Saturday, 17 February 2018

North West Frontier, British and Indian Army Campaigns on the North-west Frontier of India 1849-1908 - Captain H.L. Nevill (1912)



Another book from my personal library which judging from the bookmark I must have started reading it long ago but never quite finished so I read it again over the summer, the review however has taken this long to write as it’s a tricky one to do.

You see the book is of its time and so some of its style is no longer deemed acceptable today, I am afraid the N word and T word is used extensively throughout (that’s Natives and Tribesmen) and the evil British Imperialists impose their oppressive western values on the indigenous Hill People by not allowing them to follow their long held traditions of coming down from the mountains and killing and stealing whenever they feel like it.

Fortunately we now live in more enlightened times.

The territory covered in this book is most of modern day Kashmir and the mountainous region that borders Afghanistan, an area which the British had absolutely no intention of taking over as they were quite happy sticking to the nice flat bits. Recent misfortunes in Afghanistan had reinforced their desire to leave well alone as it was clearly far more trouble than it could ever be worth. Also most of this area was nominally subject to Afghanistan anyway but even nominally is stretching the point.

Tribesmen

The book itself can be split roughly into two eras, up to 1890 the trickiest part of any punitive expedition was tracking the enemy down so that you could punish the raiders, from around 1890 it got a lot more dangerous as the tribes now had access to European style weapons in greater numbers.

Tribesman with Enfield Rifled Musket

What this book gives you is a run down of every campaign that went into this area (around 27) and it gives the force compositions, the objectives and a description of the events, quite often these are small affairs but there are some large proper campaigns interspersed between the punitive actions. Any estimate of the enemies forces are just that, estimates but I don’t think that really matters for wargamers wishing to re-create some of the events. After each mini campaign there is a review of what went right and what didn’t and is an excellent feature as the authors conclusions are well thought through. You also get the old style good quality hand drawn sketch map that covers each expedition.

Mountain Battery CRF

For example: The Mahsud Expedition 1894-1895 was split into three columns, each battalion /company that took part is listed and in which column it was in, the reason for the expedition is given, then the proposed route for each column and an outline of events for each, any casualties incurred (especially officers) and any terms imposed, it ends with the return journey which was quite often more eventful and finally a review on its successes and failures.

35th Sikh Regiment of Bengal Infantry Malakand Field Force repelling an attack by tribesmen 1897

Over time the British get pulled more and more into the area and start to leave garrisons behind in key points, these now become the centre for attacks and there are a few quite interesting little sieges and therefore forces have to be hurriedly cobbled together to march to their relief.

Chitral Fort 1 plan

The siege of Chitral is an interesting case , there is a description of the fort and its location, then the garrison is outlined giving of course the names of all Europeans involved, there were 99 Sikhs from the 14th Sikhs and 301 Kashmir Infantry with 100 civilians. Exact number of rounds for each type of rifle is given along with various supplies, the number and location point of guards and reasons given for any alterations plus as time goes on ammunition usage is updated and the number of rifles still serviceable. Obviously a full description of all the events is given and then the composition of the relief forces and the extreme difficulties it experienced whilst trying to cross the high mountains and the actions they fought to get there just in time.

https://www.britishbattles.com/north-west-frontier-of-india/siege-and-relief-of-chitral/

Sikhs carry the guns

There are even a couple of full scale night attacks against various British camps which usually causes great confusion, this from the Malakand Field Force 1897

“a second attack was made on the camp, at 9 pm a volley was poured into the camp followed by a rush of swordsmen from several directions, covered by the fire of others….. the engagement lasted until 2 am when the moon rose."

Attack on Nawagai Camp on 20th Sept 1897
Nawagai attack Major Hobday RA

Scattered among the bigger stories are small scale actions with handfuls of men who have been cut off or surprised and which usually don’t end well, ideal for some of the newer rules sets out that cover Colonial skirmishes.

