Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Once again into the sands dear friends, once more....

As you may have guessed, this week we are back in the Sudan.  The small garrison town of El Kohl sits on the banks of the Nile, upstream from Aswan.  It has a garrison of three units of Egyptian infantry, a unit of Egyptian cavalry, a field gun and a machine gun.  Until recently it had had a garrison of British troops, but they have returned to Aswan for further training.  The rank and file were happy to leave, the town had little to offer, the defences were weak and too long for the garrison provided.  They had exercised little ingenuity in nicknaming their posting El Ohl.  For their part many of the officers were glad of the opportunity to return to Aswan and its social possibilities.

Here is a photograph of the table showing El Kohl and neighbourhood,  The Nile flows right to left along the western edge of the town.  The small hamlet of Al Kohol (to the north east) was the billet of the cavalry unit.

One of the liaison officers with the Egyptian garrison has been sent back to Aswan by the commander, Suleiman Bey, to report on the increasing level of Mahdist activity and his assessment that an all out attack on the outpost is imminent.  The report asked for reinforcements and further supplies of ammunition.  In response, the general commanding has put together a force of 3 units of mounted infantry, (South Essex, North Rutland and Borsetshire regiments), a unit of cavalry, (Prince John's Own Royal Lancers), a field gun and a machine gun.  The ammunition and other supplies are to be transported on the steamer Assad, commanded by Lieutenant DR Beatty.  Overall command of the force has been given to Captain CV Firth-Newsome.  Although the column set off without delay, events at El Kohl outpaced them.

Shortly after dawn a patrol galloped back to report large numbers of Mahdists approaching from the east.  The Garrison stood to arms and Suleiman Bey deployed his men around the walls of the town
The 3rd Infantry regiment with the machine gun in the North East corner of El Kohl 

The 2nd Infantry regiment with the field gun cover the eastern wall

The 1st Infantry regiment cover the southern gate
The cavalry at Al Kohol
 All too soon the dust clouds could be seen in the east as the Mahdist troops approached.  When they came within range the defenders opened fire and their efforts succeeded in stopping the first attack, but ammunition was running low.  Runners were sent to the central square where supplies were kept and a mule was loaded with cases of ammunition and dispatched.  As a new assault gathered, the field gun redoubled it's efforts, firing shell after shell into the Mahdists, buying time for the infantry.

As the eastern attacks reached their peak, a unit of Mahdist riflemen broke cover from the rocks near the river bank.  They fired at the troops defending the barricade, causing some casualties.  The cavalry in Al Kohol fired in retaliation, as did the garrison of the Administration building.  None of the Egyptian fire was particularly effective and that from the Administration building became even less so when some native artillery began firing.  Shells began to thud into the walls and although no casualties were caused, most of the defenders sought cover.  As the defensive fire slackened a second unit of Mahdists broke cover and charged forward, heading for the barricade.  Suleiman sent forward his reserve company to help the defenders.  They arrived too late to help defend the barricade, but the defenders had managed to hold the line, though at considerable cost.

The attack on the barricade
For the Egyptian defenders there was no time to rest. No sooner had the first wave of Mahdists been driven back than another charged forward.  This time the reserves were on hand to help, fortunately; as the original defenders were almost wiped out by the new attackers.  Before the Mahdists could take advantage, the reserves charged in and drove back their opponents in total disarray.  The machine gun also played its part, first stopping and then driving back an attack on the eastern wall.  Unfortunately, they ran short of ammunition in doing so.  For the moment, the north east corner was secure.

The second attack on the barricade
It was on the southern side that the next blow fell.  Four large groups of Mahdists broke cover from rough ground not far from the southern gate; two made for the gate itself, the others moved towards the south east corner.  The 1st infantry managed to stop one group with rifle fire, but the second charged home.  A fierce struggle took place in the gate.  The Egyptians were forced back by the sheer force of the Mahdist attack. but managed to hold on.  The Colonel Omar Ghul ran up some steps to get a clear shot at the attackers.

Action at the southern gate

The line breaks
In the end the numbers were just too great and the Egyptians gave way.  Ghul fought on until his revolver was empty, then resorted to his sword, but eventually he was overwhelmed by his assailants.

From his command post in the tower  of the Coptic church, Suleiman Bey was anxiously scanning the northern horizon for sight of the relief force.  With relief, he saw the thick, dark smoke of the steamer in the distance.  Surely, the reinforcements must be near?  Then a rocket was fired from Al Kohol, the signal that indeed the British column was approaching!

