The Tu Lung Arsenal
Part of the Society of Twentieth Century Wargamers 100 years of war day at the Falkirk Club.
I am Eustace Derby-Black a hat salesman currently trying to establish a market for Bowler Hats in the Chinese Empire. I was escorting a train wagon load of our wares to Peking when the current Boxer rebellion arose. Apparently all the foreign legations were now besieged within the capital including our company employees. A combined force was dispatched up the railway to Tientsin where my wagon was stranded. Then the military claimed that the way was blocked by an army of Chinese Imperial troops. The old Buddha Suzy (CiXi or several other spellings) had decided to back the Boxer rebels against the civilising powers.
Whilst waiting for reinforcements or inspiration some American thought it would be a good idea to knock out the nearby Tu Lung arsenal. Apparently this was supplying both the Boxers and the Imperial Army. This being strictly unofficial volunteers were called for. Well I and some other businessmen had little else to do. I thought if we could do the job it might encourage the military to do the job they are paid for with our taxes. In the interests of identification as well as advertisement I kitted out all my squad with bowler hats. I was wearing a white suit with the thought that since the Boxers all wore white it might be an easily adopted disguise.
My squad was equipped with high quality Mauser rifles good enough to fell a buffalo if necessary. Four even had obtained bayonets from somewhere, probably the German stores wagon. . There were seven squads of us, each with about a dozen apiece. With ourselves were two of yanks, two of Russians, one of British Marines and the other of Italian Bersaglieri. By dawn we had come within sight of the arsenal but there were several Imperial army units dotted around ahead of us. At the time it was known that the Chinese Artillery General Jung Lu was sympathetic to us so some of the Army units might prefer to remain neutral. Our squads were strung out in a rough line with mine towards the left. An impertinent yank implied that we civilians should keep away from the serious fighting! He also suggested that we form in either lines or columns. I told him that as civilians we had no truck with such ideas. Since the Boxer were liable to appear from all directions I formed my squad into a circle. The troops on the right were advancing into a Chinese Army barracks and soon firing broke out.
Any hope of finding neutral Chinese was gone. The keen as mustard Americans had advance on ahead towards a village and engaged some Imperial troops. We and the Bersaglieri cautiously cleared a hedge surrounded field. Beyond was a wide Ell shaped river with the short arm just to our right. We had been told that there were two fords, one behind the barracks and the other just before the bend in front of us. However we could see a perfectly serviceable stone far bridge ahead, level with the arsenal on its hillock. It was the consensus of my squad that they would prefer to use that rather than get their feet wet. First we went into the hedge surrounded field where alas my circular formation had to change into a line. The yanks suddenly pulled back from the village and headed over the ford. We and the Italians fired on the enemy still lurking in the village. Then the two Russian squads headed for the ford so there was a traffic jam there trying to get over the narrow crossing. The units on the right had dealt with the enemy in the barracks and went to cross the other ford in a much more orderly fashion.
Then horrors! An enormous mass of Boxers appeared behind us, double our entire force (160 – 84). Should my squad run away or stand and fire where we were? There were four squads queuing to get over the ford so I decided to just keep firing a while. Fortunately we received supporting fire from the Americans and Italians but the enemy still surged on. We retreated behind the other side of the hedge hoping it would provide some protection from their fanatical hordes. Two of my squad fell slain by thrown spears.
Then suddenly the Boxer hordes were all running away! They had been taught that their magic exercises made them invulnerable to the ‘red haired devil’s’ firearms. The bodies of the dozens we had mown down had perhaps made them lose faith. It was no time to relax as some red coated Imperial troops were advancing on us from the village. We and the Italians shot them to pieces. Whilst on the right our allies were fighting a much smaller horde of Boxers who appeared beyond the right Ford. At this time a gun behind a stone wall began to play upon the Russians sailors who were in the lead. Soon they rushed and captured the gun and turned it on the enemy only to discover there were two more Imperial guns in the open beside the arsenal. The other squad of Yanks on the far right, found some Imperial troops firing on them from the rear, so the Italians who were now also across the river, turned to support them.
Determined to keep our feet dry, we marched on beside the river towards the distant bridge. The pair of enemy guns were banging away and their fire then fell on us and three of my men were blown up. Shaken and reduced to seven we took cover in the nearby village tea house. The gun fire moved elsewhere and we went back out to see a large body of Imperial troops lurking beyond some trees. When they defiled out along a road in our direction we fired on them until they halted. They had shot another of my men so we were reduced to half strength. The enemy kept in formation but marched away from us. There was no relaxing as now a body of cavalry were advancing on us from the rear.
Fortunately our fire plus some extremely accurate fire at long range from the Bersaglieri saw them off. In the centre the Russians had charged to melee another mass of Boxers. My squad gave them supporting fire but I fear we brought down some of our own comrades, possibly more than the Boxers did before they ran away!
However the gun the Russians had captured then silenced the two beside the arsenal. On the far right the Americans and the British Royal Marines stormed the arsenal walls and took the building. Seeing more Boxers emerging from the Barracks area I took my civilians back that way but they refused to attempt the ford. Another horde of Boxers who were arriving from beyond the bridge halted. With the arsenal now in the hands of the ‘red haired barbarians’ despite the loss of hundreds of their countrymen, they decided to retire to fight another day with the Imperial troops that we had chased off! And our feet unlike those of the other squads were still dry!
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