Siege of Oropesa, 19 September-11 October 1811

The siege of Oropesa of 19 September-11 October 1811 was a French victory during their invasion of Valencia, which saw them capture the coastal town of Oropesa and remove a major obstacle on the coastal road from Tarragona. By the autumn of 1811 Valencia was the only part of eastern Spain not in French hands. Napoleon believed that the city of Valencia would surrender and so ordered Marshal Suchet to launch a lightning strike from Catalonia. A large part of Suchet’s army, including the artillery train, had to use the coastal road, where the Spanish had two remaining strongholds. The first, at Penscola, was easily masked, but the town of Oropesa was on the road, and would have to be captured if the heavy siege guns were to use the coastal road.

The main French column, 11,000 men under Suchet, left Tortosa on 15 September, without the siege guns, and reached Oropesa on 19 September. General Blake, commanding the Spanish troops in Valencia, had placed a garrison of 500 men in the town, but most of the defensive circuit was effectively in ruins. Two towers remained defendable – one by the high-road itself and on the sea shore. As the French approached, the garrison withdrew into the two towers. Rather than attack, Suchet took his army on a slight diversion around the road-side tower, leaving a few companies of troops to blockade the Spanish garrison, and continued on his way towards Saguntum.

On 23 September Suchet reached Saguntum, and it soon became clear that Napoleon had been wrong. The old city had been refortified, and a first attempt to storm the citadel failed. Suchet was forced to call for his siege guns, which made their slow way down the coastal road. On 6 October Suchet left Saguntum at the head of 1,500 men, meeting the first of the siege guns at Oropesa on 8 October. Those guns were turned against the road-side tower on 10 October, and after a short bombardment the garrison of 215 men surrendered.

On 11 October Suchet turned his attention to the coastal tower, but this time he was foiled by the British navy, in the shape of the 74 gun ship of the line HMS Magnificent, supported by a squadron of Spanish gunboats. Protected by the heavy guns of the Magnificent the gunboats were able to get inshore, and rescued the 150 strong garrison of the coastal tower.

Suchet’s decision to bypass Oropesa in mid-September cost him valuable time. If he had included his siege train in the army that moved on 15 September, Oropesa would have fallen within a week, and the siege guns would have been ready at Saguntum by the start of the month. Instead, they did not reach that fortress until mid-October, giving Blake the time to attempt to relief the siege. Suchet’s campaign would be saved by his victory in the battle of Saguntum, which ended any realistic chance that the Spanish might have retained Valencia.

A History of the Peninsular War vol.5: October 1811-August 31, 1812 - Valencia, Ciudad Rodrigo, Badajoz, Salamanca, Madrid, Sir Charles Oman Part Five of Oman's classic history of the Peninsular War starting with a look at the French invasion of Valencia in the winter of 1811-12, before concentrating on Wellington's victorious summer campaign of 1812, culminating with the battle of Salamanca and Wellington's first liberation of Madrid.
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (15 May 2008), Siege of Oropesa, 19 September-11 October 1811 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/siege_oropesa.html

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