Also known as the Napoleonic wars, The war of Spanish independence, The Iberian campaign, is the conflict that gave to our vernacular words such as
Guerilla (in Spanish the little war), and Waterloo which besides being a railway station has become a term for a personal nemesis. Reputations were
secured by the likes of Sir Arthur Wellesley (Later the Duke of Wellington), and smashed as in the case of Bonaparte himself, and Picton a General
susequently killed at Waterloo. Names of fortified towns now have their place in our history Talavera, Ciudad Rodreigo, Coimbra, Cadiz, and the
ignominious,battle, siege, and subsequent sack of Badajoz generally considered to be the greatest breakdown of discipline, and bloodiest atrocity ever
committed by the British Army. Three days of looting, rape, murder, destruction, and Officers, and the hated Provosts being attacked by their own men
was only brought to an end by the erection of gallows in the town square. Peninsula 200 is being marked by joint displays of the armies involved at
the actual locations of some of the fiercest battles in military history.
Author Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe collection are among the most read novels in our literary history, and have given us a new hero whose dashing
exploits were made in to a series of feature lenghth televison shows that drew viewing figures in the high millions. It is a truth that the
conflicts, and campaigns of the Peninsula war gave us the shape of modern Europe but what is not so regularly recognised is that it was also the
conflict that was the begining of the modern British Soldier we know today. Besides the familiar ranks of redcoats volley firing the Brown Bess
musket at the approaching mass of the French coloumn a new chess queen of battle was taking its first part in actions that were to prove the enormous
merits of this new type of soldier. Dressed in all field green, and armed with the slower to load, but with a much greater accuracy range Baker
Rifle. Apart from their skill in marksmanship Rifleman were selected for their intelligence, their ability to think calmly under pressure, and to
work in pairs making use of cover deploying fire and move tactics. The brief was to take out Officers, and N.C.O.'s causing panic, and confusion in
an enemy by the removal of leadership destroying the resolve of the attacking force. Rifleman would also target artillery crews, and the more
difficult to hit cavalry.
There was much oposition to the arming of ordinary soldiers with rifles from the officer corps many used the derogatory argument that it was akin to
giving knife,and fork to swine. Other practices in the Rifles as they became known were also frowned upon Officers would frequently dine with the men
allowing them to get to know their troops and there strengths, and weaknesses. Instead of heavy drums bugles were used for battlefield signals, and
the proud Riflemen like the soldier of today would carry everything he needed to fight and survive on his person. Rifle Officers did not swan about
on horseback but lead attacks from the front, and were expected to be as competant marksmen as the men under their command.
The Rifles rapidly gained the respect of other regiments, and a feared reputation among the enemy they also introduced new tactics, and firing
positions, the Prone (lying flat) and the much admired Plunkett position named after the rifleman who used it to shoot a French colonel at three
hundred yards, and the aide that ran to assist just to prove that it was not merely a lucky shot. The Rifles were so successful that the practices,
and tactics eventually became the norm across the British Army so much so that by the time of the Anglo-Zulu wars every soldier was equipped with a
breech loading Martini-Henry rifle, the redcoats of old were only used for ceremonial duties, and the characteristic khaki became standard
The Rifle Brigade eventually became the august regiments The Royal Green Jackets, and The Light Infantry in honor of the uniform of Rifles
tradition, and at its creation marked the begining of the move away from the Army being comprised of Officers from the landed gentry being in command
of scum of the earth, faceless, expendable cannon fodder, to the British Soldier being a highly skilled professional lead by those who attained
commission on the basis of merit, with the notable backwards step of World War One.
During the Peninsular War Rifleman were excused manual labor, and were considered to valuable to be used in the Forlorn Hope. The Forlorn Hope was a
detachment of about seventy men who would be first into a breech of fortress, and were not expected to survive. Usually lead by a Sergeant who was
assured of promotion to Lieutenant in the unlikely event he survived, this near suicidal practice was never the less not short of willing volunteers
as being among the first into an enemy town, or fortress meant first access to the attendant plunder.
Many of the county regiments of the British Army became Rifles in two thousand, and six as a result of the latest defence review and in honor of the
tradition wear a field green beret, and often have a spiritual attachment to specific counties. So if you are fortunate enough as I am to live in one
of the counties spiritually attached to a regiment of Rifles you may allow yourself some pride as it can be said without fear of contradiction that
the Bloody Fighting 95th Rifles truly were the original "special forces soldiers".
edit on 30-9-2012 by Extralien because: spacing text