Dog Day Afternoon - The Raid On Djakovo

It was good to see the sun again after several months of cold, rainy spring weather. However, the dark, tall thunderheads had been replaced by the much darker and far more ominous clouds of smoke caused by the burning of isolated farms by the pagan Turks! And now, Piri Pasha, avowing to have deserted from the Ottoman camp, had brought warning of an impending major raid on his town of Djakovo. The Turks, he claimed, were aiming to seize the supplies in the area, and burn the town to the ground. And so here he was, Basil Lakhanos, wine merchant extraordinaire and sometime officer, on a fine May morning, standing upon the tall ridge outside of Djakovo. The ridge that was the habitual mustering ground for the town's contingent of the army of the Thema of Illricum. His troops were in good spirits, but all rather green. The passes out of the mountains were still shrouded by a late morning fog. Maybe, hopefully, it was all a pagan ruse after all...

Kicking aside another of the annoying canines of the Infidels, he kneeled and bowed his head towards Mecca. As he prayed, Mustafa al Rancid contemplated the assignment given him by the Chosen of Allah, Sultan Kalliman "The Vengeful" al Rancid, his father. Hassan, his younger half brother and rival for power in Istanbul, had failed in his own recent raid upon the merchants of Venice, and was lucky to escape their father's famous wrath with all his body parts intact and functioning! For reasons of court politics as well as personal bodily integrity, Mustafa prayed fervently to do better. His scouts indicated that there was a substantial body of Byzantine foot soldiers deployed on the ridge ahead of him. In actual fact, this suited him well, as his plan was to demonstrate against these soldiers with his own questionable foot, while the entirety of his mounted troops swept clear around the ridge, and on to town of Djakovo, which he was sternly enjoined to burn and pillage. With the hand of Allah guiding his sword, he'd be upon the town before the infidels could even begin to react. Arising from prayer, he called to his assembled troops, still hidden from the eyes of the infidel by the fog in the valley. Forwards, in the name of the Prophet!

The Scenario

An Ottoman raiding force is bearing down upon the Town of Djakovo in the Neo Byzantine Thema of Illricum. The approach is dominated by a tall ridge, steep (class III) on the upper slopes. Beyond the ridge is a small woods (class II), but between them there is a gap and beyond that the Town. The map used is essentially that of Charles Grant's "Scenarios for Wargames", # 15. The infantry will start deployed upon the ridge, with one unit in a small farmstead in the rear of the ridge. The 2 cavalry wings and the reserve will enter the table far back, in column of march, emerging from the edge of the town of Djakovo. They may attempt to enter the far southwestern table edge at the town, in predetermined order, when their side has the initiative by winning a difficulty roll against the Turks. Only one attempt per turn! We used 25mm figures (of course!) and used the table the long way, being 6 feet wide and 9 feet long.

Ottoman Empire: Favored of Allah, Mustafa Al Rancid, commanding

Light Cavalry Command, Ibn Oulfal, commanding

  • 4 units of Akinjis, LC, 2 hits, advanced bow, sword, no armor, helmet, Natives. @ 9 points each
    Fire: DN 1 Melee: NC Morale: DN 1
  • 1 unit of Dellis, MC, 2 hits, Lance, sword, leather armor, helmet, natives. @ 24 points
    Fire: NA Melee: UP 3 Morale: DN 1
  • 1 Unit Crimean Tartars, LC, advanced bow, sword, helmet only, natives. May use the "cloud of light horse" formation for firing. @ 12 points each
    Fire: DN 2 Melee: NC Morale DN 1

Main Cavalry Command, Arsouf Eskold, commanding

  • 4 units of Feudal Sipahis, 3 hits to a stand, HC, advanced bow, lance, sword, studded leather armor, helmet, Natives. @ 28 points each (we used the lower armor class but kept the HC rating and 3 per stand mounting to reflect the poorer equipment but maintained ferocity of these local Balkan troops)
    Fire: DN 2 Melee: UP 4 Morale: DN 1

Unwashed Infantry Command, Muktar the Ugly, commanding

  • 2 units of Azabs, LI 2 hits to the stand, advanced bow, no armor, trained militia, volley fire allowed. @ 15 points each
    Fire: UP 1 Melee: DN 2 Morale: NC
  • 3 units of Azab Spearmen, MI, 3 hits to the stand, helmet, no armor, trained militia. @18 points each.
    Fire: NA Melee: NC Morale: NC
  • Total Points 283 3 Army characterization cards. Use 15th C Ottoman sequence deck.
  • Add one advance, fire, retire card ( to use with Tartar Horse )
  • Roll Correction Table: 15th C Ottomans
  • Add one Pillage and Loot card ( For obvious reasons )
  • Add one Undisciplined advance card ( poor discipline in force )
  • Add one Whim of the Gods card ( just for fun )
  • Delete Engines of war move and reload, and elites reload as none in force.

