Vauban Tile 500 pixels

Vauban Tile 500 pixels

On the 300th anniversary of the battle, a wargame re-enactment was staged at the University of Leeds. The rules used for the re-enactment are found here.

One figure represents 60 men, with units arriving on the battlefield broadly as they did on the day in 1708. In total about 27,000 troops per side (about 30 battalions and 60 squadrons of cavalry) would eventually be deployed at this scale, as the engagement battle proceeded; which is about a 1/3 of those involved on the day. The individual regiments in the armies can be found here.

Kubrick’s film, Barry Lyndon, gives the feel of 18th Century warfare from the soldiers point of view. Bear this in mind as the sequence unfolds!

The battlefield was rescaled so that the action covered approximately 3 x 1.8 km, at a level of 1mm = 2m, so the battlefield spread over boards of length 1.5m by 0.9m. The layout is shown below, with each village represented by a house.

In the description of the re-enactment below, the terms left, centre and right describe the battlefield from the French view, looking towards Oudenarde. Broadly the left covers the ground between the river Scheldt and the village of Herlegem, the centre between Herlegem and the windmill at Royegem, and the right between Royegem and the river Norken.

The Grand Alliance must push the French back as far as they can towards the river Norken, the French to trap the Grand Alliance against their bridgeheads, across the river Scheldt around Oudenarde.

The full battle sequence follows, with each move representing 5 minutes. Each picture has short action comments for aficionados, and a running commentary on overall progress is provided throughout the sequence.

Move 1 3:30 pm (time of the start of the battle on 11th July 1708 )

As per the original battle, the Prussians rout the Swiss troops before the village of Eyne.

Move 2

The French troops crossing the river Norken begin to deploy into line, ready to advance. Vive le Roi! Avant mars!

Move 3 = 3:45 pm (+15 minutes).

A major change to the original battle as the Grand Alliance commander decides to send his Hanoverian cavalry around the battlefield to flank the French by the windmill at Royegem. This will take time and is a gamble, but we’ll see eventually how things work out.

Move 4

“Mitt Gott für König und Vaterland. Schwenk Marsch, Trab!” The Prussian infantry pass through Eyne village.

Move 5.

The Prussians begin marching onto the next village, Heurne, protected by another Swiss battalion. Meanwhile to their rear, the French have deployed a brigade, ready to advance, led by Maréchal Vendôme.
C’est lui, dont les dieux ont fait choix
Pour combler le bonheur de l’Empire Français

Move 6 = 4pm (+30 minutes)

The French begin their advance in an attempt to put a defensive line across from the villages of Herlegem to Heurne, sealing off their left flank. Will they get there before the Prussians? Will the Swiss be able to withstand the storm if relief does not arrive?

Move 7

French cavalry cross the river Norken by the village of Mullem.

Move 8.

The Hanoverian cavalry reach the top of the Boser Couter, and are ready to begin sweeping down onto the windmill at Royegem. The move has been spotted by the French, who have cavalry regiments in waiting for them just before the windmill. Maréchal Vendôme leads the French infantry through the villages of Herlegem and Groenewalde as the Prussians continue their advance. Meanwhile the Swabian troops of the Grand Alliance, led by The Duke of Marlborough begin their sweep around Dienpenbecke.

Move 9 = 4.15pm (+45 minutes)

Swiss troops are finally rallied by Maréchal Vendôme. It looks as if the French will arrive before the Prussians to form their defensive line across their left flank. Expect a fire fight soon to see who controls these villages.

Move 10

Move 11

Swiss and French battalions move forward to engage the Prussians. Fortuna Belli smiles on the army of le Roi Soleil as the Prussians are disrupted by the exchange of fire from the Swiss, and the French hold their own despite being outnumbered 2:1.

Move 12 = 4.30pm (+1 hour)

The Prussians before the Swiss troops break under fire as the odds swing rapidly against them and they run back towards the safety of the village of Eyne. The Prussian battalion on the left of their line become disrupted under artillery & musket fire.

Move 13

The Prussians disintegrate under fire and the troops start fleeing towards Schaerken. The French cavalry in reserve sense their moment and advance, En avant, mes enfants! En avant, à la gloire!” The French have secured the left flank of the battlefield. Can they push on, take Eyne and threaten to trap the Grand Alliance bridgehead across the river Scheldt?

