Tuesday 24 January 2017

A Punitive Expedition to the Pushna Valley, 1936

Those lucky wargamers who own a copy of Featherstone's War Game Campaigns (1970) may recognise the title of this post. The 'expedition' as described in the book consists of a single operation, and lends itself to a stand-alone wargame rather than a campaign. Stuart has had his eye on reconstructing the game for some time, particularly as it gives him an excuse to collect some period (or roughly period) lorries and armoured vehicles from local toy shops and second hand toy fairs. Happily, there is one of the latter in Cirencester around 5 times a year.

Apart from said collection of vehicles, the figures to be used were in 15mm, with 2 'brigades' of British organised in a total of 5 units, each of 10 figures (2 units in one brigade and 3 in the other). There were also 3 units of cavalry with 4 figures in each. These all came from the Minifigs 'North-West Frontier' range, apart from a few Gallia figures. I took charge of the British forces.

The defending tribesmen were controlled by Stuart. None were deployed on table at the start of the game, but their location had been written down on a sketch map, and would appear when they decided to open fire or British forces moved into their location. These were also organised into units of 10, and the figures were from the same Minifigs range. They had a gun of doubtful provenance with which to take on the British tank and armoured cars, and a secret weapon of which I would learn towards the end of the game.

The Game in Pictures
The scenario was based around a fictional expedition against a rebel fort on the North-West Frontier during the late 1930s. The British force was tasked with taking and blowing up the fort before retiring back to their base. They were entirely motorised, but the wheeled vehicles would be restricted to the road, posing a frustrating problem to the British commander. Shades of the advance of 30 Corps during Market Garden! The rules were assembled from ideas in the original book and some other Featherstonian colonial rules.

Overview of the table with the game well under way. The infantry moves were conservative in distance,
 so dismounting from the vehicles really slowed the advance down. Terrain items from Javis.
The tribesmen allow the armoured car to pass before mounting their horses and charging
into the flank of the advancing British cavalry. They were seen off after a stiff fight.
Nearer the British start point, a second armoured car leads 2 British battalions
against a village held by tribesmen. Mk.IV tank in the background.
The Mk.IV fired its 6pdr into the enclosure ahead of it, clearing out the tribesmen, but a stray round
destroyed one of the British softskins on the road. Oops!
The tank had to save the day by bulldozing the lorry off the road. In the background British units attack
another rebel-held village, whilst motorised units approach the main pass.
The support of the armoured cars was essential in clearing the villages. In fact, I reckon
the rules gave their machine guns a little too much firepower. Here you can see that the scouting cavalry
have stirred up another hornet's nest.
Suddenly the slopes of the pass are alive with tribesmen. The British unit climbing the
valley side was thrown back in a desperate melee. The gun from the fort opened fire and
immobilised the leading armoured car for a total of 4 moves.
The tribesmen in the fort are revealed. The fort was purchased ready-made by Stuart
many years ago at a wargames show.
The armoured car is once again operational. The pass is still alive with tribesmen, but the British decide they will be
no match for the armoured might of the Empire. Time to push on to the fort!
And so the secret anti-tank weapons of the tribesmen are revealed. Boulders hurtle down the slopes and immobilise both the armoured car and tank.  With these out of action,  the fort suddenly seems a long way away.
The British decide to retire, to return another day.

Oh, The Disgrace!
Despite all their advantages in firepower and mobility, the Brits had been turned back. A distinct victory for the tribesmen, although they had suffered severe losses in men. This turned out to be a most interesting scenario, despite being completely un-playtested in advance (and that includes the rules). The latter will need some tweaks, but the game cracked along and was completed in about an hour and a half. 

Another complete change from my usual wargaming fare. These games at Stuart's definitely get the brain working, despite their seeming simplicity. They have certainly demonstrated to me the ability of basic rules to produce absorbing games. As long as the balance is right (for example between attack and defence, or fire and movement), they can be just as satisfying as more complex published rules. Which is not to say I will be abandoning the latter - they have their own interest and pleasures.

'Til next time!


johnpreece said...

Again the sort of game which makes you wish you were there. It has always been one of my favourite games probably because DF included it in 3(?) of his books and it was in one of the first Newsletters I received.

I seem to remember that there were a lot of landmines, simulated by scattering the contents of an old hole punch machine over the table. Some of which had an x on the bottom. each time vehicle passed over one it turned the paper disc over. x and your out.

Does no one possess a hole punch any more or did Stuart simply not want to sweep them all up afterwards?


Stuart Asquith said...

Hello John,
Well, I do possess a hole punch, but being somewhat lazy, I instead opted for rule that two D6 were rolled for each vehicle each time it moved - any double and the 'mine' went off with results as suggested by Don in his rules. Just out of interest, no doubles were scored. I was quite happy with the tank brewing up its own lorries!
Colonel Sir Willoughby Todhunter-Brown, General Officer Commanding
(aka Stuart)

Steve J. said...

What a nice little game and an interesting scenario, one which would certainly translate to an earlier era of Colonial gaming.

Ross Mac said...

Absolutely delightful reading and viewing. It is just this sort of applied imagination that keeps the hobby alive for me.

Keith Flint said...

I definitely thought leaving out the tiny paper discs idea was a sound move. Ferreting through untidy looking bits of waste from a hole-punch in search of those marked with a cross was not one of The Don's best ideas.

Chris Kemp said...

Excellent game! Well done Sir! Any game with tanks, horses and fuel bowsers scores triple points for Hufflepuff! :-)

Regards, Chris.