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January 5 1812 Siege of Tarifa


The Siege of Tarifa ended on January 5, 1812. 

The French forces were unsuccessful in their attempt to capture this small coastal town in Andalusia, Spain. The town had been occupied by a small British garrison since 1811. There about 4,000 British and Spanish soldiers in the town.

In November, 1811, the British garrison had attacked the French lines around Cadiz which was also under siege by the French. Marshal Soult, the French commander, then decided to attack Tarifa. He dispatched Marshal Victor with about 15,000 men taken from the troops around Cadiz.

The siege began on 20 December 1811. The French made quick progress and breached the walls of the town on the first day. The French continued to attack through to December 30 1811. They were able to establish a sixty feet wide breach in the defensive wall. At this point the weather intervened. Severe rainstorms and flash floods caused havoc for both sides but more so for the French forces. French trenches and camps were overrun by the flash floods. The French plan to attack on dawn on December 31, 1811 had to be delayed allowing the British and Spanish defenders to carry out some crucial preparations. 
The French attack began at 9 a.m. but rain again slowed the advance until the French were forced to retreat suffering between 210 to 400 casualties. In contrast, the British lost 36 men and the Spanish 20 men.

The weather continued to play a major part in the siege. Rain meant that the besieging forces was cut off from the main French armies in Cadiz. Later, the French forces in Tarifa were cut off from each other. Supplies began to run short. 

Marshall Victor tried on 1 January to reopen the attack but a heavy rainstorm hit the area on the night of 3 and 4 January. Victor had to admit that the French cause was hopeless. On the night of 4-5 January, 1812, after spiking nine of their twelve heavy guns, the French abandoned the siege.

The above is based on the information found here and in the interesting Journal of Colonel Skerrett, the British commander at Tarifa, which can be found here here .

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