Rating Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington as a commander

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Rating Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington as a commander

Postby General Drouot » Sun May 15, 2011 7:20 pm

Here, I would like to resume the discussion begun with this post here.

http://www.thelordz.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=12227

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Re: Rating Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington as a command

Postby General Drouot » Sun May 15, 2011 7:35 pm

To Wym: I realize you have read a lot on Wellington's Peninsula campaigns which I fully acknowledge as impressive. But to do full justice to the great Duke of Wellington, I ask you to set aside your personal feelings for the man and consider the record dispassionately.

There are several points where I think your facts are mistaken. For example, even to the British, the Peninsula was a secondary theatre, for they sent a larger army to Holland in the disastrous Walcheren campaign. Only military defeat rather than desire made the Peninsula the main British effort. But Wellington's army, even at its height in Spain, never numbered larger than 100,000 men. Compared to the titanic 195,000 French vs. 430,000 Allies at Leipzig, the Penninsula really was secondary.

Second, Wellington would be the first man to acknowledge the French were better marchers than he was, and he was repeatedly outmaneuvered by their speed and forced to retreat twice back to Portugal. He also deplored the lack of discipline in the British army, notably calling them at one time the "scum of the earth." After the Siege of Badajoz, the British army degenerated into an orgy of rape and pillage which even Wellington was powerless to control. In contrast, Davout's men wouldn't dare touch a chicken through the much richer German villages his III corps marched through.

Wellington was let down repeatedly by his Spanish allies, notably at Talavera, but at least they didn't switch sides and turn on him like the Dutch or Bavarians or Austrians and others did upon Napoleon. This is probably to Wellington's credit since he built up sufficient trust. And Talavera was fought between Wellington and King Joseph of Spain (advised by Marshal Jourdan) NOT against Marshal Soult. And by the time of the Pyrenees campaigns against Soult, Wellington did enjoy a numerical superiority, such as at the Battles of Nive or Orthez.

Ultimately, Wellington himself felt Napoleon was the greater commander than he. It's to Napoleon's discredit that he did not reciprocate in recognizing Wellington as a formidable commander ranking among his best Marshals. (Though some would argue that Napoleon only said this to encourage his subordinates who were worried prior to the Battle of Waterloo.)

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Re: Rating Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington as a command

Postby Jakob » Mon May 16, 2011 11:55 am

Is the number of men really the only qualification that makes one campaign of more importance than another?

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Re: Rating Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington as a command

Postby Wym... » Mon May 16, 2011 7:01 pm

Drouot my personal feeling for the man are irrelevant, granted I had a few beers with him yesterday but I can't divulge all his secrets... :lol:
His record of 49 battles with only 3 defeats should tell its own story?(Battle of Pombal, Battle of Redinha and the siege of Burgos)granted there were also 11 'indecisive' tactical draws I know he wasn't perfect but who was? damn only 3 defeats(wish my NTW3 record was as good) isn't history wonderful lol

I also have to reiterate, The Peninsular was the British stepping stone into France(eventually), and it was their main theatre, granted the Walcheren campaign was an unsuccessful British expedition but very short lived, only 90 days or so and it was far from a military disaster as only 110 Brits died due to combat lol, it was the damn illness's/disease that killed 4000 Brits(damn all nations suffered more casualties from illness/accident than ever died from blade or ball)but as we are discussing Wellesley this Dutch adventure is irrelevant...for now lol

Concerning the British ability to force march or out manoeuvre an opponent...I know that British light inf divisions did march 40 miles in 24 hrs during the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War and Second Anglo-Maratha Wars in a very inhospitable country. hence his only 3 defeats....for someone who couldn't march or manoeuvre the British army/Wellesley did extremely well?

