Heretical Gaming is my blog about my gaming life, featuring small skirmishes and big battles from many historical periods (and some in the mythic past or the far future too). The focus is on battle reports using a wide variety of rules, with the occasional rules review, book review and odd musing about the gaming and history. Most of the battles use 6mm-sized figures and vehicles, but occasionally 15mm and 28mm figures appear too.

Monday 30 August 2021

Knocknanuss 1647 - A Polemos ECW Refight

The Battle of Knocknanuss (or Knocknanauss) was fought in 1647 between the Irish Confederates and a Parliamentary army.  The events leading up to this campaign and battle were complicated but it might be summarized as the last hope of the Irish Confederacy of building on earlier gains and achieving a decisive military victory which would enable a separate Irish confederacy to dictate the terms of any Irish settlement, rather than in an alliance with English Royalists...

This battle was featured as a scenario in Wargames Illustrated 256.  The scenario details were based on using the Warhammer English Civil War set, but I used my favoured Polemos:ECW rules. 



There isn't a map with the scenario (grrr!) and there aren't that many online, but since the terrain is pretty simple, I suppose that doesn't matter too much.  However, there is a very nice map in Nick Lipscombe's marvellous book, so no real harm done.

The magazine scenario gives the following forces:

Irish Confederacy:
General: Viscount Taaffe (Average)
Right Wing:
Commanders: Lieutenant-General Alasdair MacColla (Good); Purcell (Average)
3 bases of Veteran Irish Foot (M)
4 bases of Raw Irish Foot* (M)
4 bases of Raw Horse (Swedish)
Left Wing:
Commander: Baron Castleconnell (Average)
8 bases of Raw Irish Foot* (M)
6 bases of Trained Horse (Swedish)
1 base of Trained Horse** (Swedish)

General: Baron Inchiquin (Good)
Right Wing:
Colonel Temple (Average)
4 bases of Veteran Foot (SH)
1 base of Veteran Foot (S)
5 bases of Trained Horse (Dutch)
Left Wing:
Commanders: Major-General Craig (Average), Colonel Bridges (Average)
4 bases of Trained Foot (SH)
4 bases of Trained Horse** (Dutch)
1 base of Trained Artillery

*Polemos: ECW gives some specific rules for Irish Foot, although these are strictly optional.  I am not entirely clear whether this should apply to all Foot who happen to be Irish, or it was intended for MacColla's troops only.  
** Includes a unit entitled 'Lifeguards'; (very) optionally the Confederates can designate one base as Elite, the Parliamentarians two bases.  I am sceptical...

Astute observers will notice that I actually used slightly different numbers of bases in this re-fight.  I was slightly puzzled by the order of battle used in the WI article, since the sources are reasonably clear that the Parliamentarians had more Horse, whereas the article gives the Confederacy the advantage here.

The Parliamentary camp is represented on the edge of the table.  If any Confederate unit has a clear path to the camp, it must head for it rather than pursue a broken enemy unit. 

The Set-Up:

The two armies face each other, the Confederates on the high ground (top) facing the Parliamentarians in front of the stream (bottom)

A slightly closer view of the Parliamentarian Left (bottom, centre) in front of the stream and the camp (bottom), opposed by the Confederate Right (top)

The Confederate Left Wing, with its flanking Horse units slightly refused (right)

Facing them is the Parliamentary Right Wing

One last view of the overall dispositions

The Battle:

The battle begins, ignoring some ineffective Parliamentarian artillery fire on MacColla's Redshanks, with the Horse on the Parliamentary Right advancing (right)

A closer look

The forward troops meet

The Confederate Horse gets rather the better of the exchange, pushing back the Parliamentary troopers

Suddenly, discouraged, some of the Parliamentary Horse routs (foreground) whilst others are pushed back (centre-left); the Parliamentary right-hand troops have done rather better though, pushing back their opponents in turn (top)

A closer look at that

Meanwhile, Inchiquin's infantry have marched up into musketry range and started delivering devastating fire into the Confederate ranks, outmatching them in numbers of muskets and in accuracy of fire

Inchiquin's musketeers in the centre prove equally formidable

The Parliamentary Horse on the left flank attack and drive back the opposing Confederacy Horse (top)

The Parliamentary Foot demonstrate against the Irish Foot

Taafe launches a desperate cavalry charge in the centre to drive back the advancing Parliamentary Foot...

