Sunday, February 5, 2017

Viking attack up Falloden hill using Hail Caesar

So I had an urge to do some Dark Age combat with my newly based Norsemen and their Anglo-Saxon adversaries. I've always been infatuated with the Viking invasion of the British isles and I have recently been doing a good bit of reading on the subject. This battle is set in Northumbria in the mid-800's, some time after the raid on Lindisfarne. To be honest, and with apologies to any British readers, I selected Falloden hill as a fictitious place name.....I have no earthly idea if there is any steep hill even remotely close by the village of Falloden in what was the kingdom of Northumbria.

Although I have selected the SAGA rules system for Dark Age skirmishes in the 28mm scale, I have been using Hail Caesar and, recently, Impetus for larger battles in 15mm. Hail Caesar won out for this particular fight.


Furious action on top of the ridge.


The Scenario

Elof the Toothless and his warbands had been raiding the Northumbrian countryside for several months when a random prisoner mentioned the presence of gold in the monastery of Falloden (before the prisoner's throat was unceremoniously cut amid the laughter of the Danes). Gathering his warriors and placing a command under his brother Gudmund the Boar, the Vikings headed off towards the monastery under the guidance of another local Saxon prisoner, who was more than willing to comply with any Danish requests.

Unknown to the Norsemen, a local baron named Osbeorht was alerted to the approach of the invaders and was resolved to meet them in battle. Fully aware of the tactical superiority of the fierce Danes, Osbeorht decided to gather his troops in a strong defensive position and repel the attackers. Falloden hill would be where the Northumbrians would make their stand.

If unfamiliar with the Hail Caesar rules, please check out my earlier review and summary from February 2016.

The scenario is a simple assault up the slope of a moderately steep hill. The two commands of Danish Vikings consisted of 7 standard infantry units of mixed Hird/Bondi, 2 small units of Bondi archers, and one unit of Thrall skirmishers. These warriors were arrayed in a battle line at the foot of Falloden hill.

The Anglo-Saxons, on the other hand, consisted of a slightly smaller force of two commands under the overall command of Osbeorht. The force consisted of 6 standard units of mixed Thegn/Ceorl infantry, 1 small unit of skirmishers with bows, and 1 unit of skirmishers with javelins. In addition, there was one small unit of Thegn medium cavalry. This force was lined up on the ridge of the hill, awaiting the advance of the Norsemen.

All unit statistics are published in the Late Antiquity To Early Medieval Army Lists for Hail Caesar. As for special rules, I did allow all heavy/medium infantry on both sides to form Shieldwall (Close Order rule in Hail Caesar). I also added the Tough Fighters rule for the Viking Hird infantry. In addition, to give the Dane invaders some tactical edge, I added the Marauder rule for their 2 units of Bondi archers. As for the Northumbrian defenders, the position uphill of the attackers would give a bonus to their hit chances. The command base of Osbeorht would give a reroll capability to the Saxons as well (the Danes did not have a separate overall commander, so therefore would not receive a reroll capability).


The lines of battle are drawn. The Vikings are at the foot of the hill on the left of the picture.


A view from the other side of the field, with the Saxons on the left of the picture.


Elof the Toothless rallies his Vikings for the assault.

The Game

On the first turn, with the Vikings moving first, the command under Gudmond the Boar facing the Saxon left moved rapidly up the slope, with the Bondi archers causing some damage immediately. The Saxons on this flank (with the exception of the disordered unit due to the withering fire from the Viking bowmen) did succeed in forming Shieldwall. On the Saxon right, Elof's Thrall skirmishers succeeded in blundering and blocking the rest of the Danish infantry, resulting in a short movement up the hill.

During the following turn, both Viking commands advanced towards the Saxon shieldwalls, trading missile fire with their adversaries. Both battle lines were preparing to clash.

Gudmond's Danes made first contact on the Saxon left and a furious fight occurred as the Saxon shieldwall held and subsequently repelled the first Viking warriors (although the Saxon unit took a major beating and was shaken).  Elof's Danes inched closer up the ridge as the silent Saxon shieldwall awaited the charge.


Elof's troops in the foreground ready themselves for the final charge. Gudmond's warriors at the top of the picture close onto the Saxon shieldwall.


The Vikings of Elof's command (which made up the primary assault force) then launched themselves against the Saxon shieldwall. Using rear units as supporting units, the Danish warriors attempted to overwhelm the Saxons. The fighting at the top of the ridge was vicious and prolonged. On the Saxon left, Gudmond rebounded from the loss of his lead unit of warriors and personally led one of the rear units to rout the shieldwall (which was already shaken) at the top of the ridge. A hole in the Saxon line was formed.


Elof's warriors attempt to overrun the Saxon shieldwall at the top of the ridge.


Gudmond the Boar leads his warriors against the shaken Saxon shieldwall and ends up throwing it off of the ridge.


As the fighting on the Saxon right was typical back-and-forth fighting, the hole in the Saxon left was made worse when another Saxon unit in the center was routed off by a desparate Viking charge. Gudmond then moved to flank the extreme left of the Saxon line. This was a critical point in the battle. The Saxon commander, Osbeorht,  attached himself to the Thegn cavalry and attempted to lead it to the left flank. An ugly command roll reared its head and the cavalry barely inched its way to the threatened sector. As Gudmond charged the flank with his warriors, the shieldwall............stood ! The Saxon infantry was disordered but it stood (awesome dice rolls) unbelievably. The Thegn cavalry finally made it to the combat and the subsequent fight tipped the tide against the Vikings charging uphill. Gudmond's Danes routed, which caused his entire command to become broken, forcing any remaining units to retreat. The Saxon left held!


The fighting on the Saxon right flank was brutal.


Saxon archers defend the extreme right flank as the Viking Thralls fall back.


On the Saxon right flank, the Vikings were pushing the Northumbrians back. The fighting was tough and alternated between the Saxon shieldwall holding their position and the Vikings pushing ahead stubbornly. The numbers were beginning to tell and the Saxon infantry was bleeding. And finally, with one last Viking charge, led by Elof himself, the Saxons broke and routed.


With one last Viking push, the Saxon shieldwall on the right routed away

At this point, even with the Saxon left stabilized, the Vikings so outnumbered their foes in heavy infantry that the decision was made to end the game. Although the game was in question up until the last turn, the Vikings finally pulled out a victory. The Saxon troops while in Shieldwall and on a higher elevation certainly proved to be worthy adversaries and the Norsemen infantry struggled to take the ridge.

I felt, with the special rules added, that Hail Caesar proved to be an outstanding set of rules for a fast-paced, yet historically feasible, simulation of Dark Age warfare. It was a very balanced scenario that proved to be a lot of fun.

Looks like the monastery in Falloden was about to be looted !