It is well known to historians that the French 'lived off the land' where ever they went they stole, raped, pillaged emphases on 'stole/loot/thieve' hence the scorched earth tactic used by the Russians and Britain was very effective against the French horde. Wellesley's Brits as a 'liberating army' not a 'invading army' paid for all its food stuffs from the local inhabitants and used the discipline of the lash or the noose to enforce the punishment of looting/theft

Wellesley/Britain never had numerical superiority, unless you are counting the useless Spanish numbers that are used to calculate the allied strengths, also prior to Beresford's extensive reorganising, retraining and refitting of the Portuguese army the said ally was also next to useless, you also make an argument of Napoleons allies turning on France, but France also turned on its allies???Luckily for Wellesley and very important to the British war effort was the dedication of the Spanish guerrilleros, who severely disrupted the French forces

Wellesley was always noble enough to praise people deserving of praise, be it friend or foe, unfortunately the same cannot be said for Napoleon??all in all this is a very interesting period of interest(especially as my ancestors fought in the kings scarlet coats lol)and ploughing through Charles Oman's 7 book series A History of the Peninsular War my interest grows :wink:
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Re: Rating Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington as a command

Postby General Drouot » Mon May 16, 2011 10:38 pm

Somewhere along the line, I think we lost sight of the original point of discussion. We were discussing whether the Peninsula theatre was a primary or secondary one in the Napoleonic Wars overall.

And if 5000 dead and 5000 sick (some permanently) out of the original 20,000 (a 50% casualty rate!) with hardly a shot fired in anger and no military gains to show for it isn't a disaster, I don't know what is. Certainly the public and politicians who talked about the Walcheren campaign at the time would agree with me.

But you are right, we are getting distracted away from Wellington, which is the purpose of this thread. Clearly you can recite a lot of Wellington's strengths. So then, to play the devil's advocate, what you do think were his greatest weaknesses and failings as a commander? Or do you think he has none?

By the way, Sir Charles Oman's work has been somewhat discredited lately by recent military historians (including British historians) for being somewhat loose with facts (particularly for his insistence that the French always attacked in heavy columns). If you are serious about being an accurate military historian, you should take his work with a grain of salt. If you couldn't care less (and sometimes I don't either), then enjoy his work as much as the fictional Richard Sharpe series or Horatio Hornblower.

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Re: Rating Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington as a command

Postby Lord Fullin » Tue May 17, 2011 4:44 am

Wym reads history like Osama read the Koran.
Sauve qui peut!' 'Nous sommes trahis!'

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Re: Rating Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington as a command

Postby HM DunkFunk » Tue May 17, 2011 11:37 am

Although the British played a major role during the Hundred Days Campaign in 1815, Of the 26 infantry brigades in Wellington's army at Waterloo only 9 (nine) were British. The British corps played an important role in Peninsula. But please keep on mind that, for example, in 1810, of the 325,000 French forces in the Peninsula, only about 1/4 of them were involved in the actioons against Wellington - the rest [3/4] were required to contain the Spanish insurgents and regulars.

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Re: Rating Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington as a command

Postby Wym... » Tue May 17, 2011 4:40 pm

General Drouot wrote:By the way, Sir Charles Oman's work has been somewhat discredited lately by recent military historians (including British historians) for being somewhat loose with facts (particularly for his insistence that the French always attacked in heavy columns). If you are serious about being an accurate military historian, you should take his work with a grain of salt. If you couldn't care less (and sometimes I don't either), then enjoy his work as much as the fictional Richard Sharpe series or Horatio Hornblower.


You maybe right?? but like most 'armchair' historians I try and read as much as poss(100+ atm inc Wellington in the Peninsula 1808-1814 by Jac Weller, Wellington's Peninsular War" by Julian Paget,The Spanish Ulcer: A History of the Peninsular War, The Man Who Broke Napoleon's Codes" by Mark Urban, the generals by simon scarrow etc,) lol and yes much of the reading material out there is fictional(very good at that)probably the majority?personally my main interests are British maritime history of the 18/19th cent but the 'first world war'(Napoleonic) it very very interesting period,but not exclusively,luckily my nations history is extremely rich and colourful :wink:


BTW I'll play devils advocate in my next post lol
Last edited by Wym... on Tue May 17, 2011 5:06 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Rating Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington as a command

Postby Wym... » Tue May 17, 2011 4:41 pm

Lord Fullin wrote:Wym reads history like Osama read the Koran.

