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Tuesday, February 1st 2011, 10:20pm

In Stone or Sand - IC


When the war has been won
And our march home begins
What awaits has not yet been revealed
What was won? What was lost?
Will our deeds be remembered?
Are they written on stone or in sand?
[SIZE=1]- Light in the Black (Sabaton)[/SIZE]

Please make your out-of-character comments here regarding the story.


Tuesday, February 1st 2011, 10:20pm

The Road to Kandahar - Part 1

August 5, 1940 - Temporary League Field Headquarters, Quetta
General MacDonald raked his fingers through his thinning hair and watched the last officers of the Afghan Field Force settle into their seats around the conference table. Only five days before we enter Afghanistan, and I’m only now getting all my commanders sat down. Damn the League bigwigs and their timetables!

MacDonald stood up and drew the attention of the officers, starting with introductions. The Czechs were led by Lieutenant General Helidor Pika; the Yugoslavs by Colonel Stevan Radovanovic, and the Irish 1st Brigade by Colonel Desmond Whelahan. Several translators sat by their commanders, though most of the officers knew English, French, German, or sometimes Italian.

“All right, gentlemen,” MacDonald said, once introductions finished. “Let’s get down to business. Most of you know the task at hand, but for those who don’t, here’s what we face.” MacDonald nodded to his adjutant, who changed the first slide in the machine. “This charming gentlemen is General Khosro Parwiz. He led the Nationalists during the Persian Civil War, and when they lost a year ago, he and his loyalists fled into Afghanistan, where he’s got extensive support from a number of the local warlords. Parwiz is mostly a political creature, but he’s no slouch as a stategist, as his campaigns in the Civil War showed. My staff has compiled a packet of information dealing with everything immediately available on Parwiz’s career, as well as all the details we know of his campaigns in the Civil War.”

MacDonald nodded again to change the slide. “Parwiz commands the loyalty of between six to seven thousand troops of the former Persian Nationalist Army. Most of that force is located in the region of Herat, in northwestern Afghanistan, while smaller encampments are located across the border from the Persian town of Zabol - here, in the southwest, around Chakhansun. There is also an encampment at Farah, here. These forces, under the overall command of Parwiz, are crossing the border into Persia, attacking civilians, and generally making a muck of things.

“For various political reasons which we shan’t get into, neither the Persian Army nor their Indian puppeteers have gone after them, instead pressuring the Afghani government, and then the League, to take care of the job. That’s how this problem got dumped on us.” MacDonald waited for the translators to catch up before he continued. “Prior to the Civil War, Parwiz developed a network of contacts and supporters in western Afghanistan, courting a number of the tribal leaders, who now provide him with support. In exchange, Parwiz’s troops join the clans in their little internecine conflicts with the other locals. So far, it’s worked out well for most of these little warlords.

“This chap - sorry we don’t have a better photograph - is one of Parwiz’s closest local contacts. He’s a tribal leader out of Herat by the name of Ismatula Zadran. We don’t know much about him, but we do know he commands a significant force of tribal soldiers, estimated to run between eight to twelve thousand men, although those men are poorly armed and trained. His son, Daud Sardar Zadran, is estranged from his father and known to have his own band of fighters in the mountains east of Herat, where he cooperates with his father-in-law, Hakim Mojadeddi, one of Ismatula Zadran’s rivals.

“Here’s another of Parwiz’s local allies: Khaled Hashem Maqsoodi. He’s based in Farah, and has between five and eight thousand tribal fighters. We don’t know much about Maqsoodi, either, but intelligence suggests he’s a pragmatist; he’ll support Parwiz so long as it serves his purposes, but he’ll likely change sides if he thinks it’s of benefit.

“These two gentlemen, Haji Munadi, and Abdul Yacoobi, are two more tribal chieftains associated with Parwiz. Munadi’s got around two thousand tribal fighters around Chakhansun, and is reportedly quite involved in assisting in raids into Persia. Yacoobi’s a virtual unknown, but he has tendrils in Kandahar, and, as best we can estimate, a bit under two thousand fighters in Gereshk, his main headquarters.”

MacDonald stopped. “Any questions?”

Whelahan spoke up. “This seems like a tall order for the forces we have been assigned, General. By my count, we’re facing anywhere between twenty to thirty thousand troops with only around ten thousand men. They know the terrain and can blend in with civilians...”

MacDonald nodded. “Unfortunately, that’s true. However, In the open field, we’ll have clear advantages in both armour and artillery, as well as access to technological items such as radios, which are not used by and large by our enemies. When it comes to numbers, the Afghan king, Mohammed Zahir Shah has pledged to send three full divisions of the Afghan National Army, and we will coordinate our campaigns with them. A number of countries are assisting in the reequipping of the Afghan Army - though the Indians aren’t happy about that, I believe. While they’re not up to the caliber of our own troops, I hope they’ll help even the balance in terms of numbers.

“I need to emphasize here that the League of Nations has not provided us with a decisive mandate in Afghanistan, but our respective governments have all agreed - in full agreement with the Shah and his government - to aggressively attack both Parwiz, his troops, and his local supporters. I do not intend to sit on the defensive and let them attrite us in guerrilla warfare, and with our field force only being funded for a single year, we don’t have the time to sit around.”

Colonel Radovanovic raised his hand and spoke in broken English. “What is equipment and training for.. er, of enemies?”

MacDonald grimaced. “It appears to vary substantially based on the units involved. Some of Parwiz’s troops, particularly those closest to him in Herat, are likely equipped to nearly the same standard as our troops; they have both tanks and aircraft, and have used them in battle against the Persian Loyalists and the Indian Army. They’ve seen battle over the last three years, and they should not be underestimated. However, many of the Nationalist troops are quite poorly equipped. A similar situation exists for their Afghan allies: we know Ismatula Zadran has been reforming his tribal army on Parwiz’s advice, and though their training and organization is improving, it is probably still inferior to the weakest of Parwiz’s troops, and likely inferior to the Afghan National Army. My staff is working on a report estimating the capabilities and equipment of the enemy, and I hope to have it for you tomorrow. Any further questions? No? Then let’s move on.

“I have a number of things to say about how this field force will work. We are drawn from several very different nations and cultures, and our diversity is a weak point our enemies will doubtlessly attempt to exploit. But our diversity is also our point of strength, as we have expertise from all across Europe at our disposal.

“So long as I am in command, I will not tolerate disagreements based on our different international backgrounds. My goal is to get as many of our troops home safely as I can, and finish the mission we’ve been assigned by our governments so that no League troops ever have to come to this place again. If anyone here plays career games, or works to the benefit of themselves at the expense of the field force, I’ll send them home. When we go home victorious, that’ll be the thing history will remember of us.

“Second. We are not here to plunder, loot, or visit atrocities on the locals. I expect each commander to keep control of their troops on this account. We will fully follow the Geneva Conventions, and I expect all of our troops to behave according to the highest traditions of our respective services. I trust I make myself clear.

“In five days, we’ll cross the border into Afghanistan and march to the city of Kandahar, where we will occupy an area near the airfield. Kandahar will serve as our temporary base, and we will meet up with the leading elements of the Afghan National Army there. At the moment, intelligence doesn’t foresee any resistance en route, but I don’t put much faith in that. Any questions?”

The commanders remained silent, and after an appropriate pause, MacDonald continued. “The intelligence staff will hopefully have a more detailed report for us by tomorrow morning, so let’s meet again tomorrow evening for dinner and further discussion. Dismissed, gentlemen.”


Please make your out-of-character comments here regarding the story.


Sunday, February 6th 2011, 3:35am

Monday, 5 August 1940; Temporary LONAFF Cantonment near Quetta

Major Oton Elbinger, commander of the Royal Yugoslav Army’s Third Pandur Battalion sat in front of the small stone hutment, a basha the locals called it, that served as battalion headquarters. In front of him were gathered his officers – Captain Ratko Raketic of the battalion’s No.1 Company; Captain Zarko Todorovic, commander of No.2 Company; and Captain Karlo Novak, who led No.3 Company. Present by right was Captain Jovan Antic, the battalion’s executive officer; present by invitation was the Battalion Sergeant Major, Kosta Adamovic, and the lowly Sergeant Konstantin Prigal.

Prigal had sat through Major Elbinger’s briefing regarding the forthcoming advance to Kandahar wondering what he was there for; when Captain Novak ordered him to come, Prigal had thought he was for it – despite his best efforts, Prigal was always getting into trouble. As Elbinger explained the risks to be run and hurdles overcome, Prigal became even more convinced that he wished he had the luxury of a soldier’s ignorance of what lay ahead.

“In summary,” Elbinger concluded, “we are advancing against an enemy that outnumbers us perhaps three or four to one, depending on whose intelligence summary you believe. The natives are not going to be happy about foreigners coming into their country – even if their government supposedly asked for us. The Persians are the die-hards from their civil war; they have little left to loose. It is going to be a tough fight.”

“So, what’s the plan Chief?” asked Todorovic; the Pandurs were noted for their informality.

