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The Battle of Bishtek, 1920


The Back of Beyond, Contemptible Little Armies / Back of Beyond, 28mm

I mentioned to Colin Jack that we hadn’t played a Back of Beyond game for ages, and so he produced this rather bizarre scenario to keep us all entertained. The game involved a clash between the Red Army and the advancing Turks and their Basmachi Allies in front of the small Central Asian city of Bishtek. For the past few years we’ve been intermittently playing a campaign with several factions – Reds, Whites, “Green” nationalists (Basmachis, Mongols, Afghans and Tibetans) and “Blue” interventionists – the British and the Turks. In this game the Bolsheviks were supported by radical Indian troops and their Soviet “advisors” from the “Army of God”, and together these two armies of two factions apiece slugged it out for control of the region.bob-002Of course, in any Colin Jack scenario things are never that straightforward. He warned us that Bishtek had no strategic value during the game, and subtly advised us to keep clear of it. Therefore my Turks wisely gave the place a wide berth, and instead they began a slow advance towards the centre of the table. The Bolshevik player  was less wary, and on Turn 1 he sent a cavalry unit riding through the town, while infantry moved up to occupy the buildings on its northern periphery. It turned out that the place was occupied after all – Bishtek was the home of a small force of local renegades – a fearsome combination of former Polish prisoners of war and wild Mongolian cavalry. The Bolshevik horse was shot up badly, and the survivors were soon fleeing back towards their lines.bob-019Over on the other side of the table the Bismachis occupied a temple standing in the middle of nowhere, and sent the semi-regular Bokharan cavalry straight into the middle of their foes. The “Army of God” was composed of a few radical Indian units backed up by Afghan tribal allies, and it was these Afghans who bore the brunt of the grand cavalry charge. Amazingly the cavalry won the day, and not only saw off their opponents but carved a big hole in the enemy lines.bob-026At that stage the “Army of God” commander brought up an armoured car – the only vehicle on table, but it was soon seen off by a lucky shot from a Basmachi machine gun. Two firefights developed on either side of the cavalry melee, as the Indian radicals (kitted out in old Indian army uniforms) took on the Basmati, supported by a unit of White volunteers, in suitably white coats. The Whites were gun down, but their opponents were seen off in their turn by rifle fire from the Turks. By the end of the game there was little left of the “Army of God”, and those troops who remained were looking pretty shaky.bob-014In front of Bishtek the Turks continued to keep their distance, but screened the growing numbers of Mongol bandit cavalry who faced them off on the outskirts of the town. In Bishtek itself the Bolsheviks weren’t really making much headway, as firing roared out between the buildings, and cavalrymen clashed in the narrow streets. To complicate matters for the Bolshevik commander his own troops strung out between the town and the “Army of God” were also getting into trouble.bob-009After a lengthy but utterly inconclusive artillery exchange between the Turks and the Reds the Turkish machine gun got the range, and steadily mowed down the leading unit of Bolshevik infantry. That paved the way for a general Turkish advance, supported by cavalry. The Siberian riflemen of the Bolshevik reserve put up a good fight, and caused the Turks significant casualties, but in this sector of the battlefield the outcome wasn’t really in much doubt. On the final turn the Turkish cavalry saw off the battered remnants of their Bolshevik counterparts, while the Siberians went down in a blaze of Turkish Mauser bullets.bob-023The game therefore ended in a thorough drubbing for the Reds, but of course the Turks and Bismachis were no closer to occupying Bishtek itself, which remained firmly in the hands of the Polish-Mongolian bandits. Well, Back of Beyond games are monumentally silly affairs, with so many weird factions, but the games are always great fun. The rules are pretty bloody, but that’s all part of the charm of the thing. Sometimes a set of “4,5,6 and you’re dead” rules are exactly what the doctor ordered…bob-016

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