Neo Byzantine Thema Of Illricum: Strategos Dimetrios Skleros commanding

Local Infantry: Basil Lakhanos commanding

  • 2 Units Byzantine Skutatoi, HI, 4 per stand, Regular, Mail, Shield, Helm, Spear @ 40 pts each
    Fire: NA Melee: UP 1 Morale: NC
  • 1 Unit Byzantine Skutatoi Support Archers, HI, 3 per std, Regular, Mail, Helm, Adv. Bow @ 28 points
    Fire: UP 1 Melee: DN 1 Morale: NC
  • 1 Unit Byzantine Crossbowmen, LI, 2 per stand, militia, no armor, crossbow @ 18 pts
    Fire: UP 2 Melee: DN 1 Morale: NC
  • 1 Unit Genoese arquebusiers, MI, 2 per stand, Militia, Leather, Helm, Arquebus @ 21 pts
    Fire: UP 2 Melee: DN 1 Morale: NC

Cavalry Wing #1 - Krispos Phocas commanding

  • 1 Unit Byzantine Cataphracts/Knights, EHC, 3 per std, Elite, lamellar armor/barding, Lance, Helm, Shield, Unique @ 56 pts
    Fire: NA Melee: UP 4 Morale: UP 2
  • 1 Unit Byzantine Cavalry, HC, 3 per std, Elite, Lamellar armor, Adv. Bow, Lance, Shield, Helm @ 44 pts
    Fire: NC Melee: UP 3 Morale: UP 1
  • 1 Unit Byzantine Trapezitoi, LC, 2 per stand, Regulars, Lance, Shield, Helmet @ 21 pts
    Fire: NC Melee: UP 1 Morale: NC

Cavalry Wing #2 - Pineas Suppositorius, commanding

  • 1 Units Byzantine Cataphracts/Knights, EHC, 3 per std, Elite, lamellar armor/barding, Lance, Helm, Shield, Unique @ 56 pts
    Fire: NA Melee: UP 4 Morale: UP 2
  • 1 Unit "Barbarians" , LC, 2 per stand, Adv. Bow, Militia no armor or helmet @ 9 pts
    Fire: NC Melee: DN 2 Morale: NC

Reserve, C-in-C Dimetrios Skleros commanding

  • 1 Unit Varangian Guard, HI, 4 per std, Mail, Helmet, 2 Handed Axe, Swd, Shld, Guard, Fearsome, Unique @ 65 pts
    Fire: NC Melee: UP 3 Morale: UP 3
  • 1 Light Gun Battery, Militia, no armor @ 12 pts each
    Fire: NC Melee: DN 3 Morale: NC
  • 419 points total
  • As no sequence deck is listed in BoB (an oversight?), the one I listed on the mailer a month or so ago was used.
  • Add 1 fire and retire card (for "Barbarian" LC)
  • Roll Correction Table: Byzantines, 15th C Army Char. Cards: 4

As the fog lifted, Basil Lakhanos was appalled to see a mass of Turks deployed about a mile away from his position. "By all the Saints!", he exclaimed, "send off young Komautontopoulous on the fastest horse we have with an urgent message to the Stragegos"! Piri Pasha had told the truth. The rumor of the raid was no ruse. He prayed God preserve them, and even more his wife and daughters back in the city. For the time being, he was confident in his strong deployment along the ridge. He'd deployed his archers in a long line for optimum fire power, dominating the approach to the ridge, flanked by a deep formation of Skutatoi spearmen on either side. To cover his far right flank, he'd deployed a unit of Genoese mercenary arquebusiers in dispersed order. As a reserve, and to somewhat guard the rear of his ridgeline position, he'd placed a unit of raw militia crossbowmen in and around the farmstead. It was 11 AM, and it was looking to be a long afternoon's work!

Mustafa Al Rancid spurred his horse forward as he lead the advance. The entire light cavalry wing of Ibn Oulfal galloped hell for leather for the open ground on the left of the Byzantine's ridgeline position. The Feudal Sipahis advanced also, at first seeming as if they meant to try a mad rush upon the ridge position, but then at the last minute swerving also towards to open Byzantine left. The Azab foot lumbered slowly towards the center and right of the Byzantine position. Up on the ridge, Lakhanos felt a lump in his throat, and a wave of nausea spread over him, and then passed by. They were all dead men if the Strategos didn't arrive soon with his cavalry! His mouth dry as a Grecian olive grove, he hoarsely ordered his left flank Skutatoi unit to wheel 45 degrees back, in order to expose their flank less to the horde of advancing Turks.

