Sunday 15 October 2017

Tarawera Week - Day Three - WWI in East Africa

Those who follow this blog will be aware that I have been working on this WWI East Africa game for some time, making buildings, terrain and completing a small Indian component for the British Empire forces. This game is the culmination of all those preparations and what follows here is first the scenario, then a review of the game.
The Narrative
It is February 1915.
After the embarrassing defeats at Tanga in November 1914 and at Jassin in January 1915, the British East Africa Command is anxious to get some runs on the board. While a major offensive is planned on the Taveta front, in March/April 1915 both British and German forces are looking to strike at opposing positions around Lake Victoria.
The Military Geography of the Region
The various settlements around the lake represent significant strategic assets to both sides. On the British side the lake provides access to the Protectorate of Uganda with goods being transported across it from Kampala to Kisumu, the terminus of the Uganda Railway that link the lake with Nairobi and Mombassa.

For the Germans there are three significant towns. Bukoba, located on the western shore, it is the largest and the most important of the towns in this north-western part of German East Africa. Its importance is two-fold. First a high powered wireless transmitter is located here and its loss would have a serious impact on communications between the colony and Berlin. Second is its importance for trade. The production of coffee here is a major revenue source and a strong trade in hides with Ruanda and Urindi is vital for equipping the Askari.
Shirati is a relatively small but crucial settlement located on the eastern shore close to the border. The German occupation of this place poses a real threat to the Uganda Railway and its terminus at Kisumu, 100 miles to the north. Equally importantly, the occupation of this place by the British threatens the German Central railway at Tabora 280 miles to the south.
Mwanza, located on the southern shore of the lake, provides the Germans a link between Bukoba and Shirati. Water transport across the lake is dominated by the British after they sank the solitary German gunboat on the lake. However, several small and fast German steamers are still available and have been able to maintain limited trade and transport throughout the region.
The British Briefing
Report of the Intelligence Section
The intelligence section has been active in the region, gathering information from local tribes and from traders who work the lake shores.
You can reasonably assume three companies Schutztruppen colonial (Europeans) volunteers, plus as many as nine companies of Schutztruppen Askaris. The Germans are said to be well equipped with machine guns and some artillery has also been reported.
There are strong reports that a naval contingent from the Koenigsberg has arrived in the region. It is variously rumoured that this force is intended to either bolster the European troops in the area or to crew lake vessels as gunboats. It is also rumoured that they have brought some naval guns removed from the warship Koenigsberg.
Locals have reported that there is much activity amongst the German forces around the lake. Rumours of an attack on Kisumu abound.
The location of German forces is impossible to determine with accuracy, but it is known that a permanent garrison of one Field Company is located at Bukoba and there are reliable reports that a well-equipped force of two or three companies is camped at Shirati.
To gain some advantage in this western region, Mombassa Command has determined that two missions will be undertaken around the lake:
  • The wireless station at Bukoba must be destroyed
  • Any German force at Shirati must be dispersed.
  • Above all Kisumu must be defended and its loss must be prevented
Task Force Victoria comprises:
  • 1 battalion (3 companies) British infantry, plus 1 MG
  • 3 battalions of Sikh infantry (6 companies), plus 4 MGs
  • 6 companies King’s African Rifles (KAR), plus 2 MGs
  • 1 company Frontiersmen, plus a sniper
  • 1 Field gun
  • 2 Indian mountain guns
  • 1 gunboat with pom pom gun 
The German Briefing
Report of the Intelligence Section
The intelligence section has been active in the region, gathering information from local tribes and from traders who work the lake shores. British have established a significant command at Kisumu estimated at between four to six companies of British troops, the same number of Indian troops, plus an undetermined number of native troops. Local traders have noted that they are well supplied with machine guns and artillery.

