Monday, 13 June 2022

The First Battle of Tannenberg or Battle of Grunwald 1410 - Swordpoint

About this time of year, certainly for the last few years, only recently interrupted with the pandemic, I and friends have made a regular date to gather at Chez Chas to refight another glorious page in military history, which has seen us range from the Battle of Hattin, prompting the Third Crusade, The Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War, The Imjin River and the stand of the Glorious Gloucesters in the Korean War, to The Battle of the River Nyezane in the Zulu War, to pick just a few, and all reported here on JJ's.

This year's game had been postponed because of the pandemic, but like much of the social calendar, has been resumed in the wake of normality, and so a few of us took time out from our normal diary which would have seen us at out monthly meeting of the DWG to head up to North Devon to refight the mighty clash of the Teutonic Order and the massed armies of Poles, Russian and Lithuanians as we transported ourselves back to 1410 outside the little hamlet of Tannenberg that lent its name to this famous battle and not for the last time in history.

The enforced break saw more time for the figure collections to be added to to enable us to fill out the two orders of battle, with my own very small contribution being to paint up a unit of turcopoles for Vince, which were featured here back in May 2020, when preparation for our game had started, and I had the pleasure of commanding these chaps during the game.

JJ's Wargames - Hobilars

In addition to new figures, we also had a new set of rules to get our collective heads around, namely Swordpoint, now in its revised second edition from Gripping Beast which were chosen to run affairs on the table.

Warm up games were run at the Devon Wargames Group, one of which I played in, to allow a level of proficiency to be gained as well as to allow, principally Chas and Vince to work out what would work and what needed modifying to run a game of this size with this many units, figures and players.

You can read some of our AAR's of those games run at club in the link below, with the last run out back in March this year with a refight of the Battle of Plowce 1331.

Devon Wargames Group - Swordpoint AAR's

In due course, in the lead up to this game, the first Orders of Battle were sent out and I have attached copies for those interested with the caveat that these were slightly tweaked to up the points values on the Teutons, but they should be a good guide to how we eventually set things up.

As well as tweaks to the order of battle we also needed a tweak to the player/commanders roster as we ended up a man down when John M, set to travel down from John o' Groats in Scotland, was forced to abandon plans after testing positive for Covid, literally hours before setting out, and so then their were six!

Setting up on Saturday morning, following teas and coffees, swiftly followed by a late morning beer to set the day off to a good start, the table ended up looking like below with the Teutonic line anchored on thick woods on the right flank, and with the Knights of the order, hand-gunners and single cannon arrayed on a hill on their extreme right facing the Polish and Lithuania troops opposite and on the other side of a narrow stream indicated by the several pond like features dotted along the table centre line.
Our table for the day with the Teutonic lines to the left and the Polish-Lithuanians to the right. My own position is bottom left of picture with my crossbows lining the forward edge of the wood supported by horse archers. Five units of barded knights, two turcopoles and some rabble archers supporting the infantry line in the centre complete my division.

One of the fun aspects of having the pleasure of taking part in these games is that I very often get to play periods in history that are not exactly in my 'ball-park', so to speak, and would be a very unlikely subject for me to play in the normal run of things.

I enjoy medieval themes and have plans to complete a collection for the Wars of the Roses, but Teutonic knights and their campaigns in Eastern Europe is a war I'm aware of and because of the run up to this particular game, more so than when I started, but you were very unlikely to find me reporting on a game for it until recent months.

That said, when you have two large, principally mounted, medieval armies, ready to set-to in plate armour with lance, sword, spear, crossbow and hand-guns, clad in just about every livery you could imagine, what's not to like?

With all the units set up we just took time to admire the spectacle of massed ranks of heavily armoured mounted knights before preparing for the first turn of play

Finally before getting under way we all gathered for the obligatory team photo to record the runners and riders for 2022.

Everything set up and ready for a full days play, Tannenberg 1410, our game for 2022.
Left to Right, JJ, Steve M, Clive, Chas, Andy and Vince

Let Battle Commence
As usual with a large game, or indeed a large battle, it becomes very difficult to know what is and was happening at any given time other that what was going on in your particular sector of the table.

Prior to the first moves being made, both sides had a quick meeting to discuss a general battle plan, and for the Teutons, we decided to hold the right flank, pin the centre and go all assault on the left with the Teutonic order, hoping to crush that flank quickly and force the initiative that would dictate what the opposition would have to do in response to a worsening situation on their right flank, right centre.

Thus with my command of two turcopole cavalry, one of horse archers, five units of barded allied knights, a unit of rabble foot bowmen and one of skirmish crossbows with pavise, out on the extreme Teutonic right flank, acting as the proverbial speedbump come cork-in-the-bottle, my job was simply to find the best place to make a stand and plug any holes that might appear as Andy to my left and Vince further up the table set about demolishing the opposition to their front.

