deployment, fighting, casualties,
myths, tall tales and lies
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Many English authors believe the British troops did it all by themselves
"as Captain Mercer believe himself solely responsible for keeping the Brunswickers in the line.
Oh please, spare me yet another b****** repetition of such inflated ego."
The "thin red line" defeating heavy columns of Old Guard
was not thin, it was on 4 ranks and thicker than the French line (1)
was not red, as there were also Dutch, Belgian and German troops
and they fought not against the Old Guard but against the Middle Guard (2)
who was not in heavy columns but in hollow squares.
The "one against many" crap also doesn't apply here
as the French Guard was outnumbered by the enemy by the margin of 2 and 3 to 1.
In 1656 King Charles II raised a regiment from his loyal exiles in Flanders. It was called "The Royal Regiment of Guards". On the King's return to his throne in 1660, he disbanded the old Parliamentarian Army and commissioned another Regiment of twelve companies for his personal protection. The first of these was called the King's Company.
In 1664 the Royal Regiment of Guards was recalled from Flanders and merged with the King's Company to form the "King's Regiment of Foot Guards."
By 1665 the Regiment had become the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards.
In 1815, as a result of bravery shown at the battle of Waterloo, the title was changed to 1st Grenadier Regiment of Foot Guards.
The 3 regiments of British Foot Guard were not recruited any differently than from the line. However physically they were bigger and recieved higher pay. Each recruit required testimonies of his character before they culd join the Guard. It was important factor for the morale of the troopers.
The Foot Guard participated in numerous campaigns and battles and had hundreds of seasoned veterans. [Battle honors: Talavera, Barrosa, Fuentes d'Onoro, Salamanca, Nive.] The combat experience and a close association with the monarch gave them a sense of superiority.
Their officers were better educated and more aristocratic than their colleagues in line troops. Out of 283 officers who attended the four schools Eton, Harrow, Rugby and Westminster, 80 went into the Guards. It gives a ratio of 28%. Officers wore golden buttons and laces.
The I Btn./1st Regiment of Foot Guards had 2 grenadier, 8 centre and 2 light companies;
the IInd and IIIrd Btn./1st Foot had 1 grenadier, 8 centre and 1 light company each.
The 1st Grenadier Company of Ist Battalion was called King's Company.
The battalions of British Guard were numerically the biggest troops at Waterloo.
Individual battalion had between 780 and 1.000 men, this is almost twice [!] as many troopers as the French guard battalion had. It gave them a big advantage in firepower and in combat with cold steel. Furthermore, at Waterloo the battalions of British Foot Guard were supported by numerous cannons deployed in intervals, on flank and in front, between the farms of La Haye Sainte and Hougoumont. Behind the Foot Guards stood masses of British, Dutch and German cavalry. These cavalrymen conducted numerous counter-attacks in support of the Foot Guard.
Their morale, battle experience, and value in combat was about equal to French Middle Guard. However they were better equiped, better uniformed and were somehow taller than the French. (In the chasseurs regiments served many ex-voltigeurs).
Napoleon's Guard had a very short history as comparing to the British Foot Guards.
For example the 3rd and 4th regiments of grenadiers and chasseurs were formed shortly before the 1815-campaign.
The army called them the 'Middle Guard' although officially, on paper, there was no 'Middle Guard', all were Old Guard.
In these regiments served:
a - men from the Fusilier-Grenadiers Regiment (in 1812-1813 the Middle Guard)
b - men from the Fusilier-Chasseurs Regiment (in 1812-1813 the Middle Guard)
c - best men selected from those who served in the numerous regiments of Young Guard
[half of the Young Guardsmen were voltigeurs, short guys.]
d - seasoned and brave veterans selected from all line regiments.
In 1815 the Middle Guard was poorly dressed, instead of the tall bearskins many wore shakos or bicorn hats. These men didn't enjoy the reputation of the Old Guardsmen but they were younger and physically better fit than the oldest veterans.
