by Richard Hopton
Barnsley, S. York.: Pen & Sword / Havertown, Pa.: Casemate, 2012. Pp. x, 198.
Illus., maps, notes, index. $24.95 paper. ISBN: 1848848900
An Influential Little Battle in the Middle of Nowhere
On July 4, 1806, a small army of some 2,500 British troops defeated a French force of about twice its size in a brief battle on the western coast of Calabria, the ‘toe’ of Italy. While seemingly a minor affair, this action was nevertheless of enormous importance. Maida marked the first time British troops had defeated the French in the long war that had begun more than a decade earlier.
The author of Pistols at Dawn and A Reluctant Hero, British historian Hopton spends three chapters fitting the battle into the larger picture of the French Wars, dealing with grand strategy, diplomacy, and the formation of the Third Coalition. He then devotes two chapters to the situation in Naples in 1805-1806, and the concentration of belligerent forces there, Neapolitan and Russian as well as British and French, and the circumstances that led to the clash near Maida in Calabria.
Hopton devotes just one chapter to the actual Battle of Maida, which discusses in some detail, aided by the very brevity of the action and some good maps. He demonstrates that both sides employed flexible tactics, clearly refuting the older view, rejected even by its most famous advocate, Charles Oman, that the famous French assault columns shattered against the steady British line.
Hopton concludes with a chapter on the results and implications of the battle within the “Big Picture” of the War of the Third Coalition, and for the future of British tactics.
An important revisionist look at an iconic action.