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Hougoumont, the turning point of the Battle of Waterloo

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634898.  Sun Nov 08, 2009 9:54 pm Reply with quote

Sadurian Mike wrote:
Celebaelin wrote:
I still wonder what Wellington's plan was if Napoleon attacked Braine l'Alleud

He did have 18 000 troops covering the coast road, but the road through Waterloo was the best in the area and provided the most direct route to Brussels. Wellington's main concern was to delay Napoleon until the Prussians arrived, but they were going to arrive from the East and any French attack West would have caused all sorts of problems.

I've searched out some discussion boards on this matter and the 18,000 men (considered a reserve usually) in Halle. Google maps tells me it's 15km away by road (maybe 12km cross country) to the NW of Braine l'Alleud so there is definitely the makings of a nasty surprise there if Wellington could hold up an attack to his right long enough using the British and Hannoverian troops. The Dutch and Belgians have a big question mark over them in terms of morale as until recently many of them had served under Napoleon and a fair proportion of Napoleon's army were still Dutch and Belgian. The deployment in Halle is perhaps too far away but the bet has to be that His Grace was offering a sniff of victory and betting that he could trap any French force committed to his right flank. I still like the look of taking Braine l'Alleud at least however because it splits the reserve from the field (by their most direct route anyway) and Wellington would have to react. I suspect the reaction would result in a weakening of the support behind Hougoumont but it is possible I suppose that he would have attacked the French line through Hougoumont seeking to split the French on his right from the main force.

I need to look at those maps a bit longer and to keep the 18,000 at Halle in mind!

Last edited by Celebaelin on Sun Nov 08, 2009 10:34 pm; edited 1 time in total

Sadurian Mike
634903.  Sun Nov 08, 2009 10:18 pm Reply with quote

Much has been written on the rather dodgy nature of the Dutch Belgians, but there is a bit of revisionist thinking going on.

The majority of accounts we use are British (actually English to be more exact), with French coming a very close second. There is now an increasingly vocal Dutch/Belgian contingent that are demanding that the poor showing of their nation's troops be closely re-examined.

I am standing happily on the fence at present. Certainly there are plenty of accounts of the Dutch/Belgians acting admirably, but there are also sound reasons* for accounts of their reluctance to be doing any more than they needed to.

More primary research required, and I haven't the time or resources to do so. Perhaps I will tackle it if I get onto this Uni course.

*They were, as Cel says, very new to the Allied cause having been in the French camp for the previous decades. They were also badly trained and equipped, and aware that the rest of the Allied army (and its commander) didn't completely trust them. Finally, they were led by a complete tosspot in William.

634906.  Sun Nov 08, 2009 10:31 pm Reply with quote

Well I was deep into a post on How Napoleon Wins at Waterloo when I lost the text - and no bad thing in truth. I think the attack through Hougoumont down the Nivelles road is a non-starter but other than that I won't trouble anyone with it.

Sadurian Mike
634907.  Sun Nov 08, 2009 10:39 pm Reply with quote

Waterloo is an easy one to win for the French in any recreation, and bloody difficult for the Allies (unless the Prussians can be hurried up).

Hindsight is, of course, an easy way to rewrite history and lay blame on the losers, but there were plenty of basic mistakes that Napoleon made at Waterloo that are very difficult to persuade wargamers to repeat.

Hougoumont is always a bitch, though. It's like attacking a fortress but without the option of laying seige. Come to think of it, it is exactly like attacking a fortress!

634908.  Sun Nov 08, 2009 10:54 pm Reply with quote

If you have, and understand, Wellington's deployment then you should in theory be able to make a reasonable job of defending until Blucher arrives - unless you believe Wellington was lucky. It's quite a big 'if' though. There is a story about Wellington at Salamanca which recounts that he watched the battle through a telescope from a taverna and on seeing a critical French manoeuvre exclaimed "Now man!" to an ADC who promptly rode off with instructions to an infantry commander which basically read "You know I told you if you get the chance to do such and such then do it - well it's now!" although the commander in question had, so the story runs, immediately noticed the opportunity and the ADC's message was not required. This may well be a wargaming related myth!

