Sunday, 27 July 2014

Towton 1461 Game

Warning - this batrep contains images of unpainted figures!

Normally I wouldn't post a batrep where the majority of photos are of unpainted figures - this great hobby of ours is primarily visual so why bother? And by the time we get around to playing this game again, probably next year, I hope the majority of figures will be painted!

Philip, our resident WOTR expert!
But wargaming isn't just about playing with prettily painted toy soldiers - as well as good fellowship, its also about the history, and the thrills and spills of pitting your wits (and, fortunately for me, those of your team-mates!) against the opposition! So forgive me for chronicling this less than stellar looking game, as it was one of the most enjoyable and challenging wargames I've had in a while!

Towton was, according to the subtitle of the excellent Osprey Campaign series, 'England's bloodiest battle'. Fought in the bitter and snowy winter of 1461,  the larger Lancastrian army, ensconced on a good defensive ridge, was stung into coming of their advantageous ridge by the smaller Yorkist army's archers, who employed the strong following wind to cause unendurable casualties on the passive Lancastrians.
Map courtesy of Wikipedia
A long and hard fought melee in the valley continued for most of the day, a cunning Lancastrian ambush failing to deliver much advantage, until the arrival of Yorkist reinforcements, led by the Duke of Norfolk began to turn the tide, with the Lancastrian line beginning to ebb away, eventually turning into a bloody rout.

Philip had carefully worked up the battle into a Hail Caesar scenario for the 6 of us to play. True to what we know of the history, the larger Lancastrian army was drawn up on a ridgeline, but with a small detached force of spearmen concealed in woods on the Yorkist right (Western) flank, with orders to spring the ambush once the lines had started to clash. We the Lancastrians knew that we could expect the enemy reinforcements to appear on our left (Eastern) Flank, but knew they couldn't arrive in the first 3 moves.

Scenario rules addressed the inclement weather; archery with the wind, that is to say that of the Yorkists led by Lord Fauconberg, had an increased range of 36 inches, whilst that going into the wind, ours, would only have a range of 12 inches. And all archery could only take place in the first 3 moves, after which archers could only fire at short range in support of close combat, having scrounged up a few more arrows from the ground.

Archers engage whilst the vanwards battle goes left flanking...

The Yorkists opened with a fairly effective volley of arrows. Then it was our turn. I, as the Earl of Northumberland, had the Lancastrian vanwards battle on the left flank,  commanded by Clifford (presumably, as he had fallen the previous day at Ferrybridge, his son!) and Exeter, and had been instructed to advance down into the valley along with the rest of they army. A dyed in the wool Napoleonics man who is happiest playing with a British army on a reverse slope, moving off our nice defensive ridge seemed like folly to me, but I did as I was told. Success rewarded my loyalty, giving my archers a full 3 moves with a lucky command throw, and I followed up, moving my men at arms and foot knights a much less impressive single move in an attempt to outflank my opponents from my left.

This was clearly a risky move, as we knew Norfolk would be coming this way, but I reasoned that with equal odds I should be able to close with and seriously dent my outnumbered opponents within the three moves I had in hand before they could appear...

However the command and control dice Gods were no longer on my side and 1 failed order and 2 successive single moves meant that I failed to get into position on the weak Yorkist right flank in time to grab all the glory myself...

But that was ok as over in the centre, and right wing, Shannon and Terry were doing just fine by themselves! Terry had been throwing sixes like they were going out of fashion, but it was
Shannon's men who got stuck in first...

and were doing pretty well too! Do painted figures always beat unpainted?

But by this time I was occupied elsewhere as the Yorkist reinforcements under Norfolk appeared to my flank! Fortunately for the Lancastrians, it was now Philip's turn to earn the displeasure of the dice Gods, which meant that not only was he not able to take my forward division in the flank, but his supports blundered away to their rear! Advantage was duly taken:

and my Retinue Men at Arms cleaved their way through the Yorkists...

So that by now units from different wings of the Lancastrian army were meeting in the middle to sandwich remaining Yorkists.

Whilst this unit survived, by dint of Philip's usually jammy dicethrowing...

