Waterloo Battle Report 4-Jan-08 (part 1)

080104cavleft02.jpgHere is a selection of photos from the Napoleonic battle of Waterloo that was held at the home of one of our members.

Taking several days, the famous battle from 1815 involved many players and two tables full of 25mm troops. The game used the Cold Steel Napoleonic rules.


Waterloo Battle Report - part 2  |  Waterloo Photo Gallery - part 1  |  Waterloo Photo Gallery - part 2

Initial Deployment

Before the battle began both army commanders gathered their subordinates to discuss plans for the battle. Lord Wellington informed Lord Hill, the Prince of Orange and Sir Thomas Picton that his plans were dependant upon those of the French.

The Allied army was to hold the Mont St Jean ridge against all French attacks until the Prussians arrived on the French right and rear or the French had nothing left to attack with or night intervened. Lord Hill and the Prince of Orange listened attentively but Picton only half listened. He didn’t care what occurred elsewhere on the Allied line, his concern was focused on holding the left with his two divisions and receiving support if required.

During the conference Lord Wellington decided to use the troops posted at Hal, 12 kilometres from the battlefield. The decision was predicated on the French attacking the Mont St Jean position in force. Once it became clear that there was no possibility of a French flanking movement to his west, Lord Wellington would dispatch a messenger to call for the 4th British and 6th Hanoverian brigades to march to the battlefield with all haste. This would increase the size of the Allied army by 8,000 men.

Above. Initial Deployment of the Armies

Napoleon gathered his Corps commanders at La Belle Alliance and explained that the plan was to destroy the Allied army where it stood. He had tried and failed to destroy the Prussian army at Ligny, this time it would be different. With his commanders gathered around Napoleon explained that “As the deployment of troops stand, we are outnumbered if we use just I and II Corps for the attack”. Napoleon then issued orders to his commanders to utilise his entire army against the Allied positions.

Comte Reille, II Corps, initial orders were to attack the Mont St Jean ridge between Hougoumont and La Haie Sainte farm. He could also advance to the west of Hougoumont if he thought it advantageous. Hougoumont itself was not to be attacked under any circumstances. II Corps was to pin the Allied right to the ridge and pull as many allied troops away from the centre as possible prior to an Old Guard attack. II Corps was to be supported by a grand battery of six, 12pdr batteries and a division of heavy cavalry.

Comte d’Erlon, I Corps, initial orders were to attack the Mont St Jean ridge between La Haie Sainte Farm and the villages to the east. I Corps was to pin the allies to that section of the ridge. I Corps orders permitted an attack on La Haie Sainte farm and the villages of Papelotte, La Haie, Smohain and Frichermont. Possession of the villages on his right would protect I Corps right flank. I Corps was to be supported by the 11th Cavalry division, Cuirassiers and Dragoons, and a grand battery of six Guard, 6pdr batteries.

Comte de Lobau, VI Corps, was to remain in reserve. However the changing events of the battle would place these troops in a critical situation.

Initial Attacks on the British Left

The battle commenced at 11:30. The French began the offensive when the 1/8th Line from 4th Division drove the Light Company of the 2/2nd Nassau from Papelotte. The remainder of Durette’s 4th Division began preparations for the storming of the other villages.

Alarmed by the very quick loss of Papelotte the Prince of Saxe-Weimar repositioned the 2nd Nassau Regiment to cover the exits to the north of the villages in order to hold any further French advance.

Durette had been given just ninety minutes to clear the villages of allied troops. He next turned his eye to Smohain and Frichermont. However, the defending Nassau’s were able to hold their positions. The attacking French infantry were reinforced and tried again, but still Nassau troops held firm. Frustrated by this stubborn defence, Durette tried a different approach. Artillery was brought up and used to bombard Frichermont from close range.

3rd Division had more success than its counterpart. Bypassing the villages and attacking the Nassau troops positioned to block the northern exits, 3rd Division managed to break the 3/2nd Nassau and surround the 2/2nd Nassau thus forcing the entire battalion to surrender.

At 12:00pm Bylandt, noticed that his brigade from 2nd Netherlands Division was out of position on the forward slope of the ridge. A message was sent to Lord Wellington requesting permission to move back to the reverse slope.

Above. Durette's 4th Division assaulting the villages.

