Friday, August 16, 2019

Enemy on the Euphrates - The Battle for Iraq 1914-1921


From one desert to another. My main reading these past few days has consisted of this fascinating book by Ian Rutledge. It covers the British Empire's involvement in that area of the Middle East from its days as the Mesopotamian province of the Ottoman Empire to the fledgling country of Iraq.


Rutledge's work covers everything in detail, from the political machinations of the Great War and after, to the military operations taken to defeat the Iraqi uprising. The latter saw the first widespread use of aircraft to transport troops to danger zones, which acted as a vital 'force multiplier' for the vastly outnumbered and embattled Imperial forces. From a wargaming point of view it has a breakdown of the Imperial and Iraqi/Arabic forces, and accounts of various actions which make for interesting tabletop and campaign scenarios.

(Politically and morally it's a sorry tale of the hunt for oil, Imperial arrogance, lack of understanding of Arabic sensibilities, and the general ineptitude of those in power and their subordinates-particularly on the part of A. T. Wilson, Civil Administrator of Iraq. A hundred years later, not much has changed...)

Enemy on the Euphrates - The Battle for Iraq 1914-1921

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Abu Hamad - post-game thoughts.


It's fair to say the Battle of Abu Hamad did not progress as Brigadier Stewart hoped. The sudden appearance of the Mahdist Ansar army threw him for a loop. (In game terms it appeared on the fifth turn of the cards - shockingly early for British tastes). It placed Stewart under immediate pressure to achieve his objective before the Mahdists engaged him in the open or - perhaps worse - reinforced the town garrison. Stewart's Flying Column had speed, but certainly lacked the strength to take on the Mahdists in the open or to initiate siege operations against a strongly-held town, even with support from the flotilla. His only hope was to take Abu Hamad by coup de main - which he did.

Screened by Bengal Lancers and Egyptian Gendamerie, the Camel Corps advances towards its fate.

The Mahdists appeared out of the southeast (randomly determined by dice roll), perhaps the best location possible from the British point of view, since it gave Stewart a certain amount of time to act against the town. However, on approaching his chosen point of attack Stewart acted precipitously by sending in the dismounted Camel Corps. He had time to unlimber his artillery and Gatling guns, which, combined with infantry rifle fire and gunfire support from the Gunboat Khedive, would've sufficed to drive back the defenders from the zareba. Instead the infantry went in with the bayonet against an enemy who hadn't been softened up, and suffered accordingly. It was only when Stewart called off the attack and then did things properly that the British made progress.

The British now hold the town of Abu Hamad, but taking it cost a considerable number of casualties. Brigadier Stewart is now down to eight companies of infantry. His cavalry got battered in the battle, and he has to reassign a 7 pdr screw gun crew and some infantrymen to man one of the Gatling guns and the RA 12 pdr, which lost their crews during the last Mahdist attack. He lost all the camels for his mounted infantry, which in itself will be cause for a board of inquiry into his conduct.

He has the support of the Gunboat Khedive, but it appears the Mahdists either removed or destroyed the firewood stocked in the town for use by commercial steamboats. Khedive has enough fuel for three to four days operations, but after that she'll be little more than a floating battery. Stewart has also to send the transports back downriver to General Wolseley and the River Column if he's to receive much-needed reinforcements.

So, what happens now?

The enemy is still lurking in the vicinity. Emir ibn Yakub suffered enough losses to make attacking a prepared defence rather risky. He'll keep a watch on the town until sufficient reinforcements arrive to make a new attack possible, preferably before the Infidel receives reinforcements by steamboat or the River Column comes up. The latter is making slow progress so this may take weeks.

Brigadier Stewart's aware of the military adage "By trying to hold everything, you'll lose everything." He believes he can hold the town by concentrating his infantry and guns in an area small enough to hold comfortably with the numbers he now has. The cavalry can patrol from the town and keep the enemy under observation, and launch spoiler attacks if necessary. The area within the red lines is Stewart's intended cantonment, for which he'll use the cut bushes from the zarebas located in and around the town. He might demolish the Mahdist ring forts since these offer him no practical use and may well serve the enemy as lodgments during an attack.


