The Peninsular War
1811: The Year of Deadlock
At the start of 1811, the strategic balance of power in the Peninsula was uncertain. The French were gradually extending their control over Spain, whilst a large army under Marshal Massena had a British Army contained in a small area of land near Lisbon. However, the situation was more complex than this. The French were unable to eject the British force, as it sat behind the Lines of Torres Vedras, a huge network of forts built in secret by Wellington to ensure that he would always have a save haven which he could retreat too if faced with a French invasion of overwhelming proportions.
Massena’s army was therefore starving in front of the lines due to lack of supplies, and was soon forced to abandon the invasion of Portugal altogether. At the Portuguese-Spanish border, Wellington faced a problem though. As the French held the border fortresses of Almeida, Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz, he could not advance into central Spain, and take the fight to the French. The story of the 1811 campaign was dominated by this situation.
Map of Spain in 1811
After Wellington laid siege of Almeida, the French moved to relieve the fortress. Wellington defeated their main army at the Battle of Fuentes D’Onoro, in early May, but the garrison inside Almeida was able to escape a few days later when it abandoned the fortress. A small contingent of his army fought a bloody stalemate at Albuera a few days later, as it sought to fight off an attempt to relieve Badajoz, which the British forces had also been trying to besiege. It was one of the costliest battles of the Peninsular War, and eventually the siege of Badajoz had to be abandoned.
An attempt to blockade Ciudad Rodrigo in August failed after the French fielded a much larger army to relieve it. The French had seemingly found another way to contain Wellington, by keeping large numbers of men at hand to fight off any attempt to take the border fortresses.
Elsewhere in Spain, the news was equally disappointing for the allies. In February, a large Anglo-Spanish force under General Thomas Graham and General Manuel La Pena was dispatched to attack the French forces besieging Cadiz in their rear, and therefore relieve the pressure on the coastal city. However Pena, who seems to have lacked courage or ability, swiftly slunk back to Madrid. When the French forces under Marshal Victor sprung a trap to push the force into the sea, at the Battle of Barrosa in March, the Anglo-Portuguese contingent was left to do the bulk of the fighting whilst many Spanish soldiers looked on thanks to Pena’s lack of decisive leadership.
Late in the year, the French sent a force under Marshal Suchet to take Valencia in Eastern Spain. Whilst Suchet’s campaign was generally successful, with the Spanish losing 20,000 of their 40,000 men, despite Suchet’s own force only totalling around 26,000 men.
For more information on the 1811 campaigns of the Peninsular War, click on the links below:
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