Thursday, 28 April 2011

Small Wars - Seven Years War

First thanks to Steve-the-wargamer for the suggestion on getting around the problem of rolling a six, we will be investigating the option. Our more recent game is a 'what if ' scenario based on the events following Kunersdorf. A joint Austro-Russian force is advancing rapidly to prevent Prussia re-organising after their defeat. Both sides consist entirely of light troops, with the outnumbered Prussians attempting to delay the advance of their opponents.

We started with three units of Austrian skirmishing light cavalry on the table, with the rest of the force due to arrive the next turn. Prussian forces were indicated on the umpire's map and only revealed as required. The first Prussian line of defence was based on the village of Neider Nahmen, a sunken, tree-lined road and the farm complex of Bauernhof.

The picture above shows Neider Nahmen, with the twin hills of Waldburg and the Langenburg beyond. The Bosniaks are positioned in the open area between Neider Nahmen and Der Grauhaus, which was the best cavalry country.

The Austrian Commander decided to use the bulk of his cavalry on his left, to swing around Neider Nahmen and surround any defenders and also scout ahead for any enemy forces. His Croat units would seize the village and farm and then reform before moving forward to the hills.

The Prussian commander had few troops at his disposal to delay the enemy, 3 Frei batallions, a unit of Jaeger, 2 units of regular Hussars, the Bosniaks and a unit of Frei hussaren. He garrisoned Bauernhof with frei battalion Le Noble with the jaeger in the sunken road on their flank. The remaining Frei battalions were held near the Langenberg, the regular hussars behind the Waldberg and the Frei Hussaren 'Favrat' held further back near the Grauhaus. As the action began, the only enemy the Austrian commander could see were the Bosniaks.

Colonel Tokacz led his unit of Banalisten Grenz Hussars round to the right, skirting Bauernhof and moving towards the Langenberg. As the Grenz Hussars passed the farm complex shots from the defenders caused a few casualties, but Tokacz pushed forward. Behind him the 1st battalion of the Gradiscaner Croat moved towards Bauernhof with the Ogaliner Croat batallion on their left.

On the left the Slavonishes and Warasdiner Grenz Hussars moved forward skirting Neider Nahmen and advancing towards the Bosniaks. In their wake the Liccaner, Creutzer and 2nd batallion Gradiscaner Croats moved towards Neider Nahmen, supported by the Jaeger Korps and Frei batallion Von Loudon and the regular Hussar regiments of Baranyey and Hadik.

Cautiously, the Croats approached the village and were surprised to find it unoccupied. Quickly, the Frei Batallion Von Loudon moved forward to act as garrison, whilst the croats and jaeger re-deployed in preparation for the advance to thier next objective, the orchard near the Grauhaus.

Before this could take place, the Bosniaks needed to be driven back. The Austrian commander moved forward his Grenz and regular hussars and as he did so, the Prussian commander supported the Bosniaks with the Favrat Hussars. A swirling melee took place between the two bodies of skirmishing cavalry, resulting in a victory for the Austrians. The Prussians fell back, the Bosniaks behind the Waldberg and Favrat to the Grauhaus.

In the centre the Prussians were also in retreat. The Jaeger had been in the sunken road between Neider Nahmen and Bauernhof, with the village now in Austrian hands they were outflanked and they moved back towards the Waldberg. In Bauernhof, the colonel of the Le Noble Frei batallion was beginning to consider withdrawal as well. The approaching Croats had a light batallion gun (amusette) with them and two of his best company commanders had been unlucky enough to get in the way of a half pound ball. His men were too few in number to hold all the perimeter of the buildings and so it was inevitable that the Croats would find a way in. As the Croats began to work around the sides of Bauernhof, the Colonel ordered his men to fall back to the barn, nearer the supporting Frie Batallions of Kleist and Quintus Icillius.

The Austrian commander was pleased with his progress so far, the first enemy line of defence had been cleared with little loss. His orders from Von Daun stressed the need for speed of advance even if it incurred casualties, so he therefore ordered an advance to the line of the orchard, Waldberg and Langenberg.

Colonel Tokacz pushed forward on the right. He saw the Frei batallion Quintus Icillius on the Langenberg with Kleist in support, covering the road. Gathering his force together he was confident that they could scatter this rabble and open the road to Berlin. As his men moved to the gallop a ragged volley caused few, if any casualties and the hussars' confidence grew.

However, the Prussians were made of sterner stuff. They lacked practice in shooting, but they had been drilled mercilessly on the parade ground and to the surprise of Tokacz and his hussars they met an unflinching barrier of bayonets. Abandoning their attack, the cavalry fell back accompanied by the jeers of their opponents.

On the left the Warasdiner Grenz Hussars led the advance, pursuing the retreating Bosniaks. As they crested the Waldberg they found themselves faced not only by the Bosniaks, but also the regular hussars. Before they could react the Von Werner Hussars swept forward into their flank, driving them backwards.

