Sunday, June 16, 2019

A squadron of Bengal Lancers - almost

These stalwart chaps are by Irregular Miniatures, from their Wars in India range. I bought them many moons ago and they've been in a half-painted state ever since. Now I've brought them over to this side of the Atlantic it's high time they were finished so they can take their rightful place in the Imperial army.

These figures look as dark as this in real life.
They're basically undercoated. I intend to paint them a bit brighter than would be usual with larger scale figures, since wee chaps this size tend to look darker than they should when painted in historical colours. While they're drying I think I'll crack on with a few more Sudanese buildings. Perhaps in a couple of weeks or so I might be able to play out the next game in the campaign. What a concept!

Sunday, June 9, 2019

A Mass of Mahdist Matelots.

So, after a week of not being able to do very much hobby-wise, I took the opportunity this weekend to make the crew and passengers for the four feluccas I made earlier. They probably don't bear too close examination, but en-masse from a distance they look fine.

A bit out of focus - my camera is playing silly buggers - but it's enough to show the rows of figures made from Sculpy. For convenience I made them in rows of threes and fours.

A Mass of Mahdist Matelots push off from the shallows into the deeper waters of the Nile.
Follow the Nile. Deep to much deeper...* Sunrise over the Sudan sees an expedition afloat.
I glued the rows of figures onto the decks of the feluccas in a slightly random pattern, which kinda works. Although a bit fiddly the figures weren't too much of a problem to make, so I may make another batch to crew a Mahdist steamboat. The only things left to do before fighting out the next stage of the Nile campaign is to finish painting a squadron of Bengal Lancers and to make a few houses of a more urban nature for the Nile side town.

* A brownie point to whoever identifies the singer and song title the lyric comes from.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Felucca template

I was asked to share the template I used to create the feluccas in the previous post, so here it is. It can be scaled up if needed.

The feluccas I made are based on 3/8th inch foamcore cut to shape, with cereal packet card for the sides and stern. I used Aileen's glue for the curved lengths of card around the hull, tacking them in place using a hot glue gun to hold them while the stronger Aileen's glue dried. Card can be used for a deck if required. It might also help to use another deck-shape cutout to base the foamcore hull on for added strength. I used a mini-dowel for the mast. Note that with the felucca rig the mast is comparatively short and thick. The diagram shows its location in relation to the yard. The felucca sail is just a triangle with one point cut off. I made mine from stiff paper with the yard being a thin strip of cardboard glued along the upper edge of the sail. It's best to assemble the mast, yard and sail before mounting it on the hull. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Felucca the draw

I couldn't resist the pun. After the weekend I had, I might be excused.

Four feluccas sail by a Mahdist fort guarding the Nile.
One of the issues I have with modelling tends to be mission creep. I build one thing for a campaign or project and that leads to another - then another. In this case I built three steamboats, but then had to make a few of the felucca-rigged boats so characteristic of the Nile. Even now they're done, I'm not. I look at the photo above and think 'I need to add crew and passengers...'

I see Sculpey taking a prominent part in the near future.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

A Trio of Steamboats

Wet and windy weather has curtailed any gardening today, so I pressed on and completed the three Nile steamboats for the Sudan.

Steamboats pass a house by the Nile. They're steaming dangerously close to each other, so they must be in a hurry!
The bases are made of sections cut from clear plastic food packaging. It helps if this stuff is as thick as possible, because the hot glue used to form the bow waves and wakes tends to pull on the plastic, causing it to warp. I had a few issues with this during the basing, but on the whole they came out alright. Use the glue gun to create streaks of raised material to represent waves and troughs. It pays to wait until the glue sets before going over it again around the bows and the wheel boxes to build up the rush of water. Once the last application of glue set I highlighted it using white craft paint. This tends to dry flat, so I shined it up with gloss varnish.

As you can see from the photo the blue material under the steamboat bases shows through, giving the whole a sense of depth.With hindsight I would've made the tail end of the bases a little longer, as the wakes look a bit too truncated for my taste. The final touches will be to put flags on the boats. I'm thinking of using pins and cartridge paper so they can be swapped out to represent different owners.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Steamboats progress

A little more progress on the trio of Nile steamboats...

I think I've got the haphazard plank protection right. They look like scruffy, workaday steamboats that once plied the Nile for civilian purposes but were commandeered into the fight between the British Empire and the Mahdi.

My next move will be to mount them on clear plastic bases with a bit of froth around paddleboxes and waterline. At the moment I'm not sure how to do the flags, but may settle for making removable flags so the boats can change allegiance with little effort. Quite how much effort the contending sides will expend to do the job on the tabletop remains to be seen...

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

I'm a workin' on the steamboats

All the livelong day? Well, not quite, but progress is being made.

One coat of battleship grey undercoat later and perhaps they look a bit too much like pre-Dreadnoughts at anchor off Spithead. I think I've succeeded in getting the snaggletooth appearance of the ad hoc plank protection that made these Nile steamboats so distinctive. They're now ready for the main painting to begin. I'm aiming at a scruffy weathered appearance, so expect lots of dirty whites, faded browns and greys.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Palms, Steamboats and Forts

It's been a while since I posted here, but I 've made some progress in making terrain specific to the Nile theatre in 1885.

