Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Skirmish at Glencrae, 1745

To the Englishman, vengeance is an idea, a word. Payback, one thing for another, like commerce. Not for us. Vengeance is a living thing. It moves through the generations. It commands. It kills."

The rising has begun. The King Across the Water has returned, and the loyal men of Scotland have taken up arms once more. But in the western highlands, loyalty is not all that sharpens swords. Fifty-three years is a long time, but the clans do not forget. The perfidy of the Campbells and Secretary Dalrymple shall be avenged. And it will begin here, in the hamlet of Glencrae...

2x 8 Good English soldiers, 2x Big Men (Status 3 & 2: Sergeant Frost and Corporal Armstrong)
3x 8 Regular Highlanders (Aggressive, Intimidating Weapons), 2x Big Men (Status 3, 2: Earl MacDonail and Father McCruil)

The soldiers of the King's Own Royal Borderers are on a routine patrol through the hamlet and are expecting nothing more than an old villager or two complaining about the price of flour. Sergeant Frost and Corporal Armstrong must lead half their men off any board edge but their own to gain one victory point. They gain one victory point for each Scottish Big Man killed.

The Highlanders are looking for blood. They gain one victory point for each British group or Big Man destroyed.
The starting board. All Scots on blinds.

The Fight
Clearly eager for a rest and some water after long hours marching through the highlands, Corporal Armstrong and his men broke column to move towards the village. Sergeant Frost was more wary – where were the children, the chickens? He peered suspiciously at the cornfield to his right and made out the merest glimmer of steel among the stalks, but no sound of workmen bantering. An ambush! He quickly shouted his orders, and his men sent a volley into the field before beginning to reload.
Frost's men fire covering Armstrong's advance.
Shouts came from the far end of Glencrae, and from the woods burst a flood of kilted warriors.
Oh okay, eight warriors and a Big Man.
The cornfields fired back, but Frost's men continued to fire and reload with consummate professionalism. Armstrong's group came under heavy fire from the village, and it was all Armstrong could do to keep them steady. Snatches of Latin came from the field – was there a priest helping the enemy?
Why yes, yes there was.
A smattering of fire came from Armstrong and his men as Frost began a slow advance on the cornfield before changing his mind. Grasping the nettle firmly with both hands he led his men in an all-out charge. Yellow wheat was stained red, and a Borderer fell, but the enemy were scythed down mercilessly, and those who did not die fled far and fast.
The survivors and their margin of success.
Armstrong moved his men into the village, firing a volley at their enemy as they went. Frost moved up to flank him and realised that there were yet more highlanders waiting for them in the woods! His warning was ignored however as the old Earl led his men in a valiant charge against Armstrong's redcoats. They were driven out at lochaber-point and reunited with Frost's force to the west of the village.
A brutal melee amid gunsmoke.
The English reformed, firing at the highlanders who pressed on them from both sides. From Glencrae the Earl egged his men on, but having been savaged in the battle with Armstrong's men, they were uneasy about advancing too far. Seeing their confusion and a chance for revenge, Armstrong led his men forwards again, in an attempt to restore his section's honour. It was a stiff and bloody fight, with many falling on both sides until Armstrong used his polearm to strike down the Earl himself, and the highlanders retreated in a fearful confusion, bearing the body of their lord.

With the retreat of the Earl, it was all over bar a running skirmish with the highlanders in the western woods. As the English retreated they exchanged ineffectual fire with the Scotsmen who seemed unwilling to leave the safety of the treeline – it seemed that having been spectators to the battle, they were unwilling to share their kinsmen's fate.
The end of the battle.
Perhaps it was not a battle for the history books, but Frost was proud that he had only lost six men in defeating these bandits. If Captain Castagne agreed, they would return and flush out these ne'er-do-wells, and the highlands would be safe again, their loyalty to the king repaid.

Butcher's Bill
Six Englishmen, nine Highlanders, the Earl wounded, Father McCruil and three companions fled into the wilds.


2-0 to the King's Own Royal Borderers.

I had a book of Heroes and Villains as a child, and the Massacre of Glencoe made a deep and lasting impression on me. Thus, when I started a Sharp Practice campaign for the Rising of '45, I naturally gravitated towards incorporating its memory as the driving force behind the highlanders involved. Having two sympathetic protagonists is something I think is important, and vengeance is so much more relatable as a motive than a king without a throne (except for Aragorn, of course). Incidentally, the starting quote is marginally adapted from an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that I serendipitously watched while writing the scenario (2x14, Innocence).

Frost was lucky to succeed in his Spotting check the first time his card came up, and in the profusion of Sharp Practice cards that came his way. Father McCruil spent most of his time removing shock from his group, since Frost's men fired with devastating accuracy. I gave the Englishmen a Grasp The Nettle card each, to help cope with their outnumbered status, but Tiffin usually removed any chance of using it – the turns were incredibly short for most of the game as there were only nine cards in the deck, which rapidly dropped to six.

