vrijdag 18 juni 2010

Ekeren ~ Knoop





Ich sah des Ruhmes heil'ge Kränze
Auf der gemeinen Stirn entweiht.

(Friedrich Schiller, Die Ideale)

De grootste Nederlander. 'Der grösste Feldherr aller Zeiten'. The greatest General.

Het zijn woorden, maar lege woorden die meer zeggen over degene die het zegt, dan over degene die het betreft. Met dergelijke veralgemeniseringen moet je sowieso oppassen.

Laten we de slag bij Ekeren op 30 juni 1703 eens als voorbeeld nemen. De Nederlandse wiki is werkelijk te droevig voor woorden, dus we schakelen even over naar de Engelse:

The Battle of Ekeren, June 30, 1703 was a battle of the War of the Spanish Succession. The French surrounded a Dutch force, which barely avoided complete destruction. This battle ended all hopes for a decisive allied victory in the Spanish Netherlands in 1703.

After taking Bonn on May 15, Marlborough now wanted to conquer Ostend, Antwerp, or force the French to an open battle. He ordered the Dutch General Coehoorn to march to Ostend and lay siege to it. Dutch general Van Sparre would march south west of Antwerp, Dutch General Obdam would march south from Bergen op Zoom, and Marlborough himself would march on Lier.

As in the year before, the United Provinces were not keen to engage the French in an open battle, nor to open the ports of Antwerp and Ostend to English commerce and thus to their competition with the Dutch. Therefore, Coehoorn did not besiege Ostend, but plundered the countryside between Ostend and Antwerp.

Obdam marched on June 28 from Bergen op Zoom to Antwerp, arriving the next day at Ekeren, seven kilometres from Antwerp.

Villeroi was not misled by Marlborough's diversionary manoeuver, and sent all his troops from Diest to Antwerp to protect it. Marlborough, hearing of this, tried to warn Obdam and ordered a withdrawal to Lillo, but Obdam reacted too slowly.

Early in the morning of June 30, French dragoons marched from Merksem and Ekeren in the direction of Kapellen to cut off the escape route near Hoevenen for the Dutch to return to Breda and Bergen-op-Zoom. The Marquis of Bedmar and his Spanish troops were positioned near Wilmarsdonk. This ensured that the Dutch forces were surrounded on all sides.

Soon Dutch reconnaissance discovered the French dragoons and Obdam immediately sent his cavalry to Hoevenen, but it was too late, the village was packed with French troops. An attempt to conquer neighboring Muisbroek also failed. Then the French attacked, and Obdam tried to take Oorderen, an attack which was briefly successful before the French retook the village.

The fighting went on for the entire day. By eight o'clock there was no more sign of Obdam, and Slangenburg decided to attempt an attack on Oorderen, this time by a surprise bayonet charge led by Friesheim. Friesheim sent his men wading through the water, appearing where the French had not expected them to. This action enabled the remaining Dutch troops to escape in the darkness towards the Netherlands.

The battle was a victory for the French, but Boufflers wasn't congratulated at all, he was blamed for letting the chance of a total victory slip through his fingers.

Obdam survived and escaped south in the afternoon with thirty horsemen, disguising themselves as Frenchmen. When he arrived in the Netherlands, he wrote a letter admitting the total destruction of his army. His behaviour was not forgiven by the Dutch military, and his military career was destroyed.

Slangenburg, for his part, was acclaimed as a Dutch hero. He was also furious at Marlborough for being outmanoeuvered by the French and not coming to their aid.

The Dutch lost 1,717 killed, 1,003 wounded, and 694 who were prisoners of war or were missing.
The French and Spaniards lost 1,750 men.



