Greenhill Books: Reviews


Marquess of Anglesey

Andrew Roberts

Alan Mallinson

Peter Hofschröer

John Elting


1815, The Waterloo Campaign
Wellington, his German Allies and the Battles of Ligny and Quatre Bras

By Peter Hofschröer

1815: The Waterloo Campaign cover

Review by the Marquess of Anglesey

'The Marquess of Anglesey reviewed in Saturday 21st February's Daily Telegraph (London) Peter Hofschröer's 1815, The Waterloo Campaign: Wellington, His German Allies and the Battles of Ligny and Quatre Bras.

The headline to the review was 'Ducal deceptions in the field' with the subhead 'The Marquess of Anglesey welcomes a controversial study of the 19th century conflict.'

The review read:

'If a true history is written, what will become of the reputation of half of those who have acquired reputation?" Thus Wellington after Waterloo. Historians have ever since been slaving away to produce the 'true history.' Peter Hofschröer in this highly readable, erudite book, has spent years on the quest.

He begins with a masterly account of the situation before and after Napoleon's escape from Elba, and ends with the defeat of the Prussians under Marshal Blücher at Ligny and Wellington's holding engagment at Quatre Bras, both on June 16. A second volume will deal with the great battle which took place two days later.

In 1815 Hofschröer aims to counter the notion that the Prussians played only a minor part in the campaign. This, although not new, is salutary. What is more or less new is the contention that the Duke conspired to deceive Blücher into fighting under adverse conditions at Ligny, so as to give him time to concentrate his own army. This must remain controversial. After Ligny, the Prussian generals blamed Wellington for not coming to their aid. Yet he had promised to do so only "so long as I was not attacked myself." Since he was attacked - at Quatre Bras - this argument loses credence.

Further, the Duke did not know that, thanks to the insubordinate behaviour of one corps commander, the Prussians had only two-thirds of their troops on the field. With the missing corps Blücher could well have held his own at Ligny.

Again, late at night on June 15, and long after Hofschröer maintains that Wellington ought to have moved, Blücher himself was writing: "Tomorrow will decide if Napoleon will turn against me or Wellington."

It is arguable that the Duke's caution was extreme. He was surely right, though, to delay the movement of his Anglo-Dutch-Hanoverian army until assured that the main attack was the one at Ligny, and that Napoleon was not manoeuvring to cut him off from the Channel ports. He may well have failed to make this clear to Blücher.

There were other problems, including the language difficulty and the terrible heat, which slowed down all marching. Then there were the long-standing differences between the two nations.

At the 1814 Congress of Vienna, Wellington had been as suspicious of the Germans as they were of him. His abiding concern was to maintain the European balance of power, thus first to over-throw Napoleon and then to keep France strong. The German object, on the other hand, as Hofschröer revealingly says, was to seize Paris, make the French "pay for their widespread destruction of Germany," and then "expand westwards."

In spite of these opposing interests, in accusing the Duke of intentional deception, Hofschröer protests rather too much. Nevertheless, by deploying numerous, mostly German, new sources, he performs an important historical service.

Incidentally (and unwittingly) what he says of Wellington actually magnifies his reputation. I look forward with glee to the scholarly battles which must follow this book's publication.'

Review by Andrew Roberts

"German historian Peter Hofschröer believes that during the Waterloo campaign of 1815, Wellington deceived his Prussian allies, forced them into bruising engagements with Napoleon they could not win, and belittled their efforts afterwards. Then he grabbed all the glory for himself supported by dozens of sycophantic British historians. After reading this deeply revisionist tract, you will never again think of the Waterloo campaign as essentially a Franco-British engagement, but you will appreciate Wellington as a ruthless general concerned for his own men first, and his allies very much second."

Review by Alan Mallinson

The Spectator (London) carried a long, two-page review of 1815: The Waterloo Campaign - Wellington, His German Allies and the Battles of Ligny and Quatre Bras by Peter Hofschröer. The review is by Alan Mallinson and he disagrees strongly with the author. To quote portions of the review:

"In the preface to his offensive and deeply flawed book he states, 'Every historian has an axe to grind.' His admission that he himself is no exception is one of the book's few indisputable claims... the brash certainty and extent of Hofschroer's claims are singular... Modern British accounts he writes off as shallow, superficial works that repeat and embellish selected myths without bothering to refer to the better accounts [presumably German] of the campaign.

These strictures are at best disingenuous. Of modern books he omits to mention, for instance, David Hamilton-Williams's fine Waterloo, New Perspectives (1993)

...Whether on discovering, in the Duke's own words, that Bonaparte had 'humbugged' him, Wellington sought to conceal his 'tardy' deployment is - at most - conjectural: all the documents that Hofschroer cites are open to interpretation.

...One of Hofschröer's problems seems to be that he does not have any understanding - or feel - for the dynamics of a large-scale military operation and for what Clausewitz called friction.

The Duke had his faults. He was Fabius Maximus Cunctator to the French's Hannibal. But the weight of military responsibility he carried at that moment was enormous (Hofschroer at least concedes, 'There was probably only one commander in Europe who could make something out of this seething bundle of contradictions and frictions'). On Wellington's decision when and where to deploy the Anglo-Dutch-German army rested the outcome of the campaign, and the point needs constantly reinforcing. Herr Hofschröer has spoiled what could have been a useful account of the part played by the Prussians in the Waterloo campaign by indulging in hindsight while grinding an axe."

