Abushiri Revolt, 1889 – Arab Dawn Assault…(part I)

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…dawn attack…

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Having recently completed the German marines it was time to press them into action. Continuing my current theme of Darkest Africa clashes we played a scenario based around the 1889 Abushiri Revolt. For those unaccustomed to this colonial clash, this was an uprising on the East African coast by Zanzabari Arabs who took exception at the imposition placed on them by the Kaiser’s Imperial ambitions.

The game we played was a Rifles & Spears action of around about 500 points. This involved a game of about 70 figures for the Arab player and approximately 30 for the German. Whilst those numbers seem quite lopsided the quality difference between the two armies was significant.

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This particular action for the Arab player saw him only use Irregular troop type action cards and the Forward Boys! card. The German player had a greater mix of forces which included the Provincial troop type for the askaris, the Regulars card for the Marines, the Irregulars card for the African levies along with the  Forward Boys! card. Added to this was the usual event cards which in this particular game, as you’ll see, proved most eventful indeed.

For those of you who have been following this blog and the updates on Rifles & Spears we played more or less the game as it stands at the moment but we did include a new option that we’ve been working on to mix things up a little bit. Ostensibly I’ve called the Carp Diem option (seize the moment), which enables players to use the event cards in a slightly more interesting way. In Rifles & Spears each army is rated as tribal, organised or disciplined. We use this classification to assist us in determining whether the Carp Diem option is available to a player’s force in any particular turn.

Without going into the super detail of it suffice to say that it  revolves around the idea that once a certain number is achieved by adding the face value of the event cards, with the player who achieves that number by the play of their card, now gains the Carp Diem option at the point in the turn. Subsequent event card plays can mean the opponent can seize the moment and take the Carp Diem option from his opponent.

The Carp Diem option allows a player four choices during play.  He may deploy any units off a hidden unit marker regardless of type, provide an additional action for a troop type card played, gain a bonus when delivering a disciplined volley as well as engage in a fierce charge, both of which cause the target of such treatment to suffer a negative morale effect. This small but subtle addition provides a nice wrinkle to the standard play of the event cards as well of course producing events in their own right. It’s a very simple system that adds a nice bit of texture and varying ‘moments’ throughout play. OK, enough rules, back to the action.

 

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Arab forces. 2 x Leaders plus aid. 2 units of 10 Arab Nobles with breechloaders. 6 units of Swahili wangwana men with muskets.

 

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One Officer, 1 unit of 10 Marines, with breechloaders. 2 units of Wissmann askaris with breechloaders and one unit of ‘loyal’ African irregulars with muskets (ignore the figures in the bottom left hand corner).

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Situation

April, 1889, East African coast…

German forces have been dispatched by their commander, Hermann von Wissmann, to hold a small coastal outpost, centred around a small Lutheran church, that is under pressure from Arab forces raiding from the Arab stronghold of Jahazi. At this time the Abushiri alliance has to a large degree fizzled out such that the leader Abushiri now needs to use Arab mercenaries to continue the fight. Nevertheless Abushiri is determined to carve out small victories to reinvigorate his insurrection and continue the struggle. To that end he prepared a dawn attack against the small German outpost of Hermannsburg.

 

Scenario

In this scenario the German player was on the strategic defensive and ended up rolling a Defend scenario, therefore he both set up the terrain and had a defend objective in the scenario. This entailed the German forces holding a small church and keeping all Arab forces away from the church by the end of the game.

The Arab player on the other hand was tasked with an Engagement scenario which required him to destroy two thirds of the enemy figures (removed as casualties). This nicely fitted the narrative of a resurgent Arab offensive along the East African coastline. Both these scenarios were randomly determined as is usual in Rifles & Spears.

Unusually for this scenario when determining environmental effects a night scenario was in effect. This was a little unusual but we went with the scenario set up and it produced an interesting game that was a little bit different from the norm…the Muskets & Tomahawks system does this scenario narrative stuff very well.

