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

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Zambezi Campaign 3: Identifying some more figures

The British Askaris on the workbench

Progress is slow but steady on the British askaris.  The standard of my painting from eight or nine years ago is pretty woeful as it was before I realised that I needed glasses!  As a result, I am re-painting most parts of them.  The only thing I will leave is the khaki uniforms but will add some lowlights and highlights to sharpen them up a bit.  I have also started the six figures I bought on eBay recently.  This will give me 26 Askaris so with two Sikh NCOs that is 28 figures.  The scenario only calls for 16 figures so that will give me ten spare.  Either I will up the numbers of the figures proportionately for everyone or, more likely, I will devise a scenario requiring extra re-inforcements.

The total British forces required under the scenario are as follows:

Expeditionary force

Unit of 8 regular askaris
Unit of 8 regular askaris
Unit of 6 Sikhs
Unit of 14 local levies
1 standard bearer
1 Officer

Relief Force

Unit of 6 sailors
Unit of 6 sailors
One gunboat

However I am going to modify them somewhat.

Firstly, I will add a second officer to the expeditionary force.  The scenario allows for the substitution of a second in command if the leading officer is killed.  I think that this is a bit silly if he is not with the initial force in the first place. It adds 28 points to the British force but that isn't many to add to the others. 

The Royal Navy contingent filed and based

I have found that I have enough figures for the naval force and will add an officer to that.  I will also paint a figure for the Gunboat captain.  I will need a gun and crew for the gunboat as my paddle boat is unarmed.  Foundry make a set of Naval gunners and a fieled gun in their Zulu War range and although they will be much smaller than the rather large Copplestone sailors the look is similar so I will probably go with those.

Foundry Naval gunners

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.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

A Zambezi campaign: 1

The beginning of the expeditionary force...finished today!

I have just read Gary Chalk's article in the April 2010 Wargames Illustrated detailing an anti slaving expedition river-based campaign in Darkest Africa.  Chalk, of course, devised the plans for the model African paddle boat that appeared in Miniature Wargames in June 1999.  I took his plans and extended my boat which after an enthusiastic burst over two weeks saw it 90% complete only to have it languishing unloved for the best part of six or seven years. 

Gary Chalk's brilliant paddle steamer from Wargames Illustrated's June 1999 issue

Chalk's campaign, which he calls, not too snappily, Wilkinson's Campaign Against the Slavers, contemplates five linked scenarios which are played in a random order, except for the last climactic attack on the Arab slaver's compound.  Of course you can play more or less and I am tempted to devise some more scenarios for this.  The other five scenarios he has are:

The maps for each game from Wargames Illustrated

1 Elephants and pygmies

The British anti slaving expedition run into some pygmies hunting elephants; either of whom may attack them.  I don't like the Foundry pygmy figures. I'm just not interested in pygmies.  I will substitute another force.

2 Trading post

A British trader is under attack by an Arab raiding party.

3 A mission station.

A local missionary and the expedition come under attack from Arab led local tribesmen whilst waiting for the arrival of reinforcements on a gunboat.

4 A native village

The village comes under attack from the Arabs

5 Attack on the Arab tembe

This is the final scenario whatever other order the previous games are played in.

My paddle boat.  it really only requires the rear canopy and a bit of weathering

This is really the set up I have been looking for ever since I got my first Darkest Africa figures ten years ago.  I really wanted a river so I could use my paddle boat.  I also wanted a British expedition, Arabs and wildlife involved.  One of my problems with wargaming is that I tend to be overly concerned with historical accuracy.  All of my planned wargames forces take their starting points from the actual forces at a particular historical battle.  For this, I think that I am going to treat this more as a fantasy campaign so I am not going to be too concerned about who was where at any point in history in Africa.

The Copplestone sculpted British troops produced by Foundry consist of British officers, Sikhs and askari.  I would guess that they are equipped for the early 1880's.  In addition, Copplestone Castings produce some nice Naval Brigade figures. The forces are designed for Chris Peers In the Heart of Africa rules which is what my son and I used for our Belgians v Azande game the other week.  These contemplate small units with individual firing.  The only issue I can see is that they lead to horrendous casualties which is counter to a campaign but the Chalk article has a system for seeing whether figures are dead or recover for the next game.  Tweaking the dice roll necessary to recover (he contemplated 50/50) should ensure a reasonable force for the campaign.

The forces neccesary for the five scenarios are not too bad in total.

