Monday, 11 January 2021

A Punitive Expedition To The Pushna Valley

An Exercise in Little...

Those lucky enough to have got to know Don Featherstone's works over the generations will no doubt be familiar with the relevant chapter in his volume "War Game Campaigns" (1970). This particular scenario was one much read, thumbed and pondered over by yours truly, but not fully played out in anything even close its original from until I delved into the world of 1/300th scale. That was a good few years ago now, so I decided it deserved revisiting properly - along with some specifically solo tweaks. 

So, what do we have...? Well, Mr. Featherstone provides the backstory; a British punitive mission to destroy a fort and village, typical of the "Butcher and Bolt" expeditions undertaken on the North West Frontier in the late 19th to early 20th century. Mister F. sets his version in the 1930s, provides a map, an Order of Battle for the forces and some basic rules for certain specific actions. However, it is intended as a two person (or more) exercise. I, of course, am flying solo....

The Map:

As in the book (below). A nice map. Very simple. I will try to replicate this as best I can on the table for the 6mm bods but there may be some tweaking necessary. 

In addition, for my purposes I have added tracks/roads, nullahs and a couple of "flavour" details/additional or secondary targets. These will make life more interesting/complicated.

I have also drafted a plan of "Zones of Potential Risk"; i.e. areas where IEDs/mines might be present on roads/tracks. I will discretely mark these on the table with terrain items. There may be some variation once the table is set up

Targets and Objectives:

The targets are the mud fort and associated village on the Plateau at the end of the valley.  British forces must destroy both locations for the mission to be deemed to have been successful.

There is also a secondary target (worth extra points) in the vicinity of the above; another village, containing a mosque - thought to be the source of local discontent. 

There is, in addition, a tertiary target; the tomb and shrine of locally venerated Wali Omar Pushnari; killed in a raid some generations past, and whose memory has been exploited by anti-British imams to ferment trouble. Extra points can be gained for destroying this.

These locations can be destroyed in two ways. The fort and villages can be destroyed by the use of carefully laid explosives or extended and concentrated, shell fire. The villages can also be burned by infantry. The shrine can be destroyed by laid explosives or by shell fire.

Playing as the British:

This is the point of view described in Featherstone's book so this is the first method I will try (I will work out a process for playing the locals solo later). Basically the British will start in company strength (in trucks), with two light tanks, an HQ vehicle, a Field Ambulance, an Explosives Truck and an armoured car.

I will use my House Rules for Activation, Combat, Morale and Movement (though any good colonial rule set  could be used for these).

I will also use a variant on my "Hidden Enemy Card Trick" system for placement of the local team; substituting a base of 3 figures (for simplicity's sake I will call this a "squad") for the individual figures normally produced by the Number Cards when applying this method, and tweaking some of the other card values (see below "Revealing The Enemy", below). The enemy cavalry (see below) will be in the open in the valley. All other enemy forces will be concealed. 

Command and Control: 

British Command and Control will work as follows:

All units will be given written orders for the mission. Said units will be Activated by Token Draw and will follow their written instructions to the letter unless:

1) The Events Table or combat situation dictates otherwise (e.g. a unit is pinned, forced to withdraw etc.).

2) I, as mission OIC*, am actually with a unit whose orders I wish to change (*i.e. the figure representing me).

3) I send a runner (subject to enemy fire and accident) from my location to a unit whose orders I wish to change (note; my platoons carry no Wireless Sets* and I have no Signallers; shiny mirror or flag-waving) or I send a message by Wireless to Commander Tank Troop. I have to be next to the command vehicle or send a runner to the command vehicle to do so send a message. All orders are passed at "Move End" (i.e. in SP terms; "Tiffin") - assuming no other actions have been undertaken by sender or receiver that move. Otherwise they "arrive" beginning next move and take half a move to process at receiving end. 

*Note: There is a Wireless Set with my command vehicle, but this only connects to a) Area HQ (in case I need to summon aid. See "Reinforcements" below) and b) Commander Tank Troop's tank.

There is wireless contact between the Tank Troop Commander's tank and the other tank, but not with, or between, the armoured cars.

