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Battle of Menin, 15 September 1793

Battle of Menin, 15 September 1793



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Battle of Menin, 15 September 1793

The battle of Menin of 15 September 1793 was an Austrian victory over the French army of General Houchard that helped to restore the Allied position in Belgium after the French victories at Hondschoote (6-8 September 1793) and two days earlier over the same ground at Menin (13 September 1793).

After defeating the Dutch at Menin, Houchard decided not to risk attacking the Austrians, and instead wanted to pull back as far as Arras, where he could protect the garrisons of Cambrai and Bouchain, and possibly outflank the main Allied army under the Prince of Saxe-Coburg if the Austrians advanced towards Arras.

Generals Hédouville and Dumesny, at Menin, were ordered to retreat south to Lille, while a rear-guard under brigadier-general Demars was to move towards Courtrai to distract the Allies from that movement. On 14 September Demars captured the village of Wevelgem, between Menin and Courtrai. Hédouville attacked Demars for his slowness and ordered him to either capture of shell Courtrai, unaware that a sizable Austrian army, under the command of General Beaulieu, had been present in the town for the last two days.

Demars advanced towards Courtrai in a single large column, confident that he would not be opposed. This was not the case. Beaulieu was well aware of the French advance, and sent a force of infantry with half a squadron of cavalry to attack the rear of the French column. Demars ordered his men to retreat to Wevelgem, where he met up with General Hédouville and a number of reinforcements. For a moment the French line held, but when Beaulieu outflanked this position, the entire French force fled towards Menin.

Hédouville was able to restore some order, and at this stage the retreat remained orderly. As the column approached Menin, Hédouville, believing the fighting to be over, left the column and rejoined the main force on the road to Lille. Demars' brigade was posted outside the Courtrai Gate at Menin, with orders not to retreat until nightfall.

Hédouville had misjudged the situation. Beaulieu's cavalry, four squadrons from the Esterhazy regiment, had followed the French. They were now joined by two squadrons of cavalry from the advance guard of the second Allied army, under the command of the Duke of York. This army had moved east after being defeated at Hondschoote on 8 September, and was now in place to help turn the French defeat into a rout.

The appearance of the Allied cavalry caused a panic in Demars' brigade, which broke and attempted to retreat into Menin. The garrison was commanded by a Dutch revolutionary, Daendels, who would serve Napoleon as a general. He realised that the Austrians would probably enter the town at the same time as the fleeing French troops, and decided to evacuate the garrison across the Lys. As the last troops were ready to leave, Demars appeared on the scene, and ordered Daendels to form a rearguard to delay the Austrians. This order came too late, for Austrian Hussars had already broken into the town. Daendels was nearly killed in the fighting around the Coutrai gate, and was only just able to escape to safety across the Lys.

Two representatives of the Paris Government, Levasseur and Bentabole, almost caused a further disaster when their exhortations convinced a number of troops to make a fresh stand. They were rescued from their embarrassing situation by the arrival of General Béru, who brought some order to the retreat, directing the garrison to Tourcoing and Linselles. As a reward for his efforts, Béru was quickly promoted to Major General.

Hédouville suffered the opposite fate. He was judged to have been 'brave, but never a general', and on 23 September Levasseur and Bentabole suspended him from all military functions. The disaster at Menin also helped bring about the fall of General Houchard. As so often happened during the Revolutionary Wars, a cry of treason was soon raised against him, although his only real crime was to have been promoted above his ability. He was executed on 17 November 1793.

The French were saved from further disaster by the slow pace of Allied operations. Rather than taking advantage of their victory at Menin, Saxe-Coburg turned east to besiege Maubeuge. Yet another new French commander, Jean-Baptiste Jourdan, was appointed to command the Armée du Nord, winning a crucial victory at Wattignies on 15-16 October. The siege of Maubeuge was lifted, and at the end of the year the French held a slight advantage.

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Preparation

Plumer was an efficient, methodical commander. He had assembled an outstandingly competent staff, who had demonstrated their abilities as a team in a previous operation on Messines Ridge.

There would be no rushing a meticulous planner like Plumer. Told at the end of August 1917 he was leading the next big attack, he took three weeks to prepare and plan. There was a lull in the fighting while he gathered his resources.

Men of the 13th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, in trenches just prior to their attack towards Veldhoek during the Battle of Menin Road, 20 September 1917

What counted as a lull in the Third Battle of Ypres would seem like devastating carnage by the standards of most wars. 10,000 casualties were sustained in the first two weeks.

For the first time that year, the weather turned to the advantage of the British. The continuous rain that had turned the battlefield into a quagmire let up for ten whole days. In the relatively dry ground, Plumer’s men dug trenches and repaired roads.


Souvenir

The graves of two Prussian officers who died in battle are located in the old cemetery in Pirmasens. One is Albrecht Otto Johann von Möllendorff (1755–1793) and his grave monument bears the commemorative inscription:

“This is where Albrecht Otto Johann von Moellendorff, b. zu Gadow near Perleberg in the Prignitz on April 6, 1755, k. prussia. Rittmeister in the Couirassier Regiment von Borstell, died in the field of honor in the battle of Pirmasens on September 14, 1793 "

The second, almost identical tombstone has no text. He used to have an additional grave slab with an inscription, which has been lost. Therefore, it is known that it is the grave of Premier Lieutenant Hans Friedrich Georg Ludwig Wilhelm von Borstell (1770–1793), the eldest son of the general involved in the Pirmasens battle and commander of the 7th Cuirassier Regiment, Hans Friedrich Heinrich von Borstell (1730–1793) 1804) acts. The brother Ludwig von Borstell, who survived the fallen, also fought at Pirmasens.

The two deceased officers belonged to the 7th Prussian Cuirassier Regiment. Her death is described in the history of the Royal Prussian Sixth Cuirassier Regiment, called Kaiser von Russland , by Wilhelm Baron Digeon von Monteton , Brandenburg, 1842 (pages 88, 89 and 92).


Reign of Terror

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Reign of Terror, also called the Terror, French La Terreur, period of the French Revolution from September 5, 1793, to July 27, 1794 (9 Thermidor, year II). With civil war spreading from the Vendée and hostile armies surrounding France on all sides, the Revolutionary government decided to make “Terror” the order of the day (September 5 decree) and to take harsh measures against those suspected of being enemies of the Revolution (nobles, priests, and hoarders). In Paris a wave of executions followed. In the provinces, representatives on mission and surveillance committees instituted local terrors. The Terror had an economic side embodied in the Maximum, a price-control measure demanded by the lower classes of Paris, and a religious side that was embodied in the program of de-Christianization pursued by the followers of Jacques Hébert.

What were the causes of the Reign of Terror?

Prior to the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror (1793–94), France was governed by the National Convention. Power in this assembly was divided between the more moderate Girondins, who sought a constitutional monarchy and economic liberalism and favored spreading the Revolution throughout Europe by means of war, and the Montagnards, who preferred a policy of radical egalitarianism. By the spring of 1793, the war was going badly, and France found itself surrounded by hostile powers while counterrevolutionary insurrections were spreading outward from the Vendée. A combination of food scarcity and rising prices led to the overthrow of the Girondins and increased the popular support of the Montagnards, who created the Committee of Public Safety to deal with the various crises. On September 5, 1793, the Convention decreed that “terror is the order of the day” and resolved that opposition to the Revolution needed to be crushed and eliminated so that the Revolution could succeed.

What major events took place during the Reign of Terror?

Laws were passed that defined those who should be arrested as counterrevolutionaries, and committees of surveillance were set up to identify suspects and issue arrest warrants. Later laws suspended the rights of suspects to both legal assistance and public trials and mandated execution of all those who were found guilty. Other laws set up government control of prices, confiscated lands from those found guilty of failing to support the Revolution, and brought public assistance to the poor and disabled. The French republican calendar was adopted as part of a program of de-Christianization. About 300,000 people were arrested, and 17,000 of them were tried and executed. As many as 23,000 more were killed without trial or died in prison. However, conscription raised a large army that turned the tide of the war in France’s favor.

How did the Reign of Terror end?

Maximilien Robespierre, president of the Jacobin Club, was also president of the National Convention and was the most prominent member of the Committee of Public Safety many credited him with near dictatorial power. The excesses of the Reign of Terror combined with the decreased threat from other countries led to increased opposition to the Committee of Public Safety and to Robespierre himself. In July 1794 Robespierre was arrested and executed as were many of his fellow Jacobins, thereby ending the Reign of Terror, which was succeeded by the Thermidorian Reaction.

