15 August 2008

Fuentes de Oñoro OB




Background

Masséna had followed the British back to Lisbon the previous year, until arriving before the Lines of Torres Vedras. He determined against storming this extensive double line of interlocking fortifications. After starving outside Lisbon through a miserable winter, the French withdrew to the Spanish border with the British-Portuguese army following them.
Having secured Portugal, Wellington set about re-taking the fortified frontier cities of Almeida, Badajoz and Ciudad Rodrigo. Whilst Wellington besieged Almeida, Masséna reformed his battered army and marched to relieve the French garrison in the city. Wellington chose to check the relief attempt at the small village of Fuentes de Oñoro. Wellington left his line of retreat exposed in order to cover all routes to Almeida: he felt this risk was justified because the French would not have more than a few days supplies whereas he had more than that. The British, Portuguese and Spanish army had 34,000 infantry, 1,850 cavalry, and 48 guns. The French had 42,000 infantry, 4,500 cavalry and 38 guns.

Organization

Masséna's army was organized into four corps and a cavalry reserve. Louis Loison's VI Corps had three divisions, led by Jean Marchand, Julien Mermet and Claude Ferey. In Jean Andoche Junot's VIII Corps, only Jean Solignac's division was present. Jean-Baptiste Drouet's IX Corps included the divisions of Nicholas Conroux and Claparede. Louis-Pierre Montbrun headed the cavalry reserve. A 1,700-man cavalry force, which included units from the Imperial Guard was also present at the battle under the command of Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bessières. The two divisions of Jean Reynier's II Corps hovered off to the northeast threatening Almeida.
Wellington commanded six infantry divisions, Charles Ashworth's independent Portuguese brigade and three cavalry brigades. Brent Spencer commanded the 1st Division, Thomas Picton the 3rd, William Houston the 7th and Robert Craufurd the Light Division. Stapleton Cotton commanded John Slade's and Frederick von Arentschildt's brigades of cavalry. Edward Howorth supervised four British and four Portuguese 6-gun batteries. William Erskine (5th Division), Alexander Campbell (6th Division) and 300 Portuguese cavalry under Count Barbacena were detached, facing the French II Corps.

Battle

On the 3rd of May, Masséna launched a frontal assault against the British pickets holding the barricaded village, while subjecting the British on the heights east of the village to a heavy artillery bombardment. The village was the centre of the fighting for the whole day, with French soldiers of Ferey's and Marchand's divisions clashing with the British redcoats of the 1st and 3rd Divisions.
At first, the French drove the British back under immense pressure, but a charge that included men of the 71st Highland Light Infantry reclaimed the streets and buildings lost earlier in the day. As the sun sank, the French withdrew and the village remained in British hands. The French had lost 650 casualties against only 250 British losses.
May 4 saw little combat. Both sides recovered from the ferocity of the previous day of fighting and reconsidered their options and battle plans. A French reconnaissance revealed that Wellington's right flank was weakly held by a unit of partisans near the hamlet of Pozo Bello.
Action began again at dawn on the 5th of May. Wellington had left the 7th Division exposed on his right flank. Masséna launched a heavy attack on the weak British flank, led by Montbrun's dragoons and supported by the infantry divisions of Marchand, Mermet and Solignac. Right away, two 7th Division battalions were roughed up by French light cavalry. This compelled Wellington to send reinforcements to save the 7th Division from annihilation. This was only achieved by the efforts of the Light Division and the British and King's German Legion cavalry.
Masséna, however, still aimed primarily at securing Fuentes de Oñoro. He sent forward massed columns of infantry from Ferey's division. The village, filled with low stone walls, provided excellent cover for the British line infantry and skirmishers, while the French were severely restricted in the little streets. At first, the French had some success, wiping out two companies of the 79th Highland Regiment and killing the regiment's commander, Lieut-Colonel Philips Cameron. But a counterattack chased Ferey's men out of the town.
Drouet launched a second attack on the town. This time it was led by three battalions of converged grenadiers from IX Corps. With their old-fashioned bearskin hats, the grenadiers were mistaken for the Imperial Guard. Again, the British fell back. Drouet threw in about half of the battalions from both Conroux and Claparède's divisions, seizing almost the entire town.
In response, Wellington counterattacked with units from the 1st and 3rd Divisions, plus the Portuguese 6th Caçadores. Led by the 88th Connaught Rangers Foot, this effort broke Drouet's attack and the tide began to turn. Low on ammunition, the French had to resort to the bayonet in a futile attempt to drive the British back. One party of 100 grenadiers was trapped in a tight spot and slaughtered to a man. Facing murderous volleys, the French halted and turned, being shot at as they withdrew, leaving their casualties behind. By sunset, French morale had plummeted and many companies were down to 40% strength.
On the threatened British right flank, the elite Light Division, well supported by British cavalry and artillery, made a textbook fighting withdrawal. For trifling casualties, they covered the retreat of the 7th Division and fell back into a stronger position selected by Wellington. During the retreat, whenever French artillery ventured too close, the British cavalry charged or feinted a charge. This allowed the infantry time to retreat out of range. If the French horsemen pressed the outnumbered British cavalry back, the British infantry formed square and their volleys drove off the French. When Montbrun called on the Imperial Guard cavalry for help, Bessières refused to commit his Horse Grenadiers, Lancers and Chasseurs to the attack.
This was a classic case of a combined arms force being able to fend off superior numbers of cavalry. Two incidents spoiled this otherwise fine accomplishment. One occurred when a British 14th Light Dragoon squadron pressed home a frontal attack on a French artillery battery and was mauled. In the second case, French cavalry caught some companies of the 3rd Foot Guards in skirmish order and inflicted 100 casualties.
The French artillery tried to bombard the new British line into submission, but they were outgunned by Wellington's cannon. Finally, with their artillery ammunition dangerously low, the French attacks came to an end. Wellington's men entrenched during the evening. After spending the next three days parading before the British position, Masséna gave up the attempt and withdrew.

