Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Blacklands War - Beginnings.

One might have been forgiven, perhaps, for supposing that, after having fought for and won their freedom and independence, certain states within the Blacklands region might have been content to develop their constitutional forms, infrastructures, industries, and such wealth and resources available to them. But the territorial appetites of the newly nascent states had been merely whetted by success. There seemed to be scarce room enough in the region accommodate four independent states and half an empire.
(Note: for the first postings in this topic, here's the link)

Initial locations of armies, and the first moves 
by the Black Mountains Army and the 
Turcowaz armies.
Squabbles among themselves proving bootless, the 'four independent states' settled upon the formation of a bloc, calling itself 'The Blacklands League', comprising Bulg Chervenia, Serb Bajela, Monteneg The Black Mountains Principality, and Gree Hellenica. Their primary aim: to secure more lands from the western half of the Ottom Settee Empire of Turcowaz. The King of Chervenia had his gimlet eye, withal, upon the greatest prize of all, the ancient city and capital, Constan Ionople.
The first page of my Campaign Journal -
an unused exercise book from my daughter's
Given the socio-religious tensions in the region, it was not hard to find a casus belli - not when four states out of five desired war - and that at the expense of the fifth.

It was Prince Nikola of the Black Mountains who declared war first, on 1 October 1883. Already his small army was on the march for the adjoining province of Kosovo, which it entered on the day following (see map above). At once the alarm bells were sounded in Ionople. This act of aggression signalling a likely general mobilisation of the Blacklands League, of which the Sultan and his advisers were acutely aware, the word went out at once to set his armies of the Western Imperium in motion.

First Army was ordered from Northern Abaloni into Kosovo to throw out the intruders. Second Army - the most powerful of the Turcowaz forces - was directed to safeguard the Vardar province; and Fourth Army was directed to abandon Epirus, and march into East Macedonia to safeguard Salonika from the likely move by the Hellican army marching up from Athens. 

(Note:  I had invited the Mad Padre to make the Turcowaz moves, but, it turned out that, perhaps unsurprisingly, he had a life.   Even before I figured that out, I had decided what moves I wanted the Turcowaz to make.  Perhaps another time, Michael!)
The First Army Turcowaz, advancing, in 
oblique order, up the railroad.
So it was that Kosovo was the scene of the first combat. Made aware that the approaching Turcowaz army was twice the strength of his own, and that it possessed a cavalry arm, General Zorghucz chose what seemed to him a fine defensive position in the mountainous region about the villages Istocno (east of the river Sitnica) and Zapadno on the west bank. A railroad, built a few short years previously, crossed the river just north of the twin villages.
(Note: the road, rail and river don't precisely follow the map, on account of the design of the pieces.  Just put it down to slight cartographical inaccuracies).
The small Black Mountains Army - defending
the river crossings.
Mountainous country:
The terrain for this map was created using 
Bob Cordery's battle-map generation system, 
slightly modified for the 10x10 grid area.

The above map was generated using the generating method outlined in Bob Cordery's book The Portable Colonial Wargame, slightly modified for my 10x10-square table. The region I deemed to be mountainous, and so the terrain was to be pretty dense.  The plain green circles are low hills, the concentric circles higher hills, and the ones with the white star (snow!) were mountains, and impassible. The 2nd 'Reserve' Infantry Regiment augmented its hilltop position east of Istocno with fortifications. The river was deemed to be a major one, crossable only at the road and rail bridges.

I should point out a habit that I formed long ago against the eventuality of the meeting of mismatched forces. It seems to me that a badly outnumbered force would seek out if it could a position that would at least partially offset its quantitative or qualitative disadvantages. One doesn't want, of course, the disparity to be cancelled outright - just enough to encourage the defence, and not so much as to discourage the attack. Hence the choice of a promising looking position, given the 'randomised' generation of the map.

