Waterloo Battle Report 4-Jan-08 (part 2)

080106prussians05.jpgHere is part 2 of 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.


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

The Arrival of the Prussians

Knowing, by 1:30pm, that the Prussian army was bearing down on his flank, Napoleon had to make some defensive dispositions to protect the French right and rear. Initially, he ordered the Guard Light Cavalry Brigade to deploy on the western outskirts of the Paris Woods whilst the Young Guard Division was ordered to garrison the town of Plancenoit. Napoleon soon realised that this would not protect the flank of his army for long. As he was heavily engaged against the Allies, he ordered the Young Guard eastwards to slow the Prussian advance. It was hoped that this would gain the time necessary for victory against the Allies on the ridge.

Back in the tangle of villages, Durette’s 4th Division was still trying to get the last of the Nassau out of Smohain and La Haie. At 3:30pm the 95th Regiment was finally successful in pushing 3 companies 2/28th out of Smohain and forcing their surrender. This left the remaining 3 companies of the 2/28th, a mere 300 men, isolated in La Haie against the entire 4th Division. A confident Durette launched the entire 2nd Brigade against La Haie only to see the 2/28th hold firm. Enraged by this turn of events, Durette summoned all local artillery and began a bombardment of La Haie from only 100 yards. At 4:00pm, with only 50 men left standing, the 2/28th in La Haie surrendered. The French finally had control of the villages. 3,300 men of the Nassau Brigade had been killed, wounded or taken prisoner in four and a half hours of fighting which had tied down an entire division and frustrated Durette to the point of apoplexy. The remnants of the brigade, 300 men of the 3/2nd Nassau Regiment, rested with their colours to the rear of the army.

The Prussians finally entered the battlefield at 4:15pm. The 6th Hussars marched through a track in the Paris Woods, followed by Field-Marshall von Blucher and Count Bulow, Prussian IV Corps commander. Blucher surveyed the field and decided to throw all of the Prussian army against the Young Guard. Bulow, observed the French cavalry attacking the British and facing away from the arriving Prussians wished to launch an attack on their rear. His request for permission to attack the French cavalry was rejected.

Bulow was, instead, ordered to advance his cavalry against the Young Guard. Sensing that a chance to eliminate 3 divisions of cavalry would be lost, Bulow disobeyed Blucher’s orders and sent the 3,500 sabres of 1st, 2nd and 3rd Cavalry Brigades of IV Corps against the rear of French cavalry.

By 4:30pm, Durette’s 4th Division was holding the villages they had spent hours capturing. An order was received from d’Erlon to withdraw from the villages, rest and redeploy. Durette complies with this order, leaving the villages unoccupied in front of the approaching Prussians. When Ney observes this movement he is filled with rage. He storms over to Durette and demands to know why he made this movement. Durette replies, “I was ordered to”. “By who?” Ney yelled; “By him” responded Durette, pointing toward d’Erlon in the distance. Realising it was too late to change anything Ney stormed off exclaiming “That’s it, the battle has just been lost”.

Above. Prussian Army deploys in the Paris Woods

In the Paris Woods the Prussian 15th and 16th brigades were deploying in cover, making ready to launch an attack. Bulow ordered the artillery reserve forward to bombard the Guardsmen waiting for the Prussians.

Under fire from the Prussian artillery the Guard Lancers decide charge the artillery reserve and drive them off. The Prussian gunners fire a salvo and then retreat into the supporting infantry squares. The Guard Lancers continued on, but the Prussians remained steady and the Guard retreated from the squares, losing 400 men in the action.

The Young Guard infantry deployed defensively in an attempt to contain 13,000 Prussians. They were too few and were overstretched. To make matters worse, their forces were further depleted when the 3rd Voltigeurs garrisoned Frichermont, recently vacated by 4th Division.

The Prussian 1st, 2nd and 3rd Cavalry Brigades began streaming out of the Paris woods towards the rear of the French cavalry. The rear regiments of the French have to turn away from the Allies to face this new threat. The French began their counter attack with the 12th Chasseurs charging and breaking the 1st Uhlans. The 12th continued their charge, following on to the 8th Hussars pushing them back.