It was not the same story elsewhere, as Terry's forces enveloped Vic's hard pressed Yorkists left, and then worked with Shannon to grind down Rob's Yorkist centre. With remarkably good grace, the hard pressed Yorkist team conceded that we had changed the course of history this day! This had been a close fought game, which would probably have ended in a historically long and bloody clash had Norfolk's reinforcements come in where they were supposed to. As it was, over half of the Yorkist units were broken off the table, with the Lancastrians losing about a quarter of their army. So still a bloody battle! But lead soldiers only have lead widows, so it was with glad hearts and smiling faces that we packed up, looking forward to our Bosworth game in a month or so!

Sunday, 20 July 2014

The Battle of Watling Street

Today we played our annual Battle of Watling Street game at the Hall of Heroes, using Hail Caesar rules.

The eponymous street, 25mm scale Roman road from that excellent little Welsh company, Iron Clad Miniatures. Straight as! The table was all set up for us yesterday by our mate Terry, who alas had another wargaming engagement so couldn't be with us for this battle. Setting up the terrain for a game you're not going to play - how great a mate is that! Thanks Terry it was appreciated. We based the scenario generally on the Hail Caesar 'Britannia' supplement, which has a pretty convincing map of this mysterious engagement. Allow me to quote from the scenario as we set the scene....   

 The Battle of Watling Street 61AD – a Black Powder Scenario

 (All page references unless stated otherwise are taken from Hail Caesar Britannia, Rome’s Invasion of Britain)
View from the Right shoulder of the Roman defile down to Watling Steet

A heavily wooded ridge overlooking the Roman Road since named ‘Watling Street’ has a clearing between dense forests on either side, providing space for an outnumbered force to take up a defensive upslope position with secure flanks. The woods on either side can only be penetrated by skirmishers. War bands are not permitted to break down into skirmish order to enter these forests.

The Iceni Warbands

An offensive-defensive battle set in the Boudiccan rebellion 61AD based on a larger Iceni and Trinovantian army of war bands attacking a smaller Roman force defending a hilly, narrow defile.

Mission                                The Britons have 10 moves to break through the Roman line.


After reaching agreement on relative force ratios, dependent on availability, the Romans will set up first, on the ridge line, able to post skirmishers in the forests to either flank if desired. The Britons will then set up opposite, no more than 1 foot in from their table edge. To offset our lack of British models, as well as nominating all British war bands as large, the British commander will have 3 options to sound the ‘Recall’ special house rule:

Sound Recall – at the start of the British move Boudicca may order her heralds to sound Recall on the Royal warhorns – the entire move is replaced by all British units moving back to the British start point. They remove disorder but retain stamina at Stamina -2, including units previously destroyed. This order may be sounded, at the start of the British move, thrice throughout the game, and replaces all other activity in that move, thus sacrificing a of the moves. 
(Experienced chieftains will know that your main chance to beat the Romans is in the first surge of an attack, if they hold your first charge the law of diminishing returns soon starts to bite…)

Note – The ‘pigs head’ special rule has not been selected for this scenario as it came into force later in the Roman era. (Hail Caesar, p.103). The similar ‘wedge’ formation was contemporaneous, but its use is not recorded at this engagement. However its essentials are noted here should a particularly daring and aggressive Roman commander rashly decide upon its use:

 Wedge Formation – Romans only. Free move on failed order. Counts ‘front’ all round to attacks and own ranged attacks, +1 morale save, cannot support nor be supported, can make own attacks all round, enemy giving ground to front are burst through, can make 3 moves when enemy break or are burst through. A wedge can only move forward. (Hail Caesar, pp.106-107)
Service Support              
An excellent selection of bistro style gastronomic delights are available from the shop – book early to avoid disappointment.
(We all took advantages of lulls in the battle to fuel up and keep hydrated, but for Philip it appeared the battle was one long lull!)