British Expedition

British force (Sikhs, regular askaris and irregular askaris) 40 figures
British reinforcements (naval Brigade) 12 figures and a gunboat

Scenario 1 (elephant hunt)

37 pygmies

Scenario 2 (Trading Post)

38 Arabs
4 Whitemen

Scenario 3 (Mission)

42 Arabs (an additional 14 are needed over what is necessasry in scenario 2)
42 allied tribesmen

Scenario 4 (Native village)

61 tribal figures
47 Arabs plus a cannon (again, around 30 are figures that have been used before)

Scenario 5 (Arab stronghold)

56 Arabs plus a cannon (so a few more Arabs needed)

In total that makes 56 Arabs, 52 British, 37 pygmies (or equivalent), 42 Arab allied tribesmen and 61 native tribesmen. So around 250 figures in total, which is a lot. Of these I already have most of the British around half of whom I have already started painting.  I have all the Arabs but haven't painted any yet.  I do have some Congo style tribesmen who I could use for some of the forces and these would probably serve for the  The Arabs' allied tribesmen.  The peaceful villagers could be any generic tribesmen in loincloths (or less) and I would give them generic hide shields to distinguish them from the the wicker shileded Congo types.

The replacements for the pygmies are intriguing and I am tempted to use my Ngoni, some of whom I have already painted.  Adding forces at this point seems a little ambitious but I am very tempted to produce a force of warrior women as a complete fantasy army.  But maybe that calls for a seperate scenario involving a white queen and her acolytes.  It would be good if I could throw in Tarzan and Jane, a fiesty female reporter, an aristocratic big game hunter, a lion hunt and giant gorillas as well, somewhere!

Anyway it is all very enthusing and having finished the two required officers and three of the six Sikhs needed today I will start work on the British Askaris next.  I have already based the Arabs so, given most of them wore plain white, they shouldn't take too long. 

The biggest issue will be representing the river on our gaming board but Guy has just told me  to use blue card and not worry about fancy scenics!

The other solution is to replace the British with Belgians which would mean that I had enough for the anti slaver force instantly.  Maybe we can have some trail games using them.

I have just extracted my paddle steamer from the loft, along with the Christmas decorations, so will have a look at that over the Christmas break.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Return from Darkest Africa

It's behind you!  The Zambian giraffe is darker than its fellows in the rest of Africa

Well, I have just returned from my first visit to real Africa!  I have been to Egypt, Tunisia and Libya before but this was my first trip to Darkest Africa.  I travelled to Lusaka the capital of Zambia but did get out of the city into the countryside to see some wildlife last Sunday. 

This particular wildlife got a bit too close to the jeep for my liking!

It was all very exciting and I was unfeasibly delighted just taking in the scenery let alone any of the animals. Incidentally, when we set up our recent Belgians v Azande wargame we thought that the scenery was far too green for Africa but the countryside in Zambia looked just like that; basically like Surrey with the odd palm tree!  Admittedly, it was the beginning of the rainy season but even so...!

Landscape with Sable Antelope

I stayed in a very nice hotel, the Intercontinental, and was gratified to find that it did an excellent breakfast (always important when travelling!) and even had HP Sauce; the true sign of civilisation!  In fact the food was very good generally and I enjoyed the antelope steaks I had for lunch one day. 

£2.75 for a Vodka martini?  I paid £23.50 at the Ritz the other week!

The bar at the hotel was obviously one of the happening places in town, especially on Wednesday night which is "ladies night".  There are some very attractive women in Zambia and on Wednesdays they get dressed up (or actually undressed in many cases) and go out hunting in packs.  I had to fight off one particularly attentive young lady over the course of about four days (she worked in the health club) but escaped from this young lioness (with only a few scratches).  

We enjoyed South African malaria girl at breakfast one morning

There was also  a medical conference on at the hotel and that meant a lot more women than you get for your usual infastructure conference!  South Africans mainly but also Australians and Europeans.  And with a Vodka martini at only £2.75 in the bar it was easy to keep them entertained.

Mosi: it's excellent!

Zambia has two local beers, Castle, which is run of the mill anonymous lager and Mosi which is much more interesting and has a nice hoppy flavour.  I drank a lot of that!

The ground really is red.  It looks completely wrong on wargames figures' bases though!

On the business side things went much better than I expected so I will probably have to return in January in which case I shall try to get down to Livingstone to see Victoria Falls and the Zambezi (I only saw it from a distance but it was still exciting to do so!)  I was accompanied for much of the time by our African representative A who is a striking Masai lady!

