Thursday, December 26, 2019

Boxing Day

'tis the Feast of Stephen! I hope everyone had a nice Christmas/Hanukah/Solstice, however you celebrate the season. I'm the cook in the family so I was busy preparing the Christmas dinner yesterday morning. My wife and I decided to buy our gifts for each other from local artists. I was given this nice little pottery flask, just right for a nip of something potable.

Gaming may resume this weekend, with the last raid of the season for the newly-minted Saxon Warlord Ebba and his men.

In the meantime I'm contemplating starting a model railway/road blog. It's interesting to note how many wargamers also have a model railway layout or are planning one. I'm in the track planning stage, having decided to go with HO scale. At the moment I'm thinking in terms of a simple oval with a spur line running off to serve an industry of some kind. For Steve-the-Wargamer in particular, here's a photo of some of my stuff so far.

The locomotive is of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe line. The general store was a charity shop find. Apparently it was part of a collector series from the movie Sarah, Plain and Tall, but it works perfectly for HO scale. Alongside it is a scratch-built meeting hut. The track needs cleaning. Months in cold storage during our house move didn't do it much good.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Merry Christmas!

A Merry Christmas to one and all!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Normandy '44: D-Day and the Battle for France, by James Holland.

I've just finished this book, which I borrowed from our local library when I saw it on the shelf. Holland states from the get-go that it's not a comprehensive review of the campaign, since it would take far too large a number of volumes to cover. Even so, he's done a pretty good job of covering the campaign in considerable detail. Some of the detail is graphic, since the Normandy campaign saw bitter fighting, so caution is advised if letting younger readers have access to the book.

It includes accounts of several episodes I didn't know about, or in scant detail. A number of the actions would translate very well for WW2 rules such as Chain of Command or I Ain't Been Shot, Mum. There are a couple of small errors in the text, which is down to an American not having quite the grasp of British culture. Two of the photographs are mislabeled. One of a British 5.5 inch howitzer is described as a 155mm gun, and King Tigers are incorrectly identified as Panthers. Working in the writing/publishing industry as I do, it's quite possible the fault for these latter mislabeling isn't down to the author but rather the publisher's research staff.

Gaming-wise, I'm in something of a lull. I find my interest in wargaming has waned lately, although I still like to read books and visit the various hobby blogs and websites. Nowadays I feel more involved in setting up my model railroad layout than getting figures on the table. I might play the next Dux Britanniarum game sometime over Xmas. We'll see.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Bracken Hill ~ post game

Bracken Hill had more than a degree of friction in the game; perhaps a bit too much to be quite enjoyable. Even so, the game added to the campaign narrative.

The fighting bogged down to a slogging match in a confined space as Ebba uncharacteristically forewent maneuvers and tried to bull his way through the Romano-British. The home team proved to be too stubborn for that, however, having had enough of the Saxons' deprivations. Gaius Menusius had also found some tactical nous in the down time since the last raid and deployed his levy to good effect. Result - Ebba withdrew unpursued to lick his wounds, leaving the field to the Romano-British along with a Beggar's Bowl of loot - the first time they've picked up any kind of wealth.

The Romano-British win meant the Saxon siege of Durobrivae was lifted, rendering the province safe at least for the rest of the year 472AD.* Ebba won't be able to contest for the province again since there won't be sufficient time before winter to try again.  

In terms of casualties it was a Pyrrhic victory for the Romano-British. They came off worse by suffering heavy casualties to the Saxons' moderate losses. Ebba can recover sooner than they, and stage another raid come October - the last month in the campaigning season. The Romano-British will still be down a significant number of men. They lack the wealth to raise mercenaries and Gaius Menusius lacks the status to build watchtowers to warn against Saxon incursions.

So, what happens next? Ebba's taken care of the annual tribute he has to pay his king back home, so that's out of the way. He will raid again in October in search of more loot confident the Romano-British lack the strength to put up much of a fight. With more wealth he'll be in a good position to contest for Durobrivae next year, when the new campaigning season opens in March 473AD. On the other side of the hill, the Romano-British can attempt to stop the raid, even at the risk of taking more casualties, because they'll have the winter months to recoup their losses.

