Napoleon’s Vietnam: Spain 1809 – 1811

Napoleon’s Vietnam: Spain 1809 – 1811


In 1809, Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of the
French, was at the height of his power. He had just won another crushing victory against
Austria at Wagram, and imposed a humiliating peace treaty. But the war he’d started in Spain and Portugal,
with his ill-judged invasion the previous year, continued to rage. Napoleon had placed his own brother Joseph
on the Spanish throne – uniting a proud country against him. His troops had dealt ruthlessly with popular
uprisings, while routing a succession of Spanish armies. In February 1809, Marshal Lannes overcame
the heroic defence of Zaragoza, in a brutal siege that cost 54,000 Spanish lives and 10,000
French. But still… the Spanish and Portuguese remained
defiant. And 3 months after their escape from Corunna,
the British were back. In April, Sir Arthur Wellesley landed in Lisbon
to lead a small Anglo-Portuguese army: British redcoats would fight alongside Portuguese
troops, who, with the help of British training, would soon prove themselves highly effective. Three weeks after arriving in Portugal, Wellesley
moved against Marshal Soult’s Second Corps, which had recently taken Porto. Soult and his troops, preoccupied with plundering
the region, had no warning of the British advance, and were soon in headlong retreat,
back through the mountains into Spain. Having secured Portugal, for the time being,
Wellesley planned a joint campaign with General Cuesta, commanding the Spanish Army of Extremadura. On 10th July, the two commanders met at Casas
de Miravete to discuss strategy. Relations between these two allies were not
straightforward. Britain and Spain had a long history of conflict: The Spanish were deeply suspicious of British
intentions in Spain, while the British had a low opinion of the Spanish army, which they
considered poorly trained, and badly led. Wellesley’s request to take over command
of Spanish forces was rejected. But the generals agreed to a joint advance
up the Tagus valley towards Madrid, to be supported by General Venegas, advancing from
La Mancha. In the face of their advance, Marshal Victor’s
First Corps withdrew to Talavera, where he was joined by King Joseph and General Sebastiani’s
Fourth Corps. The French plan was for Joseph’s army to
defend Madrid, while Marshal Soult led three corps down from the north, to get behind and
trap the Anglo-Spanish forces. But Joseph, worried by Soult’s slow progress,
and General Venegas’ advance on Madrid, decided to attack at Talavera. This video is brought to you by our sponsor
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video. The Battle of Talavera saw British infantry
bear the brunt of the French assault: they stood firm, and repelled the enemy with disciplined
musket-fire and bayonet charges. Talavera was a small battle compared to the
great clashes fought that year in Austria. But it proved that under Wellesley, Britain’s
small, well-drilled army was a force to be reckoned with… even though in the short
term, victory achieved little. Warned of Soult’s approach from captured
despatches, the victorious Anglo-Spanish army… retreated. … while King Joseph and Fourth Corps marched
against Venegas’ army, which they smashed at the Battle of Almonacid. That autumn the Supreme Junta in Seville,
free Spain’s effective government, raised two new armies for another attempt to liberate
Madrid, planning to converge on the capital from north and south. But Wellesley, ennobled as Viscount Wellington
for his victory at Talavera, had been so disgusted by the lack of Spanish co-operation that summer,
that he refused to risk his army. Predictably, Spain’s inexperienced armies
met with disaster: at Ocaña, they suffered their biggest defeat of the war, when a smaller
force under Marshal Soult routed the Spanish army, taking 14,000 prisoners and 50 cannon. A week later, the Army of the Left was heavily
defeated at Alba de Tormes. There was more bad news when Girona fell to
the French, after an epic 7 month siege. The Supreme Junta’s plans to retake Madrid
were in tatters… And Southern Spain was now wide open to French
attack. In January 1810, King Joseph marched south
with an army of 60,000 men. In the face of his advance, Spanish resistance…
evaporated. Spain’s Supreme Junta was overthrown in
a coup, as Cordoba and Seville fell without a fight. Joseph, who still hoped to win over the Spanish
with his progressive reforms, was welcomed by many as a saviour from anarchy. Only Cadiz held out – its defences reinforced
