Above is a pic of Lt. Colonel James Galbraith, Regimental Colour in hand, alongside Bobbie the regimental dog and some of the other "Last Eleven" survivors of the 66th (Berkshire) Regiment, making their last stand in one of the walled gardens just South of Khig village, a few miles West of the Afghan town of Maiwand.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Bala Hissar or Bust! (preliminaries)

A few years ago I did a post here showing a handful of conversions I did to create figures for the Winter of 1841-42, to refight the Retreat from Kabul and Last Stand at Gandamak/Jugduluk in an ALTERNATE HISTORY What-If? style, with the premise that on Christmas Eve 1841, in the midst of the freezing Afghan Winter, Lord Elphinstone and Colonel Shelton had listened to the younger, more intelligent and energetic officers on their staff, such as Eldred Pottinger and Colin Mackenzie, and chosen to try and fight their from their contonments to the Bala Hissar fortress, located about 1.5 miles away, rather than accepting the Afghans' promise of "Safe Passage" to the border of British India, about 90 miles away.

In case you're interested in reading it, here's a LINK:


At the time the British left their Cantonments, the Bala Hissar was still occupied by forces loyal to their puppet, Shah Sujah, who had pleaded for weeks for them to join him there in his fortress.

The path to the Bala Hissar was filled with enemy forces and would have required at least some street-fighting within the walled city of Kabul, but the British and Indian army still numbered 4,500 men, and included several batteries of Mountain and Horse artillery, 2 regiments of cavalry, and a good supply of ammunition.

The biggest problem for the British was the character of their senior leaders, who were individually flawed but when combined added up to the closest thing to a purely dysfunctional command in the entire history of the British military.  But again, the premise for this game removes that issue, positing the senior leaders had accepted the idea of attempting to FIGHT THEIR WAY to the fortress.

I still don't have enough converted British figures for this game, but recently, Studio Miniatures started a Kickstarter campaign for First Afghan War figures, including British troops in Winter greatcoats, which would be perfect for this particular scenario.  Having already bought a bunch of old Foundry ACW Union Inf. in Greatcoats and 1840s British in bell-topped shakos, I did not join in the Kickstarter campaign, but if those figures become commercially available, I will probably find myself buying some anyway.

The Studio Minis Kickstarter brought this scenario back to my mind, which it had never really left, and, despite not having enough British or Indian troops in the proper uniform, I set it up on my table anyway, with the idea of substituting c.1880 troops for the c.1840 ones which should be used.  The Afghan tribesmen will be the same, though I may also try to raise a few units of Shah Sujah's "Jezailchis" in semi-regular dress, to man the ramparts of the Bala Hissar and -- if the Brits manage to get close to the fortress -- go their aid outside the gate and in the nearby streets of the city.

Luckily there is a detailed map of the cantonments, the grounds outside the city walls, the Bala Hissar, and the much of Kabul itself, drawn by a British officer who was present, and seen here:

I used this map as my guide in setting up the table.  Needless to say, I just used terrain items I had on hand, without any purpose-built buildings, using a very nice old 20mm scale fortres I bought years ago on eBay to stand-in for the Bala Hissar, and various other bits and pieces for everything else.  At the very least I will build an additional gateway for the city that fits in better with the rest of the walls, repaint the "temperate" bridge or build another that fits the surroundings better, replace the tower and building with red tile roofs, and possibly replace the tents with more appropriate barracks bldgs. for the British Cantonments, but for now I think it looks pretty good.  Luckily I was able to use my river boards as the Kabul River and some of my canal pieces for the attached Canal, which run down down the center of the table.

I didn't cover the table with SNOW, but plan to do that as well, and hopefully create some ICE effects for the surface of the river and maybe the canal as well.

Here's some pics:

View from the North, with the walls of Kabul at the opposite table end...

With my son back from college for Winter break, I'm hoping to get in at least one game on this set-up, with the Brits doing all they can to fight their way diagonally across the table.  The layout is only 8'x6', so it should not be terribly difficult, though it certainly won't be easy either.  I have come up with a simple but hopefully effective way to incorporate the chaotic effect of having 12,000 camp followers present alongside the Anglo-Indian army.  I'll write about it after at least one game, so I'll have some idea how well or not it worked in practice.  I plan to play this game using straight 20th Anniversary TSATF rules, without any of my 800 Fighting Englishmen amendments.  Meantime, to all those who celebrate the approaching holiday, I wish you a very Merry Christmas, and to everyone a very Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Some Afghan & British CONVERSIONS

A few years ago I did a bunch of conversions of British, Indian and Afghan figures.  I enjoyed the process a lot and the figures turned out pretty well, providing me with some very particular and at the time hard-to-find troop-types and characters, most of which were based on historical individuals and troop types related to the July 1880 battle of Maiwand.

