Tuesday 19 November 2019

Stuart Asquith's Big Wars - Battle of Tanga 1914

Across the blogosphere collectors and wargamers are running games in memoriam to Stuart Asquith who sadly passed away recently, I hadn't cleared up after our recent game set in North Africa so decided to play a solo game using the Big Wars rules written by Stuart and Jack Alexander.  Big Wars covers the period 1880 to 1914 so I thought the Battle of Tanga fought during the WW1 campaign in German East Africa would squeeze under the wire.  I had to take a few liberties historically but here's how it went:

In November 1914 Britain sent an Indian Expeditionary Force of about 8,000 men to invade German East Africa, the plan was to make an amphibious landing at the port of Tanga then advance north to meet up with troops marching south from British East Africa, trapping the German "Schutztruppe" in a giant pincer movement.  A simple plan, what could go wrong?  Er….. plenty apparently.

There was an unofficial Coastal Truce agreement under which the Royal Navy were required to give the Germans 24 hours notice of any intended attack (I kid you not!).  On 2nd November 1914 the Navy demanded unconditional surrender of the town and port, this was ignored and next day the IEF began landing, no resistance was expected from the token garrison.  However, on receipt of the demand the German commander had called for reinforcements and started digging in (well you would wouldn't you)

Tanga was the coastal terminus of the Northern Railway and the Germans began rushing troops by train, around the clock, to the port.  The initial IEF landing on 3rd November was supported by salvos from the supporting naval escort, it had little effect.  Above, the German Askaris were armed with the obsolete model 1871 rifle which fired black powder rounds, clouding them in smoke with every volley.  

Here the IEF debark from their landing barges.  I played the game on an area of about 5' x 5' which I found from previous experience is fine for Big Wars, movement distances are quite short and casualties from firing fairly light until you get to quite close range, so you really need to get troops into melee to get a decisive result.

A couple of liberties taken here for the benefit of a good game.  German naval units fought on land throughout the campaign, but not at Tanga, also the Germans had two field artillery pieces but they arrived too late to take any part in the battle.  On the British side most of the units were from Indian Regiments but I have included units of the Kings African Rifles who also fought throughout the campaign but not at Tanga.

The Askaris fall back steadily while keeping up a steady fire at close range which begins to blunt the advance.  The rules allow artillery and machine guns to move or fire, but movement rates for MGs not mounted on carriages are short so the British support units fell far behind the infantry advance.

The IEF occupy part of the town and the Ghurkas hoist the Union Jack but their success is short lived as German reinforcements continue to arrive and a counter attack throws the British back.

A fun game, quick and easy to master, and a good scenario for solo play as there isn't much scope for tactical movement.  I playtested the rules quite a bit when they first came out in 1993 and used them in a "play by email" game that I hosted a few years ago (see Big Wars link in right hand column) but apart from that they've been rather overlooked, perhaps it's time they got a bit more of a regular outing.

In 1914 the IEF outnumbered the Schutztruppe by 8 to 1 so, not unnaturally, the British Staff believed the battle would be a walkover.  The Navy were ordered not to support the attack so that the town might be taken intact for use by the occupying force, for the same reason the IEF mountain batteries were not landed.  The result was that the entire IEF was evacuated on 5th November leaving most of their equipment behind, perhaps not the most ignominious feat of British arms, but well up there.

Saturday 9 November 2019

Battle of al-Musayfirah 1925

We felt it was time to give the "One Hour Wargame" (OHW) rules by Neil Thomas another airing, Anthony and I both like the fast moving simplicity of this game system and it works well with 54mm toy soldiers.

Looking back through old copies of Wargames Illustrated for inspiration I found a scenario for the Battle of al-Musayfirah in 1925 during the Great Syrian Revolt.   After WW1 The League of Nations had given France a mandate to govern Syria and the French promptly instituted a number of measures to control the local tribes.  This inevitably lead to a nationalist uprising  by the Druze, which spread to the other tribes.

We chose scenario 15 from OHW, Fortified Defence, as it best reflected the actual battle.  Basically, a French Foreign Legion column was ambushed and badly mauled so the survivors took refuge in an old Turkish fort at Suwayda.  A relief column was prepared and an advance party sent forward to set up a defensive position at the town of al-Musayfirah as a staging post for the main column following behind.   A traditional colonial campaign in the finest traditions of P C Wren and Beau Geste, here's how it went:

On the left is the old Turkish fort at Suwayda, the town behind it in the rear centre is  al-Musayfirah, to the right of the town is a rocky area, in the OHW scenario this should be woods but rocks are more suitable for the desert so we just gave them the same terrain effect for movement and combat as woods.

We diced to see what forces each side would get, the French got 3 Inf, 2 Arty and 1 Cav, while the Druze got 3 Inf, 1 Heavy and 2 Cav.  That seemed to represent the original forces quite well, I wasn't sure what to use for the Druze heavy unit, in reality they had some artillery but I couldn't find any references to machine guns or other heavy weapons so a little imagination was called for.

