Mittwoch, 19. August 2020

The combat at Grimbergen on August 23rd 1745

The combat at Grimbergen August 23rd 1745

I continue my series about the campaign in Flanders 275 years ago. (The post is online a little too early because I'm offline 23 August 2020.) 

The background

The maréchal de Saxe thought that his army had done enough for the year 1745[1]. However as before he could not go into his quarters in summer. The fall of Dendermonde on August 13th changed the situation dramatically as he lost the excuse to stay in his camp only observing the enemy. The maréchal was convinced that he had to conserve the area on the Western banks of the Dender, because he wanted to get his winter quarters there. Therefore he decided to cross the Dender and move towards the Senne. The operation started on August 17th and the army reached the new position between Lippelo and Merchtem. It was difficult to get foot and fodder in this area. The opponent’s raiding parties were preventing the inhabitants to bring foot to the French. Especially Grimbergen seemed to be a centre of allied harassment. Therefor the maréchal ordered the Liéutenant Général Danois[2] to take the locality on August 22nd[3].

The combat at Grimbergen

Danois had an impressive force of 12 battalions (regiments du Roi, Picardie, Touraine, Royal-Écossais), 20 companies of grenadiers, 250 men from the Maison du Roi, 500 gendarmes, 500 carabiniers, 4 twelve-pounders and 16 four-pounders departing on the evening of August 22nd from the camp at Lippelo[4][5].

The Hanoverians have given up the Podenburg Castle early before the fighting. (They were on the table for more historical ambience only - leaving the table quickly.)

Danois was facing only little resistance, when he arrived on August 23rd at 6 o’clock a.m. There were two castles nearby. Both were crewed by troops of the Pragmatic army and both were enclosed by a moat. One of them occupied by 100 Hanoverian soldiers and 3 officers capitulated immediately[6].

Now I had to research which castle this could be. There are many very helpful contemporary maps online from the Moll collection[7]. Problem was that the landscape changed dramatically since the 18th century as most of the area around Brussels is covered now by buildings and little is visible of the topographic features. Nevertheless Grimbergen is still well known for numerous very nice castles in the area[8]. Another problem was that the maps didn’t show roads and hills. Therefore I had to use the works by Le Rouge[9] and Seutter[10] to locate the hillsides and the map by Visscher[11] to learn about the historical road course. Coming from Lippelo and assuming that the smaller castle lies near Grimbergen, it seemed to me the most probable option that the “Podenburg”-castle[12] was attacked first.

Danois had sent his gendarmes as an outpost on a ridge towards the Brussel-Scheldt canal. The garrison of the bigger castle - 60 men of British free companies under the command of captain Ferron - refused to give up[13].

I played the French for this game, while the allied command was shared by a real Englishman as Cumberland and Cecilia as the commander of the allied horse.
The French have just positioned some light artillery against Grimbergen Castle defended by Ferron's redcoats.

I suppose that the bigger castle lay more closely to the ridge and therefor behind Grimbergen, just because the carabiniers on the ridge south-eastwards are making more sense in this way. The closest castle on the Southern bank of the river Kelkebeek is the castle of Grimbergen[14]. Although today ruined, the castle still is an impressive architectural structure. The towers are bigger than those of the Podenburg-castle and an 18th century engraving of the castle dated from 1770 gives a good impression of the size of the moat and the towers[15].

The French grenadiers prepared for an assault on the castle. Danois’s troops brought artillery forward to shoot a breach into the walls.

The French fusiliers are marching through Grimbergen and along the Kelkebeek. Cumberland's force is just arriving on the heights.

However meanwhile the duke of Cumberland had learned about the French advance to Grimbergen and decided to bring help. He personally led a small detachment of elite troops 2.000 men strong to relieve his outpost. Cumberland used the road via Vilvoorde. He had 3 battalions of British guards, 1 battalion of Highlanders, 3 squadrons of Lifeguards, 3 squadrons of Dutch cavalry, 50 men of pickets, 2 six-pounders and 4 three-pounders[16]. It’s remarkable that he didn’t chose light troops like hussars as his colleague the Prince of Waldeck did on August 12th[17].  Besides we can notice the same absence of light troops in Danois’ detachment too. The high quantity of artillery surely hindered a fast movement. Maybe both commanders wanted to be more prepared for a serious larger engagement.

Cumberland is arriving and facing Danois' vanguard formed by the gendarmarie.

