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By smacdowall, Apr 22 2017 09:50PM

In June 1658 the last battle of the Franco-Spanish War, English Civil War and French Fronde rebellion was fought amongst the dunes near Dunkirk. This engagement captured my imagination and two years ago I started on a project to build the armies needed to re-fight it with 28mm miniatures representing the various forces involved.

On one side, under Marshal Turenne, were French Royalists aided by a sizeable English Commonwealth force, supported by the English fleet. On the other was the Spanish army of Flanders, British Royalists in exile and the Prince of Condé’s French frondeurs. As regular readers will know from my posts over the past couple of years, I concentrated on building up the French (for both sides), Spanish and British Royalists, leaving Gary Kitching’s excellent New Model Army figures to form the English Commonwealth contingent.

The historical battle came about when Don Juan of Austria (the Spanish governor general of Flanders) led 6000 foot and 8000 horse to relieve Turenne’s siege of Dunkirk. Rather than waiting for them, Turenne marched north through the dunes to attack with 12,000 foot, 7000 horse and 10 light guns. Caught by surprise the Spanish/British/French army deployed along a line of high dunes without time to bring any artillery into the line nor to recall half of their horse which were away foraging.

Despite the difficult of manoeuvring through the sandy dunes the Franco-English won the day. The English foot under Sir William Lockhart charged up a very steep dune to engage the Spanish and Anglo-Scottish-Irish Royalists frontally as some of the French horse managed to get around their right (seaward) flank by advancing along the beach. Supporting fire from the English ships helped.

The full table view with Franco-English on the right.
The full table view with Franco-English on the right.

Our game started well for the Franco-English.

On the meadows to the landward side, the French Royalist cavalry made short work of the first line of French rebel horse, seeing them off and then catching them in the rear as they fell back. One French rebel unit which had ridden through the ranks of its opponents decided to surrender and profess loyalty to the king rather than be surrounded and cut to pieces.

On the seaward side, the guns of the English fleet started to wear down the Spanish troops deployed to protect that flank as a large number of French horse advanced along the beach despite the umpire’s warning of the incoming tide.

A unit of Spanish mounted arquebusiers suffered so heavily from the naval guns that they had to withdraw to recover their order as if they stayed put they would risk suffering significant casualties.

Turenne held his French infantry centre back, engaging the Walloon, German and French foot in Spanish service with long range musketry, no doubt feeling confident that a victory on both wings was nearly in the bag. Indeed the Spanish players were overheard musing what we would do for the rest of the day as the battle seemed almost over.

Then it began to turn. On the meadows of the landward side, Turenne’s front line horse chased the enemy off the field and half of them decided to loot the Spanish camp rather than return to the action. This, along with the timely intervention of the Spanish lancers and cuirassiers of the guard stabilised that wing for a while.

In the centre the Duke of York’s Lifeguards charged and overran the French guns. They decided to keep going on to Dunkirk rather than turning back to continue to play a role in the battle.

On the seaward flank the incoming tide caused half of the French horse who had been working their way up the beach to turn back and head for solid ground. The others were driven in closer to a Spanish Tercio guarding the beach flank and took casualties from musketry while masking the supporting fire from the English fleet.

The first line of the English charged up the dune behind the cover of a forlorn hope. They did well but not well enough to take the position so they fell back. Then the second line charged, also meeting the English and Irish royalists as well as the Spanish.

They very nearly made it but an inconclusive result was not enough to break the Anglo-Spanish line.

Those of the French horse who had managed to make it around the seaward flank, attacked a Spanish Tercio from the front and rear. Unfortunately for them they were in a state of disorder, had taken significant casualties from musketry and the Spanish had a deep formation of pikemen who had a second rank able to turn around to protect their rear.

The cavalry attack made no headway against the Tercio. Then the Spanish mounted arquebusiers who had previously withdrawn to recover their order attacked them in turn, supported by a battalion of Scottish foot.

At this point, as the foot of the Spanish centre were slowly stepping back to avoid contact, we called an end to the game. The French had a significant advantage on the landward side, nothing significant had occurred in the centre and the English attack on the seaward side had been blunted.

The Spanish had fared better than they did in the historical battle but they did not win the day and most probably would have given up any further attempt to relieve Dunkirk without reinforcements.

Despite their numerical superiority and the lack of Spanish artillery, the Franco-English army had a very difficult task. Advancing over the dunes to attack an enemy on higher ground was never going to be easy. They almost made it but not quite. No doubt the scribes on both sides would be hastily recording victory although the result was actually a draw.

The battle was fought using Close Fire and European Order rules available as a free download from my website here.

