Sunday, November 29, 2020

First Blacklands War - A Blood-Letting at Dimitrovgrad


Columns marching into a collision.

Apart from being fought mostly within its realms, the first three weeks of the Blacklands War  had gone well for Turcowaz, with an almost unbroken string of victories on land and sea. Contrary to expectation one of the its armies had even invaded probably the most powerful of the enemies of the Supreme Door, Chervenia, and scored there a notable victory. Had there not been a second Chervenian army at large in the southern part of that Kingdom, Nazim Pasha might well have bethought himself to laying siege to the capital, Sofia. Instead, he took the perhaps rash decision to seek out that other army - the IInd Chervenian - and bring that, too, to battle.

Battle of Dimitrovgrad, showing approach roads.

For their part, after having recovered from their mauling in Thrace, IInd Army hastened westward through the province, eager to bring the intruders to book. Racing towards each other like gamecocks, they eagerly sought the clash - and the sizable market town of Dimitrovgrad looked likely to where that clash would occur.

The Map:

I had determined ahead of time that this would be an encounter battle, with both sides beginning the action feeding troops onto the table. The map being generated using the Bob Cordery system, it seemed the randomly generated road (the southern east-west one) was insufficient as the built-up area of Dimitrovgrad developed. So I added in the extra road network. That suggested that the armies both approach each other in two columns each, along the north and south east-west roads.

I also determined upon certain special 'rules' or procedures for this battle, upon which I shall enlarge, following the list of the forces engaged. They were to be very evenly matched - in some respects at least!

Turcowaz First Army:
  • Command: Nazim Pasha (Poor) = 6SP 
  • 1st Infantry (veteran) = 4SP
  • 7th, 8th, 13th Infantry (trained) @3SP = 9SP
  • 14th Infantry (trained) = 4SP
  • 23rd, 24th Infantry (green) @4SP = 8SP
  • 1st Cavalry (trained) = 3SP
  • 3rd Cavalry (green) = 3SP
  • 1st Field Artillery (trained) = 2SP
  • 5th Medium Artillery (trained) = 2SP
  • 1st, 2nd Transport Columns @1SP = 2SP
14 Units: Activation Median = 7-1 = 6 (Poor commander)
Strength points 43, Exhaustion Point -15SP.
Chervenian 3rd Cavalry in trouble.
Chervenia IInd Army:
  • Command: General Nicola Ivanov (Average) = 6SP
  • 8th, 9th, 11th, 12th Infantry (trained) @ 4SP = 16SP
  • 10th Infantry (trained) = 3SP
  • 18th Infantry (green) = 4SP
  • 19th Infantry (green) = 3SP
  • MG detachment = 1SP
  • 3rd Cavalry (trained) = 3SP
  • 5th Cavalry (green) = 3SP
  • 4th, 5th Field Artillery (trained) @ 2SP = 4SP
  • 7th Heavy Artillery (trained) = 2SP
  • 3rd, 4th Transport Columns @1SP = 2SP
16 Units: Activation Median = 8 (Average commander) 
Strength Points 47, Exhaustion Point -16SP.

I'll have to 'fess up, here, as I made a right mess-up translating these lists to the table-top, and inadvertently gave all units the 'default' SPs.  This without changing the list SP total and exhaustion points.  As it happened, both sides gained equally, so neither gained an 'unfair' advantage thereby.  

Encounter battle special rules:

Both sides began the action off-table, feeding in the troops according (a) to an order of march, (b) up which road they were marching, and (c) the dice-rolled Activation score. A maximum of 4 units could march onto the table up any given approach road (which rather negated the advantage to the Chervenians if they rolled high on their activation die). Both sides had two roads by which they could approach, the Turcowaz from the west, the Chervenians from the east.

This tended to complicate the decision-making by both sides.  Once the leading troops were on the table, were they to mark time whilst reinforcements were brought on; should they stake out territory; or advance to meet the enemy, with reinforcements only later to be fed into the action?  This really proved to be quite an interesting exercise in its way.

