Thursday, 5 March 2015

The Sand of the Desert is Sodden Red...

The title says it all, this week's game is set in the Sudan, part of the continuing story of C V Firth-Newsome's adventures in the Queen's service.  The brigadier had received reports that the Dervish forces were gathering at Wadi el Dhan, a village up river from Khartoum.  Firth-Newsome was to command one of British infantry units in force which comprised two brigades of Egyptian and Sudanese troops, plus two brigades of British infantry. All the brigades had artillery or machine guns attached and there was a unit of lancers as a reserve. The whole force was commanded by Major Reginald 'Bulldog' Drummond, an experienced officer from India.

Anticipating that the Dervishes would have spies watching the British camp a great show was made of undertaking repairs to the steamer Tamei; which ad been involved in many of the previous expeditions. Under the cover of darkness, Drummond assembled his force and led them on a flank march through the desert.

Two days later the Imperial forces approached Wadi el Dhan at dawn, hoping to surprise the Dervish forces and trap them against the river.  Drummond placed his native troops on the flanks, and ordered them to push their cavalry forward to try and flush out any concealed enemy units.  The British troops were in the centre and Firth-Newsome found himself in the same brigade as Bolitho and his Bluejackets.  Drummond planned to attack on the flanks to draw the enemy out and then deliver the decisive attack with his best troops straight at Wadi el Dhan, breaking the enemy resistance and dispersing their forces.

A view from the Dervish left flank.  The white squares denote possible Dervish units, (approx 1/3 were blanks !!)
On the Imperial right the Egyptian cavalry moved forward very swiftly, leaving their infantry supports some way behind, this was to prove their undoing. From behind some dunes appeared a unit of Arab cavalry, eager to prove themselves the Egyptians charged forward, the Arabs responded in kind.  The two bodies of horse came together and the melee was fairly well balanced; until a second unit of Arab mounted troops appeared and joined in. Now the Egyptians were struggling and soon the battered survivors were racing for their own lines,pursued by the jubilant Arab horsemen.

The Egyptian commander of the right wing brigade was unprepared for this reverse.  Fortunately, some of the infantry could shelter in rough ground, but the machine gun was too far back,still limbered and unable to fire in support of the infantry.  One Egyptian unit formed square and fired in support of their colleagues who had decided to remain in line and trust in their fire power.  The Arab horse rushed headlong into this hail of bullets and suffered heavy casualties, forcing them to fall back to reform. But yet more mounted troops could be seen approaching the Imperial right flank, threatening to outflank the British troops in the centre and Drummond decided that he needed to take matters in hand and led his reserve cavalry over to shore up the Egyptians.

The Egyptian cavalry on the left flank had also discovered enemy troops, this time infantry,who were sniping at them from some rough ground.  The Egyptian commander decided to dismount his men into a skirmish line and drive off the enemy with rifle fire, not the best option. The Dervish commander saw his chance and ordered his troops to charge.  Just in time, the Egyptian officer saw his peril and ordered his men to re-mount and charge the enemy.  It was not an ordered charge, but it did enough to blunt the Dervish attack.  After further rounds of melee the cavalry prevailed and the Dervish infantry routed..

The next step was to secure the farm buildings (seen top centre in the photo at top of the post), from which they could support the attack by the British infantry on Wadi el Dahn.

In the centre, the two British brigades began their advance, but the one on the right (Maxwell's), soon encountered enemy forces. A unit of Dervish infantry charged out of some scrub and ignoring the volley from the British line surged forward.  Their fanaticism drove the line back, inflicting heavy casualties, but, heeding the barked orders of their NCO's the khaki clad infantry stood firm.  Eventually, the dervish fell back, sent on their way by a ragged cheer and a volley.

Firth-Newsome was in the left hand brigade and as they advanced the leading unit came under artillery fire from Wadi el Dahn.  The gunners had the range to a 'T' and soon there was a trail of dead and wounded behind the leading unit.  Suddenly, a second Dervish gun opened fire from the farm buildings and in no time the leading unit was so badly damaged that it had to fall back, taking no further part in the action.  Stuart, the commander of the brigade, decided that before an attack on Wadi el Dahn, it was essential to capture the farm and he deployed to face the threat from there.  Firth-Newsome and Bolitho, supported by their artillery opened fire on the farm.  At first, there seemed to be no effect, but after several rounds of 'rapid fire' the enemy artillery fire slackened and then ceased.  This was just as well, the men's ammunition was almost exhausted and fresh supplies needed to be brought forward by mule.

