Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Napoleon and Waterloo: A Defeat that Ended an Era

The Crucial factor why Napoleon Lost at Waterloo.

Napoleon lost at Waterloo on 18 June 1815. This is a simplistic statement for the battle could have gone the French way in case the elements had favoured them.  Napoleon had a smaller army than the allies. The French army numbered 75,000 soldiers while the Allies led by the English, Prussians and Russians numbered 120,000. Thus the principle of war ‘concentration of Force’ as stated by Von Clausewitz favoured the collation.
Napoleon was aided by the veteran Marshal Ney while the coalition troops were led by the Duke of Wellington and Marshal Gerhard Von Blucher. Napoleon was an experienced campaigner and well understood the principles of war. He was aware that in case he was to win he had to get on the offensive and drive a wedge between the British and Russian armies. In case he had achieved this the battlefield would open and he could annihilate the Russians first before turning on the English.
A day prior to the battle Waterloo and the surrounding areas were swept by heavy rain. As Napoleon looked at the sky he must have felt a sense of dismay, as the rain and resultant slush would delay his charge as well as make it a slow moving affair. He had not envisaged that the elements would play havoc with his war plans.
Early on 18th morning the rain had stopped but the all-round slush remained. Napoleon after due deliberation decided to launch the offensive, but he had lost crucial time and more important the element of surprise was lost. When Marshal Ney led the assault the die had been cast in favor of the coalition army.  Napoleon rued his options, but they were limited as he could not also withdraw to a better defensive position.
 The charge of Marshal Ney after some initial success got bogged s down and Napoleon knew that the battle was lost. Had the weather remained fine and the charge launched earlier there is a distinct possibility that Napoleon would have carried the day.
With the bulk of the French army on the offensive Wellington struck at the headquarters of Napoleon and was able to make significant headway. Orders were given to Marshal Ney to turn back but by the time he returned the bulk of the French army had been destroyed and he ran straight into the coalition forces.

 Napoleon left the battlefield and hid in a small village, till he surrendered to the English who exiled him to St Helena an island in the South Atlantic. It was a tremendous defeat and signalled the end of Napoleon’s rule, but in hindsight we can see that had the elements of nature not intervened Napoleon may well have won the battle.