Monday, April 29, 2013

The Battle commences - Part 1

The Battle of Luton – Command decisions.

When Lord Ashley's coach arrived at Icelton Farm as he dismounted he noticed Major General Marks amongst a throng of sub-ordinate commanders, clearly he was in the process of giving his commanders their orders. Lord Ashley stretched his aching back as he looked at his surroundings, the field headquarters had been setup in the courtyard of a rather stately farm, the buildings were more of a french Chateau style than the common English farm setup, the courtyard had an excellent view out over the fields of what would become a battlefield.

He made his way over to where the officers were standing, all either bowed or saluted him as he approached, Lord Ashley acknowledged the greetings, most of these men were old friends of his anyway so he was in very familiar company.
He walked over to where General Marks was standing, a map table beside him, the General clearly flustered by the arrival of his lord ship.
“Well General what have you found for me today huh”.
“Well my lord it appears we have run the fox to ground, out yonder we have a Brigade of Royalist Infantry and we believe a Brigade of Dragoons, some of these units are the same units that have been troubling us for the last few days”.

His lordship took a telescope from the map table and stepped out in front of the gathering, he stood for several moments surveying the field of battle.

“He noticed out to his left a long stretch of swampy river land, clearly this restricted the field of battle in that direction, on his right some distance away was a large dense woods, and more marshlands.

In front of him the Royalists had taken a position in two farms and several rows of hedges, their line was interspersed with woods.

“Well general it seems that whoever commands over there has picked a good position, we are rather hampered here and quite clearly cannot outflank him., I wonder why though they have decided to fight here, what do you think?

“Yes my lord they have an excellent position, they do have a problem though in that we outnumber them considerably, so I intend to roll down on the right flank, swamping them with numbers and then cross those streams and them push into their center once we have broken the enemy right flank.
As to why they are fighting here my lord I believe they have decided this is where they will make their stand before London, I believe what we have before us is an advance guard, and that some miles behind them is the remainder of the enemy. It therefore is imperative we break the enemy right flank very quickly before they can reinforce it with new troops.”

His lordship finished surveying the enemy and looked down at the map,
“Very good Simon, now pray continue with your briefing, I am sure time is of the essence.”

General Marks, nodded and then turned to the officer on his right General Geoffrey Clinton, commander of the 2nd Brigade.
“Geoffrey you have the honour of breaking the enemies left flank, because of the lack of room I suggest you form your battalions into columns and hit them as hard as you can. We don't have time or space to deploy the artillery and engage in a bombardment of their lines before we attack, time is against us and for the enemy, so you simply have to push through.
As far as I can see there are at most two Battalions opposing you and possibly some Light troops in the woods near the road, so there is nothing you cannot handle ehhhh”.

The Brigade commander nodded, “Aye sir we will push the bastards back, have no fear”.

“Dont just push them back Geoffery, break them; break them so damn hard they dont want to come back and annoy us again eeehh”

He turned to the General on his left, General Allan McCrombie commander of the 6th Brigade. It had been McCrombies Brigade that had lead the Confederation drive through Nene, Northampton and now Royston. The Brigade were weary, but keen for the fightm a chance to repay for the sufferings of constant ambushes and sneak attacks.
“Now Allan your task is to pin the enemy, if you can you may attack but do not do so at the expense of heavy losses. Unfortunately General, you have that damned artillery in their centre to contend with, but contend with it you must. I hope that the 2nd brigade will roll up their centre quickly and all you will need to do is push hard and then pursue, but I am mindful that they may need some persuasion to shift off their backsides eeeh.”
Finally he turned to Maj General Sir Edward Saunders commander of the 3rd Brigade which was on loan from the Duke of Warwick.
“Now Sir Edward, you will be our reserve, we may need all or some of units to plug gaps or reinforce success, so you must be prepared to move quickly, either as a whole brigade or to dispatch units as required, so keep your units in column if you please.”

General Marks then turned to Lord Ashley, “Is there something you wish to add or change my lord?”

His Lordship merely smiled, it was pleasing to see the young man finally making his mark, good to see such confidence in him as he commanded in his first major battle, of course Lord Ashley would always be close on hand to prevent disaster, but not to close he thought to himself.

