Thursday, 19 July 2018

894 AD , Battle of Buttington

In 894, a battle was fought between a Danish Army and an Anglo-Saxon army with Welsh allies near the border of Powys and Mercia. History would record this engagement as the Battle of Buttington which ended in defeat for the Danes and essentially curtailed further Viking incursions in the west. Two Viking armies kept King Alfred occupied a smaller third army; under the command of Danish king Hastein threatened the western lands of Wessex and Mercia. This left Aethelred and ealdormen Aethelhelm, Aethelnoth, and others who were charged with defending various towns and cities to confront the new threat. Together, they assembled a great army consisting of both Saxons and Welsh and caught the Heathen Army near Buttington. The Vikings had built a fortification and were soon surrounded. Besieged for several weeks the starving Vikings attempted to break out but were beaten and put to flight.

A.D. 894. When they were all collected together, they overtook the rear of the enemy at Buttington on the banks of the Severn, and there beset them without on each side in a fortress. When they had sat there many weeks on both sides of the water, and the king meanwhile was in Devonshire westward with the naval force, then were the enemy weighed down with famine. They had devoured the greater part of their horses; and the rest had perished with hunger. Then went they out to the men that sat on the eastern side of the river, and fought with them; but the Christians had the victory.
From the Anglo Saxon Chronicle

The Battlefield
This scenario is a departure from the usual set piece battles, but should nonetheless prove an interesting challenge for the Danish player. The most likely site of the battle is somewhere between Buttington and Welshpool in the county of Powys. Welshpool (Y Trallwng) literally means the ‘marshy or sinking ground’ making Buttington a better choice as a battle site it is set on rising ground and nearby forests provide building materials for the camp. On a side note, Buttington lies astride Offa’s Dyke; built a century earlier this places the earthwork near to the battlefield.  

Regarding terrain features, the Danes are described as defending a ‘fortress’, however DBA 3.0 limits the garrison of a ‘fort’ to one element.. For this scenario we should consider the ‘fortress’ to be an enlarged camp. Its defence does add to combat and its interior is considered good going for movement.

Therefore, the battlefield should be considered ‘hilly’ and would have one difficult hill, two woods with an enlarged camp (3BW x 4BW) to be placed in the centre of the board.

The Armies
The Danes are taken from Book III/40b list which offers eleven blade and a twelfth element being psiloi, bow or berserker. However, considering the state of the Danes after several weeks of siege, their number would be reduced. For this scenario, the Danes total nine elements which mean defeat is reached with the loss of three elements.

The army of Mercia are taken from Book III/24b; however, this sub-list does not have the Welsh as allies. For this scenario the Welsh allies (III/19a) are present as [1 x general (3Bd), 1 x warrior (3Wb), 1 x skirmisher (Ps)] and these replace any three Mercian fyrd elements.

The Danes must break the siege and withdraw their force off any board edge. As the defender they move first, but for this scenario the Danes deploy their troops after the Anglo-Saxons. This offers a slight advantage in selecting a board edge to exit. All movement distance is as per foot type as horses are no longer available. The Danes are defeated with the loss of three elements.

The army of Mercia must surround the ‘fort’ at a distance of 6BW from its walls and for this scenario, the allied army deploys first, followed by the Danes. The Mercian player is free to deploy his troops around the perimeter but the Welsh must be grouped together (allied contingent). The Mercian player should be aware that some troops will be placed beyond command distance. 

Recommended Reading
Anglo Saxon Chronicle, Guttenberg Project (online).

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

891 AD, refighting the Battle of Leuven.

In late spring of 891, the Danes invaded Lotharingia and crushed an East Frankish army at Maastricht. Returning to the coast, the fleet sailed further south to plunder the county of Flanders and in the fall of that year, their raids reached Leuven where they decided to winter.

Despite the setback received by Lotharingia at Maastricht, King Arnulf gathered a new force comprising of Franks, Saxons and Bavarians to attack the Viking raiders now encamped at Leuven.

Several miles from Leuven, Arnulf split his force in two divisions, the first comprising all infantry would approach the town of Leuven from the east using the low hills to mask their movement while the mounted division would encircle the town from the north and west.

As the infantry reached 500 paces from the town, horns sounded the alarm sending Danes tumbling out of buildings and form a ragged line around the perimeter of the town. In 30 minutes (two moves) the Franks had formed a crescent stretching from the east, to the north and west side of Leuven; leaving the south end of town unattended. Retreat was not an option for the Danes as all their plunder was in town and had they not beaten a similar force in the spring. 