by a British naval squadron – and was besieged by Victor’s First Corps. Meanwhile Napoleon sent Marshal Masséna to
Spain with 65,000 reinforcements. He was reckoned one of Napoleon’s best marshals,
and had just been made ‘Prince of Essling’ for his heroics in the recent war against
Austria. Masséna was to lead a third French invasion
of Portugal, take Lisbon, and chase the British back into the sea. He laid siege to Ciudad Rodrigo, a fortified
city controlling one of the main routes into Portugal, which surrendered after two weeks’
bombardment. Wellington, with only 33,000 men to face Masséna’s
50,000, retreated. Masséna crossed the Portuguese frontier,
and besieged Almeida. After just 13 hours of bombardment, a lucky
French shot hit the Portuguese magazine… 70 tons of gunpowder went up in a devastating
explosion, that made all further resistance useless. It was a serious blow to Wellington, who’d
been relying on Almeida’s strong defences to buy him time. At Buçaco, he found a strong defensive position
and made a stand. Masséna’s uphill, frontal attack failed
at a cost of 4,000 casualties. But the next day, the French found a way to
outflank Wellington’s position, and his retreat continued. As Masséna’s army neared Lisbon, his scouts
reported something completely unexpected: Stretching across the Lisbon peninsula, protecting
the city from attack, they found a new chain of fortifications, in two major lines. Known as the Lines of Torres Vedras, the British
and Portuguese had been constructing these defences for more than a year. Now the Lines bristled with more than a hundred
forts, redoubts and batteries, manned by 30,000 troops and 250 guns. Masséna soon discovered the Lines were far
too strong for him to attack. What’s more, a ‘scorched earth’ strategy
had stripped the surrounding countryside of anything that might help the French… While Portuguese partisans attacked French
supply columns, as they struggled through the mountains to reach Masséna’s army. Masséna faced a grim predicament: starved
of supplies, too weak to attack… unwilling to retreat. But throughout this stand-off, it was Portuguese
peasants who suffered most of all. When their villages and farms were burned,
many took refuge in Lisbon, where thousands died of starvation and disease. Back in France, Napoleon had been preoccupied
with his divorce from the Empress Josephine… and then a new marriage Archduchess Marie
Louise, daughter of the Emperor of Austria. She was now expecting their first child. Nevertheless, from Paris, Napoleon sent frequent
orders to his Marshals in Spain and Portugal, urging them to take more aggressive action. But when these orders arrived, weeks later,
they were usually out of date, and showed little understanding of the problems his Marshals
faced. He now ordered Soult, based in Andalucia,
to go on the offensive, to draw enemy forces away from Lisbon, so Masséna could take the
city. Soult laid siege to Badajoz, a fortified city
that controlled the southern route into Portugal. When 12,000 men of the Army of Extremadura
marched to its relief, they were routed by Soult… after which the city tamely surrendered,
giving up 8,000 prisoners and vast quantities of stores. It was another heavy blow to Spain’s armed
forces. But remarkably, despite such disasters, and
their many blundering generals, Spanish troops remained willing to fight, the courage of
the rank-and-file undimmed. Victor’s First Corps, besieging Cadiz, had
now been so weakened to support other operations, that the Anglo-Spanish garrison decided to
attack. The allies landed along the coast, to strike
at the French siege lines from the rear. But they were ambushed by the French at Barossa. Despite heavy losses, the Anglo-Portuguese
rearguard fought off the enemy – but a furious falling out between British commander Sir
Thomas Graham, and his Spanish counterpart General La Peña, threw away any advantage. Soult, alarmed at these developments, marched
back to Andalucia. Meanwhile Masséna, out of food and with no
prospect of reinforcement, had no option but to retreat. Wellington’s army pursued, discovering evidence
of several appalling atrocities, committed by the French against Portuguese villagers. There were running battles with the French
rearguard, brilliantly commanded by Marshal Ney, until he was sacked by Masséna for criticising
his leadership. Having chased the French out of Portugal,
Wellington besieged Almeida. Masséna’s army, now rested and reinforced,
marched to its aid. The two armies clashed again at Fuentes de
Oñoro. In two days of heavy fighting, Masséna failed
