Tuesday 7 May 2019

1065 and all that! (yes, you read that right)

Fellow blogger Jay, at his blog ‘Numbers, Wargames and Arsing About’, has recently put up a mini ladder campaign that works on a marriage between a 6x6 hex grid and scenarios taken from the Neil Thomas ‘One Hour Wargames’ book.

For rules, he is using Neil Thomas fast rules called ‘Simplicity in Practice’ but modified for hexes. The scene is then set for a small 18th Century ‘Imaginations’ campaign.

The adversaries are Le Marquis des Aix-En-PainsAix (Red army) and The Duke of Bad Schmaltzberg (Blue army).

The campaign opens using Scenario 4 from One Hour Wargames book, with the Duke of Bad Schmaltzberg attempting to strike before his enemy have properly mobilised.

Jay has also provided the maps and counters to play each battle, they just need downloading and printing, but in true wargaming spirit of tweaking things that don’t need tweaking, I will be running this as a late Dark Ages campaign on my hex terrain, using the OHW Neil Thomas rules, with my own amendment to include morale. (You see, I am not blessed with any 7 Years War figures, but my part painted 1066 12mm do beg for a day out).

This post is all about ..... Once upon a time, there was a nasty Duke, who wanted the nice English crown, but being impatient and against all the advice of good council, to wait another year, he brought his forces together in 1065 for ..... Invasion!

Please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this post.

At this point, to enjoy this post, the reader may be interested in popping over to Jay’s blog and looking at his campaign module (link below in the Resource Section).

Bad Schmaltzberg - always the blue player in Jay’s campaign, will be represented instead by the Normans under the Command of William, Duke of Normandy.

Aix En Pains - always the red player, will be represented instead by the Anglo-Saxons, under their rightful King, Edward the Confessor.

And so here we are in our own ‘Imaginations’, it is the Summer of 1065. The ailing King of England, Edward the Confessor hears the surprising news that Norman troops are on the English south coast, ravaging the land, taunting him to do his Kingly duty and protect his people. He can’t understand it, after all, had he not already promised the throne to William upon his own death!  Oh dear, perhaps that was just one of those things that he never got around to doing.

Edward, himself not a warrior king and in doubtful health and encouraged by the Witan (Saxon Council), calls upon Harold Godwinson of Wessex, the head of the most powerful family in the Kingdom, to take the Housecarl, gather the Thegns and General Fyrd from the south and march  against William.

This is our campaign map. It is a rough copy of Jay’s 18th Century map, but the place names have been changed to give us our ‘Hastings’ flavour.

On 14th October, at an old apple tree, outside the Forrest of Andredsweald, the ranks of the Anglo-Saxon army swelled as Thegns and their contingents flooded to the rendezvous point, but Harold was impatient and before his army was fully assembled, he set off towards the known Norman positions with his only his vanguard.

Battle one - Scenario 4 (OHW) Take the High Ground.

Situation (as described in OHW) - An isolated portion of the Red army occupies a strategic hill. The Blue general has noted this and has set out to seize the hilltop before enemy reinforcements arrive.

Victory Conditions - The army that is in exclusive occupation of the hill at the end of the game (15 turns) is victorious.

Army size - both armies have 6 units, which are randomly selected, but for this campaign, I have put a loading onto the selection charts, so that William gets extra cavalry. Harold will always convert one infantry unit (from column 1) to General Fyrd, any Levies to General Fyrd and Archers to Skirmishers (max 1).

I have also tampered with the unit stats, as per the chart below (click to enlarge). This creates the General Fyrd unit and plays around with the various stat values (click to enlarge).

Finally, I am introducing a morale rule that basically requires any unit taking losses that turn to take a test. Failure enforces a retreat, plus gives 2 extra casualties. Units attacked through their flank or rear deduct -2 from their morale test roll.

Phew! Let’s go!

Harold’s vanguard is a balanced force, with a mixed body of Thegns / Housecarls and Fyrd. It has initially made for a small hillock that covers the road to Canterbury. Harold wants to hold this position until the rest of his army can join him and then they can move down to Senlac Hill, which gives a superior defensive position.

But William had made an early start and was already within sight of the hillock. Harold had been wrong-footed and would now be forced to fight in a place not of his choosing and desperately looking over his shoulder for the arrival of his own forces, led by his brother Gyrth.