Response by Peter Hofschröerto the Mallinson review

Greenhill circulated the review in The Spectator (London) of Peter Hofschroer's 1815: The Waterloo Campaign: Wellington, his German Allies and the Battles of Ligny and Quatre Bras.

Peter Hofschröer responded to the review but THE SPECTATOR have not published his letter. Here is what he said:

"May I take this opportunity of replying to Allan Mallinson's review of my recently published book 1815: The Waterloo Campaign (Greenhill Books).

As Col. Mallinson considers my book 'offensive and deeply flawed,' perhaps it would help to examine the reasons he gives for this. Firstly, he points out that I 'omit to mention' a work written by the person who uses the pen name 'David Hamilton-Williams'. The reason for my omission is quite simple - that person's work is questionable to say the least. Doubt has been thrown both on its content and its author's integrity in periodicals such as the 'Journal for Army Historical Research', Napoleon', First Empire' and 'Age of Napoleon,' to name but a few. Hamilton-Williams' case against the Sibornes was answered and refuted, and indeed, Colonel John Elting went so far as to describe Hamilton-Williams' work as 'outright fraud.' His publisher, Arms & Armour Press, ceased publishing his books once this became public knowledge. Thus, I do not attach any credence to Hamilton-Williams' work.

Secondly, Col. Mallinson also seems surprised that I attach no weight to the works of Maurice and Robinson. Those writers based their defence of the Duke of Wellington on one document, the so-called 'De Lancey Disposition'. In this document, supposedly written at 7a.m. on 16 June 1815, a substantial part of Wellington's army is shown as 'marching to Quatre Bras'. However, the record shows that Wellington did not start to order any troops to Quatre Bras until after 11 a.m., and that the bulk of his army was not ordered on that point until after the start of the battle at 2.30 p.m. Clearly, De Lancey could not have written any 'disposition' showing troop movements to Quatre Bras at 7 a.m. as Wellington had yet to decide to move there. A disposition cannot be written before the commander decides where to move his army. Thus, I do not attach any weight to works that give credence to this questionable 'Disposition.'

Col. Mallinson continues by challenging the accuracy of my historical research. Let us take one example, my calculations of the speeds at which mounted couriers moved. He asks: 'Why should messages to Zieten's own commander-in-chief, along an established and shorter Prussian relay-route, travel at a significantly slower speed?' The answer is quite simple. The road taken by the courier to Wellington in Brussels was paved along its entire length, whereas the road to Namur was not. Thus, the courier to Wellington could ride faster. Reference to a contemporaneous map, such as that by Ferrari, clearly shows this. This map has been reprinted and is widely available, particularly in the Waterloo Visitors Centre. Thus, my work is based on solid historical fact.

So Col. Mallinson's complaint seems to be that I do not base my work on discredited books or arguments that conflict with the record and incorrect information. He is entitled to regard this as 'offensive and deeply flawed', however, I beg to differ."

Review by Colonel John Elting

"This is the most important book on the Waterloo campaign written in many years and is an intensely researched account of how Wellington came to be so bamboozled and of the almost fatal consequences thereof."

"Since 1815 it has been an article of faith among German historians that Wellington deceived Blücher during the opening phase of the campaign, promising quick support that was actually impossible because of the tardy concentration of the British forces. So assured, Blücher stood to fight at Ligny, got whipped and - except for d'Erlon's inexplicable meandering - undoubtedly would have been completely crushed, leaving Wellington with an unpleasant assortment of alternatives including a nineteenth-century Dunkirk."

"Almost all British historians have vehemently rejected such imputations, the Duke's immaculate omniscience being a basic article of their faith. American opinion has varied but some, at least, of us have believed that, whether inadvertently or intentionally, Wellington did mislead Blücher as to when and in what strength British reinforcements might reach him."

"Peter Hofschröer believes that this deception was intentional, that Wellington deliberately risked sacrificing Blücher in order to gain time for his own fumbled concentration. He traces this Anglo-Prussian friction back to the squabbling Congress of Vienna and Wellington's role in the British effort to restrain Prussian territorial rapacity, followed by - after Napoleon's return from Elba - the two nations' competition in getting the contingents of the smaller German states for their respective armies. Hofschröer does not whitewash Prussia: the arrogant stupidity with which Blücher and Gneisenau mishandled the Saxon troops, the sloppy Prussian staff functioning and the ramshackle state of the Prussian Army itself are presented in detail."

"The opening moves of the campaign are traced in depth, backed by exhaustive research and careful space-and-time studies. A good many myths and alibis bite the dust. It appears that the Allies were better informed of Napoleon's concentration than has been previously realised, but that Wellington badly misjudged Napoleon's probable strategy and, though promptly warned of his advance, was slow to react. If this version of Wellington seems less than omniscient, remember that the Duke never was exactly a timidly soul, and that a commander who could devastate his Portuguese ally's territory to cover his retreat into the Lines of Torres Verdes just might have been capable of considering Blücher's army an expendable rear-guard."

"Serious students of the Hundred Days may disagree entirely or in part - but they should first read this book."

 

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