Following up, the regular hussars overwhelmed the supporting Slavonishes Hussars and with their blood up, charged the Baranyey Hussars. In the resulting melee the impetus of the Prussians carried the day. Now, out of control they charged the supporting Croat infantry. A telling volley emptied many saddles and the remaining troopers were kept at bay by the unbroken line of bayonets. Von Werner's men would take no further part in the action, but their charge had stalled the Austrian advance and eliminated their cavalry superiority.

It was at this point that Colonel Tokacz decided to try and push past Quintus Icillius and break into the open ground beyond the Langenberg. Unfortunately he put his head (and those of his troopers), in a noose. Moving through the narrow gap between the Frei batallion and nearby hedges he was faced by the reformed Bosniaks and the regular hussars of Von Ruesch. Not only was he outnumbered, the two frei batallions had moved to close his retreat. There was no way out, Colonel Tokacz had to surrender.

This victory was timely, as Le Noble had finally been driven from their foothold in the barn at Bauernhof and the Croats could continue their move towards the hills. However, deprived of their cavalry support this would not be easy, especially as Von Ruesch advanced around the Waldberg, threatening the Croat advance. In his wake came the Kleist frei batallion and the jaeger.

On the Austrian left, the infantry had secured the orchard and the second battalion of the Gradiscaner Croats had occupied the Grauhaus. The Creutzer Croats and the Frei Batallion Von Loudon moved towards the Waldberg, securing this feature would help restore the Austrian position in the centre. As they did so, Von Ruesch swept around the Waldberg and caught the Croats as they attacked the jeager defending the hill. Attcked in flank, the Croats were overwhelmed and cut down almost to a man. The Hussar's success placed in the rear of Von Loudon and a second charge scattered that unit as well.

The fighting now ceased. The Austrians could not advance in the face of the Prussian cavalry, but the Prussian infantry were too weak to push back the Austrians. However, it was the Prussian commander who was happiest. He had carried out Frederick's orders to the letter, offering a stiff defence whilst avoiding heavy casualties. The Austrian commander would have to wait for the supporting divisions to arrive and report to Von Daun in person, on his lack of success.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Last train to Handub

Our latest game was set in the Sudan and concerned the construction of the Suakin-Berber Railway, an uncompleted project which was the source of much comment in contemporary newspapers and political debate. The scenario was based on an action at Handub and not having all the offical details to hand, I have invented some characters to illustrate the way in which events unfolded.

Handub was the current railhead and the base for the surveying of the next stage of the line. In command was Captain James Lyle RE, an experienced officer from India, under his command he had a detachment of Royal Marines, (Captain Robert Thoroughgood, acting as 2i/c), a detachment of the Black Watch (Lieutenant Ian McWilliam) and a detatchment of naval artillery with a field gun and a gatling (Midshipmen Bolitho and Ramage). Some defensive precautions had been taken, but the train which had brought up the materials for the next stretch of line had been unable to return to Suakin as the line was blocked. Before the telegraph was cut an appeal for assistance had been sent. This had resulted in a relief column under the command of Colonel Sir Wellesley Tankerton being assembled. It comprised a unit of naval infantry, several companies of the Essex regiment, a detachment of the Black Watch, a unit of Indian infantry and a detachment of loyal Sudanese troops. This was augmented by a field gun, gatling and two units of cavalry comprising of a detachment of mounted infantry volunteers and the Royal Irish Lancers, both under the command of Captain Fitzwilliam Paget.

Relief Column

The local Dervish commander, Khalifa, had assembled a large force, intent on destroying not only the garrison at Handub but also the relief column he knew would be summoned. He delegated the task of capturing Handub to his cousin Karim Bey, whilst he would deal with the relief column.

Here are Karim Bey's forces for the attack on Hanbub, with the left wing of Khalifa's troops in the background.

Knowing that his progress would be impeded by enemy forces, Tankerton had sent Paget with the cavalry on a wide flanking manoeuvre to bring support to the garrison at Handub as soon as possible. Achieving this task in spite of Dervish scouts, Paget ordered the mounted infantry to hold the palm grove to the north of Handub, whilst he used the Lancers to secure the flank. The mounted infantry were supported by the Black Watch, which Lyle ordered to advance from Handub village.

Karim Bey knew he would need to stretch the defenders line and sent three units across the railway to atack from the east, whilst a further three units advanced against the palm grove and the train. the flank of this attack was covered by his cavalry. Surging forward, the Dervish forces attacked the positions of the Royal Marines and the Naval field gun. Fierce hand to hand fighting over the barricades followed, with Thoroughgood's marines and Ramage's gunners beating back the attackers, though the marines lost a third of their number. As the Dervish infantry regrouped, the naval gunners subjected them to heavy fire, hoping to dissuade them from further attacks. But they came forward again, this time supported by a third unit which began to work around the flank of the marines. Seeing this, Thoroughgood ordered his men to fire a volley and then fall back to the outskirts of the village to shorten the line and protect their flank.

