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"Wellington and the Siege of San Sebastian, 1813 " Topic

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP04 Nov 2017 12:19 p.m. PST

"Bruce Collins's in-depth reassessment of the Duke of Wellington's siege of San Sebastian during the Peninsular War is a fascinating reconstruction of one of the most challenging siege operations Wellington's army undertook, and it is an important contribution to the history of siege warfare during the Napoleonic Wars. He sets the siege in the context of the practice of siege warfare during the period and Wellington's campaign strategies following his victory at the Battle of Vitoria. He focuses on how the army assigned to the siege was managed and draws on the records of the main military departments for the first time to give an integrated picture of its operations in the field. The close support given by the Royal Navy is a key aspect of his narrative. This broad approach, based in fresh archive research, offers an original perspective on both San Sebastian's significance and the nature of siege warfare in this period."


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Gazzola08 Nov 2017 11:53 a.m. PST

It might be interesting to see how the author approached the disgrace of Wellington's troops and how they behaved. However, the advert for the book suggests the atrocities committed by Wellington's army may be glossed over or even ignored.

This is link to a very interesting article on the same siege, which does not ignore the atrocities.


Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP09 Nov 2017 11:58 a.m. PST

Thanks my friend!. (smile)


Hagman Inactive Member09 Nov 2017 12:54 p.m. PST

"disgrace"?" "atrocities"? It was a contested siege in the very early 19th century – everybody understood the rules. Pointless trying to apply early-21st century values (sic) and attitudes.

Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member10 Nov 2017 3:23 a.m. PST

Whilst Gazzola is notorious on here for his persistent, and often laughable, Brit-bashing, on this occasion, he is absolutely correct. Whilst the town council was "afrancesado" (ie pro-French collaborators) the bulk of the populace was not, but there is no doubting that they were treated abominably, wherever their loyalties lay. As soon as they broke into the town, the troops came across large stocks of alcohol which, along with their heavy losses, fuelled a desire for revenge. It was worse than Badajoz, with both British and Portuguese officers being killed by British troops. Wellington refused to acknowledge the pillaging, blaming it on the French.

Not one of our finest hours.

Gazzola12 Nov 2017 3:04 p.m. PST

Supercilius Maximus

Thanks for the support. Much appreciated. However, I would not call some of my posts Brit-bashing, although I can well understand why some people might want to see it that way. But I see my posts as just posts that show that other nations, other than the French, committed atrocities. Sadly, it is a fact of war and they did occur, and by all nations and not just during the Napoleonic Wars period. However, the way some people post and react to such posts gives the impression it should not be mentioned unless it is something done by the French (or Napoleon), which is sad, but I suppose such posts spoil their rosy image of the Brits or whatever nation they might favour.

Gazzola12 Nov 2017 3:22 p.m. PST


I don't think the 'civilians' of the period, who I imagine, might have believed they were about to be 'liberated' by their British and Portuguese 'allies', would have placed a 21st Century viewpoint on the atrocity. An atrocity is an atrocity, no matter which period of history it belongs to or who did it. But I can understand some people might want to hide it because it challenges their biased viewpoint. And, of course, the truth hurts sometimes.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP12 Nov 2017 4:17 p.m. PST

If you visit those cities till today… (Badajoz, San Sebastian, etc)… you could take note that the opinión of people of there are…

"Malos los franceses… pero peor los Ingleses…"


Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member14 Nov 2017 11:03 a.m. PST

However, the way some people post and react to such posts gives the impression it should not be mentioned unless it is something done by the French (or Napoleon), which is sad, but I suppose such posts spoil their rosy image of the Brits or whatever nation they might favour.

I suppose it depends on how people see the French in terms of "starting" some of these conflicts, or being the victim of aggression by other nations. I certainly would not see them as being particularly "uncivilised" in terms of how they treated enemy combatants/civilians.

Hagman Inactive Member15 Nov 2017 4:16 p.m. PST

So given the absence of both French and British troops, it appears the citizens of Badajoz and San Sebastian are content with the treatment of their respective cities in 1936 at the hands of their much nicer fellow Spaniards?

