the Forces involved and the artillery
The forces involved in the Belgian campaign
The French Grande Armée: 125,000soldiers. It consisted of conscripts, excellent units, seasoned troops, survivors of the Empire or of the Spanish War…
The Allies: 210,000 soldiers
- A British army made up, for half of them, of British soldiers, for the rest of German mercenaries, well-trained and with an iron discipline. Reputation for being resolute in defence.
- A Dutch army forming an integral part of Wellington’s forces and commanded by the Prince of Orange-Nassau.
- A Prussian army, extremely strongly motivated, driven by a growing sense of German nationalism and by a spirit of vengeance against France. Not very experienced and not too hardy, but numerous.
The artillery of the time essentially consisted of cannons. The principal ammunition was a cannonball with a weight that could be 6, 8, 9 or 12 pounds depending on the type of cannon, with a maximum range of more than a kilometre for the 12 pound guns. These cannonballs were of cast iron and did not explode. There were also “shot cases”; that is, coverings of light metal containing balls (called ‘biscaïens’) that worked like enormous shotgun cartridges. The effective range did not exceed 400 metres.
The British had a new kind of ammunition, shrapnel. This was a cannonball filled with shot which exploded in the air. This ammunition, which had a range of 900 metres, proved to be terribly effective at Waterloo. The British fired more than three hundred of them.
The rifle of the time was the flint rifle. Its range and precision were limited. Loading (through the muzzle) takes a long time. The shot produces a great deal of smoke (black powder). In damp weather (which was the case at Waterloo), there were a great many misfirings. During the confrontation, the infantry opens fire (shoots a volley) less than 100 metres from the enemy. The battle then continues with the bayonet that Napoleon’s Old Guard called the fork.
There were significant differences between the weapons of the combatants:
The French musket (model 1777 modified year IX) shoots a 21 g lead ball. The clamping of the ball in the gun makes the shot more accurate, but the weapon takes longer to load (one shot per minute). For technical reasons, it misfires more often than the British model.
The British musket called "Brown Bess" shoots a 32 g ball, which makes it more effective against horses. The accuracy is less than the French model, but the pace of firing is more rapid (nearly two shots per minute).
The Prussian musket (model 1782 modified) includes a shaft on the weapon that makes it possible to tear the cartridge more easily than with the teeth. This makes it possible to achieve a pace of about three shots per minute.
At Waterloo there was also the Baker rifle. It equipped two British regiments and the very professional King's German legion whose units defended the farm of La Haie-Sainte. This was a weapon with a rifled barrel. Loading takes a long time because it is necessary to force the bullet, but the precision is remarkable for the time: 200 metres.
In conclusion, it can be deduced that the fire power of the Allies’ infantry was greater than that of the French.