Monday, February 26, 2007

FOR THE HONOUR OF THE SERVICE: The Second Battle of Lake Wittelsbach

Biggles Takes an Early Bath

Lake Wittelsbach, German Central Africa, 1916. Though the Germans won a partial victory in the first battle for control of the lake (Read about it here and here) , things have taken a downward turn for them in the weeks and months since. With the colony of German Central Africa beset by foes on all sides, and blockaded by the Royal Navy by sea, General Von Hanneken has decided to give up his strategy of holding territory and withdraw into the interior to fight a guerilla campaign.

This has come as something of a blow to Korvettenkapitän Slutter, who realises this will mean he will have to scuttle his steamer, and his crew will be required to take up rifles and become mere infantrymen. Surrendering control of the lake to an enemy that has not earned it is a bitter pill for him to take. Due to a lack of fuel, he has already had to give up his prize, the captured gunboat HMS Matilda. He was forced to scuttle it and hand over its guns to the Army, who have placed them on improvised carriages for use on land.

Morale is low. But Slutter is determined that if he gets a chance, he prefers to go down fighting the enemy rather than scuttle his beloved Königin Luise. To that end he is actively seeking another engagement, against his orders. The honour of the service is at stake. So far though, the enemy have shown no willingness to face him again.

That is about to change.

The Players.
(Feel free to be clicking on all the pictures for a full sized version, at no extra charge.)
The Königin Luise. Victor of the first Battle of Lake Wittelsbach. Armed with a 6pdr and a maxim gun. Currently assigned to patrol duties on the lake, and the escort of troop transports.

The Zahina. A native dhow, requisitioned for use as a troop transport. Under the comand of Leutnant zur See Witchheimer. Unarmed.

Lieut. James Bigglesworth, Royal Flying Corps. Unbeknownst to the Germans, the British Central Africa Naval Expedition has been reinforced. A single aircraft has been added to their force and a rudimentery airfield constructed at Port Albert. As the Königin Luise and the Zahina quietly make their way down the lake, they do not realise that a powerful new foe is stalking them. Equipped with that versatile but fragile workhorse of the middle war period, the Biffington-Gobsworth Experimental (an excellent scout/fighter-bomber and Crop-sprayer), Biggles brings two bomb racks and a Lewis Gun to the party.

(Yes, I know that the model is actually an Airco DH2, but I have sadly been unable to find a manufacturer that produces a kit of the Biffington-Gobsworth Experimental. Mostly due to the fact that it is a totally made-up aircraft.)

HMS Amelia. Battered survivor of the first battle, and all that remains of the British Central Africa Naval Expedition. Packing a 3pdr and a machine gun. Crewed by Benedict Templeton, Loose Limbs O'Grady and Jack MacTavish (who has recovered from his wounds). A Belgian volunteer from the Force Publique has joined them to man the MG. Nobody took the time to ask the fellow his name, relations between the allies not being at their best at the minute. The joys of coalition warfare..

The Élisabeth de Bavière. The rumoured, almost mythical Belgian steamer has finally been constructed and launched from the Belgian shore of the lake. She carries a 4" gun (foolishly, some have said, as it is thought too big for her somewhat dainty frame) and a machine gun. In charge of her is Commander Bertrand, who has also brought along his native mistress, Sophie (well, that's what he calls her, anyway) so he can strut about and show off in front of her. Due to a lack of sailors, a small detachment of Force Publique askaris have been added to act as marines.

The Game
Sadly, due to illness in the family, not all the gaming gang could make it, but as everything was already set up, Plynkes and Sickly decided to plough on regardless. Sorry to the other chaps, but the game had to be played. And get well soon Mrs. Chronoglide and little Chronoglide Minor.

So, as the Luise and Zahina sailed along, oblivious to the danger, little did they realise that the battle their captain sought was almost at hand. Now believing themselves strong enough to face their nemesis, the allies were searching the lake for them, utilising the modern wonder of airpower to aid them in their search.

Biggles swept over the water at high altitude, and spotted them. He decided to attack. Despite the fact that he was meant to signal to the two allied surface vessels on contact, he failed to do so.

Swooping down out of the sky, he prepared to unload his deadly cargo of one bomb and a nasty canister of flechettes onto the Germans.

Here we see Sickly pretending to measure something for the camera, as the attack goes in. All the askaris on the dhow, and those sailors with rifles peppered the rickety crate with fire. The machine gun joined in too, but there was little chance of hitting the high-speed aircraft.

