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Eddie

Light Infantry at Waterloo

Here is a more general subject than I usually introduce !  Hopefully it may stimulate interest and even debate!

As I often seem to do "off season" I get my books off the shelves and  recently I immersed myself- once again -in reading about Waterloo. I came across a few points I would like to share with you.

1. Throughout this most crucial battle - it seems to me that the main bulk of the British infantry skirmishers were the Battalion Light companies - while specialised Light Infantry Regiments - like the 52nd - and the three Rifle battalions seem to have acted mainly as LINE Infantry .
Why?

2. From "Letters from the Battle of Waterloo - Unpublished Correspondence by Allied Officers from the Siborne Papers " Gareth Glover :
 Page 194 - Letter  of  Captain George Miller  2/95th :

" The regiments of the enemy's lancers formed to our front, tending towards Hougoumont, within point blank shot of us, but as our ammuntion was blown up a considerable time before, we had none to give for them"

Now that is something new to me - did 2/95th go through much of the battle without ammo?
OJM

Re: Light Infantry at Waterloo

Eddie wrote:
1. Throughout this most crucial battle - it seems to me that the main bulk of the British infantry skirmishers were the Battalion Light companies - while specialised Light Infantry Regiments - like the 52nd - and the three Rifle battalions seem to have acted mainly as LINE Infantry .
Why?


There seems to have been some degree of move towards the "universal" infantryman in all armies involved in the Napoleonic wars, in part based on own experience, and in part on the theories in fashion.

In the french army,the actual difference between line and lights were in the uniform and nomenclature, and possibly the Èlan, supposed spirit and fashionability of the lights. Ironically, the status and spirit of being an elite, if in name only, along with possibly some extra training as lights, might make the unit more solid while acting in line.

There is also mentions of, for instance, the light company of the 79th Highlanders being supported by extra skirmishers from certain other companies of the battalion, by 1815 skirmishing was no longer considered the sole domain of specialists, as long as the battalion was experienced enough/had trained for it.

One of Wellingtons big challenges at Waterloo was that his army was in no way the one that marched victoriously into France from Spain in 1814, consisting of inexperienced 2nd battalions and the allied contigents with a sprinkling of veterans.

Overall, all british battalions were used as "stiffeners" in the rather unsure construction, it would make further sense to use the light units, who at least in theory would have more training and at Waterloo, more experience as several were 1st battalions with a higher ratio of veterans (in all three battalions in the 95th AFAIK?), as special "stiffeners" in extra vulnerable places.    

There's also the strategic vs. tactical use of lights to consider.
The Light Division of Peninsula fame was a strategic instrument, the van/rearguard of the whole army, and specially responsible for the avantguard picket lines of the winter season. This does not mean that they would constantly be in skirmish order 24/7, but that you would have a gathering of units capable of both open and closed order, and hopefully, the rapid movements in demand as a van/rearguard.

In battle, ie. tactically, most units would be more than able to provide their own skirmish screen, leaving the light battalions either to be used as crack troops in vulnerable points, on the flanks, or just as regular parts of the line of battle.

Consider the situation of La Haie Sainte, which was the "breakwater" of the central part of the line at Waterloo. By having (partly) rifle equipped troops garrisoning it and placing the 1/95th next to it,  their superior range and accuracy would give a further "blunting" effect on the french assaults towards the main line.

Eddie wrote:
2. (..) Now that is something new to me - did 2/95th go through much of the battle without ammo?


I can't currently say much on the 2/95th specifically (I'm sure other here can), but lack of ammo and resupply were crucial points in relation to Goumont and La Haie Sainte.
Given the longer range of the rifle as well as the problem of "special" ammo for the rifle, it would seem plausible that any rifle equipped units would expend their ammunition quicker than the line, and possibly also have bigger problems in getting resupply.

Mark Adkins "Waterloo Companion" gives the position of the 2/ and 3/95th around 4 in the afternoon as well behind the Guards on the western flank, along with the 1/52nd, if this is due to combat losses, spent ammo or to act as a reserve for flanking or a counter-charge I'm not currently aware.

A few relevant links:

On resupply: http://theminiaturespage.com/boards/msg.mv?id=251678
http://www.napoleon-series.org/cg...ve2008_config.pl?md=read;id=96762
Ammunition expenditure at Vitoria: http://67thtigers.blogspot.no/200...t-hits-per-round-at-vittoria.html
Memoirs of Henegan, commissariat officer in charge of ammunition among other things: http://theminiaturespage.com/boards/msg.mv?id=209686

regards

Ola JM
Eddie

Thanks Ola - you have made some well reasoned points there.
In asking my question about "specialist" Light units being used as Line troops I really could not think of a reason.
Adams' 3rd Brigade was all Light - composed of a very strong 52nd which acted in two wings, the 71st LI  and the 2nd and 3rd 95th. It seemed to me rather a waste of their skills  - and not utilisng the longer distance firepower of the Rifles.
Taking your point that such corps were used as special stiffeners in vulnerable spots - I suppose its just as well that the 52nd stayed solidly in Line -or the final outcome with La Garde may have been very different!
Paul Durrant

"That even greater results were not obtained from the rifle during the Peninsular War is due to the fact that the 95th Riflemen were naturally often compelled to conform to the general movements of large bodies of troops armed with smooth-bores."

