Battle of Nivelle

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Battle of Nivelle
Part of the Peninsular War
Bataille de la Nivelle.jpg
Gravure of the battle
Date10 November 1813
Location
Result Allied victory
Belligerents
Flag of France.svg French Empire Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom
Flag Portugal (1750).svg Portugal
Flag of Spain (1785-1873, 1875-1931).svg  Spain
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France.svg Nicolas Jean de Dieu Soult Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Duke of Wellington
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Baronet of Woodbrook
Strength
60,000 80,000
Casualties and losses
4,351 killed or wounded 2,450 killed or wounded

The Battle of Nivelle (10 November 1813) took place in front of the River Nivelle near the end of the Peninsular War (1808–1814). After the Allied siege of San Sebastian, Wellington's 80,000 British, Portuguese and Spanish troops (20,000 of the Spaniards were untried in battle) were in hot pursuit of Marshal Soult who had 60,000 men to place in a 20-mile perimeter. After the Light Division, the main British army was ordered to attack and the 3rd Division split Soult's army into two. By 2 o'clock, Soult was in retreat and the British in a strong offensive position. Soult had lost 4,351 men to Wellington's 2,450.

Peninsular War War by Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom against the French Empire (1807–1814)

The Peninsular War (1807–1814) was a military conflict between Napoleon's empire and Bourbon Spain, for control of the Iberian Peninsula during the Napoleonic Wars. The war began when the French and Spanish armies invaded and occupied Portugal in 1807, and escalated in 1808 when France turned on Spain, previously its ally. The war on the peninsula lasted until the Sixth Coalition defeated Napoleon in 1814, and is regarded as one of the first wars of national liberation, significant for the emergence of large-scale guerrilla warfare.

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington British soldier and statesman

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, was an Anglo-Irish soldier and Tory statesman who was one of the leading military and political figures of 19th-century Britain, serving twice as Prime Minister. His victory against Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 puts him in the first rank of Britain's military heroes.

Division (military) large military unit or formation

A division is a large military unit or formation, usually consisting of between 10,000 and 20,000 soldiers. Infantry divisions during the World Wars ranged between 8,000 and 30,000 in nominal strength.

Contents

Background

In the Siege of San Sebastian, the Anglo-Portuguese stormed and captured the port at the beginning of September 1813. In the Battle of San Marcial on 31 August, Soult failed to break through the Spanish defences in his final attempt to relieve the siege. The French army then fell back to defend the Bidassoa River, which forms the French-Spanish frontier near the coast.

Anglo-Portuguese Army

The Anglo-Portuguese Army was the combined British and Portuguese army that participated in the Peninsular War, under the command of Arthur Wellesley. The Army is also referred to as the British-Portuguese Army and, in Portuguese, as the Exército Anglo-Luso or the Exército Anglo-Português.

Battle of San Marcial

The Battle of San Marcial was a battle fought during the Peninsular War on 31 August 1813. The Spanish Army of Galicia, led by Manuel Freire, turned back Marshal Nicolas Soult's last major offensive against the army of Britain's Marquess of Wellington.

At dawn on 7 October the Anglo-Allied army overran the French river defences in the Battle of the Bidassoa in a surprise crossing. During this action, the allies also captured several fortified positions in the area of La Rhune mountain. Both sides lost about 1,600 men in these actions.

Disposition

A map of the battle Battle of Nivelle map.jpg
A map of the battle

Arrayed in front of the course of the River Nivelle, whose route was marked by a series of hills on which the French had built strong defensive positions or redoubts, was the French army under Marshal Soult. Soult's lines stretched from the shores of the Atlantic on the French right flank to the snow-covered pass of Roncesvalles on the left, a perimeter of about 20 miles. With only 60,000 men, Soult was stretched to an almost impossible point. This also means that he could not hold troops back as reserves, something which may have turned the tide of the battle. As Soult moved back to his base at Bayonne, his position strengthened but he was not quick enough and Wellington caught him up.

