This week we had a scenario from the early years of the Sudan campaign, before the British and Imperial forces became involved. An isolated garrison of Egyptian troops is holding the oasis of Abu Baig and a relief force has been sent up the Nile by steamer. The relief force has marched for three days across the desert and is now within striking distance of the oasis. All the while they have been shadowed by enemy cavalry; always a few men watching from a distance. However, the relief force commander knows that a large enemy force is hovering just out of sight.
A large force of Nile Arab infantry is besieging Abu Baig and they know that the relief force is approaching. Ahmed Mustafa, leading the relief force, had ordered his camelry to scout ahead and they soon discovered Arab infantry amongst the low rocky mounds lying between Mustafa and the oasis. The section on the left drove off the Arabs before them with little difficulty and moved further forward. Their colleagues faced stiffer resistance and in an exchange of fire lost their commanding officer. Eventually, they too prevailed and then moved further to the right towards the village of Tek. As they neared the village swarms of Arab infantry appeared and attacked them from all sides. Leaderless and isolated they were cut down. The section on the left had pressed forward ignoring the inaccurate fire of an Arab field gun and intent on reaching the oasis. Unfortunately they neglected to send out scouts and they were surprised by a group of infantry. Attacked from the rear they had no chance and only their officer escaped the carnage to seek temporary sanctuary within the oasis.
Meanwhile behind the camels the infantry and artillery had arrived and Mustafa formed them into a rough battle line, expecting more Arab attacks. In this he was not to be disappointed. The 1st battalion, holding the left flank was the first into action. Their steady volley stopped their assailants in their tracks and then further volleys drove the Arabs back into cover. To the right the 2nd battalion was not so fortunate. The Arabs opposing them were far closer when they broke cover and ignoring the losses from musketry closed to hand to hand combat. Fortunately for Mustafa the discipline of his men held and the Arabs were repulsed with heavy losses. To reinforce his line he moved the 4th battalion froward to support the right flank of the artillery and the 3rd battalion to his far left. The cavalry were held in the centre as the reserve.
At the oasis Osman Ahmed had made preparations for the defence of his position. His force was too small to venture out to aid the relief force, but he did what he could, ordering the artillery to fire on the Arabs massing to attack his comrades. The Arabs did what they could to tie down the defenders by attacking one side of the village. One Sudanese company was attacked twice but in spite of casualties held their position
The 3rd battalion took up their position just in time as the Arab cavalry now entered the fray. Flowing around the village of Tek they charged the Egyptian line. The first wave were repulsed with the aid of artillery fire, but the second charge was helped by Arab infantry making a suicidal charge against the artillery. Although the machine gun jammed, the field gun inflicted crippling losses on the Arabs as they came into close range and the infantry attack melted away. However, their sacrifice meant that the Arab horse and camel troops charged home on the 4th Battalion. Hewing left and right the cavalry broke into the infantry formation. Order disintegrated as some men ran, whilst others gathered into small groups desperately fighting for their lives. Within minutes the battalion had ceased to exist and victory seemed certain. Mustafa ordered forward his last reserve, the cavalry to hold the Arabs long enough for the artillery to redeploy to cover his flank. This they did and in a melee which swung back and forth they eventually gained the upper hand. With his line now restored Mustafa could begin to think about moving forward. He seemed to have beaten off the Arab forces, but there were many potential ambush sites before he could link up with the forces at the oasis.
At the oasis Osman Ahmed was reasonably satisfied. He had seen the destruction of several units of Arab infantry and also the dispersing of the cavalry. There seemed to be nothing that would hinder the approach of the relief column and he could look forward to a quiet few months back in barracks. But then a runner approached from the southern wall of the oasis. A large force of Hadendoa were massing for an attack. Osman quickly ordered the deployment of all the troops he could spare to the threatened sector. As the first unit of Hadendoa moved forward they were targeted by every gun and rifle that would bear, but in spite of the losses they continued to advance.
That was when time caught up with us. The Hadendoa's arrival had been conditional on a dice roll and the unlucky Sudanese commander had a succession of low dice. He was also unlucky in that the cavalry, (also arriving on a dice roll), arrived early and were thus unable to outflank the relief column. For more photos and the Sudanese view see the report on Will's blog.