“Well, I’ve told you what Colonel Radovanovic’s plan is; he’s got it straight from the commanding general. And the plan isn’t a bad one. It might even work. But we’re going to prepare for the unexpected just in case.”

Now it began to dawn on Prigal why he had been asked to this meeting. He was the unit scrounger.

“Sergeant Prigal,” said Elbinger, “we are not authorised any medium machineguns. That is going to be a problem – at least initially we are going to be moving through open, flat country. The infantry companies over in the Base Force probably have a few M1932s that they don’t really need. I’d like you find at least half-a-dozen, by Wednesday morning. Jovan, when Prigal gets them, I want them mounted on our Zastavas, two per company – or more if Prigal gets lucky.”

They nodded; increasing the unit’s firepower made sense for the terrain they might have to fight through.

“Sergeant Major – I’ve told the intendance people we’d be conducting firing exercises tomorrow; we won’t – but tomorrow you will draw an additional unit of fire for each company from the supply echelon. Having cased the situation, tomorrow evening I’d like you to visit them again to ‘requisition’ a further unit of fire. If you happen to find a truck unattended, please borrow it.”

Adamovic laughed at the suggestion. “Only one Chief?”

“Only one, Battalion Sergeant Major; let’s not be greedy.”

Turning to his company commanders, Elbinger advised. “Make certain that every man has a good canteen. I’ve asked the intendance pukes for additional water containers but they’re in short supply.” He paused, “No; I want you to inspect the canteens and report at least ten percent of them deficient. It’s been tough getting here. I’m certain that Colonel Radovanovic will cut loose canteens to replace the ‘duds’ we’ll be reporting. So, if Intendance fails to come through, we’ll have some reserves.”

They smiled and nodded.

“General MacDonald hasn’t specified the order of march for our movement to Kandahar. I don’t know whether we will be in the van or not. Maybe we’ll hear tomorrow. So, go get some sleep.”


Monday, February 7th 2011, 7:00pm

The Road to Kandahar - Part 2

August 19, 1940 - Between Quetta and Kandahar
“Thank God we’re not the infantry,” the radio squawked. “Look at all that dust they’re kicking up.”

Dara-Leifteanant Paddy O’Kane glanced over to his wing-leader’s Hurricane and saw Leifteanant Seamus Kinsella craning his neck for a better view of the road below. The field force had spent eight days slowly uncoiling from its first encampment at Quetta, and the lead element crossed the border into Afghanistan spearheaded by Czech armour.

O’Kane grinned and settled back in his seat, listening to the beautiful purr of his Hurri’s Merlin. It was good to be airborne again: the Irish air contingent had been crammed aboard a rented Belgian liner, the SS Kroonland II, which carried much of the Irish I Brigate from embarkation at Cobh to the port of Karachi. O’Kane didn’t think it so bad, as sea-voyages went, but felt sorry for the enlisted men, who had less room and privacy. But now the crated Hurricanes were reassembled, and O’Kane was back in his upgraded “CB-F”. [1]

A flash of silver caught O’Kane’s eye, and he immediately turned the radio switch to ‘talk’. “Aircraft at two o’clock low. Looks to be coming this way.”

There was a pause before Kinsella responded - he was likely still scanning for the contact. “Okay, I see it,” he finally said. “Let’s go get a look. Control, this is Blue One, patrolling in Sector 011. We have spotted an aircraft; I am investigating.”

“Blue One, be advised there are friendly aircraft in the area,” Control said.

“Confirm. Blue Two, we’ll keep our guns safed.”

O’Kane knew his guns were already safed, but confirmed it again before saying “Check.”

Kinsella winged over and settled his Hurricane into a shallow dive; O’Kane fell in astern and to starboard, watching the altimeter fall towards a thousand meters, where the two Hurris pulled out of their dive, swinging around to intercept the unknown.

“One of ours,” O’Kane said. “Avro Anson.”

“Concur,” Kinsella said. “Switching to open channel.” He throttled back and slid into a loose formation with the Anson, and O’Kane saw an Army officer visible in one of the windows - probably one of the Czechs, by his uniform. The officer saw them and saluted, somewhat informally; O’Kane saluted back, and waggled his wings.

“Army reconnaissance,” Kinsella reported, back on the squadron channel. “What’s your fuel, Two?”

“Sixty percent.”

“We’re giving this guy a loose escort. Climb back to three thousand meters and we’ll tag along.”


As the Hurricanes climbed back to altitude, O’Kane glanced back down at the column of dust behind them, and the barren high desert around him. What a dismal country - and yet, it’s beautiful, too.

[SIZE=1][Note 1] Prior to deployment, Armstrong Whitworth updated the Irish MkII Hurricanes to MkIIC standards, fitting 4x20mm, and 500lb bomb racks from the Hawker Henley. Sand filters were also added, based on the RAF spec for Middle East fighters.[/SIZE]


August 20, 1940 - Herat
“The infidels are on the march, General.”

“So my sources have told me,” General Parwiz said.

“You have learned this news fast, then,” Ismatullah Zadran said, sitting down on a cushion opposite his Persian ally.

“My news travels at the speed of radio,” Parwiz replied. “Do not worry, my friend. They may have entered this land, but they shall not leave it again. Allah will bury them beneath the mountains.”


Please make your out-of-character comments here regarding the story.


Wednesday, February 9th 2011, 10:02pm

The Road to Kandahar - Part 3

September 5, 1940 - Outskirts of Kandahar
Second Lieutenant Vaclav Mírohorský tossed his cigarette down in the dirt and waited as the scout car pulled up next to his tank; Major Husnik stuck his head out the top. “Lieutenant! Report!”

Mírohorský glanced around. “My platoon’s been in this position for two hours, sir. We shut off engines to preserve fuel. Nothing of interest to report, sir.”

“Nothing of interest, huh? Where’s the rest of your platoon, lieutenant?”

“Dug in and camouflaged, sir,” Mírohorský replied. “One tank in the cover of those abandoned buildings with dismounted infantry support; and the other two in overwatch on the reverse face of this hill, sir.”

Husnik frowned. “Well done, Lieutenant. But round them up; we’re moving up to the airport to set up permanent camp. A company of the Captain Horcicka’s 1st Dragoons and a scouting element of motorcycles are coming up to do the job; I’m attaching you as support.”

“Yes sir.”

“Don’t you and your boys get itchy on your triggers, Lieutenant. There are friendlies at the airport.”

“Yes sir.”


September 5 - LONAFF Temporary Headquarters, Quetta
General MacDonald finished the last bite of his dinner as Lieutenant General Pika stepped into the tent and saluted. “Tell me good news, General,” MacDonald said.

“I can, sir. My troops have reached the Kandahar airport, and are in the process of securing it. A company of Afghan policemen were in position when my men arrived, but there were no incidents. In fact, one of your Irish pilots had already landed his Westland at the airport; apparently he had some engine trouble and decided to chance it.”

“That is good news,” MacDonald agreed. “Counterbalances this bit I’ve just heard from intelligence. Have a seat. Can we get you coffee?”


“Abdul Yacoobi is apparently marshaling tribal fighters in Gereshk,” MacDonald said, unfolding the report and handing it over to Pika. “Our initial reports passed on by Indian Intelligence suggested Yacoobi could gather between eighteen hundred to two thousand troops - all light infantry. Intelligence is now thinking that’s... pessimistic of his true capabilities. Intelligence now tells me a battalion of rogue Afghan government troops might be operating under Yacoobi’s control as well.”

Pika frowned. “That’s troublesome.”

“Yes, it is. I need options, General Pika; and I need information. Tonight I’ve ordered the air units to fly into the Kandahar airport; I’ll have the Douglases fly up parts and ground crews tomorrow. They’ll give me more information through aerial scouting. The Irish brigade will arrive in Kandahar on the eighth. If we need to move fast in the meantime, General, are your Czechs prepared for combat?”

“Yes, general. My supply situation is, truth be told, better than expected but still less than would make me comfortable; though protracted operations will be very difficult on what I have now.”

“I have a feeling that our success in this campaign will hinge in no small part on our supply situation; and my current supply officer isn’t very inspired,” MacDonald admitted. “I plan to send him back to communications were he’s a better fit. Do you have any recommendations?”

“I believe I could recommend two or three good candidates, general. I will forward their names later this evening once I get back to my headquarters.”

“Very good. In the meantime, let’s deploy for the defensive posture we originally planned on, though begin preparing operational contingencies in case we need to send a flying column to Gereshk. If Yacoobi tries to advance on us in Kandahar, I intend to meet him halfway and destroy him on the road, if I can.”

“Do you want me in Kandahar, sir?”

“Yes, I think that would be wise. If you and your staff can fly up to Kandahar in the morning and set up a new field force headquarters, then that’ll give me a trustworthy man on the ground.”

“I’ll get working on that at once, General.”

Pika left quickly, and MacDonald sat back down at his desk. “Major Wilkinson,” he said to his aide-de-camp. “Did I see Captain King walk by outside earlier?”

