Pete Belli
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Chillianwala 1849: Britain vs. the Sikh Empire in an epic miniatures scenario






The struggle at Chillianwala (or Chillianwalah) was a crucial battle during the Sikh Wars. Both armies were trained in European tactics. The British used formations and weapons from the Age of Napoleon. The engagement featured desperate cavalry charges, skillfully executed artillery bombardments, and swirling infantry combat. Although the action took place in a relatively small area Chillianwalla was a battle of maneuver with flank attacks amid bitter fighting. The armies slugged it out until both sides were completely exhausted.

This illustrated Session Report will focus on modifications to the standard Commands & Colors: Napoleonics rules developed by the talented Richard Borg... changes required to simulate the special conditions at Chillianwala in 1849.




The board depicts the entire battlefield. While the playing surface is not exactly to scale each hex represents approximately 400 yards of actual terrain. Excellent maps can be found on the internet but I must say that no two cartographers seemed to agree on every detail of the landscape.

Comprehensive order of battle information can also be found online. British infantry units represent individual battalions like the ill-starred 24th Foot, the same organization that was wrecked at Isandhlwana in 1879. Bengal Army infantry units are also battalions. Sikh formations are regimental groups within the Khalsa army and swarms of irregulars among the militia.

For convenience, the player controlling the troops from Great Britain and India will be called the "British" commander.






One of the most important changes to the standard C&C:N rules was required due to a unique terrain feature of the Chillianwala battlefield. Most of the contested area was partially covered with scrub or brushwood. Each historian seemed to describe this vegetation in a different way (dense scrub, Bher scrub, scrubby jungle, Doab jungle, Jhow jungle, broken scrub, etc.) but one fact is clear: the undulating terrain was at least partially covered with underbrush. The map shown here was supplemented with another chart illustrating the area along the British line. After comparing these sources it appeared that nearly every hex on the map could be marked as scrubland!

Add the immense clouds of dust churned up by the marching soldiers to the gunpowder smoke which obscured visibility and the need for a few adjustments to the rules is obvious. I reduced the effectiveness of aimed musket fire and downgraded all artillery units... field artillery range is reduced to horse artillery levels and the British heavy artillery is treated like field guns.

The oak trees that formed an elongated wood near the center of the battlefield were included on the board. All other "scrubland" was simply factored into the rules.






General Gough was the British commander in 1849. He planned to crush the left flank of the Sikh army and push the rest of the enemy force into the Jhelum River. This is a photograph of the Sikh entrenchments that protected this flank in the hills near the village of Rasool. The force occupying this position consisted of irregular militia with limited offensive potential. A special rule covers these infantry levies... they move one hex or fight and can only melee. They always roll a reduced number of battle dice.

Gough was an unimaginative officer who believed in the power of a bayonet charge. Personally fearless, he was frequently criticized for conducting frontal assaults that led to heavy losses. Gough was under a cloud after the bloody stalemate at Chillianwala; he only avoided replacement by winning the next battle (and the war) before another officer arrived from England.






Sher Singh led the Sikhs. He realized that his force was not strong enough to defend the entire line of entrenchments from Rasool to the opposite flank. Sher Singh maneuvered aggressively and challenged the British as they marched across his front near Chillianwala. This bold move interrupted the plan Gough had conceived and forced the British commander to begin the battle a day early.

This image depicts a Sikh general (presumably Sher Singh) moving troops away from the line of fortified villages in the direction of the enemy. The village marked with the flag (Lulianee or Luluanee) is a British objective. Gough can win the game by breaking the Sikh center, outflanking the Sikh army, or a combination of both missions. Sher Singh can win the game by preventing that outcome or by threatening the British baggage column. Both commanders must avoid heavy casualties.






This image of the Khalsa Army shows regular formations of Sikh infantry, cavalry, and artillery. Sikh infantry troops were trained by European officers and fought using Napoleonic tactics blended with elements of the Sikh tradition. Commands were actually given in French! Sikh artillery was superb.

The blue water hex represents a "pond" or "dry buffalo wallow" that presented an obstacle to the British advance. The special slope hexsides reflect the terrain at Chillianwala; the Sikh line was positioned at the edge of a broad plateau. Slope hexsides offer a defensive benefit and block the line of sight in a few situations.






A staff officer (waving sword) orders a Bengal infantry unit into action near Chillianwala. A staff officer figure may be dispatched anywhere on the board to activate a single formation during each turn. The miniature does not represent a specific individual and is never "killed" or removed from play.

Retaining control of the high ground at Chillianwala is an important British objective. The flag token indicates that the village is secure.






A typical British brigade contains one British infantry battalion and two Bengal infantry battalions. British battalions usually led a marching column and were front and center during most assaults. British battalions are essentially treated as C&C:N Light Infantry while Bengal Army battalions function more like C&C:N Line Infantry.






European soldiers served with the Bengal Army as mercenary infantry. Godby's Brigade included two Bengal Army battalions and the 2nd European Light Infantry. This formation was smaller than a British battalion but uses the same basic rules for movement and battle.






Two batteries of heavy artillery were positioned at the center of the British line. As mentioned previously, the broken terrain and heavy clouds of dust reduced the effectiveness of these 18-pounders and 8-inch howitzers. Field artillery batteries are attached to each British infantry brigade; horse artillery guns were "factored-in" when calculating the battle dice sequence of the cavalry formations.






