Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Wargaming the French in Egypt: Desaix' Pursuit - encounter beside the Nile

I devised a game scenario based on Desaix's famous pursuit of Mameluke leader Murad Bey in the Upper Egypt campaign (August 1798 - August 1799). The game is loosely based on several incidents during the campaign. The first was in March 1799 with Desaix' General De Brigade Belliard's small force of 1000 men (and one light gun) encountering 300 Mamelukes and 3,000 Meccan infantry (Arab fanatics) at Abnud north of Luxor. A desperate hand-to-hand battle ensued for two days with the French eventually dislodging the Meccans and destroying most of them but suffering over a hundred casualties in the process - one of the heaviest losses suffered by the French in the campaign at that point. Once over Belliard resumed his marching between Qena and Aswan. The second is one I've described before, the destruction of the French flotilla at Qena (just north of Abnud) in April 1799 by Murad Bey's ally Sheriff Hassan and 2,000 more Meccan fanatics. In his marches up and down the Nile after being resupplied Desaix had been forced to leave his flotilla which was subsequently attacked and largely destroyed. Belliard's force was barely 20 kms away but had no idea the Mamelukes and their Arab allies had slipped in behind them. This must have been quite a blow as Desaix relied heavily on his flotilla for resupply and to move long distances up the Nile. Because of the dangerous shoals Qena was about as far as most of the larger vessels like the flagship L'Italie could go but at the time it was also serving as a hospital ship for hundreds of soldiers suffering opthalmia and dysentery.

In this scenario the French have landed much needed supplies at a riverside village and await the main French force which is within a day's march. Unbeknownst to them the Mamelukes extensive spy network has alerted them to the presence of the flotilla and they have dispatched a large infantry force to capture the supplies and destroy the French there before the French main force arrives (which the advance scout force - Dromadaires & Dragoons - can begin to arrive at the of the end of the table on a D6 from Turn Four).

To protect the supply dump the French have two small battalions of the 14th and 21st Demi-Brigades and a Naval Bde consisting of two small battalions and one 4 pdr gun. There is artillery support of one howitzer aboard an armed sloop.

The French have landed their small infantry force and pushed to the edge of the village in the nick of time. One Naval unit and disembarked gun are in the middle of town, with the second unit still disembarking. A single battalion of the 21st DB is covering their right.  The only way back to the flotilla is via the dilapidated local dock, one of which is barely usable. 

The Mameluke force consists of two infantry 'brigades' of Fellahin/Egyptian infantry and Sekkan unit (Jizail armed Balkan/Greek mercenaries) & one 4 pdr gun plus Mameluke/Bedouin Arab cavalry (12 figs). The second 'brigade' consists of Cairo Janissaries, Sekkans and Meccan fanatics plus an 8 pdr gun. Both the Egyptian infantry and Meccans are large units (30+ figures each). Also available from Turn Four is another main force of Mamelukes (24 figures) who arrive along the other side of the table.

The Meccan fanatics waste no time and set about charging the Legere at the village edge.

The Egyptian Fellahin infantry - encouraged by their Imam - get ready to charge while the Sekkan unleash surprisingly accurate galling fire from the cover of the palm grove in front.

The Egyptians burst through into the field but suffer a deadly bombardment from the French flotilla howitzer and are then met with an equally devastating fire from the Naval Brigade, gun and the 21st DB battalion lined up opposite.

The Ottoman 4 pdr provided accurate fire on the French in support of the attacking Fellahin. Behind them the Meccan's furious charge is barely stopped for the moment by desperate volleying from the French Legere. 

 By sheer weight of numbers the Meccans have forced the French back towards the village at the end of Turn Two. Fortunately for the latter the Meccan's enthusiasm to come to grips with the hated Infidel has masked their own gun which only got one shot in (and missed!)  The French in danger of being outflanked by the Meccans managed to buy enough time to retreat into the village building.

Turn Three saw maximum pressure on the French. While the Egyptian Fellahin were destroyed and fled the field the Sekkan's sniping and Ottoman gun wiped out the Naval gun crew and reduced both the 21st DB and one of the Naval battalions. Then the Mamelukes made one of their maniacal charges that only just stopped short of contacting the other Naval battalion. It was too much for the other one which having lost the gun crew and under bombardment broke, leaving a hole in the French line.

Although they didn't break, the other French Naval unit after losses from an initial exchange with the Mamelukes, prudently withdrew into the village, forming a line between the building and the village well.  The other unit sought shelter in the building and somehow rallied (their surviving officer was made of sterner stuff!) while the 21st bttn formed an emergency square (which came under immediate fire from the Sekkans and that damned Ottoman gun!) The Mameluke/Arab horse saw a final opportunity and charged once again. At the same time the Meccan fanatics surrounded the remaining Legere in the building and tried to fight their way in. The second Sekkan unit moved up in support and it looked like it could be all over for the French.

The Cairo Janissaries being the best trained of the Ottoman/Mameluke force were surprisingly reluctant to join their Meccan comrades attacking the village. Their well-trained artillery piece likewise were frustrated at not being able to fire at anything. Although they appeared about engage (my fault I forgot to add their shooting in the last turn) the Sekkans had spent some time getting into position for the final attack that never came!

The penultimate Turn proved disastrous for the Mameluke side. On the verge of a rather complete victory the Mamelukes failed to break the French Naval Bde and instead broke themselves! The French defensive volley accompanied by a naval grenade or two from the neighbouring rooftop (not sure if I should have allowed that but... )  saw the Mamelukes fail their moral and adopt their other tactic - run away! (Despite the exhortations of the Imam!) This was also aided by a spectacular direct hit on the Ottoman gun by the French flotilla howitzer. By this time the Meccan fanatics had also been reduced to less than half their number so when the Mamelukes rode off ALL the Mameluke army had to test and due to excessive casualties they too broke and ran. Only the Sekkan mercenaries stayed put but seeing the rest of their comrades running decided discretion the better part of valour and also withdrew. [Note to self: make sure to put an independent Mameluke command in charge so the army doesn't run away if the Mamelukes do!]

Bang! The Ottoman gun is no more!

The surviving Meccan fanatics have also had enough and scarper!

The remaining Naval Bde can't believe their luck.

The sloop's howitzer did a sterling job!

The Imam pleads but they just shout 'Allahu Ackbar!' and ride harder in the opposite direction!

And suddenly it was all over bar a bit of shouting in the distance (probably just a distraught Imam)

It was getting too hot both in the village and on my gaming deck to get the French advance scout force and second Mameluke force on the table in time so I called it a day. Quite happy at how the scenario played - I think it could be either as a game on its own or part of a larger battle or series of encounters. [Thinks: there is also a sizable Ottoman Turk force I could introduce!] Making the Nile river sections, repositioning the village at one end of the table and bringing in the French flotilla has made all the difference. Its now ready for a proper game down t'club!

Oh yes, the gaming scenario is based on the General de Brigade 'Napoleonic Scenarios 4 - Against the Ottomans'  and the rules used are likewise a specific adaption of General de Armee.

Well hoped you enjoyed it - please feel free to comment and/or with any suggestions.

Cheers, Doc