The black mountain expedition ghazi attack on an advanced post at Ghazikot by P Naumann 1

The final chapter is a little odd, it’s a look into the future and how technological advancements could affect Imperial control over this area, better weapons and communications, obviously, improved mobility for the troops naturally and air vessels of course, once they became reliable that is. Finally he foresaw great things for the Mono-Rail recently demonstrated at the Brennan Torpedo factory in Gillingham in 1910, I wonder what became of that. (actually the Brennan torpedo is quite interesting in itself)

Brennan Monorail

Last of all are a number of appendices, The Field Orders issued by Brig Gen N.B Chamberlain are quiet enlightening but is it really necessary to point out that a doolie and a kajawah should accompany the rear guard, it’s not something that you would expect an experienced officer to forget surely. Next is a list of all the regiments that served and the campaigns that they took part in which is very useful and finally an Index.

Gordon Highlanders at Malakand Pass 1896 by SW Lincoln

For anyone with any interest in the North West Frontier and especially those wanting ideas for games then this book is extremely useful, as a general history reader myself I liked it as the actions are well written and the overall tone is quite well biased for the times.

I forgot, at the start there is a brief description of the tribal areas that this book covers and also the individual tribes that inhabit each bit, there is also an indication of their relevant fighting strengths.

One last anecdote from the mopping up after the Chitral campaign:

“The enemy withdrew and Munda was occupied, during a search a letter was found from a Scotch firm in Bombay to the Khan offering to provide all types of arms and ammunition from maxim guns to revolvers, luckily the benevolent intentions of this patriotic firm were discouraged and the firm in question has recently transferred itself to Cairo”

Major Neville didn't make it off the beach at Gallipoli.

Hardback
Readable pages: 383
Best price as of 9th Feb 2018: £13.43 from ABE Books

Abebooks -North West Frontier

I eventually found it using the ISBN number. 1-871085-10-1

This has been a Mr Steve presentation.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Meare Heath Bow, 2,600 BC

The collection of bows and a replica bronze age period sword - with the replica Meare Heath Bow, right of picture

Meare Heath Bow Replica by Hilary Greenland

A couple of weeks ago I got a chance to handle and shoot a replica of the oldest bow discovered in England, in fact down here in the South West of England on the Somerset Levels on Meare Heath near Glastonbury. The original piece is now housed in Taunton Museum which is on my must visit list so I will hope to do a follow up to this post in the future.

https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/getoutside/local/meare-heath-mendip

A friend of mine, Che, invited me to come and loose off a few arrows to see what it feels like to shoot this amazing piece of living archaeology.

As I've written before, the hobby of historical wargaming relies heavily on a good understanding of the facts that underpin it, which is why battlefield walking, reading and research into a particular period and looking at the artefacts and weaponry we attempt to illustrate with our models and re-enact with our games adds a multifaceted aspect that makes the hobby so interesting.

Interestingly I am in the process of putting a unit of Viking archers together to compliment my Viking and Anglo-Saxon period forces that have been posted about here on the blog and so having a chance to experience, first hand, the practicalities of using these weapons, originally built for hunting and putting food on the table but then utilised en mass as a weapon of war was an informative experience.

It's not only historical wargamers who are influenced by history as occasionally the film and TV companies go to some lengths to bring historical accuracy to their shows as the Meare Heath Bow copy used in 'Game of Thrones' illustrates, but let's not delve too deep into that statement as I might end up writing a different post!

Meare Heath Bow copy in 'Game of Thrones'
http://www.primitivearcher.com/articles/meareheathbow.html

The bow is a powerful shoot and has the pull to rival the great English long bow, however its beautiful propeller blade shape would have prohibited easy mass production required for a weapon of war, hence the long straight yew bows as illustrated in my post about the finds on the Mary Rose.

Mary Rose

I was wearing the full protective wrist guard and leather glove when shooting the bow at a target board and the rattle of the fingers as the arrow shaft passed through them on release left a telling numbness to the fingers, which only grew with multiple shots.

Firing at a target board backed by rubber tyres some ten yards away, and bearing in mind I am not a skilled archer, saw the arrow shafts penetrate up to a third of their length, showing what similar weapons could do when shooting straight at the body mass; the memories of standing on Towton Moor last year came flooding back and imagining the terrible carnage inflicted there.

