Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Mahdi!

Many of my figures sit around for years before they are finished and these are no exception.  It's over six years since I started the Mahdi as the first figures in my Sudan collection.  I was getting on quite well until, having painted his camel in a nice biscuit colour, I discovered that he rode a white Bishari camel.  I couldn't face repainting it and finishing the other figures so I just shelved it, as the Mahdi wasn't present at the first two battles I was painting figures for (2nd El Teb and Tamai).

Today, however, I had a bit of spare time but not enough to do anything on the Prussians so I thought I'd finish off the Mahdi and his two supporters.  In the interim he had suffered quite a lot of knocks (being unvarnished) so I had to do quite a lot of repair work over and above repainting the camel and finishing his supporters.  Anyway, here he is and these are the only multi-based figures (other than a machine gun and crew, I think) I have ever done. 

The Perry version of the Mahdi looks more like Laurence Olivier in Khartoum (1966) rather than the historical figure.  Khartoum is one of the better sixties historical epics and even gets many of the uniform details (unlike the 2002 The Four Feathers which had all the British in red coats) right (such as the Camel Corps and the Egyptian army's cuirassiers).

Muhammad Ahmad bin Abd Allah (1845-1885)

The portrayal of the Mahdi's army, however, in Khartoum isn't as accurate as in the 1939 version of The Four Feathers (where they used real Beja tribesmen) mostly because it was shot in Egypt and not the Sudan like the older film.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Beja Camel riders completed

I haven't been able to paint at all lately as I have been in Abu Dhabi but I managed to finish my last four camel mounted Beja for the battles of 2nd El Teb and Tamai today. At my chosen ratio of 1:33 I need 18 mounted fugures to represent the forces involved and here they are. I won't need any more of these just the odd figure to use as a standard bearer for my infantry units. In fact the Beja cavalry was spread around the army in smaller units but if I reflect that organisation then we would only have units of two figures so, for wargaming purposes, I am going to use them as a "big wing" (or maybe two).

Here is a picture of a Beja saddle for a camel. The saddle posts are distinctive and, as ever, are accurately modelled on the Perry Miniatures figures.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Another Sudan Wargame...

The British patrol on the left had to reach the outpost in the centre

Well, almost exactly one year after my last wargame I was back at Guildford having another Sudan game organised by Keith and joined, this time, by Matt and Alastair, authentically commanding the Black Watch.

This time we used a set of rules I hadn't come across before called Flying Lead. These are a semi-skirmish set which allow for either unit or individual movement. All actions are dice activated and contain a high element of chance as whilst each individual or group can throw up to three activation dice if you fail to meet the activation level of your troop types on the majority of your dice (eg: only get one out of three) then your turn finishes (even if you have only moved one person) and the other side gets their go.

Initially, I have to say I found the rules totally baffling (I have always found the gaming part of wargaming tricky!) but by the end of the second game I was starting to work out some of the strategies involved and would happily give them another go. I think part of the problem was that I didn't have a copy of the rules so it was somewhat akin to trying to work out how to play a trumpet just by observing someone blowing and making seemingly random moves on the valves.

But I will pick up a copy of Flying Lead as they seem ideal for small actions: we had about 35 Beja against about 13 British and a Gatling Gun (which was horribly powerful-when it worked!).

The leafy Sudan

Keith set up a rather leafy part of the Sudan (we decided it must be very close to the Nile) and the objective of the first game was for a British patrol at the edge of the board to reach their stronhold in the centre. Keith and I, as the Mahdists, had to stop them. We had one unit of 10 Beja with rifles, one unit of 10 with spears and five camel mounted cavalry (the first time I had used them in a game) plus a late resevre of another unit of 10.

Skulking in the wadi

Keith had trouble getting his Beja with rifles to move at all and once I had been on the receiving end of some rifle fire I decided to hide my troops in a wadi or a palm grove, much to the derision of my opponents. However anytime any of my chaps put their heads out of cover they promptly got shot: too much open ground to cover with too short a movement phase. The first game ended with the Black Watch arriving at their stronghold with very little opposition.

The Beja strike back!