East Africa Command sees that success around Lake Victoria will not only force the British to divert troops from the Taveta front, but will open access to the productive region of Uganda.
The first step in this offensive will be the capture of Kisumu. This will cut all British military access to the Lake. Once Kisumu is taken a second phase of operations will commence to push a force up the western shore to take Kampala.
While Kisumu is the prime objective the retention of Shirati as an assembly point for troops and supplies is important and the protection of the wireless station at Bukoba is crucial for the survival of the colony.
Task force West comprises:
  • 2 companies Schutztruppen, colonial volunteers plus 3 MGs
  • 1 company of sailors plus 1 MG
  • 8 companies of Schutztruppen Askaris, plus 3 MGs
  • 2 field guns
  • 2 mountain guns
  • 4 Snipers
  • Unarmed steam launch (transport only - does not appear on the table)
Before the game begins both senior commanders are required to plan their missions with the following in mind:
  • They must specify the initial deployment of troops (number and make up of units at Kisumu, Bukoba, Mwanza and Shirati)
  • They must define the force allocated to each mission and the commander for each force
  • The British may move between Kisumu, Bukoba and Shirati by water while the Germans may move between Bukoba, Mwanda, Shirati and Kisumu by water
  • The British may move from Kisumu to Shirati by road, while the Germand may move between Bukoba and Mwanda, or Shirati and Kisumu by road
    • They must specify the start time for each mission with these options:
    • Set off before nightfall for a pre-dawn attack (involves a night march)
    • Set off at dusk for a dawn attack (involves a night march)
    • Set off at dawn for a mid-morning attack (involves a day march)
    • Set off after dawn for an afternoon attack (involves a day march)
    • NOTE: Night marches have an increased risk of the march being disrupted
  • They must define the location and intent of any reserves
Victory Conditions
British win outright if they hold Kisumu, have destroyed the wireless station at Bukoba, and either hold (or have burned), or have an upper hand in any contest at, Shirati. They can claim a partial victory if they hold Kisumu and have destroyed the wireless station.
Germans win outright if at the end of the game they hold Kisumu, otherwise they can claim a partial victory if the Bukoba wireless station is intact and they still occupy Shirati at the end of the game.
Any other result is a draw.
Technical Points
The game was played on three distinct tables. Since the game would be a series of missions against three potential targets I decided to divide the main table (2m x 4.8M) in two, representing any two of the target towns (determined by the size of the forces fighting there). A third table (1.6m x 1.5m) represents the town where the smallest forces would be engaged.
Movement between the various locations will take place on a map using the system I described in this earlier post ( with a series of movement steps between each point. A die will be rolled to determine the speed travelled and there are a number of possible speed retardants or enhancers (“go forward two spaces”, “go back two spaces” or “miss a turn”.

The Table
I had no specific table plan largely because I although I had a general mental picture of the layout. Specifically what I wanted was three distinct tables, each with a shoreline that the gunboat could appear on, plus various other features. The various pieces of jungle scenery I had produced over recent months were to be used to provide a visual divide on the main table.

The "jungle" divider
When we did the pre-game map moves it soon became evident that Kisumu and Buboka would be the centre of the main games and Shirati the smaller game. Here is how the table was set up on the day.

The main table with Bukoba in the foreground and Kisumu in the distance

The secondary table representing Shirati
The Game.
The German commander decided to defend Bukoba with 2 companies Schutztruppen, with 3 MGs, dug in around the wireless station and the company of sailors, plus 1 MG, in the garrison compound. Two mountain guns were in support. He chose to maintain the rest of his force at Shirati. His plan was to risk the loss of Shirati and move all of the forces there to attack Kisumu. The latter movement was to commence at daybreak for a mid-morning arrival.

The British commander chose to send the British battalion, plus the Frontiersmen and the gunboat to attack Bukoba, to defend Kisumu with the two Sikh battalions (and their MGs) and the field gun, while the KAR and would attack Shirati. The British were to depart in the afternoon before the day of battle for a pre dawn arrival.

The action started at Bukoba where rhe British troops landed north of the place while the gunboat sailed in front of the place and engaged the naval MG team in the tower of the garrison post with its pom pom gun.

The British infantry quickly engaged the Schurtztruppen around the wireless station. A lenghty fire fight ensued which, despite the high number of Grenan MGs present, brought them some success. They managed to disperse one German company and then swing around to the unguarded western flank.

The two mountain guns found that they could not get a line of sight on the British troops and turned their attention to the gunboat, scoring hits, but unable to cause serious damage.  When the Frontiersman joined the attack on the wireless station, the naval company sallied out of the garrison post, but they were too late. The British felled the mast and set fire to the wireless hut.

