Monday, 30 October 2017

Beersheba 100!

The 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba, 1917, falls on the 31st October. Today we replayed the battle using 28mm figures and Bolt Action rules. But should we have bothered? How well did we recreate history? Bryan had set the scene with a few blow ups from the Australian Memorial, and Doug brought in a family heirloom, an engraving of the battle:

The original battle is famous for the epic 'last cavalry charge in history' delivered by the Aussie Lighthorsemen. Just a couple of issues though - they weren't cavalrymen, and it wasn't the last cavalry charge in history! But the action by those gallant mounted infantrymen certainly qualifies as a famous, and decisive, charge - basically it locked up the entire Palestinian campaign in a few hours desperate fighting.

Now by 1917 no-one was in any doubt that charging horseback across flat, open ground against barbed wire and trenches defended by machine-guns and artillery was insane. But here's the thing - the Turks hadn't wired up their defences, and they had set their MG and artillery ranges for long range firing, on the assumption that the Light Horse Men would sensibly dismount well before entering action - as they had done every time previously in the campaign...

Also, there was an area of dead ground between the first line of Turkish defences, and the town - a wide dried up river bed, the Wadi Sabah, its edges delineated on our table by some hills, a rock, palm trees and some sparse vegetation. This dead ground might offer a covered line of approach with which to outflank the town...

And, its possible that the native stout-hearted NSW bred 'Walers', the Lighthorsemen's beloved mounts, without water for several days already, smelt the water in Beersheba and took matters into their own, erm, hooves?

This was a particularly special wargame, not simply in commemoration of an epic battle, but also remembering our mate Mark Rowles, who's original idea this game was. Doug invited several mates down from his informal wargaming circle in the northern (posh) part of the Illawarra, so what with it being their first time at the uni club, we were all on our best behaviour! L to R: Doug, Simon, Ian and Brett: Gentlemen all!

Doug had put together a lovely set of building to recreate the town of Beersheba:

Whilst our mate Greg, who originally commissioned the range of 28mm figures we played with, had written a specific set of rules for this campaign, I felt we might get more interest if we adapted the popular Bolt Action WW2 set of rules for the game.

After all, Bolt Action does recognise the role of cavalry even in WW2, although it would be stretching the envelope somewhat. I couldn't resist the temptation to add some house rules:

The tough Turkish troops of the Ottoman Empire garrisoning Beersheba were split into 2 commands, each with 5 dice:

The same for the Aussie Lighthorsemen:

To be perfectly honest, in designing the scenario, I was concerned by our lack of Australian figures, and I thought they had a hard ask - the initial objectives were to take the two wells within the town, which would require clearing at least one building. Hence I was probably unfair to the skill and motivation of the Turkish army. Ill equipped they may have been, and possibly not as well trained as 4 ALH, but there was nothing lacking in their tenacity and fighting spirit, as had been amply demonstrated throughout the campaign, indeed the war.

To also help out the Aussies, I included 5 lots of off table medium gun fire, which as Umpire I would use to moderate the game - if the Aussies were struggling, the observer would be quite active - but if the Turks were in early strife, he might well go smoko!

Doug and Simon opted to lead the Turkish defence, and debated their knavish plans. They argued over several options, but eventually, influenced by the old saw; He who defends everything defends nothing, they opted to leave the first line of trenches, and the wadi, completely bare of troops! They had better win, because this would be hard to explain in the post-battle despatch to the Grand Vizier... 

Since I had made it clear that the Allied fire support would not be allowed to fire into the town, they decided to play it safe and cram the entire force in the town!

Clearly they were totally in awe of the skill, accuracy and destructive firepower of the Royal Artillery! And who dares say they were wrong? Not I! As newcomers to the club, they were unaware of my poor relationship with the Dice Gods!

However, the bickering of what tactics to employ also left Doug a little uneasy about Simon's decision to emplace a machine gun in the Beersheba Mosque - this wouldn't look good when whispered in the Grand Vizier's ear, either...

Once the Turks had deployed their defence, in what can only be described as a pedestrian and unadventourous manner, it was Brett and Ian's turn to deploy the Light this was an unconventional deployment...

They placed all their forces down one side of the table, with the intention of outflanking the defences..

