Friday 11 November 2011

A Punitive Expedition....Part 7 - The Battle of Keder Sirt

The Battle of Keder Sirt - the positions at the start of the action

The single round of artillery fire from the Rusland front line galvanised Abulbul into action, seething as he was with barely concealed anger at the interruption of his religious devotions. A stream or orders issued to the tensely waiting Fezian soldiery deployed on the ridge - mainly ensuring that every man was ready to do his duty or would face the wrath of their mercurial commander in chief. In truth though, there was little the Fezian Army could do other than to await events. Whatever his shortcomings as an individual (which were many and varied if even half of the graffiti on the walls of the hammam between Keder Sirt and the Sultan's palace were true) Abulbul was no mean commander and he was fully painfully aware of the disparity of forces between his own and that of the Rusland attackers. He dare not move from his position until the Rusland intentions were clear otherwise his opponents numerical advantage would ensure that few, if any, of his command would live to see the Sultan again. With a silent muttered prayer and a particularly long and complicated curse he resolved not to quit the ground they were standing on until death or victory.

The Fezian artillery opened fire (at range 5) at the approaching green tide, specifically the Rusland artillery, in the hope that it could reduce its strength somewhat as Abulbul was concerned at the great weight of guns deployed against the ridge - far in excess of his own. The guns duly opened fire and managed to cause some confusion within the Rusland ranks but little material damage (a roll of 5 for the hit and 4 for effect resulting in a pin result). The Rusland reply was to miss as the range was misjudged by the artillery commander (much to Skavar's chagrin) and the resulting barrage fell short to the mocking cheers of the relieved Fezian soldiery (a roll of 4 meaning an undershoot).

As the cheers of the Fezian infantry died away Abulbul immediately sent an aide to the commander of his sole cavalry regiment and ordering him, on pain of a particularly slow and lingering death, to move up from the village to cover the rearward approaches as he anticipated an enemy attack in that area (the Fezian commander had won the activation roll for the turn 2 to 1 and had rolled three activations, using but a single point to move the cavalry).

Skavar leapt into action and so the Rusland army followed suit (helped by an activation point total of no less than 10). The central infantry units began their cautious and unpleasant advance towards the Fezian occupied ridge – unpleasant because they it meant that they would be taking fire whilst being unable to reply. The advance was made on either flank of the artillery position in order to ensure that the guns would still be able to support the infantry until the last possible moment. On the extreme Rusland left flank the force selected to either turn the Fezian right flank or to burn the fortress as needed was immediately set in motion , the cavalry in the van, urged on with all due haste by the dashing figure of Skavar himself. During this flurry of activity the Count also took the opportunity to move his own position forward and so fell in with the rearmost infantry regiment of the right flank central column. Little did he realise the significance of this seemingly innocuous manoeuvre.

The situation at the end of turn 1 - the Rusland advance commences in the centre and on the left flank whilst the Fezian forces await the green onslaught

Suddenly, the Rusland artillery fell silent. Count Skavar decided that his guns needed to be closer to the enemy front line. From the Fezian position it could be seen that the Rusland gunners were preparing to move and the scene of guns being limbered and of men urgently sweating and cursing over their obstinate horses and heavy field pieces could only be the precursor to a large scale assault. Abulbul took this development with a pinch of salt. The only action he took was to order his own artillery to fire at the nearest Rusland regiment of foot as he pragmatically considered the approaching infantry to be far more of a threat than the guns, numerous though they were. The Fezian artillery commander was desperate to fire on his opposite number whilst they were busy limbering up but Abulbul was having none of this and so the guns opened fire on the leading Rusland infantry unit and promptly missed. Or did they? The Fezian artillery had overshot the lead regiment (rolling a 2 at range 3) but instead managed to bombard the now bunched up formations in the lead regiment’s rear – the second infantry regiment of the right hand central column and the commander and his staff! Luck was with Skavar though as his command staff escaped unscathed (effect roll of 1) but the luckless infantry were less fortunate (an effect roll of 4 being a pin). The damage was minor but the resultant confusion caused by this unexpected attack (unexpected because they were in the rear!) led to some inevitable delay as they sorted themselves prior to resuming their advance.

