"El Aurens, truly for some men nothing is written unless they blog it."
I have knocked up (and that really is the best description for the process!) a 3" square grid on a spare piece of 3ft by 2ft hardboard I had lying around and so the following will be the first action to be fought on the new desert playing surface. I thought long and hard about what should feature as the first action on this board as I have a lot of ideas for desert-type battles (which will feature on the blog in due course). In the end though, Lawrence prevailed.
The early part of the Arab Revolt saw many of the various Bedu tribes fighting against the Turks with rather mixed degrees of success. With the help of the Royal Navy though, the Turkish Red Sea naval forces were defeated and the various small ports and harbours were secured one by one by a combination of land and sea attacks. The Turks attempted to rectify this situation and so forces were sent off in support of the garrisons, only to have their routes barred by marauding tribesmen. Sometimes these were easily driven off, other times fierce running battles ensued with Turkish material superiority eventually tipping the balance in the Ottoman's favour. Eventually the Turks fell back on Medina (in fact they stayed there until after the armistice) citing logistical difficulties as being the main problem as their attempts to bring the rebellious tribesmen under control only extended as far as the reach of the Turkish guns for the Bedu were seemingly able appear or disappear at will.
The tribal Arabs were usually unable to stand up to the Turkish regulars in the field and so once British and French specialists began to arrive and make their presence felt so the tribesmen were able to make more headway. Machine guns and artillery were to play their part in the fullness of time but in the early days of the revolt all that was available was the natural fighting skills of the Bedu, a smattering of allied intelligence and gold and a handful of seconded officers - including Lt. T.E. Lawrence.
The following action is loosely based on the early period of the Revolt, when the Turks were able to use 'flying columns' of regulars - often supported by allied tribesmen - in an attempt to crush the rebellion or to ensure that the Red Sea remained open.
In order to fight this action I am using Bob Cordery's Big Battle Portable Wargame 19th Century rules on the aforementioned 12 x 8 squared grid. As is usual I shall be making use of my own 'tweaks' in that I shall be using a set command point level for unit activations with a random element rolled for each turn. Similarly, any artillery fire costs a command point but is conducted both simultaneously and before each side carries out their normal activations.
1 x Commander (1)
4 x Infantry (4)
1 x Machine Gun (2)
1 x Cavalry (3)
1 x Artillery (2)
4 x Baggage Train (1)
28 Strength Points - Exhaustion Level 9
1 x Commander (1) - Emir Faisal, accompanied by Sherif Ali and Lt. T.E.Lawrence
6 x Infantry (3)
2 x Cavalry (3)
1 x Machine Gun (1)
26 Strength Points - Exhaustion Level 9
Note: Both sides have 4 command points with the usual d6 roll to potentially modify the total. All troops are rated as average except the Arabs are rated as poor when under artillery or machine gun fire. They are also rated as elite in close combat until they have taken a casualty. Arabs always follow up as the result of a successful close combat and will always retreat rather than take a casualty. The idea behind these rules is to simulate the brittleness of the Bedu when faced with modern weaponry and the ferociousness of their attacks when things are going their way. Arabs must also attack in close combat the enemy baggage train at every opportunity.
Somewhere in the Hejaz, near the Wadi Yemean 1916....
The heat was truly appalling. The brass-laden sun bore down on the small body of Bedu tribesmen like a molten weight; scorching the flesh and searing the soul. Truly this was life in death, mused Lawrence as his mind wandered feebly back to a conversation in Cairo some weeks beforehand. Much has happened since that fateful day, when the man of letters became a man of war and the tool of an uncertain destiny. Again, Lawrence allowed his mind to wander. There was no sound to challenge the monopoly of the senses that the heat held; no sound save the creak of the camel saddlery, the occasional bray of an agitated ship of the desert or the jingling of metal - for these men were at war and so even their silence was martial in its bearing.
There numbers were small enough for mobility but large enough to protect themselves should the need arise. That need would be soon as the Turks were their prey and known to be in the vicinity. It was a struggle, not just fighting the Turks but fighting the hostile terrain (at least hostile was how Lawrence viewed it - not that he would ever admit to the fact) and fighting to keep the various tribes from spilling their own blood rather than that of their common enemy. Emir Faisal had worked a small miracle in uniting most of the tribes for most of the time and as long as the gold did not run out then they were in with a chance of a victory of sorts.
The column was passing a long and low series of ridges and Lawrence was relieved that they would soon be halting for a rest from the glare of the sun. Suddenly, a commotion broke out at the head of the caravan. Lawrence shook off his heat induced lethargy and urged his mount onward with a sharp crack of his whip and a loud 'Hut, hut, hut!' Something was happening and he desperately wanted to know what it was. When he arrived at the head of the column Emir Faisal was deep in conversation with Sherif Ali and a small gathering of sweating and obviously travel worn riders. Lawrence did not recognise them and, as was his custom, waited patiently to be spoken to. Emir Faisal turned away from Sherif Ali and faced the small, dusty and travel weary Englishman. "Ah Lt. Lawrence, it seems that our prayer that there be Turks nearer to us than Damascus has been answered. Over the other side of these hills a small body of Turks has been reported, no doubt attempting to reach the coast. Alas, they will not reach it, for I given orders for them to be taken." Lawrence could see an unusual longing in the face of Faisal, a longing that he was struggling to control; a longing to spill the blood of his enemies at last. Inwardly, Lawrence was both thrilled and repelled at the prospect of action. "They may have the guns, and modern explosives but they do not have the will for a close fight" Faisall's voice was strained as memories of the slaughter before the walls of Medina under Turkish artillery fire washed over him. He stared, unblinking, at a distant and unseen horizon, his thoughts his own. An angrily braying camel disturbed his reverie and so he shook his head to clear his thoughts and to focus on the task in hand. He straightened himself fully, his control and composure regained. He then allowed himself the luxury of a grim half smile. "Come Lt. Lawrence, come and see how the Bedu fight, and how they have always fought!' The words were quietly spoken with no bombast or bravado - just with a determined clarity of purpose. For that reason and despite the energy-sapping heat, Lawrence suddenly felt the familiar chill of fear coursing through his veins.
Loved it, loved it, loved it! I even had the soundtrack to Lawrence of Arabia playing in the background. Seriously though, the game ran very well indeed and was remarkable in one respect - during the entire action the Turks only won the initiative on one game turn! Despite the differences in the final score the Turks would certainly have much to consider. They had lost a quarter of their strength so in real terms had only just managed to hang on. The baggage was safe but with the cavalry ruined and a quarter of the infantry down any further advance would be fraught with peril.
In many respects this felt like a Colonial action and so the only thing I would like to do would be to think a little deeper as to how best to game using irregulars.
It was great fun and that is what it is all about.