Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Bayonne bits and pieces..

..I promised an update on a battlefield trip I plan to make to Bayonne as part of our holiday this year, so here it is.

Usually I have a huge amount of trouble persuading the rest of my brood that they really do want to get into a hot car and come with me while we tramp all over some hot and dusty part of Europe (and it if isn't hot and dusty, it's usually wet/cold and windy!) but I may stand a chance this time, as the city looks particularly nice for a wander around..

Either how, my reading and researching across the web has turned up the following:

The city is situated at the confluence of the Adour and its left-hand tributary, the Nive, about 3 m. from the sea (Atlantic). The two rivers divide the town into three nearly equal parts, communicating with each other by bridges. Grand Bayonne lies on the left bank of the Nive. Petit Bayonne lies between the right bank of the Nive and the Adour; Saint Esprit, which is dominated by a citadel which is one of the finest works of Vauban, occupies the right bank of the Adour.

Bayonne has been besieged a large number of times from Plantagenet times until the end of the First French Empire in 1814, but as previously mentioned the city fortifications were significantly improved by the noted military architect Vauban, in the 17th century. The city reached the peak of its commercial success in the eighteenth century, when it was also a centre of the armaments industry (it gave its name to the bayonet).

Vauban's improvements turned out to be critical when the city was besieged in 1813 and 1814, by Wellington's army.

So what I have found on the events of 1813 and 14?? (NB. a lot of this is from the clash of steel & encyclopedia sites - see link below)

1813: saw the city as the one of the key elements of Soult's defence against the advancing British who had crossed the Pyrenees late in 1813 following the surrender of Pamplona.

In December the British had made a number of attacks with the aim of reaching the north bank of the Adour and by the end of four days of fighting on or around the Adour, and in front of Bayonne, both sides had lost several thousand men and the British had not attained their goal.

1814: When operations recommenced in 1814 (February) the French line extended from Bayonne up the north bank of the Adour to the Pau in the east. Wellington's left, under Hope, watched Bayonne, while Beresford, with Hill, observed the Adour.
Wellington's plan was now to draw Soult away from Bayonne, in order that the allied army might, with less loss, cross the Adour and lay siege to the place on both banks of the river..
At its mouth the Adour is about 500 yds. wide (the google map is good at showing this), but the entrance from the sea was dangerous for small vessels except in the finest weather - due to sandbanks/shifting sands. Wellington was convinced that the French would not expect him to attempt to cross there and so planned to collect a large number of ships at the mouth of the river (shades of D-Day here?!)

Leaving Hope with 30,000 men to watch Bayonne, he began an enveloping movement round Soult's left with the aim of drawing Soult away.

Wellington's plan worked and Soult came out and concentrated at Orthez on the Pau (far left/east of his lines), leaving only 10,000 men in Bayonne...

Hope, after a couple of feints higher up the Adour to throw the French off, succeeded in getting 600 men across the river in boats at the end February. The French hadn’t expected this, and reacted slowly; when they did, some Congreve rockets threw them into confusion (was this the only time they ever worked!?), so that the north/right bank was held until, on the morning of the 24th, the flotilla of boats for the bridge appeared from St Jean de Luz, protected by British men of-war of the Mediterranean fleet.

By noon on the 26th of February a bridge of 26 vessels had been constructed; with batteries and a boom to protect it. 8000 troops crossed, and French gunboats were driven off up the river. Bayonne was then invested on both banks as a preliminary to the siege.

On the 13th of April 1814 news arrived of the capture of Paris, and the abdication of Napoleon; effectively this was peace. Despite this on the 14th April Thouvenot (who commanded for Soult), with 6,000 men, launched an attack on the allied lines. Outposts and front lines quickly fell but determined resistance and then a counter-attack drove the French back into the city. The siege continued and Thouvenot finally surrendered the city on the 26th April, twenty days after Napoleon's abdication which effectively ended the Peninsular Campaign.

Links and stuff:

1 comment:

  1. And from that Google photo the fort is looks pretty much intact. I envy you.

    Enjoy yourself and I hope the weather is as good as it was for me in France!