The combat of Albeyda (15 March 1813) was a minor British success in eastern Spain, and was meant to be followed by an amphibious attack on Valencia which was cancelled before it began (Peninsular War).
In the summer of 1812 a joint British and Sicilian army had captured Alicante, on the east coast of Spain, but this army had then done very little other than pose a potential threat to the French Army of Valencia under Marshal Suchet. The Anglo-Sicilian force had been commanded by a series of generals over the winter of 1812-1813, before on 25 February Sir John Murray took command. In theory he massively outnumbered Suchet, but in reality many of his own troops weren’t that impressive, while the nearby Spanish Army of Murcia had yet to recover from a serious defeat at Castalla in the previous year.
Suchest was aware of the relative weakness of his opponents, and decided to try and defend a potentially vulnerable position along the Xucar River (Jucar), in an attempt to protect the plain of Valencia from the allied army at Alicante. He had three infantry divisions (Habert, Harispe and Musnier) and Boussard’s cavalry division, a force of around 15,000 men, to cover a front of some 50 miles. He split his army into four main parts, each based at a fortified camp. The right flank was protected by a camp at Moxente (Moixent), the centre at San Felipe de Xativa and the right at Denia on the coast (some way to the south of the Xucar). The fourth was in an exposed position further to the south at Alcoy (Alcoi), where it protected a fertile valley that Suchet wanted to retain.
Although Murray wasn’t a very aggressive commander, even he realised how vulnerable Suchet’s position was. On 6 March he attempted to capture the isolated force at Alcoy, but his four pronged assault was over-complex and the French were able to retreat safely.
Murray then decided on a unusually aggressive and risky plan. Part of his army would attack the French between Alcoy and their main positions, to attract Suchet’s position. He would then launch an amphibious attack on Valencia, sending 5,000 men (mainly Spanish with a battalion of British grenadiers) to land south of the city and capture it while it was only lightly defended. This would force Suchet to weaken his main defensive line, and Murray would then attack the Xucar and join up with the troops at Valencia.
The first part of the plan was a two pronged assault on the outlying parts of the French line, south of Moxente and Xativa. Two British battalions under General Donkin were to attack the French right at Onteniente (Ontinyent). At the same time Whittingham’s ‘Majorean division’, a Spanish unit which had been organised in the Balearic Islands with British funds, arms and equipment, was to attack Consentaina (Cocentaina) and the pass of Albeyda (Albaida), north of Alcoy. This would isolate the French troops at Alcoy, and make it look as if Murray was planning to attack the main French line somewhere to the west of Xativa.
This attack ended in success. Whittingham attacked on 15 March, and after a fierce skirmish General Habert retreated, allowing Whittingham to capture the pass. The front then settled down into another period of stalemate. Whittingham’s division remained in an isolated position around Albeyda, with the main Allied army fifteen miles to the south at Castalla.
On 26 March, just as the troops that had been allocated for the attack on Valencia were embarking at Alicante, news arrived that there had been a political crisis at Palermo, in which King Ferdinand had attempted to regain absolute authority. As a result Lord William Bentinck, the British representative at Palermo, recalled two of the British battalions from Alicante. Murray decided that he didn’t dare risk carrying out his attack when there was a real danger that more troops might be withdrawn, and cancelled the entire operation. He then ordered his troops to fortify his position at Castalla, and awaited orders from Wellington.
When the Alicante front finally burst back into life in April 1813, it was Suchet who went onto the offensive, in an attempt to defeat the badly deployed Allied army. After some early successes Suchet’s offensive was defeated at Castalla (13 April 1813), but Murray was unable to take advantage of his success.