Sunday, June 20, 2021

A Portable Waterloo?

I've just read Bob Cordery's blog, to discover he had planned a Waterloo game using the PW game system. I had the same idea for my own hex board, and have even done some work by way of preparation. Seems even we two weren't the only ones with the same or similar idea.  Such as this battle map of my table -

I haven't yet made up my mind about depicting the slight elevation of ground along the Allied position or where the front-line French artillery are located.

This would probably be very much a play test, to see whether the thing is really viable on my hex-board.
The forces are quite large in terms of the Portable Napoleonic Wargame, larger even than my earlier Battle of Wavre.

Orders of Battle for Waterloo:

33 Units, Median = 17 Activation scores 15-19 (* See infra)
172 Strength points (SP): Exhaustion point = -58SP; Rout point = -86SP

24 Units: Median = 12, Activation scores 10-14
149 SP: Exhaustion point = -50SP; Rout point = -75SP

15 Units: Median = 8, Activation scores 6-10.
104 SP: Exhaustion point = -35SP; Rout point = -52SP.

The Prussians arrive from off-table, requiring a die roll for the first elements to arrive. The IV Corps of Bulow arrives first at via the two clear hexes where the 'IV' arrow indicates. After IV Corps successfully rolls for arrival, then I Corps begins rolling, arriving at the 'I' arrow's two clear hexes. At the moment, I'm thinking that both Corps need a '6' to arrive.

Although I have given complete orders of battle for the two Prussian Army Corps, it is very unlikely that the battle will last long enough to bring on even the whole of IV Corps - the first to arrive. They are included for the sake of 'completeness', really.

'Command units' (formations)  are defined by colour bands, and are generally Divisions (or Division-sized Brigades in the Prussian Army). There are, however a number of single stand 'independent' brigades in the Anglo-Dutch army. They are treated in the same way as multi-stand command units.

Not all formations have commander allocated: the French Imperial Guard and the Allied Reserve 'Corps' being two that don't. These formations are 'commanded' by the Army Commander - with, of course, the attendant problems!

The French Army has a lot of commanders, in particular of the three Cavalry Corps, which are quite tiny formations. This will probably make the French cavalry pretty flexible and nippy compared with other formations.

Finally, I have no real idea just how practical this is! I feel it ought to work OK, but won't be hugely surprised if it doesn't.

The Portable Wavre...

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

In Darkest Aithiops - Great Zimbabwe

The Limpopo River market town, Kachinga...
Tenente-Coronel Colonel Joao Pablo Relaxado was surprised and taken aback at the first sight of the place within which the remnants of the m'Butu army sought refuge. Whatever lay within this town - Kachinga, he was to discover its name to be - this was no zareba or palisade-surrounded settlement but obviously a sizeable town, enveloped by regular walls of masonry.

'Who knew the Romans were here before us?' a member of Relaxado's staff was heard to murmur. Only whispers - largely dismissed as fantasy - had previously been heard, back in Vertiginus, of a 'great Zimbabwe' somewhere upriver. It was no creation of the Romans, but rather the cooperative labour  and time spent by the several and disparate peoples who made up the townsfolk.

Although this place fell within Barra Kuta's realm - for which privilege they paid a none-so-very onerous tribute - it was not especially a m'Butu town. Barra Kuta might have made it his capital, but for its vulnerable - and from his point of view, remote - position on the very fringe of his kingdom. It was the equivalent of a sea-port, lying at the point at the confluence of the navigable branches of the Limpopo, and the midpoint at which several trails met. The place outrivalled in importance even the great market town upriver on the northern branch, Bombasa.
The Azeitonian Armed Expedition approaches...

The Colonel quickly set aside his momentary awe - a sentiment not likely to last long when a colonialist set eyes upon indigenous artifacts not made of gold - and bethought himself to storm the place at once, practically off the march, and 'bounce' the m'Butu out before they could organise a defence. The walls, though strongly built, were not so high they they could not be scaled with the resources to hand (how to slide out from under a narrative difficulty!). Relaxado could already see the commercial potential for this place integrated into New Azeitonia, simply as and where it was, but for the addition of an administator and a few colonists: a market town and river port.  Giving strict instructions that whatever buildings and unarmed people found in the town were to be spared all harm - under pain of dire, excruciating (probably literally) and likely to be fatal penalties - he ordered the attack.
The colonists envelop the landward sides of 
the town.

My original plan was that in fact this place, though sizeable, would be defended by thorn hedges and palisades. But I suddenly bethought myself of the Usborne Roman Fort that I had built years ago, and never used. Why not? thought I. There is no especial reason that the indigenes of the region could not have constructed such a place - or even that it was not the construct of a cooperative enterprise. Mentioning this to Karen, she referred me to the Great Zimbabwe. Of course, we also have the Great Wall of Morobad by was of wargames campaign precedents!
The Great Zimbabwe (Wikipedia)

So, some special rules had to be devised for the storming of the town. First, I figured that the guns available to the colonists would be too light to make much impression on the walls, but could be used against the defenders lining them. However, the gates being wooden could be breached by gunfire (a 6 being required). Using whatever means came to hand, the attackers could scale the walls, requiring an unmodified 6 to effect an opposed lodgment; a 5 or 6 unopposed. If the gates were breached, however, they could be stormed as though there were no obstacle. I hoped, then, to make the emprise tough, but by no means impossible.

