Battle of Melle

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Battle of Melle
Part of the War of the Austrian Succession
Date 9 July 1745
Location Melle
Result French victory
Belligerents
 Great Britain
Province of Hanover Hanover
 Austria[1]
 Dutch Republic
 France[2]
Commanders and leaders
Habsburg Monarchy Philipp Freiherr von Moltke Kingdom of France Nicholas Joseph Balthazard de l'Anglade, Vicomte du Chayla[3]
Strength
4,000[4] to 6,000[5] 6,000 to 8,000[6]
Casualties and losses
500 killed or wounded[7]
1,500 captured[8]
200 killed or wounded[9]

The Battle of Melle was a small meeting engagement fought on 9 July 1745, during the War of the Austrian Succession, between forces of the Pragmatic Allies and the French following the battle of Fontenoy that would have serious consequences for the Pragmatic Army of the allies and Flanders. The allies, under Lieutenant General Moltke, were attempting to send more troops to defend the city Ghent, one of their major supply depots.[10] The French, commanded by Lieutenant General Du Chayla, had sent their force to establish a crossing and a post south of the river Scheldt around the town of Melle to begin isolating Ghent. The allied force was driven off with significant losses, allowing the French to capture Ghent.

Preliminary maneuvers[edit]

After the French victory at the battle of Fontenoy and the capture of the city of Tournai, Marshal Saxe began to exploit the weakness of the allies and maneuvered so as to threaten Brussels and Brabant, Ghent and Flanders forcing Duke of Cumberland, over-all commander of the allies, to choose which places to defend.[11] Of the allies' two major magazines, Ghent and Brussels, Ghent was of more value as the supplies there had been reserved while those in Brussels had been used. However, Cumberland decided to defend Brabant and Brussels with the field army while sending some troops to increase the garrison of Ghent and issuing orders to transport the supplies out of Ghent.[12]

Saxe sent Du Chayla on a reconnaissance in force to Melle, a small town between Ghent and the town of Aalst. His command consisted of two infantry brigades, Normandie and Crillon, each consisting of four battalions; a detachment of Grassins, light infantry, and three brigades of cavalry: Berry, Royal Étranger and Du Roy, some twenty four squadrons.[13] There were about twenty small battalion guns and twenty pontoons in a camp being established on and around the road that ran between the town of Aalst and Ghent. Parts of the Normandie brigade, some two battalions, were dispersed in various posts along the Scheldt and the road to Ghent as was the some of Crillon. Du Chayla sent his light troops, the Grassins, towards Aalst to reconnoitre.

Moltke had orders from Cumberland to throw as many troops as possible from Aalst into Ghent to reinforce the garrison. Moltke's force was made up of a brigade commanded by Brigadier Thomas Bligh[14] of three British infantry regiments:[15] the Royal Scots, or 1st Foot; Bligh's 20th Foot and Handasyde's 16th Foot;[16] three squadrons of a British cavalry regiment, Rich's 4th Dragoons; two squadrons of Hanoverian cavalry: one of the Leib-Regiment and one of Adelebsen's Dragoons; five or six squadrons of Dutch cavalry from Slippenbach's Dragoons; and two or three squadrons of Austrian cavalry: de Ligne's and Styrum's Dragoons[17] and some 300 Austrian Hussars.[18]

Battle[edit]

French soldier of the Normandie brigade 1745
British soldier of 20th Regiment in the 1740s

On July 9 the light troops of the Grassins advanced east towards Aalst and occupied the Château de Massemen, a strong walled complex some eight miles west of Aalst near Melle. Moltke sent the Royals to drive them off and a vigorous fire-fight broke out, but without artillery the Royals were unable to dislodge de Grassin and his men. The 1st Foot then rejoined the rest of the force and it was decided by Moltke, without informing Bligh,[19] to leave the Grassins in the rear and advance as instructed down the raised causeway road to Ghent.[20]

Despite some notice of the allied advance from messengers sent by de Grassin,[21] Du Chayla's force was fairly dispersed in various posts along the route and in the process of making camp. The twenty artillery pieces were in park along the road facing north, baggage wagons and pontoon wagons in rows behind them. A stone bridge on the road crossing the Gontrode Brook, a stream that flowed into the Scheldt, was unguarded and a walled priory flanking the road only lightly occupied. One battalion of the Normandie brigade was posted in the town of Melle another well to the west of Melle. The battalions of Crillon brigade were also dispersed around the area, some taking post or billeting in the various chateaus and farm houses with one battalion astride the road west of the bridge.[22] Both sides were surprised by the contact, the French by the sudden arrival of the allies in force while the French were in the process of establishing their camp and the allies by the size and positions of the French force.[23]