:rolleyes:Just remember L F, History is History...Facts are Facts and u know I'm always right :wink:
Last edited by Wym... on Tue May 17, 2011 5:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Rating Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington as a command

Postby DougieJ » Tue May 17, 2011 4:58 pm

Hello Wym,

You could be poking a stick into a hornets nest here fella :lol:

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Re: Rating Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington as a command

Postby Wym... » Tue May 17, 2011 5:10 pm

DougieJ wrote:Hello Wym,

You could be poking a stick into a hornets nest here fella :lol:


U know me Doug I'm always first onto the Field of battle and always the last one to leave :wink:
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Re: Rating Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington as a command

Postby Lord Fullin » Tue May 17, 2011 6:51 pm

Wym... wrote:
Lord Fullin wrote:Wym reads history like Osama read the Koran.

:rolleyes:Just remember L F, History is History...Facts are Facts and u know I'm always right :wink:


Good to know you have a sense of humor and you arent a radical.

Iam trying for you to drop the idolizing view of Duke of Wellington , so you can really appreciate Arthur Wellesley in a more humane and realistic way.
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Re: Rating Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington as a command

Postby Jakob » Tue May 17, 2011 8:20 pm

Well can people be reciprocal and do the same for the French/Napoleon? Thanks.

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Re: Rating Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington as a command

Postby Lord Liberalis » Fri May 20, 2011 2:46 pm

Jakob wrote:Well can people be reciprocal and do the same for the French/Napoleon? Thanks.

No. Napoleon is like Laddy Gagga. An indisputable Pop Icon.

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Re: Rating Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington as a command

Postby Emilio Aguinaldo » Sat Feb 25, 2012 2:07 pm

I am not going to go into 'Nosey's' strategic or tactical positives or falacies but my review of the strengths and weaknesses of his personality.

Strengths:
*He was experienced and intelligent.
*He promoted and rewarded men upon merit (as long as they were aristocratic...)
*He was careful with the lives of his men and unlike MANY generals during this period did not needlessly throw lives away.
*He wasn't hesitant in his decisions.
*He had plenty of patience.

Weaknesses:
*He was a cold bastard who intimidated his officers and scared his men when he was around...
*He tended to overwork himself and interfere with the affairs of his subordinates and this took away quite alot of initiative from the officer core.
*He was cautious and did not always seize available oppurtunities due to this.
*When it came to sieges his notable patience was thrown away and he tended to throw lives away in disregard.

Personally I would point out that quite a bit of his caution might be caused due to the inflexibility and "lack" of manpower the British Army had at the time. Despite this I still think it was simply a personality trait because although the French were numerically superior they were spread out throughout a vast area and had difficulties procuring supplies compared to the British. Nonetheless "The Iron Duke" is not to be underestimated although personally I think more credit should given to Archduke Charles since he didn't need the Prussians or Dutch to thrash Napoleon.

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Re: Rating Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington as a command

Postby Chuckman » Sun Feb 26, 2012 3:19 am

I think that Wellington was excellent at devising a plan to defeat the french method of attack. The reverse slope tactic. He had only a small number of British to fight with, but for the majority of his battles he was fighting second rate french in an extremely hostile environment. I think he was excellent at realizing the British armies weaknesses and strengths. ie, not very good cav, great at shooting, weak at attacking, slow on the march, will never break if asked to stand... I do not think he was very flexible, but he did have a very inflexible army to lead.

He was also his greatest self promoter. Read "Wellington's Smallest Victory". He destroyed a man in England who dared make a realistic diorama of Waterloo at the moment of the Guard's attack. Which of course showed the entire Prussian army vigorously attacking the flank of the french army.

To answer the question of how did he compare to the French Marshalls? Though he beat many of them, I think he had them at a disadvantage in the first place. The best French units were not in Spain while he fought them (no curassiers, no guard) while the British troops on the continent tended to be their best. The French were surrounded by enemies in a hostile place, how much did this hamper their movements against him? I do think he was a very good general, and he did have an army of 120 000 men by the time of the march on France. He almost exclusively fought "sitting on his arse" as Napoleon would say and it easier to be defensive than to attack. But the British army were not good on the attack, they manouvered and marched slowly. Though how much of that was Wellington's fault?

