Sunday, 22 June 2014

Up the Nile with the Gentlemen Pensioners

Traditionally Steve hosts a day long game on the Sunday following the Phalanx show.  This year he organised a colonial game set in the Sudan. The scenario was set post Khartoum, for this version of history the relief force had arrived in time, Gordon was saved and as the Mahdi's forces fell back south an expedition was organised to seize their supply base at Ad Dueim.

The Imperial force had three brigades of infantry, two Egyptian and one British (all with artillery support), a cavalry brigade with two mounted infantry units plus a lancer regiment and artillery,plus, on the Nile, a steamer with a unit of blue jackets. Our task was to capture Ad Dueim and disperse the Dervish force.

A general view of the table
We had been offered the option of sending the cavalry brigade on a flanking march, but decided that it would be better to have their mobility and firepower from the start, rather than chance their arrival.  In the event our decision was vindicated because the Dervish cavalry had been placed (by chance) where they could have opposed any such move and the cavalry brigade made the most progress towards Ad Dueim.  The events of the ensuing conflict were rather confused and to avoid any partial accounts by participants the following details have been extracted from the pages of those august journals "The Mahdi Post", the "Cairo Examiner" and of course "The Times".

A report submitted by the Imperial Commander General James Blackadder after the battle stated that the overall plan was to advance with the Egyptian brigades in the centre and the open desert flank to be covered by the cavalry. The naval contingent, under the command of Captain (retired) Alfred Horatio Lines RN on the gunboat Tamei would cover the other flank and provide fire support to assist the Egyptian advance.  The British brigade was to be the reserve, ready to steady the line if the Egyptians faltered and exploit any opportunities as the Dervishes were driven back.

"With the first rays of the sun dispelling the desert darkness, the Imperial forces advanced with a steady step; the months of training under British officers bearing fruit as the native infantry maintained their lines admirably"  (The Times).

The Cairo Examiner lauded the martial attitude of the Egyptian infantry under the charismatic leadership of Ibrahim Bey and Abdullah Zim Bey. Ibrahim Bey had taken the instructions of the British officers extolling the virtue of keeping the men 'in hand' to heart and advanced his men in square.  To his right Abdullah Zim Bey opted for a more flexible deployment, but curiously he made no quicker progress than his compatriot.

Ibrahim Bey's brigade advance
Both commanders sent out scouts to search for the Dervish forces and it came as no surprise when the broken ground to the front of Imperial force contained enemy infantry.  Ibrahim Bey's men prepared to drive off their opponents, the reporter for the Cairo Examiner describes a sense of anticipation in the ranks as the orders are given to fix bayonets.  Ammunition was checked, reserve stocks placed in readiness and the officers drew their swords.

On the Tamei, Captain Lines ordered the helmsman to move closer to the bank to give covering fire.  The Dervishes under the command of Emir Mustafa Maq advanced with determination, reports in the Mahdi Post describing the men chanting verses as they closed on the enemy.  However, the concentrated fire from the Tamei caused such casualties that the advance stalled. Emir Maq was saved by the jamming of the machine gun on the Tamei as the barrel overheated.

The Tamei steams upstream
  Abdullah Zim Bey meanwhile was facing a determined advance by Emir Abdul Garab's men.  He met this threat with his cavalry which charged forward and inflicted heavy casualties on the Dervishes.  As the remnants of the attack disappeared into the broken ground Zim Bey decided to dismount his cavalry and deploy them in skirmish order to cover the flank march of his infantry battalions.  On the Imperial right, Brigadier General Midland, in command of the cavalry was making good progress.  Abdul Garab had been inspired by the Mahdi's speech before the battle and led his men forward against the Imperial troops.  The Dervish artillery had been silenced by the British guns and the lancers had deployed to cover the formation of a firing line by the mounted infantry.  Once that line was established the fire from the infantry proved too much for Abdul Garab's men and they retreated to a walled village.  Once again the cavalry and mounted infantry advanced and set up a firing line.  Even with the cover provided by the buildings the fire from the British was such that the Dervishes had to fall back again.

Seeking new 'prey' the lancers advanced past the village and soon found all the opponents they could wish for (and more if truth be told).  Suddenly the cavalry troopers found Dervish infantry to their front and both flanks .  The Mahdi had brought forward some units of Hadendoah and Emir Mohammed Roy had brought forward his troops in support of Abdul Garab.  Leading from the front Mohammed Roy and his men surged forward in what the Times correspondent likened to a "tidal wave".

