Tuesday, 30 March 2021

"There'll be an awful row at home about this" a The Men Who Would be Kings scenario

Back in the desert this week and the further trials and tribulations of Imperial forces.  A varied group of replacements for units at the front have gathered at base camp and are being sent south to join their regiments.  The officer in charge one Captain Wilberforce Malplaquet Thackeray, is on his way back to join his regiment, the Royal Barsetshires.  Just as he is about to leave he is summoned to the brigadier's office.  "While you are going forward I want you to take a look at this hill" said the brigadier.  "The cartography department believe it will be ideal for an observation post; only a mile from the telegraph office at El Abdab Halt.  The area's been quiet for a couple of months, should give the new chaps a chance to experience the desert".  As Thackeray was leaving the brigadier added "Oh, Latimer will be going with you.  Wants to give his chaps some scouting training.  Good luck.  Have your report back to me within the week."

Two days later Thackeray gathered his troops together as they waited for Captain Latimer and his troopers to get their horses out of the trucks.  There were three small companies, one from the Highlanders, one from the Borsetshires and a detachment of Blue Jackets who were to join the steamers at Wadi Halfa.  The previous evening he had agreed with Latimer that the cavalry would scout ahead and the infantry would follow.  Broken ground and scrub would be avoided to ensure good progress.  Once the infantry had secured the hill and an assessment made, the Imperial troops would return to the train and continue south.

The battlefield, the hill in question is the large one to left of centre.  The Imperials enter on the right hand table edge 

The cavalry were soon ready and headed west towards the hill. Behind them came the infantry, they made good progress other than coming across a few areas of soft sand.  Ahead, the cavalry spotted some movement in an area of scrub north of the hill and moved south westerly after informing Thackeray of the sighting.  Later, an inquiry established that this was most likely due to a desire to have a good field of fire should enemy troops break cover and attack.  Whatever the reason, Latimer's men did not lengthen the range enough, as they were came under very effective fire as they neared the hill.  The unexpected casualties caused some hesitation, which resulted in yet more casualties, before Latimer gathered the survivors together and they continued south west to a position from which they could see the hill and it's reverse slope.  What they saw was not encouraging.  Three units of warriors were waiting for the Imperial infantry.  Thackeray was informed and his response was to place the Highlanders on the right to subdue the Dervish riflemen, the Borsetshire's in the centre to face the Dervish and the Blue Jackets on the left to fire into the flank of any Dervish attack.

The Dervish spearmen readying for the attack

The Imperial advance, Latimer's cavalry about to come under fire from the riflemen

The first wave of Dervish tribesmen charged over the hill towards the Borsetshires.  They were met by a volley which stopped them in their tracks and when the red coats closed up their ranks ready to charge the Dervish fell back over the hill.  Encouraged, Thackeray joined the British infantry as they marched up the hill.  To his right, events were turning against the Imperial force.  The Highlanders were now facing the riflemen and they fared no better than the cavalry.  With their captured modern rifles the tribesmen shot as if they had been trained on the Bisley range.  Men fell on all sides and the command group suffered severe losses too.  First the piper was seriously wounded then the commander of the Highlanders was felled by a shot to the chest.  In disarray the Highlanders fell back and the young officer in command of the Blue Jackets moved his men to the right to cover the Highlanders as they tried to reform.

The Borsetshires advance onto the hill in close order

On the hill, the Borsetshires reached the crest just as a second wave of Dervish moved forward.  There were more enemy on their right as a second unit moved towards their flank.  Fortunately, this was stopped by a volley from the Blue Jackets, but nothing could stop the avalanche of tribesmen hitting the Borsetshires.  Though outnumbered, their tight formation should have saved the Borsetshires, but the shock of their first hand to hand encounter with the Dervish caused some gaps to appear in the ranks and these were ruthlessly exploited by the Dervish warriors.

The Blue Jackets cover the Highlanders as they attempt to rally

In no time at all the close formation disintegrated and a few knots of red coats fell back off the hill.  Thackeray was not among them having fallen when the formation broke.  Latimer had attempted to intervene in the fight on the hill.  Attacking the Dervish unit which had been shaken by the Borsetshire volley, but his remaining troopers were too few in numbers to succeed and were driven off.  Looking about him, Latimer decided that it was time to fall back and he turned his few remaining men towards the railway line.  However, their attack had roused the Dervishes and seeing their opponents retiring, they pursued, catching the horsemen as they became bogged down in some soft sand and wiping them out.  

The remnants of the Blue Jackets fall back behind the sole survivor of the Borsetshires

The writing was on the wall for the remaining British infantry.  The Dervish warriors now advanced and hit first the Blue Jackets driving them back with over 50% casualties.  Next it was the turn of the Highlanders who were cut down to a man.  Following up the Dervish ensured the Blue Jackets now suffered the same fate.

The Blue Jackets are eliminated the Highlanders have already suffered the same fate

So ended a less than glorious episode in the history of the Imperial campaign in Sudan.  The Imperial force was all but wiped out, a single figure from the 44 which started the game made it back to the base line.  Highly effective shooting by the Dervish riflemen weakened the Highlanders and cavalry and suffered no losses themselves.  Both were finished off by the Dervish warriors.  Although in close order, the Borsetshires lost their melee by a wide margin and when the Dervish followed up the Imperials were all but wiped out.  The Blue Jackets were caught in skirmish formation and suffered the consequences.  At brigade headquarters one old Indian hand said the affair reminded him of the infamous retreat from Kabul when only Doctor William Brydon was said to be the only survivor.

It must be said in Thackeray's defence that the dice gods were definitely not helping him.  On several occasions adverse dice rolls proved his undoing.  That being said, the Dervish commander played a skillful defence and throughly deserved his victory.  My thanks to Steve for setting up the scenario and to David for being the Dervish commander.


  1. Really nice sized encounter and narrative.

  2. Thanks very much Norm. Steve adapted one of the scenarios from the rule book for our game.