Following the repulse of the last French offensive in 1813, Wellington began to take the fight into France; what faced him and his men was an unenviable position to attack: in the east stood the formidable Pyrenees mountains, bristling with redoubts and French troops; in the west, the difficult tidal estuaries. It would be a tough nut to crack, but Wellington’s army was experienced, blooded and the momentum that had carried them forward all the way from the borders of Portugal should be enough.
On the French side, Marshal Soult had problems aplenty of his own, he was ordered to stage his defence as close to the Spanish border as possible and the troops themselves were outnumbered by the Allied army. He chose to defend the mountain passes that he had used to attack the Allies earlier in the year with the bulk of his men, relying on the difficulty of a river crossing to ensure his safety to the West.
Wellington prepared meticulously for his assault, opted for the element of surprise by deciding to assault across the Bidassoa estuary. Sending troops to hold the attention of the French inland, his rugged peninsular veterans cross the Bidassoa with ease pushed on into France. It was to be the second time Soult was levered from a river line by Wellington and, as illustrated by this masterful piece of generalship and co-ordinated planning, it would not be the last before Napoleon was to abdicate.
WELLINGTON The Bidassoa and Nivelle
This is the third volume of General Beatson’s masterly trilogy dealing with the campaigns in and around the Pyrenees during late 1813 and 1814, they are rightly acknowledged as the standard works on these campaigns. This volume deals with the Allied armies’ struggle to gain a foothold in France itself in the late summer months of 1813. The other two volumes “With Wellington in the Pyrenees” and The Crossing of the Gaves & the Battle of Orthez have been republished by the Naval & Military Press