Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The Battle of Khartoum - 54mm Toy Soldier Game


Earl K. (left) and William P. (right) commanded the Dervish forces.

This past weekend, on September 26, 2020, we gathered at the barracks of Major General Pettygree and played our version of the Dervish assault on the city of Khartoum during the Mahdist Uprising in 1884-85. We used the 19th Century variount of Bill Protz's "Battailes dans l'Ancien Regime" (or B.A.R. for short) for our game. Our gaming group has a strong familiarity  with the BAR rules and the rules' mechanics are easy to adapt to other historical periods. We use BAR variations to fight the Jacobite Rebellion, Napoleonic and 19th Century Colonial battles. Thus anyone in our regular group already knows the mechanics of how the movement, shooting and melee systems work.

The Sirdir Himself, the Honorable Major General William Augustus Pettygree has provided an excellent piece of game background on his blog  Back To Khartoum and recently followed up with his version of the events of this game Khartoum Battle Report. Both blog articles are well crafted and fun to read so I recommend that you click on the links to Bill's blog and give them a read. It will provide context to my pictures on this blog.

Once a year, usually in the Fall season, we stage our big Colonial wargame with anywhere from six to twelve players and lots and lots of well painted and colorful 28mm British, Indians and Egyptians versus various natives in either the Sudan or on the Northwest Frontier. This year we decided to stage an assault on the town of Khartoum by the Mahdi's Dervish army. 

The Cast of Players (left to right):
Chuck the Lucky, Earl the K, der Alte Fritz (or Purky Pasha) and MG Pettygree Himself.

The game was actually broken down into three seperate, but connected, games within the overall game. The central game revolved around the Dervish attack on Khartoum; the second game featured the British and Egyptian relief force marching to Khartoum; and the third game was a smaller skirmish affair involving the rescue of Mrs. Pettygree from the Dervish menace.Due to social distancing protocols we decided to limit the game to four players. The Khartoum garrison was commanded by Chuck the Lucky and me. The Dervish were commanded by Earl K. and Bill P. We switched sides to play the relief column game, but time ran out before we could play the rescue Mrs. Pettygree game.

Game One - Assault on Khartoum 

Major General Charles Gordon, commander of the Khartoum garrison, had five companies (16 figures plus one officer per company) of Egyptian-Soudanese troops and two heavy Krupp cannon for his defense of the city. He also had one Nile River gunboat, but this had been dispatched up river to accompany the British Museum's archeological dig of pharaoh Rutin Tutin III's lost tomb. Mrs. Pettygree and friends were part of that expedition .

The Mahdi brought a force of approximately 300 foot soldiers to attack Khartoum. Another Dervish army of 30 cavalry and 120 Beja tribesmen were posted in the rear areas to keep a watch for any British relief column that might appear (more on that later).

Khartoum defenses at the start of the battle.

General Gordon takes up post on the roof of the Governor's Palace to watch for the arrival of the British River Column. Journalist for The Times, Melton Prior can be seen in the background, working on his sketches.

Egyptian Krupp guns man the corner towers.

The Riverine Arab tribes assemble for the attack, preceeded by their rifle armed
men who hope to pin down the enemy on the walls with well aimed fire.

The Dervish rush towards the walls with scaling ladders in hand.

The Egyptians find their Krupp guns to be useless once the Dervish close in on the walls. 

The Dervish quickly reach the walls with minimal casualties.

Ground level view of the attack.

Up to four figures were allowed to climb up the ladder at any one time.
The defenders would roll a D6 to determine whether they could push the ladders over.

The Beja tribesmen on the right appear to be taking more casualties during their advance than do the Riverine Arabs on the left.

The ladders go up across the front of the defenses.

And some of the ladders are tipped over.

The ladders go up from multiple directions. The sheer weight of numbers favor the attackers.

The first of the Dervish climb over the walls where the thinly held artillery towers are.

The Dervish have gained a foothold on the deck of the walls. The outnumbered Egyptians know that they are doomed, but try to sell their lives dearly. 

