Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Battle of Numistro 210BC

Battle of Numistro

Numistro fought in southern Italy in 210 BC
At about this time, every year for about the last six, a group of the chaps from Devon Wargames Group make the hazardous trip into deepest darkest North Devon as guests of Chas to play a big summer game.

Previous games have seen us in Zululand, Korea, The Levant and The Crimea.


Players travel from far and wide to be there and will have spent the previous twelve months painting collections of figures for the chosen theme. The theme this year was the Punic Wars and specifically the Battle of Numistro fought between Hannibal and Consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus in 210 BC.

Consul Marcellus

The statement 'far and wide' is no exaggeration as one of our players, John M, took the train from the far far north of Scotland carrying boxes of figures and Andy joined us from another place up north in tiny county called Yorkshire.

I thought you might like to get an idea of the kind of place we like to do our gaming in and the local environment.

As a confirmed 'towny',  used to smoke and facilities like the Internet, running water, electricity and medical help should you need it with out having to rely on an air ambulance, Chez Chas is a bit to green and rural for me full time, but when the sun is shining and the sky is a deep azure blue there is no more glorious place to be than deepest darkest North Devon.

Our billet for the night and gaming facility, hosted by Sue and Derek
Wondering around the lanes, taking these snaps on a clear Sunday morning made me wonder why the US 4th and 29th Infantry Divisions who spent most of 1943 and early 44 moving around and training among hedgerows like the ones in the picture below were so surprised by similar stuff in Normandy.

A main road in Devon!
Devon lanes are characteristically narrow with high hedges atop a stone core, earth and grass/flower covered rampart and you know they are the main road locally when you can see grass growing in the middle of the track.

It's all very pretty

Hot, sunny, green and blue

The other thing that an urban lad like me has to get used to each summer we come north is the local tradition of breeding cattle and sheep in the masses of pasture land which not only provide an inimitable fragrance of their own but will insist on calling out to one another close to your open window whilst you are attempting to lie on in the morning after a previous hard day battling away on the wargaming table.

Clotted Cream production under way - thank you ladies

So enough of all this travel logging and tourist promotional activity, what about the game I hear you cry, and so on with the show.

The summer game is a year in the planning and building as collections are often brought together with this one game in mind.

Part of the fun, as everyone starts to gather, is seeing the new toys being brought to the table and laid out according to the scenario plan.

As the chaps revealed all the units they had pulled together for our game, I took the opportunity of grabbing some pictures to illustrate some of them.

Once the toys were out of the tins and boxes, the divisions were gathered and placed along opposing table edges, one after another in their preferred station, to simulate the opposing forces leaving their nearby camps ready to offer battle.

Map illustrating the set up and terrain - arrows indicate crossing points on the high ground. the other areas being steep cliffs

So in summary the year is 210 BC and Hannibal has his amazing run of victories behind him and is pottering around in Italy trying to knock out Roman friendly towns and attract others to his cause of finally doing in the Romans once and for all.

The Romans, keen to impede Hannibal's designs, have sent Consular armies to dog his progress, one commanded by Consul Marcellus who has had some success against the Carthaginian in three previous encounters.

Hannibal has recently defeated another Roman force at the second battle of Herdonia and in that typical 'must save face and restore my honour' way of doing things Roman, Marcellus volunteered to take the main Roman field army south and intercept Hannibal with the intent on restoring said honour, even at the risk of losing that, did I say 'main', field army.

Our battle finds the two armies deploying from their camps in the valley below the town of Numistro in southern Italy, with the Carthaginian army having descended from the hills along their base line.

Below is our representation of the valley below the defended town of Numistro represented by the tower in the bottom right corner, with the Carthaginian line to the left and the Romans with a noticeable gap in their line to the right.

The gap was caused by yours truly deciding to break with convention, blame it on my Nelsonian, devil may care playing style, by placing my division of Greco-Italian spear infantry close to the town with a vague idea of drawing Punic troops in my direction allowing those Roman bad boys up the other end of the table to descend rapidly against the enemy line whilst I fought a refused flank action.

Well that's my story and I'm sticking to it!

The opposing lines in position with the Punics left and Romans right of picture
Opposite my post were four Celtic warbands together with supporting skirmishers, with the centre of the Carthaginian line held by their veteran infantry, Libyan spearmen and elephants, with a powerful division of  Carthaginian and Numidian cavalry out on their left flank close to the spur of high ground.

