Saturday, 27 June 2015

The skirmish at Three Tuns Bridge, an ECW scenario

This week we are back again in the rolling acres of Kelhamshire, playing out the continuing struggles between the forces of Lord Melchett and Sir Victor Meldrew.  Both these gentlemen have plans for a decisive attack against their opponent and both have settled on the first step being the securing of a crossing over the river Kelham.  Unfortunately, they have also both chosen the same crossing to secure, Three Tuns Bridge; so called because of the hostelry that lies adjacent to the bridge.  Both forces are similar in size, though the Royalists have a larger percentage of cavalry and the Parliamentarians more infantry.  We were using the Pike and Shotte rules and decided to try out a variant that had combined musketeer and pike infantry instead of separate ones.  The dice decided that I should take the part of Sir Victor and accordingly I deployed my forces with the infantry commanded by Ralph Muncaster in the centre and cavalry on the wings.  On the right was Colonel Roderick Livesey, with his own regiment and that of Colonel Ughtred Shuttleworth.  The left wing cavalry was commanded by Ezekial Carpenter and comprised two units, a regular unit of horse and a small regiment of cuirassiers.  Meldrew's single unit of dragoons, (Colonel Rigby's), were on the road leading to the bridge.  My plan, (such as it was) was to push the dragoons forward as fast as possible, seize the bridge and hope that the infantry would arrive in time to consolidate my position at the vital point.  The cavalry was simply to occupy the enemy horse as long as possible so that my more numerous infantry would prevail in the centre.

Rigby''s dragoons move forward
Lord Melchett deployed his forces in a similar fashion; with the infantry commanded by Sir Harry Vane in the centre, with Sir Fleetwood Hesketh's 3 regiments of cavalry on the right and Sir Laurence Towneley's two regiments on the left.  The Royalist dragoons were ordered to occupy an enclosure covering a ford over the river Kelham to stall any enemy advance.  His plan was to seize the bridge with the infantry and hold the position as long as possible, giving time for the cavalry to sweep their opponents aside and then envelop the centre.  The Royalist cavalry did have an advantage in that they were 'gallopers' who would counter-charge, whereas the Parliamentarian cavalry were 'caracole' whose charge reaction was to stand and fire.

The Parliamentarian infantry close up to the Kelham
Proceedings began and Sir Victor's dragoons galloped forward along the road keen to impress their general.  Muncaster's infantry were less enthusiastic, but at least they were moving, which is more than could be said for the cavalry on the flanks.  The Royalist  centre also advanced with a purpose quickly getting into a position close enough to the bridge to prevent any 'coup de main' by Rigby's dragoons.  More ominously for Parliamentary fortunes the Royalist cavalry also moved forward, Hesketh's clearly intent on crossing the Kelham by the ford and then falling on the flank of Muncaster's infantry.  Fortunately, for Meldrew, Carpenter shrugged off his earlier lethargy and moved forward to cover the ford, halting just within pistol shot.  On the opposite flank, Livesey's regiment also 'stirred their stumps' and charged forward towards Towneley's regiments.  Unfortunately, Shuttleworth's did not follow suit and the leading regiment was unsupported when the Royalist horse crashed into them.  Perhaps unnerved by an ineffectiveness of their pistol volley, Livesey's men quickly gave way and rapidly fell back on their supports.  The pursuing Royalists in turn now outran their supports and a charge by Shuttleworth's regiment regained the lost ground.  Now Towneley's second regiment intervened and crashed into Shuttleworth's whilst they were still recovering from their exertions.  Fortune favoured the Royalists and following a hard fought melee the Parliamentarian horse broke and routed back towards their lines.  Attempts by Livesey to halt the rout were ignored by the troopers who streamed from the field and played no further part in the battle.

Hesketh's Cavalry
Rigby's dragoons had also fared badly.  The colonel had quickly appreciated that it would be impossible to seize the bridge in the face of the enemy infantry and therefore turned to his right to enter an enclosure from which he could fire at any enemy troops which ventured across the river.  As he turned away the rear of his column was fired upon by Royalist light artillery.  Only one roundshot found it's mark and it emptied a few saddles, but the effect was dramatic.  Rigby's raw recruits were unnerved by coming under artillery fire and all order dissolved; the unit routing towards the rear.  As they fell back they saw Shuttleworth's routing and thinking the day lost they joined in the rout and also left the field.  Sir Victor was furious as he saw the two.units flee from the field.

