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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On Sunday afternoon I got a chance to try out the Welsh. Owain ap Urien (actually the name of one of Arthur’s companions!) resisted the incursions of some Anglo-Normans, led by Ranulf the Dastard (doubtless the descendent of some unacknowledged offspring of William the Bastard!)—and so you see my partisan loyalties in this encounter.

Owain was the lord of somewhere in the South West in the early 12th century; he’d spent some time in Ireland, as happened quite often to Welsh princes, and he brought back some Dublin Ostmen mercenaries. Otherwise his force was predominantly archers, whether skirmishers or massed (I followed the DBM list which allows these to be either Bw or Ps; as Ian Heath (AFE, p. 51) says there’s actually no evidence massed archers were ever fielded, it seems reasonable to use a mixture.

Ranulf, by contrast, was an oppressive scoundrel that had attracted a band of lawless freebooters to his services (in contrast, of course, to Owain’s upstanding Vikings!). He was seeking to add Owain’s lands to his holdings (he was the aggressor).

Initial Deployments from Ranulf's perspective

Initial Deployments from Ranulf's perspective

The armies met in a wooded area between two hills (Coedgenau). Ranulf got to deploy in the area he hoped would be the least bad for him. It would, however, require him to deploy in column and try to deploy into line in the middle of the field. The Welsh drew up first. They massed their archers on their right flank, facing the open ground. They guarded the left flank with some skirmishers on the steep hill, put their warbands in the forest and the Ostmen in column in the gap between the hill and wood. Owain himself was in reserve behind the archers.

Ranulf deployed in columns, his spear on the left, muntatores in the centre and knights on the left. His skirmishers covered each flank. In hindsight the knights would have been better to have exchanged positions with the spear.

Situation at the end of the 1st turn

Situation at the end of the 1st turn

(1) Ranulf made an energetic start (6 PIPs), being able to send his skirmishers forward on the right in attempt to gain time and room to deploy behind them. Owain’s response (2 PIPs) was more languid, advancing his archers and the Ostmen.

Situation at the end of the 2nd turn

Situation at the end of the 2nd turn

(2) Ranulf (4 PIPs) belatedly realizes that facing all those archers with his knights is a chancy proposition and attempts to move them out of the way. Owain (4 PIPs) attempts to chase off the annoying skirmishers with his own supported by the Ostmen. This opening engagement sets the tone for the battle. Owain’s troops are half-hearted and have to recoil (2+2 v. 1+5).

Situation at the end of the 3rd turn

Situation at the end of the 3rd turn

(3) Ranulf (3 PIPs) decides to throw the muntatores in to support the skirmishers, while he and the spearmen continue to advance. The muntatores are supported by the skirmishers, but due to some very desultory fighting only force a recoil of the Ostmen (3+1 v. 2+1!). Owain (4 PIPs) rearranges his Ostmen, giving them rear support from the skirmishers, wheels and advances his archers and extends his skirmishers to give overlap support. His archers fire on the muntatores with disappointing results (4+1 v. 3+3).

Situation at the end of the 4th turn

Situation at the end of the 4th turn

(4) Ranulf has the PIPs (4) to get his spearmen across to the archers using the road. The manouvre does not leave him in an ideal situation, however; his knights are separated and the spearmen are in column close to the enemy. Owain (5 PIPs) replies by advancing his warband to give overlap support to the Ostmen who attack the muntatores and skirmishers. Shooting by the only element of archers in range to the spearmen is ineffectual. Poor dice dog the attack. The Ostmen recoil (4+2 v. 2+5) and the skirmishers put up a good fight before retiring behind Ranulf and his retinue (4+6 v. 2+5).

Situation at the end of the 5th turn

Situation at the end of the 5th turn

(5) Ranulf (2 PIPs), feeling short of ideas, retires his muntatores to align with himself and advances his spear towards the archers, whose shooting forces them to recoil (2+5 v. 1+4). Owain (4 PIPs) sees the chance to hit the spear from the side with his warbands and retires some archers to give them room, while also realigning his Ostmen. Now would have been the time for good dice to have decimated the Marcher spearmen, but they continued their lukewarm form: the archers did nothing (2+3 v. 2+4); a recoil would have destroyed the back rank. The spearmen also hold back the warband (4+4 v. 4+4).

Situation at the end of the 6th turn

Situation at the end of the 6th turn

(6) Ranulf (4 PIPs) is unfazed and decides to charge the Ostmen, supported by his skirmishers. He also advances the front of the column of spear and gives them some skirmisher support. Shooting forces the skirmishers to retire, while the warband is forced to retire (4+5 v. 4+3). Ranulf slaughters the Ostmen (4+5 v. 3+2), taking with them their skirmisher support. The muntatores face doughtier axemen, but nevertheless push them back (3+6 v. 2+5). Owain (1 PIP) loses his nerve and can only order the warband back into the fray. They finally gain a little traction and eliminate their opponents (4+5 v. 4+4). The archers had forced the spearmen to recoil (2+4 v. 2+2).

