A can of worms, the death of an actor, and comfort wargaming

Today I have three things that I want to write about. Firstly I would like to thank everyone who has commented on my most recent blog entry. When I wrote it I thought that I was probably opening a can of worms, but I was pleasantly surprised that the comments that were made were all well-reasoned and thought through, and that even if we were not all in agreement with one another, we respected each other’s points of view.

The second thing that I want to mention is the very recent death of that wonderful Indian actor, Saeed Jaffrey. Besides starring in Satyajit Ray’s SHATRANJ KE KHILADI (THE CHESS PLAYERS) (see below) and more than 100 Bollywood films productions, he also appeared in A PASSAGE TO INDIA, GANDHI, MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE and THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING. The latter is one of my favourite films, and his portrayal of Billy Fish, the Gurkha soldier who helps Peachy Carnehan (Michael Caine) and Daniel Dravot (Sean Connery) to conquer Kafiristan, is a film gem and deserves greater recognition.

The third thing that I want to mention is what I term ‘comfort wargaming’. We all know what ‘comfort food’ is (i.e. food that induces a nostalgic, sentimental, or comforting feeling to the person eating it) and whenever I lose the desire to fight wargames – a feeling that has dogged me for the last few months – I look to what I think of as my ‘comfort wargames’ as a way to reinvigorate my appetite for the hobby.

So what are my ‘comfort wargames’? The answer is simple; they are either World War II wargames fought with lots of 20mm-scale figures and model vehicles using simple old-school rules or colonial wargames set in some imaginary late nineteenth century European colony or colonies. The former harks back to the wargames of my teenage years whilst the latter evokes memories of Eric Knowles’s famous Madasahatta Campaign.

As the slow process of sorting out my wargames room gradually comes towards a conclusion, I am looking forward to fighting a couple of ‘comfort wargames’ to revitalise and reinvigorate my desire to wargame.

SHATRANJ KE KHILADI is set in 1856 and focuses on the events leading up to the British annexation of the Indian State of Oudh and the Great Mutiny of 1857.

The main characters are two aristocrats (Mirza Sajjad Ali and Mir Raushan Ali) who become so deeply immersed in the development of numerous chess strategies that they become oblivious to the pending invasion their country by the British. In fact they are still playing chess as the British capture their city, Lucknow. It is an excellent film, and I have never seen a better portrayal of the life and customs of the ruling classes of 19th century India and an explanation of the methods by which the British East India Company enacted its policy of colonial expansion.


Return to Madasahatta?

One experience that David Crook and I share is our participation in Eric Knowles’s epic Madasahatta campaign. It is a topic that usually crops up in any conversations that we have, and once or twice we have even talked about running our own versions.

With this in mind I looked at the initial start-up positions for the various forces involved in the original campaign … and realised that I probably have more than enough figures to actually do it! If I make one PORTABLE WARGAME unit equal to a company, all I will need is the following:

Garrison of New Surrey

  • Port Victoria
    • 3rd Battalion, Connaught Rangers (less 1 Company) [3 Infantry Units]
    • 47th Mountain Battery (2 x 12pdr. Guns) [1 Mountain Artillery Unit]
  • Rumbletum’s Kraal
    • 1 Company, 3rd Battalion, Connaught Rangers [1 Infantry Unit]
  • Clinkajeer’s Kraal
    • 1 Squadron, Bengal Lancers [1 Cavalry Unit]
  • Fort Chupatty
    • HQ and 2 Companies, 1st Battalion, Ludhiana Sikhs [2 Infantry Units]
  • Fort George
    • 2 Companies, 1st Battalion, Ludhiana Sikhs [2 Infantry Units]