A at the minister's cocktail party

Needless to say I am all enthused about Darkest Africa wargames again and have identified three projects.  Firstly, I want to get some of my wildlife figures painted and buy some of the Foundry giraffes!  Secondly, I want to finish my riverboat model.  This is because, thirdly, there are some great Darkest Africa scenarios in the April 2010 Wargames Illustrated, which I have only just read.  They involve a British expedition travelling upriver to look for Arab slavers.  I actually have some Foundry British started and so I want to tidy them up and see what else I might need for these scenarios.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Darkest Africa wargame: Azande v Force Publique Belgians

Rohan meets the Congo in the kitchen

On Saturday, my son, Guy, announced that he would like to play a wargame the following day.  He had managed to get his homework done early and so he would have a free Sunday.  Invariably, when we play a game it is Lord of the Rings but this time he wanted to do something historical.  We went through my painted armies and worked out we could do  both sides for Romans v Britons, Anglo-Saxons v Vikings, Early WW1 Germans V French and British or, what he eventually chose, a Darkest Africa game.

Azande unit 1: Copplestone and Foundry Azande musketmen

What swung it was that he liked the look of my Belgians, which I have been painting up over the last year.  This would be their first outing.  In contrast, my Azande were the first of my metal figures I ever played a game with.  This was at Guildford Wargames club when they took on Mike Lewis' (of Black Hat Miniatures) Belgians which, I see from the army list I produced at the time, was in February 2004.  They hadn't seen action since then but had been boosted by some extra musketmen since that outing (as they were comprehensively trashed).

Unit two: Azande armed with kpinga

I dug out Chris Peers' Darkest Africa rules while Guy set up the table using a GW battlemat over the top of my Citadel Realm of Battle board.  He did manage to make it look a little less like Middle Earth by the addition of a couple of palm trees and some aquarium "jungle" plants.

Unit three: Azande spearmen

I chose my army first, using all of my Azande but not using the Congo allies which I use sometimes to boost the forces.  Somewhere I have another couple of dozen Azande to paint which I might do now as the points value of Guy's Belgians was such that he didn't get to field many figures.

My fourth unit: more musketmen

Forces were:


1 Leader
1 standard bearer
1 unit of 11 agile warriors
1 unit of 15 agile spearmen
1 unit of 16 musketeers
1 unit of 12 musketeers

56 figures in all

4 baggage elements consisting of two musicians and a couple of girlies.

Guy's small force deployed on a hill


1 Leader (white man)
1 standard bearer
4 units of six Force Publique soldiers

26 figures in all

4 baggage elements consisting of a mule, two porters and a "man with a bottle of rum", according to Guy (Pirates of the Caribbean has given him a fascination for rum which his teetotal mother finds quite disturbing!). 

Guy was a bit concerned about the relative sizes of our forces; especially as I had a lot more Belgians I could field and he was very tempted by the mountain gun but thought that it cost too many points.

It was a straightforward encounter battle and as Guy hadn't played the rules before and I hadn't played for years we just put our units within the required six inches of the long table edge.  We could have put one unit 18" in as an advance guard or even put one in hidden ambush but decided not to play any add-ons this time.

The Azande advance...

Guy put his force on a hill at one corner of the board and, as he later told me, his plan was to stay there and let me attack.  In a very un-Azande like way I decided to charge at him head on and right from the start suffered casualties caused by his elevated askaris.  They outranged my musketeers by 20" to 10" and they could fire every move whereas my musketmen had to spend a move re-loading after every shot they fired. 

Shooting is basic and brutal in the Darkest Africa rules.  Targets and shooters are dealt with individually and his Belgians hit on a score of five or six; scores being worked out by a D6 throw plus 2 and a few modifiers (such as -1 if at more than half range).  Guy's first volley knocked out enough figures that I had to take a morale test which, fortunately, the Azande passed.  Both the leader and the standard bearer were too far away to help on the morale test.  Indeed the standard bearer got consistently low movement dice (movement is a set amount (2" for Azande plus a D6) and never caught up with the main force so was useless as a morale test saver (which is, basically, their only role).

Belgians take the high ground

Guy then pushed one unit onto a hill and blasted away at the Azande from on high; whittling down my units at an alarming rate.  Because of the dense terrain I could never get my musketmen to get enough guns to bear and they suffered with their ten inch shooting range. 

The Belgians form up...

Seeing how well things were going Guy brought the rest of his Belgians down from the hill and they formed a devastating firing line, routing one unit and annihilating another.  In order to win against a Colonial army like the Belgians you need to close into hand to hand combat with overwhelming numbers.  In the end I did get three figures into melee but by that time they were outnumbered by the Belgians and were all shot on the way in to the attack.

These three Azande did charge but to no avail...

