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"Napoleon in Spain" Topic


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Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian07 Nov 2019 6:19 p.m. PST

Was it a mistake for Napoleon to embroil his military in Spain?

MiniPigs07 Nov 2019 6:50 p.m. PST

It's a bit of a splintered question. He may have had no business there in the first place but having invaded, he didn't really finish the job and then he bled needed resources for his own premature invasion of Russia and ultimately Spain might have finished HIM.

But, if he hadn't invaded, we wouldn't have the Peninsular War which is one of the most fascinating campaigns, ever.

rmaker07 Nov 2019 7:26 p.m. PST

Yes. He knocked out an ally (admittedly a rather imperfect one) and got himself a quagmire. Which, if he'd bothered to study the War of the Spanish Succession, he would have known.

ConnaughtRanger07 Nov 2019 10:42 p.m. PST

Of course, not. Despite it being a very minor sideshow that had absolutely no effect on the conduct of campaigns in the only significant theatre that is central Europe, it was also a stunning success for the French Army and their emperor.
(I get my knowledge of the period from the TMP Napoleonic Discussion Message Board).

4th Cuirassier08 Nov 2019 2:22 a.m. PST

Yes, it was his Vietnam. He overthrew an existing allied regime and replaced it with a puppet client-state regime nominally run by a placeman, insultingly parachuted in after being moved from kingship of a different puppet regime. This ensured 7 years of war. It absorbed 250,000 of his best men and cost him the same number of casualties, it gave Britain a way to intervene militarily so that by land as well as by sea Britain was his most persistent antagonist, it encouraged the Austrians in 1809, it ensured that between 1809 and 1813 he became more and more reliant on foreigners (who then peeled away) to fight the Austrians, Russians and Prussians for him, it resulted in the invasion of France, and it perfected the generalship of the only undefeated allied general of the era who did for him at Waterloo.

It is sometimes suggested that it was a secondary theatre but in fact it was for most of its duration the only land theatre where Napoleon was being opposed.

mysteron Supporting Member of TMP08 Nov 2019 3:49 a.m. PST

For some reason I have always compared this with Africa during the Second World War which was Hitler's ulcer. Not quite the same but it tied up resources that could have been used elsewhere. IIRC this is why Austria launched their offensive in 1809 as many French resources were tied up in Spain. The French Dragoons come to mind .

holdit08 Nov 2019 4:23 a.m. PST

Well you could hardly classify it as a good call…

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP08 Nov 2019 4:48 a.m. PST

Napoleon's three greatest mistakes were Spain, Russia, and the Continental System.

Getting involved in Spain, though it was not intentional, gave Napoleon a continuing second front.

The reason for invading Spain was that when in Berlin after Jena he found evidence that Spain would fight France if the Prussians won. Not much of an ally.

Spain hurt Napoleon far more than the Russian campaign did. In January 1813 some of his advisors urged him to take half of the troops out of Spain to confront Russia and Prussia in central Europe. That course of action might have kept Austria at least neutral and he could then solve the Spanish problem later. Giving command in Spain to Suchet with a much smaller French presence could have been successful.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP08 Nov 2019 4:49 a.m. PST

…it was his Vietnam.

That is not a valid historical analogy.

Historydude1808 Nov 2019 6:31 a.m. PST

Yes. It was the 19th century Vietnam/Afghanistan, in which the French were drawn into a guerilla war they could not win because the enemy knew the land and they could not tell friend from enemy. It bled the French for years and tied down soldiers that could have been used in Austria and Russia.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP08 Nov 2019 6:35 a.m. PST

Guerilla warfare was not something the French had not encountered before. They had been successful against insurgencies in the Vendee, Italy, and the Tyrol. And they believed that the Tyrolese were much more dangerous than the Spanish.

The advantage the Spanish had was the presence of an Anglo-Spanish-Portuguese regular army which divided the French war effort.

It is not analogous to either Vietnam or Afghanistan.

holdit08 Nov 2019 7:44 a.m. PST

Hmm I would have though that Anglo-Spanish regulars would be analagous to the NVA, and Spanish guerillas to the VC. But then, I as far as I know the VC were much more controlled by Hanoi than the Spanish guerillas were by Wellington.