The desert column arrives
Firth-Newsome was riding near the front of the column with the lancers.  He decided to send the mounted infantry and artillery around the eastern side of Al Kohol under the command of Captain Dyson, whilst he went with the lancers to sweep the area between Al Kohol and El Kohl clear of the Mahdists.  As the lancers moved forward a body of Mahdists broke cover and charged them.  Caught by surprise, the lancers took casualties, but they recovered and drove off their assailants.  Meanwhile, the Egyptian cavalry, their outpost duties done, mounted up and galloped off to go to the aid of their comrades in El Kohl.

It was as well they did for the garrison were coming under heavy pressure.  Further attacks had been made against the south eastern corner.  The infantry had beaten back one attack, but the field gun had been overrun and now Mahdists were threatening the defenders' flank

The field gun is overrun
Luckily for the defenders, the ammunition mule had been moved towards the northern wall before the Mahdists flowed over the wall and it was thus able to resupply the machine gun.  The 2nd Infantry regiment had stepped back from the wall to face the threat to their flank.  They held the charge from the Mahdists, but couldn't resist a second attack when another unit came over the wall.  The battered remnants of the regiment ran for cover in the Administration building adding to its garrison, which now included the whole of the 3rd Infantry regiment.  Things looked bleak for Suleiman Bey as the whole of the southern half of El Kohl was now in the hands of the Mahdists  and large groups of them were gathering across the square from the Administration building.  As his position in the church tower was becoming threatened he decided to move his command post to the Administration building too.

On the river, Beatty had at last managed to get the steamer into a position where he could assist the garrison.  For the last half an hour as the Assad had crawled upstream he had been sending increasingly strong requests to the chief engineer, Montgomery Scott, for more speed.  The reply was always the same, "I'm givin' her all she's got lieutenant". 

The Assad
Landing a unit of troops was out of the question, the landing stage was too close to the Mahdists, so Beatty order the blue jackets and machine gun to concentrate on driving back the Mahdists with fire.  However, the effect was disappointing.  The rifle fire was woeful, with more shots hitting the buildings than the Mahdists.  At the bow, the machine gun started spraying the square with fire and at first it was effective.  None of the Mahdists dared to venture towards the Administration building.  But suddenly the firing stopped, the gun had jammed.  The crew immediately began to strip down the machine to clear the blockage.

Unseen to Firth-Newsome, but all too clear to Suleiman Bey and Captain Dyson fresh Mahdist troops now entered the battle, mostly cavalry.  They swept around the eastern walls and headed toward Al Kohol.

The Mahdist cavalry arrive
Captain Dyson deployed the North Rutlands together with the field gun to fire at the Mahdists which had appeared from the rocks by the Nile and were now shooting at the Administration building.  The Borsetshires with the machine gun faced the oncoming cavalry.  To their left were the South Essex who were faced by yet more cavalry.  The main pressure fell on the Borsetshires with the first unit of Mahdist cavalry charging them.  However, as the cavalry closed a wave of Mahdist infantry attacked from the rough ground to the Borsetshires' left.  Facing two opponents would be tricky to say the least, but the machine guns now proved their worth.  The gun with the Borsetshires cut a swathe through the enemy horsemen.  It was joined by the gun in El Kohl which also exacted a heavy price.  Very few horsemen reached the British line and those that did achieved nothing.  The Mahdist infantry had more effect, but not enough to budge the resolute British line.  Undeterred, a second cavalry charge was launched, but this met the same fate due to the concentrated fire of the machine guns.  The threat from this direction was now cleared.

The Borsetshires stand firm
However, Firth-Newsome seemed to have disturbed a hornets' nest by his advance with the lancers.  No sooner had he successfully driven off one attack than another was launched.  Although determined, the troopers were becoming tired and for each Mahdist chopped down two more sprang forward.  Groups of lancers were becoming isolated and slowly overcome.  Gathering what men he could Firth-Newsome ordered the bugler to sound the retreat and began to hack his way clear, hoping to make his way to Dyson.  Behind him the other groups of  lancers also tried to hack themselves clear, but far too many were dragged down and butchered.  Prince John's would require a long period of rest, training and reinforcement before they were fit for battle again.

