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The Battle of Albuera

War: Peninsular War

Date: 16th May 1811

Place: Spain, near the Portuguese border south-east of Badajoz

Combatants: British, Portuguese and Spanish against the French

Generals: Marshal Beresford and General Blake against Marshal Soult

Size of the armies: 32,000 British, Portuguese and Spanish (including 2,000 cavalry) and 38 guns against 23,000 French including 4,000 cavalry and 40 guns

Uniforms, arms and equipment: The British foot wore red, waist length jackets, grey trousers and stovepipe shakos. The rifle regiments wore green. The Portuguese infantry wore British style uniforms but in blue. The Caçadores wore green jackets.

The British dragoons wore red jackets with a Roman style helmet. The light dragoons wore light blue jackets and a shako. The British artillery wore blue.

  French Chasseurs à Cheval : Battle of Albuera
French Chasseurs à Cheval : Battle of Albuera

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

The French infantry wore blue tunics and shakos.

Immediately before the battle, Marshal Bessières brought up a force of 1,700 Guard Cavalry. There was consequently a wide range of cavalry in the French army, Cuirassiers, Dragoons, Hussars, Chasseurs à Cheval and Lancers. The Cuirassiers wore heavy breastplates. The Cuirassiers and Dragoons wore blue uniforms and brass helmets with a long horse hair crest. The Hussars and Chasseurs à Cheval wore the classic hussar uniform of short braided jacket, second slung jacket, fur busby and curved scimitar sword. The Lancers wore a Polish uniform of double breasted jacket and displaced square topped shako. A wide range of colours were worn by the various light cavalry regiments.

The Battle of Albuera


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

The standard infantry weapon for both armies was the musket, which could be fired two or three times a minute and threw a heavy ball inaccurately for a hundred metres. Each infantryman carried a bayonet that fitted on the muzzle.

The British rifle battalions were armed with the Baker rifle, a more accurate weapon but slower to fire, and a sword bayonet.

Field guns fired a ball projectile, by its nature of limited effect against troops in the field, unless closely formed. Guns also fired case shot or canister which fragmented, but was effective only at a short range. Exploding shells fired by howitzers, as yet in their infancy, were of particular use against buildings. The British had the development of ‘shrapnel’ or fragmenting shell which was effective against troops.

The drums of the 57th Regiment at Albuera by Lady Butler

Winner: The British, Spanish and Portuguese

While Lieutenant General Viscount Wellington was engaged in battling with Marshal Massena in the North, leading to the battle of Fuentes de Oñoro, Marshal Beresford was laying siege to Badajoz in the South, in uneasy co-operation with the Spanish general, Joachim Blake.

In early May 1811 Marshal Soult marched up from Seville with his Army of Andalusia to relieve the French garrison in Badajoz.

Beresford and Blake agreed to confront Soult at Albuera, a classic defensive ridge position previously selected by Wellington that screened the Badajoz siege works.

Beresford with his British and Portuguese troops and a small contingent of Spanish was in position at Albuera by 15th May 1811 and awaited the arrival of Blake’s army. The Spanish marched up from Almendrad, arriving during the night.

Two French officers captured during the battle by a trooper of the 13th Hussars

The village of Albuera lay where the Seville to Badajoz road crossed the Albuera River, before ascending the ridge. Beresford placed his army on the ridge, expecting to receive a frontal assault across the river and through the village. He placed the Portuguese Division on the left, the British 2nd Division immediately above Albuera, supported by the 4th Division, and the Spanish army on the right. Albuera itself was held by Alten’s brigade of King’s German Legion.

Soult, an able and versatile strategist, did not comply with Beresford’s expectations. Across the Albuera River from the high ground held by the Spanish on the right flank was a substantial hill. Soult assembled the majority of his army behind that hill. The British and Portuguese cavalry had been forced back across the Albuera River by the overwhelming strength of the French cavalry, enabling Soult’s troops to form up unseen.

On the morning of 16th May 1811 General Godinot’s brigade continued up the road and attacked Albuera village as a diversion. Soult’s main force and his considerable preponderance of cavalry moved over the hill and across the Albuera River to take the Spanish in the flank.

The Buffs at Albuera

Beresford sent aides de camp to Blake with directions to pull back his right wing to meet the French outflanking movement. Blake refused to comply, until the Marshal arrived in person and ordered the manoeuvre to be carried out. The Spanish troops were too slow in changing position and were caught in flank by the overwhelming French attack. That is other than General Zayas who had acted on his own imitative and already taken up a position facing the French. His brigade alone resisted the onslaught, the remainder of the Spanish force being driven back.