All in all, a fun game which could have gone either way a few times, especially had the third group of highlanders managed to inveigle themselves into the main battle without Big Man assistance. But for now, Cry God, for Gideon, England and King George. Because Gideon was definitely Man of the Match... or maybe Armstrong, who despite losing more troops, did cut down the Earl...

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Code Zulu: Battle on Highway Six

We regret to report the deaths of six soldiers of the Royal Sherwood Rangers today in Jebel Hadr following an attack by the Milice Internale on a routine patrol of Highway Six. The MOD has not yet named the fallen.
BBC News, 19th March 2007

It was, Brown realised, sheer luck that he was alive. The WMIK had bounced a good ten feet up in the air when the bomb went off, and landed again in a crater of churned mud and shattered brick. The highway was severed... and a severed hand lay in his lap.

The inside of the Land Rover was a charnel house of burnt and broken flesh, of men moaning and groaning as they realised they weren't dead yet.
The board. British in the centre, enemy all around.
Brown got on the radio. “Talavera, do you copy, do you copy?” was met only by static. The damn set had been damaged in the attack. Smith, his helmet torn away, came over to help, and together they tried to get the set working.
As they did, they heard the throaty chug of the .50 cal up top opening up on someone. The faster chatter of the GPMG joined it as they desperately pounded with the radio.

All around now, they could hear the warcries of the Milice Internale, the whiz and clink of bullets and ricochets. The radio wasn't bloody working, and the enemy were getting closer. Dozens of them were massing in the woods. Smith came back to say that Perkins and Gonno were the ones still alive and firing, the other four were dead, and then a grenade went off in the cab.

All was bright light and thunder, and then the radio was forgotten as Brown went to his mates' aid. Gonno was slack-eyed and bleeding from the ears: they propped him up in the back. Perkins and Smith had flesh wounds, and Brown had just finished putting the tourniquets on when he realised he too was bleeding. Smith took over the radio as Brown slumped back to stem the blood.
“Four Squad, this is Talavera: help is on the way.”

A bit of tar, and Brown went back to work. Gonno's injuries left the GPMG unmanned, so he opened up on the enemy. They'd got their courage up now, charging across the open ground toward the cab with murder in their eyes. But he and Perkins had the guns, and the courage, and they'd be damned if the MI would get their skins.


“Sergeant Williams, do you copy?”
“Copy sir.”
“I'll take one up to the bomb site, you debus the others to secure our exit.”
The WMIKs of 3 Platoon screamed down the highway. They'd been out of base when the call came through from Talavera that an ambush had occurred, and they could hear the gunfire now. A storm had kicked up, whipping the dry prairie dust into a haze that stretched across the horizon. Revving up, Lieutenant Konwe's driver hurtled his Land Rover down the road and into the maelstrom, jolting over the badly-laid slabs.

A rush of fire tore through a gap in the treeline mere metres from the smoking wreck, and the .50 gunner dropped into the main car. Behind them, men were spilling out of the other two WMIKs as the cars manoeuvred for a base of fire against the enemy. Gunfire was everywhere now, the air thick with noise.
The gunner signalled his okay, then checked his position: the gun was ruined, shattered by the impact of heavy rounds from the ruins on the hill. Konwe and his men got out, and started the grisly task of removing the bodies from the Land Rover.
Konwe and the men at work.

Looks like we're damned then, Brown thought. He was bleeding from the head, staggering as he was dragged through the fields. Heavy fire just hadn't been enough – they'd swamped the car, stabbed Perkins and finished off Gonno. It was just him and Smith now, battered but still standing. Still stumbling into captivity. But the battle hadn't ended – he could still here fire behind him. Talavera's help must have turned up just too late for the others, but if he shouted, they might be in time for him and Smith.


It was, Sergeant Williams reflected, a bizarre place for an ambush. Sure there were hills overlooking the road, but this was one of the few places where the highway sank into an embankment and provided cover for defenders. One fireteam was exchanging fire militants bare metres away on the other side of said embankment, furiously pouring lead into their position.

A clank and whoosh, and he realised fire was hitting the Land Rovers from the other side. He led his fire team against them, opening up with everything they had. Most went down, and the others retreated into the woods. He followed them up. Talavera had warned of mortar fire before the storm hit, and the operator was likely hiding somewhere in the brush. At the very least, they could scare him off.

Incoming fire. Drop. Assess. Return fire. Silence.
Lucky Ahmed faces his pursuers from behind a tree.
They fired again. It was a pistol. Williams turned around the bole of a great redwood, saw the enemy and fired three rounds from his SA80. The man dropped. Cautiously, he went over to investigate, and as he did, fire came from behind him. He turned, and the men showed him the insurgent they'd just shot, weighed down with radio equipment. His own kill had a familiar face – Ahmed “Lucky Ahmed” Al-ansar. Score one for the playing card deck.


