Thursday, October 16, 2014

And Now the Namas Too

When I started this blog a year ago, I focused on the German war with the Herero.  I once lived in parts of Northeastern Namibia where this conflict took place, and the war itself is better documented in the secondary sources to which I felt limited given my basic German language skills.  The development and release earlier this year of the  Roy Jones/Eric Alvarado Herero War Scenario and Rules Book was a happy coincidence, and I've got my hands full painting up the figures that these games will require. 

I might have stuck with 1904, but along the way my German translation skills have started to improve and I keep finding more primary sources that have bearing on this period as well as the war with the Nama that began as the Hereros were driven into the Omaheke and continued in various stages into 1908.  Having finished researching a little known skirmish near Uitkomst in the Grootfontein District and developed a game scenario based on what I discovered, I find I have a taste for more, but Roy and Eric have already covered most of the fights from the Herero War that have tabletop potential.

Roy has long had in mind a second volume in his Kaiser Over Africa series dealing with the Nama War of 1904-1908, and I look forward to its development.  For my part, I may from time to time turn my researcher's eye toward the arid mountains and dunes south of Windhoek where Hendrick Witbooi, Simon Koper, Cornelius Fredericks and Jakob Morenga made life very difficult for the Schutztruppen who were sent to oppose them. 

Some of the Germans who served in the South were also involved in the Herero conflict (Estorff, Volkmann and Deimling, among others), while some 250 Hereros fought alongside the Nama at Groß-Nabas in January of 1905: months after their defeat in the North.  This is also the conflict where camels come into use by the Schutztruppe both as draft animals and (in the final campaign) as cavalry mounts, and pack mules were used to transport mountain guns.

To acknowledge this expanded focus, the subtitle of this blog has been updated accordingly.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Lost African Penguin Colony of Cape Cross

The African penguin (Spheniscus demersus) once numbered in the millions.  Today its population has declined by 95% and if the trend is not reversed the species risks extinction in the next two decades.  There are about 5,000 breeding pairs left along the Namibian coast and another 21,000 in South Africa.  Industrial fishing is the main culprit.

Most of the remaining penguin colonies are on offshore islands, and I saw them off Luderitz  in Namibia when I visited there in 1991 and 1992.  At one time, however, there was a large mainland breeding colony in German Southwest Africa at Cape Cross, north of Swakopmund, as the above photograph from a book published in 1904 by Franz Seiner clearly illustrates.  Today, Cape Cross hosts a very large (and very pungent) Cape Fur seal colony, but the penguins that were once there in vast numbers have vanished.  There may still be a few that come ashore, but their last strongholds are far to the south along the Namibia Coast.  Cape Fur seals compete with the penguins for food and sometimes consider them as prey as well.

Alas, there is no historic scenario from the German-Herero war that would call for penguins on the tabletop.  Sadder still is the thought that these marvelous birds may soon have no place in the wild either.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Back to the German-Herero War Painting Table: What's on Deck in 28mm?

The last four months spend researching and developing a skirmish scenario based on the historical battle of Uitkomst have been an exciting and rewarding interlude for me, as I hope they have been for those of you who have been following along with the 12 part series that resulted from that effort.  Although I am considering tackling a second battle scenario from this period, I don't have the bandwidth to take on that project right away: certainly not while also addressing the huge backlog of figures that await my paints and brushes.

It won't surprise readers of this blog that I now possess a large number of Boer figures in 28mm scale, mounted and on foot, that I should start painting in earnest so I can begin play testing the Uitkomst skirmish.  They are a selection of mounted (Black Tree Designs, Foundry and Redoubt) and dismounted Boers (all of the above, plus North Star Africa and Empress).  The Black Tree horsemen are just slightly larger than Foundry's but usable together.  Redoubt's are both stylistically different and as a rule slightly too small for use with Black Tree.  For Uitkomst I'll be using five of Black Tree's and three of Foundry's mounted Boers, and a probably will favor North Star and Empress for the foot figures.  Redoubt's Boer horse holder is not ideal, with extremely long legs and a rough and ready sculpt, but I have not yet found a good alternative.

