Most of us know about the famous Battle of Waterloo, commanded by the Duke of Wellington, who decisively defeated Napoleon 200 years ago. But, would it surprise you to know that German soldiers were actually the bulk of the forces that defeated Napoleon at Waterloo? Or that the Germans led by Prussia’s Gebhard von Blücher… the only General who had defeated Napoleon twice… saved Wellington from defeat at the turning point of the Battle?
Of the total number of soldiers arrayed against the French at Waterloo in 1815, 65% were German, 21% British and 17% Dutch and Belgian…and yes, two separate armies fought against Napoleon at Waterloo.
This was Napoleons last battle and it ended 23 years of wars that had convulsed Europe ever since the French Revolution of the early 1790s. After this battle and Napoleon’s second abdication, a century of relative transatlantic peace followed. This momentous result was achieved by the combined effort of 2 armies. One was the Anglo-Allied army led by Wellington, consisting of 26,000 Germans, 25,000 British and 17,000 Dutch and Belgians. The second army was Prussian, led by Gebhard von Blücher and consisted of 50,000 Germans. To recap, Napoleon was opposed by a combined force of 76,000 Germans and only 25,000 British plus 17,000 Dutch and Belgians.
Napoleon’s strategy was to take his battle hardened force of 73,000 and split apart Wellington’s army of 68,000 and Blücher’s army of 50,000. He then aimed to defeat them one at a time before the slow to mobilize Austrian and Russian armies could arrive. His plan almost succeeded.
During the day of the battle there were many heroic actions but there is one worthy of mention. It is described in a book: The Longest Afternoon: The 400 men who Decided the Battle of Waterloo. It details the heroic events at La Haye Sainte, where the 2nd Battalion of the King’s German Legion of Hanoverians bought precious time for Wellington. The strong resistance of these 400 men against repeated massed attacks delayed the prospects of a French victory. When the German Hanoverians ran low on ammunition, they resorted to bayonets, clubbed rifles, and stones. Eventually the 39 survivors of the 400 had to retreat, paying a high price for their stubborn defense. But not in vain…the delay was enough to allow the Prussians to arrive in time to deal a decisive blow alongside the Allied army.
The historian Parkinson wrote: “Neither army beat Napoleon alone. But whatever the part played by Prussian troops in the actual moment when the Imperial Guard was repulsed, it is difficult to see how Wellington could have staved off defeat, when his center had been almost shattered, his reserves were almost all committed, the French right remained unmolested and the Imperial Guard intact. …. Blücher may not have been totally responsible for victory over Napoleon, but he deserved full credit for preventing a British defeat.
Another historian, Zabecki wrote: “Blucher’s arrival not only diverted vital reinforcements, but also forced Napoleon to accelerate his effort against Wellington. The tide of battle had been turned by the hard-driving Blucher.”
After the battle, the Duke of Wellington and Field Marshal Blücher met to celebrate their victory near to the Belle Alliance Farm. They must have discussed their losses…the Allied army with 25% casualties, the Prussians with 14%. Together they agreed that the Prussians alone should continue to pursue the French.
For the Prussians this was the second time that they would march into Paris…the first time was a year earlier in 1814… when they, along with Russia and Austria, defeated Napoleon. In that year of 1814, in an action rich with symbolism, the Prussians recovered the Quadriga Victory statue that was stolen from the Brandenburg Gate and returned it to Berlin. Thus the year 1814 ended the reign of France as the dominant European power, replaced by the ascendency of Prussia. The Prussians second march into Paris in 1815 re-confirmed the changing new world order.
The Prussians second march into Paris in 1815 re-confirmed the changing new world order.
Lützow was Commander of the Lützow Freikorps of black uniformed volunteers who fought heroically as sharpshooting mounted riflemen during the Napoleonic Wars. Lützow’s legacy is modern Germany’s flag colors of Black Red Gold…these colors represent his iconic black uniforms, with their red insignia and golden buttons.