If At First You Cock It Up....
Or Pushna revisited..
In the finest traditions of British Imperialism (Stage One; Fail to take preventive precautions/use penny packets or go in at half cock and mess it up.... Stage Two: Go in mob-handed and with overkill to do the ruddy job you should have done/shouldn't have been necessary first time around..) "we" went in again, with back-up; i.e. accompanied by a Royal Artillery gun crew, elements of the Mortar Platoon (5 mortars) and a Sikh mountain gun (with mules - to get a gun on those razorback ridges).
I upped the number of "possible enemy cards", rejigged the Events table (made punctures and breakdowns less likely) and used a 12D for possible mines/vehicle issues rather than a 6D.
I also decided that "broken" enemy forces 14" or more away from my nearest unit and out of line of sight would not flee off table, but instead halt and attempt to rally (i.e. they were not "enemy running away", but sensible locals pulling out of the wrong kind of fight so as to regroup and rejoin the battle on THEIR terms).
The game started off OK... My plan was to secure the heights Omar and Barga, throw my whole force (still in lorries this time) to the head of the Barga Valley, and set up a position there to bombard the main Plateau before sending in the infantry and Sappers. So far so good.
Until move two....Mines (two number) encountered in the vicinity of the first culvert breaking up the columns and slowing us down - then, suddenly, rifle fire...
Then more rifle fire. My guys try to drive out of harm's way or respond. More rifle fire... IT'S A TRAP !!!! (OK.. Random "Hidden Enemy" chance throw and card draw; but this smacks of conspiracy..). Aaaand a petrol bomb...
Next thing I know some of my Mountain Gun crew and their mules are on the ground kicking. I throw a Platoon forward and start to debus (well before my intended stopping point).
The Sikh gunners get their mountain gun put together - despite heavy and close fire from the enemy sangar - and start firing themselves; the bullets falling around them. Only when all are dead or wounded does the crew pull back; with the breech block of their gun.
The mortars and debussed infantry start laying down suppressing fire, and we set up the R.A. gun. We begin hammering the enemy, but we are still taking casualties. Another truck is nearly got by a petrol bomb. There is a sharp exchange until first one then another enemy force pulls back - and is decimated while doing so.
However, by the time we get going again we have lost the Mule Gun and the Ambulance (the former crew killed or wounded, the latter; crew shot having moved "to a place of safety") plus a scatter of wounded. My men are a little shaken all round.
We press on. In the distance the drone of low flying aircraft; the Events table produces a set of fly-boys; who provoke shooting from the plateau - and one of the planes goes down in flames... Oh great.... The planes leaved the area; suitably chastened..
The leading Platoon (No. 2) makes their way forward and up Djebel Barga (deja vu anyone) and we take the summit; with its occupants scuttling off. THAT height is now secured.
And so it continues: the mortars prove really useful at making the enemy keep their heads down when they appear*. Peppering the occupants of the fort with small arms, we begin a systematic bombardment of the (seemingly occupied) enemy fort with the field gun. Few casualties are caused to the occupiers initially, but eventually some kind of magazine is hit or fires started, and the locals evacuate. Target One destroyed.
(*Technical Note: I still like using the "Estimate The Range" system when we're dealing with anything other than flat-trajectory fire - I have to be able to hit the target through skill, as well as a dice throw.)
While all this is going on the Sappers wander up to the Shrine and set charges (cultural vandalism is nothing new..). Secondary Target destroyed.
Soon it is time to send in the infantry and Sappers to finish the targets on on the Plateau. A few enemy groups pop up on the Plateau and elsewhere - but again; the field gun and mortars prove invaluable and they soon scatter.
All seems well. Then tank no. 2 is destroyed by a petrol bomb (Event card), then we run into another problem; the main village is occupied. Not a HUGE headache, but this might slow matters.
I am aware that time is ticking away, but am still happy with progress. A largish enemy unit appears on the south end of the Plateau, but soon pulls away southwards - not contesting the Plateau itself; they seem chary of the mortars.
I push the armoured car, infantry (Platoons 2 and 3) and the remaining tank towards the village and it is cleared - with the bayonet. We have some wounded; these are placed by the road to await transport. The village is set afire while the Sappers make their way up to the Plateau.
Meanwhile, I become aware that the large enemy unit seen on the Plateau earlier is now making its way along the south edge of the field. Other bands appear in the vicinity and the picket (No. 1 Platoon) on the heights of Djebel Omar come under fire from the palm grove at the base of the Plateau. We take minor casualties (one wounded, one dead) but suppress enemy fire with the machine gun. I feel happy that this will be contained, but.......
Meanwhile, I also become aware of groups of enemy digging in at the east end of the Barga Valley - our way home. Others sneak forward and begin shooting at the rear of the base - we lose members of the artillery crew and some infantry of 4 Platoon - mainly wounded; but again the mortars are invaluable in seeing the blighters off.