to break through Wellington’s position to relieve Almeida. The fortress fell the next week, but to Wellington’s
fury, British bungling allowed most of the French garrison to escape. Masséna had lost 25,000 men in Portugal. Now he’d lost Almeida too. And a string of bad decisions, not least to
bring his mistress with him on campaign, had cost him the respect of his officers. The Marshal, whom Napoleon had once nicknamed
‘the dear Child of Victory’, was recalled to France in disgrace, never to hold senior
command again. Napoleon sent Marshal Marmont to replace him. Meanwhile Marshal Beresford, the British commander
of Portugal’s army, was sent to retake Badajoz with 20,000 British and Portuguese troops. When Soult approached with a relief force,
Beresford marched to meet him at Albuera: it was one of the bloodiest battles of the
war – around 6,000 casualties on each side, with more than a third of the British infantry
killed, wounded or captured. Marshal Soult declared… “There is no beating these troops, in spite
of their generals. I always thought they were bad soldiers, now
I am sure of it. I had turned their right, pierced their centre
and everywhere victory was mine – but they did not know how to run!” Soult had been checked, but he was determined
to save Badajoz. The newly-arrived Marshal Marmont marched
to his aid, and they advanced again. This combined army forced the British to abandon
the siege – But when Wellington withdrew to a strong defensive
position across the Portuguese border, Soult and Marmont did not pursue. French commanders in Spain had learned grudging
respect for Wellington, and for the steadiness of his troops. For now, the war in Spain had entered stalemate. While British, French and Spanish armies criss-crossed
Spain and Portugal, another war was fought every day in the mountains, hills and woods. From 1808 Spanish and Portuguese civilians,
militias and ex-soldiers began taking up arms against the hated French invader. They waged a war of ambushes and hit-and-run
raids, known in Spanish as la guerrilla – ‘the little war’. Its fighters became known, in English, as
guerrillas. Britain’s Royal Navy supplied vital weapons,
stores and money, often landing them behind enemy lines. Much of Spain’s rugged countryside fell
under the control of the guerrillas: North of Madrid, Juan Martín Diez, an ex-soldier
known as El Empecinado, ‘the Stubborn’, led a guerrilla band 6,000 strong. In Navarre, Espoz y Mina, a former peasant,
ran a highly organised band that caused havoc for the French, capturing convoys and couriers
on the strategic Burgos-Bayonne road, and branding ‘Viva Mina’ on the forehead of
collaborators. While in the west Julian Sanchez, known as
El Charro, led the self-styled ‘Lanceros de Castilla’. El Charro himself wore a French hussar’s
cap, its eagle symbolically turned upside down. There were dozens more bands operating across
Spain – though a few were no better than bandits, terrorising civilians as often as
the enemy. The guerrilla war was merciless, marked by
hideous atrocities on both sides. A French soldier’s greatest fear was to
be taken alive by the guerrillas, who often tortured their prisoners before killing them. Tens of thousands of French troops were tied
down by this ‘people’s war’ – guarding outposts, or patrolling the countryside. The roads were so dangerous for French messengers
that they required cavalry escorts of 200 men or more. Many still didn’t get through – their valuable
despatches forwarded to Wellington, for whom they became an invaluable source of intelligence. The war in Spain would ultimately cost the
lives of 240,000 French soldiers: As was typical in wars of this era, most died
from disease – but more died fighting guerrillas… than in battle against the British and Spanish
armies. However, it was the twin threat – a well-led,
regular army under Wellington, and a popular insurgency, that left the French facing an
impossible strategic dilemma: If their armies remained dispersed, to fight
the guerrillas – Wellington could attack. But if they concentrated to defeat Wellington
in battle – huge swathes of the country would quickly fall to the guerrillas. This was ‘Napoleon’s Vietnam’ – or his
‘bleeding ulcer’ as he called it – a war that cost his empire an average of 100
casualties every day, with little prospect of victory. And in 1812, as Napoleon launched his gigantic
invasion of Russia, Wellington and the guerrillas launched their own offensive… that would
turn the war in Spain on its head. Thank you to all the Patreon supporters who
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100 Comments