“Yes sir. I believe he went to the officer’s canteen, sir. Would you like me to summon him?”

“No, I’ll go talk to him myself. Go tell Leifteanantchoirnéal Carrollton to get a Lysander prepared.”


Please make your out-of-character comments here regarding the story.


Thursday, February 10th 2011, 6:29pm

The Road to Kandahar - Part 4

September 8, 1940 - LONAFF Temporary Headquarters, Quetta
General MacDonald slammed down the telephone receiver. “Idiots!

“Problems, sir?” Major Wilkinson asked politely.

“Stupid Afghan government just stuck their turbans up their...” MacDonald fumed and paced behind his desk. “I need to be moving the headquarters to Kandahar, Seamus. Pika’s on the ground, at least, and the Irish finally arrived; but Yacoobi’s tribal fighters are on the move out of Gereshk - and now this. The idiots in the Afghan government decided they needed more money for this war - so they raised taxes on the Hazaras.”

Wilkinson looked thoughtful. “The Hazaras, sir?”

Just the Hazaras. Not on the Pashtuns, just the Hazaras!” MacDonald growled. “The Hazaras aren’t enthusiastic about this war anyway, and have religious differences with the Pashtuns; and from the sound of things, they’re preparing to rebel. If they do - when they do - they’ll hold the largest majority of central Afghanistan. The Afghan Army's put down four uprisings before, but this time...”

Wilkinson finally understood the problem and visibly winced. “The Afghan National Army will either go to fight them, or-”

“Nearly thirty percent of the Afghan National Army troops joining us in Kandahar are in Hazara regiments,” MacDonald said. “They’ll desert and charge off north to fight, or worse, fight the Pashtun regiments they’re currently serving with - right next door to us.” MacDonald slowed his frustrated pacing. “Is there an airstrip in Bamian?”

“I’m not sure, sir,” Wilkinson replied, only vaguely recalling where Bamian even was.

“Go wake up the boys in the Intelligence division and find out,” MacDonald said. He sat down behind his desk again and picked up the telephone. “Get me General Pika’s headquarters.”


Please make your out-of-character comments here regarding the story.


Thursday, February 10th 2011, 9:36pm

The Road to Kandahar - Part 5

September 9, 1940 - General Pika’s Headquarters, Kandahar
Lieutenant-General Helidor Pika regarded the map table with a critical eye. Information came dribbling in to Pika’s headquarters, with Pika’s communications staff updating the locations of both friendly and enemy troops. It felt so much like a wargame to Pika; he had to force himself to believe the ugly reality that men, likely including some of his, were about to die.

Worst of all, General Pika thought, the Field Force commander is out of contact. MacDonald did not fully understand the realities involved in the dispute between Hazarajat and the Afghan National Government, but knew a revolt by the mountain tribes would mean very serious problems for the League forces; MacDonald had taken one of the Irish Ansons and flown straight to Bamiat, the ostensible capital of the Hazara region; Pika heard nothing from him since morning.

He places his hand in the tiger’s mouth. I would not dare to do it - I hope he is safe...

“Another report coming in, sir. The Irish 3rd Infantry Battalion reports a body of mounted troops rode to within two hundred yards of their position. Major Duggan reports they withdrew.”

Pika glanced at the map; the 3rd Irish Battalion was just outside Kandahar on the east bank of the Arghandab River, barely thirty kilometers from the Kandahar airport. “How did they get that close?” Pika demanded. “Most of Yacoobi’s men are still supposed to be in Gereshk!”

“We must not have spotted them in earlier patrols, sir,” replied the officer. “They may be scouts.”

Pika sighed. General MacDonald wished to destroy Yacoobi on the road; if Yacoobi’s troops advance, then I need to do the same, or risk fighting in the immediate outskirts of Kandahar.

Decision time. Pika turned to Colonel Whelahan, the commander of the Irish 1st Brigade, and his own Czech commanders. “Colonel Whelahan. Your 3rd Battalion shall cross the Arghandab and advance past the village of Senjaray. Prepare to deploy the 4th Battalion and your armoured car company in support of their operations, but leave your Armoured Company in reserve in case we need their firepower. Lieutenant-Colonel Askenazy, the 1st Dragoon Regiment will cross the Arghandab south of the Irish, right around... here. Take an engineering unit with you and bridge the river if it’s too deep to ford. Major Husnik - dispatch one squadron of your armour to support them, and leave the rest in reserve near... Hill 414. Colonel Askenazy, if you are unopposed, advance as far as Pir Zadeh, then halt.”

Pika turned to the youngest of the officers in the headquarters. “Major Elbinger, you proposed yesterday that we airdrop your Pandurs near Pir Zadeh. Are you still ready for that?”

“Yes sir.”

“I don’t want you in Pir Zadeh. Let’s give Abdul Yacoobi something further to think about - this village here, south of Gereshk; Laskar Gah. If we airdrop your men here on the... say, late tomorrow or morning on the eleventh, it’ll place you and your troops out on a limb for a day or two, but could distract Yacoobi if he thinks we’re outflanking him.”

The Yugoslav officer nodded slowly, perhaps a little uncertain of the suddenness of the request, but his eyes shining with delight at finally getting a chance to go into action. “I will review the weather and reconnaissance reports, sir. I think we should be able to do it...”

“General,” interrupted an Irish lieutenant. “Urgent communication for you, sir. It’s from General MacDonald.”


Please make your out-of-character comments here regarding the story.


Tuesday, February 22nd 2011, 7:02pm

To Blood the Troops - The Helmand Campaign Part 1

September 9, 1940 - West of Kandahar
Major Duggan’s 3rd Battalion was the first of the League units to enter the action. As the lead company waded across the Arghandab River, shots rang out from the far bank; two soldiers were wounded. Duggan’s battalion mortars and machine guns, drawn up on the eastern bank, promptly opened fire and the sharpshooters fled; one Afghan tribesman was found on the far bank with mortal injuries, and died before he could receive medical treatment. The Irish continued the crossing of the Arghandab unopposed, and advanced at a rapid pace towards the village of Senjaray, which they found deserted.

Meanwhile, in the dusty afternoon sun, the Czechs of Lieutenant-Colonel Askenazy’s 1st Dragoon Regiment moved swiftly across the Arghandab several miles south of the Irish. They encountered few signs of life and no opposition. Despite his high-speed advance, Colonel Askenazy harboured doubts it would continue unopposed; in this he proved correct. On the morning of the 10th, having rested his troops, Askenazy’s column spotted dust on the road near Pir Zadeh. An Irish Lysander shortly thereafter reported “Three companies unidentified cavalry moving SE of Pir Zadeh”. Askenazy redeployed his dragoons around his assigned armoured company and pressed forward.

Shortly before noon, with updated spotting reports coming in every ten minutes from the Lysander overhead, the Czechs spotted the Afghan horsemen moving eastward towards Kandahar. An initial probe by Czech scout cars, supported by tanks, met heavy rifle fire, and the Czech reconnaissance elements withdrew back towards the main body, pursued by Afghan horsemen. Colonel Askenazy called for immediate air support, and General Pika, monitoring the situation from his headquarters at the Kandahar Airport, requested Lt. Col. Carrollton, the commander of the aircraft wing, to “send what he could.”

At 1235 hours the Afghan pursuit crashed head-on into the dismounted Czech dragoons, who had lightly dug in along a sandy ridgeline. The Czechs opened a blistering fire with rifles and machine guns, scattering the horsemen and killing six to eight. Surprised by the sudden ambush, the Afghan horsemen reformed a mile to the northwest, visible to but out of range of the Czech dragoons. At this point, air support arrived in the form of eight bomb-carrying MkIIc Hurricanes, vectored in by radio from the scouting Lysander. One element of Hurricanes made a low pass dropping two 250-lb bombs each, then returned for repeated strafing passes. The Afghan cavalry shattered under this assault, and small groups and individual horsemen fled back towards Pir Zadeh. The Czech dragoons quickly resumed their advance.

To the northeast, on the morning of the tenth, General Pika ordered the Irish Brigade to continue their advance along the highway from Senjaray towards Pir Zadeh. Although they suffered occasional potshots at long range from adversaries, the Afghan troops withdrew the moment the Irish showed signs of deploying their mortars, machine guns, or armoured cars. The harassing fire had minimal effect through the morning, with only two injuries reported, but shortly before noontime, the first casualty of the campaign occurred when a sharpshooter mortally-wounded an Irish infantryman.

Despite the harrassing fire, the two pincers of League troops closed inexorably around Pir Zadeh. The Afghan tribesmen reforming around Pir Zadeh, estimated to number approximately two hundred strong, suffered badly due to both to their confused chain of command and poor communications; in many cases, their first knowledge of the immediate presence of League troops occurred when they came under fire. The light and largely obsolete armament the Afghans used - in most cases, single-shot rifles from the 1800s - proved unable to seriously threaten any of the Czech or Irish armoured vehicles, even lightly-armoured reconnaissance cars.


