…war on the Rufiji

zanzibari-force

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Last night saw us head back to Africa! Recently another Darkest Africa army has been completed and added to the growing number of armies we have for the scramble for that great continent. The Zanzibaris, who are the same (Egyptian figures) who paid the price for invading Abyssinia in a previous post, this time came back as Zanzibaris with British drill and training, a pretty flag and the odd Englishmen in their ranks!

As both native players don’t yet have enough troops to field a complete army off their own for DITDC, two tribes joined hands to rid East Africa of the Arab slave masters…the enemy of my enemy is my friend…

The two tribes of concern were no push overs – being the majestic lords of the Steppe, the dreaded Masai, and the wannabe Zulus, the Ngoni.

The standard set up for play was completed, with the Zanzibaris being deemed the defenders in this scenario. This entailed the terrain being laid out, conveniently allowing the cunning Zanzibari to place a major water feature on his flank..no doubt hugging the mighty Rufiji itself, supported by his dhows safely off shore.

The scenario was rolled for resulting in a Raid – this meant the Zanzibari player had only a third of his force on table and needed to roll for each to arrive from the 4th turn. Being British trained and to a degree officered, the Disciplined rating of the Zanzibari army meant their troops would arrive on a 4+, so the rest of the army could be expected to turn up…how much and when, that was another question…

The Masai-Ngoni force could deploy their full army on-table, however the rapid nature of the raid meant that only three-quarters of the force (225pts) was available in total …so it was speed of movement vs a thin defence that may or may not be reinforced…but will it do so in time?

With a few adjustments by the Native players to the terrain layout the Zanzibari force was deployed. Not much to see…the baggage, a unit of soldiers and a gun! The native host , being deployed all at once was a fear inducing sight for the Zanzibari force…I think the Zanzibari commander genuinely gulped at the sight of the horde arrayed against him!!

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Scenario

So with the preliminaries done the scene was set…

…November, 1890, in the wake of the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty and British-Zanzibari operations in Wituland, a little known episode followed. The Sultan’s Zanzibari troops, aboard H.M.S Humber on it way back to home port, received a signal to divert course and head south, along the East African coast to make landfall from whence they were to march poste-haste to scatter a rising of the tribes that had been raiding along the Rufiji River. This penetration of the coastal strip threatened a small mission established on the coastal river inlet, which provided a vital communication link to Nyasaland.

The native war host was said to be made of the Ngoni of Nyasa and a large war party of Masai warriors, which was troubling news for the local British commander, Captain the Honourable Assheton Gore Curzon-Howe. The British commander however, due to other commitments, was forced to send a Zanzibari force alone to deal with the problem with some trepidation. Though the men had splendid uniforms they had even more splendid guns, breechloaders, every one of them. The Sultan, having received the urgent dispatch in Zanzibar, sent his fastest Dhow to catch up, loaded with Baluchi mercenaries, who were itching for a fight…so the stage was set for a showdown on the Rufiji!

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The Game

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Forces arrayed for battle. On the left the native host – Masai top of picture and Ngoni in the near ground. To the right, the very thin Zanzibari line – baggage, one unit and a gun!  The top table edge is the river edge…in this case the Rufiji River.

Note – because of the scenario setup the ‘optimal’ baggage placement, which is the objective, is to put on the river edge (banks) and defended to its front and left flank, the river securing its right flank.

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Ngoni on the march…

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…to the Ngoni left, the Masai horde. On the left of the Masai line, out front, is a single unit of Arusha musket armed skirmishers…

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…the Zanzibari soldiers, armed with breechloading rifles, supported by the light rifled field gun.

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The Masai and Ngoni push up quickly. Their plan is relatively simple – they have to hit hard and hit fast! They have few if any missile troops and the enemy line is weak…the baggage a beckons!

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Boom! the Zanzibari gunners open up but their fire is wide of the mark…no hits. The Zanzibari infantry have better luck and put some hurt on the lead elements of the Arusha skirmishers (you can just see the red markers).

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…a better view…

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As you can see the fire was quite effective against the Arusha musketmen. Their role is to screen and harass with their fire…they’ve got the screening bit worked out, not sure they like it too much though!

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The terrain on the left is a swampy area and largely impassable. The light scrub does not slow movement and offers some cover from fire…what’s that camel doing in the middle there!

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The action heats up. At this point it’s turn 4 and the Zanzibari player has started to get some reinforcements. The Arusha skirmishers have been very fortunate in that they have shaken off two of their disorder markers.

The Ngoni, cottoning onto the idea, push up their musketeers.

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…behind the Arusha ‘screen’ the Masai push up and through the low grass/scrub…nasty looking beasts aren’t they!

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…very nasty!

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…With their British commander in the front rank, the order is given once more…“…fire!!!…”

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Boom (again)…and miss (again!)…this gun crew needs some target practice…Lucky for them to their left a unit of Baluchi have arrived to strengthen the position.

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You can see (don’t look at that table clutter..yuk!)…the left of the Zanzibari line has a unit of Swahili irregular musketeers, then a unit of Baluchis, the field gun and the still isolated commander with his rapidly firing unit of infantry

(Player Note – the Masai force is actually ‘oversized’ here ie 150pts. The back two units shouldn’t be on table…my mistake in the heat of the action. In the game they didn’t get involved and were removed later so they didn’t impact on play or the result at all…they looked good though!)

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…grubby Ngoni!

