The Battle of Cremona: 544 AD
In 540 AD, the Ostrogoths, beaten to their knees by Belisarius, the great Byzantine general, actually went as far as voluntarily offering him the Ostrogothic kingship. History records that he refused, being loyal to his emperor, Justinian, and returned to Constaninople: the last Roman general to be awarded a triumph. Later he fell from favour and was cruelly mutilated - so much reward he got for all of his loyalty.
But what would have happened if he had accepted the crown? It is quite likely that Italy may have escaped the ravages that plagued here for generations as Belisarius' successors and enemies alike battled it out over the fertile soils of Italy, ruining her economy and slaughtering her peoples.
But would Justinian have taken such sedition lightly? It seems unlikely. For while it might be thought that Constantinople could have no better guardian from the west in the form of an Italian bulwark ruled by Belisarius, later events suggest that Justinian would not have trusted him to stop at just Italy - why not take it all?
My scenario starts off with the 'fact' that Justinian has just had Belisarius assassinated. Without getting rid of him, any attempt to reconquer Italy would be doomed to failure: her soldiers were far too numerous if well-led to be overcome, even by a similarly talented man such as Justinian's favourite Narses, the court eunuch who proved to be a brilliant soldier in the field.
Unfortunately for Justinian's plans, his assassin was captured in the attempt and confessed his involvement in the conspiracy as the price of his life. Disgusted at their leader's murder, Belisarius' bucellarii, or military household, instead of quickly deserting the Goths and returning to Imperial service as Narses had hoped, have pledged their loyalty to the Gothic cause en masse, since only a day after his murder, news arrived that Narses was already marching towards Italy through Illyricum with an army ready to take advantage of the confusion caused by Belisarius' death: the bucellarii, nearly 7000-strong, many of them ex-Gothic soldiers, were eager to avenge their master's death.
Narses, not having gained his reputation for nothing, had taken out an insurance policy in case of such an event however: in addition to the regular troops of the Eastern army that have been entrusted to his command, plus various auxiliaries such as Heruls and the like, had persuaded the Lombard prince Alboin to join his forces to his, adding over 5000 warriors to his army, in exchange for permission to settle his people in the area of northern Italy bordering Pannonia after the war was concluded.
With these extra forces at his disposal, Narses was confident of overcoming the Italian Ostrogoths, despite the bucellarii swelling their numbers. Marching across the broad plain of the Po towards Mantua, he learnt the main Gothic host was encamped near Cremona, both further north than he had expected, and unexpectedly concentrated in one place.
He soon learnt the reason for their encampment: they had just been posted there to oppose an incursion of the Franks from over the Alps. Seemingly the Franks had withdrawn without risking a battle with the Goths, and his agents within the Gothic post were soon reporting that the Gothic chieftains had sent messages after the departing Franks, bidding them return, only this time to fight alongside the Goths to crush the Imperial army.
Seeing the danger posed by a Gothic army reinforced by both Belisarius' bucellarii and the fierce Franks, Narses rapidly marched westwards to join battle with the Gothic host before the Franks had a chance to return. A cool spring morning saw the Imperial host march past Cremona to square off against the Gothic army that was encamped near the river Adda west of the town...
On Sunday, January 23, 2000, I gathered together 10 players to take part in the battle I set up at the club. The sides represented were as follows:
Corbon Loughnan: Narses, the Byzantine C-in-C
Ken Dalziel: Maximinus, Byzantine senator, commander of the camp
Martin Abel: "Bloody" John, enemy of Belisarius, and commander of the Byzantine right wing
Gordon Pinchin: Justin, nephew of Justinian the Great and commander of the Byzantine left wing
Aaron Leslie: Alboin, chieftain of the Lombards
Squid Lawson: Wittich, reinstated King of the Ostrogoths
Tim Driver: Uriah, the real leader of the Ostrogoths
Royce Sheath: Hildiger, Gothic leader of Belisarius' bucellarii
Paul Hutton: Bessas, a Gothic Byzantine general under Belisarius
Gary Grange: Butulin, chieftain of the Franks
Neither side knew that the Franks were to be in the game, as they were given only the outline above of the battle. I allowed each army to deploy freely (although they had to stick to the army command organisations given), using the greater and more realistic set-up distances that had been suggested for the then proposed DBM v2.2 amendments. In fact all the new suggestions were taken on board, plus a few minor changes of my own which I will discuss below.
