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Potsdam Giants

Potsdam Giants, Prussian infantry regiment composed of taller-than-average soldiers. Its founder was Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia (1688-1740)

When Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia ascended to the throne in 1713 he proceeded to decrease expenses of the court and strengthen his military. He let Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Dessau improve the drill and weapons of his army and hired 40.000 foreign mercenaries. He believed in harsh discipline.

Potsdam Giants was based on the king’s personal regiment that his father has given him to play with. He had already begun to recruit taller soldiers for it. Official name of the regiment was Grand Grenadiers of Potsdam or Potsdam Grenadiers for short. However, when the amount of tall soldiers increased, the regiment earned its nickname Potsdam Giants. Their uniform was red hat, blue jacket with gold trim, scarlet trousers, white stockings and black shoes. Their weapons were muskets, white bandoleers and daggers.

The original required height was 1.8 meters (5.8 feet) but king took all the tall soldiers he could get. Tallest soldiers were reportedly 2.7 meters (about 9 feet) in height. King - who was 1.5 meters (5.5 feet) himself - needed few hundred more recruits each year. He tried to obtain them by any means. He gave bonuses to fathers of tall sons and landowners who gave up their tallest farm workers to join the regiment. He recruited tall soldiers from the armies of other European countries. Foreign rulers like Emperor of Austria, Russian Tsar Peter the Great and even Sultan of Turkey sent tall soldiers to him to get him to their side.

If the man concerned was not interested, king resorted to forced recruitment and kidnapping – his agents kidnapped tall priests, monks, innkeepers, what have you, from all over the Europe. Once they even tried to abduct an Austrian diplomat. He even forced tall women to marry tall soldiers so they could breed more tall boys. If some regiment commander failed to inform the King of a potential tall recruit under his own command, he faced royal displeasure.

Pay was high but not all giants were content, especially if they were forcibly recruited. They attempted desertion or suicide. King’s idea to stretch his troopers to make them taller was met with open rebellion.

King never risked his tall toys in battle. He trained and drilled them every day. He liked to paint their portraits from memory. He tried to show them to foreign visitors and dignitaries to impress them. He tried to cheer himself up by ordering them to march before him – even if he was in sickbed.

When the king died 1740, crown prince Frederick – future Frederick the Great – did not share his sentiments about tall, inexperienced and showy soldiers that seemed lots of unnecessary expense. He dismissed the regiment. Forcibly recruited foreigners returned to their home countries after a long service.