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The Storming of Ali Masjid, 1897


Queen Victoria’s Little Wars, The Men Who Would Be Kings, 28mm

This week we were off to the Khyber Pass, for a small skirmish game set in the North-West Frontier. This involved a British attack on a fort, Ali Masjid, which had recently been overrun by the Afridis in a surprise attack. In fact all of the forts in the pass had been lost. Now, a British expedition had recaptured Jamrud and Fort Maude, further down the Khyber Pass, and the word was, Fort Ali Masjid five miles further on was just lightly held by the local Khuki Khel Afridis. So, Col. Bell was sent forward with a small force, with orders to take the fort. The game was played out on a 6×4 table, with the Imperial forces commanded by Sean, and the Afridis by Gyles. I sort of umpired.In terms of The Men Who Would Be Kings, Sean had 24 points to spent, which he used to raise two detachments of 12 regular foot (one of Highlanders, the other of Sikhs), backed up by a detachment of 8 Bengal Lancers, and a Sikh-crewed gun battery. For his part Gyles opted for quantity over quality for his 20 points, with three units of 12 poorly-armed irregular foot, a unit of irregular cavalry, and a poorly-drilled gun crew and captured mountain gun, which was placed on the roof of the fort. The other Afridis were scattered around on his third of the table. Sean had to come on along one of the shorter edges – the southern one, while the fort lay near the opposite end of the table. In between were two small villages, and a hill with rocky sangars, along with a small wood or two. We didn’t show the precipitous slopes of the Kyber Pass on either side of the table – as they were impassable we merely decreed that nobody could move off either long table edge.In fact on the eastern side there was an impassable gorge just off the table edge, and the slopes rose up on the far side of it. Thinking about it, what we might have done was to let the Afridis deploy units off the table, who could snipe from the heights, but I didn’t think of that at the time. Perhaps we’ll try that for our next game. Anyway, the fight began with Sean advancing onto the table, his gun deploying just past the southern table edge, in the middle of the table. the two infantry units deployed to the right, in front of the village of Ali Masjid, while the lancers appeared beside the gun. So, it was clear he was trying to reach the fort by advancing up his right flank – the eastern side of the table.Their appearance took the Afridis by surprise, and so Gyles had to move forward to occupy the village, and the sangars on the hill. This would take him a couple of turns, and so to buy time he decided to use his cavalry to stage a demonstration in the centre of the table. By this time the Sikhs were approaching the southern edge of the village, and the Afridis the northern edge. However, the Highlanders had deployed in a line on its south-western corner, to cover the centre of the table. So, inevitably, the Afridi cavalry became a juicy target. At first they only lost one man to British fire, but Gyles doubled down and kept advancing. One of the most entertaining things about these rules is the way each unit has its own leader, who often stamps his character on the game. In the case of the Afridi cavalry, this was Karzhi Khan, who was rated as “yellow-bellied” – he wouldn’t lead a charge. So, when he failed his activation the cavalry just sat there, getting shot at by the Highlanders. Eventually they were shot away completely. Back in the village, another bunch of failed activation had left the Afridis stuck on its northern fringe, holding on to just one building. So, the Sikhs charged them, and drove them from the building at bayonet point. The survivors were promptly gunned down as they tried to regroup a short distance away. By that the second Afridi infantry unit was getting into trouble. It was deployed in a crop field, but their obsolete rifles didn’t have the range to take on the Highlanders. So again, they suffered heavy casualties and fell back.By now it was clear that Imperial side were getting the upper handy. Over on the defender’s right was that low hill with sangars. it had been occupied by Mohammed has Bin and his men, but now, with the Bengal Lancers moving forward down the centre of the table, and the Sikhs on the far side, it looked like the fort would fall. So, they fell back towards it, to form a last line of defence.That was when the Afridi gun crew finally scored a hit. They’d been trying all game, but its gunner, Kurma Khan was rated as “Hapless”, and needed 10 or more on 2D6 to activate. He kept failing – until now. He blasted away at the Bengal Lancers, causing two casualties. They’d lost one earlier, from a last ditch carbine volley  from the Afridi horsemen. Then, amazingly, they repeated the trick the next turn. The lancers ignored them, to run down the two infantry survivors in the crop field, and then the two behind the village. By now though, there was just three of them left. they tried charging the one remaining unit of Afridi foot, but has Bin’s men gunned them down. It was a sweet moment for the local team, but their triumph was short-lived. Those Highlanders had moved up, and forming another firing line in the crop field they blazed away. the last Afridi unit was mown down, leaving the way open to the fort. So now, all that was left was to storm up the steps, blast open the gates and win back the fort. It was the Sikhs who led the attack, supported by the mountain gun who had been having its own motivational problems throughout the game. Now it was on fine form, and pinned its Afridi counterpart on the roof of the fort. That left the way clear for the Sikhs to do their deed of derring-do.This they did with great aplomb. With nothing left to fight with apart from his pinned gun crew, the tribal leader Khuki Khan fled down the back steps of the fort as the Sikhs stormed in through the front gates. The gunners were swiftly overwhelmed, and moments later the Union Jack was flying once again from the top  of Fort Ali Masjid. It was a fun little game, and took just under two and a half hours to fight to a conclusion. Everyone enjoyed themselves, and as usual the rules worked like a charm.

 

 

 

 

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