In the 1st regiments of the grenadiers and chasseurs served crusty men who had 12 years of service and many campaigns. Majority of these big lads served in line troops and have been
baptized in fire and blood at Marengo, Austerlitz, Jena, Wagram, the pursuit of British corps to Coruna, and the epic victory over the massive Russian army at Borodino and Dresden. They were the sine pari (without equal). In Old Guard served the loyal to death stalwarts who followed Napoleon on Elba Island. Almost 30 % of the Ier Btn./1er Grenadiers were veterans of 20-25 campaigns (!) One third was awarded for bravery.
But only 8 years' service was enough for the 2nd regiments of grenadiers and chasseurs. It doesn't mean that they were somehow worse than the 1st regiments.
At 10am, GdD Louis Friant formed all regiments of the Middle and Old Guard infantry in 2 huge columns on regimental front. One column stood on the left side of the paved road, and the other column on the right side. These regiments remained in position until afternoon.
Then the 'Middle Guard' marched forward and attacked the British, Dutch and German troops.
Several English authors inflate the number of battalions that attacked Wellington's positions, which is misleading.
According to French Archives at Vincennes the battalions
of Middle Guard [Moyenne Garde] involved in this attack were:
Ier Btn./3e Grenadiers-à-Pied de la Garde
* - there was only one battalion in this regiment
At the time of the attack the IIe Btn./3e Grenadiers-à-Pied de la Garde was acting as a reserve and was positioned between La Haye-Sainte and Hougoumont. Soon further 3 battalions were arriving into this area:
IIe Btn./2e Grenadiers-à-Pied de la [Vieille] Garde
IIe Btn./2e Chasseurs-à-Pied de la [Vieille] Garde
IIe Btn./1er Chasseurs-à-Pied de la [Vieille] Garde
The total of 4 battalions were ready either to greet any Prussians intervening from the flank or support the first line.
The rest of the infantry of French Guard, and its majority, were already facing the Prussians.
Ier Btn./2e Grenadiers-à-Pied de la [Vieille] Garde
Ier Btn./2e Chasseurs-à-Pied de la [Vieille] Garde
Ier, IIe Btn./1er Tiraulleurs de la [Jeune] Garde
Ier, IIe Btn./1er Voltigeurs de la [Jeune] Garde
Ier, IIe Btn./3e Tiraulleurs de la [Jeune] Garde
Ier, IIe Btn./3e Voltigeurs de la [Jeune] Garde
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
10 battalions were fighting against Blucher's lads.
The remaining 2 battalions, Ier and IIe Btn./1er Grenadiers, were the creme-de-la-creme of the Napoleonic infantry. They were formed in 2 squares and positioned near Rossomme. One square stood on each side of the road. These veterans with their chests decorated with Legion d'Honneur award kept their eyes on the Prussians to their flank. The Ier Btn. was commanded by Mjr. Loubers, and the IIe Btn. by Mjr. Combes
In late afternoon, the battalions of the 'Middle Guard' suffered from artillery fire.
The 3e and 4e Chasseurs and the 3e and 4e Grenadiers moved forward led by GdD Louis Friant. According to general Petit who witnessed this advance, these battalions were formed in squares to eventually repulse the enemy cavalry. There was a possibility of repetition of cavalry counter-attack as it happened during d'Erlon's assault.
Some English authors disagreed with Petit and choose to believe only those British accounts from the "Waterloo Letters" who claim the French marched in columns. The same authors disregard the accounts which mention that they were not sure what they saw as there was heavy smoke. They also disregard the accounts which state that the 'Middle Guard' advanced in squares, a formation described by the French participants and witnesses.
The first echelon of attackers was formed by the Ier Btn./3e Grenadiers.
They were marching on the left side of the paved road to La-Haye-Sainte. They were the right flank and the spearhead of the advance.
This battalion was temporarily joined by Napooleon. Here was also GdD Louis Friant and Porret de Morvan.
To the left of them and a little in rear marched the single battalion of 4e Grenadiers.
Further to the left were 3 other battalions of 'Middle Guard'.