What were the results of the Reign of Terror?

The Reign of Terror instituted the conscripted army, which saved France from invasion by other countries and in that sense preserved the Revolution. However, for the most part, it destabilized the country, rather than solidifying the gains of the Revolution and leading to a virtuous and happy republic, as its authors had hoped.

During the Terror, the Committee of Public Safety (of which Maximilien de Robespierre was the most prominent member) exercised virtual dictatorial control over the French government. In the spring of 1794, it eliminated its enemies to the left (the Hébertists) and to the right (the Indulgents, or followers of Georges Danton). Still uncertain of its position, the committee obtained the Law of 22 Prairial, year II (June 10, 1794), which suspended a suspect’s right to public trial and to legal assistance and left the jury a choice only of acquittal or death. The “Great Terror” that followed, in which about 1,400 persons were executed, contributed to the fall of Robespierre on July 27 (9 Thermidor).

During the Reign of Terror, at least 300,000 suspects were arrested 17,000 were officially executed, and perhaps 10,000 died in prison or without trial.


Battle of Vitoria

28. Podcast of the Battle of Vitoria: Wellington’s decisive defeat of Joseph Bonaparte’s French army on 21 st June 1813 in North-Eastern Spain in the Peninsular War: John Mackenzie’s britishbattles.com podcasts

The previous battle of the Peninsular War is the Battle of San Millan and Osma

The next battle in the British Battles sequence is the Storming of San Sebastian

War: Peninsular War

Date of the Battle of Vitoria: 21 st June 1813

Place of the Battle of Vitoria: in North-Eastern Spain, to the South of Bilbao and near the French border.

Combatants at the Battle of Vitoria: British, Portuguese and Spanish against the French.

Commanders at the Battle of Vitoria: The Marquis of Wellington (from 1814, the Duke of Wellington) against Joseph Bonaparte, brother of the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, who had imposed him on the Spanish people as their king.

Wellington and his staff at the Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War

Size of the armies at the Battle of Vitoria: Wellington’s army comprised 52,000 British and 28,000 Portuguese troops. An army of 25,000 Spanish troops co-operated in the campaign. Wellington’s army had 90 guns.

The French army, drawn from the Army of the South, the Army of the Centre and the Army of Portugal, comprised 50,000 troops (including 7,000 cavalry), with 150 guns.

Joseph also commanded a small Spanish contingent.

Joseph Bonaparte: Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War

Uniforms, arms and equipment at the Battle of Vitoria:
The British infantry wore red waist-length jackets, grey trousers, and stovepipe shakos. Fusilier regiments wore bearskin caps. The two rifle regiments wore dark green jackets and trousers.

The Royal Artillery wore blue tunics.

Highland regiments wore the kilt with red tunics and black ostrich feather caps.

British heavy cavalry (dragoon guards and dragoons) wore red jackets and black fore and aft cocked hats. The change in uniform brought in during 1812 saw the British heavy cavalry adopt ‘Roman’ style helmets with horse hair plumes.

The British light dragoons wore light blue uniform coats and a leather helmet with a fur crest running front to back.

In 1807, the British 7 th , 10 th , 15 th and 18 th Light Dragoons were converted to Hussar Regiments of Light Cavalry and adopted the standard Europe-wide Hussar uniform, comprising a frogged tunic, dolman jacket hanging from the shoulder, tall fur busby cap, tight britches, heeled boots, moustaches and a curved sword.

The King’s German Legion (KGL) was formed largely from the old disbanded Hanoverian army. The KGL owed its allegiance to King George III of Great Britain, as the Elector of Hanover and fought with the British army. The KGL comprised both cavalry and infantry regiments. KGL uniforms followed the British.

The Portuguese army uniforms increasingly during the Peninsular War reflected British styles. The Portuguese line infantry wore blue uniforms, while the Caçadores light infantry regiments wore green.

The Spanish army was essentially without uniforms, existing as it did in a country dominated by the French. Where formal uniforms could be obtained, they were white.

The French army wore a variety of uniforms. The basic infantry uniform coat was dark blue.

Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War

The French cavalry comprised Cuirassiers, wearing heavy burnished metal breastplates and crested helmets, Dragoons, largely in green and wearing crested helmets, Hussars, in the conventional uniform worn by this arm across Europe and Chasseurs à Cheval, dressed as hussars.

The French foot artillery wore uniforms similar to the infantry, the horse artillery wore hussar uniforms.

Portuguese infantry soldier: Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War

The standard infantry weapon across all the armies was the muzzle-loading musket. The musket could be fired three or four times a minute, throwing a heavy ball inaccurately for a hundred metres or so. Each infantryman carried a bayonet for hand-to-hand fighting, fitting into the muzzle end of his musket.

The British rifle battalions (60 th and 95 th Rifles) carried the Baker rifle, a more accurate weapon but slower to fire and a sword bayonet.

Field guns fired a ball projectile, of limited use against troops in the field unless those troops were closely formed. Guns also fired case shot or canister which fragmented and was highly effective against troops in the field over a short range. Exploding shells fired by howitzers, yet in their infancy. were of particular use against buildings. The British were developing shrapnel (named after the British officer who invented it) which increased the effectiveness of exploding shells against troops in the field, by exploding in the air and showering them with metal fragments.

Throughout the Peninsular War and the Waterloo campaign, the British army was plagued by a shortage of artillery. The Army was sustained by volunteer recruitment and the Royal Artillery was unable to recruit sufficient gunners for its needs.

Napoleon exploited the advances in gunnery techniques of the last years of the French Ancien Régime to create his powerful and highly mobile artillery. Many of his battles were won using a combination of the manoeuvrability and fire power of the French guns with the speed of the French columns of infantry, supported by the mass of French cavalry.

While the French conscript infantry moved about the battle field in fast moving columns, the British trained to fight in line. The Duke of Wellington reduced the number of ranks to two, to extend the line of the British infantry and to exploit fully the firepower of his regiments.

Winner of the Battle of Vitoria: The British, Portuguese and Spanish.

British order of battle at the Battle of Vitoria:
Commander: Lieutenant General (local General) the Marquess of Wellington

Officers of the Royal Horse Guards in Spain: Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War: picture by Denis Dighton

Right Column: commanded by Lieutenant General Sir Rowland Hill
Cavalry:
1 st Brigade: commanded by Major General Victor von Alten: 14 th Light Dragoons and 1 st Hussars, King’s German Legion
2 nd Brigade: commanded by Lieutenant General Fane: 3 rd Dragoon Guards and 1 st Royal Dragoons

Infantry:
Second Division: commanded by Lieutenant General William Stewart
1 st Brigade: commanded by Colonel Cadogan: 1 st /50 th , 1 st /71 st 1 st /91 st Foot and 1 company of 5 th /60 th Foot
2 nd Brigade: commanded by Major General Byng: 1 st /3 rd , 1 st /57 th Foot, 1 st Provisional Battalion (2 nd /31st and 2 nd /66 th Foot) and 1 company of 5 th /60 th Foot
3 rd Brigade: commanded by Colonel O’Callaghan: 1 st /28 th , 2 nd /34 th , 1 st /39 th Foot and 1 company of 5 th /60 th Foot
Portuguese Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General Ashworth: 1 st and 2 nd /6 th , 1 st and 2 nd /18 th Portuguese Line and 6 th Caçadores

3rd Buffs: Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 in the Peninsular War: picture by Richard Simkin

Portuguese Division: commanded by Major General Silveira, Conde de Amaranthe
1 st Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General de Costa: 1 st and 2 nd /2 nd , 1 st and 2 nd /14 th Portuguese Line
2 nd Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General Archibald Campbell: 1 st and 2 nd /4 th , 1 st and 2 nd /10 th Portuguese Line and 10 th Caçadores

Spanish Division: commanded by Major General Morillo
Artillery: commanded by Major Carncross
Beane’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery
Maxwell’s Battery Royal Artillery
2 Portuguese batteries under Major Tulloh

1st Life Guards: Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War

Right Centre Column: commanded by the Marquess of Wellington
Cavalry
1 st Brigade: commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Sir Robert Hill: 1 st and 2 nd Life Guards and Royal Horse Guards
2 nd Brigade: commanded by Colonel Colquohon Grant: 10 th , 15 th and 18 th Light Dragoons (Hussars)
3 rd Brigade: commanded by Major General William Ponsonby: 5 th Dragoon Guards, 3 rd and 4 th Dragoons
Portuguese Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General D’Urban: 1 st , 11 th and 12 th Portuguese Dragoons

