Crown and Company

When I set out to game the Sikh Wars, I wanted to use rules that would let me fight entire battles in a reasonably short amount of time. The rules should be quick to play and capture the feel of the period. Fortunately, I didn't have re-invent the wheel - Frank Chadwick and Greg Novak had produced the appropriate tool - Volley and Bayonet. Volley and Bayonet (or V&B) provided a fast playing set of rules that refought major battles that was designed for battles ranging from the Seven Years War through the American Civil War. With the Anglo-Sikh wars falling 1846-1849 its not quite in the middle of the period, but the rules work very well for what I've come to call "Napoleonics v1.5".

Why Volley and Bayonet?

 The original release of V&B (1994) provided that broad framework allowing me to design scenarios and organize the armies. In the play-testing phase, we found that the original rules were generally good at recreating the historical battles,  but didn't handle some of the 'details' well - things like individual cavalry regiments (skirmishers in the context of the game) charging and carrying the field - that made the game feel a little off.It wasn't the end of the world, and could be handled through scenario specific rules for the most part.

I must not have been alone as when the game was revised, the playtest revisions included rules to model most of the little 'one-off' issues that had bothered me. While the second edition focuses on the Napoleonic Wars, the nature of the Sikh Wars lends itself to being represented well by the second edition rules as written.

More broadly, V&B lets us fight battles to a bloody conclusion without having to extrapolate who might win. Frank Chadwick captured this in the introduction that the goal is to put players in the role of corps commanders and allow the game to be played to a conclusion in "about four hours". No more pushing troops a foot forward and after 8 hours having the referee wave his hands an anoint a winner!

 The Armies
Honourable East India Company, Army of the Sutlej
      The British Army that took the field against the Sikhs was commanded by a Napoleonic war veteran, General Hugh Gough, and contained a number of other veterans of the Penninsular War and Waterloo campaigns, such as Sir Henry Hardinge and Sir Harry Smith.

Command Structure: General Hugh Gough was the commander of British troops in India. The British possessed a good basic command structure of brigade and division commanders. While sound, there were some bizarre elements to the command arrangments. Gough's second in command - Sir Henry Hardinge - was also the Governor-General of British India. Gough faced the unenviable task of having his political master serving as his deputy. Hardinge was a capable soldier, and for the most part restrained himself from exercising his position over Gough.

The Infantry: The Army of the Sutlej was composed of four main classes of troops: British regulars, Company regiments, Company European troops and Gurkas.
      British regulars were just that, units of the regular British army on frontier garrison duty in India. The British - in spite of their worship of the line and still armed with smoothbore muskets - fielded what was likely the finest infantry in the world.
      Company regiments were units formed by the Honorable East India Company in India and composed of Indian troops. These regiments were raised in a particular Indian state (Bengal, Bombay, etc.) and carried their origin in their title (for example, the 42nd Bengal Native Infantry). Company regiments were organized similarly to regular regiments, but with their own uniforms. India's caste system posed unique problems for the company regiments - some Bengal regiments failed to entrench as digging was beneath their social position. In combat, the Company regiments proved a very mixed lot with the valor of exceptional units being offset by the general poor performance of the majority of the regiments. Most historians attribute the poor performance to the Indian troops to fear of the effective and capable Sikh army. Other historians attribute this poor performance to latent nationalism, with the Indian soldiers loath to see the last independent state in India defeated.

Company European regiments were a cross breed of the previous two troop types. These units were raised by the Company, but were composed of Europeans –predominately Irish - living in India. There were several of these units, notably the 2nd European Light Infantry.

There were two Gurka regiments that served in the Sikh Wars-the Nasiri and Sirmoor regiments. The Gurkas, tenacious fighting men from Nepal, have a long and distinguished history as superb troops, which they lived up to during the Sikh campaigns.  

The Cavalry: British Cavalry was organized similarly to the infantry. There were regiments of the regular army and regiments of locally raised Company troops. The cavalry was almost entirely composed of light units, but these were of exceptional caliber.

The Artillery: Early in the war, the British relied on their light horse batteries - armed with 6 pound smoothbore guns - and the field batteries armed with 9 pound guns drawn by bullock teams. Later in the campaign, the British siege train arrived from Ludhiana and provided the British with a number of heavy artillery battalions and rocket batteries.

