Thursday, September 21, 2017

Edington, May 878 A.D. (Part one - The Scenario)

A Hail Caesar scenario.

The invasion of the British isles by the Danes and Norwegians is a particular area of interest for me.  There's something about Viking warriors clashing with the Anglo-Saxons, Irish, and Scots that inspire vivid images of a particularly brutal period of history. The emergence of a strong Saxon leader in Alfred, who fought against the Danes and defeated them, is also an inspirational tale of courage and perseverance against a determined foe. The Battle of Edington occurred between the 6th and 12th of May, 878, and was one of the most critical battles of  early English civilization.


Saxons form up and prepare to advance against the Danes lining the ridge 


As a side note, I was exposed to this period through Bernard Cornwell's outstanding series "The Last Kingdom," which is also featured as a dramatic TV series. The Battle of Edington is featured in the series as the important historical event that it, in reality, was.


Still from "The Last Kingdom" which portrays the clash of shield walls at Edington



The Battle of Edington


Background

The first Viking raid has typically been documented as the attack on the monastery at Lindisfarne in 793. The Danes continued to ravage the coasts and raid throughout the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms for many years thereafter. In the year 865 or 866, there was a dramatic escalation; the Great Heathen Army under the command of Ubba, Ivar the Boneless, and Halfdan Ragnarsson  began a systematic conquest of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. East Anglia, Deira, and Mercia all fell, accompanied by  regular attacks into the Kingdom of Wessex. The Danes were almost always victorious over the Saxons during this period (with a notable exception at Ash Down in 871). By 875, the Great Heathen Army had largely broken apart, with Halfdan Ragnarsson departing for his lands in Northumbria and further north. The remnant of the Great Heathen Army was then led by a powerful Danish warlord, Guthrum, who promptly conquered East Anglia and began to attack Wessex.

Guthrum attacked Chippenham in Wessex after "Twelfth Night" and almost captured a vacationing Alfred, who fled into the marshes of Athelney and evaded detection by the Danes. The legend of Alfred burning cakes and being castigated by a local maid was born in these marshes. At this time, things looked bleak for the Saxons, with the Danes seemingly in control of Wessex. Alfred was a fugitive who commanded a non-existent army.

After hiding in the marshes during the winter months, Alfred was ready to go on the offensive in the spring, but had to gather a large enough force to counter Guthrum. Calling out the "fyrds" of Somerset, Wiltshire, and Hampshire to concentrate at Egbert's Stone and march, Alfred gambled for the fate of Wessex; it was doubtful that he could muster enough warriors in these dark times. Heroically, his men did not disappoint and mustered as a potent force.  Guthrum and the Danes still occupied Chippenham and learned of Alfred's advance, quickly departing in order to meet the Saxons. Attempting to follow the tried-and-true Dane strategy of demanding tribute in return for leaving Wessex, Guthrum miscalculated the stubborness of Alfred this time. There would be no payoff in silver this time.

Although the exact location is not known (debated vigorously) the forces met at a place called Ethandun (Edington). The Danes occupied the high ground and the advantage. The scene was set for one of the most important battles of the Viking wars.

The Battle

Details of the battle are sketchy, but it is assumed that the Danes occupied the high ground with a fortified structure to fall back on if necessary. Thus, King Alfred was forced to not only assault uphill, but supposedly against a superior force. After a long and brutal struggle between the opposing shield walls, the Saxons eventually prevailed and the Vikings fled in panic, Guthrum losing about a third of his army in the process. The Danes were forced back into Chippenham and, after a couple of weeks of starvation, sued for peace. Guthrum was baptized as a Christian and forced to depart Wessex with his warriors. He settled in as king of East Anglia until his death in 890 A.D. King Alfred then proceeded to rebuild and refortify Wessex on his way to forming what would eventually be known as the Kingdom of England. Although Alfred had been fighting the Danes as a warrior-king for years, the victory at Edington would solidify his reputation as "Alfred the Great."


A purported location of the battle at Bratton Park, with the Danes in blue holding the high ground and the Saxons in red fighting uphill. 

In retrospect, Edington was a critical battle for the Saxons. A defeat would probably have shattered  Alfred's reputation and forced the Saxons to allow the Danes control of the majority of Wessex. The end result was that the battle established Alfred as "the Great" and provided for an extended period of peace for the Saxon kingdom. A defeat would have also guaranteed Alfred's placement in the "dustbin of history" as just another ineffective Saxon leader in the age of the Vikings.

The Scenario

The terrain was relatively simple. The ground was mostly open with prominent heights upon which the Vikings were deployed. Wooded areas protected the Danish left flank and a very steep cliff would anchor the Viking right. A fortified village lay to the rear of the Danish position. The Saxons would deploy facing these heights. The steep cliff on the extreme Viking right flank will block cavalry movement. 