[It should be said at this point that Steve had made a local amendment to the break test as he thought that a 1 in 6 chance of a unit being removed from play was too severe.  He therefore ruled that if a unit got a result which would remove it, a ROUT marker would be placed instead. The unit would move back two actions, ie 12" for infantry and be tested again the following move.  Only if the unit failed again would it be removed.  The chance of an individual unit being removed therefore lengthened to 1 in 36.  Suffice it to say that Sir Victor rose to the challenge and managed to get two units to beat the odds.]

Dutton's ill-fated attack
Fortunately, Muncaster's infantry had now reached the bank of the Kelham and were firing at the Royalist infantry lining the opposite bank.  Their greater numbers began to take effect, causing one enemy regiment to fall back to reform and cause another to slacken it's fire.  To relieve the pressure Lord Melchett ordered Hesketh to move one of his regiments of horse across the river and then charge the infantry. Hesketh protested that his cavalry may be disordered by the crossing and would be faced by close range artillery fire, but Lord Melchett was adamant and Hesketh had to give the order.  It was as he feared.  Dutton's regiment crossed the river but were disordered by climbing the slippy bank and as they reformed they were hit by hail shot from a light gun.  Disordered again, they were then hit by a second round and this broke their resolve and they fell back across the river.

Hesketh's men take on the 'lobsters'
At the ford, Carpenter's men continued to fire their pistols at the Royalist cavalry who were struggling to get across the river and in a position to charge.  Hesketh was amazed that the enemy had not charged him, but determined to make the most of his fortune when the opportunity came he charged.  The Parliamentary horse were driven back and the cuirassiers tried to stem the tide.  They bought the time for their comrades to reform, but were forced back eventually.  Try as he might, Carpenter could not halt the inexorable Royalist advance.

In the centre, Sir Victor had ordered Muncaster to deploy his red regiment to counter a flanking move by Lord Melchett.  Two Royalist infantry regiments had crossed the Kelham and were trying to outflank Muncaster's line.  Supported by a light gun the Parliamentarian infantry slowed the Royalist advance and when charged repulsed the attack.  Driven forward again by Sir Harry, the Royalists came on a second time,   Shrugging off the closing salvo from the Parliamentary foot they managed to secure a lodgement along the hedgerow.  Close quarters combat ensued, with heavy casualties on both sides.

The Red Regiment try and stem the tide
 Along the banks of the Kelham the infantry fire fight continued.  Lord Melchett had managed to rally his troops and their fire had forced one of Muncaster's units to fall back.  Undaunted, Muncaster ordered a charge across the river, sensing a wavering in the opposition ranks  On the Parliamentarian right, Livesey had reformed the remains of his command and had charged the Towneley's cavalry.  His bravery was not rewarded., Although his men fought hard, they were overwhelmed by their more numerous foes.  The few remaining streamed from the field, Sir Victor's flank lay open and when the Royalists reformed they saw a golden opportunity to press home their advantage.  Below them, the hard pressed red regiment had begun to give ground.  Outnumbered two to one, they had done all that could be asked of them, but numbers told in the end.  Slowly, and then in increasing numbers men began to leave the line and head back across the fields.  The officers tried in vain to keep the unit together, but apart from a few veterans, who understood the perils of leaving a formed body, it was a hopeless cause.  The infantry raced across the field seeking the 'safety' of their previous nights camp, not aware that to their left, on the ridge lay Towneley's troopers.  No detailed order was necessary, the Royalist horse understood what needed to be done.  As one they swept down from the ridge and completed the destruction of the unfortunate Parliamentary infantry.

The end of the Red regiment
As Sir Victor received news of this disaster, more bad tidings arrived from the left.  Carpenter's cavalry had been driven from the field and Muncaster's  men were in danger of being surrounded. Hurriedly, orders were sent to Sir Ralph telling him to pull back.  This he did with some reluctance, his men almost reaching the Three Tuns.  However, the army needed preserving and Sir Victor appreciated that it was far better to pull back now, whilst he could and fight another day.

A most enjoyable game which ebbed and flowed.  The new ruling regarding broken units seemed to work better (in spite of my best attempts to wreck it with low dice rolls !)

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