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 Thankfully that much of the book is now outdated.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.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

The Small Bang Theory

Who doesn't like a nice model of an explosion? I certainly do, but I rather lacked anything of the kind in my collection. Small blobs of cotton wool look less than appealing for anything but a smoke barrage, so I made a set of shell bursts for gaming.

Mahdist warriors find themselves in the middle of a bombardment worthy of the Western Front.
I made them using an amalgam of Spackle filler, PVA, black craft paint and used dried tea leaves. Mix the PVA and filler at roughly 50-50 ratio, add a blob of black paint and a drop of water, work the tea leaves into the mess until it turns clumpy. Set aside and allow to dry (which didn't take long in this heat). Once dry, glue clumps of the material together using a smidge more PVA, forming the distinctive arbitrary shapes of shell bursts. Once dry, glue to a base of choice and touch up with more paint if needed. I let some of the natural tea brown colour show since it looks like clods of pulverised earth thrown up by the explosion. Work up ground cover to suit your terrain. Repeat if desired.

They work nicely for most scales. In 1/300 they're a sizable shell burst. In N-scale/10mm they make a small shell burst or a mortar bomb explosion. 

Those rotters of the BUF find themselves in the middle of drastic landscape rearrangement.
I hope - with luck and a following wind - to game the Battle of Abu Hamad tomorrow. Fingers crossed...


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