Sailors, Sikhs and Slavers…(part I)

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 10.56.57 pm.png.jpgBritain committed to the abolition of the african scourge of slavery in the later part of the 19th century, whilst staking claims, limiting opposing regional expansions as well as pursuing the discovery of new lands. Slave trading was something that was conducted with sort of a religious zeal that epitomised the Victorian ideals, though it wasn’t always so ‘pure’ as all that!

This unpleasant ‘trade’ involved the taking of African people’s by predominantly Zanzibari Arab types to make what they could from their ill gotten gains which led to direct confrontation with Great Britain.

Thus British explorers and missionaries of the time encroached and engaged directly with many of the Arab Slave traders and what were initially civilian only operations soon evolved into matters for the British government. Of the many ‘slavers’ none was more elusive than Mlozi who fought the British in Nyasaland, with some success, which was located to the east of Mozambique, north of the Zambesi…an area to be known generally as British Central Africa.

Our outing this time with Death in the Dark Continent uses this as the backdrop for our game. We take up the story, set around 1891 in the newly declared protectorate of Nyasaland, with one Captain Johnston R.N. leading an expedition in an attack on a slaver outpost that has been used for trafficking of the local population. His forces are a mixed bunch, comprising a small naval detachment of sailors, along with Sikhs and allied Atonga African levies.

Opposing Johnston was one of Mlozi’s affiliated slaver clans from the Omani Mazrui, Ibn Zafari, whose was tasked with the defence of the outpost by seeing off the British advance as they had done in years past. The Arab forces were equally eclectic, being made up of mercenary Baluchi, Arabs, Swahili wangwana, a detachment of Ngoni allied warriors, Ruga-Ruga and a small little askari artillery piece…..quite a mix!

Whilst the British sailors would be expected to be armed with the latest Lee-Metford .303 repeating rifles, for this expedition, the Sikhs have been re-equipped with the same weapon, handing in their reliable Snider breech-loaders, as Johnston wished to maximise his fire capability with his small force. Rounding out the detachment the naval party was accompanied by two units of allied Atonga carrying their ‘trusty’ Enfield smoothbore muskets.

The Arabs were not so well equipped, relying on trade muskets, excluding the Ruga-Ruga who came with elephant guns, though Arabs alike did have breech-loading rifles making them a more dangerous enemy. Off course their Ngoni allies were armed with spear, shield and reputation, this having proved more than satisfactory in the past.

 

(Note – I’ve elected to split this battle report into two parts as it is rather ‘pic heavy’ and it’ll allow for a bit more discussion in the each part during and after the game is complete as well as a slightly more detailed battle report itself. This will keep each post a manageable size and hopefully give yet more insight into Death in the Dark Continent as a game system for battles in Darkest Africa which was rather thoroughly covered in a previous post about these rules.).

 

Planned Attack scenario – Death in the Dark Continent

 

FORCES

ARAB & SWAHILI (list #47)

  • Leader: Elite Soldiers with breech-loader x1
  • Arabs: Elite untrained Skirmisher with breech-loaders x2 unit @ 4 bases
  • Baluchi: Elite untrained Skirmisher with matchlock muskets x1 unit @ 4 bases
  • Swahili “wangwana” armed slaves: Untrained Skirmishers with muskets x2 units @ 3 bases
  • Ruga-Ruga: Soldiers with elephant guns x1 unit @ 3 bases
  • Smoothbore gun: untrained smoothbore cannon x1 unit @ 1 base
  • Baggage

Ngoni allies

  • Senior regiment: Elite Warriors x1 unit @ 4 bases
  • Junior regiment: Warriors x1 unit @ 4 bases

 

BRITISH NAVAL LANDING PARTY (list #66)

  • Leader: Soldiers x1
  • Sailors: Soldiers with repeaters x1 unit @ 3 bases
  • Sikhs: Soldiers with repeaters x1 unit @ 3 bases
  • Sikhs: Soldiers with repeaters x1 unit @ 2 bases
  • ‘Atonga’ Local Levies: Untrained Skirmishers with muskets x1 unit @ 4 bases
  • ‘Atonga’ Local Levies: Untrained Skirmishers with muskets x1 unit @ 3 bases
  • Baggage

 

SETUP

This time around we decided to try the ‘complete’ game setup system in Death in the Dark Continent. The Arabs were deemed to be the defenders after rolling dice against one another and adding the aggressiveness totals of both sides, both of whom were rated ‘2’.  Terrain was then laid out and a final adjustment made by the attacking player (British).

