198th Anniversary of the Battle of Albuhera

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by diehard57, May 16, 2009.

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  1. The battle of Albuhera was fought on 16th May 1811 during the Peninsula War against the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte of France. Albuhera was a small village on the road to Badajoz, a fortress town held by the French but besieged by the British. In an effort to relieve the siege, the French despatched a large force under Marshal Soult. On hearing of the French plans, Wellington despatched an allied force of 8,400 British, Spanish, Portuguese and Kings German Legion (KGL) troops under General Beresford, a British officer in the service of the Portuguese. All the British battalions were under strength and in some cases uniforms were worn out. Alten’s King’s German Legion troops were well led and disciplined but the Spanish and Portuguese were untried in battle and of dubious quality. Soult was in command of 24,000 experienced French troops supported by a cavalry brigade of Polish Lancers and French Hussars and more than 60 artillery pieces.

    Houghton’s Brigade, in the centre of the British 2nd Division, contained the 1/29th, the 57th and the 1/48th Regiments of Foot. The 57th Regiment of Foot (West Middlesex) was commanded by Colonel William Inglis. It had a strength of 30 Officers and 470 men. Colborne's Brigade was on the right of the British line and this contained four battalions – the 1/3rd, the 2/31st, the 2/48th and the 2/66th Regiments of Foot.

    Just after breakfast, Soult launched a feint attack on the KGL in Albuhera with 3500 men of Godinet’s brigade. The remainder of the French force wheeled left to launch the main attack on the allied army. Colborne, fearing that the Spanish might not hold, positioned his brigade to strengthen the Spanish right flank. As the French closed to within about 100 yards, a violent thunderstorm suddenly descended cutting visibility to almost nil. Through the blinding sheets of rain and hail, Colborne’s troops on the right flank could see large dark shapes looming straight for them, and felt the ground shaking beneath their pounding weight. Suddenly there was a cry of “CAVALRY!”……….


    The 3rd of Foot (The Buffs) at Albuhera

    A strong force of about 800 French Hussars and the merciless Polish Uhlan Lancers appeared out of the rain and attacked the 1/3rd of Foot (The Buffs) who were still in line – the worst formation for infantry to fight cavalry. The Buffs Colours naturally, attracted the most attention. Ensign Thomas, a lad of just 16 was heard to say - ‘Only with my life!’ - The French took his life and the Regimental Colour with it. Ensign Walsh was also wounded and in danger of losing the King’s Colour when Lieutenant Matthew Latham rushed over to take it from him. Latham defended the Colour furiously – a sabre cut took away half his face and another severed his left arm. Under the jostling horde of hooves, Latham was left for dead. With the Buffs almost decimated, the remaining battalions of Colborne’s Brigade - still in line - prepared to receive the full force of the cavalry attack. The 1/31st sensing the danger they were in quickly formed a ‘rallying square’ from line using an original manoeuvre developed by Major L’Estrange. By doing so they certainly saved themselves from annihilation.


    'Steady the Drums and Fifes' - The 57th (West Middlesex) Regiment 16th May 1811

    By now Houghton had been joined by Abercrombie’s Brigade on the left and the remnants of the 1/31st on the right. The two brigades formed a firing line shoulder to shoulder – but it was still only about 3200 bayonets against 8500. The 57th of Foot (West Middlesex), although one of the junior battalions of the Division held the centre of the line – normally the most hazardous place on the battlefield. Early in the battle, Colonel Inglis was severely wounded with grapeshot piercing his lung yet he refused to be removed to the rear and remained with the colours. For three hours, perhaps more, the agony lasted, yet not a man moved except to close the ever-shortening British line. Through all the crash and clatter, the moans, curses and screams, a voice could be heard calmly repeating…. “Die-Hard 57th, Die-Hard”….