The Tank Troop Commander can receive new orders (takes one full move) and he can relay these orders to the other tank at move end provided neither have engaged in any other action.

Any tank commander may be passed orders for  units other than the tanks. These may be passed verbally to any immediately adjacent and relevant Infantry Officer, Sapper Team, tank or armoured car commander at the cost of another half-move next move (one full move if under fire). It is assumed a tank commander can "wave over" any other officer from a distance of three inches to receive such orders.

3) Any local decisions made on the spot by officers to deal with extraordinary circumstances not covered by the Written Orders. These will be based on ad hoc decision matrices in the usual way. 

Imponderables and Solo-ising: 

The above still leave various aspects of uncertainty which I will need to work out to preserve certain facets of the original. These are to keep me guessing and consist of:

1) what the locals will do

2) the risks presented by to my troops by any IEDs or land mines placed by the locals

3) any use of petrol bombs the locals may have.

4) random events

 I will "solo-ise" these aspects as follows: 

A) Mines and IEDs - Vehicles.

For the IEDs/mines it is assumed that the enemy will be setting these at points where road/track-dependant British vehicles are likely to pass (rather than the mines being intended for infantry/random traffic). I'm thus going to divide the valley floor tracks and choke-points, plus the village access tracks, into Zones of Potential Risk. All Zones are considered uncleared until the "Rule of Three" has been met (see below). IEDs/Mines are only placed on roads/tracks/culverts. 

Every vehicle entering such a Zone on a road/track must throw a 1x6D to test for IEDs/Mines, taking 1 from the dice if at a road/track junction or if crossing a culvert. 

It must likewise test for EACH subsequent 4" (where using 6mm figures) moved further into such an Uncleared Zone along a road/track, taking 1 from the dice per 8" moved into that Zone, if running at "Panic Speed" and if it has crossed/is at a road/track junction or a culvert (modifiers are cumulative).

On a throw of a 1 or 2 the vehicle crew believe they have driven over a possible mine and it is suspected they may be in a "minefield" or IED danger zone. When a possible IED/mine has been revealed test on another dice to see if the suspected device explodes.

On a throw of 5-6 the explosive device has exploded and permanently knocked-out the vehicle. All vehicle occupants test as potential casualties. Any vehicle containing munitions (the Explosives Lorry/any other vehicle carrying the Explosives Team and tanks) explode, and all infantry within 1 inch (6mm scale) must test for casualties. 

On a throw of 3-4 the vehicle has been slightly damaged, but there have been no casualties. It cannot move further that move until the crew affect running repairs. This takes a minimum of a full half move; doubled if under fire at medium range or closer. On a throw of 4-6 the crew have got the vehicle moving again. Vehicles can be abandoned. They can also be pushed off a road/track. 

On a 1-2 the IED/mine failed to explode. Or it was just a piece of debris and not an IED/mine at all. Or it is a delayed-explosion device. Mark the location with a paper circle, flag, cairn or similar marker. Any vehicle driving over this marker must also test (though see "Rule of Three"). The vehicle encountering the item then has several choices:

1) Carry on driving normally. Throw another dice. On a throw of 1-3 the device explodes, damaging the vehicle as above. If there is no explosion the marker remains in place until driven over again or "cleared".

2) Move at "Panic Speed" (double speed) forward, away from the "device". Move away 8" on or off road. If on road test for more possible IEDs/mines as above. If off-road test 1x6D for puncture or thrown track; on a result of 1-2 puncture has been caused or track thrown (see Events Table for Puncture Process). On a throw of 1-2 the device explodes but while there is no serious damage to the vehicle there is still a puncture/track thrown risk as above. If there is no explosion the marker remains in place until driven over again or "cleared".

3) Reverse away from the IED/mine. All reversing is carried out at half speed. All non-tracked vehicles reversing must test for each move/part move they have reversed. On a throw of 1 that vehicle has got stuck (these are ROUGH roads/tracks). It must throw a 3-6 on a further dice throw in the following move/s to get moving again.  It is not necessary to test for mines when reversing. The marker remains in place until driven over again or "cleared".

