Battle of the Bidassoa

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Battle of the Bidassoa (1813)
Part of Peninsular War
Battle of the Bidassoa - October 9th 1813 - Fonds Ancely - B315556101 A HEATH 032.jpg
Battle of the Bidassoa, 9 October 1813.
Date7 October 1813
LocationNear Hendaye, France and La Rhune
Result Tactical Allied victory
Flag of France.svg French Empire Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom
Flag of Portugal (1750).svg Portugal
Flag of Spain (1785-1873 and 1875-1931).svg Spain
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France.svg Nicolas Soult Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Marquess Wellington
62,000 [1] 89,000 [2]
Casualties and losses
1,676, [3] 17 cannons [4] 825 [5]

In the Battle of the Bidasoa (or the Battle of Larrun) on 7 October 1813 the Allied army of Arthur Wellesley, Marquess of Wellington wrested a foothold on French soil from Nicolas Soult's French army. The Allied troops overran the French lines behind the Bidassoa River on the coast and along the Pyrenees crest between the Bidasoa and La Rhune (Larrun). The nearest towns to the fighting are Irun on the lower Bidassoa and Bera on the middle Bidasoa. The battle occurred during the Peninsular War, part of the wider Napoleonic Wars.

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.

Pyrenees Range of mountains in southwest Europe

The Pyrenees is a range of mountains in southwest Europe that forms a natural border between Spain and France. Reaching a height of 3,404 metres (11,168 ft) altitude at the peak of Aneto, the range separates the Iberian Peninsula from the rest of continental Europe, and extends for about 491 km (305 mi) from the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean Sea.

Irun Municipality in Basque Country, Spain

Irun is a town of the Bidasoaldea region in the province of Gipuzkoa in the Basque Autonomous Community, Spain. It lies on the foundations of the ancient Oiasso, cited as a Roman-Vasconic town during the period.


Wellington aimed his main assault at the lower Bidasoa, while sending additional troops to attack Soult's center. Believing his coastal sector secure, Soult held the right flank with a relatively weak force while concentrating most of his strength on his left flank in the mountains. However, the British general obtained local intelligence that indicated that water levels on the lower river were much lower than the French suspected. After careful planning, Wellington launched a surprise assault which easily overran the French left flank defenses. In the center, his army also won through the French defenses, though his Spanish allies were repulsed in one attack. At the beginning of the fighting, Soult realized that his left flank was in no danger, but it was too late to reinforce his positions on the right. Some French generals were shocked at how poorly their soldiers fought.



In the Battle of San Marcial on 31 August and 1 September 1813, Soult's army was repelled in its final bid to advance into Spain. After a costly assault followed by a brutal sack of the city, the Allies also brought the Siege of San Sebastián to a successful conclusion in early September. A French garrison held out in the Siege of Pamplona which would end in a surrender on October 31. Wellington determined to create a bridgehead across the Bidassoa River. If successful, his army would be the first Allied army to establish itself on French soil.[ citation needed ] The British commander also wanted to capture French positions that overlooked the Allied lines on the west side of the Bidassoa. [6]

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.

Siege of San Sebastián

In the Siege of San Sebastián Allied forces under the command of Arthur Wellesley, Marquess of Wellington captured the city of San Sebastián in northern Basque Country from its French garrison under Louis Emmanuel Rey. The attack resulted in the ransacking and devastation of the town by fire.

Siege of Pamplona (1813)

In the Siege of Pamplona a Spanish force led by Captain General Henry O'Donnell and later Major General Carlos de España blockaded an Imperial French garrison under the command of General of Brigade Louis Pierre Jean Cassan. At first, troops under Arthur Wellesley, Marquess Wellington surrounded the city, but they were soon replaced by Spanish units. In late July 1813, Marshal Nicolas Soult attempted to relieve the city but his operation failed in the Battle of the Pyrenees. Cassan capitulated to the Spanish after the French troops in the city were reduced to starvation. The surrender negotiations were marred by French bluffs to blow up the fortifications and Spanish threats to massacre the garrison, neither of which occurred. Pamplona is located on the Arga River in the province of Navarre in northern Spain. The siege occurred during the Peninsular War, part of the Napoleonic Wars.


Because the French troops had begun to plunder their fellow citizens, Emperor Napoleon's Minister of War, Henri Jacques Guillaume Clarke ordered Marshal Soult to defend a position as close to the frontier as possible. He had to hold a 48 km (30 mi) front in the Pyrenees mountains. The area was highly defensible, but lateral communications were poor. [6]

Henri Jacques Guillaume Clarke French politician, diplomat and officer

Henri-Jacques-Guillaume Clarke, 1st Count of Hunebourg, 1st Duke of Feltre, born to Irish parents from Lisdowney, Co. Kilkenny, in Landrecies, was a politician and Marshal of France.

