Monday, 25 September 2017

The War of the Spanish Succession: The Battle of Oudenarde July 11th 1708 (Part 5) The Gristle and Grease of Battle

The battle continued into its third phase, the Allies push forward with tired troops to gain critical objectives.

Although mighty events had swung in favour of the Allies to the north the battle still hung in the balance. The French reverses in cavalry fortunes were quickly made good by squadrons of fresh troopers arriving new from line of march. This foretold of a possible French strategic dilemma, their entry points were fast becoming choke points. New troops arriving were finding themselves hurled into combat straight away. The French could not afford to lose any more ground or be "choked". A large body of the French lay across the wrong side of the river. The Allies conversely still had to completely "shut the door" with the swinging wing of infantry or risk the numerous French cavalry squadrons running amok in their backfield.

So the Prussian Cavalry general, already victorious in one major combat, considered another gambit to save the northern flank. Rather than wait, which meant to become outnumbered by the arriving French, he decided to press his minor advantage [1:1 odds with his commanding presence] and fight the battle where he wanted it to be, thus at the very least 'buy time' for the infantry gate to close. Once more he brought his troopers to the charge (see below, far top left the Prussians cavalry charge [brown horses hitting a line of black] while the infantry order their lines with the flourish of a small skirmish at the river):

The combat goes against the brave Prussians, they are fought to a standstill, the presence of the general saving a rout. Disordered they lay at the mercy of a reinforced (and importantly ordered) French attack. With the noteworthy discreteness associated with the careful Dragoons, a Prussian regiment stealthily occupied the windmill to secure the northern flank of the infantry gate (see below, there can only be a bad outcome next for the mounted Prussians now):

The Prussian formation disintegrates being outnumbered 3:1 and heads in total disorder of the river minus a stand, carrying the Prussian general with them. The French gather themselves to exploit whatever openings are left in the approaching Allied infantry formation. The French desperately need to change the momentum of this battle in their favour by a stroke of genius, as expected by Louis XIV (see below):

Meanwhile in the south, John Churchill calls forth the British to press the French (aided by some despicable Bavarian's who have recently changed sides) and advance out of their defensive strongholds. He sees that a sudden reverse would sow complete confusion in the (too) tightly packed battalions of French infantry. Again the British contest with the Swiss a village whose name history will soon forget but forever be a grave for many a brave soldier (see below):

Standing back we now see that the northern infantry gate is closed shut. The victorious French cavalry are denied easy infantry pickings. Instead they see a continuous line of bayonet, behind which fresh Allied cavalry reinforcements can be seen and even limbering cannon. Nought can be gained here with a futile charge. The French army is crammed into a defensive perimeter. History had it that the French commander across the river declined at this point to send troops, however on this fateful day (by roll of an important command dice) he saw fit to support his fellow French. Additional French is the last thing Marlborough wants to see (see below, the French infantry are looking disordered in the south):

Once disordered the French infantry yield before the march of the redcoats. The constant drilling has made them the pride of the whole Allied army. The Swiss are routed, a village taken and the first line French infantry brigade find itself in peril. The redoubt of individual French battalions was not in doubt, rallying and rejoining the fight time after time, but the whole as a line buckled (see below):

Next: Application of pressure with all arms!


Ian Robinson said...

The roll of a dice - it's too much like what happens in reality, although we always kid ourselves that the path of history was preordained.

Excellent write up - makes me want to fight it again.

Geordie an Exiled FoG said...

To me there was still a lot of fight left in the French and they were very dangerous enemies.