This photograph shows the action to the north and east of Handub. The marines have fallen back from the defences, whilst Ramage's men are trying to beat off a second dervish attack. Bolitho, with the gatling on the train, is about to be attacked by the unit to his left and the Black Watch are desperately trying to hold the line of the palm grove. On the Black Watch's left flank, the mounted infantry were being overwhelmed by Dervish infantry and so McWilliam ordered his hard-pressed men to fall back to the train. On reaching the this relative security, McWilliam was concerned to find that only half his command was still present, though he could see, from the piles of corpses in the grove that the enemy had paid a heavy price for the ground they had gained. He had just enough time to distribute his men amongst the wagons of the train before a wave of Dervish infantry attacked. Again, fierce hand to hand fighting took place as the Dervishes tried to overwhelm the gallant defenders. When it seemed that all was lost, aid arrived in the shape of the Irish Lancers. Paget led his men forward and drove into the Dervish flank. After a brief struggle the lancers prevailed and to the sound of cheers from the grateful Black Watch, the cavalry fell back to reform.

Lyle scanned the western horizon for signs of the relief column, where the devil were they?

Tankerton had anticipated he would find it difficult to rescue the troops at Handub. The country between Suakin and the railhead was arid, with no water sources, so he had the added problem of safeguarding the water carts which accompanied his column. As he approached the last ridge before Handub he was astonished to see hordes of Dervishes barring his path. The usual Dervish style was to spring sudden ambushes and gradually diminish their opponent's strength; what were they up to?

Ordering his artillery to the fore he planned to force his way through the pass by driving off the Dervishes facing him. To protect his flanks, the Essex and Black Watch moved forward on his right and the Indians and Sudanese on his left. The guns began their work and soon a wavering could be seen in the enemy lines. Rather than retreat, one group ran forward and attacked the Indian infantry. After a bloody exchange the dervish fell back, but their was no relief for the gallant Indians as another body of dervishes fell on them. Waves of attacks left piles of Dervish dead, but also a dwindling number of Indians holding the line. The Sudanese troops moved to their aid, but were too late as the remaing troops were overrun. Now the Dervish switched their attention to the Sudanese. No quarter was asked or given as the bloody struggle continued. Eventually the Sudanese too were overwhelmed. Tankerton's left had ceased to exist.

Fortunately, his right was faring rather better, the disciplined volleys from the Essex Regiment drove the Sudanese back and secured the flank of the central battery. The battery had also done it's work and the way to Handub was now open.

Lyle had been greatly heartened by the sound of the relief column's guns, they were not a moment too soon. Dervish riflemen had worked their way round the southern edge of Handub and were now firmly established in the village. Thoroughgood and Ramage were in danger of being surrounded. McWilliam's few remaining men were also coming under increased fire. The time had come to abandon Handub and try and reach the relief column. Lyle ordered the engine crew to be ready to move on his order and sent runners to Ramage and Thoroughgood to watch for a red flare being fired from the engine. After five minutes the flare was fired and Ramage's gunners ran for the train. However, Thoroughgood's marines moved in the opposite direction, towards some broken ground. Before they got half way they were caught and overrun by Dervish infantry. Lyle received a message that McWilliam was severely wounded and his men were in danger of being unable to defend the train wagons. He had no choice, and ordered the driver to run as far as possible up the line and hope he was able to reach the relief column.

With Bolitho's men firing the Gatling for all they were worth, the little train moved forward, crushing several Dervishes beneath its wheels. Unable to keep up the Dervishes turned their attention to Handub and its stores. Lyle was able to link up with Tankerton and the remnants of the Imperial force returned to Suakin.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Anchors a-weigh!

One of the common characteristics of wargamers is the way in which we browse around looking for items which can be turned to 'useful' purpose. Early last year I happened to wander into a branch of 'The Works' during the lunch break. On a display stand was a box of packets for a game called 'Fire & Steel'. Each packet had two card ships in them along with a set of rules, a dice and a list of all the ships available. They had been discounted to clear and although I play very few naval wargames, I used the excuse that "they might come in for something". I purchased a couple of packets as a trial, made up the ships, a bit fiddly, but within my limited abilities and satisfied with them I puchased a further 10 packets over the next few days.

As usual with wargamers, the packets remained unopened in a drawer until a conversation about a possible 18th C campaign with a small naval element took place.

The result of an afternoon's fiddling is below.

The contents of the packets was random, but I did end up with some duplicates, as with these galleys. There were ships of various sizes, from those which could be 'ships of the line'

to these small ships ideal for coastal actions

Some of the ships are a little out of the ordinary, the ones below are 'bombardiers', possibly monitors? The forward gun is a bit out of proportion.

Anyway we will see what we can do with the ships; there are plenty of possibilities.