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"destroying La Haye Sainte farm (Waterloo) by art. fire " Topic

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Osage201708 Aug 2017 1:39 p.m. PST

The small La Haye Sainte farm in the front of Allied positions at Waterloo was defended by the Germans. Few hundreds paces away from it stood the French Grand Battery.

Why did the French not level the farm to the ground by hitting it with hundreds of cannonballs ? Or why not burn it completely with howitzer fire ?

The French artillery was top quality.
The range was relatively short.
They had plenty of ammo.
So why not ?

It would make much easier to attack the Allied center if the farm was destroyed. Or maybe the farm didn't really matter that much, so it was ignored by the French artillery ?

stoneman1810 Inactive Member08 Aug 2017 2:17 p.m. PST

Good question!? They could at least have shot down the gates.

Northern Monkey08 Aug 2017 2:40 p.m. PST

Because they would be firing little round metal balls at a solid structure which, coincidentally, was not small. It would have taken them all day to damage the building as opposed to firing at men who are more soft and sqwidgy and, as a result, did when hit.

Modern HE shells would work wonders, but not cannon balls of that era.

Artilleryman08 Aug 2017 3:10 p.m. PST

Artillery could have done damage especially when howitzers were included and 12 pdrs thrown in. The 'why not' is just another of those Waterloo quandaries but par for the missed French opportunities that day.

Personal logo Extra Crispy Sponsoring Member of TMP08 Aug 2017 3:13 p.m. PST

As I understand it, in reality Ney was in command, while Napoleon was ill. Ney was a cavalry man. An artillery man might at least have tried for the gates, or howitzers for a few hours…

Brechtel19808 Aug 2017 3:26 p.m. PST

When and where was Napoleon 'ill'? That is from the movie, and I haven't seen anything to support it historically.

Ney was initially a sergeant of Hussars. As a corps commander, he commanded what was largely an infantry formation.

It should also be noted that when Napoleon first saw what Ney had done ordering a cavalry attack on the allied center, he remarked that it was an hour too early.

It should be noted that Hougoumont was set on fire by massed howitzers and was not taken.

When La Haye Sainte was taken, it was by a coordinated assault with infantry led by engineer troops and supported by artillery.

Esquire Supporting Member of TMP08 Aug 2017 3:51 p.m. PST

In a computer war game I've spent hours firing at La Haye instead of British infantry and decided it was a waste of ammunition.

advocate Supporting Member of TMP08 Aug 2017 11:11 p.m. PST

Did massed artillery ever fire to reduce a building complex in that way?

Artilleryman09 Aug 2017 1:10 a.m. PST

The usual effect was fire caused by the howitzer shells and then destruction. In Russia, this effect was so expected in the primarily wooden villages that some were dismantled beforehand to reduce the risk (e.g. at Borodino).

Mike the Analyst09 Aug 2017 1:55 a.m. PST

I recall reading an article suggesting that the grand battery was too close and too high to allow effective fire to be brought onto LHS. I will look this up when I am home in the next couple of days.

Personal logo Swampster Supporting Member of TMP09 Aug 2017 2:57 a.m. PST

Some artillery was used but the masonry is indeed very thick.
The angle of fire for the gate on the road was awkward – the lie of the land was different then and much of the obscuring terrain has been flattened (partly to build the Lion Mound). Guns which were brought up to a better position were then under fire from light troops in the sand pit.
On the other side, the barn gate was already missing, used as fire wood the previous night. The defenders couldn't find a useful way of blocking the gate. What this did mean is that attacks tended to be focused here and the defenders were able to concentrate their resistance. Reportedly, the dead attackers made something of a barricade eventually.
To the south, the orchard made some cover for the buildings, and a slight ridge to the south also offered some protection – though the French also took advantage of this in their approach.
The barn was set on fire (probably by infantry rather than shell) but the defenders had a pond and used their field kettles to carry water to put out the fire.

LORDGHEE09 Aug 2017 7:39 a.m. PST

In the first corp attack La Haye was the anchor. The light infantry screen it as the Divisions marched by. It was just planned to be bypassed. To be reduced later.

this did not go as planned. The Grande assault turned into a skirmish action. Wellington line really became from behind Hougomont to behind La Haye. what became important was the little stand of trees on the east side of La Haye. This hundred yard piece of ground gave view to the center of the British line when the French artillery was able to place guns on it they shot the center to pieces.