By smacdowall, Apr 17 2017 05:15PM

My troops are nearly assembled for the Battle of the Dunes which will be re-fought later this week. I have been too busy painting and doing other things to post many pics of the newly recruited units and will try to correct this now.

This is King’s Own English Regiment — the forerunners of the Grenadier Guards. Formed from Englishmen who had followed King Charles into exile and supplemented by English soldiers from the French army who answered the King’s call to join him in Flanders when France entered into an alliance with Cromwell.

There are a few fleeting references to King Charles II receiving a supply of white (or grey) cloth from his Spanish allies to clothe his men. I have assumed that this regiment has received some of these coats — the blue turn back cuffs being conjectural.

As the regiment was made up from a steady trickle of individuals who had been serving in several different French regiments I imagine that there would have been a variety of dress. Therefore not all of the men are wearing the Spanish-supplied coats. By the time of the restoration the regiment was probably in red. So I have added in a number of red coats along with the usual French browns and greys.

The miniatures are a mix of Dixon Grand Alliance, Northstar 1672, Front Rank Monmouth rebels and a few Perry English Civil War. The pikemen, ready to receive cavalry, are Dixon French which come with a variety of heads. One of them sports a classically influenced helmet which is said to have been

popular in some French units of the time.

The men are wearing variations of the long justacorps which was becoming fashionable but had not yet supplanted the shorter jacket of the English Civil War. My intent was to give the sense of a hastily raised regiment at a time of transition before uniforms became the norm.

Next up is another Spanish Tercio. I have chosen to give my Spanish a more archaic look than their French enemies and British allies as I will re-use them for earlier battles of the Franco-Spanish War and Thirty Years War. Some contemporary paintings indicate that the Spanish may have hung onto older clothing styles as the French took to new fashions. Musket rests seem to have more or less fallen out of use by the 1650s but as I had a number of good looking miniatures with them I decided to not worry about this.

My previous Spanish Tercios were painted in the same style using a similar mix of miniatures. This unit has been mostly recruited from Warlord Games (both plastics and metals) with one or two Redoubt and The Assault Group thrown in for variety.

I wanted to give the unit the look and feel of veterans. The heyday of the Spanish infantryman had probably passed but these men will have fought in many campaigns and have a reputation to live up to.

By smacdowall, Jan 25 2017 11:04PM

Having just painted up King Charles II’s English Regiment (forerunners of the Grenadier Guards) I felt it time to stage another small encounter set in the 1656-1658 campaign in Flanders. The excellent little book Better Begging than Fighting gave me the idea for the game scenario.

Set in October 1657 the English Commonwealth forces hold the fortification of Mardyke just 6.5 kms south of the Spanish base of Dunkirk while Marshal Turenne has taken the main allied French army south to besiege Gravelines. With two English battalions supported by some French and the off-shore English Fleet Sir John Reynolds is busy repairing the outworks to make the place more defensible.

Turenne has put some Squadrons of Cardinal Mazarin’s Gendarmes and companies of the Swiss Guards on standby to reinforce the English in case of attack.

Meanwhile, Don Juan of Austria, the Spanish Governor General of Flanders, decides to make a demonstration on Mardyke due in no small part to the arrival of King Charles II at Dunkirk. 5000 men, mostly British Royalists and French Frondeurs supported by a body of Spanish horse advance on Mardyke without any siege artillery. Don Juan probably has no intention of doing more than making a demonstration but Charles and his brother James, The Duke of York hope to destroy the enemy outworks and in doing so convince Don Juan to launch a full scale assault.

As the enemy are sighted advancing on Mardyke, the French Battalions working on the fortifications form up while a forlorn hope of English and a body of Croat light cavalry try to delay the British/French/Spanish advance.

Under the command of Colonel Thomas Blague, Middleton’s Scots and the King’s English Regiment push back the skirmishers, allowing Ormond’s Irish to break up into working parties to begin the destruction of Mardyke’s outer defences.

The Scots are halted by a withering fire from the French manning the inner entrenchments, supported by heavy guns from the Mardyke ramparts. Taking advantage of the temporary stalemate the Croats launch a charge to drive the Irish working parties from the outer ramparts. This brings them into close range of King Charles II’s lifeguards who loose a pistol volley at them with little effect.

Anxious for a taste of real battle and to win bragging rights over his younger brother James, the King in exile overrules his advisors to lead his lifeguards in a charge to drive off the Croats. This succeeds but leaves him dangerously exposed to fire from the inner fortifications. Fortunately (or not depending on your political point of view) King Charles is unscathed and his lifeguards are able to pull back in good order behind the outer entrenchments.