Moltke, with the Royal Scots, led the advanced guard column of about 1,700 troops consisting of some 650 infantry of the Royal Scots and about 1,050 cavalry. They crossed the bridge, charged and dispersed the Crillon battalion commencing the action at about 7 p.m.. They then rushed up the road and overran the artillery park briefly capturing the guns. However, as the guns were unlimbered in park, not for action, the Royals were unable to use them against the French. The Duc de Laval and his battalion of the Crillon brigade then came up behind the pontoons and wagons engaging the Royal Scots soon to be followed by two more battalions led by Le Marquis de Crillon . The nature of the terrain was unfavorable to cavalry and the allied cavalry was unable to aid the Royals.[24] During the ensuing musketry duel, Moltke decided to take the Hussars and Rich's Dragoons and some Hanoverian cavalry[25] and make a dash for Ghent. A small detachment of Du Berry's cavalry held them up as some of the Normandie brigade arrived forcing Moltke off the causeway onto other tracks. A French battalion cut the road behind them. Now Moltke broke off with the entire force and headed for Ghent running a gauntlet of fire from the various French posts along the roads and ways and abandoning the rest of the column, losing about one half[26] of this force, including nearly 400 of the Royal Scots.[27]

During this time, Bligh came up the road with his regiment, the 20th Foot, with some of the Dutch cavalry following. Next came Handasyde's 16th with the rest of the cavalry. With Moltke gone, Bligh assumed command of the nearly 1,450 infantry[28] and some 1,000 cavalry.[29] The ground around the road was unfavorable to the cavalry of both sides and would not permit full deployment with the French firing from front and flank, so Bligh fell back to better position in a field south of the road behind the Gontrode Brook rivulet with most of his center and his left behind some woods and his right on the raised causeway on the other side from priory. This covered him from the fire of a couple of companies of French grenadiers behind the wall of the priory and gave him a defensible front of rough terrain that prevented any cavalry actions. The regiments formed a line of battle with the cavalry in support advancing on and engaging the French that came up. Du Chayla counter-attacked, perhaps now five battalions: Laval, two of Crillon and two of Normandie from Melle, about 2,000 strong, with a battery of artillery and most of the French cavalry in support. While the two sides were locked in a fire-fight, the Grassins that had been bypassed by the allies earlier in the day now arrived in Bligh's rear capturing all the baggage and supplies and cutting the line of retreat down the road to Aalst.[30]

Bligh, seeing that he was now in danger of losing his whole force, withdrew at about 9 p.m., in some disorder, through the woods and fields to the south-east, staying off the road until he was near to Aalst where he arrived with considerable loss, including all the baggage.[31]

Aftermath[edit]

The defeat cut off Ghent from any further support.[32] Saxe sent Ulrich Frédéric Woldemar, Comte de Lowendal with another 15,000 troops to complete the investment of the city. Lowendal opened the trenches and the Dutch governor surrendered. The city of Ghent, with an immense amount of supplies and material along with its garrison consisting of Dutch and some 700 British troops[33] from the Royals 1st Foot, the 23rd Royal Welsh Fusiliers and most of Rich's surviving dragoons[34] fell to the French on July 11 and the citadel on July 15. This was soon followed by the capture of Bruges and Oudenarde on July 19.[35]

References[edit]

