Combat of Collioure, 21 December 1793

The combat of Collioure (21 December 1793) was a Spanish victory that saw them capture a series of small ports on the French coast and convinced the French army of the Eastern Pyrenees to retreat into winter quarters around Perpignan. Despite defeating a French attempt to force him away from Perpignan (battle of Truillas, 22 September 1793), the Spanish commander, General Ricardós, decided that his camp close to the city was too vulnerable to attack. He decided to retreat south to La Boulou, on the River Tech, closer to the Spanish border.

In October and November the Spanish defeated a series of French attacks on their new camp, and on 7 December they forced the French out of their camp at Villelongue, four miles to the east of Boulou.

Ricardós's next move was an attack on the line of small ports on the French side of the border – from south to north Banyuls-sur-Mer, Port-Ventres and Collioure. His first move was to clear the French out of the Col de Banyuls, which connects Espolla on the Spanish side of the mountains with Banyuls-sur-Mer. This was achieved on 14 December, and the French were forced to pull back from Banyuls to Port-Vendres and Collioure.

The French commander, General Delâtre, decided to take up a position on a mountainous ridge that runs to the south of the two towns. Although this was quite a strong position, it meant that the French were fighting with their backs to the sea and only one line of retreat, up the coast to their right. 

On 21 December a Spanish force under the command of General Cuesta attacked the ridge in three columns, one for each of the passes across the high ground. All three columns were successful, and the French were forced to retreat back towards the two towns and the fort of Saint-Elme, which overlooks Collioure from the east.

As the French approached Saint-Elme and Port-Vendres the gates were shut against them, and the governor of Saint-Elme even ordered his guns to open fire on the retreating Republican troops, a sign of the mixed loyalties inspired by the increasingly radical revolution (and possibly inspired by the present of the radical representative Fabre with the French left at this time).

Faced with this betrayal a large number of French troops simply surrendered. The remaining troops either took refuge in Collioure or attempted to fight their way out along the coast. Fabre and Delâtre both took this option – Fabre was killed at the head of one column, while Delâtre escaped only to be guillotined for his failures.

Collioure was a reasonably strongly defended town, with 88 cannon, a sizable garrison, and the chance of being supplied by sea, but on the evening of 21 December Cuesta made a great show of preparing for an assault, and the town surrendered without a fight.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (2 March 2009), Combat of Collioure, 21 December 1793 ,

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