Friday, April 28, 2017

The Hunt for the Bey of Bassorah - The Battle.

Col. Redfers Carmine's column advancing deep into the
sun-drenched Medifluvian country...
As Colonel Redfers Carmine's column advanced deeper into Medifluvia, they saw not a sign of anyone who might oppose the march.  A few distant camel riders might stop and observe them for a few moments, before riding off into a disappearing cloud of dust.  Presently the Ruberians came upon a stretch of country dotted about with low hills and stands of palm trees.
The Bey's men coming surging out from concealment...
Not ideal ambush country, this, but not to be discounted, neither; Col Carmine arranged his troops in two columns.  His sole cavalry squadron led the right, two rifle companies following, and the artillery half-battery bringing up the rear.  The placed himself at the head of the third rifle company and the Gatling detachment forming a parallel column to their left.
Surprise!  Already having come under artillery fire,
 the dragoons are hit in flank by sipahis.
In what follows, I won't be offering a blow by blow account - just a general flow of events.
The Ruberian cavalry, scouting ahead, suddenly came under fire from the Bey's cannon,  Their attention thus drawn northward, they were surprised by the sudden onset of the Bey's sipahis, scimitars a-glint, slamming into their other flank.  That is to say, after their artillery salvo, the Turkowaz 'won' the initiative roll.    This cost the Ruberian dragoons a strength point, after which, however, they were able to swing around to confront their assailants.
The gunfire was, of course, the signal for the Bey's entire force to come surging out from cover. There was nothing sophisticated about his tactics.  'Swarm and swamp' just about summed it up.  In response, the rear units in the Red column swung outwards, the whole force forming three sides of a rectangle.  All three were coming in for a crackling rifle fire.
Coming to the aid of his dragoons, the gallant Colonel Carmine led a company, bayonets fixed, into the flank of the sipahis battling them, forcing them to break off with heavy loss.
It was not long before the Bey was wondering whether. in opposing this Ruberian expedition, he had chosen the path of true wisdom.  Ruberian firepower seemed to be gaining the upper hand.  His leading band of sipahis had been flung back.  Those accursed machine guns were decimating one of his levy bands on the south flank, whose attack was not helped by the delay to their friends having to clamber through a stand of palm trees.
The north flank attack seemed to be doing no better.  Faced with the loss of a third of their strength, one band had to choose between hanging on against the odds, or falling back.  Appreciating that to fall back simply meant taking his people beyond the range of his muskets, whilst still under fire, the tribesman's chief growled his men to stay in the fight.
It is true, though, that the early exchanges were going against the Bey.  After two or three bounds of firing, the Turkowaz had lost six Strength Points to the Ruberian two!  The latter was now not much nearer its 'exhaustion point' than their assailants.  Shortly afterwards, the Gatling section, having shredded their attackers looked about for fresh targets,  On the north flank one of the levy bands was also driven out of the fight.  Lacking targets, the artillery felt it could do nothing better than to engage the Turkowaz artillery.
It was the close quarter fighting to the front of the column that was holding them up.  No sooner had the company Colonel Carmine was with driven off the enemy horse attacking the dragoons, when they found themselves attacked in quick succession by more enemies.  Bursting through the palms, the second levy band attacked Carmine in flank.  Turning to face these fresh opponents, presented their other flank to a fresh body of sipahis.  From now on Carmine was in a battle for survival.

Nor could he expect much help from his other troops.  There remained just enough pressure from the northern flank and from in front to tie down all who might have come to his aid.  That he still had unengaged levy impatiently awaiting an opening to attack the head of the infidel column served to encourage the Bey in his battle.
But Carmine and his company were not going down without a fight.  at great risk to himself (I had to roll at least three times to determine his fate) he kept his dwindling band in the fight.  The enemy, too, were feeling the effects of the close quarter struggle.
Having driven off their immediate opponents, the dragoons, were to find themselves with enemies on three sides.  With no available line of retreat, they burst forward, hoping that by breaking through they might yet escape the peril.  It was to be a death ride.  Though they inflicted some loss upon the enemy, there was to be no escape for the dragoons.
In its battle with the southern flank levies, the Gatling section had taken considerable loss.  Lacking targets, they began to swing over to the northern flank, where the two rifle companies were by now just barely maintaining a line (One had been reduced to 1SP, the other to 3).  In fact, Carmine's whole command was by now much reduced - enough to reach its 'exhaustion point'.

