Tuesday, 30 June 2009


After an uneventful evening in Badajoz we were excited at the prospect of visiting Albuera. I would have welcomed a guided tour of Badajoz but this was not to be. The battle of Albuera which was fought on 5 May 1811 is not one I had studied in any great detaill. I was aware that it had been fought on the same day as Fuentes de Orono. But I knew more about the latter battle, because Wellington had been in command. I should explain that I had read quite a few books about the Peninsular campaign, but I was at the stage where it was all a little confused in my mind. I was hoping that this tour would help to keep the different battles and campaigns in some sort of order.

It is a short drive from Badajoz to Albuera, about 15 miles. So soon after leaving the city we were in the unimpressive town. Our first stop was the town square.

Albuera is situated west of the river of the same name, which flows north from south. The French approached along the main road, which crossed the river by a bridge and then passed through the town. The French had come north to raise the siege of Badajoz.

Beresford deployed his British, Portuguese and Spanish troops in the expectation that Soult would attack over river, using the bridge. The Spanish formed the allied right, or south, flank. They were still deploying as the French attack on the town commenced.

Our first stop was in the town square, with its memorial to the battle. The town was pretty unimpressive, and as I had not read up on the battle in any great detail not particularly interesting. I knew that the town was held by a KGL brigade, but that was about the extent of my knowledge.

We were however able to obtain an excellent view of the area of the French approach. The first attack was on the town and the nearby bridge. There was an area of trees to the right of the photograph, on the far side of the river. So Beresford could not see what the French reserves were doing. In fact they were crossing the river further to the right and were about to attack his flank - currently held by the Spanish.

This is the bridge over the river Albuera, and the scene of much fighting. The first French attack was over this bridge, and across the river either side of it. This is apparently the original bridge and not a later replacement.

The area of fighting on the allied right flank is an easy walk from the town, but you don't have to walk with Holts Tours. We trooped back onto the coach, and it took us across the fields to a spot, which we were assured, was the centre of the main fighting. Above Captain P and Julia explain the battle and point out the relevant points.

The main French attack was against the weakly held allied right flank. Beresford did not spot the French crossing the river, and the Spanish troops were to bear the brunt of the initial attack unsupported. The Spanish holding this area held their ground until supported by the British infantry. The firefight turned into a real "slogging match". The French were fought to a stand still, and eventually retreated south. However the allied casualties were very high. Many of the English troops involved were convinced that it would not have happened had Wellington himself been in command. However he never blamed Beresford, and indeed always supported him in his handling of the battle.

As you can see, the ground is flat and featureless. There is no sign of the "hill" where the firefight took place, but we were told that this is the area where the Spanish, and later British, troops exchanged fire with the French, who approached over this arable land. I have since read that there is some debate about the exact dispositions, but I have no reason to doubt what we were told.

Another view of the main fighting area. Left centre background is the town church, and in the centre the bridge.

I guess that we spent about one hour in the town, and another on the battlefield. As we were briefed on the battle, the coach driver washed the coach after its cross country drive! This visit was typical of the whole tour. You were driven to the exact spot where you would view the battle, which was explained in sweeping detail. You took your photographs, and you got back on the coach again - which had been washed while you were being briefed. Nothing wrong with that, and indeed it seemed to be just what my fellow travellers wanted. Indeed it might even be true that there was not much more to see no matter how much time you allowed for the visit. However I was left wishing I could have got my shoes just a little muddy and been allowed to explore the area more.


  1. Paul,

    Another v interesting post. First I thought the photo of the old bridge was v interesting. I don't know whether you have seen the Steve Dean painting site but there is a link there to a group I think on the terrrain section who do various Peninsula battles and their table set up really has to be seen to be believed. I regret I am not switched on enough here to give you a direct link.

    I dug out my book on Albuera last night to refresh me. Extremely hard fought by both sides and this battle really shows the quality and bravery of both sides in what was, I definately agree with you, a good old fashioned, grusome slogging match.


  2. Hi Guy

    Thanks for your comments.

    I had not heard of Steve Dean before, but I have now had a look at his site. I could not find the link you mention. What is the name of the group?

    I wish that I had read more about Albuera before I visited the battlefield. I had read a little, but I read so much about the period that it is difficult to keep it all in my head! I have since found that it is necessary to do a lot of research before you visit a battle site, and to take maps and photocopies of descriptions with you.

    Albuera was a terrible slaughter. Poor old Beresford is always blamed, and perhaps did contribute due to his handling of the battle. But the field was chosen by Wellington and he always defended Beresford and his handling of the battle. It is always a good thing to realise that our wargames bear little relation to the battles they try to recreate. And one can only admire the bravery, determination and courage of the soldiers on both sides.



  3. Hi Paul,

    The Vimerio pictures came from the 'Wargames Society Forum index' Napoleonic Room in a section called 'Vimerio revisted (Joe's pictures)'.

    Second way there is via the 'Steve Dean Painting Forum Index' in the third section called 'Amazing Nap 28mm Vimerio battle'. The link given is:-


    Complicated or what but worth the effort if you can find it.

    One of my father's few redeeming features when he goes on his Holt's tours is his love of maps. He always tries to get a decent map from Stampfords in Covent Garden and then pours over the same plotting where everything happened and cross referencing it to his books. We all learnt v early on how to read a map which was something my mother totally failed to do and this never ceased to cause huge grief when she was attempting to navigate on our holidays and almost very time we would be stuck in some back street of some city or down a farm track which my mother would insist was a meant to be a dual carriageway.


  4. Hi Guy

    Thanks for the links. I had seen "Vimerio Revisited" before, they are very impressive and comprehensive. And it looks like he will do a series covering more the the Peninsular battlefields - do hope so.

    I have not seen "Amazing Nap 28mm Vimerio battle" but will have a look now.

    In my experience maps and battlefields have always been a problem. It is relatively easy to get a good, detailed current day map. And it is very easy to get a hand drawn map, or diagram, of most of the more popular battlefields. But it is quite another matter trying to transfer all of that on the ground. I have also had considerable experience of map reading. The problem is that they did not have map grid references in the Napoleonic Wars!

    Modern day maps often either show too many tracks/paths/roads, or none at all where they should be according to the hand drawn map. Or the present day tracks/paths/roads are just not the same as those used in 1809 etc.

    But making sense out of the two is the only way to explore battlefields. And when you eventually find the right place there is a great sense of achievement.

    Mind with tour companies like Holts all of this work is not necessary. They drive you to the best view point in the coach. All you have to do is get off and look. There is an experienced guide who will explain all the relevent positions and actions.

    So there is a lot to be said for a coach tour. But I miss the detailed research, and the great feeling when you find the actual clearing described in a book written by a soldier who actually fought there.

    I think map reading and ladies is a world wide problem. Certainly Jan makes no claims to being able to read, or understand, a map. On the few occasions when to option is to drive or map read she will usually choose the former!

    I, like most men, consider my map reading skills to be second to none. I will never ask for directions, prefering to get lost and remain lost. However I once did make an exception when we were trying to find our hotel in Oporto. If you keep coming back you will read about it in due course.

    Thanks for the comments.

    best regards



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