Sunday, May 31, 2020

Khartoum Tabletop Layout

A preliminary mock up of the walls of Khartoum.

This year's Big Battalion Game will feature a game in the Sudan at the opening of the Mahdi's rebellion. The game will be played over three 6ft by 30ft tables running parallel to each other. We will be using large 54mm toy soldiers for the game. I have sketched a rough map that shows the three game tables and the location of various towns and objectives. The tables run parallel to each other with an aisle gap between each table, in the manner of Peter Gilder's original Wargame Holiday Center set up. The gaps do not exist and so the action carries over from table to table.

Map of tables for the big Sudan game.
There are three parallel tables measuring 6ft wide by 30ft  long.

Sudan Campaign Overview

The British forces will have General Graham based at Suakin (on the Red Sea -rightside table edge), General Gordon in Khartoum (upper left position on the map), and the main British forces at the Korti on the Nile staging area. General Earle's River Column will move up the right bank of the Nile while General Stewart's Camel Corps will move up the left bank of the Nile. The British will also have two river boats at Korti and one boat at Khartoum. There might also be a modest Egyptian garrison at El Teb (I have actually renamed this town Trinkatat since it is a sea port).

The Mahdi's army will be organized under flag commands: Black Flag near Khartoum, Red Flag near Berber, Green Flag at who knows where, and Osman Digna's Beja and Hadendowa tribes near Suakin. If there is a fifth command it will be The Raisuli's Arab/Bedouin tribes at an unkown place. We don't want the British players to know where every Dervish command will be.

The British objective will be to close in on Khartoum and rescue Gordon (major victory), or capture Berber (minor victory) or destroy Osman Digna's army (minor victory). The Dervish objective is to capture Khartoum and fend off any British columns that try to either rescue Gordon or retake the town.

There will be approximately 1,000 Dervish and 300+ British and Egyptian allies in the game.

The game will be played in one full day on a Saturday, hopefully in September, if Covid-19 concerns diminish to a safe level. Otherwise, the game could be deferred into 2021 or as soon as it is considered safe for ten gamers to congregate at close quarters.

The Khartoum Model

One of the terrain features will be the city of Khartoum and part of the scenario will be the relief of Gordon in Khartoum. Accordingly, I am going to need models to create Khartoum on the tabletop.

I created a mockup of the table that features the town so that I can visualize the size of the city and to figure out how many walls, fortifications and buildings will be needed for the game. It also gives me an idea of how many houses can fit inside the area that I have chosen to represent Khartoum.

The following map is from the Osprey Campaign Series book about Khartoum in 1885. The map depicts the town of Khartoum located at the confluence of the Blue Nile (on the right in the map) and the White Nile (on the left in the map) where they form the main Nile River. The rivers provide some natural protection for the town. At the open end of the peninsula formed by the two rivers a long wall runs between the two rivers. The town of Khartoum appears to be well distanced from the defensive walls, unlike those depicted in the movie "Khartoum" with Charleton Heston.

Map of the Dervish assault on Khartoum. Osprey Campaign "Khartoum 1885 General Gordon's Last Stand"

Thus Khartoum can be modeled inside a triangular shaped area of the wargame table. The Blue Nile will be the horizontal edge of the table while the White Nile is the vertical edge of the table.

So refer back to the Big Game Map near the top of the page where you will see Khartoum in the upper left corner. That corner will have a right-riangle area measureing 5ft on the Blue Nile edge, 6ft on the White Nile edge, and approximately 7 to 8 feet on the land side perimeter facing the Dervish.

View of the Khartoum mock up.

I set up some pieces of plywood boards (6" high by 12" long) to make mock walls. This gives me a good idea of the table space needed for the city as well as the positioning of the defensive walls. You can see one wall segment in the picture that is made by King and Country for toy soldier collectors. I have the main gate and another wall section on order and these components will represent the center and gateway of the defenses. The other needed sections will have to be scratch built. I will use either plywood and bass wood to make the walls, or I might use 1/2" thick foam core with bass wood skeleton for support. Both types of material will take to using wallboard paste (Spackle compound) so that I can give the walls some texture and break up the monolithic look of the plain wood. Wood buttresses will be made to cover up the joins between the wall segments.

