Another tale from the Sudan for this week's battle. Imperial HQ had received news that an isolated Egyptian garrison was running short of supplies and encircled by Dervish and Arab troops. The Brigadier had decided that this was an excellent opportunity for Lt C V Firth-Newsome, newly arrived from England, to get some experience of local conditions. Four veteran companies of redcoats were available, plus a detachment of RN Bluejackets and some guns from the RA. However, at the last minute two of the redcoat companies were replaced by two recently arrived companies, which sported the khaki uniform. The Brigadier's orders were simple enough; take a couple of steamers up river, secure the landing stage and then clear the way for the Egyptians to retire to the river. It all sounded fairly straightforward to Firth-Newsome, just like the exercises at Sandhurst, would he need the help of the veteran regimental sergeant major (RSM) Flynn, who the Brigadier insisted should accompany him?
The following morning the small expedition set sail and two days later arrived at Abu Dhal, the nearest landing point to the Egyptian garrison. A couple of rockets were fired to signal their arrival to the Egyptians (and the also the Dervish) and Firth-Newsome, having spent the previous evening organising the orders for the disembarkation, supervised the troops as they left the steamer and lined up on the bank.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian commander had organised his forces, ready for the retreat to the Nile. Over the last couple of days there had been constant sniping from the broken ground all round the village and he was careful to maintain a watch for sudden enemy attacks. His cavalry and camelry moved cautiously out to scout the route of march. The cavalry were on the left and as they neared some rocks a large force of Hadendoa rose from the ground and charged.
His initial foray having been defeated, the Egyptian commander decided to rely on the fire of his infantry and they forced the Hadendoa to retreat back into the broken ground. Among the dead which littered the sand lay the Hadedoa commander, which ensured a break in hostilities whilst order was restored. This gave the Egyptians time to organise their defence, which was just as well. With fearsome cries, the Hadendoa left the dead ground and charged the village. With commendable courage the Egyptians stood their ground firing steadily until the Hadendoa attack slowed, stopped and then fell back.
The second Hadendoa commander was also picked off by fire from the garrison and the second Dervish unit also sought cover. With the fighting dying down, the Egyptian infantry began to leave the security of the village and move slowly towards the river. The Sudanese troops were left till last as they were watching the desert for further attacks.
Back at the river Firth-Newsome had deployed his men. The new men were placed on the left, holding some village buildings facing a wadi. Some bluejackets held buildings by the guns and to their right the redcoats formed up ready to oppose any attack. Finally on the right flank was another small detachment of bluejackets, who held the small enclosures close to the river bank. Their flank was covered by the machine gun on the steamer. As he stood in the centre of the village, Firth-Newsome saw one of the privates from the left flank running towards him. Ordered to attention by the RSM the infantryman reported that a force of Arab riflemen were approaching the village and were there any new orders?. "Hold your position and rely on rifle fire", replied Firth-Newsome. A suggestion from the RSM to redeploy the guns was declined and then machine gun fire was heard from the right flank. A runner reported yet more Arab riflemen advancing towards the village. Again, the order was to hold the position. The RSM suggested that a company of redcoats should help the bluejackets. The manner in which the 'suggestion' was made and also the expression of the RSM overrode the hesitancy of the young Lieutenant. "Yes, see to it Flynn" he said, whilst moving towards the left flank, where the sound of firing was growing louder. When he arrived he saw a veritable sea of enemy riflemen flowing towards the thin British line. These less-experienced men did not have the steadiness of fire which was necessary to stop an enemy attack and soon it was hand to hand fighting.
On the opposite flank the bluejacket line had been overwhelmed. Defending too long a line, even with the fire from the steamer, they could not stop the enemy attack.
The Egyptian commander had recommenced his advance towards the river. The Egyptian infantry, keeping close order, advanced slowly, but steadily. Behind them, the Sudanese fell back, constantly scanning the desert for more Dervish attacks, but the fight seemed to have gone out of the Hadendoa. A final attack by the Dervish cavalry was repulsed by steady volleys. As the Egyptians neared the village, they added their fire to that of the remaining British infantry. With this additional threat the Arabs realised they could not hold the village and therefore began to melt away into the desert.
Firth-Newsome greeted the Egyptian commander by the river and invited him to lead is men onto the steamer to begin the voyage back down the Nile. As the steamer sailed off, the British began to gather up their wounded and bury the dead before they also returned to camp.
Who rescued who? We again used the hidden units cards, and once again they fell quite well for me (as the Dervish commander). The Hadendoa and cavalry were in just the right place to oppose the Egyptian mounted troops and also the Arab infantry were nicely placed to attack the village. At least Firth-Newsome survived and hopefully will use the experience well.
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