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?

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.

A helmet, hunting and other oddities.

A whole season has passed since my last post and activity in the garden is naturally winding down; although there is always work to do.  The “reconquest” of the garden is virtually complete and only one small weedy spot remains to be conquered. The vegetable garden, where weeds once grew taller than my wife, again proved productive and largely fed us over the summer. My lovely wife has more than once pointed out that many of the skills involved in managing a garden are equally applicable to the playing of battle games. So I don’t feel guilty about not really doing anything related to toy soldiers and battle games. However, we have been playing some Dungeons & Dragons with friends. My gorgeous wife had not played D&D before, despite having played some other role playing games, and so wanted to experience it.

I have been given and acquired a few things in the months since my last post. Christmas proved particularly bountiful as John gave me some more splendidly painted toy soldiers of British camelry in the Sudan. He also passed on to me bunch of Wargames Factory plastic sprues of married and unmarried Zulus. I think there are enough for a couple regiments of each. I also received a few Zulu characters by Warlord and Redoubt, including one superb mounted Induna, and a small unit of dismounted Natal Mounted Police / Carbineers by Foundry for the colonial forces. As yet I’ve done nothing with them as I am still looking at what ranges of figures and manufacturers I can use to expand them into viable fighting forces. At the moment Rapier is in the lead as they are inexpensive and can be bought individually (I detest buying figures in variety blister packs). I also haven’t decided how to tackle painting and basing the figures.

Still in search of the Mahdi.

The preceding months have also seen me build a new stock of hobby paints, something that has not happened for all most fifteen years. I was so sufficiently impressed by the Citadel contrast paints my darling wife gave me back in September of last year that I slowly acquired all the colours that I felt would be most useful. I suppose it demonstrates that there is at least the intention to do something. As my “paint table” is not permanent (it also is used for many other purposes), and measures a measly 34 cm X 53 cm, I bought a Mig Jimenez Ammo “Mini Workbench Organizer”. I hope that will at least allow me to keep the stuff I am using to hand. The whole having to find everything you want, get it out and set up is a major disincentive to do any painting.

My grandest acquisition, a present to myself, was a combat ready helmet to add to my small armoury. It is practical piece of armour in the Late Roman style with brass decorative florets. I will need to either buy or make a helmet stand so I can display it properly. Alternatively, perhaps in the distant future I could acquire an armour stand. 

I am still working through all the colonial books I bought last year. I read in fits and starts but that doesn’t deter me from buying more books. Consequently, I have added “The Indian Army” by Boris Mollo to the colonial pile. Mind you, I also have piles of other books to read on subjects from gardening to blacksmithing and swordsmanship.

As a break from colonial wars I also bought and read “Dinosaur Hunter”. I’ve long wanted to do a “dino hunt” scenario and some time ago started to do a paint conversion of a 40mm home cast figure into a big game hunter but sadly didn’t get very far. I saw the book when it was first released by Osprey six or so years ago and intended to buy it then but promptly forgot about it until recently.

“Dinosaur Hunter” is set in alternative present where time travel is possible and affords the very rich the opportunity to hunt dinosaurs located in game reserves throughout the Mesozoic. It is set out as a guide for prospective hunters and outlines the type of animals, both big and small, likely to be encountered and the environments they inhabit. “Dinosaur Hunter” then offers stories of a number of hunts, most of which do not end well for the hunters, as a demonstration of the dangers of hunting dinosaurs.  The book is liberally illustrated with fine line drawings of the various “beasties”. It is inspirational source material for all those game scenarios involving dinosaur hunts and an entertaining read. So it may well be time to finish my own big game hunter.

Colonial Piles

Colonial piles is not some affliction that one suffers in a far flung tropical outpost of the empire but rather an assortment of second hand books I have rapidly acquired over the past month or so.  It all started with me innocently watching my worn old copy of the movie “Zulu Dawn” and idly pondering the recently reinvigorated Jacklex range of colonials on their new website. That prompted my interest and led to me buying a couple of books on the Zulu War and then everything just snowballed from there.

