Battle Honour 'BUSACO'.

Thu, 09/27/1810
Battle Honour BUSACO.

The Battle Honour BUSACO is emblazoned on the Regimental Colours of The Royal Irish Regiment.

Lieutenant General Lord Viscount Wellington’s campaign strategy, following the Battle of Talavera, was not to hold along the Portuguese-Spanish frontier, but to fall back in contact and wear down the 300,000 strong army that Napoleon had poured into the Iberian Peninsula. Wellington's plan was to withdraw to the already prepared 'Lines of Torres Vedras'. He had therefore divided his Allied Army into three forces and now took personal control of the northern force. He positioned it to sit astride what he estimated to be the most likely of the three possible routes along which the French could advance.

His total force of over 51,000 faced Marshal Masséna’s advancing army of some 66,000, the latter endowed with a cavalry force of almost 3,500 as against Wellington’s three squadrons of Dragoons with a total strength of some 200. Wellington had already withdrawn the main body of his Allied cavalry westwards as his chosen ground for battle on the Serra de Buçaco, with its scrub-covered and boulder-strewn craggy heights, was unsuitable going for cavalry. On 25 September 1810, The Light Division and Portuguese Brigade, still fighting a withdrawal in contact with the forward French corps' skirmishers, moved onto the ridge and into what were effectively reverse-slope positions. On the morning of 26 September, Wellington adjusted the southern force's deployment and pulled General Hill's 2nd Division north of the River Mondego, thus bringing his northern force strength on the ridge to six divisions, three Portuguese brigades, and a German Legion brigade.

Masséna, with his remaining corps, closed up to the foot of the slopes on the afternoon of 26 September. Confronted with nine miles of ridgeline he was unable to see the heights beyond the crest above him. He was also advised that there was a route around the northern flank. He therefore failed to appreciate Wellington’s dispositions or strength, ignored the obvious weakness on Wellington's northern flank, concluded that there was at best only a rearguard holding the ridge, and then decided it could wait until the morning when he would sweep it aside. While Wellington wrapped himself in his cloak and spent the night asleep on the ridge sharing the privations of his regiments, with no lights and eating cold food, the French Marshals retired to their campfires and canvas comforts. Masséna retired further still to the comforts of a village - and with his mistress.

Dawn on the 27 September hid Busaco Ridge under a cloak of mist. The 3/27 Regiment, or ‘Young Inniskillings’, was in Cole’s 4th Division on the left (where it was to remain unscathed) and the 2/83rd Regiment in Picton’s ‘Fighting’ 3rd Division in the centre. Also present in Picton's division was the 88th Connaught Regiment. The first attack in the centre came at 0545 hours when a French Division of eleven regiments attacked in column. At one point the French, exploiting a gap between the two central British divisions, were counter-attacked by the 88th Connaughts causing Wellington to record in his dispatch to the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, Lord Liverpool:

... and I beg to assure your Lordship that I have never witnessed a more gallant attack than that made by the 88th ... on the enemy's division which had reached the ridge of the Serra.

The disciplined infantry volley fire and artillery grapeshot inflicted such heavy casualties that Masséna’s first attack was defeated. The second attack in column was launched at 0600 hours and advanced directly towards Picton's 3rd Division. It appeared to be heading straight for the 2/83rd whose light company, deployed as picquets, lost one officer and four men wounded to the forward French skirmishers. However, due to the enemy’s diagonal movement during their ascent of the slope, the French veered away from meeting the 2/83rd and the Battalion suffered no further losses. There were two more attacks by the French at 0830 hours and 0900 hours and by 1100 hours they had lost some 4,500 against Allied losses of 1,300. The French defeat was emphatic, as among their casualties were five generals and almost 300 officers. General Wellington withdrew his force the following day and headed for the 'Lines of Torres Vedras'.

The 83rd Regiment and 88th Regiment were among the seventeen infantry regiments awarded the Battle Honour BUSACO.