Monday, 12 August 2013

Scottish excursion

Last weekend Steve and I visited Alasdair for the weekend.  Our wives accompanied us, so it was primarily a social visit, but there was just time to squeeze in a game on the Friday evening.

In keeping with our location, the scenario featured a Roman patrol into the area north of the Antonine Wall.  The natives had been "restless" and the Pax Romana needed to be re-established.  The local commander had put the patrol under the command of Gaius Plautus Crassus, a keen young man of a noble (very noble) Roman family who saw this as an opportunity to add a military victory to his CV, prior to  a prompt  return to Rome and his political career.  Unfortunately for Crassus, his commander favoured a rival faction and the 'simple patrol' was something of a poisoned chalice.  The Picts were led by a wily chieftain (he styled himself 'king'), who had survived years of tribal in-fighting and delighted in giving Roman patrols a 'bloody nose'.

After two days march, Crassus was approaching the main Pictish settlement.  The commander of a local watch tower reported that none of his patrols had dared to venture out of sight of the tower for two days after a patrol was 'lost' investigating activity in a nearby wood.  The cavalry unit scouting ahead of Crassus' main body reported a number of Pictish slingers by a ford to their front.  Crassus sent the cavalry forward to capture a few hostages and turned to find the watch tower commander heading for the safety of his tower.

Undaunted, Crassus ordered a steady advance, giving attention to preserving close order.  Ahead, the slingers disappeared into the woods to be replaced by light chariots.  The commander of the vanguard cavalry halted, waiting for infantry support, but Crassus had received reports of enemy activity in the woods to his right.  He ordered his archers to turn to face this possible threat and loose a flight of arrows into the undergrowth.  This goaded the Pictish cavalry which was hidden there into a disorderly advance into the open.  Subjected to another flight of arrows they turned and moved out of range.  Buoyed by this minor victory Crassus was about to order the column to reform and continue its advance when more enemy activity was reported by the rearguard cavalry.  One unit of auxilia, a unit of legionaries and the rearguard cavalry were sent to counter this threat.

Meanwhile, on the left, the slingers had reappeared and were showering the auxilia on that flank with pebbles.  Crassus ordered the commander of the auxilia to 'drive off those barbarians' and then turned his attention to reordering the column.  As the auxilia advanced, the slingers fell back, drawing the Roman troops further away from the main body. Soon the slingshot were coming from flanks as well as front and the auxilia had to cease their advance and adopt a defensive formation.

Ahead of Crassus, the Pictish chariots advanced and charged the vanguard cavalry.  The Roman cavalry managed to absorb the shock of the Pictish charge and then began to gain the upper hand.  Abandoning his plan to form up around the supply mules, Crassus ordered two unit of legionaries forward to support the cavalry, leaving him with one unit of legionaries and the archers as a reserve.  Before the legionaries could reach the vanguard cavalry the Pictish cavalry intervened.  The last of the chariots were being destroyed when the Roman cavalry were hit by Pictish cavalry.  Heavily outnumbered, they fought bravely, but were in the end overwhelmed.

Behind Crassus, the warriors of the Bear clan had risen from their hiding place in the hills and charged down on the Roman soldiers.  The auxilia had already lost men to archers hidden in the woods and were unable to withstand the fierce charge of the warband.  However, the legionaries were made of sterner stuff and stood their ground, engaging in a fierce melee with their opponents.  The Bear clan concentrated on the fight ahead and did not see the cavalry moving around them.  With a roar the Roman cavalry charged home, hacking and slashing their way towards the enemy standard.  To their credit the Picts fought on doggedly.  Forming up around their chief and standard they fought to the last and by doing so drew off troops which Crassus desperately needed elsewhere.

With the Roman cavalry vanguard eliminated, the Pictish king launched the warbands of the wolf and his own serpent clans at the Roman line of legionaries.  The right hand unit of legionaries was hit in flank and Crassus charged to their assistance. His standard bearer was killed by his side and he was unhorsed, but he fought on on foot. The Pictish cavalry now made a reappearance and attacked the units guarding the supply mules with showers of javelins.  Their steadiness and drill prevented many casualties, but it stopped them going to the aid of their comrades.

We left the left wing auxilia surrounded by slingers; slowly the number of casualties rose and their commander realised that the only course open to them was to break formation and run for the main body.  This they did and some did make it back across the stream, but many were felled by the slingshot and then finished off by swords.  The slingers then began to move towards the supply mules.

The Romans were on the brink of defeat, but at the last minute the rearguard cavalry arrived, having destroyed the Bear warband.  Their arrival forced the slingers to pull back and lifted the morale of the hard pressed legionaries who just held the line against the Serpent warband.   However, the cavalry arrived too late for Crassus, who died fighting to the last with his legionaries.  With night falling and the Roman position holding, the Pictish king called off the attack.  There would be no attack on his 'kingdom' now and as a bonus, the losses of the Bear clan meant that their lands could be 'absorbed' within his own.

When the Roman patrol returned to their camp and reported the action, the camp commander was moved to write a letter to Crassus' parents extolling his bravery and saying 'he died like a Roman should'.  To his political masters he could report that the way was now clear for their candidate to enter the Senate and perhaps a posting in Italy could be obtained for him?

Many thanks to Alasdair for the scenario and his hospitality over the weekend. 

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