Tuesday 30 March 2021

"There'll be an awful row at home about this" a The Men Who Would be Kings scenario

Back in the desert this week and the further trials and tribulations of Imperial forces.  A varied group of replacements for units at the front have gathered at base camp and are being sent south to join their regiments.  The officer in charge one Captain Wilberforce Malplaquet Thackeray, is on his way back to join his regiment, the Royal Barsetshires.  Just as he is about to leave he is summoned to the brigadier's office.  "While you are going forward I want you to take a look at this hill" said the brigadier.  "The cartography department believe it will be ideal for an observation post; only a mile from the telegraph office at El Abdab Halt.  The area's been quiet for a couple of months, should give the new chaps a chance to experience the desert".  As Thackeray was leaving the brigadier added "Oh, Latimer will be going with you.  Wants to give his chaps some scouting training.  Good luck.  Have your report back to me within the week."

Two days later Thackeray gathered his troops together as they waited for Captain Latimer and his troopers to get their horses out of the trucks.  There were three small companies, one from the Highlanders, one from the Borsetshires and a detachment of Blue Jackets who were to join the steamers at Wadi Halfa.  The previous evening he had agreed with Latimer that the cavalry would scout ahead and the infantry would follow.  Broken ground and scrub would be avoided to ensure good progress.  Once the infantry had secured the hill and an assessment made, the Imperial troops would return to the train and continue south.

The battlefield, the hill in question is the large one to left of centre.  The Imperials enter on the right hand table edge 

The cavalry were soon ready and headed west towards the hill. Behind them came the infantry, they made good progress other than coming across a few areas of soft sand.  Ahead, the cavalry spotted some movement in an area of scrub north of the hill and moved south westerly after informing Thackeray of the sighting.  Later, an inquiry established that this was most likely due to a desire to have a good field of fire should enemy troops break cover and attack.  Whatever the reason, Latimer's men did not lengthen the range enough, as they were came under very effective fire as they neared the hill.  The unexpected casualties caused some hesitation, which resulted in yet more casualties, before Latimer gathered the survivors together and they continued south west to a position from which they could see the hill and it's reverse slope.  What they saw was not encouraging.  Three units of warriors were waiting for the Imperial infantry.  Thackeray was informed and his response was to place the Highlanders on the right to subdue the Dervish riflemen, the Borsetshire's in the centre to face the Dervish and the Blue Jackets on the left to fire into the flank of any Dervish attack.

The Dervish spearmen readying for the attack

The Imperial advance, Latimer's cavalry about to come under fire from the riflemen

The first wave of Dervish tribesmen charged over the hill towards the Borsetshires.  They were met by a volley which stopped them in their tracks and when the red coats closed up their ranks ready to charge the Dervish fell back over the hill.  Encouraged, Thackeray joined the British infantry as they marched up the hill.  To his right, events were turning against the Imperial force.  The Highlanders were now facing the riflemen and they fared no better than the cavalry.  With their captured modern rifles the tribesmen shot as if they had been trained on the Bisley range.  Men fell on all sides and the command group suffered severe losses too.  First the piper was seriously wounded then the commander of the Highlanders was felled by a shot to the chest.  In disarray the Highlanders fell back and the young officer in command of the Blue Jackets moved his men to the right to cover the Highlanders as they tried to reform.

The Borsetshires advance onto the hill in close order

On the hill, the Borsetshires reached the crest just as a second wave of Dervish moved forward.  There were more enemy on their right as a second unit moved towards their flank.  Fortunately, this was stopped by a volley from the Blue Jackets, but nothing could stop the avalanche of tribesmen hitting the Borsetshires.  Though outnumbered, their tight formation should have saved the Borsetshires, but the shock of their first hand to hand encounter with the Dervish caused some gaps to appear in the ranks and these were ruthlessly exploited by the Dervish warriors.

The Blue Jackets cover the Highlanders as they attempt to rally

In no time at all the close formation disintegrated and a few knots of red coats fell back off the hill.  Thackeray was not among them having fallen when the formation broke.  Latimer had attempted to intervene in the fight on the hill.  Attacking the Dervish unit which had been shaken by the Borsetshire volley, but his remaining troopers were too few in numbers to succeed and were driven off.  Looking about him, Latimer decided that it was time to fall back and he turned his few remaining men towards the railway line.  However, their attack had roused the Dervishes and seeing their opponents retiring, they pursued, catching the horsemen as they became bogged down in some soft sand and wiping them out.  