Please make your out-of-character comments here regarding the story.


Thursday, April 14th 2011, 5:27pm

To Blood the Troops - Part 2

September 10-14, 1940 - Kabul
[SIZE=1]Excerpt from The League of Nations Sourcebook, Volume Four (1940-1950)[/SIZE]

Even as League forces rolled up resistance along the Kandahar-Gereshk highway, General MacDonald fought a different sort of skirmish which held more immediate results to the Afghan campaign. Flying into the Hazara stronghold of Bamian on the morning of September 9th, he almost singlehandedly stalled the nascent Hazara rebellion and gained a few days of breathing room to negotiate with the Afghan national government. MacDonald then flew directly to the capital of Kabul, where he met with Prime Minister Mohammad Hashim Khan, and Afghan king Mohammed Zahir Shah. Although Zahir Shah was king, most effective power rested with his uncle Hashim Khan. By the evening of September 10th, General MacDonald convinced Hashim Khan to speak directly with Hazara tribal leaders.

By the time Hashim Khan met with the Hazara leadership on September 12th, General MacDonald had assumed an impromptu position as the neutral arbiter between the National Government and the Hazara tribal leaders. This eventually led to criticism in the League of Nations that General MacDonald had been absent for the entire Battle of Helmand, and exceeded his authority in forcing the Hazaras and National Government to the negotiating table. MacDonald, in his official dispatches, retorted that "A commander who fails to exceed his authority is of no use to his subordinates or his superiors".

Negotiations between Hashim Khan and Hazara leaders dragged on through September 13th, with both sides threatening to leave the negotiating table at various times. When Hashim Khan attempted to walk out late on the afternoon of September 13th, MacDonald physically blocked the Prime Minister and threatened that, if the Prime Minister refused to negotiate with the Hazaras, then the League of Nations troops would withdraw from Afghanistan and MacDonald would request the intervention of the Indian Army. While most observers understood this was not a likely course of events, the Prime Minister reluctantly returned to the negotiating table. Reports of the the League troops' outstanding battlefield success in the ongoing Helmand Campaign substantially strengthened MacDonald's negotiating position. Late on the evening of the 13th, the two sides finally reached a mutual understanding, which was written and signed in the wee hours of September 14th. This accord, eventually known as the MacDonald Agreement, promised that the Afghan national government would not unequally treat any ethnic minority in the country. Many of the phrases used in the MacDonald Agreement later appeared, virtually word for word, in the 1946 Afghan Constitution, which modern political observers credit as one of the landmark political documents of modern Afghanistan.


Please make your out-of-character comments here regarding the story.


Thursday, April 28th 2011, 5:03am

To Blood the Troops - The Helmand Campaign Part 3

September 11, 1940 - South of Gereshk

Fifteen-year old Basir whipped his exhausted horse for the last brief dash to Gereshk. Basir's mind raced along at a speed faster by far than the horse: he'd been entrusted to carry an important message. The infidels were in Lashkar Gah, hundreds of them, descending from the sky! Hundreds of them! Thousands!


September 11, 1940 - Gereshk

Abdul Yacoobi read the message that his aide-de-camp passed him, then crumpled it in his hand and loudly cursed. "Allah curse these infidels!"

Yacoobi's chief general, Ahmad Rozbih, looked up at his commander in alarm. Yacoobi saw the questioning glance and thrust the wadded paper at Rozbih. "See for yourself. There are a thousand of them in Laskar Gah!"

"Khan, this cannot be accurate," Rozbih protested. "My men report that the European infidels are in great force along our front line to the east."

"Explain that devilry, then, General!"

"I cannot, Khan; this report is too speculative, too insubstantial-"

Yacoobi spun on his heel and strode to where his son-in-law Zalmay sat waiting for orders. "Zalmay, how many horsemen can you gather to reinforce the local militias in Laskar Gah by dawn tomorrow?"

"Nine hundred," Zalmay answered swiftly. "But I wish to remain here to aid in crushing the main infidel army-"

"You will serve me better in this," Yacoobi said. "Take your horsemen and assume command in Laskar Gah. The militia leaders there will submit to you; they can gather great numbers of soldiers. Crush these infidels and destroy them by dusk tomorrow!"

"In sa' Allah!"


September 11, 1940 - Lashkar Gah

The ruined fortress of Qala-e-Bos loomed over the Afghan desert, and from his viewpoint on the ramparts, Major Elbinger shaded his eyes against the glare of the sun.

This village of Lashkar Gah, my #%$, Elbinger thought. More like a damned CITY. Filled with angry Afghans with rifles. So much for the quality of our military intelligence!

Still, at least the Pandurs had gained shelter. Qala-e-Bos might have been a ruin, but it was a defensible one at least; his troops found the water in the cistern was clean, so careful rationing of food and ammunition would be needed to get his hundred men through the next day...

Hold until relieved?

Elbinger frowned and headed back to his command post to radio for reinforcements to be hurried along.


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Monday, May 9th 2011, 10:05pm

To Blood the Troops - The Helmand Campaign Part 4

September 11, 1940 - Kandahar
Helidor Pika took off his glasses and gently massaged the bridge of his nose. His intelligence reports lay scattered out on the table before him; most of them were contradictory. Yacoobi has two thousand men in Gereshk. Yacoobi has ten thousand men in Gereshk. Yacoobi is advancing towards Lashkar Gah. Yacoobi is retreating away from Lashkar Gah. Yacoobi's army was destroyed at Pir Zadeh. And a dozen other contradictions.

At least Elbinger's Pandur company had parachuted into Lashkar Gah without loss, though even that was an intelligence failure. Pika's information had implied Lashkar Gah was a town of less than two thousand, but Elbinger's radio reports implied it was much larger than they'd presumed - possibly a larger city than Gereshk, where Yacoobi was headquartered. The Pandurs seized the old fortress there as Afghan tribesmen rose in alarm around them; Elbinger was already requesting reinforcements. This was a mistake. I have made a mistake, and pushed the Pandurs too far and too close to the fire, Pika thought. I must correct my error.

The southern wing of the Field Force, Pika's old 1st Czech Dragoon Regiment - was sixty kilometers away to the east. The Irish Brigade, composing most of the center and the northern wing of the Field Force, was even further away. The Afghan National Army, ostensibly ordered to fight with the Field Force, sat encamped in stalemate while General MacDonald negotiated to end a potential Hazara revolt.

I must correct my error. But there is only uncertain shadowland before me, and no friends behind. What can I do?

I attack!

Pika started writing out the orders to his commanders.


September 12, 1940 - Between Gereshk and Lashkar Gah
The Minutes before Dawn

The Irish Hurricanes were about their business long before dawn, with Dara-Leifteanant Paddy O’Kane roused at 0330 Hours to down a breakfast of canned scrambled eggs and coffee that was only marginally worth the name. Then briefing by Lieutenant Colonel Carrollton on the mission for the day, and preflight checks on the Hurries. A Lysander rumbled off into the darkness, westbound to find the Afghans; and two elements of Hurricanes followed at fifteen minute intervals, loaded with bombs.

O'Kane stifled a yawn and glanced to each side. Leifteanant Seamus Kinsella's Hurricane rumbled along ahead and to port; the other two Hurries of the element straggled astern.

"Blue Flight, this is Control," a voice interrupted. "What is your position?"

Kinsella replied immediately. "Grid G37, two thousand meters."

"I've received a request from BAMBOO. They require immediate air support. Can you comply?"

O'Kane glanced at his map: codename BAMBOO - the Pandurs in Qala-e-Bost. Fifteen miles south of their position. Kinsella answered the request. "Affirmative, Control. Inbound to BAMBOO. Tell me what I'm looking for, control."

"BAMBOO reports infantry and horsemen massing a kilometer north of the old fortress. They estimate..."


September 12, 1940 - Lashkar Gah, the Qala-e-Bost Fortress

"Here they come!"

Major Elbinger raised his field glasses and scanned the northern approach to the fortress. His position was solid; his fields of fire were clear; his men were ready. And the Afghans, as if they were utterly ignorant of the existence of mortars and machine guns, came at them in a glorious, compact mass.

"Hold your fire until they're in close range - then let them have it! Conserve your ammunition!" Elbinger ordered. "And where is my close air support?"

The Afghans opened fire from much longer ranges, taking wild potshots at the fortress walls. The Pandurs held their fire while the Afghans surged up the approaches towards the fortress walls; the man in front, resplendent on a white horse, waved a saber and charged five, ten paces ahead of the mob. "Now there's a commander who leads from the front," Elbinger muttered. He lit a cigarette and took a deep drag; those Pandurs close by grinned and nudged their comrades. The Major's not afraid; he's just smoking like it's a spring day in Belgrade.

Elbinger turned towards the company's antitank rifleman. "Sergeant Batakovic! See that chap with the sword?"

"Yes sir!"

"Send him to Allah. It'll make an impression on his mob behind him."

Sergeant Batakovic did not respond, but merely hefted his heavy AT rifle around to aim. The rifle roared and the horseman collapsed in a dusty cloud. The tribesmen behind saw him go down, faltered for a half a step...

