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Hessian Jäger 1835-1843[1]

Jäger (singular [der] Jäger, plural [die] Jäger, German pronunciation: [ˈjɛːɡɐ]) is a German military term adopted during the Age of Enlightenment in German-speaking states (and others influenced by them) to describe elite light infantry,[2] especially skirmishers.

The military usage of Jäger, which means "hunter" or "huntsman" in German, is similar to that of Schütze, which means "shooter" (as in "sharpshooter") or more appropriately rifleman in military context. While both terms continue, in some modern instances, to carry their original and literal connotations, both have broadened in usage over time. For instance, Feldjäger was the name given by the Prussian Army (and later the German Wehrmacht and Bundeswehr) to military police. During the 20th century Jagdflugzeug (short form: Jäger) became the German word for fighter aircraft, while Panzerjäger was the name adopted for tank destroyers.

Jäger, in its original sense of light infantry, is usually translated into English as:

  • "rifleman" (in an infantry role) or "Rifles" (in regimental names) and;
  • "ranger" (especially in North American English; see below).

In English Jäger is often written as jaeger (both pl. and sgl.) or anglicised as jager (pl. jagers) to avoid the umlaut.

Age of Enlightenment (18th Century)

Franz Rudolf Frisching in the uniform of an officer of the Bernese Jäger Corps with his Berner Laufhund, painted by Jean Preudhomme in 1785

The earliest known instance of a Jäger company organized for military purposes appears to have occurred about 1632 in Hesse-Kassel under the Landgrave Wilhelm V. However it was not until the first half of the eighteenth century that the widespread recruitment began in various German states of gamekeepers, huntsmen and foresters employed on crown estates or those of noble landowners, for specialized units of riflemen and skirmishers.[3]

As professional foresters, Jäger were skilled in the use of rifles - a weapon which took longer to load than the smoothbore musket of the line infantry, but which had greater range and accuracy. Drawn from a "well-esteemed class"[4] the Jägers were primarily used for reconnaissance, skirmishing or screening bodies of heavier troops. Since they owned their own weapons they could (in principle) fill a crucial defensive role as militia in case of surprise assaults before any mobilization had been ordered, or as organizers of partisan warfare after an occupation. Jäger were not just skilled riflemen, they were also able to handle and maintain delicate, accurate rifles in an age when very few people had any mechanical skill.

Prussia, Hesse, Austria, Russia and a number of the smaller German states raised Jäger corps during the Seven Years War and thereafter. Initially these "free-corps" specialist units were formed for the duration of a particular campaign and thereafter disbanded. However the Russians maintained their Jäger companies on a permanent basis for frontier service against the Turks.[5] The Prussian Jäger corps of Frederick the Great dated back to a mounted detachment raised in November 1740 and quickly expanded to two squadrons. Employed in wartime as guides and scouts, they eventually proved a useful frontier guard tasked with catching deserters and seizing contraband. After 1744 they were joined by an infantry branch of foot Jägers, initially divided into independent companies and then brought together as a full regiment by 1784.[6] For fighting at close quarters the Jäger carried a straight-bladed hunting dagger (Hirschfänger), a short sabre or a falchion.

While the English term "ranger" is older, emerging during the 17th century to describe highly-mobile ("ranging") foot and mounted infantry units in British North America, it became strongly associated with Jäger during the late 18th century, when German-speaking Hessian regiments served as part of the British Army in North America.

Napoleonic era

Interest in light infantry tactics increased across Europe after the Battle of Valmy, where the Prussian line infantry proved unable to break through the French sharpshooters. Initially soldiers were drawn directly from the line infantry to fight as skirmishers instead, but in time many German-speaking states adopted Jäger to fulfill this role. In theory the Jäger operated in pairs to protect each other while reloading, and remained within 100-200 yards of close-order infantry on which they could fall back if they were endangered by cavalry or driven off by infantry. However, it was admitted that, due to the difficulty of controlling troops spread out in open-order and in the thick of battle, these guidelines might not always be followed. Jäger were allowed to act with a certain amount of initiative on the battlefield, unlike line infantry who were rigidly drilled and kept under tight control by their officers. For this reason, it was the most energetic and daring soldiers who were selected to become Jäger.