Marshal Nicolas Soult by L.H. de Rudder. Nicolas Jean de Dieu Soult.jpg
Marshal Nicolas Soult by L.H. de Rudder.

Deciding that the coastal sector was the strongest part of his line, Soult posted General of Division Honoré Charles Reille and 10,550 men to defend that sector. [7] Reille's command included General of Division Antoine Louis Popon de Maucune's 3,996-strong 7th Division and General of Division Pierre François Xavier Boyer's 6,515-strong 9th Division. Maucune held the lower Bidassoa on the Bay of Biscay, while Boyer defended the stream farther inland. [8] Behind them was the entrenched camp of Bordagain and the port of St-Jean-de-Luz [7] which were held by General of Division Eugene-Casimir Villatte's 8,018-man Reserve Division. [8]

Honoré Charles Reille French general

Honoré Charles Michel Joseph Reille was a Marshal of France, born in Antibes.

Antoine Louis Popon de Maucune led a French division against the British in 1811–1813 during the Peninsular War. He is referred to as Maucune in English-language sources. He joined the pioneer corps of the French army in 1786 and was a lieutenant by the time the French Revolutionary Wars broke out. He fought in the north in 1792 and in the Alps in 1793. Afterward he served in Italy through 1801. During this period, he fought at Arcole in 1796 and at the Trebbia, Novi and Genola in 1799. He was appointed to command the 39th Line Infantry Demi-Brigade and led it in the 1800 campaign.

Pierre François Xavier Boyer French soldier

Pierre François Xavier Boyer became a French division commander during the Napoleonic Wars. He joined a volunteer regiment in 1792. He fought in the Italian campaign of 1796 and participated in the French invasion of Egypt in 1798. He became a general of brigade in 1801 and took part in the Expedition to Saint-Domingue in 1802. While sailing back to France he was captured by the British. After being exchanged, he fought at Jena and Pultusk in 1806, Friedland in 1807 and Wagram in 1809. Transferred to Spain, Boyer led a dragoon division at Salamanca and Battle of Venta del Pozo in 1812 and Vitoria in 1813. He earned the nickname "Pedro the Cruel" for brutal actions against Spanish partisans. He led an infantry division at the Nivelle and the Nive in late 1813. His division was transferred to the fighting near Paris and he was promoted general of division in February 1814. He led his troops at Mormant, Craonne, Laon and Arcis-sur-Aube.

General of Division Bertrand Clausel held the center with 15,300 men under Generals of Division Nicolas François Conroux, Jean-Pierre Maransin, and Eloi Charlemagne Taupin. On the right, near the Bidassoa, stood the La Bayonette redoubt. Mont La Rhune (Larrun) rose in the center of Clausel's sector. His left touched the Nivelle River near Ainhoa. [7] Conroux's 4th Division numbered 4,962 men; Maransin's 5th Division counted 5,575 troops; Taupin's 8th Division had 4,778 soldiers and held the area just north of Bera. Soult's gunners, sappers, and other troops added up to 2,000 and his total forces numbered 55,088 effectives. His cavalry was stationed in the Nive valley. [8]

Nicolas François Conroux French general

Nicolas François Conroux, Baron de Pépinville became a division commander during the Napoleonic Wars and was killed fighting the British in southern France. In 1786 he joined the French Royal Army and by 1792 he was an officer in an infantry regiment. During the French Revolutionary Wars he fought at First Arlon, Second Arlon, Fleurus, the 1796 campaign in southern Germany, Valvasone, and the 1798 invasion of Naples. In 1802 he was given command of an infantry regiment.

Jean-Pierre Maransin French General

Jean-Pierre Maransin was a Général de Division of the First French Empire who saw action during the Peninsular War. He was made Colonel of the 1st Legion du Midi on 27 January 1807 and promoted to Général de Brigade on 8 November 1808. He fought at the Battle of Albuera on 16 May 1811. Maransin's final promotion to the rank of Général de Division occurred on 20 May 1813, and he was named Commander of the Légion d’Honneur on 15 December 1814.

Fearing an allied thrust over the Maya Pass and down the Nivelle River to the sea, Soult gave General of Division Jean-Baptiste Drouet, Comte d'Erlon 19,200 men to hold his left flank. D'Erlon's corps included the soldiers of Generals of Division Maximilien Sebastien Foy, Jean Barthélemy Darmagnac, Louis Jean Nicolas Abbé, and Augustin Darricau. These troops held a line from Ainhoa to the mountain fortress of St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, covering the Maya and Roncevaux Passes. [7] Darricau's 4,092-man 6th Division was deployed between Ainhoa and Sare; Abbé's 6,051-strong 3rd Division was west of Ainhoa; Darmagnac's 4,447-man 2nd Division held Ainhoa; Foy's 4,654-strong 1st Division held the fortress at the extreme left flank. [8]

Jean-Baptiste Drouet, Comte dErlon Marshal of France

Jean-Baptiste Drouet, Comte d'Erlon was a marshal of France and a soldier in Napoleon's Army. D'Erlon notably commanded the I Corps of the Armée du Nord at the battle of Waterloo.

