Another recent game, this time reported by Scott. I think I threw the toys out of the pram again....
ACTION AT ORANGE STATION
A playtest for Remember Majuba Boys!
18 January 1901, The Northern Transvaal
This is report of the first major playtest of “Remember Majuba Boys!” It was set in 1901 during the guerrilla phase of the Second Boer War.
The British column commander played by my usual gaming partner was given the following set of orders a few days before the playtest.
“ The main Boer armies have been defeated but commandos using hit and run tactics continue to cause problems for the occupying forces.
Intelligence has come in that a Commando under the command of Commandant Viljoen has been responsible for a series of recent successful attacks on British supply trains and general wrecking of the rail network in your area of operations.
The source is said by the Field Intelligence Department to be reliable. Latest intelligence is that the Commando is planning a raid on on the Orange Station which is key point in the rail network.
The Commando is believed to be laagered in the hills to the north of the station.
Viljoen is an experienced Boer Commandant. Intelligence is not clear on the numbers under his command but it is estimated that he has around 300 men with him. It is known from his last raid that he captured a machine gun from a supply train. There is no intelligence to suggest that he has any other heavy weapons with him.
Your mission is to locate and engage the Commando before it can carry out its intended act of sabotage.
It is understood that some of the Boers are using dum dum bullets and have taken to wearing Khaki uniforms. You are reminded that dum dum bullets are unlawful under the 1899 Hague Convention when used against civilised opponents by reason of the dreadful injuries they inflict. You have full liberty to deal with those found in arms against our forces in possession of such weapon as you see fit in the circumstances.
You are reminded that the orders of Lord Kitchener are that all Boers caught wearing British uniform are to be shot. If you suspect any Boer farm to be used as a means of support for the Commando you are at liberty to burn it.
It is anticipated that you can reach Orange Station by Thursday if you set off now.
Your forces are:
8 companies of the Rifle Brigade and their Maxim detachment of 1 gun.
7 Companies of the Cameronians.
A section of two 15pdr guns of the Royal Artillery
1 Squadron of Mounted Infantry
2 Squadrons of the Oxfordshire Yeomanry.
2 Squadrons of the Scottish Horse
Local African scouts
Royal Engineers Field telegraph and heliograph section.
The infantry are seasoned troops known to you. You have served with the Scottish Horse before and the excellent riding and shooting skills of these Perthshire hunters and ghillies is well known to you.
The squadron of Mounted Infantry is a new replacement for your column as is the Oxfordshire Yeomanry. They are unknown quantities to you although the former are regular soldiers and the latter are mostly members of the peacetime Yeomanry force. They seem a confident enough bunch mind.
It is anticipated that they should be enough for your mission.
Should you run into problems it may be possible to call in reinforcements by rail (if the tracks are intact) from the garrison at Leitzdorp. Three squadrons of the 9th Lancers and 5 companies of the Lancashire Fusiliers are based their along with a section of 15pdrs. The garrison commander is not one of your favourites though ever since you suspected him of cheating you at cards back in India in '95. He has never forgiven you for the allegation you made at the Mess that night...”
The game was played on a table consisting of twenty inch square terrain modules. The modules were arranged two across by four deep, totalling eight modules. On a one inch to 50 yards ground scale, the area of action was 2000 yards wide by 4000 deep.
The Imperials entered on the southern end of the board. These modules were flat veldt. The next two modules up had the rail line running left to right with the station on the rightmost module. After that on the left in the third module up was a Boer farm surrounded by dongas or depressions. To the right of that and extending from the third module on the right and to the fourth module on the right at the end of the board was a long continuous hill. Behind the farm was another hill.
The British advanced in open order, the section of field artillery accompanying. The Yeomanry accompanied by an African scout headed in the direction of the Boer farm. The troopers waited at the rail line for the scout to report back.
On the right flank the Scottish Horse arrived at the station and dismounted. They crossed the tracks and started towards the base of the large hill which extended over two modules. They too had a scout and he headed up the hill before them.
The Boers were located as follows. They did not number around 300. There were around 800! Around half of these were concealed in the depressions around the farm. They had a Maxim gun. On the large two module hill a Pom Pom was deployed below the crest line and was supported by another half of the commando. The Commandant was deployed with the Pom Pom. None of them were placed on the board.
The Umpire decided that the scout at the farm was too close for comfort. A Boer sniper dealt with him before he could uncover the Boers in the dongas. This also coincided with the Boer first fire. Only the Boers in the area of the farm opened fire. They rolled well and it was devastating.
