Chain of Command: The Abyssinian War – Introduction

 

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In the past series of posts we have outlined many historical details on the respective armies involved in The Abyssinian Crisis. We’ve covered the background, motivations and breakdown of forces on a strategic and grand tactical level. All essential information to understand what The Abyssinian Crisis (TAC) is about and for players wishing to game this period, the who, why and where.

With those essentials down we can move onto the crux of the matter with specific force lists to use for miniature gaming. The TAC authors have chosen to use Chain of Command as the basis for their games as in their opinion it gives the best balance between historical simulation and a good game play experience. If you wish to try and get at ‘what’s going on’ with the respective platoon structures then Chain of Command does this better than most in our opinion.

These are entirely our own feelings on the matter and other players will no doubt have their own favourite rule system they can use for low level tactical engagements, which emphasises what it is they want from their gaming sessions – each to their own. TAC is for anyone playing their game system of choice and at any level they wish to portray the period. It makes a great basis for a strategic level game using boardgames (more of which will be covered in other posts), a game system such as Spearhead at the division or higher level, at the company level with a system such as the popular Flames of War, or a lower scale chosen by us, representing platoon-level actions using rules such as Disposable Heroes, Bolt Action and off course, our choice, Chain of Command.

The TAC team completed an extensive coverage of the Spanish Civil War using Chain of Command, Chain of Command:Espana, and thought that there could be few other interwar periods that had such diversity as the forces of the Republic and Nationalists in Iberia. How wrong we were! Much to our surprise we found that a proper look at the forces in The Abyssinian Crisis brought together a multitude of interesting gaming opponents from the armies of Italy, France, Britain and Ethiopia.

These strange bedfellows produced a kaleidoscope of troop types that range from warrior tribesmen, camel mounted Meharisti, British tanks and ‘Tommies’, Italians of all shades, French Foreign Legion…the list goes on. All these forces would need to be accounted for if we were to do the period justice.

For the interwar gamer there will be alot of information on the major armies and the doctrines which they fought under using the lists for Chain of Command:Abyssinia. For those less interested in Euro armies, there is a most decidedly colonial flavour to it all, such that you need not touch a weapon that was produced after Queen Victoria’s reign – truly an army list for everyone.

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Haile Selassie’s best – Ethiopian Imperial Guard. Unlike other Ethiopian platoons the Guardsmen are organised like European forces, in this case, you see a nine men strong section, three less than a full strength section, of which there are four per platoon. They have an Asiraleqa to leader them. To the rear the platoon headquarters is led by a Metoaleqa Senior Leader, who in this case, is accompanied by a Ferenghi (foreign adviser) who helps control the potential impetuousness of the platoon commander. The Imperial guard have unique traits – Rush Attack, Soldiers of the Negus and Kebur Zabanga, which taken collectively give them quit a bit of ‘teeth’ in the attack.

Turning to the specifics of Chain of Command we needed to look at the doctrine of the armies of the time and make sure that we portrayed the armies correctly. This was not SCW or WW2 ‘lite’, nor WW1 with a few extras. It was all of that and more, a true blend of thought on the handing of forces that puzzled the minds of military men all over the continent.

When we looked at possible modifications needed to Chain of Command we felt that despite the small and obvious army specific changes, of which there are numerous, that the need to represent the platoon structures and support assets properly required a look at the ‘low tech’ effect of weapons and their interaction with armoured vehicles and the employment of artillery and machine gun to provide fire dominance both directly and indirectly – these factors would need to be addressed. We wanted to get this right to provide Chain of Command players with games that gave a new and ‘historical’ gaming experience as well as portray the armies ‘correctly’, with their strengths and limitations that became all to obvious in 1939 on Europe’s grand stage.

Fortunately for the TAC authors Rich Clarke, TFL’s El Supremo, had published a superb WW1 supplement for Chain of Command in their 2014 Christmas Special. This proved particularly useful as it gave us a good look at how the rules author tackled the subject of WW1 era tactics as he perceived them in Chain of Command. Building of that we were able to bring together element of our own Spanish Civil War system, plus Chain of Command WW1 and off course the main rules for WW2.

This provided us with a framework of ideas to operate around, which we built on, incorporated, left out, and then added to with our own ideas to reflect the interwar doctrine of the time. WW1 and WW2 direct and indirect fire support were both different and similar to Interwar methods and this needed a fresh look…just porting WW1 rules to the Interwar period was not going to do. Mobile forces fighting over a sea of dust and scrub, with few reliable maps, was certainly not the same as bombarding a static trench line. With few radios, the time needed to lay down telephone lines, or needing a line of sight to use flags or heliographs, casually calling down a barrage was not on the cards.