No response arrived. Bylandt became quite worried as he saw a French Grand Battery forming to his front. Finally, at 12:30, Lord Wellington arrived in person to order the troops back out of sight. Unfortunately the movement came too late. The French gunners unlimbered and took great pleasure firing at the exposed troops, killing and wounding 600 men. Bylandt was furious with Wellington as he watched his brigade break and run for cover behind the ridgeline. Wellington simply said that he thought Bylandt would move the troops behind the ridgeline on his own initiative. Bylandt politely explained that “he would not dare move any formations without Wellington’s orders”. After this brief but destructive cannonade, Bylandts’ Brigade took no further part in the battle. They were rallied and spent the rest of the day sheltering in the rear.

About 1pm, I Corps began its approach against the Allied positions on the ridge. 1st and 2nd Divisions each advanced in a strange formation. The 1st Brigade of each division was formed as an anchored line, with an artillery battery and a regiment of cavalry in support.

Behind these formations were the 2nd Brigades as further support. Seeing this cumbersome approach Picton ordered his skirmish line to move forward. The skirmishers were to further slow and disorder the approaching formations while Picton adjusted his defensive line. 5th Division was formed into anchored lines in order to protect itself from the cavalry.

Annoyed by the skirmish line, Kellerman ordered the 2nd Dragoons to charge the skirmishers. Seeing the cavalry approach, the threatened skirmishers fled for protection behind their supporting lines.

The dragoons followed up behind the allied skirmishers and pushed back the Scots Greys. The dragoons were eventually brought to a halt by the Hanoverian Verden Landwehr Battalion in closed column.

1st and 2nd Divisions continued their advance toward the ridge pushing back the Allied skirmish line. As the French troops approached the ridgeline, the British defenders, 8th and 9th Brigades, stood up and fired. The small arms fire, combined with supporting artillery fire, cost the French 500 men.

Startled by this destructive fire, the French infantry took cover behind a hedge and returned fire on the British. The front quickly developed into a prolonged firefight.

Above. 1st and 2nd Divisions advance to the ridgeline while Picton and Wellington observe.

Down in the villages Durette was still struggling to push the determined Nassau’s out. After an hour of artillery bombardment on Frichermont, the garrison, four companies of the 1/28th Orange-Nassau, were finally forced to give up their position. At the same time, the remaining two companies of the 1/28th occupying the front houses of Smohain were also ejected. With Durette already a long way behind schedule, his attention now turned towards the remaining villages, Smohain and La Haie.

At 1pm Napoleon and his staff noticed troop movement far off to their right on the hills of St Amand. Was this Grouchy marching with his reinforcements for the French or were they hostile troops? Unsure, Napoleon ordered the 7th Hussars to push further into the Paris Woods to find out.

At about the same time, the French moved the 1st Cavalry Division into the plains east of the villages. Uxbridge ordered the 6th British Cavalry Brigade to counter this threat and drive off the French cavalry. Both sides deployed, but neither side was eager to make the first move. After support arrived for the French, in the form of the Cuirassiers from 12th Cavalry division, the 1200 troopers 1st Cavalry Division charged the 900 men of the 10th and 18th Hussars. The weight of number proved too much for the British who were pushed back. Seeing this cavalry greatly outnumbered Uxbridge ordered the 6th Brigade to withdraw behind the ridgeline, the French, confident of success, followed up.

 Back along the ridgeline east of La Haie Sainte, the French infantry, losing more casualties than they were inflicting withdrew. Reille then focused his attention on the farm, La Haie Sainte. Some of the cannon from the grand battery were moved to within 900 yards of the farm and a tremendous bombardment began. However the 2nd KGL Light battalion stood firm and took the heavy punishment. Whilst the bombardment was progressing, 2nd Brigade of 1st Division was prepared for an assault on La Haie Sainte.

Alarming news reached Napoleon at 1:00pm. A scout from the 7th Hussars had captured a trooper from the Prussian 6th Hussars. The Prussian trooper informed Napoleon that Blucher was on his way at the head of the entire Prussian army. Shocked by this news, Napoleon decided to throw all remaining troops at the Allies and attempt to delay the Prussians long enough to ensure their defeat.

Above. 12th Cavalry division oppose the British 6th Cavalry Brigade.

