The Battle of Navenby (Normans v. Anglo-Norse)

10 August, 2009

Last Sunday I tried a battle between the Anglo-Norse and the Normans. I wanted to link it into the King Magnus’ War campaign, so I decided on a battle between Harald Hardrada, leading an Anglo-Danish army, and William the Bastard (not quite the Conqueror in this world!). As the justification for 3Cv as part of the Norman list seems marginal I opted for 7 3Kn and 1 2LH (scouts; I would have gone for 8 3Kn, but I don’t have enough painted yet). The foot were 2 4Sp and 2 2Ps. Harald had obviously got the northern fyrd behind him, as he fielded a regular Anglo-Danish army (3 x 4Bd, 8 x 4Sp and 1 x 2Ps). I used my Feudal Castings Vikings for Harald and his huscarls (and the skirmishers) and my Tabletop Anglo-Danes for the fyrd.

I was somewhat nervous about the encounter; I’ve always felt that facing knights with spear is a chancy proposition, but I’d read up on some of the posts on the Strategy and Tactics section of the Fanaticus Forum, and felt I should be more optimistic about the chances of the spearmen. However, as I wanted this to be a battle that showed how Harald held onto the north I really needed him to make a good showing (the back-up plan was to change the names of the contestants if he got thrashed!).

Harald was the defender (quite decisively 1+1 v 6+3!). He chose a location with a series of low hills and a road running along one side (and I’ve just realized that’s one too many hills!). The hope was that the road might be to his rear and allow rapid redeployment from one flank to the next. Unfortunately, William got the end he wanted, the side with most of the hills and the road running towards Harald.

Harald’s deployment was probably sheer madness. He hoped to advance in column down the road and then turn and face the flank, advancing onto the hill. This was unlikely to work—he moved second, he moved slowly, and he would run into the Normans before he could put this into effect. He also decided to garrison the camp with an element of fyrd, in case anything got behind his line.

William decided to have his spear at the front of a column on the road to give them the best chance of getting into combat—they otherwise have a habit of getting left behind. The rest of his mounted troops deployed in a line along the hill.

Initial deployment after Harald moved two of his elements

Initial deployment after Harald moved two of his elements

Harald was clearly greatly excited by the sight of those spear. He advanced himself to the front of the column and gave the order to charge. His luck was with him; for the first four turns William was in a dither (PIPs: 1, 1, 2 and 1!). By contrast Harald was all action (PIPs: 4, 6, 1 and 6).

Turn 3: Harald attacks William's troops on the road

Turn 3: Harald attacks William's troops on the road

On the third turn William had only been able to deploy a line of two spear and a knight along the road and Harald met this with himself flanked by two spear and supported to the rear by skirmishers. He continued his form with the dice, personally cutting the Norman spear to shreds (6+6 v 4+1). On his right flank the opposite almost happened, but for his overlap support (4+1 v 3+6). On the left flank the spear held firm (5+2 v 2+4).

William continued to dither, while Harald, distracted, perhaps, by the bloodbath he’d created, could only order his right flank to advance. Despite his overlap support, the battle was indecisive (4+5 v 3+6).

Turn 5: William's attack on Harald causes no losses

Turn 5: William's attack on Harald causes no losses

This action finally seemed to get a response from William, who began to advance and sent more knights into the fight on the road. Harald’s spear on the right were overlapped and recoiled. However, in a savage fight Harald forced back the knights opposite him (4+6 v 3+5). The knights on the left flank were now overlapped and fought to a stalemate (2+5 v 5+2).

Harald kept his head and decided to retire. Aided by more fantastic PIPs (6, then 1 to William, and then 4) he was able to rebuild his battle line (I’m not sure if the huscarls were eligible for the road movement when they only had part of their rear on it, but that movement was essential for the success of the whole redeployment).

Turn 6: Harald redeploys while sending some fyrd against the Norman scouts

Turn 6: Harald redeploys while sending some fyrd against the Norman scouts

Harald ordered his fyrd to contest the hill with the mounted scouting (not without risk as the scouts were uphill and get a QK!). He almost destroyed the scouts, but they fought bravely enough to retire (4+6 v 2+4).

