Sunday, March 1, 2020

An explosive project...

I never planned to 'do' Colonial warfare.  On the whole, was my attitude, the advantages lay too much with the side that had the 'tech'. Of course I have learned since that it wasn't so much the 'tech' that gave the colonisers the edge, but numbers and a ruthlessness that, once having achieved an ascendancy, extracted every benefit that could be got from it.

As a non-Maori New Zealander (though with Maori and Pasifika relatives) I have gradually over time become more aware of the history of land expropriation in this country. Maori were never conquered militarily - not really - but were simply overwhelmed by the volume of immigration they had no chance whatever of stemming, not that Maori ever really sought to do so. Of course, the immigrants needed land.
An BLUE force, apparently with some TURQUOISE
auxiliary light horse.

The land expropriation from the Land Wars (so called in this country) were cruel enough, but understandable. But the most powerful weapon in the hands of the Colonial government was its legislature, passing laws over the heads of Maori that expropriated lands from them without consent or redress, on the flimsiest of pretexts. Worse, the legislators, wealthy land owners as they were (not until 1879 was universal male suffrage introduced in this country, coming into effect in 1881 with the next general election), they were not above ripping off the lower orders of colonists as well.  It appears that my own family 'benefited' from some of the land expropriation in Taranaki (North Island's West Coast around Mt Taranaki/ Mt Egmont), where they were pretty much dumped by the government and left to it (this in the 1890s, I think). I believe none of that land remains today in the Dowman family, and probably not since long before I was born.

  Image result for tawhiti museumThe above picture is from a display in the Tawhiti Museum, near Hawera, South Taranaki, New Zealand.  If ever you are in that part of the world, do pay it a visit. I recommend it highly.

Years ago, I discovered that a relative of mine - not a direct ancestor - one Lieut. Dowman participated in the Battle of Puke ta Kauere*  This battle occurred in 1860 near the future town of Waitara, where I was born just over 90 years later. It has been seen as one of the three most decisive defeats of Imperial forces during the course of the New Zealand wars. See the following link for a near-contemporary account of the battle.

A RED force - no doubt in some desert emprise.

I mention all this to explain, at least in part, my attitude towards colonial warfare. In the true British tradition of 'rooting for the underdog', these days I tend to come down on the side of the natives. The Colonialists were never the underdogs. Not really. But with the feeling that it was all a bit one-sided, I kept away from Colonial war gaming. The New Zealand Wars aren't really tempting, as most of the battles were attacks, by one side or the other, on fortified places. Usually the attacks failed. Maori in particular eked out small numbers and indifferent commitment from the various iwi and hapu (tribes and sub-tribes in our parlance) with an enormous talent for field engineering, and an effective 'strategic offensive - tactical defensive' approach that saw its greatest expression, I think, in the war fought by Titokowaru. 

All that changed when I read an article in a war games magazine upon the subject of Little Wars, H.G. Wells's concept, adapted for 1:72 scale figures. There being plenty of ESCI Zulu Wars British and French Foreign Legion available, I acquired several boxes. The armies were, of course, to be the traditional RED versus BLUE. But I needed names for their parent nations, and so were born Ruberia and Azuria. Concepts for BLACK (later styled the M'yeusi) and WHITE were considered, respectively represented by Zulus and Arabic types; and Grauheim (GREY) for which methought the Airfix WW1 German figures might be appropriate, but they remained in potentia.  Azuria and Ruberia are traditional enemies, ever hostile towards each other, almost continually at war. The wars were to be more continental than colonial.

The first concept was to organise the forces into Brigade columns, comprising three 50-man battalions, a single cavalry squadron and a battery (company) of artillery. A rifle battalion might take this form:

Battalion HQ: CO, ensign, drummer.
3 Companies of 16 men each or 4 companies of 12
MG detachment.

The cavalry squadron would have an officer, a couple of NCOs and 12-16 troopers.

The artillery battery would comprise 3 or 4 guns.

I had worked out what I considered to be a refinement of H.G. Wells's diceless combat rules, which also included rifle and gunfire without using missile-firing ordnance. I'll explain this in case somebody might be interested enough to give it a practical test.  In any any combat, in any given turn, both sides inflicted upon their opponents a fixed percentage (truncated) of their numbers still in action. The percentage I settled on was 25%, but could have been reduced for a more prolonged firefight, say. When one side was reduced to half the strength they began the combat, they had to retreat or, if escape were not possible, to surrender. There was a good chance the loser would have to yield up prisoners.

Example:  A RED Company of 12 figures runs into a BLUE Company of 16.
Combat round 1: 
RED loses 25% of 16 = 4, leaving 12 - 4 = 8 figures;
BLUE loses 25% of 12 = 3, leaving 16 -3 = 13 figures.
Combat Round 2:
RED loses 25% of 13 = 3, leaving 8 - 3 = 5 figures;
BLUE loses 25% of 8 = 2, leaving 13 - 2 = 11 figures.

Having lost 7 from 12 figures, the RED Company retreats, leaving 2 (half the remainder, again, fractions truncated) prisoners in the hands of the enemy.

I never did give this a practical test, e.g. unengaged forces being drawn into an ongoing fight.  The whole thing was overturned when I discovered Phil Barker's Horse, Foot, Guns.

To be continued...

