One day in China...
The sun was low in the horizon and the cold Chinese night fast approaching when the two armies finally found each other in the wide river bank of the yangtze. The battlefield was plain to a large extent, with a couple of low hills towards west and center. A considerable dense orchard overrun with weeds and wild plants stood to the north eastern corner. on the southern edge flowed the mighty Yangtze, rendered into a wide stream by an unusually strong summer. A strong wind blowing from the south east struck up columns of dust in the plains.
The Romans under Centurion Manojius were arranged into three main commands. The army was overwhelmingly of foot, supported by light or heavy cavalry attached to each command. The roman CinC Manojius was instantly suspicious of the orchard. Native scouts had reported no movement there yet, but the Chinese were an unknown people and not to be trusted. The cunning Roman that he was, Manojius placed his Spanish ally Francisco Aznar and his Spaniard light infantry facing the orchard. The roman heavy infantry would be hopeless in rough terrain and Manojius knew it. To keep the flanks in check, Spanish light cavalry stood ready to march outside the orchard. As it turned out, they waited a mite too long.
His own command he kept on either side of the river. What went unnoticed however was that the river lacked depth and flow for a stretch of a mile or so where it cut across the battlefield. Across the river, and to the extreme left of the Roman ranks stood Manojius own light cavalry. These were intended as a flank guard and offense against the Chinese right. Between the river and the orchard stood all of the Roman heavy infantry (the famed Legions) and their heavy cavalry.With his cavalry in position, Manojius waited for the last of his infantry to pull into place before he advanced.
Manojius knew of the fierce charioteers from his old campaigns. Seeing them assemble in an orderly fashion in his full view, his old misgivings surfaced. He knew that his heavy infantry would be hard put to hold their ranks when these charged, let alone counter charge. The sight of Chinese blinking set him thinking, and he ordered his Legios to face due west and form up twice deep than was usual. Manojius knew that massed up his legions stood a better chance to hold their place. Seeing an open Chinese flank, Manojius had given orders to his master of horse to advance along the river bank and form up in the Chinese flank. Little did he expect to be challenged in his own flank in a similar way.
A.M.Chang of the united Han Army was a happy man. In an attempt to surprise the Romans, he had sent his trusted lieutenant Liu Peng Sung on a wide march off view to hit the Roman left flanks. Peng sung was known for his cleverness and loyalty to Abing Chang, and Abing Chang himself explicitly trusted him in matters of importance. Abing was confident that the fierce uphill tribesmen he had sent with Sung would quickly knock the hell out of the Romans in their traditional way. What Abing had not planned for was the presence of cavalry, especially skirmishing light cavalry in the path of the flank marchers. Thanks to an early start, these arrived very early into the battle.
Abing's own command was made up of his tribes nobles atop their chariots, aided by some archers and mercenary axe men. The archers and axe men knew each other and had fought previously in mutually supporting formations. Abing planned to capitalize on this. To a good measure, he threw in some skirmishers and held a body of these hidden behind one of the low hills.
The Chinese stood to face the glare of the setting sun in their eyes and the archers complained of an unfriendly wind and Abing Chang felt uneasy for a moment. However, a look at his fierce nobles assembling and his uneasiness vanished. He was confident that the Romans would crumble under the massed charges of the heavy chariots.
The Chinese second in command was Arting Jong Fah. Fah was a dependable man, he and Abing had fought many a battle together. He held in control all the Chinese heavy and light cavalry in a single formation facing the Roman CinC. The Chinese right flank, beyond the river remained empty. In a controversial move, Jong Fah had ordered his Artillery up the hill to hide behind the crest. Engineers swore and cursed and manhandled their bolt shooters up the hill. With the bolt shooters up the hill, the Chinese were ready. They could see the Romans moving. The battle of Yangtze had begun.
At the orders of Manojius, the Roman light cavalry on the extreme left galloped full ahead along the river bank. Going at the double, they crossed half the battlefield and began to swing around with an aim of meeting the Chinese flank. The legios shouldered their pilum and shield, closed up their ranks and marched. Manojius ordered a column of the elite Roman Auxiliaries to advance along with the Legios. The battle field shrank as two full legions marched out in full formation 'straight out of the setting sun' as one Chinese observer later put it. The Spanish began their orchard clearing operations with their light infantry forming mop up columns and stepping into the green darkness with trepidation. A tense Manojius failed to notice the wide open left flank of the Chinese, and subsequently forgot to order the Spanish light cavalry forward. A bewildered Aznar shook his head and waited. 'Aye Caramba!', he swore,'what is this man's intention?'
