Saturday, 17 February 2018

Sikh Wars 1845 - A TSATF Scenario loosely based on the Battle of Mudki

Another of the games at the February meeting of the Devon Wargames Club was one I put on using my new 1/72nd Newline Sikh wars collection and was very loosely based on the Battle of Mudki 1845 (so loose that the best that could be said for the accuracy is that Sikhs and British were involved).

I have been looking for some time to try and find suitable rules that have the magic mix of gameplay and period character but without success , the nearest I have come is with ‘Flames in the Punjab’, a spin off from The Sword and the Flame skirmish rules by Larry Brom. This supplement was written for battalion level games especially for the Sikh wars but still uses many of the original rules from TSATF (both sets are needed). I bought my copy from Sergeants 3 but forgot to buy the original set.

I liked many of the concepts from the rules but decided to re-write a set from scratch using what I liked and inventing the rest, the result was five pages of A4 and I tested them safely away from club just to make sure that they worked, which I was pleased to see that they did. Some tinkering resulted in version 2 which was used in this game (Version 3 has replaced them, still on five pages but the font is getting smaller)

The British had been informed that a small force of Sikhs were approaching from the Mudki area and so quickly deployed onto the plain in front of their camp, the main Imperial army was still assembling from all the corners of India therefore this advance force were under orders to not stray to far forward however only an absolute bounder would refuse an opportunity to fight and so upper lips were made suitably stiff.

The British consisted of three infantry brigades, one HM battalion and two Sepoys per brigade with artillery attached to each accordingly. The cavalry consisted of the 3rd Light Dragoons, Governor Generals Bodyguard and the 5th Bengal LC.

The Sikh force was a bit more mixed, there were six battalions of Sikh infantry split into two brigades, a three mob brigade of irregular infantry, a unit of Akali fanatics and a unit of Jagirdari feudal infantry. The cavalry was made up of a single unit of Sikh dragoons, one lance armed Ghorchurra (this term is also applied frequently to the everyday cavalry) and two irregular units .

Both sides being both unfamiliar with the rules and the forces involved just sat there for a long time using only their artillery to relieve the tedium until I eventually found the correct voltage on the encouragement wand to make them advance.

As the Sikh artillery had by now gotten the worst of the exchange their whole force advanced all along the line, sending the cavalry rapidly forward on their right wing and the irregular infantry pushed through the jungle (a 19th century description for what we call woods, shrubs and bad going).

First into action were the light dragoons and the Ghorchurra who both strived tirelessly to not win the melee, the Sikh dragoons advancing next to them got badly mauled by the Sepoys holding that end of the line and who had obviously been paying attention at firing practice because they handed out more of the same to the Jagirdari infantry, eventually the Ghorchuras failed their morale and threw high enough that any remaining figures were taken straight off the table however by that time the irregular Sikh cavalry had joined in pinning the British dragoons. The remaining cavalry had all started their own melees with weight of Sikh numbers holding the better Sepoy cavalry. (version 3 now has a three turn melee limit) .

Ignoring the irregulars pushing through the jungle the British right wing hurried across to help their friends who had been getting the worst of the fire fight, the Sikhs had skilfully arranged their forces so that they would all throw very lucky dice when shooting and the British line was starting to look shaky especially the Sepoys.

The far left Sepoy battalion had now obviously forgotten what they had learnt at target practice or were distracted by the shiny metal quoits whizzing towards then as they only managed to hit one of the charging Akalis even at short range .

The hard pressed British centre looking to their left were dismayed to see their potential saviours had now stopped and were trying to shoot to a halt the charging Sikh irregulars who had finally traversed the jungle . Despite their poor starting morale only one unit was sent packing and the others raced into melees that forced a Sepoy battalion to retreat.

By now the other two British brigades were badly damaged with two units already taken off the table and the rest were down to a level where you don’t want to hear the word morale throw. The Sikh regulars, although showing signs of wear, clearly had the upper hand and could still maintain an unbroken line.

The final turn saw the British artillery that had been trying to desperately plug huge gaps in the line get shot to bits and with another battalion destroyed it was time for flags to be hurriedly taken of poles and given to a horseman to ride rapidly away with.

I wrote the rules written to encourage forward movement and I think the players involved would do things a bit different next time. The sides are quite even and although the HM infantry are good it isn't by a lot so they cannot sweep away colonial forces as in most games.

The game also raised a few possible improvements and some things that I hadn't even considered and have now been added into the rules or clarified a bit better and I suspect there may well be a version 4 at some time after a few more games however they did hold up for our game, which was nice.

My thanks to Nick, Steve H and Mike and it was nice to see a returnee to the club from long, long ago, who frankly we all thought was dead, fortunately he is also called Steve so that’s all right.

