Tuesday, 9 July 2013

English Civil War: The Relief of Hawarden – The Battle (Part 2 of 3)

The Setup:

The day dawned bright, sunny and really rather hot.  I arrived at the venue in Deeside to discover Dave, Luke and Aidan already in situ and setting up the table smack bang in the centre of the room.  They, along with James who I’d given a lift too, kindly assisted me in dragging the horde of mostly scenery boxes I had brought along upstairs.  As the battlefield took shape there was much merriment amongst the players and watchers about the difficulty, or actual impossibility, of accessing the centre of the 144 foot square table, but given the central location of the impassable River Dee this made little actual impact.  Dave buzzed around making sure his image of the battle matched reality, and when finished it truly was impressive. 

The Cast:

Luke - Colonel Cromwell
Aidan - Sir Stapleton-Smyth (battalia commanders; Colonel Coleridge)
Michael - Earl Michael de Blondeville (battalia commanders; Colonel Hinchcliffe, Colonel Gustavus)
Rick (me)- Earl Ernley (battalia commanders; Lord Flasheart, Sir Wolfe)
Dave - Sir David Blue

Models, Strategy & Deployment:

The numbers of models being deployed around the edges were equally worth note, with approximately 1,000 infantry models in the combined 25 foote regiments, almost 200 horse, and 20+ cannon being added to by a significant number of officers parading around in feathery hats and the odd civilian and sheep.  To cap it off it was all painted.  A great sight and one which drew a few very nice comments from passers by.

With the field of battle done, and the models ready, we had a quick rules meeting (although we discovered later that this hadn’t necessarily fixed all of the queries – different interpretations over command values being one!).  This was followed by a 5 minute strategy meeting for each side.  Aidan and Michael decided quite swiftly that they would be best apart, with Aidans battalia’s positioned around the approaches to the main Royalist objective; Hawarden Castle, while Michael’s troops had the task of defending the main Farndon – Hawarden road, besieging Holt Castle, and ensuring the powder wagons which the Parliamentarian troops would need were protected on their way to Hawarden Castle.  No one player took centre stage as the general, although at least two tried too be, and they operated quite separately during the battle.

For the Royalists the plan called for Holt Castle to be garrisoned lightly (to be done by one regiment of Dave’s foote), and Chester to also have a single garrison regiment (one of my foote).  A diversionary force was to march swiftly south to Farndon to disrupt the powder supply and tie down rebel forces there, while the main bulk of the army was to make its way as quickly as possible out of the main gates of Chester and reach the crossroads before the enemy could, forming up before pushing on to besiege and take Hawarden Castle.  This bulk consisted of 2 battalia of horse and 3 of foote, mostly commanded by me and Luke.  It was an ambitious aim.

My Royalist troops arrayed ready to exit Chester.

Hawarden Castle with Aidans roundheads deployed around it.

Hawarden Castle again, scratch built by Aidan.

The whole battlefield, with Hawarden Castle nearest, Chester at the top left, and Holt Castle by the resident photographer (Luke) at the top right.

Michael deploying his troops around Holt, Farndon (across the river) and Holt Castle - garrisoned by Dave's Royalists.

Me and Aidan both chose a dice and rolled, and at 10:30am the parliamentarians began the battle.

The Battle:

The Opening Stages: Manoeuvre, Bluster and Traffic Jams

The vast distances that the troops were required to travel before they could engage meant that the first few turns were bloodless as generals shouted, cajoled, and shoved their troops in desperation.  Michael, or rather Earl Michael de Blondeville, was the most successful early on in his aims, because his troops moved the short distance to the edge of Farndon and set up there; 3 regiments of foote supported by at least 3 pieces of ordinance and several regiments of horse.  He also bottled up Dave’s regiment in Holt Castle using a further regiment of foote and a further piece of ordinance.  Finally a mixed battalia of foote, horse and dragoons set off North along to Holt-Hawarden road to re-enforce Aidan and protect the powder wagon route.  The wagons themselves were very keen to turn up, and there were soon 4 evenly spaced out and travelling along the Farndon-Hawarden, but also very prone to getting stuck, and they made poor time throughout the battle.