 Command and Signal

Troop Stats (p.28) – Romans – XIV Legio Gemina, XX Legio Valeria Victrix

Suetonius Paulinus Governor of Britain                                   Leadership 9
Praetorian Praefect                                                                     Leadership 8
Praefects of Auxiliaries (May only command Auxies)           Leadership 8 (p.24)

Unit                       Clash     Sustained            SR           LR           Morale Stamina               Special

 Legio                     7               7                 3          0          4+        6             Drilled, Pilum, Testudo

 Auxies                  6               6                 3          0          5+        6                            

 Archers                3               3                 2          2          5+        4                             Small unit

 Bolter                   1               1                 2          2          0          3

 Drilled – Free move on failed order. Move through or out of way of friends without risk of disorder.

Testudo-Free move, +2 morale save from ranged attacks, no flanks, adopt battle line if attacked, no ranged attacks.

Pilum – Enemy -1 morale save in first round of every combat engagement (Note this is not included in the supplement troop stats, but is from HC page 103 and is used here as the effect of Pilums at Watling street was critical (Britannia, p.55)

Also see ‘Wedge Formation’ above if desired – and may the Gods be with you!

Britons – Iceni and Trinovantes

 Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni      Leadership 9

Prince Tron of the Trinovantes   Leadership 8

Iceni Chiefs                                         Leadership 8 (p.25)

 Unit                       Clash     Sustained            SR           LR           Morale Stamina               Special

 Large War’d        11             8                 3          0          5+        8                             Wild Fighters

 Warband             9               6                2          0          5+         6                             Wild Fighters

 Skirmishers         3               2                 2          0          0          4                             Small unit

 Lt. Chariots         6               5                 4          0          4+        6

 Medium Cav      8               5                 3          0          5+         6

 Lt. Cav                7               5                 3          0          6+         6

Wild Fighters – Re-roll missed combat attacks in the first round of the game (and half of missed attacks after first recall)

As the Roman C in C I first set up the Romans in a rather loose formation, thinking to allow our cavalry room to launch disruptive attacks on the British masses as they moved across the valley below. However I was soon politely but firmly told by my Legate Thomas that this was the height of folly and that what was required was a good tight line with all Legion units shoulder to shoulder in mutual support...

And how right he turned out to be...

The game attracted a lot of interest from new faces, one of which volunteered to play, and Thomas emerged as an experience Hail Caesar player, which the rest of us are not, so I lost no time appointing him Legate!

The game started with the Britons attempting all out assaults all the way along the line - and the Trinovantes were up for it! 

The Iceni warbands, half of Bodicca's army, however, were not - and this, in the form of Mark's unfortunate command dice rolling, despite working his way through nearly everybody's dice, was to persist throughout the game....

Of course we tried to sow discord by suggesting Boudicca was happy to fight until the last drop of Trinovantian blood, but our taunts fell on deaf ears and the tribesmen kept the pressure on:


In fact considering the Britons were effectively fighting with half their army in the first wave of assaults, they did remarkably well, particularly as we forgot all about the 'Fierce Fighters' special rule!

It was good to see that both sides maximised the use of supports in this first series of clashes, and for my part, having reserved the use of the cavalry to myself as overall Roman commander, I also used them to support the infantry, where there were insufficient Auxiliary cohorts to form a complete second line.

But what I suspect made the difference in recieving the fierce British onslaught was our discovery, thanks to Thomas, of the 'lock shields' rule, whereby heavy shield armed infantry can gain a +1 to their save, and the expense of a -1 to their attackes. A small thing, but seemingly crucial in this situation.

And of course the Britons were fighting uphill...

Eventually the Trinovantes ran out of puff and were clearly getting nowhere...

So Queen Boudicca summoned her heralds to sound 'Recall' and the gallant Trinovantes drew off from the sweating, bloodied Roman line and rejoined the fresh, and, one hopes, somewhat sheepish Iceni, to get ready to go in again...

The Romans made good use of this time to adjust the lines once again and rally off some casualties, and then awaited the next onslaught. To our delight yet again the Iceni seemed a little shy...

However, nothing daunted, Bryan the British cavalry and light chariots warlord was confident he could pressurise the Roman left flank with chariots alone...

whilst continuing to use the light cavalry on the other flank to give the long suffering Trinovantes the edge. Unfortunately our cunning Legatus Thomas had prepared his archers in ambush...

So while our right flank seemed to be holding - just...

The use of chariots, now supported by the tardy Iceni, gave us our most dangerous moment...

