Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Sudan: Battle of Gebeit, part two

As the day progressed it was becoming obvious to General Graham that considerable numbers of Mahdists were in the Gebeit area. War bands were appearing all around the compass but mostly to the North, North-East, and South-East. The Grenadiers had dealt with one serious attack. Now another appeared to be shaping up, this time directed against the Egyptian infantry.

An overview of the Imperial column to show who's where. The 15th (Ludhiana) Sikhs are deployed facing a threatening war band to the S-E, with the Australian NSW Battalion's Gatling gun unlimbered between the four companies. The Royal Artillery 12pdr has gone into battery alongside the Sikhs to render long range support. F company, Grenadier Guards has remained to give support to the Egyptian infantry against a threatened Mahdist charge from the N-E.

The Egyptians had shown themselves steady enough so far, but would their new confidence last against this latest threat?

To the South-East, the mass of Hadendowah launch an all-out charge. General Graham orders the Gordon Highlanders into line to support the Sikhs if necessary. The 12pdr rendered good service in fire support, but the Mahdists have come perilously close. Fortunately the Gatling gun doesn't jam and the Sikhs double volleys do the job. Bullets tear into the oncoming enemy. Their attack stalls. With great dignity they turn and walk away.

Not far away the Egyptians succeed in getting off two good volleys, but they're insufficient to stop the Hadendowah. With blood-curdling screams the Mahdists hurl themselves into the fray and the fight is on.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town... A couple of hundred Hadendowah stroll up towards the settlement. The Amarar camelry are surprised to see them and redeploy to keep these unwanted visitors out of town.

A deadly fight ensues between Egyptian infantry and Hadendowah. Historically such combats have never turned out well for the Egyptians, but in this case they win the laurels of victory-at a cost. Their volleys inflicted enough casualties to their hereditary enemy that they were outnumbered in the vicious hand-to-hand fighting. With the aid of A company the enemy are destroyed. F company of the Grenadier Guards looks on with approval.

The column is within sight of Gebeit. South of the town the Hadendowah war band becomes aware the place is occupied by unknown numbers of enemy. Uncertain, they pause to watch and wait.

Having dealt with the Hadendowah threat to the S-E, the column resumes its march. The Gordon Highlanders dispersed a small but threatening war band lurking in the old wadi. Now they form battalion column, eager to reach Gebeit and have a brew-up. Satisfied all is progressing well, General Graham follows on, accompanied by the Royal Artillery and the remnants of the 19th Hussars. In the distance the Sikhs and Egyptians form the rearguard.

Another overview of the column. From top to bottom, the Grenadier Guards, the Berkshire Regiment, the New South Wales Volunteers with General Graham, the guns and the Hussars close by, and the Gordon Highlanders. Top-right are the surviving Egyptian infantry, centre-right the 15th (Ludhiana) Sikhs.

As the sun begins to set the day still has one surprise, in this case a pleasant one. Coming in from the wilderness are two companies of Egyptian infantry and a squadron of lancers. Survivors from a lost garrison, the stalwart askari took their fate into their hands and marched to the sound of the guns. Fortune favours the brave, and they'll be safe in Gebeit with the Imperial column come nightfall. On the steep hill in the distance a sizable band of Hadendowah can do nothing but glower down from the height as their enemy passes by with impunity.

The end of the day, and the Imperial column enters Gebeit. Away in the distance the rearguard keeps watch against any sudden moves by the enemy, but there's little prospect of further action now. The way back to Suakin can be considered clear. Once in town General Graham intends to write his dispatches and send to Suakin for reinforcements - especially cavalry. Then there's the next stage to plan: the advance on the Hadendowah's nominal capital of Haiya.

* * * *
As with all games using these rules, nothing went quite as expected. I'll write up some thoughts on the game and the rules soon.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Sudan: Battle of Gebeit - part one

Major General Graham suspected the Mahdist forces in the Eastern Sudan would not let the passage of his army through their territory go unchallenged, and so it proved. As his column approaches the small town of Gebeit and its vital water supply, Hadendowah and Ansar warriors alike begin to appear all around. Fortunately a signal flashes from a hill above the distant town, showing friendly forces are also at hand.

Friendly Amarar tribesmen look out across the Gebeit valley as their Imperial allies approach in the distance.
With two squadrons of the 5th Lancers and one of the 19th Hussars out scouting ahead, Graham feels confident he will reach and secure Gebeit. 

