Saturday, 27 March 2010

San Sebastian

On the last day of our holiday we had to drive the 140 miles from Fuentearrabia to Santander to get our ferry back to UK. On the way we paid a short visit to San Sebastian to visit the site of the 1813 siege.

San Sebastian is now a very popular holiday resort, and like many Spanish towns not the easiest of places to find your way around. We had a battlefield map, but that proved of little help as we drove down the fast two lane road along the river into the town. At one point we found ourselves on the wrong side of the river!

Our destination was the Castle of La Monta which sits on a very large hill which in turn dominates San Sebastian. We followed the road as far as we could go, and were relieved to find we had arrived in the castle car park.

We climbed to the top of Mount Orgullo and were rewarded with spectacular views of San Sebastian, and were at last able to orientate ourselves. Unfortunately the small musuem was closed, but we were able to explore the castle for a couple of hours.

We then walked back to the car park and found that we were in the old town. Another hour rambling around the narrow streets and we had found a lovely cafe in an old square where we had lunch and read a description of the siege in Jac Weller's "Wellington in the Peninsula".

You can read about our visit at :

Friday, 19 March 2010

The battle of the Nive is a complicated battle fought over a wide area south of Bayonne.

In December 1813 Wellington moved against the city with 64,000 men. Marshal Soult held Bayonne with 67,000 men.

To drive Soult away from the city, and open the way to invade France, Wellington split his army in two, either side of the river Nive, and advanced against the city from the south and south west.

The battle raged for five days. The French held the bridges at Bayonne and could reinforce either side of the river at will. Wellington relied on a bridge of boats, which were damaged and left Rowland Hill exposed on the right bank without support.

Soult held Bayonne, and Wellington was forced to screen the city to advance into France. Bayonne would not surrender until Napoleon was forced to abdicate.

The story of our visit is at:

Friday, 12 March 2010

San Marcial

The monastry on San Marcial

The battle of San Marcial is one of the lesser known of Wellington's battles.

On 31 August 1813 the French held city of San Sebastian was about to fall to the allied siege. Marshal Soult determined to make one last effort to raise the siege. The most direct road to the city from Bayonne was along the coast, however the road bridge had been destroyed.

Two French divisions stormed the heights of San Marcial, which was held by three Spanish divisions under General Freire, and supported by a British division. The Spanish held the ridge against the determined French attack. At the crisis Friere sent a request to Wellington to send the British reinforcements. Wellington was convinced that the French were already beaten, and wanted the Spanish to take full credit, so he declined to use the reinforcements.

The Spanish held. By mid morning the French were in full retreat back over the river Bidassoa into France.

Our visit to the battlefield in 1995 is described here:

Thursday, 4 March 2010

The Crossing of the Bidassoa

Fuenterrabia would not be one of the first names to spring to mind if asked to list Wellington’s Peninsular Battlefields. However on the morning of 7 October 1813 it was to be the scene of one of his most daring battles.

The cities of San Sebastian and Pamplona has finally fallen and were now occupied by the Spanish army. The French had been forced to abandon Spanish soil and retreat into France.

The river Bidassoa formed the border between France and Spain. Marshal Soult had 55,000 men deployed on the French side from Vera to the sea. Wellington had 44,000 British, Portuguese and Spanish troops with which to force a crossing and secure the northern bank.

The French believed that the estuary of the river at Fuenterrabia could not be forded. However local fishermen advised Wellington that it was possible to ford the river at low tide.

At first light on 7 October 1813 the First and Fifth British divisions crossed the estuary at a point where it was never more than waist deep. The French were completely surprised and their earth works and fortifications were over run before they could be reinforced. By nightfall Wellington was in command of the north bank and the French in retreat.

You can read about our visit to Fuenterrabia at