The French start with one unit in the old Turkish fort at Suwayda and one in al-Musayfirah.  The Druze opened the ball with a mass attack on the garrison in the old Turkish fort.  Victory would go to whichever side occupied both the town and fort at the end of 15 turns.

The rules give the two garrisons additional firepower, which reflects the actual battle as the French had machine guns which took a terrible tole on the attackers.   To even things up the Druze have a refit rule which allows them to create a second wave with all their original units at their starting positions, rather like the Zulu wave mechanism we used in our recent Rorke’s Drift game.

The French cavalry came from the collection of veteran wargamer John Ruddle who created them from bits and pieces of old Britains hollow cast Spahis, all repaired and repainted.  Behind them the French Command are represented by Starlux mounted FFL.

The first wave of the Druze attack succeeds in overrunning the defenders in the fort and pushing back the relief column.  At this point they invoked the refit rule, leaving the fort abandoned temporarily while the second wave formed up for a renewed attack.

In the Druze second wave one unit has reoccupied the fort while the main push is directed against the garrison at al-Musayfirah.  Here the remaining infantry and Command, with heavy unit attached, use the cover of the rocky terrain to advance for a mass attack on the town.  The camel borne gun is the handiwork of Ross Macfarlane, as are the fort and town buildings.

The all out assault goes in, Druze mounted units rush the town while the foot provide covering fire from the rocks, will the beleaguered garrison hold out?

As we reached turn 15 and the end of the game, the superior firepower of the French forces carried the day.  A bombardment of the fort drove the Druze defenders out, leaving it unoccupied, while the mounted units caught in the open were wiped out by the French mountain artillery.

Anthony insisted we take a picture of the lunch, l'd like to tell you it was something suitably North African but clearly it's traditional beer and pizza.

The game played out very similar to the real battle, in 1925 the Druze suffered heavy casualties from the French machine gun strongpoints in al-Musayfirah.  They did manage to break into the town and promptly made off with all the columns horses and donkeys, but the attack through the rocks was broken up by a continuous bombardment from French aircraft.

Wednesday 6 November 2019

Stuart Asquith - some sad news

It was indeed sad news for all of us to learn that Stuart Asquith had passed away at the weekend, he has been a such monumental presence in the hobby for as long as I can remember.

I don't recall how we were introduced but we first met about 40 years ago through the Harrow Model Shop, which at the time was a regular place of pilgrimage for modellers and wargamers across North London. Stuart invited me round to his house in Rayners Lane to see his amazing collection of 7 Years War plastic Spencer Smith figures, all meticulously organised and including lots of conversions.  I visited many times but we never got around to playing a wargame, we just talked toy soldiers, he was very keen to explore 54mm wargaming after visiting John Ruddle of the British Model Soldier Society and taking part in one of his annual garden games.

Stuart (in glasses) with Steve Woods exhibits H G Wells "Little Wars" at Salute 1980.

Stuart wanted to put on a demonstration game of Little Wars at Salute but didn't have the figures for it so he wrote to Britains outlining his plan and asking if they would sell him the necessary figures at wholesale rates for the event.  He was genuinely gobsmacked when a parcel arrived containing enough infantry, cavalry and 4.7 inch guns to equip both armies, with compliments from Britains.  These were the figures illustrated on the cover of Military Modelling above, years later he swapped all those Deetail Napoleonic cavalry to me when he upgraded to metal.

Stuart demonstrated the traditional game, firing matchsticks with not a dice to be seen, this wasn't universally well received, Stuart told me that one disgruntled spectator came over and told him he had put the cause of wargaming back by 50 years!  Did he know who you were? I asked, we both found the irony amusing.  He went on to run the game at one of the early Plastic Warrior shows (the third or fourth I think, when figure displays and wargames used to be regular features) and found a much more receptive audience.

When we first met Stuart was working as a Manager for British Telecoms and writing occasional articles for Military Modelling, and later, Battle for Wargamers magazine.  His enthusiasm for this aspect of the hobby inspired him to greater ambition, he floated ideas for new columns and one off special editions which were taken up by the publishers.  Some years later after the state owned BT was privatised and embarked on a far reaching organisational restructure, he decided to take a redundancy package and told me this would give him more time to spend on writing for the hobby.  Today, when we have learned to live with labour mobility this move wouldn't seem such a big deal but back in the day when most workers saw themselves in a job for life such a major career change later in life was a very brave undertaking.  I thought he was crazy, giving up the security of a well paid job for an uncertain freelance future, what I didn't see was that he was following a path he loved and that his output would be prodigious.

Stuart introduced me to Frank Perry who had written the First and Second Books of Wargaming (54mm gaming), which were continuations of Little Wars, it was through this contact, and Frank's son Ross, that I became involved with the fledgling Plastic Warrior Magazine, which over the past 35 years has been a constant and major factor in my life.  And for that, Stuart, I thank you.