Sunday, March 11, 2018

Barbarians versus Romans, 451 A.D.

Continued study of the Late Roman Empire inspired me to begin my Catalaunian Fields project. As a small preliminary battle in this campaign, I put together a small army of Romans and a slightly larger barbarian army consisting of Huns and Goths, I attempted a stream crossing in the face of an ambush.  I also wanted to test out the capability of the Hun light cavalry against a purely Roman force. The rules of choice were Hail Caesar.

Strategic Background:  As Roman control of the outlying provinces of the empire began to fracture, these areas were ripe for Attilla the Hun to invade. After years of campaigning against the Eastern empire, the Hunnic leader had practically ignored the lands of the Western empire. The reasons for the invasion of Gaul ( modern-day France) were varied. One possible reason is that Attilla misinterpreted a wedding invitation from Justa Grata Honoria, the sister of Roman emperor Valentinian III, and invaded to claim his share of the Roman empire as a wedding gift. The reality of this was that Honoria was betrothed to someone she despised and meant to ask the Hunnic leader for help.....that went horribly wrong, didn't it? Another more plausible reason for Attilla's invasion was to split the Gothic tribes and the Franks and to take advantage of the disunity to gather more lands into the Hunnic empire. Either way, Attilla and his Huns, along with various other tribal allies, began to devastate villages and towns throughout eastern Gaul.

Enter Aetius, who Valentinian tasked to lead a force and defeat the barbarians once and for all. The climactic battle that ensued was in the area of Chalons and named the Battle of the Catalaunian Fields. Later in the year, I plan to simulate this large action, so more details on this particular battle later.

For this scenario, I planned a smaller action that featured a barbarian attack on a Roman force that was crossing a stream in order to join the main army under Aetius.

Late Imperial Roman infantry

The Hunnic hordes

The Scenario:  Leading a force of two infantry forces (as per the rules) and one cavalry force, the Roman commander is attempting to cross a stream in the face of a sudden attack by a combined army of Goths and Huns. The scenario begins with the Roman cavalry already across the stream, with the barbarians advancing from the heights above the plain of battle. The barbarians are assumed to have the initiative, so therefore they will roll for movement first throughout the game. The scenario is scheduled for 10 turns, as the start time of the battle is late afternoon. The positions of the armies are detailed below. 

Initial deployment of the combatants

Orders of Battle:


Roman General:    Rating 9  (obviously an up and coming leader)

1st Division -  Commander, Rating 8
2  Comitanses Medium Infantry   (Pilum, Drilled)
2 Limitanses   Medium Infantry   (Pilum, Levy)
1 Skirmishers  (bow)

2nd Division - Commander, Rating 8
2 Comitanses Medium Infantry  (Pilum, Drilled)
1 Limitanses  Medium Infantry  (Pilum, Levy)
1 Skirmishers  (bow)
1  Light Artillery  Battery (Scorpion)  (Drilled)

3rd Division - Commander, Rating 8
2 Heavy Cavalry
2  Sagitarii (Horse Archers)


Hun Warlord:   Rating 8

1st Division - Commander, Rating 8
3 Goth Heavy Cavalry

2nd Division - Commander, Rating 8
3 Goth Warbands
1 Goth Skirmishers (javelins)

3rd Division - Commander, Rating 8
4  Hun Light Cavalry (bows, Feigned Flight, Parthian Shot, Marauders)

4th Division - Commander, Rating 8
4 Hun Light Cavalry (bows, Feigned Flight, Parthian Shot, Marauders)

** All units were standard-sized, with the exception of Sagitarii, Hun Light Cavalry, and Skirmisher units.

The Battle: With the Roman infantry behind the stream, and only the cavalry deployed on the plains beyond, the barbarian force attempted to move aggressively forward to catch the Romans in the rough terrain. 

