Once again I have allowed myself to become pleasantly sidetracked by a large bout of 'Ooh, shiny' heralded by the imminent arrival of a cheap paperback edition of the late Richard Holmes's 'Riding the Retreat' - his journey by horseback along the route taken by the B.E.F in 1914 as it retreated from Mons to the Marne, accompanied by some friends and mounted upon Thatch, the horse that ate Europe.
This is a splendid book combining as it does a rattling good travelogue interspersed with military history as only Brig. Holmes could write. It prompted numerous games between Mr. Fox and myself a number of years ago using his old 15mm WW1 collection and try as we might, our respective constitutions were never able to replicate the good Brigadiers liquid intake....;-) Even if the Great War is not your thing I urge you give this book a go as it is a thoroughly entertaining and informative read.
The action I am about to describe is loosely based upon what seemed to be the daily routine for the soldiers of the B.E.F - that of a sketchy rearguard facing overwhelming odds and being used to delay and take the sting out of the enemy attack. The rules I shall be using will be Bob Cordery's Big Battle Portable Wargame 19th century set which are designed with hexes in mind so once again the Hexon terrain will be coming out and I shall be fighting on a 13 x 9 playing area.
The British Forces are heavily outnumbered and will have no chance of defeating the German onslaught outright - however, they will be able to blunt the attack to a degree and inflict telling damage as they fall back. In the end though, the German offensive will continue and so this game is very much in the nature of a test of character - think of it as a World War One equivalent of the Star Trek Kobiyashi Maru scenario....;-)
1 x Commander (Colonel Max Wellhouse)
3 x 4 Infantry
1 x 3 Cavalry
1 x 2 Machine Gun
1 x 2 Field Artillery
Strength Points: 20 - Exhaustion Level 12. All British units are treated as Elite.
1 x Commander (General Wilhelm Von Der Vall)
8 x 4 Infantry
2 x 3 Cavalry
2 x 2 Machine Gun
3 x 2 Field Artillery
Strength Points 49 - Exhaustion Level 19
Special Rules: Scenario length is 8 turns by which time the Germans must have more troops within the rear three hex rows of the British position than the British in order to claim a victory.
Somewhere in Belgium, 1914, on the road to the French Border....
Colonel Wellhouse surveyed his small force with a professional eye and, all things being equal, was well satisfied with the positioning of his troops. It was a small force, far smaller than the circumstances warranted, but even so, it should be more than sufficient to give the Hun a bloody nose should the need arise. Thus far it had been a succession of brutal firefights and marching, endless marching as they fell back in line with the French. The men were tired and hungry but in good spirits although there was now far fewer of them. They were thinly spread to be sure but the Colonel knew they would not have to hold for long. I fact they did not have to hold at all, merely delay until the next set of orders arrived.
The Colonel surveyed the horizon and then checked his pocket watch. They, the Germans, were late this morning which meant a momentary respite - a respite from shells, bullets, death and horror. Every hour without the 'morning hate' was welcome and so, for the time being anyway, the morning sunshine, ordinarily the precursor to untold and abject misery and suffering, was a pleasant diversion.
General Wilhelm Von Der Vall was eager to be off. His orders were clear and the weariness of his men would have to be ignored for another couple of days - the advance must continue. He had been harrying the British for days and the pattern was almost a routine - their murderous machine gun fire had decimated his units but always they pushed on and around the flanks so that they continued to drive them from one position back to the next. It was a question of willpower, of survival, of who would last longest, and he had no doubt that the next attack would be more successful than the last (the self same thought he had the day before and the day before that....). It should be easy - this 'Contemptible Little Army' he faced was proving to be anything but - but his forces were paying the dearest price for every metre of ground they gained. He looked over the tranquil countryside ahead of him and with a silent prayer, a prayer that the British were not ahead of him, he issued the orders to resume the advance.