Garrison of Hansaland

  • Festung Teufel
    • 2 Companies, 1st Battalion Askari Infanterie [2 Infantry Units]
    • 1 gun (1 x 88mm Howitzer), Hansaland Kolonial Artillerie [½ Mountain Artillery Unit]
  • Festung Askari
    • 2 Companies, 1st Battalion Askari Infanterie [2 Infantry Units]
    • 1 gun (1 x 88mm Howitzer), Hansaland Kolonial Artillerie [½ Mountain Artillery Unit]
  • Festung Amelia
    • 1 Company, 12th Marine Battalion [1 Infantry Unit]
  • Seemanstadt
    • 12th Marine Battalion (less 1 Company) [3 Infantry Units]
  • Bluchershafen
    • 10th Wurttemburg Artillerie Batterie (2 x105mm Guns) [1 Field Artillery Unit]

Garrison of The Arab Concession

  • Port Maleesh
    • 1 Battalion, State Guard (4 Infantry Units]
    • 1 Battery, Artillery (2 x 88mn Howitzers) [1 Mountain Artillery Unit]

Whoppituppas Tribal Forces

  • Hornikraal
    • Royal Bodyguard [4 Infantry Units]
    • The Elephant Regiment [4 Infantry Units]
  • Militini’s Kraal
    • The Lion Regiment [4 Infantry Units]
  • Gindrinka’s Kraal
    • The Leopard Regiment [4 Infantry Units]

In total the forces involved would be:

  • British: 8 Infantry Units, 1 Cavalry Unit, and 1 Mountain Artillery Unit (37 figures and 1 gun)
  • German: 8 Infantry Units, 1 Mountain Artillery Unit, and 1 Field Artillery Unit (36 figures and 2 guns)
  • Turkish: 4 Infantry Units and 1 Mountain Artillery Unit (18 figures and 1 gun)
  • Native: 16 Infantry Units (64 figures)

I have several other projects that I want to finish before I even start to seriously think about re-staging the Madasahatta campaign … but if and when I do, it looks like if could be a very nice little war to fight!

Doing lots of thinking

Thanks to various circumstances over which I seem to have had little control, I had lots of time today to do little else but think about my numerous on-going wargames projects.

I have almost finished painting the two coastal defence guns that I have built, and with luck they will be in action by the weekend … but what should I do next?

  • Make and paint some 20mm-scale vehicles for my World War II project?
  • Build some more coastal defence guns?
  • Build some coastal defence forts?
  • Build some more ironclad/pre-dreadnought model warships?
  • Paint some of my 15mm-scale and/or 20mm-scale unpainted figure ‘mountain’?
  • Give in to temptation regarding the creation of an imagi-nation based on FATHER BROWN’s Heiligwaldenstein?

I am not sure … but I have a sneaking feeling that the answer may be related to a series of emails I have been exchanging with David Crook about whether or not to use 15mm-scale or 20mm-scale figures for twentieth century wargaming, Eric Knowles’s famous MADASAHATTA campaign, and the work done by THE INCH HIGH CLUB.

Nothing is certain as yet … but the ideas that have gone backwards and forwards have set my mind racing.

Madasahatta revisited

Way back in the mists of time (well at least thirty years ago!) there was a wargames shop in Manor Park, East London, called NEW MODEL ARMY. It was owned and run by Eric Knowles … and to me it was almost heaven on earth! Not only did Eric have a large stock of wargames figures on sale (mainly Minifigs and Hinchliffe) and the usual wargames paraphernalia you would expect to find – books, paints, brushes etc – but his shop had a basement where a few invited wargamers were allowed to join him to fight tabletop battles. I – and a young man named David Crook – were amongst the chosen few, and we were both lucky enough to have taken part in Eric’s massive ‘Madasahatta’ campaign.

The background to the campaign (along with copies of the campaign newspaper that appeared during the opening months of the year-long campaign) can be seen on my Colonial Wargaming website, and regularly revisit it every so often because it brings back so many fond memories. But that is not the reason why I am currently studying the campaign map with a degree of intensity. The reason lies in a chance remark the David Crook made to me in a recent email.

