David Chandler writes "No battle has received more attention from soldiers and historians, or evoked greater popular interest and recognition, than Waterloo." This is probably correct, but let's don't forget that approx. 90 % of these books and articles were written in English-speaking countries. The prolific Waterloo-industry flooded the book market and internet with books, articles, illustrations, and websites. Some of authors describe Waterloo in bombastic words such as "the most imprortant battle in history", "an epoch-making incident, a directional laser-beam of light from the past to the future" (Andrew Roberts - "Waterloo" 2005) or "that world-earthquake, Waterloo" (- Lord Byron).
Is it really accurate to refer to Waterloo as "directional laser-beam of light" ? :-)
British accounts have tended to magnify out of all proportion the accomplishments of the very modest numbers of British soldiers. The British supplied only 1/4 of the 120,000 soldiers who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. For example of the 26 infantry brigades in Wellington's army, only 9 were British. A combination of politics and pride refused to allow that Napoleon's destruction was due to anything other than British pluck and dash and the genius of Wellington. The present state of affairs is not better, welcome to the dodgy world of hype, in which the Duke is pumped up like mammoth beach ball.
Wes Ulm writes: "How do we gauge the relative significance of a given military encounter in the annals of world history? We naturally tend to focus on the loudest, heaviest clashes that shout their intensity in the most overt tones—the Stalingrads and Verduns, those massive set-piece conflagrations that pit enormous standing armies in each other’s firing lines. We also tend to zero in on “decisive” battles that were crucial in determining the outcome of a war. A decisive battle can also be one that permanently and fundamentally alters the state of affairs for the war’s aftermath; the Fall of France to the Germans in 1940 and Britain’s catastrophic defeat against the Japanese in Singapore in 1942 both had momentous impacts over and above the war’s immediate causes themselves, since they undercut the physical and psychological bases for the British and French empires and undercut these countries’ capacities to suppress independence movements, causing their colonial realms to crumble... Thus, in my criteria, what matters most is the effect that a particular decisive battle had on the course of historical events."
Map: In 1942 Germany was the allmighty conqueror and master of Europe.
I can understand why the battle of Stalingrad is considered by most military experts as the most important battle in history.
The battle of Stalingrad was one of the largest battles in human history. It raged for 199 days. The German public was not officially told of the disaster until the end of January 1943. It was not the first major setback of the German military, but the crushing defeat at Stalingrad was unmatched in scale.
Stalingrad, Kursk, Moscow, D-Day, Guadalacanal, all these were epic battles, and very important victories as the enemy was in his peak. I would add several more battles: the Siege of Vienna (if not won the Turks would capture big part of Europe), Marathon, Yorktown and Gettysburg (important for the American Continent). But Waterloo ? Give me a break.
Waterloo was not the largest battle in history. On the Waterloo battlefield were 180,000-190,000 combatants. This is slightly more than at Gettysburg (150,000-160,000) but less than Solferino (1859) - 215,000, Sadowa (1866) - 230,000, Vienna (1683) - 270,000, Gravelotte (1870) - 300,000, or Sedan (1870) - 320,000, to name just few.
There was also nothing unusual about Napoleon being defeated. According to David Chandler the Emperor lost as many as 10 battles. Several examples below:
Waterloo was also not the only lost campaign of Napoleon. The invasion of Russia in 1812 was a catastrophe, in 1813 the campaign in Saxony was a total failure, in 1814 the campaign in France was a final defeat that ended with Napoleon's abdication.
Map: During the Waterloo Campaign in 1815 Napoleonic France was alone and weak, and without Allies. France was no longer the almighty Empire of previous years. Shortly after Napoleon's arrival in Paris, the Allies undertook to provide over 850,000 men between them. According to Chandler France's resources (250,000) "were stretched pathetically thinly." The Allies attacked France but there was no uprising against the invaders. The people of France were physically and emotionally drained by 25 years of war. Several French generals defected to the Allies. "The [French] soldiers were upset at the excessive number of senior officers who had betrayed, or who were suspected of being ready to betray the emperor..."
Sources and Links.
Esposito - "A Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars"
Chandler - "Waterloo - the Hundred Days"
Nosworthy - "La Tactique"
Barbero - "The Battle"
Nagorski - "The Greatest Battle: Stalin, Hitler, and the Desperate Struggle for Moscow
That Changed the Course of World War II"
Forchyk - "Moscow 1941: Hitler's First Defeat"
Glantz - "The Battle of Kursk"
Glantz - 'Slaughterhouse ..."
Beevor - "Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943"
Erickson - "The Road to Berlin"
Roberts - "Victory at Stalingrad"
Hoyt - "199 Days: The Battle for Stalingrad."
Battle of Moscow 1941
1814: Battle of Paris and Napoleon's Abdication
1813: Battle of the Nations - The Biggest Battle of Napoleonic Wars
Battle of Stalingrad.
Photos of Battle of Stalingrad.
Stalingrad Battlefield Information.
Attack on Pearl Harbor.
Battle of Yorktown 1781.
The Patriot Resource: Battle of Yorktown.
Battle of Saratoga 1777.
The American Revolution - Battle of Saratoga.
Battle of Kursk: The Greatest Tank battle Ever.
The Battle of Kursk: Myths and Reality.
Kursk: The greatest tank battle of World War 2.
Battle of Iwo Jima.
Narrative of the battle of Iwo Jima.
Battle of Sedan 1870.
Napoleon, His Army and Enemies