I was going to say that one difference is that in Vietnam the Americans were propping up an inept and corrupt administration where as in Spain, the French deposed one…but then I though better of continuing down that line of reasoning. ;-)

If I remember correctly, Joseph was happy enough in Naples and had no interest in going to Spain anyway. One of Napoleon's mistakes, I think was not just to put his relatives on thrones, but not treating them seriously as monarchs once he'd put them there, e.g. Joseph and Louis. I recall someone saying that Louis was a real Bonaparte, which was why Napoleon found him so troublesome…

Korvessa Supporting Member of TMP08 Nov 2019 7:58 a.m. PST

Asking a more powerful neighbor,"Hey would you help us decide who should be king?" never ends well.

Ask Scotland.

Nine pound round08 Nov 2019 8:05 a.m. PST

Joseph took after Carlo, but Napoleon took after Letitizia.

Trajanus08 Nov 2019 8:06 a.m. PST

Or Ireland.

MiniPigs08 Nov 2019 8:25 a.m. PST

In re guerilla warfare, military quagmires etc. I was under the impression that, after his departure, Napoleon never really left a clear commander in chief in Spain. I think Napoleon's lack of desire to appoint a military supremo in Spain is part of why the French never had a well coordinated war effort.

In any case, it's a terrific series of campaigns with a lot of "what ifs" to enjoy.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP08 Nov 2019 8:48 a.m. PST

I would have though that Anglo-Spanish regulars would be analagous to the NVA, and Spanish guerillas to the VC. But then, I as far as I know the VC were much more controlled by Hanoi than the Spanish guerillas were by Wellington.

And you also had VC 'regular' units in South Vietnam. Further, it wasn't an 'inspired' insurgency as was the case in Spain, it was directed by North Vietnam and after the VC were essentially destroyed in TET 68, the VC units were fleshed out/manned by the North Vietnamese. The war was a war of conquest by North Vietnam in violation of the 1954 Geneva accords, just as the final win by North Vietnam was a violation of the 1972 peace treaty.

Michael Westman08 Nov 2019 10:30 a.m. PST

At the great risk of detouring this thread way off topic, it's true that North Vietnam sought to, and eventually controlled, the NLF, but the NLF was definitely "inspired" before Tet basically destroyed them. We and Diem didn't even sign the Accords, which is understandable, because we figured the elections weren't going to be fair in the North. So the Accord was pretty much dead in the water.

At the very beginning of Part III of the Pentagon Papers, issued by the Dept of Defense, it stated:

It is charged that the U.S. tried to sabotage the Geneva Conference, first by maneuvering to prevent the conference from taking place, then by attempting to subvert a settlement, and finally, by refusing to guarantee the resulting agreements of the conference. The documentation on this charge is complete, but by no means unambiguous. While "sabotage" may be a strong word, it is evident that the U.S. by its actions and statements during this period did seek to down-play the conference, disassociate itself from the results, and thereby did cast doubt on the stability of the accords.

4th Cuirassier08 Nov 2019 12:42 p.m. PST

Yyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyeah, that does detour it a bit.

The question really is, was the goal for which Napoleon invaded and dismantled Spain (enforcement of the Continental System and pillaging Spain for money) foreseeably and definitely attainable? Clearly it was not, and the exact opposite was obviously true. And this was obvious at the time. We know this because Britain saw it and sent an army to disrupt the French occupation not once but twice. So it was a foreseeably stupid, wholly avoidable mistake to invade Spain.

The opportunity to inflict cheap and needless defeats on French armies on land was then just too good to miss. Perhaps the neatest example is Busaco, where Massena and Ney lost ten times what their enemy did fighting a totally unnecessary battle, given that the position could simply have been bypassed. By the time they noticed this was possible Wellington had vanished and the French ended up with literally nothing to show for the gratuitous loss of 5,000 casualties. Arguably they had nothing to show for any of their victorious battles either because not one of them brought them closer to winning. They spent the entire 7 years losing, occasionally managing to slow down the rate of pwnage.

Meanwhile, British control of the sea provided the equivalent of the Ho Chi Minh Trail waterborne supplies and reinforcements with which the French could not interfere.

