Thursday, July 18, 2013

Debacle in Gwundaland

A grey and cloudy dawn saw the Barsetshire company on the march toward the hill country to the north. The native drums had beat steadily all through the night. Every man in the column knew the natives watched their steady progress into the tribal lands. Occasionally warriors could be seen in the distance when the growing heat haze allowed. Every man wondered when the hammer would fall.

They soon found out.

A shallow valley dotted with scrub and stands of elephant grass opened before them. Movement in the scrub and on the distant hill suggested the Gwunda tribe was about to make its move.
On Captain Pike's orders the column began to shake out into skirmish order, with 4 section heading for a copse of trees to scout the elephant grass to the front-left. 1 and 3 sections deployed to face the scrub where something moved in the shadows. Pike himself remained in a central position with the civilians, ready to give orders via bugle call when necessary.

Trouble struck within minutes. As 4 section entered the copse, lithe figures emerged from the tall grass. "By crikey!" Private Brown cried. "They're women - and they're nekkid!"

Lance Corporal Hudson glared at the new recruit. "Mind your business lad! You're not on the fookin' parade ground now!"

Hardly had he spoken than the distant women raised bows and fired a volley of arrows. The deadly missiles hissed through the air and found their mark - two men fell pierced through the heart and Hudson grunted as an arrow buried itself in his left arm.
Over on the right the scrub seemed to burst apart as a Gwunda warband surged out of cover. 3 section under Corporal "Nosher" Powell had time for a single volley before the natives fell upon them. The air filled with screams, shouts and oaths as the men of Barsetshire fell back under the onslaught. 1 section under CSM Harrington was slow to react, but eventually positioned itself on the flank of the warband.
Harrington lead a charge into the warband's flank, inflicting several casualties and slowing its pursuit of the heavily outnumbered 3 section. Over in the copse, another man fell to the archers, who seemed to toy with the hapless men, slipping into and out of cover and firing at will. Return volleys rattled the grass but had no other effect. Some of the women laughed aloud and bent over to show their buttocks in contempt of their enemy.
Harrington ordered a swift disengagement, pulling his section back thirty paces. Here they fired a swift volley into the warband, stopping it in its tracks. A large man in a blue and white feathered headdress yelled and gesticulated for his warriors to stay their course. Even as Harrington watched, Marskman Jack Lewis' rifle barked and the chieftain spun and fell, shot through the head. His men wavered then broke, streaming back into the scrub.
Medical personnel came up from farther to the rear to tend the wounded. Harrington lined his men up to face the scrub, certain sure more trouble would come from it. A bugle call told the injured L Cpl. Hudson to stand his ground. Capt. Pike felt confident the threat from the scrub had ended and he could safely lead 2 section forward to deal with the archers. 4 section's fire had improved. The women no longer capered and scorned the Red Men. Some Martini-Henry rounds drew close enough to make them pay more respect to the modern weapon and those who bore it.
Once in position 2 section opened fire, their bullets flaying the grass and bringing down two archers. The survivors fled back into cover, but they had achieved their objective of drawing-out the White Queen's soldiers. Pike had made a potentially fatal error in leading a quarter of his force to deal with so small a threat, for over on the right another, larger warband burst forth from the scrub.
Even the redoubtable Harrington couldn't stem the tide. The roar of battle rose again as the soldiers volleyed then met the enemy hand to hand. Men fell and the sheer mass of numbers told. The Barsetshires recoiled onto the column. The bearers screamed in panic, dropped their loads and fled. DC Carstairs, Doctors Armstrong and Beckenbaur drew pistols and swords and within seconds were fighting for their lives alongside the soldiers. Azu, Carstair's newly hired askar bodyguard, grinned evilly as he fought. Curiously, although the medics and wounded from the previous engagement lay almost directly in their path, the warriors ignored them, concentrating instead on the enemy still standing.
Pike uttered a string of words that would've earned him a beating from his clergyman foster-father. Turning his men about, he called the survivors of 2 section to join him and led them all into the attack.
Perhaps the warriors were too focused on their potential victims straight ahead, for Pike's charge into their flank inflicted severe damage. Shock piled up, and without an effective leader it proved too much once more. The natives broke away and fled back to the scrub, leaving the field littered with the dead of both sides.
The exhausted men of Barsetshire stood-to for an hour under the stormy sky after the fighting had ceased, watching and waiting for the charge that might finish them. The medics tended the new wounded and dying as details brought them in from the field. At last it seemed the Gwunda tribe had decided enough was enough for the day. The valley fell silent. Capt. Pike ordered scrub to be cut and a zariba fashioned around the camp.
The Queen's colour flies defiantly above the tents as the company draws into the protection of the zariba for the night. 
As the medics do their work, DC Carstairs and Dr. Beckenbaur discuss the day's events, and ponder on what to do next.
 * * * *
Carstairs looked sadly at the blanket-covered forms of the fallen. Something of his Scottish mother's Celtic romanticism came through, for he began to recite quietly.

Oh, mother-mair, mak' up ma bed,
For ma heart is sair wi' sorrow.
Adoon the glen lie seven men dead,
In dowie dens o' yarrow...
* * * *
The end of the day sees a British tactical victory in that they hold the field, having inflicted severe casualties on the Gwunda tribe. Strategically, however, Captain Pike and his men are in a pretty predicament. Seven men lie dead, as many are seriously wounded - almost half the company are hors de combat. His conscience prickles him over the wrong deployment which contributed to the mess, but he pushes the thought aside. A more urgent matter confronts him - what to do now? Should he continue with the mission, or withdraw?


Bluebear Jeff said...

I'm off to my cataract surgery soon . . . which should help my vision even if it doesn't make the captain's choice any clearer.

-- Jeff

A J said...

Good luck with the surgery, Jeffm and a speedy recovery.

Chris Stoesen said...

Bluebear - Good luck on the surgery.

For the game, strategic retreat for reinforcements.

Fitz-Badger said...

Good report!

Good luck, Jeff. Should've had the porters carry you around the cataracts.


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