The Battle of Trefaldwyn (North Welsh v. Anglo-Normans)

29 August, 2009

I finished the Welsh spearmen this week, complete with fancy decals for shield patterns, so they had to be used. Gruffudd ap Cynan was the obvious leader and he was facing the chief marcher lord of the Welsh March, Robert of Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury. Clearly Gruffudd wasn’t happy with Robert, as he was on the attack (3+1 v 1+2). Gruffudd was taking the opportunity to attack the march when the king was distracted; he marched against Robert’s castle and settlement at Montgomery in Powys. Robert summoned as many of his tenants as he could and marched to meet him. The two armies met in an flat area near the castle. There were only two low hills and a very small wood. Gruffudd did not get to approach the battlefield from the direction he hoped (he rolled a 1).

Gruffudd had his retinue of 3Cv, a unit of skirmishers (2Ps), two of archers (3Bw) and six of spearmen (3Sp). He also had two units of Viking mercenaries from Dublin (where he grew up). Gruffudd apparently oversaw the change in tactics in the North; he had a long and interesting reign, living until 1137 and being the only prince to have a biography written. In the alternate history of King Magnus’ War many of the details of his life leading up to the war were the same; he had come to power in Gwynedd at the Battle of Mynydd Carn in 1081 with the help of Rhys ap Tewdwr of Deheubarth, he had been imprisoned for a time by Robert, but had escaped, and clearly he felt he had some debts to settle with Robert. The battle took place in 1103, a year before King Magnus’ War started. Despite the Marcher Lords ‘home team’ advantage, this was all but neutralized by the enthusiastic support of his bardic contingent (patriotic music provided by Tecwyn Ifan and Dafydd Iwan)!

Robert had four elements of knights (3Kn), one of muntatores (3Cv), four of spearmen (4Sp) and three of skirmishers (2Ps). He drew up his forces in three troops, the central one with himself and the bulk of his knights flanked by his spearmen. On the left flanks he positioned his skirmishers, supported by some cavalry (muntatores on the right and knights on the left flank).

Gruffudd’s deployment was a curious one, with two strong wings and not much in the centre. He divided his archers to make Robert’s life more complicated. One went to support the three spearmen on the left flank, one was in the centre, and the skirmishers were in support of the spear on the right flank.

Initial Deployment

Initial Deployment

Both sides were keen to engage, both rolling 6 PIPs for the first two turns! Robert used these PIPs to throw his skirmishers forward to slow the advance of Gruffudd’s wings.

Turn 1: Robert's skirmishers rush forward

Turn 1: Robert's skirmishers rush forward

This proved a dangerous move, as Gruffudd was able to attack the skirmishers on his right flank with his own, well supported by the spear. The plan worked well. The skirmishers facing the spear were scared silly and scarpered (4+6 v 1+1!).

Turn 2 (Gruffudd): the skirmishers are dispersed with casualties

Turn 2 (Gruffudd): the skirmishers are dispersed with casualties

This left the other element horribly exposed, and the Welsh javelinmen showed it no mercy (2+4 v 0+1). Clearly those skirmishers didn’t want to be there.

Turn 3

Turn 3

On the third turn, Gruffudd had 5 PIPs which he used to turn the hill on his left flank into a salient. The spearmen pivoted (I assume that’s legal) and the archers turned to block the muntatores if they should attempt to get round behind them. With the other PIPs the right flank reformed after the manoeuvre that saw off the skirmishers. Robert’s response was slower (2 PIPs), with which he advanced the main body and tried to block the archers with his skirmishers (they laughed at the Welsh shooting (2+1 v 2+6!).

Gruffudd next advanced his right flank to within range for a charge on Robert’s opposing flank. His archers this time forced the skirmishers to recoil.

Robert woke up and ordered a general advance (6 PIPs). The skirmishers, supported by the muntatores attacked the archers, who had uphill advantage to counteract the overlap. He also ordered the spear and knights on his right to charge the spearmen on the hill, while he lined his spearmen up to face the archers in the centre. These archers, however, took aim at the flanking knights and forced them to retire. The other archers narrowly held off the skirmishers’ attack (2+1 v 2+2—the hill was the difference). The spearmen fought diffidently on the hill to a stalemate (5+1 v 5+1).

