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Defending the line

Commanding British troops against a French attack. A classroom activity from Neil DeMarco.

This activity gets pupils to think about the uses and effects of the weapons of the Napoleonic era. By reading the artillery table they should get an idea of what each weapon was capable of, and apply this understanding to an enemy approaching.

They then decide which weapon to deploy at each of five stages during the battle, testing their ability to transfer their understanding from one context to another. It is worth contrasting the relative inefficiency of the weapons compared with what was available by 1914 at the the onset of the Great War. The "killing power" of military hardware had increased phenomenally but the tactics of the commanders had barely changed, which illustrates both change and continuity in warfare.

Assignment: It is 1815. You are in command of British troops facing an attack by Napoleon's men at the Battle of Waterloo. You can hold your position only if your tactics and use of weapons are effective. You have infantry and artillery under your command. See sources, below.

Artillery: The standard British cannon at this time could fire a solid ball of iron weighing 12 pounds (just over 5kgs) - which is why the gun was called a 12pounder. But it could also fire other types of ammunition, such as canister. A special type of artillery, called a howitzer, fired explosive shells.

Activity: Like all good commanders, you are prepared for this attack and know exactly what you will do as the enemy advance. You must issue orders to your artillery and infantry officers for each stage of the attack by filling in theorders chart (far right). For example, what type of ammunition would you tell your artillery to fire at an enemy which is within range but cannot be seen because of the terrain? For example, if they are on the other side of a hill. Go back to the sources if you are not sure.

Report: You must now write a 100 - 150 word report to your commander, informing him of how you defeated the enemy attack stage by stage, showing the effect of your orders on the enemy.

To His Grace, the Duke of Wellington, The enemy began his attack at 2pm, advancing in columns from a distance of 1,500 metres.

I ordered my men to hold their fire until they came into range. When they were within 1,000 metres..........

From Colonel ........................................

Neil DeMarco is author of a KS3 text on Britain 1750-1900 to be published in May (Hodder amp; Stoughton) which will include a version of this activity.

* THE Battle of Waterloo in 1815 finally ended Napoleon's rule in France. The armies of Britain, Russia, Prussia, and Austria had come together to get rid of Napoleon and his empire once and for all. The two armies which faced each other in June of 1815 were, though, even in numbers - about 70,000 each. The battle lasted until the early evening and Napoleon came close to winning it at the very end. The number of killed and wounded on both sides was very high - about 45,000. However, the arrival of General Butcher's 50,000 Prussians in the late afternoon swung the battle against Napoleon.

Napoleon was sent, as a prisoner, to the island of St Helena in the middle of the Atlantic, and he died there in 1821.

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