And then I went and gave the colonists a big hand by forgetting that when combined with the 8SP (strength points) garrison, the 37SP m'Butu that had survived the battles along the Limpopo Trail would garrison the place with 45SP.  So 37SP of m'Butu were left to defend the place:

m'Butu Garrison:
Commander: Barra Kuta (Brilliant Commander) = 6SP
2 Warrior Bands, smoothbore musket, average, @ 4SP = 8SP
5 Warrior Bands, assegai (spear), average, @ 4SP = 20SP
1 Warrior Band, assegai (spear), average = 3SP
9 units, median = 5 + 1 (Brilliant commander) = 6
37 SP, exhaustion point = -13SP

Initial assaults against the south wall

Unfortunately, my information of the composition of the Azeitonia expedition is rather less exact.  This is the approximate force:

Azeitonian Armed Expedition
Commander: Lt-Col Relaxado, Average, = 6SP
7 Rifle armed platoons, average, @ 3SP = 21SP
7 Rifle armed platoons, average, @ 4SP = 28SP
1 Bush Fighting Militia, poor, @ 4SP = 4SP
1 Cavalry Troop, average = 4SP
1 Machinegun (Gardner) platoon, average, = 2SP
1 Field gun battery, average = 2SP
1 Gunboat = 8SP/FP (flotation point)
1 Transport = 4SP/FP

21 Units, median = 11
79 SP, exhaustion point = -27
Azeitonians thrown back from the south wall.

Colonel Relaxado was not one to wait around too long to attack. Opening up a bombardment of the eastern ramparts with the gun aboard the gunboat and machine guns, the Azeitonians approached the east-facing wall with some deliberation, whilst part of the army, together with the field artillery fetched a hook around to the south face. Once offered a clear sight of the wooden doors to the gatehouse in this part of the wall, the field guns formed battery and opened fire.

Blessed with few firearms, and those few effective at only short range, the m'Butu manning the walls could only wait until the attackers got close, but even with the protection of the walls, the incoming was a deal thicker and potentially more lethal than the outgoing. Time was of the essence for the attackers, who were, as soon as they were prepared, ordered to storm the walls. These walls were of no great height, and were scaled by the few ladders and ropes eked out from the boats, brushwood piled against the walls, lifting men up upon the shoulders where they could just reach the crenellations, and finding handholds where the masonry was loose.  

The first attacks against the south face were quickly repulsed, the assailants driven back from the walls.  The attackers against the east face, although maintaining their pressure, were also finding it difficult to effect a lodgment. Casualties began to mount.  Undiscouraged, the Azeitonian regulars and legionaries returned to the fray. Just as one platoon burst through the splintered remains of the south gate, the platoon to their left surged over the walls, driving the m'Butu into the town.

Attackers carry the gatehouse and the southwest
curtain wall.
Now, the interior of the town featured a clear space under the walls surrounding the built up area.  This meant that the attackers, having crossed the walls, counted as being in the open if attacking anyone within the built up area. The m'Butu were therefore able to counterattack with advantage. They succeeded momentarily to drive some colonists back over the wall. But the town gate remained in Azeitonian hands.

Meanwhile, the pressure on the east face, beginning to the left of the East Gate (southern end) soon extended to the other side of it.  There the defenders were thinner, having to reinforce betimes the southern end of the line. The Azeitonians succeeded in battering their way over the walls and driving the defenders into the town. Such success that the defenders achieved in recovering the ground was as quickly wiped out as the attackers, with vaster resources, came back as strongly as before.
Close of action with m'Butu about to fade back 
into the streets, the assailants having effected 
lodgments in the southern and northeast 

At last, the southern wall completely overrun but for the Southeast Tower, and the northeastern quarter also forced into the town, the m'Butu gave up the fight. The afternoon sun was close to setting. Having reached their exhaustion point, they fought on for a little longer just to hold, but with counter-action now out of the question, it was clear that the numbers the enemy had would lead to much higher casualty rate among the defenders. Quickly arranging a delegation of townsfolk (a master politician to achieve that amid the chaos of an urban battle!) to approach the Azeitonian commander, the Chieftain-King signalled his men to evacuate the town to the west, grab what floating craft they could along the riverbank and make off upriver. There was no effective pursuit.

All things considered, Barra Kuta was inclined to think that matters could have gone a lot worse than they had.  True, he'd lost the town. And a lot of people over the last few days. No surprises there, but he had made the Whitefella pay heavily for the town at least. In fact, the Azeitonians had lost 20SP in the assault; the m'Butu 13SP in defence. But in fighting for it, Barra Kuta had established a moral proprietorship should ever the opportunity arise that he might recover the place.

It had been a dearly bought success for the Azeitonian expedition, but the Colonel was not altogether displeased with the outcome. Although the soldiery could only with difficulty be restrained from the victor's right to sack a fortified place taken by storm, Col Relaxado had no desire whatever to alienate the local population, especially as they would be required soon at least partially to make way for entrepreneurial Azeitonian colonists. He could see a great future for this place, one to rival the coastal town of Vertiginus. It would not do to begin with a sack, a massacre and a conflagration.

Despite the disparity of losses in this battle, so far the scale of SP lost or recovered during the course of the campaign so far goes like this:

12 SP permanently lost
12 SP to be returned as rehabilitated wounded or new recruits
12 SP returned as slightly hurt or stragglers

19 SP permanently lost
19 SP to be returned as rehabilitated wounded or new warriors come of age
19 SP returned as slightly wounded or stragglers.

I've still not decided upon the return of the temporary losses. Paul recons the fist ones are due back by now. Seems a bit soon for mine... All the same, the m'Butu remain yet a formidable force in being...

To be continued.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

A Dark Day in Darkest Aithiops...

This posting is a hard one to write. Did you ever have a day - or even a sequence of events - that started bad, and you knew it was going to start bad, but it carried on bad - unrelentingly bad - and ended bad? Observe the use of the adjective in place of the adverb. Ever had one of those? Chief-King Barra Kuta did. Did he what!