Figures: 1/72nd Newline Designs
Cloth: Zulu mat from Tiny Wargames
Trees: Woodland Scenic’s
Buildings: Hovels

This has been a Mr Steve production.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

The Battle of Campbells Crossing - AWI using British Grenadier

Battle of Brooklyn by Mark Maritato -
The Battle of Brooklyn (Battle of Long Island)

The first report of our four games held this month is set in the early years of the American War of Independence and was a fictitious encounter that saw a British and American force clash at a small hamlet serving as an American arms depot on a river crossing.

Both our forces were commanded by officers named Campbell, hence the title of this little action that typified many of such like little battles of the early war years before Washington adopted his Fabian strategy in the northern states and the conflict moved elsewhere.

Caliver Books - Partizan Press, British Grenadier

The setting for our game was, that a British reconnaissance in force was on the way to deal with a suspected rebel arms depot, which it was imperative to destroy, by brushing aside the rebel garrison and getting at the munitions.

Campbells Crossing with both forces set up on their respective sides of the river

The American garrison was equally tasked with defending the depot and if threatened to organise the movement of the munitions to safety whilst holding the King's army at bay.

Four battalions of militia held the flanks with two guns on the rebel left and four Continental battalions were held in the village in reserve with riflemen lining the river bank

The little cluster of houses was situated on a fordable river with an identified ford and bridge but also crossable along its length, with a modicum of disruption to formed troops.

The Americans were only assured that their rear base line was friendly and so the defence set up had to assume the enemy could approach from the other directions.

With the alert sounded the Americans begin the heavy work of shifting the munitions to safety

As the battle raged on the perimeter of the American defences, the garrison could test each turn to remove a crate of weapons, needing a 4, 5 or 6 to do so, with failure meaning a crate could be removed on the next turn automatically. With about twelve boxes to be taken away the garrison needed to put up a stiff resistance to allow time to complete the job.

British regulars prepare to advance towards the river
The rules for our afternoon's entertainment were 'British Grenadier' (BG), a set I have a first edition copy of in my library but that until yesterday had never played and so this report will allow a 'first impressions' look at this well established set of rules, with all the caveats that a first time play through implies, namely we are novices.

Royal Marines and 42nd Highlanders add a stiffening to the British ranks

I am at present reading 'With Zeal and with Bayonets Only' by Matthew Spring and with just the last two chapters to read am looking forward to doing a review of this really interesting book on JJ's Wargames later this month.

The book gives a really vivid impression of the capabilities of British and Loyalist troops in the conflict and the drivers behind their preferred tactics when fighting the Americans and not having played these rules I was keen to see if they captured some of that spirit in the way they modelled the fighting.

Militia and guns guard the American left flank as the brigade commander casts his glass on the British line over the river

So to our little battle. BG play with a relatively straight forward turn sequence beginning with an initiative die roll to see which side chooses to activate first through the turn.

This can be quite important as firing and charging is not simultaneous and with the former in particular, casualties take effect immediately when it comes to return any enemy fire and the number of figures in and remaining to a battalion dictates the casualties you might hope to inflict yourself.

Following the initiative roll, there is a command phase to test issuing of new orders by brigade (alternate), compulsory moves, charge declarations and movement to contact, normal movement (alternate), firing (alternate), melees (simultaneous), morale and pursuit tests (simultaneous) and finally rally off disruption points (simultaneous).

At the end of each turn the Americans would also test to remove a munitions stack of boxes, or not.

Militia covered the American right flank with riflemen guarding the approach to the river line

I took command of the Americans, whilst David commanded the King's forces and Jack acted as Gamemeister.

As the American commander, all I knew for definite was that a British force was on its way to deal with me and that they could be expected from any direction other than directly in my rear.

The river to my front was an obstacle to movement but could be forded along its length and crossed more easily at the known ford and bridge.

With the option to place two redoubts I went for using them to cover each flank and crossing point, using those areas as the boundary limit for my defensive perimeter and an easy reference point for ordering my two brigades to operate within whilst on their 'Hold' orders.

As the British close in on the river two battalions of Continentals support the riflemen as the guns are repositioned to bombard the British line

Each American brigade was symmetrical with each of two battalions of militia and Continental line infantry. To them were added two light canon and a unit of riflemen, and with one of my brigade commanders rated as 'Poor'.

Needless to say at this stage of the war my British opponents were markedly better in troop quality and commanders and so I would have to make best use of the terrain to buy time for my wagoners to get the supplies clear of the village.

The musketry became sharp and intense on the forward river line

With my four militia battalions posted to each flank, two on each. able to use fence lines and the redoubts for cover and with the bridge flank guarded by the two light guns, I placed a forward screen of riflemen on the river line to shoot up any advance across the open ground to their front whilst holding my Continentals in reserve to be moved to a threatened area and plug any gaps as the British plan of attack revealed itself.

The militia lining the flank redoubts started to take fire on their flanks forcing them to refuse their positions and add a little support to the Continentals 

With the bulk of British troops revealed to my front directly across the river I immediately issued orders to two of the Continental battalions to form line and advance to support the riflemen on the river line.

In addition the guns were rendered impotent by the British line and so were manhandled out of the left flank redoubt and over towards the nearest part of the river bank.

