Wellington 'Never Lost a Battle' - Why both sides annoy me

Poly

Ad Honorem
Apr 2011
6,688
Georgia, USA
#51
Quatre Bras was a battle in its own right. Several thousand casualties. Many units suffered more there than they did at Waterloo.

That said, Ney having failed in his mission and being driven from the crossroads clearly lost.
No it wasn't

it was a skirmish.


It was a delaying tactic.

And even if you do consider it a battle...Wellington WAS NOT THERE.
 
Feb 2016
4,129
Japan
#52
Prince of Orange and Saxe Weimer commanded at the start. I’m aware of that and have stated already. It was however a BATTLE... as it called the BATTLE of Quatre Bras, it is a BATTLE honour for several allied units and does not fit the requirements for a skirmish... small numbers of troops.

Ney commanded 32 battalions, 58 squadrons and 8 batteries.
30 000 men.
French losses amounted to 4 400 men.

The allies
Had about 28 battalions, 13 squadrons and 5 batteries.
Allied losses being 3500 men approx.

Skirmishes are SMALL actions. Quatre Bras Was larger than almost every battle in US history until the ACW. Washington and Jackson won 0 battles? Only skirmishes....
 
Jul 2018
427
Hong Kong
#53
It was a delaying tactic.
No, the Anglo-allied army intended to coalesce with the Prussian army nearby, not fighting for withdrawal or slowing down the French advance, yet unexpectedly they bumped into the outright encounter with Ney's army at Quatre Bras.

If the Prince of Orange merely fought for covering retreat from the beginning, there would be no long series of incoherent skirmishes and clashes around the village from the early dawn at 05:00 to late afternoon at 14:00 followed up by consecutive waves of intensified combat that hadn't ceased until the night at 21:00, with both sides' reinforcement constantly streaming into the battlefield in piecemeal as they were plunged into costly see-saw battles pushing or falling miles hither and thither.

In fact, it was initially a "skirmish in encounter", but quickly escalated to a large battle as more troops rushing onto the place after hearing the sound of guns — the typical circumstance in the Napoleonic War when neither side in belligerence expected that they would meet the counterpart in some exact location or time which they hadn't planned. In general, the whole campaign was always fought under the "fog of war" — neither side had full picture of what had been happening or how the battle ongoing with limited technique in reconnassiance or communication.

The usually prudent military commander would not risk for full-scale advance or offensive easily under such circumstance. That made the difference between the "military genius" Napoleon Bonaparte and the "military mediocre" Schwarzenberg in the AD 1814 French Campaign. The former resorted on decisive manuoever for striking a psychological blow upon the opponents in the "fog of war" though which also caused much uncertainty to him, the latter was always too timid to advance without fully securing the line of communication with the rear or the other allied troops in fear of being battered in isolation — but it was exactly this "over-caution" ensured Schwarzenberg "preventing any single major defeat" on the hands of Napoleon, and even bloodily lashed him at Arcus-sur-Aube with overwhelmingly numerical advantage boosted by highly-advantageous terrains....ironical to the extreme.

But Wellington was no Schwarzenberg. He might be inhibited by uncertain accuracy of intelligence which would paralyze him for a while to conducting any effective co-ordination or concentration of troops at the exactly right place since he wasn't sure where Napoleon would strike his blow. But once he realized what's going on, he would quickly turn his idleness to incisiveness in mood and fulfilled the tactical plan he had envisaged with clear objective. The retreat to Waterloo and the subsequent battle occurred there ended up with a total victory compromised Wellington's bad reputation of being idle in the early phase of the campaign, and vindicated his strong military leadership once more.

In comparison, Schwarzenberg just "followed the tempo and dance" raised by Napoleon. If not for Tsar Alexander I's bold decision of marching to Paris rather than pursuing Napoleon eastward on 24th March 1814, the war would be lasted longer in consequential to greater casualties inflicted upon the Allied army.

Wellington fought a battle on the place he chose at last, in his own term, and finally scored a decisive victory over Napoleon with the anticipated Prussian reinforcement. Indeed, a year ago, he already realized that the field laid at the south of Soigne Forest around the Mount St. Jean which had a road accessible northward to Brussels was an ideal battlefield, and turned such "insightful observance" to practice in the Battle of Waterloo. He was really good in making a tactical judgment. In comparison with that Schwarzenberg who was always so indecisive and inactive, you'll understand the stark contrast between a "great military commander" and a "mediocre military commander".

