Tuesday 26 July 2022

The Governor's Residence: a Black Powder scenario

Once again Steve kindly organised the traditional "Sunday after Phalanx" game for the visiting Gentlemen Pensioners.  Attendance was lower than previous years perhaps due to continuing concerns over Covid and the aggravating factor of the drastically increased cost of fuel.  This year the game was scaled back to Steve's usual 6 x 8 table and was set in the Sudan.

News had come through to Imperial headquarters that the governor's residence near Kagbar was under siege by Amir Khat .  Such an affront to British prestige could not be ignored and consequently a large force was assembled to restore proper order.  Two brigades of British infantry, (Brigadiers Ross and Wakefield), with a brigade of mounted infantry, (Goodrich)  and one of cavalry (Nowell-Lees); were accompanied by two brigades of Egyptians (one each of infantry and cavalry, (Brigadiers Al-Hussein and Badawi respectively).  The whole force was under the command of General Wilberforce Forbes-Robertson.

When the Imperial force came close to Kagbar, they found that there was a force of Dervishes on the ridge close to the residence.  They had artillery and this was shelling the residence, attempting to break down the walls or gate.  Forbes-Robertson ordered Nowell-Lees and Goodrich to advance directly towards the ridge, but to beware of being ambushed by other Dervish forces.  The Egyptians were to move towards the village of Kagbar itself, whilst Ross and Wakefield would screen the settlement of Fareig which lay in front of them and with the majority of their troops protect the flank of the cavalry and mounted infantry. 

The Dervish force threatening the Governor's residence

The Imperial forces begin their advance

The residence's defenders

The advance began but almost immediately, Goodrich's men came under fire from Fareig.  Although the task of dealing with Fareig had been delegated to Ross, Goodrich sent one of his units to silence the riflemen.  This move hampered Ross's advance and also forced Wakefield to move to his right to avoid the deployed mounted infantry and their attendant camels.  No sooner had the firing started than two units of Dervish infantry rose from concealment and moved towards Ross's men

The Egyptian brigade moves forward

The Dervish move out of cover to attack the Imperial left flank

The cavalry and mounted infantry advance in the centre

On the right, the Egyptians were also moving forward, lead by Badawi's cavalry.  Suddenly from behind some dunes and scrub bodies of Dervish cavalry appeared, moving swiftly towards them.   The leading unit of Egyptian cavalry turned to face their assailants, but as they did so a unit of Dervish infantry charged out of the village of Kagbar and into their flank.  Reeling from this attack the Egyptian cavalry were then charged by the Dervish cavalry and routed.

The Egyptian cavalry are ambushed

On the left the battle for Fareig continued and Ross deployed his battalions to meet the Dervish attack. The West Borsetshires were charged as they struggled through the scrub and  were driven back in spite of the best efforts of their officers to hold them in position.

One of Ross's infantry battalions is driven back in disorder

Nowell-Lees had continued to advance and was contemplating bringing forward Goodrich's command to establish a solid base from which to assault the ridge.  He had ordered his units to halt to await the mounted infantry, but the order had not got through to the Lancers who were the lead unit.  Their commander thought he saw a chance to capture the Dervish artillery and drive off the infantry on the ridge.  With trumpets sounding the Lancers swept forward onto the ridge.  They dealt with their opponents quickly, but then command and control seemed to evaporate and the cavalrymen dallied, rather than driving home their advantage.  
The Lancers sweep onto the ridge

On the right the Egyptian position was perilous.  Even more enemy mounted units were appearing and they were joined by infantry from Kagbar.  To give time for Al-Hussein to deploy the infantry, Badawi ordered the Bashi-Bazouks to charge.  The Egyptian cavalry tried their utmost, but in the end they were overwhelmed by sheer weight of numbers.  All now depended on the fighting qualities of Al-Hussein's infantry.
The Egyptian forces come under heavy pressure 

Although he had been ordered to support Nowell-Lees, Goodrich had been forced to dismount his men and form a firing line to try and hold back waves of Dervish infantry which had attacked from the direction of Kagbar and also the dunes behind Fareig.  Forbes-Robertson ordered Wakefield to move his men forward to support Goodrich, though half the command was involved in trying to suppress the riflemen in Fareig.  Fortunately, the artillery was now shelling the village and the enthusiasm of the defenders was wavering.  Even so, an attack on Fareig, by one of Goodrich's units was driven back with heavy loss
Goodrich's men come under attack
In the centre, another of the mounted infantry units was struggling to hold off an attack by two units of Dervish warriors.  To their left, a unit of Dervish and broken through and was only stopped by Wakefield deploying two battalions to prevent the Dervish from swinging round to reinforce the defence of Fareig.  

Further forward, Nowell-Lees ordered the Hussars to charge yet more Dervish infantry that could be seen massing in and around Kagbar.  The Hussars lost a lot of men to rifle fire as the advanced and were unable to prevail against the masses of tribesmen, necessitating a retreat.

The failed charge on Kagbar
At Fareig, Ross was at last making headway.  The artillery had unsettled the defenders and an infantry assault finally drove off the Dervish infantry.  Captain Barnes RN had led his 'Blue Jackets' forward with his usual steadfastness and they had successfully driven off several determined attacks by the Dervish warriors.  The Naval infantry advanced past Fareig, supported by other units of Ross's command only to be met by another of wave of attacks.

Steadfast in defence, the naval infantry

Meanwhile, the unit nearest to the beleaguered residence, Nowell-Lees' lancers, far from pushing forward to offer some hope to the garrison, now found themselves in a precarious position as Dervish infantry began to encircle them.  Nowell-Lees had cantered forward to assess whether he should reinforce their position on the ridge, but he now found himself having to fight for his life as tribesmen surged around him.  Desperate, he ordered the retreat be sounded, but there was no way out and the lancers and their commander perished.

The lancers are doomed

Amir Khat's plan was succeeding.  His lieutenants were attacking in successive waves, pinning back the Imperial troops and preventing them from reaching the residence.   

Ross's men face yet more attacks

Goodrich and Wakefield struggle to hold the centre

Much as Forbes-Robertson urged his subordinates to get their men forward, little could be done in the face of the incessant attacks.  Ignoring their casualties, the Dervish warriors threw themselves at the lines of British infantry and in the distance, the Dervish artillery could be heard battering away at the residence.

Finally the gates of the residence were split asunder and this was the cue for Dervish infantry to surge forward, eager to secure the victory.  The defenders did what they could, but it was a doomed enterprise against such overwhelming numbers.  When the building had been ransacked it was put to the torch and as the smoke of the fires rose into the sky Amir Khat ordered his men to begin to disengage.  Forbes-Robertson was left in control of the battlefield, but he had failed in his mission, his sole remaining duty was to tend to the wounded and bury the dead.

The end - the residence falls

A most enjoyable game.  The Dervish command played their cards well.  They stalled the Imperial advance at every opportunity and kept plugging away with their artillery, eventually smashing the gate.  Once that happened the fall of the residence was inevitable.  The governor did manage to escape, though his staff and garrison were put to the sword.  It is said he never spoke of the event in later life and his memoirs (in several volumes) are strangely silent on the matter.  Forbes-Robertson was recalled and offered promotion; to a desk, where he spent the remainder of his career.  

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