All the squares were drawn up quite close to one another and advancing at the pas de charge up slope. Their officers and generals marched in the front with drawn sabers. Col. Mallet, who was with the Emperor on Elba, led the IIe Btn./3e Chasseurs.
The enemy artillery fired canister and double canister with many volleys taking effect. The numerous skirmishers fired aimed shots at the officers and generals who led the veterans.
Despite mounting casualties and heavy fire the squares had passed beyond the buildings of recently captured by the French infantry La Haye Sainte. Soon MdE Ney fell with his horse that was killed. He got up, and with saber in hand, joined the marching GdD Louis Friant. Soon GdD Friant was wounded, and the tough Michel, commander of Ier Btn./3e Chass. was killed. These heavy casualties among the top-drawer commanders caused an agitation among the veterans.
But Poret inspired the Ier Btn./3e Gren., which was spearheading the advance and all the veterans regained their battle vigour marching with loud cries. The other battalions also resumed their advance.
Mjr-Gen. von Kruse wrote about his 2.841 Nassauers (Ist and IInd Line Battalion, Landwehr Battalion) and their participation in this combat:
" ... (the French Guard) reached the plateau, with our infantry (part of Ist Btn.) withdrawing only 100 paces. A violent firefight broke out ..." The commander soon brought up the IInd Btn. (Mjr. von Nauendorf with 943 men) formed in column. Unfortunately the Crown Prince was wounded and the IInd Btn. fell back. In their footsteps went the remaining battalions.
When the English, Nassau and Brunswick infantrymen were defeated by the grenadiers the situation became critical. Soon into action went the British Guard and the very numerous British, Dutch and German infantry.
Luitenant-Generaal Baron Chassé, the commander of the 3rd Netherland Division, was at the head of Kolonel Ditmers' brigade and had followed the developing actions with growing interest. He had trouble restraining his soldiers who were anxious to engage themselves in the fighting. The Dutch and Belgians were earlier deployed in second line, behind the British and Germans, and on the flank.
Brigade - Kolonel H. Ditmers (approx. 3.000 men)
2nd (Dutch) Line - Lt-Kolonel J. Speelman (471 men)
4th (Dutch) Line - Kolonel R. van Heeckeren v. Molencate (519 men)
6th (Dutch) Line - Lt-Kolonel H. van Thielen (492 men)
17th (Dutch) Militia - Lt-Kolonel van Molz Wieling (534 men)
19th (Dutch) Militia - Major H. Boellaerdt (467 men)
35th (Belgian) Jaeger - Kolonel D. Arnold (605 men)
Chassé has sent forward the horse battery commanded by Kpt. C. Krahmer de Bichin. The Netherland gunners unlimbered on the ridge, to the right of the British 30th and 73rd Foot and in front of the Brunswickers. Their fire took the square of the grenadiers in the flank. But the shattered Guard continued its stubborn advance.
Chassé formed the 1st Brigade commanded by Ditmers in one big attack column. With drawn sword "General Bayonet" marched forward into the gap, which appeared between the Brunswickers and Maj.-Gen. Colin Halkett's 5th British brigade. Chassé called upon the Dutchmen:
The Belgian general Baron David H. Chassé (1765-1849) was nicknamed "General Bayonet".
He earlier served in the French army and was known for his bravery. He fought with distinction
at Talavera against the British and at Arcis-sur-Aube against the Austrians and Russians.
Between 100.000-150.000 "Belgians" served in the French army during the period of 1795-1814.
Ditmer's brigade charged the battalion square of the 3e Grenadiers with the bayonet. The brave Dutchmen broke the guardsmen and pushed the remains down the slope.
Chasse complained to Lord Hill because the Dutch/Belgian troops' exploits were omitted in his report. This protest resulted in Hill writing of their conduct to Wellington.
Many English authors, aside from some fuzzy math, present the defeat of the 'Middle Guard' as the achievement of British Guard and the 52nd Foot Reg. and so winning the entire campaign.