"Mediocre military commander" isn't equivalent to incompetence, just have too much tendency to follow the "common sense" in planning and preparation restrained by logistical or psychological pressure. "Great military commander" meant those who could always shatter the rigid framework of "convenient moves" and prefer to do anything what the opponent could not guess with farsightedness, courage and vision.

In conclusion, there is no reason to consider Wellington a poor military commander in the AD 1815 Waterloo Campaign.
 
Last edited:

pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
8,074
#54
The usually prudent military commander would not risk for full-scale advance or offensive easily under such circumstance. That made the difference between the "military genius" Napoleon Bonaparte and the "military mediocre" Schwarzenberg in the AD 1814 French Campaign. The former resorted on decisive manuoever for striking a psychological blow upon the opponents in the "fog of war" though which also caused much uncertainty to him, the latter was always too timid to advance without fully securing the line of communication with the rear or the other allied troops in fear of being battered in isolation — but it was exactly this "over-caution" ensured Schwarzenberg "preventing any single major defeat" on the hands of Napoleon, and even bloodily lashed him at with overwhelmingly numerical advantage boosted by highly-advantageous terrains....ironical to the extreme.
.
Schwartzenberg while I would say medicore at best was also following Austrian policy which was not nesscarily seeking the immediate defeat of Napoleon on the battlefield, decisive battles, heavy Austrian causalities were not on the Austrian strategic agenda, some (not all) of Schwarzenberg pusillanimity

Calling Arcus-sur-Aube a bloody lashing is hardly accurate , Napoleon WAS defeated, casualties about equal, and not large.


But Wellington was no Schwarzenberg. He might be inhibited by uncertain accuracy of intelligence which would paralyze him for a while to conducting any effective co-ordination or concentration of troops at the exactly right place since he wasn't sure where Napoleon would strike his blow. But once he realized what's going on, he would quickly turn his idleness to incisiveness in mood and fulfilled the tactical plan he had envisaged with clear objective. The retreat to Waterloo and the subsequent battle occurred there ended up with a total victory compromised Wellington's bad reputation of being idle in the early phase of the campaign, and vindicated his strong military leadership once more.


In comparison, Schwarzenberg just "followed the tempo and dance" raised by Napoleon. If not for Tsar Alexander I's bold decision of marching to Paris rather than pursuing Napoleon eastward on 24th March 1814, the war would be lasted longer in consequential to greater casualties inflicted upon the Allied army.
Throughout 1813/14 Napoleon danced to the coalition's tune more than the other way around, dashing form one piont to another unable to impose any coherent strategic plan.



"Mediocre military commander" isn't equivalent to incompetence, just have too much tendency to follow the "common sense" in planning and preparation restrained by logistical or psychological pressure. "Great military commander" meant those who could always shatter the rigid framework of "convenient moves" and prefer to do anything what the opponent could not guess with farsightedness, courage and vision.
Snap "decisive" decisons can be bad just as often as slow "prepared" decsiosn making. Neither has soem unquestioned clain to "greatness". Macks switness of advance, and bold decisive moves, were worse than Schwartsenberg;s
pusillanimity.

Napoleon's snap decisions were often wrong, among his great weakness was realistic strategic apprials (far to often he believed what he wanted to rather than what the evidence said) , acknowledgement of logistical considerations.


Napoleo's rash advance in 1814 at Arcus-sur-Aube was driven by Psychoogoical pressue rather than some astute "military genius:" He was lucky not to be destroyed.[/QUOTE]
 
May 2018
493
Michigan
#55
No, the Anglo-allied army intended to coalesce with the Prussian army nearby, not fighting for withdrawal or slowing down the French advance, yet unexpectedly they bumped into the outright encounter with Ney's army at Quatre Bras.

If the Prince of Orange merely fought for covering retreat from the beginning, there would be no long series of incoherent skirmishes and clashes around the village from the early dawn at 05:00 to late afternoon at 14:00 followed up by consecutive waves of intensified combat that hadn't ceased until the night at 21:00, with both sides' reinforcement constantly streaming into the battlefield in piecemeal as they were plunged into costly see-saw battles pushing or falling miles hither and thither.

