Last Modified 01/20/07

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War Elephants and
Warhammer Ancient Battles

Part 1         Part 2

Elephant Reference


(From Slingshot Magazine March 2001)
By Jeff Jonas 8-18-00

 

The Warhammer Ancient Battles rules have  provided us with an interesting application of tactics to the War Elephant in an ancient games context.  Far from creating a omnipotent and overwhelming “Tiger tank”, the elephant in Warhammer must be coddled and used in a most historical fashion or players will soon find them to be a waste of points on the game table. My purpose here is to give a brief overview of the elephant rules as presented in the WAB ruleset, and describe additions and changes provided by the current errata. Next I would like to share points about how the pachyderms are presented in the Armies of Antiquities supplement, and give some insight for those who wish to build accurate armies reflecting elephant use and armaments. And finally, it would be nice to go over a brief description of proper elephant tactics in WAB, along with the current accepted “House rules” that have added yet more wrinkles into the War Elephant in Warhammer.

Briefly as an overview Warhammer Ancient battles provides for the use of War Elephants for a number of the current army lists available. The following armies can use  war Elephants: Achaemenid Persians (used 15 beasts at Gaugamela with no known success!), Alexander and His Successors (the most famous elephant abusers, next to Carthage and India!), Ancient India (they get the most elephants per capita in their army),  Carthaginians (limited mostly to African beasts), Early Imperial Romans (some used them a lot in their Civil wars, and their famous but very small contribution  to Claudius’s campaign in Briton). Cataphracts (which represent a number of armies from Parthians without elephants to Sassanids…who get elephants of course),  and finally Arabs and Saracens (whose Ghaznavid clan gets to use elephants). Some other armies may surreptitiously acquire war elephants by using the allies lists, thus it is possible for the Mongels to gain some allied Indian elephants. The Byzantines could field some this way by sneaking them from the Cataphract list, although I know of no use of elephants by them, however in WAB sometimes it can be fun to try a new wrinkle!

 

RAFM 25mm (true)Hellenistic War elephant

This is an older but still a nice model, a bit small by today's standards. This one is a Ptolemaic beast at Raphia so it's small size is quite ok. The two 'fingers' on the trunk, the heavily wrinkled trunk, and the large ears are a dead give away that this is an African Forest Elephant. (Authors collection).

 

  One thing that separates war elephants from other units is that they are individual models not brigaded together, next they are counted as taller terrain and can shoot or be shot at by troops that would normally have their LOS blocked.  The elephant crew are counted as having “stable platforms” which coupled with a plentiful supply of missiles allows them to shoot twice in the firing phase, and they do not suffer a –1 to hit if moving.  Nonetheless, shooting missiles is hardly their most decisive impact, although the Indian elephant packed with up to three bowmen can put out a dizzying volume of fire!

Elephants are classified as Indian or African (of course meaning the North African “forest” species (now extinct in North Africa and only preserved in inaccessibel regions of the Congo)  Their stats reflect their size differences as the mighty Indian elephant has quite an advantage over their smaller cousins. All elephants are “Immune to Psychology”, meaning that the crew and the beast are unaffected by the tides of battle swirling below them, but despite this “immunity” they are the most flaky units on the table if wounded by missiles or defeated in hand to hand combat! An elephants relies on his mahout for his leadership (normally must roll under 7 on 2D6) if it is wounded by missile fire, otherwise it will “Stampede” using a template towards the enemy or angled maybe even into your own supporting troops! Stampeding elephants continue in a ballistic fashion randomly for the rest of the game…they can only be turned around by being defeated in



Anybody that runs Elephants in WAB should have this template handy!


combat….but most opponents will do their best to get out of the way of the stampeding pachyderms!  If the mahout is killed then the elephant will only continue on by passing a Leadership check on less than 4, a rare occurrence I might add.  Luckily the elephant has a high toughness rating rating making wounds difficult, and from the front it has a 4+ save representing the thick skull protecting it. Furthermore, elephants may be armored with expensive barding which enhances their save to 3+ to the front and 6+ all around, but this slows them down an inch of movement and a general must weigh this fact heavily against the other limits on elephants mobility. The crew are protected from wound because hits are randomized, some will hit the beast and some will hit them, although crew may be armored, the best protection is gained by using a tower or howdah that adds +2 to their save, more on this later.

