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.   

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  1. Excellent write up and reasoning!

  2. Christopher,

    Thank you for the kind word.
    The other selected scenarios have similar characteristics; limited detail of forces, location unknown and the month or time of day when these battles took place is unknown as well.
    That is part of the enjoyment of the hobby, the investigative research.