Het artikel vermeldt geen enkele relevante bron, maar ik denk dat dit artikel wel redelijk de stand van zaken weergeeft binnen de Engelstalige geschiedschrijving. Op de Engelse wiki pagina over de Spaanse Successieoorlog komt 1703 niet eens voor (het artikel zelf is zelfs gedegradeerd ofzo), maar de Nederlandse wiki meldt:

Voor de rest van 1703 had de hertog van Marlborough een groots plan ontworpen ('grand design') waarbij na verschillende schijnaanvallen Antwerpen veroverd zou moeten worden. De matige uitvoering van dit plan leidde tot de slag bij Ekeren tussen een Staats en een Bourbons leger dat voornamelijk uit Zuid-Nederlandse troepen bestond. Hoewel de Fransen deze slag tactisch beter aanpakten, leidde de grotere vuurkracht en discipline van de Nederlandse troepen ertoe dat deze onbeslist eindigde.

Ekeren is een dorpje wat ten noorden ligt van Antwerpen, bij de oostzijde van de rivier de Schelde. In 1703 vond er een veldslag plaats tussen Staatse troepen onder Obdam en de Fransen onder Boufflers en Bedmar.

Diverse schrijvers hebben over de slag geschreven en we beginnen vandaag met Knoop, in zijn artikel Eekeren (1703), verschenen in zijn Verzamelde Geschriften deel 1. Ekeren wordt ook wel Eekeren of Eckeren genoemd.

Knoop heeft op zijn zachtst gezegd, geen hoge pet op van Marlborough die hij ondermeer 'laag', 'verachtelijk', 'eerzuchtig', 'traag' en 'flauw' noemt. Het succes van Marlborough schrijft hij toe aan de uitstekende kwaliteit van zijn Nederlandse troepen en zijn kundige onderbevelhebbers.

In 1702 werden door de vijanden de stellingen betrokken, Keizersweert werd ingenomen door de geallieerden en het lukte de Nijmeegse Schutterij een aanval van de Fransen af te slaan. Marlborough trok met het gecombineerde leger naar het Zuiden en de Fransen betrokken stelling achter hun forten in Brabant.

Marlborough's rol als opperbevelhebber is overigens onduidelijk. Uit deze website van de Overijsselse archieven:

In 1701 was de Spaanse Successieoorlog uitgebroken, die zich voorlopig nog ver van onze landsgrenzen afspeelde. Maar in 1702 kwam de oorlog naderbij. Juist toen overleed tamelijk onverwacht de koning-stadhouder Willem III, waardoor de functie van Kapitein-Generaal, de als vanzelfsprekend aangewezen opperbevelhebber, kwam open te vallen.
Sedert de zomer van 1702 was als opperbevelhebber van de Engelse troepen benoemd John Churchill, eerste hertog van Marlborough; als keizerlijk veldheer trad prins Eugenius van Savoye op. In hoeverre Marlborough tevens opperbevelhebber van de Nederlandse troepen was, is de vraag. Het wekt de indruk, dat hij als zodanig optrad, wanneer de Engelse en de Nederlandse troepen gezamenlijk in actie kwamen, maar dat overigens de door de Staten-Generaal aangestelde veldmaarschalken of generaals slechts tegenover hem verantwoordelijk waren. Bij het leger werden bovendien Gedeputeerden te Velde aangewezen van wie de bevelhebbers in eerste instantie namens de Staten-Generaal orders konden ontvangen. De graaf van Athlone, die als bevelhebber van het Nederlandse contingent was benoemd, kwam voor het ontvangen dezer orders in de eerste plaats in aanmerking, maar ook van Marlborough werd verwacht, dat hij nauw contact met de Nederlandse Gedeputeerden te Velde zou onderhouden.


De situatie in 1703 zag er niet slecht uit voor de Verbondenen. Coehoorn (en niet Marlborough) veroverde Bonn in mei en Marlborough verenigde de troepen in de maanden mei en juni. Hoe nu verder. Volgens Knoop smeedde Marlborough het volgende plan: Coehoorn en Sparre (15.000 man) zouden vanuit het gefortificeerde Zeeuws-Vlaanderen aanvallen en Obdam (10.000 man) zou een aanval vanuit Brabant op Antwerpen ondernemen. Marlborough zelf zou proberen bij Diest de linies te doorbreken met zo'n 50.000 man.