Lt.Col Relaxado's first distant glimpse of the fabulous 
Montanhas Diamantes - Diamond Mountains.
(Picture by Paul 'Jacko' Jackson)

Following his repulse from the Azeitonian column at the edge of the jungle, he drew his army off up the Limpopo River trail towards the market town, Kachinga, which lay at the confluence of the north and south branches of the Great Grey-Green Greasy Limpopo River. Perhaps the wound received at the battle had impaired the Chief's faculties, or left him tired.  The retreat was slow and as early as noon the next day, the colonialists caught up with the m'Butu on the road. It was probably as bad a stretch of country as could be imagined to face a foe superior in numbers, firepower, technology - and even had an edge in mobility. Here the country was flat - several casual undulations of ground, and hardly any scrub, brush or trees in sight. There was no question but to accept a hopeless battle - and hope for the best.

This was one of those occasions that crops up in a campaign in which the outcome of a battle is certain, right from the get go.  It then becomes a matter of how bad it's going to be. The first battle had ended the Azeitonian run of activation cards (Red), but the m'Butu drew one Black card only, a number, which gave it one grid area of movement for one force.  Barra Kuta's army drew back along the road one space. Back to the Red cards: n, K, n, n, n. Unlike the number cards, the King allowed 5 (!) activations, which could be used all by one force, or shared among as many as 5 forces.  

Now, rather than make the moves card by card, I proposed drawing the cards as 'strings', ending when the colour string ended by the appearance of a card of the other colour.  At a slight reduction of the 'fog of war', it does speed up proceedings. But nine activations -  no wonder Tenente-Coronel Relaxado's expeditionary force ran down the m'Butu.  

Meanwhile, far to the south, a secondary colonial force penetrated the jungle west of Oportonovo, following a trail that soon led to a small, palisaded kraal. A reconnaissance indicated the presence of a small garrison (1 warrior stand). The Azeitonians declined for the moment to press the matter.  Meanwhile, the garrison, alerted to the presence of the enemy, were for the moment unable to determine their strength (having to wait for an activation card to carry out the recon).

Events were developing far more quickly along the Limpopo trail. Chief Barra Kuta threw out his line in much the same formation as he had to begin the earlier battle. As the Azeitonians approached in a broad column, he hoped that by enveloping its open flank he might do something to offset the disparity in numbers. There was no question of defending. He had to carry the fight to the enemy.

It did not go well.  

The m'Butu army comprised 11 warrior stands plus the Great Man's entourage - 12 units in all: 50 Strength points all up; exhaustion point 17. As Barra Kuta counted as a brilliant commander, he might activate 6,7, or 8 stands per turn. 

The Colonists were far more powerful, though their cavalry had been halved by the previous day's action. Their strength points had been reduced by 10 to 82, exhaustion point 28. He had available 20 units - 1 cavalry and one infantry stand lost, plus a couple reduced to 3 SPs, - so, the Colonel counting as an average commander, could activate 9,10 or 11 units per turn.

m'Butu advancing  to close quarters...

Now, to the ground.  As my table is rather larger than uses for examples of Bob Cordery's terrain generation method, I made certain adaptations.  
Second Battle of the Limpopo - terrain 

Now, the river and the road/ trail, were a given. The river was placed first, but the road could wait upon the rest of the terrain. This was flat grassland, so any rises in the ground were merely casual undulations - enough to create dead ground.  


  • Rolled for number of hills, 2D6 + 1D3 gave us 10 hills.  
  • Rolled 2D6 and counted down the left hand edge for the starting row.
  • Rolled 4D6 and counted along the horizontal rows 'ploughman's fashion'. 
  • When a hill was located, rolled to determine whether it was part of a larger hill (5 or 6 confirming)
  • If part of a larger hill rolled 1D6 and, counting from the upper right counted the hexes clockwise to locate the next part
  • Then or otherwise, rolled 4D6 and continued, until all 10 hills were located.

The large rise at the upper left seems somewhat to exaggerate the size of that rise.  It began as a 2-hex hill, but another appeared right beside it, to extend its size.

Patches of bush/ scrub:
The method was the same.  This time the 2D6 + 1D3 roll gave us 1+1+1 = 3 such patches.  You can see the extent to which the Fates, the Gods, Karma, and Providence had it in for the m'Butu, eh?  Man, what a miserable piece of country when you have nothing - nothing at all - going for you!

Hamlets/ Villages:
To determine whether there were any, I figured that, as this was a fairly sparsely populated country, I'd stay with 'the book' on this.  The D6 - 3 roll was a '2', so there was no habitations.  

The Road/ Trail:
I simply laid down close by the river as seemed sensible.

The battle:

Figuring that to close with the enemy (if they could not retreat betimes) would be better than to stand about to be shot to pieces, the m'Butu advanced rapidly to close the distance. Losing several SPs in the process, they found they could do little better in the close quarter fighting. They were completely outfought all day. Unfortunately I failed to take any pictures of the actual fighting, but an after picture might at least partially tell the story.

...m'Butu retreating, much reduced.

The attack failing to make the least impression, the m'Butu fell back, close to their exhaustion point. Nor was that withdrawal to remain unmolested. Although they managed to put some distance between themselves and the enemy, not a few could not get beyond rifle and artillery range. And the colonists' shooting this day was desperately accurate.

This was a terrible defeat for the m'Butu - a massacre, withal. As the m'Butu dragged themselves from the field they mourned (well, I did) the loss of 20 Strength Points. The Azeitonians had lost precisely two.