My crossbows pepper an enemy unit of mounted archers trying to cross the stream effectively destroying it and another similar unit in the first four turns as the enemy (Clive) attempted to push in from the Polish left flank in support of their centre

With a large wood on my extreme right, and the narrow stream between me and the enemy, the decision was relatively straight forward to put the crossbows on the edge of the wood supported by my horse archers, to shoot up any enemy horse attempting to cross the stream and get past the wood, to hit my troops making best use of its cover.

They in turn were supported by my rabble archers and turcopoles as I kept my barded knights back, so as to avoid them getting too close to any enemy in contact with my forward line and becoming impetuous, thus charging in before I was good and ready.

As things 'hotted up' in front of my own troops I could see both lines edge forward towards the centre line of the table as both sides attempted to arrive in a battle line of supporting formations, a set up that Swordpoint rewards by allowing hits in hand to hand to be spread across a line of supporting units rather than with one or two taking the whole lot on them selves.

Of course in this early stage of battle, both sides were trying to disrupt this forward movement with their missile fire, that would lose its pre-eminence as both sides closed into melee and charge range and the missile troops gave way to their heavier colleagues in plate armour.

An additional aspect of playing Swordpoint is the playing of impetus chits to add to the chances of gaining initiative, thus charging first, or to influence combat rolls in ones favour, with chits gained for charging rather than just counter-charging, winning melees, and driving units back.

At the start we were all pretty flush with chits and thus most challenges were simply a die roll off, but as the game progressed and one side gained the upper hand as enemy units dissolved in combat or were pushed back in gruelling hand to hand slogging matches the use of these chits in the 'spoofing' round that preceded each decision point became more interesting as their rarity forced choices as to which decisions had priority.

The opposing line are starting to close, with Clive trying to find a way forward on the Polish left as my crossbowmen and turcopoles contest his advance, the horse archers, flank on to my crossbows, will evaporate in the next turn under a hail of well directed bolts, in turn, my own horse archers to their left will suffer a similar fate to arrow fire. The centre shows two lines of supporting units approaching each other as both exchange missile fire and in the distance at the other end of the table, the Teutonic order are in among the enemy horse as both sides prepare to charge to contact.

Out on the Teutons left flank and the white clad 'brotherhood' have advanced under a hail of horse archery, into charge range - let the dance begin! Note the Hoffmeister in close attendance with an unbelievably large flag, that I understand needed three men to help get it aloft in a strong breeze! 

As the first charges were made and we prepared to get stuck into melee combats, we took a break for tea and coffee and I took time to admire some of the handy-work to get our armies completed over the previous two years which included Vince resorting to actual material to bard the horses of some of his units of knights, as seen in the two pictures below.

Barded knights with real cloth horse furnishings, firmed up with a bit of watered down PVA and suitably painted, seen here and with the Brotherhood unit below.

Oh and feast your eyes on the hand gunners occupying their circled waggons on the hill behind the Teutonic left flank, with a mixture of lovely Perry sculpts from their plastics mercenary box for the Wars of the Roses range.

'Unleash the Dogs of War!'

With refreshments taken it was back to it, now with lines arranged, in went the charges to decide who would take this battle by the scruff of the neck.

On my own flank, my crossbowmen were braced to receive a charge from enemy turcopoles as they bounded across the stream and crashed into my line. 

The spoofing round duly took place with both Clive and myself throwing in the three impetus chits to support the upcoming melee resolution which resulted in an inconclusive, 'battle-continues' result and with no advantage gained to either side.

In fact this little struggle would go on for most of the day with both sides unable to commit resources to it as the battle drew demands elsewhere.
My crossbowmen in a bitter hand to hand struggle on the edge of the wood that would see them push the horsemen back right at the close of our game.

Coloured arrows indicating chargers and with impetus chits (coloured stones) placed ready for combat resolution

All along the line, little coloured arrows were being laid against units successfully winning the initiative and charging in so we could remember who to award impulse chits to and then the melee resolutions would begin; which in the main saw lines move back, for the losers the obligatory four inches, cause disorder and leave things set up for the next turn.

Occasionally however the odd unit would lose a combat by four or more points seeing an obligatory break test resolved, and the odd unit here and there broken and in full retreat to the back table edge.

This caused the inevitable knock on effect of broken lines, that left units still in contact with the enemy unsupported, and left to bear the brunt of attacks by multiple enemies now able to concentrate their attacks in one direction.

Not only that but the sight of a broken friend in full retreat to the rear forced follow up units to test their reaction to seeing them go that led to the occasional break by rearward units in response.