The Punic line with Celts on the left, heavy infantry and elephants in the centre and cavalry out on the right
The Roman deployment seemed to cause a little confusion among Hannibal and his generals as to what this Roman Consul, Marcellus, was up to and alternately galvanised the Romans to take full advantage by closing rapidly on the end of the line before them whilst the Carthaginians scratched their heads about what was going on.

The Legions deployed with supporting cavalry prepare to pounce
I am never ceased to be amazed at how often our games have the potential to and can reflect the battles they portray.

Livy doesn't give us much to go on with the deployments in this battle other than the Romans relieved their front line units during the battle, the enemy had contingents of Spanish infantry, Balearic slingers and elephants and that the battle proved inconclusive but hard fought after starting in the early morning and lasting all day.

The end of the Punic line earmarked for attention by the Roman heavy infantry
When I read those details it was interesting reflecting how many of those aspects came out in our game even with the bit about Roman lines relieving front line units.

After getting over their initial surprise the Punic and Roman lines close as the Carthaginian line seeks to exploit the gap

The game got going with the usual advance of front line skirmish units supported by formed infantry, but with the Romans taking every opportunity to get their heavy infantry across the table into Punic real estate; except that is on their left flank where their Greco-Italic allies were happy to sit tight and throw out a screen of skirmishers to harry the advancing Celts.

Spanish infantry move forward to support the light troops

That gap in the Roman lines seemed to draw the attention of the Carthaginians as they felt out the flanks of both Roman forces ether side of it with their light forces.

Numidians move out to support the Celts as they prepare to attack the Greco-Italians to their front/

However they seemed uncertain about committing, with that Roman legionary force bearing down on the left centre seemingly oblivious to any potential threat to their own flank.

As the Roman infantry move forward to engage, their cavalry move rapidly along the rear into the gap 

Then as the Roman line advanced ever further forward, a large force of Roman cavalry moved across the back of the line towards that centre ground on a collision course with the Punic light troops looking to insert themselves in the space.

The Punic line feeling out the potential of exploiting the gap, as the Roman heavy infantry close rapidly

Meanwhile the Celts were having problems coordinating their advance with the light troops, and soon found their front warbands being pelted with sling stones and javelins.

My Greco-Italians hold firm as orders are issued to the javelin light infantry and slingers to move forward and engage the Celts
In an attempt to take the pressure off the Celts, allied Numidian cavalry closed to flank the Greco skirmish line only to be met and driven back with a hail of javelins from a unit of Greco-Italian spearmen sent forward to support the light infantry in their very effective bombardment.

The Celts and Numidian lights prepare to advance

The Roman cavalry couldn't have arrived at a more opportune time in the centre as the pressure built on each Roman flank, but was immediately relieved by some well chosen charges that drove in the Punic light troops.

The Numidian cavalry tried to close in on the centre but seemed unsure as their advance halted in the broken ground

The Roman heavy infantry was now close up behind the velites and Consul Marcellus organised his line as well as detaching a force of three cohorts from the main body which moved out towards the spur to prevent any interference from Punic light cavalry.

The Punic line starts to curve around the Roman legionaries

Casualties were starting to build as both sides poured on the javelins and sling stones. Then the first Roman cohort charged forward against the the Punic left flank infantry.

Its commander must have been somewhat surprised that his comrades in his division could not keep up and advanced at the more regular march leaving the lone cohort to go at it until support could arrive.

Breaking cover the Numidian cavalry heads for my Greco Italian flank

The Carthaginian infantry could not really take advantage of this piecemeal attack as their unengaged infantry could not ignore the threat to their front and support their engaged comrades.

Supported by the legionaries the Velites engage the Punic skirmishers

Hail Caesar has a habit of throwing up those occasional breakthrough attacks where a unit winning a combat decisively charges on over the ground vacated by the first enemy combatant to gamely smash into another behind and winning again.

This was our scenario and thus when the follow up cohorts arrived to lend their help, two Punic heavy infantry units were gone together with an elephant.

Marcellus steadies his line as the two forces close

Punic spirits were at a low as they desperately sought to hit back and get some measure of pay-back for their losses. Try as they might the Roman steamroller kept on coming at the left flank infantry and had soon reached Hannibal and his Libyan veteran spearmen, taking out a second elephant on the way.

