Wargaming the Exploration and Colonisation of Tropical Africa by European powers from 1850 until 1918.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Zambezi Campaign 2: Starting work on the British Askaris

In this post I am going to look at the first two units I need to complete for my River Campaign: the British regular askaris. 

I have a number of Foundry British askaris which I had started years ago and I also picked up another half dozen in a job lot of askaris I bought on eBay a few months ago. I bought these mainly because they had a fair number of the now out of production Copplestone Zanzibaris in amongst them so the extra British askaris were a bit of a bonus.  I decided to get them out and see how they would fit into the Gary Chalk scenarios.  Although I said at the start that I wasn't bothered about historical accuracy for this project I had to do some research!  I dug out my copy of the excellent Foundry book Colonial Armies Africa 1850 to 1918 by Peter Abbott.  This is now out of print and is going on Amazon marketplace for a staggering £90!

Foundry British Askaris from their old website (now you only get six figures in a pack, of course)

The Foundry British Askaris don't actually look exactly like any of the British native troops of the time although they look similar to some.  When they first came out the Foundry website had an article that said that "These askaris are based on the troops raised by the British around Lake Nyasa to fight the Arab slavers."  This gives us a good clue as to where to start as regards their uniform details.  A little history also illuminated the possible location of the action.

Scottish missionary in Nyasaland

As Scottish missionaries (most famously Dr David Livingstone) moved into Nyasaland in the mid 1870s European traders followed and they all wanted a stop to the activities of slavers. Fighting started in 1885 and by 1888 had developed into a major war.  In 1891 a force of Sikhs backed by Zanzibaris under Sikh NCOs was formed.  It wasn't until 1893 (when Nyasaland was re-named as the British Central Africa protectorate) that the first Africans were added to the forces and supported by a Royal Navy detachment.  The slaver war had been won by 1895.  In 1896 the protectorate of Nyasaland's forces had been reorganised into the Central Africa Rifles and they saw service against the Ngoni in 1898. 

Portugese Slavers

Meanwhile, up in Northern Rhodesia  (which wasn't called that yet) in 1889, Arab and Portuguese slavers were very active, preying on the local tribes.  In October 1889 Cecil Rhodes obatined a Royal Charter for the British South Africa Company to maintain a police force.  Over the next decade white "collectors" backed by small units of native police drove out the slavers; on two occasions backed by troops from Nyasaland.  Some of the local tribes were anxious for British protection as they were worried about raids from the Matabele in the south.  Several expeditions were launched along both banks of the Zambezi in 1898 to deal with cattle raiding and what have you.

Southern Africa at the end of the nineteenth century

So, we can see the inspiration for Gary Chalk's British expedition up the river.  It is a mixture of historical activity in Nyasaland (now Malawi) and Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). Expeditions were mounted up the Zambezi. We have uniformed African troops and Sikhs backed by the Royal Navy acting against Arab slavers.  The period is slightly later than I had imagined: 1889-1898.  By this time there wasn't much of Africa that was unexplored so the opportunity for lost civilisations is limited!  I'll probably still put one in though!

So, my campaign will be fought on a semi-historical Zambezi in around 1896 but we will fling in some of the tribes from further East in Nyasaland (principally the Ngoni who we have already started to paint).  The Ngoni would make an ideal substitute for the annoying pygmies in the original scenario.  This all is particularly satisfying as it was Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) I visited last month.  If I go again next month (which I may have to) then I hope to actually get a proper view of the Zambezi itself!

Central African Rifles c. 1900

So, if we look at the historical uniform of the Central African Rifles from Nyasaland we can see that they have a khaki smock, khaki breeches and putees with brown sandals and a black tasseled fez.  The Foundry figures don't have putees but otherwise they are pretty close.  In the earlier period the British levies didn't have uniforms at all and the later levies had a simple blue uniform with a red fez.  One thing that is clear is that the later African troops, by the time they became known as the Central African Rifles, had, unusually, black fezzes rather than the usual red.  This is so that their headgear matched the black turbans of the Sikh troops.  The waist belt and ammunition pouches were of brown leather. 

North-Eastern Rhodesia Constabulary late 1890s

Moving west, across to the North-Eastern Rhodesia Constabulary there is a similar khaki uniform but with shorts and no putees,  The fez is black and equipment is brown leather with a white haversack

Given these two contemporary historical uniforms our colour scheme for the British Asakaris becomes clear: khaki uniform, black fez, brown leather equipment and white haversacks.  Most troops (and some of the Foundry figures) would have carried a blanket roll.  Most army blankets I have seen are grey so that's what they will get! 

According to the scenarios I only need two units of eight regular askaris.  Given I will give them a Sikh NCO each that only means 14 figures.  I actually have 20 part-painted and will probably complete them all as I am tempted to up the size of the british contingent a bit because of the expected casualty rate.

I managed to paint their rifles this morning and will try to get their skin done tomorrow.  I've given myself a week to get them done as I don't have to go to London for a bit.

1 comment:

Bluebear Jeff said...

I will look forward to seeing your finished figures.

-- Jeff