Now the battle losses, as before stated are divided in 3 - 
  • one-third permanently lost as killed and seriously wounded
  • one-third will be replaced after a number of campaign turns (roll 1D6) as recruits or recovered
  • one-third are returned immediately.
Rather than dice for the remainders, I find it simpler to form the losses into a species of palindrome.  The single remainder goes to the delayed replacement; two remaining will go to 1 permanently lost and the other immediately replaced.

The net effect of this 'battle' was that the Azeitonians lost exactly one SP.  The m'Butu lost 7 outright, 6 to be returned later, and 7 returned immediately - a loss for the moment of 13SPs, on top of the 16 lost the day before. That there would be 14SPs available some time in the future was small consolation to Barra Kuta.

At this point in the campaign, recall that the Azeitonians still had 4 campaign moves to play. Strictly speaking, they could probably carry out a recon, then attack along the road, drive the m'Butu into Kachinga Town, to finish the outstanding moves with a reconnaissance. It would simply have been a pressed home pursuit of a defeated enemy. The drawback to this would have been that, handling the m'Butu, I would simply have refused battle, and drawn off the remnants of the army.

So Paul and I negotiated the subsequent events, allowing the m'Butu to retreat all the way into Kachinga. That saved the Azeitonians a campaign move, which meant that they could, after a successful recon, end the sequence with a battle. To make absolutely certain this was to be a great day for the Azeitonians - and an utterly miserable one for the m'Butu - their recon roll was a '6'. Of course it was. One suspects a local entrepreneur in this market town wished early to ingratiate himself to these enterprising strangers...

Chief Barra Kuta had left a small garrison in the place, 2 warrior stands (8 SPs). Added to what was left of his field force, brought the m'Butu strength up to 45SP, as follows:

Chief Barra Kuta (brilliant commander) plus entourage = 6SP
6 Warrior units, spear @4SP = 24SP
3 Warrior units, musket @4SP = 12SP
1 Warrior unit, spear = 3SP

11 units, median = 6 + 1 (Brilliant commander) = 7.
45 Strength points (37 [main army] + 8 [garrison]); exhaustion point = 15.

To be continued: The Assault on Kachinga.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

In Darkest Aithops - The m'Butuland Expedition: Battle of Limpopo Bend

Something of an encounter battle, both sides advance
the m'Butu perhaps more eagerly...

 As the Azeitonian expeditionary force began to leave the jungle along the Limpopo River trail, they entered a region of scrubland as they approached the great bend in the river.  There awaited the m'Butu army.  Given time, Chief Barra Kuta might perhaps have refused battle, though where he could find a favourable battlefield east of Kachinga Town, might have been problematic, to say the least.  For the moment he could at least count on some superiority in mobility, especially in that final tongue of jungle forest that reached, seemingly, for the road.  But where the regular forces of the Azeitonians might have some difficulty negotiating a patch of scrub, the m'Butu's looser formations could pass through with ease.  

(Note: Although scrub patches offered cover for those within and concealment for those behind, the natives could walk though as if they weren't there.  With one exception, the colonists had to take one turn to enter such a patch.  The exception for the Azeitonians was a bunch of bush-fighting volunteers, who, for celerity of movement through hard country were to be the equal of the m'Butu.  I forgot to remind Paul of this - just this moment remembered it in fact - so I don't know whether that Militia group were these fellows or not).

For their part, a m'Butu regiment - amabutho Wa Nnabe - lay in wait within the jungle, ready to leap upon the flank of the column whilst the remainder of the army - the impi ya masoshe - awaited the enemy in the scrub.  
Campaign area.  The red lightning denotes where the battle
takes place, not far from the great river bend that gives
the battle its name.

Taking no chances, the Colonel brought his forces in a solid body, close by the road and the river.  However, one troop of horse - 'A' troop - rode forward of the main column to reconnoitre, and perhaps to spring any ambush.  Sure enough, the m'Butu responded, a band of about 40 warriors charging around a patch of scrub to engage at close quarters.  Though getting the better of the first clash, the cavalry quickly found themselves in trouble.

'A' Troop runs into warriors coming the other way...
Within moments, a second band burst through the scrub to join their comrades.  To the horror of their fellow soldiery, still barely within rifle range, they saw their lone troop surrounded by five times their numbers.  There was no hacking their way out; the troop died where they stood.  But the losses among the m'Butu were severe enough: 5 SP lost to kill off a 4SP stand.
'A' Troop surrounded by 5 times their numbers.
But the m'Butu are taking heavy losses.
It was probably fortunate that, apart from artillery and machinegun fire, the Azeitonian column was unable effectively to come to the rescue of the doomed 'A' Troop.  The leading units met the warriors' attack in a coordinated line. The m'Butu surged forward in a somewhat ragged line to engage the Colonialists in close combat with assegai and short ranged musketry from Wa Tusi.  Although successfully inflicting losses and driving back parts of the Colonists' line. the m'Butu were taking rather heavier punishment.  Barra Kuta himself took a hit bad enough to knock him back (rolling '11' in the effect dice for Army commander with the band that received incoming rifle fire).
'A' Troop finally overrun, as the m'Butu close with 
the colonialist column.
The action spread along the front as more m'Butu surged out of the jungle.  This brought more of the colonists into the fight - not quite the hoped-for effect, as the warriors found it hard to bring numbers against isolated bodies of troops.  Although the m'Butu were exacting a toll of casualties, they were rather getting the worse of it.  Meanwhile, the river boats continued chunking upriver, where their gunfire, aided by the artillery in the road, chased a native band out of a riverside patch of bushes, and cleared the open ground a considerable distance from the trail.  
Coordinating bush fighting ain't easy, even for the locals. 

