Friday, 10 March 2017

Talavera 208 - Bassecourts Spanish 5th Division, 3rd Battalion, Africa Regiment

5th Division: Major-General Bassecourt - Source Oman (Battalions)
1st Real Marina (Royal Marines), 1st Battalion
1st Real Marina (Royal Marines), 2nd Battalion
Africa Infantry Regiment, 3rd Battalion
Murcia Infantry Regiment, 2nd Battalion
Murcia Infantry Regiment, 3rd Battalion
Reyna Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion
Provincial de Siguenza (Militia)

The Africa Regiment was raised in 1559 appears as sixth in the listing of Spanish regular line regiments that were the core of the Spanish Bourbon army at the start of the Peninsular War.

The Spanish army had been in a prolonged period of decline since the end of the War of Spanish Succession, with only two Cazadore, three line and four foreign regiments raised in the time leading up to the French Revolution.

Manpower for the Spanish army had originally relied on volunteers and when this proved insufficient, foreign battalions were added to the lists, but by 1770 even this provision could not meet the demands for more men and the first drafts of 12,000 men were raised from the Provisional Militia to fill the ranks, later extending to the general population with limited exceptions.

Africa Regiment No.6
Eventually even conscription proved unworkable as young men fled to the mountains to avoid service and the state reverted to the 'Leva' where marriages of young men within 15 days of conscription were annulled and magistrates were empowered to sweep the streets of beggars, criminals and the unemployed for instant enrolment into the army, with the balance required relied on from popular enlistment.

Needless to say this incoherent and haphazard system left many Spanish infantry regiments understrength and populated with an indifferent kind of soldier that characterised the regular army at the start of the Napoleonic wars.

The regulations for the organisation of infantry regiments from 1802 to 1808 laid down that each regiment should have three battalions, with the first battalion composed of two grenadier and two fusilier companies whilst the second and third battalions were to have four companies of fusiliers.

Each Company was supposed to have 191 men all ranks  and each battalion a theoretical strength of just over 760 men.

The first record I have for the Africa Regiment is this listing of the standing army in May 1808 right at the start of hostilities with France showing a very weak three battalions of average strength 320 men.

Effective Forces Standing Spanish Army and Provincial Militias May 1808
Number of Battalions/Strength (officers/troops/horses)
Africa 3/70/898/0

Source - Seccion de Historia Militar, Estados de la Organizacion y Fuerza de los Ejércitos Españoles Beligerantes en la Peninsula, durante la Guerre de España contra Bonaparte, 1822, Barcelona.

Trying to get a handle of Spanish troop movements and strengths at any particular time is always challenging, but this second source of a similar date seems to corroborate how weak the Africa were at the start of the war.

Spanish Army of Andalusia 20 May l808
Gibraltar Camp:
3/Guardias Wallonas (30/800)
Valencia Infantry Regiment (l/2)(7/3l8)
Corona Infantry Regiment (39/675)
l/,3/Africa Infantry Regiment (36/455)
Barbastro Light Infantry Regiment (l/2)(6/246)
Campo Mayor Infantry Regiment 33/l034
3/Murcia Infantry Regiment (l0/l2l)
l/,2/Jaen Infantry Regiment (34/795)
Grenadieros provinciales de Andalucia (2)(50/l,400)
Provinciales de Cuenca (l2/487)
Provinciales de Jaen (l4/496)
Provinciales de Lorca (l2/434)
Provinciales de Guadix (l3/503)
Provinciales de Siguenza (l4/543)
Provinciales de Chinchilla (l3/408)
Provinciales de Malaga (l2/3l3)
Artillery (20/575)
Sappers (9 l3l)
Santiago Cavalry Regiment (2)(l6/l30)
Alcantara Cavalry Regiment (2)(l5/ll6)
Source - Clerc, Capitulation de Baylen, Causes et Consequences, Paris, l903

The Africa were involved right from the start with their second battalion listed as part of the reserve division at Baylen on the 19th July 1808 with a strength of 525 men.

A ragged veteran from Ucles on the field of Talavera - Dionisio Alvarez Cueto
The success of Baylen and repatriation of French troops from Portugal found the rejuvenated Spanish army moved up to the River Ebro prior to its rapid re-education as the Emperor led the French Imperial forces back into Spain. The Africa are recorded showing two battalions attached to Castanos' Army of the Centre in La Pena's 4th Division.

The Africa would be with the Army of the Centre under its various commanders until being ordered to join General Cuesta's Army of Estremadura in the spring of 1809.

Army of the Centre, Commanding General: General Castanos, October-November l808
Source Oman
4th Division: General La Pena (7,500)
Africa Infantry Regiment (2)
Burgos Infantry Regiment (2)
Saragosa Infantry Regiment (l)
Murica Infantry Regiment (2)
Provincial Grenadiers of Andalusia (2) (militia)
Signenza Militia Infantry Regiment (l)
Navas de Tolosa Infantry Regiment (l)(new levee)
Baylen Infantry Regiment (l)(new levee)
5th de Sevilla (l) (new levee)

With the fast moving invasion led by Napoleon, Spanish troops reeled back as the French spearhead headed for Madrid whilst secondary forces moved along the south and north coastal areas, forcing Spanish troops to rapidly garrison their fortified cities in an attempt to slow the advance into the interior of the country.  A detachment of the Africa Regiment are recorded in December 1808 at the second siege of Saragossa.