The Norman assault was aggressive and determined. Archers on the flanks of the infantry put down a particularly effective arrow storm, while one unit of infantry charged forwards, into the ranks of the Housecarl. On the Norman right wing, heavy cavalry manoeuvred into flanking positions, striking hard against the Fyrd, who held on with great resilience.

It was a hopeless situation and as the cavalry envelopment continued, Harold ordered that the high ground be abandoned and that his men should fall back, so that reinforcements could come alongside his left flank. They held against further attacks, but the Fyrd could not adequately disengage their flank from the Norman cavalry (see below).

Harold was desperate, checking to his left, he saw armour glinting in the sun, it was Gyrth with the main Saxon force. Seeing the Norman cavalry pushing into the Fyrd, the arriving Housecarls ran straight into the rear of the Norman cavalry, their huge axes causing great carnage. The cavalry broke away and the moment appeared to have been saved .... but;

Despite Gyrth counter-attacking at the Hillock with some success, the Normans persisted in trying to destroy the remnants of Harold’s vanguard, which they did, exposing the entire Saxon right wing. Harold ordered a breaking of contact and a Saxon retreat turned into a rout from the field, pursued by Norman cavalry.

By nightfall, Harold had lost half of his force (2 x Housecarl / Thegn and 1 x Fyrd), while William, though with losses, could still count on the full cohesion of his army.

Battle two - Scenario 5 (OHW) Bridgehead.

Situation (as described in OHW) - The Blue army have discovered a river crossing in Red territory and is aiming to secure it. The Red general is frantically attempting to mobilize every available unit, in order to stop the enemy bridgehead from being formed.

Victory Conditions - Victory is achieved by there being no enemy unit on the north bank of the river, within 12” of the bridge.

Army size, both sides have 6 units, but neither side have any missile capacity.

As Harold’s army fell back in disorder, crossing the River Medway and heading towards Wadhurst, the soldiers were forced towards Medway bridges and fords to make the crossing, somewhat funnelling them back into larger bodies.

At the same time, one of Harold’s brothers, Leofwine, had brought northern reinforcements to the area and the routing soldiers started to galvanise with these fresh forces. Slowly, the rout was stopped and the order given for everyone to start making back to the river and defend the line there.

William’s cavalry, who had pursued the routers, had already made it to the Medway bridge on the  Wadhurst road and they placed themselves on the far side, anxiously waiting for the main Norman body to arrive and consolidate the bridgehead.

Both sides were feeding soldiers into the area. The Normans were organised and arriving at the bridge in road column, while the Anglo-Saxons were coming in from different directions as they re-organised from rout and made for the mud flats in front of the bridge.

The first troops to arrive in the vicinity were a mixed body of Housecarl, Thegn and Fyrd, led by Loefwine, pushing down the road. William’s cavalry were deciding whether to launch a pre-emtive strike, but on see the first of their own infantry approaching, they simply moved across to the right to give the infantry room to deploy next to them, so that they could meet the enemy together.

But the Saxon build up was faster and coming from all directions, the Norman troops were pinned against the bridge, without room to bring more troops across the bridge and being attacked by greater numbers in that confined space.

The Norman cavalry fought fiercely, their backs to the river, trading blow for blow. Inspired by the bravery of their commander, Hugh of Grantmesnil, it was the Housecarls who gave way first, giving the Normans just a bit more room to breathe. But the overall situation changed little, the Normans remained heavily outnumbered on the far side of the bridge and could not get their own troops into action. Below, the Norman heavy infantry with 13 hits is surrounded on three sides by Harold's troops.

Gradually, they were worn down and for a brief moment, complete collapse of the line seemed certain and was only averted by the intervention of a Breton (Norman Ally) infantry unit covering the end of the bridge. With losses mounting and the outcome increasingly obvious, the Normans quickly abandoned the bridgehead and retreated.

They had been seriously mauled with their losses compared to the Saxons being somewhere in the region of 2:1.

William was now concerned about keeping his Breton and the Franco-Flemish allies onside. Their commanders wanted to make straight back to the fleet at Pevensey, but based on the argument that the Saxons had already used their reserves from the north, William managed to persuade them that the Saxons would be reluctant to enter another pitched battle and that instead of abandoning the campaign, they should move back along their line of communication towards Pevensey, but to hold a forward blocking position and allow for fresh troops and supplies to be brought across from Normandy.

Battle Three - Scenario 19 (OHW) - Blow from the rear.