The end of turn 2 - The flanking Rusland cavalry have already outdistanced the supporting infantry whilst the central advance is set to resume with the redeployed artillery.

The Fezian artillery continued to pound the massed Rusland formation but once again they overshot the target (a roll of 2) and bombarded the same position as before but this time luck deserted Skavar as, with a loud explosion, a shell exploded directly in front of him and he was blown from his horse (effect of 5, a hit). The hastily reorganised infantry managed to escape any further damage (a roll of 1 for no effect) as all eyes went to the scene of carnage that had moments before been the army command post.

The smoke gradually cleared and a sweat streaked, bloody and blackened figure emerged staggering to his feet – Skavar was alive! Immediately a crowd of supernumeraries rushed to his aid but, being the man he was, he coughed and shook his head and dismissed them as he dusted himself down and called for a new horse. Stiffly he mounted his new steed and, drawing the remnants of his sword saluted his by now cheering soldiery.

As if to extract some measure of revenge for the near disaster that almost befell them the Rusland artillery rose magnificently to the occasion and immediately fired at the Fezian infantry unit deployed on the right flank of their position. The barrage was on target (a roll of a 6) and effective as great holes were torn in the Fezian formation.

This served to further inspire the Rusland troops and so the advance continued once the lead infantry regiment had reorganised itself (used an activation point to 'unpin' the unit). The Fezian troops waited, content to watch developments at a respectful distance. The leading Rusland infantry unit from their right hand column had just ventured into rifle range when a  volley rang out from the Fezian formation directly opposing them. The damage was immaterial at such a range (range 3) but once again, a degree of confusion was inflicted on the luckless Rusland infantry requiring much reorganising and dressing of ranks before the advance could continue (a score of 3 resulting in yet another pin).

Meanwhile, on the far right of the Fezian position and located in a small wooded copse lurked the infamous Bashi Bazouks. These hardy warriors (or unprincipled brigands - largely depending upon from which side their various and routine depredations were being viewed) were unkempt, slovenly, treacherous, cowardly or fanatically brave (normally a combination of these traits and usually with elements of them all at any given point in time) but to a man were armed to the teeth with shoulder and sidearms, swords and knives of various sorts and inumerable daggers secreted about their vastly unhygenic persons. For all the world they resembled in appearance a lethal version of Ali Baba's forty thieves except that there was rather a lot more of them (just under battalion strength at 3 points) and the arsenal of weaponry carried would usually deter most law-abiding people from closer inspection. For the most part they were seen a liability by the regular army but when used correctly i.e. left to their own devices and as far away from the main body as possible, they did provide a valuable diversionary function as the enemy could not ignore them, at least not if he wanted a happy and contented population in the area, unsavaged and unravaged and with most of their homes, valuables, women, children and livestock intact.

However, when well led (either by reputation or fear - and in Abulbul's case probably both) they could be very useful, albeit lacking the discipline and stomach required for a long fight. As occasional raiders though, they had no equals. The Amir placed these unsavoury characters in the small wood on the right flank and gave them very simple instructions. All they had to do was to stay put and fire at anything in green and he also reminded them that should they harbour any inclinations towards anything different well the whip, the garotte and the bastinado would find some useful employment. The point was not lost on the Bashi Bazouks and so in a very short space of time the wood was turned into a regular strongpoint with a prodigious quantity of assorted firearms (rated as other firearms to represent the variety employed) ready to dispense the Sultan's justice.

The sounds of the battle for the ridge carried to their position but for the most part they were largely unconcerned. The position was a good one with plenty of cover and it was unlikely anything would head their way with serious intent. The first inkling that all was not well when a large dust cloud was seen moving across their front at long range (2 for other firearms). When it was discovered that this cloud belonged to a unit of Rusland cavalry these hardy warriors opened fire with absolutely everything they had including pistols, carbines, blunderbusses, muskets and rifles. The salvo was noisy, smokey and largely ineffective in terms of material damage (a roll of a 3) but the surprise it caused the Rusland cavalry was sufficient to halt them in their tracks in order to reorganise and reform (they were pinned). Suddenly, the plan of the Count had begun to unravel ever so slightly and what had seemed possible in dawn's early light had now become markedly more difficult.

