King's German Legion

King's German Legion
(from left to right) A 5th Line Battalion ranker, a 2nd Light Battalion sharpshooter, and a 1st KGL Hussar
CountryElectorate of Hanover; since 1814 Kingdom of Hanover
BranchBritish Army
Line infantry
Light infantry
Sizeapproximately 14,000 [1]
Garrison/HQInfantry at Bexhill-on-Sea Cavalry at Weymouth, Dorset
Battle honours
Monument to the Hanoverians in Waterloo (1818)

The King's German Legion (KGL; German: Des Königs Deutsche Legion, semantically erroneous obsolete German variations are Deutsche Legion des Königs, Englisch–Deutsche Legion, Deutsche Legion) was a British Army unit of mostly expatriated German personnel during the period 1803–16. The legion achieved the distinction of being the only German force to fight without interruption against the French during the Napoleonic Wars.

The legion was formed within months of the dissolution of the Electorate of Hanover in 1803 and constituted as a mixed corps by the end of 1803. Although the legion never fought autonomously and remained a part of the British Army during the Napoleonic Wars (1804–15), it played a vital role in several campaigns, most notably the Walcheren Campaign, the Peninsular War, and the Hundred Days (1815).

The legion was disbanded in 1816. Several of the units were incorporated into the army of the Kingdom of Hanover, and became later a part of the Imperial German Army after unification in 1871.

The British German Legion, recruited for the Crimean War, is sometimes erroneously referred to as the "King's German Legion".[citation needed]


Colin Halkett helped to raise the King's German Legion.

After the occupation of Hanover by Napoleonic troops the Convention of Artlenburg, also called the Convention of the Elbe, was signed on 5 July 1803 and formally dissolved the Electorate of Hanover. Consequently, the Elector's army was disbanded. Many former Hanoverian officers and soldiers fled the French occupation of Hanover to Britain; George III, the deposed Elector of Hanover, was also King of the United Kingdom.[2]

The same year, Major Colin Halkett and Colonel Johann Friedrich von der Decken were issued warrants to raise a corps of light infantry, to be named "The King's German Regiment". On 19 December 1803, Halkett's and von der Decken's levies were combined as a basis of a mixed corps (includes all arms: mounted, infantry, artillery) renamed the King's German Legion. The KGL infantry were quartered in Bexhill-on-Sea and the cavalry in Weymouth, Dorset.[3][4] Some units were involved in a street fight in Tullamore, Ireland with a British Light infantry unit in the so-called Battle of Tullamore.[5][6] The number of officers and other ranks grew over time to approximately 14,000, but during the 13 years of its existence, close to 28,000 men served in the legion at one time or another. Initially, most of the officers were appointed with temporary rank, but in 1812 all the officers of the legion were given permanent rank in the British Army for 'having so frequently distinguished themselves against the enemy.'[7] It saw active service as an integral part of the British Army from 1805 to 1816, after which its units were disbanded.

Portly man holds a sword, wears a bright red coat, and a big black hat.
The King referenced by the unit's name. George III, King of the United Kingdom and Elector of Hannover


Private from the 1st Light Battalion


  • 1st Regiment of Dragoons (1804–1812, red jacket)
    • changed into: 1st Regiment of Light Dragoons (1812–1816, blue jacket)
  • 2nd Regiment of Dragoons (1805–1812, red jacket)
    • changed into: 2nd Regiment of Light Dragoons (1812–1816, blue jacket)
  • 1st Regiment of Hussars
  • 2nd Regiment of Hussars
  • 3rd Regiment of Hussars


  • 1st Light Infantry Battalion
  • 2nd Light Infantry Battalion
  • 1st Line Battalion
  • 2nd Line Battalion
  • 3rd Line Battalion
  • 4th Line Battalion
  • 5th Line Battalion
  • 6th Line Battalion
  • 7th Line Battalion
  • 8th Line Battalion

Artillery and engineers[edit]

  • King's German Artillery
    • 2 horse batteries
    • 4 foot batteries
  • King's German Engineers[8]


Although the legion never fought autonomously or as a single unit, its units participated in campaigns in Hanover, Pomerania, Copenhagen and Walcheren, the Peninsular War under General Sir John Moore; and the retreat to Corunna; the Peninsular Campaign under the Duke of Wellington, including the battles of Bussaco, Barrosa, Fuentes de Onoro, Albuera, Ciudad Rodrigo, Salamanca, Garcia Hernandez, Burgos, Venta del Pozo, Vittoria, San Sebastian, Nivelle, Orthez, Sicily, and the eastern parts of Spain, Northern Germany and Göhrde.

Farmhouse at La Haye Sainte, where the King's German Legion made its heroic stand.

In the Peninsular Campaign, the Germans enhanced the veteran core of the British army. At Sabugal, in April 1811, several hundred German hussars augmented the Light Division, and the Hussars found the proper ford of the Coa River.[9] At the Battle of Garcia Hernandez, the Dragoons performed the unusual feat of smashing two French square formations in a matter of minutes.[10]

At the Battle of Waterloo, the 2nd Light Battalion – with members of the 1st Light Battalion and the 5th Line Battalion – defended the farmhouse and road at La Haye Sainte. As the 5th Line Battalion under Oberst Ompteda was on its way to reinforce the defenders of Haye Sainte, the French cavalry attached to Jean-Baptiste Drouet, Comte d'Erlon's Corp I rode them down; only a few of the intended relievers survived. After a six-hour defence, without ammunition, or reinforcements, the Germans were forced to abandon the farm, leaving the buildings in shambles and their dead behind.[11]


Return of the KGL to Hanover by Ernst Hildebrand

The legion was known for its excellent discipline and fighting ability. The cavalry was reputed to be among the best in the British army.[12] According to the historian Alessandro Barbero, the King's German Legion "had such a high degree of professionalism that it was considered equal in every way to the best British units."[13] After the victory at Waterloo, the Electorate of Hanover was re-founded as the Kingdom of Hanover. However, the Army of Hanover had been reconstituted even before the final battle, so that there were two Hanoverian armies in existence including at the Battle of Waterloo. In 1816 the legion was dissolved and some officers and men were integrated into the new Hanoverian army.