Aidan, or Sir Stapleton-Smyth as he now styled himself, had his own problems with manoeuvring.  The land around Hawarden was riddled with hedgerows, and while many of his troops were nicely deployed in battle formation they struggled to advance swiftly.  It wasn’t just the fault of the hedgerows either; Colonel Coleridge (one of his battalia commanders) seemed intend to ruining Stapleton-Smyths day by constantly blundering – obviously could have benefitted from some communication training as he blundered a total of 4 times during the battle!  The rest of Stapleton-Smyths infantry advanced along the Hawarden-Chester road in march column, and his horse across the more open fields to the south of the road.

If the Parliamentarians were suffering from frustration then it was nothing compared with the Royalists as they attempted to exit Chester and get moving towards their objectives.  Dave, or rather Sir David Blue, was first out of the gates, with his horse battalia heading south quickly towards Farndon before realising they were on their own and stopping.  Their supporting foote had decided to become quite confused and it took rather a lot longer to coax them out of the safe city walls and onto the road, giving Earl Michael plenty of time to set up his defences in the village of Farndon, commanded by battalia commander Colonel Gustavus.

The main Royalist objective for these early stages was the crossroads, lying as it did closer to Hawarden and Stapleton-Smyths men, and also being the point where not only could the two Parlimentarian armies combine, but also were the powder carts would have to come through.  The strategy called for my (Lord Ernely – general of the army) horse, being the quickest, to advance swiftly to protect it, followed by Luke’s (from now on Colonel Cromwell – a distant relation…..) horse.  Then the combined foote of Lord Ernely, Cromwell and Sir David would follow to begin the real battle of taking Hawarden.  There was, however, a problem.  The lead horse battalia (yes, mine) became stuck on the bridge over the Dee, and blocked up the road to much embarrassment and chortles from the parliamentarians.

It would take a while for this blockage to clear, and even once it did the traffic jam on the single Chester-Hawarden road was a major issue.  The lead horse battalia (mine under the command of Sir Wolfe) turned off the road to make room, and made its way across the fields towards the Holt-Hawarden road.  With Colonel Cromwell’s vaunted cuirassiers also moving slowly they were overtaken by the fast marching lead elements of my foote; two regiments and a storming party under the command of Lord Flasheart.  The rest of the horse and foote followed on behind; nose to tail on the road.

Aidans troops deployed around the base of Hawarden Castle preparing to move.

The first powder cart, courtesy of Aidan's collection, making its way through Farndon.

The Royalists traffic problems begin with Lord Flasheart (right) and Sir Wolfe (left) desperately trying to get their troops out of Chester and across the narrow bridge.

Dave's Royalist horse heading south on the Chester-Holt road.

Michael's troops also on the move, with Colonel Hinchcliffe and his men moving North by the Holt-Hawarden road. 
Aidan (aka Stapleton-Smyth) not standing still, with his infantry and horse both heading for the crossroads.

The Royalists false dawn as they look to spread out in the hope of getting their troops going.

The powder wagon crosses the Farndon-Holt bridge.

Aidans troops, nearing the crossroads, deploy into line ready for the enemy.

The Opening Shots:

The parliamentarians, having got over their mirth, reached the crossroads first and garrisoned the small enclosure there with Delaney’s dragoons and goats.  Stapleton-Smyth then brought his Scottish foot regiment; Fergusons Foot, into play to  the North of the road, and the first elements of his horse to the south.  Earl Michaels troops, the battalia being lead by Colonel Hinchcliffe, moved along the Holt-Hawarden road, closing in on the flank of Sir Wolfe’s lead Royalist horse.  Sir Wolfe deployed his dragoons to defend against this threat, and their musketry caused the first casualty of the day amongst the isolated lead regiment of Hinchcliffe’s horse, and kept them at bay. 

Both sides recognised that a big clash was coming soon near the crossroads, with Lord Flasheart deploying his two foote regiments astride the road, and advancing towards the dragoons and scots.  But it was to the south of the road which came the first proper fighting, as Sir Wolfes horse fought a skirmish with Stapleton-Smyths cuirassiers; the self-styled Ye Uncuttables, coming off worst against the heavily armoured roundheads and retreating.  The cuirassiers chose to carry on at a different angle, and crashed into Lord Flashearts lead regiment; the recoated King’s Guard.   The Guard formed hedgehog, and the lobsters were left stuck out in front of the Royalist guns for a while before they were able to retreat.  This in fact created a problem for the Royalist leading foote elements, half of whom were now stuck in hedgehog formation, while the rest where at best evenly matched for musketry by the scots and their supporting saker cannon on the road.