In the second game, Keith increased the amount of cover available close to the outpost and this time I did manage to close to action and actually inflict a few casualties but it was another clear win for the infidels.

The nasty Gatling gun

On reflection, I think that the rules are maybe a bit too generic for the Sudan and we probably didn't have enough men on the Mahdist's side to make a closer game of it. Outnumbering by two to one against troops armed with rifles and a Gatling gun is not enough! They would work much better against similarly armed and equal troops and look forward to trying them out for WW1 for example.

Nevertheless, it has enthused me to try to finish my unit of Beja camel troops. I painted another two for the game, including a standard bearer, and applied some of the Citadel dead grass to the bases. I think I only have to paint four more and I have the eighteen I need to represent the Beja mounted force at El Teb and Tamai.

Perry plastic three ups

On a wider Sudan front I am very much looking forward to the Perry plastic Mahdists and hope they will contain some early Ansar. I have seen a picture of some of the three ups and they at least contain plastic Beja and the later post Fuzzy hair beja (presumably a head option).

Splendid cover too

Talking of the Perries, I bought a copy of their new book on the Sudan Wars Go Strong into the Desert by Mike Snook when I was at Colours the other week. It really is definitive and has fabulous illustrations, including fascinating present day photographs of the battlefields. Everyone who wargames the Sudan should get a copy!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Dead grass

I just picked up a tub of Games Workshop's new Dead Grass. I have been looking for something like this for ages for my Sudan bases. They are all completely foliage free at present but even in the Sudan there were some clumps of grass. I will put some on to see how it looks over the weekend.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Sudan Wargame!

The British Outpost - lovely model!

It's over three years since I started this blog and my interest has, as ever, waxed and waned somewhat. However, I still regard this as my main period so was delighted to actually get a game in for the first time at Guildford on Monday. This was down to Keith at the club who suggested a game as he has some Sudan War figures (some very nicely painted Camel Corps made an appearance) too.
We decided to use The Sword and the Flame which I had played once before about four years ago and Keith had never played. There was, as a result, a lot of rulebook consulting which, hopefully, next time won't happen quite so much.
Guy's Rub of 60 figures comes around and over the hill

We played the attack on a British strongpoint scenario. Keith had a unit each of Kings Royal Rifle Corps, Camel Corps and Royal Marines Light Infantry plus a Naval Brigade Gatling Gun (inevitably). I had six units of Beja. We didn't fuss too much about points values of each side and this seemed about right. My little boy, Guy, joined me on the Mahdist side which was just as well given we had over 120 individually based figures to move per turn. It makes me realise that my plan to refight El Teb and Tamai with 300 on the Beja side will be an all day job!
The RMLI had already driven off one unit and are dealing with the second
Keith had a nice desert building but it wasn't quite big enough to hold his force so we spread the British units out a bit with the RMLI outside the compound. This had one negative effect (for the Beja, anyway) in that because the fortified area wasn't at the centre of the table any Beja attacking the RMLI who were driven back (3xD6 of running required) exited the table and were lost. We must make sure that next time the defended area is exactly in the centre giving the attackers a chance to regroup.
Osman Digna sends in his first unit against the Naval Brigade Gatling gun

Tactically, the Beja weren't brilliant in that they attacked in three groups. Given Keith only had four units we should have spread our six units out more. But the table was against one wall and Keith was sitting on the other side of the board (although he sportingly offered to move) so we naturally kept largely to one side of the board too. I could always argue that perhaps this reflects some terrain issues but next time we need to be more flexible in our deployment!
The Gatling Gun struck first but wasn't as destructive as we had feared (I suspect we were lucky-under the rules you can suffer up to 12 casualties). The Beja took a few casualties but carried on in their charge.

It's nice to get some use for my wounded figures

One of Guy's units was very quickly seen off by the RMLI proving how difficult it is to attack formed Imperial infantry who get a plus one on every dice roll. The same unit them put paid to the force I sent in to assist.

My first unit got bogged down in rough terrain so it was my second that charged and took the Gatling Gun. We were not quite sure if we were handling the rules for attacking artillery correctly as we had 18 Beja against 4 Naval brigade so they didn't have a chance in hand to hand combat. But then, on every occasion we found that the rules worked reasonably realistically so maybe the lesson is don't use a gun without infantry to defend it.

