Go to content

Main menu:

Waterloo > Prussian Army

The Prussian Army

After Napoleon’s first defeat and abdication, the Prussians, in common with the rest of Europe, were in the process of reducing the number of men under arms. They were also carrying out a major re-organisation, integrating the militia (Landwehr) with regular units. This made the rapid increase in numbers after Napoleon’s return doubly difficult and a large proportion of the army comprised new recruits with little training.

Two changes since 1806 served them well.
Firstly, a system of short term conscription and reservist training made it much more a "citizens army" than was traditional. This was regarded as dangerously radical by some but contributed to high morale and common purpose. They also reformed their command structure and training. Scharnhorst was one of the leaders of this and founded an officers training school in Berlin in 1810. This led to a far more efficient and professional system. It introduced the double headed system of Commander and Chief of Staff. This partnership of Blϋcher and Gneisenau worked so well during the Waterloo campaign.
The Prussians were strongly motivated. Napoleon had humiliated them in 1806 at the battles of Jena and Auerstedt, subjugated them and bled their economy dry. The Prussians wanted revenge and a more prominent place in Europe.

The Prussians covered the frontier area around Charleroi and along the Sambre river where the French first invaded Belgium. They fell back on the 15th June and assembled at and around Ligny as agreed with Wellington. Unfortunately IV Corps was too far away to the north east to join them so they faced Napoleon on the 16th with three Corps and, after fierce fighting, were forced to withdraw. Rather than fall back east in the direction of their supply lines, most of the army went north and reassembled around Wavre from where about half the remaining army were able to reach the Waterloo battlefield and ensure Napoleon’s defeat.


The Prussian returns of 14th June show slightly over 130,000 men with 304 guns under Bl
ϋcher's command. Although IV Corps was not engaged at all during the period 15-17th June, the other corps were defeated at Ligny with very heavy casualties in I and II Corps. Then some 8,000-10,000 men 'disappeared' during the retreat from Ligny to Wavre on 17th June. By 18th June Blϋcher had 100,000 men and 283 guns available for operations.

The IV Corps under B
ϋlow was the only Prussian corps to fight in its entirety at Waterloo. However, its leading units did not arrive on the edge of the battlefield until 4.30 p.m. As this corps was not in the area the French first invaded and was not at Ligny, it went into action at virtually full strength. It provided 31,000 men and 86 guns out of the total Prussian involvement of 49,000 and 134 guns.

II Corps provided 12,800 at around 6.30 p.m. and I Corps (the last to arrive at about 7.30 p.m.) a total of 5,000.

Strengths by Corps at Waterloo

I Corps
Infantry: 7 battalions (11% of all Prussian infantry battalions). Cavalry: 4 regiments, 13 squadrons (21% of all cavalry squadrons). Artillery: 1 battery of foot artillery, 2 batteries of horse artillery (24 guns, 18% of the total).

II Corps
Infantry: 21 battalions (34% of all battalions).
Cavalry: 3.5 regiments, 14 squadrons (23% of all cavalry squadrons).
Artillery: 2 batteries of foot artillery, 1 battery of horse artillery
(24 guns, 18% of the total).

IV Corps
Infantry: 34 battalions (55% of the total).
Cavalry: 10 regiments, 34 squadrons (56% of all cavalry squadrons).
Artillery: 8 batteries of foot artillery, 3 batteries of horse artillery (86 guns, 64% of the total).

Infantry: 62 battalions  38,000
Cavalry: 17.5 regiments, 61 squadrons  7,000
Artillery: 17 batteries, 134 guns  2,500
Others: staff, munitions columns, engineers, medical personnel, etc. 1,500

Grand total:  49,000 at Waterloo.

The average strength of a Prussian battalion was about 615 all ranks.

Back to content | Back to main menu