The Flank Movement on the British Right

Reille ordered Prince Jerome’s 6th Division to advance on Hougoumont. This movement pushed the defenders out of both the wood and, eventually, the Great Orchard. The Hanoverian and Nassau defenders retreated into the chateau and garden confines. Meanwhile the main attack, consisting of Foy’s 9th Division and 2nd Cavalry Division developed around the west of the chateau onto the allied right flank.

The initial defensive deployment of the British 1/51st Light Infantry was pushed back. This advance gained ground which allowed the French to deploy 4 batteries in a position to fire into the rear of the allied position above Hougoumont. Lord Wellington was quite concerned about this French movement. He felt there was a chance, from the position gained, for the French to enfilade the Allied far right and rear then advance under the cover of the guns.

The Allied front line troops in the area within range of these guns came under fire from the batteries and were forced to realign their positions. The 1/23rd Fusiliers and the 1/51st Light Infantry give ground slowly and sheltered in a hollow, ‘dead’ ground for the French guns. Behind them the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th KGL Line were deployed to provide support.

The 3/14th Foot positioned directly behind Hougoumont saw an opportunity to attack the French infantry to their front. A successful attack would threaten the French artillery positions. The 100th Line, realising this danger, are stoic in defence. The 3/14th are push back with heavy casualties and retreat into Hougoumont. The 3/14th take no further part in the battle. Hougoumont is now completely isolated but is still well defended. Riflemen in the chateau keep up a steady fire on the French in the orchard.

Meanwhile, 2nd French Cavalry Division pushed further north on the extreme allied right. To counter this cavalry movement, Sympher of the 2nd KGL Horse Artillery deployed his battery. Good shooting causes the French cavalry to withdraw but a new French field gun battery begins firing on the KGL horse guns.

Resolutely obeying Wellington’s orders not to engage in counter battery fire the KGL Horse Artillery suffer heavily from the French fire. After losing half their guns and gunners they flee. A timely intervention by Lieutenant-General Clinton is required to rally them and bring them back.

 

Above. French 6th and 9th Divisions begin their flank movement.

The four battalions of Halkett’s 3rd Hanoverian brigade were brought up from reserve on the extreme allied right to threaten the French guns which caused the KGL H.A. casualties. The gallant Landwehr take some casualties from the same artillery, but press on. With cavalry in the area their advance is made in closed column. A sudden charge from French lancers bursting through their own battery and charging directly at the Hanoverians is too much for them and they retreat from the battlefield. Seeing the target of their charge turn and run, the 5th Lancers halt. This sudden loss of four battalions causes consternation amongst the rest of 2nd Division. The sense of panic spreads to the, usually steady, KGL infantry who retire to safer ground.

With only the 9th Division available, Reille was not in a position to exploit this confusion. It took time but eventually the battalions were pulled back into position. Lord Hill informed Wellington of the cavalry threat on the extreme right. Grant’s 5th British Cavalry Brigade were redeployed to face the French forces.

The 6th Division launched another, fairly weak, attack to the east of Hougoumont. Whilst this attack was fairly easily beaten off, it did bring about a near disaster for the Allies.

About 2.30 pm, the Prince of Orange ordered three battalions of British Guards to advance over the crest of the ridge. The intention was to hit 6th Division’s weak attack as hard as possible.

The Guards succeeded in their counterattack, inflicting high casualties with murderous precision but were now in sight of numerous French guns. The Grand Battery south-west of La Haie Sainte and the batteries north-west of Hougoumont caught the 2/3rd and 2nd Coldstream Guards in the open and inflicted 600 casualties.

This high number of casualties in a short space of time forced the Guards division to retreat back to the reverse slope north of the ridgeline. For a time, 1st Division was left seriously weakened. As with the earlier opportunity, there were no French troops in position to exploit the opening.

After this, the position on the allied right flank stabilised. The French made no further advances.

Above. 6th Division marching towards the British positions.

The French batteries continued to fire and inflicted a steady stream of allied casualties. This forced the Allies to retreat from the ridge above and directly east of Hougoumont. A new line was formed on the east-west road in the valley further to the north. There was a lull in hostilities on this weakened allied flank whilst preparations were made for an attack by the French Old Guard.

Lobau's Mistake and the Cavalry Battle on the Left

At 1:00pm, around the same time he heard of the approaching Prussians, Napoleon ordered au to march VI Corps to the east of the villages and attack the Allied extreme left. His movement was to take him into the clear terrain east of Frichermont village.

