Bolt Action

The 79th (McLean’s) Foot in Bolt Action


This is the third in a series of articles highlighting the Allied units that fought for the liberation of Ethiopia in 1941, for which there are currently no army lists or suitable theatre selectors in Bolt Action

Once completed and play-tested, these articles will become army lists and theatre selectors for the Ethiopian Patriot Campaigns of 1941. Previous articles can be found by scrolling down below.

Two of the more interesting units to take part in the final assaults on the heavily defended Italian strongholds of the Gondar region of Ethiopia in 1941 were the Wollo Banda and the 79th (Mclean’s) Foot

Both were locally-raised units that served with the Italian forces, but after the surrender of the Debre Tabor garrison on 6th July 1941, the majority of men from both units agreed to enlist with the British and fight against their former employers.

This article focuses on the 79th Battalion. A much larger article on the Wollo (the more remarkable of the two units) will follow this one.

79th Colonial Battalion

The 79th Colonial Battalion was a regular Italian ascari unit raised in Eritrea from mostly ethnic Tigreans. At the time of hostilities, they were based at Debre Tabor, an important and well fortified administrative centre on the Gondar-Dessie road. The garrison consisted of 6000 men defending a seven mile perimeter. 

In late March ’41 a small force consisting of No 3 patrol company of the Sudanese Frontier Battalion, No 2 Operational Centre and Ethiopian patriots under Fitauari Birru arrived in the Debre Tabor area with the aim of harassing and isolating the garrison. Birru was an important patriot leader, a commander in Haile Selassie’s 1936 army and a veteran of the Battle of Maychew – the last major battle of the war against the Italians.

In April 11th, the 79th battalion fought a particularly sharp action against Patriots and No 2 Operational Centre at the Limado bridge, three miles north of Debre Tabor on the Gondar road.

The patriots had ambushed an Italian supply column from Gondar whilst the centre troops were attempting to blow up the bridge closer to Debre Tabor. However, the 79th Battalion arrived in force from the garrison and after a fierce engagement, pushed the both patriots and centre troops back.

The bridge was still blown however, when a British Sergeant from the No 2 Centre rushed forward and heroically ignited the explosives at close range with his pistol. Sadly, the Sergeant was mortally wounded in the explosion and later died under Italian care. Sgt King (Royal Artillery) was later recommended for the Victoria Cross by Major Orde Wingate but nothing was ever heard of the award.

Italian ascari miniatures from Empress painted up as the 79th Battalion. In reality most ascari wore a khaki cover over their red Tabooshes when campaiging. The battalion’s tassel and cummerbund colours were actually brown and blue, but look yellow and blue on the illustrations – hence mine are yellow and blue.

79th (Mclean’s) Foot

In a quirk of war, No 2 Operational Centre was commanded by Lt Neil ‘Billy’ Mclean, A cavalry subaltern from the Royal Scots Greys who had volunteered for special duties in Ethiopia whilst ‘cooling his heels’ in Palestine.  Mclean was later present at the surrender of the Debre Tabor garrison in July ’41 and would take command of the 79th Battalion after their defection, leading them into battle alongside the 2nd Operational Centre – men the ascari had fought against only months before at Limado.

The unit was renamed the 79th Foot – or unofficially ‘McLean’s Foot’. McLean was promoted to Captain, his force now totaling 1000 men,  (200 centre troops and the 800 ascari from the 79th).

The ascari were allowed to keep their own weapons and Italian drill. Their graduati remained as corporals, the bulucbasci (sergeants) became platoon commanders and the sciumbasci (warrant officers) became company commanders. The battalion’s Italian officers remained prisoners of war.

Whilst most of the battalion enlisted willingly with the British, some did not. A small group of ascari refused to surrender the 79th battalion’s pennant and escaping capture, attempted to reach Italian lines at Culqualber, 106 kilometers away.

One of these men, Unatù Endisciau, an Ethiopian born graduati, would be awarded Italy’s Medaglia d’Oro – an equivalent award to the Victoria Cross. He was captured by patriots on route, but quickly escaped only to be mortally wounded crossing an Italian minefield as he neared Culqualber. He steadfastly refused to hand over the pennant to anyone and died within the garrison with the pennant still wrapped around his body under his tunic. He is one of only two colonial troops to be awarded the Medaglia d’Oro.

79th Battalion
The 79th Colonial Battalion as represented in Italian propaganda. The painting on the right depicts Unatù Endisciau returning the battalion’s pennant back to friendly lines at Culqualber after the refusing to surrender at Debre Tabor. In reality the pennant was wrapped around his body under his tunic. He was awarded Italy’s highest gallantry honour, the Medaglia d’Oro.

The 79th was immediately sent north to patrol the southern Italian forts around Gondar and the Kamant country to the west. The Kamant were a particularly troublesome pro-Italian tribe who had fought the patriots and Sudanese at Chilga (see previous post). Mclean’s men were not involved in the the two fierce battles to capture Culqualber, but took part in the final battle of the entire campaign – the capture of Gondar itself.

The Gondar battle will be covered in detail in a later article highlighting the Wollo Banda, but suffice to say ‘Mclean’s Foot’, along with the Wollo and a unit of Shoan Patriots played a decisive role in the battle.  This roughly 4000-strong flanking force of local Ethiopians and Eritrean ascari swept over their objectives at such speed on their bare feet it was difficult for the supporting artillery to keep their fire ahead of them.  The Wollo eventually ignoring orders, made for Gondar itself, where they were the first infantry troops inside the city.

Lt Billy Mclean

After serving in Ethiopia, McLean continued in special operations, working for Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.) and also MI9.  In 1943 he led a five-man S.O.E mission into Albania, co-ordinating the partisan resistance against the Germans until their withdrawal in late 1944. He was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel at the age of 24.

After the war he continued working actively for western intelligence services, championing the cause of Turkis, Uzbeks, Kazaks, Tajiks, Pathans and the Kurds, as well as the royalist Yemenis against the threat of ‘communist domination’ (as he perceived it). He was also a Conservative MP for Inverness for 10 years.

McLean was a true larger-than-life character, his exploits are best described in his obituary in the Daily Telegraph written by his friend, author and former S.O.E. operative, Xan Fielding.

Billy McLean in Albania 1944, his uniform a mismatch of British Army battledress and local Albanian costume. 