Over the last couple of years, while researching the October 1879 battle of Charasiab, I came up with a few new ideas for figure conversions, most of which were directly related to the battle, but a couple inspired by a piece of literary fiction.  But all my available Hobby time was spent working on the terrain, army lists, and scenario details for the Charasiab game.

Having play-tested the game a few times and played it through almost to the very end at the Colonial Barracks V convention, I was finally able to get around to actually doing these long-postponed figure conversions, and I'm happy to say I think they've all turned out pretty good.

The "literary fiction" driven conversions are a pair of DRUMMER-BOYS who I did my best to turn into Jakin and Piggy Lew, the lead characters in Rudyard Kipling's short story, "The Drums of the Fore and Aft" (CLICK HERE TO READ A FREE ONLINE COPY).

The Drums of the Fore and Aft has been one of my favorite short-stories since first reading it as a 9 or 10 year-old boy.  A few years later I read about it again -- I believe in the early 1980s -- in an article on the Second Afghan War battle of Ahmed Khel.  The article said the fictional battle that serves as the climactic finale of the Kipling story, was actually based on the behavior of the 59th Regt. of Foot during the battle, at which the relatively young and inexperienced 59th Regt. had nearly broken when attacked by the Afghans.

Rereading the story a couple of decades later, I realized the fictional version contains elements from at least three real Second Afghan War battles:

-the 59th wavering, giving ground and almost breaking at Ahmed Khel, being "saved" by their fellow regiments -- particularly the 2nd Sikhs and 3rd Gurkhas;

-the 66th (Berkshires) breaking and running for real at Maiwand;

-Major George Stewart White dispatching two companies of the 92nd Highlanders from his right-flank attack to aid Brigadier Baker in the center at Charasiab.

These three moments from the three different battles can all be found in Drums of the Fore and Aft, but of course they do not include the single greatest moment from the story -- the moment when drummer-boys Akin & Lew, alone on the battlefield after their band and the rest of the entire regiment has broken and run in the face of the enemy, pick up a fife and a drum and -- emboldened by a sip from an abandoned canteen full of rum -- march straight at the Afghan army while fifing and drumming, "The British Grenadier."

I won't give away the ending, in case anyone reading this has never read the story -- which may be unlikely, but still... better safe than sorry!

The connection between the Kipling story and real Second Afghan War history came to my mind a a couple of years ago while searching for figures online, when I somehow discovered a pair of beautifully-sculpted miniatures from the Spartan Games "Dystopian Legions" range, labelled "Musician, Kingdom of Britannia."

The two drummer-boy figures (despite being titled "Musician" the box actually includes 2 different minis) had a ton of character, and luckily for my historically-inclined self, only a touch of dystopian Steampunk style.

I decided to use the two drummer-boys as key figures in a game inspired by the battle at the end of the Kipling story, which features a small brigade of Gurkha, Highlander, and British Infantry battalions, a unit of Bengal Lancer, and a battery of Indian screw-guns, taking the field against an entrenched regular army, obviously based on that of c.1880 Afghanistan, supplemented by masses of Tribesmen and Ghazi fanatics.

There was only one catch: in the story, and in the handful of visual artworks it's inspired over the past hundred-plus years, one boy plays a drum and the other a fife.  But the two "Britannia" boy musicians both come with drums.  Hmmm.  What to do, what to do.  Of course, it would be simple enough to field two drummer-boys for a battle inspired by a story the name of which literally is, The DRUMS of the Fore and Aft, and yet... it seemed a bit lame to me.  So I went and looked for 28mm fifers, who could perhaps provide a solution to my "instrument" problem.  The "Dystopian Legions" drummer-boy figures are actually closer to 32mm in size, so I focused my search on larger 28mm fifers.

I lucked out with Eureka's SYW range, finding a couple of possibilities, an Austrian and a Prussian fifer, and ordering both from Eureka USA, who shipped them to me faster than any company ever shipped figures to me before.

Carving away the big drum was a chore, but in the end I think the conversion turned out pretty well.  Not perfect, but still nice enough for everyone who looks at the figure to know he's meant to be a boy in uniform playing a fife.

In order to match the look of the above painting of Jakin and Lew, from the story which I really like, I replaced one of their heads -- which was adorned with a slightly fanciful peaked forage cap -- with a bare head from my spare parts collection.  Luckily for me, though not sculpted to be a boy of 12 or 13, the bare head sculpt looks pretty youthful, so I think it worked as well.



In a more purely historical mode, my research into the battle of Charasiab left me wanting to field a figure of the Afghan Amir, Yaqub Khan, seated in General Roberts' camp, with a 92nd Highlander "honor guard" AKA: jailer.