In fact, it was initially a "skirmish in encounter", but quickly escalated to a large battle as more troops rushing onto the place after hearing the sound of guns — the typical circumstance in the Napoleonic War when neither side in belligerence expected that they would meet the counterpart in some exact location or time which they hadn't planned. In general, the whole campaign was always fought under the "fog of war" — neither side had full picture of what had been happening or how the battle ongoing with limited technique in reconnassiance or communication.

The usually prudent military commander would not risk for full-scale advance or offensive easily under such circumstance. That made the difference between the "military genius" Napoleon Bonaparte and the "military mediocre" Schwarzenberg in the AD 1814 French Campaign. The former resorted on decisive manuoever for striking a psychological blow upon the opponents in the "fog of war" though which also caused much uncertainty to him, the latter was always too timid to advance without fully securing the line of communication with the rear or the other allied troops in fear of being battered in isolation — but it was exactly this "over-caution" ensured Schwarzenberg "preventing any single major defeat" on the hands of Napoleon, and even bloodily lashed him at Arcus-sur-Aube with overwhelmingly numerical advantage boosted by highly-advantageous terrains....ironical to the extreme.

But Wellington was no Schwarzenberg. He might be inhibited by uncertain accuracy of intelligence which would paralyze him for a while to conducting any effective co-ordination or concentration of troops at the exactly right place since he wasn't sure where Napoleon would strike his blow. But once he realized what's going on, he would quickly turn his idleness to incisiveness in mood and fulfilled the tactical plan he had envisaged with clear objective. The retreat to Waterloo and the subsequent battle occurred there ended up with a total victory compromised Wellington's bad reputation of being idle in the early phase of the campaign, and vindicated his strong military leadership once more.

In comparison, Schwarzenberg just "followed the tempo and dance" raised by Napoleon. If not for Tsar Alexander I's bold decision of marching to Paris rather than pursuing Napoleon eastward on 24th March 1814, the war would be lasted longer in consequential to greater casualties inflicted upon the Allied army.

Wellington fought a battle on the place he chose at last, in his own term, and finally scored a decisive victory over Napoleon with the anticipated Prussian reinforcement. Indeed, a year ago, he already realized that the field laid at the south of Soigne Forest around the Mount St. Jean which had a road accessible northward to Brussels was an ideal battlefield, and turned such "insightful observance" to practice in the Battle of Waterloo. He was really good in making a tactical judgment. In comparison with that Schwarzenberg who was always so indecisive and inactive, you'll understand the stark contrast between a "great military commander" and a "mediocre military commander".

"Mediocre military commander" isn't equivalent to incompetence, just have too much tendency to follow the "common sense" in planning and preparation restrained by logistical or psychological pressure. "Great military commander" meant those who could always shatter the rigid framework of "convenient moves" and prefer to do anything what the opponent could not guess with farsightedness, courage and vision.

In conclusion, there is no reason to consider Wellington a poor military commander in the AD 1815 Waterloo Campaign.
That's a pretty good comparison, and brings up two aspects of military leadership that are not often understood.

1. Decisiveness in the circumstances of warfare is often hard. Historian Rory Muir (a Wellington biographer) of warfare:

A common analogy compares war to chess, but for this to have some relation to reality each piece would be capable of moving at the same time; each move would need to be dictated several moves in advance; one in three pieces would not move as directed or not move at all; and the player would only get the occasional glimpse of the board!

Very applicable to the situation at Waterloo, which is reinforced by the fact that Rory Muir himself said the above quote when writing about Waterloo.

It is very difficult to be decisive, or sure of one's self, in the circumstances of the theoretical chess game. Now add on top of that chess game the fact that the outcome could determine the fate of nations, and you get the sense of pressure that field commanders are under. Having been a mid-level NCO in a combat zone, the feeling of "lack of certainty" in the example chess game is doubled in an urban combat environment: one cannot be 100% sure if the kid running at you with a grenade in his hand trying to murder you, or turn a deadly weapon into the proper authorities (ie: U.S. forces).

