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The Battle of Waterloo - Leadership and Strategy


The Battle of Waterloo (1815)


Famous for...

 The Battle of Waterloo - Leadership and Strategy

1. Napoleon's defeat

The British, Dutch and Prussian (German) victory over the French (led by Napoleon Bonaparte, pictured right) on 18th June 1815 


2. Wellington's victory

The victorious British army was led by the Duke of Wellington.

The Battle of Waterloo - Leadership and Strategy


3. Abba

Abba had a number one hit, Waterloo, about the battle which won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1976 (pictured right after winning).



Why is the battle important?

It ended the Napoleonic Wars.

These were caused by the French leader, Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasions of other European countries like Austria and Russia.



Why was it called Waterloo?  

Waterloo is a village in Belgium near to the battlefield.



The opposing armies – leaders and troop numbersThe Battle of Waterloo - Leadership and Strategy

Napoleon Bonaparte (French) – 123,000 troops, who fought against:

  • Duke of Wellington, pictured right (British and Dutch-Belgian) – 112,000.
  • Gebhard von Blücher (Prussian) – 130,000.



Why did Wellington win?


1. His leadership

Why was he a great leader?


a) strict discipline 

(his nickname was the Iron Duke).

His discipline was essential because many of the German and Dutch-Belgians in his army were inexperienced and unreliable.


b) strategy 

Wellington chose a defensive battle because it would have been difficult to attack with his multi-national army.


c) character and visibility

He earned his men's trust and respect through his

  • integrity.
  • calmness.
  • courage.
  • support and encouragement.

 Wellington bravely rode 20 miles during the battle directing his troops and led them from the front.


d) information 

Wellington got great information about the enemy from:

  • local people.
  • spies.

 The Battle of Waterloo - Leadership and Strategy

e) empowerment 

He closely controlled his army (to make sure it kept to his battle plan).

But his officers were allowed to act on their own initiative (as Sir John Colbourne, pictured right, did leading the successful Oxfordshire Regiment infantry attack).


f) self-confidence

This allowed Wellington to:

  • forget his worries.
  • get some sleep!


g) administrative efficiency 

Wellington transformed:

  • logistics (providing his army with adequate supplies of food, clothes and weapons).
  • his officers’ management skills (his staff procedures are still used today).



2. Napoleon’s mistakes and problems


a) his army

This was too small to cope with both the British and Prussian armies

His best troops also died in his Russian invasion of 1812.


b) the wrong battle 

A defensive battle in France would have been more successful for Napoleon.


c) the Prussians

33,000 of Napoleon’s troops:

  • failed in their mission to stop the Prussians helping Wellington.
  • didn’t take part in the battle.


  • should have recalled these troops earlier.
  • gave the Prussians more time to join Wellington (by delaying the start of the battle until 11.30 am so that the rain affected ground was firm enough for his big guns).


d) poor control 

Napoleon allowed his deputies to make important mistakes:The Battle of Waterloo - Leadership and Strategy

  • Marshal Ney, (who made a series of unsuccessful cavalry attacks).
  • Marshal d’Erlon, pictured right, (who attacked in massive divisional infantry columns, 200 men wide, which were easy targets).



3. Prussian support

The Prussian attacks on the French eastern flank:

  • made victory certain.The Battle of Waterloo - Leadership and Strategy 
  • diverted 33,000 French troops who would otherwise have fought Wellington.

The Prussian leader, Gebhard von Blücher, pictured right, inspired his troops with his:

  • humility and integrity.
  • support and understanding of their needs.

If they were short of food, he would eat only boiled potatoes!



4. The battlefield

Wellington chose a small (around two square miles, over 5 million square metres) battlefield, which :

  • was ideal for the defensive battle he wanted.
  • made it impossible for Napoleon to attack his flanks.


5. Luck

Wellington was also helped by pre-battle rain which slowed down the enemy and delayed Napoleon's initial attack.



The battle’s key moments


11.30 am

French attack the chateau of Hougoumont which the British successfully defend.

Napoleon’s delayed attack gives the Prussians more time to help Wellington.

 The Battle of Waterloo - Leadership and Strategy


1.30 pm

French unsuccessful infantry attack (led by Marshal d’Erlon).

Wellington counter-attacks with:The Battle of Waterloo - Leadership and Strategy

  • General Thomas Picton’s (pictured right above) infantry and
  • two cavalry charges (one at 2 pm, led by William Ponsonby, pictured right, who was killed).


Around 4 pmThe Battle of Waterloo - Leadership and Strategy

Marshal Ney, pictured right, (without Napoleon’s approval) makes a series of unsuccessful cavalry attacks against the British and Dutch-Belgian troops .



Around 4.30 pm

The Prussian army attacks the French right flank.



About 6 pm

The French infantry capture the farmhouse of La Haie Sainte

But they can’t exploit this vital strategic position due to shortage of troops (caused by the Prussian attack).



Late evening

Final victory after Napoleon’s Imperial Guard is defeated

This is helped by the Oxfordshire Regiment’s successful infantry attack (led by Sir John Colbourne).



Results of the battle


1. Thousands killed

Estimates are:

  • French (30,000).
  • British and Dutch-Belgian (15,000).
  • Prussian (7,000).


2. Rule Britannia The Battle of Waterloo - Leadership and Strategy

Britain became the dominant world power, helped by:

  • its empire 


3. Peace in Europe until 1914

Peace encouraged:

  • trade.
  • economic prosperity.
  • scientific and technological progress.


4.Wonderful Wellington

In Britain he became:

  • a national hero.
  • prime minister.
  • famous for his wellington boot!


5. Napoleon’s nemesis

Napoleon was:

  • captured.
  • exiled to the southern Atlantic island of St. Helena.

He died there in 1821.


Key quotes


Nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won.

- Duke of Wellington (reflecting on the casualties after the battle)


In all my life I have never experienced such anxiety, for I must confess I have never been so close before to defeat.

- Duke of Wellington.


It was a damn close run thing,

- Duke of Wellington (after the battle).


The art of war is a simple act; everything is in the performance.

- Napoleon Bonaparte.



Wellington probably didn’t say the famous quote:

The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.

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