Wellington’s Headquarters – The Command & Administration of the British Army during the Peninsular War, S.G.P. Ward

Wellington’s Headquarters – The Command & Administration of the British Army during the Peninsular War, S.G.P. Ward

This is a classic study of the administrative side of Wellington's army during the Peninsular War, looking at the systems and people that allowed the army to operate, and how they worked with their two masters - Wellington and the Army establishment back in London.

Ward begins by explaining how the army was administered before Wellington's campaigns - a complex system that had evolved over many centuries. One theme of the book is if and how Wellington's system differed from the previous one, and how that changed over time. The bulk of the book looks at the different aspects of staff work, from the basics of getting food to the troops to the cutting edge of battle - getting men to the battlefield, issuing orders to subordinate units etc.

Although Ward is clearly impressed with Wellington's system he doesn't go over the top. One example comes in the section on Wellington's excellent topographical system, where he admits that he can only find one example where that gave Wellington a clear battlefield advantage, at Bussaco, where the French advanced down a bad road leading to a strong British position. 

One of the interesting things to emerge from this study as that Wellington’s army often operated in a rather different way to its French opponents, using some of the systems that the French are normally praised for having moved away from during the Revolutionary Wars, in particular the reliance on large supply dumps and regular supply convoys. These are normally seen as part of an outdated Eighteenth Century system that was swept aside by the rapidly moving French, but as Ward demonstrates, in the circumstances of Portugal and Spain this was the only valid way to operate (the French would make the same discovery in Russia, much to their own cost). 

Another thing that emerges is that Wellington was clearly not attempting to create a general system to run an army, but instead produced a specific system to allow him to run his army. This system worked with Wellington in command, but failed when Raglan attempted a similar setup in the Crimea. It is also clear that if something had happened to Wellington his system would have collapsed - supplies would continue to have arrived, intelligence to be gathered and so on, but all central direction would have been lost.

1 – The Administration of the Army in Peace and War
2 – The Personal and Official Relationship at Headquarters
3 – The Maintenance of the Army in the Peninsula
4 – The Collection and Transmission of Intelligence
5 – The Quartering and Movement of the Army
6 – Wellington and his Staff

Author: S.G.P. Ward
Edition: Hardcover
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2017 edition of 1957 original

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