Will Emir ibn Yakub attempt to retake the town before more Infidel arrive? The next game will decide in a week or so.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The Battle of Abu Hamad - part two


Taking a deep breath, Brigadier General Stewart ordered the recall sounded, and the bugle call rang out over the sound of combat. Obediently the men of A and B companies of the Camel Corps broke off their struggle against the Mahdists at the zareba and trotted back to the main body. The Mahdists jeered at their cowardice but didn't pursue. Once the battered companies had cleared the line of fire, General Stewart nodded to the Camel Corps Colonel, who gave the word to his other two companies to open fire. A double volley crashed out, the nearby Gatling gun adding to the mass of lead that shredded the zareba and the warriors sheltering behind it. The Gunboat Khedive took her cue from the Camel Corps and opened up with her aft Nordenfeldt, catching the defenders in a vicious crossfire.

 

As gunfire filled the air a courier brought word of the 19th Hussar's appearance to the north. Stewart nodded. He'd have a few pointed words to say to the Colonel of the Hussars later, but for now the regiment's tardy arrival worked to his advantage. It would place it on the flank of the oncoming Mahdist army. Should the enemy chose to attack the town, the Hussars could attack his flank and rear. Should the enemy commander divert part of his force to drive off the Hussars, it would weaken him. Stewart trusted the Colonel to know his business and handle his regiment accordingly, but a heliograph message conveyed his orders just in case.

To the east the Egyptian Gendarmerie faced the oncoming Mahdist army. Their comrades of the Bengal Lancers attacked and pinned the enemy's cavalry wing, throwing it into confusion and delaying their deployment.

Meanwhile the steamboats closed with the town. Stewart eyed their progress and considered they might reach Abu Hamad and disembark the infantry before the Mahdist army was in reach to interfere. Then a groan went up from the men. One of the steamboats had contrived to go aground on a mud bank. Her stern swung as the paddles thrashed the water helplessly.

Thankfully the combined fire from his brigade and the Khedive had driven the defenders away from the zareba guarding the north beach. Stewart ordered his men to move into the town as the Khedive and the other steamboats headed for the shore.



The Khedive moored up, and her Naval Brigade contingent went ashore with alacrity. They made for the nearest two buildings, securing both and taking up positions at window and rooftop. They eyed the undecided mob of Mahdists, who milled in an open area some little distance away. A shell from the Khedive's aft gun persuaded them to go elsewhere.

The beachhead in Abu Hamad became a scene of frenetic activity as the British troops sought to establish a defensive perimeter. Brigadier General Stewart resisted the temptation to manage every aspect of the arrangements, leaving that to his subordinates as he pondered what best to do in the circumstances. A cheer announced the steamboat's freeing herself from the glutinous mud. She now made best speed to join her sisters along the waterfront, but another groan went up as the second steamboat succeeded in grounding within yards of the shore.

Emir ibn Yusuf led his fierce warriors closer to the town, intending to cut off the infidel's retreat. Messengers ran to and from the town or shouted from the battlements informing him of developments. ibn Yusuf stroked his beard and considered the situation. With Allah's blessing he had caught the infidel before he could secure a defence. He would slaughter them until the Nile ran red with their blood, which would flow downstream to tell the British and their Egyptian lackeys that the Sudan belonged to Allah and the Mahdi.
 

General Stewart ordered his defence as best he could, although the situation did not look promising. Some of the newly arrived Royal Irish Regiment he deployed along the palm tree-lined levee in case the Mahdists attempted to force the breach in the wall.  The RA 12 pdr and a Gatling gun lined up behind the zareba to lend fire support for the battered companies of the Camel Corps. C company Stewart sent to the battlements, ready to fire down into the enemy should he storm the defences. Long range sniping from enemy riflemen failed to make much impression as the company commanders ordered the men to stay below the parapets until needed.

