"Like a Stone Wall" Wargames Group
The Battle of Tofrek - McNeill's Zariba
Eastern Sudan - 22nd March 1885
Background to the battle:
Khartoum had fallen to the Mahdists in January 1885, with Major General Gordon being killed along with many others. The British Government was still reluctant to get involved in the Sudan and was alarmed by a new outbreak in Eastern Sudan led by one of the Mahdi's Lieutenants, a former slave trader known to the British as Osman Digma. This threatened Britain's communication with her Far East possessions and so the Suakin Field force was reformed (after being disbanded in late 1884) with Lt General Sir G Graham in command. His first task was to establish a proper base at Suakin from which the area could be effectively administrated.
This work was constantly interrupted by Digma' s Hadendowas, who were fanatically brave and tough fighters. A reconnaissance in force attacked Digrna' s base at Hashin on the 20th March, but was not decisive. Graham decided to establish an intermediate outpost on the way to Tarnai to contain water and supplies needed by his troops when out of range of Suakin.
On the 2200 McNeill marched out of Suakin with a convoy of 1500 transport animals, two Indian battalions, a Sikh battalion, a large Royal Marine detachment, the 1st Berkshires, four Gardner machine guns crewed by a naval detachment, two engineer companies and the 5th Lancers.
The infantry marched in two squares with the Indian Brigade enclosing all of the transport, it was almost impossible to maintain this formation and McNeill decided to set up camp two miles short of his intended destination in order to permit the Indian Brigade to return to Suakin before nightfall. Work began immediately (10.30am) on building three zariba's, one for the transport animals and stores (120 yards square) and two smaller ones at the north-east and south-west comers, for the Marines and Berkshires respectively. Many of the troops were cutting down the thick mimosa scrub to make the zaribas, while the others were at stand-to.
The southern flank was picketed by the 5th Lancers, the scrub was very thick and visibility poor. At 14.230 the Berkshire half-battalion working to the east of the zariba piled arms to have lunch and many were queuing at the water barrels when all of the Lancers came flying in from the scrub, followed closely by many small darting groups of Hadendowa.
The halfbattalion of the 17th Bengal NI fired one volley and ran into the large central zariba, stampeding the animals. Other groups of Had endow a swarmed into the SW zariba and 'broke into the square...' The firing alerted the rest of the regulars who rallied and thereafter followed some of the hardest fighting that ever took place in the Sudan. The action resulted in 117 officers and men killed and almost 200 wounded on the British side (500+ camels), an estimated 2000 killed on the Hadendowa (out of a possible 5- 7000). For the gallant and timely conduct shown by the Berkshires, Queen Victoria conferred the prefix of 'Royal' on the regiment.
After this battle the Hadendowa showed little enthusiasm for charging formed regular troops. The campaign continued until a Russian General disobeyed orders and advanced into Afghanistan (30th March), for Gladstone this was a heaven sent opportunity and very quickly the Sudan was abandoned with the last British troops leaving in June 1885.
We are today hoping to reflect these events by employing our own Colonial wargame rules "They don't like it up them..."
"Like a Stone Wall" Wargames Group:
We are based in and around the Mansfield and Derby area and specialise in large historical games. We know no boundaries in historical war gaming and in the past have experienced successes with refights of Gettysburg (American Civil War 1863), Arsouf (3rd Crusade), Lake Peipus 1242 (Teutonic Knights in Russia), Albuera and The Hog's Back - Barossa (both from Napoleonic Peninsula War), Mount Badon (Arthurian Britain), Lake Trasimene and Zama (both from the 200 Punic War), Gennantown (AWl), and The Yellow Ford (Elizabethan Ireland). Last year we displayed White Mountain 1620 (Thirty Years War) at the Worlds. Our joint figure collection is huge and comprises mainly Old Glory Corporation castings.
We won the Best Display Game competitions at the 1997, 1999,2000 and 2002 World Championships. Similarly we obtained the Best Display game award at the Newcastle Border Reiver show in September 2000 and 2002. If you like hard work, painting hundreds offigures and quality terrain building projects, why not give us a call on 01623-486988 (Tim) or 01332552596 (Barry M). For details of our figure painting service, ring 01623 747052 (Barry F). The rules used for the game are on sale today at a special discount price or can be ordered post free from "Like a Stone Wall" Publishing on 01623486988.
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