Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thoughts on gaming in Darkest Africa

I've been reading Lieut-General Sir William Heneker's fascinating work, Bush Warfare when I can find time. Heneker wrote it as a means of passing on the experience he earned in various campaigns in West Africa during the 1890's-early 1900's. It served as the British Army's standard treatise on bush warfare up to 1938, and is full of useful ideas for gamers.

One tactic Heneker mentions being employed previous to his time in the West African theater was that of clearing or covering volleys. The British column commanders were loathe to send troops into the bush to cover the flanks and to scout ahead, for fear they would be cut to pieces by local warriors with superior bush skills.

Essentially, when on a mission, native troops in British service kept to jungle trails, stopping at intervals to line up and fire a full volley into the vegetation ahead in the hope of wrecking any potential native ambush. Often, the native warriors cannily kept well to the sides of the advancing column, from where they were able to fire into the flanks. This ambush tactic was especially effective against the bearers, the logistical tail of the column, who might equal or even exceed the numbers of riflemen.

Incidentaly the natives weapons were referred to as Dane guns, so called for firearms acquired from Danish traders, although other sources sold weapons too.   

Needless to say, covering volleys wasted a lot of ammunition. Heneker records several instances where a force had to turn back before completing a mission due to lack of ammunition, to the extent some soldiers had only a handful of rounds left when they reached base. 

Now, I've come across some rule sets that expressly forbid speculative fire of this nature. It seems to me that any rules set covering West Africa in particular during the 1860's-80's would have to make it compulsory.

Another phenomena of the area lies in the experience gained in the almost interminable bush warfare in West Africa. Native troops were often drawn from the very area the uprisings occurred. When they mustered-out of service, the men went back to their villages. Heneker states that there didn't seem much dissemination of the veterans' military knowledge through their community, which was probably a good thing from the British point of view!

Even so, native tactics changed by Heneker's time. Instead of melting away from in front of an advancing column to ambush it from the flanks, the natives built stockades across the line of march. These palisades were augmented by well-constructed trenches out to the flanks, and a covered line of retreat in case events should turn bad. The stockades had firing loops cut into the timbers, some loops being carved from wood to make a kind of tube. Natural features such as swampy ground were used to add to the defenses. 

Such a barrier, manned by warriors armed with (relatively) modern firearms, made a formidable obstacle. Heneker states the weak explosive shells of the 7-pounder and 75mm guns of the British force proved of only limited use in tackling them, although they served to keep the native force's attention whilst an outflanking party turned the defensive line. Incidentally, does anyone know what type of weapon the 75mm referred to was? Was it a British design, or one obtained from elsewhere?  

British tactics evolved too. The practice of covering volleys fell out of use by the 1890's. Commanders now sent a section out ahead and to either flank of the line of march, the section dividing into parties of two men each, with up to two pairs to either side and the section commander in the center. From this position he was able to give orders through voice alone, the sound carrying to his men but no further, thus avoiding giving warning to the enemy. Maxim guns had come into use, and proved very effective in suppressing fire against palisades.

There's a lot more for me to read from Heneker's work. Even the themes I've managed to cover so far have given me food for thought. Such a heavy use of ammo in a column's advance could lead to it finding itself short of ammunition at a crucial moment. Thankfully, The Too Fat Lardies included the potential shortage of ammo in their Sharp Practice rules. 

With luck and a following wind I'll be able to play out my planned scenario involving the Yabhouti garrison sometime this week. Watch this space...         

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving Week

Another busy week, but I have got the Wargames Factory hard plastic Zulu warriors washed and ready to assemble. I'll have a go at these this next day or so, and takes some pictures of the work in progress.

I'm hoping to get another Sharp Practise game in next week, before my studio/game room reverts to the entirely mundane role of guest bedroom for the Xmas holidays (mutter, mumble...)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

New recruits for the Ukrazi Tribe marching in

Real life has gotten in the way of the fun stuff as usual, but at least I found my latest batch of African native warriors had arrived when I came home. These are the multi-part hard plastic Zulus from Wargames Factory, and they look rather good at first sight. They do come on a goodly number of sprues, and there appears to be an astonishing number of arms bearing Martini-Henry rifles. I've had to buy a new camera, the old one having died after a mere four years' use, and I'll take some shots of the progress made assembling and painting them when I can.

In the meantime, I'm going to be busy with a commission to make a new Amy Pond "Sunflowers" diorama. It should look like the photo below once I've finished.

The miniature is "Emily Lake" from Heresy Miniatures in the UK. They're a friendly bunch, and have a very quick turnaround time, the figures reaching me here the US in less than a week. 

The Sharp Practise game will be played out when I can find time, hopefully before the end of the month when I finish the commission. It'll give me a chance to try out the spiffy new camera too.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Burn the Barracoon! - Premise

The next scenario for my Darkest Africa campaign is taking shape. I have a few days' worth of work and family matters to take care of before I can play it out, but that allows me time to plan things. The basic premise is as follows:-

Now the town of Yabhouti has been secured, the British force turns to the next item on the agenda – the destruction of the area's slave trade infrastructure. Nothing else will convey the message to the locals so clearly that the good old days are over.

The first target of this policy will be the demolition of the town's barracoon, the pen used to hold slaves ready for transportation to market. Located a few hundred yards from the town, the barracoon consists of an open-sided roofed structure fenced in by a log palisade, an adobe house used by the overseers, and a steam pump. This latter was the most effective means of drawing enough water for the numerous inmates held here at the height of the slave-raiding season. It's not known by what means the Sheik acquired this high-tech equipment, or from whom.      

Since the Sheik still has a number of loyalists in the area, it's felt advisable for a working party to be sent out under armed guard to effect the destruction of the barracoon. At the moment the projected force for the mission is scheduled to be two sections of infantry, with a contingent of local wangwana brought into British service. These latter will perform the work, serving the dual functions of keeping them out of mischief, and reinforcing the message that slavery is finished here.   

For the British to win, the wooden structures must be pulled down and/or burned, and the steam pump disabled by the removal of key components. The pump might be restored and put to use by the British at some later date.

The Sheik's loyalists must prevent this, scoring a notable victory if they also inflict significant casualties on the still meager British forces present in Yabhouti. 

A breakdown of forces involved and a map will follow soon. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

New recruits for the Ukrazi Tribe

Not entirely to my surprise, I'm unable to fit in the planned skirmish game this coming week, so Baker Platoon can rest easy a little longer. However, I did discover an eBay seller with boxes of Wargames Factory plastic Zulu figures for sale, at the bargain rate of only $9.99. I promptly ordered them, and they're on the way. 

This range has had mixed reviews. Some like the Zulu figures when used en-masse (as I plan to so use them). Almost everybody seems to detest the British infantry from the same set, but since I have no desire to buy any, it's academic to me. It'll be my first experience with the (relatively) new phenomena of hard plastic figures, and I'm looking forward to seeing what they're like. Hopefully, I'll find time to assemble and paint them these next few weeks. 

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