General Abing Chang looked at his knights and smiled. The Chinese war chariots were a fearsome sight any day, and Chang was having visions of Romans scattering before their charge. With dreams of glory in his mind, Abing ordered his knights forward in column. In the rush to hit the enemy, the deadly open space left flank went unnoticed. In the left, Jong Fah gave a signal to his artillery man to stay prepared. With a wave of his standard, he ordered his cavalry into a trot. The battlefield shook as thousands of marching feet and clattering hoofs struck up 'the rumble of a decent Shanghai earthquake' as a spectator later put it.
As the armies closed, a fierce yell was heard from beyond the southern extremes of the battlefield. A huge dust cloud was seen, and a wave of cheer went up in the Chinese ranks. The flank march was coming. Clad in mountain rags, war paint on their faces and killer lust in their hearts, the fierce Chinese tribals were running in full fury towards the banks of the YangTze. The man who planned it ,Abing Chang, however did not seem all that pleased. For he could see from his position the six squadrons of Roman light cavalry standing uncomfortably close to the route of his flank marchers. Even as he watched, Manojius had the trumpet sounded, and the Cavalry wheeled in place to move fully into blocking position. In the confusion which ensued, Manojius did not order his cavalry forward enough to deny any maneuvering space to the flank marchers. The nomads established a foothold, and could not be thrown out.
The Legions looked up to locate the source of the trouble, shrugged and walked on. They had Knights to deal with, and warbands were deemed easier to deal with any day by the Legios. At this point, something interesting happened. Spectators later said a lightning struck Manojius, who himself denied such fancy claims and said that something just clicked. Whatever the source, the idea did the Romans well for Manojius yelled at Aznar to advance his horses into the open left flank of the Chinese. A relieved Aznar muttered that "this could have been done much before" and ordered his horsemen onwards. In a burst of patriotic spirit, the wild Spaniards galloped as fast as they could and were in the Chinese flank before General Abing's startled eyes. The Chinese advance in the left ground to a halt. The knights and their aides warily eyed the yelling horsemen who had appeared all of a sudden.
Perhaps it was the sight of the Romans, or was it the lack of faith in his Cavalry which drew Abing Chang to detach some of the knights from his main column and send them to the right flank to aid the cavalry. This made them move further and then beyond the range of Abing. Haughty and highborn as these men were, they refused to be commanded by any other than their supreme commander once they were outside Abings command range and insisted on sending messengers for orders.
As the Chinese cavaliers and highborn nobles tarried, the Roman legions moved steadily close to the Chinese right. In a matter of minutes, they had covered half the battlefield and stood face to face with the not yet fully drawn up lines of Knights called up from the Chinese left flank.
Eager for a kill, Abing ordered the knights to 'ride down the invaders and stir up all hell'. The knight lines were but forming up, but the command took the knights by storm. Blood boiling, they flicked their whips and moved their chariots forward into a full speed charge against the red Roman lines. Hoofs thundering and wheels creaking, the might chariots 'roared into the Roman ranks like a tsunami'. In all their eagerness, the knights had failed to notice that the Romans were not properly visible and that they had to squint to take aim.
As the charge closed in on the Roman lines, the mounted warriors found it hard to aim their javelins and swords, they could hardly make out the enemy. The knights realized their mistake, but a 900 strong chariot charge is not an easy thing to stop, and they rolled on and into the legios with a reverberating clang of steel and wood. Shields up and over, pilum at the ready, the legios shook as the charge hit them. Yet, the line stood.
Before the stunned eyes of Abing, a strange scene unfurled. It looked as if his charioteers had struck a red wall of stone, and were flung out as their chariots broke against the wall and were forced to pull back. too late, Abing understood why Manojius had chosen to come from the west.
Pilum at the ready! Chaaaaaaarge!
Manojius could but yell with relief as his Legions stood. Seizing his opportunity, he ordered the primus pilus centurion to sound the charge. Trumpet and drums filled the air and the yell of Manojius was heard above the din 'Legio! Aim pilum! close ranks! shields to front! Chaaaaaaarge!' In a blur of moving red and flashing silver, the legionaries stepped into a walk, a trot and a full fledged run. The whoosh of a thousand pilums striking wood, metal and horses was followed in a moment by the metallic swish of an equal number of swords being drawn. The charge struck home and the knight ranks broke in a flash. Worst hit were a squadron of knights who could not make a retreat. Covered on all sides by red and steel, these crumbled and routed.
