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.
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.