Category Archives: IV/37a Malay or Sumatran

Adventures in Sumatra

The Sultan of Malacca had been engaged in intermittent war with the neighbouring Samudera Pasai Sultanate of Sumatra for many years. With a new campaigning season opening the Sultan of Malacca dispatched another army this time under Raja Ibrahim to further enforce his claim on the Sumatran coast. A sizeable army was gathered and then transported to Sumatra in a large fleet. 

The armies that would finally take the field after several weeks of campaigning along the coast were similar. Both consisted of a core of warriors which were supported by archers and skirmishing troops including many armed with blowpipes. Most importantly both armies fielded a number of elephants. The Sultan of Malacca however dispatched a large number of heavy siege guns and great determination these were dragged along the coast where they subjected a number of Sumatran towns to horrific bombardments. Lacking the resources of Malacca, and abhorring the slow and dangerous modern artillery arm in the field, the Sultan of Samudera had recruited a large body of light cavalry. In all each army now field some 100 elephants and 10,000 to 11,000 infantry along with artillery or cavalry.

Eventually the Sultan of Samudera offered battle and deployed his army near the northern coast. Deploying his army on an open plain he awaited the enemy. The Malaccans, under command of the young Raja Ibrahim eventually arrived on the field of battle only to find their deployment was constrained somewhat by a large wood on their right and a rocky hill on their left. Unperturbed Raja Ibrahim deployed with elephants and artillery in the centre and his infantry to each flank. Raja Ibrahim, perhaps due to his youth was confident his artillery would overwhelm and after a hearty lunch ordered his guns forward to engage the enemy. However, this was his first independent command and his mastery of the sometimes fickle elements of his army were not fully known to him.

Below, the view from the Sumatran lines.

Indeed, he was so focussed on his artillery arm that he failed to send our scouts, or observe the strength of the army opposite. Now to his surprise a large group of ships now arrived on his right and from these ships almost 3000 Sumatran warriors poured on to the beach. Worse, they now moved at great speed against the Malaccan right flank.

Simultaneously the Sultan of Samudera Pasai ordered forward his left flank and to the clash of gongs, horns and drums the elephants and infantry advanced to reinforce the attack on the Malaccan right. 

Above the Sumatran troops as they pour onto the beach while below, the Sultan moves forward against the Malaccan right supported with more infantry and pachyderms. The purple parasol marks the Sultans position.

Raja Ibrahim now was in almost panic as he struggled to realign his army. While his artillery belched fire at the advancing Sumatrans, causing a large number of Sumatran elephants to rout, his infantry and his own elephants moved to the left as best they could. Soon any superiority due to artillery was lost in the chaos.

The Sultan however maintained the pressure and pachyderms of both armies were engaged in to the fighting.

Above and below the clash on the Malaccan right flank. The Sultan engages the at the head of 50 elephants (purple parasol) while Raja Ibrahim (blue parasol) commanding 100 elephants counters.

Below, another view of the battle on the left, this time showing with more clarity the infantry struggle in the steaming and dense jungle.

The elephants, being fickle at best, were easily unsettled and in the ensuring engagements Malaccan elephants routed three times. Each time they fled from the advancing Sumatran elephants they risked destroying their own formations. The youthful Raja Ibrahim was learning another valuable lesson in the art of war!

Above the Sultan, having caused half of the Malaccan elephants to flee, engages another group under Raja Ibrahim (blue parasol). These in turn fled only to be engaged in combat with Sumatran skirmishers armed with blowpipes.

Some of the Malaccan elephants were rallied and thrown back in when the beasts had been calmed. However, the Sultan kept up a determined pressure and led his pachyderms ever deeper into the enemy lines. Soon his 50 elephants had broken a large body of Malaccan archers then turned and pressed their attacks on the flank of the enemy artillery.

Below, the Sultan engages the Malaccan artillery by falling on their flank. He is supported valiant Sumatran infantry.

No quarter was given and in the ensuing bloody combat gunners and artillery were trampled mercilessly. No more would these guns belch smoke and iron at his fortresses along the coast, no more would they fire at the elephants and warriors of Sumatra.

In disbelief Raja Ibrahim fled as his army broke in rout. How could the once proud expedition be so soundly beaten? How would Malacca recover from such a tragic blow? But playing on his mind the most was what fate would await him on his return to Malacca?