The Land Rovers were full now, and Konwe started pulling back towards Williams' positions. Enemy fire had slackened off now, but even as they reversed down the highway, something hit the engine and slowed them down. Williams' men reembarked, one WMIK leading out on point when flame and greasy smoke erupted from another. “Engine's f@£$ed, debussing” came over the radio, and eight men piled out. As Konwe's Land Rover came past, some hopped on, the others running to catch up with Williams'. Behind them, the Land Rover blew up as the laid charge went off.

As 3 Platoon drove away down Highway Six and out of the storm, they counted themselves lucky. A full-on engagement with the enemy, without air support. Total casualties: one WMIK. All six bodies had been recovered.


The MOD regrets to announce that in yesterday's action on Highway Six, in which 3 Platoon of the Royal Sherwood Rangers distinguished themselves in a hard fought action against nearly a hundred Milice Internale fighters, two soldiers were taken prisoner: Cpl Jackson Brown and Pvt Laurence Smith. Their families have been informed, and all efforts are being made to locate and secure them.
BBC News, 20th March 2007

Me and Iskander played this, and predictably, he won. It was tighter than usual though, despite the end score being 37-23. There were several fog of war cards, and the whole affair had a tense and frantic feel. Lucky Ahmed got his name because he single-handedly survived two rounds of fire with a 6-man team (with 3 special weapon dice), getting the drop on them each time.
Man of the Match would be “Indestructible” Brown, who despite receiving two light wounds kept the enemy at bay almost exactly long enough to be rescued: he was captured at the end of one turn, and they arrived at the start of the next.
Iskander is a little upset that he left men behind, and is hoping for a rescue mission some time soon.
He enjoyed the political ramifications of the game so much that he's asked for a chance to play Charlie Don't Surf, a game I was thinking of picking up anyway in the Too Fat Lardies Jubilee sale. So that should be happened soon...

EDIT: The sequel to this game was played out here. Enjoy.

Friday, 25 May 2012

First '45s

A while ago I bought some Roundway models from Navwar, specifically English and Jacobite troops for the rising of '45. Other projects done, I've moved onto them, and I just finished my first nineteen models: two groups of 8 and three Big Men for Sharp Practice.

They have a cheerful, old-fashioned appeal, and I painted them in the colours of the imaginary King's Own Royal Borderers regiment, yellow trim and blue sashes. Two sergeants and an officer make up the Big Man quota. Me? Classist? Never! The one with the halberd will be the original Gideon Frost, beginner of the Frost Saga (my Blackadders of fake military history). Once I get some highlanders painted up, there will be more Sharp Practice battle reports on here but until then - enjoy your weekend.

Broadside 2012

I've bought quite a few magazines, rulebooks and models from members of the Milton Hundreds Wargames Club over the years (they have an excellent second-hand shop), and now it seem they're putting on a show:
I know this won't reach many people, but those who it does: consider going. There'll be a few traders and quite a few lovely tables set up, so if you're "daan saath", pop along and have a gander.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Battle of Brandswaterberg

The General is, I think, more sinned against than sinning. No sooner does he draw up a lovely plan for the execution of the war than the “boorish Boers” upset it with the exercise of their free will. He is quite overwrought by their constant nuisance-making and finds his only solace in constant variations on the aforementioned pun.”
The indelicate pen of Colonel Frost on his Commanding Officer, General Brassick.

Major General Sir John Brassick has assured me that uncontested passage over the Brandswater is vital for the relief of Ladysmith and the British citizens therein. In pursuance of this goal he today led his division against the Boer positions at Brandswaterberg and the surrounding hills.
Being a devoted follower of Sir Redvers “Reverse” Buller, Major General Brassick's orders to his subordinates were simple if potentially difficult to carry out. Under artillery cover, Brigadiers Mordaunt and O'Cleigh were to force their brigades forwards, disrupting the Boer lines and seizing the kraal on Brandswater as well as the hill beyond. Brevet Brigadier Frost's cavalry, consisting of squadrons of the Queen's Northern Lancers, the Royal Norfolk Dragoons and the Canadian Mounted Rifles, were to support the flanks, and not to dismount – Major General Brassick wanted them available to rout the Boers once the infantry had achieved a breakthrough.

