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Waterloo

18 June, 1815

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By Richard Moore

One of the most decisive battles of the Napoleonic Wars, Waterloo was fought in a small area (some 10km by 4km) on the main road leading south from Brussels.

It was the first clash of the Titans - Napoleon Bonaparte versus the Duke of Wellington - and it was a win all/lose all scenario.

Bonaparte had brilliantly outmanouevred both the Anglo-Allied force of (77,000 approx) under Wellington and the nearby Prussian army of Field Marshal Blucher (102,000).

Together the allied forces easily outnumbered France's 72,000 men (Bonaparte) and its detached right-wing corps of 33,000 (Marshal Grouchy), so the French emperor surprised the two by getting in between them and preventing their linking.

On 16 June, Bonaparte had beaten the Prussians at Ligny, while at the same time Wellington had held a vital set of crossroads at Quatre Bras against an inept Marshal Ney.

Turning his main strength towards the British, Bonaparte detached Grouchy to keep the Prussians retreating and away from Wellington near Waterloo.

The emperor found the Anglo-Allied drawn up across a small ridge at Mont St John, just south of the village of Waterloo, and organised his troops for battle the next day as a massive storm drenched the ground.

At dawn it was decided the ground was too boggy to launch an immediate attack and so the armies faced off against each other.

The British position was linked with various strongpoints - the chateau of Hougoumont, the farmhouse of La Haye Sainte and the dwellings of La Haie and Papelotte - and while Wellington knew his troops could hold the French for a time, he was relying upon the promised arrival of Blucher on his left flank to ensure victory.

Bonaparte began the battle at about 11.30am with salvoes from his massed artillery and then sent an initial assault, intended as a diversion to draw enemy reserves away, against Hougoumont on the British right flank.

 
 
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