BS1.05: Rearguard action!


The characters for this session:

Cpl Bryn Williams, armed with Lee-Enfield

LCpl Pinko McLean, armed with Bren gun

Ptes Cade and Harding, armed with Tommy gun

The rest of C Section:

Paddy and Lou, the Bren section

Pte Staples, Jimbo Ward and White, all armed with Lee-Enfield


Away north in comfort on the Garnet

Here we are on the Garnet again pet and right glad to find it moored where Lt. Barnet said it ought. We may have given Tojo and the Burmans a good dusting, but that do not mean there’s no more nips looking to stick us like practice targets.

I help the Vickers set up on bow, then settle back with the lads for a quiet fag or two. Someone with binoculars says as how the Irrawaddy is about one and a half miles wide, but so long as the boat stays away from the banks it’s time for a kip.

[No rolls are called for as far as I can recall. The Garnet chugs unreliably north.]


Garnet adrift – disembark west!

Well that was a turn-up, one minute I’m admiring dawn across the river and the next I’m down with Staples and young Jimbo, pushing on a ruddy iron bar at the say-so of a gunga din downstairs in the boiler room!

The Garnet doesn’t last the journey pet, and with a bit of a steamy signal saying ‘here we are’ to all the nips on both banks, drifts back west and off we hop. I’m not sure what help we were, something to do with the ruddy rudder I suppose.

[No roll required, Pinko strips down a bit and heads down to help when the engine stops, since he has the heavy machinery skill. Williams directs Staples and Jimbo to go with him. Then directs the others down but it’s far too crowded! The three heave on the rudder bar manually and this allows the Garnet to nose in to the bank rather than randomly wallowing. Cade collects Pinko’s gear as word is given to evacuate.]


Where to go?

Here I am tucked down in a scrape sighting in the Bren, waiting for the lead sections to head off. The jungle is right up to the bank so after we wade over in mucky silt I set up right away. Cade and Harding headed west trail-blazing. Opposite, some nip gunners spotted the Garnet and might get their eye in any day now.

“We’ll see if we can blaze a trail west, have a look for a trail” – Harding

“Aye literally trail-blaze – machete everything and don’t get lost” – Pinko

C Section is now rearguard, except Cade and Harding take the initiative to find a north-south trail. Barnet and Williams begin to be a little adrift of events.


A trail north beckons

Cade and Harding are back smartly, they find a Timber Company trail big enough to take elephants. Barnet has A and B sections away west, along with the Garnet crew, and after he looks at Corp’s guide book, tells Corp to keep an eye east in case the nips decide to cross. Cade and Harding come back from playing guides, by which time Corp has seen enough. But Barnet scarpers telling him to wait half an hour to make sure:

“Now, we’re about 20 or so miles from the settlement… Nugseye let’s call it… where there ought to be a ferry. Best case, we repair the Garnet but worst case, the Japs cross and we have to walk north ahead of a pursuit. So your orders are to man the area around the boat, keep an eye east, until you are sure what the Japs have decided to do. Wait at most… oh, half an hour. Then march west to the trail, march north to find me, and report.”

As soon as Barnet has headed west to catch A and B, Corp orders all of us save Staples and Harding to walk quietly west after Barnet. Sensible for a Taffy is Corp, even with all the book learning he’s got stuffed in his head.

I think this is down to misunderstanding his orders, not intentionally disobeying them, and if I recorded Barnet’s orders right there was some wiggle room. Whatever the case, Williams is satisfied in his own mind he doesn’t need an entire section to decide whether the Japanese are actually crossing, and has most of us away to the trail.


Away, or not, no away

Then there’s a wee comedy as Harding soon reports he’ spotted Tojo boarding a riverboat in maybe platoon strength and is sent back ‘for a second look’ and comes back again with the same. Harding is wet through with sweat and it’s no hardly morning yet.

Then we catch up! Me Paddy and Lou are rearguard and after a few minutes I hear away north ‘who goes there? It’s me you bloody fool!’ but no shooting. The nip mountain gun is still popping away and I don’t fancy the Garnet’s chances.

