The morning of 18th June dawned clear after the soaking “Wellington Night” before revealing to a chorus of “Strewths!” from the rank and file and “Damn clever those Froggies” thatduring the night French engineers had tunnelled under Hougument and moved it and its environs (no doubt on giant wooden wheels) 3-400 yards nearer the Brussels- Charleroi road. Clearly this was part of a cunning plan to allow them to attack to the west of the chateau.
The Duke looked at his dispositions dispassionately and decided that there was no need to alter them – he had weighted his deployment to this flank already. Across the valley l’Empereur, in blissful ignorance of the fact that his own indolence the morning before had allowed the Prussians to slip away from Grouchy so that they could perhaps intervene at Wateroo, had decided to attack on either flank and when the Allies were stretched to march forward with his Guard and smash through their centre; a plan of truly Napoleonic simplicity.
The French plan began to unfold, with Reille’s corps moving left, towards the southwest of Hougument and D’Erlon’s moving right towards the slopes west of Papelotte. No sooner had they done so, however, than Napoleon received a rude awakening; a message arrived at his headquarters to say that a Prussian messenger had been captured and had revealed that Blucher was marching on Waterloo and was nearing the field. Casting off his lethargy, the Great Man had a cushion fastened to his saddle, mounted (with many cries of “Ouch!” and Merde) and rode off towardsthe eastern flank of the battlefield accompanied by his entire Guard, leaving the west to Ney to look after.
The action began first on this flank with attacks on both Hougument and La Haye Sainte but the Guards and Baring’s riflemen garrisoning these strongpoints resisted manfully and effectively, taking a steady toll on their attackers. Meanwhile Reille was finding the drawback in this line of advance, since the troops were constricted by the terrain and moved very slowly. Before his men were in a position to attack, the main position, D’Erlon was approaching Papelotte and, detaching men to assault this outpost, which resisted as stoutly as their counterparts on the other flank , moved up the slope. On his right, two regiments of cavalry thundered forward with the clear intention of outflankingthe defenders and rolling up the flank; in the centre, infantry came forward hopin a frontal attack might clear the way. Neither attack was to have the success that D’Erlon had hoped for it. The cavalry were met by two regiments of Uxbridge’s superbly mounted horsemen that hurtled down the slope into them and decimating them, driving the shattered remnants into the wood where they were forced to reorganize into a single weak regiment. The infantry crested the ridgeline to be faced with a line of gleaming bayonettes which not only drove them back but pursued them back down the hill to the line of Papelotte.
Hardly had these stirring events died away than a chorus of “Sacre Blue!” and Sapristi!” rose from the French lines. The reason for it was revealed when an orderly dragoon galloped up to the Duke and reported “Scouts report Prussians to the East, My Lord. Fasands of ‘em!” and a blue tide began to flow onto the field on either side of the Bois de Paris. Content that with the aid of his allies that flank was secure, the duke turned his attention yo the western flank of the battlefield where his outposts, despite causing a steady dribble of casualties to Reilles corps (a Belgian ulcer!) were engaged in a battle of attrition which they could not be expected to win. Eventually, the attackers penetrated both complexes. Even the, neither garrison succumbed easily but fought on until first Baring’s me, having been thrown into disorder and failed to rally were driven back out of the farm (clearly they had received musket, not rifle ammunition) then the Guards in Hougument were destroyed, fighting to the last man.
With these two constrictions eliminated, Reille’s corps advanced more quickly towards the Allied right passing on both sides of the chateau, though mostly to the east. Aware that in the east D’Erlon’s and the Guard were facing three corps, their tactics may have been tinged with some desperation. Alongside the road, their infantry wre surprisingly driven babck by the raw Hannoverian Landwehr. Cavalry following in their footsteps had more initial success, but were driven back to their startline by a counterattack of cavalry. On the extreme edge of the battlefield, the losses suffered in working round the chateau left Reille with no choice but to attack the ridge with cavalry. Again and again the French cavalry came on in the same old way and again and again they were thrown back in the same old way, until they were near exhaustion.
Only in the centre, where the French had assembled a Grand Battery, could their position be said to be fairly secure – Wellington was not prepared to risk the losses to the weakest part of his line that an attack by infantry would entail. The Battery had systematically knocked out or forced to withdraw all the Allied artillery (its only visible target) in this area. Instead, he chose to rely on a turning movement from the extreme left, which had been disorganised by the French attacks but not badly damaged. However, before the Allies in this sector could finish reorganising themselves for their advance, a rearward movement became apparent in the French lines as, by ones and twos, the French began to slip away from the field. Then the Emperor himself disappeared and, wikth cries of “Nous sommes trahis! Sauve qui peut!” their whole army fled the field, crying out that to ask them to fight the Anglo-Dutch and the Prussians both at the same time was too much, leaving Wellington and Blucher to meet at La Belle Alliance and plan the menu for the first Waterloo dinner.