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Korvessa25 Dec 2019 6:42 p.m. PST

With all the talk on Waterloo lately, I thought it was high time everyone heard my opinion. I'm just a guy who studied a little history in college (a long time ago) but more importantly loves to read military history – so all should acknowledge my superior opinion (just kidding of course).
1. Napoleon was the best general that France ever produced but was past his prime in 1815.
2. Wellington was one of the two best generals Britain ever produced (the other being Marlborough), and even though the same age as Napoleon, was still in his prime.
3. Napoleon's strategic plan was very good, and probably as good as it could be given the circumstances.
4. The allies got lucky at Ligny when Blucher was unhorsed. He was able to escape. Had he been captured, who knows if the Prussians go to the aid of their Allies?
5. Wellington was ably served by Blucher and his subordinates (Hill, Uxbridge & Picton to name a few).
6. Napoleon was let down by his (Jerome, Ney & Grouchey to name a few).
7. Soult probably made more staff mistakes in this one campaign than Berthier made in his entire career.
8. The Armee du Nord of 1815 was not the Grand Army of 1807. I think the latter wins this battle. I can see Marshals Lannes & Augereau chasing the Prussians and not letting them get away. Davout, Soult & Murat would not have bungled Waterloo like Ney did.
9. Of course Bernadotte would have managed to miss both battles.
10. Even if Napoleon did win at Waterloo, he still would have lost the war as a gazillion Russians and Austrians were on the way.

Mike Petro25 Dec 2019 7:35 p.m. PST

Ok.

dibble25 Dec 2019 9:08 p.m. PST

just two examples from your list:

"The allies got lucky at Ligny when Blucher was unhorsed. He was able to escape. Had he been captured, who knows if the Prussians go to the aid of their Allies?"

But he wasn't.

"The Armee du Nord of 1815 was not the Grand Army of 1807"

And neither was Wellington's army the Army of 1813.

'Whatiffs' are a bad argument.

Always chase the facts and real history. Not hearsay, myths, conspiracy and yes, 'whatiffs'

4DJones26 Dec 2019 3:01 a.m. PST

Opinions.

Gazzola26 Dec 2019 6:23 a.m. PST

Korvessa

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. History is what it is and it can't be changed.

Like most battles, you either win or lose. Napoleon lost this one due to a variety of events.

Yes, if Grouchy had managed to find the Prussians and stopped them marching to Wellington's aid, then yes, Napoleon may well have won. It is not definite that he would have won, had that happened, but it was certainly a good possibility.

Napoleon had a good plan, which was a gamble. The first part of his gamble worked. He got between the two allied armies, beat one and kept the other from helping the Prussians.

Second part of his gamble failed. Grouchy failed to stop the defeated Prussians marching to Wellington's rescue. Why he failed to do so will be a matter of endless debate. But that's life, That's what happened. That's history. In history, people often fail the tasks given and depending on if they are allies or enemies, that failure will be considered a good or bad thing. But it happens.

Had Napoleon kept Grouchy close or employed different commanders, things may have turned out differently. Then again, they may not. We'll never know. It just wasn't his day.

And had he won at Waterloo, who knows what may have happened. Yes, the Russians and Austrians may have combined to finally defeat him. Then again, considering the allies at the Congress of Vienna had been making secret treaties with each other to supply troops against their 'fellow allies', who knows what effect Wellington and Blucher being defeated may have had?

A great book to read is Adam Zamoyski's Rites of Peace. You find there how 'united' the allies were.

It is fun sometimes looking at whatifs, but they won't change history. Waterloo is what it is, Napoleon's last battle. And what a battle it was.

Of course the whole blame for the loss can be placed on the dozy French cavalry that failed to spot Blucher and capture him. LOL

Personal logo Artilleryman Supporting Member of TMP26 Dec 2019 8:18 a.m. PST

I enjoy counter factual history and I think Korvessa's points are logical and a reasonable view. You might think 'whatif's are pointless, but if you approach it with an easy frame of mind, they can be fun. After all, a lot of wargames are 'whatifs'.

Korvessa26 Dec 2019 9:44 a.m. PST

Artilleryman

Exactly what I was going for.

Personal logo Unlucky General Supporting Member of TMP26 Dec 2019 10:56 a.m. PST

The physical characteristics of the individuals aside, Wellesley and Bonaparte make a poor comparison even if it's natural to do so. One was an aristocratic general and the other ran an empire – two very different levels or burden. Given the psychological loads on both men over several years it's little wonder to me that one was maintaining his prime and the other had begun to perform inconsistently in the field by 1812.