Spanish Infantry: Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War

Infantry:
Fourth Division: commanded by Major General (local Lieutenant General) Lowry Cole
1 st Brigade: commanded by Major General William Anson: 3 rd /27 th , 1st/40 th , 1 st /48 th , Provisional Battn. (1 st and 2 nd /53 rd Foot) and 1 company of 5 th /60 th Foot
2 nd Brigade: commanded by Major General Skerrett: 1 st /7 th , 20 th , 1 st /23 rd , and 1 company of Brunswick Oels
Portuguese Brigade: commanded by Colonel George Stubbs: 1 st and 2 nd /11 th and 1 st and 2 nd /23 rd Portuguese Line and 7 th Caçadores

Light Division: commanded by Lieutenant General Charles, Baron von Alten.
1st Brigade: commanded by Major General Kempt: 1 st /43 rd Foot, 1 st /95 th Rifles (8 Cos), 3 rd /95 th Rifles (5 companies) and 3 rd Caçadores
2 nd Brigade: commanded by Major General John Ormesby Vandeleur: 1 st /52 nd Foot, 2 nd /95 th Rifles (6 companies) and 1 st Caçadores

Artillery: commanded by Major Augustus Simon Frazer
Ross’s, Gardiner’s and Ramsay’s Troops, Royal Horse Artillery
Sympher’s Battery, King’s German Artillery

28. Podcast of the Battle of Vitoria: Wellington’s decisive defeat of Joseph Bonaparte’s French army on 21 st June 1813 in North-Eastern Spain in the Peninsular War: John Mackenzie’s britishbattles.com podcasts

Left Centre Column: commanded by Lieutenant General the Earl of Dalhousie
Infantry:
Third Division: commanded by Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Picton
1 st Brigade: commanded by Major General Thomas Brisbane: 1 st /45 th , 74 th , 1 st /88 th and 3 companies of 5 th /60 th Foot
2nd Brigade: commanded by Major General Colville: 1 st /5 th , 2 nd /83 rd , 2 nd /87 th and 94 th Foot
Portuguese Brigade: commanded by Major General Manley Power: 1 st and 2 nd /9 th , 1 st and 2 nd /21 st Portuguese Line and 11 th Caçadores

Seventh Division: commanded by Lieutenant General Lord Dalhousie
1 st Brigade: commanded by Major General Barnes: 1 st /6 th Foot, 3 rd Provisional Battalion (2 nd /24 th and 2 nd /58 th Foot), Brunswick Oels (7 companies)
2nd Brigade: commanded by Colonel William Grant: 51 st , 68 th , 1 st /82 nd Foot and Chasseurs Britanniques
Portuguese Brigade: commanded by Major General Le Cor: 1 st and 2 nd /7 th , 1 st and 2 nd /19 th Portuguese Line and 2nd Caçadores
Artillery: commanded by Major Buckner
Batteries of Cairnes and Douglas

1st Foot Guards: Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 in the Peninsular War: picture by Hamilton Smith

Left Column: commanded by Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Graham
Cavalry:
1 st Brigade: commanded by Major General George Anson: 12 th and 16 th Light Dragoons
2nd Brigade: commanded by Major General Baron Bock: 1 st and 2 nd Dragoons, King’s German Legion

Infantry:
First Division: commanded by Major General Kenneth Howard
1 st Brigade: commanded by Major General Kenneth Stopford: 1 st /Coldstream Guards, 1 st /3 rd Guards, and 1 company of 5 th /60 th Foot
2 nd Brigade: commanded by Colonel Collin Halkett: 1 st , 2 nd and 5 th Line Battalions, 1 st and 2 nd Light Battalions, King’s German Legion

Fifth Division: commanded by Major General Oswald
1 st Brigade: commanded by Major General Hay: 3 rd /1 st , 1 st /9 th , 1 st /38th Foot and 1 company of Brunswick Oels
2 nd Brigade: commanded by Major General Robinson: 1 st /4 th , 2 nd /47 th , 2 nd /59 th Foot and 1 company of Brunswick Oels
Portuguese Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General Spry: 1 st and 2 nd /3 rd , 1 st and 2 nd /15 th Portuguese Line and 8 th Caçadores

Independent Portuguese Brigades:
1 st Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General Pack: 1 st and 2 nd /1 st , 1 st and 2 nd /16 th Portuguese Line and 4 th Caçadores
2 nd Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General Bradford: 1 st and 2 nd /13 th , 1 st and 2 nd /24 th Portuguese Line and 5 th Caçadores

Spanish troops on the march: Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War: picture by Cristoph and Cornelius Suhl

Spanish Division: commanded by Colonel Francisco Longa
Artillery:
Dubordieu’s and Lawson’s batteries Royal Artillery

Army Artillery: commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Dickson
Webber Smith’s troop Royal Horse Artillery
Parker’s battery Royal Artillery
Arriaga’s battery Portuguese Artillery

Royal Wagon Train: Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War: picture by Charles Hamilton Smith

French order of battle at the Battle of Vitoria:
Commander in Chief: Prince Joseph Napoleon, King of Spain
Chief of Staff: Marshal Jean Baptiste Jourdan

Army of the South: commanded by General Gazan
Cavalry:
1 st Light Cavalry Division: commanded by General Soult
1 st Division of Dragoons: commanded by General Tilly

Infantry:
1 st Division: commanded by General Leval
3 rd Division: commanded by General Villatte
4 th Division: commanded by General Conroux
5 th Division: commanded by General Maransin
6 th Division: commanded by General Daricau

French Cavalry: Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War: picture by Cristoph and Cornelius Suhl

Army of the Centre: commanded by General Count D’Erlon
Cavalry:
Division of Dragoons: commanded by General Treilhard
Light Cavalry Brigade: commanded by General Avy

Infantry:
1 st Division: commanded by General D’Armignac
2 nd Division: commanded by General Cassagne
Artillery

Army of Portugal: commanded by General Reille

Cavalry
2 nd Division of Dragoons: commanded by General Digeon
Division of Dragoons: commanded by General Mermet
Division of Light Cavalry: commanded by General Curto

Infantry:
Division: commanded by General Sarrut
Division: commanded by General Lamartinière

King Joseph’s Spanish Army:
Guard (Cavalry and Infantry)

Background to the Battle of Vitoria:
Lord Wellington began the 1812 campaign, the year before the Battle of Vitoria, by capturing the two cities on the Portuguese border that were key to driving the French from Spain Ciudad Rodrigo on 19 th January 1812 and Badajoz on 6 th April 1812.

In May 1812, the Emperor Napoleon began the preparations for his fateful invasion of Russia, leaving his brother, King Joseph, in nominal command of the French armies in Spain.

French Infantry: Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War: picture by Cristoph and Cornelius Suhl

Napoleon told his brother that Wellington would remain on the defensive for the rest of 1812. Napoleon was wrong.

Following his capture of Badajoz, Wellington brought his army back to Ciudad Rodrigo and began an advance north-east up the main road leading to Salamanca, Burgos and the North-East of Spain.

On 22 nd July 1812, Wellington heavily defeated Marshal Marmont’s Army of Portugal at the Battle of Salamanca.

Following Salamanca, on 12 th August 1812, Wellington occupied Madrid, the Spanish capital, driving Joseph into a hurried retreat to the east with his army and the Spanish rash enough to support him.

In September 1812, Wellington resumed his advance up the main road, arriving before Burgos and beginning his attack on Burgos Castle on 19 th September 1812.

The attack was unsuccessful, forcing Wellington to spend the rest of 1812 in a fighting retreat back to Ciudad Rodrigo.

The French hope was that Wellington would be unable to resume the offensive for some time, leaving the French armies across Spain to deal conclusively with the Spanish insurrections that were such a drain on their resources.

Wellington spent the winter of 1812/13 re-organising his forces and bringing in re-inforcements from Britain. He also meticulously planned his 1813 offensive against the French.

Joseph and his chief of staff, Marshal Jourdan, were advised by all the French generals with knowledge of the country, that if Wellington was to advance in 1813, he would be forced to use the well-trodden route from Ciudad Rodrigo to Salamanca, Valladolid and Burgos. The French needed only to repeat their strategy of the previous year and hold that road to bring Wellington to a halt, as they had in 1812.

