Blog powered by Typepad

« 'MDA' stomps her 6" stilettoes into the rotting memory of the Kennedys | Main | Your Monday Funny: 5.8.13 »

Sunday, 04 August 2013


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

"Some of our men enlist from having got bastard children — some for minor offences — many more for drink;"

And that's just the infantry. Gentlemen all, compared to what the paras had to cope with in later years...

Well, as I told 'SoD' concerning the bastardy slur, he has no need to worry because the 'Memsahib' and I were married just in time!

So David the Duke raised you to Corporal the backbone of the British Army. I note the Spanish are looking for a fight over Gib. They will lose as usual.

Bloody hell, Jimmy, I'm not that old - I just feel it occasionally! The Gib squabble has all the look and feel of a Spanish government desperately seeking something with which to distract their austerity-worn people. Let's hope they don't go too far!

Every grand tactical move the French under Napoleon made at Waterloo was a mistake: -

(1) Waiting until 1pm to start the bombardment (gave the Prussians more time to arrive and play a part).
(2) Allowing the distraction of Hougoument to escalate and absorb their left (wasted resources that could have combined with the cavalry in (4) below).
(3) Attacking with d'Erlon's Corps' divisions in columns of lines rather than lines of columns (ridden down because they couldn't form square when charged by the Union brigade, the lines not having the space between to fold around into square - inexcusable, Napoleon saw what happened to the Austrian column of lines when Kellerman rode it down and saved his butt at Marengo).
(4) Charging massed cavalry against formed squares without infantry and artillery support (just plain unprofessional).
(5) Leaving the second rank of four Imperial guard battalions 500 yards behind the front rank of five in the final assault on the ridge (no support when the front five faltered; Napoleon could still have won it even at this late stage if four fresh battalions had threaded the gaps between the front five - would our boys on the ridge have stood on seeing this?).

You could say the French army under Napoleon made more grand tactical mistakes at Waterloo than the entire rest of the Napoleonic wars put together. What an extraordinary battle and piece of history. I never tire of it, as you can probably tell.

xox SoD

I know that Wellington feared being outflanked round his right: I take it that Napoleon didn't want to try that since it would just shift Wellington towards Blucher - presumably he didn't realise that Wellington's ragbag army, much of it inexperienced and scarcely trained, probably could not have manoeuvred successfully if outflanked.

Surely an Allied, rather than a British victory. Let's not completely forget the contribution of the Prussians and the Dutch.

And one other thing you forgot to mention, Lawrence, was his missing corps which spent the day wandering the countryside in search of Blucher and his Prussians - exactly the same mistake he made at Quatre Bras and Ligny where an entire corps marched to the east then to the west and never fired a shot in anger! This was not the man who won Austerlitz!

DM, his original strategic decision to attack northwards into Belgium at the exact hinge-point between the British/Allied army and the Prussian army before various Russian and Austrian armies reached France was textbook stuff. Having whacked the Prussians at Ligny (but crucially, failing to destroy them!) he was very late to realise that instead of them going east back towards their bases they had gone north parallel with Wellington - good old Blucher, totally bonkers but a stout man of honour! However, for a crucial few hours he had the Brits and their allies on their own but, for the reasons very well elucidated by Lawrence he failed to destroy them, too, and the Prussians at last arrived on HIS right flank like nemesis.

Now look here, Richard, we can't have all these Euro-friendly attitudes, dammit! Yes, of course, there were Dutch, Belgium and German troops in Wellington's army, in fact all together they outnumbered the Brits, but how long would they have stood around if the Brits had not been there to act as a backbone. Remember, most of the Belgians had been fighting FOR Bonaparte until fairly recently.

I visited Waterloo many years ago. I spent an enjoyable hour or so going round the French museum, a couple of miles south of Waterloo. Anyone visiting it must surely come away with the feeling that Napoleon won! So I hope that the refurbished Hougoumont is long on brave British soldiers and ineffective French ones. Lots of Union Jacks......

Those people who are so keen to allocate credit for the Allied victory to the non-British parts of Wellington's army and the Germans, should explain how things would have gone if the British hadn't been there? Would the Germans have rallied to a bunch of cloggies and bloggies?

"cloggies and bloggies?" - love it!

An example of when, sometimes, size matters.


See 'ADDITIONAL' above.

Er... David, don't get me wrong, I know how wobbly some of our Waterloo allies actually were and what a prize plonker the Duke of Orange (aka the Young Frog)was with his penchant for forming line in the face of cavalry, but without the numbers that the Prussians and Dutch contributed, Wellington simply would not have been able to make his stand. Granted, the British were the backbone of that army and Wellington was undisputedly "man of the match" but that doesn't change the fact that Waterloo was a combined effort - an Allied victory.

No, I wouldn't deny that it was an allied victory. The German (not Prussian!) elements in Wellington's army fought very well but the Belgians in particular were very wobbly.

