris in 1814.

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Different Russian Guard Infantry regiments


The Imperial Guard in 1800 was four regiments strong: Preobazhensky, Semenovsky, Ismailovksy, and Guard Jagers. Two more regiments – Lithuanian Life Guard and Finnish Life Guard – were added in 1812 in time for the Battle of Borodino. Finally, two grenadier regiments joined as the “Young Guard” in 1813. What made these units different from regular Russian infantry. First of all, their height was drastically different. The minimum height of a guardsman was 1.71 m (5’6 ft) compared to the diminutive 1.56 (5’1 ft) of a regular. Prior to the Napoleonic Wars, the guards served mostly in St. Petersburg as guards of the Czar and sent officers to regular units. Many of the guards came from Russian nobility rather than the basic origins of regular soldiers. The guards outranked regular privates in the Russian Army and were also given Prussian drilling- arguably the best in contemporary Europe.

Russian guards wore the same coat and pants as the regular infantryman, except with different facings and cuffs. For example, the Semeonvksy Regiment had blue collars, red facings, and blue cuffs. They each had specific colour restrictions on drumsticks and in 1800,  Imperial Guard Infantry even had mustache restrictions. Their shakos were the main difference than regular troops. A guard had white cord on their shako as well as a much more elaborate badge than the standard Russian eagle or grenade symbol.


Napoleonic cavalry is always associated with vivid colours, and the Guard Cavalry is no exception. The cavalry consisted of dragoons, hussars, cossacks, lancers, the Lifeguard Horse, and the Guard Cavalry Regiment. Each unit wore a different coloured coat:

  • Cuirassiers: White
  • Dragoons: Green
  • Lancers (Uhlans)- Blue
  • Cossacks- Red

Veterans were moved into both guard units and the cuirassiers after the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805. The cavalry set restrictions on horse colour between certain squadrons of each regiment as well. The oldest of the seven guard cavalry regiments was the Lifeguard Horse, founded in 1721.

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Guard Cavalry

Guard Cuirassiers wore the traditional breastplate and a tall, plumed helmet which was blackened like the cuirasse. Saddle pads reflected a regiment’s facings and each had a star of St. Andrew stitched into the side. Dragoons were the same except they did not wear a breastplate. The hussars wore a white-plumed shako with a red coat and pelisse, each braided in gold. Uhlans wore a blue czapka and a white sash over their waists.


The Guard Artillery were a small branch, but were still important. Their branch colour, red, adorned their shako cord and shoulder straps. Their collar was black, and they wore the traditional Russian dark green coats. White breeches completed their uniform. Guard Horse Artillery wore the same except their shako had a tall white plume and they wore green pants with two red stripes.


Gebirgsjäger: The Alpine Warriors of the German Army

The Gebirgsjäger were the alpine troops of the German army during the Second World War, serving in many regions throughout the war. Using pack animals, these elite troops of the German army were tasked to defending and attacking mountainous areas where many regular troops would be unable to fight in. After the Anschluss, the German annexation of Austria, the Gebirgsjäger were formed, inspired by the Tyrolean Jägers of the Austro-Hungarian Army in the First World War.

The Gebirgsjäger wore a patch with an edelweiss depicted.The edelweiss is a flower found normally in alpine conditions and high altitudes. They wore the regular feldgrau uniform, but with hiking boots, and sometimes skis or snowshoes. They also wore a Bergmutze, similar to the cap of Austrian troops in the First World War. The cap could be buttoned under the chin to provide warmth in freezing temperatures. As well as their specific uniform, Gebirgsjäger carried a special carbine called the G33/40, produced in Czechoslovakia. The steel plate at the bottom was used to crunch into ice to give a soldier a stabilizer while scaling rocks and mountains. A small number were produced, but they were perfect for mountain warfare. Many Gebirgsjäger used Russian weapons because they were better designed for cold weather.

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Gebirgsjäger in the Russian mountains

With the German Blitzkrieg into Poland and Norway, many Gebirgsjäger were placed in Army Group South. The Blitzkrieg smashed through Poland towards Russia, and by 1941, Operation Barbarossa was in full swing. The Gebirgsjager fought through the mountainous country of Ukraine. The 1st Mountain Division managed to capture the city of Lviv (then Lvov). They crashed through the Stalin Line and into the Caucasus. The Gebirgsjäger lifted a German flag on top of Mount Elbrus. The Gebirgsjäger also fought ferociously in Hungary as well as Northern Greece.

In 1942, Operation Edelweiss was launched in an attempt to capture oil fields in the Caucasus. Spearheaded by Gebirgsjäger units, the Germans swept through Baku and along the Volga River. The Gebirgsjäger assaulted the western slopes of Mt. Elbrus along with Romanian Mountain Troops. They were held by the Soviet rear guard, eventually capturing the mountains with some difficulty. They attempted to reach the coast near Sukhumi in order to outflank Soviet positions, but poor weather and stiff resistance held their advance. Over the operation, the Germans took some 10,000 casualties, but managed to squeeze their way towards Stalingrad.

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Gebirgsjäger cap badge

A recurring theme for mountain troops was heavy casualties with success. The inexhaustible number of Soviet troops managed to hold the alpine troops in battle, but the Gebirgsjäger deserve credit for their abilities and quality throughout the Second World War.