Out on the river some of the stranded steamboat's crew went over the side onto the mud bank. After a few minutes pushing and shoving they succeeded in freeing her from the mud.


Having disembarked her Naval Brigade, Khedive moves upriver a short way to cover the town.
The 19th Hussars succeeded in drawing off the enemy cavalry wing. Emir ibn Yakub sent orders to his cavalry not to pursue, and had his camelry turn about to guard against another attack from the Egyptian gendarmerie. He intended to force the gap in the northern defences as the garrison of Abu Hamad attacked the infidel from within the walls. Given the small number of enemy reported ashore, he felt confident Allah would allow him victory.

At this moment the second steamboat freed herself and headed for shore. Secure in the houses near the waterfront the Naval Brigade watched as the Mahdist garrison gathered in among the streets and houses. Were they planning an attack? 


Unable to see any potential targets within the walls, Khedive obeyed a signal from General Stewart desiring her to move downstream to provide fire support against the enemy army now gathered in the millet fields. Two hundred or so of the enemy broke off from the main force to investigate the camel park. Stewart sighed. The animals were as good as lost, but then, there were few riders left for them anyway. He felt the crisis was drawing near.


A high pitched wail followed by a wild roar announced the onset of the Mahdist attack. Stewart had finally decided to place two fresh companies of infantry from the Royal Irish Regiment at the zareba. As the enemy advanced, the RA 12 pdr, Khedive and the Gatling gun opened fire. The Gatling spat bullets - then jammed on the sixteenth round. 12 pdr canister and a double volley from the infantry lashed the enemy but on they came. Soon the line of the zareba surged with vicious hand to hand fighting. Pack animal handlers and artillery limber crews fled to the dubious safety of the rear. Aboard the steamboats nudging the beach the crews watched the unfolding melee nervously. 

In the town a sizable force of Mahdists gathered near the mosque. The Naval Brigade watched and waited for the enemy to decide what he would do.


The pressure on the British line became unbearable. Although the gun crews fought heroically they soon fell under the spears and swords of the enemy. The Royal Irish buckled under the onslaught. One company was destroyed outright. Only C company of the Camel Corps' fire into the mass of enemy surging below the battlements enabled the Irishmen to hold on.

General Stewart watches with concern as his troops buckle under the onslaught.
The steamboats began to shove off 'lest they fall to the Mahdists. Drawing his revolver Stewart and his HQ party made for the rear of the two companies of Royal Irish only recently disembarked from the vessels. On the river Khedive's paddles thrashed the water to stem the flow as she traded shots with the Mahdist artillery. As the last of their fellows died and the infantry fell back, the two screw guns and Gatling lining the levee turned about and blasted the oncoming enemy with canister and bullet. Rifle fire erupted from the nearby buildings as the Naval Brigade dealt with the remnants of the Mahdist garrison.

Safe behind the stalwart Irishmen, General Stewart watched the unfolding scene-and felt his heart rise. Struck hard by gunfire the enemy fell by the score. The survivors hesitated...

...then reluctantly fell back across the tattered zareba. Stewart could see his opponent gesticulating furiously at his men in an attempt to hold them to his aim, but it was not to be. Faced with increasing exposure to the deadly British guns, the Emir fell back with his men.

Khedive continued to exchange shots with the enemy artillery, destroying one gun at the cost of a direct hit near her bridge. The enemy artillery fell silent as their fellows streamed back from the failed attack. Khedive fired upon the mass, driving them into a faster retreat.

A near miss and a hit on the Khedive.
With the enemy in retreat, General Stewart ordered the Royal Irish to advance. Safe from the threat, the steamboat crews edged their vessels up to the shore. Their crew looked at the slaughter and wondered if any prize was worth such a cost. Would General Stewart stay, or order reembarkation?