  1. ^ 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, entry National Flags: "The Austrian imperial standard has, on a yellow ground, the black double-headed eagle, on the breast and wings of which are imposed shields bearing the arms of the provinces of the empire . The flag is bordered all round, the border being composed of equal-sided triangles with their apices alternately inwards and outwards, those with their apices pointing inwards being alternately yellow and white, the others alternately scarlet and black ." Also, Whitney Smith, Flags through the ages and across the world, McGraw-Hill, England, 1975 ISBN 0-07-059093-1, pp.114 - 119, "The imperial banner was a golden yellow cloth...bearing a black eagle...The double-headed eagle was finally established by Sigismund as regent...".
  2. ^ George Ripley, Charles Anderson Dana, The American Cyclopaedia, New York, 1874, p. 250, "...the standard of France was white, sprinkled with golden fleur de lis...". *[1] The original Banner of France was strewn with fleurs-de-lis. *[2]:on the reverse of this plate it says: "Le pavillon royal était véritablement le drapeau national au dix-huitième siecle...Vue du chateau d'arrière d'un vaisseau de guerre de haut rang portant le pavillon royal (blanc, avec les armes de France)."
  3. ^ Dictionnaire de la noblesse, contenant les généalogies, l'histoire ...., Volume 1,Paris, MDCCLXX, p.275.
  4. ^ Skrine and Smollet give 4,000. Their numbers are mostly drawn from reports from the field such as Abercromby's and Bligh's. These reports normally state rank and file which technically excludes: officers, ensigns, NCOs etc. usually another 10% see: Beatson, Robert. Naval and Military Memoirs of Great Britain, from 1727 to 1783, London, 1804, Appendix p.176 which shows the differentiation between 'rank and file' and others in a regiment in the Louisburg expedition.
  5. ^ Pichat, H. La campagne du maréchal de. Saxe dans les Flandres; de Fontenoy. (mai 1745) à la prise de Bruxelles (février 1746) suivi d'une correspondance inédite de Maurice de Saxe pendant cette campagne, Paris 1909, Saxe gives the allies 6,000 at Alost. Essay on the art of war..., London, MDCCLXI, p.391 gives 6,000. This seems to be the absolute upper limit, given the units known to be there.
  6. ^ Screen, J.O.E., The Action at Melle 9 July 1745, Society for Army Historical Research. Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research..., Volume 77, Issues 309-312, London, 1999, p. 89, gives 7,500: 4,500 infantry in two brigades and 3 brigades of cavalry, 24 squadrons totaling 3,000. Similarly, Pichat, H. La campagne du maréchal de. Saxe dans les Flandres; de Fontenoy. (mai 1745) à la prise de Bruxelles (février 1746) suivi d'une correspondance inédite de Maurice de Saxe pendant cette campagne, Paris 1909, gives 4,500 infantry in two brigades and 3,000 cavalry in 24 squadrons.
  7. ^ Chrystin, Jean-Baptiste. Les délices des Pays-Bas, Paris, MDCCLXXXVI, Vol.II., p. 323
  8. ^ Skrine, Francis Henry.Fontenoy and Great Britain's Share in the War of the Austrian Succession 1741-48. London, Edinburgh, 1906, p. 229
  9. ^ Pichat, H. La campagne du maréchal de. Saxe dans les Flandres; de Fontenoy. (mai 1745) à la prise de Bruxelles (février 1746) suivi d'une correspondance inédite de Maurice de Saxe pendant cette campagne, Paris 1909, gives 200.
  10. ^ The Gentleman's Magazine, Vol. XV, July, 1745, London, pp. 390-391
  11. ^ Skrine, Francis Henry. Fontenoy and Great Britain's Share in the War of the Austrian Succession 1741-48. London, Edinburgh, 1906, p. 226.
  12. ^ Fortescue, J. W. A History of the British Army, MacMillan, London, 1899, Vol. II, p. 122.
  13. ^ Screen, J.O.E., The Action at Melle 9 July 1745, Society for Army Historical Research. Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research..., Volume 77, Issues 309-312, London, 1999, p. 89.
  14. ^ Screen, J.O.E., The Action at Melle 9 July 1745, Society for Army Historical Research. Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research..., Volume 77, Issues 309-312, London, 1999, p. 89.
  15. ^ Townshend, Charles, Townshend, Sir Charles Vere Ferrers. The military life of Field-Marshal George first marquess Townshend ... p.74, seems to indicate that there were four British regiments and includes the Welsh Fusiliers 23rd Foot. Skrine puts the 23rd already in Ghent. Most sources of the time show only 3 British regiments.
  16. ^ There has been some confusion as to which regiment this is as there were two Handasyde's: the 16th - Roger Handasyde and the 31st - William Handasyde; most cite it as the 16th.
  17. ^ The Gentleman's Magazine, Vol. XV, July, 1745, London, pp. 362-363
