Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The Mirkat Campaign: The destruction of Osman Dogma's army

Chapter 1 – The British Government's reaction to the destruction of the Wickes Expedition
The news of the destruction of the Wickes Expedition stunned the British. Coming as it did after the death of General Gordon and Egyptian and British withdrawal from most of the Sudan, it seemed that the power and influence of the mightiest nation in the World was on the wane. Newspapers printed critical editorials, the Opposition asked searching questions, and the Cabinet sought advice from the Sirdar. The latter's reply was blunt. Either Britain must accept the defeat inflicted upon it or a further expedition must be mounted against Osman Dogma.

After considerable discussion in Cabinet the Prime Minister decided that Britain's honour had been slighted, and that there was a need for her military prowess to be demonstrated to the rest of the World. Despite the cost, Osman Dogma must be punished! When he made an announcement to this effect in Parliament, Members cheered and waved their Order Papers. In reply to a question from one of the more radical MPs about the validity of Britain's right to involve itself in the internal affairs of a foreign country, he replied, "In the time of the great Roman Empire, all a citizen had to do was to say 'Civis Romanus sum!' to remind people that the power of the whole Empire was behind him. The time has now come when the citizens of the British Empire need to know that they, like their Roman predecessors, can go anywhere in the World in peace and without fear."

The Sirdar was ordered to mount a new expedition as soon as possible, but although his preparations were purposeful they were also unhurried. He knew that the time was not yet right to defeat Dogma, and he had no wish to repeat the mistakes made when the Wickes Expedition was mounted. Troops were assembled and trained, stores accumulated, rumours spread, and plans were made. It was now only a matter of time before Osman Dogma was defeated.

Chapter 2 – Osman Dogma prepares
Osman Dogma was not well educated by Western standards – he knew the Koran by heart and could sign his name – but he was no fool. After the destruction of the Wickes Expedition he expected that the 'Turks' (the Egyptians and their British allies) would retaliate sooner or later. He therefore withdrew northward from the hinterland surrounding Tewfpik into the heartland of his power, the area around the town of Mirkat and the nearby port of Koktat.

He had learned one lesson from his fight with the 'Turks'. This lesson was that intense rifle fire could kill his warriors before they could get into hand-to-hand combat with their enemies. Dogma therefore recruited a new, rifle-armed bodyguard of Hadendowah tribesmen, and this now formed the core of his forces. He also reinforced the defences of Koktat in the expectation – backed up by rumours – that this is where the 'Turks' would attack. He was not mistaken.

Chapter 3 – The capture of Koktat
The Sirdar knew of Osman Dogma's withdrawal to Mirkat as well as his dependence upon the port of Koktat for supplies and revenue. Koktat was the conduit through which Dogma exported his captives into slavery and by which arms and ammunition for his forces were imported. The Sirdar therefore let it be known that he intended to capture Koktat as a precursor to invading Dogma's bailiwick. A landing force was assembled, and within four months of the destruction of the Wickes Expedition it had set sail for Koktat.

The landing force, commanded by Colonel Algernon Boothby and carried aboard two Stowe Steamship Line vessels (Lady Alexandra and Lady Victoria), was escorted by HMS Insolent. The troops in the landing force included:
  • 1st Battalion, Cambridgeshire Light Infantry
  • 1st Egyptian Infantry Battalion
  • IX Sudanese Infantry Battalion
  • 1st Egyptian Artillery Battery

Osman Dogma had reinforced Koktat's defences with a group of Jiadia Riflemen and a battery of ancient muzzle-loading Artillery. This garrison was commanded by Omar Gourd, and had orders to defend Koktat at all costs.

As the sun rose the British-led landing force approached Koktat from the East. Omar Gourd's gunners were blinded by the rising sun and were unable to see their targets clearly. They opened fire, but the range of their Artillery was insufficient to reach the approaching ships, and their aim was very poor. The same could not be said of HMS Insolent's gunners. They were able to pin-point the position of Gourd's Artillery because of the clouds of smoke produced ever time the muzzle-loaders fired, and the second 10 inch shell fired by HMS Insolent destroyed the Mahdist battery.

The Naval gunners then turned their attention to the port's other defences. The Jiadia Riflemen were undaunted by the Royal Navy's firepower, but were unable to answer it effectively. Volley after volley of rifle fire was directed against the British gunboat, but it had no effect. All it did was to expose the positions occupied by the Riflemen, and one by one HMS Insolent's main armament pounded them to dust. Realizing that Koktat was indefensible, Omar Gourd ordered his men to withdraw. By lunchtime the British-led landing force had occupied the port and Colonel Boothby had ordered the rebuilding its defences in anticipation of a Mahdist counter-attack.

Chapter 4 – The Mahdist counter-attack
The Colonel was not mistaken in his belief that the Mahdists would try to re-take Koktat as soon as possible. Within two days of the capture of the port a large force of Mahdist Infantry, commanded by Omar Gourd and supported by Artillery, began to besiege Koktat. HMS Insolent's 10 inch, 18-ton BLR gun deterred them from mounting an all-out attack, and this allowed time for Koktat's defences to be strengthened considerably.

