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"Sikh War gaming Enthusiasts" Topic

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MiniPigs11 Jul 2019 7:24 p.m. PST

I am just getting into this period. I ordered the Featherstone book and I have the Osprey book on the Uniforms of the Sikh army. I can see the Sikhs have great looking soldiers and beautiful uniforms; the Newline 20mm range is quite extensive and appealing.

What is it you like about the period and how much do you game it? I am looking for what makes tabletop gaming the Sikh wars different from other horse and musket subjects in order to determine why one would never get sick of gaming Sikhs.

ChrisBBB2 Supporting Member of TMP11 Jul 2019 9:54 p.m. PST

We have fought a number of the main battles of these and other Indian wars: Maharajpore, Mudki, Ferozeshah, Punniar etc. Couple of AARs on my blog:




Things that make it interesting include:
- the asymmetry of the two sides, essentially quality vs quantity, high-calibre Brits/EIC vs a Khalsa with a hard core but a lot of low-grade troops, especially masses off cavalry
- unconventional things like having to protect baggage trains
- weather/terrain factors.

Basically feels like Napoleonics but with some extra local flavour. Good fun.


Bloody Big BATTLES!

Dennis12 Jul 2019 11:38 a.m. PST

Chris: You seem to be treating the Sikhs and the Marathas (Maharajpore and Punniar) as if they were the same-"masses of cavalry" and "asymmetry," but they weren't. The Marathas were mostly cavalry, with some infantry. Indian armies, including the early Sikhs, before contact with Europeans tended to cavalry heavy armies, with some poor infantry. As the European powers demonstrated the effectiveness of European trained and disciplined native infantry, some of the native Indian rulers started training their own infantry on the European model. This European trained infantry in native service, while better than its predecessors, still wasn't up to EICo. standards-see Daulat Scindia's infantry at Assaye for example.

The Sikh army, after Ranjit Singh's modernization of it however, was very similar to the British/EICo. army and was the most successful of the European trained Indian armies. The regular infantry was trained by veterans of the French army in the Napoleonic wars. The artillery had also been modernized by Ranjit Singh on the European model with good equipment and guns, but-IIRC-the artillerymen weren't up to British or EICo. standards. The Sikh regular cavalry was brave, but there weren't many of them-4 regiments as I recall. The Sikhs had irregular infantry and cavalry that was not much use in a battle.

So, in the two Anglo-Sikh wars the British and Sikh armies were symmetrical, not asymmetrical. Both armies were mostly composed of well-trained regular infantry, good modern artillery and modest numbers of regular cavalry. Both armies had irregular cavalry, with the Sikhs having more irregular cavalry while the British irregular cavalry was probably better led-Skinner and that lot. So far as I know, neither irregular cavalry or infantry played a significant role in battle.

So, to my mind at least, the interesting thing about the two Anglo-Sikh wars is the symmetry of the two armies. Both had good regular infantry (the typical Sikh regiments weren't as good as the British Royal Service regiments, but were almost certainly better than the EICo. native infantry regiments-there was a good reason for the British to brigade a Royal Service or EICo. European regiment with every 2 or 3 native infantry regiments), good artillery, good but limited numbers of regular cavalry, and some irregular cavalry. With two similar armies in roughly similar numbers, it would be expected that the battles would be hard fought and they were. There were some organizational differences. As I recall, Sikh brigades tended to be all-service formations with regular infantry, some artillery, and some cavalry-regular or irregular-all part of the unit.

The problems with the Sikh army were principally problems with leadership. The Sikh commanders didn't want to go to war and were unenthusiastic fighters at best. Sikh company and field grade leadership is also suspect. After Ranjit Singh's death there was kind of a soft mutiny in many or most of the Sikh regular infantry regiments. The troops stopped obeying their officers, and harassed them or drove them out of camp, and elected soviets of enlisted men to run the regiments-they also demanded more money. If this wasn't corrected by the beginning of the Anglo-Sikh wars-and I've seen nothing that said it was-then I would expect Sikh leadership at the regimental level to be somewhat flighty-the soldiers would obey orders they understood and approved of, but might not follow orders with which they disagreed. This, combined with the strong Sikh tendency to bravery, might result in somewhat erratic behavior by Sikh units.