[Cade is sole point man and there’s a fail as B section’s rearguard spots him and does not have a password, and nor does Cade!]

Barnet issues us all new orders, we will be marching north – there’s fun, in the daytime – and we have a proper watchword and counter for the whole platoon. C Section is rearguard as we should be, we are the best. And I’m rearguard of the rearguard, so here I am in another wee scrape catching you up.

[The watchword is “Sheik of Araby” and the counter is “World belongs to me”]


Blowing down a big old tree

Next thing, I hear Cade musing about his still having his demolitions kit and my blood runs cold as Corp takes him up on it. ‘Away south of us, south’ I wave them, since it’s a fool’s errand and no sense any of us getting caught by it.

Harding has a bit of wilderness lore and finds a good big tree. I have no idea why “we drop a tree across the trail” is supposed to be worth more than a snort of derision but that is the plan. Cade successfully blasts the tree and it does fall more or less as desired. Seemingly happy Williams pulls out, rather than setting an envelopment ambush – numbers are far too small for that to be safe.


Watering at the resentful village

We march north up the trail, which is not a Sunday promenade you may be sure. Ward starts some nonsense up about Burma pythons and I joke about the python we Scots have under the kilt, to blow away the grue Ward loves to create. This is all in daytime now, getting warm. We cross a fine sturdy timber bridge over another chaung and I can see Corp kicking himself, but too late. Still if Barnet was worth the price of his fancy bourgeois school he would have left a squad back at the bridge to blow it proper.

The next hour’s march has us to a Burman village and with grinning apes calling ‘British soldier run run fast’ we top our canteens up and head on. I smack five rupees down on the bar top (the well wall) since they are oppressed peasantry and don’t know they are about to be oppressed a hell of a lot more.

Williams is not paranoid and orders all canteens handed in for filling. I decline and wait until Harding has actually sampled the water before having mine filled. Williams does go over the rules of engagement though, which is good. No need for a massacre.


A clearing with pagoda

As we shake out to our column of march Corp stays back with me. He must suspect we lost too much time playing with the tree and water but doesn’t say aught. Then about noon, word comes back that Staples and Cade (them two being scouts) have found a clearing.

I’d say Harding still think’s he a schoolboy, the grin on his face as he finally gets up the Pagoda in the clearing I can see from where I am in the tree-line. I’ve said to Corp, maybe a rifle up top of pagoda would be good. Harding and his telescope are elected.

“If there’s a yellow bint there demanding money to come in, come straight back” – Pinko

But we spend a hell of a long time waiting then Harding comes back and says he can’t see past the trees anyhow.


Setting up for trouble

We move on through following an old path across rice paddies. The rice is waving tall and green, good cover. Corp asks my opinion of where we should hold, since according to his ears Tojo seems to be getting closer [Williams makes a good Notice check] and I like the look of the pagoda mound for a Tommy gun attack and me in support behind a bund a bit further back. Rifles in the far trees of course.

This is basically a clearing with one piece of dead ground, the pagoda on a mound, and some cover afforded by bunds cutting across the clearing. Rifles in the trees on the opposite side to the Japanese entry is the obvious ambush – bearing in mind the Japanese have enough men to also flank around – but the Tommy guns, needing short range, can be used from the dead ground of the mound. I figure that the Japanese will be drawn to the mound since it is cover and will then walk into a beaten zone as they round it. Then behind that and off at a bund-roadside position the Bren can cover the Tommy gun retreat, chop down any troops outflanking the mound, and also cover the road. Both Bren and Tommy guns are a road-dash from the trees, or two paddy field moves.

Then once me Paddy and Lou are comfy we watch Harding and Cade jitter around behind the pagoda. Nerves are the enemy more than the nips at this stage. But all’s well, neither looses off so Tojo gets a nasty surprise once he gets to the pagoda. Then we give him what-for and scarper.


Preliminaries: A small Japanese detachment, well spread out, advances on the British right, while a slightly larger number advance on the left, again well spread out. Finally a pair of Japanese run up the mound into cover at the pagoda.

Surprise round: Cade and Harding pitch grenades the length of the pagoda, accurately. Cade’s goes off, dropping one of the Japanese pair. Williams orders his rifles to fire on Japanese in cover behind bunds, and White manages a hit.


