Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Book review

I've just finished reading WATERLOO COMMANDERS: Napoleon, Wellington and Blucher by Andrew Uffindell (isbn 1844152499).

A good comparative biography of the three commanders of the Waterloo campaign. Having not a lot of knowledge about Blucher apart from his 1815 campaign, this was a good introduction to the man. It dispels the myth that he was just a tool of Gneisenau and that he was just a hussar who needed to be pointed in a particular direction. He was a great leader of men, much loved by his men and even by the Russian rank and file, with whom he cultivated a rapport with by such populist gestures as asking soldiers for tobacco for his pipe etc. He was able to motivate prickly subordinates like Yorck as well as Russian generals like Osten-Sacken. He could be impulsive at times, but his value as a commander was obvious when he was not available to command, ie. when he fell ill during the 1814 campaign in France, the Army of Silesia was rudderless. My favourite Blucher anecdote is his claim to be the only man in the world able to kiss his own head. So saying, he turned and gave Gneisenau a smack on the top of his head!

Uffindell's view of Wellington I didn't completely agree with; He argued that Wellington was not as prickly and controlling with his staff as legend portrays him. He was just picky about who he trusted and valued ie. his QMG Sir George Murray and his gaggle of young, well connected ADCs. What Uffindell failed to mention was that Wellington was still a creature of his age and that it didn't matter what your talents were, unless you came from the right background, you were very much on the outer, as with his intelligence chief Scovell (see The Man Who Broke Napoleon's Codes, Urban, M. isbn 0571205380 )who almost single-handedly ran Wellington's code-breaking and intelligence gathering operations, but remained at a relatively junior rank because of his background and lack of wealth and influence. His views on Wellington's logistical, tactical and strategic brilliance were pretty much spot on.

Napoleon on the other hand came in for a bit of a drubbing because of his lack of moderation in dealing with other nations, his accountability to no one and his belief in his own publicity, which are all fairly much accepted criticisms. Once his enemies united and fought him using his own methods, his fate was more or less sealed.

All in all a useful work that puts all three careers in perspective.

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