Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics



The British Army in the Napoleonic Wars: Manpower Stretched to the Limits?

By Robert Burnham, FINS

The British Army during the Napoleonic Wars served throughout the world, in either the far-flung outposts of the Empire or in ill planned expeditionary forces that participated in campaigns in: Egypt in 1801; India in 1803, Germany in 1805; Argentina, India, and Italy in 1806; Denmark and Egypt in 1807; Holland and the West Indies in 1809; the Mediterranean Sea, the Indian Ocean, and Indonesia in 1810; North America in 1812 - 1815; Germany and the Low Countries in 1813 - 1814. On 25 August 1813 the British Army was deployed in the following overseas locations:

Location
Number of Troops

Anholt

297

Bahamas

850

Bengal

5,440 (1,287 cavalry)

Bermuda

732

Bombay

3,216 (985 cavalry)

Cadiz

1,915

Canada

12,935

Cape of Good Hope

4,726 (707 cavalry)

Ceylon

5,555

Gibraltar

3,135

Heligoland

366

Honduras

297

Jamaica

3,889

Leeward and Windward Islands

15,248

Madeira

675

Madras

9,191 (1,326 cavalry)

Malta

3,672

Mauritius

3,888

New South Wales

1,218

Newfoundland

708

Nova Scotia

4,189

Sicily, Mediterranean and Ionian Islands

15,701

Spain and Portugal

60,202 (7,260 cavalry)

Stralsund

3,147

West Coast of Africa

779

The numerous campaigns fought outside of Spain and Portugal are often overshadowed by the British effort in the Iberian Peninsula (1808 - 1814) and the Waterloo Campaign of 1815. Yet the impact of these "minor" campaigns and garrisons can not be ignored, for they diverted much needed troops from the main theater of the war for the British: the Iberian Peninsula. In 1809, there were more British troops participating in the ill-fated Walcheren Campaign in Holland, than Wellington had serving with him in the Peninsula. By 1813, even after his numerous successes in the Peninsula, Wellington never had more than 20% of the British Army available to him.

Year
British Troops
Foreign and Colonial Troops
Total
1804
133,554
17,039
150,593
1805
139,581
22,375
161,956
1806
159,076
26,043
185,119
1807
163,641
35,816
199,457
1808
189,210
37,217
226,427
1809
197,230
36,947
234,177
1810
199,062
38,390
237,452
1811
194,051
40,543
234,594
1812
198,004
45,881
243,885
1813
203,119
52,757
255,876
Note: The foreign and colonial troops included such forces as the King's German Legion, De Watteville's Regiment, the Chasseur Britanniques, and the Royal Regiment of Malta.

British casualties in all the campaigns were beginning to take their toll. Their casualties were small when compared to French and Russian casualties in 1812, but the British relied on volunteers to fill their ranks. There was no conscription in the British Isles. In 1811, the British Army only recruited 26,000 men to replaced the 23,000 casualties they had the previous year, plus as replacements for ALL of the regiments on active duty, not just those serving in Spain and Portugal. When the number of men who were released from active duty because enlistments were expired are factored into the equation, there was an actual drop in overall numbers. Although this negative trend stopped the following year, the situation did not improve dramatically. The British were forced to recruit more and more foreigners to fill their ranks. In 1813 the number of foreigners comprised 21% of soldiers in the British Army, as compared to 11% in 1804. By 1813, volunteers were becoming so difficult to find for some British Regiments, Wellington was forced to combine several severely depleted regiments and to recruit Spaniards into others.  

Year

Casualties, British

Casualties, Foreign

Total
% of Force
1804
13,396
2,674
16,070
10.7%
1805
15,800
2,443
18,243
11.3%
1806
13,856
3,075
16,931
9.1%
1807
14,570
2,968
17,538
8.8%
1808
17,183
3,703
20,886
9.2%
1809
21,630
2,937
24,567
10.5%
1810
19,498
3,455
22,953
9.7%
1811
19,019
3,441
22,460
9.8%
1812
20,313
5,185
25,498
10.5%
1813
19,653
4,802
24,455
9.6%

Total

188,265
37,521
225,786

Although British casualties were not catastrophic, combined with the numerous global commitments and poorly planned and executed expeditions, the pool of available manpower was stretched to the limits. By early 1815, the British Army of Peninsula War fame had been widely dispersed, with many of the units serving in North America. When Napoleon escaped from Elba, the British were so hard pressed to field an army in 1815, they asked the Portuguese to provide some of their regiments to serve with Wellington in Belgium! If the Napoleonic Wars had continued for a few more years, two things would probably have occurred: the British would have had to cut back on their overseas deployments or begun some form of conscription.

Bibliography.

Fortescue, John W. The County Lieutenancies and the Army: 1803 - 1814 London : MacMillan; 1909.

Fortescue, John W. History of the British Army Vol. VII; London : MacMillan and Co.; 1913.

Hall, Christopher. British Strategy in the Napoleonic War 1803 - 1815 Manchester : Manchester University Press 1992.

Haythornthwaite, Philip. The Napoleonic Source Book New York : Facts on File; 1990.

Oman, Charles. A History of the Peninsular War Vol. II; Oxford : AMS; 1980.

Smith, Digby. The Greenhill Napoleonic Wars Data Book London : Greenhill Press; 1998.

 

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