So the action at Bukoba ended, with a German loss and heavy casualties on both sides.

At Shirati the KAR arrived just as the Askari were moving off towards Kisumu. Two companies of Askari and a MG were held back from the attacking force in an attempt to prevent the KAR from returning to Kisumu. A sharp fight developed in the plantation and around the plantation house.

At first the Askari held their own, but then in an attempt to distract the KAR even more one company stormed forward and was repulsed and driven back in disorder. The KAR gained the edge of the plantation compound. 

It was only a matter of time before the plantation fell to superior numbers and the plantation house was put to the torch. The KAR then headed back to Kisumu.

The action at Kisumu did not start until mid morning. The Sikhs had taken a strong position in and around the railway station and the hotel (where unkind reports stated the Britsh commander was installed with large supplies of gin).

The Askari came out of the jungle at two points. The guns and three companies nearest the lake and three companies further to the east. 

It was the force in the east that struck first, storming in against an isolated Sikh company and drove it off. A second company of Sikhs attempted to intervene but were also driven off.

However it was nearer the lake that the real action took place. Two Askari companies rushed the area near Pigot's Store and scattered a company of Sikhs. 

For a moment it look as though the town would fall, but the Askari came under intense fire fron the railway station.

Although half the town was flames, when the KAR returned from Shirati the Askari could push no further. 

The game came to a conclusion as a resounding British success. 


  1. It was a great game Mark, although I initially had some harsh thoughts about the Int Bods who led me to believe I would fall upon a column of Germans departing Shirati, and cut them to pieces with my MG's......!

    1. But you still managed to hold back two companies of Askari and a MG and that saved the garrison at Kimusu. You should start politiking to be mentioned in despatches...rubbing it into the brigadier would be a good start.

  2. Fantastic stuff Mark great to see all your efforts coming together on the table top.

    1. Thanks Stu. I agree it ws nice to see it all come together.

  3. Impressive table, Mark! Your buildings are simply marvelous.

    1. Thank you Jonathan. Most of those buildings had been made so many months ago and stored in their boxes, that putting them out on the table was like rediscovering many old friends!

  4. Beautiful looking game and great After Action Report. If you don't mind me asking, what table top rules were you using to resolve combat?

    1. You can find a copy of the rules and the accompanying Quick Reference Handbook from the Free Stuff link at the top of the page. These are not quite up to date - I ran out of time to upload the latest revision before I left for the week event.

  5. A lovely looking game Mark
    Itis always nice to see a different setting for WW1

    All the best. Aly

    1. Thanks Aly. It was a great game, but it is all a distant memory now as I sit in the office and start wadi g throug the 140 plus emails that have come in while I was away! SIgh!

    2. 140..140..... tha dun't knaw tha's born lad..I had 165 or more this mornin'!

    3. Thankfull it was a light week.

  6. Hmmm!
    I think I’ve posted twice...doh,

    1. It happens. I posted this post three times (deleted twice) thanks to the software not running correctly on my now severely dated iPad.

  7. What a beautifu ltable and a great looking game Mark!

    1. Thank you Phil. The next two reports have terrain that are equally impressive.

  8. Looks like a lot of fun, Mark. It is really good to see everything come together for a big game, and a nice little scenario as well. A campaign around a lake is sort of self-referencing isn't it?

    1. Thanks Nathan. It was really great to see it all on the table. Sorry we didn't get a chance to catch up, but it all flew by so quickly - after a year's planning it all seemed to be over in no time at all and we were back at work today...

    2. No worries Mark, we ended up spending most of the time at the beach anyway, so weren't around. Maybe next year!

  9. Great to see this come to fruition, and I love the idea of the mini-campaign and breaking the table up into three. It is certainly large enough to accommodate this.

    1. It certanly was Lawrence, although it was with some disapointment that the Askari burned Pigot's Store! We play on a 4.8 by 2 metre table. I have had the idea of a split table for years and this type of small unit action was a perfect scenario for doing just that.

  10. I am impressed!
    there are some very good ideas for scenarios. Great work.
    Thanks a lot.

    1. WWI in East Africa has many opportunities for scenarios. You aren't trapped in trench lines so there is plenty of room for manoeuvre.