The lancers soon find trouble. Their first squadron comes under fire from a hundred or so Mahdist marksmen lurking by a rocky outcrop.

In the meantime the Amarar camelry descend from the heights, aiming to reconnoitre the town. Is it as deserted as it appears to be?

As the lancers ride nearer the marksmen, a more worrying vision appears out of heat haze, dust and scrub - some three hundred Ansar cavalry, desert warriors all, riding down upon the infidel. The tough Irishmen grip their lances and apply spurs to their mounts. The squadrons break into a trot. After their long posting in India it's high time they saw real action.

The 'rising tripples' sound and the 1st squadron of Lancers surge forward...

Overview of the cavalry deployment.

Another group of Mahdist marksmen had appeared on the left flank. Now they lurk the other side of a sand filled old wadi, and their sniping fire is causing casualties among the 19th Hussars. Their commanding officer knows he has to do something about the situation before many more saddles are emptied. He orders a charge, but it's slowed by the rocks and soft going.

On the right flank the lancers crash through their opponents, tearing the shocked Mahdists from the saddle. In a brief and vicious melee the lancers burst through the enemy cavalry and career on into the marksmen beyond, taking them utterly by surprise. Pinned in place and disordered, the Mahdist cavalry are sitting ducks for the 2nd squadron.

Marksmen and enemy cavalry alike fall easy prey to the lancers and are wiped out. Blown by the two fierce combats within minutes of each other the 1st squadron sits to recover - but to their dismay somewhere approaching five hundred fierce Hadendowah arrive on the scene...

Meanwhile on the left flank, the hussars have charged in, but the fight is not going their way. The marksmen are putting up an unexpectedly hard fight, and more hussars die in the desert dust.

Over in Gebeit, the Amarar find the town deserted and spread out to occupy the place. A band of Hadendowah watch from a distance.

The 1st squadron Lancers can't avoid combat, but the clash is brief. Realising they can't stand against the enemy the Colonel orders a hasty withdrawal.

The 1st squadron succeeds in pulling out of the fight and joins the 2nd squadron. The Hadendowah are pleased to have driven off the ferenghi horsemen. Now they decide to test matters with the infantry of the column.

But the affair isn't over for the 5th Lancers. As their depleted squadrons cross the front of the Egyptian troops, by a rotten twist of fate another large band of Mahdist horsemen appear close by and directly ahead. Again, the lancers are unable to evade, and the enemy charge in. The fight is quick and merciless. As the last cries die away the two squadrons of the 5th Lancers lie in the dust.

Encouraged by their comrades' success against the infidel, the Hadendowah charge, their terrible war cry ululating across the plain. The Grenadier Guards, bored by the long trek through the desert, perk up and prepare to give them a hot reception.

Up, Guards, and at 'em!
Perhaps it was all a case of mistaken identity. Perhaps the Hadendowah saw the Egyptian troops tagging along behind the guardsmen and took the Grenadiers in their pale and dusty tunics to be more of the same. After all, the Hadendowah were used to running down and obliterating the hapless askari of the Egyptian army, those fellaheen conscripted in chains and sent to a far and hellishly hot place to serve and be forgotten. They had never encountered British soldiers. Perhaps as the Hadendowah charged they wondered why the troops they charged down upon didn't loose off a few frantic shots at long range as usually happened before running for their lives...

The measured volleys crash out as the men from Birdcage Walk earn their pay with disciplined fire at close range. A and F companies didn't bother to so much as level their weapons, instead looking on with interest as their colleagues did the brutal business of war.

Brave to a fault, the Hadendowah die to a man beneath the rifles of the Grenadier Guards. As the powder smoke fades in the desert breeze, it's plain the threat is no more.

"Bloody hell!" A shocked voice from the nearby Egyptian company breaks the silence as an officer tries out his English language skills.

General Graham stationed the Egyptians to the rear of the Guards battalion to stiffen their morale, and the Grenadiers showed a rough, soldierly sympathy for the Egyptian troops. Now the recent demonstration showing the dreaded Mahdists could not only be beaten but annihilated gives the askari new resolve-and they will need it. Attracted by the firing, further enemy appear out of haze and scrub.

The two companies of the 1st Egyptian battalion level their Remington rifles and, with two quite decent volleys, succeed in killing most of the enemy cavalry and driving away the survivors. Now they await the advance of the enemy infantry...