The end of turn 3 - the Rusland cavalry strayed to within range of the Bashi Bazouks whilst in the centre the opposing lines begin to close (white markers are for pins, black for hits)

The artillery of the opposing sides continued to be largely ineffective as both managed to expend great quantities of ammunition to little apparent effect. Neither side was able to correctly estimate the range and so 'over' and 'under' shots were common.

The Rusland cavalry, despite the rather unexpected surprise it had received from their ragged opponents were not to be discouraged. The cavalry regimental commander hailed his opposite number in the second unit and exhorted him to press with the mission whilst he and his men would attend to their dispised and hated adversaries.  In a matter of moments he had rallied the gallant horseman, wheeled the unit on to their right flank, ordered sabres to be drawn and with a loud cheer and the strident call of the bugle, immediately charged their hapless assailants. The disorganised mass of horseman (using the pinned European cavalry 'flight to the front' option) crashed into the edge of the small wood occupied by the Bashi Bazouks and a furious and chaotic melee ensued.

Despite their ragged appearance and unsavory reputation when their gander was up the Bashi Bazouks were formidable fighters and so it proved to be the case as, with whirling scimitars and blood-curdling screams, they fell upon the disorganised horsemen and drove them off with heavy losses (the cavalry rolled a 5 and the Bashi Bazouks a 1). The sound of a hoarse cheer rang across the morning air and all eyes turned to the small wood the Bashi Bazouks had so gallantly held against their illustrious opponents. The ferocious irregulars were not finished yet though as a final volley from out from the wood into the rear of the hastily departing horsemen to add to their discomfiture (a roll of a 3 adding a further pin result to the cavalry).

When news of this setback reached Skavar he adopted his customary sang froid for the benefit of his army but, the first seeds of doubt about the ultimate outcome had been sown.

Urgently he cajoled his centre forward and in this he was magnificent. Galloping hither and thither he alternately cursed and cheered his men and appeared to be everywhere. He needed to be as the attack was bogging down in the face of concentrated Fezian rifle fire.  The two left hand Fezian infantry regiments opened fire at maximum range against the leading right hand Rusland unit and subjected it to a withering series of volleys, laying the entire leading rank low (a pair of 6s). The remaining Fezian unit, having recovered from its earlier artillery casualties managed to discomfort the leading unit of the left hand central Rusland column (scored a 4 for a pin). Despite the herculean efforts of their renowned leader, the Rusland attack was slowly but surely grinding to an ignominious halt.

The end of turn 4 - the repulsed Rusland cavalry are in the foreground whilst the mounting casualties accruing in the centre can be readily see                                         

Still the artillery roared out defiance across the morning sky with that of Fezia being marginally more effective despite being outnumbered by the Rusland guns. As the range came down so the Fezian gunners were able to inflict further damage hit on the leading Rusland infantry regiment of their central left hand column (a 5 for the hit and a 5 for effect) whilst the reply of their adversary was limited to further disrupting the cohesion of the Fezian right hand infantry regiment.

Abulbul was fearsome to behold. Like his esteemed opposite number he was everywhere, cheering, cursing and heaping a selection of choice and convoluted improbable; both on his own troops and occasionally on the approaching Rusland horde. Beneath his grim visage though he was relatively pleased with events thus far as the Rusland attack was undoubtedly flagging.

Once again the badly cut about and disorganised Rusland cavalry charged into the gallant Bashi Bazouks (using the same European cavalry 'flight to the front' pin effect) who continued to occupy the woods. This time with slightly more success but at a further cost of dead and wounded (the cavalry rolled a 2 and the Bashi Bazouks a 1 meaning a hit each and a drawn melee).

Meanwhile in the centre the scales of the battle continued to tip in the Fezian favour as despite the Rusland forces being to expand their frontage slightly it meant that their hard pressed infantry would be unable to return fire. The Fezian troops took full advantage of this and so more damaging volleys crashed out into the luckless Rusland infantry regiment in the van of the right hand column (a 6 for a hit and 4 for a pin). On the Rusland left centre though the Fezian infantry fire was ineffective, no doubt to the relief of the beleaguered target.

