Sunday, August 23, 2015

"Marlborough's War Machine 1702-1711" - a review

....spotted this book while doing some research online following the last "War of the Spanish Succession" game [clicky] that DG and I played, a few of the outcomes from the game had forced me to go back to the books to reinforce my understanding on the basic tenets of what warfare would have been like in the period - wargamers tend to lump all of the period from Marlborough to almost the Crimea into a generic tag of "black powder" but the realities are that the wars during that period did differ, and sometimes quite significantly...

My standard "go to" books for the period are the superb double set by Chandler("Marlborough as Military Commander" [clicky] and "The Art of Warfare in the Age of Marlborough" [clicky]) and it's noticeable (in a good way) that Falkner also thought the same..

In many ways in fact this book is covering the same ground as Chandler's "Art of Warfare" book, the significant difference is that Falkner's book covers the other nations in a little more detail - Chandler's was more focussed on the English/British and French..

So is it worth buying?? I would say a qualified "yes", but I'm not sure that there's very much extra material covered than you would have already got by buying the two Chandler books..

The book is organised along the usual lines..  chapters on the background to the war, how the Allies assembled their army, potted histories of the commanders on both sides, then he goes through each of the major constituents of the army, horse, foot, artillery, logistics, and engineers, before finishing off with a summary of Marlborough's legacy..

My specific takeaway's from the book (apart from stuff that I already knew and the book reinforced) were:
  • a better understanding of the difference between horse and dragoons - latter tended to be on smaller horses, were cheaper, and did fight on foot on occasion, but could fight as normal horse if required.. I also hadn't realised they had bayonets..
  • Cavalry were used primarily for action against other cavalry, or for breakthrough, or for scouting, or against broken troops - they were increasingly ineffective against infantry frontally as a result of advances in musketry, and the socket bayonet..
  • a better understanding of the number of ranks difference for infantry between the two opposing sides (the Allies tended to have fewer ranks than the French)
  • ammunition weight (British Dutch musket ball was heavier than the French) which together with Allied (just British/Dutch??) knowledge of platoon firing [clicky] (a Swedish invention I seem to remember reading) gave such an advantage ..  French fired by rank [clicky], their adoption of platoon firing slower from about 1704 onwards
  • I wasn't (fully) aware of how accepted it was that infantry in the period could form square if required - a complex manoeuvre!
  • the book reinforced some thoughts I had about the relative static'ness of artillery at the time - it could be moved on the battlefield, and sometimes was, but rarely...  heavy artillery was for sieges, not battlefields (Ramillies aside..)
What I had hoped for, and didn't get, what was a little more detail on how infantry/cavalry moved on the battlefield - what they could do..  eg. wheeling/oblique movement etc - if anyone has any sources please feel free to comment. I think I shall be re-reading my Chandler at some point, and I have also picked up my copy of Lynn's "Giant of the Grand Siecle The French Army, 1610-1715" [clicky] for the French point of view...

In terms of practicalities, I intend to re-visit the WSS Rules and make some modifications in the area of artillery movement, cavalry melee vs infantry, and some initial thoughts on the square and how to convey it.... 

Steve the Wargamer rates this one as 8 out of 10 - good, but I think Chandler shades it...


  1. Great review, I have both the Chandler books and was unsure whether to pick this one up

    1. Neil - if you are a "completist" then 'yes' (I have those tendencies), there is a little more detail on the other allies (particularly that of the future King George), but less on the French... Falkner is an easy read though... so on overall balance, also 'yes'.... :o)

  2. Like others I was undecided about this book. Do I need another generalisation of the period on my shelf? From your review it would seem to be "no".
    From the points you raised there appears to be nothing new in the piece. the discussions we've been having at the Grimsby club regarding our rules would seem to follow the same questions that you noted in your review. Dragoons were at a disadvantage against horse (something we reflect in our rules) but there were an awful lot of them so they must have had a purpose and being used as mounted infantry balances that. Most of the accounts of the battles only refer to horse fighting other horse and against infantry once the foot have broken. the Grimsby gamers have been having a long debate about ranks and frontages - something that's been on my blog a number of times. Again this is largely down to the fewer ranks in the Allied armies.
    Having said all that I would be interested to know what sources he's used to make the assessment about squares being formed by the foot. I've not read accounts where this happened and I thought that such complex manoeuvres were only made possible by the introduction of cadence marching which came later in the eighteenth century.
    A good review and thank you for helping to make my mind up.

    1. Paul - yes - I remember reading your posts about numbers of ranks... the implication I get is that the fewer ranks in Allied infantry units was driven by the platoon firing innovation... I will look up the references for the mentions about "square".. don't get me wrong, I don't think it was common, but he mentions the attempt by Rowe's Regiment to form square at Blenheim (which they failed), but he also gives an original source describing how it was done... again, I get the impression it was only required should the infantry "lose" their flanks - frontally they could look after themselves...

    2. Found it...

  3. I have no real interest in the Marlburian period. But you've just reminded me how much I enjoyed Chandler on the subject. I could read that man write about anything.