Turn 4: Robert's attack is repulsed

Turn 4: Robert's attack is repulsed

This meant the knights didn’t have the overlap they were hoping for and despite a valiant charge were repulsed by the deep formation of Welshmen (3+6 v 5+6).

Gruffudd reacted vigorously (6 PIPs). The archers on the left retired, while he ordered a general attack on the right flank and the centre. The archers forced the muntatores to retire (important as it would prevent them flanking next turn). The spearmen on the hill, now with overlap support, forced their counterparts back. The archers in the centre got the only result they didn’t want, a stalemate (2+2 v 2+2)! They wouldn’t be able to shoot next turn and the spear would be well placed once flanked by knights to drive them back and provide overlap support. However, on the right flank things again went to plan. The spearmen again chased off the skirmishers emphatically (4+6 v 1 +4) and the spear then destroyed the unsupported knights (5+5 v 2+2).

Turn 5 (Gruffudd): more success for Gruffudd on his right flank

Turn 5 (Gruffudd): more success for Gruffudd on his right flank

Robert replied by sending his skirmishers and muntatores against the archers, who were adjudged, perhaps generously, to have the uphill advantage. He also moved into support the spearmen in the centre as Gruffudd feared he might. The battle on the hill was a stalemate. The other archers came close to achieving the same result (4+2 v 2+3), but were forced back. Despite their advantage the knights facing Gruffudd and his retinue made no progress (4+1 v 3+2). Robert, however, made a mess of the Dubliners facing him (2+1).

Gruffudd’s situation was by no means comfortable. His right flank had nothing in range (and seemed content to strip the corpses of the knights and make rude taunts at the skirmishers). The archers on the left flank were hanging by a thread and Robert had the favourable match-ups in the centre. With the 3 PIPs that he had he retired all the centre. This had the useful benefit of disrupting Robert’s formation, as both the knights pursued. He had no energy to spare for the archers on the left. He told his archers to shoot at Robert, hoping to make him recoil, without success.

Somehow I forgot to roll for the encounter between the archers and skirmishers, and in Robert’s turn the muntatores were able to close the door. With his remaining PIPs he lined his knights up with the spear. The archers again shot at Robert, but despite an enthusiastic effort, Robert was unmoved (4+5 v 4+5). Meanwhile, the archers on the hill remained unfazed and calmly cut the skirmishers to ribbons (2+1 v 2+4)! This was a major success for Gruffudd. Robert was on the point of breaking and the chance of attacking the spear on the hill both front and back was gone.

Turn 6: Gruffudd retires his centre and his archers triumph on the left flank.

Turn 6: Gruffudd retires his centre and his archers triumph on the left flank.

Despite this lucky reprieve, Gruffudd seemed a little dazed, and could only order the bow on the hill to turn and shoot at the muntatores. They did this without success. The other archers, however, finally succeeded in forcing Robert back. Robert was equally flustered, but with 2 PIPs was able to recover from his recoil and attack. This time the spear failed to repulse the archers and were instead thrown back by a heroic defence (4+1 v 2+6)! Unfazed, Robert chopped up the remaining element of luckless Dubliners (3+6 v 3+2). On the other flank Gruffudd drove the knights back (3+2 v 4+5).

Turn 7: Gruffudd holds on in the centre.

Turn 7: Gruffudd holds on in the centre.

Gruffudd still couldn’t spare time to direct the more scattered elements of his army (2 PIPs). He decided to risk all by charging the knights facing him supported with a flank attack. The archers on the hill continued their fine form, almost destroying the muntatores (4+6 v 3+3). However, the knights repulsed his charge, leaving things decidedly messy.

Robert, however, was equally flustered (1 PIP), only able to order his spear against the archers, who were overlapped on both sides. Did that bother them? Not a bit! They gave ground reluctantly in a fierce fight (4+2 v 0+5). Meanwhile, the knights facing Gruffudd could make no headway (4+4 v 4+4).

Turn 8: Things are looking grim for Gruffudd in the centre

Turn 8: Things are looking grim for Gruffudd in the centre

Gruffudd was obviously sweating and could only signal the spear to again flank the knights he was facing (1 PIP). It proved enough, just (4+1 v 3+1). With half his knight gone and most of his skirmishers, Robert surrendered the field. Gruffudd, by contrast, despite coming close to disaster had only lost some mercenaries, who were not popular with his people anyhow, so they’d hardly be mourned! Montgomery lay open for a good pillaging, and the Marcher inroads into Wales received another rebuff!

