Wargame Thoughts and Commentary

Malplaquet Redux-Still Hardfought!

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On Saturday, the 30th of May, our gaming group gathered to refight the bloodiest of the Marlburian battles, Malplaquet. This battle, though technically a win for Britain and its allies, was a very near thing, with the Allied losses nearly three times that of the French. In fact, The commander of the French, Marshall Villars, wrote to Louis that one more such victory would be the end of Marlborough. The losses and minimal gains from the battle, coupled with a political change in the English government and court, soon found Marlborough back in England relieved of his command and treated with distain by his countrymen.

Marshall Villars went on to further successes, primarily in Flanders, and was viewed by the French as the finest commander of the WSS. He and his co-commander, Boufflers, were certainly of a higher caliber than the Allies had faced in the preceding battles of the Marlborough Quartet; Blenheim, Ramillies, and Oudenarde. Villars was a true fighting general, being badly wounded leading his troops from the front in this battle. Boufflers, the wise old veteran, was superb in his assumption of command late in the battle, and extricated the French Army from a tight situation, and effectively forestalled any pursuit.

As in many of the engagements Flanders against Marlborough, the French were outnumbered in men and guns on the battlefield, but VIllars had skillfully maneuvered his army into a strong position, reinforced by earthworks and redans, for a defensive stand. He anchored his flanks on the forests of Sart/Blangies on the left, and Lainieres on his right. The center was held by his best units of the Maison Rouge. The only possible mistake was in sending a considerable amount of his cavalry to guard other points along the forested front lines. He was at a disadvantage in all arms. He also deployed the cavalry in such a way as they could only be used once the infantry line was breached.

Marlborough, as was his fashion, attacked! He concentrated allied forces under Eugene, led by Schulemberg and Lottum, to take the foremost works to the right center, while he had Orkney prepared to assault the center. The Dutch under the Prince of Orange were prepared to assault the heavy works on the French right. They were to take grievous loss , but gain great honor in this attack. Meanwhile a smaller force on the extreme right of the Allied line, under General Withers, worked their way through the woods to flank the French Left. Historically, this force drew off a lot of the French reserve from the center to counter the threat. Marlborough then attacked the center strongly and followed with a determined Dutch attack on the French Right.

Throughout battle the threat to the French left drew the attention of Villars ( and was where he was wounded) and sucked in the reserve, so the center and right flank attacks were hard to stop. The French made an orderly retreat. The reports vary, but the Allies lost in excess of 20,000 troops, which was the highest of the War, while the French lost 7-10,000 troops.

The Game Setup

Terrain- I used maps from Fortescue's "History of The British Army Vol. 1," Chandlers's "Marlborough's as Military Commander", and James Falkner's "Marlborough's Wars" to set the battlefield terrain. They all varied a bit , so I "averaged" their terrain and the extent of that terrain. I judged the woods of Blangiers and Sart to be Class II woods (1s and 2s don't count for movement or combat) and the Lanieres wood to be a more dense class III. The French earthworks were mostly Class II in the advanced post in the Sart wood, and across the center, but sturdier Class III on each flank. The structures at La Folie were Class II. The streams on the left flank were Class II, against movement only. The rest of the ground was deemed open ground with little effect on movement or combat.

Troops- I positioned the troops roughly as per historical accounts with the Dutch (including the Guard te Voet) on the allied Left, Orkney and Lottum more toward the center, and the bulk of Eugene's forces to the right center with Wither's flanking force on the far right. I tried to find appropriate troops such as Prussians in Lottum's Force, The Dutch Guard on the Right and the Maison Rouge Guard Infantry in the French Center to match the historical deployment.

Command- The Allied forces were placed under Orange on the left in command of the Dutch forces, Orkney in the center command; the bulk of the British Forces, Marlborough was located with Orkney. On the Allied Right was Eugene's forces, mostly Austrian, with a few Danes and English in Wither's Force. There were two special commanders, Withers and Lottum, that could add 1 die to any unit under their command-but Withers could only add to cavalry forces in his command, and Lottum only to infantry. They were not used to generate dice on 4R cards, but were restored on every 4R card for use in movement, combat or to rally of their stipulated forces.

The French Command was of a much higher quality than in preceding battles with both Villars and Boufflers being 5s! The other two commanders were a more usual 3.

Both OOB's covering this game may be found in the File section of the Yahoo! site in the Malplaquet AAR folder.

Cards and Dice rolls and Usage-The Phase Decks were standard, as was the process of doing initiative and play. We used the new rules ( see Update "Command and Proximity Guidance,Version 1 dated March 20th 2015) for 4R Dice roll, where the CinC got three and Sub-commanders two initial rolls, prior to play, and one green free die added to rolls thereafter. We used Proximity Movement rules from the same update. We also used the Australian Variant on Command dice, where any number may be sent, but only the high die counts in the totals.