2. I like your characterization that Wellington was fighting on ground, and terms, largely of his choosing and your emphasis on how important that is. Napoleon was not one who was used to being the one reacting to his opponent's moves. Until Ligny (okay, after the Anglo-Allies and the Prussians split up the first time to the time of Ligny), Napoleon had largely dictated the campaign: Ligny was an attack of his choosing, and the Allies were running away from him. However, Wellington pulled a very clever reversal on Napoleon that actually made the defending army the one with the initiative: he managed to keep Blucher on a parallel retreat after Ligny within supporting distance of the Anglo-Allies. Now Napoleon was in a race against the clock to destroy Wellington before Blucher could link up with him, thus handing the initiative to Wellington. Wellington chose very defensible ground with a forest to the rear: one whose brush he knew was thin enough to retreat through, but Napoleon didn't. Thus, Wellington set himself up in a very good tactical and strategic position:

1. The ridge of Mont St. Jean was defensible, with anchors for his right and center at La Haye Sainte and Hougoumont. His left was vulnerable, but that was the direction he was expecting Blucher to arrive.

2. All he had to do at Waterloo was hold out long enough for his flanking maneuver with the Prussians to play out. In fact, he didn't even need the Prussians to arrive fully: if Napoleon saw a Prussian Corps advancing, he would have to redeploy to his flank in response, thus softening any forces directly facing Wellington.

3. If circumstances turned against him, Wellington could do an orderly retreat and Napoleon would begin the initial pursuit in the belief that Wellington could not retreat through the forest behind him. This would buy him time, and there was a decent chance that Blucher would show up on the rear of a pursuing French Army. At this point, Wellington could about-face his army and attack with Blucher.
 

pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
8,074
#56
Until Ligny (okay, after the Anglo-Allies and the Prussians split up the first time to the time of Ligny), Napoleon had largely dictated the campaign: Ligny was an attack of his choosing,
The Allies chose to wait, time was on their side, they were still mobilizing.

and the Allies were running away from him.
They were not they concentrated their forces towards Napoleon as part of their agreed plan. (though Wellington delayed for reasons only really known to himself, ) The Allied plan was hindred by one Prussian corps failling to obey orders to move forward and Wellingtobn delaying his concentration. The Plan was reasonable and if followed the allies would have been in place with superior numbers in easy co-ordntaion distance. They predictated more or less exactly what Napoleon did.

So much is made of French staff failures, (D'Erlon corps) the allied staff failures the saw an entire Prussian corps not turn up is normally not mentioned at all.

However, Wellington pulled a very clever reversal on Napoleon that actually made the defending army the one with the initiative: he managed to keep Blucher on a parallel retreat after Ligny within supporting distance of the Anglo-Allies.
Nothing much to do with Wellington (or Blucher for that matter for his was lying under his horse on the field of battle) , the Prussian decisosn to maintain contact withteh British was thier decisosn. One Wellington could reaonably hope for but it was not achievemnt of Wellington for he did not 'manage' it.
 
Likes: Edratman
May 2018
493
Michigan
#57
Nothing much to do with Wellington (or Blucher for that matter for his was lying under his horse on the field of battle) , the Prussian decisosn to maintain contact withteh British was thier decisosn. One Wellington could reaonably hope for but it was not achievemnt of Wellington for he did not 'manage' it.
Blucher trusted Wellington, who wanted them to stay within supporting distance. Gneisenau didn't want to stay within supporting distance, but gave the order anyway, in deference to Blucher's wishes. He managed his relationship with allies carefully, to the point that Blucher trusted him, and evidently Gneisenau trusted Blucher (or the chain of command) enough to go against his own judgement. Many a campaign have been lost by bickering allies.
 
Likes: Edratman
Aug 2015
2,329
uk
#58
Not sure how anyone can class Quatre Bras as a defeat for the Allies; certainly Napolron would not have regarded it as a victory. Yes Wellington was delayed, and prevented from joining up with Blucher (that's assuming Wellington actually intended on hurrying to Ligny) but much more importantly the French were prevented from capturing the crossroads and harrying the Duke's army.

The French retreated first. A much larger percentage of the French army were casualties. The French were prevented from capturing the crossroads. That is definitely not a French victory. But it can hardly be called an Allied victory either. So in my opinion it was a draw.

It's ironic to think that if the French hadn't provided Wellington with a reason for not joining up with Blucher at Ligny, Napoleon (with his full force) would have stood a much better chance of winning than he did fighting at Ligny and Waterloo.