British cavalry units represent a regiment... in this photograph the famous 3rd Light Dragoons ("The Galloping Third") a formation known throughout the British Empire for its exploits. Bengal cavalry units actually represent two regiments because these formations were smaller... and Bengal cavalry units were often reluctant to close with Sikh horsemen brandishing the deadly curved sword known as a kirpan.

British cavalry formations conducted reckless charges at Chillianwalla. In fact, two other British regiments from a brigade led by the incompetent Pope made a wild charge and an equally wild retreat that only halted when the men were rallied by a chaplain named Wright. This "notorious conduct" did taint the reputation of the cavalrymen; Gough tried to have the reverend promoted to bishop!

The red cube indicates that the regiment has not made its first charge. The first charge bonus provides an extra battle dice during a melee. The cube is then removed and the regiment will fight using standard rules.






There is another special cavalry rule. Thousands of irregular horsemen called Gorcharras rode with the Sikh army. These men were more interested in slaughtering wounded enemy soldiers than fighting. Irregular cavalry (carrying spears in this scenario) roll just one battle dice and suffer a typical C&C:N retreat penalty. All regular Sikh cavalry (carrying carbines in this scenario) use standard rules.






The tan cubes are part of another special rule simulating Sikh infantry tactics. Sikh soldiers were trained by European instructors but the men often fought according to their own traditions. Sikh infantrymen would frequently fire their muskets during an assault and then set the firearm aside in favor of a razor-sharp kirpan.

To reflect this behavior the tan cube indicates which Sikh infantry formations have not participated in a melee. Once a Sikh unit has fought at close quarters the cube is removed and that formation suffers an additional penalty when firing on the enemy. In the example shown here the two Sikh infantry units marked with black arrows have participated in a "battle back" melee so the cubes have been removed.






This scenario uses my hot deck of command cards to keep the action flowing. Events include the "Rally" card inserted in the middle of the deck to signal a pause in the action while both sides gather stragglers or regroup and the "Short Supplies" card used as a clock to end the session. Random events include this Bombard card. The sticker with the Sikh banner indicates that this event affects the Sikh player. All of the Sikh artillery units are immediately activated, regardless of which player has drawn the card.






Of course, both sides will be affected by random events. This powerful Leadership card allows the British player to use both staff officer figures and the special "general" miniature to immediately activate three units.

Each player has a mounted "general" figure that functions like a staff officer to activate one formation. This miniature does not necessarily represent Gough or Sher Singh; it might represent a brigade commander or an officer directing the fire of an artillery unit. Any attacking unit activated by a general rolls an extra battle dice.






Back in 1849 the battle at Chillianwala featured sweeping British penetrations of the Sikh defenses and devastating counterattacks by the Khalsa Army. Perhaps my tactics as the British commander were uninspired but every fracture of the Sikh line was quickly repaired. In this example the "general" is moving an infantry formation into the gap created when a Sikh artillery unit was forced to withdraw.






The useless Gorcharras have been sent to the rear and replaced with a regular Sikh cavalry unit. Artillery is protecting the open space between the Sikh left flank and that ridge defended by the entrenched irregular levies. The massed British and Bengal Army battalions seen approaching the Sikh line in this photograph were repulsed with heavy losses on both sides. There was no British breakthrough to match the performance of Gough's army at Chillianwala.






Both of the sample games used to test this set of rules ended with the British advance grinding to a halt. None of the see-saw excitement found in the original battle was generated during these sessions. However, it was an interesting learning experience and a fascinating design challenge.



A sincere "Thank you!" goes out to...

Sim Guy
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...for providing some of the miniatures used in this scenario.
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Steve Constantelos
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Keep these coming, Pete. I loved your Koniggratz 1866 post as well. Shows what you can do with ringing variations on a theme, in this case the C&C system, taking it beyond its ever-expanding borders. I worry about scale, but with enough soldiers and map boards, more nuance can be created.

And you're lucky to have access to appropriate minis for each setting!
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Jim Ransom
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Thanks Pete. I love learning new things, and you are great at finding these little-known gems and bringing them to life.
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Pete Belli
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Thanks for the positive comments.

Quote:
...you're lucky to have access to appropriate minis for each setting!


Yes indeed. The gray Bengal artillery, gray Bengal infantry, and all of the British/Bengal cavalry were provided by SimGuy. The rest of the figures are from my collection.
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Pete Belli
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jpr755 wrote:
...finding these little-known gems and bringing them to life.


After reading about this conflict in a volume entitled Queen Victoria's Little Wars (recommended on the BGG military bookshelf thread) a C&C scenario was probably inevitable.
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Blucher Lives

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This was an awesome read. And a special thanks for including some of the tweaks you used. Using those cubes is a great idea/way to track one time events.

Again, thank you.
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Guy Vandille
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Great post, Pete. I love the C&C-series, and it's very interesting to see how you tweak the rules. Inspiring I would even say. I developed some games in the past (just to play with friends or as a 1-player game), and I had been thinking about creating a new one with bits and pieces from the games I own. Your post makes my mind itch (if a mind is an itchable thing) to start. Thanks.
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