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!


  1. Your son coming home to this for his winter break is a very lucky lad, a wonderful looking table.
    Merry Christmas to you and your family,

  2. Hi MG, forgive me for not having the time to read the whole of your blog rep. but I assume you are aware of the Studio Miniatures Kickstarter for the First Afhan War?

    If not I'd head over to their website and check it out.


  3. It looks splendid! I look forward to the AAR. A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours.

  4. Thanks for the comments, gentlemen!

    Darrell, yes, included in the above post is info re: how the recent Studio Minis Kickstarter for Brits in greatcoats reminded me of my own similar stalled project from a few years ago, using converted Brits. Since I already have a pile of the figures needed to combine bell-topped shako heads and caped greatcoat bodies, I didn't join in the Stduio Minis KS, but if and when those figures become commercially available I'm sure I'll buy a few packs to supplement my homemade versions!

  5. Mad Guru, the battlefield looks great! Is that fort another Chris production? He does have a particular style that is very recognizable. This sounds like another very cool project brother, though VERY labor intensive.

    I love getting multiple games from the same terrain boards.


  6. Thanks, Jeff! No, I don't think it is a Chris The Model Maker piece, though I agree it is built in similar style. All the stuff of Chris's I've ever seen is signed by him on the bottom, and this is not. I suppose it's possible it's so old it comes from a time before he started doing that, but some of the materials are also different from what he uses, so I doubt it. Still, it does look good!

  7. Fantastic table. I can not wait to see the finished fort.

  8. Great build Ethan! It really looks cool. You may not be a Chris the Model Maker but you sure do build some great terrain!

    I'm looking forward to playing this battle. I promise to not leave early again....lol


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