79th (McLean’s) Foot Infantry Section

Cost : Regular Infantry 55 points
Composition: 1 NCO and 4 men
Weapons : Rifles
– Up to 5 additional soldiers armed with Rifles for 11 pts each.
– One soldier may have a light machine gun for an extra +20 points. Another soldier becomes the loader.
Special Rules :
– Natural Runners: Lightly encumbered, and running on bare or sandaled feet, certain East African troops could cover great distances at high speed.  Units with this special rule can advance 7 inches and run 14 inches.

Ethiopian Battalions and Mortar Platoons 1941 in Bolt Action


D Company of the 2nd Ethiopian Battalion march past the Emperor Haile Selassie at Um Idla, inside the Ethiopian border.  The Emperor had flown in to raise the Imperial Standard, 20th January 1941.

This is the second in a series of articles highlighting the Allied units that fought for the liberation of Ethiopia, for which there are currently no army lists or suitable theatre selectors in Bolt Action

Eventually, these articles will become army lists and theatre selectors for The Ethiopian Patriot campaign in the Western Provinces of Ethiopia of 1941. 

The first article on the Sudanese Defence Force and Frontier Battalion can be found here.

This article focuses on the Ethiopian Battalions and the Mortar Platoon that was raised by the British for service against the Italians

The Ethiopian Battalions

There were four Ethiopian Battalions raised by the British in 1940-41 for service in the campaign to free Ethiopia – however, it was only the 2nd battalion, and to a lesser extent, the 3rd that played meaningful roles in the Italian defeat.

Both the 1st and 2nd Battalions were raised out of the large refugee camps that had sprung up in Northern Kenya after the 1936 war with Italy, but that’s where any similarities between the two units end.

For years, these refugees had been vainly demanding arms, ammunition and the authorisation to cross the border and attack the Italians. The British high command in Kenya however, was slow to recognise the potential of forming these men into units, despite many of them having fought the Italians in the previous conflict. Subsequently, the formation of the 1st Battalion was rushed and given little thought. It was scandalously under-trained, ill-equipped and was sent over the border into Southern Ethiopia with no logistic support under the command of two exiled Ethiopian chiefs.

The men were given vague orders to link up with existing rebel bandas, but unfortunately they had to pass through a region that was not only harsh, bare and foodless, but was also occupied by hostile, pro-Italian Daasanach tribesmen. Unsurprisingly after 14 days, the 500-strong unit had made little progress and was forced back over the border after skirmishing with a well-armed Daasanach banda. After this incident, which gave the Ethiopians an (undeserved) bad name with the British staff, the 1st Battalion was disbanded with some of its troops finding their way into the 2nd Battalion, Operational Centres and later into Irregular Ethiopian Scout units that proved to be extremely effective in Cunningham’s southern campaign.

2nd Ethiopian Battalion

The 2nd was a half-sized battalion of 600 men that served from the very outset with Gideon Force and fought right through to the final battles of the Gondar campaign.  It was comprised largely of former soldiers of Haile Selassie‘s defeated army, with junior officers being selected due to their former rank under the Emperor. 

In stark contrast to the 1st Battalion however, the 2nd was far more thoroughly trained with the intention that it operate alongside regular Commonwealth troops.  It had 3 months basic training in Kenya, then traveled by train and river streamer to Khartoum, Sudan, where it trained for another month before its deployment with Gideon Force.

In contrast to the Sudanese Frontier Battaion, which was lead by fluent Arab-speaking British officers, all with considerable local experience – the 2nd Battalion was lead by a core of 6 inexperienced British officers, none of whom had been pre-war regulars and none with any local Amharic language skills. Communication between officers and men was done in basic Swahili, a second language both parties had picked up in Kenya.


The Emperor Haile Selassie reviewing the perimeter defenses upon his arrival at the HQ base at Mount Belaiya in Ethiopia. Men of 2nd Battalion stand guard, (note the Lewis gun).

The battalion was originally equipped with outdated French rifles from the previous century, but just prior to deployment they were issued with WW1 era American Springfield rifles – which they kept throughout the campaign. Their armory was rounded out with a handful of Lewis guns, Vickers machine guns and Boyes anti-tank rifles.

The men were natural soldiers with a strong esprit de corps, but they were inexperienced and lead by a core of equally keen but inexperienced British officers. The unit’s performance was initially patchy, fighting with great gallantry and effectiveness at the Battle at Charaka River but found wanting in other actions. 

At the Charaka River bridge, on the road to Dembecha, three companies of the battalion (approximately 300 men) were surprised by a force of 6000 Italians (including two armoured cars) that had abandoned the fort at Burye and were marching in columns to Dembecha. Due to a scarcity of radios, Gideon Force commander Major Wingate had been unable to get word to the Ethiopians that the Italians were headed straight for them. A fierce fire fight developed as progressively more and more Italians entered the battle, with the Ethiopians holding off the vastly superior force across the river for four hours before being overwhelmed and having to retreat into nearby woods.  


Major Wingate reviewing the men of the 2nd Ethiopian Battalion at Dembecha after its abandonment by the Italians. The Ethiopians had recently arrived after their battle at Charaka River.

Three weeks after the Charaka battle, during a series of attacks on Italian positions at the town of Amanuel, south of Dembecha, the battalion experienced a crisis of a different type. 60 men of A company mutinied over mistreatment by a pair of British officers, refused orders and marched off to see the Emperor with their grievances. The mutiny threatened to spread through the battalion when several more platoons followed the mutineers and others were found drinking heavily in the camp the next morning. A furious Wingate sacked both the battalion and company commanders, who were poor officers and had been using their fists on their men. 

The mutineers, now numbering over 100 men, were found preparing their own attack on the Italian positions at Amanuel. The men may have lacked discipline but not courage or commitment to the cause. The mutineers swiftly returned to the unit once they realised their former commanders had been dismissed.

The battalion became an increasingly effective unit as the campaign wore on, but the stigma of the mutiny remained. It was not to be until late in the Gondar campaign that its its poor reputation was reversed.  The under strength battalion, together with an small irregular cavalry unit of 50 Sudanese and Ethiopians was ordered to stop the movement of supplies from Gondar to Lake Tana – from whence they were transported by boat to the besieged forts at Kulkulber.