The Naval Brigade divided, one half heading to support the army, the other fanning out through the town to winkle out the last of the garrison. Stewart reholstered his revolver. His men had fought and won-but at a terrible cost. He looked at the blood-soaked sand and the bodies of the fallen along and across the zareba. The fallen would be buried, and in a matter of months the Nile would rise with the spring flood and wash away the blood. As Stewart gave his orders he wished time would be as effective as the Nile in washing away the memories of this blood soaked day.


And so ends the Battle of Abu Hamad. Thoughts on the action to follow in a day or so.

Monday, August 5, 2019

The Battle of Abu Hamad - part one


With General Gordon to save and time pressing, General Sir Garnet Wolseley has let slip the Flying Column under the command of Brigadier-General Sir Herbert Stewart. His brief is to cross the bight of desert formed by a westerly curve of the Nile and to take the riverside town of Abu Hamad. Under his command is the Mounted Infantry battalion of the Camel Corps, the 19th Hussars, Bengal Lancers and Egyptian gendarmerie, plus attached artillery. Aiding him is a Nile flotilla composed of the Gunboat Khedive bearing a company of the Naval Brigade, along with three commercial steamboats pressed into service as transports for six companies of infantry.

The flotilla has encountered shoals and other hazards along the course of the river, which is now falling to her slow, sleepy summer level. Although this has delayed the boats, it has also exposed a stretch of open shoreline between the fixed defences of Abu Hamad and the river.

Abu Hamad, asleep and apparently empty. An incomplete Mahdist fort guards the southern beach, a zareba the north.

General Stewart entered the field of battle confident that he could force the extemporised defences filling this gap and get his men into the town before the Mahdist forces in the area could consolidate. Since the 19th Hussars failed to make an appearance (random 2d6 roll - delayed for ten turns - ouch) Stewart sent the Bengal Lancers and Gendarmerie out to cover his left flank.


Of immediate concern was a Mahdist fort built on the newly exposed beach covering the northern river approach to the town. An artillery piece and an indeterminate number of enemy infantry were seen within, but the latter, intimidated by the oncoming army, left the fort and melted away into the rising heat haze, never to be seen again. Left to their own devices the artillery crew manhandled their piece out of the fort and back to the zareba covering the riverside gap. The cavalry reported small parties of enemy infantry in the vicinity to the east, but these remained at a distance and posed no immediate threat.

The Flying Column approaches the abandoned fort.

Closer to the town, and the walls soon began to bristle with defenders. Stewart dismounted A and B companies of the Camel Corps and formed them up ready to storm the gap. His artillery came up and went into battery to the left, ready to pound the walls-but what's that approaching to the south east of town?


The Mahdist gun crew positioned their piece behind the zareba and opened fire upon the British. They succeeded in hitting... Africa, but not much else. However, at this juncture matters took a turn for the worse for Stewart and his brigade. Away to the south east a sizable host of Ansar appeared out of the heat haze. The Mahdist army controlling the vicinity had arrived.


Emir Ahmed ibn Yakub had intended to take his army to confront General Graham's successful army coming west from the Red Sea Littoral province. Graham's defeat of Usman Digna had exposed the whole eastern flank of the uprising and ibn Yakub hoped to contain the damage before Graham reached the Nile. However, word of Stewart's Flying Column alerted him to a much more immediate threat.

Faced with an oncoming horde he had little hope of defeating in open battle, Stewart's task become more urgent. His artillery and the Khedive opened on the walls of Abu Hamad, but their shot went over. Stewart suppressed a curse. His gunners would have to do much better than that...

A and B companies of the Camel Corps approached the zareba, taking some fire from the walls and the gun. They stopped to blast the defences with a double volley, shredding the Mahdists sheltering there before charging in with the bayonet.

Battle on the beach. The Camel Corps prepares to charge. Shell bursts bloom behind the enemy ramparts.

Downriver, the transports come up, travelling at slow speed to avoid grounding in the falling water levels. An urgent signal from Khedive impels them to increase the pace regardless of danger.