I began by disagreeing with the Duke that one particular element was more important than any other because obviously there are so many ifs, buts and maybes in a battle, the absence or presence of which will have important unforeseen results. For example - the weather! In a week in which we managed to retain the Ashes because it rained in Manchester (no surprise there!) it is worth remembering that the colossal rainstorm the night before forced Bonaparte, as Lawrence reminds us above, to delay his start in the hope that drier ground would make his artillery more effective. If he had been able to start four hours earlier . . . ?

Well, of course we all know that the Frogs lost because Noleon had Piles!

Yes, indeed, BOE, made him very, er, fidgety!

I've war-gamed Waterloo probably a double figures number of times, and the "Allies" have never won. The only way to derive a balanced game - a "close run thing", as it were, and was - without reducing the forces on the French side, is to force the French to make those 5 mistakes by special scenario rules.

This is because every Wargamer taking the part of the Napoleon addresses the mistakes by doing the following, in the same order of mistakes as above: -

(1) Starting at dawn, not 1:30pm, and not bothering with a bombardment. Irrespective of the weather and the soft ground, the Brits are on the reverse slope of the ridge, and therefore impervious to the worst of the round shot. (With the exception of some of the prize plonker's Nassauers, if I remember rightly, who were on the forward slope of the ridge and hung around for half an hour after the French grand battery opened up before legging it - those that had legs left to leg it with - which is about half an hour longer than I would have hung around for!). This Brit reverse slope tactic was well known as it had been the bane of the French in the Peninsular. (It was used by the Jerries on the Eastern front to equally great effect, wiping out blundering Soviet assaults at 5, or even 10, to 1 odds against the Jerries). Napoleon knew this tactic rendered artillery and skirmishers next to useless, he had been told by his generals from the Peninsular. Was he too arrogant to listen? The generals certainly headed the advice of their own experience, because, in a beautiful twist, it tee-ed them up for a fall in the "column of lines" mistake – see number (3) below.

(2) Bi-passes Hougoumont (and le Haie Saint) and masks them with a Regiment of cavalry and a battery of horse guns only. There were no cavalry in Hougoumont or le Haie Saint. So how are infantry unsupported by cavalry going to sally forth from the walled enclosures and do any harm when a hoof print on the forehead and a whiff of grape shot from a 4 pounder is all that awaits? The entire French army could have marched passed Hougoument or le Haie Saint with barely a casualty using such a tiny screening force. In fact, they virtually did: d'Erlon's Corps passed le Haie Saint (to its near destruction by the Brit heavy cavalry, see (3) below) and the Imperial Guard passed Hougoumont (but too late in the day), both with few casualties. Wargamers know Napoleon's mistake in allowing these farms to delay and absorb forces; he should have known too.

(3) and (4) Sends d'Erlon's Corps up to the top of the ridge in "line of columns", not "column of lines", dragging the grand battery with it and with marshal Ney's cavalry in close support. The Brit Household and Union brigade's won't ride this down because it can form square at the drop of a hat. And if you thought the Polish Lancers made a pin cushion of poor Ponsonby, you ain't seen nothing like what would have happened if they'd tried to assail squares with Ney’s entire cavalry reserve in close support. So why did the French come on in "column of lines" that couldn't form square? Well apparently because in the Peninsular they'd never fared well rounding the Brit's ridgeline crest in columns; the Brits firepower and bayonet charge always got 'em before they could form line, return fire and receive. But one thing they never had much trouble with in the Peninsular was Wellington's cavalry. Wellington didn't have much of it, and what he did have he deeply mistrusted because they always went out of control. So the French general's logic was "let's go up the hill in columns of lines; we can use our line firepower straight away without a formation change from the front battalions, and we'll have no trouble with cavalry because the Brits don't use it, and we can fan out later after we've got a foot hold". Unfortunately for them, Wellington might have been reticent to let slip the cavalry nutters, but Uxbridge wasn't - so Uxbridge gave the order to Somerset and Ponsonby's heavies to charge! Hoof prints on French foreheads all round! No matter we lost the two heavy Brigades for the remainder of the battle - nutter is, as nutter does - as a war-gamer I'd trade two Brigades of Brit heavies for a Corps of top notch grognards anytime.

(5) There is no (5)! By this time, the Brits are on their way to Calais, the Cloggies and Bloggies have changed sides, and Blucher is nowhere to be seen. The Imperial Guard does what it always did – stands around and looks good! Napoleon then turns towards the Prussians, links up with Grouchy (the French corps that was meandering around thinking it was pursuing the Prussians) and gives the Prussians a good kicking, into the bargain.

That’s not a one off. It happens every time you game Waterloo. Even if the French make 4 out of 5 of those grand tactical mistakes, they still win. Wellington didn’t call it a “close run thing” for no good reason.

I firmly believe Wellington was expecting to lose the battle of Waterloo. He wasn’t daft enough to hope Napoleon would make the 5 grand tactical mistakes required for a “Close run thing” – literally a mistake in every grand tactical manoeuvre attempted by the French on the day. His only hope was that the Prussians would arrive much earlier than they did – and that the third of his army he left guarding his retreat route to Calais would be sufficient to prevent Napoleons hot pursuit.


An excellent summary, Lawrence - thanks!

The comments to this entry are closed.