The Peninsular Wars (1807-14)

  • Created by: lwilson23
  • Created on: 16-12-18 17:51

British Tactics/Weaponry/Medical Care in the PW

- weaponry = Brown Bess Musket, extremely time consuming to reload after being fired, also woefully inaccurate, range of 100-150 yards

- medical care = crude and rudimentary (amputation was common and there was no anaesthetic) but given the conditions the surgeons had to work in it was surprisingly effective unlike Crimea

- tactics = 'line formation' was used frequently, where armies marched at each other whilst unleashing volley fire at the enemy. Forming squares was also a common tactic to counter a cavalry charge, as the squares would scare the enemy horses and disrupt the attack. 

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Origins of the Peninsular Wars

- fought in the Iberian Peninsular (Spain and Portugal).

- in May 1808, Napoleon forced the Spanish King Carlos IV to abdicate, placing his own brother, Joseph, on the throne of Spain

- this caused rebellion (guerrilla warfare) in Spain as the Spanish locals resisted French troops

- Wellesley was therefore sent to Lisbon with 17,900 men in 1809 to assist the Portuguese and Spanish in regaining their independence

- The British bogged down French troops through engaging them in open warfare and sieges. 

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Wellington's Revolutionary Tactics

- Wellington trained his men in volley fire so well to the extent that each man could fire 4 rounds a minute, cut reload times down to 15 seconds

- he made heavy use of the reverse-slope tactic, where he positioned his men on the reverse-slope of a hill, laying in wait for the enemy where he would surprise them with musket fire

- Wellington established secure trade links from Lisbon, played the long game. 

- his infantry fired volleys in two lines where one line could reload as the other line fired. 

- Wellington made extensive use of the forming squares tactic. 

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Early Events in the PW

- upon arrival in Portugal in 1808, Wellesely immediately led his forces into BATTLE AT VIMEIRO, which saw a French defeat and the signing of the CONVENTION OF CINTRA - in which Wellington's superior, Dalrymple, gave the French far more generous terms than they could have hoped for. Shipped French troops out of Portugal with all their supplies

- Burrard and Dalrymple, Wellesley's superiors who were involved in signing the armistice, were quietly pushed into retirement and Wellington was sent back to Iberia when French assaulted again. 

- this was after Sir John Moore was forced to retreat to CORUNNA, where British troops had to embarassingly retreat and be evacuated from the French advance. 

- on 22nd April, 1809, Wellesley returned to Portugal, merged the British and Portuguese forces and won the decisive BATTLE OF PORTO, forcing the French out of Portugal. War had begun. 

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The Battle of Talavera/Torres Vedras


- Wellington led 20,000 British accompanied by 34,000 Spaniards against 46,000 French led by Joseph Bonaparte. An aim to defend Portugal from French invasion. 

- significant as first time reverse slope tactic was used - French decimated by bayonet charge. Showed Wellington's knowledge of topography and tactical genius. 

- phyrric victory achieved - lost 25% of fighting force but objective of defending Portugal a success.

- forced the French back - after the battle Wellington regrouped and spent a year between 1809 and 1810 constructing the three lines of TORRES VEDRAS - secure defensive lines spanning Portugal that ensured its protection and secured supply routes for British troops. 

- Wellington was in for the long haul.

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Fuentes De Onoro/Ciudad Rodrigo


- Wellington leads force of 38,000 men against 47,000 French in order to secure a vital position on the Portuguese border to secure their ascent into Spain. 

- Britain was once more on the defense - with Wellington choosing the high ground, forming squares to combat cavlary and deploying his own cavalry when the time was right. 

- was a key example of Wellington's tactical mastery which provided Britain with momentum to advance. 


- 11,000 British troops against 2,000 French with 153 guns - an aim to secure one of the main gateways into Spain. 

- a relatively easy victory for Wellington - on the offensive. Secured access to Spain. 

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The Siege of Badajoz/Salamanca


- 27,000 British against 4700 French - aimed to secure second position on Spanish border. 

- was not easy, Wellington forced to act offensively before French reinforcements arrived. 

- a hard and bloody battle - represented in 4800 British troops dying in mere hours. 

- overall success as the Badajoz fell - but created long-term issues with order and discipline in the British ranks, with the infantry killing and pillaging throughout Badajoz after battle ceased. Key strategic victory slightly sullied by the actions of the British after the skirmish however. 


- British forces of 52,000 advanced into Spain with the aim of expelling Marmont's 50,000 strong army at Salamanca. Both sides postured around each other for a month until Wellington saw weakeness in the French line - immediately sent in cavalry which decimated the French. 

- 14,000 French losses compared to 5000 British - Wellington's offensive capability - Madrid.

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The Battle of Vitoria


- 80,000 strong British force encounters 60,000 French - aimed to remove France from Spain entirely by completely wiping out Bonaparte's Grand Armee. 

- Wellington's clever coordination of a four-pronged attack (which hit the French line at four different positions) proved crucial to the eradication of the French army from Spain. 

- despite equal losses on both sides the victory was decisively a British one - as France were now removed from Spain forever

- like at the Badajoz - the soldiers began looting and pillaging French corpses and wagons post-battle - led to Wellington's infamous statement of calling them 'the scum of the Earth'. 

- ended the Peninsular Wars in a victorious fashion - providing momentum to continue into France.

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Reasons for British Success in Iberia


- the naval dominance (supply and manpower) Britain had at the time. 

- the extensive coast of Iberia allowed Britain to use this to maximum effect. 

- the British government's support of Wellington and the army. 

- the French were fighting a war on two fronts - the Russians on the Russian border and the British/Spanish in Europe. Spanish guerrillas aided the British. 

- the barren terrain meant the French hunter-gatherers were less effective.

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