Sunday 30 December 2018

Carry on up the Congo - another debacle for the Force Publique

John the Red came over after Christmas and between various family celebrations and Dad's Tax operations for another run out for my Darkest Africa collection before I pack it all away again. You may recall that after the last action the Belgian Force Publique had received a bloody nose at the hands of the Zanzibari Arab slavers, taking heavy losses. They had failed in their objective and had also been unable to make it back to the river, but were able to leg it into the interior as the Arabs and their native allies were too busy licking their wounds. The commander of the column decided to head east towards the Arab slavers' main outpost on the river at Natin Hufratan fi Aljahim, steal some dhows and escape. En route they fortuitously encountered a group of civilian explorers and missionaries, escorted by a platoon of Force Publique irregulars.

The scenario was thus. The Zanzibaris are deployed (I think there were 5 or 6 units plus cannon in the town) around their settlement, alerted to the approach of the column but also to the presence of two Force Publique gunboats heading their way. An Awishmawai native village was nearby, but their involvement was not guaranteed.  We swapped roles this time so I took the plucky Belgians and John the Arabs, and used The Sword and the Flame again.

The two Force Publique gunboats, each holding a section of Askari as well as their crews and the District Commissioner and his staff. 
The town. The Arabs had a couple of old cannon mounted on the rooftops, and they began lobbing  roundshot in the direction of the gunboats almost at once.
The Awishmawai village. Quiet for the moment.
Disaster. A lucky shot holed the gunboat on the right, which managed to run itself  aground before sinking. Two further incredibly lucky shots put two holes in the other gunboat, which began to sink immediately. Three of the crew and two passengers were drowned but the others made it so shore, three of them being too injured to continue. What to do now?
The still quiet village......
The fugitive column. The advance guard has just crossed the stream to the left, while command group and civilians can be seen approaching the stream. Bearers and porters escorted by armed servants bring up the rear.  The rearguard, the Force Publique irregulars picked up en route, are acting as a rearguard. Just in shot at the top of the photo is the machine gun, set up to cover the column as it crosses the stream.
The leading section of Force Publique askari spring an ambush by a large group of Ruga-Ruga riflemen. The latter's fire is thankfully ineffective.
The civilians and their armed servants cover the flank of the main body as another group of Arabs start shooting from  the jungle.
Speed being of the essence I ordered a bayonet charge. One section refused to charge but the other  one made it, although it was outnumbered almost 3:1.
The doughty Belgian machine gun was well placed to cover both the advance and my left flank should the need arise.
The heavily armed and rather deadly civilians blasted away and decimated the Arabs in the jungle.
After fierce hand to hand combat the four remaining Belgians were in full retreat, but the  Ruga-Ruga were also in a bad way. John decided to re-occupy his original position.
John had sent an envoy secretly to try and stir up the natives.  I spotted him crossing the stream but the best I could do was to wound his servant. Of course shooting in the direction of the natives was guaranteed to upset them a little.....
The section of cowardly askari began enfilading the depleted Ruga-Ruga  in the bush while the civilians  kept the other  Arabs,  who had retreated to the rocks, under fire.
Meanwhile the landing party had been badly shot up by the Arabs in the town, and the appearance of some Baluchi matchlock men in my rear didn't help the situation. I began a withdrawal to the stricken gunboats, taking all my wounded with me.
The first war band of angry natives leave the village and head in my direction. A lucky shot by one of my bearers killed their leader.
Another band of natives (Boro supporters?) heads out of the village.

The first group of natives moved to cross the steam. My machine gun managed to wound three more of them as they crossed.
My deadly civilians, including several big game hunters, entered the rocky area to stalk the Arabs hiding within it. The latter took more casualties and ran as fast as their legs could carry them.
John's Ruga-Ruga retreated in the face of the Belgian advance.
Heroes of the day! The Askari machine gun (slightly anachronistic but who cares?) continued to provided support to the main body.
The surviving Belgian askari are now within sight (and range) of the settlement, but take more losses from the Arab defenders. They would be cut down if they attempted to attack.
With both my gunboats out of action my plan had been to take the settlement and steal a couple of dhows. That, as they say, was not going to happen!
The shore party continued to skirmish with the Baluchis, who managed to wound yet another European  officer.
The force commander (in white) had collected almost all the wounded around the grounded gunboat. The two wounded askari nearest the settlement had to be left for the time being as the two sailors who volunteered to bring them in were both killed before they could get the to safety. They will of course be nominated for an award.
The three groups of Awishmawei crossing the river, still under fire from the machine gun on their flank. Facing them was just a single group of armed bearers and servants.
The Belgians are again in serious trouble. The two sections of Askari are both down the half strength, leaving the civilians and armed bearers the only groups at full strength.
The armed servants and bearers now formed the rearguard.
Thankfully nobody chose to enter the jungle on the table edge, otherwise this jolly bunch of Pygmy warriors would have been activated. ALL of them!!!
These Arab swordsmen were hiding on the flank of the settlement. Any further forward movement by the Belgians would have meant they would've been spotted. Thankfully that never happened.
This and the following two shots show the range of units available (on a random basis) to the tribesmen in the village.

Readers might recall reference to the column's rearguard, made up of irregulars in the pay of the Force Publique.  I forgot to bring them on so Guess its fair to say that they were lost, or overwhelmed by a hoard of angry Pygmies. A shame as they would have made a difference. Not much perhaps but....
So, at that point John was clearly the victor. The Force Publique were shattered. The riverine part of the expedition had been scuppered (literally) by early lucky shots by John's cannon, meaning any attack on the settlement would have to cross a large open area without the support of the gunboats. I tried it and suffered for my pains. The Column did well to get as far as it did but would now struggle to join up with the remains of their river-born comrades before making an attempt for freedom.  Casualties had been high (around 50% of the Force Publique killed or wounded), especially among European officers and NCOs. The Arabs and tribesmen also suffered heavily (about 50 killed and wounded) so perhaps would not be too keen on pursuing the Belgians.  The stoic machine gunners were of course overwhelmed and killed to a man as they refused to join up with the Column, preferring instead to provide covering fire for as long as they could. Heroes all!

It was a fun game and quite a challenge, for me at least. I still like TSATF but they are a bit 'hollywood'ish' in places, so I am going to give 'Congo' a try next, or maybe Death on the Dark Continent (DOTDC) or The Man Who Would Be King (TMWWBK).  Sharpe Practice might also work but as John noted, it doesn't have a big enough name to make a long abbreviation so .....

I have the chaps round for a game on Friday. Certainly going to be something other than Darkest Africa.


  1. Nice report Colin. Something different from your normal fare but a change does you good!
    It's been a while since I played TSATF but I've had a fair few games with them some time ago. I play TMWWBK regularly and really enjoy it. I think it will cope with a bigger game - the Zulu game which Gary ran at WildGeese last June had plenty units aside, and the unit traits make things interesting !

    Do tell how you get on.

  2. Thanks Stuart. Back to the 'normal' fayre of, well, whatever is judged to be normal later this week.