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.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

On the Road to Haiya

The next clash between the forces of Empire and the Mahdists has begun on the rolling plain outside the Hadendowah capital. So far the Imperial army is holding its own. Even the Egyptian contingent is performing well, although it seems to have got itself into a peculiar formation. Words and pics to follow.

The British square on the march. To their left the first battalion of the Egyptian contingent appears.

Sunday, March 10, 2019


I don't think there's any feature more iconic to a Sudan battle than a zareba. Also spelled zariba, they're typically used by Sudanese natives for corralling animals and protecting them against predators. Basically it's an improvised stockade made of mimosa trees which are cut down and lined up to form an enclosed area, then stacked up high and dense to make an almost impenetrable barrier.  They served a military purpose during the campaigns of 1883-85 as protection to the Imperial forces whilst on the march, although the mimosa was supplemented by entrenchments and sandbags. The most famous example is the zareba successfully defended by Imperial forces during the Battle of Tofrek in the Eastern Sudan on 22nd March 1885.

Although time wouldn't allow me to play out the next battle of my mini campaign this past week I did put together a zareba. It's big enough to hold a couple of battalions, and I made it modular so it can be expanded to enclose more units if needed.

The Grenadier Guards, Berkshire Regt. and a company of Gordons make themselves cosy.
The bases are craft (lolly) sticks glued to cereal box card then covered by spackle. Sharp sand was pressed into the spackle while wet then the lot painted a solid brown and dry brushed lighter shades. The mimosa trees are made from quarter to half-inch lengths of a weathered piece of garden twine. One end of the twine is dipped in PVA, pinched together and allowed to dry. The tops are splayed out then dipped into watered-down PVA then dipped again into dried tea leaves. Once all was dry, I glued them into place in lines as shown. I may make sandbagged pieces another time.

With luck and a following wind I should play the next game this coming week and weekend.  

Monday, March 4, 2019

A Rigidly Defined Area of Doubt and Uncertainty.

Real life got in the way again, so no gaming these two weeks. I did manage to make an area of rough ground for Mahdists to lurk in ready to ambush passing Imperials...

There's someone in amongst that lot...
An old CD glued to a disc of card formed the base. Acacia trees fashioned of sisal dipped in glue then dried tea leaves made the foliage. I hot glued these in place then painted the leafy parts. The sisal I sue is roughly the same color as acacia trunks and branches so I didn't bother with those parts. The base was then covered in a layer of spackle, with patches of rougher ground made by pressing pea gravel, sand and coffee grounds into the spackle while it was still wet. A few coats of paint on the theme of brown, beige, terracotta and yellow finished it off.

I'll probably make another one or two then play the next game sometime this coming weekend.


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