Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Expedition on the Limpopo Trail

The Limpopo River Trail.

Along the great grey-green greasy Limpopo River, which is as deep as the sea, and bordered with fever trees, there runs an ancient, well worn trail that leads from the Azeitona colony and sea port of Vertiginus, inland to promising farmlands and who knows what riches that lie in the interior.  The prospect of 'what lies beyond' was too much for one Tenente-Coronel Joao Pablo Relaxado, the military governor, who, upon the end of the April-May rainy season of 1875, set off to carve out a settlement far upriver. 

Paul Jackson and I have been working on organising and consolidating several 19th century Imagi-Nations projects that have been more or less ongoing for some considerable time.   My own projects have been the Chromatic Wars, among Ruberia (RED), Azuria (BLUE), and the late comer, Turcowaz (TURQUOISE, the 'other' BLUE).  Recently I have begun building the Turcowaz Army, with Regular Crimean War regular Turks, foot Bashi-Bazouks, and a handful of Sipahis using traditional (17th century) battle techniques.  At one time I had toyed with including a BLACK army, the M'yeusi (Zulu figures) and a WHITE army, which would be vaguely Arabic in nature.

I never did get around to building those armies, and probably never would have done, but then Paul comes up with his own scheme, building the M'Butu and an as yet unnamed force of semi-arid and desert dwellers supplementing the slender resources with raid and plunder.  Another colonial power has arisen to rival Ruberia and Azuria - the Kingdom of Azeitona (GREEN - specifically, olive green).
Map of opening situation, the head of the expedition's column
sees the M'Butu blocking force.

Focusing for the moment upon the Benighted Continent, Paul thought it a fine idea to prologue the campaigns with an incident which brings the Azeitona colonials into conflict with the militant tribe of M'Butu, led by King-Chieftain Barra Kuta, himself harbouring imperial ambitions. 

Prepared to tolerate the existence of the Vertiginus colony for the material benefits, and even status, it brought to himself and his tribe, King Barra Kuta was inclined to draw a line in the sand at its present limited extent - a town and sea port of no great size, and a hinterland that extended no more than five or ten miles from the town's centre. Written and verbal requests from the Colonial authorities to extend the colony by establishing settlements in the interior, the King had disdained to answer at all. Choosing to take the silent snub for tacit consent, the military governor all through the rainy season organised his expedition.

Promptly on 1st June, 1875, the convoy set out, horse and foot, accompanied by His Faithful Majesty's Gunboat Sonolenta, a sidewheeler steam vessel with a pintle mounted 12pr rifled gun fore and aft. As well a providing some artillery during the expedition, the captain and officers were charged with mapping the river Limpopo. The Expedition comprised:

Azeitona Limpopo Expedition
Command: Tenente-Coronel Joao Pablo Relaxado and HQ ..... 6SP
6 Rifle Companies (each 1 stand @ 4SP)  ..... 24SP
2 Cavalry Squadrons (1 each 1 stand @ 3SP) ..... 6SP
6 Transport elements (pack mules, pack elephants and carts @1SP) ..... 6SP
1 Gunboat (HFMS Sonolenta) ..... 2SP.
All elements 'Average'.

Azeitona column and gunboat.

Now, although this force was supposed to be 50SP, and we treated it as such throughout the coming action, the arithmetically minded reader will observe just 44SP here. Paul was allowed to compose his own expeditionary force, the only stipulations being the gunboat of 2SP, and 4 - 8 transport elements (he chose 6). I had some notion of offsetting losses to SPs with transport elements continuing on off the table, but now think that unnecessary. At any rate, I suspect Paul must have double counted something, otherwise unable to account for the missing 6SP. As it transpired the action might well have been fairly well balanced as played!

We also set the Exhaustion point at half, instead of one third, of SPs lost. Memory lapse there. So we had set the Expeditionary force exhaustion point at having lost 25SP.

The Azeitona column marching into the
Benighted Continent interior.

His excellent 'jungle telegraph' intelligence apparat very soon apprised King Barra Kuta of the affront about to be offered him by Relaxado's unauthorised and obviously hostile move, though they were inclined slightly to exaggerate its strength (the 44 vs 50 SP thing?). Quickly he gathered together a force he thought sufficient to stop these foreigners in their tracks.

