Saturday, 19 November 2011

Fontenoy part 2

Last week's report closed with Campbell's Highlanders facing fresh French battalions brought forward by De Saxe. To their left the remnants of the French first line were enaged in a prolonged firefight with the Hanoverian grenadiers.
Buoyed by their earlier success the Highlanders charged the leading French battalion, Bearn. They were met by a disciplined volley and although they closed to hand strokes, the Scots were badly outnumbered. Even their jutified reputation as tough fighters was unable to bring them success in the melee and the battered remnants of the battalion fell back. To their left a Hanoverian battalion delivered a crushing volley which swept away the last of the 'Wild Geese' and then advanced on the Royal Eccosais.

They were met by a crushing volley which stopped them in their tracks. As they struggled to recover,a second volley completed their discomforture and they routed. The supporting battalion moved forward through the wreckage and although the Eccosais fired a volley it was ineffectual. Sensing unease in the opposition ranks the Hanoverian colonel ordered his battalion to charge. Regardless of their earlier success the 'exiles' ran, but the Hanoverians now faced fresh battalions, "les vieux" in the shape of Picardie and Piemont.

The Hanoverian grenadiers were still struggling to overcome the resolute Swiss battalions facing them. Even with the support of light artillery firing canister they could not make progress. The steady volleys of the Swiss caused one of the grenadier battalions, the one nearest Fontenoy village, to fall back and a Hanoverian line battalion moved forward to replace it. Thier volleys eventually forced one of the Swiss battalions to retreat, but as the Hanoverians advanced they were met by volleys from the Grenadiers de France in Fontenoy and canister from light artillery.

By now, according to Cumberland's plan, the village should have been captured by the Hanoverians and Hessians of the left wing.

The Hanoverian attack had reached the village and tried to gain entry but a combination of volleys from the Grenadiers de France and a flank attack by Saxon Guard Grenadiers caused heavy casualties and the battered remnants sought the security of their own lines. One success for the Hanoverians was that their artillery was able to target the Saxons and they suffered so many casualties that they had to fall back out of the line. Indeed, the artillery was also successful in causing losses to the German battalions supportng Fontenoy and therefore Cumberland ordered that the village should be attacked again, using the Hessian brigade.

Cumberland had been busy rallying the battalions which had retreated from the main attack. Grenadiers and Highlanders were sent forward again to support the line battalions. Unfortunately, their path, dictated by Cumberland, led them straight into the killing ground in front of the redoubt. Before they could reach the front line their ranks were town apart by the fire from the heavy guns.

Undaunted, Cumberland rallied two line battalions and led them forward in person. As he moved forward an aide galloped up with news of a French counter attack on the left flank.

The French cavalry commander, seeing the weakness of the allied left, had requested permission to attack. De Saxe had agreed and two brigades of cavalry from the reserve, preceded by a screen of hussars, had moved onto the open ground beyond the redoubts.

Von Luckner's Hussars attempted to slow their progress but were defeated by the Bercheny Hussars. The commander of the Hanoverian cavalry ordered two brigades to move to the left to cover the flank of the Hessians advancing on Fontenoy. Cumberland realised that he would not win this battle. He ordered the battalions he was with to stand and form a reserve and ordered that the main attack should begin to fall back. To buy time he ordered his sole remaining reserve, two regiments of British cavalry, to attack the enemy line. The light dragoons led the way and paid with their lives for the privelege. Their nemesis was the same Swiss battalion which had stood like a rock against the Hanoverian grenadiers.

With the battle won, De Saxe looked to avoid unnecessary casulaties and halted the cavalry attack. For his part Cumberland returned to camp to count the cost of his folly. Fighting the enemy on ground he has chosen rarely results in victory.


  1. A very enjoyable read, thank god for the Swiss!!!

  2. Excellent, and 'historical' -then, de Saxe's dispositions were so well chosen that he had a (slight) advantage from the start; nothing decisive, yet.
    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Excellent, nice to see some Spencer Smiths in action

  4. Damnation - it seems the French were willing to fight to the last Irishman.