The day before the battle the Amir rode into General Roberts' camp, claiming -- despite evidence to the contrary -- to be an ally of the British Empire.  Yaqub Khan remained there as a "guest" AKA: prisoner of the General throughout the battle, during which the Afghan army was under the direct command of his Uncle, Sardar Nek Muhammad, who had visited the British camp to confer with him just the day before.

If I wanted to include some really whacky "Military Possibilities" in my Charasiab scenario, I could allow for Yaqub Khan and his entourage to attempt to sabotage the British HQ from within and signal the Tribesmen in the nearby high ground to attack it and set him free... or I could simply use him as another historically-interesting detail on the table-top.

I almost used a Wargames Foundry FPW Napoleon III figure, seated on a bench, with his head in his hands, and I may yet do a version with that figure, but I settled on using a Prussian General instead, an older senior commander sitting in a chair, smoking a pipe.  I removed his head and his hand with the pipe in it, and replaced them with a spare Afghan regular army head wearing the same style fur cap as Yaqub Khan himself wears in several photographs from the time (in fact the Prussian General's uniform is a good match for that of the Afghan Amir!) and replaced the hand with an open one from a Foundry Darkest Africa Explorer, into which I then glued an appropriate style sword I had cut from another figure, using it as a sheathed blade which the seated Amir is holding between his legs, in the same fashion which he does so in several photos.

I used the typical Xacto blades, fine files, clippers and tweezers, and "Slo-Zap" longer-drying super-glue, which allows 20-30 seconds before setting, making it possible to adjust the final position of a piee before it locks in place forever.  Though I still use less-expensive Krazy-Glue for some hobby jobs, I am a big fan of Slo-Zap.

Here's some pics of both the real Yaqub Khan and my humble miniature version:

And finally, with his Highland honor guard/prison guards...

I also did a couple of more modest conversions, an Afghan regular army Orderly from Yaqub Khan's entourage, and a Herati Turcoman regular army Drummer.  The Orderly was made with an Afghan fur cap head and an Afghan regular artillery crewman body, the Drummer from a Mutineer Miniatures drummer from the Mutineers command pack and a spare Turcoman head...

Last but far from least, what must be the most sublimely ridiculous conversion I've ever done, for which I ordered 4 new figures, each earmarked to contribute a portion of their little metal self.  The objetive was to recreate a figure in an illustration from the war, sketched while the British were first occupying Kabul after winning the battle of Charasiab, and held court martials and executions for Afghans thought to have participated in the massacre of Cavagnari and his escort.  In addition, the occassional visiting tribesman or Ghazi would launch attacks on British and Indian troops on the streets of the city, and if not killed during the course of the action, would then be executed.

This cover illustration of THE GRAPHIC shows two such ill-fated Afghans being "Led to Execution at Kabul," by soldiers of the 92nd Highlanders, as their officer looks on, standing beside what presumably is a British Army chaplain, dressed in black, with a walking stick in one hand and an open pocket-watch ticking down the last minutes of the two Afghan prisoners' lives, as seen here below:

Since discovering this image a few years ago, I've wanted to recreate it with figures.  I bought a handful of old Perry-sculpted Wargames Foundry NWF marching Highlanders, and I already had the perfect Highlander officer courtesy the Perry Miniatures Sudan range Black Watch officer standing in almost the identical pose to that of the officer in the picture.  All that remained -- aside from the Afghan prisoners, who I was confident I could recreate with some Foundry marching Indian matchlock figures -- was the Chaplain.

I looked around online for Victorian and/or Old West civilian figures to use, but most all of the ones with walking sticks held them in their right hands, and for some reason most all the ones with pocket watches held them in their left hands.  Finally I got my hands on a collection of those old Foundry Victorian and Old West civlians which I thought could work -- one for the body, one for the hat, one for the left arm with the walking stick... but there was still one problem: they were all too small.  Placed beside the Perry Highland officer, they were physically inferior, which just didn't work with the whole point and feel of the image, at least for me.

Then I somehow came across the Chronoscope range from Reaper Miniatures.

After searching through their many single figures, which include lots of Old West and some Victorian and early 20th Century gangster characters, I settled on the aforementioned FOUR FIGURES that I thought I could use to cobble together the Chaplain, and I think it actually worked out well.  Not perfect, but pretty good.

Here's a few pics of the conversion process:

Here's the final result, using the HAT from one figure, the HEAD from a second, the BODY and WALKING STICK from a third, and the ARMS from a fourth -- with an additional bit of scratchbuilt pocket-watch added at the very end:

After a long break from doing figire conversions, I'm glad I was able to pull this new batch off, especially the "Fore & Aft" Drummer-Boys, the "Guest"/Prisoner Amir, and of course, perhaps my ultimate Second Afghan War conversion of all time (despite not being in uniform), the "Execution Chaplain," as shown above.

Hopefully I'll get them all painted -- be me or someone who's a better painter -- in the near future!