|The opportunity for Blucher and the Prussians to take their revenge for all the contempt they had suffered from Napoleon over nine years after Jena/Auerstedt are finally realised. It's pay back time.|
In my previous post covering the Battle of Ligny, I inadvertently left out some of the identifying point numbers from the map that showed where particular views were taken. I have updated that post so if you came away unsure of what you were looking at and from where, you might want to have another look. Sorry about that.
So back to our journey from Ligny to Wavre following in the steps of Marshal Grouchy.
Prussian General Thielemann and the 15,200 men of III Corps were given the difficult job of tying down the 33,765 French troops under Marshal Grouchy as General Blucher took the other three Prussian corps over the hills on the ten mile march to support Wellington in his battle with Napoleon.
Based on a huge amount of hindsight which is a lot more to go on than any of the actual commanders had; it seems strange that Blucher didn't leave two of his corps at Wavre that should have been sufficient to deal with Grouchy whilst taking Bulow's and another over to Waterloo. This option would have been one more corps than the Duke of Wellington requested and still sufficient numbers to affect the final outcome of the battle. Another great what if from history from another sitting room general.
There would be no reinforcements for Thielemann as he and his men took on the unglamourous role that would ensure Napoleon's army received no reinforcements on the 18th of June 1815.
|The River Dyle, playing a key part in the campaign, not for the first time.|
Eventually Grouchy's numbers told and by attacking on less defended points, a crossing was made forcing the Prussian corps back and away from the river. But with the time it took the French to win the battle at Wavre, General Thielemann had gained a strategic victory and Grouchy would end up in full retreat to France and condemned to defend his choices on the 18th June for the rest of his days.
|Main street Wavre, close by to the bakery that caught fire, holding up the Prussian moves over the River Dyle|
|Map to illustrate the routes taken by I, II and IV Prussian corps from Wavre to Waterloo. We followed the route south taken by II and IV corps.|
Passing close to Bierges and the Mill attacked by Hulot's division we came upon a house bearing a plaque commemorating the fighting in this area. If the French had attacked here earlier, they may have seriously affected Blucher's march and eventual support for Wellington.
|The plaque on this house marks the close encounters (nose to nose) between the enemy forces near Bierges (see map above)|
|This map better illustrates the gradients and march formations in the first stage of the march 0400 - 15.30|
|The road leading west, this one with tarmac!|
|The map above shows the contours close to Wavre and the climb up to Pont du Jour. You can see the difficulty of moving guns though this terrain when you drive through it.|
|This is a very pretty part of Belgium|
|The road leading to Lasne|
David Chandler lays the blame on Bulow and Gniesnau, suggesting that the Lasne was the Prussian "Rubicon". Once crossed they were committed to supporting Wellington and it seems that it took a frustrated Blucher to take control and order the march to continue at best possible pace.
As you can see the Lasne is not as significant a linear obstacle as the Dyle so it makes an interesting debate as to its significance on the reported delay.
|The mighty Lasne stream that held the Prussian advance up for nearly two hours!|
|First contact and first casualties|
Colonel Schwerin commanded the 1st Prussian Cavalry brigade, two regiments of which (6th Hussars and the 1st West Prussian Uhlans) were with him as the Prussian advance guard climbed the hill up from Lasne on to the plateau ahead of the Paris Wood. They had already had several running skirmishes with the French pickets from Marbot's 7th Hussars, when they came under fire from the tree line. The French had brought up a battery of horse guns in support and Colonel Schwerin was killed by the first rounds as he attempted to get forward and assess the situation.
Two years later the Colonel's wife retrieved his body and the remains were reburied under the commemorative column you see today.
|Colonel von Schwerin, buried where he died. A later descendant, another von Schwerin, was the officer given the job of waking the Fuhrer on the morning after D-Day. Living dangerously was part of the territory for the von Schwerin's|
These old routes have been used over centuries and enable the history buff to get a real feel for the conditions of the roads two hundred years ago. The muddy ruts would have been a common sight back then and would have added to the fatigue suffered by the Prussian troops marching since 04.00.
|This is the final stretch of road towards Plancenoit. I use the word "road" loosely, but it is not hard to imagine Bulow's Corps advancing along here, unchanged for hundreds of years.|
|The muddy ruts werea common sight when this road was being used just over two hundred years ago. Up ahead the trees of the now much reduced Paris Wood or "Bois de Paris".|
There was the Lion Mound off to the right indicating Wellington's line and what would have been the open right flank of a French army heavily committed to battle with by now little in the way of reserves. For Blucher, after all the years of struggles and the numerous defeats inflicted by Napoleon, it must have been like all his Christmas' come at once.
