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.


Carlo said...

Brilliant commentary and pictures AJ. Perfect Colonial style about it all my dear sir!

Michael Awdry said...

Just brilliant! Can't wait for the second instalment!

A J said...

Thank you, gentlemen! Next and final installment coming soon.


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