As a correspondent for the Zanzibar Times I was privileged to be attached to her Majesty’s forces in Africa during the recent joint British and German punitive expedition into the wild and un subjugated territories to the west. Speaking both languages German and English and I might mention Arabic, Farsi, Swahili, Zulu, Pigeon, French, and six other languages fluently I made myself useful as an interpreter for both sides, soon winning the freedom to roam as I would through the long column of forces heading towards Dorodoom fortress.
Our long column set out from the coast early in the morning of January 17, 1880. After traveling for six days covering almost 300 mi. we made camp and were joined in the morning by a long column of Imperial Prussian troops. Among the many troops was one of the Kaiser’s new MARK IV land ships! Quite a sight, very impressive, one can only hope that it does all that the Prussian aristocrat Col. von Stopengoof says it is capable of. During the first night of our combined encampment the crews of several of the German vehicles including the MARK IV land ship played a lively game of soccer with the crews of several of the British steam spiders. It was a rare sight indeed to see these men so used to being on opposite sides of the battlefield laughing and joking, drinking and smoking as if
they were brothers. Truly war makes strange bedfellows!
After being encamped for two days while orders of march were issued and the commanders of the different imperial forces discussed their battle plans and issued orders we moved out in a long column towards destiny and Dorodoom! It was at this point after wonderful brunch of Bratwurst, sauerkraut, and potato pancakes, liberally doused with several pints of German beer I was invited to spend the day riding with the Prussian section of the left column. The British column paralleled us on the right separated by only a couple hundred meters. Most of the day passed uneventfully with discussions on the battle to come, and wonderment at the marvelous terrain we are passing through dominating our time. It was near four o’clock as we approached one of the last passes in what were several rings of small mountainous hills approaching the plain of Dora. Once we reach the plain the fortress would be but a day’s march off. It was at this point that we received a message from the British column requesting a halt for a “brew up” or tea. My host the Prussian general Gottlieb von Bustenhalter grumbled at the delay especially since we were now in a pass that invited an ambush. He also knew however that the stubborn British would stop no matter what for their tea. He replied that at the first suitable spot he would call a halt to his column.
It was at this point that the serene quiet of this beautiful pass was split asunder with the screams of native warriors and immediately to our front dozens of them emerged from the thick brush and swarmed around the Prussian Mark VI land ship. I spurred my horse up onto a hill on the column’s right for safety and a better view since I was a noncombatant and only armed with a pistol for my personal protection. As I reach the top of a hill I could hear and see the British column about 100 yd. to my right crossing over this small hill and descending into the pass whose bottom contained a small river. My eyes returned to the head of the Prussian column where a dozen or so natives threw spears and fired arrows at the Mark VI. It carried no heavy offensive armament and I am told was mainly constructed to safely transport troops and provide a firing platform for those troops. I was assured that a heavier version is currently being built in Germany. The Prussian shutztruppen under the command of Captain von Luck and accompanied by Col. Stopengoof returned fire dropping several of the natives. The natives fire however was not without effect, one shutztruppen with a spear threw his neck fell to the ground.
At this point I saw what appeared to be a European among the natives shouting commands! At his command several natives rushed to the back of the Mark IV and attempted to board the ship. This was hotly contested by several shutztruppen on the rear fighting deck. During this melee I saw one of the natives attempting to place at keg of explosives on the rear deck! Fortunately he was not very adept at using matches and was shot off while failing to light the explosive.
The rest of the Prussian column was now starting to deploy behind the MARK IV and attempting to bring their guns to bear. Now a commotion on my right again attracted my attention, another group of what appeared to be Arab slavers that laid hidden in ambush attacked a British steam spider that had been rash enough to advance through the brush alone ahead of its infantry. Again these natives appeared to be equipped with barrels of explosives. They rushed the spider and attempted to attach the explosives to one of its legs. It seems that one of the crew inside noticed this as the leg snapped up and the lighted explosive ripped off flying through the air and exploding directly in front of the spiders main gun port. This must of damaged the spider’s gun, as it did not fire for the rest of the engagement. The British infantry with typical pluck now proceeded to close with the Arabs. The Arabs let loose a great cry and ran Pell Mel into the British line. The resulting struggle was a bloodbath for both sides; in the end which only took a few minutes I can see only a few figures left standing. One of these was a young corporal name TE Lawrence which I and later had the pleasure of discussing the battle over tea. He related the intense struggle between the Brit’s and the Arabs led by Omar the second, son of the famous Baghdad tent maker Omar I.
