Sunday, 10 November 2013

Storming of Leeds, January 1643

This week we had another scenario from the series of books published by Partizan Press which have featured in earlier posts. The action concerns the attack by Thomas Fairfax on Leeds.

Above is a photograph of the map for the scenario.  The River Aire can only be crossed by the bridge and the defences, although providing cover, can be crossed by horse if there are no defenders to oppose them.  A roll of the dice determined that I should take the part of Sir William Savile, commanding the Royalist forces defending the town, Steve took the part of Fairfax.  I had five small mixed units of infantry and three of dragoons (all raw). A field gun commanded the bridge and in the town centre I had three units of horse (one of which was trained) and a second field gun. 

Faifax had four large units of clubmen, (all raw), two  south of the river and two north.  South of the river he had two raw musketeer units. North of the river he had a large unit of trained musketeers and two smaller raw musketeer units, plus three large units of horse.  Although we were using the 1644 ruleset the parliamentarian horse were rated similar to 'trotters' in the Warhammer ECW rules reflecting their preference for caracole type tactics  rather than the charge.  A major problem for Fairfax was the lack of any artillery.  [A note about the following photographs; lacking sufficient clubmen figures we used pikemen instead.] 

The battle unfolded with the parliamentarian clubmen south of the river forming up to charge across the bridge, covered by the fire of the musketeers.  My artillery started off well, hitting one unit of musketeers with their first round, but this was to prove their sole success for sometime.  My dragoons, manning the barricade blocking the bridge, began a prolonged musketry duel with the opposing musketeers, but over time my losses began to rise. Although I managed to stop the first attack by the clubmen my line was beginning to look rather thin.

The western defences were also now under attack.  Two units of clubmen were nearing the town, covered by the fire of their supporting musketeers.  Fairfax seemed to be planning to pin my infantry with this attack and then overwhelm the dragoons manning the defences nearer the bridge with his trained musketeers.  This would then open the way for his cavalry to break into the town.  As there was no immediate threat to the northern section near the church, Savile ordered their pikemen to move to support the defences nearer the river. He also sent the sole infantry reserve from the town centre in that direction, plus a unit of cavalry.  The second field gun was moved slightly forward to support the dragoons by the bridge.

The first unit of clubmen charged forward and attempted to break into the town.  A feeble volley failed to stop them, but the supporting pikemen proved just enough to hold the line and then push them back.  As the clubmen tried to reform a further volley crashed into them and they broke.  Fairfax galloped over to stop the rout, but it took some time for the unit to recover.

To their right, the second unit of clubmen had more success.  Their attack had initially been stalled by fire from the defenders, but, recovering they now resumed the advance and their energetic charge carried them through the defenders' fire and over the defences.  Desperately, the defenders fought back, slowing the attackers then forcing them back.  Eventually, the defenders regained their lines and the two sides paused to catch their breath.

Nearer the river the Royalist dragoons were having a torrid time.  Although enjoying the benefits of the cover afforded by the defences they were unable to counter the weight of fire which was coming their way.  Within no time they had lost 50% of their strength and the line was stretched very thin.  Fairfax's musketeers continued their steady advance,supported by a second unit of musketeers. A final close range volley cleared the defenders from the works and the way into Leeds was open.  Fairfax ordered his cavalry forward, ready to exploit the gap.

However, just as the musketeers reached the works they were surprised by a charge by the Royalist defenders.  The reserves sent by Savile had reached the defences in the nick of time.  Unable to resist the push of pike the musketeers were forced back in disorder, the line was held.

[It was at this point we broke for lunch, with both commanders thinking their opponent was on the brink of success]

The success of the Royalist counter attack was short-lived.  With little fire support the pikes were vulnerable to musketry fire and they could not venture out of the defences because of the Parliamentary cavalry.  Once Fairfax's musketeers recovered their composure, their volleys forced the Royalist pikes to fall back.  Again, the Parliamentarians reached the works, again the Royalists charged, but this time they lacked the numbers to halt the advance.  The Parliamentarian musketeers pushed the pikes back and crossed the works.
At the bridge the second attack by the clubmen was forming up.  The Royalist artillery seemed unable to hit the proverbial barn door and the Parliamentarian musketeers were successfully reducing the firepower of the dragoons defending the bridge barricade.  As the clubmen surged over the bridge the dragoons fell back to take shelter in the houses.  Unopposed, the clubmen crossed the barricade, sensing victory.  It was an illusion.  Hit by fire from both guns and a close range volley from the defending musketeers the clubmen stopped.  A second round of firing inflicted yet more casualties and the clubmen broke and routed back over the bridge. For good measure, the Royalist artillery then fired on the other unit of clubmen which was still reforming and caused that to rout as well.  The threat from the bridge sector had been defeated.

Savile still had the threat from Fairfax's musketeers to overcome.  He had already sent his sole trained unit of cavalry to support the first reinforcement and as he galloped to the threatened area he ordered both units of cavalry to follow him.

Savile saw that Fairfax's musketeers were still reforming after crossing the works and immediately ordered his cavalry to attack.  Unable to fire the musketeers had to resort to their musket butts but could not stand against this new attack.  Those trapped inside the works were cut down, the rest ran for their own lines.  With the whole Parliamentary cavalry force in the vicinity Savile ordered his own cavalry to pull back and reform.  His trained men did, but the raw recruits saw only a fleeing enemy and in a ragged mob picked their way over the defences and pursued their opponents.

With his dragoons driven off with heavy casualties, Savile was relying on pikemen to line the defences; but with no supporting fire they were being 'picked off ' by Parliamentary musketeers and also pistol shots from the cavalry.

The western defences also required Savile's attention.  The clubmen were reforming for  a second attack.  With Fairfax in attendance, the clubmen surged forward and crossed the defences.  Even the pikes couldn't halt them.

The position seemed lost; but, taking a chance, the commander of the Royalist unit to the right of the one being pushed back, reformed his own pike block and led into the flank of the clubmen.  Doing this he left his own musketeers to face an attack by the second clubmen unit on their own, but he calculated that there would be time to return to his position.  Caught off guard by the supporting pikes, the clubmen were pushed back in disorder.  However, the supporting pikes were also disordered and until reformed were useless.  Savile moved to rally them, but at first he was ignored.  The Parliamentary clubmen had by now charged the unsupported musketeers.  A combination of lucky (and unlucky) dice meant a drawn melee and this gave just enough time for Savile to rally the pikes.

With his infantry units battered and his cavalry unable to affect the outcome, Fairfax reluctantly decided to withdraw.  For his part Savile was thankful that he had held on.  Truly, a 'close run thing'


  1. Reads like it was a very enjoyable game, sir.

    -- Jeff

  2. It certainly was Jeff. One of those games where the result was in doubt right to the end.