As usual with that arm of service, once in battle the British cavalry displayed more enthusiasm than is wise. General Graham has lost most of his cavalry force, and has yet to reach Gebeit. What adventures lie in wait for the column as it nears its destination? All will be revealed soon...

Sunday, January 27, 2019

On the road to Atbara

The Red Sea column under Major General Graham marched out of Suakin two days previously. It's en-route to the Nile town of Atbara where, depending on circumstances, it will either link up with the Nile column under General Wolseley, or head directly for Khartoum and the rescue of General Gordon.

So far the march has passed without incident. The local tribe, the Hadendowah, has stayed out of range, content it seems to shadow the forces of Empire as they progress. Confronted with a fork in the caravan trail Graham had a choice to make. The first, northerly route leads through the small town of Gebeit, which has the advantage of offering a water supply. The southern is perhaps more direct but offers little in the way of water. Both lead to the Hadendowah's nominal capital of Sinkat.

Mindful of the scarcity of water in this arid region, Graham consulted with Captain DeCosson, his Water Officer, about the state of supplies, then chose the Gebeit track.

The column now approaches Gebeit, and the first signs of opposition begin to appear. Graham orders the column into square, ready to receive whatever mischief the enemy may offer...

Battle is joined. Reports to follow.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Prospect of a Sudan game

Perhaps the most important part of the solo Sudan rules I use are the encounter cards and reaction tables, both of which govern the Mahdist forces on the table. They determine where the Mahdists will appear, and what they do when they arrive. It's entirely random, but as I've mentioned before it gives the Mahdists a curious degree of intelligence which can prove tricky - and often fatal - for the Imperial player to deal with. I've had games where 90% of the Mahdists have walked on then walked straight off again. I've had games when they were all over the Imperial force like a bad suit the moment the troops emerged from the safety of their defences. There's literally no telling what will happen once the game begins, and that's the great appeal to me.

This past week I worked on a new set of cards, my old ones being lost. Getting the design and layout right gave me endless trouble, and that was compounded by printer issues. I'm not 100% happy with the result but they are at least functional. I also printed off a new copy of the rules, with the tables and other important bits made bigger to account for aging eyes. Some new buildings are drying off from the last paint job as I write. All in all, I'm ready for a game. Maybe Saturday, maybe Sunday. Whichever, I'll report on the action as it progresses.

Monday, January 14, 2019

A Few Mahdists More

The re-basing is more or less done, although I have to figure out the best way of basing up the Mahdist marksmen and rifles. Under the rules these should be in a single line skirmish order, which means a longer, stronger base. I think I'll use plastic card and dress the scene with small rocks, scrub, etc. Incidentally, Mahdist riflemen weren't that effective. They used Remington rifles captured from the Egyptian gendarmerie after the expeditions under Baker and Hicks Pashas were wiped out. The doughty followers of the Mahdi found the length of the rifles inconvenient so they hacked off a few inches of the barrels with unfortunate consequences for accuracy.

So, a few photos of my messy tabletop, a work in progress as I sort through the jumble of stuff.

The front two rows are camelry, the first lot Mahdist, the second Amarar tribesmen. The Amarar are an interesting bunch. One of the many Beja tribes of the Eastern Sudan, their territory lies in the Red Sea littoral. Back in the 1880s they were in a state of near perpetual warfare with their Hadendowah cousins, especially after the Hadendowah went over to the Mahdi. When the British/Imperial army landed at the port of Suakin the Amarar offered their aid. To differentiate themselves from followers of the Mahdi the Amarar sewed segments of discarded scarlet uniforms supplied by the British to their clothing. Whole sleeves and red patches on the chest and back were common. It made a quick visual reference to reassure any Tommy peering nervously at the oncoming camel riders.

The long line of cavalry behind them between the Ansar and Hadendowah infantry are Ta'aisha tribesmen from the Western Sudan. Fanatical followers of the Expected One, they're a little far from home for any campaign set in the east, but they look cool, so I'll use 'em.

More cavalry, and the riflemen/marksmen. The mass of British cavalry top-right above the Ansar are the 5th Lancers. The two sets of mules on the metal disc are supply mules. Lancers and mules are both from irregular Miniatures.

What next? Well, there's these. I thought I had just the one battalion of Egyptian infantry. It turns out I have two. Each battalion comprised four buluqs (companies) of approx. 200 men each. I also have a couple of lancer squadrons just off camera. Now technically the Egyptian cavalry weren't equipped with lances - and then only the front ranks - until 1890, but lancers are too cool not to use.