Colonial Pile No. 1
Colonial Pile No. 2

As an odd bit of synchronicity, the shiny British Camel Corp chaps on the mountain of books (presumably seeking the hordes of the Mahdi), were a gift from John during a visit for an enjoyable meal. The figures are 54mm Armies in Plastic toy soldiers that John had splendidly painted. We also had a fun colonial game utilising some old paper flats and a colonial variant of the One Hour Wargames rules. It was the first outing for the paper flats for about 12 years, since the last time I was last bitten by the colonial bug.

Splendid chaps bound for Khartoum.

The bulk of the books are on the Zulu War, that being what originally pulled me down the rabbit hole. It has long been of interest to me, mostly because there are two great films set during it and I had a copy of Cy Endfield’s book “Zulu Dawn” in my formative years. The Sudan Wars also constitute a good proportion of the books; while the North West Frontier is in a very poor third place (I will try and remedy that). Of course there are plenty of other colonial campaigns that are of interest but I will have to stop somewhere. However, I now have plenty of reading material to entertain me over the summer days and provoke dreams of colonial adventures!

The start of a new pile!

NSW Colonial 15 Pounder Field Gun

A couple of months ago my wonderful wife and I made a rare flying visit to Hobart. We stayed in Hobart overnight and then made a very leisurely journey home, stopping at many of the small towns on the way back to see what we could see. One of the towns we stopped at was Ross, in the Tasmanian Midlands. Ross is an old garrison town, with a world renowned carved stone bridge. Many an illustrious British regiment had troops stationed there to guard convicts and hunt down bushrangers.

While looking around Ross, I took the opportunity to revisit the war memorial and an impressive old breech loading 15 pounder field gun that has been there ever since I can remember.  I recall the gun as being painted grey but in 2017 she was refurbished. I don’t know how accurate the restoration was but the Ross field gun is a mighty fine piece of ordnance.

Ross Gun Muzzle

Ross Gun Left

The plaques underneath the gun read:

“B. L. 15 Pounder Mark 1 No. 788 Anglo-Boer War. 1899-1902”

“This gun is one of six delivered to New South Wales circa 1898. Used by Australian Troops in their first action outside Australia. Presented to Ross township.

Range 6,000 yards – 5,490 metres;

Calibre 3″ – 76.2 mm;

Weight of ammunition 14 pounds – 6.4 Kg.

Documented by The Artillery Historical Trust of Tasmania, Northern Branch, 10th Nov. 1996.”

Ross Gun Breech

Ross Gun Right

The website of the Tasmanian Wool Centre in Ross has a comprehensive history of the 15 pounder that is really quite interesting reading and can be reached via

The Wool Centre tells the fascinating history of wool growing in Tasmania; it also has an excellent a local history museum attached and is well worth a visit if you are ever in Ross.

Anglo-Zulu Wargaming

Some months ago Jacksarge gave me a copy of “A Wargamer’s Guide to the Anglo-Zulu War” by Daniel Mersey for my birthday. I finally managed to get around to reading it recently. The book itself has been well reviewed around the Internet, so I will keep my own thoughts on it brief. Daniel Mersey, will need no introduction as I’m sure his output is fairly well known by now in the wargaming community.

Anglo Zulu War Guide

The book is divided into seven chapters; the first chapter gives a brief outline of the war and serves as an introduction to the subject. The second chapter summarises the armies, organisation and equipment of the Zulus and the British imperial forces in turn. So while the section isn’t greatly detailed it does provide all the elementary information needed to start putting armies together and includes basic painting guides.

Chapter three discusses the key battles of the war with the exception of Intombi. Even more oddly, Ulundi the climactic battle that saw Zulu power broken isn’t addressed. Each brief description is followed by useful suggestions on how to game the battles. The fourth chapter discusses what factors impact on wargaming the overall campaign in a playable and balanced fashion, including the pros and cons of recycling Zulus (the old bugbear).

Chapter five is all about choosing the right set of rules for you to game the war with. A list of rules is provided along with a handy synopsis for each rule set and some discussion of their strengths and weaknesses. The sixth chapter is basically a list of miniatures along with brief descriptions of each range. Neither section is exhaustive in its compilation.