The British then decided from which side they would deploy. They chose the open ground next to the landing as their side of the table. The Arabs then placed their village, the objective, and were assigned the other side of the table.

The Arab player then noted his ambushing units on a map and any his late arrivals, which could start to roll for arrival on turn 4. The defender in this scenario gets 2/3rds of his force on-table at game start (200pts) with the remaining 100pts coming on as late arrivals.

The defender then lays out his entire (200pt) force followed by the attacker (300pt)

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IMG_1941 copy

The final table layout. The British deployment table area (and edge) can be seen. The camp up to the small plant at the centre bottom of the pic was considered a water edge i.e. impassable. This resulted in the British being able to deploy only on one side of their long base edge. Other salient features are the fordable stream with two adjoining swamps with lurking crocodiles!

A few ‘wooded areas’ that count as jungle terrain that limits visibility to 1″ effectively blocking line of sight. A number of hills complete the layout. The Arabs could deploy up to half way into the table as shown thus being able to make the most of the jungle, hills and swampy areas.

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Captain Johnston surveys the field.

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DEPLOYMENT

IMG_1944

Johnston’s plan was to place his best troops centrally and alongside the fordable stream. His right flank Atonga allies would move forward to probe, clear and/or hold the jungle area to their front whilst the regulars went about marching on the arab’s camp. The small unit of 2-base Sikhs would be something of a reserve and deploy as required. The village was the objective so a ‘hard push’ but eh regulars would be the order of the day.

Ibn Zafari deployed an arab unit directly in front of the main British position in the small out-building adjacent to the stream with the Baluchi and the other arab unit deployed, with himself, in front and near the small village (objective). The small smoothbore gun occupied the knoll above the stream.

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The right of the British line. Atonga Levies.

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IMG_1946

Baluchi to the rear, Arabs to the front, Zafari nearby.

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The British line prepares to move off. The baggage stay close behind the regulars as they’ll have to move with them for protection.

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OPENING MOVES

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The British, as the attacker, move first. The first order of business is to scout out that area of jungle terrain ahead and make sure there are no ambushes that can compromise the advance of the main line. The Atonga are ‘thrown’ forward and ordered to clear the area of any enemy forces.

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IMG_1950

The view from behind the Arab position. You can see the smoothbore artillery piece on the small knoll able to dominate the stream crossing and ‘play’ on the British infantry as they advance. Buttressed with the swamp to its flank and a wide stream to its front the position was a mini position magnifique!

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IMG_1951

There are off course other dangers besides the enemy themselves!

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IMG_1952

Guarding the shanty outpost was a unit of Arabs armed with breech-loaders…scouts on the roof tops.

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IMG_1953

Ibn Zafari and his arabs, with Baluchi in the rear.

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IMG_1954

With the Atonga skirmishers advancing into the jungle the engagement started to develop. A unit of Swahili armed slaves opened fire on the unsuspecting Atonga musketmen. A brisk close range musketry duel broke out but the quality of the firers and the cover of the jungle meant that the Atonga musketry inflicted no harm on the Swahili slavers, who no doubt due to their prepared positions, were however able to inflict a base loss and disorder on the Atonga….nasty!

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IMG_1955

Meanwhile back in the centre the British main battle line opened up on the smoothbore gun position in an attempt to shoot it into submission. Whilst causing a disorder on the gun they could not eliminate the crew despite repeated shots from their Lee-Metfords.

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IMG_1956

Not surprisingly the Atonga skirmishers recoiled from the surprise of the ambush and the fright from the Swahili musket fire from the jungle was such that when forced to take a morale test (for having been ambushed), they promptly failed and now carried three disorder. This condition would prevent any further movement toward the enemy and placed them dangerously close to a rout if they failed another morale test…not a great start.

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IMG_1957

Here you see the reason for the fright that so scared the Atonga levies!

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IMG_1958

In the next movement phase Johnston, with a wave of his cap, gave the signal for the shaken Atongas to fall back as he sent the local reserve off a small unit of Sikhs over to clear out the jungle and bolster the right flank. He kept the other unit of Atonga levies prepared to offer resistance to the arabs to their front, or if required, a movement into the jungle as well.

