Thursday, 19 April 2018

Book Review: Napoleonic Army Handbook—a fabulous resource

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.

Samples of the tables provided in the book. In this case regarding the French chasseurs à cheval—unit history (above) and facing colours (below).

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.


  1. A very useful review of an interesting reference I was previously unaware of!

    1. Thank you Peter. Pleased if it is of interest/assistance.
      It is not a 'beautiful' book, but packed with useful info. There are quite a number of reasonably priced second-hand copies of both volumes available (and also some ridiculously priced ones).
      On another, but related topic, what info. do you have regarding Austrian hussar #12? You note them on your blog as having a grey dolman pelisse with light blue breeches. Many other sources quote light blue (sky blue/cornflour blue) all over. Was there a change in uniform through the period?

  2. I only have volume 1 but it is an excellent book. Unfortunately, the Prussian tables have been transposed but overall for £10, it was a bargain.

    Regarding the 12th (Austrian) Hussars, the Osprey says that they are pike grey. Pike grey is actually a blue (the colour of the flesh of the pike fish -not the weapon)- Vallejo 901.

    Rawkins has the pre 1801 12th (Slavonische-Croatische Grenz Husar) as Asch Grau and the post 1807 (Palatin) as Himmelblau. It depends on your time period. If you are interested in Austrians, buy Rawkins's ebook. It's 450 pages of detailed information for £4-50 for a pdf, even better value than the book above.

    1. Thanks for your comment, input and suggestions Anon.
      I thought that it might have been uniform changes over time, but was not sure in which of the Austrian reform periods a change may have occurred. Most helpful, thanks.
      These handbooks are great as they compile such a range of information in one place (or two volumes). The Prussian tables in the copy that I have—and there are loads of them—seem fine (though I have not gone through them with a tooth-comb), so perhaps you got a copy from a bad, or early print run or something?
      Luckily I am not restricted to one book(!), so it's great to get detailed, single topic volumes too. I don't have any of Rawkins' books, so will correct that! Easy to access and reasonably priced pdf versions are a boon.
      Cheers, James

  3. Glad you found them helpful. The errors for the Prussians in Partridge/Oliver aren't huge. Page 187- IR9 should be white collar and scarlet shoulder straps+collar and IR10 should be a lemon yellow collar/cuffs and white straps. Page 188 -IR11 should be scarlet shoulder straps and IR12 should have scarlet cuffs+collar. Lower on the page IR20 should also have scarlet cuffs+collar. The note at the bottom is the wrong way around - the Colberg should be 2nd Pommersches. Page 189- IR24 should have scarlet cuffs+collar.

    Basically, the Brandenburg regiments had scarlet collars/cuffs as confirmed by Nash and the Osprey books.

    1. I'm away from home for now, but can check my sources at home. Knotel may be best as the color names will be in German and thus unmarred by translation errors.

      The Rawkins books are excellent - reminder to self to by more! I don't have the Austrian one.

    2. Thanks Peter. I purchased Rawkins' book about the Austrians (and a few others too!). It's as Anon. put in his text summary above. There's a beaut table with the colours, in colour. (It's like that marvellous appendix of the colours that is in the version of Rousselot that I have). Rawkins, like many I have seen, has them the same as the Blakenstein apart from the colour of the buttons (pewter v brass for #6). He quotes himmelblau (as Anon. said).

  4. I'm not familiar with this book but after reading your review, I now feel like it is a necessary book to have. A book of compiled information can be useful and time saving.