There have been many books about Waterloo, but never one to rival this in scale or authority. The text, based on extensive research, including many days spent on the battlefield itself, does far more than simply narrate the events of 18 June 1815. There is as much comment as description. Plans are analyzed, commanders assessed and manoeuvres painstakingly related to the ground. Armies, weapons and tactics are carefully examined and evaluated, and a considerable effort is made to answer the age-old battle questions of who?, when?, where?, how? and why? Neglected aspects of the fighting, such as the performance of the French ‘Grand Battery’ or the Prussian attacks on Plancenoit, are given prominence. A third of the text consists of ‘boxes’, each providing, often in anecdotal form, little known information or the first-hand accounts of those who fought upon this most celebrated of battlefields. The many full colour maps, all specially commissioned for the book, and the numerous diagrams and photographs, the majority in colour, make the pages a feast for the eye, while sixteen pages of original paintings of uniforms make it a collector’s dream.
The book is divided into ten sections:
The Campaign describes Napoleon’s escape from Elba and the dramatic events of the ‘100 days’, and examines the strategy of the three commanders-in-chief - Napoleon, Wellington and Blücher up to the eve of the battle.
Under Orders of Battle there is a comprehensive description of the make-up of the three armies, including order of battle diagrams, which show the organization of the armies, including unit strengths and commanders’ names, down to battalion and battery level.
Command and Control describes the command structures and the backgrounds and careers of the three commanders and all their corps and divisional commanders.
The Battlefield describes the key features of the terrain and the strongpoints of Hougoumont and La Haie Sainte that played such a critical role. Maps are used to show the initial deployment of forces by the opposing commanders. There is also a detailed description and map of the site as it is today, including the location of monuments and plaques, as well as a series of unique panoramic photographs of the present day landscape showing the deployment of forces at key stages in the battle.
Complete sections are then devoted to The Infantry, The Cavalry, The Artillery and Other Arms and Services (engineers, medical services and logistics units), describing their organization and equipment in detail. There is also an evaluation of the casualties suffered. These sections also include descriptions of the role and tactics of each arm. Numerous diagrams enable the reader to follow, for example, the drill by which an infantry battalion formed squares from lines, or to see how an artillery battery with its attendant limbers and supply wagons was deployed on the battlefield.
The Highlights describes the key events in the battle: the Allied defence of Hougoumont and La Haie Sainte, the initial French infantry attack, the assaults on the Allied squares by the French cavalry, the defence of Plancenoit against the approaching Prussians, and the dramatic repulse of the final attack by the Imperial Guard. With the help of numerous fully annotated maps, which show the position and movements of each unit, in some cases down to the level of individual companies, the reader can trace the course of the battle in detail while following the lively description of events in the text.
A concluding section is devoted to Myths and Controversies, demolishing some well-established versions of events that have long been accepted as ‘facts’ and analyzing the opposing views of historians on matters such as the importance of the Prussian role in the battle, Wellington’s use of his artillery, Ney’s persistence in mounting the fruitless cavalry charges against Wellington’s squares, and the formation adopted by the Imperial Guard for their final attack.