Friday 1 July 2011

Force Publique - Gallant Belgians "liberating" Congo

My buddies at Club Dragón organise one of our fortnights long games this time set in the Dark Continent. It is not a period of special interest to me, but I have received a full AAR of the battle and a pile of photographs, both worth reading and watching. Hope you enjoy them.
Anibal Invictus

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On Friday last week we had a fine evening in our local Club at Madrid, playing a big African adventure all night long, and enjoying every minute of it.

This game was included in our series “The Longest Night”, a cycle of gaming nights that we have been playing for several months now, having a lot of fun while trying several scenarios “bigger than life”, from the East African campaigns of First World War to the Normandy Bocage.

Our present scenario pictured a clash between Belgian forces in the Congo and a detachment of Arab slavers, which were expanding West from their original garrisons at the Sultanate of Zanzibar, and across the northern borders of the Etat Indépendant du Congo, early in the 1890’s. The Belgians led an army of tribal warriors, some of them cannibal, reinforced with a handful of European officers and NCO. Their main objective was the key city of Nyanwe, on the right bank of the river Lualaba. During this battle, a Belgian light column assaults a slaver trading post over the Lumami river, covering the flank of the main force.

After assembling the terrain and disposing both side forces, we began gaming about nine o’clock PM. The scenario was simple: a bunch of buildings atop a hill, surrounded by two palisade rings, and commanding an approaching zone of scrub and palm tree spots, with a river (flooded, of course) crossing the table East to West, and a (dusty) road crossing from the Northwest corner to the Southeast side, passing by the foot of the hill and across the river. No ford, a lot of crocodiles and hippopotamus around.

The Belgians had half a dozen Force Publique platoons, including a single European soldier and nine African musket armed askari each one, about 120 Mangbetu warriors and a group of allied Batetela cannibals (Niam-Niam), 80 strong. Both warrior groups were armed with shield and spear.

The Mahdist were about 140 musket-armed fellows, plus a little copper light artillery, four old timers that had known better days, fighting for L’Empereur. To reinforce this gallant garrison, the Arab commander had hired the help of 60 Ruga-Ruga mercenary musketeers.

We used “The Sword and the Flame” rules for colonial warfare in the XIX century. A jolly good set of rules, I say. If you know them, that´s all. If you don´t know them, go and fetch a copy right away, old chap.

The Mahdist player deployed his Arabs inside the palisade rings, the four guns pointing at the jungle, over the river. The Ruga-Ruga were deployed across the plain at both sides of the hill, taking advantage of several buildings and low walls flanking the main position: our noble allies at the place of honour, the first line, as usual.

The Belgian commander in chief devised a three-pronged attack (the Buffalo Horns, trade mark): Mangbetu by the left, Batetela by the right, and the askari, directly under his orders, in the center.

Approaching was easy: muskets were out of range, Arab artillery was ineffective, just a piece of cake. Pity the crocodiles and hippos at the river didn’t agree. They spent a good sporting time, picking and chasing the people crossing the water barrier. Mangbetu and Batetela were lucky, they just lost a couple of men in every forty. The Force Publique was not so lucky: they lost a couple of men nearly in every platoon! Crocodiles are like girls: they like men in uniform most of all.

Once across the river, the Mangbetu and Batetela spearmen dispatched easily the advance guard of Ruga-Ruga, who, after a musket discharge or two, showed to the world the famous athletic African skill for long distance races. Sorry for them, Mangbetu and Batetela warriors were African boys also: they overrunned their flying enemies and went on fighting. Meanwhile, Arab musketmen and guns fired over the melée in the plain, delivering rounds between friend and foe alike, in true bad guy “Better You Than Me” colonialist fashion.

The Belgian askari and soldiers, emerging from the crocodile and hippo party at the river, began their steady advance towards the Arab position, stopping at times to fire against the men behind the palisades, taking advantage from the fact that the European soldier breech-loader rifle (not the askari muskets) range was longer and far more accurate than the Arab musketry.

And then, in this very moment, entering along the road from the Northwestern side of the table, appeared a long column of African people, many in chains, surrounded by rows of heavily armed men, and headed South to the river, walking across the fighting groups in the plain as if they were not there. They were a group of Baluchi slavers, serious people going to their business. Immediately, the Baluchi leader had a brief talk with the Mangbetu chieftain, and arranged a free-pass agreement right through the middle of the battle, in exchange for a pair of gold loads, half a dozen elephant tusks, and a couple of Nubian (and expected to be) nubile slave girls. And they followed on, unmolested.

