Road to Crecy 1346 – Battle of Blanquetaque Ford

Jan 26th, 2009 | By | Category: AD 1346 Crecy

The First Somme Campaign – August 1346
(The Road to Crecy)

by Garry Harbottle-Johnson

Battle of Blanquetaque Ford August 1346

Illustration of Battle of Crecy August 1346 from Chronicles of Jean FroissartKnights are not Marines

Having lost time in the earlier battle for Oisemont, and with his army once more tiring, Edward took lodgings in Oisemont whilst waiting for his marshals to return from Abbeville with his mounted troops. He issued a decree that no-one should burn the town, nor plunder it, for all its rations were needed to feed the army.

Unknown to Edward on that day, Godemars du Fay, Bailiff of Vermandois had been warned of the movements of the English and had marched to hold the northern bank of the Blanquetaque ford. Assisting him were Jean de Cange, the Sire of Caumont and Jean de Picquigny, as well as mounted soldiers.  Additionally units from Abbeville, Montreuil, Saint-Riquier, and le Crotoy, were with him.  His total force was several thousand, and he was confident that he could hold such a major obstacle as the last ford on a major river.

Jean Froissart, who was a chronicler with the English army, wrote in his manuscript of 1361 that du Fay had 12,000 soldiers, but he is known to be liberal with his estimates of French strengths throughout the Crecy campaign.  Michael of Northburg, another eyewitness, wrote in Calais 10 days after the crossing, that 500 armed men and 3,000 commoners defended the ford.

Having arrived at the ford at 5:00am, Edward had had to wait until 6:00am for the water to fall low enough to allow him to cross.  At this time he told his marshals – Hugues, Spencer, Cobham and Northampton, to cross the river with soldiers and the best horsemen, and to clear the north shore.

On the northern bank, the mounted French knights watched the English advance, and charged into the water to fight whilst their own foot watched on. This impetuous charge lost them the advantage of high dry ground, and many were knocked from their horses and drowned.

The English managed to break through and upon reaching dry ground, began to form themselves for battle. The archers rushed over the river behind the horsemen and deployed quickly before firing into the lightly armed peasant masses.

In his chronicles, Froissart states. ‘As soon as the good countrymen that Godemars du Fay had brought with him to assist in guarding and defending the crossing sensed the arrows of these archers and that they would run them through, they all dispersed . . . turned on their heels and left the gentlemen to fight as best they could.’

Michael of Northburg states there were 2,000 casualties, and Lavissier, another contemporary recorder, corroborates this.

It would seem then, that the archers won this battle in the same way they did two days later at Crecy – through sheer volume and accuracy of firepower against an enemy unable to devise a spur of the moment tactic to cope with it. The feudal Frenchmen, having never encountered the longbow before, were staggered by the vast numbers of casualties caused by an enemy who was still so far away as to be out of crossbow range. They stood and watched clouds of arrows rising into the sky and then plunging into their ranks hitting them in the thighs and shoulders at steep angles. The peasantry and militia turned and ran leaving the wounded to the mercy of the pikemen, and the nobility to face the blades of their English counterparts.

As the English transports reached dry land, Godemars, seriously wounded and without infantry, withdrew to Saint Riquier knowing he could no longer hold the ford. His banner was found lying in a bush later that day.

As best as can be ascertained, the fight in the river lasted for perhaps an hour, then another half hour on the bank after the archers had deployed.  It therefore seems that from the English entering the water until the French withdrawal, at most two and a half hours elapsed. For failing to hold the ford, Godemars de Fay was sentenced to be hanged, without pardon or exile as alternatives. On his part, he wisely stayed safely out of the way at Saint Riquier.

Wargaming the Action

The armies involved at Blanquetaque ford are well chronicled and would appear to be as follows:

  • Edward III
    • 8,000 archers.
    • 3,000 men-at-arms.
    • 1,500 Welsh pike.

We know that up to 2,000 of the longbow were mounted at Abbeville and despite their losses there and from minor skirmishes by the pillaging raids – it would be reasonable to assume that around 1,600 would still be mountable. Of the 3,000 men-at-arms, approximately 1,000 were mounted, and there were a further 200-300 mounted nobility.

For this action to be wargamed successfully, it is necessary to seek a middle ground on the figures mentioned by Froissart and Northburg. I therefore suggest –

  • Godemars du Fay
    • 200 knights and esquires,
    • 1,000 men-at-arms.
    • 1,000 townspeople militia
    • 4,000 feudal levy.

Due to the large numbers involved, unless you are using 6mm scale, one figure per 50 men is essential in order to fight the battle in an enjoyable way and in a reasonable time.

English forces

  • Edward III & d’Harcourt + 32 medium cavalry longbow ‘B’ class (in 4 units)
  • Northampton + 4-6 ‘A’ class knights mounted
  • Hugues, Spencer + 20 mounted men at arms ‘C’ class
  • Cobham + 20 footmen at arms ‘C’ class
  • Warwick + 20 footmen at arms ‘C’ class
  • Prince of Wales + 16 x 10 figure units ‘C’ class med infantry with longbow
  • Baggage train – 100 loose & pack horses + 40 wagons / carts

French forces

  • Godemars du Fay & Sire of Caumont + 4 ‘A’ class mounted knights
  • Jean de Cange + 20 foot men at arms ‘B’ class
  • Jean de Picquigny + 20 town-peoples’ militia ‘B’ class
    • + 20 med infantry feudal crossbow ‘C’ class
    • + 3 x 20 feudal ‘D’ class + pole arms

Deployment

The French should deploy as an army line not closer than 300 paces to the ford. The English should be deployed in column along the southern track to the ford with Northampton. Spencer and Cobham in the Vanguard.

Warwick and one of d’Harcourts units, plus two units of foot longbow should be in the rearguard, with the baggage immediately ahead of them. English deployment advances with the falling tide, and they always count as tired troops.

We know, from the records, that the road to the ford could take five men abreast and that the ford itself could take twelve.  For wargaming on the table, I would suggest this width is taken as figures, not men, with half movement in the water.

On the French side, only knights may advance before at least three English units are fully out of the water.

Movement in the water unforms all units and causes double casualties to medium or heavier armoured troops (drowning). The river should be 150 paces wide (i.e. no unit can completely cross it in one turn). Ground between the high and low water levels, counts as marsh except for the width of the ford.

Notes on Tactics

The English archers using the new longbow could fire yard-long arrows at the rate of up to 15 per minute, and any who could not maintain 10 per minute were not allowed in the army. None of those permitted into it would miss at 100 yards and most could not only reach, but would also hit at 300 yards.

The tactics of the longbow did not rely on the penetration of armour; so much as it did on the density of the cloud of arrows, many of which would find chinks in the armour of men and horses. Despite this, at all ranges, the arrows would pierce chain and lesser armour.

In the lulls between volleys, whilst the archers were replenishing their arrow stocks, the pikemen would rush forward and systematically pierce all wounded lying on the field, ensuring that they would not return to fight another day. This was their role – not the frontal charges associated with the parliamentarian civil war in England centuries later. The pikemen would in fact rarely enter into direct combat, that honour was reserved for the gentlemen wearing the plated armour, and their men-at-arms.

Earlier articles in this series

Later articles in this series

  • Road to Crecy 1346 – Bibliography, Conclusions, and Hindsight (onsite 2 Feb 2009)
 

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