  1. I hope you all enjoy the latest episode of our Napoleonic Wars series! Any Richard Sharpe fans will find much of this strangely familiar…
    Do check out our sponsor CuriosityStream using the link, they have lots of very good history docs. And remember – ad free early access, voting rights and exclusive updates are available at Patreon from $1 per video! https://www.patreon.com/EpicHistoryTV
    The 1812 Salamanca campaign is up next, then we're off to Russia…

  2. A terrible war indeed. Thankyou for another superb video, the content on this channel is highly professional and exceptional in quality.

  3. Thanks for your video and especially for not downplaying the role of the Spanish. It's worth noting a mistake other countries will commit years and years later. Usually a country with a bigger and more powerful army thinks it can easily conquer and invade another territory but we've seen many times they underestimate the role of insurgency and guerrilla warfare.

  4. Napoleon asesino y cobarde. Entro en España como los anglosajones,engañando y luego se quedaron.Pero al final fue vencido por el Imperio Español y vencido por los rusos. Estupido frances..incluso los nacional socialistas entraron en francia en pocos dias.

  5. Why Spain? Portugal is not Spain and Napoleon's greatest defeats during the Peninsular campaign happened to the Portuguese, a country he was never able to occupy, even for a short period of time

  6. I can agree with the title, but wouldn't "Napoleon's Vietnam: Iberian Peninsula 1808 1813 " sound better?

    As correctly stated during the episode and previous ones, French downfall started both in Bailén (Spain, July 1808) and Roliça/Vimeiro (Portugal, August 1808), being Portugal a solid base for British and Portuguese to fight the French Army on since then. At the final battle in Vitoria, Spain, victory was achieved by Portuguese, Spanish and British troops alike.

    Note that in both countries we describe this as the "Peninsular War" for good reasons.

    Still, I was in awe with the siege of Almeida – the only Portuguese name to figure in the Arc de Triomphe at Paris. And the spectacular Linhas de Torres (we call it only "Lines of Towers", since it was consisted of several fortifications, and not only specificly related to the town of Torres Vedras ("Old Towers", in ancient Portuguese)) was quite an achievement. A 3rd line existed outside Lisbon to protect the Tejo (Tagus) firth from attack.

    Portuguese population had also an important role in repelling the enemy, as stated. One of them, just before being executed by the French, shouted out: "If everybody were like me, there would be no more enemies left!". Poor but Brave people!

    Another brilliant video, for several times I was holding my breath watching these events that are so important for my country's History. Thanks!

  7. So let me see if I understood…
    France invaded Spain and won. Tried to Invade Portugal and loses. Then they are sent back to Spain againts the Spaniards and win. Then they go back to Portugal and lose. Then they are pushed back to Spain a third time and win. Then they try to conquer Portugal a third time and lose. Then a Anglo-Portuguese army fights the French in Spain and wins once and for all..
    And the video title says that Napoleon’s Vietnam was Spain.. right…

  8. Napoleon failed to learn the one rule of war: Wipe Them Out. Do not negotiate when they resist. Geneva is our problem. Wipe them out.

  9. The first successful resistance came from the Portuguese. To call it merely a "Spanish resistance" is factually incorrect and disrespectful to the Portuguese people who managed to stall the French invasion in Portugal, thus allowing the British to enter. The title should be "Iberia", not Spain.

  10. Hi, I have grown to love your channel. Your channel provides very informative content about history and in a very interesting way. Is it possible to one day see some content about the history of India as well?