Gazzola16 Nov 2017 12:10 p.m. PST


I'm not sure how you can come to that conclusion? The question of what they thought concerning people and events after the Napoleonic Wars period may not have been raised?

But we should stick to the Napoleonic period, considering this is a Napoleonic message board and not judge people and events by our 21st Century viewpoints.

Talking of which however, I think the sayings offered by Armand for that particular horrific situation, are appropriate. The poor civilians of 1813 were certainly stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member17 Nov 2017 12:53 a.m. PST

I think the point Hagman is trying to make is that it seems odd to focus on a 200-year-old atrocity when there is a much more recent one (within living memory for some). That said, I suspect the phenomenon can be explained by the desire to deny internal political divisions. I have little sympathy for the inhabitants of 1812 Badajoz, since pretty much the entire population was "afrancesados" and appears to have contributed to the defence (thereby increasing British losses) and thus the sack of what was essentially an "enemy" town falls within the rules of war as they existed at that time, but the ordinary people of San Sebastian don't seem to have done anything to merit the behaviour inflicted upon them.

Brechtel19817 Nov 2017 8:14 a.m. PST

So you're selective on your atrocities, especially if committed by the British?

Well done.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP17 Nov 2017 11:06 a.m. PST

Not so many "Afrancesados" in San Sebastian… much less in Badajoz… were do you read that?…

Contribution of the defense of Badajoz by the Spanish Civilian?… that' really knew to me… I recomended to visit that city … the Museum and many open houses who show the history details of those days…

The only place were you can find a more or less amount of "Afrancesados" was in Madrid…


Brechtel19817 Nov 2017 11:32 a.m. PST

Excellent posting, Armand. British troops raped and looted in Badajoz, Ciudad Rodrigo, and San Sebastien after they took those cities.

They had done the same thing on the retreat to Corunna, and similar 'adventures' in the Chesapeake in North America during the War of 1812.

Then we have the looting expeditions to Buenos Aires…

Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member17 Nov 2017 3:51 p.m. PST

So you're selective on your atrocities, especially if committed by the British?

Well done.

OMG, EVERYONE!!!! I'm being accused of being "selective" by "cut-and-paste Kiley", the king of pick and choose.

Isn't that like being accused of Deleted by Moderator?

The acts in the Chesapeake were in retaliation for the Americans burning Kingston/Toronto earlier in the War of 1812; the looting of Buenos Aires was a perfectly normal act perpetrated against an enemy colony.

Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member17 Nov 2017 4:35 p.m. PST

Armand – I can only remember it being mentioned in a few books about the Peninsula War, which I read back in the 1970s and 1980s, but no longer own. I also recall them mentioning that there was bad feeling between the inhabitants of Badajoz and the rest of the Spanish population, dating back to this period.

If you can provide more/alternative info, I would be interested in seeing it.

138SquadronRAF Supporting Member of TMP18 Nov 2017 9:32 p.m. PST

In the wake of the Religious Wars of Counter-Reformation that blighted Europe up to the mid-17thC, Western European powers developed a set of principals that governed sieges to prevent a repetition of the Siege of Magdaburg (1631).

The principal was simple, you didn't surrender too quickly, that was cowardly, but you did enough to satisfy honour. Surrender at the correct moment and you got full "Honours of War" – retaining colours, weapons and you marched out with drums beating and flags flying.

Leave it too long, then the conditions become harsher. Surrender of colours and arms are typical.

The final point came when a breach in the wall was created that was considered practicable to storm. That was the absolute last point for surrender.

If the storming parties went in all bets were off. The town was open to the unrestrained fury of the attackers.

The destruction of the towns in Spain was avoidable. All it required was to follow the Rules of War that had been been in place for the previous 150 years. The French didn't surrender when they should have and honour demanded that they did.

I would note, the rules were not applied when dealing with the Turks. That was definitely war to the knife.