A decision was made to attack the heavily fortified blockhouse at Gianda, the central outpost commanding the road to Gondar. With no mortars or supporting weapons other than Vickers Machine guns, the battalion assaulted the blockhouse with small arms and grenades. After a bloody, four-hour engagement, the Italians surrendered when a Verey pistol set fire to adjacent buildings and the grenades started to find their mark.

The battalion and the cavalry then drove back a relieving Italian force from a nearby fort and in the following weeks, continued to raid the remaining Italian positions in the area. The result of this small but very sharp action at Gianda, was that communications where cut between Gondar and Lake Tana, and the first crack in the Gondar defences had been made. 

The divisional intelligence report for the action records ‘A fierce engagement lasting four hours… Ethiopians are reported to have behaved magnificently’.  

3rd Ethiopian Battalion

The 3rd Battalion was raised in Khartoum, from Italian ascari deserters captured at the Battles at Gallabat and Kassala during Platt’s advances. The unit was retrained by the British, with the existing graduati (NCOs) given British equivalent ranks. They were armed with Springfield rifles and Hotchkiss machine guns and were lead by small core of British officers. 

The battalion (without C Companysee below) fought bravely in their sole action of the war. In April 1941, they climbed a 2000 foot escarpment to capture the heights near the strongly-fortified Italian positions at Chilga on the Gondar road, but were counter-attacked by a larger force of Italian bandas and local Qemant tribesmen and were pushed back to their starting positions.  The battalion remained outside Chilga containing the Italians, who continued to control the naturally strong defenses of the escarpment for six months until the eventual fall of Gondar. The Italians (correctly) claim the defense of Chilga as among their last victories of the war.

C Company of the 3rd Battalion wrote a completely different story to the main battalion. It was formed in Khartoum from a complete Italian ascari company, that had deserted en bloc. They were retrained, re-equipped and sent independently into the Gondar region under Major General Platt‘s direct orders. Lead by Second Lieutenant Railton, a confident (and as it turned out, a surprisingly talented) 20-year old British officer, they operated as a harassing force, with orders to link up with the region’s patriots and disrupt communications along the Gondar-Asmara road. The company proved to be extremely efficient, and became the most valued Allied unit over the tough 5-month campaign to capture a series of strongly-held mountain forts protecting the Wolchefit pass – control of which was needed to launch the final attack on Gondar.  In a number of key actions, C Company out-performed the more experienced Indian battalion, 3/14 Punjabis, sent to bolster the forces besieging Wolchefit.

Two month’s after the final Italian surrender, in January 1942, Railton‘s C Company was chosen to provide the guard of honour at the official signing of the Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement in Addis Ababa.


Aftermath of the surrender of the Italian garrison at the Wolchefit Pass. Men of the 2/4th King’s African Rifles (KAR) collect arms from the 3000 Italian troops who marched into captivity after a tough, five-month campaign.

A fourth Battalion was raised in Khartoum but saw no action in the campaigns. After the capture of Addis Ababa and the reinstatement of Haile Selassie to the throne, the Ethiopian Battalions became the first units of the newly re-established Ethiopian Army.

Ethiopian Battalion Infantry Section

Cost : Inexperienced Infantry 40 points
Composition: 1 NCO and 4 men
Weapons : Rifles
– Up to 5 additional soldiers armed with Rifles for 8 pts each.
– One soldier may have a light machine gun for an extra +20 points. Another soldier becomes the loader.
– The light machine gun may be replaced by a Lewis Gun for -5pts.

Special Rules :
– Green:
(at no extra point cost)
– Stoppages (Lewis Gun):  The gun has suffered stoppage if two or more 1s are rolled when testing for hits. It remains out of action for one turn while the gunner clears the blockage. He may not fire other weapons or move (unless in a vehicle) while he does so.

Natural Runners: Lightly encumbered, and running on bare or sandaled feet, certain East African troops could cover great distances at high speed.  Units with this special rule can advance 7 inches and run 14 inches.

Ethiopian Mortar Platoon

The Ethiopian Mortar Platoon consisted of 50 men led by a single officer, all Ethiopian. They had been recruited in Gedaref from a patriot banda that had presented itself to the officers of  Mission 101 for service against the Italians. They were equipped with four 3-inch mortars made in the Khartoum railway yards and trained in their use by a Sergeant from the local British garrison.

As robustly made as the mortars were, they were fitted with improvised range finders and the men needed to use a keen eye when firing – something they became extremely adept at throughout the campaign.

On their arrival in Ethiopia, half of the platoon was immediately sent with No 1 Operational Centre to invest the Italian forts at Burye and Injibara on the road to Debra Markos.  The five Australians leading this Operational Centre were all artillerymen recruited from the 2/1st Field Battalion and from the outset, took the mortar platoon under their wing.  Throughout the Gojjam camapign, the mortars were often attached to elements of the No 1 Centre, achieving a remarkable level of accuracy with their improvised weapons.

The Mortar Platoon was Gideon Force‘s only artillery.  It served throughout the entire campaign, including the final battles at Gondar, suffering 50% casualties.


The Ethiopian Mortar Platoon training at Gedaref in December 1940.

Ethiopian Medium Mortar Team

Cost : 50 points (Regular)
Team: 3 men
Weapons : 1 Medium Mortar
Options: None
Special Rules :
Team Weapon
Indirect Fire

Improvised Mortars: These mortars were made in the Khartoum railway yards  and lacked appropriate range finders. The team must have line-up sight to their targets to be able to fire. This, combined with a severe shortage of radio sets also means this mortar team cannot take a spotter as an option.

Stay tuned for the next instalments, when we look at the Operational Centres, Ethiopian Irregular Patriot squads, 79th (McClean’s) Foot and the Wollo Banda.

See also, the first article of the series on the Sudanese Defence Force and Frontier Battalion.

The Inspiration for my Bolt Action Cancon Force: The Battle of Rots 1944

By Ian Underwood

Cancon is held annually in Canberra over the Australia Day weekend in January and is Australia’s largest gaming convention. This year’s Bolt Action event will be the largest tournament of its type held in Australia, having sold out 70 places a month before kick off. I attended Cancon for the first time last year and had a great time, so to be honest this is pretty exciting and in this post I discuss the force I’m taking and the historical inspiration behind it.