Also, during the Waterloo campaign he was content to leave the Prussians to fight Napoleon at Ligny, he was moving away (he bravely bravely ran away), the Prince of Orange took the initiative to seize the crossroads at Quatre Bras. If Orange had not, the Prussians would surely have been destroyed as Ney (Ney may not have) and D'Erlorn woud have joined Napoleon in thrashing Blucher. Then the British would have been in big trouble. I think without Quatre Bras Napoleon would have destroyed the British and the Prussians. Of course Napoleon would have no chance vs the Autrians, Russians and best corps of Prussian coming towards him (450 000 men). The campaign should have perhaps had British columns relieving the Prussians at Ligny, or being at full force at Quatre Bras but it did not. Wellington would have left the Prussians to their fate but for the intervention of the Prince of Orange (Orange was not a good commander but he did this right). Wellington's plan did work however, though as I said I do not think it would have without Quatre Bras, which was not part of his plan.

He was always commanding a hodge podge of troops, but all sides were. French line troops were something like 10% Dutch Belgain most of the time, and they had a large amount of German, Swiss and Itailan states allies (1 /3 of army or more).

I would rate him as on par with most Marshalls, not quite as good as the best of them (ex Davout), and a long long way from a Napoleon. His inflexibility was his biggest weakness, he only had one gear, and it worked extremely well when it worked.

M Ratings; out of 5
Napoeon 5
Davout 4.5
Wellington 4
Other Marshalls 3 or 4
John Moore 2 *Even though he outnumbered the pursuing French 2 to 1 with his allies he made a mad dash for the coast.

Most of our rules and books that we have on the subject are written by British, and every side has a bias. I was playing table top and was laughing at how the the Scots Greys count as "veterans" at Waterloo, they had never before fought in the Napoleonic Wars! How do they rate the same as say French Curassiers who have fought in perhaps 30 battles each? In their first battle of the war the brigade they were in of 3 regiments was wiped out by a regiment of French line Lancers and a regiment of Cuarassiers (they were disordered from charging). Personally I think the British cav was perhaps the worst of the major factions overall. They were well mounted but that was about it. They were the only major side to have no curassiers and no lancers (the two best types of cav of the era). Their infantry of course was excellent, but also represented the best battalions of each regiment; each regiment tended their weaker battalions still in England. Most armies in the field had a mix of their vetran line, recruits and militia. The British had equal ratios of these troop types but only their veteran line tended to be sent to the mainland.
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Re: Rating Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington as a command

Postby Sir Arthur Wellesley » Sat Mar 10, 2012 2:31 am

Greetings, Sir Arthur Wellesley here. I note that you fine gentlemen are engaged in rating my skills as a commander and I feel much inclined to join the discussion.

Yeees. Anyway, I made this account years ago and wish I had chosen a more unique forum name now ^^ Despite my forum name my input will not be (overly :D ) bias I hope.

I personally rate Wellington very highly as a commander. Certainly I do not rate him as high as Napoleon (though in some respects, which I will mention he compares very favourably!) but I rank him the equal of the best of Napoleons Marshals such as Davout and Massena. I agree with Chuckman when he says Wellington had a great talent for planning and preperation which led to victory on the field and that he knew the strengths and limitations of his troops and based his strategies and tactics with this in mind. Charles Esdaile writes in his book The Peninsular War

"A mixture of shyness, intellectual arrogance and aristocratic haeteur had produced a demeanor that was at best curt and distant, and at worst intolerant of human frailty and capable of great injustice.... Yet all his faults could not conceal the key fact that he was a military genius... his icy manner reflected a cool detachment that allowed him constantly to outthink the enemy, to get the best out of any ground, and to maximise the strong points of his own forces. Also helpful was a forte for logistics and an eye for detail. Liked he may not have been, but respect and confidence he inspiried in abundance."
- Esdaile, Pengiun 2003 Pg. 96

When it came to battle Wellington conducted the battle always in a professional manner. He did not lead from the front as some French leaders did, but Esdaile writes following the battle of Bucaco

"Wellington had proved once again that he was outstanding as a defensive commander... commenting on his 'extraordinary circumspection, calm, coolness and presence of mind', for example, Schaumann remarked: His orders were communicated in a loud voice, and were short and precise. In him there is nothing of the bombastic pomp of the commander-in-chief surrounded by his glittering staff."

