As Sir Henry’s Column advanced South towards Akasha, he received word of a large Dervish Force from ostensibly friendly locals (but more likely disgruntled Mahdists with a score to settle against the Mahdist force’s commander). As this force was reported a few miles inland from the Nile, at a minor watering hole, Sir Henry felt obliged to turn and approach the Mahdist forces – he could ignore them, being but a day and half’s march from the town of Akasha, but that would allow them to remain behind him on his Lines of Communication, and potentially block reinforcements from reaching him. As a result he turned inland, and his plucky column headed into the desert…
After the previous battle at Alam Halfa and the subsequent march South Sir Henry’s Anglo Egyptian Force struggled due to the small Hospital Corps attachment assigned to it – the medical staff were hard pressed to take care of the wounded, and there had been some fatalities from wounds as a result.
Consequently by the time they approached Akasha the force consisted of the following:
- C-in-C: Sir Henry Frotheringham & his ADC Colonel Rudolph Barnard [2m]
- 1st Company, 19th Yorkshire [18 + 2W] – Lieutenant Willoughby Wilcox
- 3rd Company, The Naval Brigade [14 + 1W] – Sub-Lieutenant Robert Goodall
- HQ, The Naval Brigade MG Battery [1m] – Commander Horatio Webber
- 2nd Section, Naval Brigade MG Battery [4 + Gatling] – Chief Petty Officer Valentine Scott
- 1st Section, ‘A’ Battery, Egyptian Artillery [3 + Krupp 6pdr] – Musa Hikel Zulfakar Effendi
- Column Baggage Train [12 Baggage Animals & Handlers + 2 Arab Guards]
Note: W = Wounded; m = Mounted.
Having been narrowly defeated at Alam Halfa, Khalifa Abdullahi has retreated to Akasha and rallied the remaining local Mahdist forces in the Northern border region – although a smaller force than he had at the previous battle the Khalifa hopes more local troops will arrive to reinforce him, and at worst he will have the advantage of surprise and attack the Anglo-Egyptian Khedival forces from behind, cutting their line of retreat.
As they wait the Dervishes have spent their time building temporary defences around the local oasis (actually a glorified watering hole) of Baqah al-Garbiyyah, and Amir Raslan is also with him from the previous battle and some of his surviving Dervish Ansars…:
- C-in-C: Khalifa Abdullahi & Escort [3m]
- 1st Rub: Amir Sattan & Escort [2m]
- 2 Bands Dongolavi Ansars 
- 1 Band Ansar Riflemen *
- 2nd Rub: Amir Raslan & Escort [2m]
- 2 Bands Dongolavi Ansars 
- 1 Band Ansar Riflemen *
- Miscellaneous Artillery [4 + Krupp 6pdr]
In our Fire & Sword campaign Bands of Riflemen are usually only 10-figs strong; while normal Spear & Sword armed Infantry are the usual TSATF 20-figs strong. This makes the riflemen more manageable on the table, and 1 unit of 10 combined with 3 x 20-fig Sword & Spear units per Rub gives about the right ratio of rifle armed figs for the early-mid 1880’s period of the Mahdist Wars. Our Riflemen aren’t always classed as Jihadiyya either, during these early campaign months many are classed as Zulus in TSATF for firing.
Sir Henry deployed his forces, he anchored his left with his Egyptian Artillery & Naval MG on a low hill that could cover most of the ground they would advance over. In the centre the depleted Naval Brigade company would advance up the middle with the main part of the Yorkshire company in support. The balance of the Yorkshire would deploy on the far right to cover the flank, and scout out the old Egyptian ruins in front of the low hills on the right of the valley (see below).
The Anglo-Egyptians could see some Dervish Riflemen & a Gun manning the improvised zeriba & barricades in front of the village, and to the right more riflemen on a rocky hill. Further to the left rear of the village a body of Dervish troops was visible milling around (the Khalifa had deliberately left this unit visible, to try and bait the Khedival forces into advancing up that side of the valley, so his Rub concealed on the other side could then surprise them from the flank). As the advance began the Egyptian artillery opened fire first, targeting the Mahdist gun – and a lucky first round landed amongst the crew and immediately incapacitated all 3 of the enslaved Egyptian artillerymen manning it, leaving just their Overseer remaining, and unable to man the gun alone! (see left). Furthermore the Overseer’s morale broke and he promptly fled the gun position before the neighbouring Ansar riflemen could be detailed off to help him man the gun!
As the forces of Sir Henry cautiously advanced – both the Squids of the Naval Brigade company and the right hand detachment of the Yorkshire sent out scouts to investigate the low hills on their respective sides of the valley. While the Y&L detachment appeared unopposed on the right (and their scouts raced off ahead of the formation) on the left the Naval Brigade scouts immediately stumbled into some concealed Dervishes in the hills on the valley rim (see above right). The Dervishes promptly charged over the hill after the fleeing scout – catching the main body of Squids dispersed in open order on the other side! The Scout just managed to out-run them and reach the end of the open order line as the Ansars came thundering down the hill!
