Thursday, September 29, 2011


From Elvas to Albuera, (La Albuera), through Badajoz, it is mostly flat or low rolling countryside.
 The village of Albuera itself is a small affair, with a solitary square and renaissance church, and a single road leading down to the original bridge. A new highway and ring road has just opened which bypasses the centre. Thankfully this new road hasn’t altered the battlefield, but it is quite close…

The village appears much as it probably did in 1811 (minus the asphalt and eletric wires of course)
The church in the main square, unchanged since 1811
The main square looking down towards the old bridge. This is where the KGL Light battalions defended the village
Memorial to General Blake

The main bridge at Albuera, as it was in 1811

To get to the battlefield you have to follow the main road (N435) south out of Albuera (making sure not to cross the river), in the direction of Almendral. After about a kilometr, you see a small house on the left and then a small unpaved track leading away from the road to the right. Turning on to this I was able to drive up to the middle of the main battle, about a kilometre in from the main road on a low ridge.

Looking back down eastwards towards modern main road from ridge

Now after about 200 years of farming, it’s hard to tell how much erosion there has been, but to my eye it seemd that the battlefield was largely intact, and I could easily make out the main features compared to contemporary maps.
Looking towards the allied front facing the French attack
 What immediately strikes one is the small area upon which so much of the bloody fighting took place. Indeed, from the front of the allied army’s position on one low rise on top of the main ridge, to the starting point of the French attack atop the second hillock, is only about 300 metres. Again the fronts of the two forces could been at most about 500 metres wide. Considering the thousands of men involved, the ground must have been packed.
The short ground between the start of the French attack and the Allied army line (in the distance)
 The second thing that struck me was the amount of dead ground stretching away from the original right flank of the allies before they turned at the last minute to meet the French onslaught. Even from the top of the ridge where Coles brigade stood, you can only see the top of the hill over which Werle’s brigade appeared. Behind that, the ground over which the French approach is hidden from view. Easy to see the logic of the French, and also to understand the immense task of the allies to turn, face and defend against them after the initial surprise.

Looking along the line of Beresford’s original deployment, the logic seems clear; expecting an attack, he deployed his troops on the reverse slope of a low ridge to avoid unnecessary casualties. I suspect this reduced further the armies’ ability to perceive and react to the flank attack.
Looking north along the Allied armies' first position on the reverse slope of the main ridge. Albuera village in the background.
 The problem of dead ground and blocked sight continued all the way to the line of Colbourne’s approach to the right, affording the Vistula Lancers their chance to get into a position unseen to launch their devastating flank attack; the sudden rainstorm only compounding the blocked line of sight.

Looking east along the Allied armies' liine as it received the French attack from the right (coming down from higher ground, into a dip, before hitting the line)

The line of advance of the French. Taken from the cusp of the small hill facing the Allied army, the land drops away concealing all activity

View of the main French attack from the allied flank. This is where Colbourne's Division was destroyed, and retaken by Myers' and Harvey's brigades
Once Cole’s division and Harvey’s Portuguese brigade came on, the battle played out from these final positions. The land is still sparse, and the soil quite red.

The position of the "Die Hards"

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Recently, on my way to a family holiday in Portugal, I had a few days free before meeting up with relatives. Looking at the map I realised several of the key Peninsular War battlefields could be covered in the short time available. Starting in Lisbon I made straight for the Spanish border and the battlefield of Albuera, stopping the night in Elvas.

Elvas is a short distance from Badajoz,and as such represents one of the two key routes between Spain and Portugal,the other being the Ciudad Rodrigo-Almeida axis in the north of the country. It’s not hard to understand how a majority of the battles and campaigning took place around these sites, as control of both routes could either ensure successful defence of Portugal for the British, prior to any invasion of Spain, or visa versa for the French.

The fortress at Elvas was constructed shortly after Portugal regained her independence from Spain in the 1640’s, and subsequently added to in the following decades. It resembles a classic Vauban fortress, similar in size to it’s the northern fortress of Almeida. This was Wellingtons base for many of the southern campaigns and was never taken by the French. The walls are impressive, and command most of the surrounding countryside. Two hills outside the town walls were also fortified to ensure the towns’ security (both of which still belong to the Portuguese army).

Within the town you can find the British cemetery, containing many graves of soldiers from Wellington’s army, especially a large number of dead from the Battle of Albuera, and a commemoration memorial.