Here was the situation:|
Dragoons.....................................SP3 reduced to SP1
Leading right flank Rifle Coy.....SP4 reduced to SP1
Following right flank Rifle Coy..SP4 reduced to SP3
'Carmine's' left flank Rifle Coy ..SP4 reduced to SP2
Gatling Section............................SP2 reduced to SP1
Artillery Troop.............................SP2..................SP2
Carmine's HQ...............................SP6..................SP6
Total:............................................SP25 reduced to SP16

The exhaustion point having been reached the Ruberians could, according to the rules, make no aggressive action, and therefore the Dragoons ought not to have made its bid to escape.  I simply forgot to check the situation betimes.  In fact I forgot that the exhaustion point might already have been reached.  But apart from the Gatlings joining the rifle companies facing northward, the Ruberians were to undertake no other aggressive action.
At last flinging off the attack from the southern flank, Carmine seemed able at last to turn his full attention to the sipahis still attacking him.  But he was also aware of approaching Turkowaz tribesmen coming to the aid of their comrades. Worse, there was nothing left of the company he had personally led against overwhelming numbers.   It was becoming apparent, even to him, that his column was not going to reach the Bey's Provincial capital this trip.
At this point the Bey called off his attack.  His own force had taken considerable punishment, and was also about ready to quit the field.  In fact it too had at last reached its exhaustion point.  Having got this far, I totted up the SPs lost: Ruberians 12 out of 25, Turkowaz 14 out of 40.

Although the butcher's bill gave the honours to Ruberia, there was no doubt at all who had won the victory.  The Bey could sip his coffee with the added pleasure of knowing his capital was safe.  His tribesmen had fought well.

Below and to the right are a couple of pictures of my 19th Century RED (Ruberia) and BLUE (Azuria/Turkowaz) armies as work off and on in progress.  In the above game, the units had the 'feel' of companies, and Carmine's column roughly a battalion in strength - three rifle companies and a Gatling section - reinforced by a squadron of dragoons and a troop of artillery.  In raw numbers they were probably outnumbered 2 to 1, but of course the superior firepower of the Ruberians made up for some of that. During the game, I thought I might have got the play balance wrong, but it proved pretty well right.
But I am by no means limited to this.  A 4-figure rifle stand might equally well represent a regiment or brigade, for a whole different type of game.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Hunt for the Bey of Bassorah - A Portable War Game

After a lengthy wait, I finally got my copy of Bob Cordery's The Portable Wargame, arriving, oddly enough, on my birthday.  I sometimes wonder how 'they' arranged that.

Col Redfers Carmine and his flying column about to
embark on his expedition into Medifluvia.

To resist the invaders, the Bellicose Bey has assembled
this fine array. ESCI French Foreign Legion infantry,
HaT Mamluk cavalry, ESCI/scratch-built gun.

The book is a fine read, very accessible, with interesting ideas. Apart from the hex-board war games of Avalon Hill and Simpubs, and the games of Wizard's Quest and Shogun in which the board is divided into regions, I have had no past experience of gridded war games. An old friend did try, over 20 years ago, to transform DBM into a board game, but it didn't seem to work, for mine.  So I was having more or less new ground opened before me.  Possibly my one caveat is that for one of my eyesight the pictures could be a little crisper, but I'm not complaining very hard.

Of course I had to try out one of the scenarios on a square grid, namely, 'The Hunt for the Mahdi'. But as I don't have the armies for that scenario - not even approximately - I had to make certain adjustments.  It had to be armies of c.1880, of course, which is roughly - very roughly - the period of my 19th Century Ruberian (RED) and Azurian (BLUE) armies.  But Azuria being vaguely French didn't quite 'fit'.  

The field of battle, Tell El Woznaim, with the Bey's men
lurking behind hills, rises and clumps of palm trees.  Somewhere off the
top edge of the picture (i.e. to the east) , the Ruberian column is approaching 

Behold the Settee Empire of Turkowaz (TURQUOISE), still 'BLUE' you see, but ... a different BLUE. Ruberia, of course has long established itself as the ruling power of the Sangrian subcontinent (SANGRIA- a kind of RED), upon which Turkowaz has for as long cast covetous eyes.  A certain Omar Arslan, Bey of Bassorah, a remote province at the eastern fringes of Turkowaz, has in fact been conducting raids into the areas of which Ruberia has claimed suzerainty.  The Governor General of Sangria has placed an expeditionary force  - a flying column - under command of Colonel Redfers Carmine to set off into the Medifluvian country, find and capture the nefarious Bey of Bassorah, extract reparations, and to to raze his provincial palace.


Col Redfers Carmine advancing into the Medifluvian
desert.  ESCI infantry and cavalry; HaT Gatling gun,
ESCI artillery trail and wheels, with scratchbuilt gun.
Now, this, and more particularly the Bey's, armies are slightly different from 'the book', and comprise as follows:

Ruberian Expeditionary Force:  Col R. Carmine, commanding.