With French troops forcing their way through the Somosierra Pass into Madrid the Spanish forces were given some respite as Napoleon's attention was drawn towards Sir John Moore's rapidly retreating British Expeditionary Force, now falling back to the Galician mountains.

The remains of the Army of the Centre now hovered to the south east and close to Madrid at Cuenca, threatening the French garrison under Marshal Victor.

Spanish Army of Cuenca 11 January l809
lst Division:
Reyna Infantry Regiment (3/l3/27/8/459)
l/,3/Africa Infantry Regiment (5/38/24/ll/736)
l/,3/Burgos Infantry Regiment (5/l2/34/l4/47l)
l/Sevilla Infantry Regiment (l/l4/25/-/l67)
3/Sevilla Infantry Regiment (l/8/8/4/94)
Provincial de granada (0/7/l2/l/l63)
Provincial de Bujalance (l/3/5/4/92)
Provincial de Cuenca (-/l2/l6/8/602)
Provincial de Diudad Real (2/3/8/2/258)
Provincial de Plasencia (l/3/5/2/l73)
Volontarios de Valancia (lt inf)(2/l7/l5/9/303)
Cazadores de las Navas de Tolosa (3/3l/4l/9/492)
Tiradores de Cadiz (l/l6/27/4/787)

* Figures are Chiefs, Officiers, Sergeants, Drummers & Soldiers
Numbers are men present, not effective strength.
Source - Gomez de Arteche y Du Casse, Guerra de la Independencia

In January 1809, Marshal Victor determined to stamp out the threat posed by the Spanish at Cuenca now commanded by the Duke of Infantado, who now appreciating the Emperor's departure to the north was becoming more emboldened to action.

The French Marshal managed to catch the Vanguard of Infantado's army at Ucles and demonstrating the French abilities to manoeuvre pinned the Spanish to their front whilst turning and enveloping their flanks.

The resulting rout was a disaster for the Spanish resulting in 6,800 casualties and losses from a force of nearly 12,000 men, with the French barely losing 200 men in return.

With the threat to Madrid neutralised Napoleon's brother, King Joseph, entered his capital on the 22nd January for the second time.

Spanish Army of the Centre, Battle of Ucles, l3 January l809
Commanding Officer: D. Francisco Javier Venegas
Cantabria Infantry Regiment (20/3l5)
Africa Infantry Regiment (43/77l)
Ordenes militaires Infantry Regiment (42/848)(500 in battle)
Barbastro Light Infantry Regiment (ll/22l)
4th Seville Infantry Regiment (20/224)
Cuenca Infantry Regiment (l2/626)
Source - Gomez de Arteche Y Moro, La Guerra de la Independencia, Madrid, l883és_(1809)

Between the 21st March and the 4th of April the Africa Regiment was ordered to join the Army of Estremadura forming under General Cuesta in and around Badajoz, and this source shows a good strength battalion, recorded as the first, despite the disaster of Ucles only two months previously.

The Africa under Mariscal de Campo de Echevarri are accompanied by several of the units that would line up alongside them in the 5th Division at Talavera.

It would seem that this move meant that they at least missed being involved in another disastrous Spanish battle as Marshal Victor dealt a lesson in battle to General Cuesta at the Battle of Medellin on the 28th March 1809. The Africa and their comrades from the Army of the Centre are notable absentees.

Forces Passed to the Army of Estramadura from the Army of the Centre by order of the Supreme Central Junta between 21st March and 4th April 1809.
Division: Mariscal de campo de Echevarri
l/Reyna Infantry Regiment (l)(795)
l/Africa Infantry Regiment (l)(838)
lst Real Marina Infantry Regiment (2)(6l5)
l/,2/Murcia Infantry Regiment (2)(l,229)
2/Cazadores de Barbastro (l)(85l)
Cazadores Voluntarios de Valencia y Albuquerque (l)(83l)
Provincial de Siguenza (l)(l,08l)

My 3rd Africa are composed of figures from the AB range supplied by Fighting 15's with their Sencilla supplied by GMB Flags.

Sources referred to in this post:
The Armies of Spain and Portugal 1808-14 - G.F.Nafziger & M Gilbert
Spanish Army of the Napoleonic Wars (1) 1793-1808 - Rene Chartrand & Bill Younghusband

Next up the first battalion, Reyna (Reina) Regiment.


  1. Proper Spanish in white. Nice.

    Bet you hate white by the time you finish...


    1. Yes I was looking forward to getting stuck into the regulars and the Division will add a great splash of colour to the table.

      White and flesh eh, the challenge of painting wargames figures! Well you know I love challenge.


  2. Very nice looking Spanish. An underappreciated force

    1. Thank you Dean. The Spanish really help make the Peninsular War so different from the rest of the Napoleonic conflict and you have to admire a force that kept getting beat only to come back again and again to still be a force in being at the final triumph.

  3. Replies
    1. Great, glad you like them. It's fun seeing the individual units, but I always look forward to seeing them shoulder to shoulder with their fighting formations be that the brigade or division. It is rather like putting the whole picture together.

  4. They look frightfully pretty. Good work

  5. Beautiful to see and thanks again for all the good information, JJ. I was just debating some new Spanish line for a Tudela scenario I'm working on, and I know the Africa were there with La Peña in Cascante.

  6. Great looking white clad, bicorne wearing Spanish regulars, they look fab! Best Iain

  7. Thanks chaps. It really is fun to understand a bit about the back story to these units as knowing it, I really start to care about their fate on the table-top.