The walls will need firing platforms for the infantry and probably two artillery positions. Artillery would seem to be an advantage for the Egyptians, but when you look at the model, you can see that the artillery position is probably the weakest portion of the wall because it has fewer men in that space with which to employ as defenders once the Dervish start pushing ladders up the walls. There will also be plenty of buildings inside the city from which the defenders can hole up in should (when) the Dervish pour over the walls.

The long view of my home table (6ft by 12ft) showing the corner position of Khartoum.  The picture also shows all of the plastic Dervish and Egyptians that I have painted since the Covid-19 lockdown began in March 2020.

I am making good progress on the painting of my Dervish army using Armies In Plastic 54mm plastic toy soldiers. Similar AIP figures have been painted for the Egyptian army, which will defend Khartoum.

As of today, I have the following Dervish plastic units:

Beja #1          60 figures
Beja #2          30 figures of 60

Ansar #1        60 figures
Ansar #2        24 figurs of 60     (round shield    - swordsmen)
Ansar #3        24 figures of 60   (wicker shields -  swordsmen)
Ansar #4        24 figures of 60   (spearmen )

Riflemen        20 figures of 60

Total figures painted :  238 foot plus 5 standard bearers

The following Egyptians and British have been painted:

Egyptians      48 figures 64 (organized into "companies" of 16 figures)

Naval Brigade   16 sailors (one company)
Infantry              16 men    (one company)

Camel Corps       6 mounted on camels (of 48 in total)

 Royal Artillery: 2 Gatling Guns, 1 12-pounder, and 1 7 poun mountain screw gun

The majority of the armies for both sides will be metal figures, but I'm using plastic figures to bulk out the armies to be more economical.

Last week my custom made bases from Litko arrived - these are for the Egyptians and British - and so I spent more time basing figures than I did painting figures. I used standard "off the shelf" Litko bases for the Dervish army. They are mounted ten figures per movement tray, on 40mm round bases.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Sudan Project Painting Update

The Ansar charge into a steady line of Egyptian troops with Royal Artillery supports.

Click or Double Click the pictures to enlarge.

I have painted approximately 225 Dervish since March 19th and another 100 or so British and Egyptians since the project began. The Armies In Plastic ("AIP") figures are so easy to paint that the brushes almost work and move by themselves -- I'm just going along for the ride.

So here is the update on the Dervish portion of my Sudan Project:

                  Finished    WIP       Extras        Total
Beja #1          60            0            0               60

Beja #2          20           25           15             60

Ansar #1       60            0             0               60     -- cream jibbah and green patches

Ansar #2       24            0            36             60       -- all with round shields

Ansar #3       24           24            12            60       -- all spearmen with wicker shields

Ansar #4       24           14            22            60       -- all swordsmen with wicker shields

Riflemen       20           20            20            60

The WIP (work in progress) column represents figures that I have that are in primer or upainted figures on hand. The term Extras indicates the number of new figures that I will need to order to complete the unit.

Beja #1 unit

Beja units #2, #3 and #4

My original roster called for only two Ansar units plus one Riflemen unit. However, noting that the Ansar can be grouped into poses of (1) swordsmen carrying a wicker shield, (2) spearmen carrying a wicker shield, and (3) swordsmen carrying a round shield, I decided to separate the three categories into their own 60-figure unit. Thus the original Ansar #2 was supposed to be a 60-figure unit, of which 72 figures have been painted as of today. Ansar #2 has been subdivided into Ansar #2, Ansar #3 and Ansar #4, each having 24 figures painted as of today.

The Beja warriors are so easy to paint that I decided to paint a second unit of them for my Dervish army. I dare say that a third Beja unit might be possible as well.

Royal Artillery infantry, in grey, provide support for a British 12-pounder. The cannon can be converted into a Gatling Gun by swapping barrels.

So at the end of the day, it looks like I am working towards painting seven units of 60 Dervish for a total of 420 figures. Now anyone who regularly follows this blog knows that Der Alte Fritz likes symmetry knows that he is not likely to stop short of a nice round number such as 500.

And after 500, could 1,000 be too far behind?

Major General Pettygree and I have a collective 430 figures, largely metal, outside of the 420 plastic figures that I am painting. So with 500 + 430 = 930, you just know that DAF is going to have to paint those last 70 figures, don't you?