ChrisBBB2 Supporting Member of TMP12 Jul 2019 11:06 p.m. PST

Dennis, thanks for the correction. I know the Marathas and Sikhs were different (I did say "other Indian wars") but it's been a couple of years since I played Mark's games and the armies have blurred into one in my head!

Your mention of leadership does ring a bell: certainly we fought battles were the Sikh side was rated Passive and had few or no Generals represented, which produces erratic behaviour on table. Also artillery: I recall games where the EIC/Brits were outgunned by entrenched artillery.


MiniPigs13 Jul 2019 8:28 a.m. PST

I guess there arent as many Sikh War gamers as I thought there were. I was hoping to be regaled with tales of unique combats and scenarios and arguments that you could also with a few extra units bleed into 1st Afghan War or Indian Mutiny.

Oh well…

Mad Guru Supporting Member of TMP08 Aug 2019 4:08 p.m. PST

If you want to maintain historical accuracy in uniforms, sadly you can't really "bleed" British and/or Indian units backwards in time for use in the First Afghan War, since there was a major shift in styles in the interim. The 1830s featured the last version of "Napoleonic" style uniforms for British infantry, complete with shakos, which had been replaced for British units by the time the First Sikh War broke out at the end of 1845. Same holds true for the most part with regard to "bleeding" figures forward from Sikh Wars into the Indian Mutiny, though some HEIC Indian troops can be pressed into service. If you're not picky about uniform accuracy, then you could use the same British and HEIC figures for all of those campaigns.

I've always admired the Sikh Wars from afar. I think part of the reason is that when it comes to appearances of the British & Indian forces involved, they are somewhat hermetically sealed, in terms of not being useful for other conflicts. That being said, the Sikhs were the best regular army of foot, horse and guns that the British ever faced in India, as was already mentioned above, supplemented by irregular religious fanatics, which can make for some very interesting battles/games. The terrain is also interesting, with the Sutlej River and amphibious transport playing an important part in some of the major battles. I agree with what Dennis, that what's distinct about the wars is the relative symmetry of the armies, something I also enjoy about the Second Afghan War, which involved the Afghan regular army, trained and equipped in imitation of the Anglo-Indian army, though at a lower level of competence compared to their Sikh predecessors.

MiniPigs12 Aug 2019 11:51 a.m. PST

@Mad Guru,

I was just wondering what other wars, scenarios there were to be had in the area in the preceding or following period.It's a tough concept to communicate. For instance, I rationalized a large AWI French collection by telling myself, I could use them for French Revolutionary scenarios, SYW scenarios and Caribbean/India scenarios.

I am not really that fussed about specific accuracy of uniforms. I had been out of the hobby for a long time and when I came back into it, I hadnt handled figures for forever.

At first, when I saw people saying that they couldnt buy such and such a figure range because it was the wrong canteen for the Giacomo Campaign of April, 1851, I actually thought it would make a difference but now I realize you really cant see these details. I wonder why all these people do this to themselves? It's especially comic when I see the sorts of paint jobs they put on the figures.

Frankly, when I first used to wargame we'd use Napoleonic British for the Crimea and SYW French for the AWI. But I do know the anxiety of which you touch upon; it seems to have infected most of us. Even pro figure painters wont send me things quickly because they're afraid their work will appear on line and if the canteens arent the right shade, people will think less of their abilities.

I am not sure when this purity started but I imagine it's a matter of Internet faux intellectualism and bullying. It still make sme chuckle that some of the dum-dums in the hobby get ahold of a specialty book or two and think they know more than the best professors in the field.I see a lot of people do nice paint jobs only to have someone say (Someone who is jealous and doesnt own the figures) that the unit didnt wear such and such cuffs. Makes me glad I dont know them.

I mean there are some limits; one perhaps doesn't want to use figures which are a lot smaller among the others in their collection or use Napoleonic British in the Sudan but otherwise, the idea that one can't use FIW militia as Colonial AWI militia because the shoes are different is a barking mad one.

The Internet can either be a great time saver or a massive black hole for time, and one has to know how to navigate it well.

I am just hijacking your comments as an excuse to rant, no reflection on you at all…love your blog.

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