Fire & Sword Battle 05: Because We’re ‘ere Yuzbashi! Nobody Else. Just Us.

Akhtar Pasha had just spent the last few weeks trekking along the caravan trail from Suakin to Berber. When he left Suakin the Eastern Sudan was quiet and unchanged despite the violent rebellion raging in Northern & Southern Sudan – however things had now changed, the Eastern Sudan had erupted into rebellion behind him and he was now deep in enemy territory, with a column of troops in need of water and supplies, and lacking any mounted force for reconnaissance or foraging! Akhtar’s plan was to march rapidly on Berber, this was the closest reasonable sized town that was both likely to have plentiful stocks of supplies, and be fortifiable once occupied – but it was also small enough that hopefully it would not have a strong Mahdist rebel presence, and they would not have heavily fortified the place thereby making access impractical. Around the middle of February Akhtar Pasha’s force arrived at Berber, and prepared to assault the town…

Shawish Yacob Niyamuthulla's 2nd Section of 'B' Battery, Egyptian Artillery Regiment

Shawish Yacob Niyamuthulla’s 2nd Section of ‘B’ Battery of the Egyptian Artillery

With no heavy artillery or even any significant sapper tools, Akhtar knew his one chance was that the town had not been fully fortified, and on his arrival to launch an immediate attack before the Dervishes could do anything further to fortify their positions. As it turned out he was quietly comfortable with what he found before him – the town had been fortified, but this consisted only of partial efforts at defence works connecting between the outlying buildings and their compounds, and incorporating some areas of rocky ground. The principal measures were sections of zeriba between some of the buildings, and a handful of rifle pits & stone sangars – none of which completely obstructed access into the town leaving 2 or 3 approach routes possible. While some of the command queried the wisdom of an assault at all, especially Razaq Effendi (commander of the 4/Xth Sudanese Company) who was most sceptical, Warrant Officer Frank Bourne (of The Naval Brigade) replied for the commander when he muttered “Because We’re ‘ere Yuzbashi! Nobody Else. Just Us” before Akhtar himself could respond!

Akhtar Pasha’s Anglo-Egyptian force to conduct this assault at Berber consisted of the following:

  • C-in-C: General Akhtar Kieran Pasha & ADC Colonel Bhuiyan Mohsen Bey [2m]
  • 1st Division, The Naval Brigade [20] – Sublieutenant Moray Gore
  • 1st Company, 1st Egyptian Rifles [20] – Mulazim Awal Shadloo Saqer Effendi
  • 4th Company, Xth Sudanese Battalion [20] – Yuzbashi Roumieh Razaq Effendi
  • 2nd Section, B Battery Egyptian Artillery [4 + Krupp 6pdr] – Shawish Yacob Niyamuthulla
  • Column Baggage Train [8 Baggage Animals & Handlers + 2 Arab Guards]

Note: W = Wounded; m = Mounted.

Although not aware of it initially – Akhtar Pasha would find the Mahdist forces occupying Berber to be:

  • C-in-C: Amir Anbar & Escort [2m]
  • Red Flags Rub: Amir Jaber & Escort [2m]
    • 2 Bands Ja’alin Ansars [20 each]
    • ½ Band Ja’alin Riflemen [10]
  • Green Flags Rub: Amir Zeinal & Escort [2m]
    • 1 Band Shaigiya Ansars [20]
    • 1 Band Shaigiya Cavalry [12m]
    • ½ Band Shaigiya Riflemen [10]
  • Berber Town Artillery [4 + Krupp 6pdr]

Akhtar’s plan relied on speed and shock, and he immediatley launched his force into the attack. His plan was for the 1/1st Egyptian Rifle Company to launch a massed attack in column of divisions directly at the main approach into the town, supported by The Naval Brigade and Sudanese Companies on either flank, deployed in line to maximise their fire-power… The Naval Brigade were deployed on the right, where there was also an alternative approach route into the town through some rocky ground, and once the Egyptian Infantry reached the town, Akhtar hoped to have the sailor boys follow them in through it. Meanwhile the Egyptian ‘B’ Battery Artillery Section would deploy off to the far left of the line to provide support for the Egyptian column for as long as possible and cover the flank of the 4/Xth Sudanese Company.

Ja'alin Red Flags' Darrága & Harrába move off from the Bazaar...

