Friday, July 22, 2016

Gunboat - upper deck

A little more progress on the new gunboat... These last few days it's been slow in the making. Too much real life and the high daytime temperatures get in the way sometimes.

This is a dry run, the top deck isn't fixed in place yet. I intend to put all the detail on before doing so. The next step will be to embed the magnet to hold the after deck gun then construct the wheelhouse and smokestack. At the moment I'm thinking of scratch-building a couple of Gatling or Nordenfeldt guns to place on the wings above the paddle-boxes where they'll be able to bear almost directly ahead and astern. I already have a 5-barrel Nordenfeldt for the aft position on the upper deck. The lower deck will feature either the Nordenfeldt or a scratch-built Hotchkiss 57mm revolving cannon, which can be swapped as needed.

This is a beamy little boat, wider than my previous version so it can carry a number of figures. Looking at the photo I think it might benefit from a little more detail on the paddle-boxes, maybe in the form of a fan made up of elongated kite-shape pieces. We'll see.

In any case progress will come to a halt for another week as I'll be joining the press pack around the DNC conference in Philadelphia. It promises to be an historical event. Let's hope it is for all the right reasons.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Gunboat deckhouse

It's been a while since I last posted. Life gets in the way sometimes. I have managed to finish the lower deck-house for the gunboat.

The doors are bench backs from the Hirst Arts molds, with hinges and handles made with black Puffy Paint. I used black marker pen to make the windows with more Puffy Paint for the frames. Photos of gunboats of this era show the windows were small, often little more than slots in the walls. The lined panel represent ventilation louvers for the steam engine. Detail is sketchy on this part of the model, as most of it will be hidden by the paddle-boxes and the upper deck overhang.

The paddle-boxes will be glued in place next. I'm having trouble with the paint flaking off them, so they'll need a bit of a touch-up to get them right. I've painted the support posts for the upper deck. The holes in the deck are for the posts to fit into. More to come, time permitting.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Gunboat progress

The weather here has been hot and dry for weeks now. My gaming room isn't in the best insulated part of the house so it's also been uncomfortably hot to the extent I didn't much feel like working in it.

Even so, I have made a bit more progress on the new gunboat.

I painted the deck first, choosing an off-white colour similar to scrubbed wood. The hull is made from two layers of cardboard glued together, given a good coat of Future/Pledge polish then finished with two coats of festive green satin-finish spray paint. I then glued it in place, pinning it where necessary to keep it there until the glue dried. The paddlewheel boxes were given the same paint and are laid in place to check the fit before gluing.

Next up will be to make the posts along the sides to support the upper deck before I glue the paddle-boxes in place. Since the hull of this new boat is wider than the first, I'll make a whole new upper deck to suit instead of using the previous one.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Gunboat decking

It's a hot and humid evening. Since an afternoon storm watered the plants for me and it's way too uncomfortable to do any gardening, it was with a clear conscience that I made a bit more progress with the gunboat.

I laid the main deck planking, cutting sections from tongue depressor sticks. The black rectangles are the ceramic magnets I bought to mount the guns and hold them firmly to the deck. They're set tight into the foamcore and glued in place to it and the planking. Hopefully they'll be firm enough to hold in place without lifting when I swap out the guns. The planking will make the deck more durable and resistant to wear and tear from figures being stood upon it.

The superstructure and paddle-wheel wings have been covered with card. I've not glued the superstructure in place yet, as I want to add detail which will be difficult to do if it's fixed down. This'll be done next, and I'll sand the edges of the planking to make them a smoother fit within the hull plating. Progress is being made.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Gunboat under construction

It was our anniversary this past weekend so my wife and I were out and about celebrating. One place we visited was the fascinating Marblehead Lighthouse on the Lake Erie shore.

As you can see from the throng on the gallery the place was heaving, it being a holiday weekend. Since we both have trouble with heights we opted to stroll through the park and visit the reconstructed USLSS station instead.

They were brave men who set out to save lives in what was little more than a rowboat.

Continuing the nautical theme, the gunboat is now back on the construction schedule...

The shell of the superstructure is made of foamcore. It's shown slotted in place to test the fit before I add detail and glue it in place. The wing is the base for the paddle wheels, which I made by cutting a plastic jar lid in half and plating it with card. Walkways will run between the paddles and the superstructure. I'll lay the deck next, with planking made from wooden craft splints.

I'm toying with the idea of adding protective wooden planking around the hull and superstructure so it looks something like the original Nile gunboats that served under Gordon and Wolseley. We'll see.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Mend a Gunboat!