The steamboats are a little over halfway towards completion. They're a bit rough and ready, but functional. I need to add the wooden planks to armour them, and do something to represent the paddle wheels.

Reports from British officers and observers at the time of the Nile campaign mention Mahdist forts along the course of the river. Circular in shape with one entrance, they housed one or two Krupp artillery pieces captured from ill-fated Egyptian expeditions. I'd call them redoubts myself, but those on the spot called them forts, so forts they are. Being well protected they posed quite a challenge to the British/Egyptian steamboats passing upriver, so I needed to add those to the Mahdist arsenal. One is complete, the other half-built as was mentioned in some accounts.

And finally, what Nile scene would be complete without a few palm trees? These scratch-built versions are fresh off the painting board.

I may tweak their appearance a little to get a more feathery look, but they'll do for now. I'm not sure whether to leave them on the wooden splints and base them up likewise, or make a more random pattern on circular bases.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

A Batch of Boats

It's curious that, for a relatively modern major military operation along one of the great rivers of the world, little is known about the Nile gunboats used during the 1885 campaign. Some thirty or so steamboats were employed. Even the Mahdists had a few, either captured from the ill-fated Gordon's flotilla or commandeered from civilian operators. One of the former is mentioned as being armed with 'a brass howitzer,' which must've been an antique even then.

What few illustrations there are show gunboats armoured by a rather gimcrack arrangement of wooden beams and planks battened onto the sides and superstructure to give the crew some cover.

They bear little resemblance to the spiffy Nile gunboats used by General Kitchener eleven years later...

Nile gunboat Melik. She and her sisters Sheikh and Sultan were built in 1896 by the Thorneycroft yards at Chiswick, London and transported to Egypt in sections.
I already have a British gunboat, not too far removed from the Melik to look at...

...but now I need a couple of steamboats for troop transports and a Mahdist gunboat and riverboats to provide some opposition. I have the beginnings of three steamboats.

The riverboats will look something like these modern craft since the design hasn't changed for centuries.

Red sails in the sunset...
Along with these I need to make a load of palm trees since these are a feature of the Nile banks, so it'll be a while before I resume the campaign.

Friday, April 5, 2019

From Wadi Halfa to Abu Hamad

My take on this alternate-reality version of the 1885 Sudan campaign is that instead of faffing around with Canadian voyageurs and keel boats, Wolseley got his finger out. He's opted for the speediest approach to rescuing General Gordon - one column under his personal command heading up the Nile, taking short cuts where possible - the second column under General Graham heading for the Nile from the Red Sea Littoral province.

So far Graham has made reasonable progress. In the Battle of Haiya he inflicted over 7,500 casualties on Usman Digna's army for the loss of 3,275 Egyptian troops and 832 British. Although the Imperial casualty list is wince-inducing, Digna's Hadendowah army is a more or less spent force. Intelligence reports he's withdrawing what's left of his army out of reach of the Imperial column, thus ceding the province to Graham. It's suspected Digna may well link up with the main Mahdist army along the Nile, but Graham's in no position to interfere with Digna's plans. He'll rest his men for a day to water up and bury the dead before resuming his march to the town of Atbara on the Nile where, hopefully, he'll link up with the main army.

Now for a look at the main column itself. One glance at the map shows Wolseley has a lot of work ahead of him. It's roughly 175 miles as the vulture flies from his base at Wadi Halfa on the Egyptian frontier to the town of Abu Hamad on the Nile. The Nile itself forms a great bight to the west between the two. Historically this is the route Wolseley took, with his troops and hired voyageurs labouring mightily to shove the mass of boats over shallows and cataracts. In my campaign the gunboats will make the journey, carrying two companies of the Naval Brigade and a contingent of army troops. The main army will attempt to cut across the neck of the bight, but Wolseley decides to send a flying column composed mostly of cavalry and the Camel Corps ahead of him to Abu Hamad. Hopefully their approach will converge with that of the gunboats. Between them they'll attempt to seize the town in a coup de main.

A modern satellite photo of the area. Ignore the modern highways!
Of course, we all know the old adage about plans and reality...

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.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

A Slight Pause

I'm slammed for free time these current weeks, so no gaming for a while. Luckily I have a permanent gaming table so General Graham can cool his heels undisturbed. As he closes on Haiya Graham faces something of a tactical conundrum in his latest encounter with the Mahdists. If he moves directly upon the Mahdist defences he could face a flank attack from Usman Digna's contingent on a low hill to the south of town. If he moves on Digna's force, other strong Mahdist contingents may appear to the British flank or rear when it's in a vulnerable position of maneuver. The wily old ex-slave trader is receiving a flow of reinforcements, as are the Mahdists defending Haiya, so either way Graham can't leave it too long before making a decision.

Digna himself has to stop the Imperial army before it reaches the Nile. He lost nearly 2,000 men in the battle before Gebeit, but he has sufficient reserves to make a credible contest of it.

In the end Graham decides he has only one viable option - he has to neutralise Digna's force before advancing on the town. To that end he deploys the Grenadier Guards and KOSLI, screened by the 5th Lancers. They will advance upon the Mahdist camelry and infantry gathered around the wadi.