Beresford brought up Stewart’s 2nd Division to support the Spanish on their right. The leading brigade, Colborne’s, climbed the hill and went into action as each battalion reached the crest, only to be caught undeployed by the French light cavalry. Three battalions of Colborne’s brigade, 1st/3rd Foot, 2nd/48th Foot and 2nd/66th Foot were nearly annihilated. Many of the British were taken prisoner.

At this point in the battle Soult failed to act with decision to secure the victory by vigorous use of his overwhelming strength in cavalry. Beresford was given the opportunity to reform his line.
The brigades of the 4th Division were brought to the right flank in place of the Spanish. Hoghton’s Brigade (29th Foot, 1st/48th Foot, 1st/57th Foot) with the surviving battalion from Coleborne’s, 2nd/31st Foot, formed along the ridge and held the French back under a storm of artillery fire and musketry. In a twenty minute exchange of fire these battalions were reduced to a ruin, particularly the 2nd/57th Foot.

The Fusilier Brigade (1st/7th Royal Fusiliers, 2nd/7th Royal Fusiliers, 1st/23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers) ascended the ridge and attacked the French with the Portuguese battalions of the 4th Division while Abercromby’s Brigade came up on the Spanish left. Lumley’s Cavalry moved to the extreme flank to block any French move against the British rear.
Soult realised that he had lost the opportunity to win the battle and abandoned the attack, withdrawing over the Albuera River.

The two unwounded officers of the 28th foot after the battle

British Regiments:
3rd Dragoon Guards, from 1922 3rd Carabiniers and now the Royal Scots Dragoons Guards *
4th Dragoons, from 1965 the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars and now the Queen’s Own Hussars *
13th Light Dragoons, from 1922 13th/18th Royal Hussars and now the Light Dragoons *
3rd Foot, the Buffs and now the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment *
7th Royal Fusiliers, now the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers *
23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers *
27th Foot, the Inniskilling Fusiliers and now the Royal Irish Regiment
28th Foot, from 1882 the Gloucestershire Regiment and now the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment
29th Foot, from 1882 the Worcestershire Regiment and now the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment *
31st Foot, from 1882 the East Surrey Regiment and now the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment *
34th Foot, from 1882 the Border Regiment and now the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment *
39th Foot, from 1882 the Dorsetshire Regiment and now the Devon and Dorset Regiment *
40th Foot, from 1882 the South Lancashire Regiment and now the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment
48th Foot, from 1882 the Northamptonshire Regiment and now the Royal Anglian Regiment *
57th Foot, from 1882 the Middlesex Regiment and now the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment *
60th Foot, from 1820 the King’s Royal Rifle Corps and now the Royal Green Jackets *
66th Foot, from 1882 the Royal Berkshire Regiment and now the Royal Gloucestershire Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment *
97th Foot, from 1882 the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment and now the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment
* These regiments have Albuera as a battle honour.
British order of battle:
Commander-in-Chief: Marshal William Carr Beresford
Anglo-Portuguese Corps
Cavalry: commanded by Major General Lumley
Heavy Brigade: commanded by Colonel de Grey: 3rd Dragoon Guards and 4th Dragoons
13th Light Dragoons

Portuguese Brigade: commanded by Colonel Otway: 1st and 7th Portuguese Dragoons, 1 Sqn of 5th and 8th Portuguese Dragoons.

2nd Division: commanded by Major General Stewart
1st Brigade: commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Colborne: 1st/3rd Foot, 2nd/31st Foot, 2nd/48th Foot, 2nd/66th Foot.
2nd Brigade: commanded by Major General Hoghton: 29th Foot, 1st/48th Foot, 1st/57th Foot.
3rd Brigade: commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Abercromby: 2nd/28th Foot, 2nd/34th Foot, 2nd/39th Foot.
3 Cos 5th/60th Foot.

4th Division: commanded by Major General Lowry Cole
1st Brigade: commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Sir William Myers: 1st/7th Royal Fusiliers, 2nd/7th Royal Fusiliers, 1st/23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers.
Portuguese Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General Harvey: 1st and 2nd/2nd and 2nd/14th Portuguese Regiments of the Line, 1st Loyal Lusitanian Legion
Light Companies of 2nd/27th, 1/40th and 97th Foot.