Little chance or no, that's exactly what happened. A round from the MG hit Biggles, causing a wound that would have killed a lesser man, and stopping his attack run in its tracks.

In fact, according to the rules it did kill him. But both players agreed that being Biggles, all-round good egg and Boy's Own-style hero and all, he really ought to be entitled to a "Biggles save." So we gave him one, he passed it, and duly woke up in the drink, with bits of his kite floating all around him. There was nothing for it but swim for the nearest land.

A little while later, the allied surface force showed up, looking for their lost plane. Slutter's desired encounter had come. Luck had been with the Germans so far. Would it desert them?

Eager to get into action before their Belgian rivals, the Royal Navy chaps on the speedy motor launch Amelia sped ahead to engage the Luise. They exchanged fire at long range, both missing with their opening shots. Then they fired once more...

Amelia's second shot hit home. A most fortunate hit on the Luise's main gun which killed the two sailors serving it. Miraculously, Leutnant zur See Schweinsteiger, who was directing the fire, was completely unharmed. As luck would have it, the gun was still serviceable, too, albeit covered with icky blood and guts. Schweinsteiger called out harshly for men to replace the fallen gunners, while he reloaded the gun himself.

But at almost the same moment, the round from the Luise struck Amelia, starting a fire which almost immediately raged out of control on the small mahogany launch.

The motor-boat lurched about the lake randomly, as all four crew desperately tried to put out the fire.

Meanwhile, Biggles was still swimming for land. A couple of croc tests were made, but he laughed them off. Stiff upper lip, what?

By now the Élisabeth de Bavière had appeared on the scene. She began firing on the Luise, who gallantly returned the compliment.

Then, in a curious twist of fate both steamers ground to a halt. And "ground" is the right word, as they had carelessly strayed too close to two of the numerous tiny islands dotting the lake, and grounded themselves on some unseen underwater obstacle. In short order the Luise would free herself and continue on her way, but the Élisabeth was firmly stuck, and would remain so for the rest of the game. Commander Bertrand was now in command of a fort!

It was at this point the Amelia succumbed to the flames, and slipped below the waves. Two ammo explosions had not helped matters overmuch, and the crew's efforts to control the fire had proved to be in vain. As luck would have it though, no one had been harmed. But the Wittelsbach Swimming club now had four new members of its team.

The two steamers had been exchanging shots for a short while, and a few casualties had been caused. Then suddenly the Élisabeth's superior gun showed its power, upending the 6pdr and once again killing its crew. Once more, by another miracle (or a prodigious amount of luck), Schweinsteiger was untouched. Stunned and covered in blood are gore, he just stared blinking for a moment. But soon he had composed himself and decided to make himself useful commanding the damage control parties.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Biggles had finally reached relatively dry land.

With his main weapon gone, but undeterred, Korvettenkapitän Slutter decided to try and maneover around behind the Élisabeth, into a postion where he could sweep her with MG fire, but out of sight of her main gun.

(Again we see Sickly posing for the camera, pretending he is arbitrating some kind of line-of-sight dispute or something. By now he was really getting into the spirit of things, as demonstrated by the rather natty "Belgian" hat he is sporting in this picture.)

The crew of the Amelia also had dry land under their feet by now, as they had struggled ashore near a native fishing lodge on one of the bigger islands. The locals immediately began with a sales pitch, trying to offload onto the newcomers some dirty postcards.

With the Luise now out of sight, the Élisabeth's gunners turned their attention to the unfortunate Zahina, who had been struggling against the wind to get within rifle range, and Witchheimer had also been considering a dashing boarding action. Such thoughts were cut short when, to a rousing cheer from the Belgians, her mast was brought down.

As the Luise cleared the island its crew realised to their horror that the 4" gun could still be brought to bear. Both it and the Belgian MG began sweeping the decks with fire, cutting down the German seamen. Then with a sickening crunch, the Luise was holed on the waterline. Lake Wittelsbach began gushing in at an alarming rate.

Schweinsteiger and his men were dead and no one was attending to the flooding. Slutter quickly ordered all the remaining sailors to report to damage control, leaving the ship to drift. He even sped down there himself to personally direct the repair attempts.

All? Not quite. One man, Matrose Grimm, was left at his post. And he was in his element. A lowly deckhand, he had never normally been allowed near the sainted maschinengewehr, those bossy unteroffizieren had always seen to that. But with all the gunners dead, it was his responsibility, and he revelled in it. With joy in his heart, and a song on his lips, all fear banished, he served his gun, spitting fire back at the Belgians, even as the water rose around him. Those stuck-up fools of officers could keep their stinky Pour le Merité, an Iron Cross Second Class would be plenty good enough for him.