Chapter seven gives outlines of scenarios inspired by actual events from the Zulu war. This particularly useful section discusses the forces, table set up, victory conditions and rules considerations for each scenario. The book also features in its centre 8 colour pages of miniatures in action.  Finally, tacked on the end is an appendix of further reading.

“A Wargamer’s Guide to the Anglo-Zulu War” packs a lot of useful information and concepts into what is quite a compact book. It is definitely a solid introduction into gaming the Anglo-Zulu War and is a worthwhile addition to the colonial gamer’s bookshelf. Overall I found the book an easy but informative read and something of an inspiration.

Indeed now that I’ve completed reading it, I have been enjoying contemplating how I would game the Zulu War and what figures I might use. I have over the years started to venture down the path of gaming the war but have never made it very far. So in my own stash I have British imperial infantry well covered. Somewhere hiding away is a box of 15mm Stone Mountain miniatures, some 28mm Black Tree (I think) and some 30mm zinnfiguren. I also have one 25mm Irregular Miniatures Zulu acquired in the now dim past.

Out of the Zinnbrigade moulds I have, I could easily create a passable imperial force in 40mm but Zulus would be a problem. Unless I could cast my own, I would have to totally rely on the 40mm colonial range from Irregular Miniatures. That is an expensive proposition even at the low prices that Irregular charge. The only thing I can be sure of is that I would want the shiny steadfast toy soldier look in whatever size / scale I chose. In any event it would be a long term project but I can make use of Junior General paper figures in the short term, so I could have the odd game and keep the dream alive. Especially as Daniel Mersey’s “The Men Who Would Be Kings” colonial rules have just turned up on my doorstep.


Reading Roundup

Summer is now long past but I haven’t as yet resumed painting toy soldiers and I don’t have much inclination to do so at the moment. However, I have acquired some new books over the past few months. The first of these was “Great Military Disasters from Bannockburn to Stalingrad” by Julian Spilsbury. It proved to be an accessible read that gives some interesting perspectives on how great military disasters arise. While the causes prove to be many, good old human incompetence tops the list. Of course the book equally demonstrates how great victories were achieved by the opposing forces, and it certainly proves what a perilous undertaking it is committing your forces to battle.

Great Military Disasters

Next on my list of new books is “Wargaming an Introduction” by Neil Thomas. As the name suggests it provides an introduction to wargaming the major periods from Ancients to WW2. It also provides some excellent rules for gaming each of those. I read this book some nine years ago when I borrowed it from the local library. I enjoyed reading the book then and appreciated the elegance of the rules. The book still stands up as an enjoyable read and rules are still well-designed even all these years later.

I was prompted to buy “Wargaming an Introduction” after reading some online reviews of the WW2 rules it contained. I had been looking for a set of WW2 rules that weren’t too tortuous to play. I have played the WW2 rules contained in “One Hour Wargames” by Neil Thomas and enjoyed them immensely but I wanted to try something that could handle larger and more varied forces. I haven’t as yet used the “Wargaming an Introduction” WW2 rules but I look forward to doing so.

Wargaming an Introduction

“The Battles of Tolkien” by David Day I picked up in a local bookshop. It is a beautiful book to behold with its many gorgeous illustrations and faux tooled leather cover. The book came plastered with the warning “This work is unofficial and is not authorized by the Tolkien Estate or HarperCollins Publishers”. However, it proved an interesting read that more addressed what inspired Tolkien’s depictions of warfare in Middle Earth than an analysis of the weapons and structure of the forces involved. More care should have been taken in the preparation and production of the text in “The Battles of Tolkien” as there are some issues with its clarity and typography. The battle maps could also have been clearer. Despite that, the book is a handy reference and would bejewel any bookshelf.

Battles of Tolkien

My most recent acquisition is “The Soldier” by Chris McNab and was procured from ABE Books for a tiny sum. I bought this book after reading a very comprehensive review of it on the Man of Tin blog. The edition I have was only published last year and is very up to date. The book endeavours to describe the personal experiences of soldiers from the Seven Years War to present conflicts. It is a really well put together book filled with useful information and excellent illustrations and detailed colour plates of uniformed soldiers. It is best described as an “Eyewitness Guide” style book for adults.

The Soldier