- Esdaile, Pengiun 2003 pg. 326

It is also true what Chuckman says, that Wellington generally had his opponent at a disadvantage when it came to a battle. Wellington had a major advantage in that Portugal provided him and his army with a safe haven of sorts. While in Portugal his army was in friendly territory it could organize itself, train green units, keep supplied from the sea and prepare for incursions into French held territory based on intelligence from a formidable network of spies. The French on the other hand were, as Chuck says, surrounded by enemies in a hostile environment. Every mile of ground had to be garrisoned if it was to be pacified. French troops in Spain, though numerous, were stretched. Cooperation between the Marshals was sketchy at best, and disastrous on occasion (E.g Soults abandonment of Ney in Galicia, or Neys blatant insubordination at times under Massenas command). Reorganizing and supplying troops for any major offensive was difficult in a country that had been ravaged by war and seen harvest failures. And with all these difficulties can be added the impossible demands and orders coming from an increasingly impatient Napoleon.

Despite his safe haven in Portugal however, Wellington was not without problems of his own. Throughout the war Wellington would suffer from severe shortages of "specie", funds for his war chest. This would cause difficulties in acquiring transport and supplies from local sources and Wellington insisted these goods must be paid for. Having relied on the Spanish for supplies in the Talavera campaign and being let down, Wellington resolved to create a proper supply train system of his own and achieved a good system of supply despite severe problems with available horses, transport vehicles and money shortages. Another problem was the relations between his Spanish and Portuguese allies. Relations were the Portuguese were somewhat mixed. On one hand the British were aiding them in driving back repeated French invasions of their country. On the other hand the scorched earth tactics had taken a heavy toll on the Portugeuse peasantry, conscription was unpopular, and the wife of the Prince Regent of Portugal, the Princess of Brazil was openly hostile in her attitude towards the British. Relations with the Spanish were even worse. The Spanish felt that the British had let them down in the Talavera campaign for not achieving the objective of retaking Madrid, while the British were angered at the broken promises made by the Spanish to supply their armies. Resentment was fuelled on both sides over this and various other issues, chief among them being the question of trade rights in the Spanish Empire. While initially Britain sent enormous aid to the Spanish patriot cause, it later attempted to make this aid conditional on an opening of the South American markets to British merchants. This would of seriously damaged Spains trade revenue with its empire and was a source of much bitterness between the British and Spanish allies and a continual thorn in Wellingtons dealings with them.

One of the main skills of a general is organisation of effective logistics and supply. In this I feel Wellington was superior, yes, even to Napoleon! Napoleon had initially been trained as an artilleryman, and while he well understood his troops in many ways, Napoleon is thought to not have fully comprehended the importance of logistics and supply in regard to infantry and cavalry units. Let us compare Napoleon in Egypt and Wellington in India. The circumstances, are of course different but somewhat comparable. When Napoleon landed in Egypt he rapidly seized Alexandria. He then hastily prepared for a march on Cairo. However other than a failed attempt to bring the Bedoin to his side and the recruitment of guides of dubious reliability, Napoleon made no other preperations for the supply of his troops on this march through a stretch of desert. When it was found the Bedoin had turned on him, and the wells extolled by the guides were found to be near empty and fouled, Napoleons lack of preperation cost his army several hundred casualties from a variety of causes. Compare this with Wellingtons march across a vast stretch of the Indian subcontinent, keeping his troops in good supply, and at the end of it all winning an astounding victory. The battle of Assaye is an impressive accomplicement in any generals book. Outnumbered 2 to 1 in infantry, more than 5 to 1 in cannon, and overwhelmingly outnumbered in cavalry (to be fair most of it ineffectual), Wellington still achieved an impressive victory attacking a heavily defended position.

