Saka Light Cavalry

Saka Light Cavalry

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Legion Irlandaise (Napoleon's Irish Legion) 1803 - 1815

I wanted to finish the painting challenge with this unit but ran out of time. So they ended up being the first figures painted after the end of the challenge. Ever since reading the Wargames Illustrated Peninsular Special I have wanted to paint up these guys. Established on the 31st August 1803 the the aim of these troops being used for the Invasion of Ireland with the hope that the Irish population would then see the landings as a liberation rather than invasion. Once a landing was no longer feasible (thanks British Navy) the one battalion strong regiment needed other employment and expansion to convert from a mostly political force to a fighting formation. Original recruits and first expansion was mostly from Irish and Scottish ex-patriots from the Jacobite rebellion who's families also had been forced to leave Ireland. Prisoner of war camps also proved to be a fertile recruiting ground especially amongst Irish press ganged into the navy. Polish and German recruits also helped flesh out the regiment and whilst orders were in French, native tongs tended to win out the rest of the time.

The uniform was a distinctive green cut in the style of Light Infantry with yellow collar, lapels, cuffs and turnbacks. All other equipment was standard light infantry issue. They had their own eagle and the flag had the inscription "NAPOLEON EMPEREUR DES FRANCAIS A LA LEGION IRLANDAIS" on the one side and a large harp with the motto "L'INDEPENDENCE D'IRLANDE" on the other side.

It took till 1807 before the regiment were to be involved in action, the first battalion was sent to Walcheren Island to reinforce the troops already stationed there. Here rather than fighting the British they found themselves fighting the "Walcheren fever" a form of malaria. 

In early 1809 the regiment was renamed the 3d Rediment Etranger (Irlandaise) though the original name continued to be used most of the time. July 30th of this year the first battalion finally got to show it's metal when the British landed forces landed on Walcheren Island. The French forces put up a spirited defence before being forced back to Flushing. On 1st August the British attacked the perimeter of Flushing with the Irish taking heavy casualties but standing their ground. From the 3rd to 13th of August they occupied a forward position in the defensive line fighting small actions almost daily.  On the 13th a major assault started with attacks on all the forward positions and whilst some of the other regiments fell back into the town the Irish continued to stand firm even once their commanding officer (Captain William Lawless) was struck by a musket ball just below the eye with the ball lodging below his ear. He was carried off to receive treatment surviving the ordeal.

By the evening of the following day it was apparent the town would fall and a truce was called with the garrison surrendering the following day and being shipped off to England and captivity. However some men evaded the British and captivity. The wounded Captain Lawless and a Lt. Terrence O'Reilly were amoungst these men, Lawless in no fit state to escape was taken to a friends house (Dr. Mokey) and once healed they finally made their escape, taking their Eagle with them!

The 2nd Battalion was also proving it's worth in Spain having been sent there in late 1807. In 1808 Murat marched into Madrid starting a war that was to last till 1813. The battalion was present just outside Madrid when the city rose up against the French and was involved in the fighting there.  From here the battalion was ordered to garrison Burgos and construct a fort. Here they performed the usual duties of a occupation force including skirmishers with the Spanish Guerrillas. 

March 1810 saw the battalion assigned to Junot's 8th Corps of the Army of Portugal. The first real action was the siege of Astorga  in the North West of Spain. In the storming of the town the Irish performed well, a detachment captured a house just beyond the breach and held it through the night. The rest of the battalion was also involved in heavy fighting and took heavy causalities, the Spanish surrendered the following morning.

Further action included the siege of Almedia, the invasion of Portugal including the battles of Bussaco and Fuentes de Onor. By December 1811 the battalion was a shadow of it's former self through continual attrition. The Battalion was paraded for the last time in Spain with the 120 officers, sergeants, corporals and drummers being sent to Holland to be reformed and reinforced. The remaining privates were folded into another regiment to continue fighting in Spain.

The regiment was lucky enough to miss out on the 1812 campaign in Russia but would further distinguish itself through it's final years and was heavily engaged against the Prussians and in each engagement fought well. They were however not used in the 100 days campaign but was still disbanded on 28th September 1815 with the officers being discharged along with other ranks though NCO's and other ranks that wished to stay on were incorporated into the newly forming Royal Foreign Regiment was forming.

So quite a colourful history to match their uniforms. Shame that until the dark days of 1813 the regiment was not utilised as a whole. Whilst it seemed to continually to suffer high casualties a ready supply of willing recruits kept it in fighting order. I see this regiment as having a high morale and cohesion with a fair firepower. I really like the look of this base and it will add a nice splash of colour when ever I get to use them.


  1. lovely figures Ian and a great history :)

  2. This is one I intend to add to my new collection of 28's. Yours look very dashing the standard really stands out nicely.

  3. Very good looking base. Nice post. I need to paint this unit myself.

  4. Good reading and great painting Ian.

  5. Nicely done Ian, always impressed at how you manage to pack such detail into these wee fellows.

  6. @ Tamsin, looking forward to seeing your 6mm figs painted when you get them.

    @ Andrew, I look forward to seeing your version of the same, the standard was supplied by a mate, I was very happy with it.

    @ Mike, Do I detect a trend, will be nice to see more of this regiment out there.

    @ Fran, Thanks mate, most of the history was borrowed from one site though.

    @ Michael, well if the detail was not there it would be missed out so a lot of the praise goes to Baccus, this will be one of the last old style Baccus French I will paint as the new French should be available in three weeks time. I just have five line regiments left to paint and all of them will be allied units so the last actual French units were painted at the end of the challenge.


  7. Always good to see the Irish that fought for the French. Nice paintjobs on them too