The fighting across the zareba swung to and fro. At first the British infantry got the better of their opponents, wiping out the hapless gun crew and over a hundred Mahdist warriors. Then the fighting swung back, and soon it was Tommy Atkins feeling the pressure.


Away to the flank, the cavalry had speedily dealt with a hundred or so enemy marksmen. The Bengal Lancers blooded themselves for the first time in the campaign here, aided by the stalwart Egyptian gendarmerie. A devastating barrage from the guns cleared the ramparts of enemy marksmen and brought down a large section of wall. Out on the river Khedive was unable to provide fire support now the fighting had closed to melee, so she swung towards the bank, ready to send her contingent of the Naval Brigade ashore to aid the army.


Close to the action General Stewart looked on anxiously as his troops fell back under pressure from the Mahdist warriors. Off in the distance the gendarmerie and Bengal Lancers rode down two contingents of warriors - but now they faced the oncoming might of the Mahdist Emir ibn Yakub. A clash is coming, one that could well see the destruction of the Imperial cavalry as they prepare to sell their lives dearly to buy time for the Flying Column.



Has General Stewart bitten off more than he can chew? Will the cavalry's sacrifice be enough? Can the Naval Brigade get ashore in time to help their soldier comrades? Tune in for the next episode of - the Battle of Abu Hamad.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

The Small Bang Theory


Who doesn't like a nice model of an explosion? I certainly do, but I rather lacked anything of the kind in my collection. Small blobs of cotton wool look less than appealing for anything but a smoke barrage, so I made a set of shell bursts for gaming.

Mahdist warriors find themselves in the middle of a bombardment worthy of the Western Front.
I made them using an amalgam of Spackle filler, PVA, black craft paint and used dried tea leaves. Mix the PVA and filler at roughly 50-50 ratio, add a blob of black paint and a drop of water, work the tea leaves into the mess until it turns clumpy. Set aside and allow to dry (which didn't take long in this heat). Once dry, glue clumps of the material together using a smidge more PVA, forming the distinctive arbitrary shapes of shell bursts. Once dry, glue to a base of choice and touch up with more paint if needed. I let some of the natural tea brown colour show since it looks like clods of pulverised earth thrown up by the explosion. Work up ground cover to suit your terrain. Repeat if desired.

They work nicely for most scales. In 1/300 they're a sizable shell burst. In N-scale/10mm they make a small shell burst or a mortar bomb explosion. 

Those rotters of the BUF find themselves in the middle of drastic landscape rearrangement.
I hope - with luck and a following wind - to game the Battle of Abu Hamad tomorrow. Fingers crossed...

Monday, July 29, 2019

Sights of Old Salem


Nah, I don't think I'm going to do another 777 miles/13 hour drive again. When I move my head my neck cracks like a bunch of celery being twisted and my bottom feels like tenderised steak. The standard of driving in Salem leaves a lot to be desired too. A friend of ours at the convention was out sightseeing when she witnessed a road rage incident that left three cars totalled in the middle of town. Still, the conference was a success, and I managed to find a bit of time seeing the sights of Salem, MA with my wife.

Salem's road system is a nightmare to negotiate, especially since it's rife with one-way roads, and street name signs are lacking in vital places. We got lost, which took up time so we weren't able to visit the maritime museum or board the replica Indiaman Friendship of Salem. I was able to take a few snaps of her alongside the wharf, and my wife took one of a huge model of her in the visitors centre in town. 
This wharf once thronged with tall ships loading and unloading cargo. Now Friendship sits looking rather forlorn in a deserted dock.
Friendship was restored recently by a shipwright of the town, but her masts have yet to be stepped. They're lying in a cordoned off area by the wharf. It's interesting to see details of their construction, when normally they'd be far above head level.



The superb model of the Friendship and adjacent historic wharf buildings in the visitors centre.
The original vessel was built in 1797 and made fifteen voyages around the world before being captured by HMS Rosamund during the War of 1812.

Now I'm home, I hope to play the Battle of Abu Hamad soon.




Thursday, July 25, 2019

A slight change of plan...