Whirlwind26 Dec 2019 12:54 p.m. PST

Given the psychological loads on both men over several years it's little wonder to me that one was maintaining his prime and the other had begun to perform inconsistently in the field by 1812.

It is quite hard to sustain the idea that Napoleon was no longer in his prime as a general. What evidence is being offered? His performance on the battlefield at Ligny? at Brienne or Champaubert? His campaign conception in 1815? His campaign of 1814? His administrative performance in the winter of 1812/13?

Actually Napoleon had had a lot more time off than Wellington had had, more or less three years between the end of the Wagram campaign and the beginning of the Russian campaign.

He was defeated for boring reasons like his enemies got better, and there were a lot more of them, than in his "glory years".

newarch26 Dec 2019 1:12 p.m. PST

Korvessa is absolutely justified in picking out a few key moments in the narrative of Waterloo. Probably the main reason the battle is so iconic is that it was such a close run thing, there are so many key moments when the French could have and nearly did achieve victory. It is like a dramatic performance or a big budget film.

42flanker26 Dec 2019 2:33 p.m. PST

'Wellesley and Bonaparte make a poor comparison'

- other than because they were the opposing commanders in the battle under discussion?

The reasons for their comparitive states of health, acuity and drive are not really relevant; impact on their respective performances, more so.

42flanker26 Dec 2019 2:34 p.m. PST

"It is like a dramatic performance or a big budget film."

Yes! Somebody should- Oh. Wait…

nsolomon9926 Dec 2019 4:15 p.m. PST

Lots of interesting points raised already in this thread.

I'd like to make the observation that this is a Site about Miniature Wargaming and therefore I think its pretty sound to establish that the bulk of this miniature wargaming community are, frankly, absolutely fascinated with the "what ifs" of military history.

Its exactly why most of us wargame. Few of us are spending the time and money on painted miniatures, scenery and rules sets simply to reproduce exactly what actually happened on the day. We can read that.

Therefore, on this site and to this audience, to dismiss a series of "what if" suggestions as being of no interest is to suggest you're on the wrong site and you should really spend your time on one of the excellent Military History sites where what actually happened on the day of battle is minutely analysed.

PS. And for what its worth Korvessa I'm largely in agreement with most of your points.

Furthermore, over the last 40 years, with many different excellent rules sets I have re-fought the 1815 battles many, many, many times and never once have the allies come even close to reproducing the lucky/unlucky events of those fateful few days. The Prussians are almost always more heavily beaten at Ligny. Rarely does Grouchy vary from his orders and is usually far more effective. Typically Wellington loses even more men plus the cross roads at Quatre Bras and the Anglo-Allied force is usually smashed and driven off the ridge before more than a few Prussian battalions make it to the battlefield at Waterloo.

When USED PROPERLY the quality of the French artillery, their overwhelming quantity of well trained and commanded cavalry able to manoeuvre in divisional strength and the quality of the French Imperial Guard prove to be an insurmountable challenge to the allies.

I'm actually re-fighting the campaign and its actions again right now this Christmas with my 15 year old son in an effort to convert him from Warhammer 40K!! :)

Merry Christmas to all.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP26 Dec 2019 5:10 p.m. PST

I have re-fought the 1815 battles many, many, many times and never once have the allies come even close to reproducing the lucky/unlucky events of those fateful few days.

Well, no. That's because, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, the French know exactly what to do, what not to do, and what forces the Allies command. So I would guess in most refights they do grab Quatre Bras and, if the Prussians are dumb enough to fight at Ligny, they defeat them there good and proper and don't allow them to escape.

The campaign is too well known to support realistic refighting. The French are getting their 100th attempt at not losing with every refight.

I've never gamed it but if I did I'd vary the OOB and the politics of both sides so that any assumptions based on history would prove misplaced. Thus Wellington might have one division of heavy cavalry or he might have four; all his British might be Peninsular veterans; the allies might form a single army commanded by Wellington; who knows?

It's a bit like that movie Memento, about a guy who has short term memory loss. To give you his experience, the film is shot backwards, so the last scene is first. That way, you can't remember what's happened any better than he can.

In the same way the only way to simulate Waterloo accurately is to change the forces, the objectives, the politics and the loyalties. You don't end up with the 100 days, but knowing what you already do, you don't end up with the 100 days if you follow the historic forces and dispositions either.

nsolomon9926 Dec 2019 6:31 p.m. PST

Or play with campaign rules and tactical rules that have some sophistication …. which I do … not my first rodeo … :)

42flanker27 Dec 2019 2:25 a.m. PST

'What if' will always tend to be balanced by 'And yet…'

Lapsang27 Dec 2019 4:12 a.m. PST

"Well, no. That's because, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, the French know exactly what to do, what not to do, and what forces the Allies command. So I would guess in most refights they do grab Quatre Bras and, if the Prussians are dumb enough to fight at Ligny, they defeat them there good and proper and don't allow them to escape."

