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0 Spanish army and the military approaches

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  • by ArmyBlog
  • 06-12-2020
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Between 1808 and 1814 the Iberian Peninsula saw a military confrontation between the French troops and a heterogeneous group of forces that were fighting to avoid their domination: the regular Spanish army, the various irregular troops that emerged in the heat of the initial uprising and the dispersion that followed. to the first defeats, the Portuguese contingents and the British troops that with different success were sent to fight against Napoleon on the Iberian front. What was presumed to be a rapid war of conquest, one more than the French emperor was waging in Europe, turned into a long conflict that shared features of the modern wars of popular liberation with those of the conventional wars of the time between regular armies. A conflict that was going to wear down the French military power, contributing with it to the weakening of the Napoleonic Empire, at the same time that it would produce considerable losses, human and economic, among the population affected by the conflict. Precisely this length and severity of a war that did not have defined fronts and a clear separation between combatants and civilians, would facilitate the emergence of tensions between the various sectors involved in the armed resistance and the civilian population. Such conflicting relationships are going to be the main object of this text. Together with the fracture between liberals and absolutists and the struggle between the civil and military authorities for the assumption of powers and for the conduct of the war, they are one of the various cracks that run through the ranks of the resistance and in turn encompass the tensions between regular and irregular troops, between them and civilians and between the regular army and the non-combatant population. The latter, the most obvious, constitute the core of the analysis developed in these pages and for this reason are highlighted in the heading.

The breadth of the anti-French uprising that spread throughout the months of May and June 1808 and some spectacular initial successes in the war against the invader, such as Bailén or el Bruc, hid for some time the essential military weakness of the resistant party , forced to rest in a precarious regular army while the general mobilization was forged that was to supply that one with improvised soldiers and complement it with all kinds of irregular militias. But the illusion of the first victories soon gave way to a chain of defeats that revealed the deficiencies of the Spanish army, which made it incapable of facing the most efficient war machine of the time with certain guarantees of victory. It was an army short of troops, swollen in its commands, with soldiers lacking training and discipline and officers without adequate training, hardly without cavalry and lacking a logistical organization to ensure the coordination of operations. An army that seemed to live with its back to the transformations on which revolutionary and Napoleonic France based its military successes and which other countries were trying to counteract. The measures outlined in Godoy's time remained for simple purposes, such as the reform commission established in 1796, or were almost immediately revoked, as happened in 1802 with the General Staff created in 1801. The urgency with which 1808 had to be faced This situation did not improve the French, as the increase in troops achieved through general mobilization was accompanied by greater deficiencies in the training, equipment and coordination of the new troops and difficulties in their insertion into the regular army units, compromising the same effectiveness of the recruitment effort, as it happened in Asturias, where months after the Junta agreed, in May 1808, to raise an army in the Principality, desertions and even complete dispersions had occurred, motivated by illness, indiscipline or insubordination, but also due to "difficulties in helping and feeding the troops" [1]. It is not surprising that Castaños, the winner of Bailén, described a few months later with gloomy outlines the situation of the Army of the Center under his command: "it was experiencing a great shortage of provisions: as there were no warehouses, no warehouses, it had to what The towns could supply; many of these we found almost deserted and there was no one to knead the bread or prepare what was necessary, and the troops ate the ranch that could be made but without bread; the train muleteers who did not receive any salary or could receive rations cursed their fortune and left their livestock or took it away, abandoning their loads "[2]. The reports of the officers of the British expeditionary corps that were sent to the Peninsula in 1808 to repel the French invasion confirm the reality of undisciplined Spanish armies, poorly equipped and lacking in coordination. Even the troops of the Marquis de la Romana, reputed to be the most select and experienced part of the Spanish forces, were considered of little help, as "they were poorly dressed and many of them lacked footwear and weapons" and lacked training. military force necessary to withstand the attack of a French infantry line, for which - concluded one of these officers - "we would be very deceived if we made our success in the battlefield depend on Spanish aid."

