Raid on Sualco

Played at Cold Wars 2002

Read a full description of the scenario setup, forces, and special rules here.

Special guest commentary by the scenario designer, Dr. Rick Norton.

Private Franz Siebens, "Fritz" to his friends, slapped his neck as yet another mosquito tried making a meal of him. Although daylight was only beginning to break, it was beastly hot and his woolen uniform stuck to his skin. Service in Africa seemed like a grand adventure back in Munich. The reality was poisonous reptiles, crushing heat, fearsome natives, and rigid Prussian discipline.

He paced along the bridge spanning the Rio Perdito, feeling a little foolish, a lone guard on a bridge across a river in the back of beyond. His companions on duty at least had the comfort of the guard shacks, but as the newest recruit to the Sualcan garrison, he had the pleasure of walking this bridge for the Kaiser from four until eight in the morning. Judging by the graying sky, there was more than an hour left on his watch.

Suddenly twin flashes lit the water of the bay, followed by thundering booms that launched thousands of exotic, screaming birds from their trees. The great shore batteries at the mouth of the river had fired! A fountain of dirty, teal-blue water sprayed along one side of an approaching vessel, then a red and orange explosion erupted from the other. Fritz stared, open-mouthed, at the ship bearing straight toward his bridge. Too late, he turned to run. There was a crash like two trains colliding, and Fritz felt rushing air briefly before plunging into the fatal waters of the Perdito. The raid on Sualco had begun!

The first part of the Raid on Sualco is a three-turn British attempt to run the batteries of the town and ram the bridge across the Rio Perdito. Victoria's tars passed up the river undetected for the first two turns, but their luck ran out on the third. Both guns opened fire but only one hit, causing four British casualties among the embarked infantry. Then Nostromo smashed into the bridge, making a good start for Her Majesty's raiders.

The defenders, however, were alerted by the fire of the batteries and the collision at the bridge. Two soldiers were positioned in each of the bridge guard houses. A fifth guard ("Fritz") walked the span, but he was killed in the collision. Ten town militia were resting among the buildings on the left (southern) bank of the river. Five German regulars patrolled near the warehouses, five more were entering the nearby native quarter, and the last five were in the town on the north side of the river. Twenty native spearmen were assembled in the native quarter on the north bank.

Commander Horace Poncebottom III smiled grimly as his binoculars swept the harbor. His steam launches had either tied up to Sualcan wharves or beached themselves, precisely as planned. He could see the Marines moving ashore on the north bank and his naval infantry performing an almost identical movement on the south. At the bow of Nostromo a mixed force of redcoats and sailors swarmed onto the bridge, providing cover for the all-important demolition teams. He chose to leave both his field piece and Gatling gun aboard Nostromo to provide immediate fire support. The first rounds from the cannon fell among the native spearmen.

The British debarkation from Nostromo onto the bridge took two turns.

The remainder of the raiding force split in half, the two portions landing on opposite banks. This move had strategic implications. It reduced the attacker's mass and firepower, but allowed more buildings to be searched. The British had decided to silence the shore batteries rather than risk their fire again on the way out, and sending separate forces was the only intelligent way to do that. Splitting up also gave the small pockets of defenders a better chance to concentrate and counterattack.

Ashore, the Germas and Costanaguans reacted with alacrity. Teutonic discipline clearly came through, as the defenders alerted immediately and moved to repel the invaders.

On the south bank the town militia formed a skirmish line across the town's front and engaged the advancing sailors. The German regulars led by Oberfeldwebel Storch double-timed from the warehouses toward the bridge. Unable to traverse their guns toward the town, the shore battery crews grabbed rifles and hunkered down inside their concrete emplacements.

 On the north bank the native contingent -- the largest defensive concentration with 20 figures -- ran onto the bridge. German regulars dropped prone and opened fire. The second shore battery crew also picked up their rifles, but their NCO led them into the field where they dropped also prone and began firing on the Marines.

 The defenders' reaction to the initial landings was interesting. In playtesting, the standard response was to fall back into the buildings and fight from there. The immediate activation of all units was certainly a plus for the defenders, and the speed of the native advance was impressive.