Battle is well and truly joined, seen from the Teutonic right flank

My knights and turcopoles charge in against the Polish infantry line, as Andy presses hard in the centre (right of picture)

The Brotherhood and allied knights keep pressing on the Teutonic left as Vince and Steve battle away 

Two thirds into our game and the Polish-Lithuanian line (left of picture) is being remorselessly pushed back with the centre starting to look precariously thin as the Teutons prepare for one final push.

Decision Point!

The turning point has arrived as the Polish left flank cavalry turns about to head for the hard pressed centre to try in vain to shore things up.

The battle had reached its tipping point, where the battering being dished out by both sides was starting to tell.

Both flanks were deep into melee with the Poles holding but in the main being driven back remorselessly, leaving them losing impulse chits melee after melee, and with little hope of being able to stop the backwards movement of their line, but seemingly a while away yet from seeing any dramatic break through.

The Poles desperately fight to hold the line on their left as knights to their rear ride off to reinforce a collapsing centre

The Teutonic allies build a reserve line ready to exploit their success in the centre

However in the centre the Poles were having a much harder time, that started in the shooting phase of the opening stage of the battle when a unit of spearmen broke under a hail of archery and crossbow bolts, that resulted in other units falling back after reacting to the rout.

The follow up attacks added to the fall back and inevitably other units broke in response leaving a thin screen of battered Polish and Lithuanian spearmen supported by a single unit of knights that broke in their rear at the sight of the spearmen that caused the whole fall back in the first place, finally leaving the table having failed to rally for about the fourth time of asking.

The site of those knights leaving was the signal that the battle was done, certainly in the centre of the Polish line, with little hope for the left flank to come to its aid, but perhaps leaving enough mounted units to deter any aggressive pursuit.

The flanks are locked in melee, with even my crossbowmen leaving the tree line as they push the turcopoles to their front back from the woods bottom right. However the polish centre is collapsing and the Teutons have a second line of infantry units moving up to support the allied knights forcing the line. The Polish left flank knights are wheeling away to ride off in support of the centre, but it's too late.

Steve did a magnificent job holding off Vince with the Brotherhood, always being relentlessly pushed back but not breaking.

The breakthrough point as the Polish centre (nearest to camera) is left bereft of troops to stop the Teutonic advance

The Polish left recoils from yet another punishing round of melee leaving the Teutonic allies ready to push forward as we call our game.

Battle's End

With dinner beckoning our game reached a natural conclusion, and having played through from about 11.00 am to just after 18.30 in the evening, we all felt pleasantly exhausted in that nice satisfying way after a good game with lots of drama and cameo moments in one that offered a spectacle imitating its historic predecessor.

At the close the dead and those about to die littered the ground either side of the stream that ran the centre of our table, but as always in our games there are no winners or losers and we all came away from the table having thoroughly enjoyed a good day rolling bones, swapping banter, having put another great game in the memory locker.

Thankyou particularly to Chas, Vince and Andy for providing the lions share of our on table forces and for pulling this game together which in the end took a little longer than normal, but also thanks to them and to Clive and Steve M for providing all the fun, whilst not forgetting John, who, given better circumstances, would definitely have enjoyed the day.

Here's looking forward to 2023 when the smell of napalm will fill the air as we join the 7th Cavalry in la Drang Valley, Vietnam 1965, for our next exploration of history.


  1. Excellent report JJ, on what was a very entertaining battle.
    I am glad we eventually got to play Grunwald, as a lot of effort had been put into the research, painting, practice games and event organisation.
    Although Covid winged us, we were undefeated !

    1. Hi Vince,
      Thanks mate, and agreed. I will definitely remember this game, not only for the spectacle of that many mounted knights in opposition but one that was long in the gestation period, and it was a fun day.
      See you on the next one

  2. A very entertaining AAR, thoroughly enjoyed reading it. And those were suitably impressive large armies too.

    1. Hi Joseph,
      Thank and glad you enjoyed the read.

      As mentioned with big games, it can be a bit of a challenge knowing what was going on at any particular time, other than directly in front of you, so I'm pleased my efforts complimented the armies by bringing a bit of sense to what happened in those pictures.


  3. An excellent AAR and loads of medieval toy soldier eye candy.
    Wonderful stuff, cheers for sharing.


    1. Hi Willz,
      Thanks mate, glad you enjoyed the read, and yes these medieval armies certainly grab the eye when seen in large numbers.


  4. Some many eras to game in, I have to resist. Nice work.

    1. Hi John,
      Tell me about it, I find myself these days often taking myself in hand as the odd fancy flies through my mind with plans to add yet another collection to an already overburdened list of 'to-dos'.

      Thanks for your comment