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The Storming of Wadi Halfa, 1886


Queen Victoria’s Little Wars, Black Powder, 28mm

We were off to the Sudan this week, or rather the Sudanese-Egyptian border. The premise was that the Mahdi hadn’t died the previous year, but was spared the typhus that killed him thanks to a “miracle cure” medicine. His stash  was stolen though, by a British agent, and so it had to be reclaimed, or the Mahdi would die.  He knew it had been taken to Wadi Halfa, on the Egyptian side of the border, so the Mahdi and his followers decided to attack the town, which was held by a small Egyptian garrison. However, the British had got wind of the attack, and a relief force was on its way up the Nile. It would be landed from steamers a mile or so below the town, and the relief column would then advance on Wadi Halfa, and ideally catch the Mahdists unawares. Bart supplied the British and half the Mahdists, while Campbell brought along his own Mahdist force, even though he actually commanded the Egyptian garrison on the day, while Peter took charge of the British relief force. The Mahdists were split three ways between Alasdair, Sam (a new face) and I, with me playing the part of the Mahdi. The 8×6 foot table was dominated by the fortified village of Wadi Halfa, a donga below it, leading to the Nile,  while to the south of that was a small oasis. The Nile was presumed to be off the western (long) table edge, and played no part in the game. Sam decided to come on from the Nile side of the table, while I approached Wadi Halfa from the desert (or eastern) side of the table. If the British appeared, they’d be marching on from the south, somewhere behind the oasis. So, Alasdair’s job was to form the blocking force, to keep the British at bay until we finished off the garrison. That, at least, was the plan. Sam and I closed in on the village, and started taking casualties from Egyptian fire. These weren’t the Egyptians of a few years before – rather these were trained and experienced troops. That meant they were fairly tough, and their fire halted our first wave of attackers. We had plenty more though, and began curving round the village, to appear off its northern and southern sides. Then Sam and I charged in again. First of all, I broke a small Sikh detachment which was holding a gap between the buildings on the eastern side of the settlement. My first charge struck home, but was bounced back. Sam’s Mahdists were also stopped in their tracks. However, part of it got a foothold in the south-east corner of the village. Meanwhile, the British entered the table from the south. Peter divided his force in two, with his sailors, British line a Gatling gun and  two cavalry units on the right, closest to the Nile, with the Australian and Sikh contingents and a Gatling on the left of the oasis. The cavalry though, streaked ahead of the footsloggers, and a unit of Hussars tried to reach the garrison. It got as far as the donga before it ran out of movement. that left it exposed to the Mahdist spearmen, who began closing in. The tribesmen hit the British cavalry from both sides, and both riders and horses went down in a welter of spear jabs. Seeing this, the small Lancer unit behind it wisely kept its distance – encouraged by disordering fire from the one Mahdist gun on the table. Sam was rolling some pretty effective “to hit” dice. Meanwhile Alasdair’s Mahdist force was trying to charge into the British to the east of the oasis. They’d formed into a firing line though, and Alasdair’s first assault was thrown back with relative ease. Still, he wasn’t done yet, and after these tribesmen pulled back, Alasdair lined up more tribesmen, this time backed by some cavalry. It was no the end for the Egyptians in Wadi Halfa. Both Sam and I had broken into the village, and I sent a snatch squad of tribesmen to recover the stolen medicine chest. I cleared the Egyptians out of the eastern side of the place, and Sam took the south-western corner. The next turn the last knot of Egyptian defenders were submerged by tribesemen, and died to a man. So, with Wadi Halfa safely in our hands, we were able to turn our attention to the relief force. The trouble was, we had so many units it would take time to get them out of the village and re-deployed across the donga. However, it turned out Alasdair didn’t really need our help. His attack went in again, and this time they weren’t repulsed. The thing is, if the British don’t win by firepower then they’re in a really tricky place. Their opponents had spears and swords, while all they had were some rather clumsy hastily-fixed bayonets. The outcome wasn’t really in doubt.This was especially true when some of Alasdair’s second wave of cavalry managed to ride round the British desert flank. Now the thin khaki line was surrounded. The first to go was the Gatling gun and its naval crew. Next came the Sikhs, who were on the more exposed British left flank. Over on the far side of the oasis Sam’s  attack against the sailors was thrown back with heavy casualties, but he was slowly getting more troops together, and readying a major charge. By then though, it was all over. The poor Australian unit found itself surrounded, and it was destroyed in a charge from the front, while its escape route was blocked by cavalry to its rear. That meant half of the British relief force had been wiped out. Sensibly, Admiral Hewitt commanding the other half of the force decided to withdraw to the river, where his gunboats could cover the re-embarkation of his troops. So, Wadi Halfa had fallen, the long road to Cairo lay open, and the Mahdi had his medicine! It was a fun little game, although i can’t help thinking that in Black Powder, the odds are slightly  stacked against the British. Firepower never seems to be reliable enough to win the day over the Mahdists. Still, there’s always the next time…

 

 

 

 

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