July 11, 1708

In the aftermath of Marlborough's 1706 victory at Ramillies, most of the Spanish Netherlands fell to the Allies.  The next year, however, was one of inconclusive maneuver.  In 1708, the French commander in the Spanish Netherlands, the Duke of Vendome, was joined by the Duke of Burgundy, the grandson of Louis XIV and heir to the throne.  Problems within the French command would result.  Although Burgundy was subordinate to Vendome, his status as the king's grandson made him influential despite his youth and lack of experience.  Disagreements between Vendome and Burgundy were sometimes referred to the king, creating a slow decision cycle and eroding Vendome's power.  The two men disliked each other and tried to avoid each other.

The campaign began with Vendome near Mons and Marlborough near Brussels, but after some maneuvering, events transpired to the west in Flanders that attracted both armies.  Unhappy with high taxes, Ghent and Bruges rebelled and joined the French.  This posed a threat to Marlborough's communications.  Oudenarde, south of Ghent and Bruges, interfered with French communication with the two cities.  The French army, far from its base but now positioned between Marlborough and the Allied base in the Netherlands, marched west hoping to capture the fortified town.  Since Oudenarde was now key to Allies' new line of supply to Ostend, Marlborough would fight to retain it.  Fortunately, Prince Eugene had marched a small force from the Rhine and now joined Marlborough, giving the Allied force 80,000 men to counter France's 85-90,000.

On the morning of July 11th, as the two armies moved west, the Allies detected the French army crossing the Scheldt River.  The Allies then began construction of a pontoon bridge near Oudenarde south of the French crossing.  Around noon the Allies began to cross, then advanced to a small, marshy stream, the Diepenbeck, where they clashed with small parties of French.  The French army was drawn forward, hoping to push the Allies back into the river.  More Allied troops crossed the river, and the fight grew into a general action.



The panorama above is is a section of the marshy stream, the Diepenbeek, where the armies clashed, with the French on left and the Allies on the right.  As the French had started their river crossing earlier, they had made more progress.  Vendome had a good chance of destroying the Allied bridgehead.  It was not to be.  As more units arrived in late afternoon, the battle line moved east along the stream, behind us out of sight in this panorama.  The fighting moved back and forth between the Diepenbeek and the Marlobeek further north.

Vendome seems to have assumed that the Duke of Burgundy would commit his troops to battle without orders.  After being held back far too long, the Duke of Burgundy was ordered to attack the Allied right flank, and he brought forward his men from a ridge a few miles in the rear.  He wrongly believed that the ground to his front was too marshy, so he halted.  Burgundy's courier was killed before he could inform Vendome of this.  (This section of the battlefield is now lost to development.)  This part of the Allied line was vulnerable but was reinforced at around 6pm.  Later, Prince Eugene would cross the same terrain, smashing the French left flank.  Meanwhile, the French right was also in danger.


Scheldt in Oudenarde

Overkirk crossed the river at Oudenarde, shown here at night, with his Dutch and Danish troops.  At the time the river was much more natural, not the channelized version that you see now.  Overkirk moved north toward the Boser Couter, a hill overlooking the French right flank.  The movement took an hour longer than expected, and it would be around 7pm before they arrived on the Boser Couter and around 8pm before the attack would be ready.  

Boser Couter

The French had not sent troops forward to the Boser Couter, and the Allied approach was hidden by the high ground and bad weather.  Although it had been a clear day, now there was drizzle.  The Allied flank attack was a total surprise.

In this 360 degree view you can see where Overkirk moved off the road from Oudenarde, the modern two lane road on the right of the panorama, and onto the road to Loweg, visible in the center of the panorama, then continued behind the French right flank.  Next, we will continue up the road toward Loweg to the group of trees on top of the hill.

Boser Couter

In this 360 degree view we came from the road at left after turning off the main road from Oudenarde.  The road that we are on continues in the right-center of the panorama into the direction of the French rear.   That was the direction of Overkirk's attack, and we will continue in that direction.

Near Rooigem Mill

We have come along the road from the right side of the panorama.  The hill at right is roughly the location of Rooigem Mill, headquarters of the Duke of Burgundy.  The Diepenbeek is in the direction of the sun in the center of the panorama.  As Overkirk advanced, he started to encircle the French army.  Eugene from the opposite flank attacked and was doing the same.  As night was falling, the two commands began encountering each other near here, and Marlborough called off the attacks.  Only nightfall saved the French army from total destruction.  

That night the remains of the French army withdrew.  Vendome encountered the Duke of Burgundy and insulted him - but only after agreeing that retreat was the only option.

Oudenarde Square

The next morning Marlborough rode through Oudenarde Square, where thousands of French prisoners were being collected.  At the cost of  around 3,000 killed, wounded, and captured, Marlborough had inflicted around 5,500 killed and wounded and captured 9,000 men.  The French retired behind the Bruges-Ghent canal, too strong of a defensive line for Marlborough to assault.  Marlborough instead asked his subordinates what they thought of advancing deep into France, bypassing the fortresses and capturing Paris while being supplied by the Royal Navy.  Even the always aggressive Prince Eugene thought that it was too risky, so it was decided to besiege the great French fortress at Lille, Vauban's first major fortress project.  Capturing it would occupy the rest of the campaign season.  

Copyright 2012 by John Hamill

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