Op 27 juni is het dan zo ver: Coehoorn rukt op vanuit Hulst en Obdam start zijn opmars. Marlborough doet echter helemaal niets. op de een of andere manier krijgen de Fransen hier wind van en zij rukken op vanuit Merxem, gaan de Brasschaatse heide op en bedreigen via Capelle de rug van Obdam. Obdam heeft weliswaar posten bij zijn kamp maar voert geen verkenningen uit.

Toch krijgt Obdam door dat de Fransen hem op de huid zitten en hij besluit terug te trekken op fort Lillo. Dit kost echter tijd en langzamerhand beginnen de Fransen Obdam in te sluiten en pogingen om uit te breken of te dekken mislukken. Tot overmaat van ramp kwamen er nog Spaanse troepen om de Fransen te versterken. De Staatsen verschansen zich rond Ekeren en Obdam, die tot die tijd een redelijke onberispelijke staat van dienst had gaat er vandoor en vlucht naar Breda.

Slangenburg nam het commando over en een fel gevecht begint: het lukt de ruiterij de Franse ruiterij en hun infanterie terug te slaan, maar de omsingeling blijft. Slangenburg besluit uit te breken via een dubbele aanval op Orderen. Deze aanval lukt: eerder veroverd geschut wordt 'hernomen' en men marcheert ongehinderd naar Lillo. Knoop schat dat beide partijen 'een paar duizend man verloren' . Knoop schat dat de Fransen tweemaal zo sterk waren als de Staatsen en hij concludeert dat Ekeren op zijn minst een ' glorievol wapenfeit' is.

Knoop suggereert dat door de wrok van Marlborough Slangenburg de dienst verliet, hij hoopt met zijn artikel de onrechtvaardigheid te herstellen en 'eere te geven aan wie eren toekomt'.

Alle betrokkenen hebben zich na de slag overigens in polemieken over elkaar uitgelaten, deze pamfletten zijn in de KB te vinden.

~~

In 1855 the great dutch military historian Willem Jan Knoop, wrote an article on the battle of Ekeren, a small village to the North of Antwerp, on the east side of the river Scheldt. Several dutch authors have written about this short battle, amongst them van Gelderen and Wijn, in his part of the series 'Het Staatsche Leger'.

The dutch wiki on the battle is crap. No, not crap, it's terrible crap. The English wiki has some more facts, but it depends on the author whether or not you believe in it. Chandler calls Marlborough ' The greatest British general' and let's examine this claim using the battle of Ekeren. I must point out that claims like 'the greatest ... of all times' give me the association and impression of a bad advertising campaign, selling an inferior product. (Like Keitel calling Adolf Hitler Grofaz, or 'greatest warlord of all times').

Knoop detests Marlborough: I will spare you his pejoratives, but 'low' is one of the nicest words he uses, and maybe this can colour is view on the man. A summary of Knoop's article, using some of the wiki article:

According to Knoop Marlboroufh devised a plan to attack the French from three sides: Coehoorn from fortified Zeeland (15.000 men), Obdam from Brabant and Marlborough with 50.000 men on Diest.
Obdam marched on June 28 from Bergen op Zoom to Antwerp, arriving the next day at Ekeren, seven kilometres from Antwerp.

Villeroi was not misled by Marlborough's diversionary manoeuver, and sent all his troops from Diest to Antwerp to protect it.

Early in the morning of June 30, French dragoons marched from Merksem and Ekeren in the direction of Kapellen to cut off the escape route near Hoevenen for the Dutch to return to Breda and Bergen-op-Zoom. The Marquis of Bedmar and his Spanish troops were positioned near Wilmarsdonk. This ensured that the Dutch forces were surrounded on all sides.

Soon Dutch reconnaissance discovered the French dragoons and Obdam immediately sent his cavalry to Hoevenen, but it was too late, the village was packed with French troops. An attempt to conquer neighboring Muisbroek also failed. Then the French attacked, and Obdam tried to take Oorderen, an attack which was briefly successful before the French retook the village.

