In the Beginning...

I was never very interested in gaming the First World War until I read Operations in Persia, 1914-1919. This was a book – an Imperial War Museum facsimile publication – that had been sitting unread on a shelf for years. In reading it, I found my ‘road to Damascus’ moment. The ‘back of beyond’ comings-and-goings state of affairs managed to ignite a First World War wargames interest in me that the stalemate of the Western Front – and indeed the Gallipoli campaign – never had. There was something in this Great War ‘side show’ of borderland intrigue, territorial disputes, subterfuge and political turmoil that managed to open a door to an interest in the greater side-show that was played out amidst the dust and desert sands of the Middle East. While I was reading about the events in the Persian Gulf – Bushire being of particular interest – I became interested in learning more about the campaigns in Mesopotamia. It was from reading about the battles of the Tigris and the Euphrates that I approached the exploits of Lawrence in Arabia before going on to seek out as much as much as I could about the battles in Egypt and the Sinai, the advance into Palestine and the victories of Allenby.

Operations in Persia

The book that turned me on to First World War gaming documents the Imperial actions in Persia in great detail complete with maps and orders-of-battle. Persia was meant to be neutral during the war but the Shah of Persia and his government in Tehran was at the same time courted and bullied by both the Central and the Allied Powers. The British were very sensitive to Persia’s proximity to the jewel in the crown, India, and to troublesome Afghanistan. You have to feel for the poor Persian Shah caught between wanting protection from the real threat of Russia eating away at his northern territories while at the same time not wishing to make an enemy of Britain and British India. His natural allies against his two powerful neighbours were the Germanic Emperors who were only too eager to have the Shah join their club and extend their influence in an unbroken sweep all the way from Berlin to Baghdad and on to the borders of India. However, it didn’t help that they were allied to the Turks, Persia’s traditional enemy. So with Russian troops occupying however much of Persia they thought appropriate to keep Turkey in check, and Britain appropriating large chunks of the country to protect her commercial interests and support whatever was happening in Mesopotamia – and all the while local tribesmen were attacking whoever failed to hand over the most cash – it was difficult to know who exactly was in charge. A wargames paradise perhaps but possibly more a Colonial mish-mash than a typical First World War state of affairs.
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