My attention now went back to the Prussian sight of the battle where Prussian firepower was taking its toll on the brave but poorly armed natives. As the battle and moved closer to my position I could now recognize the European figure with the natives he was none other than that scoundrel of back water ports “mad Jack Porter” who once served with his Majesty’s Navy until desertion led to a life of underhanded dealings around the globe. Mad Jack was firing his pistol and directing the natives in their attack when the exchange some several shots with Captain von luck resulted in von Luck’s luck running out! The Captain fell to the ground stunned with a bullet in his shoulder (he later recovered) No one ever being able to accuse mad Jack of being a coward he swung himself onto the rear deck of the Mark IV killing one shutztruppen in the process. He then began to climb up to the main fighting deck. He reached the deck that was occupied by three more shutztruppen and after several rounds of melee tossed one to the ground and ran through a second. At this point Col. Stopengoof who was up in the command section of the Mark IV jump down to the main deck to help the remaining shutztruppen in their battle with mad Jack.
The fight between mad Jack in Col. Stopengoof has become a legend, but I was there and I tell you that the legend is not an exaggeration! The two men went at each other to tooth and nail, sword and pistol, for nearly eight minutes (eight melee rounds for you Gaslight guys) before a backhanded swing by mad Jack with his pistol caught Col. Stopengoof on the side of the head knocking him into the ground stunned. The battle was even more fantastic since the remaining shutztruppen had entered it at one point making it a two on one affair. Mad Jack merely doubled his efforts parrying blow from von Stopengoof while running the unfortunate shutztruppen clean through with his sword. This action left mad Jack alone on the deck of the Mark IV. The Mark IV still contained troops and its crew was now proceeding to run around crushing natives under its massive tracks. Mad Jack made several roles to see if he could break into the below deck compartments. Never being very mechanical he failed.
The rest of the Prussians forming a battle line with a large Prussian walker commanding the center proceeded to engage the Arabs on the right flank. More natives appeared to the left and started to engage the Prussian left. However their lack of modern weapons placeed them at a severe disadvantage, their morale was also starting to waver. The Prussian walker finding the range of the Arabs started firing telling blows causing many casualties. This helped relieve the British on the right who are suffering many infantry casualties along with their disabled steam spider.
It was now that a stray round from on Arab musket grazed my temple causing me to lose consciousness. The rest of the battle was told to me by others while recuperating in a British medical tent after the battle.
It seems that the native forces had several more armored contraptions that they had thrown into the battle including a spar torpedo equipped Belgian steam crane and a massive Russian designed battle turtle. These vehicles however had suffered from their poor engineering and arrived at the battle quite late were their firing was ineffectual although it made for quite a sight I’m told. The disabled British steam spider in typical British fashion charged the steam crane in an attempt to prevent it from a ramming the Prussian walker. The Belgian steam crane fired its spar torpedo while underneath the steam spider. The only result was that the concussion of the blast caused the disabled gun of the steam spider to finally go off in the direction of the battle turtle! However the shot ran wild doing no damage. Several more Imperial regiments were now approaching the battle along with some towed British artillery. As night was starting to fall the natives realizing that they had lost the element of surprise to now faced a pitched battle with a technically superior foe faded back into the shadows. The Imperial troops worn and tired with a fair share of casualties made no attempt to follow. The battle was a draw.
After a discussion of the battle the following day in the command tent of the Imperial forces it was decided that this had been a spoiling attack in an attempt to slow the approach of Imperial forces to the fort of Dorodoom. It was thought that this was to give time to assemble more troops and prepare defenses at the fort. In that the natives were somewhat successful, as it has taken us several days to be ready to march again. Whether or not their sacrifice was worth it for them only time will tell. We march in the morning for what I will believe to be the final battle a Dorodoom.
Your Humble servant in Africa,
Henry S. Writerdon
London Times war correspondent attached to her Majesty’s forces.
Editors note: Henry was quite fatigued while he wrote this so please excuse any spelling or other errors you may find. Also the game was quite enjoyed by all six players including one eight years old and one I believe approaching 70! This shows you the wide appeal and playability of Gaslight. I also wish to thank the Gaslight writers Chris and Buck for their contributions to this game, and the dealers at the con for their contributions that allowed me to award all players in the game a reward. I will post this battle report as well as pictures on the Gaslight Yahoo group I would also like to thank all players to make these Gaslight games enjoyable for me to run.
Paul Witthans is a current paid member of HMGS / PSW and has 3 conventions under his belt, 8 years old and already a legend at rolling those dice. For those of you who have not figured it out yet Paul is my son and is becoming a great player and convention pal for his dad! My proudest moment was a comment from another player on how Paul had a good grasp on the rules, was a great sport and fun to play with. He does however demand to take his father latest creations out in the field for their first test in battle!