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The British Army in Portugal and Spain: Its Order-of-Battle (June 1808 - April 1809)

By Ron McGuigan

By 1808, Great Britain had been at war with France for some 15 years. It had not been able to sustain a campaign on the continent and was left, for the most part, to conduct short ones against the possessions of France and its Allies. All this was to change, however, when France became involved on the Iberian Peninsula.

In 1807, France conquered Portugal and then in 1808 when France deposed Spain's sovereign and replaced him with a Bonaparte, Spain exploded in rebellion followed by Portugal. When both countries appealed for assistance from Great Britain, Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh the Secretary of State for War, saw an opportunity to allow the British Army to finally return to the continent and engage the French. But with all of its overseas commitments, where was an army to be had? Lord Castlereagh had with great foresight prepared and maintained a disposable force, with shipping, ready to be used whenever an advantage presented itself.

This article is about the forces employed by Great Britain to liberate Portugal and assist the Spanish at the beginning of the Peninsular War. It is not a history of that struggle. Numbers shown are rank and file, add the usual 1/8 for officers, sergeants, etc. I have not included either the Staff Corps or the Waggon Train in the Order of Battle, detachments of which served with the different forces.

Great Britain had garrisons in England, Ireland, Scotland, Channel Islands, Africa, British North America, Cape of Good Hope, Ceylon, Gibraltar, Heligoland, India, Malta, New South Wales, Sicily and the West Indies. Its regular force amounted to:

3 Regiments of Household Cavalry

7 Regiments of Dragoon Guards

5 Regiments of Dragoons

19 Regiments of Light Dragoons

7 Battalions of Foot Guards

175 Battalions of Infantry in 103 numbered Regiments

8 Garrison Battalions

12 Royal Veteran Battalions

4 unnumbered Regiments

2 Garrison Companies

The King's German Legion:

2 Dragoon Regiments

3 Light Dragoon Regiments

2 Light Battalions

8 Line Battalions

a Depot Company

a Garrison Company

2 troops Horse Artillery

4 companies Foot Artillery

10 Foreign Regiments

15 Colonial Regiments

The Royal Regiment of Artillery:

12 Troops of Royal Horse Artillery

100 companies in 10 Battalions of Foot Artillery

12 companies in one Battalion of Invalid Artillery

The Corps of Royal Artillery Drivers of 8 Troops

The Royal Foreign Artillery of four companies.

The Corps of Royal Engineers

The Corps of Royal Invalid Engineers

The Corps of Royal Military Artificers

The Royal Staff Corps

The Royal Waggon Train.

At this time, the disposable force was split mainly between a force sent to assist the King of Sweden and one preparing to go to South America. It was this latter force that would be diverted to Portugal and Spain.