Perhaps, 4th Cuirassier, the 20-20 hindsight could work both ways: Wellington could have the 17,000 reinforcements from Hal in his battle line at 11.00am on June 18th…it's only fair.

David Brown Supporting Member of TMP27 Dec 2019 4:52 a.m. PST

K,

Napoleon was not let down by either Jerome or Ney.

They carried out their orders exactly to plan and post D'Erlon's attack continued to fight well under the circumstances.

As has been said already it's easy to "blame" wing commanders with hindsight.

The classic piece of 20/20 hindsight nonsense being that Ney should not have headed straight for the British Guard position when leading Imperial Guard attack.

I've no idea why wargamers, etc, still think that this was Ney's error – do they think Ney had a detailed battle plan of Wellington's exact brigade dispositions as of 6pm?

DB

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP27 Dec 2019 5:08 a.m. PST

1. Napoleon was the best general that France ever produced but was past his prime in 1815.

Some competent students and historians of the period believe that to be true. Whatever the case it should be remembered that Ligny was one of Napoleon's best fought battles, inflicting casualties of three to one on the Prussians.

2. Wellington was one of the two best generals Britain ever produced (the other being Marlborough), and even though the same age as Napoleon, was still in his prime.

It should also be remembered that without the Prussians, Wellington would have lost at Waterloo.

3. Napoleon's strategic plan was very good, and probably as good as it could be given the circumstances.

The plan was excellent and caught the allies by surprise.

4. The allies got lucky at Ligny when Blucher was unhorsed. He was able to escape. Had he been captured, who knows if the Prussians go to the aid of their Allies?

Losing Blucher would undoubtedly taken the heart out of the Prussian army. Gneisenau was not a commander and was neither liked nor respected by the Prussian corps commanders.

5. Wellington was ably served by Blucher and his subordinates (Hill, Uxbridge & Picton to name a few).

Blucher did not 'serve' Wellington as he was an ally. He worked with Wellington and cooperated, even though Gneisenau did not trust Wellington.

6. Napoleon was let down by his (Jerome, Ney & Grouchey to name a few).

Napoleon later commented that no one, including himself, did their duty at Waterloo.

7. Soult probably made more staff mistakes in this one campaign than Berthier made in his entire career.

Soult was a lazy chief of staff and his staff organization for the campaign was not the old imperial staff organization under Berthier. Further, Soult was widely disliked in the army.

8. The Armee du Nord of 1815 was not the Grand Army of 1807. I think the latter wins this battle. I can see Marshals Lannes & Augereau chasing the Prussians and not letting them get away. Davout, Soult & Murat would not have bungled Waterloo like Ney did.

Nord was one of the best armies Napoleon ever commanded and was composed largely of veterans.

9. Of course Bernadotte would have managed to miss both battles.

Enough said.

10. Even if Napoleon did win at Waterloo, he still would have lost the war as a gazillion Russians and Austrians were on the way.

That is an assumption that may or may not have occurred.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP27 Dec 2019 6:09 a.m. PST

They carried out their orders exactly to plan and post D'Erlon's attack continued to fight well under the circumstances.

What orders did Napoleon give to Ney to launch the cavalry attacks? Ney did that on his own and Napoleon remarked that it was an hour too early.

Jerome got involved in a struggle for Hougoumont that Napoleon did not want done. He wanted the farm masked and not to involve the troops that it did. That took away from the main effort.

Gazzola27 Dec 2019 6:44 a.m. PST

Battles are like football games. The manager picks the team. The players either do what is expected of them or they don't. The manager can't predict that their players won't score or defend as well as they may have done in previous games or that they may do something unexpected likes getting sent off, causing a penalty, and just not playing well. And there is not the luxury of substitutes in war. Every battle is a gamble. Some you win, some you don't.

I was not knocking whatifs, I was merely pointing out that they won't change history. And I'm guessing that most players have debated after a game that if only they had have done this or not done that (or thrown a better dice). In wargames we have a better viewpoint of the battlefield and forces involved than in real life and when recreating an historical battle we already know the real result which will affect what a player does or does not do.

Fun as they be, whatifs create arguments and debates that can never be proven either way.