Thus this became an early morning Dawn Raid by an Arab force as given by the scenario setup conditions. Side plots were used in this particular scenario. For the Arab player the following Side Plot was in-force.

 

Negotiations: Place an unarmed Civilian Officer in base-to-base contact with your Officer (you control that model). If both these models spend a whole turn without moving and in contact with each other (and without being engaged in melee), roll a D6 at the end of the turn. On a roll of 6 the negotiations have been successful. Add +1 to the die roll for each previous unsuccessful roll. If the negotiations have been successful and the Civilian Officer is still alive at the end of the game, you have fulfilled the conditions of your Side Plot.

 

The Side plot for the German player on the other hand was relatively simple. It simply required that the opponent not achieve his own Side plot! As is usual for all Rifles & Spears games each player did know what each other’s Sideplot was so in this regard the German player was completely in the dark…what was that Arab leader up to ??

The table was set up with some notable features that affected play. Central to the action was the small church at the water’s edge. Just to the north of the church was a heavy wood and enclosing the church grounds was some defensible features in the form of a rail fence used to good effect. Looking slightly further afield the central area to the east of the church was reasonably open, bounded by a wood on the extreme edge. Fortunately, this open ground would allow for rapid movement in the darkness so this worked to the arab player’s advantage.

Following the usual rules for deployment, with the German player going first followed by the Arab player, the initial layout of forces and the terrain was as follows. You can see the Germans in the church grounds and the Arabs strung out in a long line near their base edge.

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Scene of much of the action – the small church by the water.

 

Opening Shots

Early morning ‘stand to’ for the Germans called for their two units being deployed in the small courtyard adjacent to the church. To the left flank along the road were deployed the Wissmann askaris whilst the Marines were tasked with the defence of the church proper. The bulk of the marine unit was in the courtyard with the askaris, whilst four men were hunkered down inside the church, where each pair manned a position in the side windows defending from a good position of cover.

Unbeknownst to the Arab play the Germans were somewhat prepared having been alerted that something was in the air the night before from a local informant. To this end they had had dispatched a courier to aid the small German detachment who were awaiting reinforcements to arrive shortly after the sun came up, confidant they could hold off any enemy attack in the interim.

 

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Marines to the front, askaris to the flank.

 

 

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The arab line marches toward its target.

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Rifles at the ready, in the morning twilight the Arabs could just be detected in the distance by the church garrison. Though their numbers looked intimidating the askaris trusted in their breach loading rifles and strong defensive position to counter the seemingly overwhelming numbers advantage that the arabs had. Clearly the enemy plan was to advance under the cover of darkness and assault the church as the sun came up.

Knowing that their own smoothbore muskets were no real match for the advanced breech enemy loaders this was a good plan by the Arab commander. Not to be completely outclassed, the Arab Nobles were armed with breechloaders themselves so they were looking forward to being able to dish out some punishment as well.

 

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…enemy advance in the morning light…

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The arab run of action cards worked well as the German action cards came out quite quickly, and although the marines and askaris had no initial target, they prudently were placed on vigilance which one would expect at an early morning ‘stand to’ by a force of European led and trained soldiers.

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…arabs push up nicely in a long extended line…all is well so far…

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The early morning calm was suddenly broken by the crackle of fire by the askaris. Despite putting out a significant volume of fire (9D6) they only managed to inflict one casualty on one Swahili wangwana unit in the darkness. Taking an immediate reaction test they fell back, not overly happy with the attention they received.

Rule note – Shooting at night causes a -1 to hit. Not overly limiting but combined with a low shooting rating (5+) to start with, the night shooting modifier makes a difference. Darkness does limit visibility to 24″ in the open but for units in the woods visibility is severely restricted..reducing to 4″! This makes night attacks through woods by open order troops particularly hard to counter!!

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…the sun comes up slowly but still, darkness grips the battlefield…

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The end of the first turn saw the arab player move forward with little trouble. Some initial shots in the darkness only caused one unit to take a hit, with yet another man lost to subsequent shooting but overall they suffered no further ill effects to their morale…the arab plan was going well so far.

