Thursday, 20 June 2013

100 years from Vitoria

Taken from Vittoria 1813 of I. Fletcher
Tomorrow is the bicentenial from the battle of Vitoria, the last big battle of the Peninsular War.

"Battle of Vitoria - Background:
In 1812 Wellington routed the French at Salamanca (Los Arapiles) and then he captured Madrid, advanced northwards but was unable to take Burgos and consequently he retreated back to Portugal. In the winter quarters, he reinforced and reorganized his army and with near 120,000 men (British, Spanish, & Portuguese), he entered in Spain in several columns, heading towards the north of Spain, always outflanking the right of the diminished French forces of the King Joseph Bonaparte and Marshal Jourdan. The intruder King, whose armies had been stripped by Napoleon to rebuild the French armies in Germany, only could oppose around 68,000 men and halted at Vitoria, in order to await further reinforcements of the rest of the French armies in the Peninsula. It was June 21, 1813.
The French Position:
The French forces took defensive positions north and west of the town while a massive baggage train, consisting of siege artillery and loot taken from Spain (‘The luggage of King Joseph’) stood idle in Vitoria. The town was located to the south of the Zadorra River in the middle of a valley and was a major crossroads town with roads leading in all directions. West of the town, the Zadorra made a hairpin turn to the southwest, leaving the area through a narrow defile.
To the south of the bend were the Heights of Puebla, while the rugged terrain of Monte Arrato rose across the river to the northwest. To hold the area around Vitoria, Gazan's Army of the South was positioned north of the heights facing east, with Maransin's division in an advanced position at Subijana. They were supported to the east by D'Erlon's Army of the Centre. The Reille's Army of Portugal initially formed a third line, but it was shifted to guard the river crossings north of Vitoria
The Wellington's Plan:
Approaching Vitoria, Wellington sought to envelop the French position. To achieve this, he sent Hill's Right Column across the Zadorra to the south with orders to drive the French from the defile and move onto the Heights of Puebla. While the French were occupied with Hill, he intended to cross the river at the hairpin to get behind the enemy's right flank. While fighting was developing west of the town, Graham's Left Column was to move behind the Monte Arrato and attack Vitoria from the north along the Bilbao Road.
Battle of Vitoria - The Armies Meet:
To support Graham's operation and connect his advance to Wellington's fight, the Left Dalhousie’s Centre Column was to move over the Monte Arrato and attack the river west of Vitoria. Key to the coming fight was the fact that D'Erlon had failed to destroy key bridges over the Zadorra. Advancing up the Burgos Road on June 21, Hill sent Morillo's Spanish Division to occupy part of the heights while Lieutenant General William Stewart's 2nd Division's deployed closer to the river. Seeing the threat, Gazan ordered Maransin to advance to block Morillo.
As the fighting grew in intensity, both sides reinforced with Hill sending in a brigade and Gazan committing Villatte's reserve division. With the battle raging, the French began to notice Wellington's movement along the west bank of the river. Understandably concerned about his right flank, Gazan requested aid from the recovering Jourdan. More concerned about the fight on the heights, Jourdan refused this request. Meeting little resistance, Wellington pushed a brigade of the Light Division, under Kempt, across the river near the hairpin.
As Kempt's men were crossing, Hill was making progress as Stewart's men succeeded in taking Subijana. Though Stewart and Morillo were repeatedly counterattacked by Gazan's divisions, they succeeded in holding their positions in the village and on the heights. Aware of Graham's approach, Wellington paused in his advance. Rolling down the Bilbao Road, Graham succeeded in driving the Army of Portugal's 4th Division back across the river. Intense French resistance blocked Graham from crossing. To the east, Spanish Longa’s forces defeated the Spanish Royal Guards and severed the high road leading north to Bayonne.
Battle of Vitoria - The French Collapse:
Grasping the severity of the situation, Jourdan issued orders for Gazan to fall back towards Vitoria. Arriving on the field, Dalhousie began pushing Picton's 3rd Division across the Zadorra with aid from Kempt. Coming under heavy French counterattack and bombardment, Picton's men were able to hold their ground as Cole's 4th Division crossed to the west. Retreating, Gazan attempted to make a stand with D'Erlon at the village of Ariñez. Uniting, the Allied forces south of the river succeeded in driving the French back from this position to one on Zuazo Ridge. Attacking again, Wellington's forces were able to take the ridge despite the efforts of the French artillery.
Their line shattered, Gazan and D'Erlon's men began fleeing the field. Only the determined efforts of Reille's men prevented a complete rout as they held off Graham and allowed their comrades to escape. Retreating from the field, they departed to the southeast on the Salvatierra Road. Entering Vitoria, discipline among the Allied troops broke down as the men began plundering the abandoned French baggage train. Enraging Wellington, these actions along with the fatigue of his men prevented him from mounting a determined pursuit of Jourdan's wrecked army.
Aftermath of Vitoria
The Battle of Vitoria cost Wellington 5,158 casualties (3,675 British, 921 Portuguese and 562 Spanish) while the French incurred around 8,000 as well as lost the majority of their artillery. The defeat at Vitoria effectively broke the back of French power in Spain and forced Joseph and Jourdan to continue retreating towards France."

The above text is taken from the article of Kennedy Hickman in the - MilitaryHistory site

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  1. Nice post Rafa, thanks for reminding us of this important bicentennial.

    Have you seen the plans of 'Pushing Tin" to do a game based on the battle in 6 mm? Great looking stuff so far!

  2. James
    I have seen today the 'Pushing Tin' page. It looks very promising with all the battlefield in one table!