The auxilia palatina, those loyal and elite Roman auxiliaries clambered up the hill in the meanwhile. Marching at the double, their ranks reached the top when Abing sprung his trap. On a whistle from down hill, the Chinese skirmishers came out of their hiding positions behind the crest and roared downhill in a charge towards the palatina. Lesser mortals would have fainted at the wild and swift appearance of the yelling Chinese, but these were no ordinary troops. They were not called the Auxilia Palatina and branded as elite for nothing.Closing ranks, the auxiliaries quickly went into battle formation and charged uphill. Several rounds of fighting saw the ambushers meet their match and wane in spirit. There was no fleeing as was the norm if things went bad. The ambush was broken.
The charge of the heavies had an inspiring effect on the Roman cavalry. Eager to share the glory, they spurred their horses on and risked the arrows to face the Chinese archers squarely to their front. The archers planted their arrows and took aim as the lines of horses moved into charging distance. At a command from the officer, they unleashed the arrows.
The Chinese have always hated the winds. For them, it brings floods, frost and on occasion, defeat. The day was one such. A shocked Abing Chang watched as the arrows shot up, arced in air, and fell not hundred feet from where the archers stood. He was seeing firsthand the effect of a strong wind on archers. The Roman commander of horses was equally surprised. Bracing his shield for a blow, he was surprised to see the arrows bite the ground way ahead. A grin broke across his face. It was charge time! Trumpets sounded yet again, and hoofs clattered as the roman horse struck home and swept away first the archers and then their escorting axe men. The archer axe man trick was not working for the Chinese.
Trust no Chinese River
A different kind of struggle was taking place in the North. A misjudgment of charging distance by the Romans had put the Roman light cavalry in an awkward position. They were able to correct the mistake later, but not before the nomads had established a foothold. Too late, the cavalry charged on and into the ranks of the nomads in an attempt to block their advance. The thrust and parry went on indefinitely with the Romans charging, falling back but managing no kills. Hearing all the din from the north and unable to make out anything clearly in the gathering dusk, Arting Fah detached his light cavalry -those 'light of arms and brave of heart, loyal to the crown and lovers of the horse' and send them to investigate and if needed render any help. Going at a gallop, they reached the river - and galloped across as if it did not exist. Mouth agape, the Romans watched as the Chinese flew across their deemed natural defense and approached their light cavalry from behind.
The depth of the river or rather the lack of it did not go unnoticed by the Chinese either. Wheeling swiftly, a detachment re crossed the river, this time onto the Roman side. They wheeled and approached a stunned Roman command from behind. The invaders were getting a taste of their own medicine. Furious now, the Chinese horsemen struck the Legios to deliver a charge. Despite the light being in their faces now, the Romans withstood the charge. But they knew that they could not do it for ever.
Amidst the new developments, a yell was heard from the south. Manojius looked up and what he saw roused him. The Chinese left was breaking! Commanded by Abing it might be, but the nobles and mercenaries knew when the going got tough. A grim looking Abing was using all his hard learned oratory skills to hold the rout. Whew! The tongue that had charmed many a courtesan was hard put to find words patriotic enough to convince fleeing men to stay and fight.
With the main enemy command fleeing, the Romans had carried the day. The growing darkness forced Manojius to abandon pursuit and disengage. He had his trumpeters sound 'fall in for camp'. The battle was at an end.
In typical Roman style, Manojius ordered a wall to be erected to prevent any more Chinese attacks. (The crafty Chinese copied his design and used it for building their own 'great' wall later)For once, he had reasons to smile. Anticipating a fresh start of hostilities, he camped for a few more days, but General Abing was not going to indulge him. Abing knew when he was beat, and by nature shied away from further prospects of war. Fear? indecision? indisposition? Only time will tell. One thing known for a fact is that his golden tongue still continued to woo the beautiful and the not so beautiful of the Han courts...:-)
River Testing in DBM: Understanding the nature of a river early in the battle itself is crucial. The Romans got a nasty surprise when the river turned out to be paltry and Chinese cavalry poured across.
Archers are vulnerable to cavalry charges in the open. This is evident in the rules itself, but people tend to underestimate the effects.
Sunset and sunrise can decide the games outcome. The side which is disadvantaged by dazzle has to plan its deployment very carefully.
Open flanks become more dangerous if the enemy has light cavalry (LH(O) or LH(F))
The armies were found to be well matched; a revenge match is eagerly awaited with Abing swearing(?) revenge.