By pushing, shoving and an occasional thumping, the whole of the perimeter of Leuven was now covered by Danish troops leaving a small reserve of Hird positioned in the market grounds. During this time the only Frankish movement seen were infantry steadily closing the distance while the cavalry seemed content to hold their position.

The battle began on the eastern part of town with the Saxon infantry attacking the Danes. 

That attack was done with only half their force which was easily repulsed, but in their enthusiasm the Danes pursued leaving the protection of the town.

The Saxon shield wall held their ground and beat the Danes back to the town, leaving a great number of corpses as evidence of their impetuosity (1 – 0).

Emboldened by the success of the Saxon shield wall, the archers proceeded to pelt the Danes on the north side of town with arrows. Stung, the Danes were determined to exterminate them, but the archers fled to take shelter behind the ranks of Frankish heavy cavalry.

An hour had passed since the start of battle and seeing the infantry were now in a position to threaten the eastern side with an assault, Arnulf unleashed his heavy cavalry to strike the north side of town.

Despite the narrow passages between buildings, the Frankish knights destroyed a good number of enemy sending panic among the Danes (3 – 0). West of town, the Bavarians had dismounted and were ready to cross the Dyle and seal the fate of the Danes.

In desperation, the Danes used their reserve to plug the gaps created by the Frankish heavy cavalry. This did catch some cavalry by surprise but this was little consolation as more blood was spilled at the north end of town prompting the Jarl to sound a general retreat (4 – 1).

{1} the presence of black robed priests had no function in the game other than annoy the Danish player with their prayers of thanks for each departing pagan element.

Design note:
The battlefield and deployment of both forces is taken directly from ‘Battlefields of the Lowlands’ by Professor Luc de Vos. During the many test games we discovered many subtle rule features of DBA 3.0. 

Fighting in rough going does not affect combat factors between single elements as bad going will (-2); only movement is reduced to 1BW. Although group moves are possible spearmen cannot claim the advantage of flank support (+ 1) while in rough going. Vikings (4Bd) scoring a 'less than' result from heavy cavalry (3Kn) are not destroyed, but recoil. Unfortunately for the Danes, two Frankish knights scored 'twice as many' evidence that Odin does take lunch breaks.

The Frankish player did use two deployment zones, but the consequence of this meant some troops were beyond command distance. The Franks did manage good pip scores. The Danes did pursue taking them outside the town perimeter. One of these was the commander which resulted in any movement within the town by the Danes would cost an extra pip. Fortune smiled on the Danes as their commander was sent back into town. 

Can the Danes win?
Yes they can, but I will not deprive you from your journey of experience.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

891 AD, the Battle of Leuven.

During the latter half of the 9th century the empire of Charlemagne would evolve into two political entities known as the Western and Eastern Frankish kingdoms. Both were beset by Viking incursions, but the eastern half experienced further invasions by the Magyars, Slavs, and the Lombards. To counter these external threats, ‘marches’ or frontier provinces were established to maintain order within its borders, raise levies for its defence and ease the collection of tribute. The marcher lords held a degree of autonomy within their respective territory, but campaigns requiring a larger force were often led in person by the king. In November of 891, King Arnulf assembled an army of eastern Franks to meet the Heathen Army encamped on the River Dyle near Leuven in modern day Belgium.

“A.D. 891. This year went the army eastward; and King Arnulf fought with the land-force, ere the ships arrived, in conjunction with the eastern Franks, and Saxons, and Bavarians, and put them to flight”.
From the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:

The Battlefield.
Lovan (Leuven) is located east of modern day Brussels and rests on the Dyle River. For the most part this is now a canal, but it formed a tributary of Scheldt River coursing its way from Leuven to Mechelen to empty into the Scheldt River just south of Antwerp.  It is disputed if the battle took place in September or November, but in either case Reuter mentions the Great Army was prepared to ‘winter’ at Lovan (Leuven) making November a logical choice .

Our battlefield is constructed from a 13th century medieval map showing the village of Leuven, the Dyle River and the surrounding countryside. Just east of the town are rolling hills that could easily mask the approach of a Frankish force.  

The terrain items should have two ploughs (compulsory), a BUA (hamlet), river and one gentle hill. For this scenario, the BUA (minimum 3BW x 4BW) should be placed in centre of the board with its western side resting on the Dyle River (Class II). The placement of two plough (2 or 3BW x 4BW) and a gentle hill should follow the same procedure as per rule book.