The Khalsa Army
      During the 1830's and 40's, the Sikh leader Ranjit Singh, created a well motivated, nationalist army. Unlike most "colonial" wars, the Sikh's possessed an army equipped with modern European equipment, trained by European (mainly French) advisors and organized along French lines. From the wargamer’s perspective the Sikh wars were practically a re-fight of the Napoleonic wars, with the British fighting a reincarnated French army.
Command Structure: While the basic units of the Khalsa were well led, there was no formal command structure at the Corps or Army level. Unlike the French, the Sikh's possessed no unified command structure and relied on an ad hoc chain of command as battles occurred. Lall Sigh and Tej Singh were nominally "co-commanders" of the Sikh Army, and relied on a handful of subordinates, including a number of European "advisors" to provide mid-level leadership to the Sikh army. This attempt at “ co-commanders” failed to some degree as Lall and Tej continue to intrigue against each other and with the British throughout the war.
The Infantry: The Sikh's possessed capable regular infantry supported by the irregular troops of the tribal levies. The regular troops were motivated and mostly fierce Sikh nationalists. The irregulars were less so, and rarely contributed to the battles. One exception were the Akalis – fanatic, religious zealots, who took no prisoners, and often killed injured and captured men.
The Cavalry: The Sikh cavalry consisted of the poorly mounted regular cavalry, and the better mounted, but less disciplined Ghorchurra. The Ghorchurra cavalry was composed of nobles and upper class Sikhs. Though individually impressive, the Ghochurra lacked the discipline and organization needed on the ‘modern’ 19thCentury battlefield.  In the end the division between regulars and aristocracy led to a cavalry branch that was rarely effective.

The Artillery: The real strength of the Sikh army lay in its artillery. The artillery branch received the best men and the pick of the horses (to the detriment of the cavalry branch). The guns were grouped into three categories; the horse drawn light or Aspi batteries, the heavier field or Jinsi batteries that were drawn by bullocks and elephants. Last were the Zamburak guns, light swivel cannon mounted on camels, grouped into 40 gun batteries.

Gaming the Battles of the Sikh Wars
      The following notes should make it possible to recreate the important events from the battles of Sikh Wars.

Period Rules for Volley And Bayonet
1. Khalsa formed infantry is represented with brigade (or “massed”) stands. British regular and native infantry are represented with regiment (or “linear”) stands. Khalsa skirmishers- except Akalis - are treated as poorly trained regulars.

2. All artillery is smoothbore. All horse artillery battalions are light guns. British foot artillery is rated as field guns. Khalsa field artillery is treated as heavy artillery. All field artillery moves at the heavy artillery rate. Sikh field artillery-except horse artillery- takes a full move to limber/unlimber.  Khalsa zamburak(1-lb. swivel guns mounted on camels) artillery provides the equivalent of a battalion gun to the Khalsa infantry stands. Separate zamburak batteries are treated as formed infantry brigades rated 4-4 (Militia).

3. British regular, native infantry regiments and Khalsa infantry are armed with muskets.

4. British foot regiments, Gurkas, and East India Company Europeanregiments are treated as shock troops.

5. British cavalry is rated as light cavalry and treated as shock troops.  Khalsa regular horse is rated as light cavalry, and poorly trained regulars. In addition Sikh regular cav moves at the heavy cavalry rate. Ghorchurra cavalry is rated as light cavalry and treated as poorly trained regulars.


  1. Very helpful...I keep looking at the Black Hat 15mm range and stealing your ideas to do my own Sikh War project...lots of good material out there now for the gamer plus all the ground-breaking games you have hosted over the years.

  2. Some of these rules are a bit dated considering all the new research out there. The Khalsa should be able to 'break down' as linear bases if desired. This lets them cover some of the historical frontages they did hold, but you end up with a much thinner, brittle line. Oh, and if you want a good 15mm project - Aliwal is supposed to be the "Perfect Battle". And were you not looking at Wellesley in India as a project too? You'll need rocket camels. Can't have a game without the rocket camels!

  3. I want to do SOMETHING colonial, and weird. Sikh is good, the Black Hat range is fairly complete and cheap, I can do Wellesley in India but figures would be FreiKorps and they are not as cheap as they should be. I have been looking at the Anglo-Persian War, the last war of the John Company. Some figs in 15mm available. I need focus!

  4. Buckeye, you know your colonial history as well or better than I, but I'll toss out a couple of oddball options. How about the Sino-Sikh War?

    It's obscure, bloody, small and resulted in no meaningful outcome for either side, except the death of several thousand soldiers on each side. It's right before the First Ango-Sikh War so the Sikhs can pull double duty. You'll just need Tibetan and Chinese troops.

    The Opium Wars are a little studied - but extremely lopsided - conflict. Important to remember as how it shapes Chinese perception of the West, but not really suitable for creating a tabletop game.

    I didn't know much of the Anglo-Persian War. That does look like an interesting obscure colonial war.