Friday, October 28, 2011

Book review - Wellington's Two Front War

The latest book to come off the Rosbif bedside table is Wellington's Two-Front War by Joshua Moon. It covers similar ground to Rory Muir's Britian and the Defeat of Napoleon, 1807-1815 (reviewed earlier in this blog). While I think Muir's book is the better of the two and tells the story from the home front, Moon's book is told mostly from the Peninsula. While he doesn't take Wellington's side completely, the limitations the government were labouring under aren't delved into in nearly as in-depth a way as they are in Muir's book. 

What is more clearly investigated in this book is the relationship between Wellington and the Royal Navy. While Wellington's personal relationships with Admirals Cotton, Berkeley and Popham were constructive, that was because they bent their orders from the Admiralty to the extreme. The Royal Navy were overstretched in protecting the sea lanes from American frigates and blockading French ports. The Biscay area was beset with French and American privateers preying on Wellington's supply convoys which were now being routed to Santander after northern Spain had been evacuated by the French after the battle of Vitoria in 1813. As the Channel fleet was also responsible for the northern and western coasts of Spain, they just did not have enough ships to be able to carry out their own tasks of blockading the main French ports as well as privateer-hunting and convoy escort duty, much to Wellington's fury. He felt that his army was the main game in the war against France and that the Admiralty should be bending over backwards to help him, not spread themselves thin trying to cover all their priorites.

This book also clearly illustrates the labyrinthine channels Wellington had to go through to get anything done with supply, ammunition and the appointment of senior officers all areas that were dealt with by separate departments; all outside his chain of command. How he had the time to actually fight the French is remarkable! He couldn't even choose his officers, being lumped with all kinds of incompetent, useless (and in one case mad!) time servers who hadn't had any experience in the field and owed their higher rank to buying their way to lieutenant colonel after which rank, they were guaranteed to reach the rank of general (obvious exceptions being Hill, Graham and Picton to name some of his better generals). It was the prerogative of the Horse Guards to appoint, as well as remove, officers, so Wellington was lumped with a lot of jobsworthies whose main claim was their patronage of those who made the decisions!

An illuminating book, interesting to read after the previous one illustrating the lot of the common soldier. It seems that the average private was lucky to get any army-issued food at all! On the political side of the story, Muir's book, however, is the superior in my opinion.


  1. Sounds fascinating and certainly considerably more worthy than the nonsense on my bedside table! Great review, thank you.

  2. very interesting, though I'm not really fond of sir Arthur. I don't know why... oh wait, I know, I'm French ^^

  3. Sounds interesting, I'll look out for it!


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