The Naval & Egyptian Gun Crews promptly got into action to try and halt the Ansar charge, blasting the Dervishes as they came over the hill, along with every Rating’s rifle that could be brought to bear of the Naval Brigade company – blasting the Ansars with shot and shell and Gatling fire… But not a huge number of casualties were inflicted – it looked like the Ansars would be right in amongst the Squids and there would be the proverbial hell to pay before Sir Henry’s advance had even started!
Meanwhile back by the village the second band of Amir Raslan’s Rub began a hurried charge up to join their brothers above, to take advantage of this unexpected opportunity to engage a somewhat isolated Khedival unit – surely now they would make the Imperialists pay for their defeat at Wadi Halfa! However the first Band’s morale cracked and they failed to charge home, dispersing back onto the top of the hill and going prone, where they remained for some time raked by Gatling Gun fire from the neighbouring hill! First disaster narrowly averted by Sir Henry… Meanwhile the Ansar Riflemen in the village and the hills on the right of the valley patiently waited for the infidels to advance into range, preciously husbanding their single round of ammo each!
Off on the right the detachment of the 1st Yorkshire company has advanced partway up the valley, and their scout has gone way out in front. Finding nothing amongst the ancient Egyptian ruins he continues on into the hills, where he stumbles onto a concealed band of Dervishes (see below) waiting for orders to advance!
Fleeing for his life to bring back the news, the Dervishes charge after him and come streaming out of the hills, loaded down with equipment the scout struggles, as the rest of his detachment look on in horror the scout is ignominiously cut down by the charging Dervishes, and after a flurry of crazed hacking at his lifeless form they soon flow past his decimated body and head for the balance of the small Y&L detachment who are now feeling rather isolated! As the Dervish horde bears down on the Y&L infantry, a second band erupts from the village following the first. It may not be a good day in the Sudan for the Yorkshire Regiment, and Sir Henry is certainly showing the signs of fear of that! Meanwhile on the other flank the Squids are reserving their fire (to conserve ammo) and leaving the Gatling team to keep the pressure on the pinned Dervishes on the hill above them!
Back at the zeriba in front of the village the Gun Overseer has finally regained his senses* and returned to his gun, rounding up 3 nearby Ansar riflemen to help crew it. They promptly let of a round which hits the same small Y&L detachment that’s the focus of attention, wounding 1 figure, before a return shot from the Egyptian gun wounds the Overseer and puts the Dervish gun out of commission for good! However the balance of the Yorkshire are soon on their way to help their compatriots who were hit by the artillery fire (and the target of the charging Dervishes) so all is not lost.
For some reason we got it into our head in the middle of the game that routed units could rally again (which of course they can’t under standard TSATF) so we had 2 occasions in this game that routers returned to battle, albeit usually for only a turn or so before being eliminated or routing again!
As the second half of the Yorkshire hurry forward to form up on the left flank of the forward detachment, the Dervishes are rapidly bearing down on them, the leading Band having its blood lust up from eliminating the scout! On the other flank the Squids of the 1st Naval Brigade Company are limited in what they can do – reforming into close order they have the remnants of the 1st Band of Dervishes on the hill above them, and the second Band bearing down on them around the hill! Furthermore if they advance to meet the latter then they risk exposing the artillery behind them to a flanking charge on their left if the Dervishes on the hill do manage to reform… So they fire as best they can on the Dervishes on the hill even though they do not have a full field of fire on either them or the approaching second Band. The Gatling continues to rake the hill above them as well, inflicting more casualties on the 1st Dervish Band!
Musa Effendi’s Gun Section meanwhile continued to provide fire support to the Yorkshire, targeting the approaching 2nd Band of Dervishes in the centre of the valley. Meanwhile the Dervish Riflemen in the village and hills also now rush forward, following their Rub companions in the charges against the Y&L and Naval Brigade respectively, Khalifa Abdullahi realising his plan was undone and throwing everything in!
On the Naval Brigade’s flank the Squids must continue to face the original opponents and not the second approaching Band. They ‘give them hell’ on the hill, with the Gatling joining them. But their compatriots are closing in, despite starting to take casualties… However the Naval Brigade Company is now forced to detach a man back to the baggage train, they are getting low on ammo due to their constant firing (incl. 2 turns of “Independent Rapid Fire” initially) and they do not want to risk exhausting their supply just as the second group of Dervishes charges home.