4) Turn the vehicle and go back the way it came. It takes a full move to do a three (or more) point turn on the spot, but no testing is necessary for this process. The marker remains in place until driven over again or "cleared".

If a lead vehicle decides not to proceed and is part of a convoy any following vehicles in the Zone and also having to reverse or turn must each also follow one of the above procedures or go "off road". 

5) The vehicle crew halts and examines the possible mine. This takes a full half move*, doubled if under medium range fire or closer. Throw a 1x6D. On a throw of 3-6  there is no IED?mine - false alarm; remove the marker. On a throw of 1-2 what loks like an IED/mine is indeed present. 

(* Unless Sappers are present in any vehicle involved. See below "Sappers") 

The latter case options 1-4 above are still available, but all tests are negatively effected by applying 2 to any damage dice test. There are also the additional options of abandoning the vehicle or attempting to remove the IED/mine.

To remove an IED/mine from a road/track and safely secure takes a further full move and requires a further test. On a throw of 1 to 4 the mine explodes and the vehicle crew must test for injuries as if infantry (see B below). On any other result the mine is safely removed (remove the marker) and placed in a secure, marked location away from the road/track.

IF a train of vehicles continues to move through the Zone concerned dice for each vehicle entering the Zone in sequence until either an IED/mine explodes OR all vehicles have passed safely.

B) "Rule of Three":

If MORE than two vehicles have driven over a marker or moved the whole way through a Zone along a track/road without driving over a suspected or actual mine that track is considered "Cleared" thereafter and noted as such. It is now safe to drive in this Zone.

It is therefore possible that no mines may be encountered at all during the scenario. In such a case this case it may be taken that the Intelligence that the enemy had IEDs/mines is faulty. 

C) Infantry and Mines.

Infantry in force marching along a track/road in a Zone of Potential Risk must test for IEDs/mines as vehicles. Such a force must consist of 9 or more men and must be marching (using the road bonus) or be a group of 4 or more carrying wounded (ditto). They do not have to test if scattered or in skirmish mode. 

For every move where part of such a force moves along a road/track in a ZOPR test on a 1x6D.

On a throw of 6 men have stepped heavily on an unstable IED/mine and set it off. Throw a saving throw/test for each man within 1" (if playing with 6mm figures) as per normal casualty testing rules. 

Infantry passing safely through a Zone does NOT make the Zone safe for vehicles.

Infantry will not remove IEDs/mines.

Infantry are assumed to simply avoid IED/mine markers already placed by vehicle crews/Sapper actions.

D) Sappers:

I'm going to allow the "Explosives Lorry" (carrying the materials needed to destroy the target) mentioned by Mr. Featherstone to also contain a squad of Royal Engineers (the Explosives Team). These, according to the plan, will set the explosives on arrival at the target.

It takes two uninterrupted half-moves to set up explosives at each target location. Double that if under fire. Once installed the explosives will be detonated detonate one full half-move after all friendly forces have moved three inches away from the target. There is no need to test to see if the Sappers have done their job properly. They have done so. They're Sappers.... 

There is always a possibility that the Sapper team may have taken casualties en route. If so at least one walking wounded Sapper is required to be at a target location to meet the above requirements. 

All parties, of all nationalities, within two inches of an exploding target must test for casualties, vehicles for damage as if hit by petrol bomb

This team can also:

1) Check a road/track for mines (on foot). Two inches of road/track (at 6mm scale) can be checked per half-move. If under fire only one inch per move can be checked. Each CHECK a 1x6D is thrown. On a throw of 1 or 2 an IED/mine been found. Mark location as above.

To remove a located IED/mine from a road/track and safely secure takes a half-move (doubled if under fire at medium range or less) and requires a further test. On a throw of less than 4 on a throw of 2x6D on this second test the IED/mine explodes and the Sappers must test for injuries as if infantry (see B above). On any other result the IED/mine is disarmed/safely removed and placed in a secure, marked location away from the road/track. Any markers are removed.