Jourdan suspected that Wellington would not use the Burgos road but outflank the French armies by advancing from the north-eastern Portuguese border around their north-western flank.

Wellington at the Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War

Jourdan was nearly alone in this fear. The other French commanders asserted that the mountains to the north-west were impassable to an army with artillery. But this was exactly Wellington’s plan.

Wellington’s army of British, Portuguese and Spanish troops assembled in the area between Ciudad Rodrigo in the south and northern Portugal and began its advance in May 1813, the right flank of the advance being initially on the road to Salamanca.

The difficulties of the French armies were substantial. Napoleon was draining away drafts of experienced veterans from the regiments in Spain to re-build the French army destroyed in the Russian campaign.

Clausel was operating against Spanish insurrectionists in Navarre in the north-east of Spain, with a significant part of the ‘Army of Portugal’.

As throughout the Peninsular War, the French commanders were unable to obtain reliable information on Wellington’s movements or even communicate effectively with each other, due to the operations of the all-pervasive Spanish guerrillas, while Wellington was well informed on French movements by the same guerillas.

Wellington directing the attack by the Fourth Division at the Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War

Wellington’s army was supported by an extensive and efficient commissariat, which made the advance across the barren mountainous region of the north-west of Spain possible, although demanding.

As Wellington advanced, his army’s base of supply was moved from Lisbon in Portugal to Santander in the north-east of Spain.

Difficulties with communications through the guerrilla-infested country impeded Joseph in concentrating his forces to meet the threat from Wellington’s army.

With Madrid no longer tenable, Joseph dispatched two substantial convoys of valuables and money to the north-east of Spain. These convoys reached Vitoria and it was there that Joseph was forced to confront Wellington’s army.

On 30 th May 1813, British divisions crossed the River Esla and joined their comrades crossing the River Douro.

Wellington’s army, now united, turned east and began the march in behind the French right flank, fighting, on 18 th June 1813, the Battle of San Millan and Osma against General Reille.

Three French armies the Army of the South, the Army of the Centre and the Army of Portugal, were concentrating at Vitoria, where they awaited General Clausel and his Army of the North (formed from divisions of the Army of Portugal). Clausel arrived the day after the Battle of Vitoria.

Lord Wellington at the Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War: picture by George Jones

Vitoria lies at the eastern end of a rectangular plain stretching from east to west. The main road to France heads north-east across the plain. The Madrid road runs to the south-west. Forming a cross-roads with these roads are the north-south roads to Bilbao.

The River Zadorra flows along the northern boundary of the plain and makes a wide curve to the south, leaving the plain at its south-western corner through a narrow defile at La Puebla.

The foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains surround the plain.

The River Zadorra was described by French officers who reconnoitred it as ‘shallow and fordable at all points’. This was partially true, but the river banks were steep and high in many places making access difficult and the river was dammed for the use of several mills, creating wide, deep lagoons.

Several bridges crossed the Zadorra.

The French army gathered at Vitoria from 20 th June 1813 suffered significant handicaps. Its soldiers were imbued with the fighting spirit, training and experience of the French armies of the time, but it lacked a strong central command.

Three separate French armies were present at Vitoria armies that had operated for years in different areas of Spain, under commanders only reluctantly acknowledging the authority of Joseph.

While Joseph’s chief of staff, Marshal Jourdan, was a prominent French soldier, he was not a commander and consequently lacked authority.

Marshal Jourdan: Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War

Preparations for the Battle of Vitoria:

On the night of 18 th June 1813, Wellington’s army lay along the north-west to south-east road between Mambliga and Espejo, some 20 miles to the west of Vitoria, with Reille’s 3 divisions of the Army of Portugal around Salinas de Anaña, a few miles away. The rest of Joseph’s army lay further south, marching towards Vitoria.

Only at this time did Joseph and his chief of staff, Marshal Jourdan, finally resolve that a stand must be made in the Vitoria plain. The decision was influenced by the need to cover the substantial convoys of valuables, cash and official documentation either in Vitoria or heading there and the danger to Clausel’s Army of the North (drawn from the Army of Portugal) expected in Vitoria from the north-east.

General Drouet, Comte D’Erlon: Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War

Reille was ordered to fall back on Subijana de Morillas on the River Bayas, resisting the advance of Wellington’s columns as he did so, to enable Joseph’s troops to cross the Bayas and reach Vitoria before being cut off by Wellington’s advance.

Reille carried out this order, enabling the divisions of D’Erlon and Gazan to cross the River Zadorra, before he was forced back.

On the night of the 19 th June 1813, Wellington’s divisions encamped along the River Bayas.

Jourdan was unsure what Wellington was planning. Reports were coming in of activity from the direction of Bilbao and Jourdan could not rule out the prospect of an attack on Vitoria from the north rather than the west.

With the decision to make a stand around Vitoria, Joseph and Jourdan were putting their trust in the arrival of General Clausel, who, after receiving Joseph’s summons to join his army at Burgos, was marching south-west from Pamplona with ample supplies, Taupin’s and Barbot’s divisions of the Army of Portugal and Abbé’s and Vandermaesen’s divisions of the Army of the North, some 12,000 men in all.

While Clausel was unaware that Joseph and his army had been forced into headlong retreat up the Burgos road, his journey to Burgos should take him through Vitoria, where he would meet Joseph’s army.

The question was whether Clausel would arrive in time for the battle with Wellington, in which case his additional troops could well tip the scales in favour of Joseph. In the event Clausel did not arrive in time.

General Foy was operating towards Bilbao, when he received Joseph’s instructions to bring his division to join the army at Vitoria. Foy’s commitments in relation to Bilbao and the French convoys passing through the city prevented him from immediately obeying Joseph’s instruction and his division also missed the battle.

Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War: picture by J.J.Jenkins

French positions in the plain of Vitoria on 20 th June 1813:

As the French army marched into the Vitoria plain it took up defensive positions behind the River Zadorra.

The Army of the South, 22,000 infantry, 4,000 cavalry and 50 guns, positioned itself furthest to the west, becoming the inevitable target for Wellington’s opening assaults.

In the south-west corner of the Vitoria plain, a single French brigade, Maransin’s, occupied the village of Subijana, with troops on the extensive and lofty Puebla Heights south of the village.

3 further divisions of the Army of the South formed a line along the hills from south to north behind the western arm of the River Zadorra, overlooking the village of Nanclares on the far bank: Conroux’s, Darricau’s and Leval’s: Each division with a battery of artillery posted to its front.

British Hussar Brigade attacks Sarrut’s Division at the Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War: picture by John Augustus Atkinson

To the right rear of these divisions, the division of Villatte occupied the knoll of Ariñez with 3 field batteries.

Of the three divisions of cavalry of the Army of the South, Soult’s light cavalry was at Ariñez, Tilly’s dragoons at Ali, some 5 miles to the rear of the infantry and Digeon’s dragoons at Arriaga, on the River Zadorra immediately north of Vitoria.

The Army of the Centre, 9,000 infantry, 1,000 cavalry and 14 guns, occupied the heights to the west of the village of Gomecha, behind the Army of the South and in the centre of the Vitoria plain: D’Armagnac’s division to the north of the main west-east road and Cassagne’s division to the south of the road.

Joseph’s Spanish contingent was far in the rear, on the road to Salinas, north-east of Vitoria.

British Hussar Brigade repels Digeon’s Division at the Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War: picture by John Augustus Atkinson

The cavalry of the Army of the Centre, Treilhard’s dragoons and Avy’s light cavalry, were in the rear.

The Army of Portugal, 11,000 infantry, 1,200 cavalry and 42 guns, was positioned with much of its infantry, the divisions of Lamartinière, Maucune and Sarrut, each with a battery, some 4 miles immediately behind the Army of the South, between the villages of Ali and Armentia.

The cavalry of the Army of Portugal lay along the northern arm of the River Zadorra between Gobeo and Margarita, guarding the various fords and bridges and the area to the north of the river.

25 of the guns of the Army of Portugal were in the artillery reserve held in Vitoria with the reserve of the Army of the Centre.

French artillery at the Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War: picture by Dalmau

The position on 20 th June 1813:

Joseph and Jourdan intended to conduct a review of the French positions on 20 th June 1813 and make a final decision as to their deployment for the battle.

