Monday, 27 February 2012

Polish and Russian recruits

Progress has been slow on the painting front of late, but I have eventually managed to complete this command base for the Polish foot. The flag is for the Trzywdar clan and I downloaded the image from a Polish heraldry website.

I have also done some restoration work on these 40mm homecast Great Northern War Russian dragoons. Some had developed a case of the dreaded 'lead rot' and needed cleaning up and repainting.

Friday, 24 February 2012

London break

Over the half term we visited London and as usual I managed to fit in a few military history linked visits. The principal one was the Imperial War Museum. The collections concentrate on the First and Second World Wars plus later conflicts and therefore outside my usual interests, but the galleries and exhibits are fascinating.

The scene is really set by these magnificent 15" naval guns outside the entrance. Artillery on a smaller scale can be seen outside the Tower of London

London is well known for the number and variety of commemorative statues, featuring many military figures from the past. Whilst walking near the Albert Hall I spotted this statue to Field Marshal Robert Napier who had an active career featuring in the Sikh Wars, Indian Mutiny and Abysinnian campaign.

Even unlikely venues can provide objects of interest. The Victoria and Albert Museum is best known for its art and desgn collections, but in one of the galleries I found this plaster cast of Trajan's column. It is so big that they have had to cut it in two.

Nearby are casts of the memorials to knights in the Temple Church. The casts were made in the mid 19th century and it is fortunate that they were, because Temple Church was hit during the blitz. Part of the roof collapsed and damaged the originals. These can still be seen in the restored church.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Back to the Sudan

Last weekend was pretty busy, including not only a visit to the Vapnartak show at York on the Sunday, but also an excellent Sudan game on the Saturday. The participants were all members of the "Gentlemen Pensioners" group and the scenario involved an attempt by Imperial forces to secure a small town on the Nile as a base for a further advance southwards.

The Imperial forces consisted of a British brigade under the command of Colonel Sir Wellesley Tankerton, an Egyptian brigade commanded by Hartley Pasha; an exiled officer who had secured a position in the Khedive's army only because no one else would have him and a desert column under Captain Fitzwilliam Paget. This latter force consisted of two units of camel mounted infantry and a detachment of the Irish Lancers. All three forces also had a field gun and a machine gun. The land forces were supported by the steamer 'Windsor' under the command of Captain Arthur 'Tiffin' Arbuthnot, an old Egypt hand who had many years service with the Thomas Cook company. His normal crew had been augmented by a detachment of marines and two gun crews.
Tankerton's plan was for the Egyptian brigade to advance close to the Nile, supported by the Windsor whilst he held the more exposed 'desert' flank. Paget's force was to make a flank march and divert atention from the main attack before joining the main force.

The strength of the Dervish force in the area was unknown, but scouts had reported that a large force of cavalry had moved to the south yesterday.

As the main Imperial force advanced they found that the 'Red House' had been fortified and garrisoned by the dervishes. The house lay in the path of Hartley Pasha's Egyptian troops and, conscious of the need to maintain their morale he decided to halt and 'soften up' the defenders with his artillery before committing his infantry to an attack. Hartley signalled to Artbuthnot requesting supporting fire from the river and soon the Red House was under heavy fire.

Tankerton's advance was soon in trouble. Dispensing with scouts his forward line of 'blue jackets' was suddenly charged by two units of dervish infantry led by the renowned veteran Inshallah Ayg. There was little time for the naval infantry to fire before the enemy were upon them.

In the brief melee which followed the line was overwhelmed and the sight of British troops running from native opponents was mercifully not noticed by the reporters from the 'Times'. Fortunately for Tankerton his second line held and the dervish foot were eventually driven off with heavy casualties.

Further to the south Paget had arrived and moved to secure an isolated village, before moving towards the town. A small garrison of Hadendowah moved away as Paget's force approached the town and the mounted infantry gratefully took possession. As Paget's force assembled a cry rang out and Hadendowah infantry seemed to spring from the earth.

The village was quickly retaken and its British garrison slaughtered. The machine gun crew were also lost causing Paget to remark "B****r, I was counting on them". Not all the Hadendowah closed with the British and one unit was driven off by the Lancers, though at high cost as most of the officers were killed. Then, from the desert the dervish cavalry appeared, led by Agar Bey. All Paget's men were committed to trying to hold off the Hadendowah and so the dervish cavalry swept down upon them unopposed. Only a few of the lancers managed to break off and desperately sought to reach the main force; the mounted infantry died where they stood; hacked down by the Hadendowah, or stabbed by the horsemen. The lancers did not make it to the main force, but were surrounded by the dervish cavalry who were on fresher horses. Delayed by fighting the cavalry, the Irishmen were caught by the pursuing Hadendowah and cut down.

