The Battle of Stamford (Harold v. Harald)

15 November, 2009

Well, I finally fought the battle between Harald Hardrada and Harold Godwinson that was the main point at which the alternate history for the King Magnus campaign branches from regular history. I decided not to make it a close refight of the battle of Stamford Bridge, but rather make it a regular DBA encounter between the two armies. I was thinking it’d be a walk-over for the Vikings as they out-classed the bulk of the Anglo-Saxon army (Bd v. Sp), but it proved to be an enthralling encounter.
Harald had defeated the Northern earls at Fulford and was advancing on Harold when the two armies met near Stamford. Harald had 11 blade, of which 4 were his huscarls, 6 were hird and one was an element of tag-along raiders (for variety!). He also had some berserks. Against this Harold met him with 3 elements of huscarls (4Bd), 8 elements of fyrd (4Sp) and an element of skirmishers (2Ps).
Harald was the aggressor and Harold met him along a road where two low hills faced each other. To one side of them was a wood. Harold was fortunate in getting the edge he wanted and deployed so that the fyrd would be able have the advantage of the hill. He deployed between the hill and the woods with his huscarls and anchored the line with his skirmishers in the wood.

Initial Deployment

Initial Deployment: English on the left, Vikings on the right.

Harald saw a number of ways of attacking this deployment. He opposed the fyrd with himself and his huscarls along with the berserks. He hoped to get around the hill with the berserks. He then opposed Harold and his huscarls with his hird. He hoped to be able to flank and destroy the skirmishers in the wood and turn the line on Harold.
Harold in turn could not see anything he could do but wait and try to strengthen his left flank. For the first four turns the Vikings advanced while Harold wheeled the fyrd to occupy the hill.

Turn 1

Turn 1: Harald advances; Harold wheels the fyrd onto the hill.

Turn 2

Turn 2: The advance continues.

Turn 3

Turn 3: The Vikings rumble closer.

Turn 4

Turn 4: The Viking huscarls wheel to face the hill and the hird continue to advance.

On the fifth turn the berserks attacked a lone group of fyrd guarding the flank, but were repulsed. On the next turn, with only one PIP, Harald detached some of his huscarls to support the berserks. Meanwhile, Harold deployed a second fyrd to strengthen this flank.

Turn 5 (Harald)

Turn 5 (Harald): The berserks are repulsed.

Turn 5 (Harold)

Turn 5 (Harold): Harold brings more fyrd to face the berserks.

Turn 6

Turn 6: Harald supports the berserkers with some huscarls.

On turn seven Harald attacked. While he and the huscarls waited at the foot of the hill, on the right flank the detached huscarls and the berserks tore the opposing fyrd to shreds. The huscarls rolled 6-1 and the berserks 6-2 (I’ll just give the dice rolls, attacker-defender)! On the other wing, however, things did not go so well. The skirmishers repulsed the hird (2-6) and Harold nearly destroyed the hird opposing him (1-6).

Turn 7 (Harald)

Turn 7 (Harald): The Saxon left flank is swept away.

Harold in reply advanced on the hird, but despite recoiling the enemy he destroyed none (had he not retired the skirmishers to prevent them getting flanked, however, with their overlap he would have!).

Turn 7 (Harold)

Turn 7 (Harold): Harold and his household troops force the Viking hird back.

On the next turn Harald finally assaulted the hill. With the end fyrd flanked he had a good chance of destroying another element, which he did. Otherwise he forced the fyrd to retire up the hill. However, on the left Harold, despite being overlapped on both sides, fought to a stubborn standstill, rolling his second 6 in combat. The fyrd in the centre also fought to a stalemate. Significantly, Harald had committed to this fight the hird that had been hanging back in the centre to stop flanking attempts on either half of the Viking battleline.

Turn 8 (Harald)

Turn 8 (Harald): Harald assaults the hill. Note how the central element of hird has been pulled into the battle.

Harold was staring defeat in the face: the fyrd on the hill was on the point of collapse. Nevertheless, he launced himself into the fray and destroyed the hird in front of him (his third 6!).

Turn 8 (Harold)

Turn 8 (Harold): Harold fights back, making it 1-3.

Harald, low on PIPs (2), could only react to Harold’s attack on the fyrd, but with the skirmishers having fled, he was able to flank Harold’s huscarls. These, however, proved stubborn and fought to a stalemate (4-5).