The remnants of the Blue Jackets fall back behind the sole survivor of the Borsetshires

The writing was on the wall for the remaining British infantry.  The Dervish warriors now advanced and hit first the Blue Jackets driving them back with over 50% casualties.  Next it was the turn of the Highlanders who were cut down to a man.  Following up the Dervish ensured the Blue Jackets now suffered the same fate.

The Blue Jackets are eliminated the Highlanders have already suffered the same fate

So ended a less than glorious episode in the history of the Imperial campaign in Sudan.  The Imperial force was all but wiped out, a single figure from the 44 which started the game made it back to the base line.  Highly effective shooting by the Dervish riflemen weakened the Highlanders and cavalry and suffered no losses themselves.  Both were finished off by the Dervish warriors.  Although in close order, the Borsetshires lost their melee by a wide margin and when the Dervish followed up the Imperials were all but wiped out.  The Blue Jackets were caught in skirmish formation and suffered the consequences.  At brigade headquarters one old Indian hand said the affair reminded him of the infamous retreat from Kabul when only Doctor William Brydon was said to be the only survivor.

It must be said in Thackeray's defence that the dice gods were definitely not helping him.  On several occasions adverse dice rolls proved his undoing.  That being said, the Dervish commander played a skillful defence and throughly deserved his victory.  My thanks to Steve for setting up the scenario and to David for being the Dervish commander.

Tuesday 16 March 2021

Battle of Dennington (Bennington) 1777: an AWI scenario for Patriots and Loyalists

 For our latest game Steve set up this re-working of the action near Bennington, which was part of the Saratoga campaign.  Burgoyne was moving south from Canada, but his army was hampered by poor roads and supply problems.  When he heard that supplies and horses were available in the town of Bennington, he detached part of his force under a Lt Col Baum to search for them.  Although the bulk of the rebel forces had pulled back, the local militia units gathered to resist Baum's force.  Realising he was outnumbered and expecting  the arrival of some reinforcements, Baum set up a defensive position near Wilcox bridge, where the Bennington road crossed the Walloomsac River.  

The table layout

Dennington (left of photo) is to the east, the lower edge of the photo is north)

I was allocated the Crown forces and had von Mirbach's Musketeer regiment in redoubt A and von Knyphausen's Fuslier regiment and a light gun in redoubt B.  In addition I had 2 units of jaeger and von Lossberg's Fusilier regiment plus an 'amusette' or 'wall gun' which I could deploy in support of the two redoubts.  For this scenario the Walloomsac river could only be crossed at the bridge.  Steve (as umpire) had told me that the rebel forces could be 'anywhere' and that I may receive reinforcements at point C.  

Crown forces deployed

In the end I placed von Lossberg in column facing the bridge, ready to support where necessary, one unit of jaeger facing away from redoubt B to screen that flank and one unit of jaeger across the river supporting von Mirbach.  The amusette was on the bridge also to provide support for von Mirbach.  All I could do now was await the arrival of the rebel forces.

David, as the rebel commander, General Rushe had the initiative and moved first.  As his troops moved forward it became clear that not only was I heavily outnumbered (15 units to my 5), but two thirds of those were advancing on redoubt B from opposite sides of the road.  I now realised that von Mirbach's position in redoubt A was dangerously exposed.  Although protected from the brigade of Brigadier Longshanks advancing from Dennington any enemy units on the opposite bank of the Walloomsac would have a clear shot at them.  Orders were therefore sent for von Mirbach to pull back over the river, covered by the jaeger.  This would of course require the amusette to also fall back as it was blocking the bridge.  Von Mirbach had fired a volley at the rebel riflemen moving towards them and then formed up into column and began to move towards Wilcox bridge.  Unfortunately, they didn't move quickly enough.  The riflemen advanced rapidly and fired into the flank of the musketeers, which caused them to break and head for the bridge.

A success for the rebels as von Mirbach are forced to pull back

Meanwhile redoubt B was under attack.  A brigade commanded by Brigadier Quicke was moving from the north.  A unit of riflemen moved into the wood and began firing at the redoubt and a unit of continental infantry deployed into line to cover the militia who were still advancing in column.  The continentals moved into musketry range and added their fire to that of the riflemen.  Von Knyphausen replied with a volley of their own and then the gun joined in.  This volume of fire proved too much for the continentals, who had to fall back to rally.

A setback for Brigadier Quicke

The rebel advance from the south also faced difficulties.   General Rushe had pushed forward his riflemen and the continental line unit in line but they made slow progress.  Impatient to get forward, Rushe ordered two of the militias units to advance through the woods on either side.  On the right the militia made good progress but once in the open it took them time to form line again.  On the left, the militia tried to deploy into line in the woods, again a slow process.  Thus, when the continental infantry moved forward they quickly outpaced their supports.  Baum's jaeger's harassed them as they advanced and so the continentals elected to drive off the jaeger at bayonet point.  However, rather than evade, the jaeger stood their ground (a misreading of the rules, only discovered later) and supported by the von Lossberg fusiliers engaged in a bruising melee with the rebel unit.  Although the jaeger suffered severe casualties it was the rebels who eventually fell back.  A brief respite had been gained on the southern flank.