A minor maritime mishap resulted when a book fell off one of my shelves and dropped square upon the upper deck of my river gunboat model. Crunch!

I've no idea where the smokestack went. Maybe I should go walking around the area in bare feet, that usually does the trick when seeking lost items, especially those with sharp bits...

Anyway, it makes for a good time to turn lemons into lemonade. I built the current model to be convertible from civilian to military use and back within seconds through swapping out the top deck and the guns. The military top deck is shown in place, the deceased civilian deck lies beside. This time, instead of repairing it, I'm going to turn the model into a permanent civilian version and yes, build a spanking new military vessel.

My plan is for a side-wheel paddle steamer, with guns on the fore and after deck and a Nordenfeldt on the upper. I'll retain the current upper military deck, perhaps with some modifications. The guns shown have steel nuts for bases and are held in place by thin magnetic strips attached to the decks. It works up to a point but has a weak grip and even a small knock will topple the guns. Needing something with a stronger grip, I sought for and found this pack of small magnets in Lowes hardware store.

They're the kind used to hold kitchen cabinet doors closed and will give a good magnetic hold on the gun bases. I plan to embed them in the decks of the new gunboat so they'll hold the deck guns in place while allowing me to traverse the weapons in any direction.

The guns are a 9-pounder breech loader, and a 5-barrel Nordenfeldt. I have a another gun which I think is a 4.7" with a curved shield knocking around somewhere in my lead pile. It may be too big for a riverine gunboat, as it was really a primary weapon for sea-going gunboats and light cruisers, and a secondary weapon aboard larger ships of the Colonial period.

I do have an idea for making a Coehorn-type mortar, something like the British 12-pounder version shown below.

The design was in use from 1674 through to the end of the First World War and saw plenty of use during the ACW. In this case it would sit on the rear deck of the gunboat to provide high-angle fire support against fortifications and earthworks.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Jam'aah Game

Come on, you knew there'd be a pun in there somewhere, didn't you? ;)

Anyway, I played the Jam'aah Valley game to my usual Sharp Practice (v.1) rules with house modifications, and it went well.

The rules use Blinds for hidden movement, and some terrain features are considered blinds by their nature. I decided the rocky hills either side of the valley were such, but I drew up four cards for slaver forces. Two were for Groups of 12 men, one was a Mob of 24, and the last card was blank. In the game the two 12-man Groups turned up on the first hills the Imperial force came upon. I half-expected the 24-man Mob to show up on the second hill on the right of the valley, but it turned up on the tower hill, raising the strength of the tower garrison to 50 men. Rather a tough proposition!

During the game the British infantry blasted away with rifle fire, and even the askaris performed nicely for a change. The slavers inflicted some shrewd casualties on the British force, which otherwise would've caused them serious trouble, but the Bonus cards appeared quite often in this game where they hadn't in previous ones. In this instance the British got a Stand Fast card while firing on the slaver band upon the hill to the left of the valley. This card allows the British commander to rally off 1d6 Shock points. When the slaver force in the tower let fly they inflicted six points of Shock on the British column. Thanks to the Tiffin card coming up next followed by Captain Pike's card, he was able to rally four points off right away and keep his men in the fight.

No, the Wali didn't have an astroturf lawn laid next to his tower. I forgot to pick up the Blind card in the excitement of the game. ;)

Due to this the slavers didn't fare as well as I expected, even behind fortifications. Shock built up quickly under the incessant rifle and shell fire, and the death and/or wounding of their Junior Leaders didn't help their cause. It's a different matter in hand-to-hand combat, where the slavers count as Wallahs with big choppers. Then they're capable of slicing a British Tommy up like a kipper, as I found in other games where the sides closed to melee. I think on the whole it balanced out.

Speaking of shell fire, I hadn't used the screw gun (or mountain gun; it takes various guises) that often in games, and when I did I found it underwhelming in action.

You can go where you please, you can skid up the trees, but you don't get away from the guns! ~ Kipling, The Screw Guns.

Except up to now the enemy had little to fear from this example of the species.

After thinking over the problem I decided the heart of the matter lay in the fact that the rules were written for Napoleonic smooth-bore muzzle-loading artillery, and not the rifled pieces of the 1880s. Yes, it was a bit of a duh! moment. After another bit of thought I uprated the gun to count as Heavy under the rules, allowing it twelve fire dice instead of the usual ten to reflect the power of the explosive shell. To reflect the greater accuracy of a rifled artillery piece, I also gave it +1 to each fire die. This worked nicely in the Jam'aah Valley game, making the screw gun a force to be reckoned with.

