The Welles Report: Part IV

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Note: The following is the version of the report that was made available to the general publick in late 609. An unexpurgated version was made available to certain officers of HM’s Government at the same time. The latter remains a protected document under the Secrets Act of 571.

3: The Battle

Now, we come to the main purpose of the report: a description of the events of the battle itself. While there exists already multiple first-hand accounts of the battle in publication, one must always be reminded of the fact that these recountings, being made from the often unfocused memories of those who were placed within the battlefield itself, may not be entirely accurate as to the sequence or position of events. This is not to cast any aspersions on the character of the authors of those accounts (as excerpts from several have been used as sources to compile this accounting), but merely an acknowledgement of the fact that one cannot keep accurate time or map references when ones’ full attention is otherwise committed to the task of fighting a battle.

In addition to these accounts, the substance of this report is drawn upon information discovered within documents not normally available to the general publick. Much of it comes from the Duke of Wulfram’s private papers, kindly provided to us by His Grace the current Duke. Also made available to us were the private diaries of His Grace, the Duke of Cunaris, and of Major H_____n, an officer of the 5th Foot attached to the staff of the Earl of Castermaine. Lastly, access to the Royal Military Archives at Grenadier Square in Aetoria was kindly provided to us by the order of HM’s Government, which served to allow us to corroborate or refute many of the conjectural statements made by eyewitnesses, and lend some evidence to our own guesswork.

3.1: -its preliminaries

It has become by now a common argument to claim that the Duke of Wulfram had taken the field of Blogia having, as one prominent detractor put it, ‘planned his battle whilst he tacked up his horse’. Upon closer examination, such a statement could be considered an absolute falsehood. As the accounts of Wulfram’s staff, and the Duke’s own correspondence with Grenadier Square and the King show, Wulfram had begun making the preparations to fight a decisive battle since the failure of the 606 campaign. It was, in fact, Wulfram’s promise to deliver a decisive victory in the spring of 607 that led to the King’s ultimatum (that he end the war by the end of that year or face dismissal), and not the other way around as some would conjecture.

By the early autumn of 606, Wulfram was already laying the groundwork for his great battle. While ordering his staff to examine the roads north of Noringia for sites which might offer a favourable position for a decisive action, he made the unprecedented move of demanding that the second and third battalions of as many regiments as possible be brought to full strength and shipped to Antar as soon as the winter storms cleared. These formations, normally based at a regiment’s home region for the purpose of recruiting and training replacements, were instead now ordered to make up whatever deficiency they may have in their establishment strength, and be brought to bolster the battalions of their regiments already in Antar. Likewise, as the winter began, he made preparations to quietly withdraw many of the detached units assigned to scouting or outpost duty to his headquarters at Noringia.

The sole exceptions to these withdrawals were the patrols and listening posts which were set along the Old Imperial Highway leading to Prince Khorobirit’s winter camp at the ancient fortress of Januszkovil. Along Khorobirit’s expected route of advance, Wulfram had instead reinforced his outposts. Once the winter weather cleared, he went as far as to order the area patrolled by full troops of forty men, drawn from the squadrons of the White Rose Lancers and the Royal Dragoons. Indeed, it was one of these patrols which first returned with certain news of Khorobirit’s advance, along the exact route which Wulfram had expected.

Upon receiving the news that all was evidently progressing according to his own operational plan, the Duke of Wulfram was understandably elated. According to the Duke of Cunaris’ diary, he proceeded to ‘pour two glasses of Kentauri [whisky], one for the young officer of my regiment who had brought this fresh intelligence, and one for himself. This being done, he toasted his victory in the name of His Tierran Majesty, even though not a single Antari soldier had yet been killed or driven from the field’. This celebration, though premature, was not necessarily devoid of all sense: already, Wulfram had at his disposal a large number of battalions and squadrons reinforced to nearly full strength, a rarity even at the beginning of a long campaign. Using the maps and preparations which his staff had already made, he was able to choose a field of battle which would give him the advantages of the high ground, and a fortified position to screen his left flank. Using the orders of march which he had ordered prepared months ago, he was able to bring his army into movement without significant delay, and arrive at his chosen field of battle nearly a day before his opponent, allowing his army a night of rest, before deploying it upon advantageous ground in time to meet his enemy.

