Illustration of Amazon Warrior

Amazon Warrior on the march

Uniform guide

THE DAHOMEAN ARMY

BY RON VAUGHAN (Webified by Tim Besko)

Illustrations by GREG ROSE

There have been many publications with sensationalized articles about the Dahomean Amazons, while the major portion of the army, the male soldiers, have been almost totally ignored. In an effort to learn more, I have done a little reading. What I was able to find is not the last word on the subject, but I hope it will be of interest. I will not repeat the history and customs of the Dahomeans, as this is covered in Capt. J.S. Harrel's article in "S&S" Vol. XII No. 3.

In 1890 the Dahomeans attacked the French and in 1892 a French Army led by Colonel Dodds invaded the Kingdom in order to put an end to the raids on friendly tribes, the slave trade and human sacrifices by King Behazin. The French army consisted of 4,000 men, including a Legion battalion of 800, one company of Senegalese Spahis, Marines, Senegalese and Hausa Tirailleurs, sailors, a battery, and two river gunboats, OPAL and CORAIL.

The Dahomean Army totaled about 12,000. The army was composed of two parts: the standing army and the tribal levy. The standing army reportedly was made up of "regiments" of 400, with about 2,000 men and 2,000 Amazons. Each regiment had its own flag, drum and ceremonial umbrella. They were dressed and accoutered as nearly as possible alike, in blue and white striped (1.5" stripes) tunics and white caps. The men wore white short trousers and the Amazons blue skirts. Usually the tunics were discarded for combat. Officers wore white turbans.

The male contingent was divided into two wings, with two divisions in each. The Gaou - the Army Commander-in-Chief, also was in charge of the Right Wing and the wing's Left Division. The Megan - the Prime Minister, commanded the Right Division of the Right Wing. The Left Wing and Left Division were commanded by the Mehou - Chief Justice, and the Right Division by the Kposu.

The King and his Body Guard were in the center of the formation, and on his right was the Ahosi, Amazon Corps. They were divided as the men into four divisions, commanded respectively by the Khetunga - the female Gaou, the Gundame - the She Prime Minister, the Yewe - She Mehou, and the Akpudume - She Kposu. The Amazons received the most attention from foreign drill instructors, and they demonstrated the greatest courage and elan in pressing home charges. They were particularly adept at infiltration tactics.

The King's Body Guard was composed of the men's Blu' Regiment and the Amazon Fanti Regiment, both composed of picked veterans with the best firearms and training. According to explorer Richard Burton, both units wore blue or indigo tunics, white cross belts and white caps with a blue crocodile on the front. On the other hand, F. E. Forbes states the Guards wore red caps and tunics, the blue crocodile insignia was for another unit.

The standing regiments, according to Burton, were divided into regiments (some sources indicate that these were companies that made up each regiment) depending on weapon type: Achi "bayoneteers", Agbaraya - blunderbuss fired from a tripod (like a Sudanese Khaskhashan?), Ganu'ulan ("Sure to kill") Royal hunters (often Ashanti mercenaries), Zohunen - carbineers, Mnan "Madcaps" sword and spearmen, and Aro - archers and scouts (Amazon archers were called Gohento). Even those with guns carried swords or machetes.

In addition to the weapon types, the units were identified by a blue insignia on their caps: a crocodile (or alligator), cross, crown or trefoil. I found that the trefoil was worn by the Achi and the crocodile by the guards and perhaps another unit, but I could make no other connections

In time of war, 2,000 lion and elephant hunters armed with modern rifles were mobilized. It is not clear if they were separate units or were incorporated into the regular regiments, the latter might account for some sources giving the male regulars a strength of 4,000. These men were probably good marksmen, but with little training and discipline. As to their dress, a couple of pictures of warriors in "old battle dress" show them wearing loin cloths, feathered head dress and bracelets of cowrie shells on their arms and legs. Possibly the hunters used animal skins, while the normal warrior had cotton material loin cloths.

The balance of the army was about 6,000 tribal levies led by their Aoungan - village war chiefs. Of these, from two to four thousand were armed with old muskets. The levies naturally had poor morale and training. Reporttedly they were sometimes served rum and gin before battle to give them courage.

Prior to the 1890's most of the firearms were old smoothbore muskets firing buckshot or slugs,ineffective beyond 100 yards. They usually fired from the hip or at arms length. Often they had several ranks firing in "caracole." In the years before the invasion the Germans sold the Dahomeans 5,000 "rifles", six Krupp guns and five "mitrailleuse," along with a few instructors to train them in their use. Thus, the archers were disbanded and all the standing army units were armed with modern rifles. The blunderbusses may have been retained, as the Chinese did with their gingals. Ammunition was plentiful, but the artillery shells often failed to explode.

WARGAME IDEAS

My notion on how to simulate the Dahomean Army in miniature is based on having the regiment as the basic unit, composed of say four stands of four figures each. The Royal Guard would have a regiment of men and one of Amazons in red tunics and caps. There would be an Amazon Division of four regiments; and four male Divisions, each composed of one Standing regiment, one Hunter regiment, and three or four regiments of Irregulars (l or 2 with muskets). Add to this one Krupp gun and one Gatling each with native crew and one European mercenary "officer" in safari dress. Each of the standing regiments will have one of the four insignia mentioned previously.

For opposition, I suggest a French Army of one of each of these battalions (8 stands each): Legionnaires, Marines, Senegalese Tirailleurs, Hausa Tirailleurs, Sailors, a troop of Senegalese Spahis, a battery of 1 or 2 Mountain guns, and a river gunboat.

Below are modifications to THE SWORD AND THE FLAME rules for Dahomeans. Of course, the ideas could be applied to other rules systems.

TYPE OF SOLDIER

MORALE

FIRE

MELEE

Guards

Zulu +

Dervish

Zulu, win ties

Standing

Dervish

Zulu

Zulu

Amazons

Zulu

Zulu +

Zulu, lose ties

Hunters

Levy

Levy

Zulu

Gunners

Egyptian

Arty -

Gat -

Boers

NOTES

"Morale +" means plus 1 to chance on any morale roll (including close into combat, stand or rally roll)

"Fire +" means plus 1 to die roll to hit. Thus the unit never fires at the lesser hit value and has 2 chances to fire with the higher value

"Levy" means minus one to all Sudanese morale roll chances or fire kill fractions (i.e. 1/4 becomes 1/5 on the hit chart).

"Arty -" and "Gat -" means Native Guns and MG's fire as above with the next smaller fraction. Native Gatlings jam if 5 or 6 is rolled before the roll for fire effectiveness.

Note on illustration of King Behazin's banner: Blue with gold trim, shield and scrolls. Green snakes and palm leaves. White tusks, shark and circle. Black lettering on scrolls (not shown in illustration) reads "Rei Behazin De Dahomey". ( See Illustration here )

SOURCES

Burton, Richard F., A MISSION TO GELELE.

Forbes, F.E., DAHOMEY AND THE DAHOMEANS.

Harrel, Capt. Johns S., "The Kingdom of Dahomey," SAVAGE AND SOLDIER, Vol. XII, No. 3.

Herbert, Dr. E., HANDBOOK FOR COLONIAL WARGAMERS.

Turnbull, P., "Dahomey 1892," WAR MONTHLY, Issue 51.

Williams, J.A. , AFRICA; HER HISTORY, LANDS AND PEOPLE.

Wise, Terence, MILITARY FLAGS OF THE WORLD.