These authors do not even mention the Belgian/Dutch charge and victory at all !
But their books are written for particular market and are likely to continue to do well in "that" specific market. English author Jac Weller in his "Wellington at Waterloo" wrote about the Dutch-Belgians: (they) "either ran away before the enemy was within effective range, or were seized with panic without even seeing the French."
This is the "Waterloo industry" that exists in England in its worst.
Meanwhile the second echelon of French Guard, the single battalion of the 4e Grenadiers-à-Pied (520 men) engaged the right of Halkett's brigade.
Under the fire of merely 2 guns and the musket fire of the grenadiers, the British 33rd Foot Regiment "1st Yorkshire - West Riding" (Lt-Col. Elphinstone with 576 men) and 69th Foot Regiment "South Lincolnshire" (Mjr. Muttlebury with 565 men) fell back, or retired in "frightful confusion,". The 33rd and 69th were "badly mauled" and Halkett fell wounded.
This is interesting that the paper tigers weren't willing to "close with cold steel" as they might have been in Peninsula. "Fortunately the enemy took no advantage" - as reported one of the relieved British witnesses. The French Guard had plenty of enemies in this sector of battlefield, not just only the scared Halkett's boys, so the 33rd was able to rally.
As you probably already have noticed, the first and second echelon of the attacking French Guard consisted of the tall grenadiers. The third and fourth echelon were the smaller chasseurs.
The third echelon consisted of the Ier and IIe Btn./3e Chasseurs.
The chasseurs almost reached the ridge without encountering any infantry and then moved toward the Ohain road. Here approx. 1.500 British guardsmen of Maj.-General Maitland stood up and delivered volley at close range at the flank of the chasseurs.
The British were not deployed in "thin red line" (on 2 ranks) as suggest some authors but were in 4 ranks, a formation thicker than that of the French Guard.
As if that was not enough they were supported by numerous artillery.
The 2 French battalions, first suffered from canister fire of Bolton's and Major W. N. Ramsay's batteries that took them in flank, and then were decimated by musketry. General Michel fell fatally wounded and the chasseurs halted. The threat of being attacked by enemy cavalry kept them in square, but now they attempted to deploy from square to line to answer fire with fire.
[In square only the troopers in the front wall and partially the side walls were able to fire. If the battalion of 'Middle Guard' had 400 men, then only 100-150 could fire at the enemy to their front. In contrast the British Guard was in line and could bring 1.000 muskets into play. However some English authors continue the tall tale about the "thin red line" smashing the heavy columns of Old (?) Guard.]
1st British (Guard) Brigade - Maj-General P. Maitland (approx. 1.500 men)
IInd Btn./1st Regiment of Foot Guard - Mjr. Askew (781 men)*
IIIrd Btn./1st Regiment of Foot Guard - Mjr. Steward (847 men)*
* - at Quatre Brass the IInd Btn./1st Reg. lost 6 officers and 279 other ranks,
This is truly amazing but the battered chasseurs heroically held their ground for a quite long time (French say approx. 10 minutes, "a lengthy exchange of musketry" says Griffith in 'Forward into Battle' on page 26) before the mounting casualties took its effect. Understandably the handful of survivors began wavering. Seeing this Wellington commanded his guardsmen to charge. [So the British Guard did the Prussian and Austrian way: just waiting until the enemy will waver instead of one salvo, cheer and charge]. They broke the French and intermixed with them "came down the slope in a hand to hand combat all the way down to Hougoumont's orchards." A British offcicer from battery of Royal Artillery commanded by Samuel Bolton, said that the combatants were so intermixed, "that we had to stop firing."
But then Maitland's guardsmen suddenly halted as the single battalion of the 4e Chasseurs came closer. The 4e Chasseurs formed the last echelon of the attacking French Guard.
The numerous British guardsmen instead of crossing their bayonets with the weaker enemy, they flew in disorder up the slope back to their position as fast as they came down. La Garde recule ! (The Guard retreats !) - indeed.
The chasseurs pursued them closely before beign attacked by German and British troops.
