Wars of the Roses – 1st Battle of St Albans – Battle Report

This is the first battle report in what will be a long standing campaign to re-fight the Wars of the Roses. Details can be found on the campaign page. Stephen takes us through the first battle (with commentary from Jeremey)

First Battle of St Albans
Well, our first Wars of the Roses battle in a campaign to re-fight all of the major battles – First St Albans.
Jeremey’s plan is that we set up the historical battlefield, but after that it’s up to each commander. So not a true re-fight so much as just sharing the same battlefield, so keep that in mind. There’s positives and negatives to that approach, like there is to any other way of re-fighting a battle, but that is the approach we agreed on so that’s what we are going with.
(Jeremey – using a standard ruleset to refight an historic battle is almost impossible. I set the campaign up to just give the flavour of each of the major battles. Hence the only significance of the First battle of St Albans being that one players deployment was a defensive one on the edge of the town).

I had the Duke of Somerset in charge of my army. Since it was going to essentially be an attack and defend scenario (with me defending St Albans) I decided to use my army points prudently and spent a bit on militia archers (as well as retinue troops) to make the points go further. I decided I would keep them static, behind stakes for a bit of extra protection, and use retinue troops for any aggressive tactics. I also gave myself a Scottish contingent (yes, we know there were none present at the actual battle – read above for our take on this) of a pike block (protecting the central road into the town) and some light cavalry lancers who I put on the left flank to annoy Jeremey. Experience of using both troop types in previous games meant I wasn’t expecting much out of them. I had the men at arms in the middle, with Somerset, and on the right and left flanks, on the edges of the town, were the billmen and archers. I had quite a long frontage to my battleline thanks to bringing some cheaper troop types (the local militia archers) to bulk the army out.

In contrast, Jeremey had a smaller army that he deployed in two lines, meaning that he would struggle against my flanks. He also had lots of commanders! He obviously had low expectations of his army to follow orders. It looked like he had the whole of Burke’s Peerage on the table.
(Jeremey – In my defence we were expecting to be joined in this battle by other players so I went with more commanders than usual thinking the army would be split into two battles. In the end I spent 210 points out of a 700 point army on commanders!)

For so many commanders he made a slow and ponderous approach. The front line seemed to consist mainly of his archers. Out on my left flank I sent the Scots lancers charging forward. I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do with them. My initial tactic was just to put them somewhere it would annoy Jeremey and he would have to turn troops to face them just in case.
(Jeremey – I must admit I didn’t bother with cavalry thinking Stephen wouldn’t bother either and just pick units to sit and defend the town. They did disrupt my movements towards the town, but then I was making a pigs ear of that anyway!).

But it turned out I had them in quite an advantageous position, looking straight on to the flank of some of his archers. I rolled a couple of 6s so made the choice to send them in.
This set the ball rolling. First blood went to Somerset’s army – the Scots routed a unit of archers! At that point I decided they’d already paid for themselves. Mind you, not too far away were a unit of his armoured men at arms and it was obvious what was going to happen. In they went and off the table went some lancers.
(Jeremey – the loss of the archers and disruption to my line made me think this battle was already over. Given I was already attacking a defensive army with less units, I’d also failed at the simple tactic of using overwhelming force.)

Like I say, this set the tone. Because what happened is that Jeremey was having trouble keeping his two battle lines going. In the middle he moved his crossbows forward, looking straight at the pike block. I knew what would happen if I stayed there – a steady rain of missile fire and the pikes gone for nothing. So I decided to push them forward as fast as I could, plonking a 6 activation dice on them whenever I could to give them an extra move unit to get in quickly.
(Jeremey – I’d finally got the main line of my archers into firing position, but didn’t realise you could not give crossbows a bonus dice or 6 to increase their range. I was hoping to get at least two volley’s off against the enemy before they closed the distance).

I advanced the retinue archers on my extreme left and right flanks to over lap his army, create some oblique fire lanes to keep him in arc as he approached, and see what casualties I could cause before he got to the town.
(Jeremey – this move was what I expected and once the cavalry were dealt with I turned my archers and gave them 6’s or bonus dice and started the archery duel).

Jeremey’s lines got more and more separated. Due to both the Scots lancers, the Scots pike block, and the flanking archers, he was taking casualties and his line was breaking up. He was having to use his best activation dice to keep his line in order, turning this way and that to see off a threat as it came. And all this meant his men at arms and billmen at the back just got left behind.
(Jeremey – In the end I only got one volley off from the crossbows before the pikes got into contact. The missile fire did no damage and the pikes destroyed the crossbow unit. But I was doing better on the flanks with the enemy taking greater loses).