In Case A5 above, if Sappers are in the lead vehicle or in a convoy where a possible IED/mine is discovered they can de-bus and identify an IED/mine as genuine (or not) as soon as encountered (if not in the vehicle encountering the suspect item they must de-bus and move to it). Sappers recognise an IED/mine by sight and mark it in the normal way. There is no time penalty for Sappers to simply examine/identify a potential device. Once an explosive device has been identified Sappers may attempt to remove it as above. 

E) Wot, No Sappers?

IF the Sappers do not get to the target, but the Explosives Lorry does, then ordinary infantry can attempt to set and detonate the charges, but only if accompanied by a Commissioned Officer. Setting the charges will take three half-moves per target - doubled if under fire.

Infantry at a target with no officer or NCO present will not set the charges; only hold the target location while awaiting Sappers, and NCO or an officer. 

A sergeant will only order the setting of the charges on a 1x6D test result of 5 or 6. They will not order demolition. Basically, in this scenario, the British, as per WW1 practice, still expect officers to do the work of sergeants.  

Once installed the explosives will potentially detonate one full half-move after all friendly forces have moved three inches away from the target. However (unlike with a Sapper installation) the competence of the set up must be tested for. On a throw of 1 on a 6D something has gone wrong; the target area must be re-entered and the charges re-set. 

F) Enemy Interference:

Unsurprisingly, the locals object to the blowing up of their village, mosque and fort; not only due to the inconvenience, but also because this is a clear signal that they are unable defend their own turf . This will reflect badly on the valley's reputation among other, rival, tribal groups. 

They will endeavour to prevent the British arriving at the target Zones by long to medium range shooting, the use of pre-placed IEDs/mines, petrol bombs (Event Table controlled) and, in extremis, hand to hand combat.

Mr. Featherstone has about 160 locals with about a third of them as cavalry. This seems a bit horse-heavy for hill folk to me, so I'm going to allow a force of about 20 camelry (acting as "dragoons" - move fast; fight on foot) and about 30 cavalry. The foot element will have a ceiling of about 200 men - but because I am using my Hidden Enemy rules this is actually open-ended (the only limit being the number of guys I have to play with).   

Locals will only normally voluntarily fight at close range if approached to close range by the enemy and if defending a village, shrine or fort  or trapped by terrain/other enemy so that they have no alternative (exception Event-driven Ghazi Charge and Brave Deed Act). 

When approached to close range (unless at the Shrine, a village, the fort etc. as above) and when next activated locals must test (1x6D). Add 1 to the dice throw if enemy are already at close range and at a higher elevation than the testers.

1: Local forces flee or surrender (surrender if cannot escape close range within one move).

2-5: Local forces will withdraw to higher ground than enemy and medium range or long range on same level as enemy (even if this means moving off-table) rather than fight at close range. If no route taking them out of close range and meeting these criteria is available they will surrender (as above) or flee. 

6: Locals fight on but must test again next move.

If the British get to a village they may find, on arrival, a further hurdle has been placed in their way; in that the locals have, through negligence or policy, failed to evacuate women, children and the elderly from the villages (to save further complication we shall assume that animals have already been removed to a place of safety). When a British unit arrives at a village it must search the location (takes one move) before setting charges. The Search test is a 1x6d:

1-2 the houses still contain civilians. These must be removed. Each attempt to remove them all needs to be tested for on a 1x6D.  On a result of 1-4 all civilians are harried out of the houses by the end of the next move. On a result of 5-6 a futher attempt to clear the village fully must made the following move. 

3-5 the village is empty.

6 - a small number of snipers have been left in the village. Dice 1x6D for the number. These must be silenced before any charges can be laid.  

As well as running interference with the approach of the British to the target, and their setting up of any explosives the locals may - if close enough - take advantage of any gap between the British withdrawal to a place of safety after setting charges and the explosion. If they do so they may attempt to disarm the explosives. 

Before doing so a "Brave Deed Act" must be passed  (a "6" thrown on a 1x6D. Add one if the target area includes the mosque) by any unpinned/unbroken local force within 4 inches of the target zone. Success in this test allows entry to the target zone. Once at the target another throw must be made. 

This is one of the rare occasions an enemy formation might voluntarily move to within close range of a British unit. 

On a 5-6 the explosives have been disarmed (they have, however been left in situ and can be re-set if the British retake the target). 