Battle of Towton - 29th March 1461

In deed we also had a go with the smaller but no less impressive yew bow seen in the centre of the top picture, which was a much easier and handier weapon to wield, and would have served equally well in the hunting or battle setting.

The other aspect of using these weapons is the speed that arrows can be nocked, aimed and shot in an easy rapidity.

As seen below, Che also has a fine collection of period arrows that would have been used by these earlier hunter-gatherers and needless to say these were not the type we were messing about with on the day.


The workmanship on the flights is truly an amazing sight and illustrative of the skill of these early people.


Meare Heath has now been restored to the watery landscape that would have characterised much of the levels at that and previous times, forming a perfect landscape for hunting. Having seen and used Che's replica I feel the need to go and walk the area to complete the impression of the early Britons who lived in this part of the world so long ago.

Next up we have a book review from Mr Steve and I will be reporting on my trip to Roman Corinium amongst other things and the Saxon/Viking collection is almost finished bar finishing off six sabot bases before the parade shot.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Maurice - AWI Test Game


Following our game of Maurice last month, using Martin's 10mm Seven Years War collection, Steve and I decided to get back up to speed with this favourite rule set by playing with Steve's 15mm collection.

http://jjwargames.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/maurice-awi-campaign.html

For our game Steve picked up the game we played back in 2013 and used the same force mix and cards with yours truly taking the British and Hessians - see the link above.

The start positions for our game

As you will see the British were on the attack with a small hill in the centre of the American line as their objective.

Notables an idea to further develop?

One thing I always wanted to change with Maurice was the inclusion of brigade and/or divisional commanders. I really miss seeing the various levels of command represented and so wanted to play an idea to represent them and using them as part of the activation process.

So in this game you will see other commanders on the table testing out this idea, but I was keen not to fundamentally change the way Maurice plays as the simple but beautifully crafted system is what makes Maurice one of my favourite rule sets.

You could argue that Notables provides some of this layer of command but they have a lose affiliation with any troops they command and don't quite provide that command structure modelling that I am looking to include.

The British ready to advance with a Hessian brigade nearest and a British brigade on the other side of the road supported by guns and cavalry

Thus in the game we modified activation to be based on a command structure with groups of regular or irregular troops to be commanded by a brigade commander, leaving troops such as artillery and cavalry under the direct command of the CinC.

We also continued the use of formation to determine force type which encouraged brigade commanders to try to keep their respective battalions in the same formation and the same terrain to allow multiple activations.

The Americans holding the hill with two continental brigades and the militia on the flank

We treated our brigade commanders as another unit in terms of providing a point to which the CinC could assess his range to a given brigade for command purposes and played that if two brigades in the same formation remained in command range of one another the CinC could activate multiple brigades together.

This simple change immediately created the command feel of looking to keep commanders in range of the CinC rather than groups of units and thus a more recognisable chain of command.

The British close with both infantry brigades staying in the same formation and linked for command. Where did that marsh come from!

The game produced a bit of a drubbing for the British as my British brigade became hung-up on the marshy terrain which caused the attack to stall and cause my forward units to get engaged in an unequal fire-fight.

This card only added to British woes

I soon lost my Guards and a British line battalion around the bog for which for the loss of a Continental unit and a militia battalion were little compensation and with my Hessians trying to get back the initiative by attacking the militia, soon found my right being counter-attacked by multiple battalions of Continentals.

The British are forced to review their plan of attack after discovering unfavourable terrain in front of the American position 

As always the command strain meant little opportunity to bring up my guns and I was soon running short on cards with not much respite to risk a pass to regroup my hand. If an attack could go more badly wrong it is difficult to think of one and so my book of  'I wont try that again' memoirs was increased by another hard earned experience.

The Hessians take the fight to the militia

The simple change to include the extra command layer seemed to work well with little change in the mechanics and now encourages the thought to turn these commanders into a type of notable with characteristics that will enhance or detract from the troops they command rather like the notables but with a distinctly AWI feel.