M'Butu Army:
Command: King Barra Kuta, staff and hangers on ..... 6SP
Kwanza Band: 3 Spear stands, armed with smoothbore muskets @4SP ..... 12SP (all 'poor')
Pili Band: 2 Spear stands @ 4SP ..... 8SP (average)
Wa Tatu Band: 3 Spear stands @ 4SP ..... 12SP (average)
Wa Nne Band: 2 Spear stands @4SP ..... 8SP (average)
Total: 46SP; Exhaustion Point 23SP.

King Barra Kuta's blocking force, the Kwanza band,
several of whom are armed with muskets.

Special features:

1.   Being familiar with the terrain and lightly burdened, the M'Butu could move 2 hexes through the bush.  European troops could move 1 hex in the bush, and the transports only on the road and 'clear' hex-grid areas.

2.  The gunboat could travel 2 hexes per turn, forward (against the current) or astern (with the current)

3.  The hill upon which stood the M'Butu road block (Kwanza) was rocky, rough going, but afforded no cover.

4.  Paul was free to determine the order of march.  Units could be stacked, provided there was no overlap of hex-boundaries.  Further, he had to count the number of hexes along the road from the eastern edge the head of the column had reached; then move the gunboat the same number of hexes.  It was enacted that the the large bend in the river had caused the gunboat to fall a trifle behind the head of the column with which the intention was to keep pace.

5.  A departure from the rules: only one unit in a stacked hex could fight, or would take hits in close combat or being shot at.  There is a potential change here concerning following up a successful assault.  If the attacked unit is forced to retreat, two options present themselves:
(a) that the second unit in the same hex must retreat; or
(b) the attacking unit can at once attack the second unit.
This can have an effect against defended baggage.  The attackers drive off the defenders, then get in amongst the train.  We did neither of these, but it's worth thinking about, I reckon.

5.  The beginning location of the Pili, Wa Tatu and Wa Nne bands were determined by dice rolls, 1 Red and 1 Green for two of them; 2 Red, 1 Green for the last.  The bottom left of the map was designated 1,1.  Coincidentally, the first 2 rolls were 5,6 (Pili) and 6,6 (Wa Tatu).  There being 3 stands in the latter band, the third stand was placed 1 hex behind, at 6,5.  Finally, Wa Nne rolled 9,1.

6.  Finally, the action was played out straight IGoUGo, though it might have been interesting to have rolled for initiative each turn.  The Europeans, suddenly seeing the trail blocked by a force of M'Butu, have to react...
Head of the Azeitona column.

For this action, Paul supplied the soldiery on both sides and the elephants.  I supplied the cart and pack mules, the gunboat and the terrain. 

Next time: how the action unfolded: Reverend J. Eglington Juggins's account.
To be continued...


  1. Archduke Piccolo,

    I can hardly wait to see how this battle pans out.

    All the best,


    1. I'm looking forward to your 19th Century book. No pressure, you understand...

  2. Great setting for a game Archduke and it looks splendid (I especially like the gunboat!)

    1. The thing looked very 'thingish' in the imagination; and looked even more 'thingish' laid out. My main worry was play balance, though even a one sided action would have provided a fine generating circumstance for future campaigns.

  3. Odd, I had counted out 50SP, I suspect I put a stand back in the box by mistake when setting up.

    1. I didn't notice that until I was totting up the composition of the expedition from the photos. An infantry stand and 2 extra baggage stands would have rounded off the 50SP. Good thing you didn't include a machine gun!

  4. Good to see the 1/72nd ESCI Zulu War British figures- and great terrain too. Be interesting to see how your scenario plays out. Cheers. KEV.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Oops - I didn't see 'British'. As it happens, the bulk of the infantry of my own Ruberian Army are also Zulu Wars and Khyber pass ESCI British, complete with red coats. Some sepoys have been added, and recently a handful of Strelets-R highlanders.

      The terrain is mainly plastic aquarium 'foliage' - cheap, and remarkably versatile. A few palm trees and 'ferns' add the the 'jungle' or 'African bush' look.

  5. I'm going to have to stop reading these 1/72 Colonial PW game reports! Huzzah is coming up fast and I can't afford to go haring off on an adventure.

    1. ...even though you know you want to? Perhaps reserve them for bedside reading, then? I find it all too easy myself to get sidetracked from one project to another. This whole colonial thing is a sidetrack for me, and yet... Suffice to say, I understand your predicament!