War Against the Man – Missed Chances (Part 2)

Sorry it is a bit late.

We all know how the battle plays out, Napoleon is sent packing to a small island and Europe is at peace (or so) until 1914.

But how much of a close run thing the battle was for the Allies and the Prussians?

First, the Anglo Allied Forces at Waterloo…

Except this is all wrong

Wellington didn’t trust the allies as much as his own troops, the Prince of Orange and the Dutch/Belgium Troops at Waterloo are shown below;

16th June Quatre Bras 1815

Napoleon’s Plan, which actually had a high success of victory, was to push a wedge between the British and Prussians so they could not join up.

To achieve this he would need to detach approximately a third of his force, under Marshal Ney, to take the crossroads at Quatre Bras, concentrate on the Prussians at Lingy, then turn into Wellington’s flank.

This plan would likely have worked as Wellington was a day behind Napoleon and reacting to him, which was very much out of character.

However Marshall Ney didn’t count on one man.

Jean Victor de Constant Rebecque Dutch Commander at Quatre Bras

Jean Victor de Constant Rebecque was a Dutch Corps commander who fought in the French Grand Armiee when the United Provinces were the Bratvian Republic. With the defeat of Napoleon and return of the Dutch Monarchy he was thrust into the role Prince of Orange’s Chief of Staff. Rebecque was known for his impulsiveness and disobedience.

The Dutch and the Prince of Orange at Ornox Woods

On that fateful morning as Ney acted on Napoleons orders, Rebecque took 5,000 troops to the crossroads, arguably an impulsive manoeuvre.

The troops only had around 10 rounds each to try to hold and fight off Ney’s Army Corps. Ney could have easily swept them from the field but he hesitated, thinking that Wellington’s army was facing him. We know that nearly all the Marshall’s except Napoleon himself feared British Infantry as they were nothing like their contemporaries in other armies. We know theses troops were thirty minutes away from the field and were slowly being fed into the battle and a fight which Wellington was unprepared for, but Ney was hesitant. D Glore Coprs, which was on its way to support Ney, was brought back by Napoleon to help crush the Prussians at Lingy as he thought Ney had completed the job.

If D Glores brigade smashed into Wellingtons flank there would be no need for Waterloo and the road to Brussels would be open.

The battle was very bloody and a messy affair for both sides, units stumbled in and very little. Control could be taken by either side. British troops were fighting calvary in line sometimes, then forming squares and then having to form lines to fend off infantry, the Prince of Orange’s Dutch units held Odreax woods bravely against forces they would have likely fought side by side only a few years before. The Prussians were in two minds whether to march forwards or back towards the Rhine to protect their homeland.

If it wasn’t for the headstrong Marshall Blucher reigning in his commanders, Wellington may have been forced to retreat to the Dutch ports to escape.

At this stage of the wider conflict, Napoleon’s plans were actually working and he had the chance to consolidate and drive the Allies into the sea.

It really is a case bad luck and misplaced faith in the two commanders that were to be his undoing.

How the winds of history do hinge on very small things!

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August 22, 2015 8:26 pm

It was indeed a close run thing, but such are the nature of battles at times, where it is not won so much by judgement but by having a bit more luck on the day.

August 23, 2015 12:18 am

You can see similarities with what happened to United Kingdom of Netherlands , which eventuated from the end of Napoleon and included the Dutch northern provinces, the Southern ‘Austrian Netherlands’ and the Bishopric of Liege. The French weren’t content to let its influence over its neighbour, part of which spoke French, slip away , so eventually a rebellion ensured which resulted in the formation of Belgium. Interesting parallels with Ukraine today.

August 25, 2015 11:19 pm

As with most battles the Waterloo campaign was peppered with good calls and goof ups on both sides, and it would be egregious to ascribe the victory to any single one of them. The little losses pile 00, just like the spelling mistakes in this article.