    The voice was that of William Inglis, by doing as they were bidden the 57th of Foot earned themselves undying glory and an immortal nickname – the “Die-Hards”

    Sensing that the battle could still be lost, General Lowry Cole - in reserve two miles to the north of Albuhera - used his own initiative and ordered the Fusilier Brigade to advance and support the right flank of the 2nd Division which was in danger of being turned by the French. Linking up with the 2nd Division’s right flank, the Fusilier Brigade poured volley after volley into the flanks of the French. With the orders “Close Up” “Close In” “Fire Away” and “Advance“, the Fusiliers began a steady advance along the ridge sweeping the French in their path.


    The Fusiliers at Albuhera

    By now the French could stand no more and turned and broke leaving the bodies of the dead and the wounded piled high in heaps. The historian William Napier, in his history of the Peninsula War wrote, “The mighty mass gave way and like a loosened cliff went headlong down the steep”. Sensing victory in the air the remnants of the 57th joined in the advance with the Fusiliers. There was a cry from Beresford – “Stop! Stop the 57th! – It would be a sin to let them go on!” But it is unlikely that this order was received by the Regiment

    Marshal Soult later angrily recorded “There is no beating these troops. They were completely beaten, the day was mine, and they did not know it and would not run”. Wellington dryly observed - “Another such battle would ruin us”

    Following the battle, the Regimental Colour of the Buffs that cost Ensign Thomas his life was later recovered by a sergeant in the 7th Foot (Royal Fusiliers). The Kings Colour of the 3rd Foot was also found - ripped from its staff, covered in blood and mud, inside the tunic of an officer barely alive and slashed beyond recognition. This officer turned out to be Lieutenant Latham. He later received medical treatment at the personal expense of the Prince of Wales. He continued in the service, heavily disfigured, one armed and blind in one eye.

    The battle of Albuhera began at 8.00am on the 16th May 1811 and six hours later it had ended. 4,159 British casualties had been sustained. The French losses, although never made official for fear of Napoleons wrath, exceeded 10,000. Spanish and Portuguese losses were 2,000. The 3rd of Foot (the Buffs) lost 633 out of 725. The 1/31st of Foot (later the East Surrey Regiment) lost 155 out of 398. The 57th of Foot (later the Middlesex Regiment) - who faced the onslaught longest without flinching, lost 20 out of 30 officers and 420 out of 570 rank and file yet not a man was found to be missing. Beresford later wrote - "our dead, particularly the 57th Regiment, were lying as they fought in the ranks, every wound in front". In special recognition of their contribution, the 57th were granted the unique honour of carrying the battle honour ‘Albuhera’ on their cap badge as well as on their Colours.

    In 1966 these the descendants of the 3rd, 31st and 57th Regiments of Foot – the Queens Own Buffs, the Queen’s Royal Surreys and the Middlesex were amalgamated with the Royal Sussex to form the Queen’s Regiment. It was therefore fitting that the 16th May – Albuhera Day – be chosen as the most important day within the Regiment. In 1992 when the Queen’s Regiment was amalgamated with the Royal Hampshire Regiment to form the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, Albuhera was adopted as the main regimental battle honour.

    Following the battle, the survivors of the 57th of Foot gathered in a Spanish tavern and vowed never to forget their comrade’s sacrifice. From this meeting grew the ‘Diehard Ceremony’ a tradition within the Middlesex Regiment in which a loving cup was passed in silence - ‘to the immortal memory’, between the regiments Officers and SNCO’s This tradition was later inherited by the Queen’s Regiment and subsequently by the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (PWRR).

    “To The Immortal Memory”
  2. Good write-up. I enjoyed reading that. :cheers:

    Not to attempt to undermine the actions of the Buffs etc. but Napier's quote in full:

    I've always remembered this account as among my grandfather's papers was a small copperplate script containing the bold lines that was handed to each member of another Fusilier Brigade on the eve of the Gallipoli Landings in 1915.