The fighting went on for the entire day. By eight o'clock there was no more sign of Obdam, and Slangenburg decided to attempt an attack on Oorderen, this time by a surprise bayonet charge led by Friesheim. Friesheim sent his men wading through the water, appearing where the French had not expected them to. This action enabled the remaining Dutch troops to escape in the darkness towards the Netherlands.

Knoop estimates that both sides suffered several thousand men losses, but he estimates the French/Spanish side at double the States' troops.

I have left out several parts of the wiki, like Marlborough besieging Bonn, which Coehoorn did, and the role of Marlborough as a supreme commander, which he was NOT, given the complex political state of the Dutch Republic. The role of the deputies in the field and the reluctant attitude of the Dutch is an outright lie. Also I haven't found any proof that Obdam was warned by Marlborough about the arrival of the French troops.

Obdam, the commander in the field fled indeed, but not disguised as a frenchman but without Dutch markings. Also no remarks on the excellent behaviour of the dutch troops. Slangenburg left dutch service later because he couldn't stand Marlborough anymore.

After the battle the dutch participants engaged in a furious pamphlet debate, some of them are in the Royal Library, and are a good read.

Finally, if the plan was devised by Marlborough, Ekeren is HIS fault indeed. The idea to split forces on such a short front, where the enemy outguessed him, is an inexcusable error indeed.

3 opmerkingen:

  1. Roger Cleverley21 juni 2010 12:36

    A little unfair I feel. English historians have always been much too fast to blame Dutch generals for being over-cautious (although at battles such as the abortive attack on Boufflers near Eindhoven that probably was the case), but then in the words of Corelli Barnett "they were being asked to confide the army of the republic, the very safety of the state, to Marlborough's military judgement".

    I feel you must remember that amongst other things, Villeroi was a very competent commander himself. He commanded a force that whilst not unilingual, was far less nationally diverse than that of the allies. Communication errors, as may have happened in the communication with Opdam, did happen.

    And whilst Marlborough was not supreme commander of the allied forces, the simple fact is that he had no rival as acting supreme commander (except perhaps someone like Prince Eugene, in a different theatre). Marlborough was chosen by William of Orange as the man to lead the war effort after his death, and the States General issued an order to the Dutch armies asking that they accept Marlborough's seniority in all operations where the Dutch and the English fought together. The fact that Marlborough usually tried to persuade rather than coerce his Dutch colleagues (need I remind you of Marlborough's good working relationship with Overkirk, for instance) despite what appears to be a personal dislike from men such as Slangeren is really just greater credit to Marlborough's ability as a general and a diplomat.

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  2. Thank you mr Cleverley for your response.

    As the title of my post suggest, I would like to point out that the conclusion in this post is in fact gen Knoop's conclusion, I will post two others in the very near future, being the one of de Gelder (Militaire Spectator) and the one of Wijn (Het Staatse Leger). Maybe I will throw in the article of Bottema in Mars et Histora as well.

    I think Knoop is a bit too harsh on Marlborough, but he really is a good historian, his biggest drawback is his lack of posting notes and sources. I can already say, de Gelder has a more balanced view (he gives a good psychological progile of the commanders involved) but he blames Marlborough as well for dividing his forces and risking that Obdam would get trapped.

    Knoop disagrees with you on Villeroi, he thinks of him as an inferior commander, but I think he did rather good in this case.

    Indeed, Marlborough could get along good with people, but didn't get along with a lot of others as well, like Coehoorn or Slangenberg who quitted military service because of him. He also could get along with the dreaded 'Deputees on the Field', van Nimwegen has proven that extensivly.

    The Dutch Republics position regarding the war is quite reasonable: they were the paymasters, they supplied the best troops and the entire logistics system and all costs a rehearsal of 1672, a war on own ground, had to be prevented. The only thing Marlborough could offer initially indeed was the patronage of William III, and that stopped after his death.

    I also believe that most commanders could speak or write French, but I will look into the Obdam order again.

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  3. Roger Cleverley2 juli 2010 20:48

    Yeah, running away with myself a bit there... It is interesting to see how history is written differently by historians in different countries. The unfair treatment that the Netherlands gets for Waterloo from British so-called historians is very sad.

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