Prussian Army at Blenheim 1704

A Prussian dragoon, c. 1704. The dark blue coat with turnback regimental facings was typical of the Prussian troops. Moustaches were popular among German troops, but the British were usually clean-shaven.

Prince Eugene’s Attack

While the fighting for Blindheim went on, Prince Eugene sent his imperial and Prussian squadrons, under command of Prince Maximilian of Hanover, to pick their way across the broken rivulets of the Nebel and engage Count von Wolframsdorf’s Bavarian cavalry on the cornfields between Unterglau and Lutzingen. The marshy obstacle here was apparently more difficult than downstream but their attack was initially successful in pushing back Wolframsdorf’s foremost squadrons. This success could not be sustained and the second line Bavarian squadrons came forward with French support and resolutely drove Maximilien’s troopers back. At the same time, the eleven Prussian and seven Danish infantry battalions, under the robust command of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Dessau, moved to attack the Bavarian and French defenders of Lutzingen: ‘He showed no regard for danger, and did lead on his followers most courageously’. The lines of infantry went forward into a heavy artillery fire from the batteries placed around the village, and at heavy cost Finck’s Russian Brigade forced their way at bayonet point into the gun positions, the soldiers of Margraf Ludwig’s Regiment fighting hand to hand with the Bavarian gunners for possession of the artillery pieces. The Prussians were then driven out by a stinging counter-attack from the Bavarian infantry, led by two battalions of the Elector’s Liebegarde Fusilier Regiment, and had to fall back to reform for a fresh effort. The Bavarians quickly manned their guns once more, and the ranks of Prussian infantry were shredded with heavy canister fire at murderously close range. Their position could not be maintained, and with their supporting cavalry being driven away on the left, they fell back to the Nebel, in the process uncovering the flank of the Danes who were already fiercely engaged with du Rozel’s French infantry in the woods to the north of the village. Eugene’s infantry scrambled back across the stream in some disorder. Losses had been heavy; several Prussian regimental colours were lost in the confusion, and it would be some time before the attack could be renewed with any prospect of success.

Marlborough recalled that: ‘The Elector and M. Marsin were so advantageously posted that Prince Eugene could make no impression on them’. The Prince rode forward to rally the shaken troops, but a fresh attempt by his second-line imperial cavalry led forward by the Duke of Württemberg to force their way across the stream failed to make very much ground under the brutally effective cross-fire of artillery from Oberglau and Lutzingen. A sharp second counter-attack by the Elector’s cavalry was, however, a rather half–hearted affair and was not pressed across the marshy stream in the way it might have been. Eugene’s batteries were now hammering away from a good position near to Weilheim Farm, but a third advance by Eugene’s re-formed cavalry failed to make any progress across the Nebel. Both sides were clearly tiring fast on the northern half of the battlefield, and another attack by Anhalt-Dessau’s infantry at about 4.30 p.m. which inevitably lacked the spirit and energy of their first effort, could not make any impression on the defences of Lutzingen. Anhalt-Dessau exhorted his men onwards, waving a shot-torn Prussian regimental colour over his head, but men were falling fast on either hand, and even though they gained a toe-hold in the Bavarian battery once more, the defence of Lutzingen was as solid as ever. The French and Bavarians stood their ground, and with volleys of musketry beat the attack off once more with heavy losses, ‘The Elector of Bavaria was seen riding up and down,’ it was noted, ‘and inspiring the men also with fresh courage’. Scholten’s Danes also had to fall back on the right, the French Régiment de le Dauphin putting in a slashing counter-attack to restore the security of the left of their line. Prince Eugene had ridden over to add encouragement to the infantry assault, and in the press of the fighting a Bavarian dragoon levelled his musket at him, but was smartly bayoneted by a Danish soldier before he could fire. For all their local success in driving off this fresh attack, Maffei’s troops were themselves too battered to pursue and make the most of their local success, and were unable to take the valuable chance to turn the second Danish and Prussian withdrawal into a rout at the muddy Nebel’s edge. Both sides had clearly exhausted themselves on this part of the field; for the moment neither could attack the other with any real prospect of success, and the battle would now have to be decided on the Plain of Höchstädt.

