Another curious case of colonial piles.

Once again, I have been afflicted with colonial piles. However, this time the presentation is different, and there is no lasting cure. My new colonial piles consist of plastic and metal miniatures for gaming the Zulu and Mahdist wars. The first pile is a couple of boxes of Italeri 1/72 Arab Warriors. While these are in fact the venerable plastic Esci figures from 1987, they are great for cheaply bulking out various native armies from the Sudan to the Northwest Frontier, provided you don’t look too closely.

The second pile is all Newline Designs 20mm metal and is a bit of a mix. For the Sudan, there is a pack of British Lancers, while the rest are for the Zulu War. Those packs are ready-made “Men Who Would Be King” units and consist of two packs of British and two of Zulus. The British are made up of one unit of imperial regulars and some mounted Frontier Light Horse. The Zulus are made up of one unit in ceremonial dress and one unit without. They have a somewhat toy soldier look about them, not dissimilar to the 28mm Rapier Miniatures figures I bought sometime ago.

Hopefully, this will prove to be a more enduring start to venturing into colonials. However, it will take me quite a while to get usable forces together due to my glacial painting speed, and that is even if I paint them in a basic toy soldier style. So I think paper colonials will be getting a few more outings yet.

Major Burnside’s Blunder

Information had been received in Cairo suggesting that a large force of Mahdists under Sheikh Aboud had been gathering deep in the desert near the hitherto lost temple of Ra. Accordingly, a small force under Major Barnaby Burnside was sent to investigate and disperse what was believed to be only a small incursion. Major Burnside was, as usual, accompanied by his faithful hound Tiffin and the intrepid reporter Percival “Nibs” Penman of the World Illustrated News. The field force consisted of “A” and “B” Companies of the Royal North Surrey Regiment, E Company of the Lennox Highlanders, and a detachment of the 23rd “White” Hussars.

The hussars, carrying Mahdist spears as improvised lances, were sent to scout ahead of the column. They had just come into sight of the lost temple when there was a crack of rifle shots from the hill to their right as previously concealed Mahdists revealed themselves and immediately attacked. Despite casualties, the hussars remained unshaken, wheeled to the right, and attempted to screen the arrival of the infantry. Major Burnside quickly arrived with “A” Company and ordered them into line facing the oncoming horde.

No sooner than A Company had deployed, another previously hidden force of Mahdists rose from the cover of the hillside and launched themselves in a headlong charge towards the White Hussars. In turn, they counter-charged the approaching host. Fortunately, “B” Company arrived in the nick of time and quickly formed up to left of “A” Company.

“A” Company fired a volley at the Dervish horde to its front, but apparently the company hadn’t adjusted their rifle sights and fired high. The horde closed in for the kill but was repulsed, with both attackers and defenders suffering heavy casualties. Meanwhile, the hussars, expertly using their improvised lances, drove the Madhists before them. Cold steel and cool nerves had won the initial engagements.

As Major Burnside and “Nibs” looked towards the oasis and temple, they spotted yet another Dervish unit previously hidden by the swaying palms. However, they did not panic as they could hear the drone of bagpipes as the Lennox Highlanders arrived. “A” Company took the opportunity to retire from the firing line and were quickly replaced by the highlanders. “B” Company redeployed to face the new threat and fired a deadly volley. The White Hussars, having broken the enemy to their front, wheeled left and hit the new Madhist force in the flank. It all proved too much for the Mahdists, and they broke and fled to the safety of the temple ruins.

Sheikh Aboud, despite the heavy losses, had faith that victory would be his. He had cunningly sent two units of Dervishes to flank the infidels. These had moved swiftly, using the terrain to go unnoticed. Every sand dune and donga had been their ally, and now they appeared behind the British line. Both units seemingly rose from the sands of the desert and charged the unsuspecting British. As soon as they were observed, “B” Company opened fire on the closest unit to them, but their volley failed to slow the Dervish host. Burnside and “Nibs,” with Tiffin following close behind, quickly found safety with the Highlanders, whose volley finally eliminated the enemy force in front of them.

