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.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Coming attractions: "BALA HISSAR OR BUST"

Despite not being as actively-updated as I'd like for it to be, this blog has passed a couple of benchmarks lately that I want to take a moment to mention.  It was graced by a visitor from its 100th different country, COLOMBIA (then surprisingly soon after by a visitor from its 101st -- the island of Jersey), and it passed the 35,000 hit mark.

35,000 hits doesn't mean much in the wide world of internet use, but for a humble hobby blog devoted almost entirely to wargaming the battle of Maiwand in particular and the Second Afghan War in general, I see it as a bit of an accomplishment.  I'd like to offer my sincere thanks to each and every visitor who has spent some of their time here, and especially to members of that much smaller group who managed to leave a comment.  Nothing keeps "Blogging Morale" up the way those comments do!

Now on to the subject at hand...

I've got a decent amount of "Maiwand Day" stuff going on, which hopefully will see the light of day and get posted here before too much longer, including an amazing Maiwand DIORAMA I purchased some time ago but have yet to display here on the blog, construction pics for more hills (which I am sure you are sick of seeing, but which I can't keep from posting nonetheless!), a ton of pics from the much-mentioned-but-as-of-yet-unseen Charasiab game we played way back in March of this year, pics from a few other NWF games played atop variations of the Maiwand boards, pics of my various other Afghan regiments (for the benefit of fellow gamers looking for help with painting instructions for that "...most villainous cavalcade" that was the Afghan regular army of the Second Afghan War), and -- sooner or later -- pics of the construction of a somewhat-mammoth rocky wood-chip "super-hill," I'm currently in the midst of building.

Meantime I'm trying to make progress on my Camerone Day blog, where I started the process of posting pics from the refight game we played this past April 30th.  That blog is a lead-up to what I hope will be a grand refight using a specially-built Hacienda compound I commissioned from a somewhat legendary wargames terrain and scenics builder, which I hope to receive in time for everything to run smoothly on Tuesday, April 30th, 2013, the 150th Anniversary of the battle.

I also have another colonial project I've wanted to do for the past few of years.  It started when I helped out a friend by writing one chapter of a military history book he authored for Osprey a few years ago, called "Vanquished" -- specifically the chapter devoted to the 1842 battle of Gandamak, AKA: Jugdulluk, AKA: the tragic final act of General William Elphinstone's British & Indian army's Retreat from Kabul.

I knew about this battle before volunteering to write the chapter, but after doing a great deal more research, I was struck by how interesting it could be to game what the British MIGHT have done INSTEAD of what they actually did.  What they did was accept the Afghans' guarantee of "Safe Conduct," march out of Kabul and head South through the mountains towards the British-held city of Jellalabad on the Indian frontier.  This march became the infamous debacle often quoted as resulting in the survival and of only one Englishman, military surgeon Dr. William Brydon, whose arrival at Jellalabad in january 1842, was later immortalized in Lady Butler's painting, "Remnants of an Army":

In truth, Dr, Brydon was neither the only English survivor of the retreat (about a dozen others were taken prisoner along the way), nor the only member of the army to reach Jellalabad (a number of Indian soldiers also made it back), but the fact remains that nearly the entire army of approximately 4,500 men, and some 12,000 civilian camp-followers perished between Kabul and Jellalabad.

Amongst these were more than six-hundred officers and men of the 44th Regiment of Foot, the last surviving members of which are pictured below in W.A. Wollen's "The Last Stand of the 44th Foot at Gandamak":

So things did not turn out very well for the Brits and their Indian sepoys back in the Winter of 1841-42.

BUT WHAT IF... instead of departing from Kabul, the British had chosen to fight their way from their cantonments, through the South-West corner of the city, and up into the ancient fortress known as the Bala Hissar -- which at the time was still held by their Afghan ally, Shah Shujah?

This was the course of action suggested and argued for by several of the younger and more "energetic" officers with the British Army of Occupation in Kabul at the time.

After the fact, in India and Great Britain, many pundits took the position it was what should have been done.  Hindsight is always 20:20, but in this case, it's hard to imagine how things could have turned out worse for the British if they had in fact attempted to fight their way to the old fortress, despite how built-up and densely-defended some of the intervening terrain would have been.

Another thing that appeals to me about gaming this scenario is the seasonal element.  For many years I've wanted to prepare terrain and figure bases for a "Winter" battle, a game set in the midst of snow and ice.  This was always centered on a Swiss Medieval campaign of 1375, but now I'm hoping to bring Winter to life on my wargames table in 1841-42 Afghanistan.

But in order for it to be Winter, the figures must be warmly dressed -- after all, the British army brought cold-weather gear with them to Afghanistan.  But the only figures dressed that way, that I know of, belong to a couple of 54mm Collector's ranges, as seen here:

Gorgeous indeed, but way too big -- and expensive -- for my purposes.  So what to do...?

I found my answer in a pair of old Wargames Foundry ranges sculpted by Michael and Alan Perry.  The "China" range of British colonial figures, which includes 1830s-1840s British infantry in bell-topped shakos, and the ACW range, which includes a number of Union infantry in GREATCOAT.  I've often said I think the key to a good figure conversion is using component parts that were all designed by the same scultor, or in this case, sculptors.  This gives you a leg up on having the final bastardized/combined figure look as though it was always meant to be that way.

