Chuckman wrote:As of 1811 Napoleon had 355 000 troops in the Peninsula, making it close to the same as the Russian campaign in terms of numbers (450 000 in Russia).
What made the Russian invasion so much more important in the course of the war was the huge loss of all of Napoleon's troops; virtually all of his best cavalry, guard and line. The quality of troops which remained in Spain were mostly conscripts. Losing his entire Spanish army would have also been catastrophic, but would have still left him with most of his best troops. Either scenario would have resulted in a Liepzig type ending. One of the main reasons Wellington beat them so easily time after time in the Peninsula was that he was facing the worst French troops with the best British; even his Portuguese allies were quite good (not all, they varied in quality).
I think its worth noting that there were a large number of veteran French troops in the Peninsular. It is true that in the opening stages of the campaign the forces were of a bad quality, being made up of Provincial battalions consisting of green troops. These are the troops that made up the Corps of Moncey, Junot, and also Dupont who was defeated by the Spanish early on at Bailen.
But when Napoleon arrived on the scene for his "Thunderbolt" assault across the Ebro, these men consisted of a large number of veteran formations and many of these formations would remain in Spain. "directed some 130,000 men of the Grande Armee, including the Imperial Guard, four army corps and four divisions of heavy cavalry, to head for Spain; sent for further reinforcements from Naples, the Kingdom of Italy and the Confederation of the Rhine; ordered fresh levies in France"
- Esdaile, The Peninsular War, 2003 Pengiun p.128
True many green troops also served in Spain in fresh batallions or as replacements for existing units but regiments that had a core of veterans absorbed new conscripts well. Also the nature of the conflict, including many small scale skirmishes with guerrilla forces and allied regulars and the particular need for military comradeship in a dangerous isolated country tended to harden the recruits pretty fast. Also the length of the conflict meant that many troops served for long periods and accumulated much experience. Thus the forces that served in Spain were a mix of veterans, recruits, and seasoned soldiers.
Napoleons army that served in Russia was also not very high quality overall in fact, mainly as a result of so many veteran units either having perished or currently serving in the Peninsular. Napoleon even recalled several veteran units from Spain, including several units of the Young guard and iirc Polish guard lancers that had been serving there. To muster such a vast army for the Russian campaign Napoleon had to scrape pretty deep. After he lost this army he had to scrape the bottom of the barrel for his campaigns in Germany. Despite the quality of his troops at that point he was able to win significant victories at Dresden, Bautzen and Lutzen(sp?). Zamoyski in "Rites of Peace" quotes several senior Russian/Prussian figures as stating that had Napoleon pushed forward after the battles of B and L he may have succeeded in shattering the Allied forces. Napoleon had been concerned with the condition of his own forces however and agreed to armistice that gave the allies vital time to regroup. But the fact that Napoleon was able to push the Russians/Prussians to such an extent even after having lost a huge army in Russia, and with so many forces having been consumed/serving in Spain, shows what he was able to achieve when he had his back at the wall.
You quote 355000 troops as the number of French troops serving in Spain in 1811. Bare in mind that the war had been going on for several years and the French would of already lost significant numbers (Including the entire corps of Dupont) to warfare, sickness and desertion. The war would continue on for several more years, though little in the way of fresh troops in the later years, Napoleon taking troops away from this front. Had the Peninsular war not occured there would have theoretically been many more able bodied men available for service or conscription at any given time. Given the scale of the numbers, and the massive French commitment in supplies and money as well as the manpower, I personally believe the Peninsular was greatly significant in weakening Napoleon to the point where Russia/Prussia/Austria were able to take the offensive against his empire.
I would also argue that the British won for different reasons than the quality of the average French soldier. Wellington was generally able to force battle on terms favourable to him, generally had numerical advantage about often as he was outnumbered, and if outnumbered be in good position. British infantry tactics had been developed to emphasize maximum firepower, which was devestating when the French chose to attack in column, and gave them an advantage in general firefights. Also not to be underestimated is the contribution by the Portuguese and Spanish armies. Many tend to look down upon Spains regular army in the war and refer to the Guerrilla as being more effective in weakening the French. But the fact is that the Spanish armies, though frequently falling prey to the French forces rallied and reformed and kept fighting and tied up large numbers of French troops at key times. Later they would assist in pushing the French out of Spain altogether.
My rule always was to do the business of the day in the day.
Online Name - MrLatency