Foreigners in British Army and Navy During Napoleonic Wars

Waterloo was largely won by Prussians, Hanoverians, Saxons, Dutch and Belgians. Although the British prefer not to dwell on it, these nations supplied around three-quarters of the 120,000 soldiers who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. Of the 26 infantry brigades in Wellington’s army of 70,000, only nine were British; of the 12 cavalry brigades, only 7 were British. Half the 29 batteries of guns were Hanoverian, Dutch or Belgian. None of these included the 53,000 Prussians who turned up eventually for the battle and swung it Wellington’s way when the French were pushing for a late victory.

Foreigners in British army.

Great Britain recruited more and more foreigners to fill their ranks. In 1813 the foreigners consisted 21% of soldiers in the army. Many of the foreigners were excellent troops. For example the splendid King’s German Legion, or the Portuguese. When Napoleon returned to France in 1815 the British government asked Portugal to send several regiments to serve with Wellington in Belgium. In 1803 Napoleon overran Hanover and the Hanoverian army surrendered at Artlenburg. The Hanoverians had difficulties with accepting this situation and many slipped away to Great Britain. In the end of 1804 they formed the “King’s German Legion”.

All British land forces in 1813.

Brits (79 %) . . . . . Foreigners (21 %)

In 1813 the British army suffered 24,455 casualties of which approx. 20,000 were British and 4,500 were foreigners.

In 1815 at Waterloo the British commander Wellington had an army that was a mixture of Germans (the largest contingent), Dutch, Belgians and British (many were Irishmen).

In the two greatest British victories, Waterloo and Salamanca, the percentage of foreigners in Wellington’s army was very high, well above the ratio (21 %) for the entire army. (see below)

Wellington’s army at Salamanca, Spain 1812.

Brits (27,000) . . . . . . . . . Foreigners (26,000), very numerous Portuguese

Wellington’s army at Waterloo, 1815.

Brits (24,000) . . . . . . . . . Foreigners (43,600)

Number of infantry battalions by nationality (Wellington’s army at Waterloo):
– 50 % German (8 KGL, 8 1/2 Nassau, 8 Brunswick, 17 Hanoverian)
– 30 % British (25 1/2 battalions)
– 20 % Dutch and Belgian (17 battalions)

Cavalry by nationality (Wellington’s army at Waterloo):
– 48.5 % British (6.475 cavalrymen)
– 28.5 % German (3.810 cavalrymen, KGL, Brunswick, Hanoverian)
– 23 % Dutch and Belgian (3.060 cavalrymen)

Composition and character of British infantry regiments.

RegimentEnglishScotsIrishGermans
and others
SCOTTISH
42nd Foot Regiment
“Black Watch” Highlanders
4 %
84
87 %
1.980
9 %
201
0 %
0
IRISH
Ist,IInd Btn./88th Foot Regiment
“Connaught Rangers”
5.5%
178
1.5%
50
92.5%
2.950
0.5%
14
ENGLISH
Ist,IInd Btn./52nd Foot Regiment
“Oxfordshire” – Light Infantry
part of the famous Light Division
65 %
2.174
2.5 %
90
31 %
1.031
0.5%
20
     

Foreigners in British navy.

In the Royal Navy also served many foreigners but far less than in the army. For example the flagship “Victory” consisted of – 441 Englishmen and
– 64 Scots
– 63 Irishmen
– 18 Welshmen
– 22 Americans
– 7 Dutch
– 6 Swedes
– 4 Italians
– 4 Maltese
– 3 Frenchmen, volunteers
– 3 Norwegians
– 3 Germans
– 2 Swiss
– 2 Portuguese
– 2 Danes
– 2 Indians
– 1 Russian
– 1 from Africa
– 9 from the West Indies

Crew of admiral Nelson’s flagship “Victory”, 1805.

Brits (586 English, Scots, Welsh, Irish) . .Foreigners (71 or 74)

The Hanoverian Army at Waterloo

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