Jean Barthélemy Darmagnac French soldier

Jean Barthélemy Claude Toussaint Darmagnac became a French division commander during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1791 he joined a volunteer battalion and soon became a captain. He fought with the 32nd Line Infantry Demi-Brigade against the Austrians in Italy. He participated in the French campaign in Egypt and Syria, being promoted to lead the regiment after distinguishing himself at the Battle of the Pyramids. He was badly wounded at Acre and promoted to general of brigade in 1801. Darmagnac fought at Austerlitz in 1805 and led the Paris guard in 1806–1807. Going to Spain, he was wounded at Medina de Rioseco and became a general of division in 1808. After serving as provincial governor, he assumed command of a combat division at Vitoria, the Pyrenees, the Bidassoa, the Nivelle, the Nive, Orthez, and Toulouse. After holding interior commands under the Bourbon Restoration he retired in 1831. His surname is one of the names inscribed under the Arc de Triomphe, on Column 36.

Louis Jean Nicolas Abbé became a French general during the Napoleonic Wars. He enlisted as a foot soldier in the royal army in 1784 and was a non-commissioned officer by 1792. He spent most of the French Revolutionary Wars fighting in Italy. In 1802 he joined the Saint-Domingue expedition. He was appointed colonel in command of the 23rd Light Infantry Regiment in 1803 and led the unit at Caldiero, Campo Tenese, Maida, and Amantea. Promoted to general of brigade in 1807, he led a brigade in 1809, fighting at Sacile, Caldiero, the Piave, Tarvis, Raab, and Wagram.

The Guards entering France, 7th Oct. 1813 by Robert Batty. The Guards entering France, 7th October 1813 - Fonds Ancely - B315556101 A BATTY 2 003.jpg
The Guards entering France, 7th Oct. 1813 by Robert Batty.

Wellington had 64,000 Anglo-Portuguese infantry and artillery, plus 25,000 Spanish soldiers from the Army of Galicia. Since cavalry was of little use in the mountains, the British commander sent most of his horse regiments to the rear, keeping a few light dragoons for patrolling. In order to gain his bridgehead, Wellington had to force a crossing of the Bidassoa estuary. The river was 910 metres (1,000 yards) wide and 6 metres (20 feet) deep at the high-water mark below the Île de la Conference. The French never suspected that there was only 4 feet (1.2 m) of water over the lower fords at certain low tides, a fact that the Allies gleaned from Basque fishermen. Allied intelligence knew that the next low tide was 7 October. [2]

The crossing was meticulously planned. Near the lower fords, British engineers built a turf wall near the river. This would shelter Andrew Hay's 5th Division during the time before it crossed the river. Wellington positioned five field batteries and three 18-pound siege cannon to provide fire support to the attacking infantry. [9]


Allied Army

Arthur Wellesley, Marquess of Wellington (89,000, 24,000 engaged) [10]

Coastal Sector [lower-alpha 1] La Rhune Sector [lower-alpha 1]

French Army

Soult's Army defending the Bidassoa River in October 1813 [8]
Corps Division Battalions Strength
General of Division Honoré Charles Reille
7th Division: General of Division Antoine Louis Popon de Maucune 8 3,996
9th Division: General of Division Pierre François Joseph Boyer 12 6,515
General of Division Bertrand Clausel
4th Division: General of Division Nicolas François Conroux 9 4,962
5th Division: General of Division Jean-Pierre Maransin 9 5,575
8th Division: General of Division Eloi Charlemagne Taupin 10 4,778
General of Division Jean-Baptiste Drouet, Comte d'Erlon
1st Division: General of Division Maximilien Sebastien Foy 8 4,654
2nd Division: General of Division Jean Barthélemy Darmagnac 9 4,447
3rd Division: General of Division Louis Jean Nicolas Abbé 8 6,051
6th Division: General of Division Augustin Darricau 7 4,092
General of Division Eugene-Casimir Villatte
8th Division: General of Division Eugene-Casimir Villatte 18 8,018
Artillery: - 2,000