So now you need to take it.

The problem you cannot really the walls of the place. From the east where the grand battery started there is a ridge along the road, so no grazing fire.

south toward the French the Orchard is 100yds by 50 the width of La Haye. But is surrounded by a hedge. not a push through type but a Normandy ten foot cattle cannot get through high hedge. Infantry had to scramble over it and artillery had no effect or limited effect on it and the trees hid the south wall from being seen so you are firing blind. from the south west where the grand battery move to the drop to the farm made grazing fire again less effective and you would just collapse the buildings in to anther wall.

Set it on fire, well then that nice spot (where i belive that 6 battery of artillery fire out their ammo into the British center, gets covered in smoke, That's not good.

Bring a gun or tow into the open contested field west of La Haye, close enough that there very effective rifles can shoot down my artillery gunners. nope. farther out where the very effective British artillery can far on my flank at very effective canister range. Nope

Infantry go in.

find online the earyly paintings and maps.

Look at the contours then and now. (modern plowing methods flatten the fields for better yields)

take note that the hedge is a Normandy hedge. it is why it was not defended like the walls.

oh a 6lber could go through 6 feet of brick and t 12 could go through 10 or is that rammed earth? well the walls would not stop artillery and since they are there then artillery was not used on them.


Infantry Officer to artillery office

sir fire on La Haye in support of our attack.

what at the roofs?

Infantry Officer looking over the orchard to La Haye roofs.

well fire at the hedge.

what the one defended by skirmishers that is ten feet thick and high covered in bushes.

right bloody hell

I get a couple of guns to throw some shot your way so your infantry doesn't feel alone.


TMPWargamerabbit09 Aug 2017 7:49 a.m. PST

Two points.

Throughout the H&M era of warfare, artillery shelled and caused battle damage and then fire on individual buildings and up to and including small towns. Look at the major battles, then the smaller actions. If a built up area involved the place was wrecked, burning or both in many recorded instances, especially in period painting of the period battles fought over these areas or structures.

Hof by French or Russian artillery
Eylau by the Russian artillery
Blemheim by the allied artillery
Aspern Esslling had burning and destroyed structures
Borodino village
Villages at Ligny

Now granted a smaller cannon… say under 10 pdr in shot weight causes light damage and flying debris against the defenders. But a 12 pounder round shot will punch through most wall short of a proper fortress position. Round shot of that weight easily travels feet through solid dirt and brick walling. Six or eight cannon 12lb cannon, two shots per minute, for an hour…. the walls have tumbled down or at least breeched in several places. Try picking up a 12 round shot one day, feel the weight. It was considered to be a "wall battering" piece in the early H&M period by field armies capable of moving that heavy cannon barrel weight to the battlefield.

Now why the French nearby artillery wasn't used on the farm of LSH? Question for the ages. Simply could have been nobody ordered the grand battery to toss a few salvos… or maybe the French artillery, great at their trade, feared the jokes about "couldn't hit the broad side of the barn" so never aimed at LHS to avoid the campside joking and puns.

Personal logo Extra Crispy Sponsoring Member of TMP09 Aug 2017 8:51 a.m. PST

Shoot I can't remember the stupid book.

It was about Waterloo and it made the case that Napoleon was suffering from piles or something and really barely in command.

That in reality Ney fought Waterloo, not Boney.

I'll have to look back and see what book it was.

Brechtel19809 Aug 2017 9:50 a.m. PST

I'd surely be interested in it.

CATenWolde Inactive Member09 Aug 2017 12:53 p.m. PST

Believe it or not, there is apparently a book on Napoleon's Hemorrhoids! Here's an interesting link:


Apparently the actual (and severe) affliction was confirmed by Jerome, but the argument is over how much it affected him.

138SquadronRAF Supporting Member of TMP09 Aug 2017 1:29 p.m. PST

Believe it or not, there is apparently a book on Napoleon's Hemorrhoids!

Would you approve of your young sons, young daughters because girls can read as well as boys reading this book? Is it a book that you would have lying around in your own house? Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?