  • Cade
  • Japanese (later also Harding and Bren, and later still Cade)
  • Harding
  • Williams+Rifles
  • Bren team

Round 1: Cade delays. An LMG team dashes up the road a partial move and drops to cover, while other Japanese advance to cover, or fire. A small group make the dead ground behind the pagoda. Harding’s grenade goes off dropping the other of the Japanese pair that made it up to the pagoda. He himself delays. Williams commands [20+ on the skill] his rifles to hold fire while he fires, [nat 20!] dropping one. The Bren team delays.

Round 2: Cade delays. The LMG team emerges from cover onto the road for another dash, and both the Bren and Harding rake the team, putting both down. Many more Japanese emerge from the trees opposite the British left. Cade signals this as best he can.

Round 3: Cade delays. The lead Japanese are now in good cover on Cade’s left flank and a mortar team has begun setting up in the far paddy. Harding uses the dead ground to dash back to the Bren team’s bund and dive to cover, while waving the numbers back to Williams. The Bren delays.

Round 4: Cade repeats Harding’s maneuver, the SMGs and Bren are dangerously close as the first mortar round falls! Luckily they target the dead ground behind the pagoda! A second LMG team advances along the road and the Bren opens up again, wounding them. Harding reloads and moves 5’ along the bund to spread out. Now he has an indication of numbers Williams details Staples off to stand and takes the bulk of the rifles left.

Round 5: Cade moves left behind the bund, so that he is covering the open ground left of the pagoda. The Japanese advance, mainly on the left: The Bren cleans up the wounded LMG team. Harding shifts left a little, creating more space between he and the Bren. Williams and rifles open up scoring two hits.

Round 6: As the Japanese in cover behind the pagoda rush forward Cade and Harding open up though scoring wounds only. More Japanese advance on both mound and left and the Bren, Staples and the other rifles all fire, the rifles having most effect. There is no danger of the SMGs being rushed from the mound.

Round 7: The mortar drops a round behind the bund, too far back to threaten the SMGs and Bren. Cade reloads and moves 5’ towards the road while Harding simply dashes to a point adjacent to the road.

“Corp – movement west” – Staples

Williams acknowledges and yells:


The rifles fire, Williams and White scoring hits.

Round 8: Another mortar round drops, this a little closer to the Bren position. Cade pulls back towards the road to where he can take a dash to the trees. Harding pulls back further.

“Lads – I know you want to stay on but – let’s fuck off” – Pinko

The Bren team retreat, Pinko taking a half-move so as to cover backward. Williams rallies the rifles ready to retire.

Round 9: As the Japanese generally advance, Cade, Harding, Paddy and Lou retire on Williams. Pinko shoots from hip and drops the forefront Japanese advancing from the pagoda and pulls back another half-move.

Round 10: Pinko is last off the clearing and the section begins a brisk jog/walk/jog so as to outdistance the flanking force!

Combat ends


And next session we test the forced-march rules!


Highlights: Joking about the python in character because Pinko does not keep morale/discipline by force. Seeing my plan for the Tommy guns and Bren work OK, and the couple of nat 20s rolled by Williams and White were good to see too. 

For me, a faster start – a CON check and dropping us into the village perhaps – would have played better than a blow by blow account of Barnet getting the platoon off the Garnet and puzzling out what to do. We could probably have done away with the entire first hour (at least) and be better off for it, and have included forced-marching and destination in the one session. Eventually, we all got something to do.

Regarding VfV rules, I’m a little concerned that the effect of exhausting marching and terrifying bombardment have not played any part yet. As a player I don’t want casualties (especially, not my character!) but C Section seems to be immune to dehydration and fear alike. There’s also the ‘hostile jungle’ dimension, which seems strangely absent. This session Harding joined Cade in being able to use the jungle as though it was the Epping Forest. Perhaps the VfV rules need local-theatre tweaks so that in 1942, Brits don’t get to use Wilderness Lore, or receive a -10 for unfamiliarity or something.

About andrewmclaren26

Weekly Roleplayer, Wargamer when I can
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