Combat of Portugalete, 11 July 1812

The combat of Portugalete (11 July 1812) was an unsuccessful Anglo-Spanish attack on a fortified village at the mouth of the Bilbao River.

During the summer of 1812 a British naval squadron under Sir Home Popham (with the ships of the line HMS Venerable and HMS Magnificent (later replaced by the Abercrombie) and the frigates Medusa, Isis, Diadem, Surveillante and Rhin and two battalions of marines) operated along the north coast, cooperating when possible with the powerful Spanish guerrilla bands working in the area.

On 6-8 July 1812 Popham cooperated with the guerrillas led by Francisco de Longa to capture the port of Castro Urdiales (which remained in Allied hands until May 1813). The two forces then moved towards Bilbao, with Longa's men marching in parallel to the fleet. Their target was the fortified village of Portugalete, at the mouth of the Bilbao River. On 11 July Popham began a naval bombardment of the village, while Longa attacked from the land. However they had arrived just as a strong French column had reached Bilbao. This force marched out to raise the siege. The French were too strong for the Anglo-Spanish forces to deal with, and so they withdrew.

Popham's next move was a second failed attack on Guetarai (mid July), which was driven off by General D'Aussenac. However this move had drawn French attention east, and this left Santander vulnerable to attack. Popham moved west to support the Spanish forces that were already engaged in the siege, which fell after the French garrison escaped on the night of 2-3 August. Santander remained in Allied hands for the rest of the war, and became Wellington's main support base during the Vittoria campaign of 1813. 

Salamanca 1812 - Wellington's Year of Victories, Peter Edwards. A look at Wellington's campaigns of 1812, from the sieges of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz to the triumph at Salamanca, the failure at Burgos and the retreat back to Portugal at the end of a year that saw the French permanently forced out of large parts of Spain. A good account of this campaign, copiously illustrated with carefully used eyewitness accounts. [read full review]
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (11 Janaury 2018), Combat of Portugalete, 11 July 1812 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/combat_portugalete.html

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