Move 14

One of the Prussian battalions is caught in the open by the pursuing French cavalry. The rest of the army looks on horrified, Fortuna Belli in her worst aspect. Meanwhile one of the other Prussian battalions has rallied to form a disordered square, which might hold against the second encroaching French cavalry regiment. The Hanoverian cavalry begin their advance off the heights of the Boser Couter towards Royegem.

Move 15 = 4.45pm (1hr 15 minutes)

The French engage the shaken Prussian square with artillery and musketry. Meanwhile the pursuit of the fleeing Prussians continues, with no quarter given. The advancing Austrian infantry forms square in defence against the oncoming wave. Meanwhile around Herlegem, Prussian and French infantry begin a fire exchange. Will the Prussians luck improve?

Move 16

Fortuna Belli frowns as the shaken Prussian square breaks. The French attack them again with cavalry; the Prussians flee as fast as they can towards safety in the form of the boggy ground around the River Diepenebeck, where horses cannot pass. At Herlegem, the Prussians break under fire. Thus their entire advance across the battlefield has failed.

Move 17

‘Es-tu prête à tout sacrifier?’ ‘Nous battra jusqu’au bout.’

Driven by their successes, the headstrong French cavalry charge a formed square in the belief they can break them. Under artillery and musket fire, the square beats them off and the cavalry rout. The Swiss and Austrian troops exchange fire. Meanwhile the first British line is deployed around Schaerken. About the mill by Royegem, the Hanoverian and French cavalry start their long anticipated duel, with the French becoming disrupted.

Move 18 = 5:00pm (+1hr 30 minutes)

Under fire, the Austrians rout towards Eyne. On the right flank about the mill at Royegem, the cavalry duel continues, with both front lines disrupted. Who will break first?

Move 19

About Royegem the French cavalry breaks first, and the disorganized second line moves up to continue the fight. Before Eyne, the remaining French cavalry also try their luck on a fully formed square.

Move 20

The French cavalry is easily beaten off by the square with supporting artillery and the troopers rout. The Bavarians have made steady progress across the battlefield and are soon to occupy the the villages of Herlegem and Groenewalde. A new brigade of French troops has formed behind the River Norken and will shortly set off. About the Mill at Royegem the cavalry duel continues, with odds slightly in favour of the Hanoverians and the fast approaching Swabians. Meanwhile, the Austrians are receiving the worst of a fire fight with the Swiss by the banks of the Scheldt.

So far Fortuna Belli has smiled more on the French. The Grand Alliance bridgehead has held with more troops pouring onto the battlefield each move , but their progress has been less than desired. They must break out if they are to succeed.

This is the last move at Leeds University on the day of the anniversary of the battle. Now the action switches to another location with the board and troops being set up again.

Move 21 = 5:15pm (1hr 45 minutes)

The French have now formed a line midway between the villages across the battlefield from the Scheldt to the edge of the marshy ground, covering their left and centre. Austrians rout under fire by the Scheldt, but British battalions move into the centre, whilst at the left of their line Swabians deploy into line of battle. At the cavalry duel by Royegem, French cavalry flee the battlefield. To their rear, the Maison du Roi begin their advance to the front line.

Move 22

The Austrian and Prussian troops continue routing down by the Scheldt, but in the centre of the French defensive line, a battalion becomes disrupted from artillery fire. The Swabians swing into line, ready to press their attack. French cavalry continue fleeing from Royegem as the crack Maison du Roi regiments move forward to fill the gap they have left.

Move 23

The French and Swabian infantry begin their fire fight, along the line before Diepenbeck, with both becoming disrupted in the process. Fortuna Belli frowns and the French battalion under artillery fire routs, leaving a gap in the French line. Can the Grand Alliance exploit this and regain the initiative before the Bavarian second line at Herlegem seals the gap?

Move 24 = 5:30pm (+2 hours)

At the extreme of their central line, a French battalion routs, with the rest still engaged in a fire fight with the Swabians. The British join the end of the line formed by the Austrians and the remnants of the initial Prussian attack.

Move 25

The French line still continues to crumble into rout, leaving one of their battalions before Diepenbeck victorious, but isolated. French cavalry begin to challenge the Austrians and British, who must from square for protection. Their artillery fail to stop the French advance.