There was little time as Wellington’s army lay nearby, behind Subijana on the River Bayas, 6 miles west of the River Zadorra at Nanclares and was clearly resting from the exertions of its march, before attacking the French.

The restriction on Joseph’s freedom of choice was the vast accumulation of stores, treasure and records of government at Vitoria. A large convoy left for the French border on 19 th June 1813, still leaving much to dispose of.

Jourdan was ill on 20 th June 1813 and the review put off to the next day a fatal postponement.

Jourdan’s continuing apprehension was that Wellington intended to advance on Bilbao and attack the French armies at Vitoria from the north.

An infantry brigade from the Army of Portugal, supported by a brigade of dragoons was dispatched up the northern road towards Murguia. The French troops were stopped by the Spanish force commanded by Longa and driven back.

This encounter confirmed Jourdan in his suspicion that this was the true direction of Wellington’s attack on Vitoria and he ordered Sarrut’s division across the River Zadorra by the Ariaga bridge, with orders to hold the road at Aranguiz.

Arriving on the River Bayas on 20 th June 1813, Wellington’s troops needed the day to recover from the arduous march from the Portuguese border. Wellington also needed to prepare his dispositions for the attack on the French.

British 6 pounder cannon in action: Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 in the Peninsular War: Firepower Museum

Graham and Giron were ordered to occupy Murugia, on the far left wing of the army.

The British Third and Seventh Divisions crossed the River Bayas and prepared to launch the main attack from the west.

Map of the Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War: map by John Fawkes

The Battle of Vitoria on 21 st June 1813:

At 1am on 21 st June 1813, Sarrut’s Division crossed the River Zadorra and took up position at the village of Aranguiz, supported by a battery of artillery and a brigade of light cavalry from Curto’s division.

At 3am, Joseph’s second large convoy left Vitoria for Bayonne, escorted by Maucune’s Division, thereby reducing his army by around 4,000 men.

Soon afterwards, at around 5am, Joseph and Jourdan began the reconnaissance postponed from the previous day. They began their inspection at the village of Zuazo, 3 miles west of Vitoria.

Joseph and Jourdan were favourably impressed by the defensive potential at Zuazo a position on raised ground, giving a good field of fire for guns, with a mountain on its left flank and the River Zadorra on the right and near to Aranguiz, the point beyond the river threatened by the impending British advance from the direction of Bilbao.

Officer and soldier of the 71st Highland Light Infantry: Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War: picture by Richard Simkin

Joseph and Jourdan were considering bringing back the divisions positioned further forward overlooking the western arm of the River Zadorra, when they received warning from Gazan, the commander of the Army of the South, that Wellington’s troops were on the move. It was too late to make any re-disposition.

At around 8am, the outposts of Maransin’s Division situated on the Puebla Heights sent word that two British and Spanish columns had crossed the River Zadorra at Puebla. One column, comprising Morillo’s Spanish troops was scaling the Puebla Heights and the other, comprising the main body of Hill’s Second Division was advancing up the main Burgos road toward Vitoria.

The flanking threat on the Puebla Heights was of great concern to Jourdan, who ordered Gazan to send the whole of Maransin’s Division onto the heights and to support him with an additional division. 5 batteries were ordered forward from the Army of Portugal’s reserve at Vitoria to support Gazan and D’Erlon.

British infantry at the Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War: picture by Richard Simkin

Additional news came in from Avy, with his light cavalry division on the northern bank of the River Zadorra, that a strong column of British troops was advancing south towards Tres Puentes.

Jourdan ordered D’Erlon to send D’Armagnac’s Division to defend the Tres Puentes crossings, accompanied by the cavalry of the Army of the Centre, Treilhard’s Dragoon Division and the rest of Avy’s Light Cavalry Division.

On the French left flank, Morillo’s Spanish troops reached the summit of the Puebla Heights, where they engaged Maransin’s troops.

Hill re-inforced Morillo with the 71 st Highland Light Infantry and the light companies of Walker’s Brigade. Slowly the French were driven back up the hillside.

French Infantry: Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War

In the meantime, Wellington was holding up his planned attack elsewhere on the battlefield, because Dalhousie’s left centre column, allotted the task of attacking across the northern arm of the River Zadorra east of Tres Puentes, had lost its way during the approach march and failed to appear.

British troops were massed around Nanclares, awaiting events, with a party making its way up the River Zadorra to Villodas.

While Gazan considered Morillo’s advance up the Puebla Heights to be a feint, Jourdan was considerably disturbed by the attack, taking the opposite view to Gazan and considering the advance towards the northern arm of the River Zadorra to be the feint.

None of Wellington’s attacks were feints. They were all full assaults on the various French armies.

Joseph followed Jourdan ’s urgings that the Puebla Heights must be retaken. Cassagne’s infantry division was moved to the village of Berrostequieta at the eastern end of the heights with Tilly’s dragoon division, while Vilatte’s infantry division was ordered onto the heights via Zumelu, to sweep along the crest to the west and drive back the Spanish and British attack.

Hill was now advancing up the main Burgos road.

71st Highland Light Infantry at the Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War: picture by William Barnes Wollen

Hill sent the 50 th and 92 nd Regiments of Callaghan’s brigade to support the 71 st , while the rest of the brigade attacked Subijana, where a lengthy struggle took place in the village and the surrounding woods.

Drummer 92nd Highlanders: Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War: picture by Richard Simkin

The position of the 71 st and the Spanish troops on the Puebla heights was threatened by the attack of Villatte’s Division.

Colonel Cameron, now commanding all 3 British regiments, the 50 th , 71 st and 92 nd , on the heights, required his men to sit down, out of sight, until the French were within 30 yards. The British troops stood up and delivered a volley that sent Villatte’s men rushing back across the mountainside.

Vilatte’s men re-formed for a further attack, but became increasingly unsure, as they saw the developments in the open ground to their north, until finally no advance was made.

While these attacks were taking place, the other formations of Wellington’s army were finally beginning their advance.

The Light Division and the Hussar Brigade, directed by Wellington himself, marched up the River Zadorra from Nanclares and formed for the attack, concealed from the French on the far side of the river by the thick banks of scrub.

Cole’s column formed up behind Nanclares.

Picton’s Third Division formed at Mendoza, to the north of the bend in the River Zadorra.

Wellington only awaited the arrival of the balance of Lord Dalhousie’s Seventh Division at the northern end of the line, to begin the attack.

While Dalhousie’s first brigade was in place, the main part of his Seventh Division lost its way during the approach march over the mountains, holding up Wellington’s plan, while he waited for the missing formation.

15th King’s Light Dragoons (15th Hussars) crossing the bridge at Tres Puentes in the Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War: picture by Richard Caton Woodville

Soldiers from the 95 th Rifles engaged French skirmishers across the river while they waited.

A Spanish peasant approached some British officers and informed them that there was a bridge at Tres Puentes unoccupied by the French.

The peasant’s offer to conduct the British to the bridge was accepted and Kempt’s Brigade of the Light Division, led by the 1 st /95 th Rifles, set off. Kempt’s Brigade took a path leading back into the mountains, to conceal their move.

Arriving at the bridge, Kempt’s Brigade doubled across and climbed into the hills on the south bank. Led by Colonel Barnard, the 1 st /95 th halted in a hollow, within a short distance of D’Armagnac’s Division, at that moment accompanied by Joseph Bonaparte.

Colonel Andrew Barnard, commanding 1st/95th Rifles at the Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War

Shortly afterwards, Kempt summoned the 15 th Hussars across the bridge in support of his brigade.

Avy’s Division of French Light Cavalry was still on the north bank of the River Zadorra, to the north of Tres Puentes. A party of troops from Avy’s Division rode down to the bridge and were subjected to fire by Kempt’s men on the far bank.

D’Erlon heard from Avy that British troops were across the River Zadorra at Tres Puentes and hurried to the scene, to find that Joseph and Jourdan, unaware of the threat to their position, were about to dispatch the divisions of D’Armagnac and Cassandre to counter-attack Hill in his advance up the Burgos road.

On hearing D’Erlon’s information, Joseph and Jourdan were amazed to find the position of the Army of the Centre so badly compromised, without any of its senior officers being aware of the British incursion across the river at Tres Puentes.

Further to the south, Hill was now in possession of the village of Subijana, enabling Wellington to order an attack across the River Zadorra by Picton’s Third Division (part of Dalhousie’s Left Centre Column) and Cole’s Fourth Division (part of Wellington’s Right Centre Column).

