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Assault on Bokhara, 1920


The Back of Beyond, Setting the East Ablaze, 28mm

We have a big “Back of Beyond” weekend coming up, and a few of the guys wanted a bit more practice with the rules. This included Campbell Hardie, the man I hired out my Bokharans to in exchange for a bottle of Tanqueray. That was a result. Anyway, to keep this splendid chap happy I promised to run a game based on the “Setting the East Ablaze” scenario book. It featured a half-hearted attack on Bokhara by a motley force of local Turkestan Red Guards, supported by a detachment of Cheka, artillery and – joy of joys – an aeroplane.The Emir of Bokhara divided his forces in two. The armed populace (with more guns per capita than the average American township) guarded the walls of Bokhara, backed up by a couple of obsolete field guns, while the Bokharan field army led by two red-jacketed Guards units deployed behind a dried-up river bed. Campbell and Bart played the Bokharans, while Ray and I played the part of the good Comrades.We weren’t going to be suckered into an assault on the walls of Bokhara, but we shelled it, and managed to knock out a field gun mounted over the city gate. Seeing this, Campbell sent forward a host of 20 tribal cavalry, who charged the Russian guns. This didn’t work at Balaclava and it didn’t work here. The Basmachi horsemen were cut to pieces by a combination of modern shrapnel, rifle and machine gun fire and even a strafing run by our Sopwith biplane. The same plane went on to strafe and bomb the city walls, and landed its bombs smack on the remaining field gun. It was knocked out, but then – amazingly – the tribesmen on the walls managed to hit the plane with their single-shot jezails. It exited off the table streaming smoke, and it wouldn’t return. That certainly wasn’t in the script!Bart is a Pole, and therefore likes suicidal cavalry charges. However, these, backed up by his lucky orange die can be a battle-winning combination. It certainly was here – at least for a bit. The Red Guards were supported by a unit of ex-Austrian prisoners of war, given a gun and told to fight for Mother Russia in return for a train ticket home. They’s got as far as the dried-up river bed opposite the Bokharan left flank when they were charged, but this cover didn’t save them. Bart’s Turcoman Guard Cossacks just charged into the river bed and rode them down. The problem though, came when Bart tired to charge out the other side. The Cossacks were hit by rifle and machine gun fire, and the unit eventually melted away, after becoming pinned, in the open, under heavy fire.This all seemed to be going fairly well, despite the loss of the plane and the Austrians. Ray pinned down the fez-wearing Turkestan unit of the Bokharan Guard, and after a fairly lengthy firefight the unit was bested by the Red Guard. This though, was a game where troop quality was pretty low all round, and the Bolsheviks – militia really – were pinned and disordered, and stayed that way for the rest of the game. Ray had a unit of Red cavalry in reserve, but sensibly kept it that way throughout the game. He would have launched the semi-obligatory last turn suicide charge, only when the time came he forgot they were there.On my side of the table my two field guns kept pounding away, blowing the city gate, and showering the ancient walls with shells. Unfortunately dug-in tribesmen behind cover are a hard target to deal with, and so for most of the game this shelling proved singularly ineffective. My unit of black leather-coated Cheka did better, firing at long range at Basmachi militia.This was all too necessary after a second unit of  Red Guard militia advanced as far as the dried-up river bed, and got pinned there. They were gradually shot to pieces, despite the arrival of a Commissar, who neck-shot the odd survivor to bolster the troops’ morale.  That’s him below, with the megaphone and the Tokarev.So, the great Bolshevik drive on Bokhara fizzled out. Our objective was to defeat the Bokharan field Army, and if possible  -to achieve a decisive win – to storm the city itself. We didn’t really have the troops to storm anything, especially as we knew the city was teeming with armed tribesmen. As for the Bokharan army, we knocked out a few units, and they knocked out a few of ours, but it was still in the field when the game ended. So, the game ended in a well-deserved Bokharan win.  There’s another scenario in the book, and in that one the Bolsheviks turn up with a larger and much more professional army. Ray and I look forward to playing that one, so we can exact our revenge!

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