Although I did pretty much clear the hill of  the Belgian advance guard by then it was too late and my forces were totally destroyed.  In the end Guy's army surrounded my baggage elements, the only figures I had left on the table.

The Belgians capture a ready made party: musicians and girls!

So, it was a fun, quick game, over in about two hours, and we will certainly have another one soon.  Next time I am not going to charge European troops head on and I will also go for smaller units.  The figures in the bigger units, especially the musketmen, got in each other's way a lot.  Small units of musketmen and bigger ones of hand to hand troops are what is needed, I think. 

Guy's losses

I was lucky with my morale tests but at one point it looked as if I was going to see an entire 16 man unit bolt.  I will also look at painting up some more Azande so we can field more Belgians.  One thing it had shown me is that I don't need any more Belgians; not without a lot more natives anyway.  I had been planning on buying some more but now realise that my Belgian army is, to all intents and purposes, complete.  Hooray!

My losses!

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Music to paint by: Mountains of the Moon soundtrack by Michael Small

I like to (have to!) paint to music and prefer to have something vaguely appropriate playing in the background. I'm having a bit of an Africa phase at present and so have been struggling to find enough relevant music.

I had a few pieces, the Zulu soundtrack of course (with the addition of the extra pieces from the Silva Screen version-I am nothing if not a completist!) and Out of Africa both by John Barry, but neither are particularly African sounding.

Some of the incidental music from Hatari, by Henri Mancini and some of Laurence Rosenthal's music for one of the Young Indiana Jones episodes was much better.

I also have some genuine Zulu music and other African chants but, rather like bagpipe music, there is only so much of it you can listen to at a time!

I was delighted, therefore, after a long search, to find a copy of the Mountains of the Moon soundtrack on the internet from a UK seller (rather than one of those dodgy bulk sellers from the US you find on Amazon). Mountains of the Moon is the ultimate Darkest Africa film and I am sure Mark Copplestone knows it well!

The film itself is based on William Harrison's superb (although somewhat controversial) novel Burton and Speke (1982) which is, rather surprisingly, currently out of print. The novel is based itself on Sir Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke's accounts of their attempts to discover the source of the Nile. Harrison, (who also wrote the original short story and the subsequent screenplay for the film Rollerball) himself co-wrote the screenplay with director Bob Rafelson, for whom it was a very personal project.

Its not Zanzibar but this is what it must have looked like at the time

I actually didn't see the film until after I had started buying the Foundry figures and reading some of the original accounts of African exploration. I was amazed at how well the film visualised these accounts.

Burton and Speke's prototypical explorers camp. Watch out for Somali tribesmen!

For the soundtrack to his film Rafelson turned to a composer he had used before; New York born Michael Small. Small had scored two steamy Rafelson thrillers; The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981) and Black Widow (1987). I remember taking a girlfriend to the former as a first date and it certainly had the desired effect on her; with a lot of the credit going to Small's sensuous music!

Sidi Bombay (with rather better teeth than the original)

Small was born in 1939 the son of an actor who instilled a love for musical theatre in him. Whilst Small learnt the piano and started to write for student reviews he actually studied English at Harvard and didn't study music formally until after university.

Classic Darkest Africa expedition with required baggage elements

After some TV work Small scored his first feature film in 1969 his breakthrough coming with the score for the Jane Fonda film Klute (1971). He then wrote the soundtracks for a number of well-known films including: Comes a Horseman (1978), Marathon Man (1976) and The Stepford Wives (1975). He also provided music to some of the worst films ever resulting in the situation where his scores were very much the best thing in them. In this illustrious category comes Jaws: the Revenge (1987) and Wagons East (1994).


Smalls score for Mountains of the Mood mixes some memorable sweeping themes, urgent action cues and ethnic music which draws on some recordings made by David Fanshawe. It really is the perfect music to listen to when painting Darkest Africa figures and I have already based up John Hanning Speke and Richard Burton to work on when I get back to the UK.

Its a shame Mark Copplestone never did any Arabs on camels

The film itself is a must see if you haven't already. Filmed in Kenya, rather than the original locations (which are now in Tanzania), if it doesn't make you want to buy loads of Foundry Darkest Africa figures nothing will!

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Congo Bowmen

I am trying to finish some figures that have been sitting around half painted for far too long so here is a group of archers from the Congo who would make good allies or opponents to the Azande.

I'm pretty sure that the Azande themselves didn't use bows (using their kpinga throwing knives instead) and, if they did it would have been early in the Darkest Africa period on as they took to the musket early; using it for an ambush based type of warfare.