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Fusiliers is a name given to various kinds of soldiers; its meaning depends upon on the historical context. While fusilier is derived from the 17th century French word, fusil – meaning a type of flintlock musket – the term has been used in contrasting ways in different countries and at different times, including soldiers guarding artillery, various elite units, ordinary line infantry and other uses.
Flintlock small arms were first used militarily during the early 17th century. Flintlocks, at the time, were more reliable and safer to use than matchlock muskets, which required a match to be lit near the breech before the weapon could be triggered. By contrast, flintlocks were fired by flint. By the time of the English Civil War (1642–1652), one flintlock musket, the snaphance, was in common use in Britain.
The term fusiliers was first used officially by the French Army in 1670, when four fusiliers were distributed amongst each company of infantry. The following year the Fusiliers du Roi "("King's Fusiliers"), the first regiment composed primarily of soldiers with flintlocks, was formed by Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban.
Guarding and escorting artillery pieces was the first task assigned to the Fusiliers du Roi: flintlocks were especially useful around field artillery, as they were less likely than matchlocks to accidentally ignite open barrels of gunpowder, required at the time to load cannons. At the time, artillery units also required guards to maintain discipline amongst civilian draymen. Hence the term fusilier became strongly associated with the role of guarding artillery in Britain and the English-speaking world, especially after the formation of the first official "Fusilier" units, during the 1680s.
During the 18th century, as flintlocks became the main weapon used by infantry, the term fusilier gradually ceased to have this meaning and was applied to various units.
By the mid-18th century, the French Army used the term "fusiliers" to designate ordinary line infantry, as opposed to specialist or élite infantry, such as grenadiers, voltigeurs, carabiniers or chasseurs.
The French Army no longer uses the term fusiliers, although a number of its infantry regiments descend from fusilier regiments.
However, the French Navy and French Air Force continue to use the word. Fusiliers Marins ("Naval Fusiliers") is the name given to the navy's marines, whilst Fusiliers Commandos de l'Air ("Air Fusilier Commandos") are the ground infantry units of the air force – other than airborne/parachute units..
The original fusiliers in the British Army were The 7th Foot, Royal Regiment of Fuzileers raised in 1685. This subsequently became The Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment). The original purpose of this unit was to act as escort to artillery guns, as well as keeping discipline amongst the civilian drivers. Both a Scots (21st Foot) and Welsh (23rd Foot) regiment also became fusiliers in the period up to and including 1702 and all three regiments were distinguished by the wearing of a slightly shorter version of the Mitred Cap worn by Grenadier companies of all other infantry regiments. A number of additional infantry regiments were subsequently designated as fusiliers during the 19th century, but this was simply a historic distinction without any relationship to special weapons or roles.
In 1865 a distinctive head-dress was authorised for British Army fusilier regiments. For other ranks this was a raccoon skin cap. Fusilier officers however wore a taller bearskin like their counterparts in the Foot Guards. The badge for each regiment was placed at the front of the bear or raccoon skin headdress, and consisted of a stylized flaming grenade, with different emblems placed on the ball of the grenade.
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. Initially, the only regiment authorised to wear a plume or hackle were the 5th Foot or Northumberland Fusiliers. The regiment had originally worn a white feather distinction, authorised in 1824 to commemorate the victory of St Lucia in 1778 when men of the Fifth Regiment were supposed to have taken white feathers from the hats of fallen French soldiers. When in 1829 a white plume was ordered for all line infantry regiments, to preserve the Fifth (Northumberland) Regiment's emblem, they were authorised to wear a white plume with a red tip, allegedly to indicate a distinction won in battle. The Fifth were designated Fusiliers in 1836.
Following the Second Boer War plumes were added to the headgear of all fusilier regiments in recognition of their service in South Africa.