Consequences

Wellington had repelled the Army of Portugal, inflicted a great number of casualties (the number varies according to different sources from 2,200 to 3,500) for the loss of just 1,500, and was able to continue his blockade of Almeida. Another historian says there were 1,800 British and 2,800 French losses. Wellington however acknowledged how dangerous the situation had been, saying later, "If Boney had been there, we should have been beat." Wellington did not mark the battle as a victory. He considered that he had unnecessarily extended his line too far, putting the 7th and Light Divisions in danger.
Two nights after Masséna's withdrawal, General Brennier's 1,400-man French garrison of Almeida slipped through the British lines during the night. About 360 of the French were captured, but the rest got away when their British pursuers ran into a French ambush. This fiasco was blamed on Erskine and others. An infuriated Wellington wrote, "I have never been so much distressed by any military event as by the escape of even a man of them."
On reaching Ciudad Rodrigo, Masséna was recalled to Paris by a furious Napoleon to explain his actions (although Napoleon had issued the order to return prior to the battle). He was replaced by Marshal Auguste Marmont. Masséna set off for France with a vast sum of gold, stolen from Portugal and Spain. The defeated French marshal complained that Wellington "had not left him one black hair on his body—he had turned grey all over."

Taken from Wikipedia
BRITISH ORDER OF BATTLE

May 3rd-5th, 1811

Anglo-Portuguese Army
Officer Commanding: Lieutenant-General Arthur, Viscount Wellington


Cavalry Division: Lieutenant-General Sir Stapleton Cotton
1st Brigade: (Maj Gen Slade): 1st Dragoons, 14th Light Dragoons
2nd Brigade: (Lt-Col von Arentschildt): 16th Light Dragoons, 1st Hussars KGL
Portuguese Brigade: (Brig Gen de Barbacena): 4th and 10th Portuguese Dragoons.



Infantry Divisions:
1st Division: Lieutenant-General Sir Brent Spencer
1st Brigade:(Col Stopford): 1st/Coldstream Guards; 1st/3rd Guards; 60th Foot
(1 co.)
2nd Brigade:(Maj Gen Nightingall): 2nd/24th Foot; 2nd/42nd Foot; 1st/79th Foot; 60th Foot (1 co.)
3rd Brigade:(Maj Gen Howard): 1st/50th Foot; 1st/71st Foot; 1st/92nd Foot; 60th Foot (1 co.)
4th Brigade:(Maj Gen Baron von Löw): 1st, 2nd, 5th, 7th Line Batt. KGL, Light Batt. KGL (2 co.)
3rd Division: Major-General Thomas Picton
1st Brigade: (Col Mackinnon): 1st/45th Foot; 1st/74th Foot; 1st/88th Foot; 60th Foot (3 co.)