Elbinger did not hear the first Hurricane pass over; he saw the shadow and felt the thunder as bombs exploded amid the leading attackers. The Afghan charge faltered; then they surged up the hill again. The second Hurricane came in low, spitting long streams of tracer from its Oerlikons; then bombs. They fell closer to the fortress, and Elbinger felt the ground shake beneath him; debris fell lightly, like hail, on the defenders.

Rifles snapped, now; the Yugoslav machine guns snarled; the Afghans threw themselves down to seek cover and fired back. A heroic knot of them braved the machine-gun fire and charged up the hill towards the ruined fortress gatehouse, where Elbinger's men had erected a barricade of rubble. One of the Afghans survived long enough to climb it and leap into the fortress itself, only to face one of the Pandur sergeants, with a wicked bayonet on the end of his Mauser. It looked as neat as a training exercise: parry the enemy's rifle out of line, jab with the bayonet. Elbinger nodded.

Then the guns fell silent.

Elbinger risked a glance over the wall and saw the tribesmen fleeing back towards the scrub brush that served as their cover. In the shadow of the fortress lay pathetic heaps of men and horses - dead, wounded, and dying.

The Hurricanes circled overhead like vultures; the second pair dived down and bombed the retiring Afghans.

"I don't think they'll try that again," Elbinger muttered to himself.


Please make your out-of-character comments here regarding the story.


Monday, May 9th 2011, 11:52pm

To Blood the Troops - The Helmand Campaign Part 5

September 12, 1940 - Between Pir Zadeh and Gereshk, west of Kandahar
At dawn on the 12th, the Afghan Field Force stood in a line arranged north-south approximately five kilometers east of the town of Pir Zadeh, halfway between Gereshk and Kandahar. The Czechoslovak 1st Dragoon Regiment, with three horsed infantry battalions, held the southern third of the line, with tank [1] and artillery units in support. The Irish I Brigade, six battalions strong, held the center and northern wing of the line, again supported by armoured cars, tanks [1], and artillery. They numbered over nine thousand men.

The forces opposite them numbered only fifteen hundred men, though the numbers were never clear until researched years later. These men were almost exclusively members of the group League commanders eventually dubbed "tribal fighters": roughly-organized bands of rifle-armed horsemen. While their horsemanship was formidable and their marksmanship often highly accurate, they saw success only in partisan roles and never in a stand-up fight against the Western infantry, which they attempted on far too many occasions.

At 0835 Hours on the 12th, Pika released his troops in a two-pronged attack. The Irish I Brigade moved west-northwest along the dirt highway between Pir Zadeh and Gereshk, preceded by armoured elements. The Czechs turned west-southwest, striking out across the open country of the Registan Desert with mounted and motorized units.

The Czechs faced very little in the way of military opposition, but their advance was slowed primarily due to logistical reasons. The Czech Dragoons had the greatest difficulty, particularly in keeping enough fodder and water for the thousands of horses. The horses, bred in the cooler, wetter climate of Czechoslovakia, suffered badly during the march. The Czech motorized infantry battalion, as well as the motorized logistical elements, suffered numerous vehicle breakdowns mainly from the sand which proceeded to, in the words of one Czech commander "ruin everything." Nevertheless, the Czechs maintained a rapid advance in the direction of Lashkar Gah.

By contrast, the Irish, advancing along the main road, suffered few logistical difficulties but sparred back and forth with irregular units of tribal fighters. Small mounted groups launched hit-and-run attacks at the leading Irish elements, slowing the advance. The Irish Brigade's commander, Colonel Desmond Whelahan, quickly lost patience with the repeated hit-and-run attacks, and on the morning of the 13th, threw forward the Irish armoured units in pursuit of a particularly large group of tribal fighters. The fleeing Afghans led their pursuers into a sandy valley surrounded on three sides by ridges; the tanks outran their infantry support, and proved unable to follow the horsemen up the ridge, bogging down in the sand. The Afghan horsemen quickly returned to harass the stuck tankers, who buttoned up their tanks and called for infantry and artillery support. The Afghans remained in position, and sensing an opportunity to overwhelm a static enemy, Whelahan launched a major infantry assault onto the ridges, later dubbed by chroniclers as "The Battle for Dust Valley." After a quick encircling move, the Irish artillery laid a series of short but accurate barrages down on the ridges to cover the infantry assault. A close collaboration of the infantry and artillery proved to be the key to success, with the Irish infantry occasionally advancing to within a hundred yards of positions under artillery fire. When the Afghans finally fled their position shortly before dusk, they were strafed from the air by Hurribombers. On the morning of the 14th, the Irish cataloged eighty-two enemy dead and fifteen wounded and captured, while the Irish suffered only three KIA. While the casualty figures provided a dramatic difference between the League infantry and the tribal fighters, Whelahan later wrote his wife "I don't see any glory in it, myself... I used a sledgehammer to kill a horsefly, and took nine hours to do it. I made a hundred mistakes even before the first shot was fired, and I feel like a foolish schoolboy for making them."

Note [1]: The Czech 5th Tank Battalion is equipped with forty-eight LT-35 light tanks, with 37mm guns. The Irish Armoured Squadron had one armoured lance of one Matilda II and three Valentines, and three lances of four 6-pounder armed Crusaders.


Please make your out-of-character comments here regarding the story.


Thursday, May 12th 2011, 9:03pm

To Blood the Troops - The Helmand Campaign Part 6

September 12, 1940 - Lashkar Gah
Early Afternoon


Major Elbinger responded to the call from the lookout on the wall of Qala-e-Bost. The Afghans had not tried any new attacks since they had fallen back in disarray from their dawn attack; but they were still out there, occasionally sneaking close to fire off a few rifle rounds. The dead from the morning still lay where they'd fallen in the no-man's-land around the ruined fortress. Wounded were among their number, as well - as evidenced by thin wailing cries for help or water. Carrion birds already began their work. But the Afghans had shot at the Pandurs who'd volunteered to attempt to climb down the slope to provide aid - one of them had been killed, and Elbinger refused to permit another sally.

Elbinger arrived at the lookout post. "What is it, private?"

"Afghani on horseback with a white flag, sir. Looks like they want to parley."

The Afghans did want to parley; they wanted to recover their dead and wounded under a flag of truce. Elbinger accepted; the sight of the wounded in the no-man's-land trying to fight off vultures churned his stomach.

The Afghans shuffled into the shadow of the old fortress. Many of them bore stretchers, and half wore the black full-covered garb of women. But something in their behavior rang Elbinger's internal alarm bells.

The lookout waved Elbinger over again. "Sir, I'm not sure, but... those Afghans don't look right to me."

"I've been thinking the same thing myself," Elbinger said.

"It's the women, sir," the spotter suddenly said. "They don't walk like women. They walk like men."

Elbinger felt cold despite the hot sun baking his back. "Pass the word, private - I want everyone to be ready in case they try something. And get the mortar team zeroed in on that spot, just in case..."

As the rescue party reached the wounded, they pulled blankets off the stretchers and snatched up rifles that were hidden beneath, and started up the slopes of the fortress, ignoring the dead and wounded they'd supposedly come to save. Some of their marksmen knelt and Elbinger heard the zip of a bullet overhead.

"Damn them," Elbinger snarled. "Open fire!"

The Afghanis surged up the slope towards Qala-e-Bost, but rifle fire from the Pandurs came rapidly and accurately. Before the Afghanis could disperse, a pair of shells from the company mortar landed in their midst. Despite this, a dozen Afghanis struggled up the slope and into the ruined fortress itself, where they met the Pandurs' reserve in close combat. Two of the Pandurs were killed; three injured; but many of the men in the Pandurs' reserve carried submachine guns, and there was no contest at close quarters.

Several of the Afghani survivors ran, and the Pandurs let them go; the pile of dead and wounded had grown.

Elbinger watched the carrion birds return. Higher above them, a new flight of Hurricanes arrived to provide air support.


Please make your out-of-character comments here regarding the story.


Tuesday, May 17th 2011, 9:08pm

To Blood the Troops - The Helmand Campaign Part 7

September 13, 1940 - Lashkar Gah, the Fortress of Qala-e-Bost

The sentry stamped his feet and glanced around in the darkness, waiting irritably for his relief. Late again; but if he was relieved in the next ten minutes, then he might still get a bit more sleep before the morning call to prayer. Still, it was vitally important to keep a watch on the Afghani horses.

Throwing a glance at the distant, barely-visible shape of Qala-e-Bost on the horizon, the sentry quietly swore to himself. The Infidels had shelter from the night. The Infidels had little need for sentries, up in the ruined fortress. The Infidels were probably sleeping soundly. The sentry glared; many of his neighbors had been killed in the first bloody assault; and more in the second. Still, the sentry considered, Mamnoon's two wives are now widows. I should give some thought to that after we've killed all the Infid-

The sentry paused and looked around, not certain if he'd imagined the sound or actually heard it. He was still wondering when a hand came down over his mouth and a knife scraped across his throat. The sentry's rifle was pulled out of his hands and his bandolier of ammunition was stripped off.



