Battle of Pancorbo (1808)

Last updated
Battle of Pancorbo
Part of the Peninsular War
Date31 October 1808
Location
Result Indecisive
Belligerents
Flag of France.svg French Empire Flag of Spain (1785-1873, 1875-1931).svg  Spain
Commanders and leaders
François Joseph Lefebvre Joaquín Blake
Strength
24,000
36 guns
19,000
6 guns
Casualties and losses
200 killed or wounded [1] 300 killed or wounded
300 captured [2]

The Battle of Pancorbo (or Zornoza), fought on 31 October 1808, was one of the opening engagements in Napoleon's invasion of Spain involving the French IV corps of three infantry divisions and 36 cannon, and the Army of Galicia of three infantry divisions and having 6 guns engaged. The battle was intended to encircle and crush the left wing of the Spanish front that stretched from Cantabria to the Mediterranean Sea. However, on October 31, Lefebvre disobeyed Napoleon's orders and launched his IV Corps into a premature attack against Blake at Pancorbo. Blake was deeply disturbed by the appearance of French forces and took immediate measures to withdraw his troops and guns. The Spanish infantry, fighting without artillery support, was swiftly thrown back but escaped in good order.

Spain Kingdom in Southwest Europe

Spain, officially the Kingdom of Spain, is a country mostly located in Europe. Its continental European territory is situated on the Iberian Peninsula. Its territory also includes two archipelagoes: the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, and the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea. The African enclaves of Ceuta, Melilla, and Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera make Spain the only European country to have a physical border with an African country (Morocco). Several small islands in the Alboran Sea are also part of Spanish territory. The country's mainland is bordered to the south and east by the Mediterranean Sea except for a small land boundary with Gibraltar; to the north and northeast by France, Andorra, and the Bay of Biscay; and to the west and northwest by Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean.

Cantabria Autonomous community and province of Spain

Cantabria is an autonomous community in northern Spain with Santander as its capital city. It is recognized as a historic community and is bordered on the east by the Basque Autonomous Community, on the south by Castile and León, on the west by the Principality of Asturias, and on the north by the Cantabrian Sea.

Mediterranean Sea Sea connected to the Atlantic Ocean between Europe, Africa and Asia

The Mediterranean Sea is a sea connected to the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by the Mediterranean Basin and almost completely enclosed by land: on the north by Southern Europe and Anatolia, on the south by North Africa and on the east by the Levant. Although the sea is sometimes considered a part of the Atlantic Ocean, it is usually identified as a separate body of water. Geological evidence indicates that around 5.9 million years ago, the Mediterranean was cut off from the Atlantic and was partly or completely desiccated over a period of some 600,000 years, the Messinian salinity crisis, before being refilled by the Zanclean flood about 5.3 million years ago.

Contents

Background

On October 31, 1808, Marshal François Lefebvre bloodied the Army of Galicia under Lieutenant General Joaquín Blake but failed to encircle or destroy it, upsetting both the Emperor and the French strategic situation.

François Joseph Lefebvre Marshal of France

François Joseph Lefebvre, Duc de Dantzig, was a French military commander during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and one of the original eighteen Marshals of the Empire created by Napoleon.

The Army of Galicia was a Spanish military unit that took part in the Peninsular War against Napoleon’s French Grande Armée.

Emperor of the French title used by the House of Bonaparte

Emperor of the French was the monarch of the First French Empire and the Second French Empire.

Under Napoleon's guidance, the French had made meticulous preparations to annihilate Blake's position and thereby crush the left wing of the Spanish front that stretched from Cantabria to the Mediterranean Sea. Owing to friction with the Spanish authorities and a lack of coordination by the Central Junta, Blake, for his part, had no confidence in the Spanish deployment and could do little but conduct a cautious advance in the direction of Bilbao.

In the Napoleonic era, junta was the name chosen by several local administrations formed in Spain during the Peninsular War as a patriotic alternative to the official administration toppled by the French invaders. The juntas were usually formed by adding prominent members of society, such as prelates, to the already-existing ayuntamientos. The juntas of the capitals of the traditional peninsular kingdoms of Spain styled themselves "Supreme Juntas", to differentiate themselves from, and claim authority over, provincial juntas. Juntas were also formed in Spanish America during this period in reaction to the developments in Spain.