(Note: while this has been going on the wounded members of the Sikh gun crew have driven the ambulance to where their gun had been abandoned. Under fire for much of the time they bury the breech block of the gun, hammer a rock down the barrel, and take the fanbelt from the ambulance, before hiking up Djebel Barga, then down to the main position - still under fire. Only one of them, Gunner. R. Singh makes it - with the Ambulance fanbelt. He and his colleagues will get a mention in the post action report. They have all acted with great gallantry).
Up on the Plateau things continue to go well. The tank and armoured car push on, followed by the infantry of 3 Platoon and Sappers. There is no opposition.
Suddenly disaster: someone, possibly another shepherd boy, lobs a petrol bomb at the vehicles (Event Table). The Artillery Truck goes up in flames - then explodes; wounding members of the Mortar Platoon and killing the Officer Commanding Pushna Field Force - i.e. ME..... Suddenly we have a Command and Control issue. Next in Line of Command is Lt. Potter of 2nd Platoon; but he is up on the Plateau.
To make matters worse the base comes under fire again from the rear THEN from Djebel Barga, which the enemy have seemingly reoccupied... Also, the large force of enemy to the south starts pushing up the slopes of Djebel Omar, and is joined by others.
Platoon No. 1's southernmost machine gun opens fire - but then disaster: an Event Card launches a hitherto unseen enemy force in a charge at Platoon 1. The Platoon members in the dip between the two ridges of Djebel Omar are caught in their sangars and cut down. The machine guns on the crests tear into the enemy in the dip; their crossfire causing serious damage; but the remaining enemy groups, inspired by the Local Big man, who was with the force that has made its way from the Plateau, then overwhelm the machine gun nests. Suddenly 1st Platoon has been wiped out.
With some of my men some distance away on high ground, and my base surrounded on three sides by enemy who outnumber me, this is suddenly starting to have an unpleasant "Greasy Grass" vibe...
Platoon 2 return to their truck, pick up any wounded and make their way back to the main base. Officer commanding No. 4 Platoon at the base contacts the leading tank on the Wireless and updates him.
Up on the Plateau the Sappers lay charges at the mosque; detonating these before getting back in their truck and heading back to the base via the north entrance to the Plateau, picking up no. 1 Platoon's truck on the way. Meanwhile the tank and armoured car come down off the plateau and also head for the base; as does Platoon 3.
Another force of enemy open fire on the armoured car, but cause no problems. Then, suddenly, Cpt. Marden commanding Tank No. 1 is wounded by a sniper...
At the base there is incoming fire from Djebel Barga, but the enemy on Omar content themselves with a desultory fire down into the vehicle pool. The artillery crew are now all casualties (two wounded gunners Willis and Miles, continuing to fire their gun) and the mortar crews also start to suffer.
Darkness is now approaching (where HAS the time gone?) and things are looking dicey. There are still uncommitted enemy about (a couple of cards in their pile) and every move could bring about an unpleasant Event. At this moment we have vehicles for all the troops, the wounded, the mortars and the field gun. This situation may not last - and with the enemy commanding the heights both side of the valley road AND having a presence on our route home we need to make tracks sharpish....
On the arrival of 2 Platoon a fire is opened upon the enemy on Barga by all at the base. Platoon 2 storm up the slopes with the bayonet and the enemy - already discomforted by accurate mortar fire, scatter.
Taking advantage of this it is decided all of my men will climb aboard the vehicles and the force will make off; Platoon 2 will proceed along Djebel Barga and rendezvous at the first culvert. As as sniper shoots the commander of Tank 1 there is an organised rush for the vehicles, the gun is lashed to one of the trucks, the mortars packed away and the force moves off; the armoured car machine-gunning those enemy commanding the way back.
With the enemy seemingly not pursuing, and No. 2 Platoon (luckily - lucky Command Tokens and dice) racing across and down Barga, we gather the group beyond the first culvert. The fan belt for the Ambulance is refitted, and with the members of Platoon 2 in that and distributed among the other vehicles the force moves off into the night, to safety....
Lessons learned: More machine guns needed. More mortars or artillery would be useful, as would an additional platoon (or two). More radios (if only.....).
It has made me ponder as whether to use of Tactical Cards (as per 1776 etc.) for the locals, to better coordinate their attacks....
The tweaks to the Events Table made the game swing along, but still with that "edge" of uncertainty.
What was interesting was that although I KNOW enemy appearances were random, at times there was a feeling that I had somehow been suckered into a trap. The game kept me on my toes throughout, and was great fun.
Next: to think about working from "The Other Side of the Hill", and taking the role of the heroic defenders, rather than the imperials..
As always: comments and thoughts welcome.