Move 26

The French cavalry break the shaken Austrian square, forcing the British infantry into squares for self defence. About Royegem a regiment of French Dragoons dismount and deploy, ready to cover the flank of the routing French infantry.

Move 27 = 5:45pm (+2 hours 15 minutes)

British cavalry advance before Schaerken and attack their French counterparts who fight bravely on after having broken the Austrian square. The Swabians begin to advance after winning their first fire fight with the French. Maréchal Vendôme orders a battalion of Bavarians into square to allow the fleeing French troops through their line before Herlegem.

Move 28

Fortuna Belli smiles on the French cavalry, who against the odds manage to fight on and hold off the British cavalry. British infantry begin to advance to the centre of the French position. By Royegem, the Hanoverian cavalry rout. French dragoons deployed to the rear of the line at Royegem are ordered to cross the field to the village of Groenenwalde.

Move 29

Still the French cavalry fight on against the odds. Hanoverian infantry begin to advance into the battlefield. A fierce firefight erupts across the centre, between the Swabians, and the French and their Bavarian allies. To the rear of this line, another line of French infantry advances. This gives them three lines in depth, surely enough troops to continue to advance?

Move 30 = 6:00pm (+2 hours 30 minutes)

The odds finally swing against the French cavalry before Schaerken and they break, having held off superior numbers for 15 minutes. In the centre, the Grand Alliance hold a shaken line that still advances against an even more ragged French line. About Royegem, the Maison du Roi advance into combat.

Move 31

The French centre breaks in confusion as the cry ‘Sauve qui peut’ goes up. The British cavalry reorganises after winning their fight. A shaken French cavalry regiment moves forward to meet them.

Move 32

The French cavalry regiment breaks under artillery fire, leaving the British to advance across the left flank, forcing the Bavarians before the villages of Herlegem and Gronenewalde into square. Meanwhile the Royal Regiment of Orkney Highlanders try to storm the village of Herlegem, held by the Swiss. About the centre, the fleeing French troops throw their second line into chaos, threatening their ability to maintain a fighting force. Maréchal Vendôme tries his best to rescue the situation.

Move 33 = 6:15pm (+2 hours 45 minutes)

Fortuna Belli now smiles on the Grand Alliance. One of the Bavarian squares is broken, with the troops fleeing for their lives into the village of Groenewalde. The rout in the centre becomes more confused as some units rally but others continue to flee. The only setback for the Grand Alliance befalls the Highlanders, who are repulsed from Herlegem by the Swiss troops ensconced there.

Move 34

The Royal Regiment of Orkneys rallies before Herlegem before trying their luck again. The Swabians try to push forward to exploit the turmoil in the French centre, but are broken by French artillery. Maréchal Vendôme is slowly stabilising his troops in the centre, but he cannot prevent a regiment from crossing the river Norken, and so going out of the battle.

Move 35

A Bavarian square manages to hold off a cavalry charge, which swirls around it in frustration, getting more disorganised. About Eyne, the Dutch cavalry arrive before the infantry columns, which are close behind. Meanwhile the Hanoverian and British infantry press on forwards.

Move 36 = 6:30 (+3 hours)

The Bavarian cavalry have successfully beaten off their attacking cavalry, which routs in confusion. At last, the Dutch infantry columns make their entrance onto the battlefield after crossing the river Scheldt by Oudenarde. Austrian troops try to take the village of Heurne from the Swiss, but become disorganised. Maréchal Vendôme has stopped his troops in the centre from routing, and they slowly get back into order. About Royegem, the first line of the Maison du Roi rout, but the second line in turn rout the Swabian cavalry in a great counter charge.

Move 37

The British cavalry win their duel with the French down by the village of Heurne. Meanwhile a fierce struggle erupts for control of the village of Herlegem, with the Swiss hanging on. The Bavarian square still hold out against cavalry attack, as infantry move up in close support.

Move 38

The Bavarian square breaks, and the survivors run for cover in the village of Groenewalde. The struggle for Herlegem continues with the Swiss still hanging on against odds of 2:1. The successful British cavalry wheel leftwards to attack the French Dragoons. Meanwhile by Royegem, Bavarian cuirassiers about turn and begin moving towards the left. If the Maison du Roi fail to hold the line, the French will not have a reserve for their right flank, but the Dutch advance threatens the centre and left.