Early Turcowaz advances.  No shilly-shallying here!
The whole Turcowaz army advancing up the east back of the Sitnica River, the Mountaineers formed a line based upon village, fortified hill and the cover of forest on the eastern flank. The open flank further on was a concern, but lacking the means to fill it, General Zorghucz hoped for the best. Flanking the likely attack against the line, the veteran 1st Rifle Regiment - the Royal Guard - occupied Zapodno village on the west bank. North of the village, placed so as to cover the approaches to his defence line, lay his sole battery of mountain guns, and there the General kept his own person, to supervise the practice.
The dangers of an open flank.
The Turcowaz infantry advanced in almost an oblique order system - the veteran brigade (1st and 2nd Infantry) on the right, two trained brigades (7th/8th and 13th/14th) echeloned  back in the centre, and the irregular ('green') Bashi-bazouks (23rd/24th) further back still on the left. The cavalry advanced behind the veterans. It was not before the action general along the whole front east of the river.  The unfortunate 23rd Bashi-bazouk Infantry, assaulting the east village, had to endure a galling rifle and gun fire from across the river. Early Turcowaz losses were already considerable, some 4 Strength Points (SPs) lost for no hurt to the defenders.
General view, looking towards the northwest.
Turcowaz determination was paying off, though. The veteran 1st Infantry forced its way athwart the Mountaineers' flank, placing the green 4th Mountain Infantry under pressure from front and flank. Although 13th Infantry were handily repulsed by the fort garrison (2nd 'Reserve'), the defenders were also beginning to feel the heat of action. Concerned about how the attack was going, Nazim Pasha, whose enthusiasm for a fight at least partially made up for a lack of military competence (classed as 'poor'), joined in 7th Infantry's fight for the forest. By this time losses were already heavy on both sides: Turcowaz 6SPs lost; the Mountaineers, 4.
13th Infantry repulsed, but 1st and 7th Infantry
attacks going in.
Very soon, 4th Mountain had been driven out of the woods, and 1st Infantry began an attack upon the hilltop fortifications.
1st Infantry forces the woods...
It was not the wisest of choices. (As it happened, it was 1st Infantry that drove the mountaineers from the woods, at which they followed up. I have an idea that at that point, Nazim Pasha had run out of 'activation points', otherwise, he might have sent in the fresher 7th Infantry instead).
...only to be thrown back out again.
The wooded area changed hands twice, 1st Infantry being flung back out again by 4th Mountain, which in turn were evicted, for good, by 7th Infantry. Nor were the mountaineers able to recover the place as the Turcowaz infantry continued to press them back. Now the fortified hill was under attack from front and flank. 
Led by Nazim Pasha in person,
7th Infantry carries the forest for keeps.
Gradually, the  Turcowaz riflemen edged the mountaineers from the whole position east of the river. 
Losses had been heavy on both sides, the Turcowaz having lost 8 SPs, the Mountaineers losing 6, including a loss to the Royal Guard in the town. Then the 'score' was suddenly equalised when the Turcowaz medium artillery's counter-battery fire scored two successive direct hits that silenced the enemy mountain guns. Dusting himself off, General Zorghucz joined the Royal Guard in the town, where he began directing the defence.
The whole line east of the river has been driven 
Until now, the artillery fire on both sides had been indifferently effective, but now the Turcowaz gunners hit their straps. The Mountain guns silenced, medium and field batteries turned their attention upon Zapadno, with devastating effect (both scored sixes, and both hits inflicted losses).  
Amazingly effective Turcowaz gunfire!
Possibly now was the time for the Black Mountain Army to pull out, whilst the pulling out was good. But the General elected to remain and to continue to engage the Turcowaz across the river.
1st Mountain Infantry reduced to 25% strength.

The pressure on the defenders is unrelenting.
This was something of a rearguard action, as the main body streamed towards the railway bridge crossing, followed in rather lackadaisical fashion by Turcowaz infantry. The Mountain Army were lucky enough to get a rare 'win' of the initiative, hereabouts, which helped them distance themselves - a little - from pursuit.  The retreat was not helped by the bridge being set at a diagonal, which meant the crossing was slower than it might have been (an therefore giving a more 'realistic' effect of retiring through a narrow defile).  

