Thursday 18 June 2015

My, my, at Waterloo Napoleon did surrender

My, my, at Waterloo Napoleon did surrender.

Or, perhaps not. At least according to the French. Napoleon won a moral victory at Waterloo.
French Foreign Minister and former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin's wrote a book Les Cent Jours, about the battle. In it, de Villepin writes glowingly of  Napoleon and explains his unexpected loss to the British at Waterloo with the words, "This defeat shines with an aura worthy of victory. The final symphony of the greatest military composer ever, it only just failed to turn to France's advantage."

Which must rank up there with Hirohito's  "The war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage."

Other famous French military victories might include those moral victories of  Crecy. Agincourt. Trafalgar. Sedan 1870 and again 1940. And those are just the ones Britain was involved with.
Dien Bien Phu is another howler. Though in fairness the French have won the Eurovision song contest five times.

"C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre."

Which was said about the heroic, futile and costly Charge of the Light brigade which our French Allies wisely sat out.

The Belgians have minted special commemorative  €2 coins decorated with images of the battle that really annoyed the French.. They grumbled about lacking the spirit of EU unity and going against monetary policy or some nonsense and tried to stop the coin. The Belgians have made a 2 and 10 euro coin. But to stop the French sulk have restricted them to Belgium only. Allowing only Belgians to get their hands on these undoubted collectors items

There is a counter factual piece that has been doing the rounds for a few months. It claims that a Napoleon win at Waterloo would have seen Europe speaking French. A united states of Europe, The French conquest of China. No European world wars and a host of other fanciful and unlikely events that would never have happened.

The fact is that although Waterloo was 'A damn close run thing' and one of the most decisive battles in history, it actually mattered little to the bigger picture. Napoleon was going to be defeated anyway. It would have just taken a little longer. The Austrians and the Russians were already marching. The losses at Waterloo would never be made good. Napoleon lost around a third of his army. He would have been defeated in a few weeks or months time. 

But, Napoleon and his army were defeated by the tenacious defence of the Duke of Wellington and attacks of Marshall Blucher. Roundly and soundly defeated. 
Wellington's Line formations had too much firepower for the French massed Columns. And all the Gallic whinging about the soggy ground, the unexpected arrival of the Prussians and Bonaparte's piles won't change that fact.
The failures at Waterloo were Napoleon's. He knew the terrain would be boggy. He gave no orders. Wellington knew the Prussians were coming or he would not have chosen to stand. If the illness was too great to bear he had some of the best subordinates of the age in his army. 
His enemies made sounder dispositions, made far fewer mistakes and took their chances as they came.

That's how battles are won.

Just ask Lynton Crosby.

William 'Wellesley' Quango MP
Chairman of the Conservative 1815 Committee


Blue Eyes said...

"We would all be speaking French", presumably just as the English do, after being ruled for nearly 1000 years by the Duke of Normandy.

Nick Drew said...

Napoleon clearly didn't trouble to acquaint himself with the prowess (and even versatility) Wellington had been showing for several years in the Peninsula

at the moment we have Andrew Roberts prosing on about how wonderful Napoleon was on the Beeb (one more episode to come) and it will be interesting to see how he covers 1812 et seq - he has been very forgiving of e.g. the mad Egyptian sortie of 1798

I sort-of understand the enthusiasm for Napoleon-as-lawgiver though I don't share it, being a Common law disciple (real-life/empirical/flexible/right-brain) over Civil Code ('idealistic'/theoretical/bone-headed/left-brain) any day

assuming France could prevail against the rest was a bit like Japan thinking it could take on the USA: a complete failure to understand the resources of the enemy

being fully militarised is one thing, and can get you a big initial advantage: but unless that is pressed home immediately, in the long run the bigger resources will win out

so the counterfactual stuff is daft, as you say: a good recent essay on the decline of the whole French thing ("French thought has been the driving force behind all the major advances of human civilisation") is to be found here

how they despise our bastard culture, haha!

Anonymous said...

New Waterloo stamps out today. They have included a stamp that is used for posting letters to Europe.

Just to rub it in it has a picture of la Haye Sainte defended by the Wellington's crack German legion.

I Hope the Foreign Office and European department have stocked up.

Lord Blagger said...

Time to rename St Pancras station, Agincourt Station

The French started it. Gare d'Austelizt is where Germans arrive by train in Paris.

Lets follow the French tradition.

AndrewZ said...

Napoleon Bonaparte was a megalomaniac dictator who caused years of terrible warfare and millions of deaths in pursuit of his mad ambitions. We should revile his memory.

dearieme said...

Napoleon had far more artillery than Wellington (250 guns to 150). He had about the same number of men (after you subtract the men detached to keep the Prussians away (Napoleon) and block an encircling attack (Wellington). Napoleon's men were far more experienced: Wellington's British troops were many of them pretty green; many of the Dutch and Belgian lads were scarcely trained.

Wellington fought a sound defensive action; Napoleon fought like a chump. The Imperial Guard broke and fled.

"They came on in the same old way and we sent them back in the same old way."

Bill Quango MP said...

Some talk on the media about how the Prussians saved the day. And Wellington was about to be stuffed until their arrival.
This is a bit of a Frenchie 'stab in the back' myth, that they put about as long ago as 1816.

