Sunday, 30 September 2012

Belgian War of Independence 1830-32

Standard of the Dutch Grenadiers  

 My wargaming has always looked at the more obscure, rather than mainstream, and you can't get much more obscure than the Belgian Independence campaigns from 1830 to 1832.

 In 1814 during the Napoleonic Wars, the countries we now know as Belgium and the Netherlands were united under a Dutch king, Wilhelm I. The Dutch-Belgian army formed a major part of Wellington's army at Waterloo, and contrary to much derogatory comments (particularly from British sources) performed very creditably.

 That army disappeared in reforms in 1816/17 that created a Prussian style force with multi-battalion infantry regiments, known as "Afdeeling", literally divisions. It included four Swiss (who existed but had not been used in 1815) and a Nassau unit although Nassau had been given independence in return for adding Luxemburg to the Dutch crown. There was conscription and the units were mostly recruited and served in their home towns. The cavalry arm was the least changed by the reforms and contained cuirassiers, light dragoons and lancers. The artillery existed as field and horse batteries as well as fortress/militia units.

 Further reforms in 1829 abolished the Swiss and Nassauers but raised a two battalion (Dutch) Grenadier unit and two Jager battalions that still exist today as the Dutch guard regiment.

 Due to the population difference the Belgians formed the majority of the infantry and cavalry, but with an overwhelmingly Dutch cadre and command structure and the Dutch kept the majority of the artillery. The Dutch king distrusted his Belgian subjects and kept them under economic and political control with strong pro-Dutch laws and policies and almost all senior army officers and government officials and ministers were Dutch.  

 Not surprisingly, the Belgians weren't happy and political agitation came to a head in August 1830 when the king visited Bruxelles/Brussels. What started as an anti-Dutch riot developed into a rebellion and the army were unable to regain control of the city. The Belgian troops initially remained loyal but when it became clear that this was not just some civil disturbance, and with the encouragement of revolutionary agitators, they deserted en masse. Political volunteer corps sprang up and took over most of Belgium, in the process arresting many bands of Dutch officers and NCOs wandering the countryside trying to get home.

 The Belgians then found themselves in a state of apparent liberty, but with no real army to defend themselves, whilst the Dutch king was unable to restore control as the greater part of his army had disappeared; this lead to a stalemate that was occupied by much diplomatic activity as the Great Powers tried to resolve the issue. Meanwhile, both sides tried to raise new forces with the Dutch striking first in August 1831 when they launched a re-conquest campaign known as the  Tiendaagse Veldtocht, or Ten days Campaign.

 This campaign is what interests me and for which I will provide further threads. 

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