Legio Wargames

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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









By smacdowall, Aug 28 2018 04:34PM

Having previously refought the battles of Blenheim, Ramilles and Oudenarde I am now turning my attention to the last and bloodiest of Marlborough’s great battles — Malplaquet (1709).


The Battle of Malplaquet
The Battle of Malplaquet

I have most of the troops I need but a few reinforcements are still required. First off the painting table if the French régiment de Champagne. This regiment of the vieux corps was fourth in seniority after Picardie, Piedmont and Navarre. It played a key role at Malplaquet, where it lost 50% casualties.


Earlier in the War of Spanish Succession the Champagne regiment was engaged on the Upper Rhine, taking part in the battles of Friedlingen (1702) and Blenheim (1704). It was transferred to Flanders after Oudenarde and therefore did not take part in that battle, nor Ramilles. This is why such a senior regiment has been left out of my wargames order of battle until now.



Drummers wore the King's livery
Drummers wore the King's livery

Like all the senior French line infantry regiments, the régiment de Champagne wore grey-white coats with cuffs of the same colour, brass buttons and yellow lace on their tricorns. Their waistcoats were red. The drummers wore the king’s livery of blue coats with red/white lace.



Two battalions of the regiment
Two battalions of the regiment

I have painted two battalions of 15mm Minifigs. The first battalion carries the colonel’s colour — the prestigious drapeau blanc (white cross on a white field). The second battalion has the drapeau d'ordonnance of a white cross on a green field.

The first battalion carries the drapeau blanc
The first battalion carries the drapeau blanc



The second battalion carries the drapeau d'ordonnance
The second battalion carries the drapeau d'ordonnance


The rear view
The rear view


The two battalions together
The two battalions together




By smacdowall, May 22 2018 12:01PM

Oudenarde is perhaps the most interesting of Marlborough’s battles. It is also the most difficult to recreate on the wargames table. It was a classic encounter battle with both sides meeting on the march and then deploying for a battle which gradually unfolded throughout the afternoon and evening of 9 July 1708.


Dragoons from the French covering force
Dragoons from the French covering force

In our first attempt to turn Oudenarde into a game (many years ago) we barely got beyond the opening moves before running out of time. It was for this reason that I decided to split the game into two parts.


The first part was fought with 25/28mm miniatures a few months ago. It recreated Cadogan’s initial crossing of the Scheldt and their encounter with the French covering force and the isolated Swiss/French battalions at Eyne and Heurne. This roughly represented the actions of the historical battle from 13:00 to 17:00. The full account of this initial game be found here.



The situation at the end of the first game
The situation at the end of the first game

The second game, fought a couple of days ago, picked up where the first one left off but this time it was fought with 15mm miniatures. The rules were the same — Close Fire and European Order which is available as a free download from the Rules section of my website. For the second game we used a scale of 1:50 and then halved the total number of battalions and squadrons. This enabled us to fight out the action on a 10 foot by 6 foot table.


Deployment for the second game on a !0'x6' table
Deployment for the second game on a !0'x6' table

The game started at the point representing 17:00 on the day of the historical battle. Rather than using the historical deployment at that time we used the position of the troops when the first game ended. This had Vendome, attached to Grimaldi’s brigade of horse, well behind Marlborough’s right flank after chasing off his Hanoverian and Prussian horse. The French foot brigades of Seluc and Dubarail were moving forward to support the cavalry breakthrough and to counter-attack the allied foot.


Cadogan's Brigade to the north of Heurne
Cadogan's Brigade to the north of Heurne

Cadogan had cleared Eyne and Heurne and were in a position not dissimilar from their historical counterparts. Meanwhile the centre and left of the French army were moving towards Mullem under the command of the Duke of Burgundy with the intention of forming a defensive line along the Rooigembeek or Norken stream.


Tilly deploys his Dutch and Danish cavalry
Tilly deploys his Dutch and Danish cavalry

Ouwerkerk’s Dutch and Danes were advancing up the road from Oudenarde towards the heights of Oycke only to find their path blocked by Grimaldi’s pursing French cavalry. Tilly, leading the Dutch advance guard, deployed his horse to drive them off. Fired up by his pervious victories, Vendome was tempted to fight it out but wisely decided to pull back to rally Grimaldi’s horse behind the Diepenbeek.


