Sunday, March 31, 2019

Battle of Haiya - conclusion

Major General Graham has every confidence his troops can take the Hadendowah capital, but he knows speed is of the essence. He orders the column to advance over the low hill to the east of Haiya, the artillery to come into battery ready to fire down upon the town defences. The Grenadier Guards deploy out to the right flank, supported by the KOSLI. A sizable force of Mahdists under Usman Digna observe the maneuvers from the hills to the south of the town.

Meanwhile, to the column's rear, the Egyptian contingent squares off against a body of Hadendowah. Graham has detached the 19th Hussars to give the Egyptians support if required. 

In the town itself the Mahdist defenders watch and wait from behind the zareba. The steady advance of the Imperial forces is causing some consternation amongst their numbers but they are determined to defend their town. 

The Mahdists chance their arm and attack the Egyptians, only to be countered by the lancers. The company at the top of the image is watching another sizable body of enemy to the northwest.

And then everything changes.

The main Hadendowah army appears out of the heat haze to the northeast. It seems those warriors lurking to the northwest were but an advance guard of a much larger host. That gentleman atop the hill south of Haiya isn't Usman Digna, but one of his lieutenants in disguise. And as the Egyptian troops watch in horror, yet more enemy warriors appear.

Graham now realises he's been hoodwinked. Now he's caught between two fires. Taking Haiya has become a matter of great urgency. As if that's not enough, the pseudo-Usman gives an order and his host descends upon the Imperial force. Luckily for Graham they've chosen to tangle with a dangerous foe - the Grenadier Guards. A rolling volley all along the line puts paid to the Mahdist attack on the Guards, but some pass their flank to plunge into the Gordon Highlanders.

To his rear the Egyptian contingent attempt to put as much distance as they can between themselves and the oncoming horde. Perhaps the rough ground will break-up the mass of Hadendowah, allowing time for Egyptian musketry to do its work...

...and it does, up to a point. The mass of Hadendowah begins to break apart as they lose cohesion. Unfortunately their cavalry catches up with the Egyptian infantry, and the struggle is on.

To the right of Graham's column the Jocks and the KOSLI between them put paid to the Mahdist attack, but at some cost to the doughty Scotsmen. The artillery has come into battery on the hill and commences counter-battery fire over the heads of the advancing infantry. The Mahdist gunners begin to suffer under the plunging shells, but maintain their own fire against the oncoming infidel. The Gordons are hard hit, but march to their front.

Closer, and closer the British line draws nearer to Haiya. Graham's orders are succinct - "Give them one volley, lads - then go in with the bayonet!"

Away to the east the Egyptians put up a stalwart fight, but the result is inevitable. The Hadendowah take some casualties then overwhelm their hated foe. Now Usman Digna's army mills around, looting and pillaging the dead. Only a small contingent of Egyptian infantry has escaped the massacre and is marching like hell to find safety with the British column. Usman Digna allows his men a brief respite, but he doesn't like the look of the 5th Lancers up on the hill, nor the Amarar camelry to his front.

And he's right to be concerned. The Irishmen of the 5th Lancers are still smarting over the massacre of their comrades in A and B squadrons before Gebeit. General Graham ordered the regiment to screen the artillery whilst it worked over the defences of Haiya, but a loose interpretation of the order could mean 'prevent the enemy from advancing on our guns.' The rising triples sound their call and the Lancers plunge down the hill and into the Hadendowah, followed immediately by the Amarar camels. Away to the south the single troop of the 19th Hussars rides around the enemy, having burst through his cavalry to make their own contribution to the battle.

The lancers and camel riders between them do deadly work. Stunned by the attack the Hadendowah are pinned in place. The lancers and camelry burst through their enemy and ride out the other side and to safety.

At the main attack on the town, five rounds rapid from each company flays the Mahdist defences, leaving it weakened and reeling. The attack goes in with the bayonet...

The Ansar cavalry to the south of the town eye the oncoming Guardsmen and decide they have no desire to die for the Hadendowah town, and so they withdraw. A fierce struggle breaks out all along the line of the zareba as stalwart Scot and doughty Englishman come to blows with the brave Hadendowah. Casualties are almost equal, but enough is enough for the tribal defenders. With their army still occupied beyond the hill they have no hope of holding out against the mass of British troops. They reluctantly cede the ground and withdraw into the town, leaving the British in possession of the zareba.

Mahdists in the millet fields.
With the defenders driven off, Graham detaches a number of companies to clear the town then organises his own defence against the main Hadendowah army.

The Grenadier Guards take position on the hill. The rest of the force lines the zareba, infantry interspersed with artillery, and await the Hadendowah army. It's not long in coming...

The artillery opens up as soon as the horde comes within range. Out on the flank the Guards prepare to deliver volleys into the flank of the Hadendowahs as they pass. It'll be long range, but against such numbers every little will help.

The Mahdists sweep down from the hill, with Usman Digna watching from the height. All along the line the British infanrty begins to fire, the volleys rolling by platoon. The guns crash out, sending shells screaming into the mass of enemy. With such a target they cannot miss. The Gatlings strike up their own rhythm, but the one by the Guards stutters and jams after firing eighteen rounds. The gunners curse and set about clearing the jam, but they might be too late to contribute anything more to the defence

But they're not needed. The volley fire and artillery are enough to slow, then stop the onrushing Hadendowah. Usman Digna sees the British defence is too strong for his warriors to take. The town is lost and any further attack will weaken his army still further. Reluctantly he gives the order to withdraw. With scowling faces and shouted curses the Hadendowah slip away. All along the Zareba Tommy Atkins wipes the sweat from his face, slaps his comrades on the shoulder then takes a long pull on his water flask to swill away the taste of powder.

Graham rides into the conquered town and feels satisfied by the day's events. Haiya is in British hands; the Hadendowah army in the area is weakened. Perhaps the Red Sea Littoral Province will fall quiet now, necessitating no more than a garrison or two in strategic places to hold the line of communications whilst the column heads for the Nile. For now it's time for rest and a brew-up.
* * * *
And so ends the Battle of Haiya. I'll post some thoughts on the affair at a later date.


Michael Awdry said...

Wonderful stuff A.J. great to see the collection out in force.

A J said...

Thanks, Michael! It was nice to get the collection out on the tabletop after it had languished in storage so many years. :)


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