The Spanish and Papal army comes to relieve the French siege of Ravenna, the onetime capitol of the Roman Empire.
The two armies face off against each other. Knowing that the French have the weight of numbers and superior cavalry, Cardona keeps his own cavalry well in reserve. The infantry are deployed in a mixed formation. Rodeleros are placed between pike phalanx to protect their vulnerable sides. The French army, under Gaston de Foix, is arranged in the more traditional fashion of battles.
The battle begins with an attack by the French left. In game terms, the French roll for an activation of two battles. The guns open fire on the Empire’s infantry. Caught outside of their defensive works, soldiers are blown apart where they stand.
Before the Spaniards can react, the condottieri of Bozzolo’s command begin their assault across the Spanish ditch. Still recovering from the withering fire of the heavy French guns, the Spaniards and Papal troops are cut down by the fierce assault. It is here that I implement a reading of the rules that is from GBoH. I decide to resolve all initial shock attacks before the continued attack. My reasoning is to avoid the “blitzkrieg” effect, at least in the case of infantry attacking. It seems unlikely that the infantry would be able to roll up an entire flank before their comrades to the left can conclude their initial assault. For cavalry actions, I will read the rule straight at is written for the obvious reason that cavalry has the speed and momentum to immediately continue the attack.
The day has just begun and already things look very dark for the Spaniards. In command of the Spanish and Papal force is the King’s Viceroy of Naples, Ramón de Cardona. At stake is not only his own position, but the army and the pride of all Spain. The Viceroy knows he must immediately counterattack before his army is wiped out.
Spurring his horse forward, Cardona comes to within earshot of the commander of his infantry…
“All of you men are the shield on which the Holy Father has placed his trust in. Fear not the French! They die the same as any other man. Don Navarro, you know this as well as any man. Form your ranks and attack!”
The Castilians raise a battle cry and reform their line of battle. Now silent, they advance as one towards the carnage on the Spanish right.
Cardona does not remain idle. Turning to his aides, he gives the order for his light cavalry to move up to support the counterattack. “And by the Blessed Virgin,” he continues, looking into the massed ranks at his front, “get our guns into the fight!” He rides off and prepares to enter the fray, sword in hand.
The rodeleros give a good account of themselves, crashing into the Italian mercenaries at the foot of their own ramparts. On both sides, men stumble over the dead and dying, slipping in the blood churned mud. Swords break and shields shatter, as does helmet, breastplate, bone, and sinew. Those who lose their weapons are not hard pressed to find another close at hand. Hundreds of soldiers lie on the ground, the glint of their armor shining through mud and blood. Bozzolo, the hardened master of mercenaries, gives as good account of himself as any before he too falls. Even still, the issue is in doubt…until the arrival of Fernando d’Avalos and his swift horsemen. Under javelin, flying gunfire, and wicked slashing sabers, the Italians fall by the hundreds until none are left alive inside the ramparts. The cost is heavy on both sides, however. With their backs to the rampart, the Italians sell their lives dearly.
Most of the gunners never get their clear orders to fire, partly due to the more immediate threat to their right. The Spaniards fail their second continuity DR
Bohier and the Chevalier de Bayard are not content to stand idle. Bayard advises an attack on the Spanish light cavalry but is overruled. Bohier turns to his knights:
“The Italians have struck first. The honor of France demands that we ride to their aid. To the ramparts!” Slamming shut his visor and reaching out for a lance, Bohier personally leads the charge, seeking to cut down the Spaniards and to personally deliver Navarro’s head to his commander in revenge for the great defeat at Garigliano. The Gendarmes are slowed at the embankment and find there a force of defiant Spaniards, already bloodied and with zeal in their eyes. Bohier’s personal unit makes its way through the ditch and down the rampart, but the momentum is lost. Many horses stumble over the mass of bodies, the arquebusiers fire before resorting to the sword, and the fighting becomes a swirling melee. The mixed cries of “Saint Denis,” “Santa Maria,” and “Jesu” are heard amidst the din of battle. Less fortunate are those gendarmes who find themselves attacking the wooden war wagons. Gunfire from the wagons fells many a Frenchman, and neither lance nor mace can find its way into the heart of these beastly wooden fortresses.
Observing the battle from atop his horse, at the center, Gaston de Foix prepares to close his vice on the trapped Spaniards. Prior to Bohier’s attack, the French roll an activation of three battles. The second great barrage opens fire from the French right. As it turns out, the remedy to the War Wagons is the tried and tested French cannon. The wooden fortresses are blown apart, as are the unfortunate Spaniards along the northern ramparts.
Gaston de Foix, now known across northern Italy as “the Thunderbolt,” is an experienced commander. With his Marshal’s badge of office raised, he gives a single word: “Les Allemands” before pointing the baton straight ahead. The command is obeyed without delay, and now the most feared soldiers in Europe, the Landsknechts, raise their pikes and greatswords as they advance towards the Spanish center.
The effects of the French guns are telling, as are the non-effects. The Spaniards at their guns have no question as what to do with their cannons now. Heavy arquebus fire and thunderous cannon fire erupts across the Spanish center, mowing down advancing Germans like the grain. Those fortunate men who attack where the cannons have fired find an easy path, however, and the Landsknechts make short work of those before them with pike and sword.
Their deadly work is only beginning when the attack on the Spanish right fizzles out. Bohier realizes that his gendarmes are cut off, and orders a withdrawal. Disengaging from the fight with the rodeleros, the French chivalry attempts to fight its way back out before they are all surrounded. Many Spanish footmen fall to their knees in exhaustion, some giving thanks to God, and others defiantly cursing their contempt for death and fear.
