Sunday 17 November 2019

The Battle of Ferozeshah 21/22 Dec 1845

As some readers may be aware its the 'Battleground' Stockton event on 30 November, more info  here. This is the only show I now put on a demo game, if only because the venue is a massive five minutes from home. This year (previous games were such "mainstream" campaigns as Senaffe in 1674 and Zurich 1799) I’m doing the Battle of Ferozeshah set at the outbreak of the 1st Anglo-Sikh War 1845-46. With one exception, not this one, none of the battles in either of the Sikh Wars is an obvious choice for a game as the Sikhs elected to stand behind entrenchments, on the defensive, while the British did all the attacking. (For brevity I will refer to the combined 'Queen's' and East India Company regiments as British). These tactics are good for the Sikh army as their commanders are pretty poor but possibly not that entertaining for the Sikh player.

Nevertheless, having worked on my Sikh Wars collection over the past 12 months (but technically the last eight years) and on the basis that they all look very impressive when on the table, the Sikh Wars and the Battle of Ferozeshah it is. Here is a link should anyone wish to read about the battle and the campaign. I thought I'd better give the scenario a rehearsal to make sure it wasn't too one-sided an affair so, playing a short line out so to speak, was joined by Conrad, Paul S and Mike for Saturday's game. Conrad (Gough) and Paul (Hardinge) were the British, while Mike (Lal Singh), aided by my good self were the Sikhs. Full OoB can be found at the end of this post. In this game each British unit in the OoB is represented by a battalion/regiment/battery/troop on the table. Some fudging and stuff was needed with the Sikhs but the ratios were correct.
Map of the battle.

Interestingly both armies were pretty evenly matched numerically, but very different in terms of quality. Fully a third of the British army were very tough European infantry, while half of the Sikh infantry were Feudal types. The Bengal Native Infantry were average but nervous facing the Khalsa. The British mounted arm was generally superior to the Sikh cavalry, IF the Sikhs decided to show up for this re-enactment, as in the real battle they swanned about just north of the entrenchment and didn't engage even when to do so would have been catastrophic for the British. The Sikh artillery is however far more numerous, heavier and more effective than the Bengal Horse and Foot Artillery. Of course the British commanders were far better than those of their opponents. Would that be also true of their flesh and blood avatars standing around the table? As usual, I will let the (many) photos and snappy captions tell the tale of how the game unfolded. North is the Sikh long table edge.

View of the battlefield from the Western table edge. The Sikhs had cleared the low-lying jungle around their entrenchment to produce a killing zone devoid of cover over which the British would have to advance.