Ja’alin Red Flags’ Darrága & Harrába move off from the Bazaar…

Krr-boom! No sooner had the Anglo-Egyptians deployed to advance than artillery fire crashed out from behind the Dervish zeriba – the first shot landing amongst the dense Egyptian Column and immediately wounding the commander, Mulazim Awal (1st Lieutenant) Shadloo Saqer Effendi! Not an auspicious start, and command of the company would fall to Bulk Amin (Quartermaster Sergeant) Bash Awad for the remainder of the battle. Elsewhere along the town’s outskirts a peppering of rifle fire commenced, as Dervish Bandága began shooting at the Anglo-Egyptians with increasing ferocity. The Anglo-Egyptians returned fire, including Shawish Niyamuthulla’s Krupp 6pdr Section who’s accurate fire immediately impacted the town artillerymen (½ of whom were now casualties)! As the fire fight intensified the Egyptian Column (carrying the wounded Saqer Effendi with them) neared the main town approach, immediately spotting further Dervishes coming from within the town to bolster the defences. Meanwhile The Naval Brigade and the Xth Sudanese were moving up on either flank of the Egyptians, both copping a fair share of the surprisingly accurate Dervish fire! What was worse the next volley of Dervish fire cut down Razaq Effendi of the Xth Sudanese (wounded), devolving command to Shawish Mostafa El Akkawi – the Anglo Egyptian Officers were taking a severe beating.

Before the Egyptian Assault Column could make it into the town proper the first of the Dervish reinforcements arrived (The Ja’alin Red Flags’ 1st Band of Darrága & Harrába) and they immediately stormed down the main street and charged the Egyptian column! It was all on at the main Southern entrance to Berber – and the threat of close combat was too much for the Egyptians (who now had 30% of their number wounded), they failed to stand and were soon retiring in a very disorderly manner back towards the baggage train with the jubilant Ja’alin Garrába (infantry) in hot pursuit. Not an auspicious start for Akhtar Pasha’s assault!

It's a tough fight but the Sudanese are ready for their opponents

It’s a tough fight but the Sudanese are ready for their opponents…

Luckily the Xth Sudanese were at hand – and despite several casualties well in hand under Shawish El Akkawi – and they faced down the charging Dervishes, giving them a taste of .43 Remington lead – which slowed them down a little! Out on the right flank the 1st Division, The Naval Brigade, were coming into action, having reached the town outskirts and preparing to assault the rocky ground bordering it’s Southern Quarter (the Berber Slums), and so hopefully take some pressure off the Sudanese & Egyptians. Amir Anbar had other ideas – already Amir Jaber was personally leading his remaining Red Flag Ja’alin Band in support of the 1st Band, and emerging from the town confines to engage the Anglo-Egyptians – while the artillery and all the Bandága (riflemen) were keeping up a steady fire. Worse still for the Anglo-Egyptians the 1/1st Egyptian Company numbering just 55% of it’s starting strength was so shaken Bulk Amin Awad could not reform them and have them brought them back into action to support the Xth Sudanese, and they disappeared off further into the desert in a disgraceful unauthorised retirement. Then to make matters even worse the Xth Sudanese lost Shawish El Akkawi to rifle fire, so were now leaderless and down to just ½ strength!

Shawish Niyamuthulla meanwhile had been keeping up some deadly fire on the Dervish Riflemen opposing the left flank, in fact some pinpoint placement of Krupp shellfire had decimated the Shaigiya Bandága manning this part of the town’s perimeter. Meanwhile the Red Flag Ja’alin infantry were surging forth – the 1st Band charging the Xth Sudanese, while the 2nd Band circumnavigated them and headed for the column’s Baggage Train! Shawish Niyamuthulla was onto them however, and rapidly redeployed his artillery detachment to deal with this new threat. By now the Berber artillery had fallen silent (it was out of ammunition and the crews had joined the 1st Band of Red Flags’ charge) and the fire of the remaining riflemen was also slackening off – in fact as The Naval Brigade prepared to storm into the town slums, the Ja’alin Riflemen there rapidly abandoned their positions and withdrew into a major building to fortify themselves, also having now depleted their ammunition.

The Naval Brigade storm into the East side of Berber!

The Naval Brigade storm into the slums on the South-East side of Berber!