The first push from the south repelled

To the north, Quicke had resumed his attack, following the repulse of the continentals.  Two militia units had deployed into line and were engaging the redoubt frontally. The jaeger were working around the western shoulder of the redoubt, threatening the road down which any reinforcements would arrive.  On the eastern flank of the redoubt, by the river, a column of militia was heading for the bridge.  To Baum's relief, the volleys from von Knyphausen's fusiliers plus the artillery drove back one of the militia units in disorder.  This allowed time for the fusiliers to re-deploy and move sections of the regiment to cover the flanks of the redoubt.  This made immediate impact as the rilemen were driven back in disorder by fire into their flank.  By the river, the column suffered not only from flanking fire from the redoubt, but also a volley from von Mirbach, who had reformed on the bridge.  The combined weight of fire proved too much for the militia, who broke and routed to the rear.

The attack on the bridge fails

In retrospect this proved to be the 'high water mark' of the crown day; several of the units had taken heavy casualties and this was to prove decisive in later events.

On the southern flank, General Rushe had reorganised his forces and was resuming the attack.  The militia unit on the right moved forward and fired into the rear of von Mirbach who were focused on driving back Quicke's men.  Caught by surprise, the morale of the unit failed and they routed back towards the redoubt on the hill.  The jaeger had pulled back west to recover from the melee, leaving von Lossberg to face the majority of General Rushe's brigade.  The jaeger continued to skirmish with the militia in the woods on the rebel left and Rushe moved his reformed continental infantry in that direction to bring pressure to bear on the road west.

Von Mirbach rout

It was not a moment too soon as up the road appeared a unit of musketeers and a unit of grenadiers.  These deployed into line and shored up Baum's right flank and threatened the flank of any frontal attack on the redoubt.  The musketeers covered the militia in the woods while the grenadiers moved forward and attacked the militia in Rushe's centre.  Firing a volley and following it up with a charge, the grenadiers were confident they would sweep away the militia; they proved to be sadly mistaken in that belief.  Standing their ground, the militia gave as good as they got, ably supported by the continental infantry.  Against the odds, it was the grenadiers who gave way, routing back down the road towards the Crown base.  Perhaps unnerved by this, the musketeers soon followed them.  Disordered by a volley from the militia in the wood, they received another before they could recover and they too ran off down the road, past the final element of Baum's reinforcements, a field gun.  This deployed by the road where the jaeger had been deployed.  They too had left the field, swept away by a volley from one of Quicke's militia units which had moved round the left flank of the redoubt.

The jaeger leave the field

Followed by the musketeers

But what of events on the other side of the Walloomsac, where the lone jaeger battalion faced Longshanks brigade.  Longshanks had determined to overwhelm the  jaeger with fire rather than an attack and deployed his forces in an arc around the unfortunate light troops.  Eventually the fire from three units proved too much and the pitiful remains of the jaegers fell back over the bridge, finished as a fighting unit.  With the way clear, Longshank's now launched a column of militia over the bridge to establish a foothold on the opposite bank.  Unfortunately for him, the amusette, which had spent most of the battle so far moving slowly back towards the redoubt and firing the occasional ineffective shot, chose this moment to make an impact.  The heavy calibre musket ball tore through the ranks of the column and caused such consternation that the militia stopped and then ran back to their lines.

The amusette's one success

The militia rout

In desperation, von Lossberg attempted to charge the nearest militia unit from Rushe's brigade, hoping to buy some time to organise a proper defence.  Von Mirbach had failed to rally and were joining the rest of the units heading back down the road west, so only von Knyphausen, the amusette and the field gun remained.  The light gun deployed with von Knyphausen had now exhausted its ammunition so the situation was critical.  Before the charge could be launched the militia fired and the casualties inflicted proved too much for the weary fusiliers who routed.

The final position, the only Crown forces remaining apart from the routing von Lossberg are those in the redoubt on the hill

With this Baum had no option but to surrender,  He was surrounded, outnumbered and with no hope of relief.  A notable victory for the rebel forces.

A game which duplicated the historical result.  Although ultimately a defeat, playing the Crown forces was quite enjoyable, if at times frustrating.  Many thanks to Steve for organising and hosting the game and to David for taking command of the rebel forces.