Monday, 5 March 2018

The Year of Big Battles

I'm finding I have less time for gaming this year, but more for researching potential new games. In particular I am enjoying reading up on military history with a view to writing some tabletop miniatures scenarios of my own. This post looks at some of the topics I'd like to explore this year, as opposed to the 'throw down' games like Frostgrave, which require less thought and planning. For example, I know there is enthusiasm for a return to Warhammer 40,000 at Easter, but this will likely just require me to adjust my Necron army list and perhaps deploy my Monolith to plug the gaping hole I've got there in terms of heavy firepower. More on that in a later post!

 

HUE 1968


The first battle I'll be looking at this year is Hue. This was the battle in February 1968 for control of the old imperial capital of Vietnam/Annam which occurred as part of the Tet Offensive. It was a big urban battle which saw forces of both the Viet Cong and People's Army of Vietnam occupy and defend against the US Marine Corps, supported by their South Vietnamese/ARVN allies.

A lot of the Vietnam era battles you see played out on the tabletop tend to revert to the common perceptions of the war in the minds of Western wargamers, namely of rural engagements among the padi fields, but much of the fierce fighting took place in either relatively underpopulated areas, or in the case of Tet, was distinctly urban in character. It is also the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive, so I thought it worth considering one or more scenarios inspired by or drawn from that battle.

I have mulled over the rules to use and have alighted on Force on Force, mainly because I'm familiar with it already, and because it has the ability to scale up from platoon level games to company level battles. This will allow me to add more models when I paint them.

ISANDLWANA 1879


The second of the big battles is Isandlwana, one of the two most famous battles of the Zulu War and the topic of the film Zulu Dawn. I've been wanting to put on some form a Isandlwana re-fight for some time, but as is my wont, have been pontificating over rules and how best to write a scenario for this. I think I'm looking at a scale of approximately 1 figure = 30 men; a British infantry company would have roughly 10-12 miniatures on the table. Zulu regiments (iviyo) just much bigger, with some estimated at more than five times the size of a British company. This represents a bit of a challenge at 28mm scale, as 40-50 figures in a regiment is a bit unwieldy. Hence, I'm looking at running the battle using rules like Black Powder or Field of Battle which abstract the size effect a little.

Another issue with Isandlwana is how to represent the spectacularly poor British leadership. As with other colonial disasters, the massacre at Isandlwana resulted from poor command decisions, faulty scouting and a general lack of appreciation of the true danger represented by the Zulu impi. When the Zulus were able to get their act together, they could be truly devastating and were rightly feared by many neighouring African tribes. Black Powder as a set of rules is interesting in that it allows the scenario designer to write poor leadership into the battle, and in this case the British leadership was very poor indeed. My plan is to leave this battle set up for a while, as it may require more than one go to get it right.

BERLIN 1945


The third battle is Berlin 1945. This is a big one, as it represented the last big battle in Europe during WW2, with the Soviets moving into the city to finish off the last defenders of the Third Reich. I plan to use some commercial scenarios for this one rather than write my own, but I'm undecided at the moment for which WW2 set to use. The front runners here are Battleground WW2, Arc of Fire and Bolt Action. Of the three I've only played Bolt Action before. We have staged city battles on the Eastern Front before, so this is not new country for us. You can see a version using Disposable Heroes here, and Point Blank here.

BADLI KI SERAI 1857


The fourth battle is from the Indian Mutiny. Again, the Mutiny is one of those conflicts which has become somewhat stereotypical in the eyes of wargamers. It is typically represented as sieges, with rebels attacking British / East India Company forces in entrenched positions, often with the prospect of a British relief force just over the horizon. Some of the engagements in India during this period did indeed follow this pattern, but there were many others that seem to have largely been forgotten.

Thus we come to Badli ki Serai, which was one of the earlier and smaller battles in this war. Essentially, in the early days of the Mutiny, rebel forces had taken Delhi with a view to establishing the city as their base. Incredibly, some British engineers had blown up the arsenal in Delhi - along with themselves - in an effort to deprive the rebels of ammunition. The rebel leaders wanted to use the last of the Mughal emperors, Bahadur Shah Zafar, now living in retirement in Delhi, as a figurehead to rally support in northern India.

The East India Company response was to send an initial force down the Grand Trunk Road towards Delhi from the north. As it turned out, this would prove far too small to even effectively besiege Delhi. The British were also hampered by the tendency of their commanding officers to fall sick and die, which was an ongoing hazard for all ranks in India at this time. The rebels decided to dig in at a position across the Grand Trunk Road that was screened by a walled village and a caravanserai in an effort to stop the British from getting to Delhi.

This is an interesting battle as it has the British assaulting a fairly static defensive position held by a mixed force of sepoy rebels and irregular forces. Again, a set of rules which can model the more disorganized nature of the mutineer command structure is preferable for this campaign.

ROLICA 1808

 

Rolica was the future Duke of Wellington's first battle fought against the French in the Peninsular War, a small but vicious sideshow in the Napoleonic Wars, also known as Napoleon's 'Spanish Ulcer'. Wellesley, as he was then known, had returned from a successful initial career serving the interests of the East India Company in a series of campaigns in South Asia and had been appointed to lead a British expeditionary force to Portugal to keep the Portuguese ports out of Napoleon's hands.

1808 was his first real opportunity to show Horse Guards what he could do against a well-organised European army (under Henri Delaborde). His initial landing caught Delaborde off-guard and created a novel situation where the French were on the defensive against a larger, well-trained British force.

I've got a couple of initial models for this battle. There is a very good scenario for Black Powder in the Albion Triumphant supplement (page 79). However, the attack on a prepared position in Charles Grant's Scenarios For All Ages is obviously inspired by Rolica. What you have here is a bigger British force taking a ridge line which is defended by a smaller French army that only needs to delay the British before falling back. It is not a 'faites ou mourez' situation for the French.

Later in that summer the French were able to respond in numbers, with an attack against the British at Vimeiro.

But Vimeiro is likely to be something for next year. The Rolica project will require some work and some decisions on how large the units should be in terms of actual miniatures. It is a small battle as far as Napleonic engagements went; it could be played in its entirety using something like Republic To Empire. I don't want something too technical for this however.

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