Tuesday 26 February 2019

1066 - Battle of Stamford Bridge - a wargame in 28mm

Ok - Here we go folks the first of my Dark Age battles using Hail Caesar - about half the painted figures are being used in this engagement 

Battle of Stamford Bridge, 25th September 1066.

The battle of Stamford Bridge was the second of three great battles fought in 1066. The first being the Battle of Fulford in which Harald Hardrada, the Viking invader beat the Northern Saxon Earls of Edwin and Morcar in a rather one-sided affair west of York. The third of course was the Battle of Hastings, the result of which completely changed English history.

Stamford Bridge was fought shortly after Fulford. Hardrada’s Vikings were caught completely unprepared by a Saxon army under King Harold Godwinson who had marched north from London in rapid time.

Following the events after Fulford, Hardrada demanded the capitulation of York. To safeguard the city from rape and pillage the city elders agreed to provide hostages. Hardrada, whilst waiting on these hostages to be delivered retired his forces to the east of the city. It was here at Stamford Bridge on the river Derwent two thirds of his troops waited. The remaining third, commanded by his brother in law, Eystein Moorcock, retired to defend the fleet some eight miles await further east at Ricall on the river Ouse. On a warm late summer’s morning Hardrada’s pickets spotted riders coming towards the resting Viking army. The army itself was dispersed across both banks of the river.

These riders were not the hostages they had been expecting but King Harold’s army, by the time the alarm was raised the Saxon host were almost upon the invaders.

There are very few accounts of this battle, but most seem to suggest that

                    the Saxons outnumbered the Vikings present at Stamford Bridge by some considerable number
                    that Viking reinforcements did arrive during the battle from Ricall but arrived too late to prevent the destruction of the army.
                    that the Vikings were completely taken by surprise and many men were unarmoured and unprepared.
                    The Vikings were spread across both banks and a panic arose amongst those on the same bank with the Saxons. These forces did their best to cross the river and join the other part of the Viking army.
                    The Saxons were delayed by a Viking hero who stood firm on the bridge until such time that a Saxon warrior went under the bridge and stabbed upwards through the planks taking him down
                    The Vikings deployed on a low hill east of the bridge (now known as Battleflats) to defend in shield wall against the Saxon army.

Wargaming Stamford Bridge

As per the description of the battle the Vikings will be outnumbered by almost two to one in the early stages of the game. They will however receive reinforcements during the game. More on this in a minute.

Stamford Bridge (table 5ft x 16ft)

The Vikings

The Viking forces will be split in two camps straddling the river in a state of disorder. To reflect this all the Viking units will start the game disorganized. Thereafter each unit will need to rally to remove this disorder - the unit will be able to do this on a 2d6 roll of 8 or less (as per a command roll) – this will be modified by a further -1 if enemy forces are within 12”.

Units may automatically remove their disorder if joined by a commander using the follow me rule. Units disordered may not form into shield wall and may not move towards the enemy. Units that are disordered may retreat away from the enemy one move as per initiative.

Given the Vikings were unprepared and that the chronicles state they had left their armour with the fleet (why? it was over nine miles away) all the Viking units will suffer a -1 morale save for the game apart from the reinforcements.

The Viking reinforcements may appear from turn 4 – each unit rolls a d6 and on a 6 it appears (each subsequent turn add a cumulative +1 to this die roll. The first unit to arrive will be accompanied by Moorcock.

Resting Vikings on East Bank

Viking Forces:

At Stamford Bridge
8 units of Viking warbands (3 on the eastern side facing the Vikings)
4 units of skirmishers (2 on each side of river)

At Ricall (reinforcements)

3 Viking warbands

King Harald Hardrada (8 command /+2 combat) – west side of bridge
Earl Tostig (8 command /+2 combat) – west side of bridge
Eystein Moorcock (8 command /+2 combat) - reinforcements
Viking Hero (7 command/+3 combat) – east side of bridge

The Saxons

The Saxons will start 18” away from the closest Viking unit on the western side of the bridge.

The Saxons are made up of five divisions commanded by the following
King Harold (8)
Earl Morcar (8)
Earl Edwin (8)
Earl Leofric (8)
Earl Gyrth (8)

All Saxon commanders add +2 combat dice to any unit they are attached to

Saxon Forces

2 x units of Saxon horse (its own division)
15 units of Saxon combined arms warbands (3 divisions of four, 1 division of three plus…Housecarls)
1 unit of Housecarls
4 units of missile armed skirmishers (one per division)

All warbands (both Saxons and Vikings are combined units of Thegns/Ceorls or Hirdmen/Bondi) are per army lists in Hail Caesar

The advance of the Saxons


Both sides had to deliver a knock out blow to the enemy so three quarters of all units (except skirmishers) had to be broken or shaken to gain victory.