The following fusilier regiments existed prior to the outbreak of World War I:
|Regiment||Pre 1881 Title||Year of designation as fusiliers||Badge (on flaming grenade)||Plume or Hackle|
|Northumberland Fusiliers||5th (Northumberland Fusiliers) Regiment of Foot||1836||Within a circlet inscribed Quo Fata Vocant St George and the Dragon||Red over white (1829)|
|Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment)||7th (Royal Fusiliers) Regiment of Foot||On raising in 1685||The Garter surmounted by a crown; within the Garter a rose; below the Garter the White Horse of Hanover||White (1901)|
|Lancashire Fusiliers||20th (East Devonshire) Regiment of Foot||1881||The sphinx superscribed Egypt within a laurel wreath||Primrose yellow (1901). The 20th Foot wore yellow facings until 1881.|
|Royal Scots Fusiliers||21st (Royal Scots Fusiliers) Regiment of Foot||Between 1686 and 1691 (exact date unknown)||The royal arms||White (1902)|
|Royal Welsh Fusiliers||23rd (Royal Welch Fusiliers) Regiment of Foot||1702||The Prince of Wales's plumes, coronet and motto (Ich Dien)||White|
|Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers||27th (Inniskilling) Regiment of Foot|
108th (Madras Infantry) Regiment of Foot
|1881||The Castle of Inniskilling||Grey (1903). The colour commemorated the original uniform of the "Grey Inniskillings" of 1689.|
|Royal Irish Fusiliers (Princess Victoria's)||87th (Royal Irish Fusiliers) Regiment of Foot|
89th (Princess Victoria's) Regiment of Foot
|1827 (87th Foot)||A French Imperial Eagle upon a plinth inscribed "8" within a laurel wreath||Emerald green|
|Royal Munster Fusiliers||101st (Royal Bengal Fusiliers) Regiment of Foot|
104th (Bengal Fusiliers) Regiment of Foot
|1846 (101st as 1st Bengal European Fusiliers)|
1850 (104th as 2nd Bengal European Fusiliers)
|The arms of the Province of Munster within a laurel wreath bearing 10 battle honours. A scroll at the base inscribed Royal Munster.||White over green|
|Royal Dublin Fusiliers||102nd (Royal Madras Fusiliers) Regiment of Foot|
103rd (Royal Bombay Fusilers) Regiment of Foot
|1843: 102nd as 1st Madras (European) Fusiliers|
1844: 103rd as 1st Bombay (European) Fusiliers
|The arms of the City of Dublin within a wreath of shamrock, at the base an elephant on a tablet inscribed Mysore and a tiger on a tablet inscribed Plassey, all over a scroll inscribed Spectamur Agendo.||Blue over green|
The nine regiments of fusiliers that existed in 1914 have since been reduced to one by a series of disbandments and mergers:
In addition, the Scots Guards were known as the Scots Fusilier Guards from 1831 to 1877.
There are five fusilier regiments patterned on the British tradition forming part of the militia (part-time reserve) of the Canadian Forces. The Royal 22e Régiment, although not fusiliers, wears fusilier ceremonial uniform with scarlet plumes because of its alliance with the Royal Welch Fusiliers.
Prussia made early use of the title "fusilier" for various types of infantry. In 1705 the Foot Guards (Leibgarde zu Fuss) were designated as Fusilier Guards. By 1837 low-quality infantry raised from garrison companies also were named fusiliers. These latter units were dressed in blue with low mitre caps. See . Between 1740 and 1743 on Frederick the Great raised 14 separate Fusilier Regiments (numbers 33-40, 41-43 and 45-48). Except for the mitre caps, these new regiments were identical in appearance, training and role to the existing line infantry (musketeers).
Subsequently Prussia 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 or Hesse-Cassel) 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 compatriots, as all Prussian infantry fought in a style that formed a dense 'firing' or 'skirmish' line.
By the 1880s the title was honorific and, while implying 'specialist' or 'elite', 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:
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 and yellow shoulder straps, and the 80th Fusiliers special braiding on collars and cuffs (deriving from their origin as the Elector of Hesse's Guards). When a regiment was permitted the distinction of a horse-hair plume on the pickelhaube, for fusiliers it was always black. This included the third (Fusilier) Battalion of those regiments normally distinguished by a white horse-hair plume.
In World War II the elite German Division Großdeutschland contained a regiment titled Panzerfüsiliere ('Armoured Fusiliers'), to maintain the old German traditions. This was again titular, as in organisation, appearance and tactical use they were essentially Panzergrenadiere. The modern German Army has no fusiliers.
The Belgian Navy used to have a regiment of marine infantry composed of marine fusiliers in charge of the protection of the naval bases. However this unit was disbanded in the 1990s reforms .
From the 18th to the 19th centuries, the term fuzileiros (fusiliers) was used, in the Portuguese Army, to designate the regular line infantry, as opposed to the grenadiers (granadeiros) and the light infantry (caçadores and atiradores). The Portuguese Army discontinued the use of the term in the 1860s, but the Brazilian Army continues to use it today, to designate all infantry soldiers.
The term fuzileiros marinheiros (fusilier sailors) was used in the Portuguese Navy, since the late 18th century, to designate the naval infantry. Presently, both the Portuguese and the Brazilian Marine Corps are called Fuzileiros Navais (Naval Fusiliers).
On 1 January 1969 the Mexican Army created the Parachute Fusilier Brigade (Brigada de Fusileros Paracaidistas) with two infantry and one training battalions. The brigade's role is that of a strategic reserve, based in Mexico City.
Line infantry soldiers of the lowest rank in the Swiss Army have historically been designated as fusiliers. Because the modern Swiss infantry soldier is trained in a much broader variety of tasks than his historical counterpart and because of some negative connotations attached to the term "Füsiliere", modern infantry battalions of the Swiss army have been renamed "Infanteriebattalione" or "InfBat". The individual soldiers are officially called "Infanteristen", not "Füsiliere" but colloquially they are still referred to as "Füsiliere" or "Füsle".