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Wellington's Waterloo Allies (Hardback)

How Soldiers from Brunswick, Hanover, Nassau and the Netherlands Contributed to the Victory of 1815

Napoleonic Battle of Waterloo Pre WWI Military

By Andrew W Field
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 296
Illustrations: Integrated maps
ISBN: 9781399090377
Published: 1st April 2022


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For almost 200 years, the British perception of the Battle of Waterloo was that it was a great British victory gained over the French tyrant Napoleon which was achieved in spite of, rather than because of, the allied contingents in the Duke of Wellington’s army. Eyewitness accounts by British soldiers, encouraged by the doubts expressed in Wellington’s despatches, denigrated and vilified the courage and prowess of these allies.

But in the last twenty years modern historians, with better access to the accounts and archives of the allied nations, have tried to put the record straight, and their efforts have been rewarded by changing attitudes and a greater understanding of the significant part the allies played. Andrew Field, in this the latest of his series of pioneering books on Waterloo, makes a powerful contribution to this continuing debate by analyzing in forensic detail the records of these allied forces throughout the campaign.

In his balanced, nonpartisan reassessment he describes the make-up of these forces, their training and experience, and their military capability. Included are graphic accounts of their actions and performance on the battlefield. His work is essential reading for all students of the Waterloo campaign.

The Duke of Wellington complained that he commanded “an infamous army”: a mixture of British and contingents of foreign troops, some of whom had previously served in Napoleon’s armies, whose loyalty might be questionable (one had only to remember the example of the troops of the French Royal Army led by Marshal Ney to arrest Bonaparte on his return to France), and many of whom were young, or newly raised and inexperienced. He did not expect too much of some of the foreign units and so deliberately either flanked them with British or King’s German Legion troops or placed them in his second line or reserve.

“British triumphalism and jingoism” created a perception that the Battle of Waterloo was won “in spite of, rather than because of, the contribution of the allied contingents in Wellington’s army.” In this book Andrew Field offers “an in-depth and objective analysis of the potential and battlefield performance of the allied contingents.”

The author has not included the King’s German Legion (KGL) in this study as, despite being Hanoverian, it was a formal part of the British Army and was considered to be “every bit as professional and effective as their British comrades, indeed more so in some areas” after its long service in the Peninsular War. Nor has he included the Prussian Army as there are detailed studies of its contribution to the campaign.

Instead, he has focussed upon the Nassau, Brunswick, Hanoverian and Netherlands contingents in turn, to consider their manpower; organisation; equipment and arms; logistics; drill and training; leadership; discipline; ethos; support for the cause; experience, courage and to try to measure their potential military effectiveness, and then balance it, “with all the benefits of hindsight, with what they actually achieved on the battlefield to analyse to what extent this potential was realised given the individual circumstances each unit or contingent operated in and faced.”

Appendices cover the following topics: Von Vincke’s Square; The Retirement of the Hildesheim and Peine Landwehr Battalions; The Actions of the Duke of Cumberland Hussars; Allied Suspicions of the Belgians, and The Allied Contribution to the Repulse of the Imperial Guard.

Twenty maps showing appropriate areas and events of the battle and five deployment diagrams accompany the discussion of the different national contingents. There are no other illustrations; reproductions of paintings and prints of Waterloo that would be familiar to any reader with a serious interest in the campaign would be superfluous.

Twelve pages of endnotes, a three-page bibliography and an index conclude the book.

As a one-volume analysis of the part played by the troops of nations other than British in the Allied Army in the campaign and battle of Waterloo, this book is an excellent corrective to the many Anglocentric accounts and interpretations of the Hundred Days that have been published in the past. The author acknowledges and discusses the evidential limitations of the many eyewitness accounts by the participants and explains his methodology for judging the performance of the Allied troops in detail.

I shall not summarise his conclusions in this review but found his analysis both objective and very convincing.

Readers who already possess and appreciate Andrew Fields’ previous books on Waterloo will definitely want to add this one, which deserves a place on any Napoleonic wargamer’s bookshelf, to their libraries.

Arthur Harman

I’m a big fan of Andrew Field’s contributions to Napoleonic historiography. I use that latter word quite specifically, because Field very deliberately analyses not just the events related, but how our readings of these events come down to us.

I may be be mistaken, but I think I’ve read all of his major Waterloo works? I’ve certainly thoroughly enjoyed them all. Well written and admirably balanced, Field’s books have brought a much broader understanding of events around and including Waterloo to this reader.

This latest book takes a systematic look at the contributions of Wellington’s Allied troops. Not Blücher’s Prussians, but the ‘bouillabaisse’ of foreign contingents under his own command: Hanoverians, Brunswickers, Dutch, Belgians and Nassauers.

The opening chapter, ‘Military Effectiveness’, sets out what it is Field intends to examine. Having established how one might judge military effectiveness, he then takes each contingent in turn, from the small working up to the large: Nassau; Brunswick; Hanover; the Netherlands (Dutch/Belgian). Finally he summarises and concludes.

But there are also five appendices, covering various topics related to Allied contributions to Waterloo. From the infamous disappearance of the Cumberland Hussars, to why the Belgians in particular were thought unreliable.

Taking each contingent in turn, at Quatre Bras and Waterloo, involves inevitable repetition, albeit from continuously shifting viewpoints. Whilst this might initially seem clunky I think it’s the only sensible way to present the material.

Had Field attempted to hop from one national contingent to another in order to preserve a singular timeline, an already potentially very confusing subject would’ve been rendered impossibly opaque. As it is the level of detail makes this very much a book for the dedicated Waterloo buff.

In our native Anglo-centric tradition works of this sort are a most welcome and shockingly belated corrective to a narrative that’s been allowed to atrophy into a very distorted jingoistic national myth. I welcome this much more realistic balanced appraisal.

As Field notes, Wellington himself wasn’t keen to delve into the messy search for historical truth. Understandably so; he had military and political reasons for not being concerned with such details.

But both historians, and we interested readers of history, ought, I think, to approach the subject more openly, and with the kind of fair-minded clarity Field always brings to his works.

I loved this.

Two quotes from Field’s concluding comments capture both why such a study is so worthwhile, and what it ultimately teaches us:

‘[T]o judge an army without taking into account the circumstances in which it was raised and prepared will teach us nothing.’ (p. 217)

‘Wellington could not have defeated Napoleon without them and each in their own way made a vital contribution to the victory.’ (p. 220)

An excellent book. Highly recommended.

Sebastian Palmer

About Andrew W Field

Andrew Field MBE is a former British army officer whose travels around the world have given him a unique opportunity to explore battlefields from ancient history to present times. He has always harboured a special fascination for the Napoleonic Wars. In particular he has reassessed Napoleon's campaigns in 1814 and 1815, and has carried out extensive research into Wellington's battles in the Peninsula. His books include Talavera: Wellington's First Victory in Spain, Waterloo: The French Perspective, Prelude to Waterloo: Quatre Bras, Grouchy's Waterloo: The Battles of Ligny and Wavre, Waterloo: Rout and Retreat and, in two volumes, The French at Waterloo: Eyewitness Accounts.

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