Sunday, February 22, 2009

"Regulars versus Irregulars".. in the Sudan..

"News has reached your correspondent of a dreadful calamity having befallen our glorious troops in the eastern Sudan. A column of troops under Major the Honourable St John Wade-Smith has been ignominiously defeated, and bundled from the field by a determined foe...." London Illustrated News, June 1885...

...but that's jumping the gun slightly....

Some of you may remember that back in August of last year, while I was on holiday, I played scenario no. 3 in Grant and Asquith's "Scenario's for All Ages" - "Disciplined versus Irregulars" [click here].

On that occasion I used my green baize travelling mat, with units made from card, books for hills and bits of car park gravel (!) to mark morale... (needs must when you're on holiday!) but I thought at the time that the AWI period I'd set the game in was not perfect, and that this would make a fantastic Sudan period game, so this weekend I finally got to test my hypothesis...

Briefly a small force of regulars is trying to cross the table in the face of a significantly larger irregular force. The downside for the irregular force is that in addition to any reductions in morale etc. as a result of being irregular, they are also armed only with hand to hand weapons apart from a small number of their units.

For this game - having experienced the effect of European gunnery on un-armed Dervish in previous games I scaled down the number of Anglo-Egyptian units while leaving the Dervish units pretty much as per the scenario.

So without further ado, here are the orders of battle for each side:

Three company's of foot - one of them being British Regulars - a troop of British Cavalry (the West Sussex Yeomanry of recent posts!), and one screw gun carried by camel. In addition to these I also provided two transport camels carrying ammunition - small arms and for the gun respectively... numbered in real terms this comes to about 450 men in all arms..

The Dervish comprised all units I currently have painted - 9 bases of foot and three mounted - but only three of the foot units were rifle armed so to help them out slightly I also allowed them to have a gun (one smooth bore cannon, no transport, no ammunition re-supply) This gave the Dervish just over 1200 men in real terms, so a significant outnumbering of the Imperial troops..

Set up at the beginning of the game they looked as follows:

In the meanwhile the table was set up as follows - a small village about a half of the way up on the western/left edge, and two stands of palms just over two thirds of the way up the table - one west and one east - being the only relieving features....

The Dervish deployment area is split between the top left and the top right of the table, and as I played this game solo, to add in a little spice, I diced for each Dervish units deployment area - the idea being that one side or the other might end up comprising more troops... as it turned out both sides were pretty equal.

The remaining "bit of spice" was to hold back one unit of cavalry, one unit of foot, and the gun as they would appear in one of the three features described above. This would be decided by dice throw once the head of the Anglo-Egyptian column came within spotting range..

The Anglo-Egyptian column was to enter at the edge of the table at the bottom of the picture (South) and make their way to the edge at the top of the picture (North)

So... on to the game...

Move 1:

The Anglo-Egyptian column enters - cavalry first in line, then the British regulars, the Egyptian regulars, Major the Honourable St John Wade-Smith, the artillery train and then the ammunition camels with the Sudanese regulars bringing up the rear.

In the Gilder Sudan Rules I use the Dervish are entirely event driven which makes the rules ideal for solo play, so at this point I started rolling on the Dervish reaction tables to find out what they would do. Once I'd finished some were stationary, some started moving towards the centre of the table, one unit had joined up with another unit - all of them were doing something, however.

With the British cavalry in sight of the village at the end of the move I diced for the first random appearance which turned out to the gun!

Move 2:
The British cavalry, being British Cavalry, immediately decided to charge the gun. I have no excuse for this decision (seeing as I was playing them) other than the fact that I was planning on the Dervish gunnery being bad, and my recently painted cavalry being more than a match for them!

In the meanwhile the Anglo-Egyptian column continued to advance towards end of table - the British regulars and the Egyptian infantry successfully deploy into line, and by the end of the move the Sudanese also arrive on the table.

With a rattling of sabres (no time to make up those cumbersome home made lances for this unit!), the British cavalry start to gather pace towards the waiting gun. The cannon fires but .... completely stops the British Cavalry in their tracks! 1SP damage and a drop in morale level to 'shaken'...

Not the best of starts for the British...