"Bloody hell!" thought Poncebottom. "Those native devils move damnably fast." He quickly ordered his men on the bridge to withdraw to the south bank. This move took them away from the advancing spearmen but right into the fire from the Germans in the blockhouses.

On the south bank the RN traded shots at a disadvantage with the crafty militia. Stung, they fixed bayonets and charged, overrunning the enemy but losing casualties in the process. A detachment was sent west to capture the shore battery. Launch crews moved in behind and fetched their wounded comrades back to the river.

Likewise, the RMLI was taking casualties on the right bank. Half of the marines rushed the prone German sailors and made rapid work of them with the bayonet. The other half began pushing the German regulars back toward the bridge.

 As should be expected, the British held the initiative and the momentum for the first turns while suffering manageable losses. Their foresight in collecting wounded figures into the boats early on would later pay large dividends.

With the militia gone, Oberfeldwebel Storch arrayed his men behind the stone wall upriver of the bridge road, using the block house to anchor the line. He knew he could hold this position for a time, but saw no chance for offensive operation.

On the far side of the bridge, the native spearmen charged splendidly for Nostromo.

 Storch held his position throughout the game, in spite of being whittled down to only a handful of men. Except for the native spearmen, resistance on the right bank was all but spent. The attack of the spearmen was about to become one of the more cinematic moments of the game.

Seeing the onrushing spearmen, Poncebottom ordered the artillery crew to abandon their gun and move aft to be replaced by infantry. He pulled more men off the bridge to the south, leaving behind only a small firing line to help repulse the natives. It had the potential to be a close-run thing.

On the banks, house to house searches commenced and the last defenders west of the bridge were cornered in the shore battery emplacement. The Marines moved toward the bridge.

The random movement order favored the British, enabling them to pull the gun crew clear and bring up infantry from below decks. The poor natives were in a killing sack.

The remaining natives (less than half of those that started the attack) surged over Nostromo's gunwales but were met with a wall of fire and bayonets. They were repulsed with only light British casualties. The Gatling gun put paid to the remaining guards in the north blockhouse. The demo crew set charges on the right end of the bridge.

With the native attack repulsed, the British seemed to have the situation neatly in hand. Losses, however, were heavier than anticipated, and the ferocious (albeit suicidal) German counterattacks had delayed getting demolition work underway.

 Given a lull in the fighting, Poncebottom ordered the south end of the bridge blown. Finally, there was also an opportunity to lift the field piece and Gatling gun off Nostromo's listing deck with the ship's cranes. He and his second demo team embarked in a launch and crossed to the north bank. Sailors lined the stone wall opposite the German defenders while the last of the shore battery crew was picked off. More importantly, documents proving that fifth columnists were operating in British territory were discovered in the magistrate's office.

 This turn was the defenders' low ebb and essentially a free move for the British, who appeared well on their way to victory. As it turned out, however, the issue was far from decided.

Poncebottom urged his engineers to mine the remaining approach to the bridge. He could see dust clouds obscuring the rising sun, that he was sure signalled approaching infantry, and one moving fast enough that it must be a mounted unit. Although things were well in hand, he also knew that time would only aid the enemy. Several of his junior officers were dead or wounded. He ordered the sailors on the south bank to pull back toward the boats while the demolition team mined the light house.

Oberfeldwebel Storch stripped a new clip of bullets into his rifle and blazed away at the verdamt English across the road. He was about to cuff a private for looking over his shoulder when Storch saw what the private was looking at. Rifle and spear-armed native auxiliaries were moving up behind him. On the opposite bank he saw more spearmen and the well-drilled native cavalry riding hell for leather toward the enemy positions. Reinforcements at last!

Just when the British seemed to have the game in their pockets, reinforcements tilted the balance. The decision to abandon the south bank, rather than conduct a slow withdrawal, meant that the engineers would be setting no more dynamite once the lighthouse was demolished. It also put a stop to the search for incriminating evidence. The situation on the north was even worse. There, the speed of the native horsemen pinned the Marines at their wall, lest they be cut down in the open.

Poncebottom saw the lighthouse collapse in a cloud of terra cotta dust. "Score another for the engineer chappies," he thought. The native horsemen had dismounted and crept forward onto a low ridge, from where they were potting away at his marines in an effort to keep them busy while spearmen maneuvered onto their flank. "Too late, lads." He nodded to the Sergeant of Engineers beside him. With a roar the Rio Perdito bridge plunged into the muddy water, blocking the river. "Time to go methinks."