The left hand Egyptian brigade now approached the farm, but came under rifle fire from its defenders.  The Egyptians replied in kind and were joined by the men of Stuart's brigade once they had been resupplied with bullets.  No force could endure such a torrent of fire and before long, the survivors ran for the 'safety' of Wadi El Dahn, leaving the Egyptians free to advance and occupy the position.

Meanwhile, Maxwell's brigade recommenced its advance, only to be charged again, this time by mounted troops.  The leading unit formed square and opened a rapid fire on their attackers but failed to stop them.   Already weakened by the earlier infantry attack the British square broke and routed, not the finest hour for the British arms.

Maxwell's supporting units held their ground and drove off the Dervish camel troops with rifle volleys.  But where was the British commander whilst his infantry were fighting for their lives?

Drummond was with his cavalry, driving off the threat to his right flank.  The lancers charged forward against the enemy camel troops and a prolonged melee ensued.  Determined to be part of the action, 'Bulldog' joined the fray, cutting this way and that, accounting for three of the enemy.  Suddenly, the fight seemed to go out of the Arabs and they galloped off, among the dead was their leader and 'Bulldog' was happy to receive the leader's helmet as a trophy.  He was not destined to enjoy his success for long  With the enemy troops out of the way, a third Dervish gun opened fire, enfilading the British cavalry.  Amongst the first casualties was Drummond.  As more men fell, the lancers decided that it would be best to fall back to reform and it was left to the Egyptian infantry to subdue the Dervish artillery.

'Bulldog' leads the way
 The battle now became three separate actions; on the Imperial left the Egyptian brigade,plus Stuart's brigade were advancing from the farm towards Wadi el Dahn. In the centre, Maxwell's brigade was struggling to move forward against successive Dervish attacks.  Each one was defeated, but each exacted a toll and the brigade was finished as a fighting force for this battle.  Fighting was dying down on the right as what remained of the Dervish force fell back to the village and the Egyptians reformed and then followed them.

The Egyptian cavalry on the Imperial left had by now scouted the approaches to the village and reported the area clear of the enemy.  They were therefore sent to help Maxwell.  As the Egyptian infantry neared the village they were charged by a unit of Dervishes.  The melee swayed one way and then the other and a second unit of Egyptians moved forward in support.  This was countered by a second unit of Dervishes charging out of the town.  This second Dervish attack was roundly defeated but the first Egyptian unit routed and the victors flowed forward to take on Firth-Newsome's unit.  The order was given, 'Rapid Fire'.  In moments the Dervish infantry were hit by a hail of bullets and stopped in their tracks.  After some hesitation, the survivors turned and ran back towards the village.

British fire power prevails
 Yet another Dervish unit charged out of the village,catching the Egyptians unprepared.  Their scattered volley did nothing to deter their enemies and the dervish charge thudded home.  In moments the Egyptian line dissolved, all order was lost and the carnage was dreadful.  After a brief pause the Dervishes surged towards Firth-Newsome's unit.  Once again the order was given 'Rapid Fire'; the men fired with a desperate energy as the enemy came closer,seemingly unstoppable.  Then the Dervish standard bearer went down. As the flag fell, so did the spirits of the attackers.  At a hundred yards their pace slowed, as more men went down, they wavered and then suddenly the attack was over.  The ground in front of the British infantry was strewn with dead and dying Dervish warriors.  This proved to be the last attack.  As Firth-Newsome's men savoured the fact that they had survived another battle,a cheer came from the village.  Bolitho's bluejackets had taken the walls and raised the Union Jack.  The remnants of the Dervish force melted away into the desert and the Imperial troops drained by battle, did what they could for their wounded comrades. Drummond was buried
 on a small hill overlooking the scene of his last battle; a simple cross denoting his final resting place.  Tamei came up river to take the wounded back to Khartoum whilst the remainder of the Imperial force marched back along the banks of the Nile.

The game took two sessions (approx 7 hours) to play, and used the 'Battles for Empire' rules. We used the 2nd edition which gave the units 8 strength points, but each hit counts, removing one of the advantages enjoyed by the Imperial troops. The unit markers (including 'blinds') made it more of a challenge and in the end the game was very evenly balanced.  Although the Dervish force was beaten the Imperials lost over half their units, including two thirds of their British troops.  


  1. Excellent report and wonderful looking blog. Will certainly be visiting a lot more!

  2. Thank you very much Carlo, I'm glad you enjoyed the report.