Wellingtons talent for logistics would serve him well throughout his India campaigns in which he was required to cross vast stretches of land being forced to carry his supplies or enlist the services of Brinjarries, travelling merchants. He would use the skills gained in India in this respect to effective use in war ravaged Spain where the saying went that small armies die and large armies starve. Napoleon on the other hand often blundered in respect to supply and logistics. French armies generally lived "off the land", and this approach worked just fine in the fertile and rich provinces of Italy and Germany. But when it came to Poland, Russia and Spain Napoleons talents in the matter of logistics and supply are called in to question. In Spain unrealistic marching goals for his generals (Ney in particular) prevented him from trapping and annihilating the Spanish armies in his thunderbolt campaign. In the Polish campaign the French armies had difficulty keeping themselves supplied and Napoleon did little to alleviate these problems. In Russia Napoleon organized a supply system however this very quickly broke down under the realities of the Russian countryside and weather.

Its getting late and I am too tired to go on much more! My ranking graph of some British/French generals, based on what knowledge I possess of said leaders:

1. Napoleon
2. Davout/Wellington - Desaix rated up here while he lived. I feel he would of had a shining career. Paul Strathern in "Napoleon in Egypt" rates him as second only to Napoleon at the time in terms of his military talents.
3. Massena/Lannes/Suchet
4. Soult/Ney/Poniatowski/Marmont
5. Eugene/St Cyr/Macdonald/Victor/Murat (I hate to rank Murat this low lol someone convince me to move him up based on his uber bravery and epic style)
6. Moncey/Bessieres/John Moore

Chuckman I feel you are a bit harsh on John Moore! His character and attitude caused difficulties with his superiors and subordinates but he did possess some decent military ability. In the instance that you mention he was in no position to stand and fight against the French really. Moore had initially moved in to Old Castille to support the Spanish armies ranged against the gathering French forces across the Ebro. When Napoleon struck with his army he smashed aside the Spanish armies and made for Madrid. When Napoleon heard that John Moore was in region of Old Castille he set off at the head of his Guard, Neys corps and a number of other formations to join up with Soult (whose forces had detected Moore) and attack Moore. Moore was in no position to stand and fight. On the plains of Old Castille his lack of cavalry would have told, and the French outnumbered him heavily (IIRC Moore had about 25k troops to the 80k total Napoleon was coming towards him with). Moore pulled back and did make contact with the remnants of the Spanish army of the Left which had been rallied by the Marquis de la Romana. Romanas troops however numbered about 12-15000 troops, most of whom were in a terrible condition, lacking arms and food and stricken by disease. As a result Moore felt compelled to save the British army and retreat(much to the anger of la Romana). It may not have been the most honourable decision but it did save the bulk of the British army to fight again, and then with success.
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Re: Rating Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington as a command

Postby Lord Avon Ulysses » Sat Mar 10, 2012 6:12 am

Very good post Sir Arthur Wellesley.
I agree wholeheartedly with your analysis.
Wellington's main problem, when people rate him as a commander, is that he beat Napoleon.
This causes the great man's legions of fans to look for anything to belittle his other achievements.

Sure Wellington only offered battle when he had the advantage, but this just shows his skill & judgement.
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Re: Rating Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington as a command

Postby Chuckman » Sat Mar 10, 2012 5:56 pm

Yes, all excellent points about yourself Wellesley! :)

The British were sticklers for supply; to their benefit (though this was their downfall at Ishalwanda). A well supplied army fights better, has better health and morale. Wellington also was a stickler, and it is hard to argue against success. He was very successful. Did HE beat Napoleon though? Yes, the battle was won, but without the Prussian arrival at Waterloo he was beat.

Napoleon did have some major flaws as a commander. His shortsightedness in Russia as well as Egypt proved disastorous in both campaigns. The French tactics of "foraging" aka ravaging the countryside, only worked in Rich Western Europe, not anywhere else.