Four days after the landing force had captured Koktat, the 1st Battalion, Cambridgeshire Light Infantry re-embarked on to the transports that had brought them. The vessels then sailed southward, escorted by HMS Insolent.

Within hours of the departure of HMS Insolent and the British Infantry Battalion, the Mahdists attacked. Massed attacks by spear and sword-armed Infantry, supported by rifle fire from Jiadia Riflemen and a battery of Mahdist Artillery, were beaten back time and time again by the steady rifle and artillery fire of the garrison.

Mahdist casualties were heavy, and Gourd sent messages to Osman Dogma asking for further troops to be sent to aid him. Dogma, who was enjoying the pleasures of Mirkat, finally agreed to come to the aid of his underling, and escorted by his bodyguard and a force of Infantry, Cavalry, and Camelry, he set off for Koktat.

Chapter 5 – The trap is sprung
Unbeknown to all save a few trusted subordinates, the Sirdar had used the Stowe Steamship Line's vessels to land the 1st Battalion, Cambridgeshire Light Infantry on the Red Sea coast south of the Tokar Hills. There they had rendezvoused with an Egyptian force – The Mirkat Field Force – led by General Horace Gardener. The Mirkat Field Force now included:
  • 1st Battalion, Cambridgeshire Light Infantry
  • 2nd Egyptian Infantry Battalion
  • X Sudanese Infantry Battalion
  • 1st Egyptian Cavalry Squadron
  • 1st Egyptian Lancers
  • 1st Egyptian Gatling Gun Battery

The Field Force had then advanced through the unguarded Tokar Pass, hoping to outflank the besiegers of Koktat. However circumstances had delivered a far better objective into General Gardener's hands – Osman Dogma himself!

Chapter 6 – The Battle of Mirkat
Realizing that he now faced a superior force, Osman Dogma sent messengers to Omar Gourd informing him that the siege of Koktat should be lifted, and the besieging forces should march towards Mirkat at once. Dogma also despatched his Cavalry towards the Anglo-Egyptian force in the hope of delaying its advance. Finally, he placed himself in the centre of his bodyguard.

General Gardener ordered his own Cavalry – the 1st Egyptian Cavalry Squadron and 1st Egyptian Lancers – to charge the oncoming Mahdist Cavalry.

The effect was devastating on the Mahdist horsemen, who were swept aside by the Egyptians. Furthermore, the Egyptians were able to charge home on to the Baggara Infantry and Camelry who were accompanying Osman Dogma, causing them considerable casualties. Of Dogma's troops only his Hadendowah Riflemen held their ground and were able to beat off the attacking Egyptians.

Seeing that his mounted troops were now spent and in need of support, General Gardener hurried forward to urge Lieutenant Colonel Rutland – the 1st Battalion, Cambridgeshire Light Infantry's commanding officer – to move his men forward as fast as possible. Colonel Rutland had anticipated this order and was already deploying his men into line prior to receiving this order.

Omar Gourd took little time to acquiesce to his superior's demands for assistance once Osman Dogma's message to break off the siege had reached him.

However, as Gourd's troops withdrew westward, the commander of Koktat's garrison – Colonel Algernon Boothby – ordered his men to pursue the retreating Mahdists. The steady rifle fire of the 1st Egyptian Infantry Battalion and IX Sudanese Infantry Battalion, augmented by the Shrapnel shells of 1st Egyptian Artillery Battery, caused considerable casualties amongst the Mahdists.

Seeing that there was now little likelihood that Omar Gourd's troops could help relieve the pressure on his own forces, Osman Dogma ordered his bodyguard to cover his own retreat from the battlefield.

Whilst Dogma made good his escape, the Hadendowah Riflemen fought to the last man, shot to pieces by the rifle fire of the 1st Battalion, Cambridgeshire Light Infantry and X Sudanese Battalion.

Chapter 7 – The aftermath of the battle
The destruction of the Osman Dogma's bodyguard marked the end of the battle. So great was the slaughter that despite the escape of both Osman Dogma and Omar Gourd, the survivors were no longer considered to be a threat to the Tewfpik Enclave.

As far as Britain was concerned, the Mirkat Campaign had been a complete success. A new foothold – Koktat – had been gained on Sudan's Red Sea coast, Osman Dogma's power had been broken, Britain's pre-eminence in the World had been re-established, and the Egyptian and Sudanese troops had proved themselves in battle.

Modelling Notes
The troops featured in the photographs are 15-mm scale Essex Miniatures figures. They were painted by MILI-ART and Essex Miniatures Painting Service. The buildings and ships are home-made from FIMO™, the trees are Small Palm Trees supplied by Essex Miniatures and Sugarcraft, the terrain is made from cork floor tiles, the Red Sea is made from Solid Marine Marley self adhesive floor tiles, and the hills and mountains are home-made from plywood, cork tiles, white glue, Dulux matt emulsion paint, and various scenic scatter materials.

The rules used are the latest version of SCWaRes (Simple Colonial Wargames Rules) which use a zonal movement and weapon range system.

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