So we were thinking of characters like 'No Flint' Grey adding a plus to troops in hand to hand combat or General Greene adding to the capabilities of irregulars, etc etc.

I think I might produce my own set of brigade notable AWI characters - more anon.

With two battalions of British infantry destroyed in the centre, the Americans counter-attack the British right flank

Thanks to Steve for a fun evening and so nice to get reacquainted with AWI and Maurice.

Next up a book review from Mr Steve, my bows and arrows, the Dux Bellorum collection gets finished and my review of With Zeal and with Bayonets Only.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Over the Hills Playtest - Rearguard at Grijo


This final scenario play test carries on where the previous 'Retreat from Albergaria' left off and is designed to allow both to be linked up.

Retreat from Albergaria

General Franceschi skilfully fended off the British pursuit and the French troops marched overnight and up the Lisbon road to join forces with General Mermet's troops positioned in the hills covering the road at the little village of Grijo.

To quote Napier:
The French were posted across the road on a range of steep hills, a wood, occupied with infantry, covered their right flank, and their front was protected by a village and broken ground, but their left was ill placed."


The road leading to Oporto with the village of Grijo astride it

As before, a key responsibility of the French command was to ensure safe passage for Marshal Soult's baggage wagons as well as getting the bulk of the French force safely back across the River Douro and into Oporto to join the rest of the army.

The countryside characterised as rolling hills with small open woods

This second scenario differs in that the Anglo-Portuguese crossed the River Vouga below Albergaria and regrouped before setting off in pursuit of Franceschi, now with flanking columns of infantry looking to cut in behind the French as Wellesley attempted to pin them with a close pursuit using the bulk of the allied army.

The picture below shows the two forces arrayed with the French preparing to move out through Grijo and with Wellesley, two infantry brigades, one of guards and artillery ready to press the French rearguard.

The two armies drawn up with the French holding a ridge in front of Grijo

Now with Mermet's brigade of infantry, Franceschi's force of cavalry and legere posed a significant force to be used to keep the road open and escape via the northern end of the table.

Sir Arthur Wellesley inspects the French position before giving the order to advance

However with two brigades of allied infantry marching to intersect the road at various times through the game the French cavalry would be kept busy trying to stem the allied attacks and allow their infantry and wagons to get clear.

The French drawn up to hold their position as the wagons and other elements prepare to march

This was the last games in our series of play tests and we aimed to play this one right through to completion and it was important to have everything set up ready to go when needed.

Pre-game preparation with all the forces laid out by command and the force morale cards set up

We have got into a set up routine, be the game large or small, and we like to have all the force cards set up with the orders allocated and the dice towers primed for action.

The Anglo-Portuguese set up similarly prepared

The French were tasked with setting up first and then Wellesley could arrange his force accordingly to prepare to attack or move or both depending on the French set up.

All is set and ready to go - turn one

In the last game I played the French, so this time we switched things and I played British to Steve's French.

The 31me Legere are in reserve following their gruelling march from Albergaria the previous day

On observing the French looking to make a fighting stand below Grijo, to allow their wagons to get a good start, I immediately put my battalions into line and moved my guns to the flank, to allow them to rapidly move on to a nearby hill and get a good view of the French sheltering on the ridge line opposite.

Franceschi's cavalry on the flank and able to police the table for the French

The Royal Artillery boys duly did their stuff and managed a few early hits with a bit of plough through onto rear units. With drums beating and fifers playing the redcoats advanced into the attack.

The RFA move on to a nearby hill and open fire on the French ridge as the British line advances

With the British intention obvious the French threw forward their cavalry on their right flank to threaten the British lines, which forced the infantry to push out a couple of squares to cover the exposed flank and slow the attack.

In response to the British move the French throw forward their cavalry to threaten the British flank

Meanwhile two French infantry brigades and the wagons headed off down the road towards Oporto, with Franceschi detaching two squadrons of dragoons to shadow the road as they did.

As the opening shots are traded, the legere escort the wagons along the road to Oporto

As the rearguard started to exchange musketry with both sides light battalions closing, the French force on the road were suddenly faced with several British battalions in column of companies making best speed to cut the road.