A date with destiny (or at least a Gatling Gun)

One of Guy's units was driving the KRRC back and I was at the gates of the strongpoint when we had to stop (it was a school day and was well past Guy's bedtime!). If we had continued it could have gone either way. The RMLI had destroyed two of our units but we still had four on the table. The KRRC were on the run but the Camel Corps were safely ensconced in the building and were shooting away from the rooftops.

A few things we need to check:

1. The rules for charging artillery.

2. The role of extra-unit leaders (morale?)

3. Two units attacking one.

4. Throwing spears during a charge.

A few things I learnt: Beja swordsmen get an extra 1 added to their dice in melee which brings them up to the British level - Perry order going in! Spread warband units out as the shooting arcs are tighter than in WAB, for example. If playing as the British ensure there is infantry support to defend a gun.

Hopefully we can get another game in after I return from my next batch of travels. I will have finished my first unit of Beja -mounted cavalry by then too!

Monday, September 07, 2009

Fourth Unit of Beja

Beja in Ambush

I'm now entering winter painting mode which means that I can't paint shading in the evening as it's all under artificial light. Currently, mornings are still OK but as I'm heading off for work at 7.00am there isn't a lot of time. So tonight I just did some work on the bases of the last five figures I need to complete my second Rub of sixty Beja for the game next Monday. They are well on the way and should be ready on time, I hope. That said I am off to see my friends in Bath on Thursday for a couple of days so will lose Thursday night, Friday and all day Saturday. Sunday is Colours in Newbury so I won't have that much time then either. It looks like my plans to finish some more camel mounted cavalry and start my field gun look doomed! Oh well, hopefully Keith, my opponent, will enjoy The Sword and the Flame and we can play regularly which will incentivise me to get more figures (including the dreaded Gordon Highlanders) done.

This unit is one I started ages ago and uses the evocative "Beja in Ambush" figures from the Perries. I gave one of the spearmen a flag from The Virtual Armchair General even though it rather gives away their position!

Anyway, this post gives me the chance to post a few of the nice period photographs of Beja sent to me by Louie Blades who must have wondered what happened to them as he sent them in April!

Note the large blade on the spear

A particularly flared kaskara scabbard.

This lot look pretty tough. It makes you realise how well the Perries sculpted their faces.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Sudanese Kaskara Swords

My 19th Century Kaskara sword

I'm painting a big batch (over 40) Beja at the moment for our game next month. Many of these carry swords and the Mahdists often used to organise their swordsmen into units (more on this shortly).

The characteristic sword of the Beja, as accurately modelled by the Perries, is known as the kaskara. Superficially it looks like a typical 11th century Northern European Dark Ages sword and for some years (particularly during Victorian times) writers thought that it really was modelled on the original Crusader swords or even that some of them were surviving swords passed down for 900 years. Today it is known that they first originated in the 15th or 16th Century so are very unlikely to have been modelled on a sword from 500 years earlier. They are much more likely to be based on medieval Arab swords and there may be some Turkish influence.

It is true, however, that many of the blades were made in Europe: primarily Solingen, Germany; Toledo, Spain; and Belluno, Italy. They were then shipped to the ports of Tunis, Tripoli, Alexandria, and the Moroccan coast to be traded. Some blades were produced locally as were the scabbards and grips.

The blades vary from about 24” to 36” in length with most coming in at the longer length. The edges are parallel (although sometimes there is a slight taper) leading to a spatulate tip. The blades can be flat or have a fuller running down part of it. The sides of the blade are relatively blunt as they were generally used for thrusting rather than slashing (although some of the Perry figures are shown in a slashing pose).

Abstract patterns on the blade

Some blades were etched with inscriptions from the Koran but others contain abstract talismanic patterns. Such inscriptions were meant to impart spiritual power to the weapon (like Warhammer Runes!) and inspire the warrior to fight valiantly for Allah.

The swords have a simple crossguard and most have a languet, a short central extension towards the blade that fits over the scabbard when sheathed. Interestingly, whilst the Perry figures accurately show these on the sheathed swords they do not appear on the models with unsheathed blades. The cross-guards could be iron or brass.

