Sunday, 24 February 2019

The Military Adventures of Dunsterforce - Attack on Bina, 1st September 1918

Elements of Dunsterforce pictured in Baku 1918

Since last year the club has run mid monthly meetings in February and March to put on some extra games for those club members keen to get in more than our normal once a month routine.

This was the first of these mid-monthly gatherings I had been able to attend so it was great to see a good turn out from the club to take part in two games, one of which was the one I participated in which was organised by Stephen and Chas focused on the adventures of the one-thousand elite British and Empire troops under the command of  Major-General Lionel C. Dunsterville known simply as Dunsterforce.

This force was sent to the Caucasus on a rather secret and 'hush-hush' mission to secure the rail routes and oil supplies from the region by organising armed resistance to the Ottomans and Germans and supporting groups of locally raised Armenians, Georgians and Tartars. The success or not of the mission was hotly debated in the years that followed the evacuation of the force from Baku on the 14th September 1918 with supporters claiming that there actions cut off much needed oil to the Germans and Ottomans in the closing months of WWI; whilst detractors complained of an under-strength, under-equipped force led by poor commanders, displaying a disappointing lack of organisation, leading to them re-naming the operation "Dunsterfarce" and condemning those involved in command.

The rules and scenario for our game looking at this particular theatre was 'Setting the East Ablaze', a rule set we have played previously in the club back in 2012 when we looked at the activities of Baron von Ungern-Sternberg in the 1920's.

Our scenario was a 'What If" look at the abortive attack on Bina in 1918 designed to obstruct the Ottoman-Caucasus Islam Army who, by taking the village of Bina, were attempting to encircle Baku.

The actual planned attack by British, Russian Bolshevik and Armenian troops supported by a Russian artillery bombardment and armoured cars failed to go ahead as planned against the mainly Azerbaijani militia (Azeri) and Tartar forces holding the village and the scenario assumed that this did not happen and that all the troops were assembled to attack in the wake of the preparatory bombardment.

The village of Bina with the forward trenches in the desert beyond

I assumed command of the three companies of Azeri militia along with a troop of Tartar light cavalry and a couple of heavy machineguns, Whilst Chas and Vince commanded a Syrian infantry company and Mevlavi Dervish infantry company in the forward trenches supported by a heavy machinegun and a sniper under the command of Turkish Major Pasha.

Dervish infantry in one of the trenches took early casualties in the artillery bombardment and soon fell back into the village

The British and Baku forces commanded by Ian, Stephen, Bob and Steve M included a company of the Worcestershire Regiment supported by a mix of vehicle mounted machineguns and a Russo-Armenian force of a company of infantry from each nationality supported by a heavy machinegun  and a couple of armoured cars, one with a six pounder gun, not forgetting their pre-attack artillery bombardment.

Russian and British vehicles prepare to advance

After the defenders took their positions among the buildings of Bina and in the forward trenches out in the desert beyond, the artillery rounds fell on the pre-selected targets causing early casualties to the Dervish infantry in one of the trenches and knocking out a Turkish heavy machinegun crew supporting the Syrian infantry in the trenches to their front.

The advance towards the Ottoman lines with the armoured cars pushed out ahead to support the attack

As the guns fell silent and the dust started to settle the rumble of engines could be heard beyond the village as the Russian and British vehicles moved forward amid the open order lines of the advancing British and Russo-Armenian infantry.

The vehicles start to deploy as they emerge from the scrub cover

The advance could be described as steady rather than rapid which allowed Major Pasha to call forward his Tartar cavalry reserve along with their supporting heavy machine gun, leaving the cavalry well back out of harms way as the machinegun team worked their way through the buildings to replace the lost Turkish weapon before the Russo-Armenians could close on the Syrian line.

The Devish infantry attempt to hold and loose off some small arms fire before compelled to retreat

Looking to cover the advance of their troops the two Russian armoured cars moved up with their infantry line looking to silence any fire from the forward trenches and they rapidly caused the Dervish company, hit by the Russian guns, to evacuate their trenches and find their way back to the houses of Bina.

The Russo-British attack looked formidable from any direction

In response a Turkish HMG opened fire from one of the forward houses and managed to suppress the lead armoured car, provoking return fire from the following vehicle with its six pounder, but surviving the shell smashing into the roof of the house they were occupying.