ReallySameSeneffeAsBefore08 Nov 2019 4:29 p.m. PST

There is a very interesting and well argued essay by Malyn Newitt that Busaco was actually one of the crucial battles of the whole Napoleonic wars. This assessment was on the basis that at Busaco the Portuguese troops had demonstrated the ability to fight and beat the French in a full scale engagement. As a result, Wellington's Anglo-Portuguese Army was transformed into an instrument capable of strategic offensive operations in the Peninsula- and ultimately into France itself- thus permanently changing the dynamic of the conflict to France's disadvantage.

4th Cuirassier08 Nov 2019 5:13 p.m. PST

Interesting – my take has always been that Wellington intended to draw Massena onto the LoTV and destroy his army there by starving it. The opportunity to get the fool to attack him needlessly on the way, and take 5,000 needless casualties, was just a gift. It would have been rude not to.

Wellington did indeed see it as a chance to blood his Portuguese troops at minimal risk.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP09 Nov 2019 7:12 a.m. PST

Massena might have been a lot of things, but he was no fool.

Trajanus09 Nov 2019 9:03 a.m. PST

Well everyone has a fool day. If this wasn't his, its pretty darn close.

ConnaughtRanger09 Nov 2019 12:58 p.m. PST

"Massena might have been a lot of things, but he was no fool."
Sending your army piecemeal up a very high ridge to attack the steadiest infantry in Europe when you're not really sure who is there or where might not have been the brightest idea? But Madame Leberton is waiting, so what the h***?

holdit09 Nov 2019 2:20 p.m. PST

I think it's possible to criticise someone's performance on a particular day, even if it was pretty bad, without dismissing the man entirely as a fool, something which his military record would not support. The yah-boo-sucks level of argument may provide a dart of self-satisfaction, but it's not convincing and is indeed self-undermining, except of course to those who are of the same mind anyway.

As for Massena, I think Napoleon gave the best assessment on his return to France: "Well, Prince of Essling, so you are no longer Massena." Ouch.

4th Cuirassier09 Nov 2019 4:45 p.m. PST

OK, instead of "fool", how about "utter, utter mug"?

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP09 Nov 2019 6:34 p.m. PST

Perhaps the neatest example is Busaco, where Massena and Ney lost ten times what their enemy did fighting a totally unnecessary battle, given that the position could simply have been bypassed. By the time they noticed this was possible Wellington had vanished and the French ended up with literally nothing to show for the gratuitous loss of 5,000 casualties.

Where did you get your casualty figures?

According to Oman, Volume III, 551 and 553, Wellington incurred 1252 total casualties (equally divided between British and Portuguese), and Massena incurred about 4600. That isn't even close to 'ten times' the British and Portuguese losses. So, once again, you are incorrect in fact.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP09 Nov 2019 6:39 p.m. PST

The question really is, was the goal for which Napoleon invaded and dismantled Spain (enforcement of the Continental System and pillaging Spain for money) foreseeably and definitely attainable? Clearly it was not, and the exact opposite was obviously true. And this was obvious at the time. We know this because Britain saw it and sent an army to disrupt the French occupation not once but twice. So it was a foreseeably stupid, wholly avoidable mistake to invade Spain.

Where have you seen the idea expressed that Napoleon entered Spain to pillage it and dismantle the country? I have never seen anything to support that idea. How was the Spanish revolt forseeable in 1808. And Spain was not invaded to enforce the Continental System, Portugal was. And it should be noted that Spain not only supported the invasion of Portugal but pledged troops to support it.

I would be very interested to see your sources for these ideas. You could start with Owen Connelly's Napoleon's Satellite Kingdoms, Chapter 7, pages 223-263.

dibble09 Nov 2019 9:44 p.m. PST

Where did you get your casualty figures?

According to Oman, Volume III, 551 and 553, Wellington incurred 1252 total casualties (equally divided between British and Portuguese), and Massena incurred about 4600. That isn't even close to 'ten times' the British and Portuguese losses. So, once again, you are incorrect in fact.

The oh so reliable French casualty returns? Perhaps it was 6 or even 8 times as many :)

von Winterfeldt09 Nov 2019 11:42 p.m. PST

Where have you seen the idea expressed that Napoleon entered Spain to pillage it and dismantle the country? I have never seen anything to support that idea. How was the Spanish revolt forseeable in 1808.