As the cloud of Turkish light cavalry swept around the left of the Byzantine ridge position, Mustafa heard a ragged cheer from the troops on the ridge line. The first unit of Byzantine cavalry, the lightly amored but lance armed Trapezetoi, had appeared and deployed at the outskirts of Djakovo. As the nearly 3,000 horse men approached the town, more Byzantine cavalry could be seen arriving at the town in a long march column. A unit of Barbarian light cavalry deployed at the outskirts of town to cover them, as the Trapezetoi trotted forward to delay the cloud of Turkish light horse nearing the town, torches in hand! The sun was directly overhead. It was only noon.

The lone unit of Trapezetoi was like honey to the flies of the Turks. 3 units of Akinji horse archers all but surrounded them and let fly a hail of arrows. More shaken than injured by this, it was only with great difficulty that the gallant Trapezetoi were made to obey the orders of their commander, Krispos Phocas, to reform. It was fortunate that they did so, as the fanatic Delis, the Turkish lance armed equivalents to the Trapezetoi, then charged home upon them! Lances met unarmoured flesh with the expected results. Their greater discipline prevailing, the Trapezetoi routed the Delis who lost almost a quarter of their number in the action. But the disorder cause by the clash proved fatal to the Byzantine light cavalry men, who were promptly charged by 3 units of Akinji horse archers and utterly routed with the loss of 2 of their squadron leaders. The remaining Akinji unit charged the newly deployed "Barbarian" horse archers, routing them with the loss of 2 tribal subchiefs, but then were in turn themselves repulsed by the charge, still in march column, of the last unit of Krispos Phocas' command, his elite, heavily armored cataphracts. A small cloud of tartars descended upon the newest arrivals, maneuvering in a vast circus movement as they plied the metal encased horsemen ineffectively with a continuous deluge of arrows.

At the same time, the Turkish infantry, lead by Muktar, had advanced upon the ridgeline. The lead unit of Azab archers fired to no effect upon the Genoese arquebusiers, but were sent streaming back down the ridge by their accurate and noisy return fire, losing 2 of their leaders. The Byzantine heavy archers fired to little discernible effect upon the still distant Azab spearmen. "If only our cavalry can stop that horde of marauding horsearchers", thought Lakhanos, I might yet see my wife and daughter upon the morrow"!

It was now 12:30PM, and things weren't looking encouraging for the Byzantines. The horde of Ottoman light cavalry near the town were making it very difficult for them to deploy their arriving units without danger of being charged in flank while still in march column. Rather than await developments, Krispos Phocas reordered his cataphracts, and had them canter well down the road from town, still in march column, in order to cover the deployment of the arriving second cavalry wing of Pineas Suppositorius. A sharp witted fellow, Pineas grasps Krispos' focus upon staving off the advancing Sipahis so that he might have to opportunity to deploy. First another unit of barbarian horse archers emerges from the town, and then a unit of Byzantine heavy cavalry horse archers gallop forwards to its edge, both still in long, strung out columns. With admirable precision, Phocas' cataphracts wheel into a deep battle mass formation facing the advancing Sipahis. At first, the Akinji horse archers are so stunned by these bold movements that they do little but fire a few more ineffective flights of arrows at the Byzantine Cavalry.

"See lads, our own horse have arrived at last", exclaimed Basil Lakhanos to his footsoldiers, trying to steady their spirits. Now, at about 1 PM, the cavalry battle in valley behind them began in earnest. Still in march column, Pineas Suppositorius hurls his mailed horsearchers at the nearest unit of Akinjis. When the dust clears, the Turkish light cavalrymen were seen to be utterly routed, the Beys of Bisquet, Fundee, and Bhen-Gal falling in the action, but the charge exposed the flank of the mailed archers, who, now hopelessly disorganized, were scattered by the charge upon their flank of yet another unit of Turkish Akinjis. At nearly the same time, the Crimean Tartars neatly wheeled about and charged into the flank of the last unit of "barbarian" Byzantine archers, killing their leader Vlad Taltos, and all but annihilating the entire unit!

