Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Some Rif-related pun

(There must be a pun around wargaming the Rif revolt that I can use for a title, but I can't quite think of it for the moment.)

So this Monday, at short notice but after a long time's consideration we had a go at the Spanish in North Africa. After all once you have started on the Spanish Civil War and have a box load of Spanish Foreign Legion there's sort of an inevitability about the whole idea. Their Rif opponents came from the Ansar in my Sudan collection. There may be some accuracy issues with this, but they're arab-like chaps on foot, horse and camel and if you squint and look at them from a distance they're a pretty good substitute, apart from their lack of modern firearms and heavier weapons.

My knowledge of the Rif revolt goes back to senior school, and my discovery of Abd El Krim in an article in Purnell's History of the 20th Century. This, allied to Matchbox's release of the Renault FT-17 (as used in the Rif Revolt it said on the packet), meant an on-off research relationship encompassing mainly the FFL initially. The SCW work I then did made me realise that the Spanish side of the Rif mountains was more significant, so here we are.

There has also been some discussion on the RFCM group recently about using Square Bashing for the Rif revolt. I've not played the new version but I feel that whilst SB might do for the one or two large set piece actions generally the campaign has little in common with the Western Front of the Great War. So how should we approach the subject?

My default setting for Colonials in the desert is Science v Pluck. The scenario driven action, with umpire moderated natives, works very well and provides the sort of challenges facing Europeans on campaign which are never simply military. Natives can be concealed and emerge at surprising moments and the action can be placed in an overall context which means that players' actions have implications outside the game being played at the time.

SvP covers the Sudan up to the Omdurman period, so the data set in the rules for small arms and machine guns is close enough for the 1920s. The biggest hole on the weaponry side is artillery (well, and tanks of course, but one step at a time I think) however a quick flick through of Douglas Porch’s “Conquest of Morocco” reveals that the French found that the Soixante Quinze could out range the Krupps 77 which was effective up to 2 ½ miles. That’s enough for an evening’s game.

As I said above I ended up doing this at fairly short notice, so I didn’t have much time to work on the rule modifications. However having the netbook in the back pack meant I could write up a scenario on the train home at least.

So here we are, a couple of brave battalions of Legionnaires marching across the North African desert.

They are accompanied by two squadrons of cavalry, and a battery of Krupps. Their camel baggage units come courtesy of my Sudan British. At the moment the guns are being pulled by a horse limber, again from my Sudan boxes. This will later be replaced by a lorry limber provided by Phil from his inter-war Italians.

Their mission is to investigate the reports of insurrection like activity around this village in the interior. The Rif Revolt hasn't broken out properly, so we are in the early stages of the campaign.

The suspected rebel village. Quiet, isn't it?
My two regulars, Will & Phil, split the commands with Will taking the infantry, and Phil taking everything else and overall command. They adopted a simple plan, which involved using the cavalry for scouting before stopping a mile or so from the village and announcing their arrival with a barrage from the field guns. Following this they were to send forward an intelligence officer to talk to the villagers.

One of the good things about SvP is that the entertainment can come from several sources, not just the actual fighting. Since some unpleasantness in an earlier game my players are fastidious in sorting out the column of march, with the implications of what goes where promoting much debate.

As Phil had brought along some aircraft I permitted the Spanish some aerial reconnaissance, flying in on my patent inverted plastic wine glass technique.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Clearly a plane!
 The aeroplane flew a recce pattern, and eschewing the conventional methods of relaying information (dropping a message in a can or landing at an airfield and sending a messenger), boldly determined to land in the desert to pass on the intelligence it had gleaned.

Strangely enough such happenings are not covered in SvP, so I extemporised*.

The plane landed successfully, passed on the information, then before we knew it was back up in the air and away.

The column wended its way into the desert, not trusting entirely to the reports received. One cavalry squadron was sent off to scout the ridge line previously over flown by the aeroplane, with strict orders not to be seen by anything that was there, and to keep its collective heads below the crest line.

This recce revealed a deep wadi just over the ridge line, full of Bedouin camel riders clearly hiding. They didn't react to the cavalry scouts (they were waiting on the dust cloud from the column to get closer), which allowed Will to deploy one of his battalions into line and move towards them to contain any threat.

The line adavances fearlessly across the open desert
Will chose not to skirmish, and advanced shoulder to shoulder in traditional Brits v Fuzzy-Wuzzy style, with the MG company ever ready to deploy and provide cover.

With this flank guard in place the rest of the column moved up, ready to deploy its guns for the warning volley at the village.

Artillery to rear, pulled by Phil's desert lorry limber.
The rest of the column deployed in a slightly looser defence formation, ensuring they had all round cover and commenced to deploy the guns. The remaining cavalry squadron was sent to scout the left rear area to see if any nastiness was brewing there.

The village goes up in smoke

The first salvo was devastatingly effective, and caused a substantial building in the village to explode into its component atoms. from now on I think the Rif considered themselves to be fully notified of the Spanish presence.

At this point the scouting to the rear left proved to have been prudent as a native cavalry force was noted advancing at a fair pace. Not only this, but they had some field guns with them, and soon opened up an unexpected and fairly effective fire.

This fire was obviously a general signal as everything started to converge, and Riffian foot emerged, skirmishing from the village. The Spanish players decided to dispense with the plan to send a messenger under a white flag of truth to the village.

Effective MG fire had dispersed the Bedouin camelry, and as the cavalry started to mill about all guns were turned that way to discourage them and to deal with the (well handled) native guns.

Explosions in the desert as the guns deploy
The Spanish were taking casualties, but they continued to handle their guns well and use their infantry aggressively. This approach saw off the foot from the village, but not before they deployed a machine gun and cut up a few of the Spaniards.

But the writing was on the wall. Superior firepower and European trained troops started to take their toll, and the insurgents melted into the desert.

The follow up advance into the village found nothing but women and children all bewailing how they had been held hostage and their men folk whisked away. The opportunities for reprisals were limited.

The scouting cavalry found the remains of the native guns. Disconcertingly they turned out to be modern quick firing guns, and some of the bodies looked distinctly European.

Food for thought for a future game.

The experiment seemed to go down well with both players, so we will revisit this period once I have done a bit more proper research. SvP works generally for desert actions, as I said above. Future games probably need me to work on the rules, rather than free kriegspieling large chunks of it.

A very satisfactory evening all round.

*Made stuff up as I went along.


  1. Phil has osted a player's account with some better pictures at:

  2. Sorry about not being there. will bring NQM next week if that's ok?

    1. NQM would be excellent. Same table layout?

    2. Yes please Graham,

      Khaki surface or cloth please, lots of contours available and linear markers for barbed wire/minefields.

      Regards, Chris

  3. Trebian,

    Very interesting ... and different. Will the Regulares be making an appearance in the future?

    All the best,


    1. The Regulares are currently pencilled in as Rifs with modern weapons, but I think they may make a showing in their mercenary colours as well.

      In your SCW researches did you come across a good, short, military summary of the Rif campaign, complete with maps & OOBs (preferably gift wrapped as well!)


  4. Re your question, I was tempted by 'riffing yarns' (but I'm not sure how light-hearted to be ...) ...


    1. Riffing Yarns......obvious now you mention it!