Action was joined early as the advance guards hastened to engage the enemy as far forward as possible.  The Turcowaz seized Dimitrovgrad town right off, and hastened to put the place in a state of defence, whilst the field artillery and 3rd Cavalry covered the northern flank.  In front of the town, the leading Chervenian infantry and 5th Cavalry formed a front along the road north, to cover the arrival of 4th Field and 7th Heavy Artillery.  Then, as the field artillery made ready to open fire, 9th Infantry, astride the road, slid off to the ridge to the left, forming an embrasure through which the guns played upon the town.  The defending Turcowaz, 13th Infantry, at least twice found the east face of the town too dangerous to occupy, and retreated into the middle of the built up area.
As the fighting near the town developed into a rather pin-pricking exercise of penny-packet local attacks with no great result, developments seemed to promise more decisive results east of the road T-junction south of the place. The veteran infantry leading the Turcowaz march pushed beyond the orchard opposite the T-junction in the hope of pushing back the enemy before they became too strong. It was hoped in particular the the medium battery would make an early difference sufficiently decisive to permit an irresistible advance. Meanwhile, 1st Cavalry would make a serious attempt upon the 5th Field Battery then marching up the centre of the field.

Coming up towards the leading Chervenian elements, the remainder of the column, including the machinegun detachment, was not far distant.  But behind the three infantry regiments, single cavalry and the medium battery, Nazim Pasha had nothing at all in hand by way of reinforcement. Nor was the cavalry thrust against the limbered artillery successful. The Chervenian gunners deployed their pieces betimes, and drove the Turcowaz horsemen back over the hills to their front.  
Foiled in their attempt upon the enemy artillery, those same horsemen, 1st Turcowaz Cavalry, joined in an attack upon Chervenian infantry occupying the ridge east of the town.  The Turcowaz 14th Infantry had passed through the town and the adjoining woods to attack along the feature.  Held at the first onset, the infantry called upon the assistance of the horse. Together they forced the enemy from the high ground.  

At about this time 3rd Turcowaz Cavalry hoped to clear away their opponents and open up the northern flank.  Mounting a steep rise to their front, they surged down the other side - and met what might as well have been a brick wall.  The Chervenian horse - as green as their opponents - set an implacable defence against charge after charge.  It was a depleted Turcowaz cavalry that finally gave up the contest and retreated to the gun line.

The Turcowaz were finding themselves gradually giving ground on the southern flank as well. Driven back to the orchard, they found themselves under increasing pressure as the day wore on.

Now, during the course of this action, the SP losses had for some time been tracking in favour of the Chervenians, by a margin of two.  Early on it was 3SP to 5, later 6 to 8. Perhaps it was upon the strength of this I was inclined to take extra risks with the Chervenians. It has to be admitted, though, that some perhaps unnecessary losses were due to the column on the northern approach road preventing retreats by the unit in front in the face of incoming rifle fire. All the same, if progress was slow, their resistance was proving costly to the Turcowaz. 

Rather more tangible progress was being made, however gradually, on the southern wing.  Although 8th Infantry still occupied part of the long central ridge, the rest of the Turcowaz line had been pressed back to the line of the orchard and the Dimitrovgrad road.  Not that these advances were being made for free.  I was very surprised when the third or fourth the count of total SPs lost came to 12 for the Turcowaz and 15 for Chervenia!

It seemed that General Ivanov had been over-sanguine about how things were developing. Losses had been very heavy on both sides - and neither seemed willing yet to give it up. As reinforcements came up, they managed to edge back much of the Turcowaz line from the road. The battered 1st Infantry was clinging onto its orchard in the face of effective machinegun fire.  

Even that hold had to be given up. But by this time, the fierce Turcowaz resistance finally told: the Chervenian army had reached its exhaustion point. Further advances not possible, the Chervenians still had their rifles, machine guns and artillery. For their part, the Turcowaz on the north flank were still inclined to chance their arms in attack. But in the process of driving the Chervenians well back from the town, they too fetched up well beyond their exhaustion point.  