What David asked was whether I thought that the map could be recreated in 3D on a six foot by four foot tabletop using Hexon II terrain tiles … and whether I had enough figures to re-fight the campaign using the sort of rules I outlined when I fought THE INVASION OF ROHAN wargame in July.

On reflection I am not sure that it is possible to recreate the island of Madasahatta on a six foot by four foot tabletop using Hexon II terrain tiles (the island is a funny shape, with all sorts of irregular inlets) … but I think that it might be possible using Heroscape™ terrain tiles. As to figures … well I have quite a sizeable number of suitable 15mm-scale figures mounted on both single and multi-figure bases so it might be possible.

I am hoping that this is not going to turn into an itch that I just have to scratch … but somehow I think that it might!

An away game

Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit David Crook (of A WARGAMING ODYSSEY fame) to deliver some of my surplus wargaming stuff to him and – more importantly – to fight a wargame with him.

Many years ago David and I used to wargame in the cellar under Eric Knowles‘s shop ‘New Model Army’ in East London. We lost touch, but thanks to eBay we were reunited (I sold some stuff on eBay that David bought, and when I delivered it to him we both realised that we knew each other), and now we are both regular bloggers and email correspondents. (During yesterday’s visit David reminded me that this was the first time we had faced each other across a wargames table since the late 1980s(!).)

David had set up a wargame in his ‘man cave’ (i.e. loft conversion) using his Hexon II terrain, two of his wonderful wooden block armies, and my MEMOIR OF BATTLE rules.

The scenario is described in more detail on David‘s blog, but in essence it was set during the Russo-Turkish War and involved a larger Russian force trying to break through a line of Turkish fortifications.

After dicing for choice, I commanded the Turks and David was in command of the Russians.

The Turkish Cavalry in reserve behind the centre of the Turkish outer defences.
The masses of Russian Infantry prepare to advance. The Russian Artillery is sited atop a hill that gives them an excellent vantage point from which to fire at the Turks.
The Russian Infantry. There are lots of them, and all the Units are capable of sustaining considerable casualties before they become unbattleworthy.
The Turkish Artillery prepares to engage the Russians. Their fire proved quite devastating at times.
By the end of the battle all of the remaining Turkish Redif (Second-line Infantry) withdrew into the main line of defences.
The advancing Russians threaten the open flank of the Turkish defences. At this point the Russians are approaching their ‘exhaustion level’ and are unable to exploit their tactical advantage.
The Russian Artillery commands the now empty Turkish outer defences.
The Turks are withdrawing behind their next line of fortifications and begin preparations to meet – and counter – the next Russian assault.

The battle reached a realistic conclusion when both sides reached their ‘exhaustion point’ (one of David‘s modifications my MEMOIR OF BATTLE rules that I intend to copy!) during the same turn. The Russians had achieved their breakthrough … at great cost in terms of men … and the Turks were still in behind their fortifications … albeit that the Russians had broken through the outer ring of the fortifications.

All-in-all this was a most enjoyable battle and a very enjoyable day … and I left with one of two ideas about how to improve both my MEMOIR OF BATTLE and MEMOIR OF MODERN BATTLE rules.

Thank you David – and your family – for allowing me the privilege of visiting your home and spending time with you!

Naval wargames and me

As even the briefest scan of my more recent blog entries would confirm, I love naval wargames. I would even go as far as to say that I probably like them as much – if not slightly more – than land wargames.

Looking back, some of my first wargames involved ships, and I can remember fighting naval battles on the lawn at home using warships made from all sorts of odds and ends of wood that I found in my father’s shed. They had gun barrels made from nails, and were never painted. I also fought a number of battles on the tabletop at home that involved aircraft attacking convoys of ships, including a home-made aircraft carrier that I built from a papier-mâché hull and plastic boxes. The hull was formed around the hull from a soft plastic bath toy merchant ship, and when the papier-mâché had dried, I painted in with gloss paint to help protect the surface. The plastic boxes fitted inside the hull, and their lids formed the flight deck. The lids could be lifted off so that aircraft could be stored inside the boxes/hangers.

