The Battle of Three Cocks 1938

The Battle of Three Cocks (VBCW 1938)

Following a string of small victories north of Haverfordwest (most notably at Crundale and Treffgarne-Owen), the Anglican League forces of the Right Reverend Islwyn Davies, Bishop of St David’s had wrested the initiative from the Crown forces in Pembrokeshire.  Volunteers were now flocking to the Bishop’s colours and most importantly, foreign military aid was now starting to arrive.

However, the Bishop was unable to rest on his laurels, as a call to arms had been received from Anglican League forces in the distant Wye Valley.  With the Bishop of Hereford having been captured and his forces driven west across the Wye, they were now in danger of collapse, as the Royalists had now established a bridgehead on the western bank of the Wye.  The Bishop of St David’s promised to send what forces he could.  After some intense negotiation under a flag of truce at Lampeter, the Bishop managed to win permission from most of the main Welsh Nationalist factions to march across their territory (in return for military aid in future operations against the King’s forces).

Leaving Major General Sir Ivor Picton to maintain the pressure on the Royalist forces in Pembrokeshire, the Bishop’s relief column, consisting of an infantry battalion (Lt Col, Griffin’s City of St David’s Volunteer Fencibles), a cavalry squadron (Major Harding-Jervois’ Lord St David’s Horse), some light armour and St Justinian’s GPO Rocket Battery, was soon on the march.  Military command was exercised by the former Lord Lieutenant for Pembrokeshire, Brigadier Sir Evan Davies, though the Bishop also accompanied the column to provide moral and spiritual leadership.

Within only a few days, the column had marched up the River Teifi, through Newcastle Emlyn, Lampeter and Tregaron, before crossing the bleak moors of the Cambrian Mountains and descending into the Wye Valley at Builth Wells.  Following a brief pause at Builth to allow the tail of the column to catch up, the Bishop’s column was soon marching on once again, following the right bank of the Wye and aiming to reach Hay-on-Wye and be within striking distance of their objective within 24 hours.

Two hours south of Builth Wells, the leading troop of the Lord St David’s Horse reached the ‘T’ junction with the main Brecon to Hay road, just to the west of the village of Three Cocks.  Scouts reported the road clear of enemy forces and the rest of the column closed up as the scouts pushed on towards Three Cocks.


Above: At the road junction, a large farm seems peaceful.  No sign of the enemy…


Above: The Bishop’s vanguard presses on past the farm.


Above: The leading troop of Lord St David’s Horse presses on to Three Cocks.


Above: With guidon flying and trumpet blaring, the Horse add a degree of class, dash and tone to the Bishop of St David’s army…

As the Bishop approached the road junction, his armoured command vehicle breasted a rise and the magnificent sight of Lord Hereford’s Knob, marking the English border, came into view.  Caught up in the joy of the moment, the Bishop burst into the ‘Purple-Headed Mountain’ verse of ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’.  However, this proved too much for the high-spirited junior officers of his headquarters staff, who already highly amused by the local place-names, were now helpless with laughter…


Above: As the scouts push on toward Three Cocks, the village also seems peaceful, though it’s too quiet…


Above: Who knows what might be lurking behind this innocent-looking pillar-box?

The singing and the laughter was cut suddenly short by the distinctive rattle of a Vickers machine gun…


Above: A BUF Vickers team, concealed among the ruins of Three Cocks, opens up on the Lord S David’s Horse.

Unbeknown to the Bishop of St David’s, his march had been detected by Royalist agents almost as soon as it had begun and Viscount Tenby had immediately dispatched a flying column from Lord Kylsant’s Landsker Frontier Force, with orders to march virtually parallel to the Bishop, travelling via the Royalist enclaves of Carmarthen, Llandeilo, Llandovery and Brecon, in an effort to reach Hay-on-Wye ahead of the Bishop and intercept his march.  This effort had been partially successful and a single platoon of BUF travelling by commandeered civilian transport from Brecon, had managed to reach Three Cocks only an hour or so ahead of the Bishop of St David’s.  The rest of Lord Kylsant’s column was still marching from Brecon, but if the BUF could delay the Bishop at Three Cocks for long enough, Kylsant was now ideally placed to strike at the Bishop’s rear.

The BUF platoon-commander had chosen his positions well – a Vickers MG section and an anti-tank rifle section were hidden among the houses, while an infantry section, reinforced by anti-tank sticky-bombers, took up position in woods on each flank, ready to outflank the enemy column.  As the Anglican cavalry appeared, the MG gunner waited until he had a mass of horsemen filling his sight-picture… His first long burst was fired directly down the length of the road.  The cavalrymen, hemmed in by hedgerows on each side, were mercilessly cut down.  Almost half the troop had been lost in just the first few seconds of the ambush!


Above: The peaceful country scene suddenly erupts in horror, as almost half of the cavalry troop is cut down in the savage burst of machine gun fire.


Above: Putting spurs to their horses, the desperate cavalrymen jump the hedgerows on their left, escaping into the fields south of the road.  However, they soon run into a second ambush and lose another of their number to BUF riflemen!


Above: BUF riflemen advance as the storm clouds gather.


Above: Enthused by the sight of the successful ambush, the right-hand BUF section commander has a rush of blood to the head and orders his men to attack!  However, a volley of rifle and Lewis MG fire from the far hedgerows soon cools his blood and he and his men once again take cover among the scrubland on the bank of the Wye.

