The Battle of Douro

Place: At Oporto in Northern Portugal

Date: 12th May 1809

Combatants: British against the French

Generals: Major General Sir Arthur Wellesley against Marshal Soult

Size of the armies: The British Portuguese amy was 18,000 and 24 guns while the French had 20,000 men.

Uniforms, arms and equipment: Uniforms, arms, equipment and training:
The British infantry wore red waist jackets, white trousers, and stovepipe shakos. Fusilier regiments wore bearskin caps. The two rifle regiments wore dark green jackets.

The Light Dragoons wore light blue. The Royal Artillery wore blue tunics.
Highland regiments wore the kilt with red tunics and tall black ostrich feather caps.

The King’s German Legion, which comprised both cavalry and infantry regiments wore black, as did other German units in the British service.

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

The French cavalry comprised Dragoons largely in green. The French artillery dressed in uniforms similar to the infantry, the horse artillery in hussar uniform.

The French artillery dressed in uniforms similar to the infantry, the horse artillery in hussar uniform.

The standard infantry weapon across all the armies was the musket. It could be fired at three or four times a minute, throwing a heavy ball inaccurately for only a hundred metres or so. Each infantryman carried a bayonet that fitted on the muzzle of his musket.

The British rifle battalions (60th and 95th Rifles) carried 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 use against troops in the field, unless closely formed. Guns also fired case shot or cannister which fragmented, but was effective only over a short range. Exploding shells fired by howitzers, as yet in their infancy were of particular use against buildings. The British had the secret development in this field of ‘shrapnell’.

WinnerThe British.

British Regiments: 
14th Light Dragoons, later 14th/20th King’s Hussars, now the King’s Royal Hussars
16th Light Dragoons, later 16th/5th the Queen’s Royal Lancers, now the Queen’s Royal Lancers
20th Light Dragoons, later 14th/20th King’s Hussars, now the King’s Royal Hussars
The Royal Artillery
The Coldstream Guards
3rd Guards, now the Scots Guards
3rd Buffs, the East Kent Regiment, now the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment *
7th Royal Fusiliers, now the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers
9th Foot, later the Norfolk Regiment, now the Royal Anglian Regiment
48th Foot, later the Northamptonshire Regiment, now the Royal Anglian Regiment *
53rd Foot, later the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, now the Light Infantry
60th Foot, later the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, now the Royal Green Jackets
66th Foot, later the Royal Berkshire Regiment, now the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment *
83rd Foot, later the Royal Ulster Rifles, now the Royal Irish Regiment
97th Foot, later the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment, now the Princess of Wales’s RoyalRegiment
* these regiments have Douro as a battle honour.

British order of battle:
Commander: Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Wellesley
Cavalry: commanded by Major General Sir Stapleton Cotton
14th Light Dragoons
16th Light Dragoons
20th Light Dragoons
3rd Light Dragoons, King’s German Legion

1st Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General H. Campbell
1st Battalion Coldstream Guards
1st/3rd Guards
1 Co. 5th/60th Foot

2nd Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General A. Campbell
2nd/7th Royal Fusiliers
2nd/53rd Foot
1 Co. 5th/60th Foot
1st/10th Portuguese Foot

3rd Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General Sontag
2nd Bn. Detachments
97th Foot
1 Co. 5th/60th Foot
2nd/16th Portuguese Foot

4th Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General Rowland Hill
1st/3rd Buffs
2nd/48th Foot
2nd/66th Foot
1 Co. 5th/60th Foot

5th Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General Cameron
2nd/9th Foot
2nd/83rd Foot
1 Co. 5th/60th Foot
1st/16th Portuguese Foot

7th Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General John Murray
1st Line, King’s German Legion
2nd Line, King’s German Legion
5th Line, King’s German Legion
7th Line, King’s German Legion
1st and 2nd Light Battalions, King’s German Legion

Artillery: commanded by Colonel Howarth
Sillery’s and Lawson’s troops
Tieling’s and Heise’s troops

Account:
Following the evacuation of the British army from Corunna and the death of Sir John Moore, a small British force remained in Lisbon. On 22nd April 1809 Wellesley returned with the British army to the Portuguese capital.

Marshal Victor’s army stood at Merida in Spain near the Portuguese border at Badajoz. Marshal Soult held the northern Portuguese city of Oporto.

In May Wellesley marched north to deal with Soult.

The River Douro lay between the British army and Oporto and Soult caused all the river boats that could be found to be moved to the north bank. Expecting any attack to be in conjunction with the Royal Navy the French army was positioned along the north bank of the river to the West, or seaside, of the city.
On the morning of 12th May 1809 a British officer, Colonel John Waters was reconnoitring the river east of Oporto. Local Portuguese pointed out a boat hidden in the reeds. Using the boat Waters and the Portuguese crossed the river and brought back three barges they had found unguarded. At Wellesley’s direction a company of the 3rd Buffs crossed the river and occupied a derelict convent. Only after four journeys, by which time a battalion had been ferried over and was holding the convent, did the French realise that the British had crossed the Douro. General Foy then led the 17th Light in furious attacks on the convent. Several British batteries had been established to support the Buffs in the convent and Foy’s attack was thrown back with heavy casualties.