I was asked on short notice to cover a political convention in Salem, Massachusetts, which involved a long drive. The first day here was enlivened - if that's the right word - by an active shooter alert on the campus. Everyone stayed away from the windows and a police helicopter hovered overhead for a while. Thankfully it turned out to be a false alarm, but of course these days there's no such thing as being too careful.

Hopefully I'll find time to visit the nearby Maritime Museum in the next couple of days. It's reckoned one of the best in the country.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Before the game - The Battle of Abu Hamad



Things have been quiet in the un-air conditioned gaming room lately, not least because the extreme heat currently inflicting this area makes the place nearly uninhabitable. Luckily, although the temperatures are appropriately approaching that of the Sudan, it hasn't stopped me figuring out some details for the planned Abu Hamad game.

First off, whilst General Wolseley was a great organiser he wasn't a patch on his successor, Lord Kitchener. There's scope for the friction of war to appear in the 1885 Sudan campaign. Would the Imperial forces dispatched to the Nile-side town arrive on time? To decide this weighty matter I rolled an average die (remember them?).

A score of 2 meant the army mobile column was delayed 1-3 days in the desert somewhere between Abu Simel and Abu Hamad. The riverine force would attempt to take the town as best it could using landing parties covered by gunfire support. Huzzah!

A score of 3 meant that the army would arrive first with the rum-soaked matelots of the riverine force showing up a tardy 1d10 moves later.

A score of 4 meant the riverine force would show up on time and those lazy landlubbers of the army would arrive 1d10 moves later.

A score of 5 meant the riverine mission had been delayed 1-3 days somewhere along the river. The army mobile column would arrive first, fighting on its own as best it could to take the town. Play up, play up, and play the game...

The die was cast and... came up 3. To use the racing parlance of the time, "Tommy Atkins, mounted on Too Late by Verbosity," would attempt feats of derring-do against the Walls of Abu Hamad. A d10 roll gave a 6, so that many moves must pass before the Navy chugs into view.

Now, the temperatures are supposed to drop somewhat this coming few days, so I hope to reclaim the gaming room from the sauna-like conditions and fight out the battle. Stay tuned...


Wednesday, July 10, 2019

A little oasis


One thing every desert should have is an oasis. A watering hole for people and beasts of burden alike. They make great objectives for games and, under the Sands of the Sudan rules, oases also harbour potential ambushers. Having a bit of spare time this weekend I made one for the Sudan campaign.

Bengal Lancers approach the oasis.


The urban buildings are more or less done, if a little bland looking. I'll do some more research and see where I can put some colour to make them stand out a bit.

Since I now have everything I need for the Abu Hamad game, I might be able to fight it out this weekend. Watch this space...

Friday, July 5, 2019

Urban development


It's been a while since I posted. The gardening has kept me busy, plus a tooth infection followed by dental surgery really did a number on me these past few weeks. Ho hum. At least I'm able to press on with Sudan developments.

I made a couple of buildings for the urban area in the upcoming game set in and around Abu Hamad on the Nile. The spackle work is done, just need to paint in the windows and doors.


The taller building at the back will be shops and apartments. The lower ones with the courtyards are apparently typical of Abu Hamad. I'm tempted to put some greenery in the courtyards, and perhaps a palm tree. 

I also finished the Bengal Lancers, so they're ready to take their place in the Imperial army. The photo is a bit blurry, but it shows what's what.


In the Ooh shiny! category, we have yet another area of wargaming temptation, to whit the Great War Middle East, Palestine and Mesopotamia. For this I place the blame on David Fromkin's book "A Peace to end all peace" - that and Pendraken Miniatures excellent Middle East range. Fromkin's work gives a general view on the background to the theatre and the aftermath that rumbled on into 1922, all of which offer plenty of 'what if...' scenarios. Too Fat Lardies have their If the Lord Spares Us rules for the Middle East, and from the game reports I've read seem to give a good feel for the period.

We'll see.
 

home page uniques
Fishing Rods