I've got 12 Mounted Hereros to paint (Empress Natal Native Horse with the spears removed from their quivers), and a really neat idea for one of the Herero's most effective war leaders - Assa Riarua.  Then there are the German civilians who fought at Uitkomst (represented thus far by figures from North Star, Foundry and Redoubt), and a growing number of vehicles with draft animals, drivers and figures representing native handlers (Treiber) that are needed for scenarios such as Groß-Barmen in the Jones/Alvarado Herero War Scenario and Rules Book

I may start, however, with a scenic vignette, featuring an ubiquitous sight characteristic of the terrain in central and eastern Hereroland, along with one of its associated denizens.  It provides a welcome contrast to an otherwise flat and mundane landscape of thorn and savannah, not to mention a bit of cover.  Your guesses are welcome in the comments, but you will need to wait for the big reveal...

Uitkomst on the Tabletop; Adapting the Historical Skirmish for Miniature Wargaming (The Battle of Uitkomst Part XII and last)

In this twelve part series on the Battle of Uitkomst, I have gathered together and evaluated the best available contemporary German source material to document and reconstruct this colonial skirmish and place it in historical context.   Together, these posts provide the most comprehensive analysis ever presented, in English or any other language, of this short but bloody episode from the first weeks of the German-Herero war of 1904. 

In addition to satisfying my own intellectual curiosity about a forgotten incident from long ago that took place in a part of the world where I spent four years during my young adulthood, this research project has informed the development of a skirmish scenario for tabletop wargaming that I have titled "Ambush at Uitkomst: Volkmann's Gambit".

View a .pdf of the full scenario here:
I am indebted to Dr. Roy Jones, Jr., host of the Hererowars blog and co-creator with Eric Alvarado of the scenario and rules book Kaiser Over Africa, Vol. 1 The Herero War (available for purchase through  Roy has been an enthusiastic and generous collaborator on this project, always willing to consider new evidence whenever I unearthed and forwarded more German source material to him.  He has willingly shared his wealth of knowledge of the time period and experience designing and playing historical scenarios from the conflict using 25mm miniatures.  His Herero War rules derive from the venerable The Sword and the Flame (TSATF) system, but dramatically enhance them by adapting to the unique characteristics of this particular colonial war. 

The scenario for our Uitkomst skirmish assumes that Roy and Eric's adapted rules are used, but also includes modifications to address the unique attributes of the Boer element that are different from those used in TSATF's 1st Boer War statistics.  It also treats the small but significant number of German civilian war volunteers for whom Uitkomst was their first military experience differently from the regular Schutztruppen and reservists who rode in the German column. 

Many of the figures called for in Roy and Eric's Herero War book will work for Uitkomst, but there are some new ones required as well.  You will need 8 mounted and 8 dismounted Boer figures to play this scenario, as well as 8 standing mounts.    Boers do not require horse holders when firing on foot (though they do when charging or in close combat), while Germans do.  You will need figures to represent 2 Schutztruppen horse holders and 1 civilian war volunteer to hold a total of 12 mounts when the Germans fight on foot, and 2 Boers holding a total of 8 mounts when they charge or engage in close combat on foot.  Horse holders do not fire while they are controlling more than one mount.  Both horses and their holders are potential casualties in this scenario.

Battle of Uitkomst game board (4' x6')
There are a few more special scenario rules.  In this skirmish, mounted Hereros who enter the dense thorn bushes that cover more than half the game board are assumed to be fighting dismounted (without the need for horse holders).  Boers can fight from concealment just as Hereros, and are less likely to stand and fight or charge on foot like the German troops unless under Volkmann's firm leadership.

Update: This Uitkomst scenario, co-authored by me and Roy Jones, Jr., had undergone further revisions and will be play tested by Northern Virginia Gamers (NOVAG) in January, 2015.  Here is a link to the .pdf of the pre-play test version. If any readers of this blog decide to give it a try, I'd love to hear about your experience. Contact me in the comments, below.