The Beja break down the town gates and swarm into the city. 

A half-company of Egyptians are waiting for the Beja and open fire.

Dervish riflemen capture the tower and start shooting into the courtyard.

A small group of Beja make a desperate charge into a company of Egyptian regulars.

Meanwhile, on the deck of the walls, a small group of Egyptians make a last stand against overwhelming numbers of Dervish. 

An every growing hoard of Dervish fill up the town square. Is this the end? 

Perhaps, but then General Gordon gains hope as he looks in the distance and sees.....

... the arrival of the cavalry and...

...the British Camel Corps!

Major General Pettygree (and that bounder Freddy Burnaby) have arrived to save the day.

The Mahdi breaks off the attack and his Ansar retreat back into the desert. Has the rebellion been crushed in front of the gates of Khartoum? Time will tell.

The Conclusion

The game ended with the arrival of Major General Pettygree's relief column of Egyptian lancers and the British Camel Corps. The Egyptian lancers charged the Beja foot twice and were twice repulsed. So their commander decided to leave things well alone and shadow the Beja instead of attacking them.

The Beja holding force of two tribes on foot and a collection of cavalry/camelry had no firearms, so when the Camel Corps deployed, the Beja had no choice but to fall back out of rifle and Gardner Gun range. 

Meanwhile, inside the walls of Khartoum, the Beja command had fought a ferocious battle with the Sudanese regulars and were badly mauled. The Riverine Arab command fared better and had nearly wiped out their Egyptian foes. However, the Riverine Arabs had suffered enough casualties to force a "fall back" die roll on a D6. They still had a lot of fight left in them, but deemed it pointless to continue the battle.

So General Gordon barely hung on to the city and he was saved by the arrival of Major General Pettygree's relief force.

The game was played on one long table measureing 24 feet by 6 feet. We did not have need of the two side tables that were available, given that most of the action was on the vertical axis of the table, rather than on the horizontal axis. We all had a fun time playing the game, Colonial games lend themselves to having fun no matter which side one plays on. We used the BAR rules up until the Dervish were scaling the walls and getting into individual hand to hand melees with the Egyptians, at which point we switched to a more simple system of melee using D6 dice.

What will next year bring in Toy Soldier Land? Perhaps Rorke's Drift?


  1. Outstanding report Jim my boy!
    Compelling photos too. Wow!
    General Pettygree

    1. My dear General, you set the Blogging standard for the rest of us.

  2. Jim, this is a superb wargaming spectacle! Love the photos of the Native scaling the walls with their ladders. Classic Hollywood colonial action if there ever was. Even more impressive is that you were able to pull off a multiplayer game during these uncertain times.

    Well done, Man!

    1. Thank you Jonathan, your comments are appreciated. You can’t help but have fun when scaling ladders are in a game. This will be a good convention game.

  3. A terrific endeavour. Having seen it coming together on the vwc and here I am so pleased the battle went so well.

  4. Hello there Der Alte Fritz,

    I have no words other than - absolutely stunning!

    A magnificent effort and I will raise a glass to you and your compatriots!

    Very well done indeed!

    All the best,


  5. Yes! Wonderful. Absolutely wonderful.

    Best Regards,


  6. Absolutely brilliant Jim. All your hardwork has paid off. I only hope you didnt adopt any stereotypes and allowed the fuzzy wuzzies 21st century ideas otherwise one could accuse you of being a typical white male. Oh wait a minute...

  7. Bravo Jim, what a cracking game and great pictures to accompany your tale.

  8. Charlton Heston fan though I am, this is better than the movie!

    Sorry for the late comment, couldn't resist.


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  10. Have seen your game in the Wargamers annuel, and as a 54mm wargamer, loved it. Magnificent game. Respect. We did some colonial (Zulu wars) games ourselves but we do mostly Napoleonic or ancients. If you want to take a look, this is ou blog : https://pmcd-mobilisatie.blogspot.com. and one of my projects of the past: https://marstonmoor54mm.blogspot.com