Despite this show of strength to my front, I felt sure the British would try one of their infamous turning manoeuvres to try and buy my defensive position cheaply and so the militia remained firmly ensconced covering the flanks, just in case.

The Fusiliers and Marines suffered early casualties as they approached the bridge

As soon as the British line advanced the musketry and rifle duelling commenced with the better quality troops causing the most pain and the early order to bring forward my Continentals in line helped to make the British pay dearly for each step closer to the river.

Not only that but the riflemen weighed in with hits on the British light bobs and within the first two turns two ammunition crates were safely removed.

With Continentals on the river, now with the two guns in support, the Americans could turn up the heat on the British

Then things go a bit sticky on the American left as the guns were pulled out of the redoubt to be repositioned on the river, causing a few disruptions to neighbouring units during their manoeuvring.

These disruptions act as a negative factor when firing and multiple disrupts cause multiple negatives, so when spread across my guns militia and continentals in the area, the British were in a good position for firing at me with the comfort that my return fire would be impaired.

Fortunately the British fire was not as effective as it could have been and thus when my guns got into position and the disrupts were rallied off, the combined effects of my Continental volley fire and grape shot from my cannon, shredded His Majesty's 42nd Foot and badly biffed the Royal Marine battalion to their right.

To further add insult to injury the militia on that flank persistently caused hits to the Welsh Fusiliers trying to force their way over the bridge.

Suddenly British and Loyalist troops appearing on the American right caused the riflemen to be pulled across to support the militia as another Continental battalion takes their place on the river line

The battle for the river line raged for a good four or five turns with about another couple of boxes removed when the British flank force turned up on the American right flank.

Consisting of Light Infantry and a battalion of Queens Rangers masquerading as dismounted British dragoons they immediately approached the trees in front of my militia covering the fence line.

As this advance commenced the British took advantage of their winning the fire-fight with the redoubt covering the ford and put troops into the river, driving off my militia and Continentals.

In response the Americans brought their riflemen across to replace the militia in the redoubt whilst bringing forward the last reserve battalion of Continental infantry to back them up.

The British line sought to soften up the Americans before starting to cross but were met with a heavy return fire

As the British advanced into the water, they were met with as much fire as the American line could bring to bear on them which only added to the discomfort of the two disrupts for crossing the river other than on the ford or the bridge.

The close in musketry was now taking a toll on both sides with the British losing their light bobs and 42nd Highlanders whilst the Americans had a Continental and militia battalion knocked out of the fight.

Of the two flanks the American left near the bridge was the more secure, with the right flank having to deploy new and final reserves to plug the gaps as the British pressed their advantage.

The British started to gain the ascendancy on the American right forcing the deployment of the last Continental battalion to the threatened area

It was about 16.30 when we called it a day, with the pub beckoning. The British were advancing on the American right flank but with still a lot of fight left in the rebels and with a likely three or four turns to allow them to potentially clear all but two to four of the remaining munitions boxes and so we called it an American minor victory.

Having been administered a severe drubbing fighting British in a Maurice game over at Steve M's in the week, report to follow on JJ's, it meant that Fortuna was being kind in her offerings of grace and favour, but more importantly, both David and I had had a lot of fun playing the game with thanks to Jack for putting it on with his figures and terrain.

So what are my impressions of British Grenadier Deluxe Addition (BG)? Well in their favour, these are self evidently rules specific to the period and with that design you would expect to encourage a game incorporating AWI tactics with units reflecting those of the period. The power of the musketry and guns also felt appropriate with punishing results as the ranges moved from long to effective, although there was, as far as we could see no rule for first fire, with the more effective casualties that could produce at appropriate ranges. This effect might be designed into the unit capabilities but I could not see that.

Spring's book makes mention of this effect in the AWI and that American fire in particular improved through the war as their units, militia and Continentals got better at being able to hold that first volley until the British were very close and thus delivering the telling fire as seen at battles such as Cowpens. Indeed British units were encouraged to close if they saw American units open fire to soon, sensing their inexperience and likeliness not to stand a pressed attack with the bayonet.

I can't say I fell in love with BG on the first date. We had a fun game and I would happily play them again, but I don't think they would be my first choice. My principle reasons being that they feel a bit to 'old school' with their modelling of sized battalions based on numbers of figures and with casualties reflected in removing figures. I think things have moved on and that units with a defined number of bases rather than figures together with factors that reflect capability or more my preferred option.

I also found the turn sequence a bit to predictable despite the rolling for initiative, with both sides looking to go first to get their hits in. My preference is for simultaneous shooting where possible and with the advantage taking effect in the charge sequence, with better quality forces more likely to get the jump on their inferiors but with the chance they might not.

I know the rules have a confirmed fan base and I can see why, as they strike me as well crafted and rooted in the period, but I think I would turn to Carnage and Glory II for a game at this scale and at some time we might even see an Over the Hills option to test out for those wanting a paper based set.