The table from the Chester end looking down the River Dee towards the grey bulk of Holt.

Lord Flashearts foote and Sir Wolfes horse lead the way, deploying into line to face Stapleton-Smyths men.

The tailback which went far into the city of Chester.

The lead elements of Dave's Royalists enter Pulford, but shortly afterwards blunder awfully.

Michaels men passing through the grounds of Eton Hall.

Michaels horse looking to flank Sir Wolfes, but dragoons in the woods spoil his plans.

More rebels heading North by Eton Hall.

Delaney's dragoons firmly embedded at the crossroads.

The Great Horse Race

To the south of the Chester-Holt road the horse battalia of Wolfe was now joined by that of Colonel Cromwell, and in accordance with the plan they headed south, brushing aside Colonel Hinchcliffe’s lead horse regiment and carrying on to threaten his foote and ordinance following them.  In a cunning move Sir Wolfe even led a bunch of the Royalist horse in a ‘follow me’ and charged home into the first powder wagon to make it that far.  The powder wagon was clearly manned by a bunch of fanatics, who fought back and survived long enough to retreat back the way they had come, leaving their attackers shaken and under pressure from the roundheads foote and dragoons.  The horse attack turned into a swirling mix of combats, with Colonel Cromwells men forcing the enemy foote to form a hedgehog, while Stapleton-Smyth, obviously concerned about the powder, dispatched a horse regiment to join the melee.  Wolfes Royalist dragoons had obviously had too much to drink and decided that this new arrival, and the hedgehog would be the best targets for a charge courtesy of a nasty blunder.  Somehow they survived this foolishness.

The Royalist horse massing for the attack.

Settling Down for a Good Fight

 Speaking of blunders Sir David was not having the best day.  While the main Royalist force was engaging with the rebel foot at the crossroads, and the cavalry battle began, his foote had managed to reach the village of Pulford on the Chester-Farndon road when they misinterpreted his order “Get a bloody move on!” for “Turn right and pull off the road”.  Obvious really.  His horse battalia looked bemused, the other Royalist commanders put on their best poker faces.  The rebel commanders were not unmoved by the situation either, however a check on their powder supplies put a new pressure upon them – with limited powder at the current rate of fighting they only had a short while before they ran out.

At the crossroads the rebel lobsters finally backed away so the roundhead foote could move forward and the battle began in earnest.  Unfortunately for the Royalists the only opposition they had in place to this onslaught was Lord Flashearts two foote regiments and storming party, and one of these soon folded under the combined attacks of Fergusons Scots, rebel cannon and Delaney’s dragoons.  The traffic jam on the Chester-Hawarden road continued until finally the Royalist general; Lord Ernely, grabbed his army by the scruff of the neck and started issuing orders all round for his troops to “bloody well get off the road and attack something!”   They did, but the Royalist cause was in trouble.

The Royalist army is just about clearing the bridge over the Dee at Chester but strung out along the road.

Infantry clash at the crossroads.
The only Royalist ordinance to open fire all day is pulled to the front.

The messy combat on the Holt-Hawarden road.

And again, with the Royalist dragoons foolishly blundering and charging a hedgehog!

The lines are drawn, but the Parliamentarian troops are better deployed.

More roundhead re-enforcements.

Looking across the Dee towards the main battle.

The Cracks Appear

The problem was the Royalists were attacking piece meal, while the Parliamentarians of Stapleton-Smyth not only had concentrated their force, they also had artillery to back it up, and elements of horse spread amongst their foote.  The Royalists had 6 large pieces of ordinance at their disposal, but with some in Chester, and most stuck in the traffic jam on the road they were unable to bring more than one gun to bear all battle, and that gun fired only 2 shots before the day ended.

The horse melee was also going badly for the cavaliers.  The seemingly huge mass of Royalist horsemen was now mostly shaken after carrying the fight to the enemy for a large period of the battle alone.  Colonel Cromwell sent his cuirassiers on an aggressive, and slightly desperate, mission to try and break Stapleton-Smyths right, looking to drive through the rebels few remaining horse on that side and on through the musketeers.  But although they succeeded in scattering the horse and pushing back the musketeers they were hit in the flank by pikes, and soon were stalled and forced back under a galling musketry fire from their enemies.  With this failure both of the Royalist horse battalia’s were broken and it was down to the foote to rescue the situation.

