Thursday, 12 March 2009

55 Days at Sea: pre-dreadnought Navies at the time of the Boxer Rebellion

I had been considering a project involving the Boxer Rebellion for quite a while, having always been a fan of Charlton Heston and David Nivens' gallant efforts to oppose thousands of Hollywood extras at the siege of the legations, but had become rather frustrated by the lack of necessary troop types in my chosen scales.
Pendraken in 10mm, and  Navwar/Heroics & Ros in 6mm have great Colonial ranges, but no Boxers. Irregular step up to the plate with their own Boxer range, but somehow I wasn't feeling too confident of accurately depicting the different sailors and marines of the Allied Powers, and so I retired, somewhat disgruntled, only to be drawn back and disturbed by the siren call of a potential new project.
I'm sure many people have experienced it in their wargaming/collecting; the lure of 'TNBT' (The Next Big Thing!). Just how could I game the Rebellion?

I was re-reading Peter Flemings' great account, "The Siege of Peking", when suddenly it hit me - Sailors and marines come from ships- why not look at the Navies themselves?
Up to this point, I'd never considered Naval gaming, although I'd been impressed by some 1/3000th ships I'd seen at the Whiff of Grapeshot Show at Woolwich last year. Of course, a lot of people game navies in 1/1200th, but as always, my bank balance won out, and I started to trawl through the models available in Navwar's extensive and reasonably priced range.

Yet where to start? The natural point of course, would be the amphibious operation to storm the Taku Forts with a rag-tag fleet of international gunboats old and new, from the U.S. paddle steamer the Monocacy to the modern British Torpedo Boat Destroyers Fame and Whiting. Now although this would make for a cracking scenario, the numbers involved were strictly limited, and for me, the greatest advantage of choosing to work with smaller scale figures is the 'Mass' effect. Why have a few tiddlers when you could have squadrons, navies even?

Therefore I turned my attention to the international task force that assembled off the Taku Bar at the mouth of the Pei-Ho, and started to research who and what was present. At first this proved quite difficult, for most sources look at the ships in terms of those that provided sailors and marines to fight ashore, the Austro-Hungarian Zenta, for instance, rather than the wider fleets. Then I stumbled upon the following excellent web-page:

this had a diagram from a Russian book that depicted the main surface ships that were present out to sea, a quick cross referencing with the Osprey Campaign Series, Flemings' book, and Lieutenant C.C. Dix's "All the World's Navies in the Boxer Rebellion", and I was already writing my order to Navwar....

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