Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Royston Bridge : an ECW scenario

This week's battle is set in the fictional county of Kelhamshire and features those determined adversaries Sir Victor Meldrew, (Parliament) and Lord Melchett, (Royalist).  The Parliamentary forces are besieging Kelham, the county town and a supply train is on its way to help them prosecute the siege.  The quickest route is by the Royston bridge over the river Kelham and Sir Victor has sent a regiment of dragoons ahead to secure the bridge.  Lord Melchett has also divined the importance of the bridge and in turn has sent a unit of dragoons to hold it against any Parliamentary reconnaissance.

This is the general layout of the table.  The river Kelham is awkward to cross, disordering any infantry or cavalry units which attempt it and requiring them to take a command test to reform.  The Royalist forces enter from the right and there is a swampy, waterlogged area (impassable to all troops) on their side of the river in the bend. Beyond this is a ford.  By Royston bridge are the enclosures where the dragoons have taken up position.

Lord Melchett has 3 units of foot, Gerrard's, Taylor's and the Kelhamshire Club men, the latter being rated raw.  He also has three units of horse, Tyldsley's, Blackadder's and the Kelhamshire Horse, all being trained, but prone to pursue a defeated foe; and a light gun.

Sir Victor has 4 units of foot, the Green, Yellow and White trained band regiments plus Carpenter's Firelocks.  There are two units of horse, Livesey's and Shuttleworth's, the latter being raw and a light gun.

Before the action starts each general decides on his order of march and also whether he approaches in one or two columns; if one, all troops appear near the bridge, if two the second column enters the table opposite the ford.  For both sides the objective is to hold the bridge.  Arguably, it would be enough for the Royalists to deny the Parliamentary forces progress beyond the bridge, but Lord Melchett is of the opinion that honour requires that he should hold the bridge.

As you would expect, both generals placed the bulk of their forces where they could attack the bridge and the battle opened with infantry units on both sides of the Kelham advancing to support their dragoons.  Having the advantage in horse, Lord Melchett ordered Tyldsley's Horse to cross the river between the marsh and the enclosures and then attack the Parliamentary foot advancing on the bridge.

Tyldsley's advanced, but found the banks of the river very marshy and required some time to reform on the far bank.  Their delay proved costly.  Sir Victor had time to deploy the Yellow regiment to face them and a volley drove the Royalist horse back over the river.

Meanwhile, the dragoons had been popping away at each other inflicting roughly equal casualties.  Down the road advanced the Green regiment.  Ignoring a volley from Gerrard's they surged onto the bridge, determined to break through the Royalist line.  As they charged home they received a second volley which caused some disruption in the ranks.  Gerrard's absorbed the Parliamentary charge and then gained the initiative, slowly pushing their adversaries back.

Meanwhile, on the other flank, near the ford, Blackadder was leading forward the remainder of the Royalist cavalry.  Opposing him were Livesey's Horse and the White regiment.  The Parliamentary horse reached the ford first and managed to cross and form up before the Royalists could intervene.  Blackadder sent forward the Kelhamshire horse, retaining his own regiment as a reserve.  The melee was a confused affair, the impetus swinging back and forth.  Blackadder committed a troop of his regiment and this gained the Royalists the upper hand.  Perhaps acting too quickly, Blackadder recalled his troop and watched as the Kelhamshire horse drove back Livesey's first troop.  Livesey's second troop manoeuvred to avoid being swept away if their colleagues were routed and Blackadder reformed his lines to meet this threat to his flank.  The Kelhamshire horse lost all cohesion in the melee, whilst their opponents retained their discipline and began to regain the initiative.  Suddenly, the Royalists broke and galloped off the field, pursued by the troop of Parliamentary horse.