These troops were Sir John Murray's KGL and their light bobs, some armed with rifles, soon started to take telling pot shots at the French wagons as the dragoons came across to instill a sense of discretion into the German troops as the legere quickly looked to cover the road from the new comers.

First surprise, General Sir John Murray and his KGL brigade threaten the road

As the French battled to pin down Murray's brigade along the road, the French rearguard started to draw down on its force in and around Grijo as three battalions formed into column and st off to catch up the wagons.

The French are midway through their withdrawal using cavalry to stymie both British threats

Eager to prevent ideas of further withdrawal, the British moved up onto the ridge over Grijo, calling forward the guns to begin a softening up of the French rear units with massed musketry and artillery rounds.

The ground prevented Franceschi's cavalry from intervening and so they pulled back to cover the escape route should the French infantry feel so compelled.

The KGL deploy rapidly with rifle armed skirmishers moving into the woods to attack the French wagon train

The move to bring the dragoons over to cover the wagons had been a good one and so Murray's troops had to content themselves into pouring volley fire into each and every unit that tried to pass their position.

Meanwhile the 1st KGL move towards the road countered by French dragoons in the distance

The French start to draw down on their rearguard in Grijo

With the game past the halfway stage the French were eager to get their force into the second half of the table whilst the British were still looking for Hill's brigade to appear.

The KGL fire starts to cause casualties on the French troops trying to get to the Oporto crossing

The legere battalions were doing a grand job fending off Murray as the first elements of Mermet's rearguard infantry started to pass behind them, and with the wagons almost clear the French could congratulate themselves on a good job so far.

The French dragoons menace any further advance on the road

Then General Hill decided to show up with his brigade coming in from the opposite flank, just behind Grijo.

With their wagons safely withdrawn, the French cavalry hold back Murray's KGL as the French try to extract their rearguard

Suddenly an opportunity presented for the British to snatch a result from a game that was slipping away from them with the bulk of the French force sitting pretty on the road to Oporto.


Wellesley forces the Grijo position as the 1/2nd Guards storm into the village and rout the 2/47me Ligne

Not needing a second invitation, the 1/2nd Guards charged into the little village and smashed the French battalion trying desperately to resist, but breaking in rout after the first shock of combat.

The position around Grijo becomes untenable as Hill's brigade move in to cut off the road and hope of escape

Meanwhile the foot guns sent a few rounds of round-shot up the road to dissuade any French cavalry of thoughts of a rash move to rescue the beleaguered garrison.

Franceschi is stranded as his force looks on at the beleaguered rearguard

With just one move remaining the British brigades moved in to cut off the 47me Ligne from any escape, as Franceschi and Mermet had to settle for a withdrawal less two battalions as part of the bill.

The two battalions of the 47me Ligne fight bravely as the trap closes around them

The 1/16th Portuguese Line join Hill's brigade in the advance to seal off Grijo 

The British main force advance as the Guards close in

Steve's rearguard had lingered a few moves too long and the arrival of Hill's brigade sealed their fate as the first tentative steps backward were being contemplated towards the waiting cavalry.

Sir Arthur Wellesley oversees the taking of the village

General Franceschi prepares his cavalry to withdraw

The game proved to be an interesting challenge to both sides with the French doing an excellent job fending off the early threats to their column and getting the wagons off save a few musket hits, and the attack of the Guards nailing a better result than Wellesley managed by snipping out two battalions that wouldn't feature in the 2nd Battle of Oporto.

The British line advances on both sides of Grijo as the envelopment develops

The 1/2nd Guards mop up in Grijo

We hope you have enjoyed this series of game reports even though I have been frustratingly sparse on the details. I hope to remedy that situation soon.

In the meantime I have made available the play aids we created for these play tests and hope you will find them useful in your own OTH games.

If you want to check out all the posts referring to these OTH play-tests and other related OTH stuff then follow the link below.

Over the Hills

Next up, bows and arrows and Vikings and Saxons.