Battle of Sorauren

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Battle of Sorauren
Part of Peninsular War
Date 28 July - 1 August 1813
Location Navarra, Spain
Result Allied victory
Belligerents
United Kingdom United Kingdom
Portugal
Spain Spain
France French Empire
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Arthur Wellesley, Marquess of Wellington France Jean-de-Dieu Soult
Strength
24,000 men 30,000 men
Casualties and losses
2,600 dead or wounded 4,000 dead or wounded

The Battle of Sorauren was part of a series of engagements in late July 1813 called the Battle of the Pyrenees in which a combined British and Portuguese force under Sir Arthur Wellesley held off Marshal Soult's French forces attempting to relieve Pamplona.

With sizable Anglo-Portuguese forces tied up in assaulting San Sebastián and besieging Pamplona, the new French commander Marshal Soult launched a counterattack with the Armée d'Espagne through Maya and Roncesvalles. Although the French initially enjoyed local superiority, the tough terrain combined with stubborn British and Portuguese resistance slowed the French advance to a crawl.

The main French column, about 40,000 men under Clausel and Reille was marching to attack Sorauren. On the 27 July the heavily outnumbered British forces there were drawn up on the Oricain ridge. Wellesley made a dramatic ride along the ridge in front of the cheering British and Portuguese troops and Soult postponed the attack until the next day. By the time the French attack was launched, reinforcements had arrived, bringing the total allied force to about 24,000 men.

On the 28th the fighting at the top of the ridge was bitter and bloody, but the defenders held the French off. About midday, the 6th Division arrived and Wellington sent them to assault the French right flank. More fresh units reached the field and Soult soon ordered a withdrawal. The French suffered 4,000 casualties, while Wellesley's army lost 1,500 British, 1,000 Portuguese and 1000 Spaniards.

On the 30th the retreat from Sorauren cost the French 3,500 casualties, as the French tried to get between Wellesley's army and San Sebastian. At Beunza, 5100 Portuguese and 4000 British fended one attempt off.

With his momentum lost, Soult withdrew into France to prepare his defence against the imminent Allied offensive. In European military history, Sorauren is renowned for two things. The Soult offensive is compared to the Ardennes offensive in 1944. Both were a last desperate essay to ward off the enemy and both spent the last military resources of a tyrant. It is also the crowning achievement of the Portuguese Army in the Peninsular War, which became the working horse of Wellington "the fighting cocks of the army" (Letter to Liverpool, July, 25th, Lesaka.)

References[edit]

  • Charles Oman, History of the Peninsular War, VII
  • Jac Weller, Wellington in the Peninsula