With the reversal of Colenso behind him, our gallant commander in Natal, Sir Redvers Buller, was minded to attempt to turn the Boer position along the Tugela River with an attack that would occupy much of a ten mile frontage with demonstrations whilst the main plan would be to cross the river at Cobbler Drift. I need not remind our readers that General Buller was entirely cognisant of the necessity of retaining his operations in a close proximity to the railway line that furnished his force with the supplies that for such an army were a necessity, indeed a life-line. As such the Boers were able to anticipate with some certainty the axis of advance to which our forces must be fixed, and there construct their strongest defences.
Commandant General Hertz van Rental is a wily opponent as was been discovered only last week. Unaccustomed as the Boers may be to military discipline they have a mastery of terrain and an uncanny eye with a rifle that stems from hunting upon the veldt from childhood. In the face of such opposition our forces needed to attempt to tie down this foe whilst delivering a knock-out blow at the chosen point. Ungentlemanly it may sound, and yet the fate of all confined within Ladysmith rode upon this action, and where the safety of British womenfolk is concerned a General must be prepared to place honour to one side.
Major General Carpet-Byrnes was selected to lead the 10th Brigade in the main attack across the Tugela. His force, comprised of the Manchesters, the Black Watch, the Devons and the Royal West Surreys supported by three batteries of artillery. His orders, were clear, to suppress the enemy on Lion Kopje and force a crossing at Cobblers Drift. However during the approach march it would seem that information was gained from friendly natives of an area of shallows at the foot of Induna Kop where the river was broad but uncommonly shallow. Acting upon this information Carpet-Byrnes revised his plan.
Due to the requirements of maintaining the security of the main encampment and the railway line the Manchesters were in the field this day with but four companies. As such Colonel Tatlock was placed at the head of the column with orders to advance and engage any Boer forces on Lion Kopje accompanied and supported by a battery of artillery. Thus shielded the main body of the Brigade could perform a flank march across the face of the enemy and bring their full weight to bear against Induna Kop. It must be stated here that the limitations of communication determined that news of this change of plan could not be communicated to General Buller until after the plan had been put into action.
After a considerable approach march the battle commenced around nine o’clock in the morning with the artillery battery supporting the Manchesters being fired upon by a single Boer gun on the Kop Knoll at the head of the mount that so resembled a sleeping lion, however the British guns were soon deployed and answering with sufficient gusto to silence the protects from the Dutchmen. Indeed Sir Albert’s Manchesters advanced with considerable determination, deploying out into an extended line at around 1000 yards from the enemy positions and commencing an exchange of fire that would last for most of the day. To their rear Sir James Crankie headed the Black Watch on their flank march, skirting the southern flank of what they called “Balmoral Ridge” before turning northwards to face Induna Kop and the area of the Tugela that the friendly natives insisted was fordable.
Following on behind, and in some cases seeming to jostle for position, were the Devons and to their rear Colonel Hamilton’s West Sussex’s. Unplanned, unexpected and unapproved, the diversion from the original plan drawn up by Sir Redvers Buller was both time consuming and chaotic. With the veldt covered with infantry in tight quarter columns advancing with all haste less the Boers should elect to turn their guns on these manoeuvring bodies the British artillery were delayed in deploying due to the weight of numbers of men who, in quarter columns, snaked across the veldt. Indeed on this, the British right, it was the Boer artillery on Induna Kop that was first to come into action, engaging the Black Watch as they deployed from column into their three line attack formation. Despite this warm welcome the two companies in the front line pushed forward to the banks of the Tugela and began to establish if the river was truly fordable at this point. It was with some relief that Colonel Crankie received word that passage was possible, but going would be slow and his men exposed to cruel fire from the slopes above them. It was some cold comfort to discover that the Boer artillery was now unable to fire down on the crossing points, and the Scots pressed onwards.
On the left of the Black Watch the Devons had crossed Balmoral Ridge and had also deployed out into two lines for the attack with two companies held in reserve behind the high ground. Their Colonel, aware that the Scotch were attempting a crossing, did all he could to provide support. Four companies were able to bring fire to bear against the enemy positions, and this, along with the help of one battery that was at last up and firing was enough to carry the gallant north Britons to the north bank of the river. There the company officers could be seen attempting to carry the men forward up the hill into the bosom of the Boer position, however the weight of fire first stunned them and then saw them fall back into the shallows.