A Company of the 9th Worcesters led by Captain G.E. Boshir

Meanwhile the Russo-Armenian infantry started to debouch from the scrub cover into more open ground where they were met by the steady rifle fire of the Syrian infantry in their trenches supported by the Turkish HMG, free now to open fire on them having successfully temporarily neutralised the Russian armoured car.

Azeri militia occupy a building in Bina

The Russians and their local allies staggered under the heavy fire sustaining multiple casualties, but to their credit charged forward on to the Syrian trench and launched multiple bombing attacks that severely dented the number of troops occupying the defences.

However the Syrians fought doggedly and the Turkish HMG continued to further suppress the Russian armoured car whilst causing additional hits on the Russian infantry attacking the Syrian held trenches

Prepared and alert the Azeri militia brace themselves to meet the onslaught. The Syrian trench that bore the brunt of the initial attack can be seen top left.

With battle hotly engaged on the Russo-Armenian flank and centre, the Worcesters were able to close on the vacated Dervish trenches taking casualties from the Turkish HMG but able to infiltrate around the flank of the building to successfully close with it and take out the Turkish crew.

The British flank was now threatening to unhinge the Ottoman defences as they closed on the forward buildings of Bina and brought their fire to bear on buildings occupied by the Azeri miltia supported by the six pounder shells delivered by the second Russian armoured car.

On the right of picture the Dervish troops are evacuating their trench line as the Tartar cavalry reserve arrives bottom right

The battle had now reached its tipping point with the Russo-Armenian troops now occupying the Syrian trenches and calling forward their HMG to support a further advance into the village and with the British having disposed of one of the Azeri companies in the village, looking to press on with the support of the Russian armoured cars.

The Tartar HMG was initially held in reserve in the building in front of their cavalry but was soon called forward

During this time the Ottoman forces had also been busy bringing up another HMG crew who manning the buildings directly behind the former Syrian held trench now opened fire on the lead Russian armoured car scoring five out of six potential hits and more importantly converting one of them to a knock out causing the lead vehicle to crackle and burn as its ammunition and fuel "cooked off".

Russo-British troops took heart as the Dervish defenders deserted the trenches to their front

Then from the roof of the same building a Turkish sniper opened fire, wounding the Russian mounted commander overseeing his troops in readiness for their next attack into the village.

British HMGs and the Russian armoured car deploy to provide suppressive fire on the village

Civilian oil prospectors suddenly find themselves caught up in a battle

The Russian and Armenian troops launched a last fusillade of fire from their trenches before attempting to advance across the open ground and gain a foothold in Bina only to be met by more fire from the Ottoman HMG knocking down more of their number as the Dervish troops started to resist further advances by the British on their sector of the village.

The Russo-Armenian infantry close on the Syrian held trench

The Dervish trenches are empty as the Worcesters advance

The afternoon's fun was well advanced and the pub was beckoning and as if to emphasise the point the Russo-Armenians took and failed their fifty percent lost army morale test seeing their troops depart the field, taking their remaining armoured car with them.

The Turkish HMG successfully suppresses the Russian armoured car before lending its support to the hard pressed Syrians

This left the British and Ottoman forces to test, who both successfully passed leaving the British in an unlikely position of trying to press their attack further with a significant number of fresh Ottoman troops still able to contest any such advance using the cover offered by the buildings of Bina.

The Worcesters look to close in and knock out the Turkish gun that is hitting the flank of the Russian troops

Thus we called the game marginally in favour of the Ottoman defenders in what had been a bitterly fought little battle that underlined to all concerned a deep understanding for the hatred displayed towards any machinegunners by opposing troops, given the devastation these weapons were able to deliver in this period.

I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this excursion into one of the little known conflicts that made up the wider Great War, a period in history that doesn't normally grab me in terms of something I would normally play.

This game featured an array of vastly different types of troops with a wide array of competency and ability not to mention terrain that doesn't offer any favours to the attacker in the face of modern weapons no matter what the quality of the troops wielding them.

The rules were good fun and reminded me of simpler days playing WWII using Rapid Fire in their dice mechanism and referring to figures lost in a particular unit to work out their morale and status tests and with several of us very new to them it was impressive to see how quickly we picked them up and started to rattle through the turns.

That said these rules also incorporate the newer ideas of shock and overwatch together with a feel for the period that makes them quite different and I would happily play them again.