This plight of the regular army persists throughout the war [4]. When it was coming to an end, the Spanish troops participating in the allied offensive on Basque-Navarre lands still lacked proper clothing and food and did not have a suitable address, so, according to the account of a British non commissioned officer, "the greatest The surprise was that they were fit to fight. " Not all should have been, since other sources estimate that less than a quarter of the troops counted in the "official states" were soldiers fit for combat, and in the same campaign, a large number of starving deserters crossed the border during the winter. of 1813-14 [6]. Such circumstances incapacitated the regular army to face the French in open combat and undermined the morale of the troops, making episodes such as the panic that on Easter Sunday 1809 seized several thousand men of the Duke of Albuquerque camped in La Carolina. , when hearing "the joyous shooting of the inhabitants making salutes in the air to celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord and believing that they were the French, they all undertook a shameful escape.

In the Spanish military ranks and among its better-prepared officers and commands, there was awareness of the inferiority of its own army, an inferiority that made it necessary to adopt defensive approaches, in order to buy time to improve the military capacity of resistant troops, wear out the French and get help from the anti-Napoleonic powers. Because, in the words of one of these officers, "with generals without talent, with officialdom without enthusiasm, with insubordinate countrymen, with undisciplined, hungry and naked troops, it is madness to think that one can resist for some time the warlike phalanxes of the tyrant" . The one who thought this way was Francisco Javier Cabanes, a natural military man from Catalonia present on the battlefields of the Principality at various times during the war and a historian of it. From this proposition followed the need to avoid open clashes with the enemy. But not all his colleagues in arms agreed with this approach. José de Palafox, the general who will cover himself with glory defending the besieged Zaragoza, was one of those convinced to present battle in the open field, and only the material impossibility of verifying it with the means at his disposal led him to accept retreat. Furthermore, after Bailén's success, many generals underestimated the worth of the French army and, partly out of desires to carve out their own glory and partly because of pressure from Juntas and a civilian population confident of being able to easily rid themselves of the enemy's presence, they compromised prestige and troops in a "battle fury" that led to repeated defeats.

In the hard years that mediated between the loss of Andalusia and the beginning of the French retreat, the conviction of military inferiority gradually made its way through the ranks of the army and with it the need for more consistent methods to sustain the fight, which included the adoption of party warfare, provided that it is carried out subject to military commands, and a certain centralization and harmonization of the actions of the various armies. The acceptance of guerrilla warfare was a consequence of the admission of French superiority in the open country, since the parties avoided general confrontations with the enemy and subjected the latter to a war of attrition. Various military personnel will describe the advantages of the guerrillas and recommend their use, as long as they are directed and coordinated by men of the profession and do not represent a drain on the army. Because, as one of them will indicate, "the parties of patriots ... promoted as appropriate and supported by well-organized armies" should not be confused "with some gangs that have appeared at this time, made up of deserters, smugglers and other outlaws" . Guerrillas with the recommended characteristics will operate in points of the military geography as diverse as Extremadura, Andalusia and Catalonia. The coordination of military operations was imposed as a necessity in view of the sad experience of war and the observation of the French armies. In this way, the General Staff was first created (1810), a body in charge of planning the actions of the various armies in whose convenience the sector of the army with the greatest preparation and professional concern and the top of the civil authority coincided, and finally it was established a single military leadership that fell to the person of Wellington (1812), a decision in which, together with the recognized prestige of the English general, reasons of political opportunity intervened, since not in vain the Duke was head of the Allied troops, a man of convictions Conservatives and, equally important, a foreigner who avoided the Regency having to concede too much power to one of the Spanish generals. The protest of one of these, Ballesteros, served only to ruin his career, as he found no support among his comrades in arms, unlikely to act collectively in favor of one of his equals.

But the conditions in which they had to operate were now more adverse if possible than at the beginning of the war, since the repeated defeats had ruined the credibility of the military and weakened its position vis-à-vis the civil authorities, as well as dispersions and Desertions had reduced the strength of their armies in favor of forms of irregular warfare that were difficult to control. For this reason, the attempts of these soldiers to demand, in the name of the needs of the war, subordination to the provincial and local authorities and new sacrifices to a population that until then they had not been able to protect, were going to cause tensions.

