Thursday, 1 August 2013

Incident at the Kybosh Pass: Trouble on the North West Frontier

Chapter 1 – The Grand Council of the Gaziris meets
For years the tribesmen of the Chindian North West Frontier had fought the British for control of the vital passes between British Chindia and Gaziristan. However the tribes lacked two things that would assure them of victory – a desire to co-operate with one another and (more importantly) artillery.

Chief Mohamed Bashir Khan of the Bathani had a deep hatred of the British. His father, Chief Ahmed Bashir Khan, had been killed by the British during a punitive expedition against the Bathanis when Mohamed was a child. At the instigation of the Viceroy of Chindia, Mohamed was sent to a English public school. This was done in the hope that he would receive the sort of education that would prepare him to rule his tribe in peaceful coexistence with British Chindia. On leaving school Mohamed went to Oxford, where he rowed for his college and achieved a First in History. He then returned to Gaziristan, where he became an even bigger thorn in the side of the British rulers of Chindia than his father had ever been.

Mohamed realised that the tribes had to work together if they were to stand any chance of defeating the British and ensuring the long-term independence of Gaziristan. For many years he encouraged the other tribal leaders to put aside their differences – and their blood feuds – in the hope that they would combine their forces. Only then could they be assured of achieving such a resounding victory that the British would leave Gaziristan alone.

Eventually Mohamed persuaded the Chiefs of all the major tribes to meet in Durbal, the capital of Gaziristan. Such a meeting of the Great Council had not happened in living memory, and it was marked by numerous feasts and visits to the mosques for prayers. After seven days of ceremonies the Great Council called upon Mohamed to lead the tribes against the hated British and their Chindian lap-dogs. However some of the older chiefs ensured that the Jihad – for it had been proclaimed as such by the Grand Mullah of Durbal – would only be declared after Mohamed had shown that he was worthy of the task he had been set. His worth was to be demonstrated by him personally leading an attack on Fort Chunderbad, which controlled the Chindian end of the Kybosh Pass.

Chapter 2 – Mohamed Bashir Khan buys some artillery
Mohamed realised that an attack on Fort Chunderbad would fail – along with his plans for a Jihad against the British – without artillery. His tribe possessed plenty of firepower in the form of captured and copied firearms, but it owned no cannon. He therefore decided to buy some artillery. Mohamed called together the chieftains of the clans that made up the Bathani tribe (the Munir Khel, the Kybosh Khel, and the Jakzi Khel), and after considerable persuasion – and some threats – a large amount of gold and silver was gathered for the purpose of buying at least one cannon and a supply of ammunition and powder.

This information soon reached the ears of Colonel Nicolai Rippoff, an arms dealer and agent of the Russian Army's Intelligence Service. He knew that his political masters would be only too willing to support any threat to British Chindia. As a result Rippoff sent a message to Mohamed Bashir Khan by trusted courier, and offered to supply him with two field guns, 500 rounds of ammunition, and a large supply of gunpowder. Mohamed arranged to meet Rippoff at the Russian Legation in Durbal, and after some lengthy negotiations and price and delivery date were agreed. Rippoff also offered to train some of Mohamed's most trusted men in the arts of gunnery, but only on the strict understanding that he would not himself take part in any fighting. Mohamed readily agreed to this and several weeks later Rippoff and his 'merchandise' arrived in the main town of the Bathani tribal area.

It did not take Rippoff very long to teach Mohamed's gunners how to use their newly delivered cannon. The weapons were smooth bore relics of the Crimean War, and functioned almost exactly like larger versions of the Bathanis' own jezails. What the cannons lacked in range and accuracy they more than made up for in hitting power, for the twelve pound shot that Rippoff supplied proved capable of demolishing mud brick walls with great ease.

Having completed his side of the deal Rippoff returned to Durbal a much richer man, for both the Bathanis and his political masters had paid him well for the work he had done. He settled down in the Russian Legation for a few weeks of well earned rest whilst he awaited news of events on the Gaziristan-Chindian border.

