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The Battle of Ramillies

By smacdowall, Feb 15 2016 02:00PM

The battle fought at Ramillies in 1706 is generally thought to be Marlborough’s greatest victory. Attacking across streams and boggy ground on his right, he drew off French reserves then switched his main effort to the left and broke through.

Seven of us got together last week to see if we could do as well — or better in the case of the Franco-Bavarians.

We played it out on a 16 x 6 foot table with well over 1000 15mm figures on each side. The actual orders of battle I used can be downloaded from the Scenarios page. The rules used were Close Fire and European Order which can also be dowloaded from the Rules page of my website.

By gathering miniatures from the collections of 5 players we were able to represent each battalion, squadron and gun which took part in the actual battle on a rough 1:50 scale. I had to make some minor adjustments to fit the troops we had available. Most notably none of us had any Spanish and there were quite a few of the French side. We replaced them with additional French and Bavarian units. We were also short of French guards. At Ramilles there were 6 battalions of Gardes Françaises and 3 of Gardes Suisse. We only had two of each, and that only due to the last minute painting described in a previous post.

One of the great joys of putting on a big battle such as this is seeing all the troops laid out on the table. Here are the allied lines viewed from their extreme right with Lumley’s horse in the foreground.

The terrain layout, was drawn up by Dave Allen, originally for a 20 foot long table. The ground was relatively flat so all we really needed to represent were the villages of Taviers, Ramillies (shown above), Offus and Autre Eglise as well as the Petite Gheete stream and the boggy ground around it. I added a few undulations and fields to add interest but without any effect on manoeuvre.

Later when I overlayed the troops I realised that we only needed 16 feet and so scaled it down accordingly. The actual battlefield was a gentle crescent with the French curving forward and the Maritime Powers curved backwards. To facilitate the table set-up our map straightened this out somewhat.

To the south of Ramilles a furious cavalry battle developed with succeeding lines charging, countercharging and retiring.

On first contact the Dutch had the upper hand, throwing back the vaunted Maison du Roi while their infantry stormed the village of Taviers.

After several turns fighting back and forth over the same piece of ground advantage began to swing to the French, thanks to flanking fire from their supporting battalions of Cologne, Bavarian and Swiss foot.

The Dutch Guards and Scots in Dutch service launched a frontal assault on Ramillies itself which was defended by the Irish Regiment Clare and French Regiment Picardie, supported by the Royal Italien Regiment. The Dutch and Scots took withering fire on the advance and were repulsed as they closed on the edge of the village. They fell back to re-group and the flanking battalions took their place, meeting much the same fate.

To the north of Ramilles it was hard going for Tilly’s wing as they struggled over the Petite Gheete and the marshy ground either side. The squadrons of English horse and dragoons were decimated as they attempted to close with the enemy, their horses struggling through the boggy ground.

The English and Danish foot also had trouble crossing the stream under artillery fire from Autre-Eglise and Offus. By the time the English Foot Guards came into close fire range of the enemy, their ranks were in disorder and they had little chance of success.

As the tide was beginning to turn against Ouwerkerk on the Allied left, Marlborough himself rode over to that wing, ordering Dompré’s squadrons of Dutch Horse and Holstein-Beck’s German Foot to shift over from the centre to reinforce the Dutch and Danish cavalry on the left. This was what occurred in the historical battle but in our game the move was made too late. By the time reinforcing columns reached the open ground south of Ramilles, Württemberg-Neustadt’s Danes had been shattered and the Dutch were falling back. It was too late to turn the tide.

To cries of ‘Vive le Roi’ the French players celebrated their victory. Key to this had probably been their ability to support their massive cavalry wing with infantry. Although the Dutch had managed to take Taviers their were unable to influence the cavalry battle as they were bottled up by the French dragoons from the third line.

There was also a fair amount of luck involved. Although the allies had more guns in the centre they were unable to score any successes against the Ramillies defences while the French had more success with half as many guns. Likewise on the northern flank the allies struggled across the boggy ground, rolling consistency bad movement dice. This left them in no small amount of disorder by the time they came within musket range of Autre-Eglise.

In retrospect I should have compensated for straightening out the battlefield to ease play. In the historical battle, interior lines allowed Marlborough to shift troops quickly from his centre to the left. If I were to run it again I will give the allies the ability to move at triple speed beyond musket range to reflect this (the rules usually allow double moves). Had I done so in this game then the reinforcements from the centre would have arrived in better time.

Feb 16 2016 09:32AM by Richard

Many thanks for organising a great game, Simon. It was a great spectacle and the rules worked well, giving a good 'period feel'. I agree that the Anglo/Dutch probably do need a few rules advantages to help if we play this again because I don't think any of us demonstrated the genius of Marlborough!

Feb 16 2016 10:19PM by smacdowall

Thanks Richard. It was great fun. I think it does show just what a tough job it was for Marlborough.

Feb 19 2016 01:42PM by Ernie FOSKER

It was a great day, Simon, I thoroughly enjoyed it although my efforts fell somewhat short of what was required on the day! As Richard has said we certainly didn't emulate the great Corporal John.
The gathered company and Gary's hospitality all helped to make it such a memorable gathering, too, of course.

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