The battle was now in the balance. Harald still hadn’t effectively deployed much of his army, and William saw his opportunity (finally getting 6 PIPs!). He was able to advance all along the line. However, hopes of seeing Harald’s line rolled up by his overlap in what has been called the ‘ripple of death‘ came to nothing. The overlapped fyrd on Harald’s left stood firm (3+5 v 3+2). The next weak point were the huscarls on the road, and he achieved a breakthrough here (3+6 v 4+1). The knights between these two conflicts were overlapped on one side while having overlap support on the other and were fought to a standstill (2+5 v 3+4). William’s hope to leave Harald surrounded came to nothing as the fyrd to the right of Harald stood firm (5+6 v 3+5) in a fierce encounter. Harald, unfazed, continued his heroics and slaughtered the last of the Norman spear (5+6 v 3+2).

Turn 7 (William): The Northumbrian line remains firm after Willaim's charge

Turn 7 (William): The Northumbrian line remains firm after Willaim's charge

Now it was Harald’s turn for a response, but as had happened the last time he’d killed he was too blood-crazed to give directions. He flanked the knights on his left and trusted in the dice. They didn’t let him down; he rolled yet another 6 and the knights crumpled (3+6 v 1+3). Taking heart at this victory the fyrd that had been fought to a standstill in William’s charge routed the knights in front of them (4+6 v 2+2). William, looking on at the loss of all his spear and two units of knights, yielded the field. Meanwhile, after the pursuit, Harald’s skalds sang his heroics to the sky; seldom has there been a battle decided so overwhelmingly by the individual battlefield prowess of the general!

Turn 7 (Harald): Harald continues his mad, almost single-handed, slaughter of the Normans

Turn 7 (Harald): Harald continues his mad, almost single-handed, slaughter of the Normans

The battle is named after a village near Lincoln on the old Roman road to York, Ermine Street to the Saxons, as this road proved central to the battle. Harald met William’s advance up this road near that village.

  • Review

Had I remembered the limit for each sort of terrain how different this might have been. Part of Harald’s dilemma was a lack of terrain to anchor a flank, or to channel William—woods would have done this nicely! What was I thinking at set up!

By rights Harald’s deployment was so hazardous he should have lost. He was saved by the dice (a nice black one). He averaged 4.0 for PIPs against William’s 2.3. He rolled 6 for every combat he was involved in (the total of his dice in these four combats was +13 over the Normans. In the remaining combats the dice actually favoured the Normans, who scored higher on 7 of 11 combats and totalling +18 over the Northumbrians, who in the remaining four combats totalled +10. These statistics confirm the central role Harald played.

The heroics in this battle fit well with what is recorded of Harald. Rather than blame the peculiar deployment on him, it might be better to imagine William encountered him as he was on the march, and his decisive reaction saved the day. That’s surely what his skalds will claim. I’m not sure what to attribute William’s inaction to.


6 Responses to “The Battle of Navenby (Normans v. Anglo-Norse)”

  1. Neldoreth Says:

    Excellent report, nice commentary and I really like the background story! Fantastic! Looking forward to more for sure.


  2. TWR Says:

    Great report! It reminds me of many 1066 campaigns I fought many years ago with DBA 1.0!

    • Mark Says:

      Thanks, campaigns are definitely something I want to do with DBA—I’ve got a bit more painting to do before I’m ready to go with the King Magnus one, but I’ll doubtless play a few more battles that can be inserted into the background of that campaign.

      1066’s is a good campaign setting. I really developed this alternate version of it to accommodate my lack of a Welsh Wb army, but I may yet have one before long!

  3. TWR Says:

    The campaign system in DBA is an excellent addition to the rules. Over the years we have fought several campaigns using them or various variants. As a solo gamer you may like to try using the programmed leaders rules that can be found on my site.

    • Mark Says:

      Thanks, I’d seen those using the link on the Fanaticus website. I’ll definitely use them when I get playing.

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