The lancers flee
Back in El Kohl the final phase of the battle began.  With the fire from the Assad dwindling away, the Mahdists readied themselves for an attack on the Administration building.  The defenders did their best to hold them back with rifle fire, but there were just too many.  Aboard the Assad, Beatty fumed as the gun crew tried to clear the machine gun.  It didn't help that under his blazing gaze they had bungled the first attempt and had to begin again.  Torrents of abuse were heaped upon them (and their unfortunate parents to several generations) by the increasingly frustrated officer as he saw the tide of Mahdists flow towards the Administration building.  The garrison held the first rush, defending the ground floor windows and doors with a reckless bravery.  However, a second push, from the side found an undefended window and soon the fight was room to room.  Some men escaped from the northern side of the building and made their way towards the British lines, but those trapped on the upper floors fought to the end.  Now all that remained of the garrison were the cavalry, still holding the north east barricade area and the machine gun.

Attack on the Administration building
Near Al Kohol, the North Rutlands, with the assistance of the Field gun had driven off the riflemen and also a second unit of Mahdists who were massing to attack.  However, the South Essex were having a much tougher time.  Like the Borsetshires they had been charged by cavalry, but having no artillery support found that rifle fire alone had proved insufficient to stop the charging enemy.  A prolonged melee followed which the infantry had won, but the cost had been high and the ranks were now considerable thinned.  As the commander gazed south he saw another Mahdist mounted unit approaching, this one on camels.  He immediately sent a runner to Dyson asking for assistance.  Dyson sent orders to the Borsetshires to aid the South Essex and this they did.  Turning about and wheeling to their right, they took up a position to fire into the flank of any unit attacking the South Essex.  As the camelry approached the South Essex they were met by the combined fire of the two units.  Although it thinned the ranks, it did not stop the attack, but the South Essex managed to hold the first impact.  The melee continued and slowly the camelry gained the upper hand.  Eventually the South Essex line disintegrated, the survivors fleeing towards Al Kohol.  The camelry now turned to face the Borsetshires and charged.  With admirable steadiness the British infantry waited until the enemy was almost on them and fired a devastating volley which totally destroyed their opponents.

In El Kohl the Mahdists were now flowing between the Administration building and the Nile.  Beatty received the news that the machine gun was now in full working order grim faced and tersely said "Well, you had better b******y well get it trained on those d****d Mahdists then !!" 
The gun crew leaped into action and the first wave of Mahdists was reduced to a bloody heap.  The second wave began to suffer the same fate, but then the gun jammed again!  The fire of the blue jackets was again ineffective and a steady stream of Mahdists now moved towards Al Kohol.

The Egyptian cavalry, unaware of the enemy moving around behind them were fully engaged repulsing an attack by Mahdists moving from the Church.  Seeing the clear ground towards the British lines the commander of the cavalry ordered the machine gun crew to take their gun to the British and he would cover their withdrawal.  As the gun moved away, the cavalry saw a unit of camelry coming down the street towards them.  The gun had no sooner moved around the barricade than it was charged by Mahdist infantry.  The crew gallantly stood by their guns, but they were cut down to a man.  Moving on, the Mahdists charged into the rear of the cavalry just as the camelry charged from the front.  The result was never in doubt with the cavalry totally destroyed.  The village was now in Mahdist hands.

The end of Egyptian resistance
Spurred on by their success, the Mahdists now attacked Dyson's force.  As they moved forward they were first hit by shells from the artillery, then the North Rutlands fired a volley and the first wave  of attack dissolved.  However, a second wave continued the attack and by now the field gun was low on ammunition.  It's fire was nor effective and although a volley from the North Rutlands slowed the assault it still came on.  The Borsetshires once again saved the day.  Adding their fire to that of the North Rutlands proved too much for the remaining Mahdists and they fell back to the village, where they moved into the buildings.  Here they were safe from the fire from the Assad (such as it was) and Firth-Newsome's forces were too weak to attack.  Therefore the British gathered their wounded and together with the pitiful remnants of the garrison, they fell back to Aswan.

A Mahdist victory, but at heavy cost.

Steve had created an enjoyable scenario which lasted two full gaming days.  The Mahdist reinforcements were randomly timed and placed by dice roll and created plenty of excitement.  The 'low ammo' rule, together with the jamming of the machine gun created plenty of uncertainty and stopped the Imperial player (me) blazing away all the time.


  1. Enjoyed. A ton of work to get that out, thank you.

  2. Great report, exciting to read. Love the photos. Thank you.