Special Rules- The two special commanders and 4R roll adjustments noted above.

We also had two very special rules tailored to actual occurrences from the actual battle:

The Withers command of horse and foot was placed on the road on the extreme right of the Allied position about a move or so from the La Folie, but it really wasn't there, and would only appear when the allies secretly rolled a 1 or 2 on a D6, when an Officer Action Card was turned. This would add a lot of tension to both sides as the French saw the figures on the table, but hesitated for two turns to advance and take La Folie because it took awhile to note that they weren't doing anything, even when they probably should've. This simulated the hesitancy of command, and the growing fear of the weakness of the exposed flank. The Allies, conversely, could not count on exactly when that threat could be maximized.


Also, on the French Right the French had a light battery that was actually on the field next to the far right redoubt, but in the real battle was not seen by the Dutch until they were almost upon it, as it was hidden by a fold of ground. It had devastating effects when it opened up on the very surprised Dutch. I replicated this by telling the French that there was a battery there which would only be seen by the enemy when they were 12" from it, or they opened fire, when it would be placed on the field. (One of the advantages of people being less versed about the WSS battles than other engagements such as waterloo or Gettysburg, is this sort of historical surprise can truly be replicated.)

Initial Deplyment from the French RightView from Allied Right

The initial Deployments from the viewpoint of the French Right Flank (Top) The initial deployments from the British Right Flank View. (Bottom)

The Player's
- It should be noted that two of the players: The French Left Flank Commander (Goesbriand) and the Player playing both Villlars, the CinC, and Boufflers, were new to the rules and inexperienced. The Allied central Commander-playing Marlborough and Orkney is our best single player.

The Game Play

No sooner did the game begin than the French Left Wing Commander (Goesbriand) began shifting his reserve made up of a mix of Infantry and cavalry to bolster the extreme left as he feared an attack through La Folie. Five battalions of Infantry and four regiments of horse and dragoons began moving from the left center behind the Salient in column to redeploy along the stream below La Folie and to secure the bridge over the stream. He poised the Royal Dragoons at the bridge where they might cross and secure La Folie. This also supported the infantry line that ran along the stream below the Sart Forest.

Rush to the Left

The Allies lost no time in attacking the salient that stuck out from the Sart Forest. Lottum's Prussians Advanced on the earthworks supported by the fire of the Prussian light battery. That forward position was held by the La Reine Regiment and the Regiment Clare (Irish). The latter was elite and crack!


The Salient
The Salient: La Reine (front) and Clare


However, The perfectly coordinated attack by the platoon firing Prussians and the accuracy of their artillery, soon resolved the issue in the Allies favor, throwing La Reine back in disorder and routing Regiment Clare with a well placed flank fire. The salient fell and left a considerable hole in the French Line-filled , for the moment by a Bavarian light battery and the Rosen-Allemande Chevau-leger, supported by the Mousquetaires du Roi, resplendent on their Gray horses. The Tallard Regiment also hastened forward to fill the gap.

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Clare running from the salient while Prussian Volleys ring out behind them.

The French noted that Withers flanking force was not advancing. This seemed strange. But in a leap of courage the Royal Dragoons galloped forward and seized La Folie. The town was very run down and the well was dry, and no other beverages were to be found, somewhat deflating their enthusiasm over the capture. ( The village was a 4 dice objective, but the total roll was an incredibly low 9 resource dice gained!) Still no response from Wither's command! This was very odd and worrying to Goesbriand. He moved even more troops to the left.

Royal Dragoons take La Folie
The Dragoons du Roi take La Folie!



Meanwhile, elsewhere on the field, Orkney's British stepped off to the attack, supporting the initial advances of Lottum to their right. They looked impressive in their serried lines of red and colorful banners!

The British and Prussian force begins its AttackThe British Center Attack advances on the Frenc  lines



The pressure of this attack, was immense upon the French, and so a die burning to-and-fro began on the French left flank. Troops that had been headed to bolster the flank were turned about and rerouted to the developing crisis below the salient. The command stand for this flank began moving back toward the center as well. Goesbriand was burning a lot of dice and should have started requesting additional resources from Villars. He did not. Likewise, Villars should've been more involved with BOTH the Left flank and Boufflers in the center, but, he, too seemed overwhelmed with the extent of the attack and made a brief attempt to head to the left to get closer to the action, But then the Dutch assailed the French right under D'Artagnan.

The Dutch Advance!

The Dutch attack was very deliberate and slow, but with the Dutch Guards leading, very threatening. This was added to by a flanking maneuver by a force of Bothmer's Dragoons through the Lanieres woods. This was checkmated by D'Artagnan with his Listerois Dragoons who met the enemy at the stream in the woods and the rest of the battle was spent by both forces taking pot-shots from the brush, but no one venturing to cross the stream under fire. D'Artagnan seemed unflustered by this attack and felt sure he could hold them off, especially when the unseen gun arrived!