Cancon will be the second consecutive Bolt Action event where I’ll be taking a post-D-day Royal Marine Commando force. I attended MOAB in Sydney late last year with a force based on the amphibious assault of the Dutch island of Walcharen (see the earlier post here). Playing that elite, highly mobile force ended up being little beyond my experience level, and so for this tournament, I’ve gone for a more a generic army build…  but like all my recent Bolt Action forces, this one takes its inspiration from an actual historical engagement or action.

In this case the force is inspired by the desperate assault on the twin village of Rots and Le Hamel, in the Mue Valley to the North-West of Caen on the 11th June involving primarily 46 RM Commando and Canadian Shermans from the Fort Garry Horse

The Battle For Rots

“They fought like lions on both sides, so that the dead lay corpse by corpse. We searched every house, every courtyard to avoid ambush. And here is the confirmation of how ferocious last night’s battle must have been. The Commandos lie dead in rows beside the dead SS. Grenades are scattered all over the road and in the porches of houses. Here we see a Commando and an SS man, literally dead in each other’s arms, having slaughtered each other. There, a German and a Canadian tank have engaged each other to destruction, and are still smouldering, and from each blackened turret hangs the charred corpse of a machine gunner.”  – Regimental History, Régiment de la Chaudière.

On the 8th of June, two days after the Normandy landings, the elite 12th SS Panzer-Division ‘Hitlerjugend’ counter-attacked the Canadian positions to the North-West of Caen in an attempt to break the Allied bridgehead. After heavy and desperate fighting the the German’s were repulsed and the counter-attack stalled. The Canadians now however,  were left with a number of exposed forward positions in a salient around the towns of Bretteville l’Orgueilleuse and Norrey-en-Bessin.

Over the next few days, using the town of Rots as their base, the 1st Battalion of the 12th SS launched several assaults on both towns. Again the Canadians desperately repulsed the attackers. In one attack on Norrey-en-Bessin on the 9th June, seven Panthers were destroyed in a mad four minutes when they unwittingly presented their flanks to three troops of Shermans – including several Fireflys, who were arriving to reinforce the beleaguered defenders of the town.


Troops from the 12th SS Panzer-Division drive thru the town of Rots after an attack on Norrey-en-Bessin, June 9th, 1944. The fatigue is evident.

These engagements showed the true character of the Canadian troops as they threw back virtually everything the men of the 12th SS ‘Hitlerjugend’ could hurl at them. Sadly it also brought out the true character of the 12th SS, as it was during this 3-day period that elements of the 12th SS captured over 60 men of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles in the neighbouring town of Putot-en-Bessin and later executed 45 them in the grounds of the Château d’Audrieu, where some officers were headquartered.

It also should be noted that the 12th SS were responsible for the April 1944 massacre of 86 Frenchmen from the village of Ascq during the division’s relocation to Normandy. They were also were responsible for the massacre of 18 Canadians soldiers in the grounds of the Abbaye d’Ardenne on the day after the actual D-Day landings.

The 12th SS were highly motivated fanatics who had, by their own standards, under performed in the battle of Normandy so far. They would be later criticised heavily by the German high command and no doubt would have been smarting from their lack of battlefield success.


The Commando’s route down the Mue Valley and the twin assault on Rots and Le Hamel. Note the precarious position of the villages of Bretteville l’Orgueilleuse and Norrey-en-Bessin – which received much attention from the 12th SS  from their base at Rots.

The Assault on Rots

On the 11th June, 46 Commando was attached to the Canadian 8th Infantry Brigade and given the task of clearing the 12th SS from the Mue Valley, culminating in an assault on their stronghold in the twin villages of Rots and Le Hamel. Clearing the valley was a necessary prerequisite to the advance on Cheux, and securing of the town of Carpiquet and the adjacent airfield.

For this assault they would be supported by a Squadron of Shermans from the Canadian Fort Garry Horse, a troop of Royal Marine Centaurs, 25 pounders and a machine gun company.

The attack started with A & B troop (a commando troop is roughly 65 men) advancing on Rots whilst S & Y Troop attacked Le Hamel. The SS had situated 5 machine gun nests 100 yards in front of the village. Major Lee of 46 Commando takes up the narrative.

“They held their fire until Y and S Troops were 100 yards away and then let fly. Without hesitation the assaulting troops went in, firing their rifles, Brens and tommy guns from the hip. There were two hedgerow obstacles to cross, one of which was lightly wired, but the attack went on. While we were crossing the last obstacle, 30 yards from the enemy machine guns, the Bosche flung their grenades and turned and ran for the defended houses in the village. 

The Commandos then were engaged in fierce street fighting for two hours, the enemy were, according to Major Lee.

“well camouflaged, and obviously very well trained. They darted about from house to house, changing their positions all of the time. Except on one occasion when confronted by a Sherman they showed no inclination to surrender. Their moral was obviously very high.”

Eventually Le Hamel was taken with with two 88mm Guns captured. A & B Troops meanwhile, assaulted Rots – where the higher concentration of SS grenadiers and Panthers were located.  Desperate fighting ensued, a tank on tank battle was taking place in the main street – with the Shermans coming off the worse. At one point B troop was engaged from both flanks and the rear, taking heavy casualties until it was relieved by X and Z Troop and a Sherman Firefly.  

Eventually at 8 o’clock that evening the village was secured. The Canadians had lost six Shermans, whilst two SS Panthers had been destroyed. The Commando’s advance of 7 miles had outstripped that of friendly units on their flanks and they were ordered to pull back for the night.

The following morning,  a company from the Quebec-raised Le Régiment de la Chaudière reinforced the Commandos and the Fort Garry Shermans and managed to secure the whole area. The ‘Chauds’ buried 122 SS men in Rots, while the 46 Commando reported 17 killed, 9 wounded and 35 missing. 

Major General Keller of Commanding 3rd Canadian Infantry Division later wrote to the Royal Marine’s Brigadier Leicester.

“…I must ask you to congratulate for me Lieut-Colonel Hardy and his 46 Commandos, for their thorough dealing with the enemy in and along the river line (Rots and Rosel): my R. de Chauds buried 122 Bosch done in by your chaps.

Be assured we appreciate all this and will deem it an honour to be fighting alongside and preferably with the Royal Marine Commandos”.