Picton advanced to the bridge across the River Zadorra at Mendoza, a half mile east of Tres Puentes.

Picton’s men were resisted by French skirmishers and a battery of guns. Hearing the burst of firing, Colonel Barnard’s 95 th Rifles left its position on the southern bank overlooking the Tres Puentes bridge and drove off the French troops and guns blocking Picton’s advance.

Picton’s two brigades crossed the river by the bridge and a ford and formed in columns on the southern bank.

Dalhousie finally arrived at the Mendoza Bridge and crossed the river.

The Fourth Division also crossed to the French bank, by way of the bridge at Nanclares.

Lord Wellington at the Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War: picture by Thomas Jones Barker

With the line of the River Zadorra taken by Wellington’s divisions, Jourdan ordered a French withdrawal step by step, back to the heights of Zuazo, by the divisions of the left wing Maransin’s, Villatte’s, Conroux’s and Darricau’s.

To enable these divisions to withdraw, Gazan ordered Leval’s Division to the knoll of Ariñez, while D’Erlon led the divisions of D’Armagnac and Cassagne to Margarita. In addition, some 60 guns were massed in the area of the knoll to give the left wing the best chance of withdrawing to the Zuazo position.

As Wellington’s attack on the knoll of Ariñez was developing, cannon fire could be heard from the far end of the battlefield with a pall of smoke, indicating that Graham, acting on his own initiative, was opening an assault on the French right flank beyond Vitoria.

British regiments advancing at the Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War

Dalhousie and Colville’s Brigades of Picton’s Division attacked D’Erlon around Margarita and Lermanda, while Kempt and Brisbane’s Brigades attacked the knoll of Ariñez.

A hard-fought struggle took place in and around the village of Ariñez, with Picton leading the assault and Wellington supervising from a position further back.

Wellington himself halted the 88 th and 74 th Regiments and re-formed them, before permitting them to continue with their attack on the village.

Major Dickson, commanding the British artillery, brought the guns up the main Burgos road and formed them up to deliver a substantial bombardment on Leval’s division.

95th Rifles storming the village of Margarita in the Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War: picture by WAS Stott

The French were forced back and a mounted battery lost 3 of its guns in retreating through the village.

Substantial casualties were suffered by each side, but particularly by the British at the hands of the French skirmishers.

Leval pulled his division and its accompanying artillery back, contesting the ground all the way, to a position at the northern end of Gazan’s line based on Zuazo.

As Leval fell back, he left D’Erlon flank exposed. D’Erlon’s divisions until this point were resisting the advance of Colville’s Brigade.

Dalhousie seems to have allowed his attention to shift from D’Erlon to the attack on Ariñez, leaving Colville to engage D’Erlon’s divisions alone.

Seizing an opportunity, Vandeleur’s Brigade of the Light Divisions (1 st and 2 nd /95 th Rifles and 52 nd Regiments) stormed Margarita, with Dalhousie’s 2 nd Brigade in support.

Shortly afterwards, Colonel Gough led his 87 th Regiment in the capture of Lermanda.

D’Erlon was well into his withdrawal by now, taking up positions that extended Gazan’s Zuazo line to the River Zadorra at Crispiana, with Treilhard’s and Avy’s cavalry divisions behind him.

Along Wellington’s line his divisions were coming up in pursuit of the withdrawing French.

Wellington at the Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War: picture by R. Granville Baker

Graham’s attack on the French Right Wing:

The French right wing, held by Reille’s Army of Portugal, lay to the north-east of Vitoria, on the eastern section of the River Zadorra, some 7 miles from the area where Wellington was assaulting the Armies of the Centre and the South.

Graham began his attack on the Army of Portugal at 2pm, on his own initiative.

Two columns of infantry and one of cavalry advanced on Sarrut’s Division, positioned north of the Ariaga Bridge, causing the French to fall back towards the bridge.

Reille, informed of the British movement to the north of the River Zadorra, moved Lamartiniere’s Division to the bridge at Gamarra, immediately to the east of the Ariaga bridge.

Graham sent Longa’s Spanish Division to tackle the Gamarra bridge and the next bridge to the east, at Durana, held by Joseph’s Spanish troops, who immediately abandoned their position, leaving Longa free to cross the River Zadorra and move on Reille’s right flank, a step Longa failed to take, remaining at the bridge for the rest of the battle.

Reille reacted to the threat from Graham’s columns with a number of dispositions.

Menne’s Brigade of Sarrut’s Division in Abechuco covered the bridge at Arriaga.

Lamartiniere’s Division held Gamarra Mayor, with Fririon’s Brigade of Sarrut’s Division positioned between Abechuco and Arriaga to provide support for both formations.

Of the cavalry, Digeon’s Division of Dragoons supported the French in Arriaga and Mermet’s Division of Dragoons supported Gamarra Mayor.

A brigade of Curto’s Light Cavalry covered the River Zadorra between Arriaga and Gobeo.

4th, 47th and 69th Regiments storming Gamarra Mayor at the Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 in the Peninsular War: picture by JP Beadle

General Oswald now launched Robinson’s Brigade of the Fifth Division (1 st /4 th , 2 nd /47 th , 2 nd /59 th Regiments) in an attack on Gamarra Mayor.

These British regiments were caught by a blast of fire from a battery on their flank and thrown into confusion.

The attack was renewed and the brigade took Gamarra Mayor and stormed across the bridge, capturing a gun.

On the far bank, the three British regiments were caught in the fire of yet another French battery and driven back across the bridge by Lamartiniere’s troops.

A French officer reported after the battle that the opposing regiments charged each other, back and forth, on seven occasions.

General Oswald now sent forward Hay’s Brigade (3 rd /1 st , 1 st /9 th , 1 st /38th Regiments) to take over the attack from Robinson’s.

Again, the British took the bridge and were again driven back by the French.

While the fighting was taking place around Gamarra Mayor, Graham launched a further attack on Abechuco. Preceded by a bombardment from two British batteries, Halkett’s two light battalions of the King’s German Legion stormed Abechuco, taking four French guns. No further advance towards the bridge at Arriaga was made.

French prisoners after the Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War

The French withdrawal of their Centre and Left:

French 12th Dragoons: Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War: picture by Édouard Detaille

Wellington ordered the advance of the British and Portuguese troops against the French Army of the South, positioned behind Zuazo and D’Erlon’s divisions along the north arm of the River Zadorra, while the British and Spanish troops fought on the Puebla Heights with Maransin’s and Vilatte’s Divisions.

The British and Portuguese, advancing on the lower ground, suffered from the heavy artillery fire of the French guns in the extended Zuazo position.

D’Erlon stood fast in Crispijana, but as Wellington’s line advanced, Gazan’s Army of the South fell back from the Zuazo position towards Vitoria, leaving D’Erlon’s left flank badly exposed.

At around 5pm on 21 st June 1813, Joseph made the decision that the battle was lost and sent orders to all the French generals in the field to disengage and retreat by the eastern road out of Vitoria towards Salvetierra.

Joseph sent General Tirlet to ensure that the guns and baggage in the park in Vitoria were evacuated.

In the meantime, Sarrut and Digeon attempted to hold the bridge at Arriaga, Digeon in vain sending messages to Vitoria calling for a single division and 12 guns to hold back Graham’s attack. No such reinforcements were forthcoming.

The Armies of the South and the Centre made a last stand on a line between the villages of Ali and Armentia, halting the advance of the Third Division, before beginning the final withdrawal through Vitoria.

British Hussars attack the French baggage train in the Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War: picture by Henri Dupray

Fighting effectively until this point, the French divisions became unsteady in this final withdrawal.

The British Fourth Division launched an assault on the left of the French line which drove the French troops out of their positions in confusion.

On the British left, D’Erlon’s withdrawal left a gap, through which the British Hussar Brigade advanced and attacked the exposed left flank of Sarrut’s Division.

Digeon’s 5 th and 12 th Dragoon Regiments charged repeatedly, attempting to rescue Sarrut’s infantry, but were repelled.

On the French right flank, the British First Division crossed the bridge of Arriaga and the Fifth Division crossed the bridge at Gamarra.

Reille withdrew his brigades in succession, aided by Digeon’s dragoons.

Wellington’s army was now occupying most of the roads, forcing D’Erlon’s and Reille’s Divisions to retreat to the Salvetierra road across country, abandoning their guns.

Reille’s Army of Portugal finally rallied in Betoño, 3 miles north-east of Vitoria, at around 7 pm.