At this point a figure representing a point 3 inches or 150 yards from the Boer position was placed on the table. Paul was told that a considerable weight of fire was being put down and that a Maxim gun could be heard chattering away…
They scored hits on the two squadrons of the Oxfordshire Yeomanry. One of these hits was a 3R*. I ruled that this represented the CO having his head blown off by a dum dum bullet with consequent effect on the morale of these keen, but essentially amateur, soldiers in this their first action. They took fewer hits in the second Boer fire because they were prone. They had hit the deck but even so failed to rally later that turn–they panicked and made for the rear!
In the next turn the more experienced Scottish Horse continued towards the foot of the hill with their scout to the fore. The infantry moved towards the rail line and the field gun section unlimbered.
This time the Boers on the hill seeing their chance and opened fire and joined the Boers at the farm who were still pouring it on to the fleeing Yeomanry and Mounted Infantry. The Pom Pom scored a critical hit on the artillery section, pinning the section. I ruled that this meant that the limber wheels had been smashed.
They infantry had gone prone at the end of their move and opened up. The 15pdrs opened up. Paul nominated a point at the lip of the main depression in front of the farm as the aiming point. He reasoned, correctly, that the Boers were likely to be hugging the edge of the depression. He rolled lots of dice and….scored no hits. Bad dice and favourable modifiers worked against him. Of course he was not told whether he had scored any hits at all. The rout of the Yeomanry continued threatening to ride over the prone infantry. The gunners rallied, losing one of the Ds they had acquired.
The artillery section was at dire risk of being shot to bits, so Paul sought to move it to the rear out of medium Mauser range. I ruled that the pieces could be hand pushed to the rear. He decided to keep up firing with his infantry meantime. The Boers continued to pour it on. The infantry to the front of the farm, the Rifle Brigade, started to take hits, some becoming pinned.
The Cameronians fired towards the crest of the large hill where a Boer figure had been placed. Alas for them the Pom Pom and Mauser fire came down from three inches or 150 yards from below the crest….
By this time, which represented about 45 minutes of real action, the British forces had taken around 50 dead, 40 wounded. Paul ordered a general fall back to the middle of the first two modules. He decided to seek reinforcement from his old card playing friend…
On trying the telegraph he found that the line was cut but a heliograph message did get through and the reply, to his relief, was positive. I ruled that it would take an hour for the train to arrive.
Unfortunately it arrived right in front of the station with the large hill dominating that position. As the troops detrained onto the platform a storm of Mauser and Pom Pom fire hit the train.
The Boer fire dispersed the two lead squadrons of lancers. The Lancashire Fusiliers thinking better of it stayed in the hard cover of the armoured wagons and returned fire as did the remaining squadron of lancers.
The new field artillery coming off train took a hit from the Pom Pom and one gun was badly shot up and the crew of both severely disordered.
The train returned fire with its own Pom Pom and Maxim but alas again aimed at the crest of the hill.
Over on the other flank the field guns came back into action and dropped shrapnel into the area of the depression. This time 2 hits were scored removing two Field Cornets. The infantry fire also improved. By this time Paul had realised because of the verbal description of how much fire was coming towards him that he must have inflicted few casualties on the Boers but still considered they must be at the lip of the depression. His caution was beginning to pay off. Even so another two of his Rifle Brigade bases had become pinned. One squadron of the Yeomanry rallied, the other was off the table.
In the next turn the Boer Pom Pom on the hill managed to knock out the Maxim gun on the train and the rifle men scored some hits on the soldiers in the wagons as they somewhat incautiously put their heads over the tops of the wagons to improve their aim…
This time Paul realising that the fire on the hill had not slackened decided to “lower his sights” and aim three inches below the crest. His own Pom Pom and infantry managed to enough score hits enough to knock out two Field Cornets with those units.
Boer morale still remained high though and on their reaction phase they stayed put notwithstanding the loss of four Field Cornets out of their quota of eight.
Alas by this time night was drawing close and the British Commander decided to break off the action until the morrow….The question for him though would the Boers be there in the morning?
The British lost around 70 killed, 60 wounded, and 1 Pom Pom. They had no idea how many Boers they faced. Nor how many they had killed. They just knew they must have faced more than 300 and that they had a Pom Pom.
Boer losses were negligible but at the end of the game or at least nightfall the British occupied the station. Would the morn see a Boer assault on the station or would they melt away, satisfied that the heavy losses they had inflicted on the British was a sufficient victory? After all they could come back another time to destroy the station. As the Commandant Viljoen mused, after all in a guerrilla war, the occupiers need to be lucky all of the time; the resistance needs only to be lucky once….He also reflected on the fact that the drawing away of much of the garrison of Leitzdorp to reinforce the troops at Orange Station exposed it to attack. Should his men rest for a few hours, drink coffee and eat their meagre ration of biltong and mealies, then mount up, ride through the night and strike Leitzdorp at dawn…?