Friday, 25 January 2019

Battle of Pinhoe 1001 AD - Dux Bellorum

In 1001 a Viking force estimated to have been around 4-5,000 men strong marched on King Ethelred's burgh and fortified city of Exeter led by the infamous Viking raider Palig Tokesen who was supposed to have been preventing such activity for Ethelred, having been paid by the king and granted a manor for his services.

The campaign area in 1001 AD and my home town front and centre in the history

The force set out from its landing point on the beaches of Exmouth and rowed up the River Exe to attack the city but found it well prepared and with the defences able to rely on the protection from the old Roman walls, built by the Legions and kept in good repair since those times.

Failing to intimidate the city to surrender the invaders fell back to Exmouth burning and pillaging the local area on their way but also spreading out further afield so that Lympstone and Topsham went up in flames and Pinhoe, a little village to the north-east of the city, was next on the list of targets.

It came as a bit of a shock to the Vikings to then find that the county army of Devon supported by men from Somerset had gathered on a hill just north of the village.

Kola the High Reeve of Devon and Viking leader Palig Tokesen go toe to toe in our mid-week test game

Dux Bellorum are really very good and I have always enjoyed playing them

Exact and precise details about this battle are not available but what is reported allows some assumptions to be made to try and piece them together.

The likely place for the Anglo-Saxon force to have gathered is Beacon Hill above the village with commanding views out over the surrounding countryside and estuary, perhaps relying on the natural strength of the site to deter any sudden attack.

The army is reported to have been led by the High Reeve of Devon called simply Kola and his deputy Eadsige indicating that the main army of Devon was gathered.

Based on the 8,000 population of Devon available to be taxed it is estimated that the county could have mustered some 2,000 properly equipped warriors plus a few extras added in from across the county border with Somerset.

Beacon Hill with its Celtic Cross where the burial pits would be dug close to Pinhoe Church that stands near the battlefield today

Thus it is thought that the Vikings would have had an advantage in numbers by about two to one and experience given that these Vikings had been making a nuisance of themselves around the south coast of England and East Anglia for a number of years previously so probably knew their stuff when it came to a bit of sword, axe and spear play.

The Vikings on arrival in force attacked immediately, uphill without hesitation and seemed to have caused havoc in that first charge.

However the local forces fought back bravely and although eventually forced off their position and to retreat back to Exeter seemed to have given a good enough account of themselves to have managed to break off and not loose any of their leaders in the process.

The two forces gathered before our game - so nice to get the collection out again and I must plan to get some more!

In addition to that and despite, as one chronicler reports, 'The heathens had the power of the battlefield' the result gained them little and they immediately returned to their ships and Exmouth splitting their forces and with Tokesen hurriedly making his way to London to make his peace with Ethelred.

The game was the first chance to try out my new hills

Thus with this amount of information I thought it might be fun to re-fight this local battle which was fought only about a mile or so from where the Devon Wargames Group meet at next month's club gathering and give myself an opportunity to get the Dark Age collection out in 2019.

As before, my rule-set of choice is Dan Mersey's Dux Bellorum and to help sort out trying to capture the key aspects of this fight in a table-top encounter, before taking it to club, I enrolled the help of my regular wargaming partner Steve M who offered himself up in the role of the Viking leader as we both got reacquainted with the rules.

Kola and his force of Devon Fyrd

With Beacon hill being the key feature of this battle and that the Vikings charged up it in spite of its commanding position I simply put out my new modular hill terrain as seen, sprinkled a limited amount of terrain in the form of the odd set of open woods, small copses and sorted out two armies to fight the standard 'Annals Battle' scenario which is basically a line em up, go at it affair.

Tokesen's veteran Vikings with all those pesky archers

Both armies arranged for battle with Steve's Viking force arranged in three distinct groups on the left of picture 

I opted to set the Anglo Saxons up as per the army list in the book but with 49 points rather than the suggest 32 and with a predominately warrior based force , with only a couple of noble warrior/foot companion bases. In addition I made the Saxons up as a Shield-Wall force.

You can almost hear the shields being beat upon as the war-cry goes up heralding the Viking charge

The Vikings on the other hand were based on the Sea Raiders list with predominantly noble warrior/foot companion bases and a few basic warrior types to make up the numbers. To this force I gave the Viking one extra skirmish base with all of them counted as archers and an extra Leadership Point (LP) token bringing the total to 48 points.

The Anglo-Saxon line waits braced behind their boards
We played through about eight turns of play before calling it a night  with the Anglo-Saxons well on top having neutralised three Viking skirmishers and a warrior base for no loss at that point.

The two lines close and the Saxon skirmishers in the woods closest to camera prepare to ambush the Viking archers with a surprise charge of their own

As always, Shield-walls are tough to break down but the added rule we used to dice to see if LP's used to cancel a hit was effective on a 4,5 or 6 helped to reduce the effectiveness although all the set up is under review following this first test game and we will change rolls and a few set up rules prior to our next rematch next week.

The Saxon line fought in two parts with the bulk of the force on the hill with Kola

We both really enjoyed getting back into Dux B and if you are thinking about playing this set and haven't done so I would readily recommend getting them and playing them.

Crunch! The two lines come together as the Vikings make an impetuous charge on the Saxon shield-wall. However the Vikings are getting the worst of it with the figures behind the lines indicating where casualties have been taken

The decision points for the players throughout the game are many and highly entertaining with the playing of LPs at critical moments in the battle a real highlight that we both thoroughly enjoyed.

On the Saxon left Kola's foot companions met head on with Tokesen's 

Once I have worked out the right balance for this scenario and given the chaps at the DWG the first sighting and playing of it I will report back on how it played and share the set ups and orders of battle in full detail.

The end of this first test game with the Viking line looking battered and with Saxon skirmishers closing in on the rear of the left flank (left of picture)

Kola's companions hold the Viking right as their left collapses

Until then I thought I would share these pictures of out test game to whet the appetite.

Thanks Steve for a fun game and for your input into the scenario and looking forward to next weeks re-run.

References used:
Battlefield Walks Devon - Rupert Mathews

Next up - I'm off to Crusade tomorrow and plan to do my normal report on all the fun of the day plus the long promised Museum of Somerset and visit to Taunton post is done so I will probably get that out next week.


  1. Great to see a scenario based on the Chronicals with a local connection

  2. Fun dark ages action! Nice post and pictures. 😀

  3. What a great looking game...splendid troops!

  4. Great looking game and a rule set I want to have a go at this year,in Ospreys sale on at the moment the paperback book is only something like £6.71 which is terrific value.
    Best Iain

  5. Thanks chaps, the second play-test was played this week and the Saxons are too strong as originally planned despite tweaks applied and so we will be running a third test next week with more changes that hopefully will find a game with an interesting tipping point, before I run it for proper at the DWG in February.

    I also intend to do a walk over the battlefield as soon as the weather improves and the ground becomes a little firmer, so that will also get posted alongside the final scenario.

    Go for it Iain, Dux Bel is a fun game with lots of room to create interesting set ups.

    Cheers all