The Relief of Old Dongola

It is early 1884 and the Mahdist Rebellion is reaching it’s peak – Gordon is isolated in Khartoum, and the rebellion has steadily spreads north towards the Egyptian frontier. As the debate about any relief expedition to go to Gordon’s aid is being discussed, news comes that a large number of European, Greek, and Egyptian Civilians, along with a small British Hospital Corps detachment, have been cut off in the town of Old Dongola; and the local Egyptian Commander has only a small force of Bashi-Bazouk Irregulars, supplemented by whatever Civilians that can fight, to try and defend the town (who’s defences are in a poor state due to official Khedival policy of not maintaining any permanent fortifications in the Sudan, the town having the partial remnants of a wall, supplemented by zeribas and improvised barricades)…

Dervish Infantry at the Watering Hole

Dervish Infantry at the Watering Hole

Getting together a scratch force of one company each of the Egyptian & newly formed British Camel Corps, a British Mountain Gun section on Camels, along with the available Bashi-Bazouk Irregular Cavalry forces and a suitable Camel Train of supplies, Commandant Valentine Baker Pasha (of the Egyptian Gendarmerie) defers his planned travel to Suakin to head south to relieve the town and escort the occupants to safety before Mahdist forces completely overrun the region. All goes well until nearing the town, and within sight of the defenders, the relief expedition encounters a major force of Dervishes that have just arrived to invest the town…

Unaware of the full extent of the enemy force Baker elects to bravely advance forward and endeavour to enter the town, brushing aside what resistance the Dervishes may plan. Melton Prior is on hand to report the action via his sketches to the London Newspapers, and it’s Baker’s chance to redeem himself in the public eye (not realising that Bennet Burleigh is also present, trapped in the town)! The 7pdr Screw Gun Section deploy on his right flank as he leads the 2 Camel Corps Companies forward, keeping the Bashi-Bazouk cavalry in reserve – if they can just clear the last low lying hills they will be on the plain before the town…

The Egyptian Camel Corps on the right, closest to the hills & the town send forward scouts, who soon quickly discover the enemy ensconced there, Jihadiyya riflemen appearing amongst the crags, and they can not simply ‘ride past’ oblivious! A force of Dervishes soon appear in the rough ground at the end of the line of hills, and the Egyptian Camelry make a beeline for them, ignoring the riflemen in the hills. The British Camel Corps has meanwhile dismounted for foot action, and soon wheels to fire in support of the Egyptians, as the Bashi-Bazouk Cavalry head out to the left, to cover the exposed flank – a good thing too as suddenly masses of Dervishes appear from the folds of the desert ground charging towards the little column!

The Egyptians manage to dismount before the Dervishes in the rough ground charge, taking a casualty from the sporadic rife fire from the hills. But to Baker’s horror they immediately break and flee when the Dervish charge does come, streaming back through the column’s baggage train and masking the Screw Gun in the process! Oh for a second British Camel Corps Company laments Valentine! For a moment Melton Prior is the frontline, alongside the British Camel Corps Company…

Now the British Camel Corps must try and deal with the Dervishes on the right, then wheel to face the newcomers before being overrun… Seeing the dire straights the town Commander, one Ali Sabar Agha quickly sends his Bashi-Bazouk Infantry out to help the relief column, hoping to come to the Cameleers aid – he will try and hold the town with the handful of civilian militia he has remaining. However they soon discover Dervishes in the watermelon and palm groves around the town waterhole, and cannot ignore them – the relief column will have to do without them for now!

Back on the Relief Column’s right the British Camel Corps rapidly blast the Dervishes that emerged from the rough ground by the hills, sufficiently that they fail to charge home and go to ground. They then quickly wheel, just in time to face the first of the main force of charging Dervishes as the Bashi-Bazouk Cavalry thunder past on their flank into the neighbouring Dervish formation. The Screw Gun to their rear fires frantically and any available Dervish target, trying to disrupt the charge, its fire temporarily obscured as the column’s camel train thunders past in panic away from the Dervishes… However the Screw Gun Crew themselves are under fire from the Jihadiyya who have emerged from the hills and are now stalking the gun crew, exposed by the disorderly withdrawal of the Egyptian Camelry.

The British Camel Corps Company stoutly holds off overwhelming numbers of Dervishes, as the Bashi-Bazouk Cavalry also bravely fights its way into a mass of Dervishes. The Screw Gun is reduced to minimum crew as it takes heavy fire from the approaching Jihadiyya, and finally the Egyptian Cameleers rally, but only after their camels and about a quarter of their number have disappeared off into the desert!

Back near the town the Dervishes emerge from the watering hole and charge the Bashi-Bazouk Irregular Infantry, who stoutly hold their ground, ready to give them a taste of their long knives… Everywhere the Anglo-Egyptian forces are in close combat with overwhelming numbers of Dervishes, as Melton Prior sketches frantically!

At the column the British Cameleers throw back the Dervishes but have taken significant casualties and ammunition is low, they are then thrown back themselves by a subsequent Dervish charge. The Bashi-Bazouk Cavalry also rally-back alongside from their previous charges, while the screw gun’s fire gradually slackens as the surviving crew struggle to keep going… The Egyptian Cameleers, faced by an impromptu charge by the Jihadiyya, break and flee the Dervish Riflemen disappearing off into the desert along with the column’s baggage train, leaving the gun crew to their fate!

Baker looks around nervously, the Egyptian Camel Corps have vanished to a man, as has the baggage train, the survivors of the British Camel Corps prepare to make a stand, and Baker wonders if the Bashi-Bazouk Cavalry is up to making another charge…

All the terrain & figures are from My collection, except the Palm Trees which were supplied by Kieran Mahony.

Posted in Sudan & East Africa, The Sword And The Flame Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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