The Irish Foot on their left advance to try and negate the Parliamentary Foot's fire superiority

The cavalry conflict on the Confederate Left becomes more general, as some of the Confederate Horse squadrons rout (top)

A wider view of the Confederate Left

Taaffe manages to get his horsemen to close, but the Parliamentary Foot stands firm - Taaffe is brought down and captured! The Horsemen try to rally further back up the slope

The rest of Inchiquin's Foot hold on similarly against the attack of the Confederate Foot and Baron Castleconnel is wounded and must leave the field...

However, the Parliamentary Horse on the Right is in total disarray, with two-thirds of its troops now fleeing as fast as their horses will carry them...

The view across the battlefield: the Parliamentary Horse on the left and the Parliamentary Foot on the centre-right are pushing back the Confederates, but the Parliamentary Horse on the right are streaming away from the battlefield...

The Confederate Horse on their right are bested and routed by the Parliamentary troopers, and they sweep away some of the Confederate Foot in their flight (top)

In the centre, some of the Confederate Horse and Foot have been routed...

The Parliamentary Foot in the centre-right are making similar progress

However, Castleconnel's troopers have clearly triumphed over their Parliamentary foes, Colonel Temple is captured and Inchiquin's right flank is in very serious danger!

A wider shot at this stage of the battle - both sides have had their Right flanks fatally compromised, and both have lost a key leader.  A strange sense of indecision sweeps across the battlefield and neither sides soldiers can be persuaded to engage seriously...

The open Parliamentary Right...

The turned Irish Right (top-left)...

The Parliamentary Foot has ascended the slopes but is refusing to advance further...the Confederate Foot and Horse cannot be induced to charge to sweep them down...

Game Notes: A very interesting outcome, in that both sides' morale failed quite early and more or less simultaneously!  Neither sides' remaining leaders were able to induce their troops to charge again.  On balance, the Confederates would probably be the side forced to withdraw, but in relatively good order and without any of the dramatic war-changing losses, not least the loss of Alasdair MacColla and his 'Redshank' troops which characterized the original.
Often I use the same broad strategy as the original commanders for these type of historical refights but this time I chose almost the opposite strategy, keeping the Confederates mainly on the defensive, whereas the real battle was characterized by the charge of MacColla's troops to sweep away the Parliamentary Foot and Guns facing them, and then the subsequent collapse of the remainder of the Confederate army.  With the artillery rules in Polemos:ECW, there was never much likelihood of MacColla being 'forced' to attack (there needs to be a 5-point swing to inflict meaningful damage on Veteran Foot, and that was just very unlikely at any range where the Foot couldn't just advance and take the guns anyway).  Is this a problem with rules calibration - not sure, and I have already moderately changed things to make fire more effective.  Perhaps the range modifiers for artillery are just that little bit too severe to reflect its morale effect.
As for the rest of the fighting, there were no great surprises: the Confederates had the rub of the green in some of the cavalry melees, generally foregoing the risks of getting into uncontrollable charges by using the advantage of the slopes to force the Parliamentary troopers into making even odds attacks.  Castleconnel's troopers never got out of hand and were thus never forced into the uncontrolled pursuits which past experience has taught me quickly turns victory into defeat for armies possessing the more 'dashing' varieties of horsemen!  The quality differential on one flank and the absence of it on the other explain the different outcomes on each flank.  
The rules allow the possibility of simultaneous morale failures at an Army-level but I think this is the first time that I encountered it.  It actually made my decision not to use 'Elite' troops important, since 'Elite' troops would still have been able to operate on one of the sides, I forget which, and would probably have cleaned up...
I mentioned in the scenario notes that it is unclear whether the average Confederate Foot unit showed so much more elan that they were prepared to charge home in a way impossible for their English opponents and therefore use the Polemos: ECW optional 'Irish' rules.  Conversely, I allowed MacColla's men to use the 'Irish' rules but perhaps they should have used the 'Highlander' optional rules?  In essence, both optional rules allow these troops to 'charge' rather than advance to contact, with the 'Irish' ability to use ranged musketry combat diminishing and the Highlanders not to use it at all (IIRC). More expert opinions than mine definitely sought...