The demo teams made a beeline for the launch. Poncebottom gaped at the marines, who refused to leave the wall. "See here, sir," admonished the sergeant in command, "we have to meet these native fellows with fire or they'll be all over us and the boats. Why don't you hurry along to the launch and we'll catch you up?" Poncebottom gritted his teeth and stayed.

On the south bank the native rifles cut into the tars and fighting was fierce. The Gatling caused great execution among the spearmen, but it would have to be abandoned soon. Storch and his men were now in the former lines of his enemy and momentum was passing to the Germans.

 The decision to stand and meet the spearmen was undoubtedly tactically correct. But what the clever (and it was clever) marine CO could not know was that the remaining German reinforcements were about to arrive almost directly on his flank.

Oberst Limanspritz urged his tired soldiers forward. Two German companies, each dragging a field piece, had marched all morning to reach the mouth of the river. Now, spread before Limanspritz was the perfect opportunity. Remnants of a British marine company were engaged at close range with spearmen and dismounted horsemen. Limanspritz ordered his men to charge the British flank.

This was another magic moment. The Germans were pushing on the left bank, but the British withdrawal was orderly and had begun early enough to clearly allow them to reach and board their boats before they could be brought to hand to hand combat. On the right bank the situation was far different. Limanspritz' troops had already cut off one wounded Marine who would have to be left behind. Now they might bag the remainder of the unit and maybe a launch as well.

"Good God, we're done for!" yelled Poncebottom. Advancing from the flank were ranks of German colonial troops, their bush hats aligned in perfect rows. Before he could do anything they charged, only to fall short, exhausted. Marveling at his good fortune the British CO screamed at his Marines to get in the boat. It was at this moment that he was struck down, wounded by a native's bullet. He was passed unceremoniously into the nearest launch.

Meanwhile the other launch assigned to the right bank took on the last wounded man and cast off, Marine Tozier leaping aboard from the pier as the launch maneuvered out into the channel.

On the south, the launches pulled away as German forces took up firing positions on the bank. A shell screamed through the air and plunged into the river. The boats proceeded down river, pursued by shells.

An astonishingly bad dice roll for the Germans' charge move saved the RMLI and got them to their boat. Now it was going to be a race for safety.

Bright paint now stained red, filled with wounded and groaning men, the British launches made their way down stream, still taking cannon fire from the bank. More men were killed, including a few previously wounded. Shell splashes rose among the boats on the south bank until they were clear. Then the first of the north bank launches made its escape. The last launch was turning when the last German shot found its mark. There was a shattering roar and the launch was torn in half. An attempt by its sister launch to commence a rescue fell short. Half the men in the launch were killed or drowned. The others made it to shore where they were taken prisoners by the Germans.

 Thus ended the raid. The results gave the victory to the Germans and Costanagua, although the British did manage to blow the bridge and the light house. They almost blew up the northern blockhouse but the pressure of reinforcements prevented that. Their losses were heavy, in the vicinity of forty percent and wounded were left behind. However, it was not the dramatic sinking of the launch that put paid to a British victory, rather it was a failure to keep the demolition crews active. Had they been blowing something to bits every two turns, the outcome would have been different. Still, it was a visually pleasing and certainly close run affair.

Four months later a German cruiser pulled into Capetown, receiving full honors and ceremonies. Later that evening, the British Governor-General paid a courtesy visit on the embarked German Admiral, leaving behind a leather portfolio containing a sheaf of very interesting documents that had been kept secret from the British press and people. In return there was no fanfare when a small band of men, some still limping painfully and bearing other signs of having been wounded in apparently fierce combat debarked from the German ship and were taken in sealed carriages to government house. A still later award of a special "Africa" medal to 85 of Her Majesty's sailors, soldiers and marines did attract the attention of Fleet Street but very few particulars concerning the action for which it was awarded were ever reported. Later that year the name CDR Horace Poncebottom, RN (retired due to wounds) was to be found on the honors list. The Commander would die a mere two years after receiving his knighthood.

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