The Armies.
Use Book III/40b list for the Great Army; this gives the Viking player eleven blade and a choice of either berserkers (3Wb) or skirmishers (Ps).

The East Franks are taken from Book III/53 giving the Frankish player a sizable number of knights supported by spear and few archers. The Bavarians are mentioned as present with Arnulf’s command therefore two elements of Bavarian knights may dismount as blade.

Viking setup.
Three elements serve as sentries and are placed adjacent to the hamlet on its perimeter. The remaining nine elements (including the general) are encamped in the town and are placed as three columns of three elements each. The Vikings are the defender so move first.  

East Frankish setup.
As the attacker, the East Franks have two deployment areas; one east of Leuven and the other north of the town. Troops deployed in either area positioned 6BW from the Viking sentries. The choice of a second deployment area is based on recent archaeological findings and studies done by Belgian historians.

Annals of Fulda, vol. II, Manchester University Press.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Project Gutenberg (e-book).

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

881 AD, refighting the Battle of Conwy

Rhodri the Great died in 878 and the rule of northern Wales passed to his surviving sons; Anarawd ruled Gwynedd, Cadell controlled Ceredigion and Merfyn received Powys. During the period of rule of Rhodri much time was spent repelling incursions by Vikings and the neighbouring Saxon kingdom of Mercia; his sons now face similar prospects.

In 881, Aethelred, asserted Mercian hegemony by forcing the southern Welsh kingdoms of Glywsing and Gwent to submit to Saxon overlordship. This programme of ‘subjugation’ was met with resistance from the kingdom of Gwynedd forcing Aethelred to respond with force.  

Following the harvest season Aethelred gathered a sizeable force of Mercian fyrd and crossed the frontier. The army continued their march along the Conwy River until scouts reported the presence of the Welsh army near the town of Conwy.

The site of battle was a wide valley offering ample room to deploy. Aethelred formed his infantry in an extended line and reinforced its flanks extra spearmen. The small unit of scouts (Ps) was posted to the right flank.

Departing the narrow valley to confront the Saxons, the Welsh formed several deep columns giving the impression of having a smaller number of troops.

What the Welsh lacked in numbers, they compensated with their speed and quickly covered the open ground between the two armies. Welsh skirmishers could be seen scrambling over the slopes of the nearby hill and to counter the threat the Mercian battle line left wheeled forcing the Welsh to adjust their approach.

The Welsh did adjust the battle line by forming two groups. Anarawd led group on the right while the left wing contained troops from Ceredigion and Powys led by his brothers, Cadell and Merfyn.

Cadell and Merfyn were the first to be struck by the Mercians led by Aethelred. Outnumbered two to one, the Welsh fought desperately against a frontal and flank attack by Mercian skirmishers.

Fortune smiled on the Welsh allowing them to beat back the first assault but a second attack did cause casualties to both sides (1 – 1).

The battle on the Mercian right degenerated into small desperate combats, even Aethelred and his Huscarls were surrounded briefly but the Welsh were beaten back. On the Welsh right, Anarawd swarmed over his opposition breaking a shield wall and destroyed a unit Huscarls (4Bd). The gap between both wings grew wider at this point bringing alarm to both commanders. Clusters of black robed priests were seen praying for divine intervention (3 – 1).

Aethelred’s Huscarls had done their job well repelling their opposition such that they now looked for easier game. and these were found on the Mercian right. Noting the thinning of enemy opposing Aethelred looked to his rear to see both his flanks covered by swarms of Welsh. Calling for a general retreat, Aethelred departed the field (4 – 1).

Design notes:
After a number of test games resulting in decisive victories for the Welsh, we concluded that this was one battle that would be difficult to adjust for play balance. The Welsh had much in their favour; geography, troop types that performed well in that terrain and a burning desire to defeat the Mercian army and avenge Rhodri. Yet, if one could claim some minor consolation from a defeat, perhaps the extent of losses inflicted on the Welsh before calling a general retreat. A 4 – 3 victory for the Welsh would seem less impressive than 5 – 0, which was the actual result of the first test game.

Their determination to defeat the Mercian army was evident as the chroniclers record all three brothers were present at the battle. Historically, the Welsh did not seek a campaign of conquest following their victory but did continue their forays into Mercian lands.

Looking at the basic combat factors, the Mercian have a number of advantages; spearmen can increase their factor by + 1 using flank support, secondly, they do not pursue so their line can remain unbroken and lastly even scores in combat will mean ‘fast’ troop types recoil. A likely deployment will have at least eleven elements placed in a single line easily out flanking the Welsh on either side. The lone psiloi hovering on the flank or positioned as a reserve in centre and this was the case as we selected the second battlefield for this refight.  