- 3 rifle-armed infantry units (3 @ 4SP each = 12 SP, rated Average)
- 1 machine-gun infantry unit (1 @ 2SP = 2 SP, rated Average)
- 1 cavalry unit (1 @ 3SP = 3 SP, rated Average)
- 1 rifled field artillery unit (1 @ 2SP = 2 SP, rated Average)
- 1 commander and HQ staff (1 @ 6SP = 6SP)
Total Strength points = 25 SP; Exhaustion point, 9 SP).
The trap about to be sprung...
Well served by an efficient spy network that extended far beyond his borders, the Bey was soon enough warned of the impending approach of the Ruberian column.  In view of the inferior quality of his own forces, and rather than subject his provincial seat to a siege, he bethought himself to take his chances in the open field - not in a stand-up fight, but in ambush.
As the Turkowazians come howling out of the desert,
the Ruberians form three sides of a square...

 Provincial Army of the Bey of Bassorah: Commanded by the Bey in person.

- 6 smoothbore musket-armed infantry units (6 @ 3SP = 18 SP, rated Poor*)
- 2 rifle-armed infantry units (2 @ 4SP = 8 SP rated Average)
- 2 Cavalry units (2 @ 3SP = 6 SP, rated Average)
- 1 smoothbore medium artillery (1 @ 2SP = 2 SP, rated Average)
- 1 commander, HQ, hangers on and camp followers (1 @ 6SP = 6SP)
Total Strength Points = 40 SP; Exhaustion point = 14 SP.

(* I really don't like using the expression 'poor' in this sort of context, but have no really good substitute.  Maybe I should call them locally raised levy or something such.  The 3 SP levy infantry was due to a mis-remembered reading of the rules.  It so happened it probably helped the game balance!)
Turkowazian sipahis get the early edge on the Ruberian
dragoons. The white SP dice would not fit the receptacles.
I'll carry on the narrative another time, but for now, I'll mention that I had to adapt the battlefield according to my available space.  The original was on a 12x12 grid, but mine was limited to 10 squares in width, and although longer, the kitchen table's round ends tended to knock the corners off a a bit more as well.  By dropping the southernmost two rows, however,  I managed to fit all the terrain features comfortably on the table.  Quite satisfactory.  

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Stonewall in the Valley 14 - No rest for Rebels.

As Major-General Nathaniel P. Banks trailed northward with his battered corps, the Confederates found they could not yet rest in the laurel so far won.  True, it was likely Shield's - now General Erastus Tyler's - command would probably put in an appearance in a day or so.  It the appearance at last of  the third Union player in the drama, Major-General Fremont Mountain Department Army that would force the weary Army of the Valley back onto the road.

As the fighting of the 23rd May drew to a close, word had arrived at Major-General Jackson's battle HQ that Fremont's army had entered Strasburg.  Although his first impulse was at once to turn on his heel and storm that place, it was clear that his army needed a short rest to gather in his wounded, stragglers and prisoners of war. At once sending off his wagons and ambulances, escorted by the remains of Ashby's cavalry to White Post thence to turn southwards toward Front Royal,

For his part, Major-General was in a quandary.  Occupying Strasburg cut just one of at least two roads south available to the Rebs.  Should he stay and hope Tyler cut the other at Front Royal? Should he attempt to hold both roads with his own force unaided?  Perhaps he should advance upon the Confederate rear.  That he could reach Middle town by nightfall made that an attractive option. So the Union commander resolved.

Of the three options, that last seemed so likely compared with the other two that I weighted them, with the last a 50-50 proposition.  I rolled a 5, which score would have settled upon the Middleton move even were to options unweighted!

Learning of this, General Jackson was of half a mind to follow his ambulances and wagons with his whole army, and to get himself behind the Shenandoah River before seeking battle once more.  The alternative was to strike Fremont at once, when he was but two hours' march distant.

Because the option chosen by Jackson would remain a mystery until tested by the Union, the whereabouts of his army would no be known until his army was about to enter Middletown, or was a mere hour's march west of White Post.  If that route had been the one taken we might have got a peculiar running action at Cedarville, the head of the Confederate column reaching the place a half-hour ahead of the Union.  But I might have guessed how it would be.

Stonewall Jackson's bellicosity undimmed by the the hectic five days just past, he sent his army straight southward.  The enemy had spent early daylight hours preparing dug in positions.  If the Confederates still enjoyed superior numbers, the difference was far less - almost insignificant - compared with what it would have been on the 19th.

To be continued -
NOTE:  The next couple of postings will be on different topics.  But we will get back to this story. I'm all agog myself whether the Army of the Shenandoah can pull off another victory - this time with an entirely fresh opponent.