Friday 5 May 2023

Colenso - Scenario

Buller arrived in South Africa in October 1899 bringing much needed reinforcements of British troops. Having instructed Methuen to press forward towards Kimberley he personally took direct control of the effort to relieve Ladysmith. As he advanced the Boers fell back across the Tugela River near Colenso.

The Boer position at Colenso was reported to be very strong and Buller sensibly decided to try to bypass it rather than attack head-on. However, following the news of the British defeats at Stormberg and Magersfontein, he felt under pressure to mount a direct assault.

The attack was ordered for dawn on 15th December 1899 with an initial advance by Hart’s Brigade on the left that ended in disaster when his men were funnelled into a dead-end loop of the Tugela and shot down by the Boers. Things went slightly better on the far right of the field but in the centre, Colonel Long took it upon himself to advance his guns far too close to the Boer positions where the crews were cut down by rifle fire.

Hildyard’s Brigade was ordered to advance, take Colenso and force a crossing of the Tugela. He was also tasked with supporting Long in his exposed position. This scenario focusses on that part of the battle.

Special Rules

1. The Boers were instructed by Botha to hold their fire until the British were committed to an attack. Rule: No British units may fire until after the Boers have fired for the first time.
2. The river could only be crossed at Colenso bridge and at the drift by the destroyed railway bridge. Rule: Troops may cross the bridge and drift 3 figures abreast and count as being in close order when doing so.
3. The Boer’s morale was fragile during the actual battle and the garrison at Colenso withdrew without really contesting the place. Rule: The Boers defending Colenso must test for morale each turn even if they do not receive casualties.
4. In the actual battle Major Long advanced the 14th and 66th Field Batteries in advance of the infantry to a position just in front of Fort Wyllie where the crews were subsequently wiped out and most the guns lost. Rule: The guns may not be withdrawn but if all the crewmen become casualties the British must attempt to extract the guns. Lieutenant Roberts is sent forward with two limbers each with a strength value of 6 to retrieve as many of the guns as possible. Any guns not retrieved are captured by the Boers.
5. In the actual battle the Boers laid explosive at the bridge with the idea of trapping the British on their side of the river and capturing them. Rule: to blow the bridge the Boers must roll a 5 or 6.

Order of Battle

British C in C General Sir Redvers Buller
2nd Brigade (Major-General Hildyard)
2nd Queens West Surrey Regiment
2nd Devonshire Regiment
2nd West Yorkshire Regiment (enter turn 3)
2nd East Surrey Regiment (enter turn 3)
2 x Maxim Guns
Colonel Long
2 x Batteries Royal Field Artillery (14th & 66th batteries)
4.7” Naval Battery

Boers C in C General Botha
Boksburg Commando
Heidelberg Commando
Vryheid Commando
Krugersdorp Commando
2 x Field Artillery
1 x Pom Pom

Victory Conditions

This is a timed scenario, at the end of turn 8 calculate VPs as follows:

For each Boer Commando destroyed or currently fleeing 5VP
If British infantry are across the Tugela 5VP
If the Boers still hold Colenso 5VP
For each British infantry regiment destroyed 5VP
For each British gun captured 1VP


  1. Do the Boers just get the one attempt to blow the bridge or can they keep trying?

    1. I was thinking they can roll each turn but only after the Boers have withdrawn from Colenso.

  2. I am wincing already...

  3. An challenging little scenario Ian…
    As you say… what can possibly go wrong.

    All the best. Aly

    1. Thanks Aly, I'm hoping I have managed to achieve a bit of balance in the scenario but we will see!

  4. I think I'll close my eyes while I'm watching...

    1. I'll be crossing my fingers for the British...

  5. Everything looks great Ian! It will be interesting to see how your battle turns out compared to the real thing! You never know!

    1. I won't have time to play the game until next week and then we'll see!

  6. Hi Ian. Did this battle happen? It looked very interesting.

    1. Hi Bob, yes it did just click on the next post!