The Battlefield

The Battlefield was set up length ways with the river running across the middle of the table. The Saxons are approaching from the west. To the east of the bridge lies the place now known as Battleflats – a small low rising hill set back from the river.

The River is fordable or can be crossed at the bridge. Movement across the river is at half speed. (it is quite wide on the table)
Troops driven back by missile fire or in melee whilst crossing or on the banks of the river are deemed to have been broken (e routed)

Stop Press: I have since discovered that the average depth of the river at Stamford Bridge is around 7 metres! There is no way that this could have been forded by Harold and his men.

This would have fundamentally changed our game, but it makes you wonder why the Vikings did not put up a sterner resistance at the crossing over 900 years ago.

The Game

This was a game of many firsts….

The first game of 2019 in the shed
The first game using Hail Caesar rules
My first game with my Dark Age forces (approx. half of the painted forces were on the table)
And a welcome to a new gamer in the Shed – Glenn – welcome!

Despite the temperatures dropping outside the shed remained relatively toasty for the evening so all the players were happy.

Mark & I would lead the Saxon Attack, Alastair and Glenn the Viking Invaders.

Moving Forward

The Saxons with initiative started the game and it was quite apparent that we needed to advance as quick as possible to towards the bridge to catch the stunned Vikings. The division on our far left rolled its first command dice. A double six – BLUNDER – followed by a 1 these guys decided that they didn’t want to be first in to battle and retreated two moves. The rest of the Saxon forces didn’t do much better and the army crept forward. The sheer volume of troops preventing units from advancing if they were stuck behind others. Passing through troops gives a very big chance (50%) of disorder which was not something the Saxons really wanted.

The snail’s pace of the Saxon army gave the sunbathing Vikings on the east and west side a chance to rally and before we knew it every unit was ready for battle.

Could the Saxons prevent the flight of the ready troops on the west side of the river. Once again, my troops crept forward very slowly but fortunately the Saxon right flank crashed into the first Viking unit on the riverbank. A swift brutal flight ensued with the Saxons driving the Vikings into the river and routing them. Supports & better armour values for the Saxons making all the difference. First blood to Godwinson.

The first clash - top right of picture

The Vikings swiftly regrouped and under cover of their meagre skirmish units managed to cross the river with one of the warbands. The second too far from the bridge started the long crossing over the river by foot. As per history a Viking hero stood on the bridge taunting the advancing Anglo Saxons. Mean whilst the Vikings under Hardrada and Tostig were beginning to retreat towards the hills to form up their battle lines.

Defending the Bridge

The decision to defend the river bank was dismissed. Would this prove telling?

Deciding the bridge wasn't worth defending

By now the Saxon right wing was beginning to cross the river en masse, the centre was creeping forward towards the bridge and the left wing stubbornly refused to move. A few mounted Thegns attempted to reach the bridge but command rolls prevented them from charging forward.

Fording the river

These boys are not moving

It became apparent very quickly the Vikings were going to make their stand on the hill and await their reinforcements.
The Vikings retreat back to the hill

 These slowly started to arrive from turn 4. A rewrite of this scenario would probably push this back to turn 8.

They are still crawling forward

The lone Viking unit crossing the river finally reached the far bank only to come under the hail of slingshot driving it into disorder. Fearing the massing Saxon hordes now wading across the river on the southern edge our lone bridge defending Viking unit broke for the safety of his own lines leaving the crossing unguarded. This gave the chance for mounted Thegns to cross and slam into the helpless bedraggled unit left behind. Second blood to the Saxons.

Finally we get to cross - horse on the bridge

Gotcha ! 

The first part of the battle could be said to be concluded the Saxons were clear to cross the river and face up to the Viking shield wall on the eastern hill. From my observation point on the left-hand side of the field my troops had yet to cross the river, yet the right Saxon flank had and were edging forward. It was at this point that the Vikings might well have seized initiative. They outnumbered the Saxons on their side of the river but rather than launch an all out assault they chose to defend the hill.

Steady men - advancing slowly

The Viking Shieldwall on the hill

With a steady determination Mark arranged his forces into battle lines and adopted the Shield wall. These were soon joined by the elite Housecarls and a few warbands from the right.

