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Old October 31st, 2013, 03:50 PM   #1
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Could Napoleon really have won the Waterloo Campaign?


Is it possible that Napoleon could win the 100 days campaign(Waterloo campaign)?

If it did not rain and he was not sick do you think his plan would work out? He had to defeat Britan first, then Prussia, then Russia and Austria. That is 200,000 troops vs 1 million troops. Do you think its possible?
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Old October 31st, 2013, 03:57 PM   #2

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Not likely - not against those odds.
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Old October 31st, 2013, 04:34 PM   #3

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He could have won 'Waterloo' but its a big ask to win the war--1814 all over again springs to mind.
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Old October 31st, 2013, 06:27 PM   #4
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Napoleon accused Wellington of only accepting battle with reliance on the Prussians. Recalling the Waterloo Campaign, Bonaparte also blamed the Marshal, Grouchy:
“Finally, I triumphed even at Waterloo, and was immediately hurled into the abyss. On my right, the extraordinary maneuvers of Grouchy, instead of securing victory, completed my ruin.” He treats Grouchy unfairly, "One of the very finest of the French generals, and a brilliant cavalry commander. Had been instrumental in winning the Battle of Hohenlinden, the victory at Ligny, and had until Waterloo, an exceptional war record. In the weeks following Waterloo, Grouchy conducted one of the great defensive campaigns of the Napoleonic wars against overwhelming odds" (Douglas, 2002, pp. 12-15).

The French army of 69,000 had reportedly beaten an army of 120,000 men, held half the Anglo-Dutch battlefield, and had repulsed General Bulow's corps. Victory was snatched away on the arrival of General Blucher with 30,000 fresh troops.This brought the allied army in the line up to nearly 150,000 men: the odds became two and a half to one.

Napoleon himself remarked "in his commentaries and memoirs dictated on St Helena" that overnight between 17th and Sunday 18th of June the weather was terrible, and rendered the ground impassable until 9am. "The loss of these six hours from dawn was all to the enemy's advantage". He said that if Marshal Grouchy had been on the Mont-St-Jean battlefield throughout the night of 17-18 June, as the English and Prussian generals expected, and if the French could have got into battle positions by 4am; the Anglo-Dutch army would have been carved up and "defeated before 7am" (de Chair (ed.) in Napoleon on Napoleon, 1992, p. 284). He also claimed that if Grouchy had camped before Wavre overnight 17-18 June, the Prussian army could not have detached any force to save the English army, "which would have been defeated by the 69,000 French".

He writes of many more what-ifs and buts in his memoirs, saying the Mont-St-Jean position was ill chosen: "the bad choice of his battlefield which made all retreat impossible, was the cause of [Wellington's] success!" (Napoleon on Napoleon, 1992, p. 285).

Last edited by John Paul; October 31st, 2013 at 06:32 PM.
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Old October 31st, 2013, 06:56 PM   #5

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He could have won Waterloo, but not the war.

The allied army under Blücher and Wellington were only a fraction of the total allied armies. Russia and Austria has not brought their armies into play, and combined they numbered in the 400,000-500,000 men range. I don't think the French could have won against that in the end, and even if they did, it would only be prolonging the inevitable.

Russia and the sixth coalition had proven that napoleon could be beaten. The allies wouldn't give up, and with reformed armies and a head start, napoleon's restoration was simply doomed.
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Old November 1st, 2013, 03:41 AM   #6

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As stated by others, he could have won the campaign but not the war. He was facing the main Prussian army and a secondary British one. The Main British, Russian and Austrian armies were still en route.

He pretty much lost when he failed to engage the British army 1st as planned and instead attacked and failed to wipe the Prussians out at Ligney through poor army organisation. Once that had happened he had lost.

The Waterloo move to attempt to recover the campaign was a bold one (marching between two enemy armies) and may have worked in 1805 with an elite 1805 French army facing inept 1805 central European opponents. But he had a poorly organised 1815 army facing well organised opponents.