The Prussians in particular developed their light infantry tactics both in theory and in practice during the early Napoleonic era. There was much disagreement over how much emphasis should be placed on Jägers, though, and reform was for the most part at the regimental level by more energetic commanders such as Yorck. It was not until the reorganization of the army led by Scharnhorst that the Jäger corps was strengthened on a national level. Having suffered crippling defeats at Jena and Lübeck, the Prussian army undertook major reforms, in many ways following the example of the French Revolutionary Army, becoming a nationalized force. Foreign mercenaries were removed, corporal punishment became rare (and was abolished for Jäger troops), and promotions were based on merit rather than nobility. New volunteers from a bourgeois background were organized to resist Napoleon's invasion and occupation of Central Europe. Continuing the earlier traditions, in Prussia these Jäger were patriotic volunteers, bearing the cost of their weapons and uniforms at their own expense or with the help of contributions from friends and neighbours, and often organizing themselves into clubs and leagues. As one of the early adopters of skirmisher tactics, Yorck became inspector-general of the light infantry in Prussia and oversaw the increase and improvement of the new Jäger troops during the years of peace after the Treaty of Tilsit. The most famous of the Prussian Jäger were the volunteers of the Lützow Free Corps.

The Prussian army gained experience as an auxiliary force in the French invasion of Russia, where the Jäger were often used on the strategic level to provide support and cover for the rest of the army. They managed to escape the fate of Napoleon's French soldiers after Yorck negotiated a battlefield truce with Russia when, during a rear-guard action, the French withdrew and left Yorck's troops isolated. In the War of the Sixth Coalition that immediately followed, the Jäger of the various armies performed well against Napoleon's forces, and Prussian Jäger played a significant role in the battles of the Waterloo campaign, holding off Grouchy's corps at the Battle of Wavre.

The resistance against Napoleon exacted a high toll of military casualties, officers in particular. This in combination with a shift towards a meritocratic officer corps led to many promotions within the ranks. By the end of the Napoleonic Wars many of the junior officers in the Germanic states' armies were former Jäger soldiers who had been promoted through the ranks.

Prior to First World War

By the early twentieth century, Jäger units were part of the Imperial German, Austro-Hungarian, Swedish, Dutch and Norwegian armies. They corresponded to the rifles, light infantry, chasseurs à pied or bersaglieri units of the British, French, Italian and other armies. While such units still enjoyed considerable prestige and high esprit de corps, their training, equipment and tactical roles had for the most part become aligned with those of the line infantry of their respective armies.

Imperial Germany

Best known were the German Jäger units who were distinguished by their peace-time wear of dark green tunics and shakos (in contrast to the dark blue tunics and spiked helmets of most German infantry).

In the peacetime Prussian Army, the main component of the Imperial German Army, there were one Imperial Guard Jäger battalion, the Garde-Jäger-Bataillon, and twelve Jäger battalions of the line. One Jäger battalion, the Großherzoglich Mecklenburgisches Jäger-Bataillon Nr. 14, was from the grand duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Another, Westfälisches Jäger-Bataillon Nr. 7, known as the "Bückeburg Jägers", was raised in the principality of Schaumburg-Lippe (whose capital was Bückeburg). The other ten were from Prussian lands. In addition, another Prussian Guard unit, the Garde-Schützen-Bataillon, though not designated Jäger, was a Jäger formation. Its origins were in a French chasseur battalion of the Napoleonic era, and its troops wore the shako and green tunic of the Jäger battalions.[7]

The army of the Kingdom of Saxony added two Jäger battalions, which were included in the Imperial German Army order of battle as Kgl. Sächsisches 1. Jäger-Bataillon Nr. 12 and Kgl. Sächsisches 2. Jäger-Bataillon Nr. 13. The Saxon Jäger had a number of dress distinctions - notably tunics of a darker green than the Prussian colour, black facings instead of red and a black buffalo-hair plume buckled to the side of the shako. The autonomous Royal Bavarian Army provided a further two Jäger battalions, Kgl. Bayerisches 1. Jäger-Bataillon and Kgl. Bayerisches 2. Jäger-Bataillon, who wore the light blue of Bavarian infantry with green facings.[8]

On mobilization in August 1914, each of these Prussian, Saxon and Bavarian Jäger battalions raised a reserve Jäger battalion. In September 1914, an additional 12 reserve Jäger battalions were raised (10 Prussian and 2 Saxon). In May 1915, the German Army began joining the Jäger battalions to form Jäger regiments, and in late 1917, the Deutsche Jäger-Division was formed.

During the early stages of the First World War the German Jäger maintained their traditional role as skirmishers and scouts, often in conjunction with cavalry units. With the advent of trench warfare they were committed to an ordinary infantry role, integrated into divisions and losing their status as independent units. Cyclist Jäger served in the Balkan and Russian theatres of war while Wurttemberg and Bavaria raised Ski-Jäger during the winter of 1914-15. Another specialist formation was the Jäger Storm Companies, serving as trench raiders during 1917-1918.