Mobility is the elephants biggest curse as they may only move 6” per turn and may not double their move like many other troops can through “marching”. However, an elephant may double its move when charging, which does give it some ‘launching range’. An extra mobility penalty is applied if the elephant turns, then it may only move half it’s normal move. (Note” that armored elephants that turn only move 2 1/2", and charge only 10”!).  But the advantages weigh in once an armored elephant survives to get into hand to hand. First, most opponents will have to pass a “fear “ check before the charge is accepted, if the enemy fails then their ability to strike the elephant will be greatly diminished, and the pachyderm’s four attacks at Strength 6 or 7 will most likely mash any opponent no matter how heavily armored. In addition the smashing force of an elephant breaks up enemy (and supporting friendly) formations, and negates the usually decisive rank bonuses in combat.  The crew also weighs in with their pikes or javelins and can add to the mayhem.  But despite these strengths an elephant in hand to hand combat is a risky thing with steady blocks of troops properly appointed with standards and musicians, which can turn the tide  in their favor by the barest margin…and an elephant that loses in hth at all must turn about and stampede.  Even  if a lone elephant succeeds in defeating a numerous block of enemies, they will usually not be broken by the defeat but will be able to “Fall back in Good order”, thus allowing them to absorb numerous blows from elephants without cracking.  The only safe target for elephants are units flanks and are best used with supporting infantry…which should always have a standard and a musician to offset the opposition!

                                        NEWLINE DESIGNS 28mm Successor War elephant

This is a really outstanding model.  The trunk is a bit thick, but the kit really captures the look and feel of a towering Indian elephant, and it is fairly simple to assemble. (Authors collection).

The real power of elephants in WAB is based on their historical effectiveness against enemy horsemen.  Enemy cavalry and chariots that are not ‘used to the beasts” cannot charge them at all and must flee or fire and flee as their charge response… this is the most effective use for the elephants. A solid line of them will hold off the enemy cavalry indefinitely.  Horsemen must also pass a “Terror” check if they find themselves within 8” of an enemy elephant at the start of their turn, this can rout the horsemen immediately! This tactic was demonstrated at the famous battle of Ipsus where the elephants of Seleucus defeated Demetrius' cavalry by blocking them from intervening in the battle where his father was surrounded and waiting for his rescue.
So beware Demetrius, do not pursue to far only to be blocked by Seleucid elephants!

A few troops have some anti-elephant abilities in WAB that can be useful. First armies that have the special condition of being “Used to Elephants” and Drilled troops have special abilities against them. Used to elephant's  troops that normally would ‘fear” elephants are no longer affected, and troops that would suffer “terror” only suffer ‘fear”…this makes cavalry a little more stable around elephants..although they still cannot charge or stand up to charges by them. “Used to” and drilled troops have the further advantage of being allowed to create lanes in their formations which elephants charging or stampeding through their front can be channeled without harm..the elephants merely pass through the target as they did at Zama against Scipios’ drilled veterans! The Alexander the  Great supplement has soem enhanced rules for elephants and allows Indian armies the ability to closely support their elephants and their cavalry can even face the beasts, but that is not a recommended tactic!

After a couple of years of play there have been a number of suggestions to enhance the play of War Elephants in WAB even further and I will describe these later along with some official errata concerning them, but first I wanted to describe the strengths and weaknesses of the elephant as presented on the AoA lists.  One small omission from the AoA list does cause some confusion for players, this is the lack of definition of which elephants used towers and which did not. As stated before this can be quite and important factor as it allows  all crews to gain a +2 save bonus.  

Obviously WAB doesn’t  necessarily presume that players will always play opponents within “historical ranges” so sticking to time period isn’t always a player’s focus. On the other hand sticking to a particular era and creating a real model of a historical army is my goal and enhances my enjoyment immeasurably. I recently stuck to my guns and took an unarmored, un-towered, war elephant to Historicon in Pennsylvania this year because my army was an “Early Successor” army of the Diadochian wars.  Game after game my single pike crewman has been toppled from the beast, but the enjoyment of fielding as accurate an army as possible was the goal, and the distraction caused by folks shooting at the elephant often allowed my phalanxes to creep up into contact!