“A” Company rapidly about-faced and attempted to stop the dervishes charging them. But once again, their sights were set too high, and the volley missed. Both units of Mahdists struck home on their respective targets, and “A” Company was virtually destroyed in the ensuing melee. “B” Company fared no better and was reduced to less than half strength. The Lennox Highlanders about-faced, readied themselves, took aim, and sent a death dealing volley into the Dervishes that had done for “A” Company. The survivors of the destroyed companies rallied around the rock steady men of the Lennox Regiment and fought on.

The White Hussars broke off their pursuit of the Mahdists skulking amid the ruins of the temple and launched a death or glory charge against the horde that threatened their comrades. The charge hit home and inflicted some casualties, but the hussars were too few and were pulled from their saddles to die on the points of Dervish spears.

The Mahdists, sensing victory was within their grasp once again, charged. Units that had previously been mauled by the British lions and had become reluctant to fight now joined the onslaught. Sheikh Aboud even sent his rifle armed personal guard to support the attack in the hope of finally wiping out the unbelievers. This renewed attack was repulsed by the men of Lennox, however, the survivors from the North Surreys succumbed to Dervish spears. Tiffin even helped the desperate defenders and successfully brought down one of the attacking Dervishes.

The Dervish hordes once again rallied and repeatedly attacked, while the rifle fire from Sheikh Aboud’s guard whittled down the highlanders until the “die hards” of the Lennox Highlanders were no more. Major Burnside and Percival “Nibs” Penman, who were mounted, made their escape, along with Tiffin the dog, with the victorious Dervishes in hot pursuit. Nibs, having made his escape, wrote his report and wired it to his publisher. His account of Major Burnside’s blunder horrified readers of the morning newspaper. Major Barnaby Burnside rode off to face a court-martial for his part in the loss of so many of Queen Victoria’s finest soldiers.

The game was hastily put together one idle afternoon and played using the solo rules from “Men Who Would Be Kings.” It had been quite some time since I played a game using the rules, so I just kept to the basics, and as it was a scratch game, I used the skirmish kings variant of half sized units. Using the variant does seem to make units brittle and combat results much more brutal, particularly for smaller units like the British.

Mr. Babbage, the dice-driven AI, plays a good game and keeps players guessing about where the next attack will land. I didn’t use the commander ratings or the points system for developing field forces. This might have made the Mahdists force too strong. However, the battle hung in the balance until the very end, and I had great fun watching it play out. As a side note, all the British units are from fiction. Do you know their origin?

Summer Reading

Christmas has passed and summer is heating up. The relentless war to maintain the garden is escalating as I try to thwart the airborne assaults by birds and the ground assault by various bugs and slugs in the vegetable garden. Fire and sword (or, less poetically, flame gun and weeder) are brutally being used to suppress the great uprisings of weeds that have surged forth due to the warmer weather. Heavy hangs the head that wears the broad-brimmed hat because that is the gardener’s lot during these hot months.

However, for those times when I am not out endeavouring to hold back the untamed wilderness and keep order, I have yet more books. I suppose one can never have enough books, even if one simply can’t get around to reading them all. My latest purchases were prompted by a passing fancy to know a bit more about “The Anarchy” of the 12th Century when King Stephen fought Empress Matilda for the throne of England.

So, to that end, I went looking online for a suitable book on the topic and came across the Naval & Military Press online bookshop. I fortuitously found the website during its summer (UK) sale, with many books heavily marked down, and that, of course, led to me buying more books than I had originally intended. To keep postage costs down, I chose surface mail, as I wasn’t in any hurry for the books. They arrived a few weeks ago, well packaged and enclosed in a Royal Mail bag, something I had not come across before, and included with my order was a newspaper-style illustrated book list with plenty more potential purchases.

Thus, “King Stephen and the Anarchy: civil war and military tactics in twelfth-century Britain” by Chris Peers was my initial choice. The title tells you everything you need to know about the book. My next two purchases concerned English Civil War topics. They were “A Rabble of Gentility” by John Barratt about the royalist northern horse during 1644–45 and “The Last Army”, also by Barratt, about the battle of Stow on the Wold in 1646 that saw the defeat of the last royalist field army by Parliament. They’ll be added to my extensive collection of ECW books, a period in which I’m very interested but haven’t played much.

My last pick was a hardcover tome of “Britain in the Age of Arthur: a military history” by Ilkka Syvanne. I had seen this book before, and it had raised my interest, but it was too expensive. However, during the sale, it was a fifth of its usual advertised price, so I took the opportunity to purchase it. Thus, my pile of reading materials grows ever larger.