Situation at the end of the Ranulf's 7th turn

Situation at the end of the Ranulf's 7th turn

(7) Ranulf (5 PIPs) is spurred on by his success and Owain’s lack of response. He rounds on the remaining Ostmen, sends the spearmen against the archers, and brings some knights up to support the spear. The Ostmen are utterly massacred (3+6 v. 2+1), the spearmen push back the warband (4+3 v. 3+1) and there is a standoff with the archers, though the skirmishers recoil (3+3 v. 2+4 and 2+2 v. 2+3). Owain regains his composure (5 PIPs) and in a desperate attempt to break the Marcher force sends his skirmishers on the left flank out to attack their counterparts, while he attempts to move around to the right flank (that wood was a real pain).

Situation at the end of the Owain's 7th turn

Situation at the end of the Owain's 7th turn

His archers shoot on the muntatores, who shrug it off (4+4 v. 3+6) Then the skirmishers have more poor dice. At this point, infuriated by the consistently mediocre dice, I intervene, change dice (red for green!) and reroll. This makes a huge difference. The skirmishers destroy their opponents in a tough fight (2+6 v. 1+5). The warband are on fire (3+6 v. 4+1); only the archers fail to kill, being pushed back (2+4 v. 2+5).

(8) Ranulf (3 PIPs) despite the losses of the last turn can see the Welsh are at breaking point. The warbands had advanced into range of his knights, ugh! And he turns on those skirmishers who’d come out into the open. His casual assurance of victory is almost his undoing. In fact, I was so sure it was all over bar the shouting that I didn’t notice that if Ranulf was forced to recoil he’d meet the muntatores and be destroyed. In fact I forgot to do the shooting all together, and this very outcome happened. Embarrassed I use those dice for the archers shooting who should have shot at the muntatores (4+4 v. 3+1). The next bit of shooting was equally effective, with the archers who recoiled able to shoot at the spear with support on both sides (2+6 v. 2+2). Remarkably, Owain is in with a chance. The skirmishers can’t keep up the good luck, being destroyed by Ranulf (4+4 v. 2+1); the warbands, however, manage to hang on against the odds (3+2 v. 2+4). The Norman knights, seeing their spear in disarray retire from the field and Owain claims victory in a bloody encounter in which he loses both his Ostmen and two of his skirmishers while destroying three quarters of Ranulf’s spear, his muntatores and some of his skirmishers.

A veil was drawn over the scene of Ranulf’s defeat; no photo was taken of the final position. Actually, it didn’t play out as tidily as I’ve described it. I thought the archers couldn’t shoot at the spear, as the spear were ‘in a position to provide overlap support’ as the WADBAG Guide puts it. Only in the morning after writing a description of Owain’s defeat, did I check the rules and realize they should have fired. I shuffled all the dice results on—the skirmishers had resisted Ranulf; now their dice saw the spear destroyed. The warband had fallen to the knights, now their result saw the skirmishers destroyed, and then I rolled for the warband and the dice were still with the Welsh the next morning. You could say it’s a case of a battle were the historical record is ambiguous and both sides claimed victory. I show my partisan spirit in going with the Welsh!

  • Review

Ranulf probably chose the right side to deploy from, but he botched his set-up, and would have been lucky to win when his spear were at such a disadvantage and he was separated from the bulk of his knights. Yet he would have, had I not changed that dice! The transformation was incredible!

Owain decision to mass his archers had two justifications; firstly they made the most open piece of terrain unattractive to Ranulf’s mounted troops, and then they would be most deadly with their supported fire.

The downside was that Ranulf could have avoided them by deploying on the other flank, and properly deployed his spear would have the advantage over them. Furthermore, although terrain was a problem for Ranulf’s horse on his right flank, any foot deployed in the open were vulnerable, as the Ostmen discovered.

Had Ranulf deployed sensibly, he could have used his knights to pin the right flank in bad terrain, while the spear, supported by skirmishers and muntatores dealt to the archers.

An alternative deployment for Owain would have been to split the archers, perhaps exchanging two for the Ostmen and their support. The Ostmen were vulnerable to knights wherever they deployed, but at least they’d have archer support.