The lead Russian armoured car burns after being hit by the second Turkish HMG at close range

Thank you to Stephen and Chas for pulling the game together and bringing their knowledge of the period and theatre to bear on the game and to Ian, Bob, Steve M and Vince for adding to a very fun game with lots of drama and laughs, and I for one have learnt a little more history from the game we played that is just icing on the cake.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Battle of Pinhoe 1001 AD - Dux Bellorum

Yesterday David and I got to play the finalised version of the scenario I have been working on over recent weeks and covered in my post on JJ's Wargames - Battle of Pinhoe 1001 AD Dux Bellorum where I was looking to use the rule set Dux Bellorum to play a scenario game rather than a points based one, to recreate the local battle at Pinhoe just outside Exeter.

Dux Bellorum - A rule set I have come to like more and more each time I play them

The battle saw some 4,000 Viking raiders led by Palig Tokesen confront a hastily raised 2,000 man Fyrd army of Devon with some men from Somerset led by Theign Kola, after the raiders having landed at Exmouth marched on Exeter but were repulsed and forced to seek better sport in the neighbouring villages before being challenged by the arrival of Kola's army.

The Anglo-Saxon line forms up on the rear slope of Beacon Hill as scouts war of the approach of the Viking host

Two days prior to our club game I took the time to walk the battlefield on Beacon Hill just outside the modern day village of Pinhoe and you can read a post about that walk together with a PDF of this scenario that we played here.

JJ's Wargames, Battlefields in Devon - Battle of Pinhoe

Thus this game is the culmination of the previous three play-tests together with a walk on the likely site for the battle to confirm the terrain characteristics.

The Viking force approaches in three distinct groups with skirmishers covering the flanks

The Viking host approached the hill in three distinct groups with two units of bow armed skirmishers on each flank who attempted to take out the tree groups of Saxon skirmishers with their shooting as soon as they came into range.

The Saxon skirmishers wisely hugged the scattered woods around the hill using the cover and a few Leadership Points (LP) placed with them to protect against unfortunate hits, but waiting for any chance to rush from cover and close assault their opponents whilst replenishing their bows.

Saxon skirmishers rush out from the small woods around the hill to ambush their Viking opposites and try to reduce their threat

In these first battles between the skirmishers the Saxons managed to balance the forces to one skirmish base apiece and take three LP off the Vikings for two lost in return.

As the skirmish battle starts on the Saxon right flank the line waits in silence as the Vikings approach

The Skirmish action was however only the hors d'oeuvre to the main course of the two battle lines meeting as the three Viking groups went impetuous and charged up Beacon Hill crashing into their Saxon opposites braced up in shield wall.

Saxon slingers man the woods on the left of the line

At first it seemed as if Tokesen's historic charge would be matched by our game as the Saxon line reeled back in all but one of the clashes as they lost the first rounds of combat and were pushed back.

I, as the Saxon commander, rashly went for the Viking leader using Kola's stand of Companion warriors and adding in two supports together with three LPs to give an eleven dice attack against the Viking Leader only hitting on '6s' but still managing to miss with all eleven dice whilst taking one hit in return.

The two hosts meet as the Vikings charge home and the first casualties, (gaps among the bases) start to appear

Needless to say the Saxon line did not charge in on the next round of combat, leaving that to the Vikings, however conceding the -2 for charging uphill as the Vikings had successfully pushed the Saxon line back in the previous round.

This time though the Saxon Companions and one base of noble shield wall focused their attacks on the Viking warriors rather than the nobles and companions and were rewarded with multiple casualties and push-backs whilst the rest of the Saxon shieldwall managed to resist the bulk of the Viking attacks and thus pushed back the original attacks.

The fist rounds of close combat with gaps in the lines and pushbacks and follow ups equally spread along it

Shieldwall means that the Saxons were only succumbing to sixes rolled by the Vikings whist the Warrior status of the Vikings meant that apart from their Companions they were succumbing to fives and sixes and the shield wall also reduced Viking attacks by two dice equaling out the reduced striking power of the lower quality Saxon shieldwall.

Thus the game produces a finely balanced struggle on the hill that should eventually turn in favour of the better quality Viking host with their extra Leadership Points but the balance of the struggle in the early contest together with our house-rule of testing the success of LP's used to save hits, needing a 4,5 or 6 to succeed, keeps things interesting for the Saxon commander looking to take as many Vikings down as he can and force them to seriously think about leaving.

