Jäger (German military)

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Uniforms of the Jäger of the Prussian infantry from 1760 to 1846

Jäger[1] is a German military term adopted in 1631 by the landgrave of Hesse when he first formed an elite light infantry unit out of his professional hunters (Jäger) and rangers (Forstleute) in the Hessian Army. Famous Jäger units belonged to the Prussian Army, Saxon Army, Bavarian Army, Württemberg Army and the German Alpine Corps (Deutsches Alpenkorps) as well as to the Austrian Empire (Fenner-Jäger-Korps against Napoleon, k. u. k. Feldjäger and the Kaiser-Jäger-Regimenter).

Leutnant Friedrich Friesen (standing), Carl Theodor Körner (sitting, middle) and law student Heinrich Hartmann, all members of the Lützow Free Corps (Lützowsche Freischar), in an oak forest near Rosenow in the uniform of the Jäger and wearing the Iron Cross Second Class; all three fell in battle () against the French during the German campaign of 1813 (painting from Georg Friedrich Kersting, 1815).


Flag of the Finnish 27th Jäger Battalion (German: Königlich Preussisches Jägerbataillon Nr. 27) during WWI[2]
Sleeve patch of the Wehrmacht Jägertruppe
Beret and sleeve insignia of the Bundeswehr Jägertruppe – oak leaves with a single acorn ("oak strike") bordered by a golden cord.

The earliest known instance of a Jäger company (Feldjäger) 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 18th 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.

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" the Jägers were primarily used for reconnaissance, skirmishing or screening bodies of heavier troops. 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. As self-sufficient men of nature, they could survive alone or in small groups for weeks at a time.

Prussia, Hesse, Austria and a number of the smaller German states of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation (but also Russia based on the German model) raised Jäger corps during the Seven Years' War and thereafter. Initially these "Freikorps" 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 Ottoman Empire.

1740 to WWI

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. 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 (War of Independence). 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 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 (de), and Prussian Jäger played a significant role in the battles of the Waterloo campaign, holding off Grouchy's corps at the Battle of Wavre (de). 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. [...]
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. 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.
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. 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.[3]


The Gebirgsjäger ("mountain infantry")[4], the Fallschirmjäger and the Panzerjäger (tank hunters) of the Wehrmacht became famous as did the flying aces of the Luftwaffe who were also considerd "Jäger". The Brandenburgers also established Jäger regiments as well as Küstenjäger, their seaborne commandos or "coastal raiders".


The Waffen SS raised a "Karstjäger" Division. Other divisions had SS-Panzer-Jäger-Bataillons. Otto Skorzeny led the SS-Jäger-Bataillon 502. The SS-Jäger-Bataillon 502 was formed 17 April 1944 when SS-Sonderverbande z. b. V. Friedenthal was redesignated. It took part in toppling Horthy in Hungary (Unternehmen „Panzerfaust“) and was redesignated SS-Jagdverband Mitte on 10 November 1944.


Jäger, replacing the traditional rank Soldat, is the lowest infantry soldier rank of enlisted men of the modern day´s German Bundeswehr. Other examples are Grenadier for mechanized infantrymen, Kanonier for artillerymen and Schütze for riflemen. 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.

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  1. In English Jäger is often written as jaeger (both pl. and sgl.) or anglicised as jager (pl. jagers) to avoid the a with umlaut (ä).
  2. The Jäger Movement consisted of volunteers from Finland who trained in Germany as Jägers (elite light infantry) during World War I. Supported by Germany to enable the creation of a Finnish sovereign state, the movement was one of many means by which Germany intended to weaken Russia and to cause Russia's loss of its western provinces and dependencies.
  3. Jäger (infantry), military-history.fandom.com (Archive)
  4. More specialized units, such as the Hochgebirgs-Jäger-Bataillone, for use in high-Alpine conditions, were also developed.