As far as other stuff goes, due to the dust and dirt of having our bathroom renovated for what took a month, I packed away my paints and probably won’t get them out again before autumn. Before the builders started, I finished varnishing the fantasy miniatures and had them ready to glue to bases. I had almost finished the ECW Musketeers but had to set them aside once renovations began. However, while I may not resume painting for the time being, I am very likely to mess around with something, and the summer campaign will certainly keep me occupied.

A brush with the past

It may be recalled that I splashed out and bought two new brushes and some cleaner a couple of months ago. That purchase was prompted by an activity that I had not undertaken for some 6 years previously. In short, I had taken up painting miniatures again and found I needed some new brushes.

I did attempt to resume painting about three years ago, but after so much bereavement and grief, I was unable to bring myself to do it. I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind and found no pleasure in it. So, in comparison, the last few months have been a positive change and I have managed to paint miniatures now and then, although I have slowed somewhat recently due to having a new puppy to distract me.

I have mostly concentrated on assorted fantasy and random historical miniatures that I have accumulated over the years. These figures have the advantage of only requiring me to paint a few at a time. This allows me to avoid feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of attempting to paint an army. I can also either use them in our D&D campaign, should it resume, or for some solo “dungeoneering”. They have also provided me with the perfect opportunity to use the Citadel contrast paints that I have stockpiled over the past year or so.

Assorted 25-28 mm fantasy

My technique of choice for using contrast paints is to prime with white and then put a black wash over the miniature and then work it up using grisaille to create the underpainting. Finally, I then colour the miniature with contrast paints, although I do use metallics where appropriate. The quality of the miniature does make a difference to the end result. Plastic miniatures, such as those from Reaper Miniatures, respond well to that technique, but metal miniatures seem to give the best results, probably due to the sharper edges and detailing. The finished miniatures will be given a coat of satin varnish and be attached to a plain black disc for a base so that they fit better with my old D&D pre-painted miniatures.

It doesn’t end there either, as I have also made some effort to paint some 1/72 historicals. I have completed but not varnished a handful of ECW pike and command figures in the toy soldier style. I am currently working on the matching musketeers to make up a regiment. I even completed painting the big game hunter toy soldier that I started and abandoned three years ago. He, too, simply awaits to be gloss varnished. Having finally found the impetus to resume painting, I can only hope that I will remain motivated to complete some of the other unfinished or unstarted projects that have languished in boxes for the past 6 years or more.

Home-cast big game hunter

Brushing up!

It has been quite a few years since I bought any new brushes. Indeed, the last time I bought one was about 10 years ago. However, I did receive one as a gift around six years ago. The remainder of my brushes were acquired somewhere between 20 and 30 odd years ago. I tend to keep my brushes in action long after most people would consider them unfit for service.

So when I was out and about today, I went into an art supply shop to buy new brushes as an unusual treat. I came away with an Art Basics no. 4 imitation sable filbert and a Rekab no. 0 sable-ester and a bottle of Chroma brush cleaner to try and rejuvenate my old brushes.

‘Tis but a flesh wound!

During one of my late night trawls around Ebay I came across an unusual hit location die by Q-Workshop. I immediately recognized its value for role-playing and skirmish games and bought one. The 30mm D12 is for determining where on a character’s body wounds occur and when combined with a D6 or other die can indicate the severity of the wound, hence its usefulness in small scale actions.

Paper panzers!

Over the summer period, I had something of a clean out and a re-examination of my hobby stuff. It prompted much thought about how I should proceed with it or whether I should simply get rid of everything. I also gave consideration to replacing most of my stuff with Wofun Games laser cut Peter Dennis miniatures. I spent quite a bit of time perusing and pondering the English Civil War, Jacobite, and Zulu War flats. I was, and still am, extremely tempted by them. I didn’t, in the end, draw any real conclusions other than that I should bring what I have to a usable state and that I would need to make lots of compromises to achieve that end in my lifetime. However, I did get rid of a couple of paper armies that hadn’t been used for many years.

