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Massena at Bay 1811

Massena at Bay 1811

Massena at Bay 1811

Tim Saunders

Pen & Sword Books (2021), hardcover

ISBN  9781399001328

264 pp, 178 B&W images

As the reader would expect of a Tim Saunders book, the subject is handled with some depth and by somebody who thoroughly understands troop movements of the period and has covered every inch of the terrain themselves. It is also lavishly illustrated, particularly with maps to help the reader follow the action. It will therefore appeal to those that enjoy Tim Saunders books as it follows his tried and trusted formula.

The blurb for the book, states that it ‘Investigates a frequently glossed over subject of the Napoleonic Wars’, this claim presumably relating to the pursuit of Massena’s forces as they retreated from Portugal in late 1810. However, in the last three years this subject has been the crux of books by Kenton White[1], Robert Burnham[2] and Tim Saunders with Rob Yuill[3]. Two of these former books concentrate on the actions of the Light Division solely, but as the Light Division was the primary actor in these campaigns the overlap within these books is very large indeed, making it hard to justify such a claim.

It is also unfortunate, as the author himself states, that the book was written during Covid lockdowns severely restricting his ability to study further texts in the archives, meaning that almost all of the quotes given come from standard works which most readers will be familiar with and bring precious little new light on the subject, although the attempt to bring French views into it must be applauded. As I have said, that was unfortunate, but what is unforgiveable is the lack of any Bibliography, allowing the reader to follow up with further reading, and numerous quotes used have no notes attached to them, giving no clue whatever where they come from. This is a common criticism of the author’s recent books.

Overall, this is a good workaday account of the campaigns covered, with some useful maps from a knowledgeable author, but it does not really bring anything new to a well-trodden path, despite the claims on the cover.

Gareth Glover

January 2022

[1] The Key to Lisbon: The Third French Invasion of Spain 1810-11, 2019.

[2] Wellington’s Light Division in the Peninsular War, the Formation, Campaigns & Battles of Wellington’s Famous Fighting Force 1810, 2020.

[3] The Light Division in the Peninsular War 1808-11, 2020.