Wednesday 9 January 2019

Soldiers of God campaign, continued. Battle of the Orontes river.

In the year 1141, Lord Andrus de Renard, First Marshall of Tripoli, under pressure from the powerful Knights Hospitaller and other lords of Tripoli seeking to expand their lands, sanctioned a spring raid into the disputed border areas between his fiefdom and the Emirate of Homs. The initial surprise attack cornered a wealthy merchant convoy at Wadi Al Salah, slaughtering and plundering it. Their bloodlust and greed for more plunder now up, the raiders immediately continued to the reputedly wealthy temple at Holy Qadr. Defended by locals and brave muslim guards, the sacred shrine was none-the-less overrun, looted and burnt. These first raids had caught the Emir of Homs off guard and, seeing their chance, the invading crusaders pressed on north, towards Homs, first coming to the small desert town of Alhouz. Here, the Imam of Alhouz met the Crusaders in open battle, and, in a desperate engagement on the plains outside of town, defeated the Crusaders and forced them to retreat. This they did, but only into the Orontes river valley, with its plentiful water supply and further rich pickings for plunder. Lord Renard regrouped his army after the Alhouz reversal and appraised his next move. How would Homs react? Should he retreat now with his plunder or could he conqueror the fertile lands around the Orontes for Tripoli’s lords?

Unwilling to allow the crusaders to harry the Orontes valley, and still keen to avenge the infidel’s sacrilegious destruction at Qadr, Prince Hrab-Dhabala Al Qarib Ghara, brother of the Emir of Homs, completed mustering an army and marched out from the city to challenge the encamped invaders. Seeking only vengeance, he offered no parley, no terms and no mercy. The two forces clashed in the pitched Battle of the Orontes River in late May, 1141.

This would be the forth, perhaps pivotal, battle of the campaign. This was the army of Homs (my force), with the All Out Attack Battle Plan.

Centre (Charge!)
Al-Halqa Cavalry     4    60    3    Fearsome Rep
Ghulam        4    28    2
Ghulam        4    28    2
Ghulam        4    28    2
Horse Archers    3    15    1
Horse Archers    3    15    1
Horse Archers    3    15    1
Tribal Cavalry    3    12    1
Baggage Train       0    *    5+ for +1

Left Flank (March)
Sudan Infantry     4    17    2    + Naffatun team, Fearsome Rep
Sudan Infantry    4    12    2    Fearsome Rep
Infantry        4    12    1
Ahdath        4    4    1
Ahdath        4    4    1
Ahdath        4    4    1

Right Flank (March)
Horse Archers    3    15    1
Horse Archers    3    15    1
Horse Archers    3    15    1

299 pts, 24 Morale Value

My plan, as you can see from my chosen force, was a simple heavy cavalry attack in the centre. I had thought of attacking in a double envelopment, on both flanks, but then the attacking forces seemed rather weak on both flanks, so the choice between two weaker attacks and one stronger one was won by the later. My left would be a screening advance, to draw enemy’s in and prevent them from swinging into the centre to assist against the main cavalry assault. On the right, well, that would just be a thin screen of light cavalry to harass and delay, long enough for the centre heavy-hitters to win it. The plan wasn’t complex, but if the enemy was weak in his centre, then hopefully my cavalry would jump it in a rapid rush that would not give him time to react to save it. I was kind of banking on his main force being on one flank or the other. But it usually is, benefits of knowing your opponent well.

And after deployment so it was, the Crusaders had their cavalry on his right, opposite my infantry flank. Good, my infantry could draw them in, being a juicy target themselves, and hold long enough for my centre to overrun his men-at-arms, crossbows and single dismounted knight unit in his centre. His left was far stronger than my 3 units of horse archers, with Turcopoles, skirmishing infantry archers, two light war engines all with a Loose! card behind them. Better be careful there.

My All Out Attack plan had the initiative for the first turn, being the more aggressive to his right echelon attack. Sound the trumpets, time to start to blood-letting, 'Death to the Infidel!'.