I also remember building and painting eight pre-dreadnoughts that I constructed from balsa wood. I used matchstick for the gun barrels and dowel for the funnels. They fought battles against each other on my bedroom floor … probably much to my brother’s annoyance!

My first experience of ‘real’ naval wargames came when I took part in the famous Madasahatta Campaign run by Eric Knowles. The battles were fought using ships from Eric’s large collection of 1:1200th ironclads, pre-dreadnoughts, and dreadnoughts, and the rules were a version of Fletcher Pratt’s rules. These battles were part of the campaign, and affected the arrival of supplies and reinforcements for both sides.

My contribution to this campaign was to build a model of HMS Agincourt for Eric as well as four Kongo-class battle cruisers for his Japanese fleet. HMS Agincourt was built on a scratch-built hull of Plasticard and armed with turrets from a model of the Prinz Eugen whilst the Kongos were made from cut-down (and extensively cut-up) models of HMS Hood.

HMS Agincourt (commonly known as the ‘Gin Palace’). She was armed with fourteen 12″-inch gun in seven turrets, and had been laid down as the Rio de Janerio before she was sold to the Turks, who renamed her Sultan Osman. She was seized by the British before she could be delivered, and was then commissioned into the Royal Navy.
Kongo, the British-built lead-ship of a class of four battle cruisers. Her design influenced the design of HMS Tiger, the last battle cruiser built for the Royal Navy before HMS Hood. It is therefore not very surprising that it was not too difficult to convert a models of HMS Hood to represent Kongo and her sister ships.
HMS Hood

I also converted four of the Minifig 1:1800th-scale pre-dreadnought battleships to represent four of the Japanese pre-dreadnoughts (this was not difficult, and was mainly a paint conversion) and one of the Minifig models of HMS Dreadnought into an Austrian ironclad, SMS Kronprinz Erzherzog Rudolf. This was a much more extensive conversion, but to my knowledge the ship never featured in any of our battles!

The Minifig 1:1800th-scale model of HMS Dreadnought was converted into …
… a model of SMS Kronprinz Erzherzog Rudolf by carefully cutting of the forward and centre turrets and adding a new mast. Although not a perfect replica, it look good enough to use on the tabletop.

I have maintained my interest in naval wargaming throughout my time as a wargamer, and it still forms an important part of my wargaming. In fact, as I get older, it seems to have gained in prominence … and long may it continue to do so.

Forgotten armies … well, not quite!

Some years ago I started a Colonial wargames project that was inspired by Eric Knowles’s ‘Madasahatta‘ campaign. Back in the early 1980s I had taken part in a year-long series of land and naval battles set on the imaginary island of Madasahatta during the Great War. The whole thing was organised by Eric and the battles were fought in the basement of his shop, ‘New Model Army’ in Manor Park.

Back in the early 2000s I decided to set up my own imaginary African countries (some colonies, some still independent), and hence were born Dammallia, Mankanika, and Marzibar. These countries needed armies, and these were supplied by Essex Miniatures.

I based my armies, organised them so that they could be easily and quickly moved from storage to tabletop … and then life intervened, the project became moribund, and the armies have been sat in their storage boxes pretty well unused ever since.

But not now!

Here they are, in all their glory, waiting to be used.

The Army of British Dammallia

The Army of German Mankanika

The Army of the Sultanate of Marzibar

The Arab Army

Note: The Arab Army will align with anyone it thinks will be of assistance to it and fight anyone that tries to stop them indulging in their ‘legitimate’ business … the slave trade!

It strikes me that I could easily use these figures as they are for my portable wargame; all it would mean is that Units would be made up of groups of individual figures rather than a single Unit base.

This is going to give me something to think about over the next few days.