Capture of the French baggage at the Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War

Top Hat worn by Sir Thomas Picton at the Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War

Wellington’s army enters Vitoria:

By 7.30pm on 21 st June 1813, the British Hussar Brigade was in Vitoria and some regiments were looting and no longer available for combat.

Anson’s and Bock’s Brigades of cavalry, after crossing the bridge at Gamarra, were pursuing the French in the direction of Pamplona.

3,000 vehicles were crammed into the area of Vitoria, filled with goods being removed by Joseph’s army, together with herds of livestock. These were extensively looted by troops of all nationalities involved in the battle.

There were also crowds of civilians attempting to escape the collapse of the French regime in Spain. Joseph is said to have abandoned his coach and escaped on horseback from the British 18 th Hussars.

Reille’s divisions continued east out of Betoño, evading or fighting off the pursuit and finally marched down the road towards Salvetierra.

Later that night, Joseph, Jourdan and the senior French officers gathered in Salvetierra to contemplate the approaching end of their dominance of Spain.

14th Light Dragoons capturing Joseph Bonaparte’s baggage: Battle of Salamanca on 22nd July 1812 during the Peninsular War

Casualties at the Battle of Vitoria:
The British suffered 3,675 troops killed or wounded, the Portuguese 921 and the Spanish 562.

The French suffered 8,000 troops killed, wounded or captured and lost all their 150 guns, except one.

Soldier of the Royal Scots, 1st of Foot: Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War

British casualties were more than double the total of Portuguese and Spanish casualties.

Losses fell disproportionately on British regiments.

The 71 st Highland Light Infantry, involved in the extensive fighting on the Puebla heights, lost 15 officers and 301 soldiers killed or wounded.

The other regiments in the same brigade (Cadogan’s) lost 104 casualties for the 50 th and 20 for the 92 nd .

In O’Callaghan’s Brigade of the Second Division, the 39 th lost 209 of all ranks killed or wounded, the 28 th lost 200 and the 34 th lost 76.

In Brisbane’s Brigade of the Third Division, the 88 th lost 215 of all ranks killed or wounded, the 74 th lost 83 and the 55 th lost 74.

In Colville’s Brigade of the Third Division, the 87 th lost 187 of all ranks killed or wounded, the 5 th lost 163, the 83 rd lost 74 and the 94 th lost 66.

In the Seventh Division, the 86 th Regiment lost 125 of all ranks killed or wounded.

In the Fifth Division the Royal Scots lost 111 of all ranks killed or wounded, the 4 th lost 91, the 47 th lost 112 and the 59 th lost 145.

The Fourth and Light Divisions had few casualties.

Several British and German brigades, including the two Brigades of Foot Guards, did not fire a shot in the battle.

Casualties in the cavalry regiments were few.

Joseph Napoleon escaping after the Battle of Vitoria on 22nd July 1812 during the Peninsular War: picture by B. Granville Baker

Military General Service Medal 1848 with clasp for the Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 in the Peninsular War

Follow-up to the Battle of Vitoria:
The battle was of wide significance throughout Europe. The Emperor Napoleon was already reeling from the catastrophe of the Russian campaign. Vitoria helped to show that his dominance of the continent was coming to an end. The battle established Lord Wellington’s reputation throughout Europe, as indicated by Beethoven’s tribute (see below).

On hearing the news of the battle, the Austrians mobilised and declared war on France. The Emperors of Russia and Austria both offered Lord Wellington command of their armies, which he declined.

Fortescue considers the battle to have been an unsatisfactory victory. He points out that the French suffered few casualties regiment by regiment. The French defeat is however marked by their loss of 150 guns and the loss of their baggage.

Fortescue’s judgement is that the British divisions were not well handled in the battle, with some regiments allowed to suffer heavy casualties while inadequately supported.

Fortescue questions why Wellington’s troops did not cross the shallow River Zadorra at more points. He asks why Graham failed to push his substantial force across the almost undefended bridge taken by Longa at Durana and attack Reille’s Army of Portugal in the flank.

Medal by Mills and Lefevre commemorating the Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 in the Peninsular War

Battle Honours and Medals for the Battle of Vitoria:

Small Gold Medal awarded to Major Robert Kelly of 5th/60th Rifles for the Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War

The Battle of Vitoria is a clasp on the 1848 Military General Service Medal and a battle honour for the following British regiments: 3 rd and 5 th Dragoon Guards, 3 rd Dragoons, 11 th , 12 th , 13 th and 16 th Light Dragoons, 10 th , 15 th and 18 th Hussars, 1 st Royals, 4 th King’s Own, 5 th , 7 th Royal Fusiliers, 20 th , 23 rd Royal Welch Fusiliers, 27 th , 28 th , 31 st , 34 th , 38 th , 39 th , 40 th , 43 rd Light Infantry, 45 th , 47 th , 48 th , 50 th , 51 st , 52 nd Light Infantry, 53 rd , 57 th , 59 th , 60 th Rifles, 66 th , 68 th , 71 st , 74 th , 82 nd , 83 rd , 87 th , 88 th Connaught Rangers, 92 nd , 94 th and 95 th Rifles.

Army Gold Medal:

In 1810 a Gold Medal was issued to be awarded to officers of rank of major and above for meritorious service at certain battles in the Peninsular War, with clasps for additional battles. The ‘Large Gold Medal’ was awarded to generals, the ‘Small Gold Medal’ to majors and colonels, with the medal replaced by a cross where four clasps were earned. The Battle of Vitoria was one of the battles.

‘The Emperor’: Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War

Anecdotes and traditions from the Battle of Vitoria:

  • One of the items looted from Joseph Bonaparte’s baggage was a silver chamber pot. The regiment that ‘liberated’ the pot, the 14th Light Dragoons (later 14th Hussars and now the King’s Royal Hussars), retained it as a trophy and, to this day, use it on regimental guest nights for the toasts, filled with champagne. The chamber pot is known as ‘the Emperor’.
  • To commemorate the battle Beethoven wrote a symphony that he called ‘Wellington’s Victory’.
  • One of the changes implemented in the British Army during the winter of 1812/13 was to give the senior sergeant in each infantry company the new rank of ‘colour sergeant’, with the regimental colours embroidered beneath his chevrons, while in the cavalry the senior sergeant in each troop was given the new rank of ‘troop sergeant major’.

Cartoon by Cruikshank commemorating the Battle of Vitoria on 21st June 1813 during the Peninsular War

References for the Battle of Salamanca:

See the extensive list of references given at the end of the Peninsular War Index.

The previous battle of the Peninsular War is the Battle of San Millan and Osma

The next battle in the British Battles sequence is the Storming of San Sebastian

28. Podcast of the Battle of Vitoria: Wellington’s decisive defeat of Joseph Bonaparte’s French army on 21 st June 1813 in North-Eastern Spain in the Peninsular War: John Mackenzie’s britishbattles.com podcasts

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25th Australian Infantry Battalion

The 25th Battalion was raised at Enoggera in Queensland in March 1915 as part of the 7th Brigade. Although predominantly composed of men recruited in Queensland, the battalion also included a small contingent of men from Darwin. The battalion left Australia in early July, trained in Egypt during August, and by early September was manning trenches at Gallipoli.

At Gallipoli the 7th Brigade reinforced the depleted New Zealand and Australian Division. The 25th Battalion, however, had a relatively quiet time because the last major Allied offensive had been launched, and turned back, in the previous month. It left the peninsular on 18 December 1915.

After further training in Egypt, the 25th Battalion proceeded to France. Landing on 19 March 1916, it was the first AIF battalion to arrive there. Now fighting as part of the 2nd Division, it took part in its first major battle at Pozieres between 25 July and 7 August in the course of which it suffered 785 casualties. After a spell in a quieter sector of the front in Belgium, the 2nd Division came south in October to attack again in the Somme Valley. The 25th Battalion took part in two attacks to the east of Flers, both of which floundered in the mud.

Although it acted in a supporting role at the second battle of Bullecourt, the 25th Battalion did not carry out a major offensive role again until 20 September 1917, when it was part of the 2nd Division's first wave at the battle of Menin Road in Belgium. Victory here was followed up with the capture of Broodseinde Ridge on 4 October. The 25th reprised its role from Menin Road, in what was its last large-scale offensive action for the year.