Turn 9 (Harald)

Turn 9 (Harald): Harold's huscarls stubbornly fight off a flank attack.

With this reprieve, Harold was still hanging on. He was now able to flank the hird in the centre. This resulted in another element of hird being destroyed. He continued his ferocious form rolling another 6, but the hird in front of him only recoiled, rolling 3. Better still, the huscarls that were flanked threw back their attackers (3-1).

Turn 9 (Harold)

Turn 9 (Harold): Harold's turn to flank! Now it's 2-3.

Harald continued to have low PIPs (2 again), and decided to end things by sending the berserks against the fyrd on the hill. It’d make a good spectacle from his vantage point. This used both his PIPs. Unfortunately, these fyrd, buoyed on by what they saw their king doing below them, completely routed the berserkers (1-6)! Suddenly the battle that had looked to be all over for the Saxons was in the balance!

Turn 10 (Harald)

Turn 10 (Harald): Harald has a grandstand seat of his berserks getting routed. It's now 3-3

In contrast to Harald’s dithering, Harold was all action (6 PIPs). The element that had flanked the hird last turn now rounded on the huscarls, while he moved the fyrd on the hill and the skirmishers to shore up his flanks. Harald’s huscarls proved as tough as Harold’s, though fortunately it was a stalemate (5-5), as otherwise the flankers would have recoiled into their own men! However, on the other flank it appears the hird were losing heart against Harold’s household professionals, having failed to break them when they were flanked. Harold rolled his fourth 6 and broke the hird in front of him (who rolled a 1). Remarkably the huscarls that had fought off their flankers repeated the exercise (6-1)! Harald’s hird was in flight and he was forced to retire from the field surrounded by his huscarls.

Turn 10 (Harold)

Turn 10 (Harold): Victory to Harold (5-3) as his huscarls show their professionalism.

  • Review

What a remarkable battle! I really thought the English didn’t have a hope, and I wasn’t happy with their plan, which was to sit and wait. When the flank on the hill crumbled, there was nothing they could do about it. In hindsight it was the committing of the hird that was ZOCing the two fyrd at the corner of the English line that was Harald’s undoing, but he was also handicapped by poor PIPs and some very dogged fighting by the English huscarls. It was quite neat to see how the huscarls on both sides fought—on both sides they shrugged off flank attacks. Otherwise, Harald’s gamble with the berserks only confirms the essential solidity of spear; they’re no walk-over.

  • Where now with the King Magnus’ War campaign?

I knew it was tempting fate to fight this battle. Still, Harald’s still alive and it’s reasonable to think he could retire from the field with his huscarls in good order. He would then retreat back to Norway, leaving Harold to meet William. As Harold has fought so valiantly it’s only reasonable that he get to refight this battle. If he loses (not a forgone conclusion by any means) I’ll assume that the Battle of Navenby that I fought a while back was Harald’s return to the North and rallying of the fyrd there against William. The campaign would then be back on track, assuming that Harold does as he’s supposed to against William!
I’m not sure what to do about Harold’s casualties. Do I allow him to make good the loss of the 3 fyrd, or do I fight this like a campaign with him down 3 elements? Alternatively I could give him some hordes to make up the numbers (though I’d have to paint them!). While I’m at it, I should really repaint Harold’s standard! The St. Andrew’s Cross dates back to when he was going to be a Pre-feudal Scot!

10 Responses to “The Battle of Stamford (Harold v. Harald)”

  1. TWR Says:

    Great report.

    Historically didn’t Harold gather much of a new army in the south to stop that “other invader”? If so this sounds like new fryd to me. There are of course other alternatives.

    1. You use “horde” but just model them with a fryd base. Just note that they use horde factors. This would mean that Harold’s northern army has marched south.

    2. Fight the army at less than 12 elements. It is possible to win with less than 12 but I have to agree hard. Perhaps a hill will be important when facing that Norman chap…

    Are you planning to use the DBA campaign rules?

    • Mark Davies Says:

      Thanks. That’s true as far as what Harold did on the way south, but if I was to use something more informally like the DBA campaign rules that’s not possible.

      I’m thinking I might make the huscarls unable to be QKed by the Kn, as someone did for the Varangians and Swabians in a Normans in Italy campaign in Slingshot. That’d stop the huscarls being the weakest part of the army against knights. It’d balance out giving Harold some hordes (thanks for the suggestion of using fyrd; I may use it, though I am keen to get some hordes done).