Cumberland attacked the gendarmes when he arrived on the ridge. The carabiniers fled to Grimbergen. The British positioned their artillery on the ridge line and commenced firing on the French infantry. The artillery fire and the rout of the gendarmes caused panic among the infantry in Grimbergen. The French ceased their fire at the castle and retreated in bad shape[18].

In our game Cumberland started the fighting with a bombardement on the French gendarmes (represented by Pons cavalerie). Cumberland obviously planned to attack my column with his cavalry before my fusiliers could change formation.
Meanwhile canister fire against the defenders of Grimbergen castle is inflicting some losses.

We wonder if Danois was not informed about the small size of Cumberland’s forces or if the often blamed lack of discipline among the French proved well founded again[19].

The French rearguard formed by the rest of the French cavalry wanted to offer the retreating infantry a chance to rally behind them. Although they had to give way hastily too as soon as Cumberland’s artillery started to fire upon them.

Cumberland didn’t pursuit. Maybe he knew better than his opponent the real balance of power. He sent some troops to occupy the smaller castle and the village of Grimbergen again. Then he ordered to march back behind the canal[20].

Differently to the historical combat the French gendarmarie is successfully rolling back into safety. Cumberland has to react to the French advance and deployment. Is he losing the momentum?

Although small in size and without significant losses on both size the encounter at Grimbergen had some consequences. The maréchal de Saxe had to realize the difficulties of his position and ordered a retreat of his large army behind the Dender during the September of 1745.

Cumberland has formed a thin line to defeat the French advance by famous British musketry. The Pragmatic cavalry is still wheeling a long way around their own infantry and the French battalions.
The old brewery of Grimbergen is still in French hands as you can notice here!

Analysing and preparing a scenario

It seems obvious to me, that Danois failed in many respect. He surely didn’t use his cavalry properly. He forgot to send pickets for reconnaissance duties, although he had plenty of cavalry for the job. I don’t know where his personal place was during the engagement. But how could he miss to realize, that his small army was 3 to 4 times larger than Cumberland’s detachment?

The lack of skills of his sub commanders perhaps makes the great success of Maurice de Saxe even more impressive. To defeat his enemy he maybe had a far numerical superior army but he had to calculate the lack of discipline of his troops as much as the bad performances of his generals in his plans.

The French grenadiers are finally in musketrange and the French 4-pounders are pulled back to shoot round shots. Ferron's men are suffering more and more casualties.
Please note the French medium artillery in the background arriving in effective distance to open firing on the British right.

Besides the mentioned maps I had to decide which leaders were plausible accompanying Danois on one and Cumberland on the other side.

For the French I used a French order of battle of 1746 by John Anderson[21]. I supposed that maybe the brigadiers of the Picardie-, Touraine- and Maison du Roi brigades were in command.

For the British I could rely again on the same OOB which I used for Assche already[22]. I assumed that the commander of the foot guards and the brigadier of the lifeguards were responsible for the infantry and cavalry.

In our game the French grenadiers not only forced Ferron's troop to leave the Castle but routed them too.

I included the weakness of the French troops in my scenario. If I would not adjust in this sense, it would be an easy victory for the French even with Dithering commanders. Therefor the victory conditions should effect, that the French player has to be more cautious and compensate the low skills of his troops.

Cumberland has lost his contenance and orders a charge in full force with three of the best battalions of the British army losing one of them from the 1st foot guards! The French infantry however is forced to retreat some of them running in rallying battalion which decides that they have done enough and leaving the field routed,


Pragmatic "army"

Captain Ferron (Dep.) (60 British skirmishers) - in the Castle

1 x small inf. (superior)

CinC The duke of Cumberland (Dep.)

1) Brigade of British infantry: Brigardier Churchill (?) (Dash.)

3 bn.s guard infantry (!) - large/superior

1 bn. highland infantry - large/superior

1 x medium artillery (6-pdr.s)

1 x light artillery (3 pdr.s)

2) independent light inf. (1 piquette of 50 men)

1 x (small) inf. - standard light inf.

3) Brigade of cavalry: Brigadier Crawford (?) (Dep.)

1 x Brit. guard cavalry (3 sqn. Lifeguards) - superior

1 x Dutch cavalry - standard

BP: 4
Cumberland is reforming his weakened line of defence. He and his subcommanders decided to finally use the small unit which has done nothing except marching and countermarching for hours to fill the gap.
Danois meanwhile changed plans completely ordering his second Brigade of fusiliers to leave the road and to cross the Kelkebeek near Podenburg castle. The Royal Ecossaise Regiment (represented by Royal Suédois) is coming in artillery range of Cumberlands guns. Besides the French elite cavalry is closing the distance preparing a daring charge towards the British infantry.