Roman infantry behind the stream faces approaching barbarian warbands

Roman cavalry across the stream sights hordes of Hun cavalry

The Roman right flank

As the Goth cavalry and infantry advance aggressively towards the Roman infantry, the Romans attempt to get across the stream as fast as possible.  The Huns moved forward, but not as aggressively as their Goth allies. Seeing that the right flank was in very real danger of collapsing to the Hunnic hordes, the Roman cavalry rushed forward to engage the enemy.  Instead of sitting back and assuming a defensive position, the Roman commander quickly assumed the attack. 

Roman infantry rush across the stream to engage the warbands

Roman cavalry also attempt to take the initiative against the Huns

Although the Romans decided that the best defense was a good offense, the barbarians had the same idea. The Goth cavalry on the Roman left flank moved rapidly to engage the infantry.  A barbarian heavy cavalry unit launched a charge on this flank against one of the leading Comitanses units. Although the first round was a slight barbarian victory, the two sides were locked in combat during the following turn.  The next turn would go badly for the Roman infantry, which broke in the face of the Goth cavalry.  

On the right flank, a Roman sagitarii unit also charged an open order Hun unit and quickly broke in the ensuing combat. After a couple of turns, the Romans lost 2 units as the barbarians continued to advance.  Add to this the fact that the Hun cavalry had already encircled the Roman right flank with at least one unit. In the center, the two opposing sides of infantry were still approaching each other; swords and shields were not yet crossed. 

Goth cavalry charges into Roman infantry; the Romans would break shortly thereafter

After a Roman horse archer unit breaks, the Hun cavalry begins to envelope the Roman right flank

A wide view of the Roman right

The opposing infantry in the center continue to ominously approach each other

After the successful charge of the Goth cavalry, the barbarian horsemen actually retired slightly to stay out of Roman missile fire range.  The strategy here was to bait the Roman infantry to move out of the disrupted terrain across the stream to enable further charges by the cavalry. 

On the Roman right flank, the Roman heavy cavalry were successful in forcing back the lighter Hun cavalry, with the unintended result of opening up more room on the flank for the Huns to envelope.  The action quickly turned into complete chaos as the Huns saw their advantage and began to overlap the Roman units.  The Hun missile fire was taking its toll, as well as the ability to evade the Roman cavalry charges. This is one of the interesting matchups that I wanted to test out:  lighter Hun cavalry versus heavy Roman cavalry. 

Chaos on the Roman right

More Hun versus Roman cavalry action

The center finally saw the Goth warbands charge against the Roman wall of infantry.  In the initial clash, the Romans formed close order to minimize the shock effect of the Goth charges.  The Goths did prevail though, but the Romans held their ground, albeit disordered with heavy casualties. 

Goths charge Roman infantry in the center

We were half-way through the scenario, and it looked like the barbarians were winning. The Goth cavalry had the Romans pinned on the left flank. The center saw the Goth warbands slowly pushing the Roman infantry back (although it was very slow going in this sector). On the right, the Hun cavalry was surrounding isolated Roman cavalry units and even threatening the Roman infantry in the center.  

But owing to Roman discipline (and not just a little stubbornness on the part of the Roman commander), the Romans bent but did not break.  The Romans slowly advanced on their left flank, wisely using supports in case of a cavalry charge, attempting to inflict casualties on the Goth horsemen via missile fire. The center turned into a bloodbath, with heavy casualties on both sides. The Roman infantry was pushed back a bit, but never broke.  Although the right flank was up in the air, the Roman heavy cavalry finally managed to charge the formed Hun cavalry in front of it, breaking a couple of units, and forcing one of the Hun commands to retreat from the field. The other Hun cavalry division had effectively broken through on the Roman flank and rear.  One Hun unit forced a Roman infantry unit in the center (after managing to break one Goth warband) to form Testudo, a formation virtually invincible against the Hun arrows.