The landscape of defeats

The anti-French uprising that spread throughout the months of May and June 1808 was extensive and popular enough not to doubt the warlike enthusiasm among the Spanish population of the time, although two aspects that have tended to be despised by a historiography too attached to the practice of unanimity and patriotic exaltation: 1) the mobilization effort was accompanied by simultaneous efforts in favor of the creation of internal vigilance bodies (Honred Militias or Urban Militias) to ensure the maintenance of control over sectors whose leadership could endanger the existing social order; 2) this mobilization was not exempt from resistance, which tended to become more notable when the wave of enthusiasm gave way to the continuity of the effort required and the necessary participation in the agricultural work of the summer months, forcing the first exhortations in favor of the defense of the fatherland and the first measures against desertion. But it was the defeats that produced the discouragement and tension of the population, visible both in the appearance of conformist attitudes and reluctance to collaborate in the tasks of the resistance and in the dissemination of accusations of cowardice and treason against the regular army and its members. commanders, on whom the bulk of responsibility for defending the territory had fallen.

The situation that the military had to face from 1809, under the permanent suspicion of a population that blamed them for the defeats, was very well summarized by Castaños, himself a victim of these accusations: "The voice of betrayal already does not mean what we have understood so far: a traitor is a General who does not attack when a soldier or anyone who is 200 leagues from the enemy wants to; a traitor if he withdraws the army that is going to be enveloped and sacrificed without recourse and without utility for the fatherland (...) treason, it is said, if there is ever a lack of aid or bread for the soldier; treason if the enemy attacks, because it is supposed to have been warned by the general to hand over the army, and all the traitors bosses if an action is unfortunately lost ". Indeed, accusations of treason, or at least inaction or cowardice, against the military abound. In Catalonia, the list of these complaints is extensive and hardly any of the captains general who had command in the Principality escape them. Most of the newspapers written during the war years by local testimonies of the same show the existence of a wide discontent with those who did not know how to preserve them from the French occupation and, on occasions, when they mention these men they tend to do so in such terms. critics and denunciators as does the rector of Vallvidrera, for whom Vives "sens dupte would be Godoy's bill, and a traitor to the homeland"; Blake "must understand the enemy, because I have not lost a place ... how not to help her at are temps"; O'Donnell "was molt valent [i] carried molt bé at the beginning, but ab the times feu com los altres, omplí bé la seua bosa"; Campoverde "didn't even know how to ... cobart and inexpert". The voices of treason forced the resignation of Captain General Vives (December 1808), discredited after the setbacks of Llinars and Molins de Rei [18], and constituted the breeding ground for the commotion that occurred in Lleida in January 1809, where a mutinous crowd killed several suspected infidels for fear of handing over the city's castle to the French. The persistence of negative comments about the army forces Captain General Coupigny, almost a year and a half later, to dictate a side imposing sanctions on those who propagate "that the troops of our august sovereign Fernando VII do not fulfill the sacred duties of soldiers and countrymen are enough to annihilate and exterminate the French in the Principality ". But the situation was reproduced before the apparent inaction of Captain General Blake in the defense of the besieged Gerona, before the defeat of Vic (February 1810), with accusations of treason against General García Conde, who was also made responsible for the surrender of Lleida to the French (May 1810), before the fall of Tortosa (January 1811), defended by the general Count of Alacha and before the loss of Tarragona (June 1811), imputed to the Captain General Marquis of Campoverde. The Superior Board joined the chorus of protests. He called for the replacement of the military involved, as happened with Field Marshal Wimpfen and Brigadier Porta, for believing them to be "authors of the system of inaction that has been observed in our army for a long time and for having seen certain withdrawals from both of them. that everyone considers voluntary and improper "; demanded from the Central Board "a general who unites a patriotic and active zeal to military expertise", because "the people, being abandoned by the army, suspect it, or at least their leaders, seeing that they are not opposed to a weak enemy and reduced "; He demanded responsibility from the military commanders for suspicious behavior, such as the alleged passivity of the troops who in June 1810 allowed a French convoy to enter Barcelona without offering resistance, and welcomed the convictions for treason against Generals García Conde and Alacha .

 

 

 


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