The Back of Beyond, Setting the East Ablaze, 28mm
This game was something of a trio down memory lane – the (fictitious) Turkish landing at Krasnovodsk on the eastern side of the Caspian Sea featured in a game played out back in 2006. It was the opening move of the Turkish entry into the Edinburgh “Back of Beyond” campaign – the Russian Civil War in Central Asia. This game was a little different – the initial landing wasn’t opposed as the Red Army only arrived after it had started. However, the game was equally hard-fought. Also, for the last few games we’ve been playing on a reduced size table, as our games have been smaller affairs. I block off the ends of the table using white cloth, to make it 10×6 or 8×6 feet. This game though, was fought out across the full 12×6 expanse of the new Orkney tabletop. As before, the basic – and wholly fictitious premise – was that after the end of the First World War a militant Turkey expanded into the Caucuses, taking advantage of the distraction afforded by the civil war in Russia. Enver Pasha had wanted to create a pan-Muslim brotherhood in Central Asia, and so a Turkish expeditionary force were despatched from Baku to Krasnovodsk, on the far side of the Caspian Sea. From there the plan was to advance eastwards towards Bokhara, where the beleaguered Emir was trying to hold off the Bolshevik hordes. In other words, just as before, this was the opening shot in the Turkish involvement in our little Back of Beyond campaign.Both sides had some serious toys to play with. For the Turks, they had two gunboats – one big, one small (both card-built models from Riveresco), and air cover provided by a former German Fokker fighter bomber. Quite where its base was didn’t get specified – we have to presume the Turks had seized a nearby island, and used it as a landing field. They also had an Erhardt armoured car and a field gun, which had to be landed from the off-table transports. The big gunboat even had a naval artillery spotter, who used flags or a radio (we didn’t specify) to land indirect fire stonks on the advancing Red Army. The Bolsheviks had an armoured train for support, and an Austin Putilov armoured car. In fact the armoured train wasn’t as useful as it could have been, as I only had six feet of railway track. That meant the poor train could only get halfway up the table, rendering its machine guns pretty useless. Still, its front armoured carriage had a field gun turret on it, so could still fire at Turks in the town. They also had a more conventional field gun at their disposal.The Bolsheviks had seven 10-figure units. Three of them were Red Army, two were of sailors, one was Siberian Rifles (rated as marksmen), and the last unit was a Cheka one. In support they had two 10-figure units of cavalry, plus a couple of machine guns and a field gun. The Turks started with only two units ashore, and a machine gun. Everyone else had to land whenever the Big Gunboat card was turned up, at the rate of one unit per turn. Their job was to seize as much of the town as they could before the Red horde hit them. In between were the local Turcoman tribesemen – two 20-figure units of tribesmen, a 12-figure irregular cavalry unit, and a hidden unit of 12 jizzail-armed riflemen. The tribesmen were deployed in the two woods in the middle of the table – one near the station and the smaller one to the north-west.The game began with the Red Army advancing across the width of the table, with the armoured car powering down the road towards the station. In this phase of the game the tribesmen stayed where they were, until the Bolsheviks came closer, at which point they slinked away. After all, they couldn’t match the massed firepower of the Red Army. The two Bolshevik cavalry units headed past the gully on the north side of the table, climbed a low hill, and fell upon the northern tribal unit as it was retiring. In these rules irregular units don’t fare very well against regular cavalry, and the poor locals were wiped out to a man. Things went a little better to the south, but even then the retreating tribesemen were fired on by the armoured car as it turned left at the station, and shot them up as they pulled back towards a tree-clad hill on the southern table edge.However, the tribesmen had a trick up their sleeve – the hidden unit of riflemen. Unbeknownst to the Bolsheviks they’d been in the old mosque on the road into town – one the Red Army had marched past without investigating. So, once the Red hordes had passed them by the riflemen clambered onto the mosque roof, and opened up on the backs of the Cheka. This show of bravado netted five of the black-clad Russians, but all too soon it was the Russian’s turn, and they fired back. Worse still, a machine gun advancing along the railway deployed to fire at the mosque from the south. Under its covering fire the remaining five Cheka stormed the mosque and massacred the hapless riflemen without suffering any more casualties. So, the Red advance continued unchecked.Back on the quayside the Turks had landed their one unit of cavalry, and their field gun. The artillery spotted had also commandeered the balcony of the largest building in town, and was busy trying to establish his communications with the gunboat. Meanwhile the Bolshevik cavalry kept up their advance, reaching the last little tree-lined hill to the north of the town – one that overlooked the harbour. To their left was a unit of Turkish infantry, trying to advance through the town. The Red cavalry charged, and soon the Turks found themselves fighting for their lives. Over the next turn or two the Turcoman cavalry charged them, while the second unit of Red cavalry charged their Turkish counterparts. The resulting cavalry stramash ended with only a depleted unit of Turkish cavalry left standing.To the south the armoured train pulled up to the buffers outside the station and began shelling the big building, now occupied by the Turkish spotter and a machine gun team. The armoured car chased the retreating tribesemen through the hilltop wood on the south edge , and eventually drove them off the table. So, with all the Turcomans wiped out, it was down to the Turks alone to stem the Red tide, which had now reached the eastern outskirts of the town. That’s where we stopped the game. This is going to be a two part fracas, so we’ll resume it next week, and fight the game to its conclusion. That’s one of the joys of having a big attic where you can leave things like this set up! The rules worked a treat, and everyone – all three of us – thoroughly enjoyed this unusual and colourful game.