At 7:25 am the 5th Division launched its attack from near Hondarribia (Fuenterrabia). It came as a complete surprise to the French, who had deployed only Maucune's 4,000 men to defend six km (four miles) of river. Immediately, Hay's men gained a foothold at the village of Hendaye and swung two brigades to the right to assist the crossing of Kenneth Howard's 1st Division. At 8:00 am, Howard's men, Thomas Bradford's independent Portuguese brigade and Lord Aylmer's independent British brigade forded the river near a destroyed bridge at Béhobie. Three Spanish brigades from Manuel Freire's two divisions (Del Barco and Barcena) crossed farther to the right. Rapidly, the British overran the Croix des Bouquets position and the Spanish captured Mont Calvaire at 43°20′16″N1°43′7″W / 43.33778°N 1.71861°W / 43.33778; -1.71861 (Mont Calvaire) . The entire ridge on the French side of the river fell into Allied hands at the cost of only 400 casualties. With the high ground in his possession, Wellington suspended the attack. [11]

That morning Soult was absorbed in watching Henry Clinton's 6th Division advancing from the Maya Pass. The division's Portuguese brigade boldly seized the Urdax ironworks, losing 150 men in the combat. Soult suddenly realized the operation was only a demonstration. He rode off to his coastal sector but he was too late to help Reille. [2]

La Rhune

La Rhune, where the French repelled a Spanish attack. La Rhune Neige.jpg
La Rhune, where the French repelled a Spanish attack.

The toughest fighting of the day occurred in Clausel's sector. John Colborne's brigade of Charles Alten's Light Division attacked La Bayonette at 43°18′35″N1°42′12″W / 43.30972°N 1.70333°W / 43.30972; -1.70333 (Le Bayonette Redoute) . The French charged downhill and drove back the green-jacketed skirmishers of the 95th Rifles Foot. Suddenly the 1/52nd (Oxfordshire) Regiment of Foot (Light Infantry) appeared out of the trees and quickly turned the tables. Following closely behind the retreating French, the redcoats of the 52nd overran the redoubt with surprising ease. [12]

Meanwhile, James Kempt's other Light Division brigade and Francisco de Longa's Spanish division attacked up two spurs of La Rhune to secure some positions. To their right, Pedro Girón's two Andalusian divisions (Virues and La Torre) attacked the summit of La Rhune. Though the Spanish attacked repeatedly, they were defeated. However, the next day the French abandoned the position to avoid encirclement. [13] [14] [15]


In Reille's sector, the French lost 390 killed and wounded, plus 60 men and eight cannons captured. In Clausel's sector, the French suffered 600 killed and wounded, plus 598 men and nine cannons captured. The British lost 82 killed, 486 wounded, and five missing, or a total of 573. The Portuguese lost 48 killed, 186 wounded, and eight missing, or a total of 242. [4] The Spanish suffered the balance of the 1,600 total Allied casualties. [13] The defeat lowered morale in Soult's army. Except at La Rhune, French troops did not obstinately defend their positions. Villatte commented, "with troops like these we can expect only disgrace". [16] Soult made Maucune the scapegoat, dismissed him from his division, and sent him to the rear. [11] After the battle, some of the Allied troops indulged themselves in the looting of French homes and towns. Wellington came down harshly on British troops caught plundering. He felt sympathetic to the Spanish, who had seen their nation ravaged by French soldiers, but he determined to tolerate no looting for fear of provoking a guerilla war. [17]

During the follow-up to this victory, Spanish troops seized the Sainte-Barbe Redoubt at 43°18′1″N1°34′55″W / 43.30028°N 1.58194°W / 43.30028; -1.58194 (Sainte-Barbe Redoute) , 1.4 kilometres (0.9 mi) south of the village of Sare. On 12 October, Conroux's division recaptured the fort from its garrison of La Torre's division and drove off a five-battalion Spanish counterattack. French casualties are estimated at 300, while the Spanish lost 300 killed and wounded, plus 200 captured. [18] The next engagement was the Battle of Nivelle on 10 November 1813. [19]


  1. 1 2 Only the engaged units are listed in the order of battle.
  1. Glover's text states 61,000, but his order of battle footnote adds up to 62,170 (Glover 2001, p. 281).
  2. 1 2 3 Glover 2001, p. 283.
  3. Oman 1930, p. 536.
  4. 1 2 Smith 1998, pp. 459-460.
  5. Oman 1930, p. 535.
  6. 1 2 Glover 2001, p. 280.
  7. 1 2 3 4 Glover 2001, p. 281.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 Gates 2002, p. 523.
  9. Glover 2001, pp. 283–284.
  10. Glover's Nivelle order of battle was used ( Glover 2001 , pp. 385–387).
  11. 1 2 Glover 2001, p. 285.
  12. Glover 2001, pp. 285–286.
  13. 1 2 Glover 2001, p. 286.
  14. Smith specified Girón as the Spanish commander ( Smith 1998 , p. 460).
  15. Although Glover does not mention Girón in his account of the La Rhune attacks ( Glover 2001 , p. 386); Girón's division commanders are inferred from the Nivelle order of battle.
  16. Glover 2001, p. 287.
  17. Glover 2001, pp. 286–287.
  18. Smith 1998, p. 460.
  19. Smith 1998, p. 476.

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