Battle honours[edit]

Infantry battalion Colours of the KGL.

Regimental colonels[edit]

The following officers served as colonels of the regiment or colonels commandant to KGL units:

The King's German Legion
1st Light Dragoons
2nd Light Dragoons
1st Hussars
2nd Hussars
3rd Hussars
1st Light Battalion
2nd Light Battalion
1st Line Battalion
2nd Line Battalion
3rd Line Battalion
4th Line Battalion
5th Line Battalion
6th Line Battalion
7th Line Battalion
8th Line Battalion
Foreign Veteran Battalion
King's German Artillery


  • Plaques on the outside wall of 'La Haye Sainte'
  • Monument opposite 'La Haye Sainte' commemorating the dead of the KGL
  • Hanover – the Waterloo-column
  • Hanover – near the Waterloo Square in front of the archives stands a statue of Carl von Alten
  • Hanover – also near the archives is a plaque commemorating Major Georg Baring
  • Hanover – the Legion’s-bridge crossing the river Ihme, was originally named Waterloo-Bridge and is now renamed for the King's German Legion
  • Osnabrück – The Heger Tor, formerly called the Waterloo Tor, or the Waterloo Gate, commemorating the officers and soldiers of the KGL
  • Commemorative stone at Wittingen, Lower Saxony. Inscription: Des Königs Deutsche Legion 1803–1815 – Peninsula, Waterloo, Göhrde
  • On the Gehrdener mountain is a stone commemorating Carl Ludewig von Holle, fallen in Waterloo[14]
  • On the monument for the Battle of Vittoria is a plaque for the KGL

German army[edit]

A Sergeant, 2nd Btn. KGL, Waterloo (1815)

After the unification of Germany, some of the old KGL units that had served in the Hanoverian Army were perpetuated in the Imperial German Army, which eventually led to their serving in the Reichswehr and the Wehrmacht. These were:

  • Kavallerie-Regiment 13–1st Regiment of Light Dragoons
  • Kavallerie-Regiment 13–2nd Regiment of Light Dragoons
  • Kavallerie-Regiment 14–1st Regiment of Hussars
  • Infanterie-Regiment 16–1st Line Battalion
  • Infanterie-Regiment 17–1st Light Battalion

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Chapell vol. 1, p. 10
  2. ^ Adkin, p. 179; Beamish, preface; Chapell, vol. 1, p. 39.
  3. ^ Beamish, vol 1, p. 83.
  4. ^ Chappell vol 1, p. 8.
  5. ^ Beamish, vol 1, p. 95ff; Chappell vol 1 p. 14.
  6. ^ "The Battle of Tullamore – Offaly History". 1 September 2007. Archived from the original on 16 September 2016. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
  7. ^ "War Office, August 18, 1812". The London Gazette. Retrieved 2 June 2016.
  8. ^ Beamish Vol 2 p 519ff
  9. ^ Urban, pp. 104–106.
  10. ^ Smith, p. 381.
  11. ^ Urban, pp. 269, 271.
  12. ^ McGrigor p. 96.
  13. ^ Barbero, p. 33.
  14. ^ text and picture in Pfannkuche p. 108,109


  • Adkin, Mark. The Waterloo Companion. London: Aurum Press, 2001 ISBN 1-85410-764-X
  • Barbero, Alessandro (2005). The Battle of Waterloo. Walker and Company, ISBN 0-8027-1453-6.
  • Beamish, N. Ludlow (1997) {1832]. History of the King's German Legion, vol. 1. Reprint Naval and Military Press, ISBN 0-9522011-0-0
  • Beamish, N. Ludlow (1997) [1832]. History of the King's German Legion, vol 2. Reprint Naval and Military Press, ISBN 0-9522011-0-0
  • Chappell, Mike (2000). The King's German Legion (1) 1803–1812. Botley, Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-85532-996-4.
  • Chappell, Mike (2000). The King's German Legion (2) 1812–1815. Botley, Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-85532-997-2.
  • Lindau, Friedrich (2009). A Waterloo Hero: The Adventures of Friedrich Lindau. Pen and Sword. ISBN 1848325398.
  • Mastnak, Jens (2015). Die King's German Legion 1803–1816: Lebenswirklichkeit in einer militärischen Formation der Koalitionskriege. Celle: Bomann-Museum. (Forschungen zur Hannoverschen Militärgeschichte, 2; Zugl.: Vechta, Univ., Diss., 2013) ISBN 978-3-925902-89-5
  • Mastnak, Jens (2023). In der King's German Legion. Die Briefe der Brüder Carl, Ernst, Friedrich und Ivan von Hodenberg (1803–1815). Kiel, Solivagus Verlag. ISBN 978-3-947064-14-4
  • McGrigor, Mary (2005). Wellington's Spies. Pen and Sword Books Barnsley. ISBN 1-84415-328-2
  • Pfannkuche, Adolf (1926). Die Königlich Deutsche Legion 1803–1816, 2. Auflage, Helwingsche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Hannover (de)
  • Smith, Digby (1998). The Napoleonic Wars Data Book. London: Greenhill. ISBN 1-85367-276-9
  • Urban, Mark (2004). Wellington's Rifles: Six Years with England's Legendary Sharpshooters. ISBN 0-8027-1437-4

External links[edit]