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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Thursday 9 June 2022

Guerra Fantástica

 I'm on a family holiday in the Lake District this week. While playing a post-dinner trivia game, at which I am hopeless, a question came up on the Seven Years War. Essentially, you had to pick the countries that took part. I was okay with most of them but wasn't sure about Portugal. As England's oldest continental ally (not Britain's as often claimed because, for Scotland, it was France), I thought it was likely, but I couldn't think of a campaign they participated in. The next day, while browsing a second-hand book shop, I came across this Helion book, which covers the Portuguese Army and the Seven Years War. Spooky!

Portugal had attempted to remain neutral, despite attempts by the French to bring them in with Spain. The British fleet engaged the French along the coast of Spain and Portugal and certainly breached neutrality in chasing French ships near Lagos. The British apologised, and the Portuguese chose to protect their maritime empire from the British over the threat of a land invasion from Spain.

The Portuguese army was small, ill-equipped and lacking senior officers. On paper, it had over 40,000 men in 26 regiments. However, in practice, it had less than 15,000 men, most of which were in fortress garrisons. The artillery and cavalry were not much better. There was also a militia of around 25,000 men. The British recommended the Count of Lippe to command the Portuguese army and its British auxiliary corps of 7-8,000 men, which was organised into six infantry regiments, one cavalry regiment (dragoons), and eight artillery companies. 

In 1760, before the intervention in Portugal, the Spanish army had, in total, 43 infantry regiments, 12 of which were made up of foreigners – Walloons, Italians, Irish and Swiss – 20 cavalry regiments and 10 of dragoons, and various artillery and engineering units. In total, around 30,000 men were allocated to the attack on Portugal. In addition, 12 French battalions, under the command of Lieutenant General de Beauvau, united with the Spanish Army, with a total of approximately 10,000 men.

The war was pretty unusual in that there were no significant battles. On 24 February 1762, Carlos III ordered the Marquis of Sarriá to enter Portugal, but it didn't get going until the end of April. They captured the fort of Miranda, but as they advanced inland towards Porto, a guerilla war started, threatening lines of communication through rough terrain; after slow progress, the army withdrew. The next effort, with French support, was on Almeida, which also surrendered far too quickly on 25 August. However, advancing into Portugal was a different prospect than capturing border forts, and the army got stuck trying to cross the Tagus. Eventually, they also withdrew. Hostilities were suspended in December.

Those familiar with the later Peninsular War will recognise that this campaign provided Wellington with the inspiration for his defence of Portugal in 1810-1811. As Charles Esdaile comments in his forward, the scorched-earth tactics, construction of impregnable field fortification, and integration of ‘little war’ with conventional military operations were just as much on show in 1761-1762 as they were some 50 years later. 

I doubt many wargamers will be rushing to build the Portuguese Army of the period based on this campaign. However, if you are tempted, there are colour plates and plenty of illustrations. 

1 comment:

  1. This book isn’t something that particularly tempts me, but Helion do publish a fair few books on obscure wars, campaigns etc. Plus they have regular sales when you can get a fair old discount. Cheers,