War of Spanish Succession: Battle of Blenhein

About the Battle of Blenhein in the War of Spanish succession between the French led by Tallard and the English, Dutch, and Prussian armies led by Churchill the Duke of Marlborough in 1704.


The master strategy for the French, to win the war of the Spanish Succession, called for the merger of 2 separate French armies with the army of their ally, the Elector of Bavaria. Massed in western Bavaria, at the Danube, the combined force was then to assault Emperor Leopold I's capital, Vienna. The English, Dutch, and Prussian armies, led by the Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill, thwarted the threat at the Battle of Blenheim, August 13, 1704. Churchill attacked 1st, before the 2 French armies could unite. His decision was made against the advice of his generals, who feared that a frontal attack at Blenheim, against well-entrenched positions and over swampy ground at the Nebel, could result in a Marlborough rout.

The opposing forces were almost equal. French marshals Tallard and Marsin commanded 60,000. The duke had 56,000. But, as the attacker, he also faced far heavier losses.

For a line of defense, the French had placed heavy troop concentrations at Blenheim village and at Lutzingen, 3 mi. north. At their center, Oberglau, they allocated a light force of only 14 battalions including an Irish brigade. They reasoned, wrongly, that the swampy ground before Oberglau would act as a partial deterrent to Marlborough's advance.

Marlborough attacked palisaded Blenheim 1st, advancing under a concealing ground fog. He took heavy losses, but reinforced his position and managed to seize the low ground across the Nebel with his cavalry. The success was nearly nullified when his center, the Prussian troops commanded by the Prince of Holstein-Beck, was overrun by the Irish and mauled badly. The Irish, overconfident, allowed themselves to be cut off and were decimated by Marlborough's counterattacking cavalry. Marlborough's right flank, the cavalrymen of Prince Eugene of Savoy, faced with bad terrain over which to maneuver, charged 3 times in their sector but were nearly routed, taking huge casualties.

At 5 P.M., Marlborough massed his left flank of 8,000 cavalrymen--now across the Nebel--in 2 waves, supported by the infantry. They charged in a final effort, and Tallard's 10,000 cavalrymen, too exhausted to resist, lost their nerve and galloped from the field. Abandoned, the foot soldiers of the French center were cut down as the troopers swept through, splitting the French line in 2. Quickly, the troopers wheeled to the left and around the French barricaded inside Blenheim village. Surrounded, its defenders laid down their arms, effectively ending the battle.

Marlborough lost 5,000 killed and 8,000 wounded, mostly from Prince Eugene's difficult struggles. Tallard lost 12,000 dead and 14,000 wounded, almost half of the forces he had committed. The decisive defeat freed Germany from the French yoke. Moreover, the French permanently lost the military initiative and with it, the war.

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