 

                                                      


This Essex Early Successor Indian Elephant with Macedonian crew has the most lifelike sculpting of wrinkles and proportions I've found in 28mm..it's my favorite model in this scale! But the lone Pikeman is a sitting duck and usually gets knocked off the beast in WAB games. (Authors collection).


Elephant tactics in WAB

            To help WAB players with their elephant armament and tactics I just want to briefly go through the lists and describe how each army can equip and utilize their beasts in a historical fashion. First, the Persian list allows elephants, but I would hesitate to ever take more than one at most. The most famous use of elephants by the Persians was at Gaugamela, and they were totally ineffective, most likely because they were unable to train their own cavalry to become accustomed to their presence. This is true of WAB also, your own horsemen will be terrified by your own elephants, so unless you plan on keeping your own cavalry more than 8” away from them I would keep elephants out of any Persian cavalry heavy force!.  I have played a “house rule” that allows an army that has elephants to count its troops and cavalry as “used to the beasts”, but I would never apply this rule to the Persians! In any event the Persians gained their beasts and crews from their vassals states in India, and would be armed similar to those described below.

The Indian army list is rightly the list that is most dominated by elephants. Most lists enforce a restriction that only one elephant may be taken per 1000 points, the Indians may take one per 500 points and may thus field up to four in a normal sized 2000 point WAB game.  The Indian elephants during the period covered by the AoA lists rarely wore armor. During the famous wars with Alexander and the later Mauryan armies, Indian elephants were unarmored and did not use towers, up to four crewmen wielding bows or javelins rode on the beasts back. (Note: AtG now allows armored elephants for these later armies).

                                     


Old Glory 28mm Indian War elephant, a lovely model painted by master painter Vince Salvato,
photographed by Don Effinger. The Old Glory elephants are slightly off -- 
this one has all the looks of an African beast with those big ears!
You can see more of this excellent army and photos at:
http://www.angelfire.com/games/vinceshomepage/INDarmy.htm


Later during their conflicts with the Arabs Indian elephants wore armor of Cork and Iron head armor, but still no towers..these armaments were copied by the Ghaznavid Arabs and used by them extensively. The Indian army list has had some significant errata applied to it since the publishing of AoA, the main effect to elephants is the limiting their crewman to only composite bows instead of the (overrated in all rulesets in my opinion) Indian Longbow.  This is a reasonable change as it seems somewhat impossible to be able to wield the longbow described by ancient sources astride an elephant.  Normally I don’t advocate use of multiple elephants in WAB army lists…but I suggest the Indian take as many as he can get. One elephant is usually not enough to be more than a nuisance to an opponent but two or three of them working together can be potentially an unstoppable force.  Even filling the line with them is valuable as they can spray out some valuable BS4 bowfire and can hold their own in a firefight!  The worst problem for the Indian player is that the AoA lists have hamstrung the mahouts which have had their leadership values reduced to 6, which I feel severely hampers them and makes them more prone to panic than other army’s beast.  One easy solution to this is to make Indian mahout Leadership 8 to reflect their superior handling and war training..this would go along way to bring the Indian elephants in WAB armies.

(Note: AtG has enhanced the elphant capabilites with soem different ideas that the above!)

1st Corps 28mm Indian War elephant

This model features a brilliant set of crew figures including the indomitable Porus himself.  The beast has a few too many African features, and I added some roundness to the back to give more of an Indian look (Authors collection).

The Alexander and Successors lists also allows elephants and here we get into some real detail that wasn’t possible to pack into  the AoA two page lists. This list encompasses armies from the age of Philip II to Alexander to the Diadochi, and later declining Successor Empires.  During this span of time great innovations and variety were applied to each dynasts elephant corps.  Initially as previously alluded to, the first war elephants appeared in western armies during the Diadochian Wars.  These beasts inherited form Alexander' private herd, were Indian elephants and were unarmored and aside from their mahout, carried a single  crewman  usually armed with a pike only.  As these wars dragged on not only were limitations noticed but interesting anti-elephant tactics were developed. At Gaza the Ptolemies found themselves in fight with Demetrius. Ptolemy had no elephants and decided to counter the enemy elephants with caltrops.  These were devices that would damage the elephants feet. Ptolemy spread them out to cover the enemy elephants. Demetrius orderd his beats to cross the barrier with terrible results.. the elephants paniced and were injured, some turning into their own forces. Demetrius' army was thrown into confusion and Ptolemy captured the elephants.

