Wellington’s Waterloo Allies:
How Soldiers from Brunswick, Hanover, Nassau and the Netherlands
Contributed to the Victory of 1815
Andrew W. Field
Pen and Sword Military (2022), hardback
Illustrations: Integrated maps
As the author of this work points out, the last few decades have seen an increasing number of non-English accounts of the Waterloo campaign become available in English, thanks in particular to the work of Gareth Glover with his Waterloo Archive series but also through the efforts of scholars such as Erwin Muilwijk and Pierre de Wit. What Andrew Field sets out to do here is to provide a synthesis and analysis of these accounts of the four allied contingents – Brunswick, Hanover, Nassau and the Netherlands – within Wellington’s Anglo-Allied army.
In his introductory Chapter 1 entitled Military Effectiveness, Field sets out a series of criteria for assessing the various national contingents, addressing the primary ‘building blocks’ of manpower, organisation, equipment and arms, logistics, drill and training, leadership, discipline, ethos, support for the cause, experience, and courage and morale. He then makes some excellent points on potential pitfalls in the assessment of battlefield performance, noting in particular the danger inherent in making unqualified judgements based on casualty figures alone – particularly when the nebulous term ‘missing’ forms part of the equation – and discussing the issue of judging the value of inexperienced troops on limited evidence. This chapter concludes with a discussion of the ways in which Wellington sought to address these issues himself in the assembly of his army by breaking up national contingents and attempting to integrate them into British formations. Only with the Hanoverians was he able to achieve much progress in this regard but, as Field points out repeatedly in the remainder of the book, there is a strong argument for Wellington in his battlefield deployments successfully doing in practice what he was unable to achieve within the army’s on-paper order of battle – for example, breaking up the 2nd Netherlands Division at Waterloo into three portions, and depriving the Prince of Orange of effective command of his corps while retaining his utility as a figurehead and rallying point for troops of all nations.
We then move on to the four core chapters of the book, one for each of the contingents, which provide a structure somewhat reminiscent of John Gill’s treatment of Napoleon’s German allies of 1809, With Eagles to Glory. Much as with that work, we are introduced in each chapter to the background of the relevant contingent, the organisation of its forces, and the key command figures. This is then followed by a narrative account of the actions in which that contingent was involved, covering the fighting at Quatre Bras for those elements that were engaged there and culminating with its participation at Waterloo. In none of the chapters is there any treatment of the campaign post 18 June.
There is a lot of good and interesting material in here. This reviewer was particularly taken with the very good account of the activities of the 4th and 5th Hanoverian Brigades at Waterloo, including the unusual formation that they adopted in the early phase of the fighting, and their varied fortunes in the events leading up to the crisis of the battle. Likewise interesting and well brought-out in the introduction of the various commanders was the surprisingly large number of officers who had managed to sit out the bulk of the Napoleonic Wars completely once their home nations had been overrun, only to return to service in 1813-1815 in senior roles; this applies in particular to the contingents of Hanover and the Netherlands and is demonstrated to have had some unfortunate results on the battlefield. Conversely, the Netherlands Cavalry Division is shown to have contained a concentration of officers with experience of regimental and brigade command under Napoleon which enabled it to perform to good effect even after suffering considerable losses.
However, there is also a fair amount of repetition. To some extent this is inevitable when multiple national contingents took part in the same events, made worse by the fact that the Nassau troops attached to the 2nd Netherlands Division are discussed in Chapter 2 along with their own national contingent, which means that some of the same ground needs to be covered again when the activities of the rest of that division are discussed in Chapter 5. Perhaps less excusable is the fact that the same quotations appear on multiple occasions within the work; a complaint by the Hanoverian Captain Jacobi about the breakup of the Hanoverian divisions and their distribution by brigades amongst the British divisions appears on page 19 and then again on page 102, for example, albeit at greater length on the second occasion.
The other weakness of this section, which is unfortunate in the context of the author’s self-defined terms of reference for assessing the contribution of the various contingents by means of what they achieved against what potential they had, is the treatment of the raising and prior experience of the contingents. This is particularly marked in the case of Hanover where the service of that part of the contingent that took an active part in the campaigns of 1813 and 1814 is treated in a fairly cursory fashion which leads to generalisations about inexperience that do not entirely fit with the past records of the regular Hanoverian battalions. A more rounded picture of both the Hanoverian and Netherlands contingents would also have been possible had the author chosen to consider that portion of the army that was not engaged at Quatre Bras and Waterloo, but there is no treatment at all of the troops left at Hal under Prince Frederik and Lieutenant General Colville, nor of the four brigades of the Hanoverian Reserve Corps. Consideration of these troops would not only have helped complete the picture of the two contingents concerned – it would have been interesting to have it demonstrated, for example, whether there were any appreciable differences in perceived or actual quality and reliability between the troops actively engaged and the troops left to cover the open right flank – but also would have facilitated the author’s analysis of the troops that form the core of his study. Field speculates on pages 101-102 about why the Hanoverian brigades were not organised with a mixture of regular and landwehr battalions, apparently without recognising that the 6th Hanoverian Brigade, with Colville at Hal, was organised on just such an establishment.
The sixth and final chapter of the book proper, entitled Summary and Conclusions, is brief and restricts itself to general points; there is no obvious attempt to apply the analytical structure outlined in Chapter 1 to the individual contingents, or to draw comparisons between them, and the discussion relates to Wellington’s use of allied troops in general terms. Comparisons with the British troops are made without any attempt to acknowledge the widely varying levels of experience within that portion of the army.
This chapter is followed by five appendices. Three of them deal with matters peculiar to the Hanoverian contingent, and it is not immediately clear why they were not incorporated into Chapter 4; likewise, the fourth relates to suspicions of the Belgian troops and might usefully have been included in Chapter 5. The material is all interesting and useful but revisiting these topics at the end of the book requires more repetition. The last appendix, however, merges material from the four contingent-specific chapters to assess the role of the allied forces in the defeat of the Imperial Guard. There are some interesting conclusions here, including a greater role for elements of the Hanoverian landwehr, and, conversely, a downplaying of the importance of the significance attack launched by Detmers’ brigade of Chasse’s 3rd Netherlands Division. It would have been interesting, however, if this discussion had been grounded in the recent secondary literature on this topic as well as in the primary source accounts.
Had the author declared his intentions at the outset as being to write a narrative account of the non-British contingents of Wellington’s army, this reviewer would have found little to fault with it. The narrative that we do get is interesting and lively and makes a number of useful points on specific issues that make one think again about various aspects of the fighting on 16 and 18 June. For this reason, the title is certainly a worthwhile addition to a Waterloo-scholar’s library. However, if one is going to promise analysis as well as narrative, and present a theoretical framework on which that analysis is to be hung, then one is under a certain obligation to deliver that analysis, and in that regard, it is impossible to finish the book without feeling just a little bit short-changed.