At first sight of the Baluchi, the whole Batetela warrior contingent quit fighting, and began to run towards the trader column (and the profitable and/or succulent slaves). The smile in the face of the Belgian commander faded: What was going on?

To be continued…

This scenario is based on the 1892–1894 war in the Eastern Congo between the Force Publique, (a nearly private army protecting the territories  that the Berlin Conference of 1885 recognized under the sovereign of Leopold II , king of Belgium, Congo Free State) and the Arab traders that considered the CFS as an intruder into its sphere of influence in the Congo basin.

This  is a very interesting war and is full of ideas to prepare scenarios in a very  Dark Africa style. We situate our scenario within an historic context in a particular  moment of the war
In early 1893 , a CFS army under the command of Francis Dhanis, began an offensive to take the key river city of Nyangwe on the Lumami river.The army consisted of a small number of askari troops led by a dozen belgian officers and several thousands of african auxiliares.

The game
The player in command of the CFS side is one of those officers, and he has been ordered to take an old Arab trading post on the Lumami river ,to protect one of the flanks of the main advancing force and secure a position for rallying and  supply. His allies may be unreliable and he may expect some surprises. The command of the Force Public and their allies is distributed between several players.(3-4).For avoiding trouble he should place their allies Mangbetu and Batetelas on different flanks.

The player on the arab side commands a quite numerous horde of warriors and Ruga Ruga mercenaries, and his orders are to attack the flank of the CFS army and to cut its supply line. Its mercenaries are unreliable and may change sides. Again ,the command of the Arabs and the Ruga Ruga is distributed between several players. (2-4).

Surprise, surprise!
Africa would not be Africa without some surprises. There will be a group of baluchis involved, that enter the table on turn 4 by the road on the arab side and has to exit the table by the opposite corner of the table following the road (1 player in command). There will be a small group of angry germans  pursuiting the baluchis that enter the table by the same point but 1D6 turns after the arrival of the baluchis (1 player in command).

Both the baluchis and the germans have nothing to do with the conflict between the CFS and the Arabs but as soon as they enter the table , the baluchis  roll 1D6 to check animosity against the CFS if they get within 5” of any CFS or allied unit, the germans roll 1D6 to check animosity against the Arabs and their mercenaries if they get within 5” of them. These rolls are made at the beginning of each turn if the conditions apply. If you roll 1-3 , you cannot fight each other. If you roll 4-6, your units can fight  this new enemy if its units are the closest ones. Any way ,the baluchis and the germans can change sides any time if it helps to achieve their objectives. 

You can change the result of the die by one at your own convenience if the baluchi or german  CinC is within 10” of the other side CinC.

None of the arab or belgian players must know anything about the arrival of the baluchis or the germans.

Characters and replacements
This is a very big scenario with about 7-10 players, and each of them has objectives to achieve and victory points to collect. All the main characters have a replacement, they work like spare lives. When your character receives a mortal wound you can remove his assistant instead. Once you have spent your assistant, there will be no second chance.

Artillery do not follow exactly  the TSATF rules. You have to mark a target and then roll the two standard artillery dice with deviation arrows , distances and malfunction marks to check first what unit has been hit, then follow the standard artillery rules from TSATF; you roll a number of dice equal to the number of shooting  gunners and check on the firing table. I think this is a lot of fun, as you may hit a different target or even your own units. In this scenario the supply of ammunition is low and you the Arabs can shoot each gun only five times.

River Lumani
Rivers in Africa are never easy to negotiate. River Lumami is not an exception, it is full of dangers; crocodiles, hippos, treacherous currents etc. Roll 1D20 for each figure crossing the river or ending its movement on the water. The river is flooded , so there is not any ford.

All natives get drown rolling 1-2

All Force Publique, Arabs, baluchis and germans get drown rolling 1-3

The slaves get drown rolling 1-5

Special Events
During the movement phase, any red joke activates an event for the Force Publique and their allies, any black joke activates an event for the Arabs and the Ruga Ruga. Roll 1D6 to check what kind of event applies and roll again on the event table.

There are no reinforcements expected, however if the umpire thinks that the scenario gets a bit unbalanced, he is free to include any reinforcement available at any time ,but only for the Force Publique or the Arabs.

The photos of this game can be accessed here and here.  I give you  a sneak preview

Nice, isn't it?

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