Wednesday, 1 March 2017

The Battle of Adowa: A possible re-fight?

One of the common criticisms I have heard about Colonial wargaming is that that the battles are always one-sided, and that the non-European side invariably looses. Whilst this may be generally true, sometimes the Europeans suffer an overwhelming defeat. Examples include:
  • The Retreat from Kabul (6th to 13th January 1842)
  • The Battle of Isandlwana (22nd January 1879)
  • The Battle of Maiwand (27th July 1880)
  • The Battle of Adowa (1st March 1896)
In the latter case a force of approximately 108,000 Ethiopians defeated an Italian Army numbering 17,700 men, inflicting loses of approximately 10,500 dead, wounded, and captured.

In the past I have given consideration to re-fighting the Battle of Adowa using my PORTABLE WARGAME rules but on a much larger than standard grid. The forces I would need would look like this:

ITALIAN ARMY

  • 1 x Commander (General Baratieri)
  • Right Column
    • 1 x Commander (General Dabormida)
    • 6 x European Infantry units
    • 1 x Native Infantry unit
    • 1 x Mountain Artillery unit
  • Central Column
    • 1 x Commander (General Arimondi)
    • 5 x European Infantry units
    • 1 x Mountain Artillery unit
  • Left Column
    • 1 x Commander (General Albertoni)
    • 4 x Native Infantry units
    • 1 x Mountain Artillery unit
  • Reserve Column
    • 1 x Commander (General Ellena)
    • 6 x European Infantry units
    • 1 x Native Infantry unit
    • 1 x Artillery unit
    Total:
    • 5 x Commanders
    • 17 x European Infantry units
    • 6 x Native Infantry units
    • 3 x Mountain Artillery units
    • 1 x Artillery unit
ETHIOPIAN ARMY
  • Shewa forces
    • 1 x Commander (Negus Negasti Menelik II)
    • 25 x Native Infantry units (Rifle-armed)
    • 3 x Native Cavalry units (Rifle-armed)
    • 2 x Native Artillery units
  • Semien forces
    • 1 x Commander (Itaghiè Taytu)
    • 3 x Native Infantry units (Rifle-armed)
    • 1 x Native Cavalry unit (Rifle-armed)
  • Gojjam forces
    • 1 x Commander (Negus Tekle Haymanot)
    • 5 x Native Infantry units (Rifle-armed)
  • Harar forces
    • 1 x Commander (Ras Makonnen)
    • 15 x Native Infantry units (Rifle-armed)
  • Tigray forces
    • 1 x Commander (Ras Mengesha)
    • 6 x Native Infantry units (Rifle-armed)
  • Hamasen forces
    • 1 x Commander (Ras Alula)
    • 6 x Native Infantry units (Rifle-armed)
  • Wollo-Galla forces
    • 1 x Commander (Ras Mikael)
    • 6 x Native Infantry units (Rifle-armed)
    • 5 x Native Cavalry units (Rifle-armed)
  • Forces of the Fit'awrari Mangascià Atikim
    • 1 x Commander (Fit'awrari Mangascià Atikim)
    • 6 x Native Infantry units (Rifle-armed)
  • Forces of Ras Oliè
    • 1 x Commander (Ras Oliè)
    • 8 x Native Infantry units
  • Miscellaneous
    • 20 x Native Infantry units (Spear-armed)
    Total:
    • 9 x Commanders
    • 80 x Native Infantry units (Rifle-armed)
    • 20 x Native Infantry units (Spear-armed)
    • 9 x Native Cavalry units (Rifle-armed)
    • 2 x Native Artillery units
At present I don't quite have enough figures to stage a re-fight of this battle ... but I might have one day!

I could scale down the forces involved by approximately a quarter, in which case I would have enough figures to re-fight the battle. If so, the two sides would look like this:

ITALIAN ARMY

  • 1 x Commander
  • 5 x European Infantry units
  • 1 x Native Infantry units
  • 1 x Mountain Artillery units
ETHIOPIAN ARMY
  • 2 x Commanders
  • 20 x Native Infantry units (Rifle-armed)
  • 5 x Native Infantry units (Spear-armed)
  • 3 x Native Cavalry units (Rifle-armed)
  • 1 x Native Artillery units
Although the balance of forces remains approximately the same, I am not sure that there are sufficient Italian units to represent the way in which the Italian columns were organised and operated separately from one another.

12 comments:

  1. Bob,
    Interesting Project- I did paint up 1/72nd Italians ( converted ESCI Zulu War British) and Abyssinians (Esci Muslims) to fight battles of 1896 in Ethiopia. It all worked well- the actual battle of Adowa was dissasterous for the Italians...I have an article on it - also discussing wargaming the Battle. Regards. KEV.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kev. Robertson.,

      I'm not sure if I'll ever get around to re-fighting this battle, but I enjoyed looking at its possibilities. I suspect that if I did I would have to use substitute figures from my collection rather than paint up a whole load of new figures.

      All the best,

      Bob

      Delete
    2. I have been following your blog for a few years now, I really enjoy how you have designed your rules. With the forces listed for Adowa how big of a grid would you have to have roughly to fight this battle?? With over 100 Ethiopian units it would have to be pretty substantial.

      Delete
    3. John Camp,

      Because of the nature of the battlefield, I would have thought that the 2-inch square grid would have had to have been at least 24 x 36 (i.e. 4' x 6') in order to accommodate the necessary terrain features and the figures for the full-scale version of the re-fight.

      A much smaller 18 x 24 grid - or even a 12 x 18 grid - of 2-inch squares (i.e. 3' x 4' or 2' x 3') would be about right for the quarter-scale re-fight, although I would tend to favour the larger of these two options myself.

      All the best,

      Bob

      Delete
  2. You might want to look into Mark Fastoso's excellent "Colonial Campaigns Ethiopia 1887-1895" as a resource in this area (available via Caliver Books). There are several "stand up" battles among the scenarios, and the background information is most handy. A fascinating (and overlooked) Colonial area.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ed M,

      Thanks very much for the extremely useful suggestion.

      The fact that the Ethiopians clashed with - and beat - the Mahdists is not well known, and yet it would be a very interesting conflict to recreate on the tabletop.

      All the best,

      Bob

      Delete
  3. Have you seen this, following on from their earlier Ascari game? http://www.aciesedizioni.it/Giochi/adowa-eng.htm

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nigel Drury,

      Thanks for the links. I wasn't aware of that game before.

      All the best,

      Bob

      Delete
  4. Did you have the earlier Ascari game? If not it is still available from http://www.hexasim.com/en/31-Acies .The four scenarios could easily be borrowed for other systems.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nigel Drury,

      Thanks for this second link. Thanks to you I have lots to think about!

      All the best,

      Bob

      Delete
  5. I've now ordered Adowa to go with Ascari that I had already. Remind me to let you know how it goes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nigel Drury,

      I look forward to hearing about it.

      All the best,

      Bob

      Delete