On a 1-4 the attempt is unsuccessful, the explosives go off, and all parties within two inches of the target test for casualties.    

Thus the British could, on arrival at a village: lose one full move searching the village. Lose a further move - or more - clearing the village of snipers or civilians. Lose a further move or more setting charges and clearing the area of British personnel.  

G) Damaged Vehicles:

No vehicles are to be left on the field unless they have been destroyed by enemy action of friendly action. My men will attempt to tow or drive damaged vehicles to the Assembly Area. Failing that they will attempt to destroy any vehicle which need to be abandoned due to breakdown etc.  To attempt this takes half a move - doubled if under fire. Throw a 1x6D each attempt. On a 2-6 the vehicle has been set alight and will be deemed destroyed. On a throw of 1 another attempt must be made. 

H) Effect of Gunfire etc. on Targets:

The tank main guns can be used to damage the Fort and Shrine. These have Damage resilience of 40 and 15 respectively. Each hit by a shell causes 1x6D damage. 

In the event that Reinforcements such as aircraft, mortars and artillery are summoned/arrive they can also damage targets.

Mortars cause damage on a hit as tank guns.

Artillery pieces cause 2x6D damage each per hit.

Bombs cause 3x6D damage each on a direct hit.

Infantry can burn the villages and mosque. It takes half a move for a Section to burn a building. Burning cannot be carried out by units under fire of any kind. Burning cannot take place if the village is occupied by enemy civilians or fighters.   

I) Events:

I will deal with Activation (for both sides) with a Token Mix and Draw. Among the token mix will be an Event Token. On the drawing of this token I will then shuffle and, drawing a card from a standard pack of playing cards, consult the Event Table Cards are played at once, then returned to the pack (exception; Culvert and Wireless Malfunction). 

A draft Events Table is below (for full size right click & view as new tab).

J) Prisoners:

Locals will surrender if:

Surrounded at any stage by close range infantry and/or machine gun "Zones of Control" with no practical avenue of escape other than through such a Zone. No morale test is necessary. 

Flanked on two sides by close range infantry and/or machine gun "Zones of Control" both of which emanate from higher ground than that occupied by the Local formation.

Prisoners must AT ONCE be escorted to towards the Assembly Area with guards of one man per six locals and then off table (where they will, later, be released....).

British Flying Officers whose aircraft crash within 12" of an enemy position and who survive such a crash are deemed to have been taken prisoner.

British Infantry/Sappers/Crew will only offer to surrender as a result of the unit breaking where there is no physical line of escape. They are at once removed from the board (not to be seen again). 

Victory Conditions.

British receive 120 Victory Points (VPs) for destroying both the Fort and Main village. BOTH have to be destroyed for a victory to be claimed at all.

British receive 55 VPs for destroying the Shrine and 45 for destroying the second village and mosque.

British receive 1 point for every enemy prisoner escorted from the table.

British receive 20 Victory Points for driving the enemy cavalry and camels from the field.

British lose 3 points for every friendly Infantryman or Sapper lost in sight of the enemy due to close combat, rifle fire, snipers, or petrol bombs ("lost" means killed or badly wounded; any loss to me is a victory for the enemy).

British lose 8 points for every man lost to the enemy as a result of being overrun.

British lose 6 points for every vehicle towed away damaged in sight of the enemy.

British lose 10 points for every Commissioned Officer lost in sight of and within 8 inches of an enemy force due to enemy action or lost due to sniper or petrol bomb.  

British lose 12 points for every vehicle, gun, mortar or machine gun destroyed, by whatever means.

British lose 15 points for every Flying Officer captured (note; these are the only personnel issued with "Goolie Chits")

British lose 20 points for every vehicle, gun, mortar or machine gun abandoned as damaged or otherwise left on the field but not totally destroyed and for every three non-Flying Officer prisoners of whatever rank who surrender. 

British lose 40 points for every aircraft shot down.