Sergeant Stefan Dunin wiped his knife on the body and signalled his squad of raiders forward. The Afghan camp might have slumbered the night away, but the Pandurs declined to do the same. The first sally of the night had gathered weapons from the downed attackers around the perimeter of Qala-e-Bost; the second had penetrated to the edge of the Afghan camp, silently felling the sentries as they worked their rounds.

Sergeant Dunin glanced at his raiders and slipped his knife back into its sheath, and unslung his submachine gun.

It's time for a wake-up call, Dunin thought grimly.


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Tuesday, May 17th 2011, 10:53pm

To Blood the Troops - The Helmand Campaign Part 8

September 13, 1940 - East of Lashkar Gah

Second Lieutenant Vaclav Mírohorský wiped the dust from his tanker goggles and raised his binoculars to glass the horizon again. In the distance, he could barely see the looming walls of Qala-e-Bost, and the Czechs' goal. "Forward!" he ordered the driver.

The Lt.35s were spread out in a line, organized by platoons, sixteen tanks abreast. The remainder of the Czech 5th Tank Battalion waited further back. Odd that our reserve is larger than our leading elements, Mírohorský thought to himself. Though that's not quite fair; we've got the cavalry, too.

As the Lt.35s lurched forward over the rocky ground, Mírohorský glanced back over his shoulder at the strung-out lines of dragoons. Though the horse-mounted troops were all professionals - Mírohorský admired their proper spacing and outstanding horsemanship - the Dragoons inevitably lagged behind the moving armour. Not quite as bad as infantry, but still! Someone really ought to make the infantry as fast as the armour.

Mírohorský glanced around and mulled that idea over to himself as the Lt.35s rumbled along towards the target zone.

"Enemy cavalry, one o'clock!" the radio barked.

Mírohorský raised his binoculars; a dozen enemy horsemen were riding madly westward. One of the tanks braked and came to a stop; the muzzle spewed smoke and the dull WHUMP of the gun echoed a few moments later. The horsemen disappeared behind a cloud of dust, but Mírohorský privately doubted they'd taken many casualties from it. Still, decent enough shooting.

The dragoons put the spurs to their horses and hurried along in the dust of the tanks. Mírohorský continued scanning for enemies, but the only thing to be seen was small bands of Afghan horsemen turning their backs to the oncoming Czech tankers. They fled as fast as they could, but Mírohorský knew from experience that they would never outrun the Lt.35s...

The radio crackled with Major Husnik's voice. "They're breaking! They're breaking! Drive them on, lads! Drive them like the devil! Break them!"

Mírohorský saw activity on the walls of the old fortress; someone had jumped up on one of the battlements and was waving a Yugoslav flag. "Here's the cavalry, comrades!" Mírohorský laughed to himself.


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Wednesday, May 18th 2011, 1:46am

To Blood the Troops - The Helmand Campaign Part 9

September 15, 1940 - Gereshk
[SIZE=1]Excerpt from International Soldiers; The League of Nations at War, 1935-1940[/SIZE]

Late on the afternoon of September 14th, the Irish I Brigade reached the Helmand River. The Helmand, the longest river in Afghanistan and one of the main watershed rivers of the region, bordered Abdul Yacoobi's main stronghold of Gereshk, and Colonel Whelahan, the Brigade's commander, anticipated that the Afghan tribal fighters would fiercely resist his crossing. With much of Whelahan's strength tied down by heavy skirmishing at "the Battle of Dust Valley" earlier in the day, the Irish commander was inclined to be conservative. However, General Pika, overseeing the two pincers of the Field Force's attack, urged Whelahan to "keep the pressure up!" Whelahan hesitantly agreed, and sent his 2nd, 3rd, and 6th Infantry Battalions to cross the Helmand, though they were supported by only minimal artillery and armour.

Although the Irish saw resistance from a number of small outposts on both flanks of the river - resistance which was easily overrun and wiped out - large-scale opposition did not materialize, and the 2nd Infantry Battalion captured the main bridge across the Helmand shortly before dusk, after a cursory fight with a small band of defenders. In the afternoon's skirmishes, despite the scope of the engagements, one Irish soldier had been killed and three wounded.

Worse was to come. Most of the Afghans had withdrawn into Gereshk itself, as part of a strategy by Yacoobi's general, Ahmad Rozbih, who saw more clearly than Yacoobi a strategy to defeat the League troops. Rather than engage the Western troops on the open field, where the Czech and Irish advantages in radios, aircraft, artillery and tanks came into play, Rozbih wanted to withdraw into Gereshk itself, where the closely-spaced stone, brick and baked-clay houses served as impromptu bunkers, and the close-quarters fighting reduced the Westerner's overwhelming advantages of equipment. [1]

This strategy did not entirely suit the headstrong Yacoobi, who ordered his remaining troops into futile night attacks on the Irish. The 2nd Battalion weathered six savage night attacks intended to retake the bridge over the Helmand River, and Rozbih was killed in the third while trying to rally the Afghan troops. The Irish responded by advancing the eight Crusader tanks of the armoured company across the Helmand Bridge, strengthening the 2nd's defense and causing heavy casualties among the Afghan attackers. With Rozbih's death, many of the defensive preparations he hoped to use were wasted as Yacoobi attempted to singlemindedly destroy the 2nd Battalion. The Irish later counted over a hundred dead, - one tenth of Yacoobi's overall force - in front of the 2nd Infantry Battalion's positions, while the 2nd suffered only four dead and eight wounded.

Yacoobi's obsession with destroying the 2nd Battalion worked greatly to the advantage of the Irish, as Whelahan brought more up the men of the 1st and 4th Infantry Battalions, and positioned his artillery battalion across the river with the 5th Battalion as rear-area security. The Irish infantry encircled Gereshk virtually unopposed, and, as Yacoobi's sixth and final attack dissolved just before dawn, Whelahan drew the net tight, bringing his battalions into the city from every direction. The Afghans, already badly bloodied in the futile night attacks and outnumbered four to one, folded in the face of the assault. Yacoobi and his most loyal troops fell back on the old fortress in the middle of Gereshk (which the Irish troops dubbed "The Castle") and refused demands for surrender.

Not knowing the full extent of the fortress's garrison, Whelahan took his time consolidating his forces in Gereshk, and interrogating prisoners, of which the Irish had several hundred. The task of seizing "The Castle" was put off until the afternoon of the 15th, when Colonel Whelahan assigned the task to the 3rd Infantry Battalion under Major Duggan. Duggan proceeded with a methodical and carefully-considered assault which combined air attacks, artillery barrages, and gunfire support from armour to break down the defensive perimeter. The 3rd Battalion swept into the defenses late in the afternoon, but the Afghan defenders, estimated at seventy men, fought to the death. In the single assault, the Irish suffered twenty dead and thirty-nine wounded, exceeding the death toll for the entire Irish I Brigade in all the previous actions of the campaign. [2] Despite the casualties, 3rd Battalion swept through the old fortress with the battle-cry of "Faugh-a-ballaugh!" and raised the Irish tricolor over the old fortress's walls.

Yacoobi, who had vowed never to surrender, elected to jump off the walls of "The Castle" rather than face capture by the "infidels", but although Yacoobi broke both legs and eight ribs, he survived to be taken by the League troops. The same could not be said of most of his fanatical troops; of the seventy men, the Irish took only eight prisoner, with only one man willingly surrendering.

Note [1]: Rozbih's strategy is familiar to modern readers as the tactic of choice for underdog forces in places such as Iraq, particularly when facing Western armies with similar advantages as the Irish and Czechs hold here. In the modern case, however, there is also a strong disinterest among Western-trained commanders to enter such areas, partly due to a desire to avoid heavy friendly casualties, but also to avoid unpleasant fallout regarding civilians caught in the crossfire; indeed, irregular forces tend to count on this "western squeamishness" in their selection of a battlefield. While these factors are a major concern of the League commanders, Rozbih's strategy is not designed with the intent to exploit this.
Note [2]: The relatively high casualties 3rd Battalion took while seizing "The Castle" caused dismay in most of the Irish commanders, who felt, with some justification, that the Irish infantry needed a unit better-trained and equipped for such "storm assaults". Among other things, 3rd Battalion was equipped almost exclusively with British-made Enfield rifles, while many officers and soldiers firmly believed their casualties could have been reduced substantially by using submachinegun-armed specialist assault troops. Eight days after the battle, the Irish Army issued an immediate request for the purchase of submachine guns to equip just such a unit.