Move 39 6:45 (+3 hours 15 minutes)

The French face simultaneous reverses across the battlefield as Fortuna Belli smiles on the Grand Alliance. By Royegem, the Maison du Roi finally crack from fatigue and begin routing. Thus the gambit the Grand Alliance made at the beginning of the battle by trying to flank the French by Royegem has finally paid off. The struggle for Herlegem is lost as British troops storm the village, ejecting the Swiss. On the left flank, the French Dragoons flee as the British cavalry are victorious again. This forces substantial numbers of French and Bavarian infantry into square, immobilising them.

Move 40

The fight for the villages swings to Groenewalde and Heurne. Bavarian cuirassiers sweep past their infantry, temporarily allowing them to form back into line of battle. The Grand Alliance start to move their artillery forward to help deliver the coup de grâce.

Move 41

Having successfully rallied his men earlier, Maréchal Vendôme is loath to order a general retreat. And yet he sees more Dutch cavalry pouring towards his block from the Bavarian cuirassiers, so he knows it’s only a matter of time. With a heavy heart he orders retreat which swiftly turns to cries of ‘Sauve qui peut’. Fortuna Belli has frowned on him today. And yet he was close; an hour and a half earlier, he was pressing Malbrough back against Dienpenbeck and Eyne. Another day, another place, he swears avant les dieux, he shall be the Tapissier de Notre Dame

Move 42 7:00 (+3 hours 30 minutes)

Only 1 hour 30 minutes of daylight left. The Grand Alliance have won this battle, with the full weight of their reserves not committed yet. The French have given way on the left, centre and right flanks, as the villages of Groenewalde and Heurne falling. The cry ‘Sauve qui peut’ echoes down the French line. Maréchal Vendôme senses his best course is to extract what he can of his army for another day, with those able crossing the River Norken for safety. Some of the remaining French infantry is locked into squares as Grand Alliance cavalry encircles them. If the Grand Alliance cavalry can capture the French artillery, then a fine victory will ensue.

Move 43

The Bavarian cuirassiers rout before the Dutch cavalry. Meanwhile as many of the French infantry struggle over the river Norken as they can.

Move 44

The Grand Alliance cavalry sweep towards the French artillery which must surely succumb to weight of numbers and the speed of their advance. A ragged line of French infantry in defence forms behind the river Norken, but with night beginning to fall, the Grand Alliance advance will soon halt for the night.

Move 45 7:15 (+3 hours 45 minutes)

In possession of the field of battle, the Grand Alliance have a fine victory. The bulk of the French army has been pushed across the river Norken and the remaining French battalions encircled, with all their artillery captured. With only over 1 hours daylight left, His Grace The Duke of Marlborough, will offer terms to those battalions of French squares remaining once he can reign in the cavalry from further attacks.

In terms of victory points, the margin (30+) suggests a decisive victory to the Grand Alliance, and once again Fortuna Belli has smiled on the Duke of Marlborough; Victoria sends her blessings in the form of captured standards to bedeck Westminster Hall.

Swift writes his paean to another famous victory:-

”Ye Commons and Peers,
Pray lend me your ears,
I’ll sing you a song, (if I can,)
How Lewis le Grand
Was put to a stand,
By the arms of our gracious Queen Anne.

How his army so great,
Had a total defeat,
And close by the river Dender:
Where his grandchildren twain,
For fear of being slain,
Gallop’d off with the Popish Pretender.’

Though Bruges and Ghent
To Monsieur we lent,
With interest they shall repay ’em;
While Paris may sing,
With her sorrowful king,
Nunc dimittis instead of Te Deum.

O Lewis perplex’d,
What general next!
Thou hast hitherto changed in vain;
He has beat ’em all round,
If no new one’s found,
He shall beat ’em over again.”

An animated gif of the battle sequence is below.

The Generals involved in the real battle and their counterparts in the re-enactment were

Maréchal Vendome

The Duke of Marlborough

Prince Eugene of Savoy

The Generals involved in the 21st century were John, Mark, Ian and Ben.

Rules used for fighting this and other Marlburian battles can be found here.

Thanks to Dixon’s Miniatures for the figures, and to warflag.com for the flags

Oudenardecolourstrue

Finis