Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sudan Battle Report

The initial table set-up, before the arrival of the Dervish.

February 9, 1884 (Eastern Sudan, near Tofrek). Mr. Henry Newton, correspondant for The London Times, reports of a bloody action in the eastern Sudan between Her Majesty's forces under the command of Lt. General Sir Albert Ponsonby, of the Third Column, and the Dervish army of Osman Digna. Our correspondant reports that the second (Colonel Pettygree) and third (Colonel Atherton) brigades of the Third Column were on the march to relieve the battered first brigade (Colonel Wilmington-Smythe), encamped at the oasis of Dur Es El Bubba.

Wilmington-Smythe's (Randy Frye) brigade in their zariba near the oasis.

Colonel Wilmington-Smyth's brigade had been under attack for three days, and its brigade strength was down to the equivalent of two regiments (1 Egyptian and the Royal Lancashires). Wilmington-Smythe had constructed a stout zariba near the oasis, and had successfully fought off numerous Dervish attacks, but ammunition was running low and the brigade could not hold out much longer. Accordingly, Lt. General Ponsonby despatched the second and third brigades to relieve the Wilmington-Smythe expedition. The relief column traveled light, without artillery or Gardner guns and included four regiments of Her Majesty's infantry and two Egyptian regiments. Each brigade had two squadrons of cavarly attached for scouting purposes.

Report of Colonel Pettygree's Advance Brigade

Second Brigade commanded by Colonel Pettygree (Bill Protz) deploys in the center third of the table to start the game.

Colonel Pettygree's orders read "You will take your command and proceed to the Oasis of Dur Es El Bubba and support the 1st Brigade in control of the oasis. Heavy enemy forces are known to be in the area. Colonel Atherton's third brigade will march behind you in support." He had a regiment of the Black Watch, the Royal Berkshires , an Egyptian battalion, and 2 squadrons of the 10th Hussars.

Dervish cavalry attack the Third Brigade of Colonel Atherton (Alte Fritz himself), which is providing the rear guard for the relief column. Note how some of the Bengal Lancers have taken cover inside the square.

The third column under the command of Colonel Atherton (me) was bringing up the rear, several miles behind the second brigade of Colonel Pettygree. Atherton's force consisted of the Gordon Highlanders, the Royal Marines, and the 2nd Sudanese Regiment, plus two squadrons of Bengal Lancers. Almost immediately, a rub of 400 Dervish riflemen popped out from behind a ridge in an attempt to ambush Atherton's column. Another 200 Dervish cavalry also attack Atherton, who quickly formed a brigade square. Fortunately, an intervening wadi held up the Dervish cavalry in time for the brigade to form square. A couple of volleys at medium range drove off the Dervish horsemen, while their companions on foot declined to advance on the strong square.

Pettygree's brigade advance towards the zariba. The wadi to his front would cause considerable difficulties for the British as they tried to cross it. Note the 10th Hussars out on the flank trying to spring any ambushes. Dervish could pop up anywhere there was a terrain feature, such as a collection of scrub, a wadi, or a small ridge. The referee diced for a reaction on each turn to see if any Dervish appeared.

Pettygree' s brigade attempted to negotiate a particularly wide and deep wadi to their front. As the Egyptian regiment cleared the wadi, it was attacked by two units of Dervish: one a rifle armed mob, and the other a ferocious band of Hadendowa Fuzzies. These units were successfully driven off by rifle fire. Just when things began to look promising, anothe band of Camelry charged the Egptians, and this gave encouragement to the Fuzzies, who turned around and decided to join in on the attack.

Pettygree's second melee in two turns -- a combined group of Dervish foot and Camelry charge across the wadi, where they are repulsed by the Egyptians and the supporting Black Watch regiment.

The Black Watch moved up to the rim of the wadi and lent their support to the Egyptians' defense, and this provided sufficient firepower to fend off the second attack. On Pettygree's left flank, the 10th Hussars flushed another band of Hadendowa from the scrub and drove them off. This band would later join up with another Dervish unit and attack Wilmington-Smythe's zariba.

Two Dervish mobs link up together and head for the nearest enemy (Wilmington-Smythe's brigade at the oasis). Often the Dervish will not attack, but instead roll a reaction of "join the nearest friend" (which they are doing above) or "shadow the enemy outside of rifle range".

So far so good, thought Colonel Pettygree. He had successfully driven off two major attacks to his front, had negotiated across the difficult wadi, and now Wilmington-Smythe's brigade was clearly visible to his front. It began to look like the mission would be accomplished. It seemed like everytime Colonel Pettygree opened his mouth and declared that everything was going all tickety-boo, something dire would happen to his brigade. The other British commanders strongly advised Pettygree not to opine on the state of affairs for awhile. Things were not all right, for now another band of Fuzzies appeared at the rear of Pettygree's brigade. Fortunately, the Royal Berkshires were deployed in the rear of the brigade to handle such an attack from the rear.