David Brown Supporting Member of TMP27 Dec 2019 9:22 a.m. PST

Kevin,

I would simply add two points:

a) Ney launched the cavalry attacks because he was battlefield commander and to do so was the correct course of action at the time. No other realistic or feasible option was immediately available to Ney.

b) I believe that Napoleon was actually present at Waterloo and if he had wished to clarify instructions to either Ney or Jerome he could have done so – as both engagements – cavalry and Hougomount were carried out over several hours.

It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Napoleon, as commander-in-chief on the battlefield could have actually sent revised/reminder orders to both commanders, just as Wellington was doing. Napoleon chose not to – therefore at the time Napoleon must have been reasonably content with the progress of the battle or he exercised poor command and control in this engagement.

DB

Handlebarbleep27 Dec 2019 11:43 a.m. PST

Brechtel 198
"Nord was one of the best armies Napoleon ever commanded and was composed largely of veterans"

Oft repeated, almost to the point of myth status, but does this really bear detailed analysis?

In reverse order: The losses of 1812 means that "veteran" is often 1813 at best. It's average age was just 25. Much of their military experience included as a PoW. Even within the Guard, it was not as experienced as might be imagined. It's reconstitution having occurred in a relatively short period and built upon a very small Elba cadre, many compromises were required to bring them up to what was approaching full strength.

When it comes to 'Best', well, there are many criteria. It certainly outgunned their opposition, but in comparison to other of Napoleon's armies can be thought of as weak in cavalry. Many would regard it as being deficient in HQ and staff work.

It was also suffering from the hangover of 1814. There was a mistrust between the rank and file and their officers. Whole units were suspect (ie the Carabineers), as well as Generals with known royalist sympathies. Defections show that these suspicions may have been well founded. Certainly the disintegration and rout from the field at Waterloo would indicate a certain fragility in unit cohesion?

Veteran is an ill defined term, best is pure opinion. However, beauty is in the eye of the reader.

Formidable? Certainly. Good? Possibly. Good enough? Er, not really. One of the best? Pushing it a bit I think.

shadoe0127 Dec 2019 12:19 p.m. PST

Hi Korvessa,

Some responses to your points:

6. Napoleon was let down by his (Jerome, Ney & Grouchy to name a few).

Ney's primary objective on the 16th June (Quatre Bras) was to prevent Wellington from joining Blucher. This was achieved. His secondary objective was to achieve his primary objective with the minimum for so as to bring a sizeable number of troops onto the right flank or right rear of Blucher's army. This was nearly achieved except for Ney's countermanding order which indicates he completely forgot his mission – confusing the cross-roads, at best a tactical objective, with a strategic objective.

The intervention of D'Erlon at Ligny is widely recognized as campaign winning, but what would Wellington have done if the Prussian army had been knocked out? Evacuate? Retreat behind the numerous fortresses in the Netherlands? Certainly not defend at Mont St.Jean. Hard to say what either course would have been chosen as politics would be the deciding factor.

8. The Armee du Nord of 1815 was not the Grand Army of 1807. I think the latter wins this battle. I can see Marshals Lannes & Augereau chasing the Prussians and not letting them get away. Davout, Soult & Murat would not have bungled Waterloo like Ney did.

Only in terms of the officer corps and especially the senior officer corps but the rank and file in 1815 was very good. One only has to consider the percentage of killed and wounded (i.e., excluding prisoners) at Waterloo (about a third of the army) as an indication of the army's fighting ability. Very few armies can suffer that degree of losses and retain an offensive ability to nearly the very end of the battle. Don't forget in addition to the prisoners taken earlier in the battle there would be substantial numbers of troops temporarily 'missing' from their units. The 'fragility' of l'Armee du Nord is greatly overestimated.

Looking at the terrain of Waterloo and Ligny where villages and strongpoints dominate, it's clear that whatever the advantages of the French army it lacked infantry. Overall in the campaign it was outnumbered by the two Coalition armies by 2:1 in infantry and 1.5:1 in cavalry and artillery. However good the French might manage their combined arms they still needed lots of infantry to dig their enemies out of those villages and strongpoints. They just didn't have quite enough infantry.

42flanker27 Dec 2019 12:35 p.m. PST

"It should also be remembered that without the Prussians, Wellington would have lost at Waterloo"

And without the Americans the British and Canadians would not have successfully invaded Normandy in 1944. What is the point being made here?

Without the Prussians, Wellington would not have taken a stand at Waterloo. The arrival of the Prussian troops on the left was not a random lucky chance that pulled his chestnuts from the fire, nor the result of a frantic plea for help from Wellington after finding he'd bitten off more than he could chew.