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In the centre of the field, the Duke of Württemberg led his Danish cavalry across the Nebel, but a smart counter-attack by Marsin’s French squadrons drove them back over the stream to recover their order. Simultaneously, Count Horn’s Dutch, Swiss and Prussian infantry forced their way forward to attack the Marquis de Blainville’s French garrison in Oberglau, and so secured the right flank of Marlborough’s advance against Tallard. Shortly after 3 p.m., the Prince of Holstein-Beck and Major-General Pallandt were directed to secure the village itself, but their Dutch troops were quickly thrown back by the émigré Irish regiments of Clare, Dorrington and Lee. The leading regiments of Goor and Beynheim were routed and dispersed, many being taken prisoner: ‘So warmly received that after a sharp dispute they were forced to retire,’ Francis Hare recalled. The Dutch infantry fought doggedly, but were driven away step by step in a bayonet-stabbing and musket-butt-wielding contest with the Irish. As his troops fell back in increasing disorder towards the marshy ground of the edge of the stream, Holstein-Beck sent a message to Count Fugger, standing near to the Weiheim Farm with a brigade of Imperial Swabian cuirassiers, calling for him to come urgently to support. The Count refused to move, as he had orders to anchor Eugene’s flank at this point and would do no more without instructions; his reluctance to move was understandable, for his cuirassiers ensured the security of Eugene’s left flank as his attacks drove in against Lutzingen. Holstein-Beck was wounded soon afterwards and taken prisoner by the French; although he was released later that day, he died soon afterwards and Count Berensdorf took over the command of his troops at a difficult moment.

Marlborough’s Great Attack

Francis Hare remembered that: ‘The Duke of Marlborough had got the whole of the left wing of the allied army over the rivulet and our Horse were drawn up in two lines fronting that of the enemy, but they did not offer to charge till General Churchill had ranged his Foot also in two lines behind the cavalry.’ The careful balance of cavalry and infantry, supported by artillery, was in place and all was ready for Marlborough to strike at the centre of gravity of the Franco-Bavarian army, Tallard’s almost entirely unsupported squadrons of cavalry. ‘About five o’clock the general forward movement was made, which determined the issue of this great battle, which until then had seemed to remain doubtful. The Duke of Marlborough, having ridden along the front, gave orders to sound the charge.’ The Duke waved his commanders forward – Lieutenant-General Henry Lumley with the British and Prussian cavalry on the left and the Duke of Württemberg on the right with Hanoverian and Danish squadrons. The advance by some 8,000 allied horsemen across the open plain, at a steady trot so as not to tire the horses too soon, supported by some 14,000 infantry, was robustly met by the first-line French cavalry now commanded by the Marquis d’Humieres as von Zurlauben was lying gravely wounded. These squadrons valiantly pushed Marlborough’s cavalry back onto their infantry supports, and Merode-Westerloo wrote that his squadrons ‘charged and flung them back’. The allied troopers could fall back on their infantry while they recovered their order, and once again, the French were exposed to the lash of musketry, emptying many saddles. Hare recalled that the old and outmoded practice of firing pistols from the halt was still being employed by the French: ‘Those of the enemy presented their fusils at some small distance and fired, but they had no sooner done so than they immediately turned about.’ This was the correct drill to reload weapons, but such rearward movements could soon tumble out of control in the press and heat of a mounted action. Now, the fresh second-line allied squadrons, Hessians, Hanoverians, Saxons and Dutch, under command of Graf Reynard van Hompesch and the Count of Ost-Friese, fresh and in fine order, rode forward in full array and it was a battle-winning stroke. Captain Robert Parker remembered that: ‘Our squadrons drove through the very centre of them, which put them to entire rout.’