At this point the only troops I had committed to melee were the lancers and pikes, which I ultimately lost, but it also meant I had not sustained any other casualties. By the end of it I had more or less routed all his archers (I think he had one or two units left, but that was about it), one of his commanders was dead (might have been two?), and many other of his units had taken hits. Apart from the pikes and lancers my army was still intact. The two armies had taken similar number of routed units but Jeremey had many more that had taken casualties and were looking weak.
(Jeremey – Although my plan was not going well, I did actually win the archery duel on my left flank. I did have to face the rampaging pike block with some ineffecual missile fire but the casualties suffered by both sides was actually quite even at this point).

(Jeremey – Strangely Stephen’s account seems to be light on details on what happened next. As I mentioned the Yorkist forces had won the archery battle on the left flank and once the pike block had broken through the archers they were headed for my billmen. I still had some badly mauled archery units on the right flank but they were able to get off a few shots).

(Jeremey – I can only assume Stephen missed this bit out of his account because I finally managed to organise my Billmen and charged in against the pikes with an additional unit providing support).

(Jeremey – The resulting fight saw a rare bit of luck for the Yorkist forces in this battle with some appalling dice rolling from Stephen. This saw the pikes destroyed and a chance to redress the Yorkist line).

There then followed a lull in the battle. I moved my flanks a bit further forward, sent some billmen to the right flank to give it a bit of backbone against some advancing men at arms, and moved my men at arms units into the centre where the pikes had been. Meanwhile, Jeremey was ‘re-dressing’ his ranks (moving them to the rear is what he was doing!), sorting out his lines, and getting that rear rank forward.
The final stage of the battle then got underway.

(Jeremey – At this point Stephen had no archers on the left flank and so I took the opportunity to gather my Men at arms and Billmen units into a cohesive force. Casualties at this point were even for both sides with Stephen having a slight advantage due to the number of units he started the battle with).

(Jeremey – With the archers Stephen claims to have destroyed I once again put pressure on the units sitting in the town. This time it was the Men at arms, who getting the hint marched out. Once again I failed to judge their speed and they soon caught up with and destroyed the archers).

(Jeremey – In a reversal of the luck I manged a dreadful roll when trying to stop the advancing Men at arms!).

Jeremey, with army now sorted out, continued his advance on St Albans. There was a push on my right flank as his billmen and men at arms came into conflict with my archers. It went his way. Out on the left things were a bit more static – it seems he still hadn’t fully recovered from the lancers. I moved my archers on the left into arrow range and let rip. He then double timed his infantry to close them into combat as soon as he could. There then followed a surprising victory for my archers.
(Jeremey – It’s funny how sides remember a battle, no melee combat took place on the Lancastrian right for the whole battle. All that took place was an archery duel that the Yorkists won. However on the Lancastrian left I finally got my Billmen and Men at arms into melee against Stephens remaining retinue archers).

They were charged by his plate-armoured men at arms, they drew their hatchets and blades and prepared for the inevitable. However, against the odds (and thanks to some demon dice rolling) the archers prevailed and routed the men at arms (who had been weakened due to bow fire).
(Jeremey – Again as we can see my Men at arms were still standing and with the help of some Billmen punched a hole in the Lancastrian archers. The subsequent round of melee saw all of Stephen’s archers destroyed).

In the middle Somerset ordered his men at arms forward, down the road, to meet the enemy in combat. That was very much the endgame. My men at arms, fresh and ready for battle, charged into what remained of Jeremey’s archers and billmen, taking them out of the game.

With that, it was the end – Jeremey’s army had reached its rout morale level and it was game over. A victory for Somerset!
(Jeremey – I’m calling this a close defeat for me, given my poor deployment and smaller army the final casualties give a different picture to that portrayed by Stephen).

Yorkist Loses
6 Units of Longbows (18 points)
1 Unit of Crossbows (3 points)
1 Unit of Welsh Spearmen (3 points)
2 Units of Billmen (3 points)
Total loses 30 points (Army morale 30 points)

Lancastrian Loses
6 Units of Longbows (18 points)
2 Units of Northern Boarder House (6 points)
1 Unit of Scottish Pikemen (6 points)
Total loses 30 points (Army morale 37 points)

Lancastrian Victory

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