Great Historical Events That Were Significantly Affected by the Weather. Part 11: Meteorological Aspects of the Battle of Waterloo

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  • 1 Department of Atmospheric Sciences, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel
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The Waterloo Campaign extended from 15 to 18 June 1815, with the decisive Battle of Waterloo taking place on the 18th. The campaign involved the “Army of the North” of Napoleon on the one hand, and the Anglo–Dutch and Prussian armies on the other. The latter were commanded, respectively, by the Duke of Wellington and Prince Blucher. A shallow but active low and associated warm and cold fronts crossed the battle area on the 16th and 17th.

The weather had important effects on the battles. On the 16th, in a battle between part of the French army and part of the Prussian army, at the village of Ligny, about 40 km south-southeast of Brussels, thunderstorms connected with the passage of the aforementioned warm front made the use of muskets impracticable.

However, the most important weather effects developed on the 17th and during the night from the 17th to the 18th. Violent thunderstorms occurred early in the afternoon of the 17th close to Ligny, while Napoleon was in the process of attacking the Anglo–Dutch force at Quatre Bras. The rains turned the ground into a quagmire, making it impossible for the French artillery and cavalry, and even for the infantry, to move across the fields in extended order, as required by the emperor. The French advance was so greatly slowed down that Wellington was able to withdraw his lighter force to a better position near Waterloo. Thus, the Anglo–Dutch force was almost completely preserved for the decisive battle of the next day.

The rainshowers of the 17th and the night from the 17th to the 18th softened the ground to an extent that, on the morning of the 18th, Napoleon and his artillery experts judged that the battle—the Battle of Waterloo—could not be started before a late hour of the forenoon [1130 local standard time (LST)]. Until the arrival of the Prussian force, about 1600 LST and later, the battle tended to go in favor of the French, but the Prussians turned the tide of the fighting.

The paper quotes judgments of military historians on the significant effects of the weather. Some historians believe that, had Napoleon been able to begin the attack earlier on the 18th, the battle would have ended in a French victory.

*Part 10, “Crop Failure in Britain in 1799 and 1800 and the British Decision to Send a Naval Force to the Baltic Early in 1801,” was published in the February 1992 Bulletin (73,187–199). See Part 9 (71, 33-41) for a complete list of the series up to and including Part 8.

+Visiting with the Department of Meteorology, University of Copenhagen, since 1986.

The Waterloo Campaign extended from 15 to 18 June 1815, with the decisive Battle of Waterloo taking place on the 18th. The campaign involved the “Army of the North” of Napoleon on the one hand, and the Anglo–Dutch and Prussian armies on the other. The latter were commanded, respectively, by the Duke of Wellington and Prince Blucher. A shallow but active low and associated warm and cold fronts crossed the battle area on the 16th and 17th.

The weather had important effects on the battles. On the 16th, in a battle between part of the French army and part of the Prussian army, at the village of Ligny, about 40 km south-southeast of Brussels, thunderstorms connected with the passage of the aforementioned warm front made the use of muskets impracticable.

However, the most important weather effects developed on the 17th and during the night from the 17th to the 18th. Violent thunderstorms occurred early in the afternoon of the 17th close to Ligny, while Napoleon was in the process of attacking the Anglo–Dutch force at Quatre Bras. The rains turned the ground into a quagmire, making it impossible for the French artillery and cavalry, and even for the infantry, to move across the fields in extended order, as required by the emperor. The French advance was so greatly slowed down that Wellington was able to withdraw his lighter force to a better position near Waterloo. Thus, the Anglo–Dutch force was almost completely preserved for the decisive battle of the next day.

The rainshowers of the 17th and the night from the 17th to the 18th softened the ground to an extent that, on the morning of the 18th, Napoleon and his artillery experts judged that the battle—the Battle of Waterloo—could not be started before a late hour of the forenoon [1130 local standard time (LST)]. Until the arrival of the Prussian force, about 1600 LST and later, the battle tended to go in favor of the French, but the Prussians turned the tide of the fighting.

The paper quotes judgments of military historians on the significant effects of the weather. Some historians believe that, had Napoleon been able to begin the attack earlier on the 18th, the battle would have ended in a French victory.

*Part 10, “Crop Failure in Britain in 1799 and 1800 and the British Decision to Send a Naval Force to the Baltic Early in 1801,” was published in the February 1992 Bulletin (73,187–199). See Part 9 (71, 33-41) for a complete list of the series up to and including Part 8.

+Visiting with the Department of Meteorology, University of Copenhagen, since 1986.

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