Numidian light cavalry attempt to use the high spur to move against the Roman right flank

The good news for Hannibal was that the first legionary division was pretty well spent and needing relief. The bad news was that Hannibal and his division were close to being done and that Roman line was relieving the first with the next division just eager to repeat the success of the first.

The javelins start to fly as the skirmish battle commences

The gap in the centre of the Roman line was disappearing fast as both sides introduced cavalry to cancel each others out and by the fact that the pressure caused by the assault of the Roman legionary cohorts had driven the Punic line back and towards that central position.

The Celts were starting to make up for a slow start and grabbing the initiative charged in on the left flank units of the Greco-Italians eagerly expecting to smash them apart with an unstoppable barbarian charge, only to be stymied with a drawn combat and casualties equal.

Carthaginian veteran infantry clad in Roman kit from past triumphs move up to support
At this point the initiative was very much with the Romans and the Carthaginians were bracing themselves for that second legionary assault on their remaining heavy infantry.

The attack when it came was not what was needed as cohorts went in separately and often without supports due to not getting the die roll breaks to bring more units to bear.

Libyan and Veteran infantry together with Hannibal himself formed the Punic reserve line

However where they did manage to bring multiple cohorts to bear against the Libyans they discovered why Hannibal's veteran infantry demanded respect, as in short turn the Romans were beaten and driven back.

That victory was not without cost and one of the battered Libyan units would subsequently retreat away in a follow up combat taking the rest of the division and the great Carthaginian leader with them.

Suddenly Numidian allied cavalry of the Romans deploy into the centre and threaten both Punic forces attempting to turn Roman lines

As two Roman divisions close on their Punic opposites, other cohorts are deployed to hold the right flank
Whilst the battle in the centre was getting fierce and up close, our three legionary cohort task force was playing a game of cat and mouse with Numidian light cavalry out on the Roman right flank on and around the spur.

With the Skirmish lines pushed back, javelins are replaced by pilum as the legions charge in
Try as they might the Numidians were staying just out of contact with the Roman infantry whilst keeping up a steady pelting of close in javelins.

Marcellus gives the order to charge

The triarii kneel in support as the forward ranks move in to engage

However the wily Romans making good use of those large shields were gradually reducing the space for the enemy light cavalry to operate in and slowly but surely securing the Roman right flank from any Punic interference from that direction.

The Punic line looked unusually unsettled as the Roman heavy infantry closed in

I think the call is for Hannibal to bring up the elephants

The Celtic chief was getting over the shock of the drawn combat and putting together another group attack designed to, this time, make sure of no mistakes.

The frustration for the warband leader was that those pesky Roman light troops had inflicted a fair old casualty count on his unarmoured warriors on the approach march and that effect was now starting to hurt as the casualty count was added to with costly hand to hand fighting with the spearmen who should have known when they were beaten.

Nice painting Mike. You were with us in thought and with your figures

That 'Hail Caesar Moment' otherwise known as 'Shall we make it up or shall we look it up'

On came the warbands in to the wall of round shields and spears and again honours were even with combats drawn and the occasional push back but no breakthrough.

With the centre gap becoming the focal point both sides threw in cavalry to gain the upper hand
If the Punic infantry were having a hard day at the office at least their heavy cavalry were performing to their billing and their Roman counterparts were having a hard time contesting the centre ground.

In the end the Roman mounted troops drew off content to support their Numidian light contingents as they sought to skirmish with the heavier Punic horse.

Suddenly a Punic division collapsed under the Roman attack and taking out one of  the elephants in the process 

As Hannibal's line rotated back on his left flank he was forced to throw forward his remaining infantry to try and stem the Roman advance

The crescendo of our battle was now close at hand with Marcellus looking to seal the deal in the centre and the Celts desperately trying to keep the pressure on and break the Roman left

As the Roman cohorts finish off the last elephant and its infantry support the remaining cohorts look to seal the deal and finish it with the Punic line

The fighting in the centre becomes desperate and causes the Romans a lot of problems as the Carthaginians start to fight back

The final group of Roman legionaries went in against the Spanish heavy infantry with the advantage fairly even and a situation that was not exactly what either side would have chosen.

