Thursday, 9 May 2013

Battle of Toski with SvP, (part 2)

The Egyptian Army council of war discussed several plans of action. The first was to try to induce Nejumi and his forces to attack them in Toski by appearing weak. In danger of not having any game at all (or at least a game that did not resemble its historical prototype at all) "Wingate" gathered some more intelligence from deserters and hinted heavily that the Egyptians would need to get out there and engage the Mahdists if the latter were not to escape into the desert unhindered.

The Egyptian forces in Toski, with the steamer El Teb in attendance
The team quickly grasped the idea that they would need to delay the Mahdists on their march to give the infantry enough time to march up and catch them. Colonel Kitchener was therefore despatched with the mobile column to interrupt their march, although the plan was still linked with the idea that they could tempt the Mahdists to attack them close to Toski. With the exception of the latter idea this was the historical plan.

I may have to admit an error in casting here. Running a series of defensive positions using cavalry and camel corps is not the most straight forward of jobs, and the player concerned had never played SvP before. The job was made slightly more challenging as the players chose to put their first "road block" in a few thousand yards back from what happened historically. That meant that the Mahdists were well on the move and the rest of the Egyptian force had less time to make it to the battle field by the time they encountered the first obstacle.

Col Kitchener leads the 20th Hussars on recce
Once I'd convinced Colonel Kitchener to scout with his cavalry and keep his camel corps for use as a firing line we were under way. Kitchener pushed forward with his squadron of Hussars and set up a OP on a ridge line. He then sat down and wrote some reports to his C-in-C.

Kitchener scribbles a hurried note
Soon the Mahdists came into view, and Kitchener formed a firing line on the ridge.

The mounted column deployed
All he had to do was hold on until the 2nd Infantry Brigade caught up with him. The Mahdist skirmish line opened a desultory fire, inflicting a small number of casualties. As I started to put the rest of the Mahdists out on the table, I'm afraid to say that Kitchener bottled it a bit, and mounted up retreating from the ridge for fear of being overwhelmed. Moving as quickly as possible he fell back upon the 2nd Brigade's square, hoping to draw the Mahdists on to them. 2nd Brigade were relieved, given their numbers, that they had no baggage to secure within their perimeter as well as potentially cope with some cavalry horses.

Pulling back on the square
All this was to no avail, as the Mahdists were trying to avoid fighting, unless they were going to win easily or were forced to because the enemy was blocking their route. On this occasion the Mahdists were able to veer past the Egyptain position, and continue on their way.

Kitchener duly put pen to paper and sent another report to The Sirdar.

Kitchener and Wodehouse had a quick conference, and receiving orders from The Sirdar to make sure that they definitely delayed the Mahdists so they could be brought to battle, it was resolved that Kitchener needed to get ahead of them and do a better job of slowing them down this time. Or die in the attempt.

Alas the Mahdists were advancing across flat open ground, so although he managed to head them off he had no cover. Taking pity on my big brother I gave him a rocky knoll to form up on as the Mahdists massed to attack.

 At this point we stopped for tea and cake

Back to the game 2nd Brigade formed up and stepped up the pace to get in on the action before it was too late.

The Sirdar, meanwhile, was just finishing breakfast on the "El Teb", whilst 1st Brigade were setting up a defensive perimeter around Toski, although the Horse Artillery had been despatched in support of 2nd Brigade.

The mounted column had formed square and sent their mounts off to safety. The Mahidist tide surged around them and their defensive fire was unable to prevent them contacting the square.

Alas for the Mahdists they then proceeded to roll probably the longest succession of 1s & 2s on record and were pretty much beaten off all round the square. They broke in on one corner, but the Camel Corps smartly about faced and shot them off. Not even a wobble on the reaction tests for the Egyptians.

In order to draw the attackers off a bit the 2nd Brigade deployed its artillery and started to get into a firing line.

The Mahdists left a small force to cover the square on the rocky knoll and turned their fury on the infantry in line.

The Egyptian troops were magnificent. They unleashed a devastating series of volleys, destroying the flower of the Mahdist fighting men, leaving the demoralised rump to flee west into the desert.

(BTW in the picture above ignore Toski in the background, - I was using different bits of the table for different locations.)

So, a resounding success for the reformed Egyptian Army.

A few lessons for me. Firstly I tried to manage the game in too ambitious a fashion. Rather than start at Toski and let players make the early decisions it might have been better to have set the game up at the original "first contact" point, overlooking the Mahdist camp. The game would then have played like a more conventional wargame and all the locations would have fitted together on my wargames table in one go. What I ended up with was a multi-locational game with players in three different places at one point, and the time sequence broke down a bit.

Secondly the Imperial firing chart is way too effective at times. The Mahdists probably need to outnumber their opponents at least 3 to 1 to overcome the Imperial fire effect when they have to advance over the open. Even when they get it, it's still very hard work. The mounted outpost should have been overrun and wiped out to a man, but survived having "only" lost their mounts.

Finally, the game loses a bit if there's no baggage for the Imperial forces, or if they are close to their base. Having said that, I reckon that the Imperial forces would have to be very inept to lose to Nejumi at this point

So there is hope.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Battle of Toski with Science v Pluck (part 1)

One of our group is retiring to Cornwall, so we took the opportunity of a Bank Holiday Monday to have a farewell game of Science v Pluck in Shedquarters. Three MNG stalwarts were joined by my brother Richard for the event.