The British Order of Battle
- Major General Sir John Brassick (Status 2) – Off table artillery support, 4 stands of 3 guns activateable only under automatic orders.
- Brigadier Sir Patrick O'Cleigh (Status 3) – 16 stands each of the Queen's Irish Fusiliers, Ulster Light Infantry and South Ireland Regiment, 2 artillery stands (3 pieces).
- Brigadier Sir James Mordaunt (Status 3) – 12 stands each of the King's Own Royal Borderers and Royal Sherwood Rangers, 8 stands of the South Essex and 1 artillery stand (3 pieces).
- Colonel (Brevet Brigadier) Gideon Frost (Status 2) – 3 stands each of the Queen's Northern Lancers and Royal Norfolk Dragoons, 5 stands of the Canadian Mounted Rifles.

Arranging their lines in the open land to the west, Mordaunt and O'Cleigh took the north and south of Plat Kop respectively, assembling their artillery in the centre. Determined to move quickly across the veldt, O'Cleigh formed his Irishmen into swift columns with minimal skirmishers. Tasked with seizing Koek Kop and its bridges, Mordaunt formed his battered brigade into skirmish order, with the bloodied South Essex as a flying column at the rear. Frost's cavalry kept in close order to the rear of the Irish Brigade, ready to move out as the situation dictated.

More importantly than usual, click on the photos for bigger versions.
Starting positions, 0800 hours.
To the Seizure of Koek Kop
The battle began at 0800. After an unnerving lack of action from the Boers, Mordaunt waved the Royal Sherwood Rangers forward to seize the bank of the Brandwater, opening up their lines as they did so. The front line of the King's Own moved in support as the hills came to life to the sound of Mausers. The Boers on Koek Kop revealed themselves, putting down the RSR's left flank with deadly fire. From Pisang Kop they killed men of the KORB, and from Doos Kruin they shot down the Queen's Irish Regiment. Over a hundred khaki Tommies fell from the line in a matter of seconds, and both sides dug in for a hard fight.

Now aware of the Boer positions, O'Cleigh rushed forward the Ulster Light Infantry's skirmish line. The rest of their battalion followed them, opening up their lines as they broke into a run. Simultaneously, the QIR leapfrogged past their stunned skirmishers, using Plat Kop as cover from the western Boers as they moved toward Doos Kruin. The South Ireland Regiment charged up the British right flank, hoping to quickly enfilade that great hill.
The might of Empire moves forward
The horse artillery opened up on Koek Kop, but with the Boers dug in as they were, it was impossible to tell what effect it had. The RSR hugging the bank of the Brandswater opened up at the Boers cowering among the explosions, covering their fellows as they moved up. The KORB advanced simultaneously, their colonel eyeing Koek Kop and Pisang Kop uncertainly; unwilling to enfilade himself, unsure of where to attack, his lines vacillated as the Boers opened up again. The QIR and the RSR took the brunt of the blow, and with a roar the Royal Sherwood leapt forwards. Were it not for the unnerving effect of Boer fire, they doubtless would have stormed the hill, but they stopped short of the enemy.
Two points of shock leave the British an inch short of charging.
The horse artillery laid down fire on Pisang Kop as O'Cleigh moved his Irish onwards. The QIR made it to the foot of Doos Kruin, while the Ulsters followed only slightly more cautiously.

Unwilling to needlessly waste ammunition, Brassick had made no prior plans for the deployment of artillery. Now he sent a rider to tell the heavy artillery to open up on Pisang Kop, and vaguely waved at his adjacent horse artillery to continue their good work.

With a roar, the heavies opened up, firing lyddite shells in their dozens onto Pisang Kop. This cheered the RSR immensely, and encouraged Frost to deploy his cavalry. The last of the horse artillery opened fire on Droos Kruin, hoping to suppress the enemy long enough for a British charge to succeed, but received a nasty surprise as the Boers targeted them back with hidden cannon!

With a huzzah! the Royal Sherwood Rangers fixed bayonets and mounted Koek Kop, eager to avenge their fallen friends.
The Royal Sherwood charge home!

The Boers retreat.
Mordaunt moves his brigade forward on the left.
To the Seizure of Droos Kruin
The battle had now raged for an hour, and finally the western-most hill was in British hands. All along the rest of the line however, Boer barrels grew hot. Throughout the Queen's Irish, men hit the dirt, for safety and in death's repose. The worst of it came for the South Ireland Regiment. Mostly still in column from their mad dash forward, they lost a hundred and fifty men to a sudden storm of fire from Grys Kop – from then on known as Assassin's Hill – as previously hidden Boers opened up on them. 

Suddenly the Irish Brigade was stalled. The Queen's Irish slowed to a crawl, the South Irish dealt with their sudden losses and confusion, and the Ulstermen realised that to storm either hill meant a great deal of enfilading fire, not least from the Boer artillery that now targeted them. The morale of the Queen's Irish fell even further as their left flank companies took casualties from the British artillery aiming at Pisang Kop.
The South Irish die to British shells, as their colonel rallies them in vain.
Horrified by what he had just witnessed through his filigreed eyeglass, Brassick ordered the artillery to stop firing on Pisang Kop, and to redirect their fire onto the Brandwaterberg. If the enemy were so cunning as to hide on Assassin's Hill, he reflected, they would surely have seized a secondary position behind those his men were taking. The horse artillery began moving forward onto Plat Kop, hoping from there to support both brigades.