The End Cometh

That rescue was categorically not going to come from Sir David’s troops.  His advance towards Farndon had begun again, but faced with a wall of ordinance and rebel musketeers thrown up by Colonel Gustavus his troops seemed unwilling to move further than the southern edge of Pulford.  He had finally gone on the offensive from Holt Castle however, his musketeers sallying forth to attack Earl Michael’s besieging troops and causing some casualties but not managing to drive the enemy away.   He had placed his other two regiments in Chester, where they had remained as a final defensive line in case of disaster at the front.  After desperate pleading from his outnumbered cavalier comrades he released these to advance, but the battle to gain Hawarden had already been lost.  Lord Flashearts third foote regiment had finally reached the fighting, and Colonel Cromwells own Scottish were also on the move forwards, but they were now outnumbered by 6 foote regiments to 4, with an additional 2 donated by Earl Michael now moving on as reserves.  Plus the roundheads had retained 3 horse regiments and numerous cannon in the crossroads area.

Despite the roundheads lack of powder (they were now down to only a few charges for the rest of the army), the Royalists lacked the ability to stop the wagons – which were now going off road - reaching Hawarden Castle, and it was down to a matter of time before the Parliamentarians started pushing them back down the road towards Chester.  In terms of the victory points conditions set at the beginning of the battle it was a draw, in reality it was a Roundhead victory, and recognising this the Royalists conceded the field.  As they withdrew there was one last opportunity for foolishness – some impetuous roundhead horse flinging itself against the pikes of Lord Flasheart’s battalia, coming off very badly and being dispersed.

Dave's troops thinking about leaving Pulford, and deciding not too!

My foote being pushed back by weight of numbers.

Dave's garrison at Holt Castle finally sally's forth.

The last horse clashes on the Holt-Hawarden road.

Michaels fresh troops in Fardon - didn't have cause to fire a shot all battle!

Post Battle Report

Having packed away the armies, scenery and tables we bunged the lot in the cars and headed downstairs to the bar to have a cooling drink.  The players certainly all really enjoyed the game, even Dave whose troops did the least fighting!  It matched the visual aspiration that Dave had had in the planning stage, and looked fantastic with the scenery and fully painted armies.  In terms of the scenario it also worked well.  There were extra rules for moving at double time on roads in march column and this helped the Royalists clear some, but not enough, of their traffic jam.  The parliamentarians expressed an opinion that it was too far for the powder carts to reach Hawarden, however only Michael’s poor rolling for them prevented this. 

The Royalists were also handicapped by poor rolling in their efforts to get out of Chester, and their race to reach the crossroads in the end caused them to be spread out and have to fight piecemeal against Aidans concentrated troops.  If they had formed up outside of Chester and then advanced it would have been more even a fight, but then the roundhead foote would have captured the crossroads unopposed, and the carts would have reached Hawarden and victory would have gone to the rebels anyway.

Dave was the most unfortunate of the day, with his troops steadfastly ignoring him for a number of turns before blundering down the road to Farndon.  Interestingly because of various factors including this a total of 6 of the Royalist foote regiments (50%) did little or no fighting (the Holt garrison the exception).  Michael’s troops guarding Farndon were equally quiet, with 4 of his regiments not fighting.


  1. A pretty fair write up though Id disagree that the Royalists at the crossroads were outnumbered: certainly early on my lead elements were facing down at least twice their number of Royalists! However they seemed up for the task and were able to provide an effective covering force for the deployment of all the brigades moving up behind: at the end we had achieved parity in numbers I think, though my lot were better arrayed and in better shape....

    I aught to mention as well that of 8 regiments of foot, 7 of horse, 1 of dragoons, and 2 companies of firelocks in the vicinity of Hawarden a full 5 regiments of foot, and 3 of horse and the firelocks never saw action!

  2. Your lot were most definately better arrayed, and able to bring their strength to bear, while ours were unable to deploy wider. Plus while our horse were grouped together yours appeared to be dispersed amongst your troops which gave us more to worry about. Finally the curassiers mucked up our plans for 3 turns while they got in the way. Different tactics if we played again.

  3. Ah yes, the mixed brigade tactic: Ive seen this done in ECW battles and wondered if it was an attempt to counter the stronger royalist cavalry, who otherwise tend to sweep through the roundheads in short order...it seemed to work.