The Journals and Correspondence of Major George Simmons, Rifle Brigade, during the Peninsular War and the campaign of Waterloo.
London A. & C. Black, Soho Square 1899, p xviii."
AdrianP

It's worth bearing in mind the size of the field would have played a key part. Waterloo was a tiny battlefield compared to the fields in Spain, and one aspect not always appreciated by some was the ability of Wellington to effectively 'box' Napoleon in. There was no where for the French to manoeuvre and the sweeping flank movements of other battles just wasn't possible. Demonstrated by the constant frontal assaults made all day.

From a skirmishing point of view, the allied frontage between hougoumont to la haie sainte and la haie sainte to frichermont is incredibly small. To field dozens of light companies in such a small area wouldn't be practical because [again] the distance between the opposing lines was so small. A sudden rush of French cavalry would have hit before any adequate resistance could be made and decimated the companies. the panic of those fleeing would have spread to those units on the ridge and potentially causing the whole thing to collapse.

From my observations there doesn't seem to have been a massive French skirmish threat to the allied line, again, because of the ridge. If the French companies had ventured onto the ridge to fire on the allied line hiding behind, they would have put themselves in a right sticky wicket being so far detached from their own line with no support. The same for the allies, they too were never going to venture onto the opposing ridge for the same reasons.

Personally I don't think there was any reason to field mass skirmishes, because the French didn't have a practical way of deploying them to cause damage to the allied line which was hidden either in buildings of out of view.  Both sides skirmishing in the valley below
OJM

Paul Durrant wrote:
"That even greater results were not obtained from the rifle during the Peninsular War is due to the fact that the 95th Riflemen were naturally often compelled to conform to the general movements of large bodies of troops armed with smooth-bores."

The Journals and Correspondence of Major George Simmons, Rifle Brigade, during the Peninsular War and the campaign of Waterloo.
London A. & C. Black, Soho Square 1899, p xviii."


Hmmm... an intriguing statement. Is he complaining over the riflemen being kept rigidly too close to the main line before/in battle, or is his gripe that the rifle units weren't let loose on raids/long range harassment in the space between the lines outside of pitched battles?

I would have thought the issue with smaller size ball to facilitate quicker reloading would have been a bigger hindrance to the full potential of the rifles than the deployment. However, the increased rate of fire gained from this may ironically have made british rifle units more deployable and able to operate separately.

Even the KGL only armed a minority of their lights with rifles according to the regulations, and light units, even down to company level with a ratio of either 1/2-1/2 or 2/3-1/3 smoothbore - rifle was the norm, even in "proper" greencoated Jäger designated units in all other major countries of Europe during the period AFAIK.

Somewhat earlier in Denmark-Norway, the reasoning given is that the lights armed with smoothbore carbines will maintain a higher rate of fire to cover the vulnerable riflemen while they are reloading, hindering cavalry or sudden rushes from enemy infantry.

The loss of the horn and introduction of carbine balls for the 95th would, to me, indicate that practical experience showed that rate was more important and effective than accuracy in a pinch...


Adrian: good points, if I understand you correctly you are saying that the individual battalions would still have their own "local" screens from part of their own light coys, while a larger screen of light battalions further out was unnecessary due to the terrain and small size of the contested area?

I get the impression that the placement of the 2/ and 3/95th and their brigade was in part also to provide a contingency force that could throw out a large skirmish screen and buy time to bring up line troops in case of any large flanking attempts west of Goumont.

....or maybe even a skirmish capable rearguard in place that the rest of the army could filter through if a speedy retreat directly towards the coast ended up as the last alternative?

regards

Ola
Eddie

"Waterloo The French perspective" Andrew Field pages 97 and 98 the attack on the Ohain road by D'Erlon:

"Before moving off from the relative shelter of the valley floor, the voltigeur companies of each of the battalions deployed out to present a thick screen of tirailleurs (skirmishers) to oppose those of the allies drawn up on the forward slope ahead of them. The twenty five battalions that constituted the main attack could have deployed about 2,000 tirailleurs across the approximately  800 metre frontage of the attack; just over two for each metre" ............



