Combat of Gospic ( or Gospitsh), 21-22 May 1809

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The combat of Gospic (21-22 May 1809) was hard fought clash between the Austrians and French on the border between Croatia and Dalmatia that ended in a draw but that forced the Austrians to retreat to the north.

The fighting on the Dalmatian front began with an Austrian offensive led by General Stoichevich, but this was followed by a period of deadlock, before the French, under General Marmont, launched an offensive in mid-May. On 16 May they forced the Austrians out of their positions around Mt. Kita, capturing Stoichevich during the fighting. Oberst Matthias Freiherr Rebrovic von Razboj, who took command of the Austrian forces, retreated to the town of Gracac, where on the following day his inexperienced men put up a stubborn resistance. That night, aware that he was about to be outflanked, Rebrovic retreated again, this time towards Gospic.

Gospic is situated in a valley between the Velebit mountains to the south and high ground to the north-east, making the position difficult to outflank. The River Licca ran from south-east to north-west across the valley, passing to the east of Gospic, while the River Novcica ran north-east from Gospic into the Licca. The main road through the valley ran in from the south-east, crossed the Licca at Novoselo and the Novcica at Gospic, before turning north to cross the Licca for a second time just south of Budak.

Rebrovic destroyed most of the local bridges, but kept the bridge at Novoselo intact. He deployed most of his men behind this bridge, in the expectation that Marmont would be forced to attack across it

After resting for two days around Gracac, Marmont resumed his advance on 20 May, reaching Gospic on 21 May. After examining the terrain he decided to bypass Gracac completely. Instead he would advance along the eastern side of the Licca towards Budak, a move that would outflank the Austrian left and force them to retreat. Two companies of voltigeurs from the 8th Léger were to capture a ford over the Jadova River at Barlete, while other voltigeurs and the chasseurs were sent to occupy three hillocks opposite the bridge at Novoselo.

Rebrovic responded to this unexpected turn of events by leading his main body across the bridge at Novoselo. He then split his army into three columns, and advanced towards the three hillocks, driving away the light French forces occupying them.

In response Marmont altered his plan. He took personal command of Montrichard's division, and led it against the Austrians. Colonel Goard, with the 78th Line, was to attack the right-hand column. General Soyez, with the 18th Léger, was to attack in the centre, and Colonel Plauzonne, with the 5th Léger, on the left.

The attacks on the centre and right columns were both successful, but the fighting on the left was more even, and the Austrians defended every foot of ground, only being forced to retreat by the failures to their right. The fighting was not without cost to the French, who lost General Soyez badly wounded.

To the north the original French advance was less successful. The 8th Léger managed to cross the Jadova and advanced north-west towards Ostrvica, dangerously close to Budak, but they were stopped by an Austrian force under Hrabovsky. At the end of the day the two main forces faced each other across the bridge at Novoselo.

The battle resumed on 22 May. Once again Marmont decided to make his main effort on the right, hoping to overwhelm the weak Austrian left, but he was operating in hostile territory, and local spies brought this news to Rebrovic. The Austrians were able to move reinforcements to their left, and the French attack failed.

Despite the failure of the French attacks the Austrians were in a very weak position by the end of 22 May. Rebrovic had been ordered to send two of his best battalions away, and many of his other troops were close to exhaustion. Although the French were in a similar state, Rebrovic had no way to know this, and on the night of 22 May he withdrew north towards Ottacac.

Both sides lost around 1,000 men during the battle. The Austrians had reason to be pleased with the performance of their inexperienced troops during the battle, but less so in the days that followed. As the Austrians retreated north many of the local militia deserted. They narrowly escaped from the French again at Zutalovka (25 May), and were then forced to retreat north-east to safety. This allowed Marmont to move west towards the coast, and then north-west towards Fiume and a rendezvous with the Army of Italy.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (2 July 2010), Combat of Gospic ( or Gospitsh), 21-22 May 1809 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/combat_gospic.html

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