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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