ANY retrograde action on the part of the British, even if for good, sound, military reasons, will be perceived by the locals as a small victory for them; whether troops are withdrawing from a patently and pointlessly dangerous position, pulling back to support another unit, evacuating casualties or towing a damaged vehicle to safety - ALL actions involving any British units moving away from an enemy unit or position will be seen as symptomatic of a lack of "thrust" on their part and be exploited wherever possible. 

To reflect this the enemy will receive 2 Victory Points every move any British unit, section, first aid team, vehicle or crew which is in LoS and within 10 inches of a Target or enemy-occupied position pulls away from that unit/position and/or towards either 1) the centre of the table, 2) The Southern table edge or Assembly Area 3) another unit belonging to myself, 4) from any point on the Plateau towards either of the entrance tracks. Thus British troops pulling back after destroying a Target STILL counts against them. In the eyes of the enemy my guys are now "running away".

All points are cumulative.

Hang on, I hear you ask; don't you British get any credit for a body count ? The answer is "Nope". As The Man said; "The "Captives of our bow and spear", are cheap — alas! as we are dear...".

Enemy Action:

It will have been seen that the locals are generally not over-keen on getting too close to British units facing in their direction. This is not cowardice, but common sense. They and their fathers have seen close range rapid fire from ten cartridge magazine Lee-Enfields before, and do not like it. Also, being Hill Peoples, they have their own effective way of doing things. 

They will instead: 

1) Always seek to work around flanks where the opportunity arises.

2) Their Infantry will always seek to gain the higher ground in order to maintain medium or long range fire, rather than hover about in the plain (the British are likely to echo the Syrians of old in crying: "Their gods are gods of the hills; therefore they were stronger than we; but let us fight against them in the plain"). Hill folks generally know better than to do this...

3) Local forces will prioritise perceived "soft" targets (withdrawing or pinned units, sections escorting wounded or prisoners, the First Aid base, damaged vehicles etc.) over units clearly able to bite back.

See my previous post "Bibbity-Bobbity-Babbage" on tweaking the solo aspects of Osprey's  "The Men Who Would be Kings".


At any point the British can consider asking Area HQ for reinforcements in exchange for losing Victory Points. Potential reinforcements are:

Mortar Section of two Mortar crews (with vehicle) at a cost of 20 Victory Points. Random test for arrival starts after 1x6D moves; arrives on throw of 8-12 on 2x6D.

One pair armoured cars of the 3rd Light Company at a cost of 30 Victory points (must be two or none). Random test for arrival starts after 1x6D moves; arrives on throw of 6-12 on 2x6D.

Up to 4 no. R.A. Field Guns and vehicles at a cost of 20 Victory Points each. Random test for arrival starts after 1x6D moves; arrives on throw of 10-12 on 2x6D.

One flight of RAF light aircraft (three number) at a cost of 30 Victory Points. Random test for arrival starts after two moves; arrives on throw of 10-12 on 2x6D. Will behave like aircraft on Events Table unless CLEAR targeting instructions have been relayed. 

One company of Sikh infantry at a cost of 50 Victory Points.  Random test for arrival starts after 1x6D moves; arrives on throw of 9-12 on 2x6D.


Well there we are; my first thoughts on re-fighting a "classic".  The above are very much "first thoughts and will need a play-through or two. The proof of the pudding etc.

Old Hands will note that I abandoned  Mr. Featherstone's the "paper circles" method for the mines - which would have worked simply enough (though if using that method I would have used card, with the backs covered in sand/scatter).

As usual with me the above has probably been "over engineered", but I offer it as a Pick n' Mix of ideas for your own games. Please don't hesitate to ask any queries or make comments or suggestions. 

Next post will be the fight itself..... 


  1. Easily my favourite chapter in the book. I played it once and the 100s of hole punch circles (mines) got upset all over the floor as we tidied up. I was finding them weeks later!

  2. Ha, ha.... One reason why I side-stepped the lil' circles this time..

    Yes, this one was a cracker... I also liked the French-Indian War one (which I must re-fight sometime) and the Viking and Agincourt ones...

    My well-thumbed copy lost its dust cover decades ago.. A great inspiration...


Pushna Part Two....

  The Preparation Some research, some painting, some digging out some toys from their boxes... Again, amazed at the sheer about of data to b...