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