The Duke of Burgundy's HQ at the windmill
The Duke of Burgundy's HQ at the windmill

Ouwerkerk’s column pressed on towards Oycke with the intention of surrounding the French who had pushed forward into the salient and were looking dangerously exposed. The other two thirds of the French army was forming a defensive position along the Molenbeek and the Duke of Burgundy, who had set up his headquarters at the Royegem windmill, showed no sign of reinforcing Vendome’s initial success.


A Fierce fire fight develops around Herlegem
A Fierce fire fight develops around Herlegem

Eugene took command of the Allied right and began to press forward against the French left. Argyle with 9 battalions of English, Hanoverians and other Germans moved up in support to push on to occupy Herlegem. A fierce fire-fight developed around Herlegem as Gauvin’s Haonverians were assaulted by Arpajon’s French foot supported by a battery of guns deployed in front of Mullem.


Lottum's brigade deploys
Lottum's brigade deploys

Lottum’s 10 battalions of Scots and Germans advanced to plug the dangerous gap beyond Schaerken. This allowed Marlborough to send Natzmer’s remaining Prussian horse forward to protect the flank of Ouwekerk’s column.



Vendome's opportunity
Vendome's opportunity

Unfortunately for the allies Vendome had managed to rally his horse and he had spotted an opportunity.


Grimaldi's French cavalry drive off Natzmer's Prussians
Grimaldi's French cavalry drive off Natzmer's Prussians

As the Prussians moved forward they were hit in the flank by a devastating charge which swept them from the field and shattered the morale of Ouwerkerk’s men, slowed the advance of the column, and also shattered both Ouwerkerk’s and Marlborough’s confidence.


Victorious French cavalry
Victorious French cavalry

Vendome reigned in his horse and pulled them back. Realising that he would get no support from Burgundy, Vendome rode off to command Dubarail’s and Seluc’s brigades of foot to halt their advance and turn back. Without support from the rest of the French army he knew his foot had little hope of breaking through Lottum’s men who had now deployed in line and were advancing towards the isolated French brigades. Further more he realised that once Ouwerkerk’s column deployed on his right, his men risked being surrounded.



The French drive the Hanoverians from Herlegem
The French drive the Hanoverians from Herlegem

Unaware of Vendome’s intent, Arpajon’s brigade, led by the Piedmont regiment, took Herlegem from the hard-pressed Hanoverians. They were now dangerously out on a limb.


The French left wing deploys
The French left wing deploys

By this time the French left wing, led by the Irish brigade, had begun to deploy and were pressing up against the bridge over the Rooigembeek. It was being stoutly defended by the English foot guards, supported by dismounted dragoons. Lumley, commanding horse and dragoons on the allied far right, conducted a series of skilful interventions which stopped superior numbers of French cavalry dead in their tracks.


French cavalry take the heights of Oycke
French cavalry take the heights of Oycke


Ouwerkerk's column is left without cavalry support
Ouwerkerk's column is left without cavalry support

Vendome did much the same on the other flank. In a series of timely charges, aided by excellent die rolling, he drove off all the allied cavalry from the heights of Oycke. This left Ouwerkerk’s foot with little chance of rolling up the French right without mounted support.


Burgundy releases his reserve
Burgundy releases his reserve

As Burgundy finally released his reserve cavalry to face the flanking Dutch, the sun was beginning to set. It was clear that there would be no decisive outcome. With the notable exception of Lumley’s gallant troopers, the allies had lost almost all their horse. The French army was still more or less intact and, with the exception of Arpajon’s exposed brigade, they were in a good defensive position.


The situation at endgame from the French left looking west
The situation at endgame from the French left looking west

The game was certainly a French victory. The Duke of Burgundy busily wrote a dispatch to his grandfather King Louis XIV telling him how he had won the battle by insisting on a defensive strategy against Vendome’s aggressive tendencies. In reality it was Vendome’s skilful, controlled cavalry charges that won the day. Eugene’s active defence prevented an allied disaster with Lumley conducting the same sort of skilful cavalry actions as Vendome.


















By smacdowall, Nov 27 2017 05:42PM

The Battle of Oudenarde (1708) was one of the first historical Marlburian battles I ever played. Because Oudenarde was an encounter battle there is a lot of manoeuvre in the opening moves and we never got very far beyond them. At that time (decades ago) we decided to try it again one day and split the game in two. We thought the initial moves, as the Allies crossed the River Scheldt to attack Eyne and various French units were fed into the fight, would make a great game in its own right. A second game could be fought later taking into account the results of the first one.


This remained a vague aspiration until recently. With one of our number having amassed a substantial 28mm War of Spanish Succession collection to supplement our extensive 15mm figures, the idea was reborn. Why not play out the opening moves in 28mm and then fight the follow-on battle in 15mm scale?