William had good reason to suspect a weakening of the King’s resolve. The Saxon pursuit from the Medway had appeared tardy, but in actual fact, Harold had a bold plan. Following Medway, he spent a couple of days resting his army and dividing them into two forces. His own force would follow the Norman retreat path, while the other half of his army under Leofwine would take a wide arc out to the west in an effort to get between William and his fleet. If he could compromise the Norman army and their supplies, Harold felt certain that the next action would be decisive .... in his favour!

Situation (as described in OHW) - The Blue general is defending two river crossings from what he thinks is a numerically inferior Red force. His complacency will be shattered when an additional Red contingent arrives in the Blue rear area.

Victory conditions - The Red player wins the game if there are no Blue units with 6” of either river crossing at the end of turn 15. Failure to achieve this goal results in a Blue victory.

Army size - both armies have 6 units.

William covered both of the crossing points at the river with his infantry, in particular, tying down the Bretons and Franco-Flemish to those positions. His cavalry, under Robert, son of Roger of Beaumont, was kept to the rear, with strict instructions not to move unless the river position was breached.

As expected, the Saxon’s came into view on the far side of the bridges, but for whatever reason, they halted. In fact, Harold, was just marking a bit of time to allow Loefwine’s flanking force to reach the battlefield, but effective Norman archer fire across the river stung his force into action and they charged across the bridges, then with heavy losses, they recoiled.

At around the same moment, Leofwine arrived on the battlefield, behind the river, threatening William’s left flank. (above, the view into the Norman Rear from the flanking position).

The skirmishers pushed through the top end of the woods, to compromise the flank of those units defending the first bridge (Skirmishers on the left in the lower photo, strike at the Norman infantry defending the bridge).

At the second  bridge, the Thegns again charged, but were so badly repulse by the combined effect of sword strokes and arrows, that they broke and fled. Some of the Fyrd from the first bridge immediately moved across to the second bridge, it was important to keep the Normans engaged in as many places as possible.

On seeing the flank attack, Robert Beaumont unleashed his cavalry, which charged into Saxon Housecarls and Fyrd, without regard for their own flanks. A swirling battle ensued, with opportunities gained and lost by both sides. Casualties were mounting. The first bridge fell to the Saxons, while at the second bridge, Norman heavy infantry charged across and finished off the Fyrd on the other side, releasing Norman troops from that position to join the main fray.

The fighting was extremely tight and casualties very heavy, but little by little, the Normans gained the upper hand and gradually the Saxon army broke contact and fled to the north. The Saxon army was ruined, but William’s force was not strong enough to take full advantage of that and they languished for nearly three weeks awaiting a response from The King, that in truth was never going to happen.

Two wins out of three battles had not give William the kingdom that his ambitions or sponsors craved for. His reputation diminished and news of unrest at home, were enough for him to return to Normandy to secure his position and perhaps the following year in 1066, he would have better luck!

A quick thanks to Jay for creating the engine that led to this campaign game.

Conclusions - One Hour Wargames by Neil Thomas has two notable aspects. Firstly a very good collection of 30 scenarios that can be widely used and enjoyed. They are presented in the style of the good old ‘teaser’ scenario. Secondly it contains several wargame rule sets, covering nine historical periods, that work off pretty much a single game engine.

The rules are very light at just 2 - 3 pages for each set. They get a game onto a small table. They are easy to learn and friendly to play and they are very robust, so the player can add their own amendments to get the rules to the level that best suits them. It is this last aspect that is the strength of the rules, as in their raw form, for my money, they don’t give enough depth, but their brevity and accessibility is admirable and so just adding a few more rules gets them into my ‘compromise zone’.

In our 1065 games, using shieldwall gave infantry much more staying power than is typical in this system, but I think the units need this to help properly pace the game. The archers are good, if you get them into the right place at the right time .... if they get caught out though, they are easy prey, so a good feel there. Units can carry 14 casualties (1 away from destruction) and still play fully competently under the rules as written and this encourages you to throw them into ‘do or die’ attacks, which all feels rather careless, which is why I like the idea of morale tests, so that brittle troops have a chance to get out of the line in a more intuitive way, plus a few surprise outcomes can open up the game.

Having done this as 1066 themed campaign, I think I would like to try it with other rules and with an ‘inter-battle’ admin phase that would take into account losses from a previous battle or the chance of recruiting.

Anyway, a ton of fun and you can’t say fairer than that!     

Jay’s Blog - LINK

My own additions for converting OHW to hexes. Link

My sister web space called ‘COMMANDERS’ is more ‘snippet’ based than here and updated more regularly LINK.