Personal logo Swampster Supporting Member of TMP10 Aug 2017 4:59 a.m. PST

There must have been _some_ artillery fire on the farm as Baring describes getting his men to repair some of the holes caused by the enemy's guns.

Another of the German officers describes French artillery firing on LHS and the surroundings. I think much of the fire was on the neighbouring units – not only would it be more effective against them, but it was to stop them from supporting the defenders of the farm.

Booth's description (from 1817) talks of the walls and roof as being pierced and battered with cannon shot. Another visitor in July 1815 describes how there were not only the three holes made in the walls by the defenders but also 'many a hole had been made for them by the enemy' creating a 'scene of shattered ruin'. This is an exaggeration compared to the fate of Goumont, but a couple of contemporary pictures show damage to the walls on the side of the road as well as some holes in the roof.
They also show how difficult it would be to get good shots on the building – how accurate the artist was is impossible to tell, but he is consistent with showing the marks in the wall as being elongated – perhaps the result of the balls hitting at an angle.

Of the other cited villages destroyed by artillery fire, much of this was by fire caused by howitzers and even this was unpredictable. At Ligny, the village itself was set on fire, though another village remained unfired despite a long bombardment. Additionally, many other villages were far less well built than these farms. This was not always a disadvantage – Austrians at Leipzig in plastered lathe buiidings found the shot tended to pass straight through, only affecting someone directly in the path of the ball, whereas those in buildings with stronger materials were hit by fragments of the wall.

The hedge was not a massive obstacle – Baring mentions that it was not sufficient protection against nearby cuirassiers so he withdrew from it. Other eye-witness descriptions of some other hedges on the battlefield point out their fragmentary nature.

LORDGHEE10 Aug 2017 5:27 a.m. PST

interesting Swampster need to research into the hedges of La Haye more.

A call to Research!!!!

LORDGHEE10 Aug 2017 5:49 a.m. PST

Ha A painting that explains all of it, why from the south you scamper over a hedge, how it is sunken all around, and no cover against Cav.

just put foliage on the trees.


LORDGHEE10 Aug 2017 5:51 a.m. PST

and to the right of the painting you see the stand of trees that allow you to see into the British positions.

Mike the Analyst10 Aug 2017 8:10 a.m. PST

OK, found the article (in French)


The bulk of the article is about the placement of the Grand Battery on the ridge in front of the Belle Alliance ridge which does seem to reflect current thinking.

The authors then turns his thoughts to La Haye Sainte (improved from the basic translation tool output!!)

This does not explain why the Haye-Sainte has been left practically intact during this furious bombardment. This is where the ground once again comes to the rescue. The ridge where the Grand Battery is located is at an altitude of about 125 meters, the orchard of the Haye-Sainte at about 110 meters! This means a drop of 15 meters over a distance of less than 400 meters.

It is impossible for a gun to adopt a firing angle of less than 15 below the horizontal plane. A ball drawn from this angle will probably reach the ground after 300 meters provided the target is at the same level. If it is 15 meters lower, the trajectory lengthens and the ball will touch the ground more than 450 meters. The farm is about 400 meters, the orchard closer still. However, it is impossible to shorten the trajectory further.

The reasoning holds, but in the opposite sense, for howitzers. It is impossible to make them take an angle of fire at more than 45 and in this case the shell will impact at 600 m (for a piece of 6 inches).

From the place where the French cannons are found, all the blows, except by unfortunate chance, will pass over the farm and sink into the clay of the slope of the Ohain road. The Haye-Sainte, however, suffered some damage, but it was rather by chance that it did not constitute at 13.00 hrs a priority objective. No order was given in any case for it to be targeted.

This raises a question in my mind about rules for artillery fire. Is this always based on fire to a target at the same height / elevation? Should we allow extra range for a battery on a hilltop? Should artillery firing at a target on higher ground be subject to a penalty. What is the maximum height difference where artillery can fire at a higher target I am thinking of Bussaco where the French were unable to fire on the British position.

The 1824 Kriegsspiel applies Bad Effect to artillery fire if the ground between the target and firer rises or falls more than 20 degrees. The 1828 amendments takes this down to 15 degrees.

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