Turn 9 (Gruffudd): Gruffudd and his retinue break the Marcher Lords!

Turn 9 (Gruffudd): Gruffudd and his retinue break the Marcher Lords!

  • Review

Well, those archers were clearly armed with some pretty potent longbows! Both elements remained steady against heavy odds. Had they broken it would be hard to have seen Gruffudd win. His deployment was unusual. The hill worked fairly well for him, though the archers were lucky to come through against the odds. The plan was to win on the flanks and this worked well on the right flank. Poor PIPs prevented those troops taking any further part in the battle after destroying the troops in front of them; after turn 6, where his 3 PIPs allowed the centre to retire, he rolled 1, 2 and 1. Better PIPs might have seen these troops turn on Robert himself.

It was good to see the new Welsh command have some success, as in their first battle they did nothing, and I don’t think the Scots one has done much yet (most noticeably in their recent outing against the Anglo-Norse). The North Welsh army is actually quite good. I was surprised at how effective just two archers could be against cavalry. I’m tempted to make Gruffudd the Welsh player and demote the other Gruffudd (ap Rhys, his son-in-law!) to a minor ally.

I think the biggest fault in Robert’s plan was that he hoped to win in the centre, yet advanced both flanks aggressively. To be fair, psiloi are generally safe doing this, but that’s when they advance into bad going. Here, however, in good going and with the opponent getting good PIPs they came unstuck. The dividing of the spear made it hard for Gruffudd to line his 4Bd up against them, making them pretty ineffectual. Still they took two turns to die, whereas two spear would have been gone in one in the same situation!

The match-up of the 3Cv and 2Ps against the 3Bw was interesting. The 3Cv attacked the 3Bw at more unfavourable odds (3 v 4), but any match up when the base values are both 2 has a much higher degree of chance involved, and on this occasion the 3Bw got lucky.

A good victory for the North Welsh in their first time out, and something to think about as I get closer to starting the campaign: will they demote the South Welsh to a minor ally in their stead? Following on from Hardrada’s great victory a few weeks back I’m starting to have a bit more faith in spear armies facing knights, especially when, as here they have a few archers.

10 Responses to “The Battle of Trefaldwyn (North Welsh v. Anglo-Normans)”

  1. TWR Says:

    Very interesting battle report. Was this a solo game or did you have a live opponent?

    • Mark Says:

      It was a solo game. I could do with facing some other opponents, but in the meantime I have tried to apply some tips from the Strategy and Tactics section of the Fanaticus forum. One idea I got from a post by David Kuijt was to mix the troop types in deployment to make it harder for the opponent to avoid them. I think this made the Welsh archers much more dangerous, even though it meant they couldn’t support each other. Robert’s deployment of his spear made it harder for the Welsh Bd to find them, so I think the idea was useful.

      • TWR Says:

        I wondered if it was. It reads very well. I look forward to additional reports as your campaign gets underway.

        I perhaps need to study some of these tactical manuals you mention after a series crushing defeats at Tagcon yesterday!

      • Mark Says:

        Well, there will be more battles before the campaign starts (there will be a ‘playoff’ between the Welsh for the honour of representing them, and I might refight Harald Hardrada against Harold of England—I’ll have to think of some back-up plan if Harald loses, though!). I’ve worked out that I’ve got some 72 figures to paint to have all the armies ready for the campaign, and that could take a month or so.

        I browsed the Strategy and Tactics section of Fanaticus and found some good threads on tactics for facing knights. Since then my knight armies have been winless, but I’ve not played enough to claim that I’ve got them sussed; some of those battles had a good deal of luck helping the spearmen (that said, it’s usually luck that carries knights and warbands to victory as well). However, I’ve stopped seeing spear as simply passive defensive elements and been prepared to use them more aggressively against knights.

  2. MrF Says:

    Nice set of game reports, keep up the good work.
    All the Best

  3. Dougal Says:

    another fascinating battle report just the right balance of game mechanics and narrative

    thank you for sharing

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