The Battle of Coedgenau (Welsh v. Anglo-Normans)

22 July, 2009

On Sunday afternoon I got a chance to try out the Welsh. Owain ap Urien (actually the name of one of Arthur’s companions!) resisted the incursions of some Anglo-Normans, led by Ranulf the Dastard (doubtless the descendent of some unacknowledged offspring of William the Bastard!)—and so you see my partisan loyalties in this encounter.

Owain was the lord of somewhere in the South West in the early 12th century; he’d spent some time in Ireland, as happened quite often to Welsh princes, and he brought back some Dublin Ostmen mercenaries. Otherwise his force was predominantly archers, whether skirmishers or massed (I followed the DBM list which allows these to be either Bw or Ps; as Ian Heath (AFE, p. 51) says there’s actually no evidence massed archers were ever fielded, it seems reasonable to use a mixture.

Ranulf, by contrast, was an oppressive scoundrel that had attracted a band of lawless freebooters to his services (in contrast, of course, to Owain’s upstanding Vikings!). He was seeking to add Owain’s lands to his holdings (he was the aggressor).

Initial Deployments from Ranulf's perspective

Initial Deployments from Ranulf's perspective

The armies met in a wooded area between two hills (Coedgenau). Ranulf got to deploy in the area he hoped would be the least bad for him. It would, however, require him to deploy in column and try to deploy into line in the middle of the field. The Welsh drew up first. They massed their archers on their right flank, facing the open ground. They guarded the left flank with some skirmishers on the steep hill, put their warbands in the forest and the Ostmen in column in the gap between the hill and wood. Owain himself was in reserve behind the archers.

Ranulf deployed in columns, his spear on the left, muntatores in the centre and knights on the left. His skirmishers covered each flank. In hindsight the knights would have been better to have exchanged positions with the spear.

Situation at the end of the 1st turn

Situation at the end of the 1st turn

(1) Ranulf made an energetic start (6 PIPs), being able to send his skirmishers forward on the right in attempt to gain time and room to deploy behind them. Owain’s response (2 PIPs) was more languid, advancing his archers and the Ostmen.

Situation at the end of the 2nd turn

Situation at the end of the 2nd turn

(2) Ranulf (4 PIPs) belatedly realizes that facing all those archers with his knights is a chancy proposition and attempts to move them out of the way. Owain (4 PIPs) attempts to chase off the annoying skirmishers with his own supported by the Ostmen. This opening engagement sets the tone for the battle. Owain’s troops are half-hearted and have to recoil (2+2 v. 1+5).

Situation at the end of the 3rd turn

Situation at the end of the 3rd turn

(3) Ranulf (3 PIPs) decides to throw the muntatores in to support the skirmishers, while he and the spearmen continue to advance. The muntatores are supported by the skirmishers, but due to some very desultory fighting only force a recoil of the Ostmen (3+1 v. 2+1!). Owain (4 PIPs) rearranges his Ostmen, giving them rear support from the skirmishers, wheels and advances his archers and extends his skirmishers to give overlap support. His archers fire on the muntatores with disappointing results (4+1 v. 3+3).

Situation at the end of the 4th turn

Situation at the end of the 4th turn

(4) Ranulf has the PIPs (4) to get his spearmen across to the archers using the road. The manouvre does not leave him in an ideal situation, however; his knights are separated and the spearmen are in column close to the enemy. Owain (5 PIPs) replies by advancing his warband to give overlap support to the Ostmen who attack the muntatores and skirmishers. Shooting by the only element of archers in range to the spearmen is ineffectual. Poor dice dog the attack. The Ostmen recoil (4+2 v. 2+5) and the skirmishers put up a good fight before retiring behind Ranulf and his retinue (4+6 v. 2+5).

Situation at the end of the 5th turn

Situation at the end of the 5th turn

(5) Ranulf (2 PIPs), feeling short of ideas, retires his muntatores to align with himself and advances his spear towards the archers, whose shooting forces them to recoil (2+5 v. 1+4). Owain (4 PIPs) sees the chance to hit the spear from the side with his warbands and retires some archers to give them room, while also realigning his Ostmen. Now would have been the time for good dice to have decimated the Marcher spearmen, but they continued their lukewarm form: the archers did nothing (2+3 v. 2+4); a recoil would have destroyed the back rank. The spearmen also hold back the warband (4+4 v. 4+4).

Situation at the end of the 6th turn

Situation at the end of the 6th turn

(6) Ranulf (4 PIPs) is unfazed and decides to charge the Ostmen, supported by his skirmishers. He also advances the front of the column of spear and gives them some skirmisher support. Shooting forces the skirmishers to retire, while the warband is forced to retire (4+5 v. 4+3). Ranulf slaughters the Ostmen (4+5 v. 3+2), taking with them their skirmisher support. The muntatores face doughtier axemen, but nevertheless push them back (3+6 v. 2+5). Owain (1 PIP) loses his nerve and can only order the warband back into the fray. They finally gain a little traction and eliminate their opponents (4+5 v. 4+4). The archers had forced the spearmen to recoil (2+4 v. 2+2).

