Posts Tagged ‘Lange Kerls’

Bizarre Tale of the Potsdam Giants

Monday, January 30th, 2017

The Potsdam Giants (Riesengarde) were the personal batallion of Prussian King Frederick William I (Friedrich Wilhelm I). Officially named “The Grand Grenadiers of Potsdam,” they soon became known as The Potsdam Giants or “The Long Guys” (Lange Kerls) in common parlance. The only requirement for joining was that recruits had to be over six feet tall, an exceptional height at the time. One of the tallest soldiers in the regiment, an Irishman by the name of James Kirkland, was reportedly just less than 7 feet 2 inches. Giants&item_type=topic

Grenadier James Kirkland, serving in the Potsdam Giants, the personal batallion of King Frederick William I.

Grenadier James Kirkland, serving in the Potsdam Giants, the personal batallion of King Frederick William I.


King Frederick William was known as the “soldier king” (Soldatenkoenig) and had a passion for all things military. He ruled from 1713 until his death in 1740 and was succeeded by his son Frederick the Great (Friedrich der Grosse)

King Frederick William’s Potsdam Giants

Frederick William was born in 1688 in Berlin, Germany, and died in 1740. In 1713, he was crowned King of Prussia and spent most of his life expanding Prussia’s army and turning it into the most famous and disciplined army in Europe. Eventually, one in every nine Prussian was a soldier.

Frederick William had a passion for tall men and would go to any length to recruit them into his Prussian infantry regiment no. 6, the Potsdam Giants. He dispatched agents throughout the continent in search of such men and gave special compensation to parents who sent him their tallest sons and to landowners who surrendered their tallest farmhands. Prussian teachers kept an eye out for tall children and promptly handed them over to him. Newborn babies, expected to grow unusually tall, were marked with a bright red scarf to identify them. Frederick William even impressed upon his political allies that they could keep their gifts as long as they provided him with giants for his batallion. He never sent his personal regiment into battle, thereby keeping his Potsdam Giants out of harms way.

If these tall men did not comply voluntarily, he had them kidnapped. There is a story that Frederick William even abducted a preacher in the middle of a sermon. For a time, he tried to stretch these soldiers on a rack to make them even taller than they already were. When it became difficult to entice tall men into the Potsdam Giants, the king initiated a breeding program. When Frederick William was ill or felt depressed, he simply commandeered a few hundred “Long Guys” to march through his bedroom to cheer him up.

Privileges of the Potsdam Giants

Attired in blue uniforms with red contrasts and an 18-inch-high grenadier cap to make them appear even taller, the Potsdam Giants were given excellent accommodations and the best meals the military had to offer. Rates of pay were determined by height. The taller these “Long Guys” were, the more money they earned. Nevertheless, most of the Potsdam Giants were reluctant soldiers and many deserted or attempted suicide.

The end of the Potsdam Giants

When the king died in 1740 the regiment was 3,200-men-strong. However, his successor, Frederick the Great, did not share his father’s obsession and disbanded the Potsdam Giants. He integrated most of the soldiers into other units. In 1806, the regiment was officially dissolved.


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