Work in progress: TURQUOISE irregular cavalry, RED
lancers, and BLUE artillery.
* Puke-ta-Kauere: Having looked this up, I have a feeling this might translate as something a little bit scatological: 'puke' (hill, mound, or just about any geographical eminence, but also mons veneris); and 'kauere' (strong flow of water).  Or it might simply indicate rising ground that has been carved out by a strong river flow.  But a description of the geographical features of the battlefield - see the link above - are not inconsistent with the scatological translation. Perhaps both meanings are/were intended and understood.


  1. Great post Ion, and that private museum looks fantastic too!

    1. Really good stuff not only on the land wars, but also of Colonial and post-Colonial land development in the 19th and 20th centuries as well. I saw bren gun carriers and even a Valentine tank chassis that had been adapted into such farm machinery as hedgerow cutters.

  2. My sister and father live in New Plymouth now days. So I must have a look at the museum next time I fly south.

    Personally I'd love to make a good wargame out of the Maori Wars / Land Wars / New Zealand Colonial Wars. But like you the attacks on fortifications put me off. The British experience of charging a Maori Pa was a bit like the later British experience of charging a German trench line in WW1. Brief and brutal.

    My colonial interests also take me to Africa (Spanish Morocco, Portuguese Angola, Portuguese Mozambique, Portuguese Guinea). I can't really get excited about African war parties charging gatling guns and repeating rifles. But the Spanish versus Rif contest in north Africa was more balanced (Early 20th Century). As was the 1960/70s war in the Portuguese colonies. These conflicts lend themselves to interesting wargaming challenges

    1. You'll find plenty to look at in the Tawhiti Museum, and I recommend Mr Badger's cafe as well. The boat ride's quite fun.

      I agree that there is more to Colonial Wargaming than the stereotyped spear vs machine gun, or even self-styled 'civilization' against 'primitive savages'. What Europeans encountered in India and China (or what the Conquistadors found in the Americas) were hardly dwellers of grass huts.

      It is arguable that Colonial wars are still ongoing. I find it hard to see the present conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America in any other light.

      Your comment about charging trench lines reminds me of the comment of Brigadier-General Strahl CSA just before his brigade assaulted the Union lines at Franklin, Tennessee: 'Boys, this will be short but desperate.'

  3. What a brilliant post Ion!
    I actually read 'Little Wars' the other week, having only previously skimmed through it. He really covered all of the key aspects that have been included in all rules since, didn't he? *And* the man could write! :) Darned funny stuff.
    I did wonder at the fixed percentage losses though. Having 'grown up' with dice-based wargaming, I naturally lean towards that as part of the mechanic, but perhaps, like you, I should actually try it one day?
    By the way, there is a bit of a mix-up with your example, which you may wish to edit.
    Looking forward, as always, to more!

    1. Of course most of my games are dice based, and some are old school enough to include figure removal as casualties and people no longer with the colours. The percentage system I devised was (I thought) a refinement upon the 'each side exchanges one-for-one until the 2 to 1 ratio is reached, whence the smaller side is taken prisoner'. I admit never to have tried it in an actual game, but I can see some fish hooks that might have to be sorted.

      I've looked back at my example, and it is correct, but perhaps a little on the terse side. I have added something to make it a little clearer.

    2. My apologies Ion, I am a pillock! I was thinking that you had mixed up Red and Blue, but of course the side inflicts casualties on the other based on the number of figures that the side doing the inflicting has. Durrrr, what a dill!
      Sorry to have made you check!

    3. No worries. I've added something to make the thing a little clearer. You had me going for a bit there!

  4. Hi Archduke
    Long time follower of your blog. As a fellow Kiwi I also have a particular interest in our own New Zealand Wars but like Steve have yet to find a ruleset that really suits the conflict. As Ive gotten older I have found myself drawn to less complex games and have become quite a fan of The Portable Wargame rules. Given the varied nature of the New Zealand Wars I actually think TPW might just do the trick. I feel that to really capture the flavour of the whole conflict it probably needs to be played as a series of campaigns rather than just one off battles. Using TPW as a starting point The Flagstaff War could be played as a point to point campaign culminating in Ruapekepeka, the Waikato and Tauranga campaigns could be simple ladder campaigns as could Titokowarus War. The spread of Pai Mairie could be treated as an area control campaign whilst the hunt for Te Kooti could be a set of linked skirmishes dependent upon supply and hidden movement. As for the actual rules themselves obviously some tweaking would be required but nothing too onerus. I agree that attacking a pa might make for an uninteresting game but placed within the broader context of a campaign with variable victory conditions for each side I think it has the makings of something more enjoyable. After reading Soldiers Scouts and Spies I also see an element of military intelligence being incorporated into the game perhaps in the game set up or deployment phase with the Btitish player having variable limited knowledge of the enemy based on local intel and the Maori player having certain intel advantages to begin with e.g. hidden units or units on blinds perhaps. I'd be interested in your thoughts. regards Roger

    1. Hi Roger -
      Thanks for your comment!

      I've not thought very much about how to war game the New Zealand wars, but your campaign idea could work. I liked your 'linked skirmishes' idea. Numbers were quite often small - tens rather than hundreds. The Te Kooti campaign looks like a fine candidate for 'der kleine krieg' with his own followers, and two or three columns, Ngati Kahungunu and Whitmore's constabulary in pursuit, not to mention raids upon poorly protected settlements.

      A difficulty does present itself with Maori being up for all kinds of ruses, strategems and tricks to augment their numbers. The other is that Maori fought on both sides (for which the colonists were to give scant gratitude by way of requital).

      You've got me doing a little bit of research, now. I'll leave off here, but I'll probably bring this up in my next - or next but one - posting.