[The English authors excuse the flight of their Guard due to flank attacks conducted by the French, forgetting that Maitland's Guard Brigade and other regiments also attacked the French from the (left) flank. Interesting double standard.]
What is even more interesting, another troop of Britsih Guard got into similar trouble. The 3rd Foot Guard Regiment in Maj.-Gen. Sir Byng's 2nd (Guard) Brigade "had to retire several times" when the French attacked their flanks ! Again the British Guard retreat in speed.
And I can tell you, the British guard battalion was not a small thing as te French 300-400 men battalion, the British was approx. 800-1.000 men giant formation.
Fresh troops were brought on Wellington's side to deal with the French Guard, among them was the strong Adam's brigade (almost 3.000 men). They moved against the 4e Chasseurs [The chasseurs suffered heavy casulties in the fight against Prussians at Ligny and its 2 battalions were consolidated into single battalion.] and against the handful of survivors from two other battalions (3e Chasseurs and 4e Grenadiers) who instead of fleeing, hang around still ready to fight. But this time there were simply too many of enemy.
The horse battery (6 guns) of Royal Artillery commanded by Ramsey, the 95th "Rifles" (several hundreds of marksmen armed with long range rifles), the battery of Royal Artillery commanded by Bolton (6 guns), the 71st (Highland) Light Infantry Reg. (936 men) and the Ist Btn./52nd Light Infantry Reg. "Oxfordshire" (1.130 men strong, it was the biggest battalion at Waterloo !) delivers the final blow. The brave chasseurs and grenadiers "bent under the number" and fell back.
Three boys always beat one, but I wonder if it is a 'glorious' achievement ?
Thus all the four echelons of French Guard were repulsed by three-four times stronger British/Dutch/German troops and their bloody remains fled to the rear where stood few battalions of Guard as a reserve. Here was the IIe Btn./3e Grenadiers, IIe Btn./2e Grenadiers and the IIe Btn./2e Chasseurs. Here was Cambronne with the IIe Btn./1er Chasseurs (btn. commander: Lamouret).
Soon came the enemy, the Germans from the Osnabrück Landwehr (633 men uniformed as the British inf. and led by Oberst H. Halkett, the commander of the 3rd Hannoverian Brigade) and the Britsih infantrymen. According to Halkett, the Landwehr was on the right of Adam's brigade.
The Landwehr immediately attacked the Old Guard.
Here Cambronne was wounded, thrown from his horse and captured prisoner.
German officer, Ltn. Richers of the Osnabrück Landwehr Battalion, described the advance and the fighting:
"Our skirmihers deployed against the Old Guard skirmishers and a firefight began. We were advancing, but the enemy stood where he was... Once the advancing battalion reached the skirmish line, its pace accelerated. We moved up, the enemy skirmishers disappeared and the front ranks of the [French] column fired a volley at us. I believe we all hesitated and stood where we were."...
In this critical moment Oberst Halkett inspired the Germans with a cry 'Hurrah, brave Osnabrückers !' and they lowered their bayonets and charged. Richers wrote: "Our opponents didn't engage in a bayonet fight with us. They stood for a moment longer, then wavered, turned around and retired a short distance in relatively good order. Their formation then started to break up and finally they fled in total disorder." The battle-hardened officers of the Old Guard did attempt to rally their men but it was in vain.
British officer, Halkett, present a more optimistic version of the same event than the German officer. He wrote that already "After receiving our fire with much effect, the (French) column [Sic] left their General with two officer behind when when I ordered the sharpshooters to dash on and I made a gallop for the General (Cambronne)."
[At Plancenoit, the Ier Btn./2e Chasseurs 'Old Guard' was attacked and thrown out of the churchyard by Prussian ... landwehr. See map below.]
Up until the Prussians arrived Wellington was on the back foot and would have been beaten without Blucher's army. Wellington almost certainly knew that. Wellington said: "Give me Blucher or give me night" and this is enough to see clearly that he was actually saying "I'm about to get my butt kicked". If the Prussians had fallen back on their communications after Ligny, Wellington would almost certainly have had have fallen back on his, which ultimately meant reatreat to the channel coast with a view to re-embarking a la Dunkirk.