This all adds up to a recipe for a grand wargame event. Bill and I are planning our annual Big Battalion Game and this year's event will be 54mm toy soldiers in the Sudan. Assuming that pandemic events improve sufficiently, we could stage the game around September 2020. If gathering 10 people together is still not safe, then we will postpone the game, maybe into 2021 or until the environment changes for the better. Nevertheless, I will plough on and paint figures and make terrain as if the game will be played in September or October of this year.

The planning of a game provides the inspiration that I need to start a project and see it through to its end. I am well along the path in that regard.

So what do you think? Please feel free to leave comments.

Friday, May 22, 2020

More Complicated Dervish Flag Conversions

Converted figure (left) and original figure (right)

Considering how soft the plastic is in the AIP figures, I figured that it would be easier to clip, cut and carve other Dervish figure poses that were better suited for use as standard bearers.

Flag bearer for one of my Beja/Hadandowa war bands.

Many of the poses have the warrior holding his shield out to his side, why I don't know, so I decided to cut off the shields and drill a hole in the hand to create a standard bearer.

Flag bearer for one of my Ansar war bands.

The conversion process is quite easy, actually. I begin by cutting off the shields and being careful to not cut the hand off in any degree. The shields have a thick boss at the center and this takes a bit more work to cut and carve the unwanted plastic material from the fist. Once the shield has been cut off, I begin the process of gradually carving or shaving the arm and fist to make them look more natural. I could have done a better job on the two figures shown in this post, but they were good enough for me.

The flags are images from War Flags, a site for free downloads of flags. I copied them and pasted them to Word, printed the document out and then trimmed to flags to the desired size. The next step is to smear white glue (Elmer's Glue or the equivalent) over both halves of the back side and then fold the paper around the flag pole. There is still some time left to true up the flag halves so as to minimize the amount of white showing around the edges.

Next, I use one of my paint brush handles to furl the flag. I place the brush handle on a section of the flag and I wrap the flag around the handle to create the furl. Always have your flag furl running diagonally away from the flag staff to get a more natural look.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

International Shipping Information for Fife & Drum and Minden Orders

Customers in Europe have been reporting back to me that it is taking up to four weeks for their packages to arrive once they have left Fife and Drum headquarters.

I asked our local post office why this is so and they informed me that there are significantly fewer airplanes available to carry cargo from the United States to Europe (and presumably other countres too). Airline companies have reduced the number of flights during the pandemic due to the lack of business - that is, people are not flying overseas and cargo carriers do not have enough demand to justify operating their full fleets.

I will send you the US Postal Service tracking number for all shipments going outside of the United States so that you can follow the progress of your package.

The postal service also told me that if a package does not find an airplane within approximately four weeks, then the package is returned to the shipper (that would be me).

My policy has always been to replace lost or severely delayed (6 weeks or more) orders free of charge and I will continue to do so during the pandemic crisis. If you have not received your package after four weeks from the shipping date, then send me an email to report the problem and a replacement order will be shipped to you.

I should add that I am very appreciative of the orders that are coming in from customers all over the world. I will always strive to get your order to you and to "make things right" if there are any shipping issues.


There are a number of items that are out of stock due to the fact that our caster has been shut down during the stay at home orders in Britain. However, Griffin Moulds recently reopened and is back to casting orders, so now I can reorder those items that have gone out of stock.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Dervish Standard Bearer Conversions

54mm Armies In Plastic ("AIP") Dervish showing the original figures and the converted figures.

While I have not blogged as much as I would have thought, I am still burning up my brushes at the painting table this past week. Twenty-one more Beja and Ansar joined the ranks of the Mahdi's army since my last blog post.

As of today, I have three Dervish war bands of sixty figures each plus one group of 20 riflemen, for a grand total of 200 figures. There are approximately 90 Egyptian and British opponents that have been painted since the start of The Great Plague.

With a growing Dervish force, it was time to start adding standard bearers to each war band. So I sorted through my various Beja and Ansar figures to find some that looked like they could be converted into flag bearers by the simple means of cutting off the sword and drilling a hole through the hand with a pin vise. 