Livesey's second troop now charged Blackadder's men.  Outnumbered, they could make little progress and were slowly pushed back towards the waterlogged ground near the river.  Trapped by the impassable terrain they lost all cohesion and were driven from the field.  Blackadder's men now found themselves in an awkward position, isolated and within musketry range of the White regiment who were  on the far bank of the river and thus safe from being charged.  Heavy casualties were sustained before Blackadder could draw back his men to safety to reform.

At the bridge Lord Melchett had enjoyed some success.  His light gun had reached the enclosures and was supporting the fire of the dragoons.  Sir Victor had committed Carpenter's firelocks to the firefight and even though they lost several casualties to the fire of the gun they quickly established fire superiority over the Royalist dragoons.  Drastically reduced in numbers, the dragoons fell back, leaving the gun crew unsupported and they quickly quit the field as bullets sang past their ears.
Gerrard's regiment pushed back the Green regiment and in the confusion and press of the struggle on the bridge, it was the Parliamentary infantry which cracked first and routed.  Lord Melchett, ordered Gerrard to hold his men in check and reform ready to advance.  In retrospect a pursuit may have won the day for the Royalists, but Melchett was far too cautious to hazard his best regiment in a pursuit into the unknown.  His attention was taken by the deployment of his two remaining regiments, Taylor's and the Club men, both understrength.  He determined to send them to the right of the bridge to take on the Yellow regiment which was holding the river line in this area.  The fire of the Yellow regiment drove off the remaining dragoons and inflicted heavy casualties on the Club men as they advanced into the enclosures.  Lord Melchett had to gallop over and encourage them with a few well chosen words.  The Parliamentary gun also added its fire to that of the Yellow regiment, targeting the packed ranks of the Club men.

Even with the support of Taylor's regiment the Club men began to waver and once again, Lord Melchett had to intervene to steady them.  At the bridge Gerrard had reformed his men and led them forward. As they crossed the bridge they were subjected to fire from Carpenter's firelocks, but they pressed on.  Sir Victor had not been idle, he had galloped over to the Green regiment and forced them to stand and reform.  So, as Gerrard's reached the far side of the bridge they were charged by the Green regiment.  In the narrow confines of the bridge and lane both sides found it difficult to gain the upper hand and the fighting swayed back and forth.

Sir Victor now committed his remaining cavalry unit, Shuttleworth's.  In spite of seeing the difficulties experienced by Tyldsley's men, Sir Victor ordered his cavalry to cross the river and take on the Royalist cavalry. He hoped that this would allow the Yellow regiment to cross and take on the weakened Royalist foot.    Shuttleworth'sfared no better than Tyldsley's, disorganised by the crossing, they struggled to contain the Royalist charge,though their continued resistance drew in all the available cavalry in the area.

Unfortunately, time now ran out for us (the generals).  We adjudged that it was a winning draw for the Parliamentary forces.  At the bridge the Green regiment had the advantage over Gerrard's, the Yellow regiment had fire superiority over the Club men and Taylor's regiments and although Shuttleworth's cavalry were on the brink of defeat, it was likely that the Royalist cavalry would pursue any rout and thus leave a gap for Parliament to exploit.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Towton Commemoration event

An early start on Sunday to head off over the Pennines to attend the Towton Commemoration event.  The Lance & Longbow Society were putting on a game based on the revised location for the battle of Bosworth. 

All the figures were provided by Roman Pronyszyn and they attracted a lot of attention throughout the day.  Below are the Yorkist forces, with Richard, (plus his mounted bodyguard), following Norfolk, with Northumberland waiting in reserve.

In the morning, I was allocated the Lancastrians and decided that in view of Yorkist superiority in missile troops attack was preferable over defence.  So the gallant Lancastrians advanced across the board, going down in heaps to archery and artillery.  I was in a particularly rich vein of throwing 1's and 2's at this point and Stanley, watching from the hilltop must have thought that it would all be over before he had to make a decision on which side to support.  However, the Lancastrian cause was saved by a young boy who asked if he could roll a few dice.  His offer was taken up with alacrity and soon it was the Yorkists who were suffering, 5's and 6's flowed from the young man's hands as if there was no tomorrow.