The picture below is the road that Bulow's IV Corps used on its march on Pancenoit. At about 16.30 the Prussian 15th brigade (18th Infantry, 3rd & 4th Silesian Landwehr) under General von Losthin deployed to the right of the road, with the 16th brigade (15th Infantry, 1st & 2nd Silesian Landwehr) under Colonel von Hiller on the left.
|Wow!! The Eureka moment. Imagine Blucher's delight at seeing the French right flank open to his advance with French forces fully committed to battle. The Lion Mound gives the view its reference point.|
By 17.00 Bulow had driven Lobau's troops off of the plateau and by 18.00 was preparing to assault Plancenoit.
From the Prussian position it is difficult to see how close Plancenoit is to Napoleon's rear area and I guess the troops involved pushing Lobau's corps back into the town and out of it would only have been aware when they in turn were driven back by the Young Guard as the fighting here became a too and fro affair as Napoleon desperately tried to deal a knock out blow to Wellington as he fended off this threat.
|The battle for Plancenoit|
|Plancenoit - "Vorwarts mien kinder, I will shoot the first man who shows pity!"|
Resistance was determined, particularly with the defenders lining the cemetery wall around the church, becoming the central strong-point of resistance as both sides sought to gain control of it and the village.
|Prussian troops drive into Plancenoit|
|If the walls of the buildings in this square could replay what went on before them, this peaceful scene would be changed forever.|
The church is larger than it was in 1815 and the square wider with more buildings occupying the centre at the time of the battle, thus causing the fighting around the church to become a very up close and personal affair. Both sides deployed cannon as close as they dare, to sweep the streets with canister.
|A lot of the buildings along this cobbled street look contemporary to 1815, save the loft conversions|
|Up close and personal in Plancenoit|
In total the estimated number of infantry casualties for the battle for Plancenoit number about 6,350 Prussian and 4,500 French. Plancenoit changed hands twice before finally falling to the Prussians forcing Napoleon to commit twenty-five of the thirty-six infantry battalions (Imperial Guard, 21 battalions & Lobau's, 15 battalions) that he held in reserve at the start of the battle. In the end he was reduced to only being able to commit eight fresh battalions in the final assault on Wellington's line by the Imperial Guard.
This was the major contribution to winning the battle of Waterloo made by the Prussian army and induced a fulsome recognition by the Duke of Wellington in his dispatches home. In addition the Prussians would complete the victory in providing the fresh forces to pursue Napoleon's broken army from the field late on the evening of the 18th June.
The memorial just on the western edge of the village leaves you in no doubt as to which army it commemorates with or without a Prussian Colour draped on the railings, Established in 1819, I expect many of the Prussian veterans from the battle would have been present at its unveiling.
A little further investigating behind the trees and hedges around the Prussian memorial reveals just how close the village is to Napoleon's rear area and the views gained towards Wellington's line revealed that proximity.
Thus ended our journey from Wavre to Plancenoit and our exploration of the wider aspects of the Waterloo campaign. In the next posts I aim to explore Waterloo itself and show the new facilities that have been created for the bicentenary along with the more familiar ones.
|One man among many who fell during the battle for Plancenoit, Lieutenant Louis of the Young Guard, age 28|
|Mentioned earlier in the post covering Genappe, Young Guard Commander, General Duhesme's mortal wounding in Plancenoit is recorded on the church wall.|
|Two hundred years later, Europe is at peace and there is time to enjoy a beer on a sunny day|
|A great tribute to the brave Prussians killed in the fight for Plancenoit. The memorial was erected four years after the battle|
|The monument refers to the Battle of La Belle Alliance|
|The Iron cross, established in 1813, at the top leaves you under no illusion about who is being recognised here|
|The view from behind the memorial on the edge of Plancenoit looking towards Wellington's lines marked by the marquees|
from last week's bicentennial commemoration.
Other sources used in this post:
Waterloo the hundred days - David Chandler
Waterloo, Battle of Three Armies - Lord Chalfont
The Waterloo Companion - Mark Adkin
The Waterloo Companion - Mark Adkin