Bilbao Municipality in Basque Country, Spain

Bilbao is a city in northern Spain, the largest city in the province of Biscay and in the Basque Country as a whole. It is also the largest city proper in northern Spain. Bilbao is the tenth largest city in Spain, with a population of 345,141 as of 2015. The Bilbao metropolitan area has roughly 1 million inhabitants, making it one of the most populous metropolitan areas in northern Spain; with a population of 875,552 the comarca of Greater Bilbao is the fifth-largest urban area in Spain. Bilbao is also the main urban area in what is defined as the Greater Basque region.

Forces

Lefebvre's IV Corps included three infantry divisions and 36 cannon. Major-General Horace Sébastiani's 1st Division contained the 28th Light and 75th Line (3 battalions) and the 32nd and 58th Line (2 bns.). Maj-Gen Leval's 2nd Division was made up of the Dutch brigade and 2 bns. each of the 2nd Nassau, 4th Baden and Hesse-Darmstadt Gross-und-Erbprinz Regiments, and the Paris National Guard and Frankfurt battalions. Maj-Gen Eugene-Casimir Villatte's 3rd Division included 3 bns. each of the 27th Light, 63rd, 94th and 95th Line.

Horace François Bastien Sébastiani de La Porta soldier, diplomat

Horace François Bastien Sébastiani de La Porta was a French soldier, diplomat, and politician, who served as Naval Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Minister of State under the July Monarchy.

Dutch Brigade (Peninsular War)

The Dutch Brigade was a unit of the Royal Army of the Kingdom of Holland. It was sent out in September 1808, by King Louis Bonaparte at the request of his brother Emperor Napoleon of France, to take part in the Peninsular War on the French side. The brigade, under the command of Major-General David Hendrik Chassé, was made part of the so-called "German Division". The Division also consisted of units from the Nassau, the Baden and other German allies of the French empire under command of the French general Leval. It was, in turn, part of the IVth French Corps under command of Marshals Lefebvre and Sébastiani, and was later part of the Ist Corps of Marshal Victor. The brigade distinguished itself initially in several major battles, and was later employed mainly in counter-guerrilla warfare. After the annexation of the Kingdom of Holland by the French empire in 1810, the brigade was formally decommissioned and its personnel, now French subjects, absorbed into the French 123rd Line Infantry Regiment, and later into the 130th Line Infantry Regiment, the other battalions of the 123rd back home being reassigned to the Russian campaign of 1812.

Blake's Army of Galicia contained three infantry divisions, a vanguard and a reserve. General Figueroa commanded the 1st Division (4,000), Gen Riquelme the 3rd Division (4,800), Gen Carbajal the 4th Division (3,500), Gen Mendizabal (2,900) the Vanguard and Gen Mahy the Reserve (3,000). Only six of Blake's guns came into action. [3]

Battle

On October 31, Lefebvre disobeyed Napoleon's orders and launched his IV Corps into a premature attack against Blake at Pancorbo. Blake was deeply disturbed by the appearance of French forces and took immediate measures to withdraw his troops and guns. The Spanish infantry, fighting without artillery support, was swiftly thrown back but escaped in good order.

Corps military unit size

Corps is a term used for several different kinds of organisation. A military innovation by Napoleon, the formation was first named as such in 1805.

Artillery class of weapons which fires munitions beyond the range and power of personal weapons

Artillery is a class of heavy military ranged weapons built to launch munitions far beyond the range and power of infantry's small arms. Early artillery development focused on the ability to breach defensive walls and fortifications during sieges, and led to heavy, fairly immobile siege engines. As technology improved, lighter, more mobile field artillery cannons developed for battlefield use. This development continues today; modern self-propelled artillery vehicles are highly mobile weapons of great versatility providing the large share of an army's total firepower.

Casualties

Lefebvre lost 200 casualties and Blake 600. Although the French had managed something of a tactical victory, the battle was a definite strategic blunder: Blake escaped the French trap and conducted a crafty withdrawal, checked his pursuers at Valmaseda, and was not caught until November 10. Ultimately, however, the overwhelming strength of Napoleon's Grande Armée allowed the French to sweep past the tottering Spanish defences and capture Madrid by year's end.

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References

  1. Chandler, p. 632.
  2. Smith, p. 269.
  3. Smith, p 268-269. French and Spanish orders of battle.

Bibliography