As the blades were comparatively light compared with European swords the pommel didn’t have to act as a counterweight and so Kaskara swords are a flat disk made of wood and, like the grip (usually of round cross-section), are covered in leather strips. More expensive versions would have silver or gold decoration.

The scabbards are characteristically made of red-brown leather although sometimes more exotic skins like crocodile or monitor lizard were used. The leaf-shaped distal flaring is also typical. More high status examples would have a metal chape (scabbard tip).

The swords were carried on a long leather strap that went over the shoulder and attached to the scabbard in two places. using metal rings.

The Kaskara, a was a prized possession, and was carried whenever the owner was outside his home. Many Beja continue to carry them to this day. The Sudanese were relatively late to firearms compared with neighbouring African countries. This may either be because they didn’t have the technical expertise to maintain them or there was a theory that Sudanese warriors disdained firearms on moral grounds with guns for mercenaries and slave soldiers only. By the time of the Mahdist revolt however they were well armed with around of a third of troops armed with firearms.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Sudan Wargame in prospect!

I haven't painted any Sudan figures for months but I recently got an e-mail from Keith at Guidford Wargames Club (see his blog here: offering a Sudan game. I still haven't got enough figures painted (around 85 Beja and 50 British) but he has 60 Ansar and some British too so it looks like we are all go for August 24th! This will give us both time to paint some more figures. I have already dug out some Beja I had based but not undercoated for working on this weekend and I will get going on some more Highlanders too. This gives me a real incentive to move the army along! I'll be spending a couple of weeks, at least, with my wife and children (work permitting: I am trying to organise visits to Canada and Argentina so they don't clash) at the family house in Cowes for some of the school summer holiday and usually get quite a few figures done down there when we're not sailing.

I suspect it will be a fantasy Sudan battle as Keith's British figures seem to be mainly Camel Corps and mine are from the earlier battles of El Teb and Tamai but it will be great to get them onto the table for the first time. I will start the John Wilcox novel Siege of Khartoum this weekend as well, to keep me in the mood!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

General Gordon message from Khartoum for sale

Up for auction this week is a tiny note from General Gordon written whilst Khartoum was under siege.

Dated June 22nd 1884 and written in Arabic it says "...Mudir of Dongola Khartoum and Senaar in perfect security and Mahamed Ahmed carries this to give you news and on his reaching you give him all the news as to the direction & position of the relieving force and their numbers and as for Khartoum there are in it 8 000 men and the Nile is rapidly rising on arrival of the bearer give him 100 reals mejide'h from the States C G Gordon."

It was beleived that it was smuggled out of Khartoum, probably in the courier's hair.

Guide price is £500-£700 and I am very tempted by this! The problem is that now it has been in the newspaper it will probably go for much more and I really need to get a new PC this month! Whoever buys it might also get press coverage and my wife would have a fit if she found out I had bought it when she is demanding new shoes!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Music to paint by

I am totally unable to paint without music and usually, when painting Sudan British happily listen to the Complete Marches of Kenneth Alford (alright Alford, real name Fredrick Joseph Ricketts, wasn't born until 1882 but it sounds right) on my computer. Whilst painting Highlanders I also have some Scottish military music but, honestly, there is only so much bagpipe music I can bear. I was very pleased, therefore, to acquire this weekend a cd of the soundtrack for the film Khartoum (1966) with music by Frank Cordell (1918-1980). The score is a mix of cod Walton and Elgar and Islamic (well, "Egyptian") sounding music. John Williams, when writing about the music for the throne room scene of Star Wars (1977) said that he wanted an English feel like Elgar. Frankly, he must have been thinking of Cordell's overture to Khartoum; the similarities are, er, remarkable. As to the "Egyptian" sound, the whole exotic "Egyptian" scale, with its flattened supertonic was invented by Verdi for Aida (it's about as authentic as Sir Walter Scott's version of Scotland) but everyone since has used it from Maurice Jarre in Lawrence of Arabia to Jerry Goldsmith in The Mummy.

Anyway it makes a change from all those wailing bagpipes (it does quote Highland Laddie)!