At this moment, General Zorghucz's luck ran out. Already he had survived four salvoes from Turcowaz artillery (two whilst with his guns, and the two the previous turn). Not this time. Another stonk from Turcowaz artillery caused the disintegration not only of the Royal Guard, but also a masonry wall under which the good general was standing. The collapsing rubble occasioned his demise.  In rolling for his fate, he threw double-sixes!
Devastating barrage eliminates 1st Mountain 
Infantry, and General Zorghucz as well.  

The remnants of the Black Mountains Army
make for the railway bridge crossing.

There was nothing for it, but for the remnants of the Black Mountain Army to retreat. The disaster to the Royal Guard and their general pushed the army well beyond its exhaustion point. The damage to their adversaries had barely taken then halfway.  

For the moment, the mountaineers have distanced pursuit, 
and the action ends.

This was an undoubted Turcowaz victory, and, in the event, a fairly easy one. But they could count themselves lucky their own losses were not worse:

Turcowaz losses (E.P. 17SP):
     Infantry: 9 SPs 
Black Mountain losses (E.P. 9SP):
     Infantry: 10 SP 
     Artillery: 2 SP
     Command: 6 SP. 

Comments on the conduct of this campaign:
1.  Losses to the armies may be partially replaced, on a pro rata basis by arm, and generals replaced for free, dicing for their quality: 1-3 'Poor' (inexperienced), 4-5 'Average', 6 'Good'.  
  •     Turcowaz receive 5SP of infantry as recruits or troops returning to the colours
  •    Black Mountain receives 5SP of infantry, 1SP of artillery, and a General Bogotan. (Out of curiosity, I rolled for General Bogotan: a six!  So the Army of the Black Mountains now has a brilliant commander!)  

2.  In this battle, the Turcowaz won a good two-thirds of the initiative rolls over maybe ten or a dozen turns.  Now, Nazim Pasha was rated 'poor' and General Zorghucz 'average'. It occurred to me that perhaps not only should this affect the activation rolls, but the initiative roll as well, 'poor' generals taking a -1, 'good' generals a +1 on the pip score. This was tried out in the next battle, fought in the nearby Vardar Province...

3.  I am starting to wonder if maybe I have included too much artillery with these armies....  

To be continued.


  1. Fantastic report Archduke (a great start to the day with the morning coffee). The look of the game is very nice, especially the inclusion of the snaking railway line. I'm looking forward to the next battle.

    1. Hi Maudlin -
      Glad you're enjoying the story so far...
      Archduke Piccolo.

  2. Archduke Piccolo,

    Whenever I read one of your battle reports, I get an urge to get some some figures onto my tabletop and fight a battle!

    This campaign has got off to a cracking start, and although the artillery began to dominate the battlefield once the gunners got into their stride, I don’t think that you need to reduce the number of artillery units very much if at all.

    I like that rules you have developed regarding replacement generals.

    I await the next instalment with bated breath!

    All the best,


    1. Hi Bob -
      Tougher battle this time. Wicked country to fight a battle in, was the opinion of one of the army commanders.
      Archduke Piccolo

  3. Poor little BMP! Shame on the Sick man of Turcowaz! Pity the poor helpless maidens of BMP left to the devices of Turcwaz!
    (Whaddiya mean the BMP were the aggressors?)
    Just channelling my inner C19th British newspaper.....

    1. Hi Neil -
      You know, I never thought to add little Press items into the overall narrative. Maybe I should take a leaf out of R.L. Stevenson's book, as related by his stepson, Lloyd Osbourne in an article 'Stevenson at Play' (Scribner's Magazine, Dec. 1898).

      The BMP might seek exculpation in claiming some sort of ethnic and strategic association with the Kosovo province. Not that it will wash in the 'Turcmeneli Trompet' or the 'Ionople Informator'.

      I seem to recall some 30-odd years ago creating the 19th Century newpapers, one of which was the 'London Pictorial Times'. I had ones from New York, Washington and Richmond as well, but I have forgotten their titles. 'New York News' perhaps.
      Archduke Piccolo.

  4. As always a great read. More please.... as soon as possible !

    1. Hi Mr Danger -
      Glad you are enjoying the narrative. The next is in the pipeline...
      Archduke Piccolo