Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Hun Ambush using Hail Caesar

We convened to the attic a couple of days ago to pit my newly based Huns against a Late Imperial Roman force. Being a new convert to the Hail Caesar rules, I also wanted to observe how the system worked between two forces that were totally different in tactical philosophy. 

The Huns were a nomadic race that militarily relied on speed and mobility of light cavalry to overwhelm their adversaries with a tumult of arrows and charges on the enemy's flanks and rear.
The Late Imperial Romans, although past their prime of military prowess, still boasted a largely professional force of infantry (the line troops were called Comitanses and the border troops were named Limitanses) and a secondary focus on heavy cavalry. Horse archers, called Sagitarii, were added to counter the mobility of their barbaric enemies who relied on light cavalry tactics, most notably Goths and the aforementioned Huns.

This scenario was relatively simple: a small force of Hun light cavalry would ambush a large Roman column attempting to traverse a road nestled in a small valley. The time period was considered to be late 4th century, during which the Gothic revolts were taking place in the Eastern Empire. The Roman force was made up of 2 infantry divisions and an escort of 2 Sagitarii units. The Hunnic force was made up of 6 small light cavalry units. The full order of battle is listed at the end of this entry. I wanted to add as much historical flavor as possible into the scenario, so I used a variety of special rules:  Hunnic cavalry could form open order and use the Feigned Flight and the Parthian Shot special rules. All Roman infantry could form Testudo, and the heavy Comitanses infantry units were considered Drilled. Limitanses infantry were considered medium troops and, although they could also form Testudo, used the Levy special rule. Roman infantry could also utilize the Pilum rule. The Roman Sagitarii were also able to utilize Parthian Shot. I allowed a +2 command modifier for infantry in column and on the road (+1 if offroad and in column).

The object of the scenario was simple. The Roman force needed to travel off of the opposite edge of the table without losing a single infantry or artillery unit. The Huns would be victorious if their small force could break at least one Roman infantry or artillery unit. The Sagitarii were considered escorts and did not affect the victory conditions in case either of these units were lost (in this situation it was their job to sacrifice themselves to save the infantry).

Hun scouts spot the long Roman infantry column
The Hunnic force blocks the road

The Roman 1st division on the road with supporting Sagitarii

The Huns stream out of the woods to block the road

The Hun battle plan was simple: block the lead elements of the Roman infantry with cavalry in formed battle lines, while the remainder of the Hun cavalry would sweep around the flanks and pepper the Romans with arrows. This was all easier said than done, as the first Roman division all formed Testudo and kept marching down the road. Aggressive employment of the Sagitarii also thwarted the Huns.

Sagitarii rush out to engage Hunnic horsemen

The Sagitarii charged the Hun horse archers in open order time and time again, taking losses but tying down half of the Hun force. One Hun cavalry charge against the lead Roman Comitanses unit resulted in a total rout of the cavalry. The lead units kept on marching to the table edge in Testudo. The Testudo formation proved to be almost impenetrable to Hun arrows.

Sagitarii and Huns lock horns

On the other flank, Sagitarii attack boldly

Although the Sagitarii were being slowly forced back, the Hun force began to separate and command/control began to become much more difficult for the Hun commander. The first 2 Roman units became separated from the rest of the column, so the Huns decided to let these go and focused their attacks on the units further down the road. One Sagitarii unit broke and the Roman commander of the horse archers became seriously wounded leading a charge (but remained on the field to exhort his troops).

Huns begin to overwhelm the Sagitarii

As the Huns advanced against the rest of the Roman infantry, the Roman Scorpion unit, flanked by infantry in Testudo on either side, opened up and caused casualties on the formed Hun horsemen advancing.

As the lead units continue marching, the rest of the Romans deploy for action

Meanwhile, the 2nd Roman division continued marching behind the 1st division and formed Testudo. A blunder roll caused a mutiny and the entire division turned their backs and retreated back the way they had come. Roman officers turned them back around with difficulty; what disgraceful behavior from Roman soldiers! 

The 2nd division blunders and retire in disorder
Action on the flanks as the first 2 Roman units continue on
The Hun commander begins to lose control of his widely dispersed force
At this point, the Roman commander of the 1st division decided to charge his infantry into the Hun light cavalry blocking the way. The Huns dutifully counter-charged. The Comitanses infantry fought to a draw in the first round, but the lowly Limitanses routed the Hun cavalry on the first clash.

Huns and Roman infantry engage in combat

.....and the Huns break
Huns harass the 2nd division with a storm of arrows

The next round of  combat saw the Hun cavalry break against the resolute Comitanses. The Hun commander saw the writing on the wall, but decided on one more gamble. Rallying one of his last units, these brave horsemen charged the lead Comitanses infantry (who turned to face them at the last minute), but even with the Hun commander adding 3 attacks (which all hit), the Roman heavy infantry made all of their saving throws and threw back the Hun cavalry, which melted away. At this point, the Hun force was at their break point and streamed away from the field.

Last gamble by the Huns resulted in another rout
....and with that rout, the Huns melt away

Through proper use of the Testudo formation and very aggressive handling of the Sagitarii horse archers, the Huns had real difficulty making a dent in the Roman column. The Hun commander also had major command problems as several units pursued the Sagitarii outside of effective control range. Although the Sagitarii were eventually forced off of the field, they did their job admirably. The Hun force became disjointed and uncontrollable, while the Romans kept their units in tight formations. Without heavy cavalry and unable to pierce the Testudo formations with arrows, the Huns really had a hard time causing casualties. The scenario was a resounding Roman victory and the Hun ambush had failed. What a fun game !  I felt, with the special rules added, that Hail Caesar did an excellent job of simulating Roman professionalism against the fury and mobility of the Huns.

I can't wait to refight this scenario with different Hun tactics.  Let's see if the barbaric Huns taste victory next time !

Order of Battle


1st Division   Commander rating: 8
3 standard units of Comitanses infantry
1 standard unit of Limitanses infantry
1 standard Scorpion battery

2nd Division   Commander rating: 8
3 standard unit of Comitanses infantry
1 standard unit of Limitanses infantry

Sagitarii escort  Commander rating: 8
2 small units of Sagitarii horse archers


Commander rating: 8
6 small units of light cavalry, armed with bows and javelins

1 comment:

  1. Excellent. I love the details, it made me feel like I was part of it. Thank you