Portuguese Division: commanded by Major General Hamilton
1st Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General Archibald Campbell: 1st and 2nd/4th, 1st and 2nd/14th Portuguese Regiments of the Line
2nd Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General Luiz Fonseca:

Independent Brigades:
German Brigade: commanded by Major General Charles, Baron von Alten: 1st and 2nd Light Battalions, King’s German Legion
Portuguese Brigade: commanded by Colonel Collins: 1st and 2nd/5th Portuguese Regiment of the Line, 5th Caçadores

Artillery: commanded by Major Dickson: Lefebre’s Troop RHA, Hawker’s battery, Cleeve’s and Braun’s batteries KGA, Braun’s and Arriga’s batteries, Portuguese Artillery.
Spanish order of battle:
Commander-in-Chief: Captain General Joachim Blake
Brigades of Loy and Penne Villemur
Vanguard Division: commanded by General Lardizabal
3rd Division: commanded by General Ballasteros
4th Division: commanded by General Zayas
Estremaduran Brigade: commanded by General de Espana
Artillery: commanded by Colonel de Miranda: 2 batteries.

French order of battle:
Commander-in-Chief: Marshal Soult, Duke of Dalmatia
Cavalry: commanded by General Comte de Latour-Maubourg
1st Brigade: commanded by General Briche
2nd Brigade: commanded by General Bron
3rd Brigade: commanded by General Bouvier des Ecats
3 unbrigaded regiments

1st Division: commanded by General Girard
2nd Division: commanded by General Gazan
Werlé’s Brigade
Godinot’s Brigade
Reserve of Grenadiers

Artillery: commanded by General Ruty: 48 guns.

 The British suffered 4,200 casualties out of 6,000 men. The Spanish suffered 2,000 casualties and the Germans and Portuguese suffered 600 casualties. The French suffered around 7,500 casualties.
British regimental casualties:
3rd Dragoon Guards: 1 officer and 18 soldiers killed and wounded
4th Dragoons: 2 officers and 20 soldiers killed and wounded
13th Light Dragoons: 1 soldier wounded
Royal Artillery: 1 officer and 13 soldiers killed and wounded
3rd Foot: 18 officers and 446 soldiers killed and wounded
7th Royal Fusiliers (2 battalions): 30 officers and 675 soldiers killed and wounded
23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers: 13 officers and 319 soldiers killed and wounded
27th Foot: 3 officers and 74 soldiers killed and wounded
28th Foot: 6 officers and 158 soldiers killed and wounded
29th Foot: 17 officers and 307 soldiers killed and wounded
31st Foot: 7 officers and 148 soldiers killed and wounded
34th Foot: 7 officers and 121 soldiers killed and wounded
39th Foot: 5 officers and 91 soldiers killed and wounded
40th Foot: 3 officers and 28 soldiers killed and wounded
48th Foot (2 battalions): 30 officers and 392 soldiers killed and wounded
57th Foot: 23 officers and 405 soldiers killed and wounded
60th Foot: 1 officer and 20 soldiers killed and wounded
66th Foot: 15 officers and 156 soldiers killed and wounded
97th Foot: 28 soldiers killed and wounded
Several regiments lost substantial numbers taken prisoner.

Although considered a victory for the British, Portuguese and Spanish, the casualties to the British infantry were disastrous. Wellington is reported to have said “Another such battle will ruin us.”
Nevertheless Soult abandoned his attempt to relieve Badajoz and withdrew to Seville, taking his prisoners and captured British colours with him.

Anecdotes and traditions:
• Beresford had been given the job in 1808 of reforming the Portuguese Army and his appointment as Marshal was a Portuguese rank. He was a savage disciplinarian and man of great strength. During the battle Beresford was attacked by a French lancer. He disarmed the lancer and threw him from his horse.

• Albuera is a rich mine of British military regimental tradition. The conduct of the British infantry reinforced the view that they were near irresistible. The conduct of the Portuguese battalions, largely inexperienced, was comparable and it was the Spanish battalions of General Zayas’ brigade that initially held the French attack.

• Lieutenant Colonel Inglis of the 57th was severely wounded during the resistance by Hoghton’s Brigade. He lay on the ground, refusing to be moved to the rear calling to his soldiers “Die Hard, 57th.” The regiment acquired the nickname of “The Diehards”. The depot of the Middlesex Regiment, which the 57th became, was named Inglis Barracks.

• Albuera is an important battle for the two fusilier regiments of Myers’ brigade, the 7th Royal Fusiliers and the 23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers.

• The steadfastness of General Zayas’ battalions at Albuera deserves much greater appreciation than it receives. The Peninsular War is of great importance in the tradition of the British Army. It is unfortunate that much of this tradition is anti-Spanish, more than it is anti-French. Spain had the constant reminder of the occupation of Gibraltar in its relations with the British and the close co-operation between Britain and Portugal, Spain’s enemy of centuries, cannot have been reassuring. It is hardly surprising that there was a lack of cordiality and trust between the two nationalities.

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