The first known use use of towers is usually attributed to Pyrrhus of Epirus in his campaigns against Rome circa 280 B.C., thereafter towers became common. Another offshoot of Successor elephants forces is the use of the African forest elephant by the Ptolemaic empire once it became impossible for them to procure Indian elephants. These smaller beasts could carry  towers that could accommodate two crewmen. Of course the most famous elephant battle of all is the confrontation between the Seleucid and Ptolemaic elephants at Raphia in 217 B.C. The Seleucids were always noted for having the largest contingent of elephants, and as their numbers became harder to procure they protected them with heavier armor. The Seleucids also refined elephant tactics and assigned light infantry as escorts  to  keep the beasts from getting entangled with nimble footed enemy skirmishers. Later when the Seleucid empire was in decline and itself cut off from supplies of Indian elephants they also turned to African elephants.

                                     

Old Glory 28mm Successor War elephant and elephant guards, brilliantly painted and photographed by Don Effinger. The Seleucids eventually turned to African elephants when their supply to India was cut off.  You can see more of his excellent Macedonian army and photos at:
http://www.angelfire.com/games/vinceshomepage/MACpage1.htm

Towers are an essential element that allows an elephant to engage in shock combat in the WAB rules. Protecting the crewmen is essential for the elephant to survive, as usually hits on the elephant are are difficult to carry through as the Toughness of the beast is so high…but unprotected crewmen become a liability..and once that last one has fallen then the mahout is taken…of course as soon as the mahout falls the elephant is highly likely to stampede. Therefore if you decide to take war elephants in your “Successor era” army you can decide to arm your elephant accordingly…obviously as you add towers and and armor you are pushing your army forward in time, so you should research and adjust the rest of your army list accordingly.

                                        Old Glory's 28mm armored elephant is the "Tiger tank" of ancient warfare. Again another African.
(Authors collection).

Successor elephant tactics are an interesting mix, mostly based on what era you are playing. Obviously the early unarmored single crew elephant is most useful guarding flanks and neutralizing enemy cavalry, attempting to engage in hand to hand in WAB will most likely end up with the elephants stampeding. If you are playing a Seleucid  empire army with armored elephants with towers then you should be more willing to use it as a “tiger tank” and try to break through….still this is risky if they lose, as stampeding elephants overrun friends and foes alike ..but the more armored and protected crewmen makes this tactic possible.
Another thing to remember, just as the Seleucids developed teams of escort infantry with their elephants, it is always a good idea to team a WAB elephant with some light troops or peltasts. This allows the infantry to employ their standard and musician which many times is the difference between victory and  a stampeding beast!

The Carthaginian list allows for African elephants of course, and what aspiring Hasdrubal or Mago would go without at least one. Lack of evidence makes arming them difficult to ascertain, but most Carthaginian elephants are depicted without towers, and definitely they are not depicted with armor. I would argue that towers were well known by the Punic War era and that the Carthaginian lust for elephants was inspired by Pyrrhus’ contact with them in his Sicilian campaign, I would think that the Carthaginians would make use of them. But this is a toss, up and a puzzling argument that historians have yet to resolve. 

Carthaginian elephant usage and tactics is somewhat hampered by their Roman opposition’s insistence on being drilled! This gives the Romans the ability to duck out of the way of the incoming elephants, and can recreate disasters like Hannibal suffered at Zama.  The Carthaginian commander must be aware of this potential problem and learn to use elephants to hit Romans in the flanks or rear, or already engaged legionnaires, otherwise his beasts will charge into the ether and be surrounded by velites and driven off! 

The Early Imperial Romans are allowed elephants, but as stated earlier I would only use these in specific “Civil War” type scenarios as Roman use of war elephants was extremely rare. Actually the Romans under the Republic utilized war elephants constantly after their victory in the Second Punic War. Elephants were notably used in battles against Macedonia, and the Iberians, but it is possible to argue that these armies were closer akin to the EIR list than the Republican Roman list in AoA. The Roman elephant in the WAB ruleset is grossly underpriced at 65 points as has been brought up to a respectable 125 points by the latest errata. Also I would  assume that only one elephant may be taken for each 1000 points in the army, but I would favor even more restriction here and make Roman elephants 0-1 only. Better to buy more steady legionnaires than flaky elephants anyway!

