Britain has a proud heritage when it comes to conflicts. There is however an unsung story in most of Britain’s wars that wargamers, in my experience, tend to miss… There are very few wars that this country has fought and won without allies, whether they were part of the commonwealth or otherwise allied countries. Yet the role of these allies is generally forgotten or put to one side. For the most part, I blame biased historical accounts and narratives rather than the gamers themselves (after all who wouldn’t want to paint up some exotic unit?).
My growing recognition of these biases against allies really started with my research into the battle of Talavera in 1809, which eventually became the theme of WS&S issue 50. I’d read about the battle but realised (from reading different sources) that the role of the Spanish allies was neglected or downplayed. I won’t repeat the story here (go read the issue). Apart from the Peninsular War - won with the support Portuguese and Spanish allies - the other classic (obvious?) case in the Napoleonic Wars has to be the Hundred Days campaign.
I’m currently reading about the second Anglo-Afghan war of 1878-80 and the sheer amount of Indian Raj troops used to make the invasion possible really struck me. Take Omdurman (1898) and compare the British force to the allied Egyptian and Sudanese forces…
Then there’s the two World Wars to consider too. It would have been impossible for Britian to win against Germany alone without the support of the allies and the dominion troops. To win, Britain has always needed allies, never going it alone.
So next time you’re considering fielding a British force, consider how this force would have appeared in real life. Surely the historical composition of the British force should be reflected on our tabletops? That’s why I’ll be painting Indian troops for the Sudan and Afghanistan. What’s been your experience? Do you collect allied or colonial troops for your games?