Early attacks repulsed, the m'Butu pull back...
The main action going against the m'Butu, Chief Barra Kuta, blood streaming from a shoulder wound, called his men to give back.  This was no rout - rather a coiling back to draw the enemy on.  Fading back into the scrub and jungle, the m'Butu successfully placed some distance between themselves and the enemy.
...putting themselves as much as possible out
of rifle range.

The river boats advance...
They were not yet done; of that Col. Relaxado was persuaded.  This was the snake coiling for a strike.  On the other hand, there was nothing to be gained by standing still.  If the expedition was to go ahead, the column must advance.  The gun boat led the transport thrashing upriver behind the m'Butu flank.  Once past the riverside brush, the Solenta transport unloaded its cargo of rifle-armed sailors.  Greatly daring, the nearest m'Butu band charged alone through a hail of machinegun fire and chopped down several seamen before themselves finally being scattered.
The Azeitonian column yet to lurch into motion

Sailors disembark,.  The covering gunboat's machine guns
fail to discourage the m'Butu from attacking
This bold, self sacrificing action served to cover the gradual m'Butu withdrawal on the river flank, but, as the colonists slowly followed up, they merely kept their distance out of rifle range.  
General overview of the battlefield late in the action
As time passed, it became clear to Barra Kuta that his army had maybe one more counter-attack left in it.  As the Azeitonian left drew near to the jungle, where the Chief had placed himself in the position most crucial, several bands charged out of the undergrowth and threw themselves upon the lead element that had strayed perhaps too unwarily, and too close.  Or perhaps The Colonel had cannily hoped to draw the warriors out of hiding.
Final counter-attack of the m'Butu.
However it was, the m'Butu did some damage, and received some themselves - enough for them to call it a day.  Thereafter, the warriors made use of their celerity of movement to distance themselves from pursuit, and draw off from the field.
(Poor photo) the m'Butu withdraw 
alogether form the action.
This action was never going to have any other result but an Azeitonian victory.  They had the numbers; they had the firepower; they had the support weapons.  All the same, the m'Butu had given a good account of themselves.  Of 660 warriors who entered the battle, some 160 were killed and wounded.  The Azeitonians had some 900 or more troops, rifles against the few muskets the M'Butu possessed, artillery, machine guns and a gun-armed riverboat.  All the same, they could congratulate themselves upon a fine start to the campaign - the early victory being easy enough to feel this was a great adventure, and hard-fought enough (100 k + w, and no one would soon forget the fate of 'A' Troop) to bring a thrill of jingoistic pride.

(In game terms, the m'Butu had lost 24SP, a little over their 'exhaustion point', the threshold being reached during the final counter-attack.  Of these 8SP are immediately returned to the army (stragglers, grazed and the like; 8 are returned to the army after 1D6 turns (I call them recruits rather than, say, recovered wounded); 8 are lost permanently.  The latter 16 count as battle casualties; at 1SP representing 10 men - 160 men lost.  The Azeitonians lost 15SP up front, they being split 5, 5 and 5.  Ten SPs lost for the moment, the histories will relate how they lost 100 men in the expedition's first fight).

The early pull back enabled the m'Butu to put a few kilometres distance between themselves and the Azeitonians before halting.  Perhaps this made them complacent.  For their dilatoriness subsequently, they were to be asked a high price to pay.  That is to say, the Black card that terminated the Azeitonian moves proved to a string of one only: the Reds that followed went number, king, number, number, number before the next Black card turned up.  This was a fine portent for the colonists' expedition into m'Butuland; and an ill omen for Barra Kuta's realm...

A word on the figures, terrain and the rule set(s) used.

All the figures in this action, apart from the machine gun and the boats, were from Paul's ('Jacko's') collection - ESCI and HaT.  The boats were my scratch-builds, the transport from the fleet I made originally for American Civil War riverine operations about 25 years ago, and the gunboat specifically for this campaign.  The machine gun aboard O Ra Desvairado was a HaT Gardner gun.  The name of the gunboat, by the way, was a nod to the late George Macdonald Fraser: an incarnation of La Grenouille Frenetique, or, in English, the Frantic Frog, that features in The Pyrates.

The Campaign and Battle rule sets were from Bob Cordery's Portable Colonial Wargame - the latter being The Gatling's Jammed... 

To be continued...

Monday, May 3, 2021

In Darkest Aithiops - The m'Butuland Expedition


Azeitonian expedition advancing
up the GreatgreygreengreasyLimpopo River

Perhaps it was the good Reverend J. Eglington Juggins, DD, as well-meaning amiable fellows  so often are, who was the cause of it all.  At the end of June, 1876, his ministry in the land of the m'Butu came to an end.  Under an honorary escort of m'Butu warriors of the highest rank, he made his way to Vertiginus, the seat of the recently established Azeitonian colony, and, after several weeks' wait, took ship to the Cape, and thence to his home in Ruberia.

During the course of his stay in the Azeitonian town, Rev. Juggins was entertained more than once at the governor's invitation to dinner, where he did much to repay his host's hospitality with accounts of his missionary work with the m'Butu - largely ineffectual - and his impressions of the people and their country.  If his eye-witness account of the disaster along the Limpopo Trail was not so agreeable to Tenente-Coronel Relaxado's ear, his interest was very much piqued by his guest's mention of the semi-mystical Montanhas Diamante - the Diamond Mountains.  Somewhere between 60 and 70 kilometres off, they rose out of the grasslands almost due west of the Colony.