We fought out the 28mm game last week with five players and myself umpiring. The game covered the historical moves from 12 noon to 5 pm using historical starting positions but allowing the players to make their own decisions with certain limitations. These limitations were more severe for the French who had to contend with a divided command between Vendome and Burgundy and Burgundy’s historical reluctance to advance. Their problems were compounded by the fact that they had been taken off guard and their Swiss brigade was in an exposed forward position without orders.


The game was fought on a 10 x 6 foot table. The Allies had 16 battalions of foot, 28 squadrons of horse and dragoons and a battery of light guns. The French had 19 battalions of foot, 28 squadrons of horse and dragoons and a battery of medium guns. Allied battalions were 4 bases (16 figures) strong, French battalions 3 bases (12 figures). A cavalry squadron was represented by one base of 2 figures. This made for a very manageable 28 mm game and more than covered the number of troops needed for the opening moves.


The Attack on Eyne
The Attack on Eyne

The Allies moved quickly to attack the Swiss forward position at Eyne. The attack was conducted by Sabine’s English brigade with the Prussians moving up to the west of the village and the Allied horse extending their line even further to the west.


The Allied Foot Advance
The Allied Foot Advance

The Swiss put up a tough fight and it took the personal intervention of Cadogan to steady the English ranks even though one of the lead Swiss battalions decided to retire rather than stand firm — this due to a test I had introduced to reflect the historical battle when only one battalion held and the other three decided to retreat.


Ranzau (bottom) and Biron (top) come to grips
Ranzau (bottom) and Biron (top) come to grips

Biron, commander of the French cavalry on table sent off a message to Vendome to inform him of the developing situation. He advanced cautiously against Rantzau’s Hanoverian horse near Diepebeek. He was worried about the potential disorder that the streams and reportedly boggy ground might cause him. It was Rantzau, however whose men suffered most from the terrain. As he was re-dressing his ranks the French cavalry attacked, getting the better of the engagement and wounding Rantzau. The commander of the Prussian foot brigade was also wounded as his men took fire from a battery of guns deployed to the south of Mullem.


Vendome takes command of the French Horse
Vendome takes command of the French Horse

At this moment Vendome arrived on the table and personally took command of Grimaldi’s brigade of 16 squadrons that Burgundy had sent south to test the Allied positions and see if the ground was suitable for cavalry. As Biron’s cavalry rallied back, Vendome advanced forward to follow up his success.


The Prussians Advance
The Prussians Advance

At the same time the lead 10 squadrons of Natzmer’s Prussian cavalry were moving up to support Rantzau. Full of élan and being personally led by a Marshal of France, the French horse made short work of the Prussians, scattering them to the south.

The French Horse Breakthrough
The French Horse Breakthrough



The Scots and Irish form up to assault Heurne
The Scots and Irish form up to assault Heurne

The French defenders of Heurne
The French defenders of Heurne

The Allies take Eyne and Heurne
The Allies take Eyne and Heurne

The Allies, however, were not disheartened. By 4:30 pm the English had taken Eyne and the Scots and Irish had formed an assault column to clear Heurne.





Marlborough takes command of the Prussian cavalry
Marlborough takes command of the Prussian cavalry

The second line of Prussian horse were well positioned to close in on the flank of Vendome’s pursuing French horse while Rantzau stopped them in front. To make sure that this could not possibly fail Marlborough himself led the Prussian charge. Then the Allies snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by rolling two ‘ones’ on the dice. Vendome’s cavalry saw off their attackers and pressed on to continue their pursuit.


The French foot advance south from Mullem
The French foot advance south from Mullem


Overview of the table at the 5pm move
Overview of the table at the 5pm move

At 5pm (historical time) we called an end to the game. The Allied foot had been successful in clearing Eyne and Heurne and would have been in a position to attack Burgundy’s left flank had it not been for the sight of large numbers of French reinforcements coming down from the northeast.

Burgundy had sent a brigade of 6 battalions south of Mullem to block the advancing Prussian and Danish foot and and Irish brigade in French service had also moved south towards Diepenbeek.

Flushed with the joy of victory Vendome’s pursuit led him headlong into Ouwerkerk’s Dutch who were advancing in column from Oudenarde.


The wider situation as of 5pm ready for the next game
The wider situation as of 5pm ready for the next game

The game felt very much like a French victory, however, the outcome will not be decided until we fight out the next 10 turns (using 15mm miniatures). This will take place sometime next year.






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