Unaware of the disaster befalling Paget, Tankerton and Hartley were congatulating themselves on clearing away Inshallah Ayg's men and the defenders of the Red House. Hartley was now forming up his men ready to advance on the town itself and Arbuthnot was moving upstream to open fire on the town's defenders. As Tankerton's men moved forward Inshallah Ayg attacked again. Goading the British infantry with sporadic rifle fire and then opening up with a field gun. As the British dealt with the gun a unit of Hadendowah charged forward.

This time the British infantry held their ground and after a fierce struggle drove off the Hadendowah. His front clear at last, Tankerton advanced towards the town, but as he breasted the low ridge he saw the mass of dervish cavalry moving towards him. Further back dervish infantry were moving to reinforce the town's defences, just as the Egyptians were reaching the walls.

The Emir had fought his battle well. Inshallah Ayg had delayed the main force long enough for the desert column to be defeated by the bulk of his best troops. Now they could reinforce the defence. Hartley Pasha had two battalions ready to cross the walls of the town, a third was covering his flank and linking with the British brigade. Confident in the firepower of his artillery and infantry Tankerton watched the dervish cavalry move towards him, riding to their death. However, they survived the volleys and crashed into his line; hitting the already depleted blue jackets. The naval men fought bravely, but were overrun, the line was broken, the British and Egyptian artillery was open to attack. The 3rd Egyptian battalion was also hit by dervish cavalry and managed to drive them back, but lost almost a third of its strength in doing so. On the river flank, the 1st Egyptian battalion had been charged by the dervish infantry and in spite of the efforts of the officers, the men turned and ran for the supposed safety of the 'Red House'. Arbuthnot, watching from the river saw the turn of events and with an increasing number of shells being directed at his command by the dervish artillery he drew off to the south. His men tended to those onboard wounded by shell fragments and he ordered his boy to prepare tiffin as the sun was already past the yardarm.

Tankerton and Hartley gathered what men they could and drew off to the north leaving the day and town to the celebrating dervish warriors.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Back to Ireland

We had a further installment in the on-going Irish campaign this week. The scenario came from "Scenarios for all ages" by Grant and Asquith and concerned the attempt by the Jacobites and Williamites to each seize a vital bridge. Each force is split into two brigades of similar composition. One brigade from each side advanced directly along the road towards the bridge, whilst the other entered from their respective left flanks. The Williamites were slightly disadvantaged by their flanking force being delayed by up to five moves.
I commanded the Jacobite force and decided to ford the river and concentrate on the first Williamite force.

Meanwhile the brigades on the road both advanced their cavalry at full speed to the bridge. The Jacobite horse halted short of the bridge whilst their opponents continued across. The Williamites were hampered by the narrowness of their formation and were pushed back after the initial clash. Now the fight took place on the bridge with both sides hampered by the lack of space to wield their weapons and manoeuvre. The melee swayed back and forth with neither side able to gain an advantage. Eventually both units had to fall back exhausted with no one controlling the bridge.

Both sides moved infantry up to the line of the river and a musketry duel began. The Williamites had been quicker to get into position and thus got their volley in first. As the fire fight continued the Williamites began to get the uppper hand and lacking support the Jacobites fell back.

By now the second Williamite brigade had appeared and was advancing on the right flank of the Jacobite force on the road. The second Jacobite force were now across the river and had begun its advance towards the Williamite side of the bridge. However, the line of march was hampered by terrain and a large manor house. This had been garrisoned by a Williamite battalion which opened fire on the Jacobite infantry. One of the Jacobite units halted to try and suppress the fire, but as it's casualties mounted, the officers were unable to hold them in place and they broke and ran back to the ford.


Ahead, the cavalry vanguard were charged by the Williamite horse. Although they had the advantage of the ground the Jacobites were completely routed by their opponents and the victorious Williamites swept on towards the enemy infantry. Surprised, the infantry struggled into formation and for a time held off the cavalry, but eventually, the horsemen broke into the infantry formation and a rout resulted.

Across the river, the Williamites were closing in on the bridge, using a copse to cover the advance. They were aided by a second cavalry advance. This was unopposed because the Jacobite cavalry had moved to the opposite flank to oppose yet more Williamite cavalry which were threatening the line of retreat.

My infantry tried to hold off the cavalry, but were unsuccessful and disregarding the urgent orders of the brigadier broke and ran. Another push by cavalry against my light artillery failed because, against the odds, they lost formation in the river. However, the final nail in the Jacobite coffin was the successful attack by the final Wlliamite cavalry which swept away the Jacobite cavalry covering the line of retreat. Now the 'road' brigade had no cavalry and was outnumbered by the enemy infantry. The 'flank' brigade had lost half of its infantry and half its cavalry. The remaining cavalry had the opportunity to charge the unsupported enemy infantry, but failed the test to charge and was thus stranded in musketry range and at risk of losing a significant proportion of its strength. Thus what units could, retreated off the field and the victorious Williamites gained control of the bridge.

Our after action discussion highlighted the faulty decision to cross the river, particularly into constricted terrain which favoured the defence. Perhaps, it would have been better to concentrate all forces at the bridge. Food for thought should the same sort of situation crop up.