terça-feira, 21 de maio de 2013

Wellington's Plan

«I cannot have a better opportunity for trying the fate of a battle, which, if the enemy should be unsuccessful, must oblige him to withdraw entirely.»

According to Sir Charles Oman, the most reputed historian of the Peninsular War, Sir Arthur Wellesley, the Marquess of Wellington, never put to writing and in a detailed fashion his plan for the 1813 campaign. As a result, historians had to resort to Wellington’s correspondence and other indirect sources to try to understand his objectives and the plan to achieve them. Of the result of the work made by Sir Charles Oman a small summary can be provided.

The house where Wellington’s headquarters
was based during the 1812-1813 winter
During the winter of 1813, in his headquarters in Freineda, Wellington designed his plan for the campaign he intended to start in the spring.
In his mind was the intention not to repeat the errors occurred during the 1812 campaign, the plan being progressively tuned to the light of events unfolding on the Peninsula, as well as in Great Britain and Eastern Europe.
In Europe, Napoleon’s defeat in Russia lead to the political and military weakening of France and that situation was not without consequences for the Napoleonic power in the Peninsula.
In Spain, José Bonaparte, usurper to the throne, found himself gradually in a more difficult situation since the French armies abandoned the South of the country in 1812, losing important resources for the Spanish government centered in Cadiz. Besides this, the intense activity of the guerrilla groups which fuelled the rebellion in the northern provinces of Spain provoked much attrition and forced the French forces to dispersion. To make matters worse, Napoleon took important military resources from the Peninsula, which he needed to continue the war in Central Europe, further weakening the French power.
On the other hand, Wellington knew well the French situation thanks to the intelligence gathered from the vast amount of captured French correspondence and the action of the Spanish insurgents.
In Great Britain, despite the debacle of the 1812 campaign, the credit garnered by Wellington allow him to continue to enjoy the total support of his government and obtain important reinforcements namely cavalry, from which the allied army had always been in deficit.
In the Peninsula, his nomination as Generalissimo of the Spanish armies in November 18th, 1812 gave him not only the power to directly command the Spanish troops but also the necessary authority to mobilize material resources needed for the military campaign he proposed himself and whose scenery would be the Central and Northern Spain.

Engraved for the Illustrated London News in 1852, after the drawing 
by the Countess of Westmorland of September 1839

The concise words of Wellington himself make known the plan of action he intended to execute in what he considered to be the first part of the campaign. Here are those words, from his dispatch of May 11th, 1813 to Lord Bathurst, Secretary of War in the British government:

«I propose on this side to commence our operations by turning the enemy’s position on the Duero, by passing the left of our army over that river within the Portuguese frontier. (…) I therefore propose to strengthen our right and to move with it myself across the Tormes, and establish a bridge on the Duero below Zamora. The two wings of the army will thus be connected, and the enemy’s position on the Duero will be turned.
The Spanish army of Galicia will be on the Esla on the left of our army at the same time that our army will be on that river.
Having turned the enemy’s position on the Duero, and established our communication across it, our next operation must depend upon circumstances. I do not know whether I am now stronger than the enemy, even including the army of Galicia; but of this I am very certain, that I shall not be stronger throughout the campaign, or more efficient, than I now am; and the enemy will not be weaker. I cannot have a better opportunity for trying the fate of a battle, which, if the enemy should be unsuccessful, must oblige him to withdraw entirely.»[1]

After concentrating the whole army in the right bank of the Douro, Wellington indicates what would be the circumstances dictating his action. However Wellington had already taken a series of measures destined to harness fortuitous favorable circumstances.
Perhaps the most important of these measures was the transference of his main support base from Lisbon to Coruña and other ports in Northern Spain, thus shortening the distance taken by the supplies coming from Great Britain. To guarantee such transference, Wellington asked that the Royal Navy assured the control of the Northern coast line of Spain and the Bay of Biscay, denying access to the French, supporting the Spanish insurgents and his own allied army when necessary.
Another measure had been the request for the raising of a siege artillery train to be sent to him in case it would necessary to invest and assault fortresses.
Finally, having become commander-in-chief of all the allied forces in the Peninsula, Wellington was able to coordinate his effort from Portugal with the action of the Anglo-Sicilian and Spanish force operating in the Mediterranean coast, important to hold the Armêe d’Aragon of Marshall Suchet in the defense of Valencia, preventing him supporting the French armies to the west.

Wellington’s plans and measures were ambitious and allow the statement the he looked upon the 1813 campaign as a decisive one and that his objective was none other than to finish once and for all with the French power in the Peninsula.

Sir Charles Oman, A History of the Peninsular War, Volume VI.
The Dispatches of Field Marshall The Duke of Wellington, (…) compiled (…) by Lieut. Colonel Gurwood. Volume X.

Text by Moisés Gaudêncio [ler aqui em português] | Translation: Jorge Quinta-Nova

[1]The Dispatches of Field Marshall The Duke of Wellington, (…) compiled (…) by Lieut. Colonel Gurwood, volume x, p. 372.

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