What we have come up with will hopefully give players a better understanding of how these methods of fire support impact on the platoon leader’s world. The Abyssinian Crisis should prove a strange laboratory for tactical analysis of the Interwar period. The European Armies of France and Great Britain had largely gone back to colonial policing duties, forgetting many lessons of the Great War, with only Italy seriously undertaking the reforms of a modern European mechanised force looking to the future, which was to become the mainstay of all nations operations less than a decade later. Chain of Command:Abyssinia will bring all these elements together to provide as much scale and scope for interesting operations that players are used to in their WW2 games using CoC.

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Standard Italian CCNN section, Rifle and Gun groups with platoon leader to the rear in immediate support.

Beyond the aspects of Artillery and Machine Gun doctrine we took a close look at how infantry and armoured forces would interact. Typical of many WW2 era rules, the mechanised elements of 1939 usually fall into the ‘low end’ spectrum of equipment types and often they just get lumped together. Even Chain of Command, which focuses firmly on WW2, suffers to a degree with really low tech ‘kit’, though to be fair, undue complication can be distracting in a system that covers the full sweep of WW2. For the armies of the mid thirties however, there are no Tiger tanks, T-34s and JS-3s. Most, if not all, armoured vehicles would have very low armour ratings. This would need a closer look to bring out the diversity evident in this era.

Coupled to this equation was the effectiveness of weapons to take on these vehicles. Essentially armoured vehicles were built to survive small arms fire up to and including heavy machine guns and some shrapnel blasts. The counter to this there was a need to provide infantry forces with an anti armour ability by utilising armour-piercing ammunition – this was no gimmick; it provided the foot soldier with a modest anti armour ability that gave pause to all but the more ‘heavily’ armoured vehicles of the time.

Its use was much more common than we first thought and it needed to form part of the gun/armour equation. Thus, at the platoon level this was an important detail that needed to be represented. Using the existing Chain of Command system for Firing at Vehicles, we think we have created a simple but subtle effect that lightly-equipped infantrymen will appreciate!!!

Closely related to a review of the effects of an infantryman’s anti-armour ability was the use of direct fire artillery in an anti-tank role. Artillery pieces really were deadly against lightly armoured vehicles. The armour-piercing ammunition developed in the Great War and the years after, tended to take the form of ‘capped’ high-explosive rounds, which all things considered were not the steel or tungsten-cored solid rounds of the near-future. Explosive force itself from a near miss might be sufficient to destroy relatively lightly-armoured vehicles and indeed that few artillery pieces had anything more than ‘iron sights’, a near miss was pretty much all you could hope to get. Artillery’s primary function in a theatre with few armoured vehicles in the main, was to use high explosive ammunition for most roles, and the Direct Fire artillery rules in Chain of Command:Abyssinia reflects this.

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A simple gathering of warriors – not quite..there’s a lot more going on. The group of ten warriors is formed into a ‘standard’ Hazb, equipped with mixed tribal rifles arrayed in an irregular fashion. Leading them is an attached Balabat, village chief, who counts as a Junior Leader. Behind is the Baluch (platoon) command Group led by an Amsa Aleqa as its Senior Leader. Attached to him is a Flag Bearer who can be used to help remove shock but can also be used to issue commands. Finishing off the command group is a war drummer that can help troops pass any required motivation tests.

Players familiar with Chain of Command:Espana will be aware of the Irregular warfare rules in that supplement. In Chain of Chain of Command:Abyssinia these now take centre stage for players fielding Irregular forces. Gamers wishing to field a Tribal Ethiopian force are going to have to get familiar with how their Irregulars behave. Fundamentally they work on levels of motivation. The more motivated they are the more you can get them to do what you want.

Motivation is key. If you neglect the temperament of your warriors they will desert you. Fortunately the Ethiopian Warriors were very motivated, defending their land from the invader, just as their fathers had done a generation before. Success breeds success and by forcing your enemy’s morale down conversely increases the motivation of your own warriors – take note! Husband your Chain of Command dice for if things go badly you can ‘reset’ the motivation clock and let your men restore their fighting spirit…take note again!! Managing irregular forces is more difficult as the gradual effect of shock , which can be calibrated and to a degree controlled in a trained and disciplined army, do not apply to irregular forces. They are generally going forward, pinned or going back…little in between.

Hopefully this brief introduction will give you some idea of where Chain of Command:The Abyssinian War is going to lead you. You will have to take off your WW1 and WW2 hats and put on the best Interwar solar topee you can find…this will be different! Needless to say each army list has many unique special rules pertinent to the platoon force involved but we shall leave it to you to mull over them when they become available.

So, with all the above said, we start with the Chain of Command:The Abyssinian War…enjoy!

Postscript – the complete Chain of Command lists are now downloadable here.

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6 RTC on the prowl for Italian tankettes…

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