I advanced all along the line, cavalry going forwards, angling towards his right, where I hoped to engage and overwhelm his Knights Hospitaller with greater numbers and a thumping charge from my own Al Halqa royal guard cavalry, a clash of the real heavy weights from both sides. Each of my Ghulam units had a singe horse archer unit behind it, for lob shooting extra arrows and to join the fighting when it got to melee, as support. Dedicated supporting horse archers to the heavier cavalry was a relatively common in ancient battles, and their support attacks might just swing the balance.

His right and centre all advanced as well, and by the end of turn 1 both sides were almost engaged, two aggressive plans about to meet in the centre of the table. His cavalry had swung to their left to better face up to my centre’s cavalry, with only a single knight unit on his extreme right left to face my infantry (which was admittedly mostly rubbish).

Turn 2, and my cards were good, Loose, another Charge, and a Rally. I could shoot, charge, fight, fight again and then rally off the Disorder gained. I started by loosing in the centre and a hail of arrows flew from my Ghulam and horse archers, building some Disorder before the Charge cards followed. His knights jumped the gun with an ‘Impetus Charge', digging in their spurs with a cry of ‘Deus Aix!’ to hurl themselves into my Ghulam through the incoming arrows. My next card was the first Charge! and my Al Halqa levelled their lances and plunged into the Knights of the Hospice. Ghulams also hit home against dismounted knight and men-at-arms, with horse archers following-in in support of each charge. Many dice were rolled, but with my lance impacts, I was well on top in Disorder dished out. The Crusader's lines wavered.  The Crusader's own Charge card saw more disorder added, one of his Knight units had reached 8 disorder already and would surely break - yes! The Al Halqa and Knights of the Hospital were very evenly matched though, but the horse archers gave me a tiny edge, if they just scored a few hits from the back row.

As the enormous cavalry scrum in the centre became the main focus of cards, the Crusaders also Marched forwards with their left flank, and suddenly my horse archers, happy to sit and watch for a bit, were in range and being hit by incoming Turcopole arrows… ouch. One unit broke and ran, making my right look very weak, if he pressed a new attack here, then I might not be able to hold for long. Got to win in the centre faster. Hence, I threw ever card I could at the that fight. Thinking one enemy knight unit would be routed I was thwarted by his (lucky) ‘God Wills It’ special card, which saved them and reduced his disarrayed knights back to 0 Disorder - ee-gods, all that hard work undone by a single special card play… now it would be an attritional slog to break them.

So, it was into turn 3 (only), the entire line was engaged, his knights had taken the bait and charged into my infantry as well, a mob three ranks deep of rubbish to tie them up for the rest of the game, although the Sudanese infantry suffered badly and didn’t stand long, the supporting levy Ahdath had to step in. Charges and Melee card flew, and the Disorder mounted, a held ‘Rally’ card kept my Al Halqa fighting and a Ghulam unit, but his Knights and Hospitallers were also creaking under the ferocious melee pressure. One man-at-arms unit broke and routed in the Crusader's centre. Desperate to block the gap he used his centre’s commander in a bold charge to rush in. They were carrying the true cross. Only then did the enemy realise its loss would cost them the game, regardless of Army Morale Values - oh dear. A big mistake!! His desperate charge had handed me a possible short cut to victory.

On my wavering right, the Turcopoles and archers pressed on, arrows flew and I lost a second horse archer unit, badly out shot, now the flank was crumbling… but mercifully he lacked the movement cards to exploit the advantage his archery was winning, but it wouldn’t stay that way. Those Turcopoles would soon be round behind me, after my baggage train or with rear charges… but in the centre I was holding my own and gradually winning it, but perhaps not fast enough. I had his Hospitallers ready to break, won a Challenge against them (clash of two mighty heroes there), only for a second ‘God Wills It’ special card to come up and save them too. Drat, that was very good luck twice to save his best units, and now I knew I wouldn’t win the melee against the Hospitallers anytime soon. The enemy line had held under my pressure. Capturing the True Cross was the best chance now as my army MV dwindled away (down to 8 now from a 24 starting point).

