Peninsular War


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Wellington's Army

British Army had improved but:

  • only 40,000 men and pattern of small field force supported by foreign auxiliaries remained British policy throughout - Britain refused to introduce conscription so relied on voluntary enlistment and compulsory transfers from Milita.

Wellington believed only way to control his uneducated mass was by brutal punishment, in contrast to Moore's humane policies

Wellingtons inital strategy had to be defensive relying on Short supply line and Guerillas

  • Used linear tactics- two ranks compared to traditional three
  • Used Reverse Slope- to protect men and lure opponents into unwise assult and the drive them back with series of close range volleys and bayonet charges
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Auxillary Forces

Relationships between the British and foreign allies remained poor throughout the war, both Moore and Wellington though the Spanish were poor fighters, badly led and unreliable

British realised that the Guerillas were useful but disliked them and had much more sympathy with their French rivals.

On better terms with Portuguese, forces had been reorganised by British General who eventually number 18,000.

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Defence of Portugal

Wellesley gained early boost when suprised Soult at Oporto in 1809, BUT drawn defensive battle at Talavera in July meant Wellington had to retreat to Lisbon

Built the Lines of Torres Vedras which made Lisbon almost impregnable

Upto 1811 Wellington kept short of funds by British government, stayed behing Torres Vedras

French forces in Spain numbered over 300,000 and Massena launched attack through Ciudad Rodrigo but unable to force Torres Vedras lines and spent winter in portugal- hunger and Guerialla, lost 25,000 men. Retreated

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Cautious Attack 1811-1812

Wellington aware that his small force could easily be defeated and frustrated by lack of equipment.

Massena replaced by Marmont.Soult inflicted heavy casulites on Anglo-Portuguese in South, not followed up by French forces:

Rivalry between Marmont and Soult (hardly spoke)

Frequent interference from Napoleon who consistently under estimated problems, esp Guerillas.

1812- many of French troops withdrawn to fight Russian campaign- Wellington made progress

Wellington caputred Cuidad Rodrigo and Badajoz but ruined the towns- uneducated mass

Summer 1812- Wellington able to take offensive- split Marmont army of Portugal from Soult's army in South and won ivoctory at Salamanca July 1812.

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Wellington successes

1813- Wellington boosted by French disasters in Russia which saw France adjust aims in Spain to defend Pyrenees lines, defeated Jospeh at Vitoria and then took San Sebatain and Pamplona

December 1813- Wellington finally broke through into France taking Toulouse in April 1814- Napoleon abdicated

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Guerrilla Warfare

French rule in Spain not popular although did bring benefits to small number of middle classes but peasants resisted French attempts at reform

Bourbons not Spanish but able to present themselves as defenders of the TRUE Spain.

Napoleon's idea of living off the land didnt work in Spain because:

  • abject poverty meant not enough supplies- turned to looting.


mountainous and roadless terrain meant ideal for Guerillas with overextended Frecnch supply lines a main target

Upto 1812- French could control Guerrillas but presence of Wellington prevented them from concentrating on destruction of Guerrillas.

Guerrillas could NOT liberate Spain by themselves

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Impact on Napoleon's downfall

Spanish ulcer- constant drain of supplies and resources, quality soliders, BUT because steady loss could be argued that can be countered more easily than Russia

Proximity to France- impact of losses seen by French was devastating, Napoleon couldnt prevent news leaking out- negaitve imapct on morale

French aura of invincibility weakened- Bailen was first defeat in Napoleonic era

Encouraged other European powers to restart war against Napoleon- Austria in 1809, although defeated and signed peace treaty

Napoleon shown to be human- overconfident expectations he would recieve support from Spanish people, ability of Wellington (pragmatic General)

Marshalls- bitter disputes and lack of respect for Joseph spilled over into other eares of conflict

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