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40k Tactics: The Battle of Hastings
Old 12 Jun 2010, 15:11   #1 (permalink)
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Default 40k Tactics: The Battle of Hastings

In 1066, William of Normandy clashed with the then-King Harold Godwinson. Despite having fought a large battle against the Vikings in the North, Harold’s troop numbers were about equal, and having gained to higher ground upon the hill, he also had the tactical advantage. Army composition was different however, with the English army being mostly infantry whilst the Normans were split between infantry and fast moving cavalry. This battle was renowned for its displays of tactics and the fact that it was a major turning point in history.
Using kite-like shields, the Anglo-Saxons set up a shield wall. As the Normans were attacking England, they would have to get past this shield wall. William first opened up with volleys of arrows. The idea was to soften the English before charging at them with infantry and then cavalry. However, due to their formation, arrows hardly got through the shields and any casualties were replaced with people from behind. When the Norman infantry charged, they found the English very much alive and strong, suffering heavy casualties. The cavalry came next, but again, faced with spears and shields, they too took many casualties, to the point where they retreated.
This was the English’s first and most fatal mistake – they broke ranks and pursed the enemy. Tempted by the fleeing Normans, they took charge down the hill. To their surprise, the Normans were suddenly able to regroup and launched a deadly and efficient counter-attack. Having broke ranks and dispersed around the battlegrounds, the English were far easily to take down, especially without their shield wall. The English retreated to the hill, but having lost their strong formation and their shield wall, they were easy targets for the next volleys of arrows and subsequent charges. The English force splintered and were destroyed, and as legend had it, Harold died by an arrow in his eye.

How can this translate to Warhammer 40k?
This is a classic example of the age-old rule “Together we are strong, divided we are weak”, as displayed by the English force being far easier to destroy once they had broken ranks. To illustrate this idea, think of butter in a frying pan. The butter melts a lot faster if cut into smaller pieces. There are plenty of other examples but in Wargaming, the idea is that the opponent can get troops through gaps to key units in the background, to strike from unexpected angles or to surround squads for easy dispatching. The tip here would be not to spread out your force too thin, though make sure that you still have your flanks covered. This is particularly risky with Space Marines. Being expensive with not many models on the board, they can be quite spaced out given the chance.
Aside from losing, Harold had the right idea in sticking to the one position with fortified defences. If you’re the defender, then you have little reason to move. Have the opponent make the effort to attack you. There are usually disadvantages in moving rather than standing and holding cover, and any disadvantage to the enemy is your advantage. You will always be expected to take casualties however, and so have a unit nearby to fill the place of the one that was disintegrated, as Harold did. Tau are perfect for this. With strong and relatively cheap gun-line units they can hold the fort quite well, especially with things like Gun Drone speed bumps. Another good example is Imperial Guard, which can stack rows of units making it a pain to get through them.
On the attacker’s side though, throwing units into a meat grinder as the Normans did is never a good idea. Assuming you don’t have line breaker units like Assault Terminators in a Land Raider (which can puncture a hole in almost any gun-line), you won’t want to go full-frontal. Of course, if you have Tyranids or Orks then you can very well do so. Hey, keep throwing numbers at the world and something must hit. Races like Eldar might have a lot of trouble with this though, as their grav-tanks can be taken out by a well structured gun-line and their T3 infantry won’t stand up to too much. For races like these, outflanking is the key. Although William didn’t do it, attacking from angles that aren’t the norm will usually take you to the poorly defended flanks.
The turning point in the battle was the breaking of the ranks, and in turn, the counter-attack performed by the Normans. In 40k, there is actually the rule ‘Counter-Attack’, although this is more a defensive rule. What the Normans pulled off is better explained with a rule such as ‘Hit and Run’. Basically running away and then coming back to launch a fresh assault is a great way to get in more attacks. An example unit would be Dark Eldar Hellions, or perhaps an infamous Ninja’O Tau Commander?
Going without special rules, manipulation of retreating and morale is a very powerful thing. Possibly done right, it could drawn the enemy away, leaving them open to an attack from the rest of the force, much like what actually happened in the battle. An excellent army with which to use this tactic are Vanilla Marines. The combination of ‘Combat Tactics’ and ‘They Shall Know No Fear’ means that they can fail a leadership test from an assault, make their falling back move and then re-group. If the enemy takes the bait and moves towards the marines, you can open up with some fire, or attack with some other units that are now closer as they have been dragged back. Plus, they are not subject to Sweeping Advance.
The battle would probably have ended up in the Anglo-Saxon’s favour if the majority of the army had actually stayed where they were supposed to. In 40k, and perhaps in many other wargames, this equates to keeping the morale of your forces. Should they break, then it will certainly put a dent in your plans. Many people know this and use it to their advantage. Dark Eldar have Terrorfexes which are basically morale tests on triggers whilst many armies will have a tank with which they can send troops scattering. There is the flip side however, with things you can do to prevent breaking up forces. I know there are vox-casters for the Imperial Guard, Tau have bonding knives and the Space Marines have big, blue and bad Marneus Calgar who can choose to pass or fail any morale tests thrown at him. No matter the race, morale is a big part of battles and should be one of the main things taken into consideration.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article based around one of the major battles in history. Although definitely outdated warfare in the far future of the 41st millennium, you can still draw inspiration and tactics from these immense clashes in the past. There is a saying that we must learn the past to prevent it recurring. If this holds any meaning in Wargaming or not is up to you. For one final tip, should you choose to field an Ethereal in a Tau force, never let it get an arrow in its eye.

(I've posted it on General 40k because it contains general tips that aren't specific to one particular race)

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