The Punic line counter-attacks as the Romans form up to receive them

Our lines of model soldiers going toe to toe in this final stage of the battle were illustrative of the infantryman's role when it comes down to mano a mano and may the best man win.

The battered front rank cohorts make way for the next line to move through them and relieve the pressure

Would the Spanish hold on against a rampant Roman attack now with a Carthaginian army without its leader or would they collapse and leave the field of battle to a victorious Marcellus and thus change history?

With the loss of units the Punic line is a mess but they are still fighting hard

As mentioned at the top of the post it is interesting how our games can reflect history and Hannibal's veteran Spanish infantry were not about to let history be rewritten on their watch.

The Carthaginian cavalry proved a force to be reckoned with and helped stabilise the situation

As each combat was resolved along the line it was Roman infantry that ended up recoiling from the fight leaving both sides battered but unbowed.

Spanish infantry start to form up as their skirmishers pelt the Romans with javelins

The Libyan spearmen were tough hombres and gave as good as they got
Could the Celts do as well as the Spanish in the centre? Well almost, as their final assault proved the breaking point for the Italians, who had tried a counter-attack of their own, catching a warband in the flank with light infantry.

The counter-attack brought a little relief but could not stop the the Celts driving the Italians from the table and leaving them the field.

With the first Punic counter attack held Marcellus prepares to go in hard

Snake eyes, now that's not good - oh dear, never mind!
However all that combat had taken its toll on the Celts and they were in no fit state to help out anywhere soon.

The idea to go in hard didn't quite come off and a combination of piecemeal attacks and bad die rolling beat the Romans off

Meanwhile the Greco-Italian flank suddenly had a battle of its own to fight

On the Roman right flank the Numidian light cavalry were finally forced out of the battle by the heavy infantry, leaving them to dominate that side of the field and probably remain the freshest units on the table.

After a long hard struggle the Roman left below the town is crumbling, but taking lots of Celts with them.

Both the armies heavy cavalry contingents were still forces in being so with the battle coming to a close capable of shielding the remains of their respective armies as they returned to camp to bind their wounds.

With Hannibal and his division forced to quit the field with the elephants destroyed the Punic line fights off the Roman assault

Punic cavalry help save the  day

The battle had replicated history in providing a hard fought inconclusive fight that Livy would have had no trouble recognising but that was left to wargamers to bring to life in one of those great what if moments in the hobby. What if you leave a big hole in the Roman line?

With a Roman legionary division intact out on the right, the centre in stalemate and the Celts triumphant but battered on the left of picture, the game ended

The Devon Wargames Group - Summer On Tour, Painting Challenge Trophy
To finish off our day and to pick up an unofficial painting challenge from a previous game it was decided to start a new part of our proceedings by awarding a trophy to the painter of a unit  to be voted on by their peers, namely all of us.
The rules were you couldn't vote for yourself and the process was a first past the post, secret ballet.

For your pleasure I present in no particular order the representative units.

The winning unit of Carthaginian Cavalry, painted by?

The clear winner with six votes in his favour was our own master painter Vince here seen getting his award from some bloke claiming to be the Club Chairman.

Well done Vince, nice job

Another year, another game marking the progress of time. As usual the company was great, the banter and laughs ongoing and much fun was had by all playing with toy soldiers.

Another year, another game, the DWG On Tour team of players for Numistro 2017
Left to right - JJ, Clive, John M, Nathan, Steve M, Chas, Andy, Nick, and Vince
Thank you to Chas for hosting our gathering, thanks to Andy and John for travelling the furthest and driving the production of the forces required, thanks to the chaps for making another great day of memories and thank you to Sue and Derek for keeping us all fed and watered especially as it was Sue's birthday.

And what about next year? The clue would be in the phrase "Don't tell him Pike!"


  1. Nice report JJ and one hell of a lot of pretty pics too.

    An excellent weekend, ably hosted by Sue & Derek (brownie points to the girl on her birthday too !).

    A great venue, but it is the company that makes the game.

    Must do it again sometime...


  2. Very nicely done! Well done, Gents!


  3. Thanks for your comments chaps.
    As Vince commented we all had a great time, great venue and great company. This is what the hobby is all about, creating memories.
    Here's to 2018

  4. Simply amazing, from the figures to the terrain, all is superb...and this room is at the height, spectacular!

  5. Great collections, report and the best approach to the hobby. Thank you for sharing!

    Caballero Andante.