I do not think I am being hard on Moore. The scenario you describe was true for his initial retreat, in which he had no choice. But then Napoleon left Spain and left only Soult to chase Moore. With fewer French than Moore had British, and Moore had Spanish allies and two other British forces fairly close at hand.

Here is an account of Moore's retreat from Soult's smaller force;
Many British units' morale cracked once the headlong retreat began. Everywhere, Soult's advance guard encountered evidence of the enemy's mounting demoralization; the roads were littered with wagons, supplies, equipment, weapons and scores of stragglers who were captured at every turn.

Sullen, the British treated Galicia like a hostile country. Moore writes: “The people run away, the villages are deserted, and I have been obliged to destroy great part of the ammunition and military stores. For the same reason I am obliged to leave the sick. In short, my sole object is to save the Army.”
Almost every village which the British infantry passed, a cavalry officer of the rearguard reported, ‘exhibited melancholy proofs of the shameful devastation committed by the infantry which had preceded us; we observed in flames whilst we were at a considerable distance, and it was still burning when we passed through it. The inhabitants shouted ‘Viva los Francesces! and we overtook some stragglers who had been stripped and maltreated by the Spaniards.

According to General Stewart the Spaniards "… abandoned their houses as the British army approached, locking their doors and concealing the little stock of provisions of which they were possessed … These things increased the irritation under which the troops already laboured. They [soldiers] began to look upon the Spaniards as enemies and treat them as people unworthy of consideration. This was severely retaliated by an enraged peasantry ..."

The officers were quite unable to control their men. Except of the rearguard and a few of the more ordely regiments such as the Guards, the discipline no longer existed. One officer wrote: “In the end Vilafranca was literally plundered, and the drunkenness that prevailed among the troops led to the most shameful incidents. Down by the river the artillery destroyed all their stores, and lighting big fires burnt all their ammunition wagons, which they broke up for the purpose. They also threw all their ammunition into the river.”

And about supply;
David Gates on the survival thing; "In contrast, the Allies, particularly the British, seem to have been peculiarly inept at surviving without plenty of supplies. Even in times of minor food shortages, indiscipline erupted on a vast scale. The British divisions went to pieces in the lean days after Talavera for example - and as late as the Waterloo campaign of 1815, we find Wellington commenting to his Prussian friends that 'I cannot separate from my tents and supplies. My troops must be well kept and well supplied in camp ..." ( David Gates - "The Spanish Ulcer")

The battle of Corunna; 16 000 Birtish, 12 000 French

Comparative Forces During the Retreat
Soult was left with only 16,000 infantry and 3,500 cavalry.

This campaign began as follow: General Moore left a garrison in Lisbon of 10,000 men and entered Spain with 20,000 to aid the Spanish. His command was to be augmented with 16,000 more under General Baird being sent through Corunna. Moore hoped that his action will disrupt Napoleon's offensive and draw his attention away from Portugal.

Moore had 20 000 men with him, plus thousands of Spanish allies; outnumbering Soult at least 3 to 2. Wellington would have whomped Soult, not had to completely leave the peninsula.
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Re: Rating Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington as a command

Postby Sir Arthur Wellesley » Sun Mar 11, 2012 3:13 am

To be fair I have not read into Moores campaigns and personal history in particular. I am unclear on the exact time Napoleon broke off his pursuit. It just seems to me that Moore was in a difficult position. Based in Old Castille with Napoleons forces coming towards him he had no option to retreat at that point. Napoleons main force from what I gather did pursue him quite vigorously, iirc Napoleon himself personally directing units through bad weather in his eagerness to close with the British. At this point Moore was in full retreat and his problem here was that the retreat broke down the morale of his army, hence the conditions in the sources you related. As I say I haven't read into Moores conduct in detail, but it seems that he did fail to keep his army under discipline once the retreat began in earnest, but again I'm unsure of how culpable Moore was personally for this breakdown.