As the Roman infantry on the left flank cautiously advanced against the Goth cavalry, the Goths (not wanting to stick around to absorb javelin casualties) charged.  Incredibly, the lowly Roman limitanses unit in its path formed close order and repelled the Goths ! The other lead Goth cavalry unit decided to get into the action as well and charged in on another Roman unit, forcing it to retire, but advancing to stay locked in combat. 

The Goths launch a charge but were repulsed by close order Roman infantry

The Romans bend but refuse to be broken

One Goth warband has had enough and runs for the hills

The Romans, although enveloped, stay in the fight on the right flank

With but a turn left before nightfall, the Roman left stabilized as the Goth cavalry stepped back disordered, unable to break the disciplined Roman infantry.  In the center, the combat continued, with neither side gaining an advantage.  On the right flank, the Roman cavalry, after eliminating the formed Hun cavalry in front of them, about faced and threw back a charge by more Hun cavalry, totally defeating the barbarian horse archers. 

The high point of the Goth cavalry charge. It would be thrown back.

Hun horse archers attack a Roman unit in testudo formation with no effect

A wide view of the Roman left and center

Bloody combat in the center

As the game ended, it was obvious that the barbarian force was not going to force the Romans off of the field. In fact, there were more barbarian units that were shaken than Romans.  Both sides took heavy casualties, but the barbarians withdrew to the hills and left the Romans to lick their wounds and set up a fortified camp in the plain. It was a tremendous game with two very well-matched forces. Hail Caesar, as a rules set, did a great job of simulating the scenario. The results were very believable and there were no dice rolls that seemed implausible.   I actually played the scenario with the Picquet rules system first, before trying Hail Caesar out for the blog post. Both rules demonstrated a minor Roman victory. 

One of the main situations that I wanted to test Hail Caesar with was the capability of Hunnic light cavalry against Roman cavalry.  The Huns had more units that primarily operated in open order, but the Roman heavy cavalry was unbeatable in direct combat.  The ability of the Huns to maneuver freely around the flanks and rear of the Romans caused many casualties and consternation.  The result was what I expected and the rules simulated this well. 

Another ancients game in the books.  On to Napoleonics and, later in the year, the battle of the Catalaunian Field. 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Merry Christmas Through The Years

As we settle in for a long holiday weekend, here is a light-hearted collection of Christmas images from years past. Let us not forget that Christmas was, and still is, celebrated even in the misery of many war-torn years.  Please remember the troops that are deployed and on the front lines today throughout the world. MERRY CHRISTMAS !

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Battle of Vierkirchen, September 1813

This past weekend, several of us gathered in snowy Roanoke, Virginia to participate in an 1813  "what-if" scenario pitting the French Army of the Bober against the Allied Army of Silesia. The rules used were Carnage and Glory 2. Doug Kline of Battlefield Terrain Concepts constructed the scenario, fabricated some outstanding terrain, and provided excellent food and drink. Doug also provided the French, Russian, and a few German figures, while I provided most of the French-allied troops and the Prussians.

The Battle of Vierkirchen

Getting down to business early Friday evening, the battle played out in approximately 12 hours of gaming time throughout 18 turns (about 4 1/2 hours of simulated time).  The terrain was magnificent as usual; Doug actually downloaded modern pics from Bling Maps and converted it to what the ground probably looked like in 1813.

The Scenario

The allied campaign plan in 1813 was simple: avoid direct confrontation with Napoleon and focus on defeating his marshals in detail.  Following the French victory (but frustrated with the allied retreat) at Dresden, the Emperor learned of Marshal MacDonald's defeat at the Katzbach. Napoleon, in search of a decisive victory over the allies, set out to reinforce MacDonald's beleaguered army with a large force, including the Imperial Guard. The Army of the Bober's retreat was halted and MacDonald's force was reformed, yet the allied army under Blucher retreated again once he realized that Napoleon was present.