Then the cards deserted me… a terrible hand, no Melees, no Rallies, just useless bumpf I have to throw away to keep units in the fight. It didn’t help much though, I could feel it slipping. On the right, his Turcopoles mopped up, the commander of the flank was run down and shot through with arrows and the last horse archer units was broken as well (aided by a Deserters card - damn those untrustworthy mercenaries). That was my right flank utterly destroyed, their commander dead as well. In the centre, fighting as I could, the worm had also turned. A Ghulam unit broke in melee with his foot knights (tough guys those), and then my Al Halqa had a disastrous set of rolls in melee and were overwhelmed by the Hospitallers, they also routed, an elite unit gone! Some of the Ahdath levy also broke. It wasn’t all one-way, his knights also broke and his True Cross had gained 3 Disorder, they would also run (and win me the day anyway), except a Rally card saved 2 Disorder leaving them on just 1 (that was a tense all-or-nothing dice roll), not enough for them to run through. Drat, double drat. I had lost.

My army morale was decimated… finishing on -13 as my army fell apart, turned and fled for their lives in panic. The Crusaders had won the field. It had been an epic cavalry clash, which initially looked like the Saracen’s lightning cavalry assault would win, but those two timely ‘God Wills It’ cards had saved his best cavalry’s bacon and his line, after than, an even battle of attrition had seen me gradually getting the upper hand, until the cards and dice deserted me. My mistake was going toe-to-toe with his best cavalry, rather than distracting them and hitting other weaker units harder, but when you see the Knights Hospitaller coming, you feel like you have to have a go at them, especially if you have heavy cavalry that can match them. It almost worked.

I don’t think it would have been enough though, my weak right flank had been annihilated, the horse archers getting a taste of their own medicine from the Turcopoles… epic battle though.

So, the Crusaders have the advantage in the campaign and can now march on to the walls of Homs itself. The next game will see me having to defend the city’s walls against a siege assault. The Crusaders need a bit of time to get their siege equipment made (and painted), a siege tower, battering ram, some ladders, etc. The Emir of Homs (and his brother) will be waiting behind their walls… and I’ll get to use my castle walls in a game - for the first time in many years.

We've also decided that 5 battle isn;t quiet enough for the campaign, we want some more. So, beyond the siege, a relief army is also on the way from Aleppo to continue the campaign for a few more games.

Here are some snaps of the frantic action on the Orontes river.

 Saracen deployment, centre cavalry and left flank's infantry beyond

The enemy knights and line, from their right

The plains of battle, Crusaders left, Saracen's right, Orontes river at the top

 Screen of skirmishing horse archers on my right

Facing his skirmishing archers and Turcopoles

 My centre Ghulams and Al Halqa advance 
The Orontes divides my right flank, what to do about the ground on the far side of the river? 

 The cavalry scrum starts, Ghulam and horse archers vs knights, Al Halqa and Hospitallers behind.

 Ghulam and more horse archers (I have a lot), close in on his foot knights in the centre

 The glorious Al Halqa, first outing and they end up taking on the Hospitallers toe-to-toe.

 Ghulam and supporting Arab tribal light cavalry smash into his men-at-arms, routng them

 But the foot knights are tough veterans of this campaign and won't budge. 

 On the exterme left, his last Knights plunge in to my infantry, rout the front line Sudanese mercenaries and are into the ahdath levy behind.

 Beyond the Orontes, my shrinking right flank

 All-in, righting all down the lines. 

 The Al Halqa and Hospitallers, still slugging it out.

 The end of my right flank in hail of arrows, that is a lot of un-ralliable Disorder

 The True Cross command stand joins the fray, probably a mistake. It's loss is an instant win for the Saracens. 

 Beyond the Orontes its clear, his Turcopoles swing in, ready to cross the river (it was fordable) and be behind me. 

 Last of the long melees in the centre, his Knights had held out, somehow!


  1. Really splendid game encouraging me to push on with my Crusader armies. Thank for sharing, I need to go into the archive and find the previous battles 😀

  2. Fantastic write up and great pictures. It seems like a truly epic battle. /Mattias

  3. Amazing game, thank you for sharing.

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