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Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

Some years back we refought the Battles of the Boyne and Aughrim both of which the Jacobite players won.

It seemed like a good idea to imagine a follow-up campaign in England as James Stuart attempted to regain his throne from William of Orange. An initial battle saw the Jacobites again victorious but William still had substantial forces. Last week the two claimants to the English throne met again on the wargames table across the river Stour near Ipswich.

I played King William III. The Jacobites were deployed on rising ground south of the Stour between the villages of Dalethorpe and Dedham. Surveying the battlefield it seemed that the two villages and their respective bridges were well defended by the enemy.

The centre, however, was relatively empty and my scouts informed me that the Stour would be low at this time of year and should not be a significant barrier. My cunning plan, therefore, was to feint right and left to pin the enemy on the wings and then push through in the centre with my best troops.

Not entirely sure how much of a barrier the Stour would be I sent forward dismounted dragoons supported with horse to probe a way across the river and to drive back the enemy dragoons holding it. I kept the Dutch and English Guards back, ready to exploit an opening.

The opening moves went according to plan. The Williamite dragoons established a crossing and were quickly follow up by horse. Meanwhile columns of Huguenots crossed the river to cut off the Jacobite French allies.

In order to prevent the enemy switching reinforcements from the flanks to the centre, the Williamite English brigade on the left pushed forward as if to attack, taking heavy casualties from French artillery and musketry.

The Royal Fusiliers were decimated by the French fire.

However Hammer’s Regiment pressed on, crossing the river and driving off the Jacobite gunners.

On the Williamite right, Sir John Churchill’s brigade stormed across the bridge to drive off the Jacobite defenders in front of the village of Dedham.

The Suffolk militia also surged forward on the Williamite right driving back the London Trained Band even through they were supported by the Jacobite Guards. No doubt the scythes the stout Suffolk yeomen struck terror into the ranks of the soft Londoners.

Everything was going to plan. The Jacobite wings were pinned and their centre wide open with a good bridgehead established. It was time to send in the Guards to break the Jacobites apart.

It was in the bag. A Williamite victory was as good as certain. Then disaster struck! Against all the odds a valiant charge by the Jacobite Kentish Gentlemen Volunteers halted the Dutch Guards in their tracks (rolling three sixes on three dice). The Williamite horse were also drive back by the James’ cavalry, again against the odds. The anticipated breakthrough in the centre ground to a halt and the Williamite wings were collapsing. In a couple of nail-biting turns I had managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Unable to defeat James Stuart we assumed that William would now take his Dutch troops to the Continent on the further assumption that Louis XIV of France would be taking advantage of his defeats in Britain to attack the Netherlands. So, despite his terrible wargames track record we may not have seen the last of William of Orange.

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