Monday, 13 October 2014

Stamford Bridge 1066

This Saturday half a dozen ancients wargamers (or is that ancient wargamers!) met at the Hall of Heroes to refight the battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066. We used Hail Caesar rules, largely applying the unit stats from the Brunaburgh scenario in that book. (Note to the knowledgeable – I know enough that great importance is attached to using the correct term for the Viking/Norsemen/Norwegians, but I don’t know which the correct term is in these politically correct times of oft changing nomenclature. At school, which now seems as if it was not too long after the battle in question, the term used was Vikings, so shall I here, but no offence to fusspots, or the 'more offended than thou' brigade, much less the shades of battle-axe wielding Northern warriors, is intended!)
The terrain and scenario was set up to start the action after the legendary holding of the eponymous bridge by a single Viking hero, and features the large battle that took place once the Saxons had pushed across the river. Not much is known, but we suspect it would have been broken ground liberally covered with small dense knots of forest and hills and knolls. The foresty bits were impenetrable to any but light skirmish troops, and the knolls merely gave the uphill advantage to those on their tops.

Initially the Vikings would not get the full benefit of their armour saves, reflecting their hasty muster, and, initially outnumbered by the Saxon army, they would be steadily reinforced by the warriors left with the ships who sped marched to the scene of the battle. The mechanisms for this worked well, and may be worth describing in detail listing. In each Viking order phase they first rolled to receive reinforcements, needing a 6 on the first move, thereafter 5, thence 4, etc. If successful, they then rolled a D6 for the number of units, then initially a further D6 for the location the ship crews would arrive at the battle from, which it seemed logical to suppose would remain the same throughout.

Rushing into battle...***
Reflecting that if running to the sound of the clash they would most probably end up coming onto the table behind the Viking centre, but wanting to allow for more exciting possibilities of them arriving on the flanking table edges, the Viking players rolled a D6. On a 1 or a 6 they would arrive on their left or right flank table edge, respectively, but on a 2-5 arrive in the middle of their table edge. As it turned out, where they arrived would have a major impact on the game’s outcome…

Trying to pivot around the wood whilst archery keeps the Vikings busy...
Realising that we had to take advantage of our early, but temporary superiority in numbers, the Saxon team ordered all out advances all along the line. Given the left flank to lead, my intention was to anchor my line on a convenient area of forest, having my single unit of light archers degrading the Vikings with impunity from its shelter, whilst my 4 warbands, 2 of them of Thegns, wheeled around to take the shorter Viking shield wall in the flank.
Vic seldom has problems getting stuck in...unlike some...
As always with Hail Caesar, giving ambitious orders and having them faultlessly executed by the model soldiers are different things! My division advanced grudgingly one move, Mark’s centre division, of 6 warbands, remained stubbornly still, and it was only Vic, on the far right, who managed and all-out assault right from the get go…Would the first Viking reinforcements roll mean we had lost our window of opportunity?
I assume a common language was found for the exchange of insults - or was it all sign language?
Well the dice gods weren’t smiling on them either – they rolled a big fat 1! So for the second move apart from some hard fought clashes at the top end of the table, the action was limited to an exchange of arrows and insults.
In the centre the Viking line bends back to cover the flank - but their reinforcements in the foreground will soon ease the pressure anyway!
For the successive pair of moves, my warriors remained pretty slow moving, I was only able to edge them around the wood, so slowly that Bryan had ample time to fall his Viking shield wall back to cover his exposed flank…
In the centre, the would-be outflankers themselves being caught in a pincer - timing is everything!
And then disaster – not only were the Viking reinforcements arriving hotfoot in droves – they were appearing on their right flank - my left rear! So if I had have been more successful in charging Bryan early on, I would have ended up as the meat in a Viking sandwich! As it was I would have to take care not to be outflanked myself…
View along the table from the Saxon right of the line.
By this time even Mark had succeeded in getting his line to close with the Vikings so the action was now general, but the dice gods found the time to smile upon me for once – I was able to seal off my left flank from the ever mounting numbers of Viking ship crews, and establish my Thegns in a good position atop a convenient hillock to cover the centre left…
However elsewhere in the Saxon centre things were not going well at all with the Vikings resurgent after seeing their shipmates arrive, and they were pushing forward in the centre, threatening to cut the Saxon army in two.
Despite some hard fighting all along the shield walls, it became clear that the Vikings were not going to be sent back to their ships this day.
And besides, word was that there was pressing business down South - this time it would be the Saxons doing the speed marching.... So, despite a Saxon failure to curb the Vikings, a good day's wargaming was had by all - Vikings: Terry and Bryan. Well done both! Saxons: Vic, Mark and your honest chronicler...

*** Should you see a 'Hagar the horrible' and even more improbable 'Snoopy' character running along with the Vikings in the bottom right of this photo, its not your eyes or my poor photography - they are a deliberate inclusion to serve as a nod to a local self appointed 'expert' that 'there are more things on heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophie...' Or in other words - don't get to apoplectic about toy soldiers!


  1. I'm a Ph.D. in Medieval History, with a specialty in England of the 10th and 11th centuries. I hereby give you permission to call the Scandinavians of this period whatever the heck you want! It's true that the Norse army of this period was culturally and politically closer to the English than in previous centuries, but the English of this period were also emphasizing the differences between them and their cousins from across the sea. So a throwback term like "Vikings" is not entirely out of place.

    Great looking game, and it sounds like it was a lot of fun to play. Love the Hagar figure!

    1. Thanks Mark! Yes I'm sure there's an inverse correlation between the depth of knowledge on a given period and the vehemence with which absolute but unprovable statements are defended, or the degree of offense which is claimed...

      However in my case I both know very little and care about the labels even less!

  2. These armies are really great, nice looking game!

  3. Thanks Gents! However I can't claim too much credit, actually very few of the figures were mine! :-(