Welington's task was to hold the ridge and fix the French in position until the Prussians joined on the flank as planned. It was close run and achieved at considerable cost but through force of character and considerable personal courage, Wellington- 'in his prime' held his battered force together, Blucher came through, and the Allies defeated the French.

Handlebarbleep27 Dec 2019 2:07 p.m. PST

Shadoe01

"The 'fragility' of l'Armee du Nord is greatly overestimated"

I would refer you to Paul L Dawson's careful analysis of the returns and PoW data for 1815 in his "Waterloo: The Truth at last". Most of the data points to a reversal of the popular 'dying and not surrendering' and not just in the line either.

If we allow approximately 2,000 prisoners across D'Erlon's Corps early in the action and a total of 10,019 prisoners of war in the allies hands, we can see the majority were rounded up (almost wholesale if the figures across certain sub-units are to be believed) as a result of the final panic.

The data sets are not perfect, so are not 100% conclusive.
However, they throw some serious doubt on the myth and romanticism that has been used to salve what was really a shattering defeat.

shadoe0127 Dec 2019 2:35 p.m. PST

"Most of the data points to a reversal of the popular 'dying and not surrendering' and not just in the line either."

I wasn't suggesting that, Handlebarbleep. Nor was I suggesting that the French army didn't disintegrate. That's obvious. However, all armies no matter how well trained and experienced or high their morale have a breaking point. 'Fragility' implies that they do so after a relatively low % of casualties (killed & wounded). Better armies do so after substantial % of casualties (killed & wounded). A % of 30-35% before disintegration indicates a hard-fighting army.

Note that % consideration is at the army level. Clearly individual units could take very high % and still remain combat effective.

In my view only the later Peninsular army of Wellington had that staying power.

And, yes, the allies took substantial prisoners at the end of the day.

None of that takes away from the achievements of the Anglo-Allied and Prussian armies. Here again, one might note that the Anglo-Allied army suffered 20-25% casualties. A tough fight.

Handlebarbleep27 Dec 2019 3:57 p.m. PST

shadoe01

Individual units broke with far fewer percentage 'casualties'. I view fragility as relating to unit cohesion, so at a unit level. Overall army figures are therefore relatively uninformative.

Functionally, ran away, killed or wounded is effectively the same. They are still not there doing the job. In some respects running away is worse for unit cohesion than being killed, as it sets a bad example. 'Save qui peut' being a case in point.

Paul L Dawson comes to the conclusion that the Armee du Nord reported dead and wounded of 5,140 with perhaps approximately 4,000 subsequent mortally wounded (perhaps half dying in St Elizabeth Hospital and the rest in transport/in England). That leaves 8,000 prisoners reaching Ostend alive to later return. Some of those recovered in hospitals in Belgium appear to have been discharged home rather than into captivity.

His analysis puts the 'face to face' sanguinity between the armies of Wellington and Napoleon as broadly similar. The overall percentages you are quoting are based on some arbitrary assumptions that historians have made, based on those who escaped south and then rallied again to the cause.

Even if we take your figures at face value, I would contend that rather than soaking up the punishment and then breaking, the French largely broke then got punished for it. The same figures support either conclusion.

My point is that there is a big enough hole in the figures that rather than overestimation of fragility the resilience myth may be just that.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP27 Dec 2019 6:21 p.m. PST

Just a quick reminder of the often-forgotten point that without Wellington on both the 16th and 18th June, the Prussians would have been defeated.

von Winterfeldt28 Dec 2019 12:52 a.m. PST

It is terrible to see that people have difficulties to acknowledge that it was an Allied victory and both commanders in chief, Wellington and Blücher were well aware of that – and they even put their own army at risk in case the support of the other one wasn't that safe – in case this would generate a chance to beat Boney.
For me this was a superb achievement and the Allied out generald Boney superbly.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP28 Dec 2019 4:30 a.m. PST

a) Ney launched the cavalry attacks because he was battlefield commander and to do so was the correct course of action at the time. No other realistic or feasible option was immediately available to Ney.
b) I believe that Napoleon was actually present at Waterloo and if he had wished to clarify instructions to either Ney or Jerome he could have done so – as both engagements – cavalry and Hougomount were carried out over several hours.
It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Napoleon, as commander-in-chief on the battlefield could have actually sent revised/reminder orders to both commanders, just as Wellington was doing. Napoleon chose not to – therefore at the time Napoleon must have been reasonably content with the progress of the battle or he exercised poor command and control in this engagement.

