Tim Saunders, Salamanca Campaign 1812 (Pen & Sword, 2022)
The Battle of Salamanca was without doubt one of the British Army’s greatest victories in the Napoleonic Wars, though not without Allied help. It was a real ‘come from behind’ win that completely changed the Peninsular War’s course and helped drive the French out of Spain. It was also a brilliant tactical victory and one that showcased Wellington’s offensive genius. Now we have a new book on it, by Tim Saunders, using the latest evidence and told from the perspective of the men who fought the great battle.
Saunders sets us up on the Lines of the Torres Vedras and Wellington’s breakout that nearly failed. Considerable planning went into the Allied effort, including intelligence and logistics, before Wellington took the offensive. Saunders describes all that then gets into the opening moves of the campaign. This was a period of manoeuvring and skirmishing between two armies in close proximity with neither able to gain the upper hand. The French were undoubtedly gaining the upper hand, however, forcing the Allies into retreat. The cat-and mouse continued with Wellington running out of time to fight before French reinforcements arrived and he would have to retire to Portugal. Then came Marmont’s infamous error when he overextended his army so that his divisions could not support each other. Wellington attacked.
Saunders describes the ensuing battle, starting on the right wing where the French collapsed after an intense struggle. In the centre, things proved less clear cut, but the Allies eventually drove the French back there too. Saunders notes how only the night and Allied exhaustion saved the French, Salamanca was still a crushing defeat. Saunders then narrates the French strategic retreat, including the skirmishing and battles that continued across Spain. He closes with the Orders of Battle and Wellington’s dispatch for his great victory.
Salamanca Campaign is an excellent piece of battle history. Saunders writes well, keeping the narrative moving, but deftly steps back for the most part when required to allow the combatants to describe the action. That these are almost all English might be seen as a demerit, but that doesn’t detract from this account. The book is studded with clear maps, contemporary illustrations, and modern battlefield photographs. The numerous photographs of reenactors in Napoleonic uniforms are useful too, but the editorial decision to print them in monochrome is a severe disappointment. Nevertheless, this reviewer highly recommends this book for newcomers and those with a deeper interest in the Peninsular War campaigns.