Wellington and the Lines of Torres Vedras, The Defence of Portugal during the Peninsular War 1807-14
Mark S Thompson
Helion & Company (Book No. 75 in the ‘From Reason to Revolution 1721-1815 Series’)
Images: 28 colour and 50 b/w illustrations, maps and diagrams
Sitting down to review a book on the Lines of Torres Vedras by Mark S Thompson (the out and out expert on the subject) leads to very high expectations and I am pleased to say that this book does not disappoint.
The work is unambiguously all about the Lines of Torres Vedras and deals with the campaigning going on around it in very short detail to concentrate in incredible detail on every aspect of the conception, planning, implementation and manning of the lines. Mr Thompson is able to bring a mass of primary material into play to fully explain every aspect of the lines and is not afraid to tackle head on contentious issues, such as who rightly should be given the credit for the concept but is also engagingly honest when the answers are simply not there in the archives and when he has to conjecture.
The chapters cover – The French Occupation of Portugal and their thoughts on defending Lisbon; the Portuguese defence plans for Lisbon; the French threat of another invasion; Wellington’s Memorandum ordering the start of the works; Construction of the Lines up to July 1810; the additional works carried out between July and October 1810; Communications set up on the lines; The period Wellington’s army actually occupied them; works planned and completed after the French withdrawal and finally the significance of the Lines of Torres Vedras to the Peninsular and Napoleonic wars. Two further appendices cover Lt Colonel Fletcher’s Memorandum and a complete list of all the forts constructed in the four defence lines.
Having read a reasonable amount on the subject, I was pleasantly surprised how much new information I gleaned from this work, including the truth regarding whose concept the lines really were (including a number of Portuguese claims); the political machinations behind the construction phase; the extreme difficulty in employing enough workers despite high pay rates; the poorly practised ‘scorched earth’ policy; the incomplete state of the lines when the French army arrived; the multitude of communication systems in use and the large number of forts added to the lines up until the end of the war as an insurance policy against later failures.
The only disappointments I had with the book are production issues. I am a long-standing critic of Helion’s cost cutting exercise in publishing these books in softback, a book of this quality cries out for a decent cover which does not bend and crease badly with even the gentlest of handling. Unfortunately, I also discovered that at some point the text on pages 168 and 169 have been swapped in error meaning that the text does not run in order, a minor but irritating production error which can cause some confusion when reading it.
However, all told this is an excellent bit of historical detective work and if you want a book to fully explain every little detail of the Lines of Torres Vedras, you should look no further. Highly recommended.