Campaign map of part of the East Coast of 

Following the disaster of the first just one year before, the Colonel had devoted a deal of his time organising a second expedition, this one far batter prepared, partly as an exploratory mission, partly to visit a punitive action against the m'Butu for their attack the previous October that came within an ace of overrunning the satellite town, Oportonovo. The Montanhas Diamante offered a more attractive objective and purpose to the planned emprise than empty vengeance.

Such is the generating circumstance, if we can call it that, of the narrative that will be titled 'In Darkest Aithiops', a project Paul 'Jacko' Jackson and I have been off-and-on developing over the last few months.  I guess it's more Paul's than mine - his was the concept, and, most of the forces involved are his.    The above map is of the theatre of operations, and these are the 'characters' of the story:

  • New Azeitonia - a Europeian colony (vaguely Portuguese) established upon the east coast of Aithiops in 1871, and whose existence has been amiably tolerated by the local indigenes for reasons of economy and status. The Governor from the beginning has been Tenente-Coronel Joao Pablo Relaxado.
  • the m'Butu - an indigenous people whose realm occupies much of the jungle, scrublands and steppe south of the Limpopo River.  Its Chief, Barra Kuta rules with an iron fist.  Although disposed to be friendly towards New Azeitonia, he rather objects to being imposed upon.  The m'Butu settlements are to be found at Barra Kuta's Kraal, the Kachinga market town, Kreepin Kraal, Rutintutin Kraal, and a small, unnamed village in the middle of the coastal jungle.
  • The Touaouin (Twawin) - 'The Forgotten of God' - desert dwellers, fierce, armed to the teeth with rifles, pistols and assorted close-quarter weaponry with which the adjectives 'sharp', 'keen' and 'edged' pointedly call themselves to mind. Nomads of the Great Sa Haroh desert, Oasis Akbar the eastern end of their annual migrations.  Call themselves traders, but rather similar to the Corsairs of Zanzingabar in their approach to commerce. Led by Sheikh El Bazir.
  • Zanzingabar Corsairs - Slave traders, robbers, pirates and all-round bad guys that have been the plague of the Coast for over a century.  Until the arrival of the Azeitonians, the only real naval presence in this part of the world, but still reliant upon wind-driven dhows, feluccas, xebecs and settees.   Established at Zanzingabar and Dar Es Oualdo, governed by Wazir Yezdi.
This campaign is run on the lines of the 'More Trouble in Zubia' described in Bob Cordery's The Portable Colonial Wargame (PCW).  The campaign moves are limited to the trails (in orange on the map), the navigable parts of the GreatgreygreengreasyLimpopo River and its branches, and the Indic ocean for sea-going craft (Azeitonian gunboats and Zanzingabar dhows, etc).  

The moves are determined by the draw of cards, Azeitonia drawing Red, and the denizens of Aithiops drawing Black.  
  1. From a shuffled deck, the cards are drawn one at a time, but continuing until there is a change of colour.  
  2. At that point the side whose colour it was, makes his moves according to the schedule given on pp108-9 of PCW.  
  3. Having finished, he announces all the grid areas in which his forces are located.  The composition of the forces are not stated at this point.
  4. Carry out reconnaisances, if any.
  5. Fight out battles, if any.
  6. Beginning with the card that signalled the change, the cards are drawn for the next player, again until signalled by a change in colour.
  7. Note that this card draw process goes, without replacement, right through to the end of the deck.
The locations of the forces begin as follow:
  • Azeitonia: Vertiginus (2108), Oportonovo (2011)
  • m'Butu: Barra Kuta's Kraal (0313), Kachinga (0709), Kreepin Kraal (1212), Rutintutin Kraal (1712)
  • Touaouin: Oasis Akbar (0202)
  • Corsairs: Dar Es Oualdo (2002), Zanzingabar (2202).

The alert reader will no doubt have observed that the Black movement cards will be distributed rather thinly among the three peoples represented.  The effect will be that one of the three will be getting most of the attention early on, with perhaps the others moving slowly as opportunity indicates.  So far, the m'Butu have been very active, but the Touaouin and Corsairs haven't been completely idle.

Finally, for the purposes of this campaign, a single stand represents a platoon or troop, each strength point (SP) or figure representing 10 men.  Each vessel represents a single vessel.  For the Azeitonians, 3 foot stands is a company, and there being 6 stands each of Regulars and Legionaries, they represent half-battalions of 2 companies each. The cavalry amount to a two-troop squadron; each gun a section or troop of 2 guns.

The Expedition Begins...

Upon the first day of November, 1876, the expedition set out from Vertiginus, leaving behind garrisons at that town and Oportonovo.  The main column took the trail of infamous memory, accompanied by the two vessels alongside upon the Limpopo River. The gunboat O Ra Desvairado, and the transport Solente, between them carried a company of sailors - some 120 officers and men.

Certain navigation problems slowed down the expedition, some 8 kilometres beyond the colonial frontier.  As the trail and waterway parted company from time to time, coordination of  column and flotilla became problematic until they reached the shallow tributary friendly porters identified as Kofi Creek.  It was there that they received the first indications that the m'Butu were nearby, in numbers and in no welcoming mood.

Meanwhile, a distant whisper of drums, less a sound than a quiver in the air, seemed to be coming up from deep within the jungle to the south.  What could that portend?

A rather smaller expedition set out from Oportonovo along the trail leading southwest from that little town.  Penetrating the jungle, they travelled some 4 to 6 kilometres before encountering within a small cleared space a palisaded kraal.  Silence reigned over the place - had it been deserted? Capitao Ferdinand da Gama, commanding this probe, contemplated a reconnaissance. 