Emperor Franz Joseph I in the parade dress of the Kaiserjäger 1879

The Austro-Hungarian Army in 1914 included four regiments of Tiroler Kaiserjäger, descended from a unit first raised in 1801. There were also 29 battalions of Feldjäger recruited from different regions across the Empire (including 7 Hungarian, 5 Bohemian and 4 Galician battalions) and one Bosnian-Herzegovinian Feldjäger Battalion (Bosnisch-hercegovinisches Feldjägerbataillon). All wore pike grey uniforms faced in green, with a form of bowler hat carrying a distinctive plume of dark green feathers. The exception was the Bosnian-Herzegovinian Feldjäger Battalion which wore the fez. Later, an additional three Feldjäger battalions and seven Bosnian-Herzegovinian Feldjäger Battalions were formed.

Second World War Germany

German Fallschirmjäger (paratroopers) in Normandy June 1944, wearing camouflage smocks

After the First World War, the Jäger units of the Imperial German Army were disbanded, but their traditions were carried by infantry regiments of the 100,000-man Reichswehr of the Weimar Republic. After the Nazis came to power in 1933 and the rearmament of Germany began, the new Wehrmacht revived the name Jäger for various types of units:

  • In 1935, the first specialized mountain infantry units were formed, and their regiments and battalions were designated Gebirgsjäger ("mountain infantry" — Gebirge is German for "mountain range"). More specialized units, such as the Hochgebirgs-Jäger-Bataillone, for use in high-Alpine conditions, were also developed. The Waffen SS also raised a "Karstjäger" Division.
  • When the Luftwaffe began forming parachute units in the late-1930s, the first parachute regiment was designated Fallschirm-Jäger-Regiment 1. German paratroopers became known as Fallschirmjäger (Fallschirm is German for "parachute"). At first, Fallschirmjäger was applied only to genuine airborne-qualified troops, but the term was retained for Fallschirmjäger regiments and divisions even after they began operating as regular infantry. A number of Luftwaffe Feld-Divisionen ("field divisions"), regular ground combat units raised by the Luftwaffe, also used the term Luftwaffen-Jäger-Regiment for their infantry regiments. Many of these were later taken over by the army but retained the name Jäger-Regiment.
  • Two Skijäger regiments were formed in 1943 as part of Skijäger-Brigade (later a Skijäger-Division).
  • Certain infantry divisions were raised as "light infantry divisions" (leichte Infanterie-Divisionen) in late 1940 or were renamed "light divisions" (leichte Divisionen) in late 1941. They were raised to operate in rough terrain, especially in southeastern Europe. Their infantry regiments were called Jäger-Regimenter, and in 1942 the light and light infantry divisions were renamed Jäger divisions.
  • The antitank units of German divisions, originally called Panzer-Abwehr-Abteilungen ("anti-tank battalions"), began in 1940 to be resignated as Panzerjäger-Abteilungen, (literally "tank hunter battalions"). These were equipped with towed or self-propelled guns (often the ad hoc mounting of an antitank gun on a captured or obsolete tank chassis). As the war progressed, some Panzerjäger-Abteilungen were fully equipped with specialized tank destroyers, initially known as Panzerjäger (tank hunters), and later by 1943 as Jagdpanzer ("hunting tank") with fully enclosed, armored casemate superstructures.
  • The military police of the Wehrmacht was known as the Feldgendarmerie. In December 1943, a new force of military police, directly subordinated to the Armed Forces High Command, was formed. Its units were designated Feldjäger-Kommandos with subordinated Feldjäger battalions and regiments. These were known collectively as the Feldjägerkorps. The name was taken from the Reitendes Feldjägerkorps, a Prussian Army military police-type unit directly under the General Staff.

After Second World War


The German Bundeswehr rejected the term Feldgendarmerie and instead kept the term Feldjäger for its military police units. To emphasize the traditional connection with the Prussian Reitendes Feldjägerkorps, rather than the Wehrmacht military police units, the Feldjäger of the Bundeswehr wear a red beret with star badge (the Gardestern) of the Order of the Black Eagle, Prussia's highest chivalric order. The Reitendes Feldjägerkorps had been granted the right to wear the Gardestern in 1847.

In addition, at certain periods, light infantry units of the Bundeswehr were designated as Jäger, and wore a green beret with a beret badge patterned after the Jäger sleeve patch of the Wehrmacht Jäger units. Each battalion of Jäger, Fallschirmjäger and Gebirgsjäger, has a "heavy company" of Wiesel weapon-carriers equipped with 20 mm cannon, TOW launchers or 120 mm mortars.