Brechtel19819 Nov 2017 5:42 a.m. PST

The Spanish defense of cities was also 'war to the knife' with the civilians active participants in the defense of the cities.

It wasn't the same with the French defense of fortresses and cities.

Cerdic Supporting Member of TMP19 Nov 2017 6:33 a.m. PST

I think using the nazi rule to dawghouse supermax is a bit of a stretch. He didn't call anyone a nazi. He just used a simile that referenced the gestapo. Now, replace the word gestapo with that of another organisation known for cruel behaviour. Maybe the KGB or the Spanish Inquisition (at the risk of Monty Python quotes!). The meaning of his sentence is exactly the same, but no nazis are involved….

Brechtel19819 Nov 2017 10:50 a.m. PST

There were also successful defense of fortresses during the period-Hamburg, Magdeburg, Vincennes, Coburg, Burgos to name a few.

Then there was the terror bombardment of Copenhagen in 1807 which specifically targeted the civilian population. How was that part of the 'Rules of War that had been in place for the previous 150 years'?

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP19 Nov 2017 3:24 p.m. PST

Supercilius… my info is from first hand… I lived in Spain for near three years and of course visit all the Napoleonic battle/combat sites…

Totally agree with my cousin in this matter…

Also agree with Cerdic… no jail for Supercilius…


Hagman Inactive Member19 Nov 2017 3:30 p.m. PST

"terror bombardment of Copenhagen" – here we go again. How about a blanket statement on the TMP Home Page that we all accept that the English are the worst people in the history of the planet and then get on with our lives?

Brechtel19819 Nov 2017 3:32 p.m. PST

If civilians are the principal targets in a bombardment or attack, what else would it be but terror bombing?

In his book on the subject, Munch-Peterson calls it that.

Hagman Inactive Member19 Nov 2017 4:35 p.m. PST

Given that the British Fleet had been assembled outside Copenhagen for more than a fortnight and most of the civilian population has been evacuated, it clearly wasn't very successful "terror bombing"?

Brechtel19819 Nov 2017 6:12 p.m. PST

Most of the civilian population had not been evacuated, as the city was put under siege by the British army-who did the firing of both conventional artillery and rockets into the city.

And as the British army had invested Copenhagen in order to bombard it by land, where was the civilian population supposed to be evacuated to?

Sorry, but you're not making much historical sense here.

You might wish to consult the excellent volume on the subject by Munch-Peterson which also covers, with primary source evidence, the course of action that the British chose for the operation-to attack the civil population by bombardment.

Gazzola20 Nov 2017 2:38 p.m. PST


No, the British are not or were not the worst people on the planet. But they were still guilty of committing atrocities just like other nations. To pretend otherwise is entirely foolish.

From the article I linked earlier, the civilians seemed pleased that they were about to be 'liberated' from the French. The British were, after all, their allies. And the French had retreated into the Citadel so their was no need for the British to take anything out on the non-combatants. And it is no use peeling out the unwritten rules of siege warfare. These are civilians we are talking about, not soldiers or the military. But people, of any nations, do act like animals at times and the British certainly did so in this case.

In terms of Copenhagen, there have been some very interesting and detailed and somewhat heated debates and discussions about that action here. It you had read them or gone into some of the links you would have seen that it was a deliberate decision by the British to bombard the civilians. The military were not surrendering to the massive force besieging them as they thought they would, so they basically decided to terrify the civilians into forcing the military to surrender, which worked. Wellington and others were said to have been against the bombardment.

Of course, these events do not mean that the British were always bad or were always committing atrocities. But again, it would be very foolish and naive to consider they never committed them, as did other nations, of course.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP21 Nov 2017 11:48 a.m. PST

There were bad and good soldiers in any of the Armies of that Era… foolish is to said that only one or two were really bad… and acuse them for crimes that their own Armies did… sometimes worst!.


Brechtel19826 Nov 2017 12:26 p.m. PST

So you're selective on your atrocities, especially if committed by the British?

Perhaps you can actually now answer the question originally put to you?

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