Chapter VII of the Two Towers, a sharp battle at the Fords of Isen
between the Riders of Rohan and the forces of Saruman as a prelude to
the Siege of Helm's Deep is alluded to:
the second day of their riding (the Eorlingas led by Theoden to Helm's
Deep) drew on, the heaviness in the air increased. In the
afternoon the dark clouds began to overtake them: a sombre canopy with
great billowing edges flecked with dazzling light. The sun went
down, blood red in a smoking haze. The spears of the Riders were
tipped with fire as the last shafts of light kindled the steep faces
of the peaks of Thrihryne: now very near they stood on the
northernmost arm of the White Mountains, three jagged horns staring at
the sunset. In the last red glow men in the vanguard saw a black
speck, a horseman riding towards them. They halted awaiting him.
came, a weary man with dinted helm and cloven shield. Slowly he
climbed from his horse and stood there a while gasping. At
length he spoke. 'Is Eomer here?' he asked. 'You come at last,
but too late, and with too little strength. Things have gone
evilly since Theodred fell. We were driven back yesterday over
the Isen with great loss; many perished at the crossing. Then at
night fresh forces came over the river against our camp. All
Isengard must be emptied; and Saruman has armed the wild hillmen and
herd-folk of Dunland beyond the rivers, and these he has loosed upon
us. We were overmastered. The shieldwall was broken.
Erkenbrand of Westfold has drawn off those men he could gather towards
his fastness at Helm's Deep. The rest are scattered. Where
is Eomer? Tell him there is no hope ahead. He should
return to Edoras before the wolves of Isengard come there.'
had sat silent, hidden from the man's sight behind his guards; now he
urged his horse forward. 'Come stand before me, Ceorl!' he said. 'I am
here. The last host of the Eorlingas has ridden forth. It
will not return without battle.'
fuller account of the Battle at the Fords of Isen is contained in JRR
Tolkien's "Unfinished Tales". In summary:
Fords were important as the western frontier of Rohan as it
protected Westfold from the men of Dunland - enemies of the
Rohirrim. However, with Saruman's treachery (Isengard
straddles the Isen in the north), the strategic importance of the
Fords diminished as Saruman's forces could advance on both sides
of the Isen simultaneously.
Fords was the only place south of Isengard that large bodies of
formed troops could cross the Isen.
the diminished importance of the Fords, Theodred - the King's son
- resolved to hold the place against Saruman. Levies of
Westfold and 3 eoreds of Riders garrisoned the Fords while
Theodred rode north (on the west bank) with 8 eoreds of Riders,
and 1 eored of Archers to seek out the enemy.
miles north of the Fords, Theodred scatters the vanguard of
Saruman's army. Pursuing them, Theodred finds himself faced
with entrenched pikemen. After a sharp fight, Theodred's
forces withdraw. At this point, they notice Saruman's forces
on the eastern bank as well moving at speed for the Fords.
Theodred reached the Fords, he stiffened the western defences (men
of Westfold in 2 earth forts) with 50 riders (half an eored?).
Theodred and his personal household eored remained on the
small island in the middle of the Fords. The rest of the
Riders were sent across the river to the eastern side (6.5+3
eoreds, and 1 eored of archers).
soon as this was done, Saruman's Eastern forces arrived on the
field. They were much smaller than the forces on the western
side, but they were an elite of wolfriders, Dunlending cavalry and
2 battalions of Uruk-hai.
sudden arrival of Saruman's eastern forces surprised the Riders,
and they were driven back in disorder across the Fords. At
this point, a company of Orc axemen (ferocious and mail-clad)
arrived and assaulted Theodred's position. At the same time,
Grimbold on the western side was assailed by the main Orc
army. Theodred fell to an axe blow. Grimbold's forces
hold - stout men of Westfold.
this point, Elfhelm with 4 eoreds of riders arrive from the east
at the rear of the Uruks and scatter them. None of the Uruks
stand their ground. All flee northwards. Elfhelm
dismounts his Riders to garrison the east bank.
days (?) later, Saruman assails the Fords a second time.
held the western side of the fords with the men of Westfold.
The remnants of Theodred's cavalry he kept in reserve on the
eastern bank. Elfhelm held a ridge, running west to east -
several miles north of the Fords on the eastern bank.
throws a large force of Orcs against the western defences.
While the earth forts were engaged, a battalion of Uruks
attempt to cross the Ford, but are thrown back by Grimbold's
dismounted Riders. A fresh battalion of Uruks are thrown in,
and the Rohirrim are thrown back across the Ford. The west
bank falls. Grimbold holds the eastern bank and the Uruks
hesitate to cross over and climb the steep slopes to assault him.
the night, a fresh Orc host - the vanguard of the invasion force -
arrive. Grimbold forms a shieldwall around his camp.
But the situation is hopeless. Grimbold decides to break out
from his surrounded position and leads his scattered companies to
Helm's Deep. At the same time, Elfhelm's forces are
outflanked by wolfriders in the darkness. Likewise, Elfhelm
decides to break out towards the east, and to Helm's Deep.
heroic defence of the Fords buys valuable time for Rohan to
complete their muster and reinforce Helm's Deep with the King's
Wargaming the Battle
for the Fords:
battle of the Fords is basically unwinnable for the Rohirrim.
According to Tolkien, the army arrayed against Rohan was only the
Vanguard of a larger invasion force. Ultimately, the question is
how long can the Rohirrim hold out, thereby winning time for the
muster of Rohan and the reinforcement of Helm's Deep to proceed.
A subsidiary objective would be to preserve Theodred, the King's son.
Complete - Hold islet and Theodred lives
Decisive - Hold islet
Marginal - Theodred lives
Defeat None of above
Complete - Hold Islet and Theodred is dead
Decisive - Theodred is dead
Marginal - Hold Islet
Defeat - None of above
Order of Battle:
The following order of
battle is conjectural and is extrapolated from Tolkien's books.
The problem is that Tolkien did not give exact figures for the numbers
and types of troops used by both sides. The following is our
best guess. For other guesses, go to:
|Grimbold's command at River
||Theodred's Riders West of River
||Elfhelm's Reinforcements from East
base Grimbold’s Riders
8 bases Westfold militia
base Household knights
10 bases Riders
1 base Horse
* To be released
by Umpire any time after Wolfriders/Uruk Hai are engaged at the
West bank army
East bank army
30 bases Orc Warbands
4 bases Orc bows
4 bases Orc
* Umpire may
release up to 10 additional bases of Orc Warbands as fresh
8 bases Uruk Hai
2 bases Orc
dismounted knights form a shieldwall.
scatter the Orc west bank army
Grimbold's knights at the Fords
A confusing melee
Men of Westfold
defend their Earth fort.
Elfhelm charges into
the nearest group of Orcs
To no avail.
The Fords are overwhelmed!
- Rohirrim cavalry
- mainly generic 15mm Dark Age cavalry from Essex. They
should be dressed in mail, have long flowing hair, carry a lance,
a round shield, and wear a spangenhelm. Normans would not be
right as the shield shape is wrong.
- Men of Westfold
- unarmoured generic Dark Age infantry. Some nobles in
mail. All should carry round shields.
- Orcs, Uruk Hai
- various fantasy manufacturers. Mainly Alternative Armies.
We used our own house
Ancient Rules designed by Napnut Boon. However, you could easily
modify DBA or Warhammer Ancient Battles to play the game. Make
sure you modify the number of bases according to the rules you are
using. The numbers given above are 1 base = 100 men.