A roll of the die turns up Raid Scenario #1 ~ Raid on a Church. Ebba has his eye on a potentially lucrative target. The Romano-British will attempt to stop him cold before he can perpetrate such sacrilege on a holy site.

*According to the Dux Britanniarum rule book the Saxons should attack the province of Caer Lind Colun first, in 472AD. I feel given the extensive waterways that radiated off the Wash at that time, seaborne raiders like the Saxons and later Vikings would've used them to penetrate deep into Durobrivae.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Battle of Bracken Hill ~ Dux Brit game report.

The two armies met close by a hill covered in bracken, a landmark for miles around. Ebba thought he had the whole province sewed up, but Gaius Menusius stole a march on him. As the early morning mists cleared, Ebba saw his opponent was closer than expected.

A cattle pen, a shallow, swampy pond and rocky outcrops restrict the field of battle
Gaius Menusius appealed to God for favour, and his piety had an immediate effect on his men. Determined to oppose these Saxon dogs who’d come to despoil their land, the blessing added stiffness to their backbones. They gripped sword, spear and shield and moved into position directed by their leaders.

Ebba found it difficult to maneuver well in the confined space. Although he had some idea of sending a group of warriors around through the woods to hit his enemy’s right flank, in the event he lost patience and took his hearth guard to the fore. On the Romano-British side, Gaius Menusius anchors his force on the wood and the pond. Levy commander Lord Barriventus has a rush of blood to his head and decides to attempt a fancy outflanking maneuver. Leading his levy into the rocky area he soon finds the going tougher than expected.

Ebba's not unduly concerned with the antics of the levy, but he's uncharacteristically impatient. Forming up his hearth guard he charges straight into the Romano-British warriors.

Faced with difficult terrain on each left flank the Saxons and Romano-British find their plans stymied.
At first the fight went well. Romano-British warriors fell under Ebba's attack, but their accursed shield wall held firm and he was repelled. The movement of the enemy’s levy to his right flank caused him increasing concern since they appeared to be finding a path through the rocks, but he felt one more good push would break the shield wall and render the levy's attempt irrelevant.

As his men charged in for another attempt Ebba recognised a familiar face moving to the front rank of the Romano-British warriors. Cynbel the Magnificent! He’d been a sorry if defiant sight when Ebba had captured and ransomed him two months earlier. Now it seemed he was out for revenge.

Petrified by the closeness of the nasty Saxons, the Romano-British archers fail to hit anything.
And Cynbel got it. Fighting hard in the front rank he held back the Saxon hearth guard then repulsed them.

Shock and casualties accumulate, especially on the Romano-British side, but they hold firm-for now.

Again Ebba sent his men into the attack, determined to break them once and for all. More Romano-British warriors fell, but again they held firm. The despised levy charged in on Ebba's flank, and this time Ebba felt the battle beginning to slip away from him. So apparently did Oeric the Insane. Living up to his nickname the young lord frothed at the mouth and hurled himself into the fray. He met Cynbel the Magnificent head-on—and died beneath his sword. Oeglath, Ebba’s Champion stepped into the way of an attacker and he too met his death by a spear thrust under his ribs.The mighty man fell like a stricken oak.

Suddenly Ebba found himself in the front line and fighting for his life. He held off one opponent but the other found a gap in Ebba’s armour and slashed open his forearm. Ebba gritted his teeth and fell back into the safe mass of his hearth guard. Bested by a poxed levy-man, by Thunir! The embarrassment of it.

The stuffing went out of the hearth guard then. With his warriors unable to deploy effectively because of the cramped area, Ebba withdrew from the field. He calculated that his enemy had lost more men, meaning he’d be vulnerable to raiding before Autumn and the close of the campaigning season in October. Saving what men he had left became vital. He’d have time to recoup his losses, probably before his opponent could do so, which made another raid in September a possibility. At least he had a beggar’s bowl worth of loot stashed safe in his hall, so tribute to his King was taken care of. Ebba thought he might even find a lord to replace the late demented Oeric. Ebba saluted his foe then walked away. He’d return when he was good and ready.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Lest We Forget

At the going down of the Sun,
And in the Morning,
We Will Remember Them.