However, these successes were shortlived. Weight of numbers became too much and the French were pushed back on both fronts. This left them with little room, sandwiched between the two enemy armies.

The Prussian Landwehr Cavalry of 3rd Brigade surged forward, getting into the flanks and rear of the French Cavalry. Contact was made between blucher’s and Wellington’s armies when the 8th Belgium Hussars pushed the 11th Chasseurs into the 1st Silesian Landwehr Cavalry and forced its surrender. As a show of goodwill, the prisoners were equally divided between the two armies.

Realising that the situation on the far right was lost, Ney abandoned the cavalry and moved towards the Old Guard. He arrived in time to lead their second attack. As Ney left the cavalry the 3rd Cuirassiers were able to gain the French a reprieve. In a remarkable feat of arms, they charged down 4 regiments of Prussian Landwehr Cavalry. The reprieve was, however, short lived as the Prussian cavalry quickly stabilised the situation.

Above. Prussian cavalry attacking the rear and flank of the French army.

The Attack of the Old Guard

 

The Old Guard had been moved forward and began to advance between Hougoumont and La Haie Sainte. At the same time, the advance between La Haie Sainte and Papelotte was renewed. This was more of a holding action than an attack, as the advancing 1st and 2nd Divisions limited themselves to engaging the defenders in musketry. To the west, the Old Guard attack was preceded by another, 6th Division attack, directly east of Hougoumont. The 2nd KGL Light Infantry defenders had finally been annihilated by a 4 hour artillery bombardment and infantry fire. This left a clear channel and Lord Wellington believed that the Old Guard were going to attack his line west of La Haie Sainte.

However, 5th Division moving slightly in front of the Old Guard swung to their right, towards La Haie Sainte and across the Old Guard’s front. This manoeuvre caused a lot of disruption, slowing down both attacks and affording the allied defenders preparation time.

The disruption to the attack gave the British Life Guards an opportunity to charge the 3rd Line. The regiment was destroyed and the disruption caused delayed the French even further. By the time La Garde was in a position to launch a charge, the allied centre right had been organised by the Prince of Orange and Lord Hill to receive it.

1st Division, consisting of the British Guards and the Light infantry of 3rd Brigade were positioned, in line, behind hedges. General Fraser had arranged eight batteries in support. Unfortunately for the French, the front of 'La Garde' was still partially blocked by the divisions of II Corps and their attacks were made piecemeal.

The first attack began well with the Grenadiers a Cheval charging some the supporting batteries, the gunners abandoned their pieces and fled to the nearby squares of the Nassau reserves. The Grenadiers a Cheval, buoyed by their success, charged into the Nassau in an attempt to break through.

Above. The French Old Guard advances.

The squares proved to strong and the Grenadiers a Cheval fell back but remained a threat. No infantry was close enough to follow up this partial success. Despite being heavily outnumbered, the Royal Horse Guards charged into the faltering Grenadiers. But, after a brisk melee, they were pushed back with casualties. Possibly worried by this attack the Grenadiers a Cheval moved back to reform south of the ridgeline. This allowed the British gunners to reman their pieces, an action that was about to cost the French dearly.

The second attack, made by the two battalions of the 2nd Grenadiers a pied, charged the 2/1st Guards. Once again, a partial success was scored as the 1/1st Guards are pushed back. The 2nd Grenadiers are left disordered and unsupported in front of the Allied line. Quickly recovering from the shock of the Old Guard charge, the 2/1st Guards marched forward again to engage the French in a fire fight. The disordered columns of the French are no match for a British Guard battalion firing in line and retreat from the deadly fire.

After the defeat of the second attack Lord Hill pulled the 1/51st Light Infantry out of the line facing west against the French on his right flank and replaced them with the 2nd KGL Line. The 2/1st Guards, had suffered casualties in repulsing the French Guard and are now taken out of the line.