The commands were composed as follows:
Narses: 1 x CinC as Reg Cv (S), 2 x Reg Cv (S),10 x Irr Kn (F) heruls, 14 x Reg LH (S)
Maximinus: 1 x Sub as Reg Bd (I), 17 x Reg Bd (I), 8 x Reg Bw (I), 9 x Reg Ps (O), 10 x Bg, 12 x TF for the camp
Bloody John: 1 x Sub as Reg Cv (S), 4 x Reg Cv (S), 11 x Reg LH (S), 6 x Reg Bd (I), 4 x Reg Bw (I), 3 x Reg Ps (O), 7 x Irr Ps (S) Isaurians
Justin: 1 x Sub as Reg Cv (S), 4 x Reg Cv (S), 15 x Reg LH (S), 11 x Irr Ax (O) Slavs
Alboin: 1 x Ally as Irr Kn (F), 11 x Irr Kn (F), 10 x Irr Kn (I)
Wittich: 1 x CinC as Irr Kn (F), 21 x Irr Kn (F), 12 x Irr Ps (O)
Uriah: 1 x Sub as Irr Kn (F), 16 x Irr Kn (F), 2 x Irr LH (S) Huns, 12 x Irr Bw (I), 10 x Irr Sp (I)
Hildiger: 1 x Sub as Reg Cv (S), 15 x Reg Cv (S), 6 x Irr Bw (I)
Bessas: 1 x Sub as Reg Cv (S), 9 x Reg Cv (S), 6 x Reg Bd (I), 6 x Reg Ps (O), 6 x Irr Bw (I), 6 x Irr Sp (I), 2 x Irr LH (O) Moors, 8 x Bg, 8 x TF for the camp
Butulin: 1 x Ally as Irr Wb (S), 2 x Irr Wb (S), 33 x Irr Wb (O), 2 x Irr Ps (S), 2 x Irr Ps (O)
The Byzantines came to about 950 AP and 141 1/2 ee; the Goths came to about 1080 AP and 162 ee including the Franks, 124 ee without them.
The battlefield, in 15mm scale, was 10 foot by 4 foot in dimensions. Most people allow too much space on their battlefields for the amount of troops concerned (and too many generals to control them), yet this is the 3rd battle I've arranged where there have been over 2000 AP of troops in just 40 square feet, yet in every case, large portions of the battlefield have still gone unused.
The battlefield was without any hills, reflecting the flat nature of the plain of the Po. The river Adda, full with the spring melt, running along the southern edge of the battlefield, was deemed to be 'tricky' to cross, although there was a bridge over it to the west, leading to a small unwalled town, the name of which has been lost in the mists of time. A recent flood had seen some fields inundated, forming a patch of marshy ground to the east. The road from the town running towards Cremona skirted around a small grove of trees in the midst of the battlefield, while two more substantial woods bounded the plain to north and south.
Ken, playing Maximinus, I gave instructions in no circumstance to let his own element be engaged in combat - in real life when ordered to Italy, he refused to move from this disembarkation spot, and just waited until he could get back to Byzanmtium as safely as possibble.
Squid, playing Wittich, I told to put himself at the forfront of the action, since my scenario meant that he had only been given his crown back on sufferance. If he won the battle, and did great deeds in the process, his position would be secure; if he lost, he would not be given another chance - better to die gloriously than face the possible reprisals...
Wittich, being only a nominal CinC, I deprived of the usual CinC's PiP movement bonus, since his men would not have had the utmost confidence in his abilties. Uriah, the real mover of the Gothic forces, instead served as Gothic DBM CinC, including their ability to swap regular PiP dice and PiP bonuses were concerned.
