April 1812 – BADAJOZ – 74th
Badajoz, one of the most formidable fortresses in Europe, dominates the Spanish/ Portuguese border on the main highway between Spain and Lisbon. It had to be captured before the liberating British Army could enter Spain, otherwise British supplies and communications could have been cut off at will. Nor could Portugal be considered secure as long as Badajoz remained in French hands. It had never been captured by force although it had fallen in the past as a result of treachery and weakness. Wellington laid seige to it in the spring of 1812.
Badajoz was well defended. Its complex fortifications, including walls, ditches and a river, were in good order and it contained a strong garrison, utterly confident of its ability to hold the place, which comprised a heavily fortified town, dominated by a castle. Time was short if Wellington was to succeed, since French forces in superior numbers were hurrying to the relief. Accordingly, he gave the order to assault at the earliest possible moment, when his artillery had barely made adequate breaches in the walls.
The main attack was on the town and was undertaken by the Light and the 4th Divisions with a diversionary attack on the castle, by the 3rd Division, including the 74th.
At night and under fire, the attacking Regiments crossed the river and assaulted Badajoz. Despite the utmost gallantry in three separate attempts ( the Light and 4th Divisions lost 4,000 men in the breaches ) the main attack did not succeed. Wellington, about to acknowledge failure, asked for a final effort from the 3rd Division, whose attack had been merely intended as a ruse to draw defenders away from the main effort. Spurred on, they climbed the heights below the castle walls and hoisted up their scaling ladders, but as the assault parties neared the top, these were repeatedly thrown down and their occupants toppled into the river.
At last, just as failure seemed inevitable, one party succeeded in scaling the walls and others followed, including the 74th , and after bitter fighting the French garrison was forced from the castle into the town
With the castle in British hands the fall of the town was, more or less, inevitable and indeed, Wellington’s luck held and he rode into Badajoz the following morning.
The capture of Badajoz ranks as one of the most formidable operations in the history of warfare.
No Regiment contributed more to this achievement than the 74th.
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