Plancenoit is a large village in Belgium 1.3 miles NW of Waterloo and it was a key strategic point during the battle of Waterloo, as it was the main focal point of the Prussians’ flank attack on Napoleon’s army on the 18th June.
The village of 1815 had around 500 inhabitants and they had all fled their homes the day before the battle. In the middle of the northern part of the village lying on a gentle slope, stood an 13th century church called St Catherine made of white stone it had a church yard surrounded by a low stone wall.
St Catherine’s was severely damaged during the battle and it was demolished but rebuilt in 1857 and was designed by an architect called Coulon. The southern side was mainly flat with most of its buildings made of wooden like huts with straw roofs. Plancenoit had a main cobblestone street which ran from east to west and was divided by a stream.
The first Prussians to arrive on the Waterloo battlefield was General Von Bülow’s IV Corps at about 3.00 pm after a long march from Wavre. His orders from Blücher were to secure the village so that Blücher could launch an attack into the French right flank.
When Napoleon learned of the Prussian arrival on the field, Napoleon sent Lieutenant General Lobau’s French VI Army corps to oppose them.
First the Prussian 15th Brigade of Von Losthin some 6,000 men, attacked the French deployed in Frichermount with a bayonet charge they managed to push them out. They then pushed on to attack the French Cavalry and artillery on the heights.
Von Hiller’s Prussian 16th Brigade then moved forward to take possession of Plancenoit at 16.30pm pushing Lobau’s Corps out of the village. With General Von Bülow’s men in Plancenoit, the 15th Brigade linked up with the Nassau Brigade which was on Wellington’s left.
Lieutenant General Lobau counterattacked Plancenoit in an effort to win back the village. Napoleon on hearing the Plancenoit had been taken sent his 8 Battalions of the Young Guard to reinforce the French VI Army Corps and to push the Prussians back. After some bitter fighting the Young Guard managed to retake Plancenoit only to be counterattacked and driven back out. To stabilise the situation Napoleon sent 2 Battalions of his Old Guard. They attacked with their bayonets and after another fierce fight they recaptured the village without firing a single shot.
The Prussians were still not giving up the village so likely, and with a combined grouping of around 30,000 men under General Von Bulow and General Prich 1 attacked Plancenoit again against 20,000 Frenchmen who were in and around the village. The Old Guard and the other supporting troops were able to hold on for over an hour before a massive Prussian counterattack evicted them after some ferocious and bloody street hand to hand fighting. Plancenoit was fought over around five times that day and each time the wounded and dying on both sides were bayonetted to death. The last to leave was the Old Guard who defended the burning church and cemetery. The French casualties were horrific; for example it is said that the 1st Tirailleurs of the young Guard suffered 92% losses while two-thirds of Lobau’s Corps ceased to exist.
In June every year, the village plays host to an annual re-enactment of the battle. A monument in the village commemorates the Prussian troops who died in the battle.