Flags were downloaded from a free site called War Flags. The detail on the flags is not very sharp and crisp, but they are good enough to do the job. The pictures below show the original figure and the converted figure. Some will probably note that the edges of some of the flags show some of the white paper, but rest assured that I have painted the edges of the flags after these pictures were taken.

I also managed to get the Beja and the second Ansar units based. The bases are from Litko and hold 40mm round bases, which seem to be sufficiently large to accomodate any of the AIP plastic bases. The base sizes also leave enough wiggle room for the figures to sit comfortably on their movement trays. I am experimenting with 10-figure and 6-figure movment trays and I think that I prefer the look of the 10-figure sets.

Beja warriors based on ten figure movement trays.

Ansar warriors based on six figure movement trays.

Another view of the Ansar in a deeper formation. 

Two stands of Beja back to back.

The pictures don't show it very well, but the movement trays have been painted a light red-brown color and the individual figure bases have spackle paste dipped into a box of fine grit from Woodland Scenics. I have been told by numerous people that Aileen's Tacky Glue (or any similar tacky glue product) is the only glue that will hold the plastic figures to the wood bases. The white glue and the super glue products don't bond the plastic to wood very well and apparently the figures will pop off of the bases during handling. So I went with the tacky glue and eventually we shall see how sturdy the bond is in battle.

As of now, I do not plan on terraining the movement trays, leaving them painted. The round bases likely will not have any extra dry brushing effects or tufts added -- there are just too many figures to merit the amount of time that I would need to do a better looking job. However, when you are looking at hundreds of figures you are probably not paying too much attention to the stands.

What's next? I might paint the extra 20 riflemen that I have and this will finish off the AIP Dervish figures that I have on hand. Eventually I will order more boxes as I try to build the army up to 400 plastic figures. I have approximately 300 metal figures and 70 cavalry while Major General Pettygree has some 150 or so metal and plastic figures in his Dervish army. Our combined forces will be over 800 figures once I finish with the second hundred plastic Dervish. Can a 1,000 figure combined army be seen off on the horizon?

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

AIP British Naval Brigade in the Sudan

I recently bought a couple boxes of Armies In Plastic ("AIP") Royal Navy Brigade that fought in the Sudan in the eastern Suakin theater of the war. The picture at the top of this page shows the ten figures plus an officer that I painted.

Each box consists of 16 figures which translates to eight poses with two of each pose. Aside from two "silly poses", the figures are nicely posed and detailed. "Silly poses" are those useless figures that are the bane of every box of plastic figures; you know, guys using their rifle for a club, laying prone or charging (when every other pose in the box is either firing or defending).

The quality of the figures varied in my box. It seemed that each pose had one figure that was well-cast with sharp details, but then the second of the same pose was missing some of the detail such as belting and straps. This is the first time that I have had some miscasts in all of the boxes of AIP figures that I have purchased for this Sudan Project

Silly poses times two- the two figures on the left.

Nice officer figure. I plan on having one command my artillery brigade and the other will command the infantry sailors


Sunday, May 10, 2020

Happy Mother's Day

Mrs. Fritz won't allow me to post a picture of her, so here is Lady Emma Cuddleston-Smythe.

Lady Emma Cuddleston-Smythe and Sir Archibald Sinclair served up afternoon tea for Lady Veronica Aston-Martin to celebrate Mother's Day today. Lady Veronica actually took time from a well deserved day off to bake the scones, which you can see on the table in the picture above. I made some miniature sandwiches, crust cut off naturally, while Lady Emma conjured up some tea cakes and macaroons.

Here is a close up view of the table setting:

The table is set and we are ready to serve to Mrs. Fritz on her Mother's Day.
We had a grand time of it, going over stories of motherhood from the past while Vivaldi played in the background.

The living vacuum cleaning, i.e. Augie the Doggie, lurked 'neath the table in hope that some scrap of scone or sandwich might find its way to the floor. Alas, he was defeated in his notion.

Augie the Doggie is lurking around the table hoping that some food will fall on the floor.
He is a crafty one. He has an injured paw and he keeps chewing off the bandage,
which makes it longer for the wound to heal. You can see his Cone of Silence on the right.

We have been having Sunday Tea over the past few weeks and are having a fun time, dressing up in our best clothes and having the time together to be a family.