Trusting his all to the brave Queen's Irish, so close to their objective, O'Cleigh appealed to their honour, their courage, and with a cry of “Faugh a Ballagh!” and a muttered “alea jacta est”, tried to drive them forward to their objective.
This is why we can't charge nice things.
Strategic shock (those red dice) stall the British advance.
Thoroughly disappointed in his men, Colonel Dougherty of the QIR strode among his men, haranguing them into some semblance of order. He was lucky not to be shot for his trouble as Doos Kruin proved itself again the great bastion of the Boer defence.

Taking personal leadership of the situation, Brigadier Sir Patrick O'Cleigh drove his Ulstermen forward into the teeth of the Boer guns. The Boers barely stood for the charge. Their courage was not well repaid in the slaughter that followed.
Ulstermen flood Droos Kruin

All along the line men cheered to see the hill taken, but in the midst of their celebrations the King's Own Royal Borderers were reminded they were in the battle as deadly accurate fire came from the Brandwater kraal, previously thought abandoned.

To the Seizure of the Kraal
Here came a feat of sudden madness as the Canadian Mounted Rifles, inspired by the storming of Doos Kruin, charged down the valley between it and Assassin's Hill, clearly hoping to emulate the Ulstermen with only a third of their numbers.
Toward the valley of death rode the two hundred and fifty...
Seeing the KORB's plight, Brassick sent word to divide the artillery's firepower between Brandwatersberg and the kraal, an order swiftly implemented by his staff. Under the cover of a lyddite bombardment, three companies of the RSR seized enfilading positions on the west bank of the Brandwater. The King's Own and Queen's Irish pressed forward, taking up positions to the west and east of Pisang Kop. The Queen's Irish split into two skirmish lines under fire from the kraal.

Secure in its position on the reverse of Plat Kop, the second battery of horse artillery opened fire on Assassin's Hill. Advancing under an umbrella of fire, O'Cleigh led his victorious Ulstermen toward the same position, leaving three companies behind to support an assault on the kraal. Colonel Dynemar attempted to follow his commander's example, but the South Irish stumbled among their sullen and disillusioned skirmish line and came to a halt among the dead.
The block formed by the collision of Southern Irish lines.
High explosive continued to rain down on Assassin's Hill, but with nowhere near as much effect as the Boers firing into the depression between Pisang Kop and Droos Kruin. The bodies were piling up there now, so much so that the front line of the QIR actually retreated into the second. For the first time in this battle, the British had been driven back.

Seeing the advancement of his lines, Brassick moved to the northern spur of Plat Kop to egg the QIR onward. An ominous quiet fell across Assassin's Hill as on the other side of the battlefield the RSR opened fire on the Brandswater kraal. The stormers of Koek Kop, now well rested, stormed towards the northern bridge under the cover of heavy fire from their comrades and the KORB.

The kraal's defenders fled, only to be steadied on the slopes of the Brandswaterberg by the sight of Assassin's Hill's defenders reappearing behind Pannekop. They repaid them by filling the Pisang-Kruin defile with yet more dead. Bidding them au revoir, O'Cleigh sent his Ulstermen forward in two waves round the northern flank of Droos Kruin to continue the British line now forming. Bombardment of the kraal now stopped to allow an advance. Seizing the initiative, the right two companies of the King's Own moved up to the orchards.
British lines just prior to seizing the kraal.
The Vecht-Commandant Shows His Hand
Now Koch showed the full extent of his reserves. From the Brandswaterberg and Pannekop came the fire of nigh on a thousand rifles. The King's Own and Ulster Lights took some of the fire, but it was the Royal Sherwood Rangers who bore the brunt. Whole ranks melted away as they reached the Brandswater Bridge, and two hundred men of the British Army turned and ran in a shameful but understandable display. Unaware of this bloodsoaked tragedy, the Ulster front line opened fire on Pannekop, exacting a heavy toll as their support moved through them, carrying with them all the most fiery-eyed sons of Eire on the crest of the wave.
From five by five to eight by two.
As the clock struck twelve, the men on the Brandswaterberg were still firing. The Pannekoppers were trapped between the avenging angels of Ulster and the river, but Koch was more concerned about the Borderers who threatened the crossing and spared only his cannon to support them. With thunder and great noise he drove the King's Own back, slaying half and sending the rest running for their lives. Lyddite shells answered him, but he strode among his men like a preacher, inspiring them as well as any Glaswegian doomsayer. It was not enough for the Pannekoppers. The Ulster Light Infantry opened up all along the line and under that terrible weight of shells, those Boers who did not die simply ran, abandoning country and rifle alike in a desperate need to escape.