"During the Penninsular War, Wellington had countered this tactic by using more, better trained and in some cases better armed, skirmishers of his own. What is curious about Waterloo is that not only do the allied skirmishers appear to have been outfought and out numbered by their French equivalents, but also that Wellington's best trained and best armed skirmishers, the two and a half battalions of Rifles, fought most of the battle in line like the regular line battalions. It is not within the scope of this work to speculate as to his reasons for this. What we do know is that the allied skirmishers appear to have been little more than a nuisance to the seemingly unstoppable advance of the French columns."
OJM

Waterloo was unique for the relatively tiny area the battle took place over, and one might also argue, the unrefined onslaught of the french, within those very limited geographical constraints.  

Apart from what I mentioned further up, one scenario could be that whatever british units that started off in skirmish screens were run in by the first attacks, and simply never had the time to deploy out again, or rather didn't take the chance due to the constant attacks by both cavalry and infantry, some of which were appearing out of dips and hollows very close to the allied troops (the fate of the KGL line outside La Haie Sainte being one example)?
Ben Townsend

Given the unusually congested nature of the front, perhaps there was no need for entire units to be deployed as light infantry to skirmish. Which would have been unusual anyway, even in the Peninsula the 95th battalions tended to act as entire battalion formations most of the time, although I grant you companies were detached to bolster LI in other divisions.

Lets look at the battalions' deployments at Waterloo, considering the 2nd and 3rd composite battalion as one entity. The 1/95th spent much of the battle in classic skirmish formation, with a coy or two in the sand pit, a reserve at the hedge, and the other half of the battalion on the ridge. The skirmishers were called in when in danger of being overwhelmed. So far, so textbook.

The composite 2/3rd repeatedly changed formation, from two deep line to square, to two wings one behind the other- effectively a four deep line- very flexible, giving strength in depth against cavalry, without resorting to square. They also repeatedly sent out skirmishers, at points into the Hougoumont North wood. So tactically quite flexible deployment.

Since there were so many battalions crowded onto the ridge, and behind it, each battalion would have ample cover from their own LI coy. The only detached LI deployments were made into the strong points, LHS at centre left and Hougoumont at centre right.

As for the exploding ammunition, that is interesting, I havent read that for a while. I believe it was cited by RRM as evidence for the paucity of rifle ammunition for re-supply to lHS on one of the first discussions EVER on this forum. Led us down some alleys into discussing Barings casualties, rifle equipped KGL units, ammo resupply and so on.
Eddie

A few snippets on the subject - Line light companies:


"General Orders of Field Marshall The Duke of Wellington"  Page 422 :

Bruxelles  9th May 1815

1. The Light Infantry companies belonging to each brigade of Infantry are to act together as a battalion of light infantry, under the command of a Field Officer or Captain, to be selected for the occasion by the General Officer commanding the brigade, upon all occasions on which the brigade may be formed in line or column, whether for a march or to oppose the enemy.

2. On all other occasions the light infantry companies are to be considered as attached to their battalions, with which they are to be quartered or encamped under the command of the Commanding Officer of the battalion to which they belong.


This was virtually a repeat of an Order of  4th May 1809.
Ben Townsend

That still only gives you one company per battalion though..  It changes the co-ordination to improve the Command and control I suppose. Must be beneficial in that respect.
havercakelad

Not sure abot improving command control in Halkett's 5th British Brigade. The Light Company of the 30th seems to have been overlooked in the orders to march to QB and forced marched there on their own initiative.
The combined lights of Halkett's Brigade seem to have operated as a composite battalion throughout the two battles (barring the temporary seperation of the 30th).
The 3rd Division seems to have been quite heavy in dedicated light infantry units as six out of fourteen units were specific light infantry ones.
Eddie

havercakelad wrote:
Not sure abot improving command control in Halkett's 5th British Brigade. The Light Company of the 30th seems to have been overlooked in the orders to march to QB and forced marched there on their own initiative.
The combined lights of Halkett's Brigade seem to have operated as a composite battalion throughout the two battles (barring the temporary seperation of the 30th).
The 3rd Division seems to have been quite heavy in dedicated light infantry units as six out of fourteen units were specific light infantry ones.


Thanks Doc
I think in terms of the 30th you are referring to the account by Ensign Macready?  For those unfamiliar with it see the link below - pages 173, 338 and 518 - a very readable account which I don't think has been published in book form ;

http://books.google.com.au/books?...g=PP9#v=onepage&q&f=false

For me interesting as he states it was necessary to shout and use hand signals to control the light company after his Bugler was killed.
Eddie

"Waterloo The French Perspective  Andrew Field"

p98

" What is curious about Waterloo is that not only do the allied skirmishers appear to have been outfought and outnumbered by their French equivalents, but also that Wellington's best trained and best armed skirmishers, the two and a half battalions of Rifles, fought most of the battle in line like the regular line battalions. It is not within the scope of this work to speculate as to his reasons for this."

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