Monday, January 7, 2013

Napoleon's Waterloo Campaign: An alternate history - Book Review

It has been a while since my last post, I got distracted with other things. I haven't done much painting or gaming, but I did read an extraordinary book - Steven Marthinsen's "Napoleon's Waterloo Campaign : an alternate history".



One of the frustrating bits of reading about the 1815 Campaign is the sheer number of mistakes and blunders made by the different sides. It is easy with an armchair General's view of the world (with the luxury of hindsight) to say "Oh I would have done something different".

Marthisen's work is a careful narrative spread over two volumes and 773 pages with the premis of what would have happened if just one thing changed - what if Marshal Grouchy had let General Gerard and his IV Corps march to the sound of the guns on the 18th?

He startes the book with the scene between Grouchy, Gerard and Vandamme arguing on what to do. Without resolving this he goes back to cover the events leading up to the 16th June 1815 from multiple perspectives. Written with a deep understanding not only of the vents, but how soldiers think and feel during some very trying times. His descriptions of the struggle to maintain morale and reform broken troops, gives a fresh insights on the challenges of leadership in the time.

As Marthinsen moves through the events up to the 18th, he carefully slips in Grouchy's decision and take the reader on a new journey of the subtle difference and ultimately huge effect, this decision made.

The first book ends with a different outcome of Waterloo (which is renames Mount St Jean), still very close up until the last moment. The second focuses on the Battle of Ohain on the 19th between the French and Prussian armies. I don't really want to give too much away for the enjoyment of the reader, but I found it engaging.

I particularly enjoyed the description of the Jacquinot's lancer regiments cat and mouse game with a battery from the Prussian IV Corps. The careful sense of timing and understanding of on battle tactics was illustrated beautifully. IT would be something hard to replicate on the gaming table.

Each chapter is started with an eyewitness' account of the event of the chapter. I am sure the beginning ones are based on true accounts, but the latter works of fiction have seamlessly blended in.

His descriptions of the thought processes of the leadership and they struggle with less than perfect battle field intelligence are well described.

Marthinsen knows his details, not only of the events, but captures the feel of that climactic week. At the end he offers an opening to what might have been post 1815. As a bonus he gives a good OOB with strengths of both the battles of Mont St Jean and Ohain.

I would highly recommend this read to anyone interested in the era or who would like to game some historical fiction. The battle of Ohain is definately on my bucket list.

The book comes from Amazon by clicking the link on the above thumbnail.


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