Reviews: Military Books



Waterloo: Battle of Three Armies

Chalfont, Arthur Gwynne Jones, Lord, editor. Waterloo: Battle of Three Armies London : Sidgwick and Jackson; 1979. 239 pages. ISBN# 0283982357. Softcover. Out of Print.

Ever since I first discovered this book, I have thought of it as "Three Armies at Waterloo." Published in 1980 it in fact precedes John Keegan's more-famous work about the D-Day landings in Normandy by a couple of years. Unlike Keegan, Lord Chalfont leads a team of three historians as each in turn presents an account of the events of June 18, 1815 in the vicinity of the small town of Waterloo - each historian representing on the three principal nationalities present - English, French, German.

Waterloo: Three Armies cover

Lord Chalfont, the editor, served in World War II in the Far East and the Middle East, and afterwards in a series of military and intelligence posts in the Middle East and Europe. From 1961-1964, he was defence correspondent of The Times, leaving that vocation to become Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. In the historical field, he is best known as the editor of "The Great Commanders" series of military biographies, and as author of a 1976 biography of Field Marshal Montgomery. William Seymour served in the Scots Guards, later becoming author of numerous works of military and general history as well as a regular contributor to Army Quarterly and History Today. He recounts the "Anglo-Dutch" view of the battle. France is represented by Jacques Champagne, a veteran of the French Air Force and the Resistance (1940-43). From 1943 to 1945, he served in the Special Allied Forces. After the war, he became a lecturer on international affairs at Oxford and Cambridge, a commentator on the BBC, and permanent London correspondent for a number of European newspapers. Finally, Eberhard Kaulbach, a World War II veteran who served as a divisional chief of staff in the German army, covers the Prussians. From 1957 to 1968, he lectured on military history at the German military academy. He also published a number of works on German commanders during the Six Weeks war with Austria and the Franco-Prussian War, as well as individual commanders.

The account of the battle is basically presented chronologically, after opening descriptions of Napoleon on Elba, the Allied Armies, and Wellington's troop dispositions - and each author presents a chapter on each national view of the aftermath.

From Elba to Mont St Jean

The Anglo-Dutch Army

The Prussians

Wellington's Dispositions

Preliminaries & First Blows

The Defence of Hougoumont (11:30am-1:30pm)

The Prussian Advance (Daybreak-Midday)

Attack and Counter-Attack: D'Erlon & Uxbridge (1:30pm-3 pm)

A Cloudburst of Cavalry (3:30 pm-6 pm)

The Prussians in Action (Midday-6 pm)

La Haye Sainte Falls (6 pm-7 pm)

The Prussians Close In (6 pm-7 pm)

Victory Then Defeat (6 pm-11 pm)

'La Garde Recule' (7 pm-9 pm)

The Prussian Victory (7 pm-to early morning 19 June)

The Aftermath - Jacques Champagne

Conclusion - Colonel E. Kaulbach

Conclusion - Jacques Champagne

Conclusion - William Seymour

Epilogue - Lord Chalfont

Included in the book are four appendices providing "A Guide to the Battlefield;" "Orders & Dispatches;" "Tables" (with strength figures for the various armies); and "The Crisis" (extracts from several fictional accounts of the battle). Each contributing author provides a select bibliography of the source material he used. Also featured are over a hundred contemporary illustrations, nine battlefield maps, and full-color photos of the battlefield today.

Drawing heavily on "national" source material, this account of the Battle of Waterloo does not necessarily break new ground - in fact characterizing the three viewpoints as follows:

The English - "Napoleon was outfought and 'outgeneralled' by Wellington; it was not Blucher and the Prussians who carried the day..."

The French - "At dusk the French army, fighting a combined enemy twice its size, had victory in hand for the second time in twelve hours.., only the flagrant disobedience of two subordinates turned the tide of a stunning victory for Napoleon into defeat..."

The German - "Without the cooperation of the Prussian forces, Wellington could not have accepted battle, let alone participated in a victory..."

However, the effect as the battle unfolds in the words of each nation's eyewitnesses and historians, is to present a more multidimensional viewpoint than usual. The ease with which the complete work allows the reader to see these differing perspectives has always made this my favorite account of the battle.

Reviewed by Robert Mosher
Placed on the Napoleon Series: January 2001

 

 

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