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Wednesday, May 18th 2011, 1:50am

To Blood the Troops - The Helmand Campaign Part 10

[SIZE=3]The Veterans Remember - Sergeant Michael Delany[/SIZE]
[SIZE=1]Transcript of Interview by An Cosantóir at the Óglaigh Náisiúnta Na hÉireann (ONET - Organisation of National Ex-Servicemen) reunion at Cathal Brugha Barracks, 1968[/SIZE]

Interviewer's Note: Sergeant Michael Delany joined the Irish Army Corps in 1937 and volunteered for service in the Irish I Infantry Brigade in 1940. He was wounded in the Helmand Campaign and lost the use of his left eye from infection, and transferred to the supply battalion after recovering. Following the deployment he returned to Waterford and became an electrician, eventually owning his own company. He is a member of ONET and proudly wears his old uniform in veteran's parades.


AC (An Cosantóir): Mr. Delany, thank you for talking with us today.

MD (Michael Delany): You're welcome.

AC: I'd like to talk to you about your time in the Afghanistan Field Force, if you don't mind. You started as an infantryman, correct?

MD: Yes. I was a corporal. Second Platoon, C Company of 3rd Infantry Battalion, I Brigade; that was when Duggan commanded the battalion; I think he was a major at the time. Our company was under Captain Peter Simmons.

AC: Your battalion was one of the first to see action in Afghanistan, wasn't it?

MD: The very first, yes. That was when we crossed the Arghandab; some Afghan snipers were on the far bank and popped off a few rounds at us as we waded in. The battalion mortars scattered them and killed one. Those were the first shots of the whole campaign.

AC: Did you hear or see that?

MD: Well, I didn't hear the first shots, but I heard the mortars when they came down; and one of the wounded was in my company. He wasn't badly wounded - back on the line in just a day. It was over so fast none of us really had time to get jittery.

AC: You didn't see action again until a few days later, I believe?

MD: Correct, that was at the attack on Gereshk.

AC: What can you tell me about life in the AFF?

MD: Oh, it wasn't very fun, in retrospect, though you've got a different sort of mentality at that age. Dust and sand got into everything - the tanks and trucks kicked it up, but the infantry did too. We joked that we could have worn our parade uniforms and by the end of a day's march, they'd have turned into camouflaged uniforms from all the dust. The days were hotter than anything I ever remember getting in Ireland, but the nights cooled off, so we never were really comfortable except later in the evenings or early in the mornings. Of course we were all a bit young then and thought it was all pretty fun, though we sure complained.

AC: You served in the front lines during the attack on Gereshk. What can you tell me about that?

MD: Hm, well. What's there to say that the newspapers and books didn't say? Everyone says the Afghans weren't good soldiers, but that was never really apparent to me at the time. They shot at us, we shot back at them; we advanced, they fled, and we captured their wounded and dead. Whenever we faced a tough group of Afghans, we hit the dirt and pinned them down with the company machine gun and mortars; and somebody in battalion sent for one of the armoured cars or a tank. The Afghans never had anything to beat those things. Occasionally one of the "Hurri-bombers" would give us some aerial support as well - even more than the tanks, we were sure glad those guys were on our side! I never really considered that we gave the Afghans "disproportionate casualties" as the press later said. All I knew is that we had a few wounded and killed by the time we reached Gereshk, which was when the hard fighting really began.

AC: You were wounded in the fighting at Gereshk. At the Castle, correct?

MD: Yes.

AC: Can you tell me more about that?

MD: Very well. The leader of the Afghan fighters in Gereshk - Abdul Yacoobi - huddled up in an old fort in the center of Gereshk with all his most loyal troops. Some folks said it was similar to the one the Yugoslavs defended south of us, but the one in Gereshk was surrounded by brick-walled houses. We called it the Castle. 3rd Battalion was ordered to take it, and C Company took the lead. The Afghans in the Castle had better weapons than any of the other troops we'd fought - they had a mortar and two machine guns, and a mix of old Indian Mausers, Enfields, and Russian Nagants. A lot better than we'd run into before. They also had a bit of barbed wire.

Since it was a big important target, we got a lot more support than usual. Our big tanks - "Matilda and the Valentines", we called them - came in one of the streets and laid suppressing fire down on the walls, and we got some artillery on them, too. The unusual thing was our air support - those big twin engine types.

AC: The Henschel Hs-129s?

MD: I think that's what they were called. I heard the pilots didn't like them, but we in the infantry loved seeing them overhead. I guess someone nicknamed them GOFABs - 'God's Own Fire And Brimstone'. Anyway, they bombed the Castle and then we infantry-men went in to clean the place up. We'd cleared passages through the walls of the houses surrounding the Castle - we almost tunneled through them, you might say - and we got really close. Then, when the Major figured the Afghans had enough, the artillery cut out and we charged. [Pause.]

Our artillery had caused a real mess, but none of those guys surrendered. My squad was one of the first through the wire and we got into the lower level where one of the Afghan machine guns was. He grazed me right as I put a rifle grenade in his bunker - which was a mistake, since I was too close and caught some shrapnel.

AC: That was when you were wounded, right?

MD: Well, the first time, yes. I took a graze on my arm which they called a wound, but I don't think it really ought to count; and some of the shrapnel from my rifle grenade. That was what caused the infection in my eye, but that wasn't until later. [Pause.]

Anyway, after we got the machine-gunner we kept going. I guess none of the Afghans willingly surrendered, and we had to go in and fight them hand-to-hand in close quarters, which was really bloody for both of us, because sometimes it came down to bayonets and fighting knives. Captain Simmons nearly bought it; all he had was an automatic pistol and no pigsticker for when he ran out of ammo in his Browning. It was also pretty bad for us since we didn't know if the guy around the next corner was one of ours or the enemy - and that's how I got wounded the second time. A guy from another platoon tossed a Mills Bomb down my corridor and nearly killed me and two guys from my squad.

He was pretty sorry about that; I woke up and he was standing over me crying his eyes out and apologizing. That's one of the things that stays with a man for a long time.


Please make your out-of-character comments here regarding the story.


Wednesday, June 1st 2011, 4:04am

To Blood the Troops - The Helmand Campaign Part 11 (Finis)

September 16, 1940 - Gereshk
[SIZE=1]Excerpt from International Soldiers; The League of Nations at War, 1935-1940[/SIZE]

With the fall of Gereshk on September 15th, the League of Nations troops finally paused to consolidate. Though the Field Force triumphed in Helmand, it started its headlong advance into Helmand with low supply stockpiles, which now threatened to evaporate altogether. Indeed, following the storming of Gereshk, several Irish and Czech battalions withdrew to Kandahar, both to secure their supply base and to ease the work of the supply officers trying to transport enough food, ammunition and supplies to Gereshk.

General MacDonald returned to the Field Force headquarters late on September 15th and General Pika returned command to the superior officer after briefing him on the situation. The European press heavily criticized MacDonald for being absent and largely incommunicado during the Field Force's opening battle. The diplomatic solution MacDonald brokered between the Hazaras and the Afghan government made relatively few headlines next to the battle itself, and the value of the MacDonald Agreement was not recognized until after several years. Despite the public hubbub, however, MacDonald remained in command of the Field Force as neither the Irish or Czech general staffs, responsible for determining the Field Force's commander, wished to initiate "revolving-door leadership". MacDonald himself never publicly responded to the controversy over his leadership of the Field Force, but was well-aware of what was being said. He later commented in private correspondence that he was "dismayed and a bit depressed by this whole affair".

MacDonald nevertheless received firm support from the Czech commander, General Helidor Pika, who ostensibly would have gained the most from MacDonald's recall. While MacDonald never replied to the press commentary, Pika dispatched a number of letters to the most critical of the European newspapers, angrily denouncing the criticism of his superior officer. Pika's enthusiastic - some said 'rabid' - and unwavering support for MacDonald undoubtedly helped preserve the League's confidence in General MacDonald. MacDonald, in turn, highly praised Pika's leadership during the battle.

Even as the press stewed over MacDonald's absence during the Helmand Campaign, however, the Field Force moved to consolidate their positions. The League Field Force quickly found that Helmand was, by and large, the Afghan province most hostile to their presence; and despite the defeat of Yacoobi's army, the Field Force quickly felt that they were under siege by hostile irregular forces. The Irish troops quickly took to calling the province "the Helmand Hell-hole". While violence faded quickly following the capture of Gereshk and Lashkar Gah, the League troops felt the hostility of the region, and the Yugoslav commander, Colonel Stevan Radovanovic, wrote home "For the moment, we sit on the lid of the simmering pot. Our weight keeps the lid on, but soon the water shall boil. We must be off."

The Afghan National Army, following the period of tensions during the threatened Hazara revolt, remained relatively immobile around Kandahar, but finally lurched into motion on September 22nd to join the League troops in Gereshk. This substantially relieved the Western troops as the Afghan National Army had significantly more manpower to garrison critical towns.