The end of turn 5 - the Rusland locked in a now uneven battle with the Bashi Bazouks whilst the Rusland centre continued to advance slowly and unevenly with mounting casualties.

Again the artillery reverted to its pitiful showing as both sides failed to register any hits despite the constant chivying of the respective commanders - and being chivied  by either Skavar of Abulbul was generally not considered to be beneficial to the unfortunate recipients blood pressure; draconian task masters that they were.

The battered Rusland cavalry attempted to disengage from the Bashi Bazouks in order to save the remnants of the regiment and their despised opponents showed no inclination to follow (this was a house rule - cavalry could disengage from infantry after a round of melee) and so with enormous relief the surviving troopers limped away from the scene of their defeat.

Skavar continued to press forward in the centre and with the largely forgotten left flank infantry that were supposed to working in concert with the Rusland cavalry although had been long since outdistanced but their mounted comrades. The remaining Rusland cavalry unit pressed on and rounded a further small wood - only to find their planned route to the fortress blocked by the sole Fezian mounted unit left behind expressly for just such an eventuality. Silently, the Fezian troopers deployed into line, dipped their lances and with the sounding of the charge surged forward to crash into their mounted adversaries.

With flashing blades, lances rising and falling, whinnying horses and the cheers, shouts, curses and screams of the combatants the fight swung first one way and then the other. Eventually the Fezian horsemen gained the upper hand and so the Rusland troopers fell back in some disorder, away from their vengeful assailants (a score of 2 for Fezia and a 6 for Rusland meaning a single hit on the Rusland regiment).

The Fezian infantry in the centre continued to smother their hapless opponents with rifle fire. The heavily engaged lead regiment of the Rusland right hand column continued to suffer from its twin assailants and whilst the damage was immaterial the chaos and confusion within the ranks required yet a further halt in order to reorganise (a miss and a pin result - a 1 and 4 scored). The extreme right flank Fezian regiment continued to fire and in doing so swept the Rusland infantry with damaging losses (score of 6 for a hit).

Finally, and at long range, a parting volley from Bashi Bazouks completed the destruction of the Rusland cavalry and all semblance of order was lost as the battered and bloodied survivors limped back to the safety of the rest of the army. Skavar's great plan had failed.

The end of turn 6 - the failed Rusland cavalry attack can be clearly seen; together with the mounting casualties in the centre.

The climax of the battle was approaching and the lasts acts began to be played out. Both Abulbul and Skavar were aware through long experience the pervasive feel of how a battle was unfolding. Skavar knew his planned coup de main against the fortress had failed and his demonstration against the main Fezian position whilst successful (in the fact that it had occupied the main bulk of the enemy army for the entire action thus far) had been at the cost of some truly horrendous casualty returns. Nevertheless, even at this late hour something could be salvaged from the jaws of defeat. Hastily he summoned his commanders. The Fezian army was struggling, her flank had been turned despite unexpectedly ferocious resistance and one last push would drive the battered and wavering survivors from the ridge. This was his opinion and the thrust of his latest plan. His commanders were, to a man, aghast. The eldest of this, a scarred old veteran of countless skirmishes and battles down the years, surveyed his youthful commander with something almost akin to pity in his eyes.

“Sire, we must break off the action whilst we still can and save the rest of the army...” Skavinsky’s face became mottled with barely suppressed rage. “Retreat!” he exclaimed, “At our moment of triumph?” he continued, his knuckles showing white on the grip of his sword. The aged veteran refused to be cowed and continued to stare unwaveringly at his commander. Skavinsky took a deep breath and knew in his heart that the grizzled old soldier was right. After a momentary pause Skavinsky bowed to the inevitable and set in motion the orders that would save the army; the bitter gall of defeat rising in his gorge as he did so.

Whilst these weighty matters were being debated by the Rusland high command no such difficulties concerned Abulbul. The scent of victory was in the air; he felt it and so did the army. Suddenly, where there had been shouting and cheering, noise and smoke fuelled confusion a feeling of calm efficiency and a certainty of purpose begin to permeate the Fezian ranks. Soldiers remembered their training and acted in unhurried and deliberate steps; rather than the frenzied and febrile haste that had marked their actions thus far. The heady wine of victory was being poured into their cups, drop by inevitable drop. Abulbul drew on renewed reserves of energy and hurled even more colourful and improbable insults and curses on his hapless foe (and his own side if truth be told), much to the delight of his by now adoring soldiery.