The Lancastrian advance
Bouyed with success the Lancastrian pike blocks (French and Scots) crashed through Norfolk's line

Lancastrian pikes advancing
With Northumberland still resolutely holding his position and declining to advance and Stanley bestirring himself and seemingly committing himself to the Lancastrian cause; Richard resolved to 'conquer or die'.  Gathering his household troops together he charged the advancing Scots pikes and in the ensuing melee perished, leaving Henry the victor.

Richard about to come off worst against the pikes
After a break for dinner we ran the game again.  This time I was Stanley whilst Roman took on the role of Henry.  Again the Lancastrians advanced and again the pikes were successful (this time without the aid of the young man!).  However, their very success made their flanks vulnerable to counter attacks and Richard moved his Household troops to the right to capitalise on this.

Richard leading his household troops
Henry was making increasingly anxious enquiries as to when Stanley would intervene, but again I was having a few problems with the dice (consistently rolling 1 fewer than the number required).  Fortunately, Northumberland was once again refusing to join the action.  Again, Richard seized the initiative and challenged Henry to personal combat. Following a short melee Richard emerged the winner with Stanley arriving just in time to congratulate him on his victory!

A really enjoyable day with plenty of opportunity to chat to the visiting public and answer their questions on the battle, heraldry and wargames figures.  

Monday, 7 April 2014

Battle of Riga, 17th June 1701

It is back to the Great Northern Wars for our battle this week, which represents the Swedish attack on the Saxon army which was besieging Riga.  The overall situation can be seen in the map below.

Riga lies on the eastern bank of the Dvina river and when news of the approaching Swedish army arrived, the Saxon commander, Von Thielau placed his forces on the western bank to oppose any Swedish crossing.  Charles XII ordered boats to be gathered and planned to send a strong force over the river to cover the building of a pontoon bridge to allow his whole army to cross to the western bank. Our scenario concerned the attempt by the Swedes to establish a bridgehead on the western bank.  They began with 4 infantry battalions, (one of which was guard). Eight further units were available, 5 units of infantry, two of horse and one light battery.  These would arrive by boat in two 'waves' each of four units.  The composition of each wave would have to be decided by the Swedish commander before the game began.

The Saxons had 5 battalions ready to attack, with two more plus a regiment of dragoons close by.  A further reinforcement of Russian troops, 12 battalions and 4 regiments of dragoons, plus two batteries of artillery would arrive later.  Victory condition for the Saxon/Russian forces were simple, drive the Swedish forces back into the river.  For the Swedes, all(?) that was required was to establish a bridgehead to cover the construction of the pontoon bridge.

The table layout was very basic.  A two foot length of one of the long (6ft) edges was designated as the beach on which the Swedes would land. This was at the northern (right hand top) corner and along the adjacent short (4ft) edge was a swamp and wooded area.  A gap of 12" was left for the arrival of the Saxon reinforcements.  A river flowed between the two long edges of the table, with a ford on the left hand edge.  If the Swedes established a line along this river it was taken that they had formed the required bridgehead.  The Russian force would arrive at the bottom left hand corner.

The first wave of Swedish infantry come ashore
Before the action started each commander rolled an average dice (in secret), to see how many turns would elapse before their first reinforcements would arrive .  The dice had already decreed that Steve would take the part of Charles XII and I would be Von Steinau.  Both of us had decided that attack was the best policy so the two infantry lines were soon in musketry range.  All the Swedish line infantry were rated as veteran, whereas the Saxons were trained.  However, the Saxons were rated better for musketry whilst the Swedes had the edge in combat.  As the first volleys were exchanged the honours were fairly even, both sides had units disorganised by the casualties from enemy fire,although, significantly, the Swedish guards were unaffected.  The guards surged forward and the Saxon regiment Von Der Goltz was seen to be wavering.  Von Steinau quickly galloped over to stiffen their resolve.  As he rode up to the unit a second volley from the guards inflicted further casualties.  Amongst them was Von Steinau, who had to be led to the rear to have his wound dressed.  This left the Saxon army 'out of commnad' for two moves.

