HISTORY OF THE 95TH RIFLES
In 1800 the Experimental Corps of Riflemen was formed, eventually becoming the 95th (Rifle) Regiment of Foot in 1803.
Riflemen were different, in many ways, to the soldiers that made up the bulk of the British Army. Instead of the classic 'redcoat' with white crossbelts worn by most infantrymen, the Rifles wore a distinctive 'greenjacket' and black leatherwork. This was the first attempt at camouflage by the British Army and was a reflection of the very different role expected of this brand new soldier.
Of course the other most notable difference between a Rifleman and most of Wellington's redcoats was the weapon he carried, the Baker Rifle. Redcoats were generally issued with the 'Brown Bess' musket, capable of wavering accuracy at 75 yards. The 'Baker' was able to hit a man-sized target 200 yards away, and there are legendary characters within the Regiment, such as Tom Plunket who achieved accuracy well beyond this range using a patched ball. This accuracy was down to a combination of the weapon and a revolutionary new training initiative.
TRAINING & ETHOS
The first Riflemen were selected from various regiments across the army and marched to Horsham where they held their first parade on the 1st April 1800. Schooled in the art of skirmishing, the Riflemen were encouraged to push the enemy on their own initiative, using aimed fire to harass and defeat their foe. Deliberately aiming a weapon was a relatively new concept to the British infantryman. A traditional soldier armed with a musket did not aim, but merely pointed or 'presented' his musket in the direction of the enemy as, unlike the Baker Rifle, it was not an accurate weapon.
It wasn't just the content of the training that was radically different but also the approach. For example, Riflemen regularly trained with live ammunition (a luxury in the British Army at the time), giving them the opportunity to become marksmen. Shooting competitions and similar competitive activities were conducted within the regiment, a practice that came with rewards and merit.
Individuals were recognised as individuals, and not just as a body of men. An eager Rifleman showing potential would be invested in. If he could not read or write he was taught, to give him a better chance at promotion.
The social barriers that existed in Georgian society were not as much of an issue in the 95th, perhaps because the officers shared the same fate as lower ranks, often sleeping rough on the countless patrols and picket duties they were deployed on and enduring the same hardships on long marches. Officers would regularly dine with their men and get to know them. A practice that was unheard of at the time.
The Rifles were masters of the battlefield and second-to-none at skirmishing in particular. They were held in high esteem by the French and Allies alike. One officer, Major John Blackiston of the Portuguese Cacadores said:
"I never saw such skirmishers as the 95th. They could do the work much better and with infinitely less loss than any of our best light troops. They possessed an individual boldness, a mutual understanding, and a quickness of eye in taking advantage of the ground, which, taken altogether I never saw equalled. They were as much superior to the French Voltigeurs as the latter were to our skirmishers in general"
The Rifleman's speciality was targeting the enemy officers, NCOs and drummers. Their skills were also put to good use eliminating artillery crews, something they did to great effect during the Siege of Badajoz in 1812.
The 95th were more than just skirmishers though. They earned their reputation as a 'universal soldier' by playing their part in sieges like any other infantryman in Wellington's army. They stormed the breaches at Ciudad Rodrigo, Badajoz and San Sebastian.
All three battalions of the 95th fought together, unsupported, for the first time during the closing weeks of the Peninsular War at the Battle of Tarbes. The Regiment independently swept the forces of Marshal Soult from the path of Wellington's army as it advanced into France. The Battle of Tarbes went some way to dispelling the myth that rifles were slow to load and therefore could not operate alone. After the battle Colonel Barnard of the Rifles invited Wellington to see the ground where the 95th had fought. Wellington is reported to have replied: "I require no novel proof of the destructive fire of your rifles".
The 95th (Rifle) Regiment of Foot served throughout the Peninsular War in Spain and Portugal, seeing action in many battles like Bussaco, Salamanca and Vittoria. They saw action in America during the War of 1812, and oversaw the downfall of Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
The Regiment remained the 95th (Rifle) Regiment of Foot until 1816, when they were renamed the Rifle Brigade in honour of their achievements during the Peninsular War and Waterloo campaigns. The Rifle Brigade then became the Royal Green Jackets in 1966, amalgamating with the 43rd and 52nd (both former redcoat regiments of the 'Light Division') and the 60th. The Royal Green Jackets amalgamated once again in 2007 with the Devonshire and Dorset Light Infantry; Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Light Infantry and The Light Infantry to become The Rifles.