Saturday, November 2, 2019

A Game on Sunday?

It's been one of those periods when my time wasn't my own. Late season interior decorating while the weather still held warm enough to vent the house of paint fumes took a lot of time. Putting the garden to bed for the year took up more. I'm still not clear of the weeds yet, but I may have enough time set by to play out the next Dux Britanniarum game tomorrow.

The situation is that after three successful raids Ebba the Saxon feels he's on a roll, and has decided to take the bull by the horns. He will challenge the Romano-British for control of the province of Durobrivae. Gaius Menusius has little choice but to contest Ebba's move.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

More Autumn trees

It looks like the cold germs are having wayyy too much fun rampaging through my system to consider leaving yet, so I'm taking the opportunity to catch up on some light modelling stuff.

My latest batch of Autumn trees need basing, so I made some from corrugated card and cereal box card, sandwiched together. The trees themselves I based on more card then spread spackle around the trunks to stiffen them up. While the spackle was wet I pressed dried tea leaves into it. This has the advantage of coming in the colour of... well, dried leaves, so it doesn't need painting and it looks natural spread under the trees like a leaf fall. I will go over it with a dry brush of yellow and orange to represent a fall of fresh leaves.

Once all's ready I'll glue the tree bases to the large base then fill in the gaps with more spackle and dried leaves, plus a few small stones to represent rocks and boulders.

More to follow.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The Perils of Con Crud

I'm still around, but gaming/modelling has taken a back seat for a bit. House painting took priority while the weather stayed nice, then a long road trip to the excellent Archon SF/Fantasy convention took up last weekend. That's where a dose of the annoying Con Crud (a mixture of all the cold viruses brought by con-goers at no expense) comes in. It's turned into a full-blown cold.

I am gearing up for the next Dux B game - which will be late this month at this rate - along with an interesting early 20th century project with the invaluable help of fellow blogger James. More to come as soon as I rig up the belt-fed Kleenex box...

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Speed bumps in historical movies.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a wargamer in possession of a good knowledge of history will occasionally view an historical movie and yell "Oh, that's not right..!"

So it was with me last night when my wife and I watched the biopic Hemmingway and Gellhorn. It's a good movie and the two leads look uncannily like their principals. Then came the Spanish Civil War and the first 'speed bump.' Ernest Hemmingway was holding court at an hotel in Republican-held Madrid when Martha Gellhorn arrived outside - aboard a Russian IS 2 tank.

Later, during WW2 and a scene where Hemmingway was prowling the Caribbean Sea aboard his fishing boat, looking for U-boats. He wore a kind of jerkin made from a modern US camouflage pattern.

*Head desk.*

All that aside, it is a good movie and worth watching. Just be prepared for the anachronisms. 

Saturday, September 21, 2019

More Autumn trees

Autumn: The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is right. An inordinate amount of my free time has gone towards processing the hundreds of tomatoes our garden produced this year. Home made soup, ketchup, veggie stock - you name it, we're making it. Thankfully we're coming to the end of the harvest. The next phase will be making green tomato chutney from the fruit that won't ripen once the weather turns colder.*


I found a few minutes here and there to expand the number of Autumn trees using the homemade flock. The latest batch is shown below.

The photo's not that great, but it does the job. I'm thinking of making one or two small hills or rocky outcrops with a number of the smaller trees growing on them.

With that done I think I'll take a break from the sands and relentless heat of the Sudan and return to Early Medieval England's green and war-torn land for my Dux Britanniarum campaign.The previous game was played in December, so Saxon Lord Ebba and Romano-British Lord Gaius Uselessness - sorry, Menusius - are due for a revisit.

