Wellington’s Two-Front War: The Peninsular Campaigns, 1808-1814
By Joshua Lee Moon
PhD Dissertation, Florida State University, 2005
Abstract: Wellington’s military operations in the Iberian Peninsula have garnered ample attention over the past 200 years. While the majority of these works cover tactics and strategy, no composite study focuses solely upon the problems that Wellington encountered as he conducted a protracted expeditionary campaign in the early nineteenth century. It is the aim of this dissertation to correct that deficiency.
The scope of this work examines Wellington’s campaigns in relation to the strategic and operational problems he encountered both at home and abroad while liberating the Iberian Peninsula from French control from 1808 to 1814. Throughout the course of the war Wellington and his army encountered opposition on many fronts. Underlying all of his problems was an unforgiving military and political bureaucracy, which subject to public opinion, failed to formulate a clear and decisive strategy. Only when victory was assured did Wellington receive the support required from London. Forced to formulate and pursue his own plans for victory in Iberia, Wellington was reduced to fighting a two-front war. On the one hand, he fought the French armies sent to destroy him; and on the other, he struggled against his political and military masters in London
Introduction: In the spring of 1808, Britain faced a strategic dilemma. Since the beginning of the Revolutionary Wars in 1793, Britain had spent enormous sums of money to subsidize four unsuccessful coalitions against France and had failed in all of their attempts to defeat the French on land. By 1808, the French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, had forged an alliance with Eurasia’s other great land power, Russia, and, as a result, established the Continental System to embargo British goods. In response to these setbacks, the British looked for alternate means to break Napoleon’s European hegemony.
The British Government unfortunately could not rely solely on the Royal Navy to defeat France. Britain understood that in order to demonstrate commitment to their allies, they must devise an effective strategy for their army as well. However, since 1793, the British Army had been beaten nearly every time it encountered a French formation. It had suffered major defeats in the Low Countries in 1793 and 1799 and, apart from a minor victory at the battle of Maida, Italy in July 1806; the British had never defeated a standing French army on the Continent. Therefore, in order to demonstrate their resolve towards their allies and against Napoleon, the British sought an opportunity to employ their army.