So, on to the post-battle campaign book-keeping. Under my campaign system a unit has to perform well for three consecutive games before being uprated on the Sharp Practice chart - Poor to Regular to Good to Elite - or perform poorly to be downgraded. The askaris are fresh recruits and rated as Poor, but they did well in the Jam'aah Valley. If they continue to make good progress over the next two games they'll be uprated to Regular.

The Barsetshires fought their third action as Good troops on this occasion, and are hereby uprated to Elite. They did suffer six men killed in action, a sizable percentage of their strength, but they kept their high morale all the way through so I judged the losses would not affect their being uprated.

They accrue all sorts of nice benefits on the firing and morale charts. As Elites the Barsetshires now count +1 per fire die for every four men firing. The "Cardwell Reforms" I imposed several games ago reduced the section strength from ten to eight men. It gave the company tactical flexibility at the cost of firepower. In most encounters up to now the Barsetshires have had a few rocky moments as a consequence of native or slaver warbands coming into melee with the smaller sections due to the troops being unable to shoot down attacks as easily as they once did. It forced Fred Pike to fight the company as a tactically-stiff Formation in order to deploy useful firepower and melee combat ability. As Elites the company should regain that lost firepower and retain the flexibility.

Morale improves too. They don't recoil as far if they lose their bottle, and it becomes easier to replace Big Men who fall to the enemy, wounded or dead - although I hope Captain Pike and CSM Harrington will be around for a long time yet!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Action in the Jam'aah Valley - conclusion

The air filled with the buzz and whine of bullets. A man fell dead in front of Captain Pike. He glared at the tower, its sides disappearing in a cloud of greasy yellow gun smoke and shouted to the bugler. "Blow Skirmish order!"

Bates moistened his lips and the call echoed in the valley. Pike followed up with the order "Action left! Fire at will!"

The Men of Barsetshire immediately began to spread out and seek what cover they could, all the while laying a fusillade of rifle fire against the ancient embrasures and firing ports of the old fortification. Up on the hills CSM Harrington and Sergeant Rutledge deployed their remaining men and added fire to the onslaught. Havildar Shukla deployed the screw gun and soon the regular thump of seven-pounder shells impacting the tower sides added to the din.

The company deploys by the ford in the stream.
(Unknown to the Red Soldiers, one of the first bullets fired had badly wounded the ra'if in command of the tower. His underlings tried their best to take over, and for a while got their men up to the embrasures and firing slits where they traded shots with the enemy. Their abilities did not match their initial enthusiasm. As men fell back dead or wounded, the interior of the tower began to fill with choking smoke through which bullets and shell splinters slashed cruel paths. Slaver morale plummeted and, eventually, broke...)

Down in the valley Pike wiped sweat from his brow. The return fire had been hot, other men had fallen. He knew his men, he knew how much they could stick it out in action, but he also knew their tolerance would not hold forever.

At that moment figures appeared on the hill below the tower. Pike stiffened and stared, thinking an assault was forming up. He knew his men excelled in musketry, but close-combat was another matter when going up against the vicious slavers with their swords and spears.

To his immense relief the figures grew into a crowd that streamed away down the track to splash across the river before the town. Fire from the tower slackened then died away to nothing. "Cease fire!" Pike called, and Bates added the bugle call to reinforce the message. For a moment Pike debated with himself whether to pursue the fugitives with fire, but decided against. A beaten man was a beaten man. To shoot him in the back, even a slaver, was simply Not Done.

Meanwhile the survivors from the warband routed by the askaris had found safety within the town walls. Ra'id Hakim drew breath, no easy task given the pain in his ribs, and exhorted his men to stand their ground and recover their courage. "The infidel are few, we are many, and we shall destroy them!" he shouted. The racket of gunfire filled the air. "Listen to how our brothers shoot them down like dogs!" He pointed to where the enigmatic figure of the Wali could be seen gazing down at them from the roof of his house. "Come, my men! To the ramparts! Will you shame yourself before our beneficent leader, peace and blessings be upon him?"

The men looked shamefaced, but with smiles and nods of encouragement Hakim persuaded them to line the ramparts either side of the gate. Hakim glanced up at the Wali, who nodded and raised his hand to him in benediction. Pleased to have gained the notice of the great man, Hakim took his place to the left of the line on the ramparts and looked out at the valley. He fully expected to see the slaughter of the Red Soldiers enacted by his brethren in the tower. Instead he saw the long line of fugitives streaming from that ancient edifice. His heart sank, but he found a residue of resolve. "Courage!" he shouted again. "We will hold them here or die trying!"