In contrast, the Welsh gain a +1 for a second rank in support and destroy their opponent with a combat result of ‘better than’ is achieved. The threat of being out flanked was always present, so the Welsh must use their speed to their advantage.

Luck does play a role, but both sides experienced an equal share of poor and excellent pip scores, even during combat.  

Thursday, 5 July 2018

881 AD, The Battle of Conwy

The Battle of the Conwy in 881 was fought between the northern Welsh Kingdom of Gwynedd and a Mercian army almost certainly led by Aethelred, Lord of the Mercians. The Welsh were victorious ending a period of Mercian domination over the western kingdoms. Some historians suggest this setback moved Æthelred to accept the lordship of King Alfred the Great of Wessex and set in motion the eventual unification of the kingdom of England a step closer. Following the battle, King Anarawd had courted a brief alliance with the Norse but abandoned this to ally himself with King Alfred.

The Battlefield
The battle took place deep in the kingdom of Gwynedd near the town of Conwy located on the river of the same name. This is the sole scrap of information known of the battle and the fact that the Welsh were victorious. Looking at modern terrain maps of the area, we note west of the town a number of possible battle sites while on the opposite bank the terrain seems too rugged to offer a safe passage to Conwy. The best approach passes through a series of wide valleys, each scored with a number of small streams. In broad terms, the terrain follows the DBA list for hilly terrain giving a defender two difficult hills as compulsory, a BUA (hamlet) and an extra difficult hill. One possible option is to replace the extra difficult hill with either a river or wood. The BUA should not be large (2BW x 3BW) so as to represent a small farm community and not the town of Conwy. If using the optional river (stream) this must flow into the river (defender’s board edge). The defender’s board edge is the River Conwy so there is no need to place a waterway. 

Players may wish to use a second battle site which is located further west. Here the valley floor opens more offering both sides ample room to deploy and to manoeuvre. Terrain pieces used should comprise of two difficult hills, a river and two woods (a small hamlet may replace one wood).

The Armies
The Welsh use the Book III/19a sub-list which gives them one general (3Bd), nine warriors (3Wb) and two javelinmen (Ps).

The army of Mercia use Book III/24b which allow three hird including general (4Bd), eight select fyrd (Sp) and one archer (Ps). It seems unlikely the select fyrd (7Hd) would leave Mercian lands to fight but these may replace two select fyrd.

The Setup
The Welsh are defending and face east with difficult hills on either flank. The valley floor is 7BW wide at the Welsh deployment area and opens to 9BW on reaching the Mercian side. The Welsh deploy first and the Mercian army must deploy opposite the Welsh. The River Conwy is off board and behind the Welsh deployment area. 

Using the second battlefield, the difficult hills are positioned further apart giving both sides an additional 2 - 3BW space to deploy. This will allow the Mercian player to extend fully in line clearly overlapping the Welsh army. 

Recommended Reading
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle 

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

851 AD, refighting the Battle of Aclea

After sacking Canterbury, the Danish host turned west intent on plundering the churches and monastery at Titsey. Approaching the hamlet of Ock, banners and crosses could be seen above the heads of troops lining the west bank of the river of the same name. The West Saxons have arrived.

The Danes had dismounted and prepared for battle by forming up under the banners of their Jarls. At the rear of the column wagons and carts were collected to form a lager and the horses were tethered behind the impromptu camp. Each were allocated a guard as the wagons were full with plunder and the horses were too valuable to let roam free.

The Danish host now deployed about 500 paces from the Saxon line, but due to the restrictive nature of the ground, the Danes had formed several deep columns. In contrast, the army of Wessex had ample room to deploy and could extend their line beyond that of the Danes. In the centre of the Saxon line, the white dragon of Wessex could clearly be seen and it was here that the Danish king would focus their assault.

Advancing toward the river Ock, the Danes wheeled their line so as to square up with the Saxon centre. As the Danish cautiously moved forward, the Saxons used the time to adjust their line behind the River Ock.

Noticing that the River Ock formed several bends, the left wing of the Danish host was despatched to attack the Saxon right flank and doing so would hopefully draw off reserves or thin the centre.

After a long struggle, the Danish left were able to push the Saxons back from their position on the Ock. Without hesitation horns signalled the general advance for the main body. Seeing the Danish host move forward, the Saxons could only pray that their right flank would hold.