The artillery of both sides continued to blaze away and again the Fezian guns maintained the upper hand. Switching targets to yet another Rusland infantry unit they managed to once again disrupt and confuse their frustrated opponents (scoring a 6 for a hit and 4 for a pin). Yet again the Rusland guns failed to achieve any success – much to the mutterings of scarcely concealed contempt from the infantry they were supposed to be supporting. As usual, when an army is facing defeat the natural reaction of the infantry is to blame the artillery who in turn blame the cavalry and so on. Human nature has to have a reason for adversity and in the Rusland army at that point the choices were many and varied.

The Rusland army was paralysed by the realisation of impending defeat (not only losing the initiative but managing to score a 2 and three 1s for but a single activation point). The Fezian infantry fired relentlessly and manged to at last prevail against the obstinate Rusland infantry regiment that had been engaged in an unequal fight for most of action, outnumbered as it was by two to one. A final telling volley swept across the battered survivors and as one man, they dissolved into a panic stricken mob and fled from the field. The remaining Fezian infantry regiment, in concert with the Bashi Bazouks who had merely reappeared at the other edge of their sanctuary, proceeded to flay the leading Rusland infantry unit with an impressive crossfire that left them greatly disorganised and forced into yet another halt to reorganise.

The Fezian cavalry, not to be outdone, charged again at their retiring opposite number although the resultant combat was evenly matched with honours being even (each side scored a hit on the other). The Rusland attempt to escape led to the Fezian horse hotly pursuing them and with flashing lances destroyed them as a fighting force

The end - with defeat staring him in  the face from all points of the compass Skavar concedes defeat.
Skavar had seen enough, the realisation that the day was lost had sunk in with the return of his defeated and broken troops and so, with one eye on the route back to the coast and safety, and with a heavy heart, he reluctantly gave the order for the recall to be sounded.

The effect was electric.

Abulbul was elated as against the odds he had undoubtedly smashed a fine Rusland army and so he soaked up the cheers of his troops like a tonic as his due for the horrors of the day.

Thus ended the battle in an ignominious defeat of the larger Rusland army. Their cavalry was destroyed and their infantry cut about but still formidable once rallied. Abulbul was acutely aware of this and so was not about to force another engagement any time soon and thus the Rusland retreat would be largely unhindered and conducted in an orderly fashion with the Fezian forces content to shepherd the defeated Ruslanders to the coast (they had little choice in this as the armies were now roughly even in strength). The Fezian commander considered it had not been a bad day and hoped that the fruits of his labours would not be compromised by the Fezian navy as he had served up the survivors of this failed attack on a particularly large silver platter.

It was evening and once again the distant cry of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer rolled across the inviolate Fezian countryside....


Tim Gow said...

A very comprehensive report - and nice to see some action on your new wargames table!

Robert (Bob) Cordery said...


A great battle report!

The whole battle seemed to flow very well, with the result not being a foregone conclusion ... and it leaves the stage set for further battles.

All the best,


David Crook said...

Hi Tim,

Thanks old chap! Many thanks also to King Boris without whom the action would not have been possible....;-)

It was good to have a land based game as well for a change.

All the best,


David Crook said...

Hi Bob,

Thank you very much for the kind words, support and above all the superb set of rules - all of which helped to make the game such a success.

You can rest assured that you would have not have heard the last of the good Count and the Amir - even now plans are being planned and schemes are being schemed....;-)

All the best,


Dave said...

A most enjoyable report.


Ross Mac said...

An entertaining report, and a good mix of story and behind the scene.

But that artillery! I well remember the frustration of trying to zero in the guns. I liked the idea, never liked the odds and wasn't sorry to see that rule go.

David Crook said...

Hi Dave,

Thanks old chap!It was certainly a lot of fun to both game and write up afterwards.

All the best,


David Crook said...

Hi Ross,

Many thanks Ross - I enjoyed the writs up although suspect it was probably a little OTT for most!

The artillery was very frustrating and whilst I also liked the idea will happily forego this going forward.

All the best,