Colonel Pettygree's third major melee. The Royal Berkshires are trapped on the wrong side of the big wadi, with no support available from the rest of the brigade, which has already crossed the terrain hazzard.

The Berkshires had a rough go of it, having to fend off a mob of 800 Fuzzies on their own. A squadron of the 10th Hussars rode over to help, but even so, the Berkshires lost almost half of their regiment fighting off the Fuzzies. In the Gilder Sudan rules, the Imperialist troops have a relatively easy time fending off any attacks. But if they don't win the first round of melee (i.e. score more casualties on the enemy than they receive) then the odds begin to favor the Dervish. During the first round of melee, only those figures in the front rank can fight. In the second round, the Imperial troops can fight with both ranks, but the Dervish get to fight with all of their troops. So the weight of numbers favors the Dervish after the first round. As the Berkshires found out, you must defeat Fuzzy right away or else he can really ruin your day.

After this attack from the rear was repulsed, Colonel Pettygree advanced the Black Watch towards the zariba, while the Egyptian regiment hastened the flight of the Dervish with a steady advance. This would prove to be as far as Pettygree could advance before Wilmington-Smythe met his fate.

Atherton's 3rd Brigade - Rear Guard

Colonel Atherton's rear guard had a few anxious moments at the beginning of the battle, what with the sudden appearance of Dervish to his front whilst the brigade was still in column. Thereafter, the rear guard advanced at a tortoise-like pace in brigade square (the square can move at line formation speed of 6-inches, whereas changing into column (9-0nches) costs you half a movement rate, so it was almost better to continue the advance in square rather than waste a turn changing formation. That and the fact that the square was impervious to attack were considerations that crossed Atherton's mind.

The Bengal Lancers were sent out to the left flank on a scouting mission and they soon ran into a hoard of Hadendowa on the charge. It looked like it was curtains for the Lancers, but miraculously, they won the first round of the melee and the reaction result for the Fuzzies was to withdraw for three turns. Thank you very much.

It looks worse than it actually was. The Bengal Lancers drove off the Hadendowa with considerable ease.

The remainder of Atherton's day was smooth sailiing. Once the Fuzzie attack on the left was stopped, he broke from square and sent the 2nd Sudanese regiment off to the left to support the Bengal Lancers and cover the rest of the brigades crossing of a small wadi to his front. A considerable hoard of Dervish spearmen and riflemen were lurking across the wadi, out of small arms range. The Royal Marines were the first to cross, covered by the Gordans on their right and the Sudanese on their left. Once the Marines were on the other side of the wadi, the Gordons crossed and deployed atop a small ridge on the right flank. The Gordons realized that the Dervish to their front were armed with rifles, so they fell back a few paces behind the crest of the ridge until they could advance in unison with the Royal Marines. Then, two British regiments could concentrate their fire on the one rifle armed Dervish hoard. This proved to be an effective tactic as the combined fire of the two regiments drove off the threat. Atherton faced no more difficulties for the remainder of the day. One never knows what to expect in the sands of the Sudan. Sometimes it's a tough day, and other days it's a piece of cake.

The Attack on Wilmington-Smythe's Zariba

Colonel Wilmington-Smythe seemed to be leading a rather charmed life on this day. He could hear the sound of rifle fire to the south and the west, indicating that the relief column was on its way as promised. He continued to peer at the growing masses of hostiles around three sides of his zariba.

A band of 600 Hadendowa in "shadow mode" watched the zariba for most of the game.

Each turn the referee would roll dice to see if any Dervish would enter the table. If the results of the die roll were positive, then another roll (odd or even on a D6 die) would determine which side of the table received the reinforcements. Then a final die roll determined which of the three sectors of the table the Dervish would appear. After that, all Dervish units on the table took a reaction roll to see what they would do on that turn. Results can vary from "go to high ground", "seek nearest friendly unit", "shadow the enemy" or "charge". A different table is used, depending on the relative strenght of the Dervish unit to any enemy in sight. The fact that Wilmington-Smythe's brigade tended to outnumber the individual Dervish units, and the fact that he was in a "prepared cover" defense, also reduced the odds of a Dervish attack on the zariba. Eventually, the Dervish forces would build up to the point where the forces were in their favor, thereby improving their odds of charging.

Towards the end of the alloted game time, the referee (Keith Leidy) began to put larger and larger units on the table near the zariba, so that we could see what would happen. Colonel W-S (Randy Frey) didn't seem to mind considering that he didn't have much to do throughout the game. So he was a good sport about all of this.

The Dervish forces build up around the oasis. You can see the forward elements of Colonel Pettygree's relief column in the upper left clump of trees. Atherton's rear guard is not even in sight.

