Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Affair at the oasis

Earlier this year we met a group of characters in the "Last train to Handub" scenario. They appear again in this report of our latest Sudan game. Colonel Sir Wellesley Tankerton had been ordered south to assist in the latest 'push' up the Nile. He had taken a short cut across the desert to bypass a loop of the river and to secure his lines of communication had detached a force to hold the strategic water supply at the Furaat Oasis. The officer commanding this garrison of Indian troops was an 'old India Man'; Major C P (Clive Plassey) Bloodnok. In addition to the four companies of infantry, he had two gatling guns.

As he left Sir Wellesley assured Bloodnok that there was no immediate threat from the Dervishes; Karim Bey was reported to be further south causing mischief with the main column. As he watched the main force depart Bloodnok hoped his commander was correct, the force he had was not sufficient to hold the full perimeter of the oasis and there was broken ground far too close for comfort. Two days later a foot patrol captured a Dervish who boasted that soon the oasis would be in the hands of Karim Bey and they would all die. Bloodnok asked for a volunteer to try and reach Tankerton to ask for aid and after the gallant man set off began his preparations for the expected attack. Fortunately, the volunteer got through and Sir Wellesley dispatched Fitzwilliam Paget with two units of lancers and four of camel-mounted infantry, with two guns to help secure the oasis.
Learning from his earlier experience at Handub, Paget sent out scouts to try and discover the enemy positions. This did work for the lancers, but not one of the mounted infantry units, who found themselves beset by foes who seemed to 'rise from the ground'

After a fierce struggle the infantry prevailed, but they lost almost one third of their number in killed and wounded. On the far left one of the lancer units fared better against their Dervish opponents, driving them away whilst sustaining minimal losses. However, their captain showed his inexperience by assuming the enemy were no longer a threat and turning his back on them. In a trice they had reformed and surged forward to attack the cavalry again.

This time the ground was in favour of the Dervish infantry and although the lancers were again victorious, almost half the squadron were casualties.
Meanwhile at the oasis Bloodnok's fears about the length of the perimeter had been realised. From his position on the roof of one of the houses, he saw that the defenders of the eastern side of the oasis were in danger of being surrounded and overwhelmed. He immediately sent a runner, ordering the two companies to fall back, one did, but the second failed to receive the order. Dervish artillery opened fire from a nearby mound and the first shot hit the company commander and decapitated the unfortunate runner before he could deliver his message. Before order was restored cavalry had entered the oasis behind them and a body of Hadendoa were almost on top of them, the only option was to run for the cover of the buildings.
Bloodnok's compound was also under attack. 'B' company held the western wall and beat off a Dervish attack, but the gatling was overwhelmed by Hadendoa. It fired, but one of the crew had panicked and adjusted the sights for long range instead of point blank. As a consequence the attackers were almost unscathed and the gun crew paid with their lives.

Bloodnok decided that he should concentrate his forces in the compound closest to the relief column; therefore he led the remnants of 'B' company in that direction before the Hadendoa overan them. Moving around the outside of the buildings the small party of Indian infantry ran into a band of Dervish who were preparing to attack. In the confused melee both sides sustained losses, but it was Bloodnok, rallying the survivors who had to beat a retreat; fortunately his band were moving towards the relief column.

Karim Bey was feeling pleased with his progress. Three quarters of the oasis was now under his command. C Company who had not received the order to fall back, and had retreated to he buildings in their compound had not waited for the inevitable Hadendoa attack but had run for the perceived safety of the desert. Only one compound remained to be captured and the relief column was making slow progress. Two Dervish and two Hadendoa units charged forward against the outnumbered defenders. The Indian infantry stood their ground and fought like lions. The Dervish infantry pressed the attack in spite of their high casualties, but in the end, they had to give ground and fall back to regroup. The Hadendoa charged forward into a hail of gatling fire and infantry volleys, they almost reached the barricades, but supporting fire from the relief column, directed by Bloodnok, caused them to halt. Victory had been so close, but Karim Bey could see that with the added firepower of the relief column the defenders would not be defeated and decided to call off the action. Little did he know that the Gatling which had caused so many casualties to the first Hadendoa charge was now out of ammunition. A second attack may well have succeeded.

So, the water supply was secured and the Imperial forces could continue their advance. Losses had been high, but the troops had acquitted themselves well. Special mention must be made of Corporal Lanchester of the mounted infantry. His resloute action secured the right flank of the relief column late in the day as a late attack by a unit of Hadandowah threatened to halt the advance.

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