Reflections on war and warfare: week 21 (21 – 27 July 2014)

As of March 2014, we are posting weekly extracts of writings on war and warfare drawn from our manuscript and printed collections. Ranging from items on the Maratha wars to the Second World War, the extracts will reflect opinions both from the battle front and from those at home.

21 July 1808 Beginning of British intervention in the Peninsular War
On 14 July 1808 Arthur Wellesley was formally appointed to command an expedition to support the Spanish in the fight against French forces in the Iberian Peninsula. Arriving in Coruña on 20 July, Wellesley attempts to convey the prevailing sentiment felt in favour of the Spanish cause.

“It is impossible to convey to you an idea of the sentiment which prevails here in favor of the Spanish cause. The difference between any two men is whether the one is a better or a worse Spaniard; and the better Spaniard is the one who detests the French most heartily.”

WP1/209 Letter from Lieutenant General Arthur Wellesley, Coruña, to Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, 21 July 1808


22 July 1812 Battle of Salamanca

For several weeks following their advance into Spain in 1812, Wellington’s Anglo-Portuguese army was shadowed by French forces led by Marshal Auguste Marmont. The two armies finally engaged each other to the south of Salamanca on 22 July 1812. Thanks to a series of flanking manoeuvres the battled ended in a decisive allied victory, enabling Wellington to advance and capture Madrid on 6 August. Though he was forced to abandon the Spanish capital two months later, the victory convinced the British government to continue the war in Spain.

“A few shells most judiciously thrown made the enemy give way, and our light troops and line hurried on and gained the heights. A very heavy firing now took place, the enemy giving way. At this instant our Heavy Brigade, led by my poor friend Le Marchant, rushed on and penetrated the enemy’s line. All was instantly confusion, and their left fled precipitately to a sort of second line, leaving behind them guns, eagles and immense quantity of prisoners. The troops now nearest the centre were engaged, and Lord Wellington ordered on our left, who were all evidently gaining ground, when night put an end to the battle and saved the enemy from total destruction…”

MS 300/7/1 Transcript by S.G.P.Ward of Scovell’s Peninsula diary, 22 July 1812


23 July 1917 Desertion amongst the Russian forces

After the abdication of Nicholas II in March 1917, Alexander Kerensky held the position Minister of Justice in the Provisional Government, going on to become Minister of War in May, and Prime Minister in July. Despite opposition due to the Russian army weakened by the military disasters at the Masurian Lakes and Tannenburg, and to food supplies being dangerously low, Kerensky ensured Russia stayed in the First World War. This led to a drop in morale amongst the Russian soldiers and an increasing problem of desertion.

“The war bids fair to go on forever; now Russian units are deserting wholesale and Kerensky in premier. Can he save the situation?”

MS 168 AJ 217/13 Journal of Samuel Rich, 27 July 1917

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