I have been looking at doing a game based upon the Battle of Toski in 1889 ever since I became properly aware of it a few months back through some traffic on the SvP yahoo group. To my shame I had never looked at the battles the Egyptian Army fought "solo" without British support, - partly through lack of sources. However, someone was kind enough to send me a link to a Kindle copy of Wingate's "Mahdiism and the Sudan" which is an absolute goldmine of information on all the military aspects of the Sudan campaigns with good orbats and maps.

Toski is the battle that finishes off the invasion of Egypt by Mahdist forces, and vindicates all of the efforts to reform the Egyptian Army and make it responsible for the defence of Egypt. I was confident my players would not have the details of the action, so I made no attempt to disguise the scenario. This did mean, however, that I did not distribute the briefings beforehand either.

The background to the battle is that a Mahdist force numbering about 8,000 warriors and non-combatants, lead by Abderrahman en Nejumi is pushing across the Egypt/Sudan border in late July 1889. Nejumi planned and lead the capture of Khartoum and is regarded as amongst the most talented of the Mahdist military leaders. The plan is for a combined Anglo-Egyptian Force to take them on and defeat them in battle. In practice the Mahdists present an opportunity to bring them to battle before the Anglo part of the force arrives. The Sirdar, Sir Wallace Grenfell, resolves to engage them with his forces then concentrated, being two brigades of foot, and a mounted column of 3 cavalry squadrons (including some British Hussars) and two companies of Camel Corps. Half of the force has already fought and won an action against the Mahdists at Argin on 28th June.

Grenfell's problem is that the Mahdists are moving through the desert, and his supply route is basically the Nile. Using steamers he can move up and down the Nile quickly, but even using Sudanese Battalions he can't advance deep into the Desert to track down the Mahdists without severe hazard from the conditions and also the desert offering Nejumi the opportunity to fight on ground more favourable to his forces. Having concentrated his forces at Toski, Grenfell is given intelligence that the Mahdists are encamped within a few miles of the village & river.

The game started on the morning of 3rd August, 1889. Grenfell and his staff have recce'd the Mahidist camp the evening before, and together with reports of his other scouting troops has compiled this map.

The map has been derived from the sketch map in Wingate's book, but with the troop dispositions and annotations removed.

The overall situation was described to the Sirdar and his senior officers, together with the intelligence that Nejumi was intending to break camp and go north, into desert areas where the Egyptian Army would be unwise to follow. The Egyptians haven't got their supply wagons and animals up yet, nor have the British troops arrived. However it is possible that the current forces could carry enough ammunition and water for a day's action and intercept the Mahdists and bring them to battle.

The Sirdar immediately convened a council of war and debated his options.

From left to right we have Colonel Wodehouse (Chris), Major Hunter (Ian), General Grenfell (Phil) and Colonel Kitchener (Richard).

As this debate went on for a while, I feel we can break the narrative here and return to the battle in a subsequent posting.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Warbases Ruins

Phil turned up a few weeks ago with a "Stalingrad" laser cut ruined building from Warbases.

I have no need of Stalingrad, at the moment, but I have talked about wargaming the action around University City in the SCW using PBI, so inexpensive shells of modern buildings are on my shopping list.

Warbases do two sizes, a £4 large & a £3 small (or regular, in coffee-speak), so I felt it was worth asking Phil to pick me up £10's worth a the next show he went to (one large and two small).

The "kits" consist of four sides and an interior base to strengthen the construction. As far as I can see some of the parts are common to both buildings and it looks like you could mix and match a bit and make a combined mega-ruin as well. I also realised that I should have made one of them "inside-out" as well to give me variety.

Phil's assembly breakthrough is to use the interior base as a first floor (second floor, if you're American) so the figures aren't lost in the bottom of them. Mine went together well, but they do need gluing, - you can't store them flat packed.

Here are some test photos with some IB's & Carlists for illustrative purposes.

The three buildings

Popular Army in possession
Carlist's assaulting some IB's
Potential mega-ruin layout
The buildings were glued with standard PVA and slightly textured with polyfilla, especially on the corners. They were then treated to a very thick layer of Dulux emulsion and dry brushing with the same.

I'm pleased with the results. May treat myself to some more.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Widening my perspective

Will put on another 20mm plastic ACW game this week, - the Battle of Wilson's Creek. Since we last played he has hacked about at the rules a bit as he works at what he does and doesn't like in the originals.

This week we were at Ian's as I am preparing Shedquarters for a Bank Holiday game. The other main point of interest (other than Will's game) was my testing of a new lens and macro attachment on my digital SLR. So, lots of pictures, little narrative.

For this game Phil & I played the slavers, Chris K & Ian the deniers of state rights.

Ian surveys the opening positions. Actually he's making tea

Will trying to work out what he's doing
"So Will, what exactly are these again?"

A couple of moves in Yankees already on Bloody Hill.
The MNG, l-r Ian, Me, Phil, Will & Chris K

More fighting on the Bl**dy Hill

Yet another Reb failure to close with the Yankees
Reb Reserves "rush" across the Creek

The Rebs finally make it onto Bloody Hill. Game over
Macro lens shot of a Fluttering Flag.

So the game ended with a Reb victory. Lots of frustrating dice rolling as ever in an RFCM game. Phil's average Rebs failed over three or more turns to get enough APs to assault from 3 inches, even with a general attached. We all enjoyed the game, but there is something not quite right with this game system.

(The camera is a Canon EOS350D. The new lens is a 10-22mm Sigma f4.5. I'm using a SLIK Mini-pro V desktop tripod. The macro lens came with a 58mm wide angle adapter set)