The large body of Spanish horse to the right of the British Royalists halt as they have been forbidden by Don Juan to advance any further than the outermost entrenchments. Under constant cannon fire from the walls and from an English sloop which has come up the canal on their right flank they begin to take casualties. Their commander, the Marquis of Caracena, sends a messenger to the Duke of York urging him to use his brother’s influence to persuade Don Juan to allow him to attack. The request is in vain. Don Juan has no intention of becoming embroiled in a decisive engagement and as the messengers go back and forth Caracena is wounded by shot from Mardyke’s walls.

Eventually Sir John Reynolds is able to rouse his English foot from the brothels and taverns to form a formidable defensive line supported by a troop of French Horse. This brings the advance of the French Frondeurs on the allied left to a halt. The rebel French take cover behind the inner entrenchments. Meanwhile a cloud of dust to the south (right of Reynolds’ line) signals the imminent arrival of loyal French reinforcements.

The French Frondeurs pull back to form a defensive line as Cardinal Mazarin’s Gendarmes drive off a troop of Condé’s Horse. It is clear at this point that the British/Spanish/French Frondeur force cannot advance any further. They managed to destroy some of the enemy’s outworks but with the Spanish under orders not to advance on the right and new enemy coming up on their left they have no choice other than to conduct an orderly withdrawal before they loose too many casualties.

Don Juan is not overly perturbed by the outcome. In fine fettle he raises a glass to his latest Mistress to wash down a particularly fine lunch. He has succeeded in letting the English King whet his appetite for battle with very few Spanish casualties. He dictates a letter of condolence to the Marquis of Caracena in respect of the wound he suffered hoping that the good Marquis would soon recover.

This was a historical scenario. King Charles actually took part in the engagement and in his eagerness he took fire and had to be held back by his lifeguards. The Royalist/Spanish/French rebel army did take the outworks and managed to destroy part of them before withdrawing. The English fleet did send ships up the canal to support the defence of Mardyke with cannon fire. Don Juan had no intention of assaulting Mardyke and was content to withdraw when the enemy consolidated their defence.

It made for a great small scale game which took us 3 hours to come to a satisfactory conclusion. It did not require masses of troops and it was enough out of the ordinary to provide a great deal of interest. You don’t necessarily need a ship model to run the game as you could have cannon fire coming from off table. For the walls of Madyke I used sections of a 15mm scale star fort (the miniatures were 28mil) with 15mm cannons mounted on the walls.

By smacdowall, Sep 30 2016 08:47PM

As my Battle of the Dunes project grows, I have become increasingly fascinated by the transition from civilian clothing to military uniforms in the mid to late 17th century. I had thought that Cromwell’s New Model Army was the first, but the more I delve into it I am coming to the realisation that the red coats of the New Model Army were more down to an oversupply of red cloth in London rather than a deliberate attempt to enforce uniformity. Probably most wargamers ECW armies are far more uniformed in appearance than the historical originals.

It seems to me that it was Louis XIV who first decided that his troops should be uniformed in the modern sense. The Gardes Français were perhaps the first to be issued uniform as we now understand it. Initially it was a grey coat, later the more familiar blue faced red. Louis had a thing about clothing. He insisted that his nobles were dressed in the latest fashion, loaning them money to buy the necessities to appear properly at court and then using their debt to further control them. It was not a great leap to extend this idea of ‘uniformity’ to the troops of his guards and then later the rank and file of the line units.

I find this contemporary painting of French troops at the 1667 siege of Tournai, now in the Swedish Army Museum, utterly fascinating. All the men are wearing the newly fashionable justacorps (long coat with turned back cuffs) but only the officer in blue coat with red lining seems to have anything that might be interpreted as a military coat. The men in their various shades of grey, brown and red all wear a similar style but they are far from being in uniform. The hats, too, show great variation. Some have black hats with white lace which would soon become standard issue but many others are still wearing civilian patterns and colours.

As it is with later English Civil War armies, many wargamers seem to assume an early assumption of uniform by the Swedes. The story told in the Swedish Army Museum is quite different. All their depictions of Swedish troops in the 30 years war are uninformed.

The museum has a unique display of 4 original justacorps from the late 1600s. Their exact origin is not definitely known but it is widely thought that these were sent by Louis XIV to the Swedish King to serve as models for a new Swedish uniform at the time the French were courting a Swedish alliance and when the French were busily setting the fashion for military uniforms.

Despite the fact that many wargamers paint their 30 Years War Swedes in blue coats with yellow facings, It would seem that this configuration only came into existence many years later, probably not before the turn of the 17th century. Even then many regiments still wore other colours.

This wonderful diorama shows Swedish cavalry at the time of the Great Northern War in the blue and yellow colours that we have come to associate with the Swedes. They are depicted charging à l’outrance with cold steel rather than using their pistols. This tactic came to be adopted by Marlborough’s Dutch and English troopers to great effect in the War of Spanish Succession

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