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.

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King Magnus’ War

6 August, 2009

I’ve added a whole lot of pages setting out the background of the DBA campaign called King Magnus’ War. It’s accessible from the link Campaigns at the top of the page.

Before it’s ready to go, I need to draw a map (although it’s all designed), and if I use the minor allies, I need to finish off designing rules for them.

Otherwise, I’ve not really decided whether to try to play it as a solo campaign, or to see if I can’t do some sort of PBM campaign, even if I still played the individual battles solo.

Things on the boil

2 August, 2009

Playing DBA and writing battle reports has occupied most of my time recently, but I have started painting some more figures. I’ve now got some Feudal Casting knights, some Welsh Sp and an element of Islemen on the go. They don’t take long to paint; it seems to be a matter of getting started as much as anything. Having said that, the Feudal Casting knights did need their arms glued on which was fiddly. Starting the Welsh was more spontaneous—I had some metallic paint left over from the knights and grabbed a bag of figures that were primed to use it on. That solved all the procrastination around which foot I did next!

I’ve also finally prepped a whole lot of knights, mounted and dismounted and other ‘Norman’ figures from Essex, Feudal Castings and Outpost Miniatures. they just need undercoating to be ready to paint.

Otherwise it occurred to me a week or so ago that I finally had enough figures painted for a campaign set in Britain after 1066. It was an idea I had over a year ago, but now the figures for it are painted. I’m planning this as an alternative history campaign—Harald Hardrada wins Stamford Bridge and England is divided between the Normans and the Norse. It needs a handier title than ‘A campaign in Britain set in the 1100s after 1066 turned out differently’. By 1100 the heir to Harald would be Magnus Barefoot, which is too good a name to pass up. He also seemed to be quite an energetic chap, so I’ve decided to call it ‘King Magnus’ War’. I’ve developed a fair bit of background to the campaign, though ultimately I wouldn’t claim a high degree of realism to it; after all it’s not very plausible to imagine relatively small powers like the Isles and Highlands or either North or South Wales being on equal terms with the richer and more populous English rulers.

Anyway, I should be ready to start putting some of this background on the blog soon, especially as I’ve just got Campaign Cartographer 3 now to design the map. This campaign will be a spur to get more figures painted to round out the armies for it: Welsh, Norse IrishScots Isles and HighlandsPre-feudal Scots, Anglo-Danish (or perhaps  Anglo-Norse!) and Anglo-Norman. Once they’re done, I can work on the armies for the Hesperia campaign that’s given this blog its name.

My next battle will probably be the ‘Anglo-Norse’ against the Anglo-Normans. The Anglo-Norse would basically be Anglo-Danish, but with one 3Kn (they’re in the DBM list and could be justified as adventurers welcomed into the northern kingdom much as they were into the Scottish kingdom). I’m less decided about whether to allow one 3Bw as an alternative to the 2Ps (it’s in the Viking list). Also I’m wondering whether to allow an extra 2Ps or 3Bw; part of the rational for the 1100 date is that it allows me to field post-Norman Welsh armies. Is it plausible the Anglo-Norse would not also adapt to facing Kn?

I played this game last Saturday. I set it up in a bigger room with less lighting than the room I’ve used before. I changed the aperture on the camera, which resulted in blurring of figures in front of the focal point. I won’t do that again. I wrote notes as I played, but didn’t write the report until later in the week—on the bus on my handheld. The perspective is different from previous reports I wrote straight after the game.

After his failed raid on Malcolm, Fergus mac Dougal, decided to try his luck in Ireland. He took some Highlanders, led by Angus Dubh, and some Galwegians, always keen for action (this was necessitated by a shortage Viking Bd and Irish Ax, which could be used by both).

He was encountered by the local Irish leader, Dermot O’Conall, near the coast. He was the aggressor, though the Irish were keen for action (both rolled high). He hoped to trap Dermot’s forces with their backs to the coast, but failed. Nevertheless, Angus pressed him to allow him to lead a landing force to get behind the Irish lines. Despite misgivings (all littoral landings to date have been disastrous), he assented to this plan.

Initial Deployment of Fergus and Dermot

Initial Deployment of Fergus and Dermot

Dermot got all the terrain he could hope for, and organized his line of battle with his Ostmen in the gap between the hill and the woods.

Turn 1: Angus has landed near the Irish who reacted speedily

Turn 1: Angus lands near the Irish who react speedily

In the opening moves Angus landed opposite the hill; the Irish on it reacted quickly (5 PIPs) and turned to face. Meanwhile, Fergus advanced his Islemen, impatient at their speed, being forced to watch the battle on the hill while Dermot was content to wait for him.

