Thursday, 7 June 2012

Slaughter at Blood Bridge, 1900

The Boer and his knavish tricks make a mockery of the soldier's art. Today is as much the proof of that as anything.”
Lt. General Orfal Ricketts, British Army

A Divisional assault across the the Caledon succeeded with heavy casualties today. Under the command of Lt. General Ricketts, battalions of the Wiltshire, Devon, Manchester, Lothian and Royal Norfolk regiments, with support from the Canadian Mounted Rifles and Queen's Northern Lancers, took upon themselves the task of securing a vital bridge.
Initial set-up, Brits advancing bottom right.
Moving swiftly forward in battalion columns, the division met no resistance until the Devons attempted to cross the bridge, whereupon hidden Boers opened fire at medium range, slaughtering the front companies. The artillery ordered by General Ricketts had picked firezones far from any Boer position, and staff riders were hastily sent to order a change in targets.
The Devons are stopped dead, mowed down in column.
Their tormentors appear, bracketed by useless bombardments.
The fire that fell upon them intensified until with over five hundred of their eight lying dead or wounded in the attempt to cross, the remainder broke and streamed past their comrades towards the rear. Meanwhile, still in formed order, the Lothians and Royal Norfolks had approached the river on the other side of High Hill, and had begun to cross under fire from Boer artillery. The Wiltshires and Manchesters had opened up their lines as they approached the river, chastened by the Devons' fate which the impetuous QNL now began to share.
The British flood the Caledon's banks.
At this point our honest Tommies had lost nigh on 800 of their fellows, with only an hour clocked on their advance, but they pressed on. The Wiltshires crossed the Caledon under heavy fire and began to press against the closest Boer position.
The Wiltshires begin redeeming the British left flank.
With a great shout, the Wiltshires shrugged their way past the withering Boer fire and drove them off without even coming to blows, such was the burghers' cowardice.
The Wiltshires take the kop and fire down at the enemy.
At the same time, the Queen's Northern Lancers, who had regained their composure after their ambush at the bridge, gallantly stormed the kop to the other side of the bridge from the Wiltshire's assault. They lost many men and more horses, but the Boers were thrown back in great disarray.
Pyrrhic victories don't get sweeter than this (doubling Boer losses)
Dissatisfied with this demonstration of martial prowess, the last few score Lancers girded themselves and charged again. They struck the Boer and struck hard, and sold their lives with honour – but foolishly. We are too short of cavalry in this campaign to hold them so cheap.
One-for-one losses are only fine for the infantry...
The day was pressing on, and so were the Lothians. Leaving the Royal Norfolk as a reserve in column behind the Caledon, their forward companies stormed up the hill that held the Boer guns and took them with some loss on the approach.
The moment just before the moment of truth.
Inspired by the QNL, the Canadians crossed Blood Bridge (as it will no doubt forever be known) and threw the Boers off the southern kop for little loss.
Charge! Charge for the Maple Queen!
It was now late afternoon, with dusk threatening the end of play, but companies from the Lothians and Wiltshires now combined and poured fire with 700 rifles on a Boer rearguard of only 180. When the smoke cleared these few brave Afrikaaners were no more.
The Great Red Line. Now available in khaki.
Undaunted by their casualties, or the appearance of Boer reserves on Hoek Kop, the Canadians charged again, slaying and routing yet more Boers in an orgiastic bout of violence.
A charge in column can be a terrible thing!
Tragically, this brought them too close to said reserves, and they were shattered and undone.
You can't argue with all those kills (6) and shocks (3+).
The Manchesters were still stuck on the wrong side of the Caledon having come under heavy attack, and needed several hours to sort their lines, their colonel and several captains being shot dead in the opening exchange of fire. But in the interim General Ricketts had gotten his orders through to the artillery, and Hoek Kop was being bombarded by the might of the Royal Artillery
They don't call that a proportionately large column of smoke for nothing!
That great host of Lothians and Wiltshires who had earlier routed the rearguard now charged Hoek Kop under the cover of encroaching darkness and began slowly but surely to drive the Boers back into the lyddite shells of the Royal Artillery. By nightfall, Hoek Kop was in British hands, the bridge over the Caledon was secure, and only a few score of our men lay as casualties to inspire closer co-operation between infantry and artillery.

On behalf of the Eastern Times, Mark Abelard esq.

The now much emptier field of battle.

Butcher's Bill
3,400 British killed and wounded.
350 fled and will be considered for court martial (Devons and Canadians).
800 Boers killed, 4 guns seized.

The British took 68% casualties in this Kop That! scenario. That's across the division, not one battalion. Great War battles averaged about 30% if I recall correctly, largely due to lessons learnt in this war. Lessons which Barbarossa picked up quite quickly after the initial slaughter at the bridge crossing, as evidenced by the opening of British lines after the first couple of in game hours, which drastically reduced the casualty rate.

The cavalry were a lot more useful in this game than previously, largely due to Barbarossa's Napoleonic glee in breaking light infantry with them, regardless of the later cost of their isolation (that cost, incidentally, was death and/or routing).

The period tactics which Mr Clarke kindly reminds us of in the playtesting notes are vitally important. Trade-offs have to be made between infantry moveability and survivability, and between maintaining close command of troops and a close relationship with supporting arms. The hard choices that the Big Man system throws up really were illustrated in this game and from Barbarossa's enthusiastic reaction seem to have won the TFL another admirer.

Man of the Match: General Ricketts. Unlike General Brassick, he got right in among the front line, doing his bit in every way, and also ordered the incredibly successful bombardment of the final Boer positions which were the key ingredient in the victory of the Lothian/Wiltshire charge.


  1. Nice to see the Scots Lothians morale was better than those effiminate Southrons ;-)

  2. They did well alright, but let's not forget that the Devons faced almost even numbers of Boers whereas the Lothians faced two guns. That said, the Royal Norfolks brigaded with the Lothians just sat behind High Hill all game, so you might be right actually!

  3. 'Almost even numbers' pah ;-) you need to use the real hard men, get the Scots up front, those Devonians are just bovine farmer lads ;-) As for the Norfolks, they might be useful if you ever need to build sea-walls or pad across marshes..

  4. I'll bear that in mind and use the Scots as the vanguard next time. =p

  5. Great game report. Sorry, though, Doug, you are wrong. Canadians are the real hard men. Sounds like they did well but could have been better led in this game.
    Cheers, Mike

    1. I'm not going to take sides on this one! But there *were* 800 Lothians and only 250 Canadians. Just to be helpful.

      Thanks for the compliment too =]

  6. Canadians are just transplanted Scots... and they get so weakened by the warm summers ;-)