Tuesday 22 December 2015

A Christmas Cracker: Khoosh-Ab (1857), Anglo-Persian War!

As a Christmas treat for us, Mark conjured up a surprise scenario. He wouldn't give us any clue beforehand except to say it was set in the 19th century and that wagons were involved. When the curtain was raised, he revealed that it was the battle of Khoosh-Ab from the Anglo-Persian War of 1856-1857, so frankly we were none the wiser.

Normally for our BBB games both sides get a complete briefing so they know all about the enemy forces and victory conditions. But for Khoosh-Ab - as for his last year's excellent Magdala game - Mark kept us in the dark. Not only did we have incomplete information about the enemy. We also had internal rivalries, with each of the players having different personal objectives. Thus I was cast as General Foster Stalker, a competent professional primarily concerned with protecting the baggage train and preserving the army; and I (correctly) regarded my superior, Sir James Outram, as a dangerous hothead who would sacrifice lives unnecessarily in his quest for glory. On the opposing side, the Persian Prince Khanlar Mirza wanted to shepherd us towards the coast without taking too many risks; and was wary of betrayal by his untrustworthy ally / cavalry commander, who was primarily out for loot (and historically did turn coat later in the campaign).

 Starting positions and opening moves

The scenario began with some Persian harassment of the British square during the night. This was simulated by volleys of Christmas crackers! Party hats and bad jokes disrupted some wagons and drew one British unit out of position chasing snipers and deceptive bugle calls. Sir James fell off his horse and banged his head. When he recovered, the Persian army was revealed in full array.

Sir James was gung-ho to strike the enemy's left flank. I managed to persuade him to aim for their right, ostensibly on the grounds it was closer, but in fact so I could keep the wagons and us nearer to our escape route to the coast. We soon shook out into line. Our Persian foes were rather less organised and marched in various directions or not at all.

This presented us with an opportunity for a massed attack on one isolated and disrupted Persian regiment on our left. We charged forward, only to discover a hidden wadi or donga, teeming with Persian skirmishers whose galling fire stopped our gallant redcoats in their tracks. A bloody firefight ensued in which Persian artillery also participated. We lost the Highlanders and our left wing was forced to fall back on the wagons.

Meanwhile all had not gone well on our right either. The superior quality of our cavalry was not enough to compensate for the sheer number of Persian horsemen, who overran our cavalry and the supporting horse artillery. A Persian threat was finally developing in the centre as well.

The obvious course of action to me was to circle the wagons by the Bushehr exit, and to draw in my regiments around them, which I did. Meanwhile the obvious course of action to Sir James was to charge the enemy centre, smash aside two Persian regiments which had been softened up by our artillery, and carry the Persian gun position on the hill.

Our force was thus divided in two. I now had the Persian Guards charging at me from one direction, and a huge mob of cavalry approaching from the other. I called the Bashkir brigands' bluff by advancing my sepoys to musket range, whereupon the enemy cavalry fell back to a safe distance. The 64th formed up in depth to meet the Persian Guards' onslaught, and by the tightest of die rolls managed to repulse them. The baggage was saved, and with it the game.