In campaign terms it's now July 472AD. Ebba has acquired enough loot to attempt the conquest of a province. He's confident after inflicting two serious defeats on his enemy, but for the Romano-British, the third time may be the charm...

* Recipes available upon request!

Friday, September 13, 2019

Autumn trees

My experiment with homemade foam flock worked - after a fashion. I found that with this stuff, a lot goes a little way. The coverage was good, but nowhere near as much as I'd hoped. Still, the result isn't too shabby.

Apart from a few touches of orange and yellow I left the foam in its natural colour. I mounted the trees on one of a batch of old hip-hop CDs I found, using hot glue. The CD I then glued to a slightly larger and irregularly shaped piece of card. A paper-mache mix of spackle/filler, tissue paper and chocolate brown craft paint went on next, spread over and around the tree roots and trunks. Whilst it was still wet I applied a few patches of dried used tea leaves to represent deep drifts of brown leaves. When everything had dried, I painted it a mid green, followed by a lighter green wet-brush then a even lighter yellow dry brush. Since I still have a lot of foam to hand, I'll add a few more to the stock over the next few weeks.

My next project will likely be a circle of standing stones to add a bit of ancient mystery to the Early Medieval English landscape. Another hip hop CD will go towards a better cause...

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Homemade foam flock

In this week's Huh. What Do You Know? It Worked! category, we have homemade foam scenic flock, as prepared in a food blender.

I admit I had doubts when I read about this method of producing cheap and cheerful foam flock. Visions of burned-out blenders danced before my eyes, but since it's my blender, I thought I'd give it a go. We've got wads of foam sheeting left over from our house move, so I took a chunk of that, tore it into pieces about the size of a chestnut, and tossed it into the blender along with a cup full of water. Speeding it up by stages helped. The water carries the foam into the blades, which sliced and diced it into a cornmeal consistency.

Once done I cleaned the blender carefully - I don't want any bits of foam in our food. I'm making 10mm/15mm size trees in Autumn foliage, so I added a few dollops of orange and yellow craft paint to the foam then squeezed it so it absorbed the paint. I could've added the paint at the start, but thought it a step too far where appliances intended for food prep are concerned. Once done, I spread the foam out to dry, which only took three or four hours.

The core of the trees themselves will be teasels. I have a box full of these harvested a couple of years ago. Thistles are considered an invasive species around here, so I'm doing the environment a favour by taking the seed heads out of circulation. I'll use spray adhesive on the teasels, then roll them in the foam. The spikes will hold the foam in place while the glue dries. I'm of two minds whether to paint the trees, or leave them the natural yellow foam colour. I'll post photos of the results, unless they're too unspeakably awful so I'll need to discard the lot and pretend I didn't make them in the first place...

Saturday, August 31, 2019

On Desperate Ground ~ The Chosin Reservoir

Normally I don't pay much attention to post-WW2 military conflicts. Occasionally though, something will come along that piques my interest, and the above book is one of them. Sides' work covers the famous battles around the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea from November 1950 to January 1951. It was where my late father-in-law fought as a young Marine - one of the Chosin Few. He was wounded twice, the second time badly enough to require evacuation, and was awarded two Purple Hearts. Although I never knew him - he died before I met my wife - she says the consequences of that action remained with him for the rest of his days, and he became a lifelong pacifist. When I saw the book in our local library, I picked it up immediately.

The book goes into amazing detail about the campaign, with input from American, North Korean and Chinese sources. The stories of the horrors endured by both sides makes sobering reading. Foxholes had to be dug into the rock and frozen ground using explosives. Temperatures once reached a wind chill factor of -70f. Bodies were used as windbreaks and, on one occasion, ballast for a temporary bridge. The general ineptness of the US high command in the shape of theatre commander General MacArthur and his subordinate General Ned Almond - "Ned the Dread" - has to be read to be believed. The only high ranking officer to come out with an enhanced reputation is the First Marine Division commander, Oliver Prince Smith.

