Thursday, February 25, 2016

Sudan book reviews/comments..

In a recent comment CK [clicky] asked for any recommendations I  might have for books covering the campaigns in the "Sudan" (errr... Victorian, not ISIS, just so we're clear..  ).. think Kitchener, Hicks, the Mahdi and of course Gordon...

When I first started my Sudan project I had visions of dusty columns of British and Commonwealth troops, dressed in khaki, marching through the desert towards Omdurman, supported by camels and gunboats... the more reading I did though, and the less that appealed and I realised that wargaming the "Sudan" required decisions about what period we were specifically interested in as, beginning to end, the wars lasted 20 odd years and a lot changed in that time.. basically I divide it into five... (probably four and a sub-part if you're anal about that kind of thing) and my book collection is geared somewhat to the period choice I subsequently made...
  1. the later period (known as the "reconquest" from the title of Churchill's book) ended with the Battle of Omdurman, and was dominated by increasing amounts of reliable machinery - powerful gunboats that didn't break down, machine guns that didn't jam, railways, all very stirring, but not giving me that emotional tie that drives a wargaming project forward ..

  2. So my attention shifted to the earlier period(s)..

  3. not done much reading into the Anglo-Egyptian War (1882) - this is probably the very start of the wargaming period, red coated British fighting white coated Egyptian regulars, culminating in Tel El Kebir... fascinating stuff but I really wanted to field units of Dervish so on to the next period...
  4. not done much reading into the Hicks Expedition either, but this is the first of the major campaigns in the Dervish wars; if I'm ever to field bash bazouks that's the one that will give me the opportunity, but
  5. my main interest became the siege of Khartoum and the (all too late) Relief Expedition  to rescue Gordon, but then..
    • I also happened to pick up a book on eBay though that really piqued my interest, this was about what was effectively the side show to the Relief Expedition in and around the Red Sea port of Suakin - British, Commonwealth (including Indian and Sikh troops) fighting Osman Digna.. lookout posts, miniature railways, Sikhs, Bengal Lancers...  everything you could possibly want in a game... decision made! here are the books in my library... I've numbered them by the periods as listed above...

  • (Period 4) "Go Strong Into the Desert The Mahdist Uprising in Sudan 1881-85" (Lt. Col. Mike Snook) - I actually met him at Salute two or three years ago, and can attest he's a very pleasant fellow - very good book, lots and lots of pictures - not sure, but I think there was some kind of tie in with the Perry's who were doing their Sudan collection at the time?? Worth getting
  • (Period 1 through 4) "Blood-red Desert Sand: The British Invasions of Egypt and the Sudan 1882-98" (Michael Barthorp) Had this yonks, was probably one of the first books I bought and gives a good general history of the wars/periods... Worth getting
  • (Period 1) "Omdurman" (Philip Ziegler) - reprint of the original 1970's work - OK
  • (Period 1, 3 and 4) "Dervish" (Philip Warner) - another book originally written in the 70's but benefiting from being from the Dervish perspective Worth getting
  • (Period 4b) "Fuzzy-wuzzy: Campaigns in the Eastern Sudan, 1884-85" (Brian Robson) this was the one that lit up an entire wargaming project - it's a cracking read by a very good author - I also recommend his 2nd Afghan War book "The Road to Kabul"..  Recommended
  • (Period 1) "Omdurman 1898: Kitchener's victory in the Sudan" (Donald Featherstone) - first of three Osprey Campaign series by 'you know who' Worth Getting
  • (Period 4) "Khartoum 1885: General Gordon's last stand" (Donald Featherstone) - same again - of the three this is the best but only as it is more specific to the period I lean to.. Recommended
  • (Period 2) "Tel El-Kebir 1882: Wolseley's Conquest of Egypt" (Donald Featherstone) - and same again - the night march to the attack at Tel el Kebir is stirring stuff indeed! Worth Getting
  • (Period 1, 3 and 4) "War in the Sudan 1884-1898: A Campaign Guide" (Stuart Asquith) published and from Caliver.. the stated aim of the book is "to provide the reader and war gamer with some idea as to how the campaigns were fought and how they might be re-created on the table top". Readable and does what it says I'd say Recommended
  • "Victorian Colonial Warfare: Africa : From the Campaigns Against the Kaffirs to the South African War" (Donald Featherstone) - also by you know who, but only brief coverage of North Africa - this is mostly about the Zulu/Boer Wars
  • (Period 4) "Khartoum: The Ultimate Imperial Adventure" (Michael Asher) - very readable account of the Gordon Relief expedition Worth Getting
"Period commentaries":
  • (Period 1) "The River War" (Winston Churchill) - I always find Winston hugely readable and this one is no different - Worth getting (and free online from the likes of Guttenberg)
  • (Period 4) "Suakin" (Gambier Perry) - on the pile to read - original comment/text 
  • (Period 1) "With Kitchener To Khartum" by G. W. Steevens - another (fairly) contemporary account and I reviewed it here [clicky] 
  • (Period 1) Khartoum Campaign, 1898 or the Re-Conquest of the Soudan by Bennet Burleigh [click here] first person account...  free from Amazon
  • (Period 1, 3 and 4) "Warfare in Egypt and the Sudan" (Stuart Asquith) Scenario booklet covering three campaigns: the Nile Campaign 1882, the Gordon Relief Expedition 1884-1885 and the Re-conquest of the Sudan 1895-1896. Worth getting
  • (Period 1, 3 and 4) "The Sudan Campaigns 1881-98 ; Men-at-Arms Osprey" (Robert Wilkinson-Latham) - bit dated, and to be honest I prefer the Perry's website which has some simply splendid (as the Legatus would say ) pictures/diagrams on uniform detail...
  • (Period 1, 3 and 4)"Weapons and equipment of the Victorian Soldier" (Donald F Featherstone) I'm a complete'ist where Featherstone is concerned, so this is included for that reason..  interesting snippets on the stopping impact of a Martini Henry versus the weapons used in the later period...
"Fiction/Films and stuff.." :