1918 was an exhausting year for the 25th Battalion. It fought to turn back the German spring offensive in April, and then participated in battles at Morlancourt, Hamel, Amiens and along the Somme Valley as the German Army was pushed ever closer to defeat. These actions sapped the strength of the AIF, already terribly weak due to earlier casualties and lack of reinforcements. In September, the 25th was one of several battalions ordered to disband to reinforce others. Its troops mutinied, winning the Battalion a temporary reprieve.

The battalion went into the line one last time on 3 October 1918 and took part in a successful attack to break through the German defences around Beaurevoir. It was disbanded nine days later.


Third Battle of Ypres

Ypres, the British soldiers "Wipers," was the scene of much of the bloodiest fighting of the war. Three great battles were fought for its possession. The photograph shows what was once the market place.

Entrance to a sandbagged dugout occupied by men of the 105th Howitzer battery near Hill 60

Men of 28th Battalion of the 2nd Australian Division lying stretched on the ground to practice Lewis gun drill at Renescure

Interior of a dugout occupied by officers of the 105th Howitzer battery of the 4th Brigade. Three officers are looking at papers in the light of two candles on an upturned box

Assault on Passchendaele 12 October - 6 November: Canadian Pioneers laying tape through the mud for a road to Passchendaele

Assault on Passchendaele 12 October - 6 November: A derelict tank stuck in the mud

Battle of Menin Road Ridge: Two blurred figures of the 1st Australian Division running from a shell burst in Glencorse Wood

Battle of Polygon Wood 26 September - 3 October: Mounted troops of the 1st Anzac Corps moving along the tree-lined Ypres road

Australian gunners on a duckboard track in Chateau Wood

A soldier running along a corduroy track with gaunt tree trunks on either side in Chateau Wood.

Aerial view of the village of Passchendaele before and after the battle

Loading a 15-in howitzer of the Royal Marine Artillery, near the Menin Rd

Stretcher bearers struggling through mud near Boesinghe, 1 August

Australian infantry wearing Small Box Respirators at Garter Point, Ypres sector, 27 September


Loggias on the Ramparts

View of the southern staircase to the loggia on the southern side of the Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres.

A feature of the architecture on this building is that two loggias run along the length of the north and south sides of the memorial on the upper level. A loggia is a gallery or a corridor open to the air on one side and supported by columns.

This upper level is situated on the ramparts of the old fortifications dating back to the time when the city was protected by fortified walls and a moat.

The inscribed panels of Portland Stone, bearing the names of the missing casualties, continue up the walls of the north and south stairways and then along the walls of the upper level of the memorial. The loggia on the opposite side of the memorial is the same.

View from the old ramparts towards the loggia on the north side of the memorial. The panels inscribed with names are on the wall of the gallery behind the columns.

In the photograph of the side view of the northern loggia the stone lion can be seen. He lies on the eastern end of the Menin Gate Memorial looking out to the east across the Ypres Salient battlefields, where so many lives were lost.


Aftermath Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_section_13

Analysis Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_section_14

In 1948, James Edmonds, the British official historian, wrote that with the exception of the failure to capture Tower Hamlets atop the Bassevillebeek Spur, the objectives of the attack had been achieved and the Germans tactically confounded. Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_sentence_248

The French and British public knew little of the success but the contending armies in Flanders were well aware of its significance. Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_sentence_249

The British relieved many of the attacking divisions, whose troops reported that if all attacks could be so well prepared, the troops would be content. Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_sentence_250

On 20 September and the next few days of local fighting, the German had been driven from the positions on the Gheluvelt Plateau that had been the site of the main defensive effort (Schwerpunkt) since July. Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_sentence_251

On 21 September, Haig issued orders for the next attack of the Second Army scheme, to complete the capture of Polygon Wood and part of Zonnebeke. Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_sentence_252

In 1996, Prior and Wilson wrote that the battle had been more costly relative to the ground gained on 31 July, even with the artillery reinforcements and better weather, that made British artillery-fire more accurate. Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_sentence_253

The German artillery was still able to inflict casualties at a higher rate and the success on the Gheluvelt Plateau took less ground than on 31 July. Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_sentence_254

Prior and Wilson wrote that the success of the Second Army was exaggerated because of the lower expectations created by the partial repulses inflicted by the Germans on 31 July, the failures in the rains during August and the British success against the German counter-attacks on 20 September, especially on the Gheluvelt Plateau. Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_sentence_255

In his 2008 biography of Haig, J. P. Harris wrote that the British had attacked exceptionally strong defences frontally, with an apparently unfavourable number of troops but that they had been given much more fire support, the British artillery enjoying a 3:1 superiority in numbers, creating an "unprecedented" concentration of fire. Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_sentence_256

The Second Army had three times the artillery and the Fifth Army double the guns of 31 July. Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_sentence_257

The British gunners produced a "wall of fire" 1,000 yd (910 m) deep, that swept the ground and then continued as a standing barrage for several hours after the end of the infantry advance. Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_sentence_258

The attack had not been uniformly successful but the average advance was 1,250 yd (1,140 m) and German casualties were about the same as the British, most of their counter-attacks being deluged with artillery-fire and becoming costly failures. Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_sentence_259

Harris wrote that Haig got over-enthusiastic and wanted the next attack to begin on 26 September, followed by two more in quick succession. Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_sentence_260

Moving guns forward reduced the British rate of fire and gave the Germans sufficient respite to make a methodical counter-attack (Gegenangriff) on 25 September, south of Polygon Wood and although the attackers had "massive" casualties, the British attack the next day was disorganised and captured less ground. Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_sentence_261

Casualties Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_section_15

Edmonds recorded 20,255 British casualties (3,148 fatal) from 20 to 25 September the 19th (Western) Division suffered 1,933 casualties. Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_sentence_262

The British took 3,243 prisoners and inflicted many casualties on the German defenders. Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_sentence_263

The calculations of German losses by Edmonds have been severely criticised ever since. Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_sentence_264

In Volume XIII of Der Weltkrieg (1942) the Reichsarchiv historians recorded 25,000 casualties from 11 to 20 September, including 6,500 missing. Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_sentence_265

Subsequent operations Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_section_16

Main article: Action of 25 September 1917 Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_sentence_266

Minor attacks took place after 20 September in the Second Army area, on 21 September, a 41st Division brigade attacked by short rushes towards Bassevillbeek Copse over extremely boggy ground, consolidating posts on the Bassevillebeek. Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_sentence_267

Several German counter-attacks in the afternoon were repulsed and at 7:00 p.m. a much larger German attack was dispersed by artillery and small-arms fire. Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_sentence_268

In the evening, a German attack was made on Hill 37 behind a creeping barrage against the 55th (West Lancashire) Division, taking some ground, until a British counter-attack restored the position by 9:15 p.m. A German raid on posts of the 8th Division (II Corps) next day failed and in the X Corps area the 23rd Division and the 1st Australian Division (I Anzac Corps) re-took the front line. Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_sentence_269

In the XVIII Corps area, the 58th (2/1st London) Division held Stroppe Farm in the evening the 51st (Highland) Division, with artillery and small-arms fire, repulsed a big German attack from Poelcappelle. Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_sentence_270

The 20th (Light) Division repulsed a German attack at 6.30 a.m., then attacked Eagle Trench from both ends, capturing it despite determined German resistance. Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_sentence_271

Crown Prince Rupprecht wrote in his diary for 23 and 24 September that he could not allow the British to remain in control of the higher ground around Zonnebeke or the Gheluvelt Plateau and that counter-strokes during the next enemy attack must reach their objectives. Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_sentence_272

The 4th Army lacked reserves and needed time to meet another attack. Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_sentence_273

A bigger German attack on 25 September, on a 1,800 yd (1,600 m) front, from the Menin Road to Polygon Wood, began as the 23rd Division was being relieved by the 33rd Division. Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_sentence_274

A German bombardment from 20 heavy and 44 field batteries (nearly four times the usual amount for a German division) began at 5:15 a.m., part of which fell short on two regiments of the 50th Reserve Division, which fell back until the bombardment began its creep towards the British positions. Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_sentence_275

The German infantry advanced in the morning mist, either side of the Reutelbeek stream as the artillery boxed the British opposite, isolated them from their supports and preventing ammunition and other supplies from being brought to the front line. Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_sentence_276

The German attack made little progress on the British right, lost direction in the gloom and veered north, joined with the German battalion there and reached Black Watch Corner, in the south-west angle of Polygon Wood, which was lost during the Battle of Polygon Wood next day. Battle of the Menin Road Ridge_sentence_277