Anyway, a good time was had by all, i.e. me !, and I am looking forward to getting this back onto the table quite quickly to see if the result turns out differently next time.  I am also developing an itch to incorporate the fighting in Scotland and Ireland into a full 'War of the Three Kingdoms' campaign, but still thinking about how to do that...

Figures by Baccus 6mm.


Tuesday 17 August 2021

Siege of Oxford 1142 - Second DBA Battle

Since these games don't take that long, I had a second go at the re-fight of the battle preliminary to the Siege of Oxford in 1142.  I will just go straight into the action for this one, since all the details of the scenario and set-up were the same as in the first battle here.

The Battle:

This time there is a deal of confusion in the Royal Army and only the mounted knights led by Stephen personally make it across the river before the two Rebel contingents realize the situation and turn to face the attack.

Without waiting for the supports to come up, King Stephen attacks with his knights (centre-right), whilst some of his foot soldiers carry out a pinning attack through the river: he is clearly hoping to do irredeemable damage to the Rebel infantry before the Rebel knights can intervene.

King Stephen's knights, inspired by his Royal courage and prowess, rout the spearmen sent to oppose him; his diversionary infantry attack is rebuffed with loss, however.

The Rebel knights charge! The Royal knights facing them are heavily outnumbered, King Stephen will need to use all of his personal leadership and skill-at-arms to prevail...the remainder of the Royal knights are still engaged against the rebel spearmen by the river (centre-right)

A wider view

And  a closer view of King Stephen (centre) in the midst of knights, engaging the rebel horsemen...

Whilst the King and his outnumbered knights are at least holding on in the cavalry melee (centre-left), the combined attack of the remainder of the Royal knights and foot soldiers across the river against the Rebel foot soldiers is making great progress, as more of the Rebels fall and flee...the remainder of the Royal army is making somewhat slow progress over the ford to catch up (right)

But the Rebel foot soldiers are no pushover!  The Royal foot soldiers are pushed back into the river, the blood of the dead and wounded beginning to change the shade of the water...the Rebel position is still very awkward however.  The mounted melee has broken up somewhat (centre), with the King driving his foes before him.

A closer shot of the foot facing off

This time, the knights take the lead in trying to ride down the Rebel archers

The King is in trouble!  Some of the Rebel knights have swung round and encircled him and his bodyguard and attendants...(left)

Can the King fight his way out of this?!?

No!  The King and his men go down...a nation holds its breath, not knowing if the King is amongst the dead or the prisoners...

However, at that moment the remaining Rebel Foot break and run, and the Royal knights join the rout, most unaware that King Stephen is down!

The position at the end of the battle, at the point where the Rebel Army broke and fled.  The King and his knights were in trouble, either down or pushed back in the centre, but the majority of the Rebel Foot is dead or in flight for the bridge and the gates of Oxford (top)...

Game Notes: Another fun game, with very different dynamics to the first encounter as a result of the very different early activity dice rolls.  There was more pressure on the Royal army from the start and less freedom to take the initiative.  That said, the Rebels did not quite get enough advantages to really break clear and form a decent battle line, which I think is the best way for them to have a chance of winning this game, barring some outrageous luck!  Otherwise they remain just too vulnerable to defeat in detail.  OTOH, the randomness of the DBA command system at least means the Rebels have a chance, it would be distinctly more difficult in a more traditional IGOUGO no-friction set, because the Rebels would have to rely on fighting luck alone, not a mixture of command luck and fighting luck.