There's a few lighter touches here and there. For instance, the Marines slang term for 60mm mortar rounds was 'Tootsie Rolls.' When a requisition for more mortar munitions was sent to the main base at the port of Hungnam, someone unknowing soul took the request literally and sent thousands of cases of this American confection to the Marines. After first swearing about the mix-up they found the Tootsie Rolls to be incredibly useful, both as a high energy snack in the freezing cold - and as a kind of putty for sealing bullet wounds and bullet-riddled fuel tanks. My wife says her father loved Tootsie Rolls, and was fascinated by the possible reason for his addiction.

All in all, On Desperate Ground is an excellent read. It was published earlier last year when a state of war still officially existed between the combatants. Thankfully that much of the book is now outdated.

Thursday, August 29, 2019


It appears we have an active and industrious spammer at work in the Blogosphere. I took down two of her 'comments' in my previous posts. If anyone sees another, give me a shout on here.

The Sudan campaign will continue when I find time. At the moment my Better Half and I are helping a friend run for the local council, which requires all sorts of work at odd hours. In the meantime I'm working on making a few more autumn trees to add to my existing bunch. Photos as/when I can get to it.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Sudan campaign ~ situation so far

A glance at the theatre map shows the current situation and disposition of forces.

Cataracts and Wolseley and Wild, Wild Warriors.

General Wolseley has had an easy time of it so far. He advanced up the Nile to the town of Kerma without facing much opposition. It seems the population of those areas closest to the Egyptian frontier have yet to decide if they're for the Mahdi or not.

The Nile is daily becoming more of a problem due to falling water levels. In spite of this the three steamboats sent to Abu Hamad have successfully descended the river to rejoin the flotilla with the main army. One boat received minor damage from captured Egyptian guns sited in Mahdist ring forts covering the 4th Cataract below Kirbekan, and is undergoing repair at Kerma.

The steamboats carried copies of Brigadier Stewart's report from the Flying Column as to its progress and the recent battle. Stewart's report did not impress Wolseley, but there's little he can do about the situation.

Sending another flying column to Abu Hamad is out of the question since it will denude his own force of cavalry and mobile infantry. Wolseley intends to continue his march, but is giving careful thought to sending steamboats to Abu Hamad with supplies, ammunition and reinforcements for Stewart. He has one other gunboat, Sultan, which he would prefer to keep with his army. Equally, the steamboats face a tough time of ascending the Nile without an armed escort vessel since the River Arabs are now considered actively hostile. Decisions, decisions...

As for the situation at Abu Hamad the recent battle was, as one correspondent put it, 'brutal.' The Mahdists lost over 2,300 warriors, the Flying Column 910. Such losses put both commanders, Brigadier Stewart and Emir ibn Yusuf, in a quandary. Stewart more or less has to stay put in the town of Abu Hamad and await reinforcements. He has supplies for a couple of weeks, but ammunition is a concern since so much of it was lost along with the Camel Corps' mounts. At least he can act as a threat-in-being, since the mere presence of his brigade threatens Mahdist control of the area should Emir ibn Yusuf withdraw.

Should I stay or should I go?

Emir ibn Yusuf's army suffered enough casualties he can't make a move against a determined defence, neither can he withdraw without the British force seizing control of the area. As the uprising spreads reinforcements are coming in, although recent Imperial victories in the Red Sea Littoral province have mitigated the enthusiasm shown by the local River Arabs and Sudanese for the Mahdi's cause. This has reached the point where new recruits aren't as numerous as ibn Yusuf would like. For now he has dispersed much of his force in the locality so his warriors can forage, but all are within easy recall distance should the Infidel make a move. 

The Emir has decided to take the option of moving SSE to join with the remnants of Usman Digna's army, currently withdrawing from its home territory after the rough handling meted out by Major General Graham's column. Combined, this will give the Mahdists a potent army with which to face Graham's column in battle as it approaches the town of Berber on the Nile. If/when victory is achieved recruitment will pick up, and ibn Yusuf can then return to deal with Stewart's force before British reinforcements arrive. The Emir has enough intelligence of the Infidel Chief's activities he knows this will be a long time yet.

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.


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