Von Steinau is wounded
Seeing their commander carried from the field, the Von der Goltz regiment routed, but their supports, regiment Ansbach-Kavanagh, stood firm.

In the centre, the Smalands regiment was encountering stiff opposition from regiment Von Thielau. The first battalion of Smalands was shredded by two devastating volleys from the Saxons and took no further part in the action.  (Some lucky Saxon dice imposed two step losses on the hapless Swedes destroying the unit).    Into the breach marched the second battalion of Smalands only to receive casualties themselves and they had to fall back to reform.  Meanwhile on the Swedish left a prolonged fire fight was developing; neither side being able to gain the upper hand.

Fortunately for Charles, the first wave of Swedish reinforcements now arrived, two units of infantry, a unit of cavalry and a light gun.  Reinforcing success, the infantry were sent forward to support the attack by the guards.  The artillery was sent to the left to help the Jonkopping regiment and the cavalry were sent forward to plug the gap left by the Smalands regiment.  Fortunately for the Saxons they too received some reinforcements.  Even better, they arrived in a position which threatened the flank of the Swedish guards.  However, without orders, the leading unit, the dragoons, charged the Swedish line.  The guards waited until the horse were in close range and then fired a telling volley.  All impetus and order lost, the Saxon dragoons fell back and took no further part in the action.

The Saxon dragoons are driven off
They were not the only cavalry to suffer.  In the centre, the Swedish cavalry advanced too close to the Von Thielau regiment and suffered heavy casualties when the infantry fired a volley.  This unit too was out of actiion for the rest of the battle.

Von Steinau was now able to return to take up command and not a moment too soon.  His left wing was streaming for the rear, regiment Ansbach-Kavanagh also having been routed by the Swedish guards.  The infantry which had arrived with the dragoons was still holding its position, but had no orders and was threatened by the guards and also the two supporting infantry battalions.  His centre was advancing, but had both flanks 'in the air' and on the right, his own regiment was beginning to suffer from the attentions of the Swedish artillery.  The first priority was rallying the battalions from the left and this he achieved, forming a line which now threatened the flank of the guards.

Further Swedish reinforcements now arrived, three infantry battalions and a cavalry regiment.  The infantry moved forward and began to envelop the Von Thielau regiment, whilst the cavalry moved to the left where there was more open ground.  Von Steinau could see in the distance the leading units of Repnin's Russian troops, but he knew that it would take some time before they could affect his battle.  His troops had fought well, and were becoming weary but they still possessed a bite.  The Swedish guards now became victims of their success.  Advancing too far from their supports they staggered under volleys from the reformed Swedish left wing and also the reinforcements.  Outnumbered four to one even these elite troops found their limit and much reduced in numbeers they were driven from the field.

The Swedish artillery fires on Von Steinau
On the Saxon right Von Steinau's own regiment had held the line valiantly, but they too were reaching their limit.  Under the combined fire of the Swedish artillery and infantry the first battalion broke and the second suffered heavy casulaties.

Unfortunately, with the battle in the balance we ran out of time.  My wargames table is not a permanent fixture,so we cannot leave the battle to continue next week.  I did run through a couple of moves on the following morning before tidying the troops away and this found the Saxons driven off  just before the Russians arrived.  With work on the pontoon bridge already under way and facing the Swedish forces alone, Repnin decided to fall back. Victory for the Swedes, but at a price, veteran troops are difficult to replace quickly.

Historically, the Swedes did far better, inflicting twice as many casualties on the Saxons as they received.  They also subdued a redoubt which had been constructed to provide artillery fire against any  landing.  In the event I decided to ignore the redoubt, which was just as well for the balance of the game.