Although it is true the Prussian arrival changed the outcome, that misunderstands the battle and why it was fought where it was, when it was.
Wellington new Blucher was coming. It was a defensive battle to pin the French and invite their attack in order to reunite the allied armies and prevent Napoleon's trademark piecemeal destruction of his enemies.

Wellington didn't have to fight Napoleon at all. He could have retreated with ease before combat. But he wanted to fight him. On that small field at that time.

The other tale of Grouchy not understanding his orders, and thinking the battle won is a bit of a nonsense too.

The French reserve army, that missed the main battle , was actually pinning the Prussians and fought their own battle at Wavre, which they won. But in so doing, and misunderstanding the Prussians move away for a retreat, allowed Blucher's men to appear on the battlefield at the critical moment. If Grouchy had not been where he was, the Prussians would have arrived earlier.

Grouchy , after the battle, conducted the retreat of Napoleon's armies in what is considered a textbook way to withdraw against over whelming forces. He was no chump. He was a very able commander.

The reason Waterloo is a wargamers favourite is that it was finely balanced and a bit of hindsight and a bit of luck and change a few variables and either side can triumph.
But winning the battle would still have resulted in the loss of the war.

Blue Eyes said...

Lord B, a French minister did once request that Waterloo station be renamed to further the cause of European Unity. I believe the British alternative suggestion was Eau de Toilette.

Bill Quango MP said...

BTW I saw somewhere that there is a tabletop recreation of Waterloo today. With some 20,000 miniature metal figures and canon and people assigned to be the various commanders and subordinates.

The small boy in me would love to see that diorama. And to take command of the British Heavy Calvary and not waste their charge.

I still have to install Napoleon Total war II that someone recommended the other day. See if Nappy can do any better against a novice.

Bill Quango MP said...

BE : I think Agincourt Longbow Parkway or Blenheim Junction. Quebec International Terminal or Salamanca Station.
We have plenty of alternatives we could use.

ND; I haven't seen the Roberts shows. I know he has two books out on Napoleon.
The Telegraph was not impressed.

Napoleon, episode 2, review: 'unconvincing'
There was no getting away from Andrew Roberts’s regular lapses into hero-worship in the second instalment of Napoleon

Nick Drew said...

I shouldn't trouble the old iplayer if I were you

Anonymous said...

I just love this jingoism

Lynton Crosby - Australian
Wellington - Irish

I would call Her Majesty German or Prince CHarles half-Greek but I don't want to spoil the day - or the illusion.

Anonymous said...

Ireland was a part of mainland Britain in 1815. Being Irish was the same as being English.

Baron Jon said...

France has never quite got over losing its Empire. Mostly to the English.
And the humiliating defeats in 1870 and 1914 and 1940 to the Germans.
Then Vietnam and Algeria to the locals.

But its the rescue of 1944 that hurt them the most. Never forgiven the UK that.

andrew said...

Where can I get these coins - do I have to get on a train to Belgium?

Nick Drew said...

anon@2:27 - that's the point, we are cheerfully eclectic and scorn French 'idealism': no Academie here

dearieme said...

Wellington was born a subject of the Irish crown and died a subject of the UK crown.

He was Irish, of course: the family name was Cooley before they changed it first to Wesley and then to Wellesley. But then you can make a decent case that Buonaparte was Italian. Come to that Hitler was Austrian and Stalin Georgian.

dearieme said...

"I would call Her Majesty German ": why? Does her mother count for nothing?

Sebastian Weetabix said...

Andrew Roberts is just a posh version of Fergus McContrary. I suspect the real reason for his hero worship of the vile tyrant is their shared -*ahem* - 'stature'

dearieme said...

"after being ruled for nearly 1000 years by the Duke of Normandy." Bollocks:the Norman monarchy only lasted three generations.

MyGeographicName said...

Anon @ 3:31 -

Its worrisome how ignorant some are of political geography.

Ireland was never part of Britain, never was, never will be.
If you mean the United Kingdom, then yes, all Ireland was part of the UK until 1922, thereafter Northern Ireland remained in the UK and the south became the Republic.

'Britain' is a geographical description that never included any part of Ireland, only England, Scotland and Wales and a few of the offshore islands (but not all of them either). Always confuses the yanks that.

Bill Quango MP said...

The Iron Duke was born in 1769.
The United Kingdom (UK) was formed in on January 1, 1801

Wellington would have been Irish as up until 1801 the four nations were all known by their separate names. Their was no common name.
The British Empire came into use about .. one really knows. but in the form we understand it, after Rule Britannia was composed. Early 1800s.

Electro-Kevin said...

Who cares about Waterloo ?

Code Napoleon rules. And the sooner we become Islamic and coffee coloured the less painful it will be.

Anyone care to argue with me ???

Nick Drew said...

yes, Kev.

long before that happens I intend to self-identify as Celtic and live a life of uproarious and ungovernable mayhem, with dire consequences for anyone who comes with their sober Code or Law or whatever

Electro-Kevin said...

Humour. I recognise that.

What I wanted from you was a more direct disagreement.

Nick Drew said...

actually it is nine parts serious

you live in the west country where the rugby clubs are strong, you know what I mean

andrew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
andrew said...

Well, in theory rugby is strong here.
In practice not so much