Amazingly, Brassick managed to steady the tattered remnants of the Borderers' left flank on Pisang Kop, but Mordaunt & Frost were too busy rallying the fleeing Rangers to thank him. The rest of the Royal Sherwood and the King's Own now formed a firing line along the Brandswater, separated only by the Koek Kop tributary. Behind them, the Queen's Northern Lancers and the South Essex advanced in open formations as the artillery kept up its terrible pounding.

Brassick ordered the remnants of the Queen's Irish forward, and suddenly there was one great line of Queen's Irish, of Ulstermen and of Borderers, all buoyed by each other's company and resolute in the service of the crown, ready to hand it to Uncle Kruger.
Suddenly two points of shock doesn't seem so bad.
At this point the main body of Ulstermen rushed forwards, seizing the riverbank and the kraal under heavy fire from Brandswaterberg. It was this fire that undid the Boer Staatsartillerie, for the British zeroed in on their muzzle flares and destroyed them before ceasing fire at Brassick's order. He wanted no more deaths from friendly fire, and was willing to lay his men's lives down to the enemy to ensure it.

While the Ulstermen kept Koch busy on the summit, the Rangers laid down a terrible enfilading fire on the kraalsmen who sheltered on the Brandswaterberg's front slope, slaying scores and routing the rest.

Frost and Mordaunt now were whooping and waving their hats as the routed Royal Sherwood and as yet unused South Essex charged forward gallantly, both moving right back into the fray. Inspired, the Rangers at the river forced the bridge and went up the berg with a bayoneted celerity to make even the most grizzled sergeant proud.
Khakis and greys clash.
Their bravery was not rewarded. Exposed in their uphill dash, scores were shot down yards from victory, and those few who made it in were grimly beaten back down the hill to be destroyed by chasing fire.

The Grim End
The sun beat down hard now. It was one of the clock, and victory being so close made men reckless. The heat made them desperate. The sacrifice of the Royal Sherwood made them angry.
The British lines at 1300 hours.
There was an exchange of fire for some time, and then with a great cry, the South Essex leapt forward. They were on the berg before the Boers could say “taxation without representation”. Fire drove them to the ground, but their example was what mattered. The Ulstermen charged the kraal's. bridge, and suddenly there were three lines of British on the berg, then four, with more beyond the river.
The British flood the hill.
They were held at bay by fire for a while, and then, with a great lurch the South Essex and the more forward of the Ulstermen were among the Boers, all shouting “Faugh a Ballagh” together as brothers. The Boers who stood were cut down and the rest fled to no avail. By 1400 hours, Brandswaterberg and all it surveyed were under Her Majesty's control.

It was an honour to watch the army at work, and though the disdain some officers have for their commander was discomfiting, the trust and loyalty shown between them and the other ranks is a stirring thing to behold.
On behalf of the Eastern Times, Mark Abelard esq.
Butcher's Bill:
British: 500 dead, 1100 wounded
Boer: 900 dead, 500 prisoners, 250 wounded

This was a bloody game, as the butcher's bill attests to. The Boer fire was variable, but shockingly effective in a few cases: the Assassin's Hill ambush, the Pisang Gap disaster. Playing at this level really brings it home every time you lose a stand it's fifty men dead, wounded or shellshocked. The size of the game is just right for horror without detachment or excuses. These men aren't statistics and they aren't few enough to be expendable.

It might have been a deployment error, but the RSR nearly stormed Koek Kop in turn two – had they not had 2 points of shock, reducing their movement on the Tactical Initiative card to 9”, they would have flooded across the bridge and brought British steel home right at the start of the game. It gave the British an unwonted but historical overconfidence. Within two turns, their casualties had quadrupled, and they were not much closer to seizing the Brandwater.

At first, keeping battalions in large formations seems clever – you might slow down, but you're unlikely to be forced to retreat by shock. But that's not how tactics worked at the time, and that's not how this game goes. You were supposed to “ride the crest of the wave”, moving forward in successive lines, picking up stragglers who went to ground – a large-scale version of the “leapfrogging” now performed on a squad level to gain territory. The QIR in Turn Four were grounded as a battalion of fourteen stands by this simple fact, when an advance by line would have led to a quicker storming of Doos Kruin. The South Irish tried to do this properly in Turn Eight, but a lack of motivation (snake-eyes to move) cost them dearly, and they ended up bunching up in front of the guns on Assassin's Hill.