  2. TWR Says:

    Horde are on odd troop type and clearly one of the interesting abstractions of DBA, compared to say DBM where they are generally used as “filler”, to get your army to the ideal breakpoint.

    I must admit to be somewhat taken by surprise by hordes at Tagcon 2008 when using my Japanese. I had only played a few games of DBA before Tagcon and was caught off-guard by the fact they didn’t recoil! Clearly a seething mass who should break, but sometimes hold their ground.

    • Mark Davies Says:

      I think hordes could be useful in campaigns. I quite like the idea of the defender being able to get horde reinforcements, a variation I’ve seen in a couple of campaigns.

      I guess hordes don’t recoil because the ones at the back keep pushing the front ones forward—until all order collapses!

  3. Tim Says:

    Great Game (and great report)! What a nail-biter!

    We found in our campaigns that fighting with considerably less than your opponent to be quite debilitating and after a single loss (especially in HOTT – where you lose 50% of your army before quitting the field!) the rest of the campaign year would be rather one-sided.

    We decided the campaign should be a mechanism to generate interesting tabletop battles with some context – not one battle then a year of maneuvering to avoid battles and leaving cities to be besieged…

    Also units that quit the field during the battle wouldn’t normally be wiped out to the last man. A small fraction of them would be killed, some wounded, but many could very well have just got tired (tiring work beating people with a chunk of iron)… given up (discouraging work killing and seeing friends killed and injured)… and just walked off the field. Afterwards many of these could be gathered back up the survivors of mauled units could be reconsituted into others…

    So we roll for each element removed from play during the game to see if they are recovered for the next battle. on a 5+ (for HOTT) or 6 (for DBA) the unit is recovered – this roll is modified by a +1 if they were on the victorious side (easier to gather up wounded if you won!), and +1 if the area you are fighting over belonged to you at the beginning of the game (easier to round guys back up if you know the land – or, more likely, if you don’t know the surrounding area it’s far more likely that any stay troops would be rounded up by the enemy and killed of captured…).

    It’s worked out pretty okay for us so far… Something to think about.

    • Mark Davies Says:

      Hi Tim,

      Thanks, only afterwards did I realize what a turn-around had happened. The dice went against Harald in a big way!

      Thanks for those suggestions for dealing with after-battle loses. I agree the campaign should be a way of generating interesting battles and your solution seems very reasonable. I’ll certainly use it. Perhaps Harold won’t have to face William with a whole lot of hordes!

  4. Steve Keohane Says:

    Hi Mark,

    Really enjoyable scenario. I love your whole campaign theme as it not only gives a good history lesson, but also has such wider possibilities for ‘what ifs’. I am currently prepping a load of Khurasan Vikings and Franks (I already have some LKM Irish), so you are fuelling my enthusiasm – many thanks.


    • Mark Davies Says:

      Thanks. It’s the beauty of DBA that you need so few figures you can get together armies for historical match-ups and set up campaigns for them. For me it’s the historical context that brings these battles to life.

      I like those Khurasan Vikings. I’ve got some, but I’ve ended up using Feudal Castings Vikings and Scots for my Viking and Scots Isles and Highland armies.

  5. Stephen Says:

    It just goes to show how subtle DBA is. A couple of years back I was looking at the Saxon and Viking armies and wondering how the Saxons could ever win.

    Maybe you could adopt more than one of the suggestions above for dealing with losses – give elements that were destroyed a ‘saving throw’ with bonuses if they are light troops (harder to catch!) and minuses if they were destroyed by cavalry (say). As well as recruiting Hd maybe Ps could be recruited too – maybe use the DBMM points value to get a costing?

    • Mark Davies Says:

      With a bit of attention those modifiers make sense; perhaps being flanked would result in more casualties too, but minuses would be a little harsh, as the base is 6.

      I reckon the Anglo-Danish and Vikings would jump at the chance to get more psiloi, so casualties would not be a penalty. However, for armies with lots of psiloi already it might be an idea—the Norse-Irish could get extra kerns. They’d be more in character than huddles of peasants (though they’d end up resembling the Early Libyans!).

      DBMM points costs might not reflect the utility of some troop types in DBA: 2Ps are really valuable if you have heavy infantry, for instance.

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