On September 23rd, MacDonald held a conference where he outlined the next operational goals of the Afghan Field Force. Rather than pressing on northwest towards the city of Farah, one of the two major centers of Persian nationalist activity in Afghanistan, MacDonald decided to shift southwest, driving into the Chakhansur Province [1]. This would result in a shift of the LONAFF's supply lines, which currently began at the port of Karachi, ran to the city of Quetta, over the mountains to Kandahar, and then westward to the advancing Field Force. The Chakhansur Campaign, as it would eventually be called, would bring the League troops close to the Persian border near the town of Zabol, which could serve as a railhead. Persian Nationalist troops in the city of Chakhansun had regularly made raids across the Persian border, and MacDonald felt that removing these forces and simultaneously shortening his supply lines was a better move than striking head-on at the major concentrations at Farah. In addition, moving the LONAFF's railhead from Quetta-Kandahar to Zabol also removed the League's need to continue moving through unfriendly Helmand, and leaving it to the troops of the Afghan National Army.

A number of other changes evolved out of the conference on the 23rd. The Irish troops made the most radical changes, making an emergency order of Beretta submachine guns from Italy following their experience storming "the Castle" in Gereshk. Most of these weapons went to a reinforced company of "Assault Pioneers" which formed October at Cathal Bruga Barracks, and arrived in Afghanistan in January of 1941. The Irish Army additionally made a hurried order of armoured carriers at Ford Ireland. The Czech officers also requested a number of changes - the biggest of which was a demand for their own armoured carrier to replace the horse-mounted cavalry. Pika, a cavalryman by trade, commented privately that "horsemen cannot maintain the pace of an armoured unit, just as the infantry cannot; we must mechanize or perpetually restrain the armour!"

The largest change that occured from the conference, however, was the adoption of a looser, improvised arrangement in the LONAFF's order of battle. The idea, advanced by Major Elbinger of the Pandurs, was based on ideas [2] he had learned during his stay at the German paratroop school at Brunswick in 1937: to use the individual units of the Field Force as a pool to form combined-arms battlegroups or "kampfgruppes", each assigned to complete a specific task. Both Generals MacDonald and Pika quickly picked up the merit of the idea and expanded on Elbinger's suggestion, with the Irish Army translating the term to "Chathghrúpa" [3], Although doubters remained even within the Field Force, MacDonald and Pika swiftly transitioned to the new idea and planned to put it into play in the upcoming Chakhansur Campaign.


- Note [1]: The modern-day Nimruz Province. The region was named the Chakhansur Province up until 1968.
- Note [2]: Auftragstaktik.
- Note [3]: Literally "Battlegroup".


Please make your out-of-character comments here regarding the story.


Wednesday, June 1st 2011, 6:27pm

The Plain of the Dead - The Chakhansur Campaign Part 1

September 21, 1940 - Herat
General Parwiz extinguished his cigarette and continued reading through the stack of reports. Across the table, his Afghan ally shifted restlessly. "General?"

"Hmm?" Parwiz asked lazily.

"I asked what we intend to do about the infidel forces in Helmand. If we'd gone to Yacoobi's assistance like I advised..." Ismatullah Zadran let his statement hang.

Parwiz finished the final report and placed it back in his file folder before responding. "I'm of two minds, my friend. Two minds. While the League lapdogs have been victorious in Helmand, they've only triumphed against a very minor obstacle."

"It's true, Yacoobi was a fool, if these reports are to be believed," Zadran allowed. "But even a fool may be a useful lever. We could have marched our united force to join him, and destroyed the League troops!"

"Perhaps it was a mistake to allow the League to blood themselves against Yacoobi," Parwiz said. "But there are other considerations that were in my mind. First, I invite you to observe what happened in Wilno four... no, five years ago. I've thought about it often of late, you know. The Wilno forces attacked the League's Field Force, and the League responded not by withdrawing and leaving vengeance to the Lithuanian Army, but by sending yet more forces and crushing them."

Zadran waited and Parwiz paused to light another cigarette.

"It'll be tricky to tangle with these League troops, don't you see," Parwiz eventually continued. "Pushing them to outright defeat may result in a major Bharati intervention - or worse, massed forces of the League, out to avenge the destruction of their cat's-paws. And let me assure you, my friend - should we incite them to such extremities by destroying this field force, they have the power to send one fifty times larger."

"Then you expect total defeat!" Zadran said.

"No," Parwiz replied. "I expect that they will eventually tire of the bloody calculus we shall teach them, and go home. We must walk a fine line between defeating them by destroying their army and defeating them by destroying their will to fight. The former could rouse the League to move heaven and earth to avenge themselves on us - and we cannot survive that. The latter will ensure that, when the history books are written, these League adventurers are added to the list of invaders who have fallen without victory in this land."

Zadran let a silence fall for a few long minutes, but Parwiz did not rush to fill the void: his Afghan ally was always more intelligent than he let on, which was why so many of his enemies underestimated him.

"So what we must do is wage war against the League to tire them," Zadran finally said. "I see your thoughts now, General. They must win, while you and I must merely not lose."


"Which brings me back to my earlier question. What do we intend to do about the League forces in Helmand?"

"You ask the wrong question, my friend. Consider!"

Zadran let the silence continue for a few more moments before nodding. "The first question is what the League needs to do about us."

"Excellent!" Parwiz beamed.

"In which case, it would seem likely they shall advance to Farah; and thence engage our united army posted there."

"Yes, that is absolutely true. But let me tell you how these Westerners think: in lines of supply, lines of retreat, lines of communication. And at the moment, they are perched upon the very edge of a precipice. They have paused to resupply, as you can see in these reports - but they are planning to shorten their lines of supply with their next move. Then, once they have strengthened themselves, then they will come to meet us at Farah."

Zadran glanced at the map. "They will move their supply lines into Persia itself. Perhaps..." he traced his finger. "Zabol?"

"Yes. And the Lapdogs will let the League do it, too. I can see the Irish MacDonald's thoughts; he wants to make the indirect approach against me - he wants to preserve the lives of his troops. And that is the greatest weakness of any true general."

"It is also your weakness, my friend," Zadran said. "It is why you are not going to move away from Farah."

"I must admit that it's a great temptation not to move, I agree - for more reasons than just that. We have placed much of our supplies and troops in Farah, and it is the fulcrum of our power south of Herat. There is preparation there - and I believe we can use that to our advantage when the time comes. But as I said, I am of two minds. Perhaps we can meet the League Lapdogs on the march towards Chakhansun - if we can delay them, and bloody them, then they shall take longer to turn back towards us in Farah. But then back on the other hand, every move we make to foil their plans in Chakhansur Province will weaken our eventual defense of Farah."

"It is not a decision we must make all at once," Zadran said.

"But we must make it soon. Our enemies will not wait for us."


Please make your out-of-character comments here regarding the story.


Tuesday, June 7th 2011, 12:07am

LONAFF Order of Battle - Chakhansur Campaign

I have compiled an approximate order of battle for the League Forces available in Afghanistan at the beginning of the Chakhansur Campaign in late September 1941. The Yugoslavs have contributed a reinforcement unit which has been accepted for service but will not take part in the Chakhansur Campaign.


League of Nations Afghanistan Field Force (General Eoin MacDonald)
General Headquarters and Field Force Staff
Signals and Intelligence Company
Field Force Supply Battalion
Field Engineering Company
Other Miscellaneous Units

Irish 1st Brigade Reinforced (Colonel Desmond Whelahan)
1st Infantry Battalion
2nd Infantry Battalion¹
3rd Infantry Battalion (Major Duggan)²
4th Infantry Battalion
5th Infantry Battalion³
6th Infantry Battalionº
Artillery Battalion
Scout Company²³
AT Gun Section
AA Battery
Supplies Company
HQ and Headquarters Company
Tank Squadron (24 tanks, 10 armoured cars)
Armoured Car Squadron (26 armoured cars, 8 Crusader tanks)
Medical Company (reinforced) and Field Hospital
Motorized Transport Company

Czech Field Force (General Helidor Pika)
1st Dragoon Regiment¹ (Lieutenant-Colonel Askenazy)
--- 3x Dragoon Battalion (~636 men each)
--- Mortar Company
--- AT Company
--- Engineer Company
--- Signal Company
5th Tank Battalion (Major Husnik)
4th Mounted Infantry Battalion (~636 men)²
81st AA Company
83rd AT Company
82nd AA Company
85th AT Company
83rd Horse Artillery Battalion
85th Mounted Artillery Battalion
--- Attached motorcycle company from 2nd Recon Battalion
--- HQ Elements drawn from Fast Divisions
44th Supply Company (Motorized)
49th Supply Company (Motorized)

Yugoslav Contingent (Colonel Stevan Radovanovic)
3rd Pandur Battalion (Major Elbinger)
Airfield Security Force

Air Cooperation Element (Lieutenant Colonel Carrollton)
3rd Fighter Squadron "C" - 18x Hurribombers
2nd Liaison Squadron "I" - 6x Lysanders, 6x Avro 652 Anson IV
3rd Fighter/Light Strike Squadron "J" - 6x Hs129, 6x Lysanders (added September), 4x fighters (added September)
No. 202 Squadron (Yugo) - 6x Dakotas, 6x Norsemen (6x more Dakotas added late September)

¹ - Mounted (horses)
² - Mounted (motorized)
³ - Mounted (camels)
º - Mounted (bicycles)