Soon after I came up with this idea, an online shop in the UK had a big sale to get rid of all their remaining stock of various old Wargames Foundry ranges.  Low and behold, this included several packs of ACW Union troops in GREATCOATS.  I bought all they had left, then tracked down some of the 1830s-1840s British infantry and bought them as well.

A lot of time has passed since then, but the other day, I forced myself to stop working (on work!) and tried my hand at a "Proof of Concept" conversion for this First Afghan War, "Fighting Retreat to the Bala Hissar" project.  If and when it ever comes together, the game will be called, "BALA HISSAR OR BUST!"  Turns out, according to my primitive etymological research, the term " BLANK_or bust" actually dates back to the year 1842, so not only is the scenario name lyrically appropriate, but it might just be historically appropriate as well!

Here are pics of my first three converted 44th Regt. British Infantrymen, kitted out for the brutal Afghan Winter...

It will take a while for me to convert an entire unit's worth of the above figures' comrades-in-arms, but sooner or later it will get done, and I'll get my hands on some old Foundry Sikh Wars Bombay/Bengal Infantry to serve as the Indian troops, along with a battery of Foundry's Sikh Wars Bengal Horse Artillery, which also took part in the retreat, plus a handful of European women and children and a ton of male and female Indian camp followers.

The bright spot of this project is that the opposing forces -- the Afghan tribesmen and Ghazis -- will be portrayed by my pre-existing collection of Afghan tribesmen and Ghazis, perhaps with some mini-snow-flakes sprinkled on their bases.

Next thing to do is get a handful of cash changed into British Pounds, so I can post it to the "Royal Engineers" Association, which several years ago published a booklet on the architecture and history of the Bala Hissar, which I will need before attempting to build one corner of it in miniature.  I wish they accepted Paypal, or even credit cards over the web, but they don't, so it's off to the foreign exchange desk I must go...


  1. Congrats on the benchmarks Mad Guru. Your blog is certainly a very interesting corner of the World Wide Web. My thoughts are though, blog to satisfy yourself, not an audience. Your new project looks amazing and I'll be watching with interest as ever.


  2. Wow!

    35,000 hits is a might score really matey.

    Love the 44th Foot's Last Stand at Gandermak idea and I'm waiting with baited breath to see what loveliness you come up with, if it can indeed be called 'lovely'!

    BTW, I think there was a Spanish guy who did a vignette that he was going to cast up sell (over on the Steve Dean forum). I'll check into that if you want me to and see what happenned as it may be available.

    Keep up the spiffing work and perhaps more importantly keep a stiffer upper lip :O)


  3. Congratulations, Sir on the landmark; I have to confess I am very excited by the new project and I wish you every success with it.

  4. Thanks for all the positive comments!

    Relax, Frank, I don't plan to adjust my blogging topics in order to widen their appeal!

    Darrell, by all means YES PLEASE DO check into it, as I'd love to get my hands on any such figures, so long as they are 25mm, or even better, 28mm, in size!

    Phyllion, very happy to have your interest, and hope to maintain it!

    Michael, your ever-growing Burmese army looks positively FANTASTIC, and so do their British foes! I've wanted to raise those armises for years, ever since first laying eyes on Ian Heath's colour plates of Burmese regulars in Osprey's "Queen Victoria's Enemies (4): Asia, Australasia, and America". I love the terrain on their bases, with its lush soil and green jungle foliage. In all modesty I must confess, I have a dream scenario for the Third Burma War that I think you'd be quite fond of, and which would not require a vast number of troops (thought to do it to the ultimate degree, it might require a few... "special" conversion type figures). If you're interested, let me know, and maybe we can find a way to communicate about it directly, but if not, no worries!

  5. Superb conversion work and what a great idea. I look forward to seeing this develop. Perry's 'Carlist War' range have figures with Bell Top shako's that might be usable for your project.
    Congrats reaching the 35,000 mark.

  6. Thanks very much for your kind words, Silver Whistle!

    You're right about the Perry Carlist range, I've already got some of their Royal Marines, for potential conversion, though I will probably use some as-is. the good thing about the Marines is that they're not carrying their backpacks, unlike the line infantry in the same range. In Afghanistan, British infantry usually left their packs with the baggage train.

    Speaking of baggage trains, your own Zulu War baggage elements look absolutely INCREDIBLE!

  7. Tried to comment before but it didnt appear .I love the work going on hear.We seem to have a lot of periods in common!

  8. Indeed we do, Willie, indeed we do! Thanks very much for your kind comment, and for going to the trouble to put them up once again.

    RE: us having lots of periods in common... I still remember the "Retreat from Kabul to Gandamak" lay-out you set up on your table a while back (can it be a year and half ago... or more?!). At the time I had already started thinking about this project. I'm glad I finally got around to starting it! ...though it will take some time to truly come together. You, on the other hand, seem to churn out newly completed projects on close to a weekly basis! This can be inspiring... or depressing, depending on one's mood, but either way, I can't help visiting your blog on a very regular basis!

  9. Ethan,

    Your right I remember your comment on the blog saying I had beaten you to it!But believe me your conversions will make all the difference, mine were all dressed for summer yours will be spot on.I can already see where you are going with this and can't wait to see this progress!

    Best wishes