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СЛУЧАЙНОЕ ПРОИЗВЕДЕНИЕ

Сначала оплеуха
Потом ладошкой в ухо
В глаз кулаком
По носу лбом
В ребро ногой
Тумак рукой
Команду поняла «атака»
Моя любимая собака.

13.05.10 - 05:18
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Sharpes Escape   ::   Корнуэлл Бернард

Страница: 110 из 110
 
The first troops into the city were new conscripts, ill trained and undisciplined, and they ran wild. The city had 40,000 inhabitants at the beginning of the campaign, and at least half had decided not to retreat towards Lisbon, and of those that remained about a thousand were murdered by the occupiers. The university was plundered, the royal tombs in Santa Cruz opened and defiled, and, though the hungry French discovered plenty of food in the city, they managed to destroy most of it. Warehouses of supplies were put to the torch so that when Massena's army marched south they were as hungry as when they arrived.

Massena left his wounded in Coimbra under a totally inadequate guard. Their hold on the city lasted just four days after which Colonel Trant, a British officer leading Portuguese militia, captured Coimbra from the north and, having endured some difficulties protecting his new prisoners from the vengeance of the city's inhabitants, managed to march or carry them north to Oporto.

Massena, meanwhile, had encountered the Lines of Torres Vedras and was astonished by them. Wellington and his chief engineer, Colonel Fletcher, had somehow managed to keep the massive construction project a secret (even from the British and Portuguese governments), and though Massena had heard rumors about a line of forts, he was in no way prepared for the actuality. The lines comprised 152 defensive works (bastions or forts), mounting 534 cannon, and covering 52 miles of ground. The first two lines barred the French from approaching Lisbon, the third, far to the south, enclosed an emergency enclave into which Wellington could withdraw his troops if it became necessary to embark his army. A French officer said of the first two lines that they "were of such an extraordinary nature that I daresay there was no other position in the world that could be compared to them." Another Frenchman, a hussar officer, put it more graphically: "before them was a wall of brass and behind them a region of famine." Massena stared at the lines through a glass and was driven off by a cannon shot, to which he responded by taking off his hat, which was polite of him, but in truth he was furious that he had not been warned of the new fortifications. It seems extraordinary that he had not heard of them, but they remained a secret. Thousands of men had worked on constructing the defenses, and thousands of others had passed the lines as they used the roads going through the works, yet the French were utterly surprised by them. Massena made no serious attempt to breach them, indeed the only fighting at the lines themselves was a scrappy battle between two sets of skirmishers which took place at Sobral on 12 October, the day after the first French troops reached the lines. The fight at the end of Sharpe's Escape is loosely based on that fight, but I confess the operative word is loosely because I moved it the best part of twenty miles to put it nearer the Tagus and gave it to Sir Thomas Picton who was nowhere near Sobral.

Most of the 152 forts of the lines are still in existence, but many of them are so ruined and overgrown that they are not easily found. If the only chance of seeing them is a very swift visit then that should probably be to the town of Torres Vedras itself where, just to the north, the Fort of Saint Vincent has been restored. A longer visit should rely (as should any visit to a Peninsular battlefield) on Julian Paget's superb guide, Wellington's Peninsular War (Leo Cooper, London, 1990).

Massena stayed in Portugal much longer than Wellington had hoped. The attempt to strip central Portugal of food never really worked, and the French discovered enough supplies to keep them well fed through October. They repaired the windmills and rebuilt the ovens, but by November they were on half rations, and then they were besieged by a winter that was unusually cold and wet. They left Torres Vedras in mid-November and retreated to where they hoped more food would be available, and somehow they lasted in Portugal until March when, hungry, dispirited and unsuccessful, they went back to their depots in Spain. It had been a bitter defeat for Massena.

John Grehan's book, The Lines of Torres Vedras, published by Spellmount in 2000, was invaluable in writing Sharpe's Escape. It contains by far the best description of the lines themselves, but much more besides, including a gripping account of the battle of Bussaco, and I am indebted to it, though any mistakes are, of course, mine. Sharpe and Harper will march again.

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