As the day faded into the late autumn evening, the battle sputtered to a close.  

This was a tough battle, no error, but so evenly matched were the armies, neither could achieve the decisive edge. Chervenia had lost 19SPs, Turcowaz, 18 - hardly a significant difference. In the town sector, Turcowaz had lost the more heavily - 10 SPs to 8. It was in the south that Chervenia's seeming irresistible advances came at so high a cost: 11 SPs to 8. In terms of troop numbers, 47,000 Chervenians faced 43,000 Turcowaz; losses were 9500 and 9000 respectively.

Both sides claimed the victory.  Such a mauling had his IInd Army received, that General Nicola Ivanov ordered a retreat into Northern Chervenia for a badly needed rest and reorganisation. His army would be out of the war for at least a fortnight.  Yet the action at Dimitrovgrad could scarcely be called a defeat to Chervenian arms.

Nazim Pasha's invasion of Chervenia was at an end - that much was certain. A Turcowaz victory might have laid open the road to Sofia, and possibly Chervenia's withdrawal from the war.   Instead he had to decide into which Imperial province he would retreat - North Macedonia, Rhodope of West Thrace? Probably Rhodope was safest, as there he was less likely to run into enemy forces than in the other two.  

This decision was decided by a die roll.  As I have only D10s sitting by me, the probabilities will be determined, weighted in favour of the middle option:
  • 1-2 Retreat to North Macedonia
  • 3-8 Retreat to Rhodope
  • 9-0 Retreat to West Thrace. 
Rumours of the Bejelan return to Vardar, with the consequent threats to North Macedonia and Monastir, decided Nazim Pasha's resolve.  Though his army was but a shadow of its former strength, something had to oppose itself to the invader!  The die roll was a '1'.

To be continued: East of Salonika: another Turcowaz-Chervenia clash. 


  1. Great game Archduke. High casualties on both sides but Nazim presses on to counter another threat! He must be very confident, or afraid of the boss..

    1. Hi Maudlin Jack -
      It was an interesting action, and in some ways rather an odd one. As it turned out there really was nothing to inhibit Nazim pasha from pushing the action at the end - and it took a good two or three turns before suddenly his army took heavy losses in one go. It was one of those actions that really couldn't be called the moment one side 'went exhausted'.

      I'm hoping the next one will have its own special points of interest, as well...
      Archduke Piccolo

  2. Archduke Piccolo,

    Reading your latest battle report really raised my spirits on a day when I am otherwise rather preoccupied with my forthcoming operation. This campaign is developing into a real classic that will be talked about with awe and fond memories in the future.

    I’m looking forward to reading the next instalment in this gripping story.

    All the best,


    1. All the best for you coming op, Bob! Thanks for your responses to this ongoing narrative. It would be nice to think of this campaign standing in the same company as, say, the Madasahatta Campaign or the 'Winterish War'.
      Archduke Piccolo.

  3. A tough battle Ion, I look forward to the battle East of Salonika.

    1. Hi Paul -
      Battlefield designed, and ready to go. Sides VERY evenly matched in size, so a bit of a crap shoot, perhaps.
      Archduke Piccolo.

  4. Good stuff! I do like the style of your layout, too. Interesting dilemma with using limited activations when marching the army onto the table, I had the same thing in my recent game. I have been wondering if in such circumstances one might allow a specified number of units to arrive on the table each turn, and use the activation card score only for units already on the table. This would reflect the marching column coming up as per 'order of the day' , but then having to be given new orders once on the field. In an encounter battle, it would not advantage either side. I may try this next time..

    1. Hi David -
      I have used something like what you have suggested, and it might go better. I'd probably be stricter on the order of march, and non-activated units route march onto the table by road, with a four-unit limit per road. Of course, a good deal depends upon the scale of action.

      Having said that, the method used in this action had the 'feel' of units gradually being fed into a developing action - sort of like Gettysburg on the first day.

      Coming up there will be a different kind of encounter action between the Hellenic Army and Second Turcowaz. This will be a race for a road nexus point...
      Archduke Piccolo...