I hope that everyone has had a joyous Mother's Day today.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Beja Rico! Thousands of 'Em! - Project Update

40 Beja figures on 10-figure movement trays from Litko.


I have been cranking out the Dervish figures at a rapid clip during the pandemic shutdown, and watching my Dervish army grow by 8 to 10 figures per day. The Armies In Plastic 54mm figures are fun to paint and easy to do.
Some of the Ansar figures painted previously - 54 of them.

I had run out of Testors clear gloss coat spray and my supply of primer was getting dangerously low due to the accelerated rate of finishing painted figures. I couldn't find any gloss coat online at Michael's stores, so I scored a few cans on eBay. The problem is that they won't arrive for a week. Finally, it occurred to me to call Games Plus in Mount Prospect, IL and they had curbside pickup of the needed supplies. So I am back in business with the gloss coating.

Last week my order of movment trays arrived from Litko. I ordered some 10-figure trays and some 6-figure trays so that I could see what each one looked like. I placed the Beja on the 10-figure tray and the Ansar on the 6-figure trays. I rather like both options, so going forward I think that I will put all of the Beja on the 10-figure and all of the Ansar on the 6-figure movment stands. The circles are 40mm rounds, which seem sufficiant to accomodate the bases of all of the different types of AIP bases.

On the left are 40 Beja warriors and on the right are 24 Ansar. By yesterday I had finished painting the 12 figures that go on the blank squares. Bases are from Litko.

A close up view of the Ansar, showing the 3 by 2 ranks of figures on a 6 figure stand.

The Beja are mounted on movement trays that have 10 figures on a 5 x 2 formation.

My Egyptian regulars, being formed troops, will be placed on 1-inch by 2-inch rectangles and then further placed on movment trays that hold 8 figures (4 in the front rank and 4 in the rear rank).  I just ordered some custom size trays from Litko this morning and they were very helpful in fixing me up with the type of stand that fits my needs.

One 16-figure company of formed troops plus one officer. The company will be placed on two 8-figure movment trays.

Here is a wider view of the various troops with the Egyptians at the top of the picture, the Beja on the left and the Ansar  in the center and on the right.

So here is the tally on the number of figures painted as of today, compared to the number of figures that I plan to paint for the Dervish portion of the project:

                      Finished      WIP    TOTAL    EXTRA    FINAL TOTAL
Beja                    46              8           54         36               90

Ansar #1             54             0           54          36               90

Ansar #2             30             6           36          54               90

Rifles                  20            20          40           0                40

Totals                150           26          184       126             310

The column labeled "Total" represents the original number of figures that I had planned to paint for the Dervish portion of the Sudan Project. But after seeing how the units looked in their movement trays, I decided to increase the size of the units to 90 figures. Naturally, the overall size of any unit can be adjusted by adding or subtracting movment bases from the unit for a particular game.

In our rules (a 19th Century Colonial version of B.A.R. rules by Bill Protz), the Imperial's (British and Egyptians) fire power is significant and so the Dervish need larger units in order to have any chance in the game. The Imperials are configured in companies of 10 to 16 figures and a regiment could be as many as 10 companies at the 10-figure company formation, but that doesn't happen very often. My Egyptians will have three companies of 16 figures plus one officer. In general, our Imperial units all number around 50 figures per regiment.

After I get my Dervish army up to its new size, I will return to painting mounted Camel Corps figures, in plastic, and then work on some Royal Navy Brigade infantry and a Gatling Gun crew.

Naval crew manning a Gatling Gun in the Sudan

310 Dervish are more than enough figures to use on my regular 12 x 6 feet game table. I can add an extra table to lengthen the overall table to 15 feet. Major General Pettygree has two 6ft by 24ft tables, plus a side table of 3ft by 24ft and most of our Sudan games are played on his home pitch.

Hopefully we can play our annual Big Battalion game in September on Kieth L.'s massive three table 6ft by 30ft tables. Using this size table will easily accomodate our large toy soldier (54mm) figures.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Khartoum The Perfect Winter Resort

I found some of these old retro/art deco travel posters touting winter vacations in Khartoum.

I particularly like "Dry, Sunny and Bracing"