The Battle of Vittoria

Date: 21st June 1813

War: Peninsular War

Combatants: British, Portuguese and Spanish against the French

Generals: The Duke of Wellington against Joseph Bonaparte, King of Spain and brother of the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte

Size of the armies: The French army was 60,000 including 11,000 cavalry with 138 guns. Wellington had 52,000 British and 28,000 Portuguese troops. 25,000 Spanish co-operated in the campaign.

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. 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.

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 timesa 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.

Map of Vittoria

1813 saw Lord Wellington and his British, Portuguese and Spanish army advance from the Portuguese border into the North East of Spain, forcing the French armies of Joseph Bonaparte, the king imposed on the Spanish by the Emperor Napoleon, towards the French border. As Wellington advanced his army’s base of supply was moved from Lisbon in Portugal to Santander in the North East of Spain. Difficulties with communications through the guerilla-infested country prevented Joseph from concentrating all his forces to meet the threat.

Joseph and his chief of staff, Marshal Jourdan, found themselves at Vitoria with the three French armies, of the South, of the Centre and of Portugal, where they awaited reinforcement by General Clausel and his Army of the North. On 20th June 1813 the French heard sounds of firing from the North of the town, along the road to Bilbao. They knew that Wellington was closing in on them.

On 21st June 1813 Joseph and Jourdan rode out to inspect the positions taken up by the French army.

Vitoria lay at the eastern end of an oval shaped plain. The road to France headed north-east. To the West was the Madrid road. Forming a cross-roads in the town was the north-south road to Bilbao. A further road headed south-west.

The river Zadorra flowed through the plain at its northern edge from East to West, forming a wide curve and leaving at the western end through a narrow defile at La Puebla. Surrounding the plain were rugged but not impassable mountains. The French Army of the South under General Gazan lay at the western end of the plain, the Army of the Centre behind Gazan and to the North and the Army of Portugal on the Bilbao road to the North of Vitoria, defending the crossing of the Zadorra.

he first sign of attack on 21st June 1813 was the arrival of Major General Hill’s corps through the La Puebla defile. The Spanish Division and Cadogan’s brigade moved onto the southern hills where they were fiercely counter-attacked by the divisions of Villatte and Maransin.

Meanwhile Lord Wellington brought his main force through the La Puebla defile and up the north bank of the Zadorra to the village of Nanclares where, he intended to launch his attack on the French flank. Further along the river it was found that the bridges at the main bend in the river were intact. Kempt’s brigade crossed the Zadorra supported by the 15th Hussars.

Wellington’s plan envisaged an attack by four forces. On his extreme left Major General Graham’s column was to attack down the Bilbao road, force the bridge over the Zadorra at Gamara Mayor and cut the road leading north-east to France. The fourth column, commanded by Lord Dalhousie, was to cross the mountains and cross the river to the left of Wellington’s column.

After the initial fighting at the western end of the plain Lord Wellington called a pause to enable Graham’s column to come up and begin its assault.

Graham began his attack, but fierce resistance by the Army of Portugal kept him on the north bank. Further to his left Longa’s Spanish Division managed to cross the river and block the road to France.

Dalhousie’s Third Division crossed the Zadorra east of Tres Puentes, Wellington’s Fourth Division crossed at Nanclares and Hill’s corps pressed forward. Gazan’s Army of the South fell back from ridge to ridge. The Army of the Centre found itself heavily attacked on its left flank.

As the French line broke up Alten’s Hussar Brigade stormed into Vitoria. The town was in chaos. The French took the horses and hurried down the southerly road towards Salvatierra leaving a complete siege train, many guns and the valuables they had accumulated during the years of occupation. Many of the British, Portuguese and Spanish troops gave themselves up to looting.

The British 14th Hussars attack the retreating French baggage train at the end of the Battle of Vitoria

A patrol of the 14th Light Dragoons became involved in the capture, with the 18th Light Dragoons, of a French Royal Baggage Train. Some attempts were made by British soldiers to ransack the King’s Carriage, but order was restored, and the King’s possessions, documents and looted works of art, were secured and safely handed over to the General Headquarters.

Flight of Bonaparte

A notable exception to this was King Joseph Bonaparte’s silver chamber pot, engraved with his Coat of Arms, which was secured by the patrol from the 14th because, no doubt, the sight of this particular domestic utensil caused some amusement; no objections seem to have been raised to its retention by its captors. The Chamber Pot was believed to have been a present to his brother by the Emperor Napoleon, and it came to be known as ‘The Emperor’. Accordingly, within the Peninsula Army, the 14th as its custodians became known as “The Emperor’s Chambermaids”, a nickname which apparently gave much pleasure to the Regiment at the time.

The 14th Hussars did not take a prominent part in this great victory at the rugged countryside was unsuitable for cavalry, but they supported the infantry as and when they could.

Today, the Commanding Officer traditionally asks officers to drink from the Emperor on Mess nights. It remains the most treasured piece of silver possessed by the Regiment.