Sadurian Mike
634909.  Sun Nov 08, 2009 11:13 pm Reply with quote

A few of the big turning points (in my opinion, of course) that could alter the balance decisively for Napoleon are;

1. Don't try to assault Hougoumont. Keep it bottled up and just shell it with howitzers until the place collapses. Neutralising La Haye Saint is sadly a must.

2. When your cavalry charges, make sure it has support from the artillery and infantry. Better still, don't charge but instead simply force the opposition into square and then use horse artillery and infantry to outgun and destroy the squares.

3. Extend the line and force Wellington to over-stretch himself. The attacker always has the initiative and can attack a weak spot, whereas the defender must try to second-guess.

4. Follow up the Prussians after Ligny and prevent them from joining Wellington (that's slightly outside the field of battle, of course, but is a must in any wider context).

5. Equip your cavalry with nails to spike the British guns when the charge goes in and the artillerymen escape to the squares!

6. Push the artillery further forwards so that their fire has greater effect. The British artillery was puny in comparison and could not do much in the way of counter-battery work.

7. Attack earlier where possible and the conditions allow (not much point in using artillery on wet mud) to increase the time before the Prussians to arrive.

8. Fortify Plancenoit as soon as it is taken, because that is the bulwark against the Prussians when they arrive.

Wellington naturally has a few pointers as well, but Napoleon has the edge in most refights.

634912.  Mon Nov 09, 2009 12:19 am Reply with quote

No arguments.

Well, maybe one little one about points 2 and 3 - since much of Wellington's position is on the ridge it is not completely equal in terms of difficulty when it comes to a direct assault; both Ney's cavalry and the Old Guard went up in roughly the same place, on the gentler slope to the East of La Haye Sainte. I'm not sure I'd assault the ridge at all if all went well over at Braine l'Alleud, an attack by the French up the Nivelles road once Hougoumont has been obliterated by artillery fire converts the battle to a N-S orientation with a dogleg, particularly if you refuse the French right to face the arriving Prussians.

1 and 8 are writ big in my list with possibly an even bigger emphasis on pouring artillery fire on to hasten the collapse of Hougoumont.

Sadurian Mike
634913.  Mon Nov 09, 2009 12:33 am Reply with quote

There is a little game on the BBC Website but I can't seem to get the thing to load properly. I am playing the Trafalgar one at present, though, and it is fun waste of time.

The bigger list has Hastings as well.

635398.  Tue Nov 10, 2009 2:33 pm Reply with quote

According to the BBC you can't win the Battle of Waterloo playing the French but you can lose it playing the British, in fact in their view there's only one way you can win it.

Sadurian Mike
635450.  Tue Nov 10, 2009 4:13 pm Reply with quote

I've not managed to get the thing to play yet (nor Hastings come to that). I've replayed it a few times as a wargamer on various media (mainly tabletop) and usually the only way to stop the French from winning is to straightjacket them.

Sadurian Mike
635591.  Tue Nov 10, 2009 10:20 pm Reply with quote

Sadurian Mike wrote:
I've not managed to get the thing to play yet (nor Hastings come to that). I've replayed it a few times as a wargamer on various media (mainly tabletop) and usually the only way to stop the French from winning is to straightjacket them.

Hoorah, I may have found the secret to launching the games. You need to get in and hit that "launch" button very fast, before the graphic has a chance to disappear on you.

EDIT: Aaaand, I wish I hadn't bothered. No chance to do anything but follow history basically.

635594.  Tue Nov 10, 2009 10:47 pm Reply with quote

Told you.

Sadurian Mike
635595.  Tue Nov 10, 2009 10:49 pm Reply with quote

Nobody likes a smartarse.


635604.  Tue Nov 10, 2009 11:26 pm Reply with quote

I think Ney and Grouchy sort of gave up because they didn't want to fight the Russians again (it was those total dudes the Guard Jaegers that did it, I swear).

Sadurian Mike
635605.  Tue Nov 10, 2009 11:38 pm Reply with quote

I have a soft spot for the Russians, not just in the Napoleonic era but from the early medieval and through WWII as well.

Who couldn't love those Russian heavy cavalry?

Well, the French Eagle-bearer aside, of course.


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