The most heavily defended section of the entrenchment is the South West corner, held by heavy guns and elite  Sikh regulars.
The attack begins with General Littler’s division advancing towards the South West corner of the  entrenchment.
The interior of the entrenchment which included the village of Ferozeshah, the Sikh encampment and artillery park.
Vultures (definitely not of the Bedknobs and Broomsticks variety) gather anticipating an evening of feasting.
Brigadier Brooke of the Bengal Horse Artillery and in overall command of the British guns overseas the deployment of  9pdr guns as they emerge from the jungle.
Lal Singh the Sikh commander on his elephant.
Littler's division made good progress towards the entrenchments. Sikh artillery fire was largely ineffective. Paul had ordered the BHA to move with the infantry but they failed their command roll and stayed put.
General Gilberts Division (well one brigade) attacks the Eastern end of the entrenchments.  Conrad's BHA raced forward and deployed in front of the enemy.
In the centre General Wallace's weak division also attacked. There was clearly a cunning plan afoot to overwhelm every part of the Sikh line at once.
Littler's infantry begin exchanging fire with the Sikhs, who in return managed to inflict no damage on the British! This wasn't going well for the Khalsa.
Littler's leading brigade then launched a bayonet charge. The BNI battalion was beaten back in melee but the European battalion was poised to hit the defenders in the flank while another BNI battalion bravely charged the guns.
The Sikh gunners were renowned for fighting to the last around their guns so I allowed them to ignore the result of their first break test in melee should they loose. Their closing fire was abysmal and after two rounds of melee they were overrun.
The abandoned Sikh cannon. The battalion of BNI that had destroyed the battery withdrew back into the ditch, shaken.
There was now a large gap in the Sikh defences. After a battalion of Sikh Gurkhas fled after a failed attempt to oust the British from the entrenchment, a single rallying battalion of Sikhs was all that was immediately available to face the British advance. Intent on piling on the pressure, Paul brought up a brigade of cavalry but they were unable to cross the ditch and embankment.
Seen from behind the British centre, Wallace's division has to withdraw as most of its units are shaken after an unequal battle against Sikh heavy artillery and regular infantry. The BHA can be seen pushed right up to the edge of the ditch in an attempt to blast a way through with canister.
Over on the other flank Conrad tried to emulate the exploits of HM 3rd Light Dragoons in the real battle by charging across the earthworks, but got stuck in the ditch, unable to find a way through the embankment. All three regiments took heavy casualties and became disordered, and were forced to make a hasty retreat.
All four batteries of the Bengal Foot Artillery crept forward while trying to inflict a few casualties on the Sikhs.
One of Gilbert's brigades then charged the entrenchment. A Sikh Feudal battalions in the angle had been driven off by musketry and artillery fire before the charge was launched. Closing fire from the Sikhs was hopelessly ineffective.
The Sikhs rushed to seal yet another gap in their defences, as the whole SE corner of their entrenchment was now completely exposed.
In the real battle, the Sikh cavalry (approx 7-8000 of them, mostly irregulars) failed to get involved  with the British even after the camp was broken into. In this game there was a chance that under dire circumstances they would intervene. Well the circumstances were certainly dire and the dice Gods favourable for a change so six units of Gorchara appeared on the Western side of the entrenchment. A mixed blessing in truth as their effectiveness was measured in inverse proportion to their colourfulness!

The British were still facing stiff opposition in the SW corner but it was unlikely the Sikhs would hold up the advance for long.
In a moment of madness I declared a 'follow me' with my level 6 commander and passed, so charged the British artillery directly to our front. My Feudal irregulars (in reality more like semi-regular professionals) survived closing fire and overran one battery, but were then blown back towards the encampment by canister fire from two of the other batteries. Their leader clearly led a charmed life and survived. This rather rash act put one 'brigade' of Feudal infantry out of action as by now all its units had been broken or shaken.

Meanwhile the infantry battling to get over the earthworks had managed to overrun the battery but were facing unexpected opposition from some Feudal infantry, but not for long. Very soon the entire Eastern side of the entrenchment was won and the British were pouring into the camp. It was at this point that the British realised that they'd again forgotten to bring Smith's reserve division into action, not that they were needed!
Back on the opposite wall the Sikh Gorchara were fighting a loosing battle against  the 4th Bengal Light Cavalry (Lancers) and the Governor General's Bodyguard. 
Very quickly and not unsurprisingly the discipline of the Bengal cavalry, supported by the fire of two troops of Bengal Horse Artillery,  drove the Gorchara back to the table edge.
The only remaining units of Sikh regular infantry were being worn down by canister from two more troops of Bengal Horse Artillery.
It was obviously a very decisive win for the British in what turned into a bit of a slug fest. I took quite a few things away from the game that I need to think about before it gets its next outing, including:

  • The Bengal Native Infantry were not especially enthusiastic when it came to fighting the Khalsa and tended to hang back. Most of the fighting and a disproportionate number of the casualties was done by the European regiments. I shall need to reflect this more somehow, perhaps by making them wavering and/or randomising their stamina.
  • The Sikh artillery was pretty ineffective in the game even allowing for some unlucky dice rolls. They completely out shot the British guns but this wasn't at all obvious in the game so needs looking at. Indeed the weak points in the defences in the game were where the artillery had been deployed. I need to make them harder to overrun as the rules for artillery in melee are very unkind in BP.
  • The Sikhs need to be much harder to dislodge from the earthworks by musketry and cannon fire alone. Cold steel and a charge by European infantry should be the only sure way of clearing the Sikhs from their earthworks.
  • The Sikhs need more infantry on the table from the start.
  • The possibility of the Sikh cavalry deciding to partake in the action was a very real worry in the minds of the British commanders, so needs to be reflected in the game somehow, even if, unlike in this game, the cavalry don't show up.