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Engagement…

With the second turn the morning light lifted revealing the threat to the small German garrison. The expected reinforcements had not arrived so it was up to the young Oberleutnant and his marine and askari detachment to hold the line.

Events started to unfold quickly. Through the woods the wangwana men formed a solid firing line. Spurred on by their leader they heared the order…

…fire!!!

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The ripple and crack musketry filled the north wood, unfortunately however the notoriously bad shooting so typical of African musketmen, meant the bullets whizzed over the head of the askaris and marines, both of whom well know to duck when the sound of enemy musketry is at hand. The result – no casualties, however the arabs had most certainly announced their arrival..

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…the fence provides a -1 light cover save, though the wood itself also provides cover…a good defensive position…

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Here you can see a good overview of  the action. The Arab musketmen move through north wood, whilst the Arab Nobles were skirting the wood to the right. Further along the Arab line the remaining wangwana men moved as quickly as they could to close the distance.

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In a good run of cards the Arab player got the jump on the German defender in the beginning of the second turn. To the left the wangwana men kept up a musketry fusilade whilst just on the outside of the wall of the Arab nobles, armed with breechloaders, now started to join the fight. Still the lucky German garrison suffered no loss. The combination of bad shooting discipline and the cover provided by the solid outlying fence mercifully gave the garrison the protection needed to minimise the effectiveness of the enemy fire.

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Responding in kind, the young German officer issued orders to commence firing. Making full use of their firing line drill training the askaris were immediately able to make an impression. Utilising the play of a 2-action card and combined with this the German leader was able to keep his men’s fire discipline under control through the use of this Carp Diem bonus. The lead unit of Arabs took a couple of casualties, which when combined with the previous losses and the extra negative morale effect of the ‘crisp volley’ resulted in them being sufficiently shaken such that they took Flight…the firing could have been much worse! The Arab unit tested its reaction but rolled a very handy score of 6 which resulted in a serious but not catastrophic set back… the men would once again gather their courage and join the fight.

Rules note – Flight is only a temporary condition that essentially means the unit cannot conduct any further actions in the current turn. It’s still quite penalising in that the unit is paralysed and thus can be the target of further shooting. Basically the unit is temporarily pinned and vulnerable but not broken. In this case the German player was able to use his Carp Diem Fire Discipline effect which caused the Arab unit to test with a further -1drm to their reaction test but his die roll of 6 prevented possible disaster by routing.

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…battle is joined…a solid musketry exchange…

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In this overhead shot you can see the marines firing from the church whilst the arabs push on to swing around and over the church grounds enclosed by fencing.

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Just as the wangwana men were pressing the assault through the woods a ‘throaty guttural roar’ was heard that sent a shiver up the spine of all men around. Whilst not immediately recognised by the German garrison the wangwana men new exactly what that sound meant. In a moment their trepidation turned to terror…unknowingly the Arab advance through the wood had stumbled across a pride of lions!

With nowhere to run the lioness lashed out to defend her young cubs and attacked the men in her midst, three of whom fell prey to the ferocity of her attack …the unfortunate Africans were most decidely in the the wrong place at the wrong time!!

The remaining men of the unit immediately broke ranks and ran to the rear in absolute terror to save themselves whilst the lions spirited away to quieter ground. In what can only be described as a bad omen, the lion attack in the northwood very much echoed another famous incident that was to occur decades later in the same location at Tanga in 1914…in that case, it was bees.

Rules notes – this incident was generated by an event card that certainly made for an interesting and quite different in game occurrence… First a night attack in the darkness and now this, one might say by ‘a ghost in the darkness’…what else could happen?

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The unfortunate Swahilis run shelter-skelter out of the wood in panic.

With excellent theatric timing, thus ended the second turn of play as the main lines locked horns in the struggle for the church…

 

 

…to be continued

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