    It's this continued history that sets the British regimental system apart.
  3. The Farnham Branch of the Queens Regiment Association drank the silent toast on the ramparts of the Menin Gate on 16th May this year. We also included two regular PWRR soldiers who were at the Menin Gate with their troops from an ATR.

    A very poignant ceremony.
  4. It is the 200th anniversary of the battle of Talavera (27th-28th Jul 1809) this year, and one common link with Albuhera stands out...The desertion of the Spanish troops, leaving the "Iron men of the peninsular" to try and break the French alone. On both occasions and many others they did. They only blotted their copybooks once in all the campaign, at Badajoz. Where they slaughtered men, women and children for no other reason than sport.

    The Peninsular campaign was without doubt the hardest conflict ever undertaken by the British soldier! In every respect he came into his own and passed every test of exhaustion, starvation, degradation and disease put before him. He took all this and still had the fortitude to defeat Napoleons elite and secure victory.

    Wellington, the great leader of this campaign had nothing but contempt for his troops, and quite openly displayed this to them. The savagery with which he treated them was incredible, a number of years later he even opposed the issue of medals to those who had served him throughout the campaign. This i feel as much as anything expresses the quality of the soldiers against the quality of their leaders. Every battle of the Peninsular should i feel be remembered, The siege at Albuhera is a prime example of the heroism of the soldiers. General Beresfords army was barely a third the size of General Soults and nowhere near a match in experience. Yet they overcame these odds and took the town through force of will...Officers who later visited the battlesite were impressed by the way in which the men of the 57th had fallen- In ranks with every wound to the front. Wellington was even moved to say that"This action is one of the most glorious and honourable to the troops of any that have been fought during this war. The final words should i believe be left to General Soult... There is no beating these troops, in spite of their generals. I always thought them bad soldiers, now i am sure of it. For at Albuhera i turned their right, pierced their centre, broke them everywhere; The day was mine, and yet they did not know it, and would not run".
    Later historians called it "The most noble of all the Peninsular blazons on a regimental flag".....Enough said!
  5. I have to admit I hadn't read much about the Peninsular campaign, so many thanks for posting. I'll be looking out for any histories on the subject. Any suggestions?
  6. DIE HARD THE 57th!!!!! Would've been my regt had I lived in that era probably, being from staines...
  7. My God, that story made a shiver go down my spine. It made me proud to be British. I lost my great uncle who was a Die Hard at the Somme, he was 19 years old
  8. Albuhera was not just a battle by the Die Hard 57th, some 11 infantry regiments and 2 cavalry regiments were given the battle honour "Albuhera" to place on their colours or guidons.

    The last surviving member of the Die Hards, was Henry Holloway who was a drummer boy at Albuhera. He lived at Lydd in Kent. In 1888 the 1st btn 57th was marching past his home, without warning, the whole battalion was halted and gave him the honour of a general salute. On his death he bequeathed his military general service medal 1793 - 1814 (with 5 bars) to the regiment. It forms the stem of the loving cup that is taken from the Officers mess to the Sergeants mess of the 1st Btn, every Albuhera day and from which the toast is drunk to the fallen at Albuhera.

    After the battle, the Buffs mustered for roll call, only 3 privates and a drummer boy answered. Corporal Thomas Robinson led the remnants of his company of Royal Welch Fusiliers.

    It was also at Albuhera, that Napoleons Polish Lancers so impressed the British with their ability to drive the enemy, that in 1819 new Lancer regiments were formed and introduced into the British army.

    The achievements of the soldiers under Wellingtons command during the Peninsular campaign can be summed up thus; Quoting Napier "They had won 19 pitched battles and innumerable combats, they had made or withstood 10 sieges and taken four major forts, they had twice thrown the French out of Portugal and once out of Spain, they had brought off some of the most remarkable river crossings in history - The passage of the Douro was a classic of it's type. They had finally invaded France itself. In doing all this they had killed, wounded or captured 200.000 enemies. Their own losses were 40.000 dead". Wellington ordered his commanders to " Give their men three route marches a week" to prevent them becoming sickly. In May 1813 the Iron men of the Peninsular undertook their greatest physical test of the campaign, over six weeks Wellingtons army marched more than 600 miles, crossed six rivers, gained victory at Vittoria,captured two fortresses and drove 120.000 veteran French troops out of Spain.

