June 23rd 1900
June 23rd 1900
What follows is an account of our own refight of the June 23rd Tien-tsin scenario (see the "Scenario" section of this blog).
The Allied relief column was commanded by General Sylvain Desharbes, renowned adventurer. The Chinese army was under the overall command of General Lee Wongterbone, with the defense of the hills delegated to the stoic Confucian, General Ma-ti-as.
Desharbes' brigades deployed opposite the central hill, on which Ma-ti-as had regrouped the bulk of his forces. They advanced as far as the railway line, where they regrouped and prepared their main assault, covered by the fire of the battery of mountain artillery. Advancing through a hail of bullets coming from the crest-line of the central hill, they began to take casualties within 4-500 yards of their objective.
It was at this moment that the cavalry brigade, having outflanked the defenses of the southern hill, threw itself into the mass of Chinese. Their charge panicked one Chinese battalion and distracted two others long enough for the 4th Marine Battalion to come over the crest of the hill.
Ma-ti-as having seized an opportunity to send troops to attack the Hsi-ku from the east, the Chinese defenses on the hills were weaker than they might have been, and General Wongterbone began to panic. He considered abandoning his own attack on the Hsi-ku in order to reinforce the centre. Ma-ti-as was, however, confident of holding out and refused all assistance. His resolution seemed to spread throughout his troops, who suddenly refused to cede any more ground, and remained steady in even the most morale-shaking situations.
His two artillery batteries, rather than fleeing as expected from the following cavalry charge, met it with accurate and deadly fire, throwing back the Sipahis in disarray ! The 4th Marine, finding itself suddenly isolated on the hill crest, was shot to pieces.
A Chinese victory seemed suddenly possible. Seymour was under pressure in the Hsi-ku. Wongterbone's troops had made steady progress, with the jingal muskets inflicting especially heavy casualties. To crown it all, one of Ma-ti-as' cavalry regiments, having crossed the river, had found a breach in the northern wall and was now in the very courtyard of the Arsenal !
The two Chinese generals had, unfortunately, been unable to coordinate their attacks.
A battalion of French marines lined up along the south wall was able to pivot to face the incoming cavalrymen. Despite fire on their flank, from across the river, they held and the Manchu horseman were forced to charge through a flurry of bullets. Their casualties were horrendous : but they still charged home. Ma-ti-as' charisma worked even on this side of the Pei-Ho, and Seymour began to mutter about always having believed in Chinese black magic.
Wongterbone made a last, desperate attempt to seize the westernmost buildings of the Arsenal, but was unable to make headway. The cavalrymen, isolated, charged in the flank by another French battalion, could fight no more alone, and melted away. It was at 16h30 (turn 5) that Wongterbone realised that the Hsi-ku would not be taken, and that his brigade began to pull back and filter across the river.
History shows that Wongterbone made his decision a little too late. Desharbes had ordered his battalions to divert to the north, and the weak defenses of this hill were quickly overwhelmed by the superior firepower of the Allies. The Sipahis having rallied and taken the undefended southern hill, the Chinese forces clinging to the last hilltop were threatened from all sides. So exhausted were they that the slightest casulties were enough to make yet another battalion flee. The arrival of Wongterbone himself, leading a fresh battalion of Imperial Guard, was now but an anecdote. Still, the southwards movement of the rest of his brigade denied all possibility of an Allied exit via the road to Tien-tsin, and the battle petered out at 17h30 (turn 7) with a marginal Allied victory.
A well-balanced and exciting battle. Thanks to Ma-ti-as' determination, the Hsi-ku Arsenal was perilously close to falling around turn 4-5, and Seymour had lost one of his three battalions in the action. East of the river, the Allied choice to alter the path of their attack towards the north was decisive but taken late in the day : the assault on the central hill had proven costly, despite a shaky moment for the Chinese.
The Allies lost 41 of their 102 strength points, and the Chinese 104 out of 166. Ma-ti-as' brigades finished the battle with less than a quarter of their starting strength.