Bludder’s Asian Expedition – 1639

In 1600 Queen Elizabeth established the East India Company. Granted to the company were rights of commercial trade but also rights to raise troops to impress these commercial interests. One of the company’s first major expedition was the opening of trade with Japan, and the determination to establish a small trading base in Japan, by force if necessary. An audacious plan and one that has been lost to history, at least until recently. In 1635 the fleet set sail with  a strong company under Sir Giles Bludder.

Below, Dutch ships, under the flag of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), encountered off the coast of Japan.

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The expedition landed in the the early spring of 1636 and initial interactions with the Japanese were amiable, but tensions had increased particularly between the English and a local warlord, Asakura Yoshi. By the autumn of 1639 the situation had deteriorated sufficiently that both prepared for pitched battle.

The English expedition was still commanded by Sir Giles Bludder. Now Sir Giles, unlike his brother Thomas, who sought promotion in Parliament as member for Gatton, sought glory and riches as a soldier and adventurer. Indeed, Sir Giles commanded no less than 1800 foot, along with an additional company of firelocks, some 1150 harquebusiers, supported by some 100 dragoons and a number pieces of artillery. In contrast the Japanese, commanded by the veteran samurai Asakura Yoshi, mustered a staggering 3100 foot but only 250 mounted samurai with support from only a handful of light gunnes.

Sir Giles deployed his army in a typically European manner. That is his foot massed in the center, supported by a series of gunnes, while his horse were placed on each wing, some of whom can be seen below.

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Asakura, out numbered by the English horse, countered with an infantry centre and a portion of his 600 archers drawn up on each wing. His outnumbered cavalry formed a reserve, spread out behind his foot.

Battle commenced when Asakura ordered a general advance around 7am. The Japanese banners flapped in a gentkle autumn breeze as the army moved forward. The English countered and in due course the English cannon barked destruction at the Japanese. The massed Japanese musket line was clearly a concern to Sir Giles and the first melee began when two troops, some 150 harquebusiers, charged an exposed section of the Japanese line.

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Above and below English harquebusiers can be seen engaging a section of the Japanese right wing. Additional harquebusiers remain in reserve.

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One troop was badly handled by nearby archers but the other charged home and routed 200 ashigaru before themselves being engulfed by enraged samurai. Clearly battle had been joined.

The engagement was soon general and confusing. In the center massed musketeers were well engaged, with both the English and Japanese matchlock men gaining advantage in different sectors. Asakura tried to support his ashigaru with attacks by dismounted samurai but these were driven back with heavy losses in all cases. Sir Giles meanwhile pushed forward on both wings where he hoped his harquebusiers would overrun the Japanese flanks.

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Above English haruebusiers move forward supported by a company of firelocks. Below, another view this time of the Japanese right wing where 400 ashigaru archers were massed.

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Not surprisingly, the English harquebusiers, on both flanks, were met with massed archery fire that either broke up the attacks or drove them off with heavy casualties.

The Japanese reserves now came in to play. As gaps in both lines opened the Japanese mounted samurai charged home in several places. On the English left disordered formations of harquebusiers were engaged frontally and in the flank by Asakura and his followers. At the same time in the centre English musketeers, unsupported by pike, were attacked by more mounted samurai. It was however Sir Giles’ left that was first to break and with it the armies resolve to fight. Asakura had achieved victory, but at significant cost. Indeed the morale of Asakura’s own army was teetering on the edge of rout itself. As a result it was unwilling to pursue the English as they quit the field. Sir Giles’, had room to retire and reform, no doubt he would return…

The armies were each of 300 points and the table measured 1.2m x 0.9m. The English were provided by Dave Batchelor while the Japanese were from my own collection. The terrain was based, loosely, on the Newburn scenario from Partizan Press’ ECW scenario book.

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