The lancers in their final charge

The colonel of the lancers was heard by a survivor to have said "I didn't come all this way to turn back now" and ordered the bugler to sound the charge.  As the cavalry gathered speed the fluttering lance pennons dipped and the men crouched in their saddles.  The impact was terrific, men and horses tumbled to the ground, lances, swords and spears clashed and glinted through the dust clouds.  Unbelievably, the lancers held the first Dervish attack, driving off two attacking units. Amongst the dead was Mohammed Roy, the charismatic leader had been in the front line of the Dervish attack and was felled with multiple lance wounds.  Before the lancers could catch breath another wave of attackers surged forward and this time, inspired by the presence of the Mahdi the Dervishes prevailed.  Slowly the line of lancers was pushed back and their formation broken.  Little knots of men, their horses dead, fought back to back against overwhelming odds.  One survivor, a young lieutenant told the Times correspondent how a veteran trooper gave him his horse and told him to ride back for reinforcements.  Suddenly, it was all over, a few lucky survivors escaped and made what speed they could for the safety of the Imperial lines, but the lancers would play no further part in the battle.

Meanwhile Mustafa Maq was carrying out his orders with some success.  He had deployed skirmishers to shoot at Ibrahim Bey's men and a firefight ensued. Little real damage was inflicted on either side, but it did buy time for more Dervish troops under Emir Talik Bak to move forward.

Problems for the Tamei
On the river Captain Lines had problems of his own.  He was 'encouraging' the young artillery officer to fix the machine gun "with some speed" and whilst he was thus occupied the Tamei came in range of the Dervish artillery in Ad Dueim.  A few ranging shots splashed harmlessly in the river, but soon the Dervish gunners found the range and splinters began to fly from the exposed woodwork.  The helmsman had not been in action before and when the shells hit the boat he automatically turned the wheel.  The Tamei was soon broadside on to the river and drifting back towards Khartoum at some speed.  This encouraged Mustafa Maq's men who now began to gather for a renewed attack on Ibrahim Bey. Captain Lines  made his way to the wheelhouse and took control of the wheel.  Requesting more steam from the engineer he turned the Tamei back into the current and moved back to the flanking position the Egyptian troops expected.  Fortunately, the machine gun had by now been unjammed and with the bluejacket officer ordering 'rapid fire' a deluge of fire was directed at Mustafa Maq's men, stopping the charge in its tracks.  However, the machine gun jammed again and the bluejackets had fired nearly all their available rounds.  The firing from the Tamei slackened as runners brought up more ammunition from the hold.  The disorder in Mustafa Maq's force did allow Ibrahim Bey to advance.

Abdullah Zim Bey's dismounted cavalry had found themselves attacked by a mass of Dervish warriors and they were forced to recoil.  Aid was at hand as Zim Bey had deployed a battalion of Egyptian infantry as a precaution and they stood firm repelling this dangerous attack. Indeed the Cairo Examiner later carried a letter of commendation for the officers of this unit, signed by the Khedive himself

Abdullah Zim Bey's men stand firm
The climax of the battle was now approaching.  The Dervish cavalry under Munir Ifitkhar now moved forward.  The Mahdi took charge of a unit of Dervishes and led them forward against the mounted infantry.  Ignoring the hail of fire the Dervishes closed with the Imperial infantry.  In a prolonged melee the initiative swung back and forth.

The Mahdi leads the attack
Unfortunately, we now ran out of time.  The British reinforcements had arrived, but played no part.  A solid mass of Dervish cavalry, supported by infantry was poised to attack.  Two commands, those of Abdul Garab and Mustafa Maq had been severely handled,but three more were still available.  The Mahdi had inspired his men, but was now very isolated and vulnerable to an Imperial counter-attack.  The rules worked well and everyone enjoyed the game.  Who won? well both sides claimed partial victory, another day of gaming would have produced a result, but I think that perhaps the Dervish team shaded it on the day

The Gentlemen Pensioners before battle was joined
Many thanks to Steve for hosting the game and to Chris, Dave, Gary, Ian, Nick, Mark, Phil, Roy and Will for playing in such a good spirit.

 For other views on the game check out Wills blog and Phil's blog


1 comment:

  1. A decided Dervish victory, especially as my main rival for the Madhdi's favour has been killed.

    Mustafa Maq