But the jusdicious use of Auxiliaries, I'm happy to say in this case my Cohors I Batavia, proved sufficient to stabilise the line...and the Britons had run out of time to change the course of history...

Big fella!

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

'Little Stalingrad' - Ponyri Station 7.7.1943

Ponyri Station with Hill 253.3 on the right
The Battle of Kursk has long been a fascination of mine - perhaps the pivotal battle in that climeractic and epic Eastern Front? Certainly it saw a great concentration of heavy armour - WW1 with fast moving tanks and attack aircraft!

And it transpired that I was not alone in having amassed, over the years, a large collection of 1/72nd scale armour and infantry! So on Sunday about a dozen of us got together at the Hall of Heroes for a demonstration game of Battle Group Kursk. Phil wanted to get his 2 Ferdinands out, and it transpired that a few of us had these monsters, and some Brummbars, and some Tigers...and so it spiralled out of control!

To keep things at least within sight of being manageable with all this 20mm heavy metal just itiching to get on the table, I decided to design the scenario around 2 sets of separate battlegroups, linked by the same mission. Each side would have an armour heavy group,

and one made up primarily of infantry and anti-tank guns. Each Battle Group would have their own orders total and BattleGroup Rating, so in effect it would be two separate games, but playing over the same terrain in team effort. To further restrict congestion and to allow everyone the opportunity to bring their pet models onto the table, the game was split into 2 phases, my hope being that by Phase 2 most of the vehicles and infantry from phase one would have been cleared from the table! Allow me to quote excerpts from the game scenario which may clarify things:



The purpose of this scenario is to build on last month’s BGO game and raise the profile of Battle Group rules by staging a large, visually impressive game which reflects the see-saw nature of attack and counter-attack.


The Northern Sector of the Kursk salient. Ponyri is a key railway station commanding the approaches South to Kursk itself. The ground is flat with just the knoll of Hill 253.3 as high ground. Some cover is provided by small woods.
The village itself is dominated by 4 key points: a water tower, railway station, large tractor depot and school. See Healy, pp.50-51.


7th July 1943. The action has been raging around Ponyri since 5th July, and the German Infantry forces had succeeded in gaining footholds in the village, only to be beaten back by Soviet counterattacks. However, General of Panzer Troops Joseph Harpe, a strong Party man, was losing patience! His initial orders had emphasised:

It is of vital importance for the corps quickly to defeat the strong enemy force identified in Ponyri and clear the rail line of the enemy.

However the Soviets also realised the importance of this position, and the fresh 307th Rifle Division relieved the shattered defenders, and was itself reinforced with the greatest concentration of tanks and guns seen anywhere in this climeractic battle.
 Major General von der Groeben, Operations Officer Army Group Centre, recalls:

Several hundred Russian tanks moved from rear areas to the critical point on the battlefield. A giant tank battle ensued, lasting for days. Here German panzers demonstrated their superiority, slowly inching forward in a spirited attack against new Soviet strongpoints crystallizing near…Ponyriy….Beginning on 7 July the Russians debouched from these strongpoints to strike with heavy, concerted counterstrokes…

The first, and only, Russian Counterattack of the game - but effective!

In five hours of fighting, Ponyri Station changed hands repeatedly…


Your Battle groups are to seize and hold Ponyri and Hill 253.3 and destroy enemy forces in the area.


The game will be conducted in 3 Phases: Admin, Phase 1 of 5 moves with ontable unit action and Phase 2, of 5 moves, where reinforcements may come on table.

Don't upset yourselves - we know there weren't any SU85s at Kursk! These are representing SU-76s!
Of course, as is my usual wont, in being too ambitious in terms of the number of toys on the table, and players to command them, we ran out of time before getting anywhere near a result - in fact we only just completed Phase 1, so my lovely Tiger company didn't even make it into action!

However, everyone seemed to enjoy it, action was fierce and continuous, and we experienced and worked our way through the rules to experience the gamut of high intensity all-arms armoured warfare - minefield crossing, CAS strikes, counter attacks, standoff AT exchanges, and an infantry assault. 

So would we do it again with fewer toys? No - next time we'll set aside a whole weekend to get a result!