The attack was to be lead by 3rd, 5th and 11th Cavalry Divisions, in all 6 Light Cavalry and 4 Cuirassier regiments. Followed by VI Corps infantry, the attack was to outflank the allied position.

Unfortunately, the messengers got lost amongst the reserves. The lost orders caused a forty-five minute delay to VI Corps movement. This delay was further exacerbated when Lobau turned his force to the north whilst still west of the villages.

This movement saw VI Corps marching between 3rd and 4th Divisions and through the hedges and fields west and north of the villages. VI Corps movements were drastically slowed and the battalions were heavily disordered.

At 3pm the Cavalry battle on the far left began to heat up again. The French 1st, 3rd and 12th Cavalry divisions prepared to attack the 4th and 6th British Cavalry brigades. Recognising that these British Cavalry brigades were outnumbered by 2:1, Uxbridge ordered the Netherlands Cavalry Division to move up in support. At about the same time, Lord Wellington ordered Lambert’s 10th Brigade to march to the far left to further protect the Allied left flank. Wellington had already brought the 3rd Netherlands Division from Braine l’Alleud to Mont St Jean. They were now ordered to the far left as further reinforcements for the threatened flank.

Above. 19th Division marching to the British flank.

The French began the new cavalry assault with the 4th Chasseurs charging the 1st KGL Hussars. Instead of counter charging, the KGL Hussars decided to fire from the saddle in defence. Surprised by this move the Chasseurs closed in but, after a short melee, quickly fled. Only 50 men remained with the colours.

20th Division, leading the march of VI Corps, had just made it through the hedges and fields when it was charged by the 11th and 12th Light Dragoons of Vandeleur's 4th British Cavalry Brigade. Badly disordered 20th Division fled from the cavalry losing 1500 men. Its retrograde movement pushed through elements of 19th Division disordering both formations further. Although successful the British cavalry was now isolated and had an exposed flank. French infantry and artillery began firing on this flank and Vandeleur was killed by bullet to his head from a French voltigeur. Panicked by the flank fire and the loss of their Brigadier, the 11th and 12th Light Dragoons fled. The 16th Light Dragoons held but were left in a perilous position.

Observing the approach of VI Corps, Picton rode to the 5th Hanoverian Brigade. As he was steadying the Gifhorn Landwehr battalion a bullet grazed his thigh. Temporarily stunned, Picton composed himself then began shouting orders again as if nothing had occurred. Noting that the French were some disarray, Picton order Lambert to the front. The 900 men of the 1/40th were sent forward to engage the French in a fire fight. The casualties were very high and both the French 84th Regiment and the 1/40th retreated. With all the battalions from 20th Division in bad order, they continued their move to the rear. This, in turn, required Lobau to rush to the rear to rally his division.

Trying to keep the pressure on the British Left, Ney ordered Cuirassiers of 12th Division to drive the British cavalry away. Led by 1st Brigade they charged the 1st KGL Hussars who were still fatigued from their earlier encounter with the 4th Chasseurs. The Cuirassiers were too much for them and they fled, losing 200 men in the process. The Cuirassiers had now crossed the ridge line and gained a foothold on the reverse slope. The situation looked grim for the Allies as only the 16th Light Dragoons were still in good order. To the relief of the 16th, the 1st Netherlands Cavalry division arrived in the nick of time.

The Dutch and Belgian Carabineers of the 1st Brigade deployed and immediately charged the blown Cuirassiers. Now facing fresh cavalry the Cuirassiers were pushed south, back behind the ridgeline from where they had just come. After Vandeleur’s death Lt-Col Hay assumed command of his brigade and placed himself at the head of his 16th Light Dragoons. He had no sooner arrived in this position when a cannonball removed his right leg and he had to be carried from the battlefield. Enraged by their double loss the 16th Light Dragoons charged the 9th Chasseurs and, showing no mercy, broke them. The regiment then careered on into the 2 Horse artillery batteries, which had mortally wounded Hay, killing all of the crew that they could find.

With the perfectly timed arrival of the Dutch Belgian cavalry, the far left of the allied line had stabilised. Prussian cavalry, also newly arrived, attacked the French rear. Sandwiched between two armies the French cavalry was now in a dire situation.

Above. The French Cavalry deploys.

Waterloo Battle Report - part 2  |  Waterloo Photo Gallery - part 1  |  Waterloo Photo Gallery - part 2