Battle of Albuhera

artefact

Painting by E. Hennike, 1926

Albuhera is one of the Regiments many battle honours and one celebrated every year with a formal ceremony.

At the battle there were 32,000 British, Portuguese and Spanish (including 2,000 cavalry) and 38 guns against 23,000 French including 4,000 cavalry and 40 guns.

The standard infantry weapon for both armies was the musket, which could be fired two or three times a minute and threw a heavy ball inaccurately for a hundred metres. Each infantryman carried a bayonet that fitted on the muzzle. The British rifle battalions were armed with the Baker rifle, a more accurate weapon but slower to fire, and a sword bayonet.

Field guns fired a ball projectile, by its nature of limited effect against troops in the field, unless closely formed. Guns also fired case shot or canister which fragmented, but was effective only at a short range. Exploding shells fired by howitzers, as yet in their infancy, were of particular use against buildings. The British had the development of ‘shrapnel’ or fragmenting shell which was effective against troops.

Beresford with his British and Portuguese troops and a small contingent of Spanish was in position at Albuhera by 15th May 1811 and awaited the arrival of Blake’s army. The Spanish marched up from Almendrad, arriving during the night.

Soult, an able and versatile strategist, did not comply with Beresford’s expectations. On the morning of 16th May 1811 General Godinot’s brigade continued up the road and attacked Albuhera village as a diversion. Soult’s main force and his considerable preponderance of cavalry moved over the hill and across the Albuhera River to take the Spanish in the flank.

Beresford sent aides de camp to Blake with directions to pull back his right wing to meet the French outflanking movement. Blake refused to comply, until the Marshal arrived in person and ordered the manoeuvre to be carried out. The Spanish troops were too slow in changing position and were caught in flank by the overwhelming French attack. That is other than General Zayas who had acted on his own imitative and already taken up a position facing the French. His brigade alone resisted the onslaught, the remainder of the Spanish force being driven back.

Beresford brought up Stewart’s 2nd Division to support the Spanish on their right. The leading brigade, Colborne’s, climbed the hill and went into action as each battalion reached the crest, only to be caught undeployed by the French light cavalry. Three battalions of Colborne’s brigade, 1st/3rd Foot, 2nd/48th Foot and 2nd/66th Foot were nearly annihilated. Many of the British were taken prisoner.

At this point in the battle Soult failed to act with decision to secure the victory by vigorous use of his overwhelming strength in cavalry. Beresford was given the opportunity to reform his line.

The brigades of the 4th Division were brought to the right flank in place of the Spanish. Hoghton’s Brigade (29th Foot, 1st/48th Foot, 1st/57th Foot) with the surviving battalion from Coleborne’s, 2nd/31st Foot, formed along the ridge and held the French back under a storm of artillery fire and musketry. In a twenty minute exchange of fire these battalions were reduced to a ruin, particularly the 2nd/57th Foot.

The Fusilier Brigade (1st/7th Royal Fusiliers, 2nd/7th Royal Fusiliers, 1st/23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers) ascended the ridge and attacked the French with the Portuguese battalions of the 4th Division while Abercromby’s Brigade came up on the Spanish left. Lumley’s Cavalry moved to the extreme flank to block any French move against the British rear. Soult realised that he had lost the opportunity to win the battle and abandoned the attack, withdrawing over the Albuhera River.

The Latham Centrepiece of the 3rd (East Kent) Regiment of Foot is a commemoration of Lt Matthew Latham's bravery in saving the King's Colours at the Battle of Albuhera, Spain, in 1811, during the Peninsular War with Napoleon.