Soult ordered up three more battalions to drive the British back but by this time there were three British battalions in the convent and the attacks were entirely unsuccessful.

Around midday Soult sent the troops guarding the Oporto waterfront to assist Foy’s assaults, being the only reserves available and near enough to assist.

Once the guards had gone the inhabitants of Oporto rushed boats to the soutern bank and four British battalions crossed to the city. Deciding that the city had become untenable, Soult ordered a general retreat up the northeastern road towards Spain.

Wellesley had ordered Murray’s brigade with two squadrons of the 14th Light Dragoons to cross to the east of the city and cut the road the French were taking. Murray failed to cut the road but the 14th attacked the retreating French, suffering heavy casualties but capturing several hundred.

British casualties:
14th Light Dragoons: 4 officers and 32 soldiers killed and wounded
16th Light Dragoons: 3 officers wounded
20th Light Dragoons: 1 soldier killed
3rd Buffs: 1 officer wounded
29th Foot: 9 soldiers killed and wounded
48th Foot: 1 officer wounded
66th Foot: 38 offices and soldiers killed and wounded
Follow-up: Soult’s army was forced to retreat into Spain by a difficult mountain road, abandoning or destroying all its guns and much of its supplies and equipment.

Anecdote and traditions:
Sir Arthur Wellesley (the Duke of Wellington) considered the Douro to be one of his most successful battles and adopted “Douro” as part of his title. He had forced an army of the same strength as his own to abandon a strong position behind a river barrier and retreat out of the country losing all its heavy equipment and suffering substantial casualties, with trifling losses to his own troops.

Account:
Following the evacuation of the British army from Corunna and the death of Sir John Moore, a small British force remained in Lisbon. On 22nd April 1809 Wellesley returned with the British army to the Portuguese capital.

Marshal Victor’s army stood at Merida in Spain near the Portuguese border at Badajoz. Marshal Soult held the northern Portuguese city of Oporto.

In May Wellesley marched north to deal with Soult.

The River Douro lay between the British army and Oporto and Soult caused all the river boats that could be found to be moved to the north bank. Expecting any attack to be in conjunction with the Royal Navy the French army was positioned along the north bank of the river to the West, or seaside, of the city.
On the morning of 12th May 1809 a British officer, Colonel John Waters was reconnoitring the river east of Oporto. Local Portuguese pointed out a boat hidden in the reeds. Using the boat Waters and the Portuguese crossed the river and brought back three barges they had found unguarded. At Wellesley’s direction a company of the 3rd Buffs crossed the river and occupied a derelict convent. Only after four journeys, by which time a battalion had been ferried over and was holding the convent, did the French realise that the British had crossed the Douro. General Foy then led the 17th Light in furious attacks on the convent. Several British batteries had been established to support the Buffs in the convent and Foy’s attack was thrown back with heavy casualties.

Soult ordered up three more battalions to drive the British back but by this time there were three British battalions in the convent and the attacks were entirely unsuccessful.

Around midday Soult sent the troops guarding the Oporto waterfront to assist Foy’s assaults, being the only reserves available and near enough to assist.

Once the guards had gone the inhabitants of Oporto rushed boats to the soutern bank and four British battalions crossed to the city. Deciding that the city had become untenable, Soult ordered a general retreat up the northeastern road towards Spain.

Wellesley had ordered Murray’s brigade with two squadrons of the 14th Light Dragoons to cross to the east of the city and cut the road the French were taking. Murray failed to cut the road but the 14th attacked the retreating French, suffering heavy casualties but capturing several hundred.

British casualties:
14th Light Dragoons: 4 officers and 32 soldiers killed and wounded
16th Light Dragoons: 3 officers wounded
20th Light Dragoons: 1 soldier killed
3rd Buffs: 1 officer wounded
29th Foot: 9 soldiers killed and wounded
48th Foot: 1 officer wounded
66th Foot: 38 offices and soldiers killed and wounded
Follow-up: Soult’s army was forced to retreat into Spain by a difficult mountain road, abandoning or destroying all its guns and much of its supplies and equipment.

Anecdote and traditions:
Sir Arthur Wellesley (the Duke of Wellington) considered the Douro to be one of his most successful battles and adopted “Douro” as part of his title. He had forced an army of the same strength as his own to abandon a strong position behind a river barrier and retreat out of the country losing all its heavy equipment and suffering substantial casualties, with trifling losses to his own troops.

Taken from the website: http://www.britishbattles.com/

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