Anyway, all good stuff  -  all details as in the previous game.


Battle of Wilton 1143 - A DBA Refight

The Battle of Wilton was another clash in the Anarchy-period civil war in England.  King Stephen was at Wilton preparing an expedition when Robert of Gloucester advanced and attacked him.  A scenario based on this battle was published in Wargames Illustrated 31, the last in the series of articles written by Stephen Simpson. 

 The scenario features two identical forces with one side (the Rebels) in a better position.  This refight used the DBA rules and each army was composed as follows:

 2 x Generals (3Kn), 4 x Knights (3Kn), 6 x Spearmen (Sp)
One of the generals on each side (King Stephen for the Royal Army, Robert of Gloucester for the Rebel Army) incurs the double-penalty if lost, the other general on each side does not.  The slope of the terrain is considered to be continuous to the edge of the town and the river (i.e. the side closest to the hills is still considered to be 'uphill', even if visually it looks flat). 

The Set Up:

The Rebel Army occupy the high ground, overlooking Wilton.  The Royal Army has formed up outside the town.  Both armies deploy with cavalry forwards and to the flanks, with infantry in the centre, led by their commander in person.

Another view.  I think the light and the river feature really interacted well together on this photo, my terrain doesn't normally look that good (!)

Another view of the Royal Army.

And of the Rebel Army.

And one last view of the whole thing, for luck.

The Battle:

Rather than charging straight in, King Stephen spends a bit of command effort elongating his lines to overlap the Rebel Army, giving Robert of Gloucester the choice of whether to charge straight in at increased risk, or to spread out and match the King's movements, but potentially unbalance them.

Robert of Gloucester decides to attack directly, accepting a degree of mismatch.

The battle is joined across the line - the Knights on the Royal Right (top-right) suffer against the downhill charge of the Rebels.

The Knights on the Royal Left have done rather better, holding against the initial charge then overlapping round the flank of the Rebel cavalry opposing them.

A wider view of the situation.

Eventually the Rebel Knights defeat some of their opponents on the Royal Left

King Stephen pushes his foot soldiers forward, anxious to get to grips with his enemies.

The mounted melee on the Royal Left becomes more general and swirling...

Whilst the main bodies clash in the centre; however, the Royal knights on the right (top-right) are in serious trouble, as their opponents have even got around behind them

More Royal Knights run away or become casualties on the Left...

But King Stephen's infantry have done rather better, hacking down some of the rebels and forcing the others back.

A wider view.

However, as King Stephen's infantry attack gathers momentum, the Royal knights are facing defeat on both flanks...

The position at the end of the battle: although the King's foot soldiers have performed well, the knights have suffered heavily and been defeated, and the Royal Army's morale has collapsed.  Back to the castle!

Game Notes: I didn't get around to finishing the necessary conversions to make Stephen Simpson's own rules (published in this same issue, Wargames Illustrated 031) playable yet with my armies so I reverted to DBA.  It gave a decent enough game with a result not entirely different from that in the historical battle which is a strong point in its favour, although the style of command is perhaps not as flavourful as a specifically-themed ruleset might be, which is why I am keen to give the author's own rules a try.  

One historical thing which I would like to know is was there any difference to how armoured and unarmoured infantry fought - one might expect the armoured infantry to be in the front ranks for example, or in certain circumstances in their own groups.  I would like to know more about the proportion and usage of missile-armed troops too.  For the physical set-up of these games, it has become apparent that an appropriate castle and some town walls are the sine qua non for this period, since castles were clearly everything (Stephen ransomed one of his important nobles captured at Wilton by handing over a castle).  I must get an order in with Leven, or even better, see them at a show...