The modern Jäger-type infantry units are distinguished as follows:

  • Jäger - "Rangers" - light infantry specialized for assault and defense operations in rugged terrain, and urban warfare. Often also used for air-mobile/air-assault operations (heliborne). Wear a green beret with a golden badge displaying oak leafs surrounded by a braided chord.
  • Fallschirmjäger - "Airborne Rangers" - paratroopers, light airborne infantry units. Wear a Bordeaux beret with a badge displaying an attacking eagle.
  • Gebirgsjäger - "Mountain Rangers" - light infantry for highlands, rugged terrain and mountains, with special equipment for winter warfare. Wear no beret but the grey Bergmütze (mountain cap, a type of stiff forage cap) with Edelweiss insignia.
  • The Wachbataillon (Guard battalion at the Ministry of Defence) also contains a Jäger company.

With the latest restructuring of the German Army, only one new air-mobile regiment the Jägerregiment 1 (JgRgt 1) and two battalions, Jägerbataillon 291 (JgBtl 291) and Jägerbataillon 292 (JgBtl 292) (both battalions as part of the German-French brigade) and the Jäger company at the Wachbataillon, of regular Jäger are retained. On the other hand, Fallschirmjäger have become the most important infantry type, due to their versatility and the nature of modern-day peacekeeping missions abroad.
The word "Jäger" is also used for the entrance rank for all of these three infantry branches (the German Army has a number of different entrance ranks by troop type, like Grenadier for mechanized infantrymen, Kanonier for artillerymen, and so forth).


In the Austrian Bundesheer, Jäger is used as the generic term for most infantry soldiers (armored infantrymen are known as Panzergrenadiere, as in the German Bundeswehr). In the Austrian Bundesheer the special forces are called Jagdkommando (lit. Hunting Command).


Jääkäri (Finnish word for "Jäger") is the lowest basic rank (Private) in the infantry of the Finnish Army and in the Uusimaa Brigade (marines) of the Finnish Navy. This is traditional usage resulting from the World War era Jäger Movement. In addition, drivers, medical personnel, military police and mortar squad members may hold the rank of Jaeger. In other units, special ranks such as tykkimies ("Gunner") are the equivalent (see Finnish military ranks). The older rank of sotamies or "private" is no longer used in peace time training units but remains in war-time infantry usage.


Jeger is the general term indicating commando troops, like the infantry jeger, marine jeger and parachute jeger. In addition, the troops patrolling the Russian border are called grensejegere (border rangers).


Swedish "jägare" are troops such as light infantry or commando like troops. The Parachute Rangers are called "fallskärmsjägare" and the marine commandos "kustjägare" (coastal rangers). The cavalry also train airborne rangers (luftburna jägare)


The regiment associated with the Limburg Province is called Limburgse Jagers.[9] The current active troups of this (Infantry) regiment are currently located in Oirschot, locate just outside the province in North Brabant.

See also


  1. From Uniforms of the Electorate of Hesse-Kassel from the years 1835-1843 by H. A. Eckert
  2. Claus Telp (2005). The Evolution Of Operational Art, 1740-1813. Routledge. ISBN 0-7146-5722-0. 
  3. Christopher Duffy, The Military Experience in the Age of Reason (ISBN 1 85326 690 6), page 272
  4. General Martin Ernst von Schlieffen quoted in R. Atwood's "The Hessians" Mercenaries from Hessen-Kassel in the American Revolution", Cambridge 1980
  5. Christopher Duffy, pages 272-273 "The Military Experience in the Age of Reason", ISBN 1 85326 690 6
  6. Philip Haythornthwaite, pages 13-14 "Frederick the Great's Army - Specialist Troops", ISBN 185532 225 0
  7. H. Kinna, page 1 "Jäger & Schtzen - Dress & Distinctions 1910-14", ISBN 0 85242 3"
  8. H. Kinna, page 2 "Jäger & Schtzen - Dress & Distinctions 1910-14", ISBN 0 85242 3"

Further reading

  • Busche, Hartwig (1998) (in German). Formationsgeschichte der deutschen Infanterie im Ersten Weltkrieg 1914–1918. Owschlag: Institut für Preussische Historiographie. 
  • Kinna, H. & Moss, D. A. (1977). Jäger & Schützen: Dress and Distinctions 1910–1914. Watsford: Argus Books. ISBN 0-85242-497-3. 

External links

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