The ordering of the first line French squadrons crumbled under the relentless allied pressure, and they rode to the rear to attempt to recover but instead disrupted the ranks of their second line that remained in support. The adjutant of the Gens d’Armes wrote afterwards in a letter to the French Minister for War that ‘We had charged twice before the cavalry had approached the enemy, we faced them until six o’clock in the evening. It was in the centre which was thin and weak, where the enemy pierced through.’ Disorder in the ranks of the French squadrons was spreading quickly and the troopers were increasingly looking over their shoulders, while shouted commands and drum rolls were disregarded. With the press of disciplined allied horsemen so close behind, panic quickly took hold, and whole squadrons of French cavalry lost their composure completely, turned about and attempted to ride headlong off the field. Then, Merode-Westerloo recalled:

There was a definite but unauthorised movement to the rear … two musket balls killed my horse beneath me so that he subsided gently to the ground. One of my aides-de-camp and a groom came up with another horse after observing my fall, and they soon had me hoisted onto horseback again.

Meanwhile, abandoned by their cavalry, the nine battalions of young infantry still valiantly held their ground beside the Höchstädt road, only to be shot down in rank and file. Francis Hare wrote that:

Colonel Blood was ordered at the same time to march a battery over the pontoons [across the Nebel] and to bring it to bear on the enemy’s battalions. This was done with good success and made a great slaughter of the enemy. They stood firm, however, for a time, closing their ranks as fast as they were broken, until being much weakened, they were at last thrown into disorder, when our squadrons falling upon them, they were cut down in entire ranks, and were seen so lying after the battle.

As the French cavalry collapsed, and turned to flee from the field, Merode-Westerloo’s horse was born up by the press of panicked riders on either side so that the hooves did not touch the ground for some minutes, before Merode-Westerloo was thrown down a bank with many others and trampled on before being found and remounted once again by his faithful groom. A pontoon bridge across the Danube gave way, and some troopers attempted to swim their horses across the river in their urgent desire to escape, but most who tried were drowned in the fast-flowing waters. A last desperate attempt by the Marquis de Gruignan to pull together some squadrons of Gens d’Armes and mount a fresh counter-attack which was brushed aside, while Tallard sent the Marquis de Maisonelle galloping over to Blindheim to belatedly draw out some of the infantry there to support the cavalry, but the aide-de-camp was never seen again and was presumably killed on the way. The Marshal now rode towards the village, but it was all too late and too little, and not far from the hamlet of Sonderheim he was accosted on the way by a party of Hanoverian dragoons commanded by Colonel Beinbourg. Tallard, whose son had just been killed at his side by a dragoon, was conducted to the Prince of Hesse-Cassell, and sent on to Marlborough, who was then directing the pursuit of the broken French squadrons.

Pallandt’s Brigade (Dutch)

Bynheim Regiment (Dutch)

Schwerin Regiment (Prussian)

De Varenne Regiment (Prussian)

Wulffen Regiment (Prussian)

The Right Wing

Commander: Prince Eugene of Savoy

1st Line Infantry – Anhalt-Dessau Anhalt-Dessau, Leopold, Prince (1676–1747) Prussian officer commanding the Imperial infantry under Prince Eugene. The ‘Old Dessauer’ of Frederick the Great’s wars.

Finck’s Brigade (Prussian)

1st Battalion Grenadier Garde (Kurprinz Freidrich Wilhelm I)

2nd Battalion Grenadier Garde

1st Battalion Margraf Ludwig’s Regiment

2nd Battalion Margraf Ludwig’s Regiment

1st Battalion Anhalt-Dessau’s Regiment

2nd Battalion Anhalt-Dessau’s Regiment

Canitz’s Brigade (Prussian)

1st Battalion Margraf Philip’s Regiment

2nd Battalion Margraf Philip’s Regiment

Lieb-Garde Regiment (Lottum’s)

1st Battalion Canitz’s Regiment

2nd Battalion Canitz’s Regiment

1st Line Cavalry – Maximilian of Hanover

Natzmer’s Brigade (Prussian) Natzmer, Major-General Dubislaw (1654–1739) Prussian cavalry commander defeated with Count von Styrum at Höchstädt in 1703, and taken prisoner at Blenheim. Subsequently fought at Oudenarde (1708) and Malplaquet (1709).

Liebregiment of Dragoons

Margraf Philip’s Cuirassier Regiment

Wartensleben Regiment of Horse

Bayreuth-Kulmbach Cuirassier Regiment

Von Krassow’s Regiment of Dragoons

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