Saturday, 10 September 2016
Sudan: Action at Hashin - Black Powder Battle Report
Indian brigade at Hashin facing an Ansar force of unknown numbers, March 1885
On the 21st March 1885 most elements of General Graham's Suakim brigade saw action at Hashin. Due to an over extension of division forces and an Ansar frontal assault that never came, the action resulted in a retreat of Graham's forces and subsequent battle at Tofrik the next day.
As you may have read in some comments of recent posts, Nick asked for a game of BP Sudan - honest. As he hasn't played BP before but has played Warmaster and Warmaster Ancients, I decided to start him off with a smaller action with a couple of BP brigades.
Indian Screw Guns forward on Beehive Hill - stand ins for RHA
On the day we were also joined by le Chasseur himself, Mark, who ended up taking the Ansar while I made umpire-ish noises and cracked jokes, as only a gentlemen host should.
The scenario was a 'what if' action at Hashin, should the Ansar have made a frontal assault on the Indian Brigade. As such the British forces are made up of all the units immediately around the Dihilbat feature - so not the Guards Brigade or Surrey regiment (coz I ain't got em painted).
The British forces consisted of:
1st Brigade: The Berkshire Regiment and Royal Marine Light Infantry (2x Standard BP formations) and the 9th Bengal Lancers (Standard BP formation)
2nd Brigade: The 5th Ludhiana Sikhs, 17th Bengal Native Infantry, and 28th Bombay Native Infantry (3x Standard BP formations), a squadron of lancers (Small BP formation), a Naval Brigade Gardner and Tiny support formation, and 2 screw guns.
Reinforcements: 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards (1x Standard 'guards' BP formation, starting off table, available from turn three onward, and assigned to a brigade as the general sees fit).
Starting positions for the Brits (there is another small lancer unit to the far left). An Ansar force appears just below and to the right of the main Dihilbat feature on the first turn; as per actual events.
Then we depart from historical events into the 'what if' and the Ansar have table entry points at the two bottom corners (out of shot above).
The Ansar forces consisted of 10 x Hadendowa and Beja tribe swordsmen/spearmen and riflemen (Standard BP Warband units), as well as a couple of units of rifle armed skirmishers; the number of Ansar standard units slightly outnumbering the British ones.
View to the north of the Berkshires and RMLI tramping up towards the peak of the Dihilbat feature, the Indian Brigade in the background.
What was to follow was a totally enjoyable and surprising game which lasted all afternoon and would be better called the Battle for Dihilbat Hill.
Battle for Dihilbat Hill
The last set up for the battle was completed with the Madhists placing two units just to the south of the Dilhilbat feature. An african slave warband of riflemen.
And a small unit of rifle armed skirmishes.
Having read Michael Asher's history of the Sudan conflict called 'Khartoum' and unlike the BP rulebook and 'Blood on the Nile' supplement, for my scenarios I take his view that the mass african riflemen, fairly early on in the period, could project a similar amount of firepower as per the British battlions. So in their own warband way I consider them as a similar capability as per the Brits firepower; as such they get a Shooting value of 3 but a H2H value of 4 - fact is they were not bad shots.
The other house rule is the Sudanese Rough Ground. Most features are rocky and given the historical use and effect on Anglo-Egyptian cavalry (they get mauled when fighting in it), Sudeanese Rough Ground is as follows: provides soft cover, -2 morale saves to cavalry fighting in it.
With setup finally complete the players diced for initiative with the roll going to the British. Nick moved the Berkshires and Marines up onto the Dilhilbat feature and - understandably, moved little else - as he was already in a good defensive position.
Then shooting occurred and the two battalions both cause hits from their attack columns.
Then it was the first round of the Ansar with a small unit of skirmishers appearing in the low spurs of the Waratab feature.
They were the only Ansar to make an appearance from the north west throughout the battle, a matter which Nick would attest to with some enthusiasm.
Before we realised that the Ansar commander in nearby Tamai (Mark on the other side of the table) had in fact mobilised all of the troops from the garrison to approach the Dilhibat feature from the south-west... all of the troops from the garrison.
And they swarmed up the western spur of the Dilhibat feature.
Over the course shots were fired and hits taken by the Berkshires and RMLI but they held firm.
Then it was turn three and the Coldstream Guards showed up as reinforcements from the Guards Brigade further east (off the board).
The screwguns and Indian brigade fired into the northern most warband and took one out; first blood to the Nick and the Brits.
Then the Ansar smashed into the battalions dominating Dihilbat Hill and the battle for the hill commenced in earnest.
This struggle went on for at least four turns with draws and holding ground results holding the fight at the top of the feature. Meanwhile the Coldstreams had immediately made their mark, causing a band of Beja to retire from shooting; while Nick moved the 9th Bengal Lancers up.
And the struggle for Dihilbat Hill continued.
Nick brought his lancers into action - but they were lancers in name only as they had only been armed with the lance two weeks before the battle, so they were technically lance-armed, and fought as medium cavalry.
While the Coldstreams held their ground.
And the Indian Brigade finally got its command rolls together to send support over the feature.
The Bengals had the desired effect...
... pushing the African riflemen to the back of the Ansar lines.
In true cavalry fashion the lancers swept forward into the next line of Ansar as the battle on the hill continued to rage.
But nothing is certain in war and the Lancers lost... dismally and retired from the field. Fortunate as, because of continuous fire from surrounding Britsh and Indian units, the Madhists were beginning to tire (the black blast markers are used to represent casualties)
The battle-lines reset themselves as the melee on the hill continued, slowly turning in the favour of the well-supported Ansar. The the Brits prepared for the final onslaught which must be forthcoming before the Sudanese force was entirely spent.
One of the last waves surged forwards but the Coldstream's fire caused a needed disorder in the Ansar ranks
But the struggle on the hill was finally turning. The Berkshires were forced to retire down the eastern slope of Dihilbat and the Marines collapsed and retired from the field, breaking the brigade.
Leaving the victorious but exhausted Ansar in possession of the feature - ongoing fire into surrounding units in the brigade had nearly broken it.
As part of the broken brigade, the Coldstreams began to retire.
Ongoing fire from the remaining units began to take its toll on the Ansar forces still on Dihilbat.
But some careful rallying held the brigade together and a final push by the Ansar was launched.
Driving forward and pushing the broken Coldstreams from the field.
And once more swarming, down the Dihilbat eastern spur.
Into the fairly fresh remains of the Indian Brigade.
On the southern flank the small lancer unit smashed into a warband and did its job, before succumbing to disorder from the fire of the African Riflemen - while the Indians held off the final assault waves.
Before the Lancer unit succumbed completely.
By this stage a brigade on each side was broken and the Ansar were rapidly approaching half casualties for the entire army. Then the 28th Bombays came over the Dihilbat and enfiladed the last Ansar push.
Which annihilated the Ansar unit outright.
Which broke the Ansar and gave a close fought victory to the Brits and Indians.
So we all agreed that the armies were evenly matched but what surprised us most was the length of the game, which as mentioned before, lasted all afternoon.
This length of game hasn't occurred with prvious BP Sudan games, either the combined shooting of the British or determined charges from the Ansar, swaying the battle one way or another after 6-7 turns - thems the dice.
But another great Black Powder game and a heap of fun even as umpire, it is great to get the figures out onto the table and have them behave as expected :) - what an excellent ruleset!