Peninsular War


Ad Honorem
Dec 2014
What you're describing was the main strategic line of Spain through the 18th century

During the Golden Century, Spain achieved both, naval and land military superiority over its enemies in Europe, a feat any other European power could do. However, Spain lost both to its enemies: land superiority to France, sea rule to England.

Bourbon Spain had one thing clear: choose fighting on the seas, or over land fields, but not both. And so the Spanish navy of the 18th century grew to a third and then second position, second always in performance. Sea routes were kept open, Spanish privatering devastated its enemies in the successive wars and troops were transported in large quantities through long distances. The expedition to Sacramento of 1776-1777 involved the displacement of 9,000 soldiers in 99 ships, 10,000 kms away. Not even the UK could achieve this.

This could be done because of one reason: peace and alliance with France. The Spanish army was kept at a moderate size, and fully focused to its Atlantic and Mediterran fronts. Guard of the Pyrenees existed of course, but that was a safe area for almost a century.

The French Revolution changed everything: huge amounts of money were diverted from the Navy to the Army, which was increased to confront the new menace to the north, while neglecting and reducing the navy capabilities. This dramatic change put Spain on a very difficult position.

The solution was clear for Godoy: turn back to the geoestrategical situation of 1770, even if an alliance with Revolutionary France was needed. So he tried to replicate what worked well before.

Financial and military aid given to Napoleon, in order to support his land campaigns in Europe, made this option imperfect. The fault is again on Napoleon: had him guaranteed Spain its continental safety, the Spanish could focuse on the sea warfare, which was what the Spanish needed in order to mantain their empire, whatever the colour of the French government

Very interesting post I agree with you, Mr Frank. I agree only Spain was able to achieve Naval and land military superioirty. Britain and Netherlands were naval.. France, Prussia, Germany, Austria, Russia etc were land powers... only USA achieved the same military and naval superiority.
You are right.. Bourbons prefered to choose or naval or land.. Habsburg fought in naval and land. Of course, the French Revolution changed everything... and the Spanish revolution in 1808 gave the fatal blow.

Napoleon was guilty, of course... but because he knew nothing about Spain. About Godoy, I agree again. He was not so bad as people think... but he was a non very honest man. By other side, the "subsideo" to France was unfair, amoral and devastating for the Spanish accounts and had its influence in the army.


Ad Honorem
Dec 2014
Another theory hold Napoleon didn´t want the War in Peninsula it is based on who commanded the forces and the number and quality of the French Army in Peninsula.
Napoleon gave the High Command to Murat, a really courage and brave man but a man to whom courage, pride and impetuosity were imposed on good judgment and reflection. The Emperor knew very well his faults (As soon as he is given an independent command ... he abandons himself and behaves himself like a fool without discernment. Paul Ganière Barry O'Meara . Napoléon dans l´exil. Tome II. Page 77). So, we can think in a reasonable way that Napoleon would never have given him the Command of his forces in Spain if his plan was to fight in a war. We can therefore infer that the objective of those forces was not to fight, but to intimidate and for that mission, the arrogant and vain Murat, Napoleon's brother-in-law and one of the highest dignitaries of the Empire, was very appropriate.
However, in order to prevent any misfortune, Napoleon had apppointed him a magnificent chief of Staff, Augustin Daniel Belliard , a veteran fought in Italy, Egypt, Germany, Prussia and Poland.

As for the French expeditionary forces in Peninsula consisted in May 1808 by:

5 Corps and 1 Detachment = 12 Infantry Divisions and 5 Cavalry Divisions = 116.979 men.

Between those 117.000 men: 23.000 French veterans, 16.000 foreign veterans and 78.000 French young recruits..poorly equipped, trained and instructed. Without any prior military experience. As it is said by Oman... Countries are not conquered by young recruits! (Volumen I, page 107).
In reality, as it is evidenced by the composition and command of his army, as the correspondence of those days, prove that Napoleon never thought to conquer Spain but to change the dynasty of the Spanish throne. His army was not designed to fight, but to support, with its mere presence, the political (not military) operation that he had proposed.

His great mistake was not having foreseen a mass uprising of the Spanish people. As it is pointed out by general Foy, Napoleon had not calculated the size of the undertaking he had gone into. The Forces crossed through Pyrenees had neither the consistency nor the vigor necessary to carry out one of the most difficult missions that an European army can undertake: the military conquest of Spain. (General Foy, Histoire des guerres de la Péninsule sous Napoléon . Tome III, pages 88 - 91). If Napoleon would have foreseen the war.. he would have send la Grandé Armée was in Poland and Prussia and not that army.

So I think Napoleon never wanted the war although with his behavior, he provoked it.


Ad Honorem
Dec 2014
About the Spanish Army in May in 1808 consisted by:

Royal Guard Troops: 3 Guard Corps Co and 1 Alabarderos (Halberdiers) Co. Spanish Guard Regiment (Inmemorial del Rey) and one Valonian Guard Regiment (3 Bons each regiment).

Total: 2 regiments and 4 Companies

Infantry: (3 Bons each Regiment)

33 Line infantry Regiments
3 Irish Line Infantry Regiments (Ultonian, Hibernian and Irlanda).
1 Italian Line Infantry Regiment (Napoles).
6 Swiss Line Infantry Regiments (2 Bons each Regiment): Wimpffen, Reading 1st, Reading 2nd, Betschart, Traxler and Preux).

12 Light infantry Bons (6 Co. each Bon)

Total: 43 regiments and 12 Battalions.


12 Line cavalry Regiments
8 Dragoons Regiments
2 Hunters Regiments
2 Hussards Regiments

5 squadrons each regiment.


One HQ
4 Regiments (each one with 10 Companies = 40 companies = 6 horsed artillery Companies and 34 on foot).
17 Fixed Artillery Co.
5 Workers Co.


1 HQ
1 officers and NCO Staff
1 combat engineers regiment (Regimiento de zapadores – minadores).


43 Provincial militia regiments (one Bon each regiment)
114 urban Militia companies.
41 skillfull invalid companies
85 fixed invalid companies.

Total: 138. 241 men. Between these forces we have to deduce the troops that were in Denmark and Portugal. In Spain: 113. 822 men.

About material, the army had 6.020 guns, 949 mortars, 745 howitzers, 152 swivel guns, 344.389 rifles, carbines and shotguns, 40.375 pistols, 1.470. 902 artillery projectiles, 74.800.983 bullets for fusils and carbines; 51.535 artillery loaded sacks and 6.761, 464 shotgun cartridge.


Official document:

Estado general de la artillería, armamento de infantería y caballería, municiones de todas clases y demás material de guerra que existía en los diferentes almacenes de la Península e islas adyacentes en el primer semestre del año 1808, formado en presencia de los datos facilitados por la Dirección de Artillería.

(General condition of the artillery, armament of infantry and cavalry, ammunition of all kinds and other war material that existed in the different depots of the Peninsula and adjacent islands in the first half of the year 1808, formed in the presence of the data provided by the Artillery Directorate.


Ad Honorem
Dec 2014
It is based on rolls on May 1808. But we must remember one division is in Denmark and two groups in Portugal. So, force in Spain is 113.822 (between them, 7.222 chiefs and officers).