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The Battle of the Talabec was the first battle of the Imperial Civil War. Fought between rival claimants to the throne from Stirland and Talabecland[1b], it is an excellent example of how a cunning strategy can bring a numerically inferior army to victory.[1b][1m]

Background

Ottilia and Stirland

Artist's depiction of the two commanders

The Battle of the Talabec was the opening salvo in the conflict known as the Imperial Civil War. In the year 1359 IC, the Elector Count of Stirland was elected Emperor. However, Ottilia, Elector Countess of Talabecland, accused Stirland publicly of bribery, and declared herself Empress with the support of the Ar-Ulric and some states in the eastern and southeastern Empire.[1b]

Following Ottilia's declaration, preparations were made for war. Ottilia chose to wait and let Stirland make the first move, remaining in the impregnable fortress-city of Talabheim. Meanwhile, Stirland's allies were putting him under increasing pressure to crush Ottilia outright. He bowed to these wishes in the spring of 1360, and personally led his army into Talabecland.[1b]

When word of the Stirlander incursion reached the court in Talabheim, they made ready to march out and meet their enemy in the field of battle. Although it would seem logical for Ottilia's army to remain in Talabheim, where they could never be defeated, she chose to march out and face the enemy- for what kind of Empress remains in their castle while an enemy marched unopposed through the territory she claims to rule?[1b]

When the army of Stirland reached the banks of the River Talastamm,[1e] about 33 miles from Talabheim,[1i] they set up camp and waited. The Elector Count of Stirland knew that Ottilia would be forced to march out of her impregnable fortress and face him on the field of battle. After sending scouts to survey the area, he chose to make the encampment at the village of Zweihäfen.[1e] Meanwhile, the armies of Talabecland were mustered, and a quick march made to the location of the Stirlanders. Upon reaching the Talastamm, they set up camp on the bank directly across the river from Zweihäfen.[1f]

Battlefield

Despite the fact that it is commonly known as the Battle of the Talabec, the battle actually took place at the River Talastamm, three miles from where it flows into the Talabec.[1e] The Stirland forces deployed in the town of Zweihäfen, located on the south bank of the river, where the river made an oxbow. A ford is located here.[1i] Five miles down the river, another ford was located.[1e] However, a marshland was located between this ford and the town.[1i] In addition, unbeknownst to either army, recent collapses of the riverbank had created a wide, shallow crossing two miles above the town.[1k]

The Battle

Diversion at the Ford

"We knew we had to even the odds. The Stirlanders outumbered us and we needed to cross the river to get to them. It was an intolerable situation. Then the countess, Ulric bless her, had a brilliant idea."
Lord Helmut Weisser, Talabecland general[1g]
Diversion Move

Diagram of Talabecland's diversion

Knowing her armies were at a disadvantage, Ottilia devised a cunning ruse to gain the upper hand. The ploy has become famous among generals and military historians, considered by Blucher von Vincke "One of the most cunning diversions ever attempted."[1g]

At four in the morning[1g] on the 8th of Nachgeheim, 1360,[1i] around half of Ottilias forces broke camp and marched towards the ford, with orders to make as much noise as possible. When news of the loud marching army reached Stirland's ears, he immediately chose to send all of his reserves and a third of his front-line infantry to the ford, presuming that Ottilia was attempting a flanking move. However, this was not the case- the majority of the Talabecland contingent did not march to the ford, but rather turned back towards the Talabheim camp. Upon hearing that Stirland had taken the bait, it is said that Ottilia hugged Lord Weisser and skipped joyfully around her pavilion.[1g]

The remaining troops in the diversionary force were led by Dieter Lieber, captain of the Bögenhafen Dogsoldiers.[1j]At about seven in the morning,[1h][1j] they crossed the Talastamm, surprising the ford guard, many of whom were stilling eating breakfast. These men were not aware of the reinforcements who were sent to support them, and thus fled almost immediately. Thus, Lieber's men took the ford with minimal losses, and prepared to meet the Stirlander reinforcements, who were at that time still several miles away.[1j]

