Thursday, September 11, 2008

Khartoum, 26 January 1885

British General Charles G. Gordon commanded the Egyptian garrison of Khartoum in the Sudan which was under siege by the forces of a charismatic Muslim hermit who called himself the Mahdi (above).

The Blue and White Niles come together at a point North-west of Khartoum. The city was situated with the Blue Nile to the North, the White Nile to the West and Tuti Island across the Blue Nile opposite Khartoum.

Three forts guarded the Nile River approaches: Ft. Mukran to the West of Khartoum on the South bank of the Blue Nile, Ft. Burri to the East of Khartoum on the South bank of the Blue Nile, and North Fort opposite Khartoum on the North bank of the Blue Nile. A fourth fort called Omdurman had fallen to the Mahdi's army on 5 January 1885. It was isolated to the West of the White Nile.

The land approach to the city was guarded by a fortified perimeter of parapet and eight foot ditch which ran East- Southwest of Khartoum approx. four miles between the Nile Rivers. The perimeter also contained four bastions at intervals which were improvised from fortified houses surrounded by parapet and ditch. A minefield with wire entanglements was laid in front of the defenses.

The garrison was manned by 7,500 men. There were 2,500 Egyptian and Sudanese Regulars, 1,900 Bashi-Bazouks (mercenaries from various Ottoman Turkish subject peoples), 2,300 Shagiya Irregulars (from tribes North of Khartoum that remained loyal to the Egyptian government), and 692 town militia. Gordon's best and most reliable troops were the Sudanese Regulars. The Shagiya Irregulars had a high desertion rate.

Infantry were armed with Remington .43 caliber single-shot breech-loading rifles. Over two- million rounds of ammunition were stockpiled and the arsenal produced another 40,000 rounds per week.

There were a few Gardner and Nordenfelt machineguns.

Artillery consisted of two Krupp 20 pounder cannon, eleven 7 pounder mountain guns, and ten other guns & howitzers. Over 20,000 rounds of artillery ammunition were stockpiled.

The gunboat "Ismailia" was docked near the Palace. This was a converted paddle steamer made bullet-proof, but not shell or shot proof. This was the last of the original seven of Gordon's gunboat fleet.

Although the garrison had an ample supply of ammunition, it suffered from a shortage of food. Gordon had earlier lost about a 1,000 men and one of his best commanders, Mohamad Ali "the fighting Pasha", during a foraging sortie in which they were ambushed. This further weakened his forces which were already stretched thin manning the four mile long perimeter and fortifications.

The Egyptian/Sudanese units depicted in this game represent understrength infantry battalions and artillery batteries.

The Mahdi's Army - the "Ansar" (meaning "follower" or "helper") They were sometimes referred to as "Dervishes" by their opponents.

The Ansar was divided into three Standards (Flags), each under the command of a Khalifa. Each was subdivided into "Rubs" (quarters) containing between 800 to 1,200 men. Each Rubs was divided into three combat units and an admin. unit. First, a large force of assault warriors armed with swords and spears and supported by cavalry similarly armed (divided by tribes and sections of tribes). Second, riflemen called "Jihadiya" assembled in groups of hundreds from smaller units of 20 men and armed with captured Remington breech-loading rifles. Third, mounted reconnaissance groups armed with rifles.

The three Khalifas and their flags. Khalifa Abdullah commanded the Black Flag (al-rayya-al-zarqa), formed of Baggara from Kordofan and Darfur. Included most of the Sudanese riflemen. Khalifa Muhammad al-Sharif commanded the Red Flag (al-rayya-al-hamra) formed from riverain peoples North of Khartoum. Khalifa Ali-an-Hilu commanded the Green Flag (al-rayya-al-khadra) formed from Arabs from the Gezira region between the Blue and White Niles South of Khartoum.

Ansar weapons. The Ansar had captured some 21,000 rifles, mostly Remington breech loaders, two Gatling guns, some Nordenfelt machineguns, two rocket tubes, five Krupp field guns, some mountain howitzers, additional Krupp guns and assorted crank operated machineguns.

The Ansar assault force. The Ansar included 50,000 assault warriors armed with swords and spears supported by perhaps 3,000 cavalry and 7,000 riflemen.

On January 26, 1885, at 12:43 am, the Mahdi would launch an all out assault on the Egyptian garrison at Khartoum in order to capture the city before a British relief force could arrive to save the garrison and its commander General Charles G. Gordon.

19th Century Sudan Wargames Armies

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