Learning of the defeats at Kulm and Dennewitz, the Emperor finally took his troops back to Dresden, leaving MacDonald again isolated against Blucher's army.  This scenario assumes that Blucher advanced with Sacken's Russian Corps a day earlier in order to catch the Army of the Bober off-guard. Historically, Blucher did not advance until the 9th of September, allowing MacDonald to escape.

On an open plain near the village of Vierkirchen, approximately 38,000 allied troops faced off against about 34,000 soldiers of MacDonald's army, which was a composite force consisting of French, Westphalians, Italians, Neapolitans, and various other German units.

Initial Deployment

The terrain was dominated by a large open hill in the center, relatively open terrain in the vicinity of Neucunnewitz (the left flank of the allied army), and wooded terrain in the area of Tetta and Buchholz (the right flank of the allied army).  Sacken deployed the bulk of the Russian artillery in the center, supported by Lieven's Russian infantry division.  Russian cavalry held the left flank, while the Prussian infantry divisions under von Horn and von Mecklenburg deployed to the right of Vierkirchen. Prussian uhlans, landwehr cavalry, and national cavalry protected the allied right flank.

The French deployed Ledru's infantry division on the table, supporting the reserve artillery in the center. Westphalian and Neapolitan troops held the areas around Tetta and Buchholz. The large wooded areas on the French left were protected by multiple units of French legere.

The French left flank, with the village of Tetta in the foreground

The center of the field

The allied right flank, held by Prussian troops

The main Prussian assault column facing Tetta

The French, Westphalian, and Neapolitan troops defending Tetta and Buchholz

French and Russians face off in the center

All other commands were considered reserves and rolled for. There was a built-in delay (depending on the activation die roll), so reserves had to be planned for in advance.

The French deployed in a defensive position, watching for opportunities as the Army of Silesia maneuvered. The allied plan was simple:  hold the left flank and center with Russian cavalry and the imposing Russian artillery, while the Prussians began the attack on the village of Tetta (the natural hinge of the battlefield).  Prussian cavalry and landwehr units were to hold the right flank.

The Game

In subsequent turns, the Prussians attacked Tetta, but the Westphalian troops held firmly, most notably the Westphalian Guard Fusiliers. A couple of Prussian tactical mistakes allowed the Westphalians to counterattack and overrun a battery, continuing on to Prussian infantry. This stalled the initial Prussian advance.  The allied right flank was quiet, with both sides standing in defense.

The allied left flank was initially quiet, but the French player, sensing that the Russians were weak in this sector, launched an attack against Russian cavalry.  French lancers led the charge, but the action was drawn initially. Russian reserves immediately began to appear on the left and the cavalry battle turned into a churning action that eventually saw the Russian cavalry begin to prevail.

The Prussians advance toward Tetta

Opposing troops square off in the center

A Prussian battery's flank is in the air !

Fighting in the woods was fierce

Counterattack by the Westphalian Guard Fusiliers

Westphalian Guard Fusiliers 

French and Russian cavalry fight near Neucummewitz

In the center, the opposing guns dueled and it was apparent that the powerful Russian guns (with 12 cannon batteries) had the advantage.  A spoiling charge by the Baden dragoons was repulsed by Russian jagers that hastily formed into square. The center continued to be a stalemate as the French used reverse slope tactics to escape the murderous fire of the Russian batteries.

The Prussian reserve batteries arrived as reinforcements, but were primarily placed in the center alongside the Russian batteries. Meanwhile, the Prussian infantry in the area of Tetta were repulsed and had reached a wavering state.  Prussian cavalry was launched as spoiling attacks in this sector, being repulsed bloodily (by Italian chasseurs and Wurzburg chevaulegers) but buying a bit of time for the reforming Prussians. A defensive blast of canister by a small battery of Neapolitan horse guns blew away another Prussian hussar unit. Another tactical mistake by the Prussians saw another battery become overrun and wiped out by the Italian chasseurs. Sixteen guns in this sector had been lost due to tactical errors. The Westphalian Guard Fusiliers overran the Prussian musketeers, while the Neapolitan chasseurs were skillfully maneuvered to scoop up a large amount of prisoners. By this time, the Prussian grenadiers of von Hiller's brigade arrived at Vierkirchen and rapidly moved to support the shattered Prussian infantry on the field.