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Turn 5

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The Zanzibaris open up and deal out some more disordering effect on the musketeers. Those guys have given stirling service so far, virtually taking on the whole line themselves!

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…closing in. Three turns until game end…can the Masai get to the baggage, top left of picture?

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…things are getting serious now for the Zanzibaris. They have an absolute horde of Masai to their front (remember the back two Masai units aren’t meant to be there). The Zanzibari fire up to this point has been desultory to say the least…

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…much to the relief of the British officer in charge (with flag), looking over his shoulder he sees another unit of Zanzibari infantry arrive to stiffen the defence. They move in front of the baggage…

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The British officer, pistol in hand, shouts…“…stick it to ’em me boys!…” (however you say that in Swahili!)

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…gulp!

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Meanwhile, the Ngoni contingent presses its case. Throwing themselves into the fray the brave Swahili musketeers steal themselves against the dreaded Baluchi!

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…a Zanzibari line of sorts, but assailed it is…

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…giving as good as they get, the Arusha musketeers take a loss but dish one out as well…a good exchange by any measure…

…however, in the distance yet more Zanzibaris arrive…another fresh unit of infantry and Swahili skirmishers…this is looking like a tough position now…discipline, discipline

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…turn 6, and now the Arusha skirmishers take too much hot lead…they hit their 5 disorder limit from the Zanzibaris breechloaders and rout…a fine effort by the mountain men of Arusha. The Masai continue to push up, but is time running out?

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On the Ngoni front, they have taken some losses (dead bodies) but otherwise are relatively unscathed. What this picture doesn’t show is that the Baluchi attack was obliterated by the Ngoni musketmen! They fired on them and killed two bases and in the melee defeated them…ouch!

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…a close in shot shows the lead Zanzibar unit, with leader, two disorders and the red spots marking the spot of the Arusha dead.

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…with the Baluchi flank support gone that gun crew, who have missed every time, are feeling edgy…

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…and you can see why! They are not for this fight me thinks….

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…on the extreme left of the Zanzibari line some Baluchi and Ngoni slug it out in the scrub…a classic ‘Darkest Africa’ encounter..

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…with cow in tow, the Masai leader waves his spear sending the first unit of moran into the frontline Zanzibaris. They respond in kind with some disordering fire…meanwhile the swahili musketeers swing into position to support the line.

This combat resulted in the lead Masai unit being destroyed by breechloader fire on the way in and they rout…not before however, causing the Zanzibari unit to be destroyed also, due to losses.

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…things are getting dicey for the lead unit of Ngoni…casualties are mounting up…

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…where did that gun go? you guessed it, the Ngoni musketmen wiped ’em out with some ‘disciplined’ musket fire…nice work!

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…meanwhile the Ngoni and Baluchi continue the fight…it is however, the Baluchi that come off second best…they rout!

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…getting down to the pointy end of things, the Masai leader throws himself, with cow, straight at the lone British commander and his trusty Zanzibari bodyguard

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“…back I say, back…bang!…”

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…with deadly accuracy (he rolls a 20 on a D20!) the brit drops the Masai leader and the unit routs (it rolled one in combat and failed its leader loss test!!)…

…meanwhile the Masai ‘lunge’ at the baggage results in two disorders from the defending Zanzibari infantry…it’s all starting to slow down now, the puff going out of the attack…

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…with the beginning of turn 8 the Masai are now a spent force, both units unable to reach the baggage in time. The baggage is safely behind a fresh unit of Zanzibaris though their line has been weakened a good deal, however it is safe.

The Ngoni are in good shape but time has run out for the natives who break off the attack as news of further Zanzibaris troops approaching forces a withdrawal…

…from what looked like certain defeat, thanks to the power of the breechloader, a bit of pluck, the line holds and stiffens just in time to take the victory…hurrah!

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…the Masai line, all shot up and a spent force…Ngoni do a valiant job but it’s all not enough to defeat the march of technology…

Result…Zanzibari outpost and British interests secure…once again!…back on the boats and off for a gin or two!

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Debrief

A most enjoyable game had by all. The peculiarities of this scenario and the random effect of the Zanzibaris defending made the game a more winnable proposition for the Zanzibari, even though it didn’t look like it at game start.

As the Zanzibari could defend a hard edge of the table (riverline) they made it much easier for them to negate the size of the forces arrayed in front of them against their objective ie the baggage. The also could ‘feed in’ troops to bolster the defence of the baggage, which was the native player’s objective – nothing else counted. All this is fine, it’s just the way it spun out.

As the Zanzibari force is Disciplined in DITDC this meant they had a 50/50 chance that each unit would turn up from turn 4 onwards. As they had only to move on and fire this also helped immensely. All these factors came to a head at the back end of the game when all seemed lost at the front end of the game!…good sign of a good game and not a wee bit like history as well!!

It must also be said that the Masai player was rolling ‘hot dice’ to move and recover disorder and the Zanzibari shooting was pretty poor…the gun crews will be flogged for their inaction..if any of them survived! The scenario would’ve been quite lopsided IMO if the dice had swung the other way.

The whole game was 3 hrs start to finish. Using the ‘complete’ set up procedure is important to make each army play to its strengths….it’s best to take note of this as it is what adds a good deal of depth to the way forces set up and interact on-table using the Death in the Dark Continent system.

Man of the match goes to the Ngoni musketeers…2 and 0!!

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All great stuff and looking forward to the new version of Death in the Dark Continent in the near future by Northstar.

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