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This review is from: Wellington's Smallest Victory: The Story of William Siborne & Great Model of Waterloo: The Duke, the Model Maker and the Secret of Waterloo (Hardcover)
Ever since I have become aware of the Battle of Waterloo, I have been conscious of the different weights attached to the importance of the efforts of the allied army under Wellington and the Prussian army under Blücher. Without the Prussian attack on Plancenoit in the evening of 18 June, 1815, the allies would have lost this battle, despite the lethal mistakes made by French commanders such as Ney. Yet Wellington deliberately downplayed the role of the Prussians in his Waterloo Dispatch (which was the report that he wrote and sent to his government in London immediately after the battle). Further, on the previous days, he had promised support to the Prussian army if it was to be attacked by Napoleon. He did not supply this support. Wellington's troops were disposed in such a way that they could never be available to give the support promised to the Prussians. Only the futile marching and countermarching of d' Érlon's corps provided the British with the much needed victory at Quatre Bras; and prevented the Prussian defeat at Ligny being worse.
In this little book, Hofschroer supplies reasons for the tenor of the Waterloo Dispatch, and for the adamant obstructionism provided by the establishment to Siborne's attempt to establish historical debate in order to arrive at the truth of the explanation of the allied victory at Waterloo. When Wellington discovered that Siborne had independently approached the Prussian War Office for the Prussian records of the battle, he determined to scotch Siborne's efforts at historical accuracy. Between 1815 and his death in 1852, Wellington occupied an outstanding position in public life perhaps unparalleled in the history of Britain; he was the establishment. Hofschroer claims that Siborne had stumbled on an economy with the truth, perpetrated by the Duke himself in the Waterloo Dispatch. He then claims that the reasons for this attitude were to do with a wider political aim to downplay Prussian claims to territory and to increased political influence in post-war Europe. British historians tend to accept the Waterloo Dispatch and the overwhelmingly nationalist attitude that the battle would have been won without Prussian help. I have to say that Hofschroer (is it accidental that he bears a German name?) throws doubt on this claim. I have come to the conclusion that the attack by the Prussians on the French left caused Napoleon to commit reserves to holding back this Prussian advance; reserves that would otherwise have been used to overwhelm the allied centre. And that the Prussian advance happened far earlier than the Duke allowed. Yes, I find Hofschroer's arguments, based in the exhaustive contemporary research conducted by Lt Siborne, quite credible. Hofschroer has done us all a service in opening a debate on the reasons for the establishment cover-up which blighted Siborne's military career and led to his early death. The title of Hofschroer's last chapter is Humbugged? For me this word sums up how the nation, Europe and posterity have all been misled by the Great Duke himself, and how even now, 163 years after his death, lowly and underpromoted Lt Siborne may be having the last laugh.