Combat of Roncal, 12-13 May 1813

The combat of Roncal (12-13 May 1813) was a partly successful French attempt to defeat the successful guerrilla leader Francisco Espoz y Mina by attacking his magazines, depots and hospitals.

The attack was led by General Clausel, commander of the French Army of the North. Earlier in the year he had focused his efforts on the Spanish in Biscay, but at the end of March he moved south from Bilbao to join up with new divisions that were sent to him from the Army of Portugal, joining them at Vittoria. He gathered a force of four divisions - one of his own under Vandermaesen, Lamartiniere’s division from Burgos, Taupin’s division from the Army of Portugal, and Barbot’s division, which was already in Navarre. This gave him 20,000 men with which to try and track down and destroy Mina’s 10,000 men.

At first Clausel hoped to catch Mina in a general sweep using all four divisions. He gathered his forces at Puente la Reyna on 24 April, in the Arga valley (12 miles to the south-west of Pamplona), and attempted to catch Mina in his net. However Mina was easily able to evade this sweep, dispersing his forces and getting through the gaps in the French cordon.

Clausel’s next plan was to attack Mina’s base at Roncal, a remote Pyrennes valley on the border between Navarre and Aragon. Mina had built a number of munitions factories at Roncal, and also had his supply depots and hospitals there, hoping that its remote location, far away from any major road, would save it from attack. Clausel split his forces, leaving Taupin at Estella to watch Western Navarre, while he led Abbé, Vandermaesen and Barbot to attack Roncal.

Mina was forced to make some efforts to defend his base. He split his army into two, leaving four battalions to face Taupin and taking five to Roncal. The French attacked on 12-13 May, and after heavy fighting captured Mina’s base. The Spanish lost around 1,000 men in the fighting, as well as their base. Clausel also captured many of their wounded in the hospitals, and treated them well.

Mina was forced to flee east into Eastern Aragon, where he was finally able to stop and rally his men. Clausel cleared north-western Aragon, but his success came at some cost. While he was absent in Aragon, the Spanish repeatedly cut the roads in the north. Only on the fortified route between Bayonne and Vittoria were the French fairly free to move, and large parts of Clausel’s army were scattered widely around northern Spain, just as Wellington was about to begin the Vittoria campaign. 

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (7 August 2018), Combat of Roncal, 12-13 May 1813 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/combat_roncal.html

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