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IMG_1959

Here you see the threat to Johnston’s right flank, the Atonga prepared to cover both right and left flanks or any other developing situation.

Zafari, it now being turn four, rolled for his late arrivals and received a unit of Ruga-Ruga marching up the road behind the jungle area. This unit was soon to be joined by a impi of Ngoni warriors. Enemy forces were starting to mount on the British right wing and, though they were not at least marching to defend the objective, there was the possibility that Johnston’s small force could be caught in a vice, left and right…after all, beyond the small unit of dependable Sikhs his right flank was now little more than a unit of Atonga levies as the other had retired and was to a degree combat ineffective.

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IMG_1960

In a moment of decision Johnston gave the order to attack! Hoping to sweep away at least some enemy instead of awaiting certain destruction by a multiple enemy attack he threw caution to the wind.

Waving his sword forward, he ordered the large unit of Atonga straight into the jungle to clear the area and tie down as many enemy troops as he could. In fact the levies contacted two units which was probably asking too much of them.

The Sikhs, not yet committed, look on awaiting the outcome of the struggle in the jungle.

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IMG_1961

With his right flank engaged the British main battle line commenced the crossing of the wide stream which proved to be something of a military obstacle. The Sikhs had also picked up a disorder form rifle fire from the Baluchis opposite them.

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IMG_1962

Zafari, hoping to catch the British at a disadvantage brought forward both the Baluchis and Arabs to engage the British up close. If the Arabs didn’t know the power of the modern repeating rifle before they did within a very short while. In a devastating fusillade the arab unit suffered three disorders and lost half the unit when the smoke had cleared…take that you dogs!

The pain was not all one way however as the the right edge of the arab unit to the flank of the sailors was able to fire (as it was not directly engaged in combat) and in what can only be described as the will of allah, they shot down a number of the sailors who also took fire from the smooth bore gun. This resulted in a base loss and two disorders…quite a critical loss as it would turn out.

Johnston, in the thick of the action was well placed to keep the momentum off the attack going. He resolved to advance on the small gun and drive to the village to complete his objective, hoping to complete the advance before enemy to his rear could get a chance to stop him.

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IMG_1963

…a close up of the British fallen on the banks of the stream…

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…Ngoni sweep to the left of the jungle seemingly making a bee-line for the Sikhs or the resurgent Atonga levies who miraculously found the encourage and passed a morale test (rolled a 6) and now advanced to ‘soak off’ the Ngoni as best they could…plucky!

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IMG_1965

In this blurry image you see a good overview of the action up to this point. On the left flank the main British line is engaged with the the Baluchi and much damaged arab unit to their front. The Royal Navy sailors, are shaken, having two disorder and suffered a base loss. The right flank sees the brave Atonga levies engaged to front and flank and the Sikhs and shaken Atongas levies form a somewhat brittle right flank.

Zafari’s force is massing. The Swahili are locked in combat in the wood along with the arab unit to their right flank and the Ruga-Ruga and Ngoni have provided some real strength to the Arab left flank attack. The Baluchis hold their ground but their supporting arab unit fails a subsequent morale test and breaks further weaken the defence of the village.

It looks like the British may have enough troops to push through to the objective and just be able to hold off the Arab left flank before they can race to occupy the village themselves.

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Atonga men…you dare stand before me!…

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…yet more…

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The combat in the jungle is hard fought and the Atonga levies give a good account of themselves given the odds. Even though they didn’t drive off the enemy they only suffered a retreat and two disorders. This however has weakened them a good deal should the enemy to their front attack.

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IMG_1971

In what seemed an unfair contest the Ngoni launch themselves at the weak Atogna skirmishers, not the Sikhs as first thought, who tremble at the fierce African warrior attack.

As expected the Arabs who just recently saw off the Atonga skirmishers in their turn attack as well. The Arabs are on the march!

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IMG_1974

 

As we finish this first part we see the situation as follows.

The Atonga levies are all locked up in combat. contesting the jungle and British right flank with the supporting Sikh unit still in good shape, but the enemy Ngoni massing dangerously close. The Arab Ruga-Ruga are moving up slowly in support adding to the growing force facing Johston’s teetering right wing. The Baluchi, fearful of the Lee-Metford repeaters withdraw toward the village (or are they up to something?).

…join us for the second part to see what comes of Captain Johnston’s expedition…see you then!

 

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