CinC Lieut. Gén. de Danois (Dith.)

1) independent - French vanguard on a hill

1 x French horse - large/inferior cavalry (stand. first round of mellee if charging)

2) French brig. of infantry: Brigadier Paron (?) (Dith.)

6 x French infantry - stand. (shooting inferior)

2 x French light artillery (4 pdr.s)

3) French brig. of infantry: Brigadier La Ferre (?) (Dith.)

4x French infantry - stand. (shooting inferior)

2 x French foreign inf. - superior (shooting inferior)

2 x French light artilery (4 pdr.s)

4) French brig. of infantry: Ch. Anne Sigismond de Montmorency-Luxembourg (?) (Dith)

4 x grenadiers (small) - superior (shooting inferior)

5) French rearguard: Brig. St. Clair (?) (Dith.)

1 x Maison du Roi small - standard cav.

1 x French horse - large/inferior cavalry (stand. first round of mellee if charging)

6) independent
1 x French medium artillery (12 pdr.s)

BP: 4

Victory conditions:

Both sides: breaking the enemy.

Limit: 7 turns


Kelkebeek: fordable

Grimbergen: soft cover

Castles: hard cover, movement across the moats halved[23] / soft cover if successfully shoot at (roll an additional 5-6 to shoot a breech)

Hills: gentle

In a final attempt to Change the outcome of the battle in the hard way, Cumberland decides to silence the harassing French 8 pounders. That's successful although the victors are now in a really isolated Position facing halve a dozen of French infantry battalions approaching supported by two light batteries.

Maybe hoping to rescue the Reputation of the British horse Crawford finally orders the charge of his cavalry. The Charge has a mixed effect. It's late and some French can turn and repell the charging horsemen while others can not.
One of Crawford's units had to retreat already when the British lifeguards (replaced by Ligonier's "black" horse) decide to continue their charge just into some more Grenadiers. The poor lads are completely surprised and flee immediately.
The whole Charge is looking careless and strange, although we have to keep in mind, that the French are shortly before their own colapse, although Cumberland had lost too many of his fine redcoats already.
After the Maison du Roi - represented by the Mousquetaires du Roi - losing some men had given up the charge and decided to hand over the honour to the Carabiniers (replaced by the Berry-regiment for this game looking very much the same in such a distance).  The clash is indecive as both units are retreating to rally. A fine performance by the small troop of redcoats.
There is a firefight in the Background. Danois uses most of the units of his second Brigade including two batteries finally arriving to defeat Cumberland's right battalion.
The British cavalry manages to fall back in good order. Most of Cumberland's infantry however is defeated and hoping to rally somewhere. Even with some good luck on Cumberland's right, where the heavily engaged battalion could retreat, the situation of his royal highness is desperate as Danois has a lot of infantry ready to pursue and catch up the exhausted redcoats leaving them little chance to recover.
The lieutenant général Danois is observing the battlefield completely satisfied with the result of the Encounter. He can led his troops plunder the brewery, occupying both castles and marching back to Lippelo with the rest of his detachment.
The French had lost 3 Units [3 Points in Honours of War] but nothing of great consequence. While Cumberland lost two of his finest battalions and the garrison of Grimbergen Castle. He can be happy if Danois fails to realize his chance to crush the British forces.
Nevertheless in game's terms it's a close victory for the French (0,5 Points left on the British and 1 Point left on the French side). The game was running completely different from the historical Event. I suppose that the British missed the chance to crush the French vanguard  [1,5 Points worth] with their horse early in the combat. To wheel the British horse to a perfect position to charge Danois' flank was extremely time consuming and pointless as they arrived not before the 6th turn. Although I had some luck too rolling some 4s and 5s at the beginning of the game shooting surprisingly effective with the French foot under Paron's command.
As a game the scenario proved to be well balanced, especially because French movement is very restricted by all commanders rated dithering. The famous Grimbergen beer is delicious and recommend while gaming the combat. ;-)

