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Malplaquet Battlefield

By smacdowall, Sep 17 2018 09:24PM

With a view to re-fighting Malplaquet next Spring, Dave Allen and I visited the actual battlefield a few weeks back — as close to the actual day of the battle (11 September) as we could manage. We wanted to understand what the ground was like, how the troops deployed and what they could see, in order to represent it accurately for the wargame.


The battlefield monument
The battlefield monument

Straddling the French-Belgian border just south of Mons the battlefield is easily accessible. The starting point is a monument standing just in front of the centre of the French lines a few metres south of the Belgian border.



Orientation map of the initial deployment
Orientation map of the initial deployment

There are some excellent orientation maps around the monument which give good detail of the units involved along with their deployment and movements. The French side of the battlefield benefits from a signed walking tour which can be followed with the aid of a most helpful app. This gives information and maps in English as well as French.



Bois de la Laniere on the French right
Bois de la Laniere on the French right

One thing that struck us was the very limited visibility. Although there are no significant hills, the gently rolling terrain generally limits visibility to less than 200 yards. The main French infantry lines were on a slight reverse slope with the result that troops on the opposing sides would have been unlikely to see each other until within less than 100 yards of each other.


The Bois de Sars at the point where Lottum attacked
The Bois de Sars at the point where Lottum attacked

The woods which formed the flanks of the gap which the French defended are still there. The Bois de Sars to the west still has the same outline as it did back in 1709. It is hard to imagine just how the tens of thousands of allied troops managed to attack through them to emerge on the other side.



Information board on the site of the French redans
Information board on the site of the French redans

There are no traces of the French redans or entrenchments but their locations are reasonable well marked and by walking along their lines it is possible to get a sense of what it must have been like.



The allied forward battery circled in red
The allied forward battery circled in red

Many accounts of the battle say that Marlborough’s grand battery of 40 guns first fired into the Bois de Sars to support Lottum’s attack. Then they switched their fire to engage the French cavalry that could be seen on a slope behind the French foot, hidden by their reverse slope position. Although we tramped over all the possible locations for this battery there are no good fields of fire to substantiate this. The maps by the monument suggest another battery of 10 guns and 3 howitzers well forward of the allied centre and indicate that is was probably indirect fire from this battery which inflicted casualties on the French horse to the rear.


Memorial to the French senior officers killed in action
Memorial to the French senior officers killed in action

The small church in Malplaquet has a memorial to the French officers killed (Lieutenant Colonels and above).


Malplaquet church
Malplaquet church

The church was there in 1709 and although it has since been re-built it was done so in a way to closely resemble the original.



Blairon farm cicled in red viewed from the French centre
Blairon farm cicled in red viewed from the French centre

Blairon farm forward of the French lines forms an obstacle we had not appreciated. It is not so much the farm itself as the deep north-south running stream that runs through it. This, and the now much depleted Bois Thierry to the north, break up the allied line of advance. Once committed beyond this point it would have been pretty well impossible to move troops from the allied left (east) to the centre or visa versa.


Scattered around the battlefield are several monuments as can be seen in the following photos:



Monument to the Swiss regiments on both sides
Monument to the Swiss regiments on both sides


Monument to the British regiments that fought at Malplaquet
Monument to the British regiments that fought at Malplaquet

Plaque at the position of the French artillery which decimated the Dutch
Plaque at the position of the French artillery which decimated the Dutch


Monument to the French carabiniers who held the left flank
Monument to the French carabiniers who held the left flank


19th century mural on the side of a barn
19th century mural on the side of a barn









6 comments
Sep 17 2018 10:55PM by Ross Macfarlane

Did you make any effort to elevate yourselves to the height of a well mounted office? I'v hear that lift of 5 feet or so can greatly extend visibility in rolling ground.

(The closest I've come to trying this is from the porch of my house. The hill across the road has a dip just before the woods, just deep enough to hide a deer or person if you stand on the driveway but from the 3ft high deck you can sometimes see their head. (The deer here are irregular and don't come with standards or mounted officers))

Sep 17 2018 11:01PM by smacdowall

There were unfortunately few horses available. However the steps of the monument gave some elevation and still the visibility was pretty poor. I imagine the French foot in their trenches would not have been able to see anything much beyond 50 yards even if the officers could

Sep 18 2018 10:31AM by Ross Macfarlane

Well its probably as well that the rank and file don't see the enemy until they can shoot. I was thinking in terms of the officers being able to get some idea of what was coming and being ready for it.

Sep 20 2018 10:11AM by smacdowall

Yes that little bit of extra height would make quite a difference

Oct 3 2018 08:47PM by Phil Carrington

Interesting post, thank you. I'd be keen to know if you manage to put together a good Order of Battle for Malplaquet as this seems to be difficult to pin down.

Oct 7 2018 10:45AM by smacdowall

Thank you Phil. I am working on the orbats. As you say they are a bit tricky to pin down but I am getting there. More or less worked out the French foot now but still work to do on the other bits. Cheers, Simon

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