Thus, it could be said that Wulfram opened the battle of Blogia with every expectation of victory.

3.2: -initial positions

The ground which the Duke of Wulfram chose for his decisive battle was a large clearing which extended north of the small town of Blogia, slightly more than fifty kilometres north of Noringia. This open area was approximately four kilometres wide, and twelve kilometres long, extending from the town of Blogia and the ruins of its castle to the south, to a point in the north, where the forest closed again around the track of the imperial highway towards Solokovil and Januszkovil. To Wulfram it seemed like the best ground he could have possibly chosen, for not only were his flanks screened by huge bands of forest, but the entire clearing was dominated by a low escarpment which formed a ridge of high ground that travelled along the southern portion of the open space. It had been at the highest point of this space that the long-extinct noble house which had founded the town of Blogia established their seat: a fortress founded in granite and walled with field stone, centred around a pair of high towers which overlooked the imperial highway. At the time of the battle, both walls and towers were intact enough to be used as defensive positions. Thus, it was perhaps without hyperbole that one of Wulfram’s staff officers wrote on the night before the battle: ‘I have perfect confidence in the ground we have chosen, and in the abilities of our army. One can only hope that we may have perfect confidence in our chief’s plan as well, for then, he shall bring us victory.’

Wulfram had every intention of bringing not merely victory, but as crushing and as annihilating a victory as he could realistically execute. The battle plans which he presented before his staff on the day before the morning of the 21st fully reflected that. However, despite the scope and ambition of Wulfram’s intentions, his plan was in fact, quite simple:

First, Wulfram planned to deploy his heavy guns in two grand batteries of thity-six guns each. The first, the so-called ‘centre battery’ was placed so that its guns might command much of the main approach to the town from the high ground. The second, placed on the left flank of the Tierran infantry, atop the heights next to the ruins of Castle Blogia, served not only to enfilade any attack which might proceed along the central approach, but also serve to present an obvious blind spot on the extreme left, seemingly leaving open a narrow approach towards Castle Blogia itself. Here, Wulfram would place the three squadrons of the Royal Dragoons, a regiment which had by now proved itself to be equally astute acting as light cavalry and foot skirmishers both. Using the speed of their mounts to arrive at Castle Blogia before it could be captured by any opportunistic Antari picquets, the dragoons would then dismount and take up concealed positions within the stone walls and towers, relying on the superior range and accuracy of their rifled Pattern 576 carbines to hold the castle against the expected attack.

Wulfram’s three brigades of infantry were also to be deployed with defence in mind. With the central approach appearing as the obvious one for the vast, unwieldy blocks of Prince Khorobirit’s more numerous foot, Wulfram placed his infantry upon the forward slope of the ridge, allowing both his infantry a position of advantage against any attack ascending the ridge, and the artillery of the centre battery enough elevation to support those battalions of infantry without fear of striking them. The purpose of this formation was to occupy all the effort of the enemy’s own foot, in an attempt to force Khorobirit to commit his reserves of infantry by both inflicting great casualties upon his forward warbands, and by refusing those same infantry any opportunity to dis-engage, or otherwise regroup so that they might come to the aid of the expected attack on the left flank – or more importantly, to turn to face any attack on the right flank.

The right flank, where Wulfram deployed most of his light, and all of his heavy horse, was where the decisive blow was to fall. According to the plan, once Prince Khorobirit had committed his body of Church Hussars to the attack on the ‘blind spot’ on the left flank, Wulfram was to lead his cavalry in a charge along the right, circumventing the near flank of the Antari infantry. This being done, Tourbridge’s Brigade, on the right of the infantry line, was to advance and envelop the flank of the Antari foot. Then, Wulfram and his cavalry were to complete the encirclement by cutting behind the Antari infantry, sweeping away Khorobirit’s artillery crews, and striking the engaged Church Hussars in the rear. With his enemy thus enveloped, Wulfram believed he would have then been free to force the enemy to surrender.