The Standoff in the Langieres Wood


The French left was also coming under increased pressure. British Dragoons has filtered through the wood, supported by some Austrian Line units, and were taking pot-shots at the French earthworks as well.


Pepper's Dragoons Advance on the Royal Italians!
Pepper's and Hay's Dragoons moving forward to fire on the Royal Italiens


To add insult to injury, it was at this moment that Wither's force finally arrived. He immediately invested La Folie with the Dragoons du Roi trapped inside, and spread his force out along the river to fire upon and engage the Bavarians on the left.

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The center was heating again with the Dutch overrunning two batteries, and confronting the Garde Francaises in their works! The British closed in a beautiful sweep of infantry. Again, Villars seemed mesmerized by the attack, and, even the veteran commander of the Center, Boufllers, did little more than respond unit by unit to the enemy's attacks. No one was looking at the big picture or trying to form a concerted plan of defense! (No dice had been sent by Villars from his Command bucket for two 4R cards! Goesbriand was desperately low on dice, but said nothing to Villars. Both were very far apart even for Villars, a 5 rated commander, so sending dice was problematical)

The Center Attack Comes Home
The British-Dutch center attack strikes home!


At that moment the word rang out from the left flank that that command was out of Dice!!! The French inserted a Concede card in their deck and retired, but , as in the real battle, the British were in no mood to pursue as their attacks had cost more than a few dice as well!


Tactical Analysis

The French had earthworks, two 5 rated commanders, and due to the layout of objective markers being predominately on the French side, the allies were forced to attack. True they were outnumbered, but most of that was in horse and guns which the terrain and deployments greatly reduced in usefulness. The horse couldn't be brought to bear until the infantry battle was won, and guns are far more useful on defense than offense in this period because of their limited mobility.

The French lost because of two factors:

1. The key players on their side were inexperienced and didn't keep tabs on their resource dice. Goesbriand needed to more forcefully apprise his commander of his lack of dice, which he lost rapidly once Withers got untracked, and he began dancing back and forth between fighting on the left and plugging the breach created by the Prussians. His vacillations spent dice to no good purpose.

2. The inexperienced player manning both Villars and Boufflers was totally distracted and swamped by the task of prioritizing his commitments. He never decided firmly where Villars was to be, and never assigned his command dice over the last two 4R cards! Boufflers did an admirable job with the simple task of defending works, but the Villars player never seemed to understand that it was his job to get command resources to his subordinates and form and stick to a plan.

By way of information: At the games end, Goesbriand had no dice (precipitating the Concede loss), Boufflers had 23, and D'Artagnan had 31. Villars had 70 Dice! In the Allied Forces, Eugene/Withers had 35, Orkney/Lottum, in the center, had 65, and Orange and his Dutch, had a mere 17 (accounting for their hesitant advance). Marlborough, as CinC, had 25 in his bucket at game's end.

It is worth noting that the French with one bucket empty, had only 18 fewer dice, BUT 70 of their dice were of no use to the fighting forces or sub-commands! They were undistributed in the CinC's bucket!

To paraphrase Olivier's filmed Hamlet, " This was a tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind!"

The ultimate rule of command. DO something! Make a decision! Worse than a bad decision is none at all!

Conclusions

The game played smoothly and well, with six players playing a total of over 52 units with over 550 28mm foot figures, 152 mounted figures, 10 guns with over 50 crew-not to mention powder wagons, General's Carriages, and Louis XIVs Wine wagon! From beginning to end just about 4 hrs. Everyone agreed this was a great scenario.

Rules and Play critique.

The added rules were:

'Australian Rules' for using Yellow Dice-Worked very well.
Proximity Rules for red Dice expenditure- was a great success and will be standard.
The new 4R card rules from the March 20th email- These worked just as expected in all ways.
The "Hidden" gun-worked well. It is an example of added creative rules that DFII accepts so readily. This can allow conformance to historical accounts in a very original fashion.
The rules for "special" commanders was another seamless and easy way to reflect history. In this case, Lottum's expert handling of his attack on the salient, and Withers well executed flanking maneuver.
Wither's threat without "Truly Being There" and the delayed arrival, added suspense for both sides, and it took the French a bit figure out that the figures really weren't there yet, thus delaying their capture of La Folie.

Next

I am really growing fond of recreating historical battles and plan to do Oudenarde next, and I'm intending a whole series smaller Spanish battles using my less used Spanish figures, and my new Portuguese. I'll be adding some Catalan Hapsburg Spanish as well. Can't wait to get Berwick in command! For those new to this Blog, Ramillies was done earlier this year in March, and the AAR may be found here in the 2015 archive. There is also a battle report on Waterloo as if fought 100 years earlier by Marlborough in the 2013 archive.