Reviews: Military Books

Napoleon’s German Division in Spain, Volume II: The Germans in Catalonia 1808 - 1813

Smith, Digby. Napoleon’s German Division in Spain, Volume II: The Germans in Catalonia 1808 - 1813. Godmanchester, UK: Ken Trotman: 2014. 288 pages. 11 color uniform plates. 2 color maps. 7 black and white maps. ISBN# 9781907417467. Hardcover. £40 ($65).

In 2012 Ken Trotman published Volume I of Digby Smith’s Napoleon’s German Division in Spain which examined the uniforms, organization, campaigns and battles of the Nassau, Baden, Frankfurt, Dutch, and Hessen-Darmstadt soldiers who fought in the Peninsula War for Napoleon.  For most of their service there, they were stationed in central Spain and engaged in a vicious struggle to defeat the Spanish guerrillas who opposed them.  Except for a few battles when they first arrived in Spain, most of the time their war was an endless series of skirmishes, raids, and ambushes that wore down their numbers and morale.

Volume II of Napoleon’s German Division in Spain continues the study of the Germans in Spain, but looks at the Germans who fought in eastern Spain.  These include troops from the Grand Duchy of Cleve-Berg, the Princes’ Battalion, the Saxon Duchies (which comprised the 4th, 5th, and 6th Regiments of the Confederation of the Rhine), the Kingdom of Westphalia, and the Grand Duchy of Würzburg. The book begins with a discussion of each of the contingents, their organization, uniforms, and a short history of the unit prior to its arrival in Spain.  Readers, especially wargamers, will find the chapter on the Princes’ Battalion particularly useful.   The battalion had six companies each of which was from a different principality and wearing a different uniform.  The 11 magnificent color plates by Bob Marrion show their uniforms in great detail.  These plates cover a variety of topics, including a Sachs-Weimer officer, a Cleve-Berg pioneer, and a Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt grenadier corporal.  These are worth the cost of the book in itself!

Unlike their fellow Germans fighting guerrillas in central Spain, those in eastern Spain had the mission of keeping the main supply route between France and Barcelona open.  When not fighting or escorting massive supply trains, the troops were engaged in numerous sieges and were the assault troops in several unsuccessful attempts to take the city of Girona during its six month siege in 1809.  Despite being relatively close to France, the German troops endured incredible hardships often accompanied by poor rations and little shelter against the weather.  Not surprisingly their numbers dwindled dramatically over time and most of the units could muster only a small number of effectives within a year of arriving in Spain.  Eventually the regiments were withdrawn and by 1813 only one under strength battalion of Würzburg infantry was left in Spain.

As in Volume I, Mr. Smith draws heavily on the German regimental histories for this book.  He illustrates the narrative with numerous passages from officers and NCOs from the various contingents.  In many cases his translations are the first English translations of these accounts. Much of the action in the book takes place in little known villages or locales.  Once again Mr. Smith has done a superb job identifying 95% of locations mentioned in text, usually providing the major road they are on or the distance and direction from the closest city.

As in the previous volume, Volume II is a remarkable book, but I wish the author had provided a chart showing when each of the German contingents entered Spain and when they left.  The information is there, but it is buried in the narrative and the reader will have to search for it.  It also would have been nice if he had documented where he obtained his information. He does provide a bibliography of the regimental histories he used, but it would have been helpful for those of us to do additional research if he had used footnotes to show where he obtained his numerous quotes.

Volume II of Napoleon’s German Division in Spain is a must read for those interested in the Peninsular War and the minor German states who contributed so much to Napoleon’s effort to bring the Iberian Peninsula into his empire.  Once again the reader will be left with an incredible portrait of the thankless and mostly forgotten sacrifices made by the Germans during their five years in Spain. 

 

Reviewed by Robert Burnham

Placed on the Napoleon Series: May 2014

 

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