Fought on 21st August 1808, the Battle of Vimeiro was one of great victories in the Peninsular War. Not only did it end the French invasion, which started in 1807, it also saw the defeat of the “so far invincible Napoleonic forces”
The approval by the British Government of an expedition to Portugal, further contributed to a climate of revolution among the Portuguese against the occupying French. In the north, many cities and towns proclaimed the restoration of the Realm. To the south, this attitude was somewhat more contained due to the large contingent of French troops stationed there.
On 1st August 1808, the English under the command of Arthur Wellesley (future Duke of Wellington) disembarked in Lavos, Figueira da Foz. On 10th August they gathered in Leiria with the Portuguese forces which were under the command of Bernardim Freire de Andrade. The strategy adopted was one of marching quickly to Lisbon along the coast. Arthur Wellesley advanced with his troops with the support of several Portuguese units and Bernardim isolated the powerful forts of Almeida and Elvas, which were held by the French. On 17th August, the first battle of the Peninsular War took place in Roliça, Bombarral, at which the French were defeated.
Hearing of the English advance on Lisbon, Junot marched with the bulk of his army to meet the English troops. However, after being informed that the English army was no longer in the Lourinhã region, he changed direction to Roliça to gather with surviving forces and then headed for our district.
Meanwhile Wellesley received reinforcements of 4.000 men in Porto Novo, Vimeiro, which took his total forces to 19,000 men, against Junot’s 13,000. In the dawn of 21st August, the French arrived in Vimeiro ready to go do battle. Taking advantage of the lie of the land, Wellesley set up defensive positions on the highest points of Vimeiro and Ventosa. Junot divided his army into two fronts of attack, one against Vimeiro hill, the right flank of Luso-British forces, and the other against Ventosa, their left flank. Junot’s troops, already at a numerical disadvantage, charged on the enemy which already held the best tactical position in the terrain. Wellesley also used a counter-crest tactic, which led the French to climb the hills thinking that they could easily defeat the units present at the top, when at the last moment, forces which had lain in hiding behind the crest, sprang into action. Not even the greater experience of the French troops could stem their losses. During the morning, almost all the French units were defeated. Junot lost close to 2,000 men, including dead, injured and prisoners while the allies lost around 700. Junot was forced to surrender but incredibly managed to achieve very advantageous terms, which were clearly laid out in the famous Convention of Sintra.