    There is one final tale to relate; When the allied armies reached Paris in 1814, Wellington guaranteed there would be no crimes commited against the city or it's people. General Blucher on the other hand, promised to blow up any bridge to wipe out the humiliation of the Prussian defeat by the French at Jena in 1806. The Parisians were terrified he would destroy their beloved Pont d'lena. Blucher had his engineers place demolition charges at the bridges foundations, but Wellington placed a single sentry on the bridge. The sentry simply carried out his orders and prowled the bridge, the Prussians were bested both morally and psychologically by this act and abandoned their plans for the bridge.

    No wonder they were known as the "Iron Men Of The Peninsular"!!
  9. Sadly, the events of 1815 and Waterloo in particular, have overshadowed the Peninsular War in the popular imagination and the presence of what we'd now call War-correpondents in the Crimea, raised the public awareness of the conditions in which soldiers lived, fought and died to the point where the (arguably) worse conditions in the Peninsular, are forgotten.

    To my mind, the Peninsula campaign was probably the hardest ever undertaken by a British army, fought in the most difficult circumstances and with total success. Yet it is little known outside military circles and even within, it is little more than a few seemingly obscure names on the Colours for many.

    Our former adversary however, has the names prominently displayed on the Arc de Triomphe.

  10. Noticed with interest that the battle of Ocana is there...Ocana (19 Nov 1809) was the largest pitched battle of the Peninsular campaign (50,000 Spanish & 30,000 French) and was one of Napoleons biggest victories in Spain. After Talavera (27-28 July 1809), where the Spaniards ran from the battlefield, Wellington refused to have anything to do with them,He removed his forces back to Portugal. Left to their own devices they were defeated by the dithering of their commander Areizaga, who waited too long to act. This allowed soult to gather his forces and attack the centre of the Spanish army with his cavalry, which unsurprisingly collapsed and then retreated. Some 4000 Spaniards were Killed and 15000 were captured, Soult had 2000 killed or wounded. This debacle left the route to Madrid very much at Napoleons mercy.

    They claim Corunna as a victory?...More like a draw i think. But that's a different story.
  11. That's not all they claim.

    There's a Napoleonic museum in the top of the Arc. In there, it's claimed that Napoleon went to war to prevent English expansionism in continental Europe!

    I've never understood the cult of Bonaparte. He wasn't far removed from Hitler in his desire to rule the world.
  12. I'm just about to start painting figures for 1/7th and 1/23rd . Can anyone confirm that as Fusiliers these regts would both have shoulder wings and all white plumes for ALL companies during the period of the peninsular war ? The print in the OP would seem to confirm this information. Thanks .
  13. Yes, Fusiliers had the same Shoulders as Grenadiers, and blue facings.
  14. Ilech. Thanks for the quick reply. I'll not hold it against you for being welsh, my ancesteors originally came from Wales before they invaded Ireland in the 12th century . Later they came back to the mainland. Just Scotland to do now and then we've got the full set of the Union in our genes !
  15. Andy_S

    Andy_S LE Book Reviewer

    Nice write up.

    Worth noting that prior to being branded "The Diehards" the regiment was known as "The Steelbacks" - apparently they were not the best-behaved lads, and had a propensity for being lashed.

    On a separate issue:
    Does such a thing as a combined Middlesex/Queens/PWRR Regimental Association exist? I ask as I have a new book coming out on one of the Middlesex's least-known campaigns (Korea, 1950) and while I am in touch with the regiment's "Korea Club," any broader association would be a useful contact.

    If such an org does exist, and anyone has names and/or numbers - and can post 'em here or PM me - I would be most appreciative.