Wilmington-Smythe peered through his binoculars one more time and exclaimed, "oh my goodness, they are on the move!" The bugles were sounded and all along the line the sargeants barked out orders to their platoons.

"We are doomed!" cried out one of the subalterns as 1200 Dervish close in on the Egyptian half of the zariba. Another hoard to the right also advance. When one unit charges, all units in Shadowing mode also charge. The Black Watch can only look on helplessly.

1,000 Hadendowa charge the zariba. When one goes, they all go.

All of the Dervish close in on the zariba. You thought I was kidding when I said that they ALL go in. A very stirring sight to behold.

At this point, there were more Dervish on the table than I had ever seen in my life, and they were all heading for Randy (Wilmington-Smythe). I could hear a distinguishable "gulp" eminating from Colonel W-S's throat. "Chin up old bean, stand fast and all that," was the best advice that I could think to offer him. Just win the first round of the melee and the rest is a piece of cake. That's easy for me to say.

The Lancashires hold up their end of the deal by repulsing all of the Dervish attacks on the west side of the square. The Egyptians, on the other hand, faced overwhelming odds and couldn't drive off the attack on their side. They were doomed.

The Egyptian side of the square did their best to repel the massive Dervish attack. Each section of the regiment won their part of the melee by inflicting higher casualties on the enemy. Unfortunately, the two sections of Dervish rolled a "4" and a "9" on the reaction chart. These were the only possible outcomes out of 12 that would result in a "continue to melee" result.

The next round of the melee whittled the Egyptians down considerably as now the Dervish could add in more numbers to the fight. We stopped the game at this point, because the end result was inevitable. In the Gilder Sudan rules, the melee continues until there is no more melee. That means that once the Egyptians were chopped up, the likely reaction result would be continue to charge into the Lancashires inside the zariba. They would have no opportunity to turn and face the charging Dervish, and so they too would be chopped to pieces. Pettygree's Black Watch could only standby and watch and wait for the melee to end, as the firing phase comes after the melees are completed.

Dispatch to the London Times

Her Majesty's Government regrets to inform the public that a brigade of Her Imperial forces was wiped out at the Oasis Dur Es El Bubba on February 9, 1884 in eastern Sudan. A relief column, under the command of Lt. General Ponsonby attempted to fight its way through to secour the brigade of British and Egyptian forces, commanded by Colonel Wilmington-Smythe, late of Her Majesty's Royal Lancashire Regiment. Ponsonby's column retreated to the British fort at Tofrek once it became apparent that Wilmington-Smythe's brigade had been anilhilated by some 10,000 Dervish

9th Bengal Lancers from Peter Gilder's collection. Note how he painted the lances to resemble bamboo.

Dervish Camelry- Connoisseru figures painted by Peter Gilder

A close-up shot of a Dervish stand. Each stand represents 10 figures (or 100 men), but Peter Gilder often put 7 or 8 figures on the stand and added some rocks and brush to make a little diorama out of the stand. Regardless of the actual number of figures on the stand, it still represents 10 figures. This is a rather creative idea, I think.


  1. Were they looking for Fuzzies' honey?

  2. "Play up! Play up! And play the game!"

  3. Great report, thanks and nice to see more of Peter Gilder's work. As far as I know his Sudan rules were never published, is this true?

  4. Morning Jim,

    Thank you for all of these neat photos and the engaging battle report. Why, it's almost like paging through early issues of Miniature Wargames that featured all of those photos of Mr. Gilder's collection!

    Best Regards,


  5. C'est magnifique! :o)) Brilliant report, and my word don't those lancers look fine.... Having also gone the Peter Gilder Sudan path I also appreciate the rule explanations - very helpful, as I'm pulling together the excerpts from "Pony Wars", and those early Wargamers World articles..

  6. The rules were never published, but they were based on a set called "Pony Wars, or B Troop Aint Ever Coming Back" (which is still available from a company in the UK). So I don't know what the legal status of the rules would be. Maybe after we work a few more bugs out of the system, we might be able to make copies of our version available, but don't hold your breath for that happening anytime soon. We all have rather full plates right now.

  7. *sigh* . . . what are you trying to do to me?

    I'm busy working on my Tricorne troops and you have to go and post these great Colonial photos, pulling me in that direction too.

    Great game report and wonderful terrain and figures. Please post more such game reports.

    -- Jeff

  8. Cracking looking game! How big was the table? It looks huge.

    To lose a whole square, *shakes head* well you did dish him with martini's and it wasn't hardly fair...

    Perhaps you get this chap to write you a memorial to your W.S.'s lost square as he did for the "last eleven" at Maiwand.

  9. must have been a cold february, so you decided to have a game somewhere warm?

  10. Dear Fritz,

    Are we likely to see these 'big battalion' colonial rules avaialable any time soon? The other rules I've seen on the web favour tiny units or skirmishes.


  11. Still love revisiting these posts Jim - still incredibly inspirational!!