Through a mis-communication in signals (low pip scores) the main assault lost its cohesion and with this delay let the advantage of the moment slip by. The Saxons sensed this too and redoubled the efforts. Those on the right flank succeeded in sending the Danes back across the river. Casualties on both sides were heavy bringing an even score of 2 – 2.

Catching their wind, the Danes redoubled their effort to push the Saxon right away from the river bank, while in the centre, the Danes wrecked havoc crumbling the Saxon. Unfortunately, due to the limited room any change of direction was greatly hampered forcing both sides to move forward or recoil back.

In a moment of frenzy, the berserkers launched themselves at the Saxon king guaranteeing them their place in Valhalla. King Æthelwulf sensing the moment right for a counter-stroke, ordered his son Aethelbald to cross the Ock River downstream. From this position he would attack the Danish reserves and delay their support in the action taking place in the centre.  Wessex was gaining the upper hand (3 – 2). 

Further losses on the Danish left and the momentum in the centre evaporating, Danish resolve collapsed forcing them to retreat back to their camp. Hesitant to continue the fight beyond dusk, Wessex would discover the following morning that Danes had slipped away during the night to return to their ships.

Chroniclers would record this as a great victory but history would record this as a footnote in the long history of the Danish presence in Britain.

Design note;
This final version is the result of many test games, each fought over slightly different terrain. After four successive Danish victories, I looked further to the Ordnance Survey maps and concluded a river may have played a part in delivery a Saxon victory at Aclea. Woods and difficult hills did narrow the battlefield but the Danes were able to overcome the constricted terrain eventually grind their way through the Saxon defence.

The selection of a river as an additional feature did give the Saxons a boost, but further fine tuning was required. To balance the game I reduced the number of Danes as it seemed logical following two engagements at London and Canterbury. Designating two elements to guard the camp and horses seemed plausible. The river classification was selected as a compromise as this did reduce the movement distance to cross and its banks would aid defence. However, the class II river would allow group movement which helped the Danes. Further testing resulted in reaching my goal as this gave a victory for both sides.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

851 AD, the Battle of Aclea

The Battle of Aclea occurred in 851 between the West Saxons led by Æthelwulf, King of Wessex and the Danish Vikings. Preceding this battle, the Danes successfully defeated King Beorhtwulf of Mercia near London. Crossing the Thames, they sacked Canterbury. Turning westward, they met the West Saxon army of Aethelwulf near Aclea (Oak Field) where they incurred a major defeat. Very little is known about the battle and the most important source of information comes from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle which recorded that:

"350 [Viking] ships came into the Thames and stormed Canterbury and London and put to flight Beorhtwulf, King of Mercia with his army, and then went south over the Thames to Surrey and King Aethelwulf and his son Aethelbald with the West Saxon army fought against them at Oak Field [Aclea], and there made the greatest slaughter of a heathen raiding-army that we have heard tell of up to the present day, and there took the victory."

Possible locations for the battle site include Ockley and Oakley Wood, near Merstham, both in Surrey.

The Battlefield
Our only reference to a battle site is based on the translated passage mentioning Aclea or Oak Field. The region is full of oak trees, so singling one particular wood is rather dicey but based on a number of studies following Pilgrim’s Way as the most likely route of flight, we can trace our way back to a possible battlefield. Travel along Pilgrim’s Way and the countryside is hilly and heavily forested. The route also crosses a number of little rivers such as the Ock or Oke which flow into the River Stour. The region is arable so terrain features should comprise a BUA (Oakley hamlet), the Ock River, and one difficult hill. If using a larger game board (80cm x 80cm) add a second wood and difficult hill.

The Armies
Given the date of the battle players would use the Viking list of Book III/40b which begins in 850 AD. As this is the third engagement after London and Canterbury we can expect some casualties have been incurred by the Vikings. This is represented as one element of blade guarding the camp with plunder. As an option, may call a general retreat after three elements lost as ‘casualties’ are already present in camp.

The Anglo-Saxon army are taken from Book III/24b comprising of three Huscarls (4Bd), eight spearmen (Sp) and an element of skirmishers (Ps); no allies are allowed. Break point remains unchanged at four elements.

The Setup
The Vikings are defending and therefore move first. One element of blade is placed in camp guarding the plunder gathered from previous expeditions. The distance between difficult hills will allow the placement of seven elements with the remainder forming a second line.

The Anglo-Saxon army deploy behind the river Ock. There is enough open ground to deploy nine elements with the remainder forming a second rank. The river is class II which allows group moves at a reduced rate and banks add a + 1 for the defender.   

Recommended Reading