  11. I heard victory was all down to a ressurrected yorkshireman who dies over and over again. over the hills and far away…

  12. it seams that the english only know to run away…. there are not héroes… there are best runners in the world.. 🙂

  13. And to think less than 7 years later the British were involved in the fight against Spain all over South America

  14. These Wars shows mans Greed for Delusaional Power. Pure Blood thirsty Delusions , at the expense of the weak at the bottom. The Royal Elites thought , they knew it all, must conquer they neighbors,steal his coions, women and anything of other value and control him at the bottom of your feet. The American "Constitution has it some what right, Some Rights come from GOD, not from Man. Thats , what keeps our Politicions from going too far.

  15. Epic history makes it more than a simple documentary, even if its history they make it look like an epic tv series

  16. As a Vietnam veteran I fail to see how the comparison is made. The mistake of a tyrant to the tyranny of a society profiting from war.

  17. It began in July 1808, when Napoleon's troops, under General Dupont command, were defeated by a Spanish army, near Bailén city, commanded by General Castaños. It showed the world that Napelon's armies weren't invincible. Napoleon felt so furious that General Dupont lost his rank and was sent to prison until Napoleon's end.

  18. any chance you'd spin off this series with one covering the independence of the American colonies?
    after all, the take of Spain by Napoleon was what sprung the American revolution.

  19. Guerrilla warfare is basically like submarine warfare i think. Or vice versa.

    You need convoy escorts and air support to counter it.

  20. For some reason the illustrator found the need of presenting Espoz y Mina and El Empecinado as gypsy looking guys. Google image search is recommended.

  21. People out here saying "ughhhh the spanish army was useless" and well as I spaniard I will admit that the generals of spain were pretty useless but if it wasnt for the guerrillas Wellington wouldnt have been outnumbered and probably lost every single time

  22. America: help us with our revolution, and we’ll help you with yours
    France: help us
    America: second Friday of next week

  23. Your videos are great, but as a new viewer, it would be nice if your playlists were in the order they are intended to be seen, i.e., part 1 should be followed by part 2, and not vice versa. For someone like me, who works while playing videos, there isn't much point in watching your playlists when the videos in them are out of chronological order. I hope you find the time to fix them. Thanks!

  24. French: “Ha! We outnumber them!”

    Wellington: falls back to strong defensive position

    French: “Merde!”

    Repeat ad hominem

  25. Funny way to call those troops anglo-spanish… there was wayyy more spaniards than brits there. But people imagine his own historical facts lol

  26. Iberians, contrary to more civilised northern Europe, do not fully trust their own state and rulers, and therefore, contrary to Austria or Prussia, partisans and small guerrillas were possible to conduct.

  27. i´m from Talavera (de la reina) and i didn´t know this. in Spain we only study the battles won by spanish troops like battle of bailen, we hardly know about battles fougth by british, thanks for bring a bit ligth to this

  28. British propaganda…, British in Spain more than allies was enemies, bombing spanish factorys and infraestructures to destroy Spanish industry, at the same time in America they was supporting with money and soldiers the independent movemevent inside Spanish Empire

  29. I love your Videos about Napolen but can you tell something about the Assasination Attempt in Ried im Innkreis. I heard it was a very close call

  30. Did British think Spanish Army was "poorly trained and badly led" 30 years before???? Like in Pensacola… For example…What a pity not having another Bernardo de Gálvez… France and Britain, for some reasons or others, did destroy Spanish Empire. Britain occupied our place as superpower for a century. But France? For 15 years.

  31. Great work! A fantastic series and a lot of good content to watch in the future. Will you be continuing this series with the russian campaign and the years leading up to 1815?

  32. Venez regardez la Web-Série sur l'Age d'Or du Maroc Islamique, je vais retracer la vie de Marocains remarquable qui ont révolutionné l'humanité comme jamais auparavant !

    – Abbas Ibn Firnas

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    – Ibn Tufayl

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    et tellement d'autres…! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mtUI7PfukM&t=1s

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