The first Viking casualties

The other added house-rule of a variable clock rolling down the eighteen turns of an Annals Battle meant that the players could not be sure if they were fighting a nine, eighteen or thirty-six turn battle or something in between thus adding a little extra pressure to the struggle.

In the end the Saxon line succumbed on turn ten having lost five bases of shield-wall warriors including the two levies and reduced to just one LP but having in return taken out four bases of Viking warriors together with three skirmish bases and reduced the Viking force to just two LP.

The first Saxon casualties

This was a really hard fought struggle likely emulating the historical contest fought a couple of miles from where we were playing a thousand years previously and produced a really fascinating game with decision points throughout as to where to place LPs and whether to charge or fight this group or another and I really enjoyed the afternoon.

Not only that but it has been really nice to get the Saxon - Viking collection out after putting it together just a year ago and I am very keen to add to the collection in time and play more Dux Bellorum which I feel has to be one of the best sets of rules written by Dan Mersey

Thanks to David for taking me on with the Vikings and to Bob and Steve M for the earlier play-tests that have helped shape this scenario.

The PDF for the scenario can be found here:
JJ's Wargames, Battlefields in Devon - Battle of Pinhoe

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Sharply Buffed in the Eighty Years War - The Battle of Hogs-Mill Run

Sharply Buffed in the rules adaptation for Renaissance War actions using Sharp Practice II that was published in the Lardy Summer Special 2017 and written by Nick Worthington.
Too Fat Lardies - Summer Special 2017

Thank you to David for our report on the action at Hogs Mill Run

If only he’d known what was going on, he thought, as he chewed ruminatively on the bacon rasher.
He hadn’t a clue. He didn’t know who was who or what was what or what did what to whom or how
well they did it. He’d only gone into the village, past the two buxom wenches, out of idle curiosity.
And then he found he was defending the place from - well, he wasn’t quite sure, but there seemed a lot of them.

“Take command of these two units and defend the ford, I’ll defend the bridge” said the voice. Well, at least someone knew what they were doing, he thought. Just then, a crashing volley rang out from nowhere, smashing into the flank of one of his newly acquired units. Even he knew this was not ‘a good thing’. Somehow the unit survived and managed to line the river bank, where it delivered a  distinctly underwhelming volley. Another volley from somewhere saw his unit scuttling back to his command post.

He could hear firing from the bridge. Things seem to be under control there, with neat blocks of somethings with other things on their right flank pouring volleys into an enemy which was keeping a
respectful distance – unlike his flank ,where the enemy were closing on the ford with alarming rapidity.

“You take these,” said the voice.

Now ‘These’ looked much more promising. Firstly, they were mounted, secondly, they sported some
serious looking heavy armour, and thirdly, they carried things they could shoot with. Reinforcements
were also arriving near the buxom wenches. Things were decidedly looking up.

He devised a plan. His mounted lobsters would execute a glorious charge across the ford and pierce
a hole in the enemy line. He would then flood through the gap and drive the enemy from the field.
Already an enemy unit carrying pointy things had respectfully withdrawn, obviously fearing the
oncoming onslaught. He launched the charge and watched with satisfaction as the mounted lobsters
punched a hole through the enemy line.

Now was the time for decisive action, press home the advantage. He strode forward purposefully,
failing to see a sow suckling her young at his feet. He fell headlong into the pig mire.

He had imagined his first command post to be a lofty eminence, where he could look down, eagle eyed, on the field of battle. Or maybe the high tower of a luxurious chateau. Or perhaps even dare he dream, a windmill with a specially constructed gallery for him to pace up and down, arms behind his back, head bowed in deep thought. But, a pigsty, really?

He got slowly to his feet, a stabbing pain in his ankle. He could see that ‘bad things’ had happened.
The mounted lobsters were nowhere to be seen, the enemy unit carrying pointy things had somehow crossed the ford and were wreaking havoc. Where were the reinforcements? Being delayed by the buxom wenches, no doubt.

“Army moral broken,” said the voice, gleefully. “I’m off.”

He had to admit it, he’d been pretty inept. He’d lost everything. Well, not quite he thought, tossing
another pork chop into the sizzling pan.

My thanks to Bob, Nathan and Mr Steve for participating in an entertaining and enjoyable game and
particularly to Colin, who set up the scenario and provided the beautiful figures and terrain. A pleasure and privilege to use.