Saturday, July 30, 2011
In Marlborough Country 1: Ramillies 1706
Hunting battlefields in Belgium is a challenging task. They are seldom marked in any way and the names of the villages have more often than not changed while some have disappeared and others have materialised. It is also not uncommon for villages not to have any name signs.
Ramillies itself has not changed name and is big enough for the sat nav to know it, so for this battle getting to square one was easy. But none of the other villages on my map (from Chandler's book on Marlborough) were on the sat nav, nor it seemed at first, were they on the road signs either. Also Chandler's map has the north point about 30 degrees out. But using the sat nav as a compass (it was a beautiful Belgian summer's day - I couldn't use the sun for guidance), I eventually found Autre Eglise at the north end of the line and Taviers at the south end and then it all made sense. It's a compact little battlefield - the front is only about 5km.
Malborough first attacked Autre Eglise to draw Villeroi's reserves north. Then he moved his cavalry on that flank south as he launched attacks on Ramillies in the centre, and on the villages on the southern end of the line - both also drawing French reserves. Then he unleashed his massed cavalry south of Ramillies. The French cavalry had had its reserved taken away, Malborough's had been reinforced. Outnumbered, the cavalry on the French right broke. Now outflanked, Ramillies fell as well. Villeroi tried to reform a line further back but there was no respite in the allied attack and the French army was routed. Both sides had about 60,000 men. The French army lost 20,000 casualties and prisoners with the rest turned into a disordanised mob. The allies had about 3,500 casualties.
The battlefield appears to have changed hardly at all, except some villages seem to have grown a bit. Ramillies is square in the middle. North of it on the line of the Little Geete stream there is a line of villages - Ramillies & Offus have almost merged, then there is Autre-Eglise at the end. Along this shallow valley there are patches of woods & lines of trees as well as the stream and the villages, so on this flank both sides faced off with infantry on their side of the stream with cavalry reserves behind. Behind both sides of the front line on this flank there are open plains, basically flat with small rises. The rises and the trees in the valley hid the transfer of the allied cavalry to the left.
There is more closed terrain on the southern end of the battlefield around the village of Taviers. Between Ramillies and Taviers is a sweeping plain of wheatfields. It is perfect cavalry country.