Down the valley Captain Pike reordered his men into line and continued the advance. On the right flank Harrington and his men occupied the hilltop overlooking the town. 

Over on the left, Sergeant Rutledge responded to a bugle call to advance. A shouted order from the Captain told him to take and occupy the tower. "You've earned the right, lad!" Pike had called.

Pike halted his men adjacent to the height where Harrington stood. The slaver band occupying the ramparts let fly with an ineffective volley. The British responded to greater effect, and the ramparts began to empty. On the hill, Harrington noted the presence of a leader among the enemy ranks. "Marksman Lewis, front-centre!" he ordered.

Lewis trotted up. "Yes, Sarge?"

Harrington pointed. "That lad there, the one in the bloodstained blue robe. Can you get him from here?" Lewis squinted at the distant figure and nodded. Harrington stood back a pace. "Good. In your own time, Jack."

Lewis stood, licked his thumb and smeared the spit on the back-sight of his rifle, then took aim. The section's fire died off as the men watched the marksman at work. Lewis took aim, his finger tightened on the trigger...

Ra'ik Hakim felt a smashing impact in his chest which hurled him to the floor - then everything went black. 

Hakim's fall proved enough for his men. Wali or not, they refused to stand against the deadly marksmanship of the Red Soldiers. They fell back from the ramparts, some finding enough courage to cover their fellows' retreat as they streamed away through the streets of the town.

As resistance ceased, Captain Pike ordered the advance. On reaching the gate he half-expected they would need to be forced. Instead, they swung wide open at a push. Suspecting a potential ambush, he ordered the men into skirmish order. Two covered the opening as two others observed what lay beyond.

"Nobody there, sir!" one called, relief evident in his voice.

Pike turned to address Harrington. "Sergeant? What can you see from up there?"

"The enemy's retreating through the town, sir. They're heading for a line of dhows drawn up on the waterfront."

"Waterfront?" Pike gazed mystified at the CSM.

"Yes, sir." Amusement and amazement vied in Harrington's reply. "I can see what must be a bloody great lake from up here!"

The End.

* * * *

So there we have it, a game fought on-and-off over the course of three days - one of the blessings from having a permanent table! I hope everyone enjoyed it. With the lads from Barsetshire safely ensconced in Jam'aah, I'll write a few thoughts on the turn of events, the Sharp Practice (I) rules and house modifications in a day or so.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Action in the Jam'aah Valley - 2

CSM Harrington watched with satisfaction and no small degree of relief as the screw gun shell exploded on the brow of the hill. Shrapnel and fragments of rock flew everywhere, knocking down some of the slavers. The brisk rifle fire from the main force kicked up more splinters of stone and found a mark or two in human flesh. The slavers began to waver then stream back over the hill and away from the galling musketry.

Harrington nodded. "Right lads, forwards with me." The men stepped out, sparing sorrowful glances at their two fallen comrades. Harrington silently thanked the steady discipline of the British soldier, for they'd lost men but stayed at their posts, firing steadily at the enemy. They reached the slope to the top of the hill, and found the going tougher than it looked.

"When you're first under fire and wishful to duck, don't look nor pay heed to the man that is struck. Be thankful you're living and trust to your luck, and march to your front like a soldier."

In the valley Captain Pike turned his attention to the left flank. To his pleasure the askaris were holding firm, kneeling amidst the scrub and trading shot for shot with the slavers on the hill. Soon the steady crash of Martini-Henry volleys added their din to the firing, punctuated by the regular thump of the screw gun.

Over at the town gate the fleeing slavers pushed through their tribal allies and into the town, causing confusion in their wake. Chief Ngutyana watched them go, sneered in derision and considered his options.

The regular beat of gunfire and rising clouds of rifle smoke down the valley decided him. Instead of going to meet the Red Soldiers head-on, he would lead his men on a flanking march around the hills and fall upon the intruders before they could react. His mind made up, Ngutyana led his men across the stream, the waters feeling pleasantly cool on their legs as they waded.

Down the valley the hand of death touched many and spared others. Ra'id Hakim, leader of the slaver warband, staggered and fell as a shard of stone thrown up by a shell burst hit him in the chest. He rolled to his side and knelt on all fours, watching with bemusement as blood seeped through the breast of his robe to drip upon the dusty ground. Groggily he looked around and saw how many of his brothers had fallen to the infidel weapons. The survivors were starting to draw back, to find shelter from the musketry. As more men fell the backward motion turned into a rout. Hakim got to his feet and followed, holding his side and wincing at the pain lancing through him from his broken ribs.