  18. ^ Screen, J.O.E., The Action at Melle 9 July 1745, Society for Army Historical Research. Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research..., Volume 77, Issues 309-312, London, 1999, p.88. Screen gets Cumberland's 10 squadrons by not counting any of the Austrians, which are a minimum of 4 (2 Dragoon, 2 Hussar) for a total of 14 squadrons, however, Bligh's letters give 7 to Moltke and, at least 7 or 8 ("five or six squadrons of the Dutch..") to his force in his letter from Dendermonde and 5 squadrons to Styrum and Ligne in his letter from Aalst. Furthermore, Bligh's Dendermonde letter states: "... with the Hanoverian squadrons that joined us that day (the 9th)...". 16 or 17 squadrons would seem the most likely total.
  19. ^ Screen, J.O.E., The Action at Melle 9 July 1745, Society for Army Historical Research. Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research..., Volume 77, Issues 309-312, London, 1999, p.90.
  20. ^ Letter from Lt. Col. Abercromby to Gen. St. Clair, 10 July 1745.
  21. ^ Skrine, Francis Henry. Fontenoy and Great Britain's Share in the War of the Austrian Succession 1741-48. London, Edinburgh, 1906, p. 227.
  22. ^ Digitalisierungsprojekt Wilhelmshöher Kriegskarten (WHK) Map of the Battle of Melle. This map shows the general disposition of the troops.
  23. ^ Screen, J.O.E., The Action at Melle 9 July 1745, Society for Army Historical Research. Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research..., Volume 77, Issues 309-312, London, 1999, p.89.
  24. ^ Letter Lieutenant General Moltke to HRH Cumberland 9, July 1745.
  25. ^ Skrine, Francis Henry. Fontenoy and Great Britain's Share in the War of the Austrian Succession 1741-48. London, Edinburgh, 1906, p. 230 Moltke states he still has 450 rank and file of the cavalry that got to Ghent with him, this number includes the Hanoverian cavalry and possibly the Hussars.
  26. ^ Screen, J.O.E., The Action at Melle 9 July 1745, Society for Army Historical Research. Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research..., Volume 77, Issues 309-312, London, 1999, p.96, the Hanoverians and hussars each lost 100, or 200 of a total 600. Rich's Dragoons lost 240 over half the regiment, with the nearly 400 of the Royals, a total of 840 out of 1700.
  27. ^ Letter from Lt. Col. Abercromby to Gen. St. Clair, 10 July 1745. In his letter, Abercromby reports only 220 rank and file made it to Ghent out of 600, he has some 20 officer casualties and is later informed by a paroled doctor that some 200 rank and file of the 1st are prisoners as are a number of officers, additionally at least 500 others and 30 officers are prisoner.
  28. ^ Screen, J.O.E., The Action at Melle 9 July 1745, Society for Army Historical Research. Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research..., Volume 77, Issues 309-312, London, 1999, gives over 600 for Bligh's 20th and 800 for Handasydes' 16th
  29. ^ Letters Brigadier Bligh to HRH Cumberland 10, July 1745 from Aalst and Dendermond. Bligh gives the cavalry as 8 to 10 squadrons.
  30. ^ Letter Brigadier Bligh to HRH Cumberland 10, July 1745. Bligh reports his equipment losses and includes some casualties: 129 missing from the 20th, "Handysides 160 men and three officers killed and two wounded."
  31. ^ Letter Brigadier Bligh to HRH Cumberland 10, July 1745.
  32. ^ Skrine, Francis Henry. Fontenoy and Great Britain's Share in the War of the Austrian Succession 1741-48. London, Edinburgh, 1906, p. 229.
  33. ^ Chrystin, Jean-Baptiste. Les délices des Pays-Bas, Paris, MDCCLXXXVI, Vol.II., p.324
  34. ^ Skrine, Francis Henry. Fontenoy and Great Britain's Share in the War of the Austrian Succession 1741-48. London, Edinburgh, 1906, p. 231.
  35. ^ Skrine, Francis Henry. Fontenoy and Great Britain's Share in the War of the Austrian Succession 1741-48. London, Edinburgh, 1906, p. 231.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Digitalisierungsprojekt Wilhelmshöher Kriegskarten (WHK) Map of the Battle of Melle
  • Chrystin, Jean-Baptiste. Les délices des Pays-Bas, Paris, MDCCLXXXVI, Vol.II.
  • Pichat, H. La campagne du maréchal de. Saxe dans les Flandres; de Fontenoy. (mai 1745) à la prise de Bruxelles (février 1746) suivi d'une correspondence inédite de Maurice de Saxe pendant cette campagne, Paris 1909.
  • Browning, Reed.The War of the Austrian Succession, St. Martin's Press, New York, (1993): ISBN 0-312-12561-5
  • Chandler, David. The Art of Warfare in the Age of Marlborough. Spellmount Limited, (1990): ISBN 0-946771-42-1
  • Skrine, Francis Henry. Fontenoy and Great Britain's Share in the War of the Austrian Succession 1741-48. London, Edinburgh, 1906.
  • Fortescue, J. W. A History of the British Army, MacMillan, London, 1899, Vol. II.
  • Smollett, Tobias. History of England, from The Revolution to the Death of George the Second, London, 1848, Vol.II.
  • d' Espagnac, Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Damarzit de Sahuguet. Histoire de Maurice, comte de Saxe, duc de Courlande et de Semigalle, Paris, 1775, Volume 2, pp. 77 – 81.
  • Screen, J.O.E..The Action at Melle 9 July 1745, Society for Army Historical Research. Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research..., Volume 77, Issues 309-312, London, 1999.