Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Return to the boats; a Sudan scenario for 'Battles for Empire'

For the first game of 2016 Steve and I returned to the Sudan.  The background to the scenario is that news has reached Khartoum that enemy forces are gathering at an oasis a few miles from the river port of Wad Alzaky.  The General has ordered a sortie to disperse theDervishes and with only two steamers available, (the Sultan and the Victoria), it has been decided that there is insufficient space to transport the cavalry.  Brigadier Anstruther is the officer in charge, with a brigade of British troops (4 battalions plus a machine gun and field gun) and a brigade of Egyptian troops, also consisting of 4 battalions plus a machine gun and field gun.  Each steamer has a unit of blue jackets to protect them whilst the army is marching inland.  Lieutenant Firth- Newsome (who has featured in reports of earlier actions), has been appointed as ADC to Brigadier Anstruther, whilst midshipmen Bolitho has secured a place in the unit of blue jackets on the 'Victoria'.

The troops left Khartoum as night was falling and sailed south up the Nile. To mislead the Dervishes they sailed past Wad Alkazy during the day, only returning once night had fallen.  Disembarking they marched for the Jamaldeen Oasis before dawn, achieving complete surprise when they attacked. After a brisk fight the Dervishes were dispersed and mission accomplished the column formed up to return to Wad Alkazy.  Spirits among the troops were high as they neared the Nile.  This is the point at which our game begins.

Looking west towards the Nile and Wad Alkazy
I was given command of the Imperial troops and a number of dice, which I later found out determined the time and location of arriving Dervish troops.  Far from achieving their mission the Imperial troops had been drawn into a trap, with considerable native forces concentrating to attack them before they reached the steamers.  Nor were the blue jackets to be mere spectators, a boat of native troops appeared up river, determined to capture the 'Victoria'.

Anstruther received the unwelcome news that a large dust cloud was approaching from the east.  He immediately dispatched Firth-Newsome  with orders for two of the British battalions to deploy into line and with the support of the machine gun stop the enemy advance.  The remaining two battalions of the British brigade, together with the field gun, would deploy further back to cover the retreat of the first line; whilst the Egyptian brigade was to march quickly to Wad Alkazy, take up a defensive position and cover the retreat of the British troops.  Firth-Newsome delivered the message and watched as, with parade ground precision, the British troops formed line and the machine gun deployed for action.  The leading ranks of the Dervish forces appeared through the dust and the British volleys began their deadly work.  Despite their undoubted courage the Dervishes could not advance further into the maelstrom of lead and their commander ordered his supporting units to deploy to the flanks to work round the British line.

The rearguard deploys
Further ahead, Ahmed Bey, the commander of the Egyptian brigade was running into trouble.  His leading troops were in sight of Wad Alkazy, but to both flanks large enemy formations were approaching rapidly.  Before he could form a brigade square his flank units were charged, the 4th battalion by camel troops and the 2nd by Dervish infantry.   Caught at a disadvantage the Egyptians fought bravely,standing their ground and in spite of heavy casualties refusing to break.  However, all hope of reaching the steamers unopposed was now lost.

The Egyptians come under attack
On the Victoria Bolitho was in the thick of the action.  The Dervish attack had been spotted in time for a volley to be fired, but this had not stopped the assault.  As the Dervish swarmed on board they were met by cutlass wielding tars determined to drive them back.  No quarter was sought or given in the melee, but with a last desperate push the Dervish were forced back onto their craft.  As they moved back upriver the defenders of the Victoria regrouped and sent them on their way with a volley. The 'Sultan' had cast off and manoeuvred  to fire its machine gun at the Dervishes.  This added fire caused more casualties and the remaining enemy lost heart and sailed back south.

The Sultan and Victoria prior to the Dervish attack
Back in the desert, the fire from the British rearguard was slackening.  The Highlanders on the right of the line were running low on ammunition and to their right a large body of Dervish infantry were threatening to outflank them.  The machine gun had jammed and Brigadier Anstruther ordered the British to form brigade square and this was done, but it delayed the distribution of further ammunition to the Highlanders.  Sensing an opportunity the Dervish infantry closed with the British in a fanatical charge; ignoring the Highlanders final volley.  There should have been a supporting charge by a second Dervish unit, but it was stopped by fire from the field gun.  This undoubtedly saved the Highlanders  from being overwhelmed.  The Egyptian field gun was also making a vital contribution.  Its fire stopped an attack by Dervish cavalry which would have hit the flank of the Egyptian infantry.
The British square under attack
On the south side of the British square the second Highland battalion had driven off an attack with sustained rapid fire, but in doing so had depleted its ammunition.  Before the stocks could be replenished the southern horizon filled with yet more Dervish troops eager to fight. The machine gun crew at last cleared the jammed mechanism and fired in support of the first Highland battalion, but in doing so jammed the mechanism again.  It was all to no avail as a second Dervish unit attacked the beleaguered Highlanders.  Weakened by their casualties and heavily outnumbered the British line gave way, the brigade square was broken!
The square breaks
Brigadier Anstruther immediately sent orders for each battalion to form its own square.  Fortunately, the remaining battalions had sufficient time to do this before the Dervish attacked again.  They were also saved by the valour of the men of the Royal Artillery, who, rather than running back to the nearest square, stood by their guns and fired a devastating close range salvo into the Dervish unit which had broken the Highlanders.  This salvo caused such heavy casualties that the unit took no further part in the battle.

