Book Review:
The King's German Legion (1)

By Mike Chappell


Osprey publishes a very comprehensive list of Napoleonic titles in a standard format, packed with a combination of detailed text and superb artwork.

The series is an important source of information for historians, modellers and wargamers, aside from being enjoyable and interesting reading matter.

These two volumes from Mike Chappell are no exception.

Volume 1 looks at the story of the King's German Legion during the period from 1803 until 1812, beginning with the French occupation of Hanover and the disbanding of the Hanoverian Army.

Many Hanoverian soldiers made their way to England, there to be formed into the KGL. Initially it was thought that enough troops would be available to raise a regiment of foreign infantry, but recruiting was so good that the force developed into one of all arms.

These two volumes are not just an account of the KGL on campaign in the Peninsular and at Waterloo, but also the story of the force both on campaign and when stationed in Britain.

The author details where the regiments of the Legion were stationed, such as Lymington and Hilsea barracks in Hampshire, and Weymouth in Devon at which were stationed the cavalry and Horse Artillery.

King George III took a keen interest in the legion and often visited the regiments.

Between 1803 and 1805 the legion developed into a force of two battalions of Light Infantry, four of Line Infantry, two Horse batteries and three Foot batteries, plus a Corps of Engineers. The cavalry consisted of one regiment of Heavy and one of Light Dragoons. These regiments eventually adopted British regulations and commands were given in English.

Their first taste of action came with the brief expedition to Hanover in 1805-06, which did aid recruiting into the KGL.

There is a section on the character and organisation of the Legion, in which the professionalism of the officers is described, and how the ranks were recruited. Many recruits were obtained from the War Prisons in Britain, and the author implies that these recruits resulted in a lowering of standards within the rank and file of the KGL units.

I would dispute this reasoning, as prisoners of war were soldiers and seamen who had found themselves in a situation whereby they became captive. Many of them were professionals and enlisted into British service partly to escape the prison system and partly to return to the profession they knew. Having been captured did not make them any less able as soldiers. As the subject of POWs is one dear to my heart I thought that I would dispute this relatively minor aspect of what is an otherwise superb work!

It is very easy to forget that the regiments that fought throughout the Napoleonic Wars were also stationed throughout the British Isles. The KGL was no exception, and Mike Chappell relates the story of units of the Legion stationed in Ireland. An incident occurred when the 1st Light Battalion and a squadron of the 1st Dragoons KGL became embroiled with four companies of Irish Militia and a skirmish ensued in which casualties were incurred by both sides.

The King's German Legion took part in the campaigns in Pomerania and at Copenhagen, which ensured that they were experienced troops before they were sent to the Iberian theatre.

Volume 1 of The King's German Legion describes these other theatres in which British/KGL forces were involved before relating in detail the story of the Legion in the Peninsula, such as the many battles in which the KGL infantry fought, and the famous action of the Legion's Dragoons at Garcia Hernandez when they broke three French infantry squares.

The Epilogue in Volume 1 details the continuing undercover operation conducted by Colonel von der Decken to obtain recruits from enemy-occupied Hanover. He performed this operation from the British-occupied island of Heligoland.

As with all Osprey books there is a very comprehensive look at the uniforms and equipment of the units covered. The artwork in The King's German Legion is a combination of plates by such artists as Richard Knotel plus superb new paintings by Mike Chappell that cover all aspects of the subject, from the KGL on campaign to the Legion at their depots in England, in various types of dress, and covering all arms.

Volume 2 relates the story of the KGL during the latter part of the Peninsular Campaign and at Waterloo, with a large section devoted to the important role this fine formation played during the 1815 campaign.

The book ends with the disbandment of the Legion in 1816 and relates how various units of the Imperial German Army in 1914 could trace their lineage back to the King's German Legion.

This volume has yet more excellent artwork by the author showing the Legion on campaign with various views of the equipment they used. There is an interesting plate showing musicians of the Line and Light Infantry Battalions.

Both volumes are comprehensive accounts of one of the finest fighting formations that Britain possessed during the Napoleonic Wars. The combination of detailed history and splendid artwork make these two volumes excellent value for money.

Highly recommended for historians, modellers and Wargamers, all of who will find The King's German Legion by Mike Chappell a valuable addition to their libraries.

- Paul Chamberlain


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