The Bolt Action Force

As discussed above my actual Bolt Action force is a fairly standard army build with 4 squads of infantry and two vehicles. My regular infantry squads represent the Canadian Le Régiment de la Chaudière who reinforced the Commandos. Their cheaper cost also allows me to fit in a fourth infantry squad, which at 1000 points (I’m told) is pretty essential for a novice player.  

There were no Daimler armoured cars at the Battle for Rots, but I had one new in a box and and so it was painted up and joins the fray alongside the Royal Marine Centaur tank.

1000 Points

First Lieutenant (Veteran)

8 Man Commando Section #1
3 SMG / 1 Vickers K Gun

8 Man Commando Section #2
3 SMG / 1 Vickers K Gun

8 Man Infantry Section (Regular) #1
1 SMG / 1 Bren Gun

8 Man Infantry Section (Regular) #2
1 SMG / 1 Bren Gun

Medium Mortar (Regular)

PIAT Team (Regular)

Centaur Close Support Tank (Regular)

Daimler Armoured Car (Regular)

Free Forward Observer (Regular)

National Characteristic: Up and At ‘Em.

Hopefully these guys will perform admirably, like their real life counterparts. We’ll see what the tournament brings.




The Oliphaunt In The SBG Room… Where Are All Of The New Players going to come from?

By Ian Underwood

There’s a lot to worry about at the moment – the world is going to hell in a hand basket, but for me there’s a more pressing issue, and one that’s been rattling around my head for the last few months…. “where are all of the new Lord Of The Rings/Hobbit SBG players going to come from?”.

Despite all of the awesomeness issuing forth from the Middle Earth team at Forgeworld – both in miniatures and in the teasing of forthcoming projects… the community here in Australia is…to be honest, in a bit of a slump. Decline would be too strong a word, but in terms of tournament attendances and in general traffic and chatter on the local Facebook group… things are a little quiet.

People who’ve been in the hobby for far longer than me will attest that over the game’s sixteen year lifespan, interest has always waxed and waned, and that this is completely natural. I agree.

One only has to look at the boom/bust and rebirth cycles of GW’s other two games systems to see that we’re not alone in that regard….but at least with 40k and Age of Sigmar, Games Workshop is actively seeking to recruit new blood into the hobby. Each store’s demo tables are invitingly positioned towards the front of the store…and the manager will jump at the opportunity to guide a prospective new player through a round or two… and the starter sets are always close at hand.  Standard GW operating procedure for sure, no complaints there… but my original question still remains… where are OUR new players going to come from?

OK, lets break it down and start stating the bleeding obvious.

back cover

Happy times… a bit of 2002 SBG nostalgia to warm the heart.


Lets face it, in Australia at least, our hobby has virtually no presence in the wider gaming community.

We already know that all Middle Earth products have been removed from Games Workshop/Warhammer stores. When I first took my (then) ten year old son into my local GW store for a test run, there were three demo tables – The Island Of Blood Fantasy set, the Assault on Blackreach 40k set and the good old Mines of Moria set. Halcyon days indeed!  By the time we’d both jumped into the hobby the Escape From Goblin Town starter set was out and most stores were rocking not just a demo table with the box set, but also the three trolls and maybe even some of the new plastic eagles as well!

The rulebooks, sourcebooks and both model ranges were stocked…and all was right with the world.  Contrast that with now… and imagine a similar young kid going into a GW store for a test run… Age of Sigmar or 40k please!

Its no better from yer friendly local gaming store (FLGS). Long before GW bricks and mortar pulled the plug on Middle Earth, the blue and brown boxes disappeared from virtually all FLGSs as well. Whilst there’s solid financial reasons why indie game stores don’t like stocking GW’s non-core products… the fact remains anybody entering a decent FLGS will be inundated by a huge array of miniature gaming stock… but nothing from our game. I’m going to talk about competition later on… but suffice to say, at retail its an SBG wasteland.


Osgiliath inspired diorama photographed by the author at London’s Oxford St Games Workshop in 2013.

A year ago I would have struggled to tell you what level of presence LOTR/Hobbit SBG enjoyed within the wider tabletop gaming community. The only game I played was this one and the only gamers I spent time with were fellow SBGers. Sure, some of them were also active in other communities – mostly the other two GW systems and X-Wing/Armada – which was what all the hip young things were playing at the time…. but I was gaming in a somewhat closed community.

However, last year that all changed… as I broadened my gaming palette and started playing Warlord‘s excellent WW2 game Bolt Action (its OK SBGers its written by our own Alessio Cavatore & Rick Priestly!). This year I’ve attended a few Bolt Action tournaments and  have even taken the step of attending a few nights at what is easily Sydney’s most active gaming club –  A Company of Dice.

Even though there are number of gaming clubs in Sydney, I mention Company of Dice by name because (by tabletop gaming standards at least!) they’re a seriously dynamic community.  They play everything… No, I mean they play EVERYTHING…  from Napoleonics & Ancients to 40k, Kings of War, X-Wing/Armada, Blood & Plunder and of course LOTS of Bolt Action,  I’ve even seen battle reports on their Facebook group of some weird pre-historic game with Neanderthals and Woolly Mammoths!  In short they’re a serious bunch of gamers… .good guys all… you put a miniature on a table and roll some dice, and they’re in…

BUT… no one there plays the LOTR/Hobbit, and in the clubs two years of existence… never have. In the 12 months or so I’ve been lurking on their Facebook group, I’ve seen literally hundreds of WIP posts and read loads of threads where they’ve all gotten excited by this new release… or that new game…. BUT never once has the Hobbit or LOTR ever even been mentioned…neither positively or negatively. Its an invisible game to most of them…and we as a community are likewise invisible.

But here’s the interesting thing… once I mentioned over the proverbial Bolt Action table (usually as my force was being routed by someone half my age… well nothing new there!), that actually… my main game was the Lord Of The Rings (it sounds better than calling it the Hobbit to non-SBGers)… you start to get some pretty encouraging replies…. “Man, I used to love playing LOTR… but didn’t think anyone still played anymore” or  “We used to play LOTR but stopped playing because we couldn’t find anyone to play with”…. and “I’ll be up for a game sometime for sure!”

The outlook for future games in Middle Earth at the club is pretty encouraging, but the point remains, once we step outside the ‘Shire’ and adventure in the wider gaming community – its a bit of a shock as to how small a profile our game actually has.


