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...


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