The 1/51st are their replacements and take up a position, in line, next to the 2nd Coldstream Guards. Lord Hill is pleased and remarks “The 51st are not as stout as the 1st Guards, but they can shoot just as well”. They are positioned just in time to meet a third French attack. Two more battalions of French Guard charge the line held by the 2nd Coldstream and the, as yet untested, 1/51st.

The third attack was a larger affair which, was meant to include all three remaining regiments. Unfortunately, the disruption caused by the French manoeuvres blocked one of those battalions. Consequently, only the 4th Grenadiers a pied and the 3rd Grenadiers delivered the charge.

These units were hit hard by artillery fire as they advanced over the ridgeline and down the reverse slope. The Old Guard were then devastated by the musketry volleys of the Coldstream Guards and the 51st Light Infantry. Even the Old Guard could not handle the punishment dished out and, along with the two battalions broken earlier, in Wellington’s words “they turned to the right about and headed for Paris!”

Succinctly described, the position at this time was that the casualties sustained by the Old Guard precluded any chance of a fourth attack. The Prussians were about to overrun the Young Guard. The Allied position on the ridge was still intact and the balance of power had moved decisively in favour of the allied forces. Napoleon had little choice and therefore ordered a withdrawal in an attempt to preserve the French army.

Above. The Old Guard fleeing from the British Line.

Conclusions

At the end of the fighting the French were left in possession of the villages of Papelotte, La Haie, Smohain, and Frichermont as well as the farm of La Haie Sainte. The Allies still held firm in Hougoumont, with a garrison of over 1000 men. The French flanking movement around the Allied right had been halted. The French flank attack on the Allied left had been crushed between the Allied and Prussian cavalry. I Corps had been able to manoeuvre 3rd Division on to the flank of the 5th Hanoverian Brigade. However any gains made would soon be countered by the fresh 3rd Netherlands Division which had recently arrived as support and their position would become untenable with the advance of the Prussians. Picton, seeing the collapse of the French due to the intervention of the Prussians ordered Lamberts Brigade to begin an offensive to drive south from the ridge and strengthen the link with the Prussian army.

On the Allied right the French were unable to muster another attack of any major strength. Wellington remarked that his line was “Somewhat thin in places, but not broken”. Furthermore, Wellington still had reserves, the Brunswick corps, Adam’s 3rd Brigade and the troops from Hal who were about to arrive on the battlefield. The reserves totalled 15,000 infantry, 900 sabres and 28 cannon. None had fired a shot or been under fire during the course of the battle.

The Prussians had massed all of IV Corps and were about to overrun the Young Guard. II Corps was about to enter the battlefield with I Corps only 2 hours behind. The movement, by Bulow, of the three cavalry brigades into the rear of the French cavalry had proved to be the decisive movement of the battle. This had relieved all the pressure on the Allied right and eventually allowed them to switch over to the offensive.

Napoleon gave special mention to Reille, whom he presented with a Legion of Honour after the battle. He praised his deeds effusively; “Reille not only pinned the allies to the ridge, he was able to entice the British Guards down off the ridge to attack his troops which he caused many a guardsman not to return up the ridge. His troops on the Allied right cause the Allies many casualties and many reinforcements were sent to his area”.

All the French generals lamented what could have been with the flanking attack on the Allied right. Lobau’s attack was delayed by 45 minutes after the messengers got lost, then turned too early, marching through the hedges and fields without enough room to deploy.

Wellington displayed an uncanny knack of deploying reserves at just the right time. Three times on the Allied left, with Lamberts Brigade, the 1st Netherlands Cavalry Division and the 3rd Netherlands division. All of these units arrived just in time to help deal with a new threat. In the case of the Netherlands cavalry the timing was perfectly judged and saved the Allied left from being overwhelmed by French cavalry.

Napoleon was able to withdraw his army in good order. However the Allied armies had linked up and, outnumbered 2:1 Napoleon had no choice but to retreat back into France.

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