The evidence does not point to the above.

The Cavalry Reserve did not have its commander present. Grouchy was assigned an independent mission and was gone. If he had been there, I doubt that he would have obeyed Ney's unfortunate order. And some of the cavalry units attacked because others were doing the same. De Brack has some very useful information on the subject.

Napoleon gave orders to other cavalry units after he witnessed what Ney had done. He didn't see the beginnings of the charge because of the lay of the land. When he did see it, it was too late to stop it and he ordered that it be supported.

Who ever suggested that Napoleon was not present at Waterloo?

Regarding Hougoumont, Napoleon did not want it as an objective, only that it be masked. Unfortunately, Jerome bungled the mission and involved his entire division and one brigade of Foy's division in the fighting there. Reille, the corps commander had been ordered to merely mask the chateau, not to take it.

Ney had command of Reille and d'Erlon, but not the cavalry nor the Guard or Lobau. The idea that Ney was the battlefield commander of Nord in incorrect.

Again, the cavalry were launched, according to Napoleon, an hour too early. Ney was a poor choice and his best days were behind him. He has been characterized as being out of his depth if he commanded more than 10,000 men. He proved that at Bautzen in 1813 (where he was poorly served by his chief of staff, Jomini), at Quatre Bras, and at Waterloo.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP28 Dec 2019 4:32 a.m. PST

Oft repeated, almost to the point of myth status, but does this really bear detailed analysis?

What is usually forgotten is that the troops that served in Spain and eventually withdrawn were also veterans. Further, the prisoners that were returned in 1814 from various places were also veterans. So, not only were the veterans from 1813-1814 available, so were the others which makes Nord a largely veteran outfit.

And that was definitely proven when they badly defeated Blucher at Ligny.

Handlebarbleep28 Dec 2019 5:31 a.m. PST

Brechtel198

My point was "does this really bear detailed analysis?"

The average age was 25, and Paul L Dawson's analysis shows the average years of experience was 3 years two months for cavalry and 2 years 3 months for infantry. Outside of the Guard and some select units (51%) he provides typical units containing between 78% and 94% that had joined recently or since 1813.

Even then, it should be remembered that 1813 and 14 allowed very little time for training, and for some of them a substantial amount of their time served was as PoWs. If you still want to regard them as 'Veterans' it should be remembered that their experience was largely that of losing, tasting the defeats of 1814.

So 'One of the best'? Subjective opinion, that I don't think is supported by the data.

Handlebarbleep28 Dec 2019 6:44 a.m. PST

Brechtel198

"And that was definitely proven when they badly defeated Blucher at Ligny."

Well, no defeat was good. Retiring in good order and then being capable of marching and fighting a second victorious battle within 48 hours? Mounting a sustained pursuit resulting in the capture of the enemy's capital and the abdication of it's leader? Doesn't sound so bad.

Routed from the field of battle, abandoning almost all of your artillery and disintegrating into a fleeing mob? Your headquarters transport captured and your CinC being transformed into a fugitive? And this performance from veterans in "one of the best armies he commanded"?

If Ligny is being defeated 'badly' for the Prussians, what on earth do we call Waterloo for the French? By comparison we are in danger of running out of negative superlatives.

AlanJDique28 Dec 2019 6:53 a.m. PST

Brechtel198,

"Who ever suggested that Napoleon was not present at Waterloo?"

I believe that the point that David Brown is making is that it is somewhat tendentious to blame Napoleon's chosen subordinates for the many errors committed by the French at Waterloo when he was present as the battlefield commander and could (should?) have clarified their instructions and taken an active role in managing the battle.

You state that Napoleon did not see the beginning of the cavalry charge because of the lay of the land; as the battlefield commander, it was his job to know what was happening in the rather small area over which the fighting took place. That he was not aware, and that he seems to have had no involvement with the management of the battle for most of the day, is a damning indictment of his performance. Compare that with Wellington's performance; he was always at the right spot, up in the front line and constantly giving orders to deal with situations and rectify errors.

Handlebarbleep28 Dec 2019 7:17 a.m. PST

Some context when comparing the two.

"Meeting your Ligny" has not entered the lexicon. "Meeting your Waterloo" has become a byword for disastrous defeat.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP28 Dec 2019 10:50 a.m. PST

@ handlebarbleep

Retiring in good order and then being capable of marching and fighting a second victorious battle within 48 hours?