So they carefully deployed, out of range of the Turkish guns pulled back well into the town:

And off they raced into the dusk, the thirsty, hearty walers giving it their last reserves of strength...

The machine-guns sections plodding in the rear to eventually bring up some direct fire support...

Until, inevitably, they came within range of the Turkish guns...

Now while my self imposed ROE prevented me from dropping indirect fire on the Turks in the town, who were shredding the gallant Light horsemen, I had a bit of an idea! No-one had said anything about not firing smoke rounds in front of the Turkish MGs and guns, so this I promptly did - but it wasn't enough to suppress the Turkish defensive fire entirely, and the Aussie assault foundered under its fire...The first game was a clear victory to the Turkish team. And so to luncheon....Which Doug laid on in true Ottoman style...

With Baklava and dates for afters...During lunch we pondered the scenario, and made a few changes to make things a little easier for the attackers, and to encourage the Turks to actually man the trenches! Only one of the wells was now an objective, the other the bridge over the wadi, and the Aussie start line was a foot further into the table.

This time Brett and Ian obliged, with a layered defence that spread their defense fairly deep, with an initial outpost in the trenchline...

but with the main line of resistance in the shelter of the wadi...

but still well supported by the guns in the town. Similarly, Doug and Simon adopted completely different tactics to the previous Aussie team, this time apparently attacking both the right flank ....

but also going for the centre. Well, that's were the first objective was...

Doug's centre assault on the trenches was the first one in...

Seemed well supported and didn't suffer too many casualties from fire on the approach...

But the doughty Turks fought back equally ferociously in the ensuing melee, and the Aussies were forced back...

Meanwhile the Turks defending the Wadi against Simon's more measured advance were receiving a truly dreadful pasting from the British 18 Pounders...

They then shifted target onto the dogged defenders in the trenches, and, thoroughly suppressed, they fell victim to a second assault from Doug's Lighthorsemen.

The situation in the wadi now looked dire for the Turks - they were caught in a potential pincer movement from Doug to their front...

and Simon's command working their way onto their right flank down the wadi...

And so it proved - with one objective taken, but little prospect of advancing on the town with the forces available, the second game was drawn.

All in all, a great day's wargaming which Mark would have loved, and a fun way of learning more about the horror, glory and sacrifice of the Battle of Beersheba, 31st October 1917.  Ironically, whilst our small battles only vaguely resembled what actually happened, it did lead us to appreciate the real scale of achievement of those Australian Light Horsemen 100 years ago.

Lest we Forget.


  1. Well done Ralph , was going to do this in 10mm to celebrate the anniversary. But great looking game. James

    1. Thanks James, very kind. Yes I think with 10mm you could get sufficient Lighthorsemen to do the job!

  2. Specially commissioned ALH figures? Are these commercially available? We are a bit strapped for choice here in the UK. Would love to get my hands on a few of these.

    1. I'm not sure if they are still in production mate. They were sculpted by Mike Broadbent, at Greg's request, and Mike now works for Eureka Miniatures. Perhaps a nice email to Nic at Eureka?

  3. Superb presentation, a lovely building and a ton of work to get that posted - thanks, enjoyed very much.

  4. Who makes those Australians? Great looking Battle.

    1. Thanks so much Juergen. As I said to Mark, above, probably your best bet is to get in contact with Eureka miniatures...

  5. Nice looking game. we hope to do the same game nearer to ANZAC Day.

  6. Thanks Dan - and good luck with your game!

  7. That is a very fine looking game. Excellent stuff!

  8. A thoroughly enjoyable AAR (both of them).

    1. Thanks Lawrence - glad you enjoyed the post!

  9. Thanks for the excellent report Ralph, I'm sorry I missed it. Pass my thanks to Doug and the other as well, Bryan.

    1. Will do Bryan - and thanks for the posters!

  10. Thanks for sharing great inspiration

  11. When I saw the film long time ago I wanted to research the accuracy of the film as at that time with no internet it had to be by book and luckily a friend had given me the official history Australia in the war 1914-1918 It was a great night read

  12. Good to see THE ROYAL Regiments reputation going before, to clear a way forward for the PBI. :)

  13. Yes indeed my friend, as it was on that day, and indeed many others, before and after!