Turn 3: The Highland warband has driven the bonnachts up the hill while the archers have been driven back to the coast

Turn 3: The Highland warband drive the bonnachts up the hill while the archers are driven back to the coast

The archers shot at the bonnachts for three turns without effect. Only on the fourth turn did they force a recoil. Meanwhile, the Highland rabble, with skirmishers providing overlap, succeeded in chasing some bonnachts up the hill. They followed up, of course, giving their opponents the uphill advantage. It was around this time I realized some of the moves were illegal, the hill making both sides out of command control. Things slowed down as a consequence.

Turn 4: Disaster for Angus as the skirmisher are trapped by his own shooting

Turn 4: Disaster for Angus as the skirmisher are trapped by his own shooting

The rabble survived a round of combat before being able to attack with the skirmishers in flank support. This was a chance for a kill, but unfortunately in a tough fight they were forced to recoil, as were the skirmishers, who not having room were destroyed (this was a self-inflicted loss, as the archers had forced the bonnachts to recoil into where the skirmishers needed to go). The rabble was then, over a number of turns, forced back until off the board. The archers looked doomed, unable to move away from the bonnachts and vulnerable to being forced to recoil into the waterway. There was the depressing likelihood that Angus’ landing would lose Fergus the battle before the Islemen made contact.

Turn 6: the Highland warband are driven off the battlefield, but the archers continue to hang on

Turn 6: the Highland warband are driven off the battlefield, but the archers continue to hang on

Dermot tried to ensure this by sending out a cloud of kerns to slow Fergus’ advance. Meanwhile he sent the bonnachts, buoyed up by having chased off the warband, to drive the archers into the sea (this was a slow process—no group moves on the hill and each element out of command range).

Turn 7: Dermot tries to buy time by using kerns to delay Fergus' advance

Turn 7: Dermot tries to buy time by using kerns to delay Fergus' advance

For his part, Fergus was keen to have his Islemen close with Dermot’s main line of battle before the archers were destroyed. Yet this was no simple matter; his flanks were in

Turn 8: after Fergus' move; the kerns are put to flight

Turn 8 (Fergus): the kerns are put to flight

bad going and had to make individual moves. the kerns were also effective in their delaying tactics. By turn 9 it looked as though the archers would not last another round.

Turn 10: A lucky break for Fergus; the archers destroy some bonnachts

Turn 10: A lucky break for Fergus; the archers destroy some bonnachts

Fergus was almost in position to attack. He was given a breathing space when his archers succeeded in breaking an element of bonnachts. Dermot decided to break off from

Turn 11: the bonnachts break off from the archers

Turn 11: the bonnachts break off from the archers

the archers and attack the Islemen on their flank. It proved a good decision; the archers, starved of PIPs, played no further part in the battle. With the bonnachts flanking,

Turn 12: flanked Islemen are destroyed in bad going

Turn 12: flanked Islemen are destroyed in bad going

Dermot succeeded in destroying an element of Islemen with an element of kerns—oh, the ignominy!

Turn 13 (Fergus): Last roll of the dice; Fergus gives the order to charge

Turn 13 (Fergus): Last roll of the dice; Fergus gives the order to charge

This was a situation brought about by the PIP dice going against Fergus (he rolled a 1 that turn (turn 12) and followed it up with a 2; by contrast Dermot was on fire rolling two 6s!). On the verge of breaking Fergus gave the order to charge. He succeeded in leaving one of the Ostmen overlapped on both sides and then destroying it. It was too little too

Turn 13 (Dermot): Another element of flanked Islemen are destroyed and the Fergus' army breaks

Turn 13 (Dermot): Another element of flanked Islemen are destroyed and the Fergus' army breaks

late. Dermot was able to flank another element of Islemen and repeat what he’d done the turn before; game over!

  • Review

Dermot certainly had good luck with the PIP dice, particularly when it counted. He was able to neutralize the littoral landing on the first turn and then in the last two turns was able to manoeuvre for favourable flanking attacks while Fergus was unable to marshal his forces effectively (overall the average for the PIP dice were high, but favoured Dermot: 4.75 to Fergus’ 3.92).

The most serious problem was the set up. I think a littoral landing is really a recipe for disaster. If it’s too close to the enemy, you run the risk of fighting most of their army with part of yours, and being out of command control, making it hard for the the rest of the army to advance! Having said that, but for the mistake of firing on the bonnachts that cut off the skirmishers retreat, the fight on the flank could have gone differently. Otherwise, Fergus tended to see his Wb as useless against the Irish Ps and Ax and banish them to the wings. Yet the Galwegians could have gone after the Ostmen—they’ve a good record against Bd.

Of interest was to see how effective the Bd could be in bad going. The only edge the Ax had over them was mobility, and yet it was more PIPs that allowed Dermot to destroy the two Bd that he caught.

It was satisfying to see the kerns behaving like regular skirmishers, delaying the advance of the opponent’s battleline. They also had virtual immunity against Fergus’ army; only the archers and skirmishers could hurt them unless they were overlapped. And it’s quite satisfying to have been the element that destroyed some Bd in bad going!

Lesson for next time, and Fergus seems to be a slow learner, is avoid littoral landings.