Well, not quite. Of the three Prussian Corps at Ligny, I Corps' contribution was attacking Wellington's troops at the end of the day, II Corps did not fight at either Waterloo or Wavre as I recall, and III Corps was beaten at Wavre. So the army that had been beaten at Ligny did not in fact contribute much, if anything, at Waterloo. The Prussian corps that fought and made a difference there was the one that had not been at Ligny.

As Bulow's corps was furthest from Waterloo the question arises of why the two corps closer at hand were not sent instead. The obvious answer is that they were well beaten and unfit to fight.

Wellington reckoned he could win at Waterloo if one Prussian corps could assist him. One corps is constructively what he got.

David Brown Supporting Member of TMP28 Dec 2019 11:05 a.m. PST

AlanJD,

Thank you – I'm glad someone understood my meaning!

DB

kevin Major28 Dec 2019 11:40 a.m. PST

A few random thoughts.

While many of Napoleons men may have campaigned before, as units (Battalions Brigades etc) they were all newly put together. The Grande Armee had campaigned and trained for years. Armee Nord was a ragbag of new relationships. In the campaign it showed.

The low number Divisions of the French Army were well manned and equipped but the Divisions in the teens and twenties were grossly undermanned and poorly turned out. Less than 100 days was just not long enough and the population was not whole heartedly behind Napoleon. Look at the numbers of conscripts taking to the hills.

The veteran officer corp, not only the Marshals and Generals but below to Captains and Majors, were largely unsupported of a new bout of "Glory". They had survived Napoleons previous bloodbaths and more war promised for them only probable death or mutilation.

Uxbridge is rightly praised for ordering the Heavies to charge and save the collapsing right centre of Wellingtons Army. But Ney is castigated for a similar action, launching the cavalry to "save" the centre. Without the hindsight of history books to tell him Wellington was not going to launch an attack on the routing d'Erlon Ney acted correctly. Buy time until the chaos is resolved, keep the enemy off balance. His error may have been in degree but it needed to be done.

Napoleon, like some important men of today, instinctively distance themselves from failure. Napoleon was on the field and was the man in charge. Not knowing, failure of others, I would have done it different, for me do not wash. If something was not as he wanted Napoleon had the power to change it.

Handlebarbleep28 Dec 2019 12:25 p.m. PST

4th Cuirassier

D'Erlon's Corps did not fight on the 16th either, due to faulty staff work, just as Von Bulow's Corps failed to concentrate due to poor communication. Are we to discount their contribution on the 18th as well?

My point was as the Prussian Army as a whole. If they had been as comprehensively beaten and pursued on the night of the 16/17 as the French were on the 18/19 then Waterloo would not have happened, whether they were in possession of a fresh corps or not.

Breaking contact and retreating whilst retaining cohesion is one of the most difficult maneuvers to accomplish, particularly with fatigued troops and the onset of night. I should know, the British Army spent most of the Cold War practicing how to do it.

To then successfully fight a rear guard action (Wavre achieved the Prussians aim) whilst accomplishing a strategic flank march without benefit of a clear main supply route is deserving of respect. To then carry out a counter-strike and then effective pursuit was shows not only outstanding resilience but raises a small question mark against how bad the defeat of Ligny was.

Handlebarbleep28 Dec 2019 12:25 p.m. PST

4th Cuirassier

D'Erlon's Corps did not fight on the 16th either, due to faulty staff work, just as Von Bulow's Corps failed to concentrate due to poor communication. Are we to discount their contribution on the 18th as well?

My point was as the Prussian Army as a whole. If they had been as comprehensively beaten and pursued on the night of the 16/17 as the French were on the 18/19 then Waterloo would not have happened, whether they were in possession of a fresh corps or not.

Breaking contact and retreating whilst retaining cohesion is one of the most difficult maneuvers to accomplish, particularly with fatigued troops and the onset of night. I should know, the British Army spent most of the Cold War practicing how to do it.

To then successfully fight a rear guard action (Wavre achieved the Prussians aim) whilst accomplishing a strategic flank march without benefit of a clear main supply route is deserving of respect. To then carry out a counter-strike and then effective pursuit shows not only outstanding resilience but raises a small question mark against how bad the defeat of Ligny really was.

von Winterfeldt28 Dec 2019 12:40 p.m. PST

My point was as the Prussian Army as a whole. If they had been as comprehensively beaten and pursued on the night of the 16/17 as the French were on the 18/19 then Waterloo would not have happened, whether they were in possession of a fresh corps or not.

