Friday, June 29, 2012

A Hunt for Fleeing Wolves: 1430ad

It was time for my next grand battle, and the subject matter was to be the Middle Ages; the question was how to make it something more than two straight lines advancing at one another, for after all, the major battles of the Hundred Years War had a certain - shall we say - predictability about them!

So I decided to scale things down and introduce some factors that were common to the period in the form of a scenario based on a Chevauchee or 'great raid'.

The sides were the French as defenders naturally enough, but rather than a straight English opponent, they were actually facing the Mercenary 'Free company' of one Richard Venables; a notorious English freebooter of the 1420-30's.  A man who came to France with a retinue of only a handful of men but came to lead a force of several thousand and ravaged parts of Normandy.   The scenario was that his army was marching back to the coast at full speed, and so must attempt to make it to the port of Saint Pierre where friendly ships were waiting off shore to rescue them from their pursuers.

The called for several special rules and a couple of ruses I will mention as they arose.  But firstly the deployments were distinct.  Whilst the Freebooters had a 3 foot by 2 foot box along the road to deploy in to; the French had five deployment zones to occupy with one each of their smaller divisions.  One at the village was fixed, but for the others they had some choice over who would be where.

After this I explained the Marching special rules to the English.  In Hail Caesar (my rules of choice for the period, with minor adjustments) when a command division fails a command roll no remaining elements in it may then move.  This is fine for a stand up battle.  But for one where the army is on the march it is impractical; why would they suddenly halt?  Therefore any unit with 12 inches of the road, and aligned to it's path could always take a single move that progressed forwards, following the route of the road.  It could do this either as an initiative move, or after orders had been issued, even if it itself had received an order unsuccessfully that turn.  Only units that received an order successfully (i.e. were told to do something other than march), and units who were presently more than 12 inches from the road were not allowed a March move.

Also the marching troops could ignore the requirement to conform to an enemy battleline within 12 inches, in favour of following the road.  But they did so with a certain risk, for if charged they would need to pass a command check to align to the attack (possible with supporting allies) else be hit in the flank or rear.

With all this covered the two sides went to their maps to draw up their deployments.  Then the initial dispositions were placed on the table.  The Freebooters had assumed they would be being pursued; in fact they were about to be ambushed.

Small contingents of French knights were either side of the army.  For this game I had specified the figure ratio as being one model representing five men  Therefore the Freebooters represented about two thousand men and the typical units were around 100 infantry or 40-60 cavalry.  The French lined up a few hundred men on their flanks but the dense mass of the Freebooters looked impregnable.

Richard Venables (what good fortune that their actual  commander for the day was also called Richard!) ordered his men to make haste for the coast, whilst the cavalry to his rear sought to hold the flank attacks.  In the end the Flemish troops in the Van made active headway, but the centre failed to respond and so marched but slowly along the road.

Neither did the French do too much to disrupt the Freebooters at this early a stage, but they of course knew they had more to come.  The Flemish advanced again on the next turn and came over the long ridge (across the width of the 12x6 foot table) to see that the terrain was in fact rather worse than they had realised.  

This was a Charlse Grant ploy of not putting terrain on the table until the players could actually see it.  Sure they knew the village was there, but the medieval maps and local intelligence they held had forgotten to point out it was surrounded by salt flats, unsuitable to formed bodies of men.  This would hamper any march!

Behind them the French seemed to have halted the rest of the Mercenary army, causing it to split to face both directions.  I hesitate to put words into their mouths but it seemed the Freebooters felt they could make short work of thedelaying forces which even without the Flemish they outnumbered more than two to one.

But in the distance the Flemish could now make out a mixed force of troops deploying from the village too.  some 700 men under the Mayor of the port, including reliable local troops but also with a levy of the local peasantry.  In their centre were some of the deadly, if unreliable, new cannone.

Further back a rash of confused engagements had broken out; with the Freebooters generally getting the upper hand, but being severely delayed in the process.  The French stood firm despite losing most of the mounted men early in the battle.  Foot troops were rallied and did what they could to contain the mainly English and Burgundian contingents.  The Flemings continueds forwards, effectively becoming a separate force.

And in doing so their position became more and more precarious.  Two further contingents of French troops again appears, neither was significant alone, but together with the troops to their front the Flemish who numbered perhaps 750 men were met by some 1400 mounted men and infantry.  Sensing weakness the commander of the french on the right rushed his men forward to threaten the Flemish pike.

At this point in the village, the cannone began to fire; but to little effect save on themselves:

(My rules for cannone are simple, 36 inch range and three dice; however if more of the dice come up as rolls of '1' than hits - so two '1's and a hit or any '1's and no hits) a cannone is destroyed.  The unit loses a dice of firepower, becomes disordered and must take a Break Test.)

A cannone exploded and the crew of the remaining gun hurriedly retired it to avoid risk of fire and spark sending it up too.  Much fear rippled through the French ranks but their Mayor showed there was little to fear by standing by his men.

Out before the marshes French brigans charged the pike, whilst Men at Arms moved to cut off the Flemish rear.

But the fight went disastrously for the French infantry; totally outclassed by the pikemen, both units fled in panic.  The whole command - small as it was and partly formed of skirmishers - was broken and began to retire from the Flemish.  The French Knights had to charge and try to save the day

But this resulted in another unit of cavalry being lost to the French and many of their remaining troops becoming mired in combat.  Meanwhile the Flemish Pike continued to roll up the flank, now reinforced by the mounted men from the port.

And what of the main body?  Well a mixture of caution and a determined defence by French infantry had seen the Freebooters advance little for several hours.  Losses were relatively light but they were not able to clear a path.  Two of their commanders, including Venables, had fallen in combat moreover; leaving their command system in a parlous state.  (As in Black Powder, I rule that when a commander is killed his replacement has one point less of command rating; the drop from 8 to 7 on the table is very telling!).

And now the light was fading too; it seemed unlikely the Freebooters wouldeven make the ridge by nightfall.

The battle was coming to a close for the day, but remained in two halves.  The Flemish had suffered some losses but had thrown back both flank attacks and fancied the odds of a march through the weakened centre of the French line.  The rest of the Freebooters had consolidated into an ordered battleline, but could not make safe passage over the hill.

But as night fell (or the game was declared ended by me!) and losses were accounted for it was found that the French had suffered the worst of it.  In particular their hot-headed knights had come up against stiff resistance and been thrown back with heavy losses on several occasions.  The Freebooters had several hundred casualties too, but suffered more for the lose of their leaders,  two dead and one seriously wounded.

Overall I called the day a narrow victory to the Freebooters, and speculated that the French were in no numbers to do more than retire to the port and attempt to hold the mercenaries from reaching their ships.  It seemed likely that if the Freebooters gave the impression of a serious attempt on the unfortified village, the resistance would melt away.

With three generals on either side, but most of those familiar with the rules to some extent, this was an easier game than some in the past to umpire.  I think the players appreciated the trick in the scenario, though the free company felt they had been set a heck of a task.

Incidentally the original inspiration for the scenario was the Battle of Beth Horon in 66ad, where a Roman Legion was harried to near destruction whilst on retreat to the coast, by a dispersed Jewish enemy.  I guess one could call this a disguised refight then.  More on those feisty Jews in a few days...

1 comment:

  1. Oooo! Fantastic looking set up and game. Very inspiring to me - as I still need to get my first Hail Caesar game in too! Best, Dean