In the Battle of the Bidassoa
Battle of La Rhune
) on October 7
Anglo-Allied army of Arthur Wellesley, 1st
Duke of Wellington
wrested a foothold on French soil from
Marshal Nicolas Soult
In the Battle of San Marcial
on August 31
and September 1
army was repelled in its final bid to advance into Spain. The
Allies also brought the Siege of
to a successful conclusion in early September.
Only Pamplona's French garrison held out and it would not surrender
until October 31. Wellington determined to create a bridgehead
across the Bidassoa River and
gain some positions in the mountains.
his French troops had
begun to plunder their fellow citizens, Soult was ordered to defend
a position as close to the frontier as possible.
He had to
hold a front in the Pyrenees mountains. The area was highly
defensible, but lateral communications were poor.
Deciding that the coastal sector was the strongest part of his
line, Soult posted Major-General Honoré Reille
and 10,550 men to
defend that sector. Reille's command included the divisions of
Antoine Maucune and Pierre Boyer. These troops held a line behind
the Bidassoa running from the Bay of Biscay to a point about eight
miles (13 km) inland. Behind them was the entrenched camp of
Bordagain. Eugene-Casimir Villatte's 8,500-man
Reserve division remained five miles (8 km) in the rear around the
port of St-Jean-de-Luz.
Maj-Gen Bertrand Clausel
center with 15,300 men in the divisions of Nicholas Conroux, Jean
Maransin and Eloi Taupin. On the right, near the Bidassoa, stood
the La Bayonette
redoubt. Mont Larrun (La Rhune)
rose in the center of Clausel's sector.
His left touched the
Fearing an allied thrust over the Maya Pass and down the Nivelle
River to the sea, Soult gave Maj-Gen Jean-Baptiste Drouet
19,200 men to hold his left flank. D'Erlon's corps
included the divisions of Maximilien Foy
, D'Armagnac, Abbe
and Daricau. These troops held a line from Ainhoa to the
mountain fortress of St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, covering the Maya and Roncesvalles
Wellington had 64,000 Anglo-Portuguese infantry and artillery, plus
25,000 Spaniards. Since cavalry was useless in the mountains,
the British commander
sent his horse regiments to the rear.
In order to gain his bridgehead, Wellington had to force a crossing
of the Bidassoa estuary. The river was wide and deep at the high
water mark below the Île de la Conference. What the French never
suspected was that, at certain low tides, there was only four feet
of water over the lower fords. Allied intelligence knew that the
next low tide was October 7.
The crossing was meticulously planned. Near the lower fords,
British engineers built a turf wall near the river. This would
shelter Andrew Hay's 5th Division
the time before it crossed the river. Wellington positioned five
field batteries and three siege cannon to provide fire
At 7:25 am the 5th Division launched its attack. It came as a complete
surprise to the French, who had
deployed only Maucune's 4,000 men to defend four miles (6 km) of
Immediately, Hay's men gained a foothold at the
village of Hendaye and swung to the right to assist the crossing of
Kenneth Howard's 1st Division. At 8:00 am, Howard's men, Thomas Bradford's
Portuguese brigade and Lord Aylmer's British brigade,
forded the river near a destroyed bridge at Béhobie.
Spanish brigades crossed farther to the right.
Rapidly, the British overran the Croix des Bouquets
position and the Spanish captured Mont Calvaire. The entire ridge
on the French side of the river fell into Allied hands at the cost
of only 400 casualties.
That morning Soult was absorbed in watching Henry Clinton
's 6th Division
advancing from the Maya Pass. The division's Portuguese brigade boldly seized the Urdax ironworks, losing
150 men in the combat. When he saw the British brigades
hesitate, Soult suddenly realized the operation was only a
He rode off to his coastal sector but he was
too late to help Reille.
The toughest fighting of the day occurred in Clausel's sector.
brigade of Charles Alten
's Light Division
. Not waiting for the attack, the French charged
downhill and drove back the green-jacketed 95th Rifles
Foot. Suddenly the 1/52nd Regiment of Foot
Foot appeared and quickly turned the tables. Following closely
behind the retreating French, they overran the redoubt with
Meanwhile, James Kempt
's other Light
Division brigade and Francisco Longa's Spanish division attacked up
two spurs of Mont Larrun to secure some positions. To their right, Pedro
Giron's two Andalusian divisions attacked the summit of Mont
the Spanish attacked
repeatedly, they were defeated.
However, the next day the
French abandoned the position to avoid encirclement.
In the coastal sector, the French lost 390 killed and wounded, plus
60 men and 8 cannons captured. In Clausel's sector, the French lost 600
killed and wounded, plus 600 men and 9 cannons captured.
British lost 573 and
the Portuguese lost 242.
There were 1,600 total Allied
casualties. The next engagement would be the Battle of Nivelle
in November 1813.
- Glover, Michael. The Peninsular War 1807-1814. London:
Penguin, 2001. ISBN 0-141-39041-7
- Smith, Digby. The Napoleonic Wars Data Book. London:
Greenhill, 1998. ISBN 1-85367-276-9