This as well as the other comments are spot on, and it was one of the major causes of Boney's defeat at the 18th.
He completely, as other still do today, misjudged how much the Prussian defeat at Ligny affected the army.
He attacked Wellington because he was sure that the Prussian army was not able to concentrate and fight again already at the 18th, the Prussians caught Boney by utter surprise when they attacked Boney's right flank.
Boney underestimated the resilience of the rather ramshackle Prussian army.

von Winterfeldt28 Dec 2019 2:32 p.m. PST

Wellington reckoned he could win at Waterloo if one Prussian corps could assist him. One corps is constructively what he got.

He got much more – the whole Army – even those fighting at Wavre did very much so contribute to the victory of Belle Alliance

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP28 Dec 2019 5:39 p.m. PST

@ handlebarbleep

Sorry, I don't understand your point. The Prussian army was comprehensively beaten at Ligny. The three corps defeated there were not fit for further action by the 18th. The two that went to Waterloo played a vanishingly small role and the other one, that didn't, got beaten again.

A fifth Prussian corps had proven politically unreliable and had had to be sent home. As a result, by day 4 of the campaign, Blucher was down to one intact corps out of five, the other four having been written off.

The point is usually completely overlooked, carefully and deliberately so by hofstorians with an agenda of overstating the Prussian role and of emphasising that Wellington would have been defeated without the Prussians. It is equally clear though that Wellington's defence of the Waterloo position saved the Prussians' bacon. The defeat of Bulow's corps would have left Blucher with the fugitive remnants of four thoroughly beaten corps trapped between two French forces, with one athwart his communications and the other between him and his ally.

We hear lots about how much Wellington needed the Prussians to arrive, but nothing about how badly Blucher needed Wellington to hold on in order literally to save the Prussian army from total disaster. In the counterfactual case where Wellington gives way, he could quite likely have retired on Antwerp covered by his uncommitted reserve at Hal and Tubize. That is, a defeated Wellington could have fallen back to a fortress and saved his army. A defeated Blucher would probably have lost the entire force he commanded. Each commander needed the other, but in the event of failure, Wellington was looking at retreat, whereas Blucher was looking at oblivion.

Korvessa28 Dec 2019 10:10 p.m. PST

I am following this with great interest.
Thanks everyone

von Winterfeldt29 Dec 2019 12:59 a.m. PST

Each commander needed the other, but in the event of failure, Wellington was looking at retreat, whereas Blucher was looking at oblivion.

Maybe, the more praise to Blücher to risk his army more than Wellington, both trusted each other to the risk of oblivion, while here is pickering who needed the other most – sad – fortunately both Wellington and Blücher did follow such line of thoughts, their aim was to destroy Boney and that they did.

dibble29 Dec 2019 3:12 a.m. PST

If you insist on 'whatiffs'

"The Armee du Nord of 1815 was not the Grand Army of 1807"

72,000 Of Nappy's finest of 1807 against 68,000 of Arty's 1813 finest? Sorry, but Nappy is again made to run and abandon his army and his Guard would be just as beaten.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP29 Dec 2019 6:02 a.m. PST

Maybe, but then again, it's not like being trapped between two forces was an unhappy stroke of luck that befell Blucher. It was the result of his decision to fight on the 16th with only 3/4 of his force and on poor ground. So if Blucher risked more, it was because of his own mistakes.

In the counterfactual I like most Waterloo still happens but as the first battle, on the 17th. Grouchy still goes for the Prussians at Wavre, but this time he has to pin as much of the undefeated Prussian Army in place as possible while Napoleon fights a fresher and larger Anglo-allied force at Waterloo…

Handlebarbleep29 Dec 2019 8:21 a.m. PST

4th Cuirassier

Maybe this is a problem with us thinking like wargamers. You know, you achieve your victory points, pack up then off down the pub.

There is being beaten and being beaten.

Comprehensively beaten is when you are routed and effectively pursued. When you are destabilised and unable to mount effective operations for a significant period. Napoleon did not achieve this result.

What the armchair general often overlooks is a vital operation of war, that of breaking contact. In many respects it is much more difficult to achieve than victory. You can be beaten yet still maintain cohesion.

Many use sporting analogies, and I don't think they always help. However like the boxer, you have to be able to take it as well as dish it out.

The fact that the Prussians could continue to achieve a breaking of contact and maintain operations means they were NOT comprehensively beaten. They just suffered a battlefield rather than a strategic defeat.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP29 Dec 2019 8:42 a.m. PST

72,000 Of Nappy's finest of 1807 against 68,000 of Arty's 1813 finest? Sorry, but Nappy is again made to run and abandon his army and his Guard would be just as beaten.

Rubbish. Nothing but national bias and a historical stretch. It is also pointless to speculate.

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