Now, I’m really going to state the bleeding obvious here… the ol’ tabletop gaming market is a pretty crowded one… actually scratch that. Its an INSANELY crowded market.

I’ve heard it mentioned a number of times that tabletop gaming is in its renaissance, and I agree, Its a great time to be a gamer… but with all this competition, a lot of game systems are bound to lose out.

Think back to what the wargaming competition was when LOTR SBG was launched in 2001. If we discount historicals, it was almost entirely the other Games Workshop systems, 40k, Warhammer Fantasy and Mordheim. Perhaps throw a bit of Battletech in the mix…and that was it!

Think of the competiton for the tabletop gamer’s dollar now… its frightening!

Just for kicks – here’s a list of games & game systems that we are directly fighting for table space at the moment.  Some are huge juggernauts, whilst others are more niche and others are just launching or forthcoming… but all crowd the market.

I’m not including anything historical, steampunk or weird war/alt history in this list although those have their following, or even skirmish level historicals like Saga, Test Of Honour, Lion Rampant and Blood & Plunder, which are are growing in popularity and mine a similar market to SBG.


Battle of the Logos… The fantasy market is a very crowded one.



  • Age of Sigmar (Obviously)… it has its detractors but still front and centre in GW stores and is clawing back market share,
  • Warhammer / Oldhammer – Still loved and played by many, if not purchased much anymore.
  • Frostgrave – Osprey’s skirmish level game has been a surprise hit with classy minis and excellent gameplay.
  • Oathmark – Frostgrave’s mass battle system has good pedigree and will launch next year but minis are already out and look more than decent..
  • Judgement – Australian produced MOBA inspired 54mm battle arena game. Kicking lots of goals with super stunning minis. Launched this year.
  • Kings of War – The obvious successor to Warhammer for massed battles.  Seems to be on the ascendent. Ruleset by Alessio Cavatore.
  • Hordes/Warmchine – Shows no sign of  losing its large market share, and still a huge slice of the fantasy/steampunk gaming pie.
  • Malifaux –  Unique card-driven miniature game is more of a competitor to SBG than you probably think.
  • Bushido – Oriental Fantasy/Feudal/Samurai game from GCT Studios. On its 37th wave of release, so somebody’s buying it.
  • A Song of Ice & Fire – A huge kickstarter that was backed in a few days and now sits at $1.6 Million pledged. Based on the books rather than the HBO series.
  • Joan of Arc – Time Of legends – An even bigger kickstarter that has been backed to the tune of $2.15 Million. Essentially a boardgame with piles of great miniatures.
  • Dungeons & Dragons – Officially titled ‘Nolzur’s Marvelous Miniatures’, these unpainted minis from Whiz Kids are based on classic D&D aesthetics… and were the third highest selling miniature range in the US this year!
  • The Ninth Age – Free ‘open source’ ruleset written essentially for disenfranchised Warhammer players. Jury’s out as to whether it will sink or swim.
  • ‘Fantares’ –  Debuted recently at the Warlord 10th Birthday event – this is Rick Priestly‘s pet project. A fantasy ruleset written for all and any miniatures and based on the D10 dice ‘Gates of Antares’ game mechanic… probably will see the light of day next year as rule set only. First reports are it plays VERY well.

So in fantasy alone, there is a lot of complete games, rulesets and some damn impressive Kickstarters that SBG is directly fighting for oxygen with… but its gets trickier when you consider the other games that, like SBG before it, license third party intellectual property for their setting and characters.

Its fair to say that LOTR in 2001 set the bar extraordinarily high for games in this category, but recently this market has become very crowded, very quickly.  As above, some of these games have become juggernauts and some are very niche (and quite a few, for whatever reason fail to gain a foothold, or can’t sustain the royalties of the I.P. holder)… but all appeal to a certain slice of the geek market – one that wants to play in the narrative setting of a much loved film/TV/comic franchise.

A quick list of the top licensed tabletop games would have to include the Knight Models Batman & DC Universe Miniature Games & their soon to be released Harry Potter Miniature Game. Mantic‘s Walking Dead and Warlord Games‘ Doctor WhoThe sector is also a graveyard of near misses and failures. Recent retirees from this cut throat market include Alessio Cavatore’s Terminator Genisys (excellent game/average film), Judge Dread and Knight Model’s Marvel Universe Miniature Game.

Combining Sci-Fi and one of the biggest intellectual properties of all time, Fantasy Flight‘s Star War’s Legion will be HUGE.  I’m about 30 years beyond my Star Wars obsession, but surely I’m not the only SBG gamer to see the hype explode online about this game and not be excited… and in fact have their heart sink a little. It won’t just suck oxygen away from all other systems – its will, for a while at least create a vacuum!


Star Wars Legion will create a vacuum when its launches late 2017. Just what SBG needs… more competition.

Sci-Fi gaming is too massive a market to list all all the games , but its worth noting that X-Wing and 40k are the two biggest games in the miniatures sector globally. Add in Star Wars Armada, Infinity, Gates of Antares and Dropzone & Dropship Commander and its a pretty crowded market…. oh and did I mention Star Wars Legion at all?

So its pretty obvious that its an insanely competitive market out there…. and I haven’t even touched on boardgames and collectible card games….. and where can you buy our LOTR and Hobbit products again?

BUT, its not all doom and gloom, there are some positives.

The Good News…

The fight is not lost. As a community we have still a few strings to our bow. Namely…

We have a GREAT product.

We love our game, and know implicitly that its an excellent, polished & above all very balanced rule set. It possesses a deceptively deep level of tactical sophistication, and for a 16 years old game system, holds up incredibly well when compared to the next gen of games and their more ‘evolved’ game mechanics.

The miniatures are fantastic.  The older LOTR figures hold up extremely well, with the Perry Brothers sculpts in particular having stood the test of time.  The newer, Hobbit miniatures – especially the plastics are likewise pretty fine. Granted there’s a few odd heads amongst some of the finecast characters – but its still a nice range.

As expected, the Forgeworld era miniatures are spectacular and should impress any gamer.

We have an awesome community.

We don’t need to be told, but we are an awesome gaming community. To be truthful most gaming communities are more than decent – but we pride ourselves on being among the best. We’re friendly, inclusive and encouraging of newcomers to the game.