In the Dervish movement phase they continue to advance their units from the deployment area's - further consolidation occurs with units joining together into bigger bands..

Move 3:

...and it doesn't get any better for the British in the next turn as the British cavalry fail their morale test and degrade another morale level - they are now "suppressed". While the column continues to march on to the table, the Dervish gun fires again but this time despite point blank range misses..

Dervish movement works out as being a general movement towards the Imperial force - but just as things seem to going so well for them, a poor throw on the reaction table results in disaster as large rub comprising two units depart the table… the Emir commanding throws his hands to the air when his sub-commander tells him that they were two of the three rifle armed units!

With the cavalry as far forward as it is, I dice at the end of the move for the units appearing in the two remaining terrain features. This turns out to be a Dervish mounted unit in the west feature (camel riders), and a unit of Foot in the other..

Move 4:

In move 4 things up a little as the British cavalry pass their morale test and improve one level - now shaken. To celebrate they dismount and get out their carbines (which is what they should have done in the first place!):

The Anglo-Egyptian column continues to move up, and Major the Honourable St John Wade-Smith joins the cavalry in an effort to bolster their recovery, but in the Dervish firing phase the cannon scores yet another hit on the British cavalry - extraordinary! Cavalry become suppressed again....

In the next round of Dervish movement, most units continue to move up, but another 'rub' leaves the battlefield as a result of a poor dice throw on reaction.

British firing is fairly (entirely!) ineffective - despite rapid fire (double volleys to allow them to fire twice in a move but for triple the ammunition expenditure) the cause no casualties, although the suppressed cavalry do manage to shake the gun crew - the Rutlandshire's miss completely!

Move 5:

The British cavalry again pass their morale test, with the help of Wade-Smith, and they are now merely shaken but are low on strength points. The British infantry from the column comes into line alongside cavalry to give support.

The Dervish gun fires again but misses.... that's more like it!

The Dervish movement sees continued consolidation as a result of the greater number of Imperial troops now appearing in view (a feature of the reaction table is that Dervish units will "clump" together in the face of greater numbers of opposition - this in turn results in more favourable reaction tests for the Dervish as the larger units are not then so overawed - clever!).

The British shooting continues its diabolical path - rapid fire from both the cavalry and the British regulars causes not a single hit - eight volleys and just one hit - they couldn't hit the side of a barn at 20 yards!

Move 6:

The British cavalry test morale again, pass, and are now fully recovered. After all that firing the cavalry and Rutlandshire's re-arm from the pack camel carrying small arms ammunition. In the meanwhile the Egyptians, the Screw Gun and the Sudanese push on northwards leaving the Dervish gun to the cavalry and British foot.

The Dervish gun fires again and causes cavalry to become shaken (low strength points making them more fragile) but cause no further casualties.

In the meanwhile the Dervish gunners recover their morale following that single point of damage - laughter is obviously a sovereign cure!! There is no further advance by the Dervish main body but even more consolidation - in essence the Dervish now comprise two large blocks of troops, with only one independent unit remaining.

The British cavalry and infantry having re-armed again open fire, but despite four volleys still only manage to inflict one casualty!

Move 7:

It's getting tedious, but the British cavalry recover manage to recover fully (again). To celebrate, they and the infantry declare charges on the Dervish artillery, while the rest of column moves to the west of the sand dune in front of the village to pass between it and the village.

The Dervish gun fires and causes the cavalry to halt, but the Infantry charge home and the Dervish crew need to test to stand against the British infantry - amazingly (I don't know why I'm amazed - this crew deserve medals for their efforts in this game) they stand! It does them no good - in the ensuing scuffle the British charge home and soundly rout them - they abandon the gun and run to the north.

In the Dervish move, what we were expecting finally happened….the Dervish units had got to the point where they outnumbered the Imperial units in sight, and one of the groups get a "charge!" result - in these rules once one group charges, all other groups also in sight charge. The black flag is raised (continue charging until stopped).

The Egyptians open fire on the camelry - slightly long range but rapid fire, their first shots of the game and.... no hits!

Move 8:

The British cavalry fail to clear their morale check and retire on their horses still shaken. The Rutlandshire's occupy the buildings to their right, knock out loopholes and prepare to receive the enemy. The screw gun and the Egyptians deploy in the open to their right..

