Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Louis XIV and Signal Redoubts

Tuesday 25 June 1996

We had planned to visit Maya this morning, but early morning rain convinced us to abandon this plan. This was not the weather we had expected in the south of France in June! We had a long breakfast indoors waiting for the weather to improve. By mid morning it had cleared and we walked into Sare to see what we could find in the tourist information office. The answer, as far as Napoleonic battlefields were concerned, was nothing. But they could direct us to a path which would lead to the Louis XIV and Signal Redoubts, a major part of Marshal Soul’s defensive position in November 1813

The Battle of the Nivelle was fought on 10 November 1813 to drive Marshal Soult into France and allow Wellington’s army to advance into the fertile plains and get out of the high mountains of the Pyrenees. The French had built a series of defensive positions from the coast at St Jean du Luz 20 miles inland to Urdrax. This line consisted of fortified villages and strong redoubts on the top of the high ground. This is not what anyone would expect who has visited Waterloo or Austerlitz where the two armies were lined up shoulder to shoulder. Over such a large area the French command and control proved difficult if not impossible. The Rhune, Sare, The Signal Redoubt and Louis XIV Redoubt were in the centre of this defensive line. The British 4th division was given the task of taking Sare and the two redoubts, supported by the Light division once they had cleared the Lesser Rhune.

The tourist information office gave us directions to get to Louis XIV Redoubt. It led us up a steep hill behind Sare along a very wet and muddy path. This was not at all what I had expected, but it gave us an insight into what it must have been like for the French and allied troops who had to live rough in this area for many winter months. If it could be this cold and uncomfortable in June, what must it be like in the winter?

We eventually reached Louis XIV Redoubt, an earthen mound on the top of the hill, looking more like I would imagine an ancient hill fort to look like than a Napoleonic redoubt. There was no sign of any fortification, other than the circular mound. It did provide commanding views of the surrounding area. To Wellington’s troops who had to climb the same hill in full gear it must have seemed a very formidable position to attack

The rain had cleared, and the sky was a lot brighter, but it was still cold enough to need a jacket when we settled down inside the redoubt to have our picnic lunch and read about the battle in F C Beatson’s “Wellington, The Bidassoa & Nivelle”. For anyone who wants to explore this area I can not recommend this book too highly. It contains a detailed yet easy to read description which, combined with walking the ground, gives a much greater understanding of the battle, which is complicated and wide ranging.

The Signal Redoubt as seen from Louis XIV Redoubt. It is much steeper and quite difficult to climb, but is worth the effort for the extensive views alone. And again it brought home what excellent soldiers Wellington commanded, who could tackle an attack on such a strong position despite living in such rough conditions.

As always The Rhune mountain dominates the whole area. From our previous visits to The Rhune I had appreciated how difficult the task to take that objective which was given to the Light Division. But I had not appreciated how difficult the terrain they, with the Fourth Division, would have to tackle in the hills behind Sare. This day brought home as never before how little resemblance our wargames tables bear to the actual battlefields fought over by Wellington and Soult.

1 comment:

  1. Your picture of the signals redoubt is I think looking east of it towards the st ignace redoubts. the signals r is a bare hill off picture to the right.