Chestnut Lodge Wargames Group

CLWG Spring Conference 2017 – On & Offside notes

 Khalsa Ji! First Sikh War (1846)

(Apologies about the late arrival of these notes – I only managed to send them in August…)


After the fall of the Mughal empire and the later establishment of the Sikh Empire in the Punjab, the Khalsa was converted into a strong, multi-religious and multinational fighting force, the Sikh Khalsa Army which had a huge role in the expansion of the empire. Modernized according to European principles, mainly by importing ex-French Napoleonic instructors (and offering bounties to East India Company deserters!). Lead by great generals like Maharaja Ranjit Singh himself, Misr Diwan Chand and Hari Singh Nalwa, it successfully defeated all its adversaries, including Afghan tribes, Chinese, Tibetans and Gurkhas! By the time of death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1839, the whole army of Sikh Empire was assessed at 120,000 men, with 250 artillery pieces (the pride of the army). The irregular levies (about 30%) were included. The army at that time was regarded as one of the prominent fighting forces of Asia and second only to the British.

After the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab, Dogras Lal Singh and Tej Singh urged the increasingly restless Sikh army to pressure the government to declare war against the British in a classic ‘trial of strength’. This suited both the over-confident Khalsa and especially the government, as the British had the only force capable of breaking its power! After many engineered delays (while they sent their plans to the British, who at first did not believe them!), Maharani Jind Kaur, regent of Duleep Singh finally did as the army demanded and under some dubious commanders the Khalsa crossed the Sutlej river….


– key leaders of government which is most powerful in India, but almost out of control…

– aim is to avoid war as long as possible (to give Brits time to prepare!)

when war comes, arrange for army to be defeated as badly as possible!

– try to build personal political power (appointed regent at the end)


– QUEEN: the ultimate ‘survivor’;

1x player will be her ‘favourite’ (gets an extra saving throw during run-up to war,

BUT has to roll first sometimes, last others, always most times!)

– DULIP is an NPC (the 7-year-old heir to throne)

– ‘UNCLE’ is old relative of previous king, running semi-autonomous 25% of country (30K warriors)

– CMDR-IN-CHIEF is a possible appointment for a player; big possible gains, but bigger risk!


  • ARMY: Sir Hugh Gough (a ‘Soldiers’ General’; not hot on tactics but inspirational & unflappable)
  • GOVERNMENT: Sir Henry Hardinge (a subtle man, devoted to peace and prosperity as the ‘obvious’ way ahead – even to as yet unconverted native princes… Oh, and also with a reserve commission!)


– use track towards war (some sectors =’rains’, or ‘heat’ affect operations)

– ‘ploys’ have various stopping-power – and risk!

– decreasing effectiveness each time a ploy is used…

So, What Happened…?

I had introduced a couple of people to this in October last year, but that was way too few to even try to run anything. However, despite my mood-swings I decided that the subject deserved an airing in a CLWG context, even if it was using one of my systems….

As it happened there was an excellent turn-out (or lack of alternatives), and so we managed to fill all the Sikh posts. There is some provision for two competing/conflicting/complimentary British players (representing the ‘military solution’ under Gough, and the ‘political view’ of the new Viceroy, Sir Henry Hardinge), but the oscillating nature of pre-war policy can just as easily be done with a coin or die-roll, so I did!

Well, Rob Cooper won/lost the die-roll and did a great job as a conspiring old Queen, playing-off the attentions of her two main lovers… The rest of the gang of crawling, venal sycophants (=the cabinet) soon got into the swing of things, balancing personal aggrandizement and heavy partying with the realisation that failure meant death! Mukal certainly did a grand job refusing army commands until success (failure) was assured, and Brian was I think first to latch-on to the infant Prince as a ‘human shield’! I think we got through the hot weather and were about ready for the war by the time the session came to an end, with several players secretly cultivating ‘Uncle’ but not knowing quite how he would jump….

I think the players enjoyed themselves once they had gotten over the shock of the objective (i.e. planning to lose), and I was relatively pleased with the ‘ploys’ system. It certainly puts my ‘schoolboy’ view of history in a different light! I’ll be doing a return to two other favourites – Balkan Wars and the 1814 Campaign in France – at the October conference, and then I may look at another historical eye-opener, Clive’s Plassey Campaign of 1757…….

My thanks to all the players for such an entertaining session.

Peter Merritt

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