"Wet, their powder is wet!", barked Basil Lakhanos to his troops, as the remainder of the Turkish infantry advanced slowly upon their ridgetop position. Indeed, it seems Lakhanos may have been right, as the arquebus armed Turks fired to no discernible effect upon the Greeks. He grunted as he watched a number of over bold Turk light cavalry toppled from their saddles by the accurate shooting of the crossbowmen he'd stationed in the farm to his rear. He was doing his part up on the ridge, but his fancy cavalry counterparts still looked to be having a hard time handling the Turks. A film covered his eyes as he thought of the noble Phocas and his gallant cataphracts, poised in the midst of a seeming maelstrom of Turkish cavalry. And it was now still only 2PM. Closing his eyes in prayer, Basil appealed to the Saints to bring his troops and himself home to an intact Djakovo town.

"Now isn't that a pretty picture" snarled Mustafa Al Rancid to the Dalmatian cur yapping at the heels of his charger, "One miserable unit of Byzantine cataphracts trying to hold off all of my fine cavalry!" Gesturing to his companion, Arsouf Eskold,, Mustafa screamed "Send that lot of fine infidel dogs scurrying back to their kennels, NOW!" The orders of the favored of Allah were not to be denied, and the cataphracts were charged frontally by 2 complete units of Eskold's Feudal Sipahis, and in the flank by the disorganized but jubilant Tartar light cavalry of Ibn Oulfal!

With remarkable clarity, Krispos Phocas saw that his only hope lay in utterly routing the Sipahis. He would have to ignore the Tartars to his flank as much as he could - they seemed to have little taste for cold iron in any event! "Wait until they're only 100 rods away, and then pull out all the stops and charge home on those pagans!" he exclaimed. And so it was that the sudden countercharge disordered the Sipahis in a flash, and the Tartars accomplished nothing, hovering ineffectively about the flanks of the cataphracts. As the fracas swirled about in the valley, the superior training and equipment of the cataphracts told, and both units of Sipahis routed, losing the Beys of Firth and Forth. The heavily outclassed tartars still could accomplish nothing against the cataphracts. A sinister development now occurred, as a unit of Akinjis appeared in the rear of the nearly surrounded cataphracts. They let fly with a bevy of arrows, once again to no effect upon the armored Byzantines. Up on the ridge, the Azabs continued to fire ineffectively on the Byzantine foot. "By Allah and his Prophet, Arsouf, place yourself at the head of your 2 remaining Sipahi squadrons and sweep those mongrels from the field!" shrieked Mustafa. The climax of the battle had arrived!

To this day, no one can fully reconcile the events of the final minutes of the Raid on Djakovo. According to Byzantine sources, the Cataphracts of Krispos Phocas, henceforth known throughout the army as "The Immortals", routed a charge on their rear by the Akinjis, and then routed the final charge of Asouf and his 2 Sipahi squadrons. The Tartars to their flank then withdrew in complete disgust as the last of the Akinjis was routed by being skewered in flank by the fresh march column of Cataphracts of Pineas Suppositorius. The Ottoman archives tell a somewhat different tale. In their version, the attack by the Akinjis upon the rear of the "Immortals" finally put them to flight, but without any serious losses. Thereupon followed the charge of Suppositorius with his cataphracts. Having had more than they wanted out of the fight with Phocas' cataphracts, and seeing the approaching Varangian Guards and a battery of light artillery, it seemed that all hope of a successful raid had evaporated. The Ottomans therefore withdrew to attack another day where the opposition was not quite as staunch.

No matter which version, if any, is correct, there could be no doubt that the Raid, which had started out in most promising fashion, had been a dismal failure. Basil Lakhanos later reported to his wife his great relief and satisfaction at seeing the host of Byzantine cavalry stream back through the mountain passages, like wild dogs with their tails between their legs. His infantry cautiously pressured Muktar and his Azab infantry to join them, and the raid was over. Djakovo was safe. For the Turks, it had truly been a dog day afternoon. Will the Sultan now tire of unprofitable raids, and launch the full fury of his field army upon Venice or Byzantium in attempt to dominate the Balkans?

In the tents of the Ottoman Army, the wails of the cheated horsemen were terrible. All the hard riding and hard fighting proved to be without glory or plunder. Mustafa had an ugly situation on his hands....but nothing as bad as going back to his father empty handed. The jeers of the local peasantry on the hill had stung like insects under his armor. Allah be praised, the summer sun makes the ground firmer every day; there is yet time for another strike to the ragged remnants of the once great Byzantines. But that will be a day when other dogs will howl in the empty hills. Towns will turn red with blood and fire to avenge the slight to his honor! More horsemen even now are arriving to join his banner.... it takes such a little time to ride a long way.

Page Last Updated On: 18 Aug 2007