The Gothic camp was drawn up between the town and the forest, with the bulk of the Gothic foot, plus the remnant infantry of Belisarius' army placed in front and to the right. A force of archers held the town in case the Byzantines attempted to ford the Adda and take them in the right flank, and many more archers were hidden in the large wood, guarding the left flank. The majority of the bucellarii were posted on the extreme left, with the rest drawn up in front of the camp. The great mass of the Gothic mounted nobility was deployed in a solid block between them and the town. A few picket riders, mostly ex-Byzantine Moorish auxiliaries from Africa, were dispersed in front of the army to gall the enemy.
The Byzantine camp was drawn up opposite that of the Goths, to the north of the road. Maximinus' foot were manning the palisades, and drawn up to the south of the camp, straddling the road. Narses himself took command of the centre, stationing the fierce Heruls to the fore. To his right, Alboin's mounted nobles were stationed, while their followers were ordered to dismount and await events at the rear [for this game, I ruled that Lombards that dismounted at deployment, or when demoralised, did so as Sp, while those that did so during the battle in an ad hoc manner, did so as Wb, which seems more in keeping with what they did in real life than what they currently are allowed to do according to the DBM lists]. Further to the right, Bloody John commanded a mixed cavalry and infantry command, while the left flank under Justin was held by a thin line of Byzantine horse. The flank there was however made more secure by the presence of numerous Slavic auxilaries, excellent forest-fighters, posted in the large wood there.
Narses had deemed the river too much of an obstacle to attempt to send an out-flanking force over to the south. Knowing the strength of the Goths lay in hand-to-hand combat, but their weakness in their ill-discipline, he planned to assault their centre, withdraw, and tempt the Goths forward, where they could be taken in the flank by the Lombards and Bloody John's men.
The Goths, having carefully laid their order of battle, devoted less care to their battle-plan, which was as well, since their troops were less controllable than their enemies', and their main thought was to sweep away the Byzantine left and centre with their nobles before the Byzantines had a chance to impose their discipline on the battle.
Accordingly, the initial phase of the battle saw Narses' Heruls charging forwards, supported by a second line of Byzantine horse, and by the Lombard nobles to their right. On the left, Justin ordered his horse archers forwards to skirmish with the Gothic nobilty, and to cause as many casualties as possible as they fell back, for they could not hope to hold up Wittich's nobles for ever. Bloody John's horse archers moved to the right while the rest of his force advanced forwards to confront the bucellarii.
After the Imperialists have had their first move
The players shown are from left to right, Corbon, Martin, Aaron and Ken, commanding the Imperial centre, right wing, allied Lombards and reserve respectively. The village buildings are scratchbuilt by me using just card. You can't see it at this resolution, but they have tiled roofs in the typical Mediterranean manner. I had to use two basecloths to make the battlefield, it being quite a bit larger than usual, hence the join down the centre; you can therefore surmise I don't own any 25mm armies...
The Heruls charged forwards into the Gothic line, impacting at the junction of Bessas' bucellarii and the leftmost elements of Uriah's mounted nobles. In their ferocity they soon broke through the bucellarii, threatening to ride right on through to the trembling Gothic foot, and Bessas' remaining bucellarii wheeled inwards taking them in the flank, and their break-through was soon halted.
The weight and numbers of Uriah's horse had thrown back the Heruls to their front, and soon they were pressing upon the Byzantine reserve line, and Narses' guards were hard pressed beating off Gothic nobles eager to cut down the Byzantine general. All too soon, retreat turned to flight as the Byzantine horsemen galloped to the rear and the safety of their infantry.
Unbeknownst to Narses, on the Byzantine right, Bloody John's men had recieved a rude shock as they advanced upon Hildiger's bucellarii, for they could clearly see a compact mass of infantry in the middle-distance, making haste towards the battlefield. It could only be the dreaded Franks, and their vast numbers would surely overwhelm him if he imprudently engaged them. accordingly, he ordered his men to delay their advance as long as possible, but upon seeing the Franks, Hildiger's men were given fresh encouragement, and engaged their opponents closely.