In the opening campaign turns, the black cards were far more in evidence than the red.  The odd ace and picture card gave the Touaouin and the Corsairs a chance to set their forces in motion, such that the people of Vertiginus has some reason to apprehend a descent of corsairs from the north along the sea-coast.   But the m'Butu drew most of the benefit, speedily gathering a sizeable force that met the Azeitonian column as it was crossing Kofi Creek.  

The m'Butu reconnaisance was a poor one, but even so the news wasn't good: a column far more powerful than had been anticipated - '22 units' - which seemed to argue a force rather larger than the m'Butu had available.  Perhaps the m'Butu might have attacked whilst the colonials were still astride the stream, but they were too slow to organise (they ran out of black cards).  The Azeitonian counter-reconnaissance was little better than the natives' - but the news - the m'Butu having 66 strength points - was to the colonists most encouraging.  The column at once moved off to attack.

Unable to retreat betimes, the m'Butu resolved to attack in the hope of administering a sharp reminder that they could fight.  

Having left the jungle, now entering the scrublands
The respective forces were:

Azeitonian Limpopo Expedition:
  • Commander: Tenente-Coronel Relaxado, staff etc (Average) = 6SP
  • 6 Regular infantry platoons (stands) (avg) @4SP = 24SP
  • 6 Legionary platoons (avg) @4SP = 24SP
  • 1 platoon-strength Civilian Militia band (poor) = 4SP
  • 2 Regular cavalry troops (avg) @4SP = 8SP*
  • 1 troop field artillery (avg) = 2SP
  • 1 section machine guns (avg) = 2SP
  • Gunboat O Ra Desvairado (avg)  = 6SP/FP , carrying capacity = 4SP
  • Transport Solente (avg) = 4SP/FP, carrying capacity 8SP
  • 3 Platoons of Sailors (avg) @4SP = 12SP
23 Units (counting command), median = 12
92 Strength points, exhaustion point = -31SP 
* The cavalry ought to have been 3SP, but Paul forgot and I didn't notice at first.  Never mind, they have 40-man troops.

m'Butu warriors advancing to attack through 
scrubland and jungle.

The m'Butu:
  • Commander: Chief Barra Kuta (Brilliant) = 6SP
  • 3 musket-armed bands (poor) @ 4SP  = 12SP
  • 12 assegai-armed bands (avg) @ 4SP = 48SP
16 Units, median = 8+1 (brilliant commander) = 9
66 Strength points, exhaustion point = -22SP.
Note: the m'Butu were allowed to move more 
quickly (2 hexes) than the colonists through scrub and jungle. The hexes empty of foliage counted as open.

Battle about to be joined!

Before continuing on to the battle narrative, I should state that there will in future be some small changes in future orders of battle.  
  1. Henceforth all m'Butu stands that have a musket-armed figure will be deemed capable of shooting.  They will count as 'average', but will require a '6' to hit when shooting, rather than the standard 5 or 6.  This is to reflect the paucity of firearms among the indigenous peoples.
  2. The Strength/Flotation points and carrying capacities of the gunboats will be amended more in keeping with the rule set.

To be continued: Battle!

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Return to 'Long Live the Revolution'>

Readers may recall this series that were suspended after December 1999.  I never actually abandoned the thing, but I realised the Second Battle of Khandibar would take some setting up.  Serves me right for adding that complication to Bob Cordery's original concept.  

Here is a link to that last action: 'Return to the Station'

Following the successful recapture of the vital rail nexus at Maibad Station, something of a lull descended over the country, as both sides in the civil war (as it had become) felt the need to draw breath after such a whirlwind campaign so far. The government forces had just barely saved the Nawabate of Tchagai from the Revolution; following a tide of unbroken success, the Baluchistan Armed Revolutionary Front (BARF) were finding the ebb hard to arrest. Much hope they placed upon the arrival in the sea port of Khandibar of a consignment of weaponry from the Confederated Community of Cooperative Peoples (CCCP - KKKH in Cyrillic capitals), the arrival of which was not expected, after the Battle of Maibad Station, for several weeks yet.

18th Siliputti Rifles advancing to battle. In the distance,
22nd Punjanajoodi Infantry. Figures mostly Airfix
with some Matchbox.

As word of this anticipated weapons import gradually trickled through to the Nabob's intelligence network, it became clear that the Revolutionaries simply had to be deprived of the sole sea port in their possession. Major-General Lord Redmond at once led a powerful column south, entrusting the railway station's safety into the hands of the hitherto unfortunate Lt-Col Ebenezer Mugglethwaite, with the newly reconstituted 17th Choklit-Ghandi Battalion, two armoured squadrons and assorted support and LOC troops. Lord Redmond took with him (42 + 6D6 = 68SP):

Government Forces:
  • Lord redmond's staff, with Dingo scout car vehicles = 6SP
  • 18th Siliputti Rifles
    • 3 rifle companies @ 4SP
    • 1 machine gin platoon @ 2SP
    • 1 medium mortar platoon @ 2SP = 16SP
  • 22nd Punjanjoodi Infantry = 16SP
  • 31st Kashinkari Rifles = 16SP
  • 5th Aagravaa Dragoons
    • 2 squadrons, A and C, M4 Shermans @ 3SP = 6SP
  • Bty/ 1st Tchagai Artillery
    • 2 troops, 25pr field guns with Quad prime movers = 8SP
20 Units, median = 10 (Average commander) 
68 Strength Points (good dice roll!), exhaustion point = -23SP

Meanwhile, a certain Major Sher Liwih Khann had been placed by the Revolutionary leadership in command of the BARFist garrison at Khandibar, with strict instructions to hold the place at all costs.  He was to await the arrival of the vital arms convoy already on its way from Archangelsk. This convoy was still days way, if not weeks, somewhere in the Mesogesean Sea, approaching Port Did, and the Taofik Canal. He had to hand (30+3D6 = 43SP):