We host charity events, lodge and ferry around visiting interstate players and our marquee tournaments are friendly, casual affairs – even when players bring their A-game to the table. Win-at-all-costs lists and play styles are shunned, and to be fair are hardly ever encountered in our Middle Earth.

Community matters – we shouldn’t understate this. When I was casting my eye around for another game to pick up 18 months or so ago, I almost jumped into 30k/Horus Heresy on the strength of the three fellow gamers who independently raved about how great the community was.  In the end I chose Bolt Action for reasons of cost and familiarity with the historical setting….. and luckily found an equally awesome community to adopt…. about the point remains – gamers talk, and the kind of community that we have is a selling point that shouldn’t be underestimated.

Middle Earth is the BEST.

That’s kind of a rubbish heading… but seriously, do I really need to explain why Tolkien‘s vast legendarium and the cinematic vision of Peter Jackson and the WETA workshop team make for an awesome game setting for toy soldiers?

Visually, WETA’s artists and designers knocked it out of the park with the aesthetics of both trilogies and Tolkien’s work has an emotional depth born of not just a lifetime of study in the stories and mythology of Dark Age Europe but also of the sorrow and pain of serving in, and surviving the Great War.

The breaking news that Amazon has bought the rights to produce a LOTR prequel series for a reported $200-250 million will only add to the existing universe of Middle Earth. Its doubtful we’ll see Games Workshop produce miniatures from this series as the intellectual property for the Amazon series belongs to a different set of rights holders than the Hobbit & LOTR films & books – but there’s no doubt, that like the Shadow Of Mordor game series before it – the Amazon series will inspire armies and army lists built from the existing range.

A strapping game system alone however, does not in itself guarantee a game’s success. Players crave narrative depth, which is why GW has spent so much time and effort creating the dark future for 40K, and why Warlord is commissioning writers for a series of Gates of Antares novels.

We take it for granted, but Middle Earth is arguably the greatest fictional setting for any miniatures game out there. We win this one!

A Guaranteed Future for SBG

It wasn’t that long ago when a recurring question on SBG forums and FB groups was “What will happen if GW drops the game”… now a year later we have a dedicated 5 man Middle Earth team attached to Forgeworld producing amazing miniatures and on a 5 year mission finish the Hobbit range and reinvigorate the LOTR range. New miniatures, new rules, new supplements and a Middle Earth team that actively engages with the global community and even occasionally competes in the British tournament scene. What could be sweeter.

In short, the game has a future with presumably options to extend beyond the five contracted years if desired. This is actually a huge selling point.

A Legion of Former-Players exists out there.

SBG in its glory days was a hugely successful game that helped put Games Workshop where it is now financially. The story goes, that when the range was launched back in 2001, they sold what they had projected to sell in the first year… in the first month!

The game also enjoyed a serious second bounce when the Battle Games In Middle Earth fortnightly series kicked off in 2005 by publisher De Agostini. Due to popularity, this series of magazines and models sold in newsagents was extended several times and ran for 91 issues (that’s over three and a half years!).

SO, there are a LOT of former players out there, and I’m guessing many of them will have sepia-toned memories of teenage battles in Middle Earth with poorly painted minis. And I’m guessing there’s still armies of early LOTR minis sitting in figure cases across the country under beds or in garages waiting to do battle again.


Battle Games In Middle Earth ran for 91 issues – over three and a half years and gave the hobby a serious second bounce.

So Where To From Here.

Recruit and be visible.

Quite simply, we need to recruit. Its obvious that our community needs players to replace those who naturally fall away or lose interest in the game. In the past, the heavy lifting in this regard was left to Games Workshop, but there are no more demo tables in the stores and no product on the walls. That just leaves us….

We need to be more visible in the general gaming community. Play games at home by all means, but be mindful… that every time you take a game to either a gaming store or wargaming club you’re helping dispel the myth that the game is dead. Two enthusiastic players with lovely miniatures and terrain battling it across the table top in a public gaming space will do more to spread awareness in the game than just about anything!

It was good to see both Brisbane and Perth recently host SBG tournaments at larger gaming conventions. I’m sure I’m not the only one to check out the other games systems (“De Bellis Antiquitatis – what an earth is that!”) – being run at these large events when I register online and later when I wander around the tables.  Its awesome having an SBG presence at these events.

Unfortunately, the last two attempts to re-establish SBG at MOAB (Mother Of All Battles) in Sydney have been underwhelmingly attended affairs and it was decided to give it a miss this year and put our collective efforts in HobbitCon. Sometimes, there is just too much entrenched competition for tournament spots… but in general, its great to show our colours at these events.

We need to be our own P.R. company.

At MOAB recently in Sydney, my other Grey Company correspondent, Andrew Colman and I attended the Bolt Action tournament. On the first day we both wore Tolkien themed tops and Andrew used his Rohan dice. His first game was, (by pure chance) against a former LOTR player and one of the main organisers of the Company Of Dice club. By the end of the second day of MOAB a couple of the club members had vowed to pick up, or return to the game and were surprisingly enthused about giving it a try… and I can confirm that an Easterling army has recently been purchased.

Next January at CanCon in Canberra, Andrew, Adam and I (the three of us who ran HobbitCon this year) will be attending the Bolt Action event in some kind of LOTR inspired, eBay-purchased, team t-shirt. We’ll hopefully raise some eyebrows and start a few conversations as we plummet down the Bolt Action rankings… but its in these conversations we may find someone willing to share in OUR adventure…

As tokenistic as the team shirt will be – we’ll at least have metaphorically removed our ring of power and become more visible amongst our gaming peers.

In summary, we need to be less passive about our hobby. We have a great game and are a great community… and have some pretty exciting new releases coming before Christmas.

The best thing to happen to the hobby was the creation of the Australian Facebook group a number of years ago. It brought us together as a community. We need now to make the next step….

Get out and play some games and rub shoulders with other gamers. Join a club or start frequenting a gaming space… be loud and proud. A little SBG evangelism won’t go astray.

For my part, next year I’ll be helping to run an SBG ‘boot camp’ at the Company Of Dice and will have a new shiny Battle Companies book to show off.  I’m actually pretty confident of the Sydney community experiencing a bounce in members next year.

HobbitCon 2018 is looking good, and I’ll see a bunch of you at Clash Of The Titans before that. Get out there and get your freak flag!