French reserves arriving at the rear

Carabiniers moving up for the attack

Cuirassiers moving towards the right flank to fight Russian cavalry

Italians from Zuchhi's brigade supporting Buchholz

To the rear of the French center, the heavy cavalry of Saint-Germaine's division arrived. Infantry from Charpentier's French division also marched onto the field. The carabiniers maneuvered up to the center behind the reverse slope, in anticipation of a powerful counterattack. Thierry's cuirassier brigade was diverted to the French right, as the Russian cavalry had been reinforced by infantry and artillery. The French right flank was being pushed back steadily.

At this point in the battle, Mother Nature intervened. As the French carabiniers prepared to launch a nasty charge against a Prussian battery that had been worn down, visibility dropped to 400 paces.  This respite allowed the Prussians to reform. The chaos was averted and Prussian grenadiers began to advance against Tetta again. The loss of visibility slowed the battle down to a crawl, as action in the center ceased.  The Russians continued to push the French left flank in, but artillery fire was stopped across the line.

With the Prussian infantry reformed, as more and more reinforcements arrived onto the field, the grenadiers stormed Tetta. The 1st East Silesian grenadiers were stopped initially, but as another battalion of Silesian grenadiers joined the attack, the Westphalians were eventually forced to abandon Tetta. This area became extremely congested, as both sides began maneuvering units for the eventual ebb and flow of urban combat.

On the allied left flank, Russian infantry of Alexejev's brigade forced themselves into the village of Neucunnewitz, but were then thrown out of the town by counterattacking French infantry. Although the French right flank had been pushed back, the progress was stalled as French cavalry reserves rushed to this area. The focus of combat continued to center around Neucunnewitz.

View from Buchholz

The center looking ominous as the Prussians attack Tetta again

French right flank near Neucummewitz

French troops on the reverse slope in the center

Prussian grenadiers assault Tetta

A bloody mess around Tetta as more Prussians are added into the fight

The Prussian reserve cavalry maneuver behind the Russian artillery

More action around Neucummewitz

French and Westphalian troops get ready to attempt a retake of Tetta

Allied troops moving forward in the mist to take the crest of the heights

As the mist lifts
Having received a respite due to the lowered visibility, the allies decided to prolong the center batteries forward and occupy the crest of the heights. The French right was holding on, but had been forced back. The Prussians had occupied Tetta and had stabilized their position, but fresh French infantry had taken the place of the Westphalians and were threatening to take the village back. As the fog lifted, the French counterattacked in the center but were overwhelmed by the huge number of allied guns.  The Russians and Prussians had consolidated 84 guns in the center and were moving forward against approximately 30 French guns.  The results were bloody.

French troops retake part of Neucummewitz

As the visibility clears, the French counterattack the center, with savage results

At this point,  we called the game. The center had become untenable for the French. With Tetta occupied by the Prussians and Neucunnewitz still being fought over, occupation of the center heights was critical to the battle's success. The French announced that retreat from the field was the only viable option. The allies had won a minor victory, but had suffered slightly higher casualties in the fight.  Casualties on both sides at this point were between 1,500 and 2,000 actual dead, wounded, and prisoners;  if the French had decided to remain on the field instead of retreat, the numbers would continue to rise considerably.

View from Tetta

The action at Neucommewitz

The battle was very close (with 0-3 army morale points separating the two sides during the entire game) with typical ebb and flow action erupting over the entire field. It truly felt like and looked like what we imagined a Napoleonic battle to be. The French fought well, but the center became an untenable position.

We all had a great time in an extremely close-fought game.  Carnage and Glory 2 proved yet again what an outstanding battle management system it was. We can't wait until the next game.....