“No,No General Marks you seem to have everything in hand, please continue.”

Royalist Command

Major General Preston was a very worried man, he had deployed his Brigade across the Luton – London road in the expectation of having to contend with a Confederation advance guard, he expected it to be most likely the size of his own, instead the Confederates were forming up opposite him with 3 times his strength, their entire army had closed up; and now it was simply too late for the Royalists to pull back.
He knew General Graham was coming up the London road behind him, but the last reports he had received was that at the earliest he would be here in a little over an hour, most likely longer.
As he surveyed the enemy, he wondered what would be left of his force if General Graham was in fact much longer than the hour.

On his left General Preston had placed the 36th Foot Battalion behind a long hedgerow, behind them was a small but deep and swift following stream, on the other side of that stream was the 33rd Foot, which was standing resolute with files open so when the 36th foot withdrew, they would pass through the 33rd and form up behind, once they had completed the transition of lines then the 33rd would close up and await the enemy.

In the centre General Preston deployed 4 companies of Light troops, they could fall back into the Hipsley farm complex which had been fortified since yesterday and was now a small fortress. The Light troops were expected to hold the centre for as long as possible.
Across the road from Hipsley farm and its defenders was the artillery battery, their task to fire and then move down the the road before the enemy gets to close to charge. They would unlimber on the other side of Claudia stream. To the right of the battery were another 3 companies of Light troops, in the woods north of Sluice farm, their task to protect the guns and then fall back into Sluice farm which had been fortified as well, General Preston was also prepared to push 3 or 4 companies of the 37th Foot in there as well, if needed and when the time came for the 37th foot to withdraw back over Claudia Stream.
Behind Sluice farm was the 34th Battalion, they were to support the 37th as well as the defence of Sluice farm, when it came time for them to withdraw General Preston hoped and prayed General Graham was here with the remainder of the army.

Finally General Preston had deployed the two Dragoon regiments on each flank, they were there to deal with any enemy breakthrough or in the last extreme to act as a rearguard giving his infantry a chance to get away.

As General Preston surveyed the enemy lines he was a now an even more worried man, opposite his left flank he had counted at least 8 enemy battalion standards and flags, two infantry brigades against 2 Battalions, this was turning into a nightmare. Over on his right there seemed to be a brigade forming up in line, so over there he could expect to be 4-5 Battalions against his two line; again very troublesome.

Then General Preston and possibly every living soul for miles around heard the Confederation trumpets and and drums beat, the battle had begun.

The first assault goes in

Immediately the Royalist artillery fired on the columns to their left, their target the 111th battalion suffered early hits.
As the other battalions of the Confederation 2nd Brigade came into musketry range the Royalist 36th Battalion opened a heavy rolling Platoon fire spread along the line. The musketry was very effective clear signs that the hours of training the Colonel had enforced on them was now paying off, sadly the losses which may have crippled one Battalion were to be spread across three. Colonel Ramsey of the 36th never faulted in riding along the line urging his men, damned proud of them he was and he noted that as the first enemy columns neared the hedge they were starting to lose their ridged formation; certainly a sign their cohesion ( unit discipline and morale) was weakening.
The 111th on the flank of the Brigade was taking marginally heavier losses because of  the artillery and then from the light troops in the woods, as they closed to charging distance of the woods, the 111th halted its morale having slumped due to the constant fire. Its Colonel raged and begged his men to move forward, but they halted and instead opened a desultory fire onto the Royalists light troops in the woods.
Further over on the Confederation left flank the Confederation 12th Light battalion closed in on the Light troops in the woods, their casualties so far were light and their return fire on the Royalist Light troops under cover in the woods was equally negligible.

General Preston rode behind his Royalist troops rather nervously, the wave of Confederate columns descending on his 36th battalion seemed like a wave of snakes weaving their way over the land.
Then came the bugle calls from the confederate lines, they were about to mount their first charge on his very thin line. Oddly of the 4 leading columns only 3 charged, the right hand one (111th) had halted and was simply standing in column and firing into the woods.
Now all he could do was wait and see how Colonel Ramsey and his 36th withstood this first test.