With the losses of the Landsknechts, the French have passed their Flight Level, mostly through Retired units.
Before de Foix can continue his plan, he sees his Picards begin to waiver, then to falter, and then to begin a headlong retreat. The condottieri who survived the assault on the ramparts speak of a bloodbath, and the blood of some of the less hardened men turns to water. Rumors spread that the Chevalier de Bayard was cut down by a common foot soldier, although this will eventually prove false. More than half the French Army has yet to commit to the attack, yet there is a feeling throughout the army that they are already in a route. Gaston de Foix rushes to grab the royal standard, determined to lead the charge himself and bolster all men of courage.
He will never get the chance.
Fabrizio Colonna sees his opportunity just as a messenger from the Viceroy arrives: “Attack the French cannons” is the straightforward command. With his extravagant armor, mounted on the finest of horseflesh, and under the Banner of the Pope himself, Colonna gives his cavalry the order to charge. The Spaniards cheer at the sight of the Flag of Saint Peter and at the sight of their troops taking the fight to the enemy. Colonna and his well equipped cavalry form their line, lower lances, and charge against the Duke of Ferrara and his mounted soldiers. The Ferrarese give a good account of themselves in the clash, but they are too few, and enough of Colonna’s troops break through to charge the French guns. Gunners are cut down mercilessly, their infernal devices thrown from their platforms, and the terrible guns are silenced. The Spanish infantry can now counterattack the Landsknechts without fear. The Duke of Ferrara will end this day in Spanish irons.
Gaston de Foix arrives at the front line in time to see the disaster unfold. Unceremoniously passing the proud standard of France to an aid, he gives the order to sound retreat. His only thought at this point is to preserve as much of the army as is possible. His spirits are lifted when the Chevalier de Bayard approaches and offers a salute. “My lord, allow me to send those dogs running back. My men are ready. Save the army!” de Foix nods and begins to prepare the army for the march back to Ravenna. He knows that with Bayard as a rearguard, he will lose no further guns to the Spanish and Italian horse.
Unable to continue the siege of Ravenna with half his guns destroyed, Gaston de Foix splits his army for the march back to Ferrara. He will accept responsibility for the failure and await the King’s mercy. The Papal armies are relieved to be free of “The Thunderbolt of Italy,” at least for now.
King Louis' enemies are emboldened and most react to the victory in pious overtones. It was said that King Louis collapsed upon hearing news of the defeat. Knowing that he would never live up to the reputation of his predecessor, the King will die a broken man. Francis will ascend to the throne at 17, surrounded by enemies. He will require more than skill to press his claims in Italy, as now the hawks are circling on France itself.
In Rome, the victors is met with cheering crowds. The battle and the campaign itself become popularly known as “The miracle at Ravenna.” The victory has the markings of a Holy Day and an ancient Roman triumph, with the Duke of Ferrara forced to walk behind the horse of a man at arms as the most prestigious prisoner.
Renaissance writers will speak of the use of defensive works and the flexible command of infantry, as well as the “classical” countercharge of flanking action of Fabrizio Colonna, with Machiavelli giving him perhaps too much credit as “Hasdrubal manifest in our time.” In reality, the French failed to keep their patchwork army from disintegrating at the first setback, as well as their premature attacks into the Spanish fortifications. Gaston de Foix will return to the battlefield in a year, determined to conquer or die…but that is a story for another time.
My impressions of this battle, and the game, are that you have to unlearn some of what you know from previous Men of Iron games and certainly from GBoH. The French have more than enough troops to destroy the Spaniards twice over, and the guns that don’t destroy the Spanish infantry outright can force them to go to ground. The Spaniards are literally in a corner, and I think their best option early on is to utilize their guns until they have no more. The more casualties they can inflict, the better their chances will be in the later phases of the battle. As you can see here, the Spanish army does have some chance at a counterattack with its cavalry, but if Bohier is smarter, he can protect the French flank from the weaker Spanish cavalry.
The critical error of the French was reverting to form in MoI fashion: At Crecy, the only way for the French player to win is to successfully and repeatedly charge and to hopefully get a breakthrough to exploit. Unlike in GBoH, units do not take cohesion hits for momentum, although continued attacks do have a negative DRM. The right move would have been not to activate Three battles, as tempting as it is, but instead to activate the Standard and rally the Retired Italian infantry. That would have put the French Flight Level much lower than the Spanish permanent Flight Level. The route levels are not that great, and they accumulate fast if your infantry is Retired or Eliminated.
It is here that I implement a reading of the rules that is from GBoH. I decide to resolve all initial shock attacks before the continued attack. My reasoning is to avoid the “blitzkrieg” effect, at least in the case of infantry attacking. It seems unlikely that the infantry would be able to roll up an entire flank before their comrades to the left can conclude their initial assault. For cavalry actions, I will read the rule straight at is written for the obvious reason that cavalry has the speed and momentum to immediately continue the attack.Continued attacks have not been treated like you think since the original Men of Iron. See the second paragraph of 14.7.
After all combats are resolved, another Shock Phase is conducted
for all units marked with a Continued Attack marker. During this Shock Phase only those units marked with a Continued Attack marker may Shock and these units must declare a Shock attack; no Charges or Counter-Charges are allowed. Otherwise Continued Attack is resolved identically to 12.0.
You're right. Fortunately, in this instance, I played it correctly except for the facing change. That's another holdover from playing mostly GBoH.