A salient point about the war is how well brigadiers and colonels did in spite of their superior officers, here represented by Major General Brassick. He was given the “complete tosser” card, which denied him his turn if it was drawn before he was. Lucky bugger that he was (how else did he get to command a division?), he avoided his fate all but twice, gently prodding the men's morale here and there throughout the game.

Man (or rather men) of the match goes to the Ulster Light Infantry. For two hundred casualties, they caused about half the Boer losses themselves, and never once faltered in their duty. Runner-ups are the much-abused Royal Sherwood Rangers, who took horrendous 66% casualties but came out standing in the end.

All in all, this was a terrific game, as TFL games always are. I can't wait for the finished product, but until then, it's back to the painting table and the books to create my next Boer War scenario.

P.S. I recommend Alfred T. Mahan's history of the war as a starter. It's available free from Project Gutenberg in a variety of formats.

P.P.S. Sorry for how incredibly long this post was.

Chorazy Crossroads, 1939

Chorazy Crossroads, Poland, 28th September, 1939

Hindsight tells us that the invasion of Poland had only a week to run when the skirmish at Chorazy Crossroads took place. It was a local counter-attack by troopers of the 11th Polish Legion Uhlans against their counterparts in the German 19th Reiters.
The start of play.

Sixty or so reiters were resting around the Bitwa Inn, their commanders taking their lunch within. Informed of this by his scouts, Major Kozacy split his squadron in two, intending to catch the Germans in a pincer movement. He led the southern wing himself.

Kozacy's wing gained ground swiftly, but the other pincer was detected by the German picket on the hill behind the inn. The second German platoon opened fire and killed several uhlans in that first volley, sending their fellows ducking to the ground.
The uhlans move up.

Under rather pathetic return fire, the reiters on the hill took the crest, cheerfully settling down to pick off the uhlans to their north. As they did so, fire began to ripple from Kozacy's lead company, surprising the other German platoon. However, they reacted like the consummate professionals they were, quickly seizing the initiative and laying down a weight of fire to pin the approaching Poles in place.

In the north, Captain Straty brought up another platoon past the farm. Its advance stopped in the fields due accurate fire from the reiters on the hill, the centre of the wave going to ground under the hail of bullets.
Straty's first platoon stopped in the fields.

Unhappy about his men stalling, Kozacy rode forward himself. With the help of Lieutenant Porucznik, he rallied them around him and they opened up to cover a move west by the reserve platoon.

Captain Straty's shattered first platoon through the woods, and the reserve took their place. The men in the fields also girded their loins and moved forward under fire. Now the inn was surrounded on three sides, and the weight of fire coming in was beginning to discomfit Captain Grys.
Are those beads of sweat or suppression..?
Leaving the inn to rally his men in the woods, Grys was taken by surprise by Kozacy's coming blow. A storm of fire erupted from the southern woods, and with a cry of “For our Freedom!”, a charge came from the east. The reiters on the hill drove one squad to ground, but the rest charged home. The veteran lancers fell upon the suppressed Germans in a slaughter, and not one escaped, not even Leutnant Gerhardt, who fought valiantly but was outmatched pistol to bayonet.
The Bitwa's woods are Polish once again.

Determined to preserve at least a part of his command for as long as possible, Captain Grys moved his men west, off the hill and into the woods in a desperate rush.

Straty's men followed them, but were checked at the crests of the hills by the reiters' fire. It was enough to give Grys a moment of relief – until the sharp whistles of ricochets and the bloom of splintering wood reminded him that there were Poles to his left, still firing, still unsuppressed.

Kozacy's own platoon moved forward into a wall of iron, stumbling to halt in the woods across the road from the Germans.
The Germans face the might of the 11th Polish Legion.

Aware of the impasse that his earlier lack of stealth placed the squadron in, Straty opened fire with every squad at his command. Grys could only stare as man after man of his brave platoon was whittled away by Polish fire.
What "just" eight squads firing in unison can do...

Straty's lieutenants rallied their men, desperate to throw more men into the firing line. The inn was once more occupied, this time by the uhlans.

Even as he cheered his men on, Kozacy knew that nothing more than another desperate charge could clear these Germans out. They did not retreat despite not being cut off – was it honour, or were they pinning his men in place for an airstrike or artillery bombardment brought back by some quick messenger?
The reiters' end approaches.

It is said that all a leader must do in war is make decisions. If they are good ones, so much the better. All along the line, the 11th Polish Legion opened up, and then from the south, Lieutenant Porucznik led his men in a charge across the open grass. One squad went to ground, two more charged in among the trees. Captain Grys counter-charged with his assistants, every reiter around him blazing away with their Mausers or making grim work with their entrenching tools.

But it was no good. German honour was no match for Polish steel. As the crows cawed overhead and the uhlan officers redressed their squads, checking for dead and wounded, Captain Grys' cracked pocket watch marked it only three o'clock of the afternoon.