I first threw out my old paper dark age armies as they were greatly faded and last saw action seven years ago. Then, I threw out my 15mm paper WWII German Army that included infantry, artillery, and tanks. Most of the army had never been used and simply sat around in a tin for years, and I have a sizeable WWII German force in 1/72. The reconnaissance section, however, did see action once, sometime around 2007. I was somewhat sad to get rid of them, particularly the horse-drawn artillery, but I couldn’t see any point in keeping them. I did make sure to take some photos and have posted them here for posterity.

Paper Germans.

German infantry units.

German artillery.

German odds and ends.

Paper panzers.

German horse-drawn artillery.

A mostly dead hobby? 

It may seem that my blog and hobby are mostly dead. However, as Miracle Max in “The Princess Bride” said, “There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive”. So, while I haven’t been doing much hobby wise since my last post, it is, at least, still slightly alive. In any event, the spring and summer months are for campaigning in the garden and it is only in autumn and winter that I turn my attention to more sedentary pursuits.

My readings on colonial warfare have been furthered with the acquisition of “Battle in Africa 1879-1914” by Howard Whitehouse. This truly excellent little book was published in 1987 by Field Books and packs an amazing amount of information in its 48 pages. As the title suggests, it provides a general overview of warfare from the Zulu War, through the “scramble for Africa”, and ending at the start of WWI. The book details the logistics, weaponry, and tactics of both the imperial powers and their colonial and native adversaries. It is also beautifully illustrated throughout with drawings by renowned artist Peter Dennis.

More colonials!

Another buy, though not directly related to wargaming but running parallel to it, was “From Medieval Manuscript to Modern Practice the Longsword Techniques of Fiore dei Liberi” by Guy Windsor. It has been many years since I wielded a sword, but I still take a more than passing interest in the history and techniques of swordsmanship. One idle night on the internet, I came across this hardback book for well below its usual asking price, so I took the opportunity and bought it. 

Italian longsword action.

“From Medieval Manuscript to Modern Practice” has at its core “The Flower of Battle”, a fencing manual by the late 14th to early 15th Italian fencing master Fiore. Using that as a basis, Guy Windsor, presents a well researched and systematic exposition of longsword fencing in the Italian style as it was taught by Fiore. Unlike my older fencing manuals, and as a sign of the age in which we live, the book contains links to practical demonstrations online and that makes it very useful. Thus, “From Medieval Manuscript to Modern Practice” is a welcome addition to my small collection of swordsmanship manuals.

Rapier Miniatures Reconnoitred

A couple of months ago, I put in a trial order with Rapier Miniatures for a sizeable sample from their Zulu War range. They turned up reasonably quickly despite the erratic postal service due to Covid.

Miniature goodness!

The service from Rapier Miniatures was first class and the figures arrived well packed. I am quite happy with them as they are crisp, well posed and detailed. They are just good, solid, dependable miniatures and, at around $2.30 a foot figure and $5.70 a mounted figure, they are very reasonably priced. A big plus is that they can be bought individually, but Rapier does also offer packs.

A few samples of Rapier Miniatures.

I bought more than enough miniatures for a British company/unit according to the “The Men Who Would Be Kings” rules. I ordered 12 advancing privates, a bugler, an officer on foot and one mounted, and a small dog. Sadly, I still have yet to decide how to go about painting them and the other items I have in hand. Making that decision is the most difficult part of actually applying the brush and paint to them.

Zulu War British.

Do you like Kipling?

If your answer is “I don’t know I’ve never “kippled”, then perhaps you should give it a try. I have been into Kipling since childhood and heartily recommend it. With all my reading about colonial warfare, I decided I needed a decent collection of Rudyard Kipling’s “Barack-Room Ballads”. Searching around on the internet, I came across a new, pristine, old stock, copy of “Kipling’s Soldiers” from 1993.

Kipling’s military ballads illustrated.

The book is a wonderful collection of Kipling’s military themed poetry and is liberally sprinkled with 19th century photos of soldiers. The book’s 24 colour plates by renowned military artist Bryan Fosten depicting the lives and times of Victorian soldiers make it a true gem. The paintings alone make the volume a worthwhile guide to uniforms of the period. However, the real strength and pleasure of the book are Kipling’s ballads, which give voice to the experiences and conditions of Queen Victoria’s soldiers. Experiences that are universal for professional soldiers, from antiquity to the modern age.