This Day In History

1918 Battle of the Selle. In a carefully-planned attack, rehearsed over 5 days, 5th East Lancashires mount a remarkably successful night assault near Briastre. They move off at 2 a.m., in a heavy downpour which lasted throughout the engagement, to the sound of the Regimental March being played by the battalion band. Met by heavy machine-gun fire and an artillery barrage which causes 50 casualties, they charge through with a yell and are on their final objective well before the 7 a.m. deadline set, taking 300 prisoners in the process. Casualties are 2 officers and 13 men dead, and 6 officers and 109 men wounded. Some 22 German dead were counted on the battalion front. Study of the ground the next day shows that the battalion had gone through no fewer than 6 defensive belts, including a very strongly-held railway embankment, before reaching its final objective. The 300 prisoners were ‘of far better physique and appearance’ than any of the enemy previously encountered, and turn out to be picked troops. They said that they were members of Kaiser Wilhelm’ bodyguard; that they had never before known defeat; and that they had been sent to hold the line at all costs.
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Chapter 7 – THE PENINSULAR WAR 1808-14

But the main arena for the British army was to be Spain and Portugal, where the 1/40th and the 1/82nd landed in 1808 under Sir Arthur Wellesley, later Duke of Wellington, and helped gain early victories at Rolica and Vimeiro. Later that same year the 2/59th, 2/81st and 1/82nd took part in Sir John Moore’s audacious advance into Spain and his subsequent retirement to and stand at Corunna, where the 59th and 81st gained particular distinction. It was then the misfortune of the veterans of Corunna to be dispatched with ill-fated expedition to Walcheren, at the mouth of the Scheldt, where battle casualties were few but malaria took a heavy toll.

Meanwhile the 40th had remained in Spain (indeed they were one of only three regiments to serve throughout the Campaign) and in 1809 they earned fresh laurels at the battle of Talavera. In 1810 they took part in the battle of Busaco and in the withdrawal to the Lines of Torres Vedras. British reinforcements for Spain in 1809-10 included the 2/30th, 2/47th and 1/82nd. In 1811 a detachment of the 40th fought at the battle of Albuera and the Flank companies of the 47th and 82nd played a prominent role in the hard-fought victory of Barossa. Finally, on New Year’s Eve of that year the 47th, supported by the 82nd, repulsed a French assault on the town of Tarifa.

Before he could advance into Spain in 1812 Wellington had to capture the frontier fortresses. The 40th took part in the siege of Ciudad Rodrigo and both the 30th and 40th displayed great gallantry and sustained severe casualties in the assault on the grim fortress of Badajoz, one the fiercest fights in the history of the Army. Later that year both Regiments distinguished themselves again in the course of Wellington’s brilliant victory at Salamanca. The campaign ended with another retirement on Portugal, during which the 30th and 47th fought successful rearguard actions at Villa Muriel and Puente Largo respectively.

The following spring Wellington advanced to drive the French out of Spain, and with him marched the 1/40th, 2/59th and 1/82nd. All four Regiments were heavily engaged in the decisive battle of Vittoria. The 40th and 82nd then fought in a number of desperate defensive actions for which they were awarded the battle honour Pyrenees, while the 47th and 59th greatly distinguished themselves in the assault on San Sebastian, the bloodiest occasion in the history of either Regiment. Wellington then advanced into France, where the 40th and 82nd both saw hard fighting at the battle of Nivelle and the 47th and 59th were heavily engaged at the battle of Nive before winter brought the campaign of 1813 to a close. Meanwhile, the 1/81st were taking part in diversionary operations in Catalonia.

In 1814 the 40th and 82nd fought at Orthes and the 40th were in action at Toulouse, the last battle of the Peninsula War, while the 47th and 59th were besieging Bayonne when news came of Napoleons’ abdication. For their services in this campaign the Regiments were awarded the additional battle honour of Peninsula.

Antwerp. In1814 the 2/30th and 2/81st were sent with a British expedition to open a second front in the low Countries and were besieging Antwerp when the war ended.

 The East Indies. Meanwhile the 1st Battalions of the 30th, 47th and 59th were serving in India, from where expeditions were mounted against the colonies of France and her allies. in 1809 the 59th took part in the capture of Mauritius from the French and subsequently the same Regiment played a leading role in the capture of Java, Sumatra, Bali and the Celebes from Dutch and local princes. The hard-fought battle of Cornelis in Java, 1811, stands as one of the greatest achievements in history of the 59th Regiment.

Chapter 6 | Chapter 8