Despite having lost the bulk of his cavalry, Brigadier Davies remained positive and his infantry were soon working their way forward on both flanks as the rocket battery deployed to engage the nearest BUF infantry.  The P16 armoured car pressed forward along the road, replacing the cavalry as the lead element of the advance.  Once again, the BUF Vickers MG rattled out a greeting, but the bullets bounced harmlessly off the armour plate.  The armoured car responded, pumping 37mm shells into the house containing the MG section (and unbeknown to them, an anti-tank rifle team).


Above: An old campaigner leads the way through the undergrowth.


Above: The Anglican Headquarters’ armoured truck moves forward to support the infantry.

The BUF MG section, its position identified by the Anglican armoured car, could only withstand so much punishment and was soon running.  However, the hidden anti-tank rifle now opened fire on the armoured car.  The first round missed, but the gunner corrected his aim and hit with his second round.  Astonishingly, the bullet penetrated the armour and must have then hit something vital, as the armoured car blew up catastrophically, killing its entire crew!


Above: As Anglican infantry move up on the right, their armour support blows sky-high!


Above: Brigadier Davies and the commander of the armoured truck have a ‘command disagreement’ as the Brigadier tries to order him forward to take on the anti-tank rifle team…

With the loss of their lead armoured car and the rest of their armour still straggling along the road from Builth, things were now starting to look grim for the Anglican League forces.  However, seizing the initiative, Major John Harding-Jervois, closely supported by a section of infantry, led his surviving cavalrymen in a desperate do-or-die charge against the left-hand BUF infantry section!  Amazingly, the alarmed BUF aimed too high and only succeeded in dropping one of the insane cavalrymen!  Dipping lances, sabres guidon and trumpet, the Lord St David’s Horse charged home into the midst of the Blackshirts!  Two Blackshirts were cut down, but more joined the melee, two cavalrymen were cut down in turn.  The fight was close and at the last, Major Harding-Jervois found himself fighting on alone, surrounded by Blackshirts.  However, at that moment, the St David’s Fencibles charged into the melee, putting the last of the Blackshirts to flight!  Major Harding-Jervois, bloodied and clutching the tattered remnants of the troop guidon, rode back to the Fencibles’ cheers and for tea and medals with the Bishop.


Above: Major Harding-Jervois leads the last of his horsemen in a desperate charge.


Above: A worm’s-eye view of the action.


Above: The Fencibles finally reach Three Cocks, but at what cost?

With the BUF troops in Three Cocks now largely on the run, the Brigadier and Bishop conferred.  They had suffered heavy losses in this effort to push past a weak force.  Did they have enough fighting strength left to push on?  Even if they did, would they have enough strength left to provide a worthwhile reinforcement to the Anglican League forces in the lower Wye Valley?

Suddenly a shout went up: A column had been spotted approaching from Brecon!  Infantry and cavalry in the lead… followed by more infantry… and tanks!

Lord Kylsant’s column had arrived.

That settled it.  The march to the Wye had failed.  The terrible sacrifice at Three Cocks had all been for naught.  They would withdraw to Builth and from there all the way back to Pembrokeshire.  Only God could possibly now help the Anglican League forces on the Wye.


Above: The experienced men of the Loyal West Carmarthenshire Greenjackets march toward Three Cocks.


Above: At the very point of the advance, the Commanding Officer of the Greenjackets, Lt Col Sir Howard ‘Honker’ Foley DSO MC DFC wields his trusty Purdey elephant gun…

Game notes:

This game was originally planned as a training game to learn the ‘Went The Day Well’ rules prior to taking part in a big VBCW game (brilliantly titled ‘A Bridge on the River Wye’) at Hereford this Saturday.  I was going to be taking my St David’s force, so had come up with a convoluted ‘historical’ justification for the Bishop of St David’s to be present in the Wye Valley (see above).  This little training game would then form part of the ‘back-story’ of the Bishop’s march and would also provide some ideas for unit quality, based on how well each unit did in this game.  However, fate in the form of Network Rail’s Rostering Dept played a hand and the outcome of the game had then to be changed, to provide an excuse as to why the Bishop didn’t turn up after all!  :)

This was our first game with ‘Went The Day Well’.  We found them interesting, fun and a lot better than ‘World in Flames’.  However, they did leave me slightly unsatisfied and the endless quest for the perfect rules goes on… Perhaps ‘Chain of Command’ next?

Terrain notes:

The farm is a truly lovely pre-painted resin model available from EM4 Miniatures for an astonishingly low price!  EM4 supremo Doug, on holiday down here in Pembrokeshire this week, was the BUF commander in our game.  By a sheer coincidence, he’s also booked himself onto the ‘Bridge on the River Wye’ game and unlike me, will actually be there!

The other buildings are pre-painted laser-cut buildings by 4Ground Miniatures.

The rest of the terrain was scratchbuilt by Al Broughton.

Models:

The models are all my own, painted by me.  They’re mostly Musketeer Miniatures, though there is the odd Empress figure in there, as well as a Wargames Illustrated special figure (the ‘Old Campaigner’).  The armoured truck is by Musketeer Miniatures and the P16 halftrack is by Warlord Miniatures.

Mark@WASP

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2 Responses to The Battle of Three Cocks 1938

  1. umichbob says:

    Great figures and layout. I need to get a mounted unit with blue hats and trousers. Are those the Musketeer Miniatures BEF cavalry?
    Thanks

  2. petzhetairos says:

    Yes, that’s the ones.

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