The Main Attack

"The rain-swollen river was swift and tried to pull me under and all the time they fired hails of arrows at us. Men died all around me. I looked up and saw a row of spears pointing at me and smoke from battlefield fires drifting in choking clouds. I don't know how we got over the river, but when we did we gave them hell and then some."
Pieter Reiser, Talabecland Swordsman[1a]

Around the same time as the skirmish at the ford,[1j] the main contingent of Ottilia's army prepared to cross the Talastamm at Zweihäfen. Four blocks of swordsmen and spearmen advanced across the ford, protected on the left by cavalry, while archers followed behind. Although she had successfully diverted over half of the Stirland army, Talabecland still faced a strong army in an advantageous position.[1h]

As the Talabeclanders advanced across the river, Stirland ordered his troops to remain in the cover afforded by the buildings of the town. Missile troops located in the upper storeys of the houses fired down onto their advancing enemies. Although it was a harrowing ordeal, the Talabeclander troops managed to cross the ford. When the first men reached the bank, Stirland's spearmen advanced out of the town and formed a spear wall. Roaring defiantly, the Talabeclanders rushed up the bank and charged the spears.[1h]

While the Talabeclanders were crossing the river and assaulting Zweihäfen, a scout informed Ottilia of the crossing to the east of the town. Immediately, Ottilia ordered her cavalry to form up and cross there.[1k]

Meanwhile, the Talabecland infantry were gradually pushing the Stirlanders back towards the village. Eventually, the tightly packed ranks were forced to break up as they reached the streets and alleys of the settlement. Most soldiers on both sides were unfamiliar with street fighting. Units could not fight with cohesion, but individuals fought individuals. Crossbowmen and archers took high positions overlooking the streets, firing down on enemies. In some cases, soldiers entered houses, fighting from room to room.[1k]

However, more Talabeclanders poured across the ford, including Lord Weisser himself. Gradually, they pushed the Stirlanders out of the village. However, in the open fields, Stirland could use his cavalry against the Talabeclanders. As they pressed out of the town, they were charged by Stirland's heavy cavalry. They fled back into the village, and street fighting resumed once more.[1k]

Final Charge

"Stirland looked agog at the approaching menace. He had no reserves to deal with this new threat; they were foundering in the mud seeral miles away. In my master's face I saw our defeat."
Marshall Albrecht, Master of the Stirland Horse[1l]
Outflanking Move

Diagram of Talabecland's cavalry charge and Stirland's flight

Sometime around midday, as the Talabeclanders and Stirlanders were fighting in the streets of Zweihäfen and the relief force was still trying to work its way through the marsh towards the western ford, Ottilia's heavy cavalry crossed the eastern ford and charged towards their enemies. They managed to make a crushing charge on Stirlands rear. Almost immediately, the Stirlander troops began to flee. Only the Knights of Sigmar's blood managed to put up any sort of resistance, but even they could not stand before the might of the Talabeclander cavalry. Ottilia herself lead them, vigorously smashing Stirlanders with her mace. With this, the defeat of Stirland was certain.[1l]

Most of Stirland's forces fled to a walled farm to the south of Zweihäfen. Wishing to end the bloodshed, Ottilia herself rode up to the farm and promised that any man who laid down his arms would be free to return to his home unharmed. Thus she earned the gratitude of many of her erstwhile enemies, further advancing her claim to the throne.[1l]

Legacy

The Battle of the Talabec was of course only the first battle of the Imperial Civil War. Although the Count of Stirland's reign after the battle was relatively short, the throne remained contested for centuries to follow.[1m]

Stirland Forces

Commanders

  • The Elector Count of Stirland[1c]
    • Marshall Albrecht, Master of the Horse[1l]

Troops

Stirland Forces

Stirland's forces on the march

Talabecland Forces

Commanders

Helmut Weisser

Lord Helmut Weisser

Troops

Talabecland Forces

Talabecland halberdiers

Source

  • 1: The Empire at War
    • 1a: pg. 8
    • 1b: pg. 9
    • 1c: pg. 10
    • 1d: pg. 12
    • 1e: pg. 16
    • 1f: pg. 17
    • 1g: pg. 18
    • 1h: pg. 19
    • 1i: pp. 20-21
    • 1j: pg. 22
    • 1k: pg. 23
    • 1l: pg. 24
    • 1m: pg. 25

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