Chorazy Crossroads, 1500h 28/09/39

Chorazy Crossroads Butcher's Bill:
Germans: sixty men dead, seven prisoners
Polish: nineteen dead, twelve wounded

This was a game of Crossfire, played on a 2x2 foot board with 2mm soldiers (retasked from the Kop That! project). I didn't think it would work, but it all went smoothly in the end. It felt both tense and inevitable all at the same time, with I think is a good show for a game. I think if I run it again I'll only give the Polish four platoons for a 2-1 advantage. 3-1 is all very good when attacking, but with their higher morale they didn't really need it.

The man of the match was either Lieutenant Porucznik or Captain Grys. Both did sterling work rallying and re-rallying their men. Grys held out against crazy odds for longer than he might have done, and Porucznik led the fateful final charge that despite being 10 dice to 9 was only won 2-0.

The “ambush” nature of the scenario was implemented by allowing the Polish to remain “hidden” until either they opened fire or were spotted either in open terrain or on the roll of a 6 by a German unit when in a terrain feature. I expected this would give more manoeuvring, but the reiter pickets caught Captain Straty out very quickly. All in all, very fun, and a lovely way to spend an hour or so with a game I haven't played much of recently.

Orders of Battle
Germans: 1x Company Commander, 2 x Platoons (Platoon Commander, 3 Squads). Regular morale
Polish: 2x Company Commanders, 6x Platoons (Platoon Commander, 3 squads). Veteran morale

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Jan and John

The (Second) Boer War, famously touted as being “over by Christmas”, lasted from 1899 to 1902. Its lessons were ruinous on a personal level and important on an institutional one. Thousands of British and Imperial citizen-soldiers died needlessly carrying out antiquated tactical manoeuvres against modern weaponry, but under the hot African sun, the British army learnt the lessons that would carry it through the maelstrom of 1914. 

The Boer War bridged the 19th and 20th centuries in more ways than the simply chronological. The British went into battle holding to the Napoleonic forms of the Crimea, albeit with khaki uniforms. By now too used to fighting native forces with more courage than bullets, the Boers with their German rifles and French artillery were a nasty shock. Battalions shook out into looser and looser formations as the war went on. The creeping artillery bombardment made its debut, as did the horror of the concentration camp once the war hit its guerilla phase. The Irish Brigade that fought for the Boers brought home valuable experience to the Republican Army. The African school born in the Sudan and brought to fruition here included French, Haig, Gough and Kitchener. It is in some ways fair to say that, in commanders as well as tactics, the British Army of 1914 was created on the bushveldt in 1900.

I've always enjoyed transitional periods, struggling with tactics in the same way (hopefully) as contemporary commanders. That is why I was delighted when Richard Clarke of the Too Fat Lardies very generously gave me the chance to playtest his Kop That! Rules for the Boer War. It was as fascinating as the war itself to see the interplay of TFL mechanics with the asymmetric nature of the conflict. Though in the early months the Boers took the strategic offensive, they were tactically defensive for the greatest part of the war, only attacking in small scale raids.

Another thing about the Boer War, as alluded to in the title, is the fellow-feeling and hatred between the participants. Both sides were white, northern European Protestants who felt a certain level of kinship, which made the war all the crueller as both sides ground towards their inevitable bloody conclusion – almost like a civil war.

Apart from the fact that the Boers took on the British Empire on purpose, the scale of the veldt is one of the most eye-opening things about the conflict. The terrain was totally unlike the cramped fields and hedgerows of European warfare – wide, open, and studded with flat, rocky hills. Mr Clarke uses 6mm to display the grandeur of the African terrain, but I have only small tables, so I stuck with my 2mm.

Irregular Miniatures provided me with quite a lot for my £25. Despite a lot of spare cavalry, limbers, wagons, officers and a few un-based infantry, I already have 128 stands, which represent approximately 1,700 Boers with officers and 6 guns, against 4,300 British and officers with 9 guns. This of course does not count off-table artillery! I'll be adding plenty more cavalry to both sides, and using some of my modern 2mm to provide maxim guns to everybody.
In game terms, this gives five full-size British battalions with artillery and four squadrons of cavalry in support. The Boers fought in irregularly sized formations called commandos, so further labels than numbers aren't really helpful outside a specific battle. As the start of a collection, not at all shabby! And as ever, Irregular's turnaround was exemplary.
The Boers and British at their staging posts on Plas Ticktrey Kop.

I've decided to test Kop That! before putting my African scenery together. If anyone knows where to get cheap coir matting or stiff carpet in the Nottingham, UK area, please do say. Therefore, my inaugural scenario will take place not in the Bush, but in the agricultural areas around Ladysmith, during Buller's pushback after Spion Kop and the bloodshed over the Tugela. More on that story, later...