To the rear of the British column the Egyptians have got themselves into a fix. The lancer troops failed to charge and intercept the mass of Mahdists before they made contact with the infantry. The Egyptian volleys failed to stop the oncoming horde and now it's hand-to-hand combat. The Egyptians have enough soldiers to absorb the punishment - perhaps - but it may well be a near-run thing.

Meanwhile, In Haiya the Mahdists are assembling quite a strong defensive force. (Under the rules all Mahdist entry points are determined by dice roll. It seems the Dice Gods have a strong tactical instinct...)

More on the game when I get time. The conclusion isn't far off now.

Monday, March 18, 2019

The Battle of Haiya - 1

Having received reinforcements and reordered his column at Gebeit, General Graham resumed his march to the Nile. The Hadendowah town of Haiya sat astride his route of march along the old caravan and slavers' trail from the Nile to the Red Sea. Graham had a hunch the Mahdist commander in the Eastern Sudan, Usman Digna, would make an attempt to defend his tribal capital, and so it proved. With the Imperial square approaching the town, Mahdists began to appear in the vicinity. It seemed the town itself would be stoutly defended...

Mahdist forces array themselves behind the zareba on the eastern edge of town.
Graham ordered his force in two squares, one British, the second Egyptian. Having seen the Egyptian soldiers handle themselves with some competence during the Battle for Gebeit, Graham is reasonably sure they will be able to handle themselves with close support from the main square.

As the senior regiment present the Grenadier Guards take the Right of the Line. The facing front of the square is composed of the Gordon Highlanders and the New South Wales Volunteers. Their left is guarded by the rest of the NSW battalion and the Berkshire Regt. The King's Own Shropshire Light Infantry (KOSLI), splendid in their red coats, bring up the rear. Two companies of the Berkshires form Graham's reserve, and the square is well served by a Gatling, a RA 12 pdr, and two 7 pdr screw guns. The 5th Lancers scout out to the right flank. Graham's immediate cavalry reserve is the 19th Hussars, riding apace with the square to its left.

The Egyptian square comprises four companies of infantry and a Krupp gun. Lancers ride ahead as scouts.

Ahead of the Imperial forces, Mahdists begin to debouch from Haiya. No fewer than three Krupp artillery pieces are in evidence, along with a sizable force of marksmen. Usman Digna doesn't intend to make things easy for the intruders...

An overview of the two armies, as Usman Digna takes up position upon a low hill to observe the oncoming infidels.

The 5th Lancers take up a flanking position opposite the Mahdist camelry. Their Egyptian colleagues perform the same task over on the left flank. Graham now ponders the advisability of halting the squares so he can deploy some, if not all of his artillery.

Halting the square, Graham begins to extend the frontage by deploying the NSW battalion and the Berkshires. First blood of the encounter goes to the Egyptian lancers, who tackle the oncoming Mahdist cavalry. The 19th Hussars await events, ready to charge to exploit victory or cover the Egyptian's retreat, as required.

The square begins to unfurl its power. Bottom right, the Egyptian contingent halts. Something is approaching through the heat haze back along the army's line of march. There's a friendly patrol out there somewhere, but something tells Colonel Efrim Pasha that the enemy are approaching.

And so it proves. A sizable body of Ansar appear, supported by two Krupp guns. This could get serious!

To the front, the Egyptian lancers failed inflict much harm on the Mahdist cavalry and have evaded contact. The 19th Hussars charged in only to find they can't make much headway either. Matters are going much better for the 5th Lancers. Eager to avenge the destruction of their A and B Squadrons at Gebeit the Irishmen tear great holes in the enemy camelry, leaving them staggered and useless. Graham deploys one screw gun, which fires upon the mass of enemy infantry to good effect.

The 5th Lancers return to support of the square, whilst more infantry deploy to face the Mahdists. Usman Digna obviously decides discretion is the better part of valour. His cavalry are still spoiling for a fight, but obey the recall signal. The Mahdists begin to melt away into the heat haze.

The Egyptian infantry redeploy to face the mass of Mahidst ansar approaching from the S-E. The Mahdist artillery deploys and begins to fire upon the KOSLI, causing some casualties. Two KOSLI companies deploy to assist their Egyptian comrades, but something else is in the offing...

Through sheer good fortune the Egyptian patrol appears close by. The troops had seen the ansar earlier and had trailed them towards the squares. Now the lancer squadron deploys, ready to do some damage to the artillery.

They charge in upon the unprepared gunners, former comrades captured by the Mahdists and forced to serve their pieces against their own people. The shackled gunners take refuge beneath their weapons as the lancers deal with the Mahdist guards. It's all over pretty quickly and the guns are recaptured for the Egyptian army. Behind the lancers the infantry marches to join their comrades.

With Usman Digna's force cleared from his front, Graham deploys the infantry and ponders how best to approach the town. Veterans of the Battle of Tel el Kebir during the Arabi Revolt have a feeling of déjà vu as they view the distant defences. That battle ended in victory for the British. Would they pull it off again?

More to follow.


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