Situation at the end of the Ranulf's 7th turn

Situation at the end of the Ranulf's 7th turn

(7) Ranulf (5 PIPs) is spurred on by his success and Owain’s lack of response. He rounds on the remaining Ostmen, sends the spearmen against the archers, and brings some knights up to support the spear. The Ostmen are utterly massacred (3+6 v. 2+1), the spearmen push back the warband (4+3 v. 3+1) and there is a standoff with the archers, though the skirmishers recoil (3+3 v. 2+4 and 2+2 v. 2+3). Owain regains his composure (5 PIPs) and in a desperate attempt to break the Marcher force sends his skirmishers on the left flank out to attack their counterparts, while he attempts to move around to the right flank (that wood was a real pain).

Situation at the end of the Owain's 7th turn

Situation at the end of the Owain's 7th turn

His archers shoot on the muntatores, who shrug it off (4+4 v. 3+6) Then the skirmishers have more poor dice. At this point, infuriated by the consistently mediocre dice, I intervene, change dice (red for green!) and reroll. This makes a huge difference. The skirmishers destroy their opponents in a tough fight (2+6 v. 1+5). The warband are on fire (3+6 v. 4+1); only the archers fail to kill, being pushed back (2+4 v. 2+5).

(8) Ranulf (3 PIPs) despite the losses of the last turn can see the Welsh are at breaking point. The warbands had advanced into range of his knights, ugh! And he turns on those skirmishers who’d come out into the open. His casual assurance of victory is almost his undoing. In fact, I was so sure it was all over bar the shouting that I didn’t notice that if Ranulf was forced to recoil he’d meet the muntatores and be destroyed. In fact I forgot to do the shooting all together, and this very outcome happened. Embarrassed I use those dice for the archers shooting who should have shot at the muntatores (4+4 v. 3+1). The next bit of shooting was equally effective, with the archers who recoiled able to shoot at the spear with support on both sides (2+6 v. 2+2). Remarkably, Owain is in with a chance. The skirmishers can’t keep up the good luck, being destroyed by Ranulf (4+4 v. 2+1); the warbands, however, manage to hang on against the odds (3+2 v. 2+4). The Norman knights, seeing their spear in disarray retire from the field and Owain claims victory in a bloody encounter in which he loses both his Ostmen and two of his skirmishers while destroying three quarters of Ranulf’s spear, his muntatores and some of his skirmishers.

A veil was drawn over the scene of Ranulf’s defeat; no photo was taken of the final position. Actually, it didn’t play out as tidily as I’ve described it. I thought the archers couldn’t shoot at the spear, as the spear were ‘in a position to provide overlap support’ as the WADBAG Guide puts it. Only in the morning after writing a description of Owain’s defeat, did I check the rules and realize they should have fired. I shuffled all the dice results on—the skirmishers had resisted Ranulf; now their dice saw the spear destroyed. The warband had fallen to the knights, now their result saw the skirmishers destroyed, and then I rolled for the warband and the dice were still with the Welsh the next morning. You could say it’s a case of a battle were the historical record is ambiguous and both sides claimed victory. I show my partisan spirit in going with the Welsh!

  • Review

Ranulf probably chose the right side to deploy from, but he botched his set-up, and would have been lucky to win when his spear were at such a disadvantage and he was separated from the bulk of his knights. Yet he would have, had I not changed that dice! The transformation was incredible!

Owain decision to mass his archers had two justifications; firstly they made the most open piece of terrain unattractive to Ranulf’s mounted troops, and then they would be most deadly with their supported fire.

The downside was that Ranulf could have avoided them by deploying on the other flank, and properly deployed his spear would have the advantage over them. Furthermore, although terrain was a problem for Ranulf’s horse on his right flank, any foot deployed in the open were vulnerable, as the Ostmen discovered.

Had Ranulf deployed sensibly, he could have used his knights to pin the right flank in bad terrain, while the spear, supported by skirmishers and muntatores dealt to the archers.

An alternative deployment for Owain would have been to split the archers, perhaps exchanging two for the Ostmen and their support. The Ostmen were vulnerable to knights wherever they deployed, but at least they’d have archer support.

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2 Responses to “The Battle of Coedgenau (Welsh v. Anglo-Normans)”

  1. hrldplmr Says:

    A challenging game thanks to all that terrain on the baselines. The markers were a nice idea – very helpful for us readers.

  2. Mark Says:

    Thanks, I’ll print out some colour ones for the next battle. I need to shoot the photos from quite a high angle for them to be seen, though. I don’t remember where I downloaded them from, perhaps from here somewhere:

    http://mrfarrow2udba.blogspot.com/


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