Having disposed of the first slaver threats encountered, Captain Pike ordered Bugler Bates to sound the advance. On the hill to the right, Harrington led his men warily through the bodies and rocky ground. Movement on the next hill caught his eye. "Look sharp, lads," he called. "Enemy front."

Marksman Lewis drew a bead on the movement then lowered his rifle with an incredulous laugh. "Bloody 'ell, Sarge! It's a vulture." He squinted. "Crikey! I've seen smaller ostriches."

To the right the askaris clambered up the slopes of the hill, unaware of what approached them from the direction of the tower...

The alarm soon went up as excitable askaris shouted to Rutledge and pointed down the hill to the massed natives sweeping by below. Rutledge swore, formed his men as best he could in the press of the moment and opened fire. A man fell from the warband but it deigned not to notice, instead storming on toward the unsuspecting British column.

As his men manhandled the screw gun to keep pace with the main body, Havildar Shukla glanced over toward the hill where renewed firing had broken out. A few moments later he gaped at the mass of men bursting out from behind the cover of the hill, and knew in an instant he was in a pretty pickle. There was only one viable option to chose. "Leave the gun! Cross the river, juldi, jao!"

His men took to their heels, Shukla leading the way, splashing through the stream toward the front of the British column and safety.

Captain Pike saw the threat in time. "Well, dash it," he said mildly. "Column, halt! Left face! Make ready, preee-sent, fire!"

Martini-Henry bullets slashed into the advancing warband, the slaughter added to by Remington rifle fire from the askaris' Remington on the hill. The warband staggered, convulsed, then fell back.

The immediate threat dispersed, Bugler Bates once again blew the advance and the column continued up the valley, flanked by the covering force.

The column passed the ford and drew closer to the tower frowning upon its height. Suddenly every embrasure spouted dun-colored smoke!

Bullets from muskets and a few obsolete rifles rained down upon the Men of Barsetshire, causing them to stagger in shock. Over on the hill the askaris were subjected to a similar deadly fire...

* * * *

I'll post the third and final installment of Action in the Jam'aah Valley sometime this weekend.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Action in the Jam'aah Valley - 1

The Jam'aah Valley, looking north toward the town.

Captain Pike disposed his troops as planned. Number 2 section under CSM Harrington shook out into skirmish order and approached the first rocky hill on the right as the main body moved up the dirt road into the valley.

In the town, the slavers go about their foul business, watched by the Wali himself.
More goods - human and material - for market; but who's the European man chatting with the slaver?
The Men of Barsetshire see their destination through the heat haze.
They have also been spotted. Native allies of the slavers move through the town, ready to be deployed as the Wali decides.

CSM Harrington eyed the hill. "Be ready, lads," he said. "There's something moving up there."

Over on the far left, Sergeant Rutledge led his askaris toward the western hills. He knew the British soldiers had a poor opinion of the troops he commanded, and was determined to prove the askaris' worth in battle.

A keen-eyed observer keeps watch on the distant Red Soldiers.

As Number 2 section approached the hill, robed figures stood up from where they'd hidden amongst the rocks. A wild fusillade broke out and a man dropped in the Barsetshire ranks. "Fire at will!" Harrington roared. Soon gunsmoke filled the air as a brisk exchange of fire broke out.

A similar scenario played out over to the left. The askaris had better cover than the Barsetshire men, and it proved its worth as they traded shots with the slavers.

To the north the town gates of Jam'aah swung open to allow the tribal warband through. Chief Ngutyana halted his warriors and took stock of the situation opening down the road. The Red Soldiers of the Great White Queen had a reputation for destroying her enemies in brisk fashion, and he thought over ways to counter them.

Harrington's men had difficulty picking out the enemy warriors as they moved nimbly across the rocky hill. Bullets found their mark on both sides - but help for the Barsetshire men was on its way.

Over at the main body Pike seized up the situation. "Form line! Make ready! Preee-sent! Fire!" A regular volley crashed out, peppering the distant figures with Martini-Henry rounds. Close by, Havildar Shukla brought up his gun and unlimbered it on the flank of the main body. Loading the seven pound shell and taking aim took but moments. With a final check that all stood ready, the Naik took up the slack on the lanyard, tugged, and -

- The shell exploded right on target.

* * * *

The account of the Action in the Jam'aah Valley will continue soon.

"You can go where you please, you can skid up the trees,
But you don't get away from the guns!"
~ Rudyard Kipling, Screw Guns.


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