A military reserve, reserve formation, or simply reserve, is a group of military personnel or units that is initially not committed to a battle by its commander, so that it remains available to address unforeseen situations or exploit sudden opportunities. Such a force may be held back to defend against attack from other enemy forces, to be committed to the existing battle if the enemy exposes a vulnerability, or to serve as relief for troops already fighting. Some of the different categories of military reserves are: tactical reserve, operational reserve, and strategic reserve.

Bayonne Subprefecture and commune in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France

Bayonne is a city and commune and one of the two sub-prefectures of the department of Pyrénées-Atlantiques, in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of south-western France. It is located at the confluence of the Nive and Adour rivers in the northern part of the cultural region of the Basque Country, as well as the southern part of Gascony where the Aquitaine basin joins the beginning of the Pre-Pyrenees.

The French position was dominated by the Greater Rhune, a gorse-covered, craggy mountain nearly 3,000 feet high. Separated from the Greater Rhune by a ravine, roughly 700 yards below it, is the Lesser Rhune along the precipitous crest of which the French had constructed three defensive positions. If the French defences on La Rhune could be taken Soult's position would become very dangerous as it would open him to attack from all elements of the British three point pincer plan.

Wellington's plan was to distribute troops along the whole of Soult's line but make his main attack in the centre. Any breakthrough in the centre or the French left flank would enable the British to cut off the French right Flank. So, Wellington ordered that the British left (attacking the French right) would be led by Sir John Hope and would involve the 1st and 5th Divisions as well as Freire's Spaniards. Beresford would lead the main Allied attack against the French centre with the 3rd, 4th, 7th and Light Divisions, while on the British right (attacking the French left ) Hill would attack with the 2nd and 6th Divisions, supported by Morillo's Spaniards and Hamilton's Portuguese. Wellington decided to attack on 10 November.

Flanking maneuver military tactic

In military tactics, a flanking maneuver, or flanking manoeuvre is a movement of an armed force around a flank to achieve an advantageous position over an enemy. Flanking is useful because a force's offensive power is concentrated in its front. Therefore, to circumvent a force's front and attack a flank is to concentrate offense in the area when the enemy is least able to concentrate offense.

John Hope, 4th Earl of Hopetoun British Army general

General John Hope, 4th Earl of Hopetoun PC KB FRSE, known as the Honourable John Hope from 1781 to 1814 and as the Lord Niddry from 1814 to 1816, was a Scottish politician and British Army officer.

1st Infantry Division (United Kingdom) British Army combat formation

The 1st Infantry Division was a regular army infantry division of the British Army with a very long history. The division was present at the Peninsular War, the Crimean War, the First World War, and during the Second World War and was finally disbanded in 1960.

Battle

The battle started just before dawn as the Light Division headed towards the plateau on the summit of the Greater Rhune (the summit had been garrisoned by French troops but they had fled after the skirmish on the River Bidassoa, fearing to be cut off from their own army). The objective of the division was to sweep the three defensive forts the French had constructed out of the battle. They moved down into the ravine in front of the Lesser Rhune and were ordered to lie down and await the order to attack. After the signal from a battery of cannon, the offensive began. It started with the men of the 43rd, 52nd and 95th - with the 17th Portuguese infantry Regiment in support - storming the redoubts on the crest of the Rhune. Despite this being a risky move and the men being almost exhausted, the surprise and boldness of the British sent the French fleeing towards other forts on other hills.

John Colborne John Colborne.jpg
John Colborne

While the 43rd and 95th were dealing with the French on the Rhune, there still remained one very strong star-shaped fort below on the Mouiz plateau which reached out towards the coast. This was attacked by Colborne's 52nd Light Infantry, supported by riflemen from the 95th. Once again, the French were surprised and the British succeeded. They had, in the French eyes, appeared from the ground at which point, in danger of being cut off, the French soldiers quickly fled leaving Colborne in possession of the fort and other trenches without loss of a single fatal casualty.

Shortly, the main British assault began with the nine divisions fanning out over a five-mile front. When the 3rd division took the bridge at Amotz, all French resistance broke as any communication between the two halves of Soult's army was now impossible. The French resistance melted away and soon they were in full retreat (by 2 o'clock they were streaming across the Nivelle) having lost 4351 men to Wellington's 2450.

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References

    Further reading