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Ambush in the Tirah Valley, 1898


Queen Victoria’s Little Wars, The Men who would be Kings, 28mm

This week, by popular demand, we transported ourselves to the North-West Frontier of the British Raj, for another encounter between the British Empire and the wily Pathans. This was an ambush scenario, with the British column plodding its way up the Tirah valley, only to run into a bunch of waiting tribesmen, all armed with jezails, tulwars and fearsome beards.The table represented a small part of the valley, with a nullah – a dried-up river, a few hills and fir trees and a small farm. At the far end was a watch tower, where the Wazir of tirah watched the British, and gave the signal to spring the trap.The British field force consisted of four units – two of Sikhs, one of Highlanders (all with 12 figures), and one last one of 8 Bengal Lancers. That amounted to 24 points. The game began with them strung out in March column in the middle of our 6×4′ table. Campbell and “MDF” Michael ran the British.The Pathans outnumbered them, with 32 points. That earned them six irregular units armed with obsolete rifles (each with 12 men), and two 10 figures units of tribal cavalry. They were played by Derek and Bart, who got to go first. All I did was to drink beer and umpire from the sidelines, egged on by Jack, who offered rules advice to anyone who wanted it.The ambush erupted from the get-go, with ragged long-range rifle fire peppering the British force, without much effect. Before the game began both sides had rolled for their unit leaders, and most were particularly useless. This was particularly so for the Pathans, who found many of their units failed to activate, and so did little or nothing for large swathes of the game. The British were a little better, and began returning fire a little more effectively than their assailants.Then, Bart unleashed his tribal cavalry. Their poor leadership ratings meant they couldn’t launch a massed Napoleonic-style charge, but one unit managed to charge in against the Field Force’s leading unit of Sikhs. The horsemen were repulsed, but the next turn they went in again, and chopped up  few more infantryman before being driven off a second time, then destroyed by rifle fire. Bart’s second cavalry unit fared a little better, and saw off the remaining Sikhs before it too was forced to retire, after being reduced to just three men.Meanwhile one of Derek’s Pathan units was driven off a hill and then off the table by rifle fire from the Highlanders, and then the commanding hilltop position was taken by the remaining unit of Sikhs. That left the Highlanders still out in the open though, and they soon began taking fire from all sides.They fired back as best they could, but the men in kilts kept falling, and eventually the four survivors beat a hasty retreat. That left the splendid-looking Bengal Lancers. They trotted forward in support, only to be promptly shot to bits by the Pathan rifles.So, that’s where we ended the game. The British had one unit left, still in pretty good shape in their hilltop, but the second Sikh unit had been slaughtered, the remnants of the Highlanders were running away, and the Bengal Lancers were down to one man. So, after some discussion on how the victory points worked, the Pathans were declared the victors. I’m sure though, that the British will be returning to the valley some time soon. The rules worked well once we got our heads round them, and everyone seemed to enjoy their evening’s foray into the North-West Frontier.

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About Angus

Angus Konstam is an author and historian he also plays wargames with historical miniatures. Yup, that’s little toy soldiers to you!