Sunday, 20 May 2012

A Punitive Expedition

Having made a few minor changes to my MEMOIR OF BATTLE (MOB) rules, I decided to play-test the latest draft using a scenario that pitted a European-style colonial army against a larger Native irregular army.

A tax collector operating in Southern Zubia had been ambushed and killed, and his head returned to the Provincial Governor. The latter knew that the local situation was volatile, and asked that troops be sent from the north to 'punish' the tribes that had killed the Government Official.

The Khedive of Zubia had little option but to accede to this request as a refusal to do so would be regarded as a sign of weakness ... and this might have given the Sultan of Fezia all the excuse he needed to remove the Khedive. A force was therefore assembled under the command of an ex-Captain of the Britannic Army, Bimbashi Hector Bumble.

Bumble's 'army' comprised:
  • Four Infantry Battalions
  • A Cavalry Regiment
  • An Artillery Battery
  • A supply column
Despite being described in a local Zubian newspaper as being 'probably the best military units in the service of the Khedive' (and as the 'sweepings of the jails' in the foreign press) all of the units were poorly trained and under strength.

The journey south was uneventful, and despite fears that many of the soldiers would desert (something that was prevented by chaining the recruits together!), the newly-named Bumble Punitive Expeditionary Force was soon assembled in the capital of the Southern Province and ready to move against the rebellious natives who had killed the tax collector.

Turn 1
The Punitive Expedition marched unhindered across the desert towards the area where the tax collector had been killed. Locally recruited guides led the Expeditionary Force towards the village of Jebel-al-Kutallah, the supposed home of the natives responsible for the murder. The Expeditionary Force approached the village down a valley through a range of rugged hills that separated the village from the desert. Bimbashi Bumble ordered his Cavalry to scout ahead of the main body of the Punitive Expeditionary Force in order to ensure that no ambush had been set and that the advance would be unhindered.

This proved to be a wise decision.

Bimbashi Bumble's Punitive Expeditionary Force on the march.

The Punitive Expeditionary Force advances into the valley leading towards the village of Jebel-al-Kutallah.

Turn 2
The Cavalry moved ahead of the main body of the Punitive Expeditionary Force. The latter's advance was slowed by the restricted speed of the Artillery and the need to keep the Force together.

The Cavalry scouts ahead of the main body of Bimbashi Bumble's Punitive Expeditionary Force.

Turn 3
The Cavalry continued to scout up the valley, and the rest of the Punitive Expeditionary Force followed behind as fast as it could.

The Cavalry begin to scout the head of the valley.

At this point, the trap was sprung! A group of previously unseen band of Native Cavalry charged the Zubian Cavalry ...

... who suffered casualties and retreated ...

... but not far enough! A second band of Native Cavalry charged into the fleeing Zubians ...

... who suffered even more casualties.

Whilst this was taking place at the head of the valley, the main body of the Punitive Expeditionary Force was attacked. A band of spear-armed Natives charged over a small hill that formed part of the valley wall ...

... and into the leading Zubian Infantry Regiment on the left-hand side of the Punitive Expeditionary Force. The impetus of the Native Infantry charge caused the poor quality Zubian Infantry Regiment to collapse and they were wiped out to a man!

On the other side of the valley a band of rifle-armed Native Infantry emerged from a side valley and opened fire on the leading right-hand Zubian Infantry Regiment ...

... causing it to lose one-third of its strength.

At this point Bimbashi Bumble's Punitive Expeditionary Force had reached its Exhaustion Point, and was unable to take any further aggressive action ... not that this was an option that the Bimbashi was contemplating as he saw his troops dying around him.

Turn 4
Everything now hinged on whether or not the Zubians would have the initiative this turn. The dice was cast ... and they did not!

One of the bands of Native Cavalry pursued the remnants of the retreating Zubian Cavalry Regiment ...

... and cut them to pieces!

The other band of Native Cavalry charged down the valley and engaged the under-strength Zubian Artillery Battery ...

... which they wiped out!

The band of spear-armed Native Infantry charged the second Zubian Infantry Regiment of the left of the Punitive Expeditionary Force ...