But none of this was yet evident to the rest of the Byzantine army, for the large wood to the west had masked the Frank's approach, and the swirling cavalry action further confused things [I had ruled that regular generals could only swap dice with other generals that were both within sight, and within 1800p. In such a large battle as this, it makes no sense to allow generals to react to events of the other side of the field, given no telescopes, radios, or even an organised system of aides-de-camps].
The first intimation that things were not as they seemed was when the Lombards raised their battle cry, and rode, not at Bessas' bucellarii, as Narses had ordered, but around to their right and hurtled off in that direction.
On the southern portion of the field, Wittich's charge was carrying all before it. He himself was always at the forfront, recklessly thowing himself into the midst of his foes, but all fled before his wrath. Justin, the young Byzantine commander, tried to stem the Gothic advance with his reserve guards, but was soon cut down, and the Goths were soon pursuing the broken Byzantine cavalry from the field.
Things were looking desparate for the Imperial forces - their horsemen from both their centre and left wings had been crushed and the victorious Goths were even now closing in on the Byzantine foot, looking to sweep all before them. On their right, Bloody John was vainly trying to hold back not only Hildiger's bucellarii, but a huge mass of Frankish footmen, while the force of the Lombard charge was dissapated by by Bessas' bucellarii, whom he had been able to restrain from pursuing the fleeing Heruls, and regroup to engage the Lombards.
Only one spark of hope kept the Byzantines' hopes alive. The Franks were unable to come to grips with the Byzantines properly, being unable to catch the Byzantine horse archers, being foot warriors as they were, and their path forwards was in any case mostly blocked by Hildiger's men. Butulin was in no hurry anyway - if the Goths prevailed, as seemed likely, he could demand a great reward for turning up so promptly and bringing heart to their beleaguered forces; if however the Imperialists triumphed, well, there would be no Byzantines in any position to stop his men turning back the way they came, and he could in all honesty claim he hadn't even gotten involved in the fighting... [I classify the vast majority of Franks as Wb (O), since they should no different from the Burgundians who fought in exactly the same manner, as even the DBM list acknowledges. Indeed, may of the 'Franks' involved in the Italian wars were in fact Burgundians. They still retain the ability to fight 4 elements deep against mounted however. My Wb (O) also do not take a -2 in bad-going, but neither do they quick-kill heavy infantry there either].
In the centre, the victorious Goths raced towards the Byzantine foot, heedless of Uriah's calls to cease their pursuit. Narses' guards had finally managed to extricate him from the wrack of his fleeing command, and the sight of his presence bolstered the resolve of the Byzantine foot archers. At his command, they loosed off a mighty volley at the leading elements of the disorderly Goths. Horses smarted from the pain of their wounds, tumbling riders from their saddles, while those following up from the rear, had to rein in their pusuit, or else be caught in the tangle of thrashing horse bodies. Still more arrows rained down on the staionary horsemen, and soon Uriah's men were streaming to the rear.
But still more Gothic horsemen were bearing down on the Byzantine infantry. Wittich's followers were now charging towards the Byzantine spearmen. But their disorderly approach, coupled with the sight of the archers nearby holding firm and driving off the Goths, emboldened the Byzantine spearmen. Bracing their shields, they formed an impenetrable wall, while arrows flew overhead. The Goths, seeing their fellows fleeing to their left, and such a resolute defence to their front, likewise decided to quit the field.
With their rapid departure, the Gothic infantry to their rear also quite the field, leaving the just the bucellarii standing firm, and the Franks. The Franks immediately turned about-face, departing the field, for none would stay them; the bucellarii for the most part surrendered, save those that would never be reconciled with the treacherous Byzantines, these too fled the field, leaving Narses to claim a great victory.
But it was close-run thing. In the final bound, the Goths only needed to cause a single half-element of casualties from either John or Maximinus' commands, and the Byzantines would have been broken. So close had it come after 12 turns of playing, 4 hours of gaming, and hundreds of elements fighting.