Obviously over the other side of the valley the first Yorkshire detachment were going to be caught in a terrible state, they had stayed in open order to maximise what firepower they had but despite the “Independent Rapid Fire” order they were unable to inflict enough casualties to seriously slow or halt the charging Dervishes – they kept coming and were on the verge of crashing into the desperate Yorkshiremen; who’s 8 man detachment had been reduced to 3 (as in addition to the dead scout, had 2 wounded from the artillery fire, and 2 more were temporarily assisting those wounded a short way to the rear)! Things were looking ominous for the Colour-Sergeant and his 2 men!
Musa Effendi’s Artillery Section continued to try and support them, but the Dervishes closes to the Yorkshire were beyond his field of fire, so Commander Webber instructed him to “pound the second approaching Band mercilessly”, and despite operating with reduced manning (one of the crew having been killed in action the previous month at Wadi Halfa in the battle of the Smoking Zeribas), his gun team inflicted casualties constantly on the Dervishes!
Then the leading Dervishes hit the Yorkshire, and it was too much for the Colour Sergeant and his 2 men, they broke and ran, along with a 3rd man and the wounded soldier he was assisting in a desperate effort to avoid being overrun by the screaming Ansars. Although the second Band of Ansars was almost also upon them as well and all seemed like it might be lost and the Anglo-Egyptian flank collapse, the second detachment arrived (the balance of the Company 10 men) and despite the risk to their own flank they wheeled to target the leading Band and put a volley in as they charged past after the fleeing first detachment! Sir Henry was also personally accompanying them, viewing the situation as critical, while Colonel Barnard had hurried over to the Naval Brigade to see about urgently bringing them to the action on their right.
In fact the Squids had actually easily seen off the second Ansar Band, and Amir Raslan was left standing in front of them amongst a mass of his own wounded, dying, and dead men… Both the Squids and the Gun teams rapidly redeployed to bring fire support to the Yorkshire on the right.
In a confused final stage of the battle the leading Dervishes on the right continued to pursue the fleeing first Yorkshire detachment towards the baggage, while the 2nd Y&L detachment in a piece of inspirational manoeuvring reformed to face the remaining Dervish force before it contacted them, and the combined firepower of it, the Naval Brigade Squids, and the redeployed Gatling broke the Dervishes just as they would have crashed into the Y&L. With the two smaller Bands of Riflemen also dispersed at this time this left just the Band pursuing the fleeing Yorkshiremen, luckily some well placed shots by Musa Effendi’s artillery caused more casualties and as the small detachment of 4 Yorkshiremen (& 1 Wounded) reformed to face them the charge dispersed and petered out (as the Ansar Band’s major morale failed and the few survivors fled off into the desert).
As the few isolated Dervishes remaining slunk off Sir Henry reformed his force and cautiously approached the village, wary of a potential further ambush. But that was not to be this day and the relieved troops entered the village finding it deserted, but for 2 Europeans locked in the local Sheikh’s slave quarters! Suitable clothing was procured by donation from the expedition’s officers, and they were soon suitably attired to be presented to Sir Henry. They introduced themselves as Graf von Schnyder, a German Adventurer and Big Game Hunter returning from the Southern-most reaches of the Sudan (where he was retracing the footsteps of Samuel Baker; Valentine Baker’s elder brother), and Doctor Ernesto Furtwangler, an Austro-Hispanic Missionary & Doctor who had been doing charitable work in Khartoum and Kordofan and was on his way back to Cairo when the revolt ignited.
They report they were with other Europeans in Dongola at the time and they suspected the local Sheik might betray them, since they heard the man proclaimed to be the ‘Mahdi’ was also Dongolavi, and the Sheikh’s loyalty to the Khedive would be uncertain.
However as there were women and children present they couldn’t easily all make a run for Wadi Halfa so they volunteered to head north to find help (or a boat) and advise of the trapped civilians, however they were only a few days out of Dongola when they got word it had gone over to the Mahdists, and the fate of the European Civilians is unknown. They got to Akasha in the first couple of weeks but were then betrayed by their guide (or perhaps he had no choice to save his own life), but either way they have since spent near 2 months locked up in this dreadful village and are extremely grateful for their fortuitous rescue!
Both men volunteer to join the force and assist anyway they can. Doctor Furtwangler offers to assist the small over worked and under resourced Hospital Corps detachment (and can provide some skills as an interpreter) while the Graf is a crack shot who obviously has some adventuring experience and he offers to fight as part of the expedition.
The Graf volunteers to act as a Guide & Scout (although unbeknownst to Sir Henry he doesn’t actually have that great an ability at either, only in his own mind), at least until Dongola anyway, to fulfil his obligation as a gentleman to the civilians there.
After a night’s rest the force clears the village of any weapons, valuables, and supplies, and begins its trek back to the Nile and on to Akasha.
About The Game
All the terrain & figures are from Roundie Steward’s & My collections, except the Palm Trees which were supplied by Kieran Mahony.
Return to Fire & Sword Turn 03: January 1884.