The Egyptian army as a whole had a chequered career in the 1880s. The Khedive reserved the best troops for service in Egypt, and tended to use the Sudan as a kind of hot version of Siberia for disgraced officers and men. As a consequence the quality of the troops stationed there was generally low, although some units fought well in the early stages of the Mahdist revolt. During the 1884-85 campaign most Egyptian troops were used to garrison the Egypt-Sudan frontier, but in a wargames campaign it's certainly feasible to use some in the field.

The Sudan rules I have uses cards to randomly generate the number of Mahdist forces appearing on the table. They also have a number of specific events, such as a British patrol of a few companies of infantry and a troop or two of cavalry coming onto the field. To these I've added an Egyptian patrol card with a similar troop composition. They could be a straightforward patrol, or the survivors of a remote garrison who, learning of the nearby presence of a powerful British army, determined to cut their way out through the Mahdists to link up with it. Whichever works for the game.

And what Sudan campaign would be complete without a gunboat? I made this little chap many moons ago. She got slightly damaged in storage over the long years. One of the Nordenfeldts on the upper deck is missing, but this will be replaced. With a 12pdr forward, a 7pdr aft, two Nordenfeldts and two 1pdrs on the upper deck, it's a bit of a beast. It will need to be when it comes to making that long run up the Nile...  

Thursday, January 10, 2019

A Mass of Mahdists

Well, I've finished basing/rebasing the mass of Mahdist infantry. By breaking the task down to a dozen or so bases a day the chore became more manageable. Somewhere in the fullness of time I'll get a few more Ansar infantry, but for now this little lot seems sufficient to inflict Mahdist mayhem on the Infidel.

I do need to rebase the Ansar riflemen and marksmen, and some cavalry and camel groups. Once those are finished I'll churn out a few more buildings then get the lot on the table for a game.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Oh! What a lovely chore!

Or - The Unbearable Lightness of Basing.

I think basing or re-basing figures is a chore for most wargamers. We get all enthusiastic about our shiny metal or plastic figures, and many of us like the whole painting process, but when it comes to putting the little guys on bases, or - gods forbid - re-basing them for a new set of rules... Well, the excitement tends to pall.

I looked over my Sudan collection and found I'd based about half the Mahdist figures - the bare minimum to game with - and had got halfway through the process of basing up a new, even larger batch to bring the Mahdists up to a force to be reckoned with. The older bases look a bit shabby after nearly three decades (!) of gaming. The new figures are at least already on the right sized bases for my rules, so I thought I'd complete the process and then refurbish the older batch.

I'd forgotten how many Mahdist figures I had.

The Collection - a mix of Heroics & Ros and Irregular Miniatures.

There's twice as much again under these.

And this is the effect I'm aiming for.

Luckily the Imperial army is all based up to this standard so I don't have them to bother with. Maybe I doth complain too much. Although it is fiddly working around 1/300th scale figures it doesn't take that long to complete a base, I'm lucky to have them and a permanent table to play on. I shall persevere. One day in the not too distant future, they'll come rolling across the Sudanese desert to give those interlopers what-for.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

A Return to the Sudan

I hope everyone had an enjoyable New Year's Eve, in whichever manner you like to celebrate it. My wife and I saw the New Year in with friends, with plenty of good food. Today is a day off, I'm quite tired, so I'm taking it easy by sorting through my 6mm Sudan 1885 collection and tailoring a new set of Mahdist encounter cards to suit. Jings, I forgot how many Hadendowah I have! I also made a few Arab buildings.

First of all I cut out some basic shapes from half-inch foam core, along with sections of corrugated card to make the walls. I aimed to make two simple houses and a courtyard house.

Next up, some assembly required. Hot glue to the fore!

Once the card was secure, I applied about a spoonful of spackle, smearing it over all visible surfaces.

It's rough stuff at this stage. Once the spackle had dried, I applied another layer, mixing spackle with white craft paint to smooth out any gaps and to cover the corrugation a bit more.

The next stage will be to give them an ink wash to dirty them up a bit then draw on some doors and windows. Allowing for drying time the whole lot took less than an hour to make. I plan on building a few more basic houses, a mosque, and a generic desert fort next. I'm roughing out an idea for rocky patches of desert, perhaps using old CDs. Watch this space...


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