The Prussians and Wellington
in Waterloo in 1815

- by Peter Hofschröer

Approx. 45 % of Wellington's troops were Germans
20 % were Dutch and Belgians, and only 35 % were British.

Questions to Peter Hofschroer supplied by our visitors:
1. Major myths British historians created about Waterloo.
2. Would you have preferred another commander
- - of the Prussian army instead of Blücher ?

3. What would the Prussians and King do if
- - the British had retreated to Dunkirk and embarked on the ships ?

4. What was your reasoning in naming Waterloo as the German victory ?
5. What were Wellington's biggest errors in 1815 ?
6. Why was the Prussians arrival at Waterloo decisive
- - in the victory over Napoleon ?

7. How would you describe Wellington as a person and as a politician ?
8. Who is/are the most reliable and unbiased English writer on 1815 ?

Wellington and Blucher 
after the battle According to the English newspaper "The Independent" (November 2004) Waterloo was largely won by Prussians, Hanoverians, Saxons, Dutch and Belgians. Although the British prefer not to dwell on it, these nations supplied around three-quarters of the 120,000 soldiers who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. Of the 26 infantry brigades in Wellington's army of 70,000, only nine were British; of the 12 cavalry brigades, only 7 were British. Half the 29 batteries of guns were Hanoverian, Dutch or Belgian. None of these included the 53,000 Prussians who turned up eventually for the battle and swung it Wellington's way when the French were pushing for a late
All three Wellington's strongpoints at Waterloo (Hougoumont, La Haye Sainte and Papelotte) were defended by German troops. Papelotte was defended by Prince Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar's brigade made up of Germans in the Orange-Nassau and the 2nd Nassau Regiments. At Quatre Bras, where the prince's spirit of initiative had made no small contribution to saving the day. La Haye Sainte was defended by one battalion of King's German Legion. Hougoumont was defended not only by the British Guard but also by various German troops including battalion of 2nd Nassau under Mjr. Busgen, several companies of Hannoverian jagers and in the end by light companies of Du Plat's brigade, light companies of Brunswick corps and part of Halkett's Hannoverian landwehr brigade.

What are the major myths British historians created about Waterloo ?

That Waterloo was a feat of British arms.

That Wellington's failure to react in time on 15 June to the news of the outbreak of hostilities was due to (Hannoverian general) Dörnberg and (Prussian general) Zieten not sending him information quickly enough.

That Blücher chose bad positions at (the Battle of) Ligny and handled his troops poorly.

Would you have preferred another commander-in-chief of the Prussian army instead of Blücher ? If so, then what would you have had him to do differently than Blücher ?

I think the only other choices were Kleist and Bülow. Of those, Kleist was probably the more able. Handling the Saxon issue with more tact would have given him another 14,000 men at Ligny - and probably saved the day.

What would the Prussian army and King do if the British-Dutch-German army had retreated to Dunkirk and embarked on the ships ?

Just a small correction here: Wellington's line of retreat was via Antwerp and not the Channel ports.

Had Wellington chosen the route home, then the Prussians would have fallen back to the Rhine to await the arrival of the Russians and Austrians.

What was your reasoning in naming Waterloo as the German victory ?

Wellington's force consisted of contingents from three countries: Britain, Germany and the Netherlands.

Each formed roughly one-third of his army, with the Germans making the largest third, the British the smallest. Almost all of Blücher's Prussians were ethnic Germans. In the theatre in the Low Countries, 75% of the troops were German.

Of these, Blücher's Prussians did most of the marching, fighting and bleeding. Reference to the relevant charts in volume 2 of my work on 1815 demonstrates this clearly.

Germany could have won this campaign without Britain.
Britain could not have won it without Germany.

Nevertheless, British historians present Wellington's army as "British", except when it comes to imparting blame, when parts of it become "foreign" and claim the campaign was a British victory.

What were Wellington's biggest errors in 1815 ?

His grave mistake was to fail to react to the arrival of news of the outbreak of hostilities on the morning of 15 June. Several confirmations of this had to arrive before he issued any orders - from 6 pm. That meant it was too late for him to move his army that day and provide Blücher with the support he needed on 16 June.

He also failed to order his entire army to Quatre Bras on 16 June, although he was later to claim that he did do so. However, the orders issued and received do not correspond with that claim.

Why were the Prussians arrival on the battlefield and their attack on Napoleon's flank decisive in the victory over Napoleon ?

Yes, but then Wellington would never have given battle had he not been assured of Prussian support.

However, being a glory grabber, Wellington went to considerable effort after Waterloo to play down the role of the Prussians.

Napoleon was aware of their moves from relatively early in the day and was unable to use (general) Lobau to attack Wellington's centre after (general) d'Erlon because the Prussian movements tied down his reserves.

The final attack with the Guard was undertaken too late and with too few men because much of his final reserve was committed in the battle for Plancenoit in his right rear.

How would you describe Wellington as a person and as a politician? Please explain the "cover up" after Waterloo.

As with all great men, Wellington had a great ego. He was supremely confident of his own abilities and brooked no competition in headquarters. We would not work with Sir Hudson Lowe, who had a reputation for second-guessing his commanders. He was ruthless in protecting his own image.

He was not, as his apologists would claim, an honest politician.

His delay in ordering the movement of his troops on 15 June meant that he could not keep his promises of providing the Prussians with rapid support. Rather than admit his error them, he led them to believe all was running to plan. The false information was in part responsible for Blücher's defeat at Ligny.

Wellington went on to make a number of false claims in his "Waterloo Despatch" of 19 June 1815, like, for instance, the time he heard the news of the outbreak of hostilities, how he reacted to that, and so on.

In the years following Waterloo, he went to considerable efforts to ensure that English-language histories followed his line. Only one contemporary British Waterloo historian did not do what he was told. That was Siborne and he suffered severe consequences.

Who is/are the most reliable and unbiased English writer(s) on 1815 and do you recommend his works ?

1) Siborne.
He has been maligned by a man using the name "Hamilton-Williams". The charges of fraud made against him are false and malicious. Had Siborne been alive today, H-W would have found himself in court facing a libel suit. Although telling the history of the campaign from the British perspective, his work was one of the most thoroughly researched ever produced.

2) Chesney.
Described somewhat unfairly by the Prussian General Staff as the 'first unbiased work' on the campaign in English, Chesney was one of the few British historians of the Campaign to use both French and German sources as well as English.

Good historians run down and establish the facts. Most British Waterloo historians run away from the facts and embellish myths.

Color Map of Waterloo.
The second stage of the battle.
Waterloo 1815: Napoleon against two armies.
"Ah ! Wellington ought to light a fine candle to old Blucher.
Without him, I don't know where His Grace, as they call him,
would be; but as for me, I certainly wouldn't be here."
- Napoleon on St. Helena

Reviews of Hofschroer's Book

Sources and Links
Recommended Reading.

Hofschroer - "1815 The Waterloo Campaign: Wellington, His German Allies and the Battles of Ligny and Quatre Bras"
Hofschroer - "1815, The Waterloo Campaign: The German Victory : From Waterloo to the Fall of Napoleon"

Prussian Army

Prussian Infantry ~ Prussian Cavalry. ~ Prussian Artillery

Napoleon, His Army and Enemies