Ahmed Bey was struggling to hold his command together.  Two battalions had fought themselves to destruction, but their sacrifice had enabled the remaining battalions to form up and prepare for the next Dervish onslaught.  The artillery was excelling itself, destroying one unit of cavalry and stopping another as it attempted to charge home.  The machine gun had tried to fire in support of the infantry, but had jammed and now the crew were struggling to clear the jam.

The Dervishes attack Wad Alkazy
One group of Dervish had been ordered to attack and hold Wad Alkazy.  This move had been spotted by the captains of the steamers and they decided that they should cast off and manoeuvre so that they could bring all their firepower to bear on the attackers.  Along with the other blue jackets Bolitho lines the side of the Victoria awaiting the order to fire.  As the Dervishes swept into the village square the order to fire rang out and the natives were swept by a maelstrom of bullets.  The Dervish charge staggered to a halt and although small knots of brave individuals attempted to move forward, further volleys quickly stopped them.  Although the fire slackened as the machine guns jammed, the blue jackets were able to deliver enough firepower to force the remaining Dervishes to retreat.

The crisis of the battle was now approaching.  The Emir saw that his men were tiring, but one final push may secure victory.  Orders went out to press home the attacks on the Imperial forces.  From his position in the square formed by the South Essex, Firth Newsome could see the enemy attack developing.  To his right the square of the Rutlands was attacked by two units.  The Rutlands had the machine gun as support and this fired into the nearest enemy unit.  However, once again mechanical failure quickly appeared and whilst the crew worked feverishly to clear the jam the enemy were upon them.  Fighting against overwhelming odds the brave gunners stood by their gun in a hopeless struggle.  One by one they were cut down, but each gallant Briton was surrounded by a number of enemy dead.  The third square, formed by the highlanders was also attacked by two units.  With the highlanders low on ammunition the South Essex tried to give supporting fire, but it proved insufficient to stop the determined Dervish charge.  The highlanders absorbed the shock of the charge, but gradually weight of numbers began to tell.  Colonel Munro the commander of the highlanders saw Dervish troops forcing their way through the ranks and into the square.  Moving forward he dispatched several with shots from his revolver.  When this was empty he drew his claymore and waded into the melee.  Order began to break down as clumps of highlanders formed, each fighting against numerous opponents.  Colonel Munro was one of the last to fall, surrounded by a mob of the enemy.

The highlanders square is overwhelmed
The Egyptians were also attacked.  On the left the 1st battalion was charged by a Dervish unit, but a period of sustained fire, plus some assistance from their machine gun, (which jammed again), managed to stop the attack.  Another attack was made against the field gun, but once again the artillery crew excelled themselves, laying down such a curtain of fire that the attack petered out.

Almost as soon as it began, the attack was over.  The Emir decided that he should pull back his forces and regroup.  Anstruther was too aware of the tiredness of his troops to order any pursuit.  Aided by parties from the steamers the dead were buried and the wounded transferred to the ships.  Finally, as dusk fell, the weary Imperial troops marched into Wad Alkazy, ready to board the steamers and return to Khartoum.  Once back, Brigadier Anstruther wrote a report which highlighted the excellent conduct of the Egyptian troops.  He also pointed out the need to look at the provision of ammunition with a view to avoiding the likelihood of the infantry running low during periods of sustained firing.  However, the key point in his report was the inadequacy of the current machine guns, which were far too prone to jamming at the very moment they were needed most.


  1. Thanks for this, an excellent report. Can we assume that Blackpowder is back on the shelf? We're looking for a good set of rules for Sudan, are you using BFE or BFE2?

    1. Thanks very much for the comments. Yes the use of Blackpowder was interesting, but we felt BFE gave a better game. We are using BFE2 with a few local amendments