Author Topic: Britons vs Byzantines  (Read 103 times)

Chris

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Britons vs Byzantines
« on: October 03, 2019, 06:04:24 PM »
On both the wargaming and writing front, it had not been a good couple of weeks. First, a contest using Tactica II that featured Early Byzantines and Later Sassanids had failed to keep me - no pun intended - engaged. (It appears that I am definitely not a fan of throwing handfuls of dice to resolve missile fire and or melees.) Then, there was the work on researching and drafting the initial pages of an intended article (or articles) on terrain. This was proving to be difficult going indeed, again, pun unintended but completely appropriate. My amateur efforts to traverse this particular ground were not helped very much by the idea or impression - if not actual evidence - that I would just be rehashing what had already been said or written by others with much greater levels of experience and knowledge.

To distract myself from these disappointments (to be certain, they were less than minor in the grand scheme of things and very much paled in comparison to other concerns), I decided to embark on a new project. As the title of this post indicates, this solo wargame would be a contest wherein Ancient Britons faced off against Early Byzantines. This particular speculative match was inspired by rereading Chapter 5 of Wargames Tactics. (I had been looking at how the venerable Charles Grant and his colleagues had determined the terrain for the three ancient wargames described in this excellent book.) As to rules, well, I considered a few options, weighing the perceived pros and cons of each set, and then fell back on my tried and trusted spiral-bound copy of Armati 2nd Edition. Being an admitted enthusiast of large actions, I decided that the barbarian army would consist of a centre command (this would be a double-size army with 150 bonus points) and two flank or wing commands with the strength of a regular-size army plus either 50 or 75 bonus points. The civilized force would have a double-size army reinforced by 120 bonus points. The wings of this central command would consist of a regular army supported by 60 and 80 bonus points, respectively. Terrain being very much on my mind, indeed, at the risk of further annoying the reader, I might remark that I was “bogged”down with regard to what angle or angles I wanted to pursue, I debated how to approach setting up the landscape for this fictional engagement. On the one hand, I could follow the guidelines and procedures detailed in the Armati 2nd Edition rulebook. This would give the Britons several woods as their core terrain. They could take and position up to eight more woods from their bonus terrain list. On the other hand, I could draft a quick list of historical battlefields and roll a single d6 or 2d6 and let the result determine the nature of the ground. A third option would see these two armies meet on a perfectly flat and featureless tabletop. After thinking about it for a day or so, I decided to employ the procedures found in the pages of the rulebook.

Orders a Battle - A Very Brief Summary
The various tribes of Britannia mustered 70 warbands, 19 units of skirmishers (armed with either slings or javelins), 12 squadrons of medium chariots, and 10 units of light cavalry to engage the foreigners and their allies or mercenaries. Command of this impressive force rested on the muscular and tattooed shoulders of a supreme chieftain and three subordinate leaders. The Byzantine army was led by a veteran general, who was also assisted by three lieutenants. Their combined formations included the following: 10 units of Skoutatoi (heavy infantry); 16 units of Kavallari (heavy cavalry); 5 units of Boukellari (heavy cavalry); 2 units of Phaedoroti (heavy cavalry); 4 units of Arabs (split evenly between heavy and light horse); 4 units of Huns (divided into a single unit of Nobles and three of light cavalry); 3 units of light infantry (Isaurians), and 2 units of slingers (psiloi). 

The Field of Battle - A Snapshot
As stated above, the barbarian tribes had four woods as core terrain pieces. The Byzantines would have four gentle hills as their core terrain pieces. Instead of using bonus points to purchase additional terrain features, I gave each army an allowance of 15 terrain bonus points to spend how they wished. Instead of reducing the size of the terrain features by 50 percent so that they would match the size of the various formations and units (15mm epic size shrunk to 50 percent of their footprint), all of the woods, gentle rises, steep hills, and patches of rough ground measured a uniform 3 inches by 5 inches. My crude efforts focused more on ‘abstraction’ than on ‘authenticity’ or ‘aesthetics’. (Please see Anthony Clipsom’s originating post for “River deep, mountain high - thoughts on terrain,” - in the Rules Systems Discussion thread - posted on August 23, 2019.) Following the rules for placement of core and bonus terrain, it so happened that the vast majority of the pieces “fell” in the flank zones of either army. The resulted in four rather busy or congested (and I might venture unrealistic) flank zones, but I followed the rules as written and placed the bonus features where the dice told me to. The main deployment areas or zones of each army were quite open and free of the “problems” of this or that terrain feature. Based on the excellent work done by Richard Taylor (please see Reply #53 to the discussion thread identified above posted on August 28, 2019) and a very informal survey of the engagements chosen for Battle Day as well as of the diagrammed battles in Warfare in the Classical World, this model landscape seemed to be fairly historically accurate. Anyway.

How It Played
The Byzantines were deployed across the near edge of my small tabletop. It was what could be called or labeled a fairly traditional deployment, where a strong infantry centre was supported by numerous cavalry formations. The wings contained primarily cavalry along with some light infantry units. The Hun contingent was on the left; the Arab contingent was on the right. The Byzantine deployment looked like a skeleton compared to the bones, muscles, and tissues of the Ancient Britons arrangement. The far side of the table was rather choked with warbands and supporting units. Chariots, light cavalry, and thick screens of skirmishers were positioned in front of two or three long and menacing-looking lines of warriors.