British Regiments: 

1st Life Guards, now the Life Guards
2nd Life Guards, now the Life Guards
Royal Horse Guards, now the Blues and Royals (Royal Horse Guards and Royal Dragoons)
3rd Dragoon Guards, in 1922 3rd Carabiniers, now the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards *
5th Dragoon Guards, in 1922 5th Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, now Royal Dragoon Guards *
3rd Dragoons, later 3rd King’s Own Hussars, then Queen’s Own Hussars, now Queen’s Royal Hussars *
4th Dragoons, *
10th Light Dragoons, later 10th Hussars, then the Royal Hussars and now the King’s Royal Hussars
11th Light Dragoons, later 11th Hussars, then the Royal Hussars and now the King’s Royal Hussars
12th Light Dragoons, now 9th/12th Royal Lancers
13th Light Dragoons, later 13th/18th Royal Hussars, now the Light Dragoons *
14th Light Dragoons, later 14th Hussars, then 14th/20th King’s Hussars, now King’s Royal Hussars. *
15th Light Dragoons, later 15th/19th the King’s Royal Hussars, now the Light Dragoons *
16th Light Dragoons, later 16th Lancers, then 16th/5th Queen’s Royal Lancers now the Queen’s Royal Lancers. *
13th Light Dragoons, later 13th/18th Royal Hussars, now the Light Dragoons
Coldstream Foot Guards
3rd Foot Guards
1st Foot, the Royal Scots *
2nd Foot, the Queen’s Regiment and now the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment *
3rd Foot, the Buffs or East Kent Regiment and now the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment *
4th Foot, the King’s Own Royal Regiment and now the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment *
5th Foot, later the Northumberland Fusiliers and now the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers*
6th Foot, later the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and now the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers*
7th Foot, the Royal Fusiliers and now the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers *
9th Foot , the Norfolk Regiment and now the Royal Anglian Regiment *
20th Foot, the Lancashire Fusiliers and now the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers *
23rd Foot, the Royal Welch Fusiliers*
27th Foot, Inniskilling Fusiliers and now the Royal Irish Regiment*
28th Foot, the Gloucestershire Regiment and now the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment *
30th Foot, the East Lancashire Regiment and now the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment *
31st Foot, the East Surrey Regiment and now the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment *
34th Foot, the Border Regiment and now the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment *
38th Foot, the South Staffordshire Regiment and now the Staffordshire Regiment *
39th Foot, the Dorset Regiment and now the Devon and Dorset Regiment *
40th Foot, the South Lancashire Regiment and now the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment *
43rd Foot, the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and now the Royal Green Jackets *
45th Foot, the Sherwood Foresters and now the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment *
47th Foot, the North Lancashire Regiment and now the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment *
48th Foot, the Northamptonshire Regiment and now the Royal Anglian Regiment *
50th Foot, the Royal West Kent Regiment and now the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment *
51st Foot, the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and now the Light Infantry *
52nd Foot, the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and now the Royal Green Jackets *
53rd Foot, the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry and now the Light Infantry*
57th Foot, the Middlesex Regiment and now the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment *
58th Foot, the Northamptonshire Regiment and now the Royal Anglian Regiment *
59th Foot, the East Lancashire Regiment and now the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment *
60th Foot, the King’s Royal Rifle Corps and now the Royal Green Jackets *
66th Foot, the Royal Berkshire Regiment and now the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment *
68th Foot, the Durham Light Infantry and now the Light Infantry *
71st Foot, the Highland Light Infantry and now the Royal Highland Fusiliers *
74th Foot (Highlanders), the Highland Light Infantry and now the Royal Highland Fusiliers *
82nd Foot, the South Lancashire Regiment and now the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment *
83rd Foot, the Royal Irish Rifles and now the Royal Irish Regiment *
87th Foot, the Royal Irish Fusiliers, disbanded in 1922 *
88th Foot, the Connaught Rangers, disbanded in 1922 *
92nd Foot, the Gordon Highlanders and now the Highlanders *
94th Foot, the Connaught Rangers, disbanded in 1922 *
95th Rifles, the Rifle Brigade and now the Royal Green Jackets *

* These regiments have Vitoria as a battle honour.

Casualties:

The French lost 8,000 men. The British lost 3,675, the Portuguese 921 and the Spanish 562. The French lost all their guns other than one.

Anecdotes and traditions:

Emperor chamber-pot

The Emperor’s Chamber pot was ‘liberated’ by the 14th Hussars

  • One of the items looted from Joseph Bonaparte’s baggage was a silver chamber pot. The regiment who “liberated” the pot, the 14th Hussars, retained it as a trophy and to this day use it on regimental guest nights to toast with champagne. It is known as the Emperor.
  • To commemorate the battle Beethoven wrote a symphony that he called “Wellington’s Victory”.

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

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s