  • Not read it yet but I have Henty's book of the Omdurman period on my Kindle waiting to read - free from Gutenberg [clicky] he also wrote one for the earlier Relief period [clicky]
  • There's a Simon Fonthill novel covering Tel el Kebir which is quite good if not a little "excitable" - he's a bit of a Victorian superman. The importance of the canals for drinking water is made clear... I reviewed it here [clicky] and gave it 8 out of 10 at the time
  • I like all the versions of the filmed "Four Feathers" (which is Omdurman period) but unlike most I'll admit to liking the latest the most...  just call me shallow but I like the spectacle - even if the uniforms are "interesting"! (NB. I like the Korda one with Ralph Richardson as well) - the book is a little "slow" (I found)
  • "Khartoum" the American gun lobby's finest actor doing his best messianic Gordon "thang" - or Charlton Heston as a mesmerising Gordon - take your pick, as I'll be honest and say I've not seen it...


  1. Thank you very much for the rundown Steve. That's an excellent resource. I keep coming across this Barthop chap, never read him, but he keeps being highly recommended.

    I have a couple of the books on your list, though I haven't read Mike Snooks offering yet. Mrs. Kinch got it for me for Christmas.

    Of the ones I've read, I don't think I'd disagree with any of your assessments. The River War in particular is top notch. Thanks again.

    1. CK - good - was hoping you'd find it useful... I thought you might appreciate the Henty's, but from a purely wargaming perspective the Asquith Campaign book is excellent...

  2. Thanks Steve. I've just obtained some of Allan and Michael Perry's Minis for use in Saga, as alternates in the Crusades expansion. I noted a reference to Snook's book, and some good painting guides wrt uniforms and progression through the years in the "Fuzzy Wuzzy" box. My thoughts have been drifting towards the Sudan ever since. Great summary of available literature.

    1. Herman - the Perry web site is a gold mine.. the uniform information is still on the web site but not clearly linked - I suspect because it is now included in the Snook book..


  3. I have copies of all but one of the books you review and they are very, very good. An interesting and most enlightening blog entry, and one that anyone putting their toe into this period should read.

    All the best,


    1. Thanks Bob - given your breadth of reading, any you think I have missed???

  4. There is a second Fonthill novel that covers the relief of Khartoum as well as the battles of Abu Klea and Abu Kru. Having been introduced to the wonderful Fred Burnaby I was gutted to find that history then proceeded to kill him off!

    1. Nigel J - in my humble opinion he was as mad as a bucketful of frogs but what a character though!