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!


  1. Hello there Archduke,

    This has the makings of an epic adventure for sure! I can almost hear the low and distant rumble of the drums (actually my stomach as I have yet to have breakfast but it seemed appropriate somehow....). Looking forward to the battle report!

    Well done that man(s - as there are two of you!),

    All the best,


    1. Hi David -
      Plenty goin on here, and the potential for more. Things looking pretty dodgy for the m'Butu though. I must say that Bob's move-generating system for campaigns is having some interesting effects upon the narrative - and exciting ones for the m'Butu war effort.

      Meamwhile a certain bunch of corsairs have been developing a sea-going force that might occasion those interloping colonists some heartache... :-D
      Archduke Piccolo

  2. Archduke Piccolo,

    This looks like it could be another Blacklands War-type success! It has all the right ingredients to be a campaign that will twist and turn as it progresses.

    The choice of a Portuguese-like colonial power is interesting, and besides being a bit out of the ordinary, it has all sorts of potential. I also like the reference on the map to Madasahatta! After all, as Britannia's oldest ally, the Azeitonians could call upon them for support should another colonial power attempt to muscle in on the action!

    I look forward to seeing how this progresses.

    All the best,


    1. Hi Bob -
      Britannia is called Ruberia (RED) in this world, but it may be possible, there being a colony well established far to the south at the Cape of Worst Fears. For the time being the Cape Colony will remain a 'hidden character' in this narrative.

      I did think of including a British (probably English) character in a 'King Solomons Mines' style of sub-plot that we were toying with including. It probably won't happen, but it's a thought.

      I believe Paul decided upon Portuguese because he has visited that part of East Africa (Mozambique) that was formerly under Portuguese rule. It certainly makes a change. I'll mention this next time, I think. He's also contributing three of the 'armies' involved: Azeitonia, m'Butu, and the Touaouin (the last based upon P.C. Wren's descriptions of the Touareg). I'm contributing the Corsairs of the Coast. But I'm also acting as the OPFOR for the Azeitonians. So they are very much the protagonists in this narrative!

      One of the effects I'm finding for the campaign generating system is that it can I think set up the type of battle that might be fought - encounter action, attacker-defender, ambush - even a running fight.

      We'll see!
      Archduke Piccolo

    2. Archduke Piccolo,

      I had forgotten that the Ruberians were actually the simulacra of the British!

      By the way, later today I intend to mention your latest campaign on my blog!

      All the best,


    3. Bob - I'll look forward to seeing it! Still have to write up the battle. Unfortunate most of the photos are pretty horrible, so I'll have to work with the good(ish) ones.
      Cheers -