I have had this book for many years now. In all this time I have not read it from cover to cover (and I never will) but have found it to be a fabulous resource. In fact, if I was only able to have one book as a source of information about units and uniforms of the Napoleonic Wars, this would be it.
I use the Napoleonic Army Handbook most often to look at the service record of a regiment. At which battles were the 4eme hussards present? What about the 24eme chasseurs à cheval? If I paint the Berg infantry, where am I likely to use them in historical games? I also find it helpful to check information about uniforms. While not the main focus of the book, the information here is often useful in the process of deduction of how I will paint a particular unit.
All right, so much for how I use it, what does the book contain?
This is the second of two volumes of Napoleonic Army Handbooks* and covers the French and their allies (Baden, Bavaria, Berg, Denmark, Hesse-Darmstadt, Holland, Italy, Naples, Saxony, ‘Smaller German States’, Switzerland, Duchy of Warsaw, Westphalia, Württemberg), presented as chapters.
Each chapter provides an introduction to the army/state involved, background of the army’s involvement in the Napoleonic wars, the organisation of the army (‘command structure’) and how it related to the French army (in some cases an assessment of the officer corps and other ranks is also provided), the army’s establishment, uniforms, and battle history (all to unit level) and an assessment of the performance of the troops (under ‘tactics’). The longest of these chapters is, naturally. about the French army and also includes a summary of fighting methods and a section about general officers (using a biography of Marshal Soult to illustrate how a career developed with promotion and various ‘opportunities’!).
The heart of the book is the information about the units in each army. In chapters covering just 336 pages, the authors manage to present details of the formation, battle history and uniforms of every unit in the armies of over 15 nations or states. They achieve this by the use of copious tables supported by ‘efficient’ and detailed text. The tables comprise half or more of the pages of each chapter and are a key to what makes this book so valuable and useful.
The authors note that information about uniforms is not the chief purpose of the book and that they intend only to “convey the general picture”. That said, the information presented is more than sufficient to provided the key uniform details of every unit of every army and the main ways in which they changed over the period; much like Uniforms of the World by Knötel and Knötel and Sieg**. There is enough here to afford a most serviceable paint job on any wargames unit.
In producing this book, the authors compiled information from reputable secondary sources which are provided in the bibliography. I have seen this noted as a weakness of the book, dismissing it as merely re-producing existing information. This is hardly fair nor reasonable as to return to primary sources for every unit in every army would be a monumental task, spanning more than the two lifetimes that the authors possess! Furthermore, far from merely being a reproduction, the book is hugely valuable in compiling a checked version of information “reconciling the differences…” (p. xi) between numerous sources into one easy to read, easy to navigate and accessible volume. This is what makes it such a useful, ‘go to’ book for me.
In some cases Oliver and Partridge improve the clarity compared with previous publications. For example, they present the clearest description of the changes in the names and formations of the various Polish legions and Grand (sic.) Duchy of Warsaw that I have read.
There is the odd error that I have come across (e.g. a typo that the third set of French dragoons had blue cuffs) and omissions (the Lithuanian Tartars are not included, for example), but these are few and far between in over 330 pages packed with information.
* Prior to writing this review I did do not own the first volume, “The British Army and Her Allies”, but was inspired to get a copy. It arrived the day that I decided to post this. It is just in time to help to guide which Austrian infantry regiments I’ll paint for best historical ‘value’. It has also added to the ‘debate’ that I am having regarding the #12 Palatinate hussars. Were they all light blue as Partridge and Oliver indicate (in keeping with Hourtoulle, Funcken, Knötel and some web sources), or did they have a grey pelisse and dolman and light blue breeches (as indicated by other web sources, such as “Napoleon, His Armies and Enemies” and some other blogs)?
**Knötel, R, Knötel, H and Sieg, H (1980) Uniforms of the World: Army, Navy, and Airforce Uniforms, 1700-1937. Translated by RG Ball. Exeter Books, New York. 481 pp.
*** Don’t be confused by the 8.5/10 score. This is a highly valued book and only falls short of the maximum ten Napoleons because it lacks diagrams, maps and uniform plates. If it had all these it would likely be perfect, but also 10+ times the price and many times the size.
Oliver, M and Partridge, R (2002) Napoleonic Army Handbook: The French Army and Her Allies. Constable, London, UK. 354 pp.