The object of offering battle at Waterloo was to hold Napoleon until the Prussians arrived.
And the Prussians indeed came.
Feldmarshall Prinz Blücher Wahlstadt had made strong progress on the French flank. [In the classic British version of Waterloo the Prussians arrived just in time to mop up the battlefield.] The "Forvard !" general was a tough, stuborn old sod who refused to give in, when many others would have rolled over and died. He defeated the French army at the Battle of Katzbach, trashed the enemy at Dennewitz, and came in time at Leipzig. Blucher was in no way afraid of Napoleon.
The leading elements of Prussian II Corps (commander MG Pirch, chief-of-staff: Oberst von Aster) began to arrive behind their IV Corps (commander Gen. de Infanterie Bülow, chief-of-staff: MG Valentini).
The Division of 'Young Guard' (GdD Count Philpert Duhesme with approx. 4.000 men) was sent against the Prussians but after some hard fighting they were beaten back. They retreated behind the village of Plancenoit where they were rallied by GdB Guye and GdB Chartrand. These troops belonged to the following regiments:
1er Tirailleurs de la [Jeune] Garde - Col. de Malcolm
1er Voltigeurs de la [Jeune] Garde - Col. Seretran
3e Tirailleurs de la [Jeune] Garde - Col. Pailhes
3e Voltigeurs de la [Jeune] Garde - Col. Hurel
Then arrived the Ier Btn./2e Chasseurs and the Ier Btn./2e Grenadiers. GdD Roguet had threatened with death any grenadier who should bring him a Prussian prisoner. They marched straight into Plancenoit with their drums beating.
The 'Young Guard' followed them.
Capitaine Peschot and his company of chasseurs led the entire assault. Peschot met the Prussians on the street but the encounter was not a quick victory and more companies of chasseurs were sent forward. The veterans reached the church and cemetery where after incredibly ferocious fighting they threw the Prussians out. Then the tall and robust grenadiers entered Plancenoit.
Without firing a single shot they drove the remaining Prussians out of the village and pursued the with the bayonet up to the positions where were deployed Prussian batteries. The robust drum-major of the grenadiers, Stubert, used his mace as a club !
GdD Subervie's lighthorse-lancers furiously attacked the flank of the Prussians inflicting further losses.
The Prussian batteries were abandoned for a moment. (Some sources claim that the 2 battalions of veterans fell back to Plancenoit when cannonaded by the artillery).
This is said that the 2 battalions defeated 14 Prussian battalions and inflicted 3.000 casualties. For majority of British authors this is THE most popular and most often repeated event concerning the Prussian participation at Waterloo.
It seems to me as an exxageration as the total loss of two Prussian brigades: 16th Brigade and 14th Brigade commanded by von Ryssel, for the entire battle was 3.219. What about the losses inflicted by French artillery, or the losses inflicted by the lancers, or the losses inflicted by the 'Young Guard' in their bloody fights, or losses inflicted by GdD Lobau's infantrymen ? All these were only 219 ... ?
The Old Guard and supporting them other troops, were able to hold on for approx. 1 hour before a massive Prussian counter-attack kicked them out.
The final Prussian assault involved the bloody street fighting lasting more than a half hour, where bayonets were more often used than muskets. The last to leave were - of course - the 'Old Guard' who defended the church and cemetery.
The two squares left the battlefield in excellent order. The veterans had little more than their characteristic bull-dog obstinacy and courage to rely upon, when they found themselves outnumbered by the enemy. One square marched on the paved road and the other across the fields, drums beating. Near Genappe the two squares came together and were formed in long columns by sections.
Blücher's Prussians watchfully followed the mustachioed veterans.
Picture: British reenactors of French Napoleonic Guard
Courtesy of Steve Gardner from England.
Authors: M. Ayala, L. Louvain, K. Smith