“The world is not in your books and maps, it’s out there”Gandalf



A New Bolt Action Army for MOAB

By Ian Underwood

As soon as I’d read the ‘Normandy Royal Marine Commando Troop‘ article and accompanying list published on the Warlord website last year I knew that my second Bolt Action army would be a force that represented the Royal Marines in the North-Western theatres post D-Day.

With MOAB (Mother of All Battles) tournament in October 2017 as a goal, I planned to build a force based on RM 46 Commando‘s successful assault on the villages of Le Hamel and Rots five days after landing on D-Day, (a different Le Hamel to the village at Gold Beach). Here 46 Commando, with support from RM Centaur tanks and Canadian Shermans, fought and forced back a highly organised and dug-in SS Panzer Grenadier company supported by Panthers from 12th SS Panzer Regiment – an impressive feat of arms!

But as I researched further my proposed new army transitioned from a Normandy force into one that would represent the amphibious assault on the heavily fortified island of Walcheren by RM Commandos. The final operation in the Battle for the Scheldt, in which the port of Antwerp was opened up to allied shipping.

Read on to discover the historical inspiration behind this new army.


Amphibious Buffaloes & Weasels assaulting Westkapelle on the Island of Walcheren 1944

Although the Allies had captured the vital Belgian port of Antwerp largely intact in early September 1944, the German’s still controlled key areas of the vast Scheldt estuary – a vast waterway running 50 miles from the North Sea to Antwerp. At this stage the Allied lines of supply were stretched hundreds of miles from the ports on the Normandy coast to the front lines and the establishment of more northerly ports was a high priority. The northern French ports of Calais and Dunkirk had yet to be captured, despite being under heavy siege.

After the failure of Operation Market Garden in September, and at the urging of American high command, Montgomery made securing the the Scheldt estuary a priority above all other operations under his command. It took 5 weeks of hard fighting in the daunting, waterlogged coastal terrain against tenacious and highly-organised German defenders to complete the objective.

The final phase of the Battle for the Scheldt was Operation Infatuate – the assault on the heavily fortified island of Walcheren by Royal Marine and Inter-Allied Commandos from the sea, and Canadian and Scottish forces plus French Inter-Allied Commandos from the mainland.

Walcheren was a partially reclaimed island at the mouth of the estuary. It was connected to the mainland by a narrow but long causeway and was defended by approximately 10,000 German troops. The approaches to Antwerp from the sea were dominated by a series of formidable German gun emplacements. Nothing could enter the Scheldt without first passing these batteries. In fact the island was one of the strongest fortified sections of Hitler’s ‘Atlantic Wall’.


As the majority of the island’s interior was below sea level, a plan was hatched for air bombardment to breach the sea walls and flood the entire interior of the island, thus keeping the defenders pinned to the external dunes and without meaningful resupply. The Commandos would assault the coast in amphibious craft, that would also allow complete freedom of movement within the flooded island if required.

On the 1st of November 4th Commando Brigade (41, 47 & 48 Commando plus a small force of Belgian & Norwegian Inter-Allied Commandos) assaulted the island from the sea. In stark contrast to Normandy, most of the Brigade landed in amphibious Buffaloes, disgorged by LCTs (Landing Craft Tank). The commandos landed at Westkapelle with 47 & 48 Commando branching south towards Flushing whilst 41 Commando and No 10 Inter-Allied Commando branched north towards Domberg. Their objectives were to capture all of the German coastal and anti-aircraft batteries and radar installations along the dunes, hold them against potential counter-attacks and link up with the allies assaulting from the mainland.

After three days of hard fighting along the dunes, with all objectives secured or destroyed, the RM Commandos linked up with the Allied forces who had assaulted the island from the East and South – and the Battle for Walcheren Island was over.

Within hours of the capture of the last shore battery, minesweepers were in the Scheldt sweeping for the hundreds of mines that lay along its length. By the end of the month Allied shipping was unloading in Antwerp and the lines of supply were dramatically reduced. 

Westkapple painting

The Assault on Westkapelle : A painting in the Domberg Town Hall

Creating The Bolt Action Force

Creating a Walcheren RM Commando force for Bolt Action is somewhat limiting when compared to the options available in most generic and theatre lists. Only 41 Commando landed with armoured support, namely Churchill AVREs and Sherman Crab anti-mine tanks from the 79 Amoured Division. 47 & 48 Commando landed with essentially what their Buffaloes and support craft could carry – 3 inch mortars being their heaviest ordinance.

Much like D-Day however, the commandos relied heavily on Naval bombardments from the 15 inch guns of HMS Warspite and two Royal Navy monitors, which pounded the German positions. 25 support landing craft also steamed in close exchanging fire with the shore batteries. (The bravery of these support craft, coming close inshore greatly factored in the relatively light casualties the assaulting Commandos. The cost to the support land craft was heavier, as only 4 out of the 25 was still operational at the end of the day!).

If anyone complains about the free arty observer for my list I’ll point them to the HMS Warspite, sitting 50 metres over the road lobbing 15″ shells onto the board. 😉

No theatre selector from the Armies of Great Britain book adequately fits the Commandos at Walcheren as the ‘Normandy RM Commando Troop list contains no Buffaloes – so I’ve had to use the Generic Reinforced Platoon selector. 

First draft 1250 Point MOAB List

First Lieutenant (Veteran)

7 man Commando Section #1
1 SMG / 1 Vickers K Gun
7 man Commando Section #2
1 SMG / 1 Vickers K Gun
7 man Commando Section #3
1 SMG / 1 Bren Gun
7 man Commando Section #3
1 SMG / 1 Bren Gun

Medium Mortar (Regular)

PIAT Team (Regular)

LVT Buffalo # 1 (Regular)
Polsten Gun
LVT Buffalo # 2 (Regular)
Extra hull mounted MMG

Sherman V (Regular)

Free Forward Observer (Regular)

National Characteristic Blood curdling charge

This list pretty accurately represents a 41 Commando force as it assaulted  Westkapelle and Domberg to the north of the island.  I’ve opted for a PIAT team to compensate for a lack of Anti Tank options aside from the Sherman V, although I’m reconsidering the PIAT in favour of spamming anti-tank grenades on all my commandos.

What are your thoughts?

Walcheren Map