Revolutionary forces: 
  • Sher Liwik Khann, staff, hangers on, camp followers, assorted bandits and badmashes as well as genuine patriots, jeeps = 6SP
  • 6th BARFist Volunteers 
    • 3 Rifle Companies @ 4SP
    • 1 Mortar Platoon @2SP = 14SP
  • 7th Khandibar Volunteers 
    • 3 Rifle Companies @4SP
    • 1 Mortar Platoon @2SP = 14SP
  • A Sqn/ 2nd 'Tulwar of the Revolution' Armoured Regiment 
    • 1 M3 Stuart light tank =2SP
  • D Sqn/ 2nd 'Tulwar of the Revolution' Armoured
    • 1 M3 Grant Medium Tank (poor) =3SP
  • 2 fixed anti-tank posts with 6pr AT guns @2SP = 4SP 
13 Units, median = 7 (Average commander)
43 Strength Points (another pretty good dice roll), exhaustion point = -15SP

The difference in SP being 25, the Revolutionaries received 13SP in augmentations to their defence, in the form of 2 minefields (@2SP), 3 barbed wire emplacements (@1SP), 4 field works (@1SP) and a fortification (2SP).

Now, before beginning the brief narrative - and in partial explanation why it is so brief - I should mention that, owing to a glitch in my note taking in preparation for this battle owing to an egregious staff error, the armour, detached eastwards along the coast for some reason, was not present on the battlefield as the Government attack began. By the time  I realised my mistake  the armour arrived, it was far too late to affect the outcome of the action. I could, of course, have let it go as though the Revolutionaries had rolled '8' on their 3 dice, instead of 13 - the probability of having done so, coincidentally enough, being precisely the same.

25pr field artillery in action...
The action opened with the rapid advance on foot of the 18th Siliputti and 22nd Punjanjoodi battalions sweeping forward, both with A and C Companies leading, supported by B Company and the mortars and machineguns of HQ Company.  The main immediate objective being the Central massif, C Coy Siliputti came in on the right of  Punjanjoodi, all supported by the 25-pounder gun battery, where Lord Redford had also parked his Brigade HQ, and the Punjanjoodi mortars and machine guns.  

... and on target!  A Coy, 7th Khandibar Volunteers
taking some stick...
The support from the machine guns didn't last long.  The Rebel mortars quickly found their range, and wiped them out in short order, but the attack carried on unabated.  
... and receiving the close attention of C Coy, 18th
Rifles and A Coy, 22nd Infantry...
The two company attack overran the fieldworks on the Massif, and drove the defenders quite off the feature and into plain in front of the town.
Central Massif overrun, Government troops attack 
Revolutionary positions beyond.

Meanwhile, to the west of the central Massif, two companies of Siliputti Infantry stormed the ridge on the other side of the pass.  The pass itself being mined and barbed wired, the approach was somewhat constricted (1 hex only), forcing the attack on a single company frontage.  The first attack was easily repulsed, but when it could be supported by the battalion's mortars, and machine guns from beyond the wire to the left flank, A Coy finally carried the high ground..  B Coy soon joined them there to consolidate the position, before pressing on into the coastal plain. 
The early attack on the western ridge repulsed, A 
and B Coys of 18th Rifles at last capture the heights...

Already the western half of the Revolutionary 
forward defences have been overrun or driven in.
The general picture was now the Rebels having lost the position upon the high ground along the entire left half of their front. So far they had had few opportunities of bringing up supports or to mount a counter-attack. For their part, the 31st Kashinkari Rifles hadn't passed beyond the wadi - then in spate from an overnight deluge. However, the two Sherman squadrons coming up the Maimajikwand road, though hardly engaged, tended to discourage 6th BARFist Volunteers on the right from offering much aid to their colleagues under close assault on the other flank.
The fortification that was home to a 6pr troop
has new occupiers...
A company of Government infantry forced the evacuation of the fortification covering the Maimajikwand pass from close by the town. The Rebels managed to extricate the guns, but then came under fire from the lost redoubt.  The reserve company from BARFist volunteers counter-attacked from the town, but were unable to make progress. Instead, they themselves were driven back into the place.
The belated arrival of Revolutionary armour 
is too late to retrieve their fortunes.
Already it was plain that the sea port could not be saved for the Revolution. Although somewhat depleted, the Siliputti Rifles overran the fieldworks that were home to a fixed troop of 6-pounder anti-tank guns, and pressing into the built up precincts along the coast. To the east, the revolutionary armour arrived too late, and too distant from the decisive sectors to change the course of the battle. A brief exchange as the Government Shermans nosed their way over the less steep slopes and crests of the coastal range led to the loss of a few tanks on both sides.
Revolutionary forces driven right back into the town.
Though facing sturdy and steady resistance, the victorious Government infantry began forcing their way into the town, clearing the railway station and  pushing on to the wharfs along the waterfront. Having reached that point, of a sudden, Revolutionary resistance slackened appreciably, as the local commander ordered the remnants of the garrison to pull out along the east coast road.  
Government attacks continue unabated.  The Rebels
fought gamely until the Government forces reached the 
waterfront docks, whereat the defenders melted 
away into the desert eastwards.  

The sea port captured, Lord Redmond lost no time in installing a garrison organised around 22nd Punjanjoodi Battalion, and set off with the rest of the Brigade, post haste, to rejoin the troops about Maibad Station, thence to resume the advance to Maimajikwand, the capital of the province - the vipers' nest as far as Lord Redmond was concerned - in which the Revolution began.