Unknown to Grimm, he was the last of the Luises. Even as they sped down the steps to arrest the flooding, Korvettenkapitän Slutter and the others were cut down by fire from the Élisabeth. Wounded, but still firing his gun, Grimm slipped into unconsciousness just before the waters closed over him.

Slutter had gone out in his chosen manner. He had blazed a trail to glory by dispatching an aeroplane and a motor-launch before being beaten by a superior foe. He could rest easily, as the honour of the Kaiserliche Marine had been upheld.

Uncontained joy errupted from the Belgian steamer. The sailors cheered and cheered. And the askaris were almost uncontrollable in their celebrations, for at last their beloved Commandant Clijsters had been avenged, and his murderers were dead.

One item of mopping up remained. On the Zahina, Witchheimer still refused to surrender. He was busy trying to organise the jury-rigging of a new mast (possibly to a musical montage, like when the A-Team get locked in a workship, and build a tank out of garden tools and a wheelbarrow).

Bertrand was somewhat annoyed at this turn of events, he had beaten the Germans fair and square, and the least they could do was admit it. A shell from the 4" gun exploded on the Zahina's deck, which showed Witchheimer the folly of his policy and changed his mind for him (as well as ripping apart several askari).

He struck his colours.

All that now remained was to refloat the Élisabeth, and rescue the sulking British, who were upset and bemused at another poor outing from them (not to mention being shown up by bloody Belgians). This in time was duly done.

So Wittelsbach was at last an Entente lake. German Central Africa's western border was now wide open. Perhaps it really would all be over by Christmas this time, two Christmasses late.

British Losses
HMS Amelia, burned and sunk.
1 Biffington-Gobsworth Experimental, lost in the lake.
No casualties.

Belgian Losses
3 sailors, killed.

German Losses
2 officers, killed (Korvettenkapitän Slutter and Leutnant zur See Schweinsteiger).
12 sailors, killed.
7 Schutztruppe Askaris, killed.
1 Swahili sailor, killed.
1 native valet, killed.
1 Dhow, the Zahina, taken as a prize.
3 Askari, 2 Swahili sailors, and one officer (Leutnant zur See Witchheimer), taken prisoner.
SMS Königin Luise, sunk.

The game was again, huge fun, only marred by the absence of half the usual gaming gang. But never mind, eh? I'm sure there are loads more African adventures they can join in another time. Rules were a homemade mish-mash taking bits from "In the Heart of Africa", "Space 1889", "Boilers and Breechloaders" and a load of totally made-up bits, too for good mesure.

Models came from Foundry, Copplestone, Old Glory, TVAG, Bugsda and TMTerrain.

Righteous Among the Nations
Dubbed the "Red Queen" for supposed Commie leanings
(And with quite a bite from her forward 4" gun, too)

Sounds like my kind of Gal...



Poruchik said...

Excellenyt report, I'm going to need to break out 'Mimi and Toutou's Big Adventure' again now. Inspiring, I wonder if Biggles ever flew over the Taklamakin? I have many Chinese and Red's with a few good lads holding the line of the Himalaya's against them.


Tas said...

Bravo and Huzzah! Thoroughly inspiring stuff dear chap! Good to see those sausage eaters get a good drubbing now and again - they are a pushy lot.

Your stereoscopic images are of particular quality and show an impressive array of nautical conveyances. I'm off to re-equip my skiff with a drinks trolley, half a dozen local lovelies and a Nordenfelt gun. Then I'll cruise the nearest river delta looking for a decent scrap- For Queen and Country!

I shall post a message in the Regimental mess telling the other chaps to drop by and see your post.

yours in a white wine sauce,

festus said...

acceptable translation of upper class twit, but hes' an "englischer" ;-).,
and when using the clock for describing locations in the space-time continuum, it's "auf zwei Uhr" not "um".

anyway, now i'm feeling this urge to sink something myself...

Guido said...

Cheers for the comments, chaps

And chanks for the language tips, Festus. Now you mention it, somewhere in the back of my head I knew it was "auf zwei Uhr," I don't know why I didn't put that.

I put an apology to all my German friends on the Lead Adventure forum for my horrid mangling of their language. I guess I should have put one here, too!

cybrt54 said...

Well done! This is the kind of gaming that inspirers me to get back to work on my Colonial and VSF machines and soldiers. Again, Well Done!