The Saxons ready the left flank for the attack

Face off

Skirmishers caught in the open

Just before the big push

Time was pressing, and the big battle was about to erupt. Across the line the warbands slung rocks, spears and javelins. The Saxons edged forward and crashed into the Viking lines. Once again, the numerous supports and batter armour won the battle for the Saxons. In two very brief and bloody rounds Hardrada and Tostig were felled. Units routed and disordered. This wasn’t going to take long.

Crunch !!

In a final show of defiance the Vikings massed a final charge on Harold’s Housecarls destroying them completely but it was all over – although the target of three quarters was not reached it became apparent the Vikings would get hammered in the following rounds

The Viking wall collapses (and the Saxon Huscarls die)


Harold Godwinson can now turn his attention to the events in the south of England

What would we do different:

1.       The river is clearly not fordable (see above) and as such all the Saxons would have had to cross the bridge. In which case the Vikings on the safe side of the bridge should either be further away to prevent then swamping  this area or we make them less likely to rally in the early stages of the game.
2.       To speed things along we gave every unit  a free move if they were not commanded. This allowed the scattered units of Vikings to rally very quickly and set up their defence. Likewise it meant that the Saxons could continue to dress lines and position themselves in neat little boxes for the final push. More command rolls (with chances of failure & blunders) would have been better.
3.       Skirmishers are a real pain and with hindsight we should have put a few more on the table to disrupt shield walls and disorder troops.
4.       The Viking reinforcements would have arrived later

This was a great playtest of the game, it looked fabulous and delivered an historical result. Sets us iup nicely for the big Hastings game on the 10th March.

Actually we have managed to squeeze in another battle from 1066 - The Battle of Fulford
head here

Tuesday 19 February 2019

Dark Ages Project Finally Finished

I think I failed to mention in my last post that I hadn't quite finished the Dark Ages project - having laid out all my troops which you can see here I realised very quickly that I was light on archers and unarmoured saxons.

A quick scan on ebay revealed some decent priced gripping boxes and in a few days 110 more troops awaited their call up papers to join the army - 30 more archers and 80 more spearmen. These have all been based 3 men to a 5cm square mdf base.

I can now safely say that I have finished painting dark ages for the moment - mind you the Victrix Vikings do look quite nice and if I can find some at Salute I might create a couple of Viking units.

Here are some of the final renders

So now it is all about preparing the games - the big one Hastings is planned on Sunday 10th March and I have been busy preparing the order of battle, players aids and background material over the past two months. In much the same way that I set up my Isandlwhana and Rorkes Drift games a couple of years back I'll publish all of this in the blog in the next few weeks.

I have now settled on using Hail Caesar for the big game - principally because it comes from a ruleset most of the players are familiar with and we do know that these rules lend themselves to some inhouse tweaks. More on this in the Hastings post.

So as I have said I have been busy reading up on Hastings and pouring over several books relating to the events of 1066. I have discovered a couple of excellent reads if you are interested in this period and would highly recommend them.

First up is a paperback I found in Waterstones called Harold, the King who fell at Hastings by Peter Rex - a great account of the man and the run up to his untimely death.

Next up is a great little book by Peter Marren on all three battles of 1066

Can't forget the Osprey book - plus it has a section on wargaming Hastings although this does seem to be a bit dated

Perhaps the definitive history by MK Lawson - it is also a good read

Now whilst I was doing all this research I discovered that WH Smiths were selling a magazine style book called not surprisingly 1066 Battle of Hastings - it wasn't cheap at #9.99 but it had lots of pretty pictures and in a moment of madness I bought a copy.

That night I settled down with a cup of cocoa for a good read (actually a glass of red but don't tell Mrs Shed). I got the distinct impression that this was aimed at a younger audience - perhaps 16 year olds studying history. It was reasonably well written and looks great BUT...a massive BUT coming up. The first pages I turned to was the battle of Hastings and imagine to my surprise the authors of this history have suggested that the English Bowmen in the Saxon Army were his elite troops...and the longbow his key weapon. Oh my god I despair these poor kids...it then dawned on my that the editors of this rubbish must have got the battle mixed up with Agincourt.

Nice picture - but whats that  in the left lower corner

This just makes me angry !!

They talk about the Longbow as the sniper rifle of its day taking out Norman soldiers....Not good..very sad.

As a final foot note I found this website the other day - Battlefields of Britain. It was the first time I had come across this and it is full of useful information. In particular I like the objectives of each commander and the maps of each stage of the battle...

Highly recommended


So now after all that reading I have to put together the first game of the year in the Shed...the Dark Age forces are going to get their first warm up in the Battle of Stamford Bridge.

The battle takes place next Monday night (25th Feb)

More soon plus the start of the next shed project ;-)