A general advance by both armies quickly brought the opposing lines into range of Byzantine archery as well as into melee contact. Over on the barbarian left, there was a swirling combat between groups of light cavalry. In the centre of the field, skirmishers delayed and pestered the Byzantine foot and horse. On the Byzantine centre-left, their heavy cavalry encountered stubborn resistance from enemy medium chariots. Further left, the Huns had their hands full dealing with more Britons riding in and fighting from chariots.

Back over on the barbarian left, the Arab light horse were victorious but exhausted. They were subsequently pushed off the field by some nearby warbands. A road of sorts was opened for the Arab Nobles as well as some Byzantine heavy horse. The ensuing melees left a number of barbarians scattered on the bloody ground. Due to their fierce nature, however, there were like numbers of Byzantine cavalry and their mounts strewn about. In the centre, the Byzantines managed to slap away the numerous enemy skirmishers, but one regiment of foot was lost when broken by a mad charge by a unit of chariots. The Hun light cavalry over on the left found themselves sorely pressed and then broken by more enemy chariots. In fact, it looked like the barbarians might be able to punch a hole through the thin Byzantine ranks in this sector of the fairly large field.

Several more turns of fighting saw the Arab Nobles and other units finally break the barbarian left wing. The evaporation of this flank exposed the enemy centre, but the surviving Byzantine units were rather scattered as well as nearing fatigue if not also decimated, so it would be some time before a real threat could be developed and positioned. Over on the Byzantine left, quite a few warbands screened by a number of chariots were making a push to the outpost of two isolated units of Byzantine infantry standing on a gentle hill. On the edge of this sweeping advance, the Hun Nobles and various units of Byzantine cavalry continued to fight and hold back more enemy warriors. The battle was decided in the centre. The Byzantine foot regiments had trouble, at least for a couple of turns, with finding the range for their volleys of arrows. Eventually, however, they found their marks and started inflicting losses on the “frozen” lines of warbands. The Byzantine infantry followed up their volleys with a general advance into melee and began doling out punishment to the fanatic tribal warriors. The contest went back and forth. Turn 10 witnessed the collapse of one warband and then the loss of an exhausted unit of chariots. The rout path of this formation bumped into two warbands that had moved too close to the fighting. Successive rolls of 2 on the routed-into dice resulted in the warbands running away when the surviving chariots interpenetrated their ranks. The combined effects of these losses pushed the barbarian army to its breaking point.

Comments
This was a costly win for the Byzantines. To be certain, part of this was due to my battle plan. I should have been more careful with my Hun light cavalry. I should also have been a little less cavalier with my heavy horse when sending them into a wall of warbands. Part of it was due to the rules used. I played the wargame without any amendments. Part of the cost for the Byzantines was due to luck. Their archery, both from foot and mounted units, was quite poor. 
From the other side, I should have deployed my warbands deep instead of in a few lines. I should have been more careful, too, with my light cavalry and chariots. True, the light horse formations are not key units, but still.

I like to think that Charles Grant might have enjoyed the “spectacle” of this scenario. As it involved armies from different times and different regions, technically, he would not have approved, but he might have been amused by it. I hope that some readers, at least, also enjoyed the “spectacle” (lacking in aesthetic appeal though it did) and were perhaps entertained, if only slightly by the hastily typed account.

Terrain did not play an important part in this scenario. No fighting took place in or at the edges of any rough ground, woods, or hills. However, terrain features did hamper the movement of some warbands on the wings of the main barbarian force.

From the approximate middle to the end of the scenario, I found myself thinking about how such a contest would play if staged with Tactica II, ADLG, or To The Strongest! Yes, yes, I realize that I stopped and dismantled a previous contest with Tactica II. I also found myself thinking about other non-historical pairings that I might experiment with, additional terrain considerations and ideas, as well as the pros and cons of starting a solo-campaign.
  • Chris Hahn

Erpingham

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Re: Britons vs Byzantines
« Reply #1 on: October 04, 2019, 05:27:07 PM »
Quote
I like to think that Charles Grant might have enjoyed the “spectacle” of this scenario. As it involved armies from different times and different regions, technically, he would not have approved, but he might have been amused by it. I hope that some readers, at least, also enjoyed the “spectacle” (lacking in aesthetic appeal though it did) and were perhaps entertained, if only slightly by the hastily typed account.

This would be the Charles Grant who once ran out of enough cavalry in a Gaugamela game and topped up the numbers with German Light Cavalry?  It was published in MilitaryModelling or Battle I recall.  I think CG would have admired your vision and adaptability  :)
  • Anthony Clipsom

Chris

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Re: Britons vs Byzantines
« Reply #2 on: October 05, 2019, 01:53:12 PM »
Two votes of thanks, Anthony. One ;D for reading and one ;D for commenting.

Cheers,
Chris
  • Chris Hahn

Ade G

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Re: Britons vs Byzantines
« Reply #3 on: October 07, 2019, 09:47:23 PM »
Quote
I like to think that Charles Grant might have enjoyed the “spectacle” of this scenario. As it involved armies from different times and different regions, technically, he would not have approved, but he might have been amused by it. I hope that some readers, at least, also enjoyed the “spectacle” (lacking in aesthetic appeal though it did) and were perhaps entertained, if only slightly by the hastily typed account.

This would be the Charles Grant who once ran out of enough cavalry in a Gaugamela game and topped up the numbers with German Light Cavalry?  It was published in MilitaryModelling or Battle I recall.  I think CG would have admired your vision and adaptability  :)

I still get a warm glow of nostalgia whenever I hear his name - marvellous stuff
  • Adrian Garbett