Chapter 3 – Sir Hector Boleyn-Green takes command
The information that Chief Mohamed Bashir Khan was trying to buy cannon also reached the ears of the Political Service in British Chindia. Their agents in Gaziristan kept them fully aware of events, and within days of Colonel Rippoff's offer being accepted by Mohamed, Sir Hector Boleyn-Green – the senior military commander on Chindia's North West Frontier – had travelled to Fort Chunderbad from the Province's capital. He wanted to see at first hand how things stood on the frontier, and the situation that he found caused him considerable disquiet.

Recent decisions by the Viceroy – made without consultation with his military advisers – had led to the withdrawal of many troops from the North West Frontier. In particular all the Royal Artillery Field Batteries formerly stationed there had been reassigned to other garrisons, as had most of the Mountain Gun Batteries. Their place had been taken by Gatling Gun detachments drawn from Infantry Regiments serving throughout Chindia. This meant that the British would not be able to rely upon the overwhelming firepower of their artillery – both in terms of range and the devastating effect of their Shrapnel shells – to beat off any attackers.

Sir Hector realised that the situation on the frontier was dangerous and that the Bathanis were likely to attack in the very near future, and having sent a series of urgent despatches to the Viceroy ...

... and the Commander-in-Chief of British Forces in Chindia, he took command of Fort Chunderbad's garrison. This was made up of the MacBean Highlanders and a Gatling Gun detachment from the Yorkshire Fusiliers.

Chapter 4 – The Bathanis attack Fort Chunderbad
Sir Hector's prediction that trouble would erupt soon came true. After they had been personally addressed by the Grand Mullah of Durbal, the Bathani clansmen – who were drawn from the Munir Khel, Teseri, and Kebiri clans – were determined to destroy the infidels who despoiled Gaziristan by their mere presence on its frontier. Led by Chief Mohamed Bashir Khan and accompanied by the two newly acquired cannons and their crews, the Bathanis advanced down the Kybosh Pass.

The Bathanis moved forward on a broad front, using the broken ground of the Pass to conceal their advance.

Although the garrison of the fort were unaware that they might be about to be attacked, Sir Hector was a cautious commander and ordered them to 'stand to' at first light.

The Bathanis moved closer ...

... and closer ...

... until they were in a position for their artillery to open fire.

Sir Hector immediately realised that only the Gatling Gun detachment could engage the Bathani artillery at the range at which they were firing. He immediately ordered the Gatling Gun to be deployed, and took personal command to ensure that its fire was as effective as possible.

The effect on the attackers was immediate. Although the Gatling Gun did little to stop the Bathani artillery from slowly but surely hitting the fort and its defenders, it did cause considerable casualties to the members of the Munir Khel Clan.

Within a very short time the Munir Khel had suffered 50% casualties (including their Clan Chieftain), and having decided that self-preservation was more important than tribal loyalty, they withdrew.

Chapter 5 – The British withdraw
This sudden withdrawal might well have caused the other Bathanis to lose heart, but by this time they had caused sufficient casualties amongst the defenders – including the entire Gatling Gun crew – that Sir Hector had already ordered the survivors to retreat.

In keeping with his reputation for personal bravery and leadership, Sir Hector personally covered the garrison's retreat by continuing to fire the Gatling Gun until the survivors had made good their escape. He then destroyed the Gun's firing mechanism, and calmly followed his command to safety.

All that remained for the Kybosh Khel ...

... and the Jakzi Khel to do was to enter the damaged fort and loot whatever remained therein.

Mohamed Bashir Khan remained aloof from the looting, and contemplated what destruction his newly acquired artillery might reap on the infidels when they returned to the fort ... as undoubtedly they would do so.

Modelling Notes
The troops featured in the photographs are 15mm-scale Essex Miniatures and Irregular Miniatures figures. The cannon are Irregular Miniatures and the Gatling Gun is a very old Peter Laing model. The terrain is made from two 2' x 2' terrain squares laid side by side, and the terrain features are all home-made from plywood, balsa wood, cork tiles, white glue, Sandtex matt masonry paint, and fine sand.

The rules used were Heroes of Victoria's Empire (HoVE).

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