At the end of March this year to celebrate the completion of the Norse-Irish I tried them out in a solo game against an Anglo-Norman opponent. The Irish were defenders (I didn’t need to cheat about this, but I was prepared to). The Irish had to have a waterway and elected to have two woods close to it at either end of the board and a long marsh at 90 degrees to it in the middle of the board in relation to the waterway, and near and about two thirds of the way along the board in the other direction. The Normans thought of trying to put the waterway to the rear of the Irish, but eventually decided to be closest to the marsh and hope to get around its flanks with their cavalry in time to destroy the Irish in the open.

The Irish deployed with three elements of bonnachts supported by an element of kerns in a line in front of the wood behind which their camp was and then to have the rest of the bonnachts and kerns to line up alongside this group with the Ostmen to their rear. They hoped to gain the marsh before the knights and cavalry could catch them. They decided against trying a littoral landing (it’d only slow up the rush for the marsh).

The English had three elements of skirmishers (psiloi) behind the marsh, the four spear in a column in the gap between the marsh and their wood, one knight next to the waterway, and the other three knights, the commander and the cavalry on the far flank.

The Irish exchanged two bonnachts with two kerns to get the kerns on the open flank in the hope of racing to the marsh on their first turn and disrupting the cavalry. This proved a winner as they rolled enough PIPs to get a kern into the edge of the marsh and ZOC the column of knights. At this point the English commander realized the problem of having his commander on one wing and tried to move himself and two other knights to the other flank. The cavalry continued its outflanking manoeuvre, and the psiloi went into the marsh.

The Irish got some two more kerns into the marsh and one was destroyed in a combat with the English skirmishers (very bad dice). On the next turn the general flanked by two bonnachts poured in; they lined up with the psiloi and on the open flank outflanked the psiloi with a kern. The dice at this point really ended the game—both flanking bonnachts were destroyed! The general survived exposed but in a hopeless position. I decided to reroll to see what would happen and this time the expected happened: the flanked Eglish psiloi was destroyed, as was the one on the other end; the one facing the general was lucky to survive.

Now the battle was more evenly poised. The English had a bottleneck trying to get the knights out between the marsh and the woods—the spear were in front and blocking them. The surviving skirmisher abandoned the marsh and faced off against the general just out of range flanked by a knight. On the outer flank the cavalry avoided a kern doubling back to flank them while being attacked frontally by the Ostmen. They spent most of the battle fairly ineffectually retreating from the Ostmen while waiting for the knight on that flank to skirt the ZOC of the kern perched on the marsh’s edge and join them. The Irish then made the bottleneck worse by advancing an element of bonnachts into the spear who were too close to the marsh. They had to turn and face, blocking the English general. The element of knights next to the waterway advanced, while the Irish used good PIPs to send all the bonnachts and kerns in the woods out to try and get at the spear. As it eventuated, these bonnachts won the game. They got lucky against the knight: overlap and psiloi support made it 3-2. The knights recoiled when they charged the element closest to the waterway and then were destroyed when the Irish followed up—good dice did it.

The spear had managed to destroy the bonnachts in the marsh, but now were caught on their flank again by the bonnachts that had been victorious against the knights. Worse still a kern had moved across the marsh to flank them. They survived, forcing a recoil in the first combat, and charged in for a second time with a stalemate. The Irish then got the result they needed to win the game.

The mobility of auxilia and psiloi is quite neat, but their vulnerability in the open to knights (that went for the entire army!) was pretty unnerving. If it’d been a bonnacht that was supporting the Ostmen they might have been able to trap the cavalry, but the kerns were scared to leave the marsh lest they get hit by the cavalry.

The English knights could have, and should have, moved through the woods to get past the spear, but were mesmerized by the area of open ground between the marsh and the wood, which was blocked and they remained ineffectual. Otherwise their deployment was ill-conceived, with the general on one flank and the spear in column. Still, but for the PIPs that allowed the kern to obstruct on one flank it would have been a slaughter.

A much better deployment would have been to put the spear in a line behind the marsh and not move them. The skirmishers should have occupied the edges of the marsh on the first turn as the kerns did. This would have let the cavalry around where they could have hoped to catch some Irish in the open. Fighting for control of the marsh was a mistake; they were lucky not to lose all three psiloi. Sitting outside with the spear would have left what Irish made it to the marsh look foolish, cut off from half the army and the camp. Knowing what to do with the Ostmen was difficult. They were slow and were torn between chasing the cavalry and going after the spear. Once they opted for the cavalry their speed committed them to persevere with this.

It was a fun game. The Irish were always going to need a fair amount of luck to win, and they generally got good PIPs and the right combat dice (except at the start in what became a very quick alternate outcome!). Hindsight revealed the shortcomings of the English deployment, which the Irish were able to use to good effect.

Next I think I’ll go for a fight of Irish against Vikings, both are littoral, so it’d make for an interesting match-up, provided the Irish were defending.