Malaccan Mayhem

The last couple of weeks has seen some progress on painting, basing and rebasing stands for DBA. One of the projects has seen a portion of my larger Sumatran DBR army finally rebased from 3Wb to 4Wb. As a result they can now be used for Malay, Sumatran and Javanese for both DBA or BBDBA, as well as Malay or Sumatran with DBR. As Friday was designated as a DBA evening it seemed fitting to give the rebased Indonesians an outing.

The engagement would find the Sultanate of Malacca engaged against the Samudera Pasai Sultanate of north Sumatra. The armies recruited by the players were almost identical, though a degree of variety is possible despite using the same base list. Both consisted of a core of warriors (4Wb) which was supported by archers (3Bw) and skirmishing troops including troops armed with blowpipes (Ps). Most importantly both armies fielded a number of elephants. However, lacking the resources of Malacca, and abhorring the slow and dangerous modern artillery arm in the field, the Sultan of Samudera opted for a number of light cavalry. In all each army would field some 100 elephants and 10,000 to 11,000 infantry along with artillery or cavalry.

The Sultan of Malacca had dispatched a sizeable army to Sumatra under one of his trusted generals Muda Perdana who advanced into the Samudera Pasai Sultanate with the coast to his flank. Having control of the sea he could be assured of a supplies being provided by the large Malaccan fleet. The Sultan of Samudera determined to block his advance on his capital of Pasai and selected an open plain bounded by woods and steep hills near the coast to oppose the invader.

Perdana positioned his artillery park opposite the enemies centre where he could soon bring the enemy, including his elephants, under bombardment. He hoped that this would either force the enemy to advance or disrupt them as they tried complex manouvres to reposition their centre. Alas, the Sultan of Samudera failed to understand the risk imposed to his centre, or opted to ignore it. Instead, he advanced rapidly on his left with archers and reinforced this attack with his light cavalry who conducted a series of marches to the left from his extreme right.

Above, the forces of Malacca on the left and those of Samudera Pasai Sultanate on the right. The Sultan’s light cavalry can be seen moving across the front in their move to their left flank. A very dangerous move!

Below, a view from the Malaccan lines showing the centre and left.

The attack against the Malaccan right was in many ways fragmented and Muda Perdana was confident it could be held with his own archers and light troops. However, the early loss of a portion of his archers unhinged his flank. For the rest of the battle the soldiers of Malacca would fight a desperate delaying action on their right, saved only by the Sultan’s inability to push the advancing troops forward once they were in the wooded area that anchored the Malaccan right flank.

Above, the Malaccan forces give ground on the right while the left move forward. The artillery continue to engage the enemy at long range.

As the fighting on the flank slowed the centre began to engage. Warriors and elephants were slowly pushed forward with each commander progressively advancing. On a number of occasions elephants came face to face as their crews engaged both man and beast with arrows and spears. Warriors who advanced too far were trampled mercilessly under foot and on occasions numbers of elephants fled from the line. Throughout this the artillery of Muda Perdana maintained an almost constant fire, which unfortunately was woefully ineffective.

Above Muda Perdana attacks enemy foot whose flank has been left exposed. Commanders in elephants are identified by parasols. Below, Muda Perdana prepares to engaged enemy elephants.

Below the fighting in the centre, viewed from behind the Malaccan lines. In the distance Malaccan elephants have advanced too far forward and are now engaged from front and flank by enemy troops. The outcome was as expected.

Muda Perdana was frequently in the forefront of the fighting. With the situation so delicate and critical it was only late in the day that he was able to order his foot massed on the left forward. They advanced and secured a steep hill but were unable to press forward against the enemy right flank. The other flank was now deadlocked.

In the centre particularly casualties for both sides were mounting. As dusk closed in both Muda Perdana at the head of 50 elephants and Sultan of Samudera, also leading 50 elephants, engaged each other. Both were flanked by various infantry units and for some time the outcome was uncertain. However, it was Muda Perdana who was finally to fall. Outflanked the great general, as well as many elephants, were destroyed. The loss was too great and the Malaccan army dissolved. The Sultan of Samudera had secured a victory, a 4-3 victory in DBA terms.