Very little is known of the orders of battle. The three Viking commanders were Guthrum, Oscatel, and Anwend. On the Saxon side, the commanders were unknown, but the fyrds were gathered from three counties: Somerset, Wiltshire, and Hampshire. The armies were built along guidelines in the Hail Caesar Army Lists for Late Antiquity to Early Medieval Periods. Hail Caesar ratings for each unit are detailed below: 

The Saxons

King Alfred     Command Rating: 9    Number of added attacks: up to 3
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Left Division   Aethelbricht  (Somerset)     Command Rating: 8     Number of added attacks: 1

4 units of heavy infantry (standard) Thegns    Clash/Sustained attack 7,  Short range 3,    Morale Save  4+,   Stamina 6

1 unit of bowmen / skirmishers (small)     Clash/Sustained attack 2, Long/Short range 2, Morale Save 0, Stamina 4   
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Center Division  Berthun  (Wiltshire) Command Rating: 8   Number of added attacks: 1

3 units of heavy infantry (large) Mixed Thegns/Ceorls    Clash/Sustained attack 9/8, Short range 4, Morale Save 4+/5+, Stamina 8

1 unit of skirmishers with javelins (small)    Clash/Sustained attack 3/2, Short range 2, Morale Save 0, Stamina 4
_____________________________
Right Division  Dunstan (Hampshire)      Command Rating: 8      Number of added attacks: 1

2 units of heavy infantry (large) Mixed Thegns/Ceorls    Clash/Sustained attack 9/8, Short range 4, Morale Save 4+/5+, Stamina 8

1 unit of bowmen/skirmishers (small)    Clash/Sustained attack 2, Long/Short range 2, Morale Save 0, Stamina 4

1 unit of Mounted Thegns (small)      Clash/Sustained attack 6/3, Short range 2, Morale Save 5+, Stamina 4


Special Rules for the Saxons: 

- Alfred is granted a reroll each turn for any unit commanded by his subordinates. He is also allowed up to 3 extra attack dice if attached to a unit in melee. But if Alfred is killed in the melee, his loss will count as a complete division lost for victory purposes. 

- I have modified the Shield Wall rule (Close ranks) from Hail Caesar. Troops in this period used Shield Walls as the primary tactic in melee. Shield Wall has to be formed as a formation change in movement and only has a maximum of one move. Also, there is no penalty for hits for a unit in Shield Wall, but there is a +1 bonus for Morale Saves. So, in summary, Shield Wall is a powerful formation that all heavy/medium infantry may utilize but it is not very mobile.

- The mixed Thegn/Ceorl units is a reflection of the Saxon "fyrd," which mobilized not only warriors, but simple peasants and farmers. The units have the advantage of being large in size, but once the unit is shaken for the first time, the unit reverts to the Ceorl ratings for Attack and Morale Saves. 



The Vikings

____________________________
Left Division   Oscatel    Command Rating:  8    Number of added attacks:  1

4 units of heavy infantry Hirdmen (standard)   Clash/Sustained attack 7, Short range 3, Morale Save 4+, Stamina 6

1 unit of Bowmen/Skirmishers (small)     Clash/Sustained attack 3, Long/Short range 2, Morale Save 6+, Stamina 4

1 unit of Thrall skirmishers (small)     Clash/Sustained attack 3/2, Short range 2, Morale Save 0, Stamina 4
____________________________
Central Division  Guthrum   Command Rating: 8   Number of added attacks: 2 

4 units heavy infantry Hirdmen (standard)   Clash/Sustained attack 7, Short range 3, Morale Save 4+, Stamina 6

1 unit of Bowmen/Skirmishers (small)   Clash/Sustained attack  3, Long/Short range  2, Morale Save 6+, Stamina 4
_____________________________
Right Division  Anwend   Command Rating: 8   Number of added attacks: 1

4 units of heavy infantry Hirdmen (standard)   Clash/Sustained attack 7, Short range 3, Morale Save 4+, Stamina 6

1 unit of Bowmen/Skirmishers (small)    Clash/Sustained attack  3, Long/Short range 2, Morale Save 6+, Stamina  4


Special Rules for the Vikings: 

- All heavy infantry Hirdmen are considered Tough Fighters and may roll 1 missed melee hit every turn.

- Guthrum  is the overall Danish commander, but he controls his own division as well. He does not have a re-roll capability like Alfred. He does have up to 2 additional attacks, but if killed, his loss counts as an entire broken division for victory purposes. 

- All Bondi bowmen/skirmishers are considered Marauders and may ignore distance penalties for command rolls. Thrall skirmishers are not considered Marauders.

I have modified the Shield Wall rule (Close ranks) from Hail Caesar. Troops in this period used Shield Walls as the primary tactic in melee. Shield Wall has to be formed as a formation change in movement and only has a maximum of one move. Also, there is no penalty for hits for a unit in Shield Wall, but there is a +1 bonus for Morale Saves. So, in summary, Shield Wall is a powerful formation that all heavy/medium infantry may utilize but it is not very mobile.

Victory Conditions: The standard victory conditions apply from the Hail Caesar rules.