In the veldt to the south of the river the Devons and the supports of the Black Watch were engaging the Kop with artillery support. Colonel Crankie was in the process of ordering forward a second wave when news came through that the Manchesters could be seen falling back. After eight hours in the searing Natal sun their losses were no longer sustainable, and with streaks of red colouring the sky Colonel Tatlock called for a general retreat. From his position on Balmoral Ridge the Colonel of the Devons could see Boer horsemen leaving the Flank Knoll on Lion Kopje, undoubtedly heading to support the Boers on Induna Kop. The prospect of dusk within half an hour could only make any further advance against the Boer positions more difficult. To avoid further losses our forces contented themselves with silencing the Boer artillery and withdrawing with their battalions largely intact. Britain can find relief in knowing that we have men in the field at Regimental command level who have sufficient courage of actions to compensate for the less than understandable actions of their superiors. It is understood that Major General Carpett-Byrnes is currently en route to Durban where a board of enquiry will sit to consider his future. In the meantime Ladysmith is still besieged, and with each day the morale of the enemy can but increase. Thus far Majuba Hill goes unavenged. When, we must ask, with that wrong be righted?
Well, that was the third workshop session on Lard Island looking at developing a set of rules for the Boer War. It has been a particularly interesting project to go back to, we began working on the Boer War some years ago but the resulting games never really had the period feel that we were looking for. A time away from the project has proved a positive thing and now, using (believe it or not) some of the basic structures from Through the Mud and the Blood were are really having greta fun with the period. Our previous two workshops saw us play through Talana Hill and Elandslaagte and I had wanted to continue on with Rietfontein as the next action in the Ladysmith saga, however I felt that I needed to get a couple of key issues straight before I went on to that. As a result, and unusually for us, we produced a scenario that was entirely fictitious (albeit based on a fair slice of reality) that would allow me to test and strengthen certain aspects of the currently basic game chassis that we are going to work up from. As a result the scenario we played was set a few days after Colenso to the east of that point but still along the Tugela River. In this instance I made the Boers pretty static as their overall commander was busy off to the west with one of the other British diversionnary attacks. Consequently we had three commandos split between the three main positions, the two knolls on the lengthy Lion Kopje and the larger Induna Kop.
The British were under orders to cross the river and expell the Boers from one of the Kopjes, any one would do, but their orders were to use Cobblers Drift. I provided their commander with some rather dubious intelligence about a new ford, and he ran with that entirely. I was pleased with that as it made for an interesting test, especially attempting a flank march in the face of the enemy.
Several things came from the game. Firstly I am very pleased that I have got some of our ideas into some kind of written structure, having bright ideas is great, but the proof of whether they actually work only really comes when you try to write the out formally, and we achieved that with this game. That means we have some solid formations in place and we can now build on that.
The biggest thing to come out of this for me however is that I have finally made a decision to switch figure scales. This has been a tough one for me as we already have lots of 15mm toys for the period, however they are really not working visually for me. I did consider 10mm figures, I have two excellent WWI armies from Pendraken that are really nice, but even then I felt that the scale was wrong. To give you an idea, the ground scale we are working from is 12″ = 600 yards. So that’s 50 yards to an inch. Conveniently that scales to 25mm being 50 yards, so two yards (or six foot) comes out at 1mm which really gives the idea of the size landscapes we’re looking at. Now, I am not going to use 1mm figures, but I have decided to take the plunge and go with 6mm. That is something I have always said that I would NEVER (and I really do mean NEVER in BIG letters) do. So why the change of mind?
Well, obviously I have mentioned scale and the visual impact of the game, I want to give the gamer the feel of space and the sheer size of the South African terrain and the smaller the figure the better that can be achieved. To that I have to add the fact that some of the games that have stood out for me at wargames shows in the last year have been ones using 6mm figures. I am sure that there are many great 6mm manufacturers, however the one that sprang to mind immediately was Baccus, largely due to Neil at Meatballs and Miniatures giving them good reviews on his podcast. So, one phonecall later and I have two very sizeable Imperial and Boer armies heading my way. I have gone with 96 figure battalions for the British force, and even with two entire Brigades of Infantry, plentiful artillery and cavalry support, I have walked away spending less than I would on a moderate sized force for Sharp Practice in 28mm. I shall let you all know what I think and how I get along with painting them when they arrive. Maybe some snaps and painting tips too.