The Naval Brigade ratings poured into the Berber slums, pursuing the retiring Dervish Riflemen, while on the other flank the Xth Sudanese stood their ground, despite the lack of any Officer or NCO, and delivered a volley into the charging Dervishes, proving too much for them and they fell back in disorder to the town fringe! However now Amir Anbar pulled out all the stops – Amir Zeinal’s Shaigiya Khayála (Cavalry) emerging from the centre of town and galloping South to engage The Naval Brigade in the slums… And in the North of town, near what had been the Sheikh’s Palace, Anbar’s final reserve (the Shaigiya Green Flags’ Band of Darrága & Harrába) formed up ready to advance. At the sight of the Shaigiya Cavalry thundering down on them, The Naval Brigade beat a hasty retreat, and withdrew rapidly out of the town to form up beyond the rocky ground outside the slums – safe (for the moment) from the horsemen!

While all this was happening on the right, the 2nd Band of Red Flag Dervishes were bearing down on Shawish Niyamuthulla’s position, where he and his men stuck to their guns and poured some devastating close range fire into the charging Dervishes, and the Xth Sudanese, now under the control of Mohsen Bey (Akhtar Pasha’s ADC) about faced from their current position and delivered a deadly volley of fire into the Dervishes’ rear as well – although they also took down one of Niyamuthulla’s gunners in the process! This was was all too much for the Dervishes – they failed to press home their charge and fell back in disorder without making contact. The pinned & prone Ja’alin Infantry now caught between, and being pounded by, the Sudanese and Shawish Niyamuthulla’s artillery! Amir Jaber’s Ja’alin Red Flags were now a spent force – but Zeinal’s Shaigiya Green Flags were fresh and still had some fight in them!

Shaigiya Khayála storm into the Berber Slums!

Shaigiya Khayála storm past the town mosque into the Berber Slums!

However Akhtar Pasha now signalled the recall, the buglers blew the withdrawal, and Mohsen Bey deployed the depleted Xth Sudanese as rearguard to cover the withdrawal. There may still have been a chance to take Berber, but Akhtar’s force had taken heavy casualties (1/The Naval Brigade were down to 65% effectifs, and the 4/Xth Sudanese 50%, while 1/1st Egyptians were shaken and in disorder well to the rear having abandoned the battlefield with just 55% effectifs remaining), so had only about 38% of it’s original infantry still on the battlefield. And as the ammunition may have been getting low and requiring replenishing from the baggage train, Akhtar was unwilling to risk pursuing the fight.

As Akhtar Pasha’s force limped off into the desert, South of Berber, having left behind some of it’s wounded and any stragglers on the battlefield it was shadowed by the Shaigiya Cavalry and Akhta Pasha couldn’t help but wonder what ‘might have been…‘ The column began to wearily trudge back up the caravan route it had just come down numbering the following:

  • C-in-C: General Akhtar Kieran Pasha & ADC Colonel Bhuiyan Mohsen Bey [2m]
  • 1st Division, The Naval Brigade [13 + 2W] – Sublieutenant Moray Gore
  • 1st Company, 1st Egyptian Rifles [14 + 5W] – Bulk Amin Bash Awad
  • 4th Company, Xth Sudanese Battalion [10 + 4W] – (Officer & NCO both wounded)
  • 2nd Section, B Battery Egyptian Artillery [3 + 1W + Krupp 6pdr] – Shawish Yacob Niyamuthulla
  • Column Baggage Train [8 Baggage Animals & Handlers + 2 Arab Guards]

Note: W = Wounded; m = Mounted.

War Correspondents’ Images

About The Game

All the terrain & figures are from my collection, except the Palm Trees which were supplied by Kieran Mahony. The figures are mostly 28mm Perry Miniature’s, and several Castaway Arts (Camel Train Camels & Arab Drivers/Escort, some of the Arab Civilians, and a couple of Dervish Riflemen), with a few Wargames Foundry (Sailors and Civilian Characters and one or two British Infantry) and a handful of Old Glory (a couple of Dervish Riflemen & 2-3 Dervish foot & mounted Standard Bearers). Buildings are mostly Crescent-Root with a few Hovels mixed in, and the Bazaar is mostly a mix of Steve Barber and Eureka models & figures (except maybe the belly dancer)… Vultures are DeeZee Miniatures (originally purchased through Wargames Illustrated Magazine if I recall correctly – or maybe it was Miniature Wargames).

Return to February 1884, Turn 04 of Revolt in the Sudan.

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