The game was fascinating with several very interactions, understandable given the troops comprising both armies. On several occasions elephants were found fleeing and on a couple of occasions a fleeing elephant could have carried it through a camp. Command and control for both commanders were restricted, partly by terrain and partly as both ended up operating elephants separately. I am looking forward to the next encounter…

A Letter from Malacca

Last night we deployed some armies for a fascinating game of BBDBA. With my regular opponent keen to use his Post Mongol Samurai (IV/59b) I opted to use my Sumatrans or Malay (IV/37a). My Sumatrans were built for DBR and comprise considerably more troops than BBDBA requires. However, given the period covered by the late medieval period and DBA I thought it more appropriate they were used to represent the Sultanate of Malacca than the Sumatrans.

Despite having the army I’ve not used it in DBA or BBDBA. Primarily due to the warband being based three figures per base, as required for DBR, rather than the DBA requirement of four per base. One of the appealing aspects is the combination of elephants and warband which is, in my view, rather fascinating. So with some differences between this army under the two rule sets it would likely be an experiment at best, a disaster at worse.

I opted for two commands each with 13 stands and one of 10 stands. The centre, which would be allocated the highest PIP die, would contain the majority of elephants and a significant number of warriors (4Wb). One wing would contain the remaining elephants, a number of warriors and light horse, visible below in a staged photo before the game.

The combination of two elephants, six stands of warriors, a couple stands of archers all supported by the light horse, which can also be seen below, was complex. The combination of figures required at very least the second highest PIP die.

Finally the remaining wing, which would have the lowest PIP die, would contain the remaining warriors and the bulk of the archers who could at least fire even when movement was restricted. The allocation of PIP dice before the battle, as well as the role each command will play, is an important dynamic to consider in BBDBA. All part of having a plan, even when it’s not particularly cunning!

Now, to the battle. The Japanese, as defender, had selected and placed terrain. They deployed cavalry on the wings with massed dismounted Samurai in the centre. Ashigaru and Sohei monks extending the centre to left and right. Clearly the Japanese commander intended to hold in the centre while attacking on the wings.

For this particular game the Malay massed their elephants and warriors in the centre and left with the warriors interspersed by elephants. The concept was the elephants would breakup the enemy lines which the warriors would then exploit. The extreme left was held by archers and light horse. The Malay right wing was somewhat separated from the centre by a couple of steep hills.

In due course the Japanese were unleashed. The first attack was against the Malay right.

Here the Japanese foot, including warrior monks (3Bd), was partially bogged down by a combination of steep hills and Malay skirmishers. However, the Japanese mounted pressed the extreme flank. The Japanese mounted (6Cv) suffered heavy casualties as the Malay archers took a heavy toll.

Meanwhile the Malay left and centre, shown above, advanced to attack Japanese opposite. However, a diversion of troops to support the battle on the right caused a temporary halt. Now, the Japanese, having reorganised their right, surged forward to attack the Malay left. Soon the fighting was general with only a portion of the centres of both armies engaged. Below, a view from the Japanese centre with a small village, a hamlet in DBA terms, separating the centre of both armies.

As casualties mounted the first to break was the Japanese left. A result of both casualties to the mounted and isolated warrior monks. Meanwhile, on the Malay left, the Japanese we’re gaining the advantage despite several attacks being thrown back with heavy casualties. Eventually the Malay left would became demoralised. Desperate to break the Japanese the Malay centre pressed forward in one final effort. Warriors and elephants smashed into the disrupted ranks with elephants leading the attacks and hardened warriors charging in support. While several parts of the Japanese line held others disintegrated in the onslaught. A hard fought but decisive victory had been secured for the Malay.

From an effectiveness perspective the elephants had proven difficult to manoeuvre using, as expected, many PIPs. The warriors (4Wb), while frustratingly slow, had proven generally resilient against Japanese ashigaru (3Pk) and in many cases deadly against Samurai (4Bd) and Sohei monks (3Bd). In many ways their effectiveness on the day was a result of the elephant and warband combination. The archers had proven invaluable on the Malay right, despite my less than optimal deployment. That said, a few different die rolls and the Malay right could have easily unraveled.

Interestingly the army played rather differently than it does in DBR, where enemy firearms often are seen. In this situation the elephants are held in reserve rather than risk being unnerved by the sound of these weapons. I now think it’s time I take the plunge and paint some additional warriors so I can field the army with the legal requirement of solid warband, rather than reminding myself throughout the game that the warriors were actually “solid”. It will be good to have a different army on the DBA and BBDBA battlefield.