The Cataphract list allows for war elephants in the Sassanid army. As such they are allowed towers but no barding. The powerful factor here is that the large towers can pack in a whopping 5 crewmen with javelins making their short range firepower most impressive as they can unleash 10 javelin shots. The Sassanid player has many choices as to how to use his elephant corps, he can either use them for missile platforms or as shock weapons, which makes taking as many as possible most attractive.

The final AoA army with elephants is the Ghaznavid listing under the Arabs and Saracens list, and as stated before they were primarily armored but did not use towers. Their crewmen wore mail and were strapped on the elephant’s backs. The Ghaznavids were noted as having at one time over 1600 armored elephants! Obviously against cavalry armies a wise Arab player will bring as many elephants as possible…but again be wary that they turn around and throw your own horsemen into a tizzy, unless using some of the house rules described below.

Elephant Errata and House rules

Aside from my own ideas and amendments I’ve noted above, there have have sprung up a number of very well play-tested “house rules” that can really enhance the use of elephants in WAB. One "House Rule" is that all armies that include a war elephant model  should count their troops as being “used to the beasts” as stated on page 63 of the WAB ruleset. This is a good rule and allows for more realistic play as most armies that traditionally used the beasts, eventually trained their horses and men to be “used to them”.   I would maintain that any force taking elephants from an “allied” list  couldn’t ever be expected to be "used" to them. 

Another excellent rule that makes elephant tactics more interesting is the notion that elephants when fighting in hand to hand with skirmishers are at a great disadvantage and may only strike them on 6’s. This is a simple rule from the latest errata (see the files section of the WABlist for this file) that gives very realistic results as the lumbering elephants struggle to hit the nimble skirmishers, although the crew strikes as normal.  Another rule that I like is one suggested by Jervis Johnson, that elephants gain no armor save against wounds inflicted by skirmishers as they are able to strike  at the unprotected parts of the underbelly and legs. Of course if you play with this house rule then it is imperative that you give your elephant light infantry escorts! 

There have been a number of iterations of experimental special rules that have affected elephants, including allowing for 'Untrained" cheaper beasts that are easily scared by enemy countermeasures. These rules work best in historical scenarios (such as Zama) and currently I feel that the balances of the point cost for elephants and their vulnerability to missiles and skirmishers makes them well balanced in the game currently, I wouldn't want to restrict them any more.  

As previously stated the main rule that has reigned it the power of the elephants in WAB is the brilliant Fall Back in Good Order rules...a single elephant can defeat an enemy unit, but it is very rare that it will overrun solid infantry stacked up in ranks any more, this is a good thing, and makes elephant tactics much more realistic feeling.  Just remember FBIGO when you see that lumbering beastie approaching!

One "tweak" I suggest is to make their stampeding a little bit more random, sometimes I would like it if they were to roll again on the stampede template if something random happened, such as 'doubles' came up on the compulsory movement dice throw!  There is also some controversy about whether a stampeding elephant counts as destroyed for victory points. I say no, as it is clearly stated on page 63 that stampeding elephants "are not considered to be fleeing", but however they may not rally or end their stampede.  I play that the victory points are awarded for killed elephants and those that run off the table!

One thing of note for Carthaginian commanders, Hasdrubal actually attempted to arm his mahouts with spikes to stop rampaging elephants from stampeding. This is a nice 'Fluffy' rule for this army list, maybe allow the mahout to roll his Leadership to see if he destroys his elephant before it careens into a Carthaginian unit! Obviously this is a "House rule" that can be applied to a special game if needed. but one shouldn't get carried away with this! Actually there are clever ways a player can turn his stampeding elephants around, back towards the enemy...just put your own skirmishers in the way! (An admittedly risky venture).

The elephant rules in WAB make them behave on the tabletop in ways that reflect their flaky history …they can sometimes devastate their opposition like a Panzer overrun, or more likely they can be turned back and disrupt their own forces. The models themselves in 28mm are beautiful centerpieces for a miniature army, I hope these descriptions of tactics and new rules ideas enhance your enjoyment and inspires new uses of elephants in WAB.

                                                                 

This Hinchcliffe 25mm Successor Elephant is truly an 'ancient miniature'!  
(Author's collection)

 

 

   

    

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Elephant Reference

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