2nd Brigade: (Maj Gen Colville): 2nd/5th Foot; 2nd/83rd Foot; 2nd/88th Foot; 94th Foot
3rd Brigade: (Col Manley Power): 9th, 21st Portuguese Line
5th Division: Major-General Sir William Erskine
1st Brigade: (Brig Gen Hay): 3rd/1st Foot; 1st/9th Foot; 2nd/38th Foot; Brunswick Oels
(1 co.)
2nd Brigade: (Maj Gen Dunlop): 1st/4th Foot; 2nd/30th Foot; 2nd/44th Foot; Brunswick Oels
(1 co.)
3rd Brigade: (Brig Gen Spry): 3rd, 15th Portuguese Line; 8th Caçadores


6th Division: Major-General Alexander Campbell
1st Brigade: (Col Hulse): 1st/11th Foot, 2nd/53rd Foot, 1st/61st Foot; 60th Foot
(1 co.)
2nd Brigade: (Col Burne): 1st,2nd/36th Foot
3rd Brigade: (Col Madden): 8th, 12th Portuguese Line

7th Division: Major-General William Houston
1st Brigade: (Maj Gen Sontag): 2nd/51st Foot, 85th Foot, Chasseurs Britannique, Brunswick Oels (8 co.)
2nd Brigade: (Brig Gen Doyle): 7th,19th Portuguese Line, 2nd Caçadores


Light Division: Brigadier-General Robert Craufurd
1st Brigade: (Lt-Col Beckwith): 1st/43rd Foot; 1st/95th Rifles (4 co.); 2nd/95th Rifles (1 co.) ; 3rd Caçadores

2nd Brigade: (Col Drummond): 1st,2nd/52nd Foot; 1st/95th Rifles (4 Cos); 1st Caçadores


Independent Portuguese Brigade: (Col Ashworth)
6th,18th Portuguese Line, 6th Caçadores



Artillery: (Brigadier-General Howorth)
Royal Horse Artillery Troops of Ross and Bull (12 guns)
Royal Artillery
Batteries of Lawson and Thompson
(12 guns)
1st Portuguese Artillery Batteries of de Preto and de Rozierres (12 guns)
2nd Portuguese Artillery Batteries of de Sequerra and Rosado (12 guns)

FRENCH ORDER OF BATTLE

Army of Portugal
Officer Commanding: Marshal André Massena, Prince of Essling, Duke of Rivoli

II Corps: General Reynier
1st Division : General Merle
2nd Division: General Heudelet
Cavalry Brigade: General Soult


VI Corps: General Loison
1e Division: General Marchand
Brigade Maucune: 1e,2e,4e/6e Régiment Légere (1250 men); 1e,2e,4e/69e Régiment de ligne (1590 men)
Brigade Chemineau: 1e,2e,3e/39e Régiment de ligne(1190 men); 1e,2e,3e/76e Regiment de ligne (1290 men)
2e Division: General Mermet
Brigade Ménard: 1e,2e,4e/25e Régiment Légere(1870 men);1e,2e,4e/27e Régiment de ligne(1810men)
Brigade Taupin: 1e,2e,4e/50e Regiment de ligne(1410 men);1e,2e,4e/59e Régiment de ligne(1600 men)
3e Division: General Ferey
Brigade Ferey: 4e,5e,6e/26e Régiment de ligne(1050 men);Légion du Midi(385men);Légion Hanovrienne(430men);4e,5e,6e/66e Régiment de ligne(1370 men);4e,6e/82e Régiment de ligne(1030 men)
Cavalry Brigade: General Lamotte
3e Hussars (170 men),15e Chasseurs å cheval (170 men)

VIII Corps: General Junot, Duke of Abrantes
2nd Division: General Solignac

IX Corps: General Count d’Erlon
1st Division: General Claparéde
2nd Division: General Conroux
Cavalry Brigade: General Fournier


Reserve of Cavalry: General Montbrun

Artillery: General Eblé: 32 guns

Army of the North
Officer Commanding: Marshal Bessiéres, Duke of Istria

Light Cavalry of the Imperial Guard: General Lepic
Polish Lanciers(370 men); Chasseurs å cheval(235 men); Grenadiers å cheval(190 men);Mamelukes(80 men)

Light Cavalry Brigade: General Wathier

Horse Artillery: 6 guns

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