The Sudanese deploy to line and move up on the left of the central dune to face the bigger Dervish standard - they'll need the cavalry to support them - and soon!

No Dervish firing as the remaining rifle armed unit is at the back of the westerly standard of Dervish...

Dervish charge continues - the western of the two forces is now within charge reach, but the British firing is OK for once!

Rutlandshire's, Egyptians & Screw Gun all rapid fire causing one unit of Dervish foot to break off and retire, but despite inflicting casualties on the camelry it's not enough to stop them charging home on the Egyptians and the Screw Gun. In the morale tests both the Egyptians and the gun crew fail, and as a result break and run!!

Move 9:

In the British movement the cavalry tested morale and recovered, they then moved their left flank forward to face the onrushing Dervish - the British foot withdraw from the house. The ammunition camel is moved to a position where it can supply both the the Sudanese and the cavalry.

The Dervish charges continue like juggernaut.

The Sudanese fire and inflict some damage on Dervish horse but despite this, they test on the reaction tables and get get a continue to charge result.

The cavalry fire and manage to halt the Dervish camelry - they withdraw out of range.

In the ensuing melee the Sudanese test to stand but break - not surprising given the large numbers of Dervish bearing down on them… one rub of Dervish capture and destroy the artillery train, and the artillery supply camel is now seriously exposed.. things not looking good for the British!

Move 10 (last move):

Despite the presence of Wade-Smith the Egyptians continue to rout, the gun crew recover but with the gun overrun there's little they can do. The British infantry are very low on ammunition but turn to face the Dervish charge.

Dervish charge home on the British cavalry, and the artillery ammunition camel. The artillery camel is quickly taken out - the cavalry test to stand but fail and rout.

The small arms camel is also captured and destroyed.. at which point the British commander orders sauve qui peut - a Dervish victory is won.

Post Match Analysis:
  • In retrospect the "dumbing down" of the Imperial force was a mistake but they didn't help themselves,and some days the dice just don't go your way.. in this instance the dice were poor enough that they hid the fact that the imblance was not quite as great as it seemed...
  • I need to give some more thought to the way that Dervish reaction tests can be "carried over" - example, a unit tests on the reaction table and gets a movement order, I need a way of easily identifying what the order was int he enxt move, and the move after that... some kind of counter is required I think...
  • The sheets I use to mark casualties and ammunition expenditure get very muddled as ammunition is crossed off and then reinstated following re-supply - a better method is required for this as well - may be a little pile of tiddlywinks - too fiddly?? More thought needed...
  • The supply camels should carry more ammunition - in this game they carried an additional twenty rounds, but the Imperial regiments were carrying eight rounds already - I think we can safely increase them to 30 or 40 rounds without gaining the attention of the RSPCA.. :o)


  1. Fantastic!
    Just like the Gilder Sudan articles in 'Wargames World' magazine classic.

  2. A great battle report! The game is well presented and the description gallops along. It refelcts everything that is good about colonial wargaming. Well done!

  3. Great report.

    For ammunition could you use model ammo boxes, perhaps in different colours to represent different ammounts so the number of boxes is not too large. As an alternative you can get little wooden cubes that are used for boardgames, they are easier to handle than tiddlywinks.


  4. Steve,

    Excellent report. Very "Gilderesque".
    I can almost hear the desert winds calling me.

  5. Thanks for the comments guys - and Paul, if ever you needed a change of pace/era/period - this would be the one! :o)

    Nice idea Will - I'm not a fan of table top clutter (which is why I've swapped to the smaller morale markers) so the idea about the ammunition box has merit.... the problem as you've guessed is going to be the numbers required, and having to move them with the unit.. I'm thinking the answer may be to put the rosters I use in clear plastic A4 envelopes so I can use wipe off OHP pens on them..

  6. Splendid stuff. I was inspired to drag out the toolboxes my Connoisseur colonials live in and gaze at them whistfully... 15mm is definitely the right choice for the sudan - you need too much space in 25mm.

  7. Steve,

    Another good report and an exciting action . . . but shouldn't that be the RSPCC (cruelty to camels)?

    -- Jeff