The Battle of Dinorben (Norse Irish v North Welsh)

5 January, 2010

It’s possible that the reason Gruffudd ap Cynan did not show up to support William in Mercia was reports of an Irish invasion fleet heading for Powys (that and the unseemly shortness of the battle!). Powys in this campaign includes what is actually Gwynedd (Gwynedd is Conwy = Gwynedd below the Conwy), otherwise it would have no sea access. As it is, it’s curious that Angelsey, often attacked from places such as Man, being part of the capital, can only be approached by land.

The reports were well founded. Turlough Mór O’Connor looked to restore Irish influence in Wales after a hiatus of some 500 years! With a bad-going army his options for where he could attack were a little limited, but the Welsh seemed a reasonably attractive proposition, and if successful, he’d secure one flank of his kingdom. There were no allies to be had on either side; on further consideration the English could have sent help to the Welsh, and probably should have, but Henry was still trying to establish his control over his kingdom. Otherwise, the Islemen had plans to attack the Scots, so were not free to weigh into the conflict (assuming Magnus let them pass through Man).

Turlough’s army consisted of 6x3Ax (1=cmd), 2x4Bd and 4x2Ps. He was met by 1x3Cv (cmd), 2x4Bd, 6x3Sp(L), 1x3Bw and 2x2Ps. This was the first outing of the new Light Spear.

Gruffudd met the invaders inland in Powys at Dinorben, the site of an old fort. The armies drew up with a road between them, two steep hills on opposite flanks as well as two woods also opposite each other. Gruffudd deployed himself flanked by his Ostmen mercenaries in the centre of his line. On the left flank he had three light spear and his archers and on his right flank he had the skirmishers and three light spear in two columns hoping to occupy the hill in front of them.

Turlough deployed with his Ostmen on the road with kerns as rear support, three bonnachts on the hill to the right of them and the rest of the army in a line stretching into the wood to his left. Most of the kerns were on this flank.

Initial Deployments: Turlough on the left and Gruffudd on the right.

Turlough started well (6 PIPs) and advanced two kerns forward to contest the hill on his left flank. Gruffudd reacted to this by sending forward skirmishers to contest the hill and advancing his light spear onto it. The combat between the psiloi was a stalemate.

Turn 1: Gruffudd skirmishers fight uphill against kerns on the hill.

Turlough, with 1 PIP, retires the kerns not yet in combat, while the other kerns are pushed back by the skirmishers downhill from them. Gruffudd moves his other skirmishers up in support of the others and continues to advance onto the hill. The rest of his line also advances.

Turn 2: Gruffudd seems to be gaining control of the hill on his right flank.

Turlough sees an opportunity to attack the skirmishers on the hill and attacks one with flank support. In a fierce fight these are destroyed.

Turn 3 (Turlough): Turlough inflicts the first casualties.

Gruffudd reacts energetically to this setback (6 PIPs), attacking one of the kerns with skirmishers supported by light spear. This is again a stalemate. He also wheels his central troops towards the hill (he used the road for the outside element in a manoeuvre that I’d later decide was not legal).

Turn 3 (Gruffudd): Gruffudd can't get traction against the kerns on the hill.

Turlough now moves his other kern up to support the one on the hill, with the advantage of being uphill they succeed in destroying the last of Gruffudd’s skirmishers (2+4 v 1+1). With this loss, Turlough kerns need only worry about the archers on the other flank and Gruffudd’s cavalry.

Turn 4 (Turlough): Turlough goes two up in what should have been an unequal contest on the hill.

Gruffudd, now feeling less confident (1 PIP), moves the rear light spear element accross to create an echelon effect on the hill.

Turn 4 (Gruffudd): Gruffudd is still wrestling for control of the hill.

Now it’s Turlough’s turn to run out of steam (1 PIP) and he attacks the front element of spear with his kerns in a fierce but inconclusive combat (2+6 v 2+6).

Turn 5 (Turlough): More fighting on the hill.

Gruffudd finally gets his spearmen into position on the hill and drives the kerns back. Unfortunately Sp(L) are not Ax and the best he can manage is to force some of them to flee.

Turn 5 (Gruffudd): Gruffudd can feel some satisfaction in ridding the hill of pesky kerns.

Next follows a period of manoeuvre, where the rest of the Irish start to advance and the Welsh left flank tries to catch up with the centre. On the hill on spear advances, hoping to flank the kerns next turn.

Turn 6: The Irish begin to advance

The Irish continue to advance, while Gruffudd, struck by indecision (1 PIP), decides to advance the spear up the road to support his centre.

Turn 7: The battlelines get closer.

While the Irish move closer, Gruffudd decides to charge. He manages only one casualty, an element of Bonnachts unable to recoil. Turlough had foiled his plan to remove the psiloi support on Turlough’s command element by shifting it in behind Turlough. The commanders met at equal odds.

Turn 8: The Welsh charge, and succeed in destroying one element.

Turlough, however, fights back and his Ostmen cut down an element of light spear. Turlough himself forces Gruffudd and his retinue to recoil.

Turn 9 (Turlough): The Irish have the Welsh on the point of breaking.

Gruffudd can really only hope to get lucky against the Irish commander, but fails again, being forced to recoil before a hail of javelins.

Turn 9 (Gruffudd): Gruffudd is driven back again.

Turlough now finishes off the Welsh when his Ostmen destroy their counterparts who are overlapped on both sides. The Welsh break and run.

Turn 10: Viking mercenaries fighting for Gruffudd are the last of his casualties before the Welsh break.

  • Aftermath

Gruffudd retires to Gwynedd with his battered army. He will be hoping Henry of England sees fit to support him if the Irish attack again. Turlough’s army is largely unscathed and he will be looking to finish the Welsh off in the summer. Henry and some knights could really change the complection of this encounter, and assuming he wants Welsh support against the Northumbrians, there are good odds he will try to help his ally.

Gilledomman of the Isles will take note of this battle and hope that he can win against the Scots, as he fully expects to see Turlough’s army in Antrim before long.

  • Review

Gruffudd lost the battle in his reaction to the advance of the kerns onto the hill. He rushed to attack them, when he could have waited for the light spear to get into position against them and used the skirmishers for flank support. He also put himself at a disadvantage by advancing his centre (that illegal road movement when he wheeled was not to his advantage!). If he’d waited to gain control of the hill his centre would have been able to wait for the Irish to advance at a disadvantage; the battle in the centre was at long odd for him.

Light spear will take some getting used to. They have no advantage against the Irish, who have no mounted and they are weaker than regular spear in GGo. Still I would attribute Gruffudd’s loss to them, but to some poor tactical decisions.

This was the first battle in a while that was decided by the clash of the main battlelines. The last two have been won before they met.

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2 Responses to “The Battle of Dinorben (Norse Irish v North Welsh)”

  1. Stephen Says:

    Was the road movement illegal? I remember reading the rules at the time to no avail, so we decided you had to use an extra PIP as the unit using road movement wasn’t really acting as if it was in the same group as those wheeling off the road.


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