Of course, Prince Khorobirit had his own plans for deployment, and while Wulfram was briefing his officers, and deploying his battalions, the Antari commander was most likely doing the same with his vassals, allies, and warbands. With his position concealed by the last remnants of the morning fog, Khorobirit moved his army into position. The enemy’s plan of deployment was rather more simple than Wulfram’s: having likely recognised, as his Tierran counterpart had, that the only approach wide enough to advance his massed infantry had been along the centre, Prince Khorobirit had assembled the whole of his foot opposite the Tierran infantry, with his heavy guns lined up behind them. His light cavalry, he massed in ranks along his right (that is to say, Wulfram’s left), opposite the ruins of Castle Blogia. From Wulfram’s perspective on his right, it would have been possible only to see a large body of horse. According to the account of one of his staff, Wulfram declared himself sure that the main force of the Antari cavalry remained opposite the left flank, and that if the cavalry in view were merely the Antari light horse, then surely, they were merely acting as a screen for the Church Hussars directly behind them.

As anyone with even the barest comprehension of the battle now knows, this assumption would prove to bear the most disastrous result.

Much has been made of the Duke of Wulfram’s failure to scout the forests which flanked the field of battle. It is much conjectured by those who would have much to gain by convincing others of Wulfram’s incompetence, that if he had simply sent some party of scouts to reconnoitre the heavily forested area on his right, he would have been able to discover the assembled ranks of Prince Khorobirit’s Church Hussars, where they had been lying in wait since some time before dawn. To consider such an argument faulty would be more than mere understatement. It appears to use that the Duke of Wulfram would have possessed two very solid reasons not to have scouted the forest on his right flank.

The first reason is the very simple fact that Wulfram did not have with him available any troops suitable for the task. Normally, the task of reconnaissance would have fallen to a body of light cavalry, which Wulfram did possess in abundance. However, in advancing forward to scout the forest, such a force would have either been required to expose themselves to Khorobirit’s own light cavalry and infantry by proceeding through the open ground of the clearing; or otherwise scout through the thick growth of the forest itself, a task for which cavalry of any sort are entirely unsuited for. Although it has not been unheard of for line infantry to play the task of scouts when bodies of horse are unavailable, such an expediency here would have proved a worse solution. An isolated battalion of foot advancing in any order fit for movement across open ground is infinitely more vulnerable to enemy cavalry than a squadron of horse. Likewise, had such a unit been ordered to reconnoitre through the forest itself, it would have found progress far too slow to do any good. (An experimental exercise once performed by the 112nd Infantry Regiment of the Takaran Richshyr in 210, found that a company of line infantry untrained in skirmishing, proceeding in extended order through dense forest could at best manage a speed of one kilometre per hour. At such a rate, it would have taken an infantry scouting party nine hours to advance to where Khorobirit’s heavy cavalry were concealed, and report back: time which Wulfram would not have.) Ironically, Wulfram’s army did possess an entire regiment of men trained in skirmishing and reconnaissance: the Royal Dragoons, whom Wulfram had already placed on the opposite flank of his army.

The second reason is one which is rather subjective in nature, but one which must be considered: it is very possible that given his knowledge of conventional military wisdom, Wulfram simply did not consider the prospect that Prince Khorobirit had hid his heavy horse within an ‘impermeable’ forest to be even worth considering. As far as it is known, Wulfram had little reason to distrust the competence or the loyalty of the staff officers who had first surveyed the ground in the late autumn of the year previous. There also remained the fact that the very act of concealing cavalry deep within a forest was an act of sheer insanity. To place a body of mounted soldiery in a forest is to place them in a location where pits and low roots capable of breaking the legs of horses are commonplace, where there are everywhere low branches and tree trunks to obstruct rider and beast: a place where neither horse nor horseman might move, let alone fight, with any level of facility. To do such a thing seems not only against the tenets of military doctrine, but the laws of common sense: five thousand cavalry caught in the midst of such a foolhardy scheme could be annihilated simply enough by a properly led force of infantry a fifth the size.

Yet because it was not expected, it was not in any way hindered.

By half-past ten, the morning fog had cleared entirely, and it was observed that both armies made final preparations for battle. At five-to-eleven, a blank-charged cannon was fired from the Antari batteries, giving the signal for Prince Khorobirit’s infantry to advance. By eleven o’clock, the front ranks of the Antari infantry attack was deemed to be within range of the guns of Wulfram’s centre battery, and the first shot of the battle was fired in earnest.

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