One just has to read how the invaders behaved from day one to come to the conclusion – the Spanish were not like the phlegmatic Germans and took revenge in their own hands

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP10 Nov 2019 4:27 a.m. PST

The oh so reliable French casualty returns? Perhaps it was 6 or even 8 times as many

But you don't have a source…If it was by any stretch of the imagination six or eight times the casualties stated by Oman, then Massena's Army of Portugal would have ceased to exist-it didn't.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP10 Nov 2019 4:33 a.m. PST

One just has to read how the invaders behaved from day one to come to the conclusion the Spanish were not like the phlegmatic Germans and took revenge in their own hands

There is enough guilt for atrocities in Spain to go around. The Spanish guerillas murdered not only women and children, but also terrorized their own people.

The Portuguese put a death penalty on those civilians ordered to withdraw to Lisbon if they faled to comply with the order to 'retire' behind the Lines of Torres Vedras and then 40,000 of them died of disease and starvation there. And Wellington was complicit in those actions and bears at least partial responsibility for them.

And British behavior on the retreat to Corunna and at the sack of Ciudad Rodrigo, Badajoz, and San Sebastien was as bad as anyone else.

And then the use of prison hulks in Cadiz harbor as well as the atrocity of Cabrera Island can be added to the list.

So, if you're going to talk about atrocities in Spain and Portugal you should mention both sides.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP10 Nov 2019 4:33 a.m. PST

Was it a mistake for Napoleon to embroil his military in Spain?

The short answer is 'yes'.

von Winterfeldt10 Nov 2019 7:00 a.m. PST

the Spanish had the right to defend their country by all means, they were attacked and invaded and from day one the invader committed atrocities, in case they wouldn't have been invaded, no prison hulks nor Caprera – The Spanish committed atrocities, yes, no doubt, in retaliation and then it was an unhappy spiral of violence of both side.

dibble10 Nov 2019 12:18 p.m. PST

But you don't have a source…If it was by any stretch of the imagination six or eight times the casualties stated by Oman, then Massena's Army of Portugal would have ceased to exist-it didn't.

I don't pretend to have sources because French returns are crap anyway! But 6 to 8 times the allied casualties (7,500-10,000) at Busaco 'does not an army wiped out make'

My opinion as to why Massena attacked was because his head grew too large on the day and got it well and truly deflated.

That it is said that Portugal lost 40,000 of its people was in terms of the situation, a small price to pay. It would have been a small price had Britain lost 100,000 to stop the French taking her country.

42flanker10 Nov 2019 12:40 p.m. PST

The Portuguese put a death penalty on those civilians ordered to withdraw to Lisbon if they faled to comply with the order to 'retire' behind the Lines of Torres Vedras and then 40,000 of them died of disease and starvation there. And Wellington was complicit in those actions and bears at least partial responsibility for them.

I am curious. The threat of the death penalty was for aiding the enemy, the figure of 40,000 dead appears to derive from an unsourced statement secondary study, the limitations of Wellington's responsibility, together with his frustrated efforts to remedy the situation, (not to mention the 35-40,000 civilians who died in the French occupied zone).

These points were all aired in this discussion from 2018 (not the first) on the napoleon-series discussion forum, in response to a similar set of assertions on your part (It may even have come up on TMP, as well). Does repeating it again here make it any more valid?

link

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP10 Nov 2019 1:46 p.m. PST

I don't pretend to have sources because French returns are crap anyway! But 6 to 8 times the allied casualties (7,500-10,000) at Busaco 'does not an army wiped out make'

First, you referred to French casualties as six or eight times as large; not it is the Anglo-Portuguese casualties?

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP11 Nov 2019 6:06 a.m. PST

Well 4C, are you going to post where you came up with the casualties for Busaco?

138SquadronRAF Supporting Member of TMP11 Nov 2019 7:14 a.m. PST

I don't consider Massena a fool. He looked at the Lines of Torres Vedras and said "Nope, nope, nope." and went home. Marbot on the other hand was a fool since he believed they could have been taken with ease.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP14 Nov 2019 8:29 a.m. PST

Pelet's memoirs are excellent for the French campaign in Portugal, including Torres Vedras. Pelet was one of Massena's ADCs.

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