Example of a battle of the offensive defense: battle of Talavera, July 28, 1809.
The battle of Talavera
, fought by the French
against the allied English
, offers a very fine example of a defensive battle with offensive return in its own lines.
The French army numbered 45,000 men, commanded by King Joseph Bonaparte
The allied army amounted to almost 20,000 English
, and 35,000 Spaniards, commanded by Wellington
The Spanish position, forming the right wing of the allies, is covered by two redoubts, and the access to it is rendered so difficult that the French
army does not even try an attack, but sends simply a body of dragoons to reconnoiter and observe this spot.
The center, composed of four English brigades, is placed between the redoubt on the Spanish
left wing and a hill lying in the same front as the two redoubts.
The left wing is formed by the regiments defending the hill, by a body of Spanish cavalry under Bassancourt, and by a part of the English
cavalry disposed in the valley between the hill and the opposite one.
The remainder of the English
cavalry, with a part of the Spanish
, is formed as reserve behind the hill.
In looking at the line of the English
defense, it is easy to see that the hill on the left and the redoubt on the right of the center form like two bastions; that the English
center brigades, in retreating only fifty to a hundred yards behind the front line of those two bastions, form the curtain between them; and that, if the enemy advances in the free space left, he is assailed on his right by the fire from the hill, on his
Battle of Talavera. July 28, 1809.|
left by that from the redoubt, and in front by that of the brigades; besides, behind the redoubt cavalry is arranged to attack at any moment the flank of an advancing enemy.
The hill forms the key of the position; the French
tried in vain to take it; their columns in the valley, in advancing, were exposed to the fire of the English
as well as to the charges of their cavalry.
In the center the French
were more fortunate; the English
line, first exposed to a destructive fire, and then attacked by the French
columns, gave way, but, as soon as the French
advanced, they felt the advantage of the position; attacked in flank by an English regiment descending the hill, exposed on all sides to a deadly fire, and charged by a body of cavalry, their advance was checked, and time was given to the English
regiments in the center to form again.
The loss on both sides was heavy, and the armies remained in presence of each other the whole night; the next morning the French
retreated in complete order.
This example shows well that a defensive battle with offensive return, but with the attack taking place in its own lines, although gained, will defeat a part of the enemy's army, but never, or at least very seldom, his whole force.