I imagine once morale had reached that low level, and with the state of his Spanish allies in even worse condition, Moore opted for the safe route out. I doubt that Moore had very accurate intelligence at this point on the state and movements of the enemy army, his forces being in a full scale retreat, so it may be he was unaware of the exact number of enemy troops coming up against him. Sure he knew Soult was coming up fast on him, but did he know how many enemy forces were following up behind Soult? Was he aware of when Napoleon left the pursuit to Soult? If anyone can clarify this would be interesting.

But either way Moore may have felt that the best option was to cut and run. True another general, knowing they faced only Soult, may decide to turn and give battle, but it would likely have resulted in a phyrric victory. Moore had quickly become extremely disillusioned with his Spanish allies, and his supply situation had broken down. To quote Moore:

"If I had had sooner a conception of the weakness of the Spanish armies, the defenceless state of the country, the apparent apathy of the people, and the selfish imbecility of the government, I should certainly have been in no hurry to enter Spain... we are here on our own... in complete ignorance of the plans and wishes of the Spanish government. Indeed, as far as I can learn, the Junta are incapable of forming any plan or coming to any fixed determination."

These words, well before the retreat began shows Moore was already extremely infuriated with the Spanish in general. The quick fall of the Spanish armies (which I must say Moore's failure to arrive in advance to support the Spanish armies is a black mark against him), further lowered the Spanish and their hopes in the war in his opinion.

I imagine Moore felt that he needed to think not only in terms of winning battles, but also of the "risk reward" factor involved. He could risk his army to beat the French in a few battles, but I expect from his point of view:
1. The Spanish regular army is utterly routed
2. The Spanish people were unhelpful and inefficient, adding to his supply problems
3. The French, led by Napoleon had flooded into Spain with enormous forces, massively outnumbering his army and brushing aside the Spanish forces
4. He was now being chased by Napoleon
5. Spain is doomed

5 probably sums up Moores attitude at that point. He likely felt that Spain was lost and it was better to get the hell out than risk the best army Britain had in what he felt to be a lost cause. As I said previously, definately not the most honourable decision, but it did save the British army to fight on better terms in the future.

I must say from what I've read it seems Moore didn't have a particularly glittering military career. His venture into Spain, though unaided by the Spanish, was also impaired by a number of bad decisions, some baffling, that were made by Moore himself. By the time the retreat was on though I would argue, as above that he took what appeared to the be the best course at the time. But some of his decisions leading up to that were highly questionable. Certainly I shall need to revise Moores position on my ranking chart ^^
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Re: Rating Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington as a command

Postby Chuckman » Sun Mar 11, 2012 2:39 pm

Napoleon began to move towards him on the 20th, and broke off pursuit to return to France, and redeployed his forces on the 30th. They were not "hot on their heels" so to speak but definitely moving quickly towards the British. Moore should have run as he did, but the manner of his retreat was disorganized and became a rout.

The battle of Corunna happened on the 15th. But at Corunna the British had been waiting for 4 days for the French. They were far behind. I am no sure of how long Moore knew only Soult was behind him, but by the time of the battle he knew that only Soult was pursuing. He had 5 regiments of light dragoons so I think he had accurate intelligence.

Napoleon's Movement towards Moore; 2 weeks
The Spanish allies left Moore after Napoleon left...
Soult's Movement towards Moore; 2 and a half weeks

Moore was known as a humanitarian and introduced new light infantry tactics to the army. So he was not without his positive points.
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Re: Rating Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington as a command

Postby GoldSabre » Tue Mar 20, 2012 8:50 pm

Yes, I think consensus says if you idolise any but Napoleon, it's as if you've forgotten to wear your knickers with the papparazzi about.
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Re: Rating Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington as a command

Postby Chuckman » Thu Mar 22, 2012 12:21 am

Yes perhaps!

Though of course Napoleon was so good at war that the entire war is named after him! In the Leipzig campaign the allied generals had a very successful plan to only fight the French if Napoleon was not with the army and to retreat from Napoleon if he was present, it worked very well. If you were to do a "top 10 generals of all time" search list you may find a variety of lists, but Napoleon will be on all of them.
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