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Old November 1st, 2013, 04:04 AM   #7

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Well said John Paul, I agree that Grouchy was unfairly scapegoated. He narrowly escaped execution even after Napoleon's defeat and was exiled for several years. Even after he was allowed to return to France he was never restored to his previous ranks and never lost the reputation of "betrayer of Napoleon".

It's often forgotten that he had in June 1815 been given very detailed orders and had previously witnessed Ney being reprimanded by the Emperor for disobeying orders.

I agree with all the above posters anyway, Napoleon might well have won Waterloo had various factors gone the other way but it's difficult to imagine him militarily overcoming the rest of the opposition against him.

It's interesting to speculate what France's reaction would have been had he beaten Wellington and Blucher ... would thousands have then flocked to his standard? Could he have conceivably raised a large enough army to be able to sue for peace in a Europe that was surely sick and tired of warfare by that point. Or would the foreign powers have felt compelled to oust him anyway, based on his previous inability to stay within his own borders...

Another single point I'd question is that in the Hundred Days Napoleon was up against well-organised opponents. His escape from Elba caught everyone on the hop and it's well known that Wellington considered his own army of combined nationalities one of the worst he ever fielded ... because of this he felt compelled to fight a defensive and static battle as he had little confidence in such an army being able to manouvre effectively or fight an offensive battle.

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Old November 1st, 2013, 04:53 AM   #8

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mrbsct View Post
Is it possible that Napoleon could win the 100 days campaign(Waterloo campaign)?

If it did not rain and he was not sick do you think his plan would work out? He had to defeat Britan first, then Prussia, then Russia and Austria. That is 200,000 troops vs 1 million troops. Do you think its possible?

I think you have pretty much answered your own question. 1000000 vs 200000. Thats some ask even for a man like Napoleon. The truth of the matter is that armies tend to learn more from defeat than from victory and lets face it, the Austrian, Prussian, and Russian armies had been mauled a few times, and they had had plenty of time to learn. Napoleons victories were getting ever harder because the opposition was getting ever better. By 1815 the allies were stronger and better led than ever before. Napoleon had to be perfect to stand even half a chance, and with failing health and subordinate commanders of questionable ability it was likely mission impossible.
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Old November 1st, 2013, 05:12 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by funakison View Post
I think you have pretty much answered your own question. 1000000 vs 200000. Thats some ask even for a man like Napoleon. The truth of the matter is that armies tend to learn more from defeat than from victory and lets face it, the Austrian, Prussian, and Russian armies had been mauled a few times, and they had had plenty of time to learn. Napoleons victories were getting ever harder because the opposition was getting ever better. By 1815 the allies were stronger and better led than ever before. Napoleon had to be perfect to stand even half a chance, and with failing health and subordinate commanders of questionable ability it was likely mission impossible.

This is largely my take on it too. When reading of Napoleon's later campaigns im always struck by how often authors(and Napoleon himself) suggest he was thwarted by the weather, muddy roads, illness, poor communications, incompetent commanders and so on. These types of things never seemed to thwart him at Austerlitz or any other of his other great victories. I dont believe Napoleon became a poor or unlucky general as time went on. What in fact had changed was the professionalism(and strength) of his opponents.
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Old November 1st, 2013, 05:15 AM   #10

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Quote:
Originally Posted by jackydee View Post
This is largely my take on it too. When reading of Napoleon's later campaigns im always struck by how often authors(and Napoleon himself) suggest he was thwarted by the weather, muddy roads, illness, poor communications, incompetent commanders and so on. These types of things never seemed to thwart him at Austerlitz or any other of his other great victories. I dont believe Napoleon became a poor or unlucky general as time went on. What in fact had changed was the professionalism(and strength) of his opponents.
In addition, you have left out the fact that the Prussians were determined to annihilate Napoleons army, including the man himself.
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