The 95th Rifles 1800 Corunna DVD

By Martin Lampon 03 Sep 2013 0

Introduction

The 95th Rifles are one of the most recognisable army formations from the Napoleonic era. So much so that they have been immortalized in books and film with help from a certain Richard Sharpe, a character created by the author Bernard Cornwell. But where did this famous light infantry unit come from? The 95th Rifles 1800?Corunna DVD from Pen and Sword, in association with Battlefield History TV, is the first in a series of in-depth documentaries about this legendary infantry unit. It lasts for nearly 105 minutes, uses the expert knowledge of battlefield guides Andrew Duff and Tim Saunders, and charts the formation and history of 'The Rifles' from 1800 to the Battle of Corunna in 1809.

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The Peninsular Collection

 

The Beginnings

During the French?Indian Wars (1754?1763) and The American War of Independence (1775?1783) it was recognised that specialist light infantry units would have to be formed and trained in the British Army. Tactics and terrain used by the enemy during these conflicts had inflicted large casualties on the largely inflexible line infantry units, and had severely restricted their ability to deploy in anything but an open field. Roger's Rangers and Ferguson's Rifles were the first units of this type raised, and along with the Royal Americans in 1756 they paved the way for future light infantry development in the late 18th century.

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60th Royal American Regiment uniform

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Expert guide from the Rifles (Green Jackets) Museum, Winchester

 

During the 1790s the armies of revolutionary France had also perfected the use of large formations of skirmishers working with attack columns in battle. After the disastrous Flanders Campaign in 1793?95 The Duke of York, commander of the British Army, ordered the formation of a new ?Rifle? battalion based on Baron Hompesch's German Jaegers. This formation of ?Experimental Corps of Riflemen? in 1800 was raised and trained by Colonels Coote Manningham and Stewart.

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Revolutionary French Infantry

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Light infantry tactics

 

First Campaigns

In 1800 the ?Experimental Corps of Riflemen? were sent on their first mission. The initial target was island of Belle Ille in France, but this was aborted due to the island being too heavily fortified. However, the expedition carried on to Spain and landed at Ferrol. Even though there was no major action of note it did show that the Rifleman was a versatile soldier, and indeed did have a place in the British Army. In 1800 the name of the corps was changed to ?The Rifle Corps? and, most importantly, their uniform changed from the standard line infantry red to the distinctive 'Rifle' green.

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The Rifles drill

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Light infantry training

 

Further small campaigns took place in 1801 with units of Rifles in Egypt and accompanying an expedition to Denmark, where they were engaged in their first major action at the Battle of Copenhagen.

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Battlefield walk

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Showing the battlefield of Rolica

 

In 1802 the Light Infantry Brigade was formed by General John Moore, and the Rifles became part of this corps with its now permanent base at Shorncliffe. Intensive training followed for this new formation, making them one of the most professional brigades of troops in the world. By 1803 the Rifle formation also gained its regimental number, finally becoming the 95th Rifles.

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Colonel Henri De Laborde

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Battlefield walk

 

Over the next few years the Rifles were again used in several overseas expeditions. During 1806?07 they were involved in a South American campaign with mixed success; Montevideo was captured from the Spanish, but at Buenos Aires an ill-managed assault led to their capture, along with the Light Infantry Brigade commander Robert Crauford. Also in 1807, Rifle units returned to Denmark to help prevent the Danish fleet from falling into French hands. It was at the Battle of Copenhagen that the Rifles were under the command of a certain Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington, who noted their professionalism in action.

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British attack the French guns

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General Sir John Moore

 

After the French invasion of Spain, and an abortive mission to Sweden, the Rifles were ordered to take part in the expedition to Portugal in 1808. It would be here that this famous light infantry unit would make its name.

The Peninsular War

The opening battles of the Peninsular War at Rolica and Vimiero showed that the training of the Light Brigade had made them easily a match for the French Voltigeurs. After the French withdrawal from Portugal in 1808, and the Convention of Cintra, the command of the army was transferred to Sir John Moore, their original brigade commander. Moore immediately went on the offensive hoping to outflank the French under Soult, and threaten their supply lines back into France. Unfortunately Napoleon had anticipated this and, from his base in Madrid advanced on the British Army. This move forced Moore's army to retreat on Corunna and Vigo in the north west of Spain.

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The Spanish Peninsular Campaign

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Battlefield walk

 

It was during this long winter retreat that the Light Brigade?s (and particularly the Rifles?) discipline and training under their now returned commander, 'Black Bob' Crauford, came to the fore. Many rearguard actions were fought to cover the retreat of the army, including several exploits of individuals such as Rifleman Plunkett killing the French commander General Colbert. The retreat finally ended in January 1809 with the army embarking to safety at Vigo and Corunna, but not before their commander Sir John Moore was killed at the Battle of Corunna in the last rearguard action of the campaign.

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Rifleman Plunkett kills General Colbert

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Expert guide from the Rifles (Green Jackets) Museum, Winchester

 

Living Historians, Battlefield Walks and Museums

In this DVD the battlefield guides, Tim Saunders and Andrew Duff, visit the actual battlefields and routes that the Rifles would have fought and marched over during this part of the Peninsular Campaign. This gives the viewer a much better appreciation than can be got from looking at maps and reading books of what the terrain and conditions would have been like for the soldiers to deal with at the time. They also visit and interview guides from the Rifles (Green Jackets) Museum in Winchester, England, getting expert and insightful information about ?The Rifles?.

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The Battle of Corunna medal

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The Battle of Corunna 1809

 

The use of living historians adds great value to this DVD. These re-enactors replicate everything from this period of the Rifles? history in minute detail. The famous Baker Rifle is examined, as is the difference between the uniforms of the light and line infantry troops. Tactics are demonstrated, and even the role of the Riflemen's wives on campaign is shown. The attention to detail here is second to none. All of these vignettes are cleverly woven into the story of the 95th Rifles.

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General Sir John Moore is killed at Corunna

 

Pros and Cons

Overall, I found The 95th Rifles 1800?Corunna DVD highly informative and very enjoyable to watch, and I would heartily recommend it to anybody who has an interest in military history in general. It is an absolute ?must have? inclusion to the library for those who have an interest in the Napoleonic era. For anybody who is a 95th Rifles enthusiast in particular, if you do not own this DVD already, why not? A quick visit to Pen & Swords? website will also show that two more titles, 95th Rifles 1809?Salamanca and 95th Rifles 1812?Waterloo are planned. I look forward to hopefully reviewing these very much.

There are a few small sound, lighting and continuity glitches in the DVD set, but these do not detract from an otherwise superb production.

 

Review written by: Martin Lampon, Staff Writer

About Martin Lampon

Martin Lampon is a graphic designer who has been a wargamer, board gamer and PC gamer for nearly 40 years. He has a particular interest in the history of the Napoleonic Wars, but will do anything to pursue knowledge in military history subjects of any era.


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