Overall it was a great game that presented plenty of tactical challenges, even for the Sikhs. It was certainly a colourful game played with the usual good  humour and occasional well intentioned 'sledging'. A very few bits remain to be completed, e.g. a couple of limbers, a troop of BHA and various bits of tabletop ephemera/vignettes and the like plus the edges of the movement trays need painted or landscaped. That, and the usual supporting admin stuff and I'm done.

I might be able to squeeze another game in before the Battleground show on 30 November. I hope so however unlikely, and if not then roll on December. Thanks again to the guys for coming to play the game and be used as guinea pigs to try out the scenario.

As mentioned at the top of this post here are the OoBs for the game.

BRITISH ARMY OF THE SUTLEJ: General Sir Hugh Gough (9)

2nd in COMMAND: Lt. General Sir Henry Hardinge, Governor General (8)

Cavalry Bde: Lt. Colonel Harriett (7)
3rd Bengal Irregular Cavalry, 8th Bengal Light Cavalry

Cavalry Bde: Brigadier Gough (8)
Governor General’s Bodyguard, 5th Bengal Light Cavalry

Cavalry Bde: Lt. Colonel White (8)
HM 3rd Light Dragoons, 4th Bengal Light Cavalry (Lancers), 9th Bengal Irregular Cavalry

Artillery: Acting Brigadier Brooke (9)
6 troops BHA (light)
4 batteries BFA (medium)
1 battery BFA (heavy howitzers)

1st Division: Maj-Gen Sir Harry Smith (9)

Brigadier Ryan (8) HM 50th Foot42nd & 48th Bengal Native Infantry (BNI)

Brigadier Hicks (8)HM 31st Foot24th & 48th BNI

2nd Division: Maj-Gen Walter Gilbert (8)

Brigadier McLaren (8): 1st Bengal European Light Infantry,16th Bengal Grenadiers45th BNI

Brigadier Taylor (8): HM 29th & 80th Foot41st BNI

3rd Division: Brigadier Wallace (8)
HM 9th Foot, 2nd Bengal Grenadiers, 26th & 73rd BNI

4th Division: Maj-Gen Sir John Littler(9)

Brigadier Ashburnham (7): 33rd 44th & 53rd BNI

Brigadier Reed (8): HM 62nd Foot12th & 14th BNI

The Sikh OoB is somewhat conjectural, based on the numbers of each troop type rather than actual units, except for the 'Avitable' brigade.


Commander in Chief: Lal Singh (6)

3 heavy batteries
2 medium battery
1 light battery

Cavalry Bde: (7) Off table
2 x regular cuirassiers
1 x regular  lancers

Cavalry Bde: (7) (off table)
7 x Feudal Gorchara cavalry
3 x zambarek camel ‘batteries’

Akali: (8) (off table)
4 x Akali

‘Guard’ Infantry Bde: (8)
4 x Fauj-i-khas btn

Infantry Bde (Orange): (7)
3 x regular btn

Infantry Bde (Red): (7) off table
3 x regular btn

Infantry Bde (Green): (7) off table
3 x regular btn

Infantry Bde (Black): (6) off table
3 x regular btn

Infantry Bde: (6)
4 x Feudal btns

Infantry Bde: (6)
3 x Feudal btns


  1. Looking forward to buggering this up at the show!

  2. I'm sure the game will be a joy to see at the show! Hope it goes really well.

  3. Looks like a great game Colin. Plenty pics from its run at the show please!

  4. Best of luck. I'm halfway through organising as a club display the same battle in 15mm for Salute

  5. Can't wait to help give this another run at Battleground. It will be a very early start from Edinburgh but worthwhile for a gentlemanly game with friends and a visit to a good show.

  6. Awesoem lookign forward to seeign this in the flesh.

  7. Fantastic game and great to see it yesterday.