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.

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