Text: André Hanselmann
Map: André Hanselmann
Photos: André & Cecilia Hanselmann

[1] Aurel von le Beau, Rudolf von Hödl: "OESTERREICHISCHER ERBFOLGE-KRIEG 1740-1748. Nach den Feld -Acten und anderen authentischen Quellen bearbeitet in der kriegsgeschichtlichen Abtheilung des k. und k. Krieg s - Archivs" Band 9, Seidel & Sohn, Wien, 1914, p.176
[2] I didn’t found further information about a Lieutenant Général de Danois at this time. However there was an Augustin-Marie Le Danois, marquis de Cernay (1710-1784), who was promoted to Lieutenant general in 1749. The post on the French Wikipedia mentions that he lost an arm at Lauffeldt “en 1745”, although the battle was in 1747. Therefore maybe he was earlier promoted to Lieutenant general too. ( (checked on August 10th 2020))
[3] Beau/Hödl p. 177
[4] Beau/Hödl p. 177
[5] There are different spellings of the town’s name. Beau/Hödl are writing “Liploo”. On modern maps we find “Lippelo”.
[6] Beau/Hödl p. 177
[8] Along with the local beer and a very impressive abbey.
[9] Georges-Louis le Rouge: « Carte Contenant le Pais entre Nieuport l'Ecluse Anvers Ypres et Bruxelles » from : « Carte des Pais Bas : Contenant la Flandre, le Brabant, Pais de Liege, et de Namin, le Boulonnois, le Haynaut, et partie de la Picardie » chez l’Auteur rue des Augustin, Paris, 1744 [Moll-collection]
[10] Matthäus Seutter: « Carte Particuliere des Environs de Bruxelles avec le Bois Soigne et d'une Partie de la Flandre jusques Agand » from : « Les provinces des Pais Bas Autrichiens : contenant en XXIV. Feuilles les Comtées d'Artois, de Flandres, de Hainaut, de Namur, et les Duchées de Luxembourg, de Limbourg, de Gueldre et de Brabant, divisées dans ses Baillag: Chatellenies, Quartiers ou Seigneuries, avec une partie de la France d'Angleterre et du Canal. On y trouve entre autres marquees toutes les Villes et Chat: fortifiées, qui appartiennent au Roi de France, a la Maison d'Autriche ou a la Republique de Hollande]. [Sur la Copie de Bruxelles gravees par Matthieu Seutter Geographe de S.M. Imperiale a Augsbourg » Augsburg around 1750 [Moll-collection]
[11] Nicolae Jansz Visscher (1749-1702): « Bruxellensis Tetrarchia in omnes subjacentes ditiones accuratissime divisa / per Nicolaum Visscher Amst: Bat: ; Nunc apud Petrum apud Petrum Schenk Iun » Amsterdam [Moll-collection]
[12] Today called Poddegemhoeve.
[13] Beau/Hödl p. 178
[14] Today called Prinsenkasteel.
[15] De Cantillon: „Vermakelykheden van Brabant en deszelfs onderhoorige Landen“ 1770 [on Wikipedia – checked on August 4th 2020]
[16] Beau/Hödl p. 178
[17] Read here:
[18] Beau/Hödl p. 178
[19] The maréchal de Noailles was a frequent critic of his own troops especially compared with the professionalism of the Hanoverian and British armies.
[20] Beau/Hödl p. 178
[21] John Anderson: « ORDRE de BATTAILLE des FRANCOIS en MDCCXLVI / S: M: LE ROY » 1748 or later (Royal Collection RCIN 730061)
[22] Anonymus author: « Ordre de Battaille de l'Armée Alliée en Flandres le Juin Anno 1745. / [under the command of] S.A.R. Le Duc de Cumberland » Royal Collection In. 729118
[23] I suppose that the French had at least some access to boats or similar vessels to cross the moats. Without such vessels the whole plan to storm the castle would be somehow strange as there maybe were wooden bridges.

4 Kommentare:

  1. Nice campaign report Andre. I especially like the research you do for your battles and the logical way you worked out which were the most likely castles referred to in the historical references. Cheers Greg

    1. Yeah, the castles were a very imporant aspect when I was creating the scenario with little detailed knowledge in my sources. Maybe some extensive biographies about Cumberland can add more informations about the whole engagement. Many thanks for your kind comment.

  2. Another first rate report, Andre’! I enjoyed this battle account very much. You included everything needed for a gamer to replicate your work. Great job!

    1. Surprisingly enough within 4 days this post became the most visited of 2020. Therefore I'm very happy about your comment and your encouragement. I suppose that you will like our next topic too. I'm now off into the Black forest.