... and totally destroyed it!

On the other side of the valley the band of rifle-armed Native Infantry fired at the rearmost Zubian Infantry Regiment on the right-hand side of the Punitive Expeditionary Force ...

... and caused 33% casualties!

Two bands of Native Camelry now appeared at the head of the valley ...

... and a further band of spear-armed Native Infantry joined the first band on the Punitive Expeditionary Force's left flank.

The leading Zubian Infantry Regiment fired at the band of Native Cavalry that had destroyed the Zubian Artillery battery, and inflicted some telling casualties upon it.

The other Zubian Infantry Regiment deployed so that it could engage the nearby band of rifle-armed Native Infantry ...

... upon which they inflicted 25% casualties.

Turn 5
The Zubians gained the initiative, and attempted to retreat back towards the desert.

Unfortunately they could not outrun their pursuers. The leading band of Native Cavalry attacked the Punitive Expeditionary Force's supply column ...

... and wiped it out.

The band of rifle-armed Native Infantry fired at the nearest retreating Zubian Infantry Regiment ...

... and wiped it out.

The spear-armed band of Native Infantry caught up with Bimbashi Bumble and his headquarters ...

... and slaughtered the Bimbashi and every single member of his staff!

The remaining Native troops advanced down the valley to engage what remained of the Punitive Expeditionary Force ...

... who were wiped out before the end of the next turn.

Only a few survivors made it back to Zubian-controlled territory, and when their stories were published, there was rioting on the streets of Zubia's capital. There were calls for the removal of the Khedive, and what was left of Zubia's Army threatened to revolt unless their honour was restored.

Had the circumstances not made it irrelevant, the Exhaustion Point rule would have stopped Zubian aggressive action at a very early stage of the battle. The changes to the combat system that penalises Poorer quality units did have a major effect upon the ability of the Zubians to survive attacks ... and it is possible that this might have made the whole thing a bit too one-sided. I certainly think that it needs further play-testing, especially in a battle where one or both sides field at least one Elite Unit.


  1. Well, it does bear a certain resemblance to the opening scenes in Khartoum......

  2. Hi Bob,

    Great narrative for the action and the whole 'scene setting'. It certainly appears to be quite brutal in respect of poor quality units - perhaps losing a base for every pair of flag results in addition to the retreats may be worth considering.

    Or was the opposition fortunate with its dice rolling?

    Good to see the desert terrain and the palm trees are very nice - are they 'home made'?

    All the best,


  3. Ross Mac,

    It certainly should as it that part of the film that inspired the scenario!

    All the best,


  4. David Crook,

    I did keep a note of the dice throws, and under the previous draft of the rules the Punitive Expeditionary Force would not have been killed off quite as fast as it was ... which would have meant that they might have inflicted more casualties on the enemy, thus making the result somewhat more balanced.

    As written at the moment, Poor quality troops are doubly penalised (i.e. less strength value and more negative combat results) under the rules ... and Elite Units are doubly blessed. I think that this is too extreme, and I will probably revert to the previous draft for my own battles in future.

    The desert terrain is very stark but effective. The palm trees are commercial ones that I made simple bases for using plywood, tree bases from K&M Trees (AKA PecoModels), paint, and some granulated cork scatter material.

    All the best,


  5. Simple and effective, and shows that 'natives' aren't to be taken lightly, as just about every Colonial power found out, more than once, to its cost.

    That there is asignificant margin for quality might not be as unrealistic as one might infer. The Khedive's troops marched into what amounted to an ambush, so the result might have been foreseen (perhaps the commander of the NLH apprehended some such event and tried to spring the trap early...?)

    Suppose, though, that the local 'Native' tries to capitalise upon this victory by attacking the loval centre of the Khedive's power...

    A battle in the open field might prove an ... erm ... equaliser...

  6. Archduke Piccolo,

    You point about the ambush is well made, and I am not going to change the rules until I have play-tested them in a situation that is more favourable to the European-style troops.

    Your suggested scenario is not a million miles away from my own ideas for the next play-test, although it may be a week or so before it will take place.

    All the best,



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