Saturday, May 18, 2019

The Battle of Abu Klea 15mm Colonial Wargame report

The Battle of Abu Klea or Abu Taliah
17 January 1885

Situation:   In a redoubled effort to relieve Khartoum and rescue Gordon, Gen Wolseley ordered the forming of a land element of picked men from the elite units of the British army to be mounted on camels in an effort to link up with the armed river steamer force that Gordon had sent downriver to link up with any approaching relief forces from the Nile. This Camel Corps would then travel cross country across a loop in the Nile to link up with those forces sent by Gen. Gordon. This force traveling away from the Nile was dependent on water from wells situated along its travel route. Mid-morning on the 16th of January they column spotted Dervish forces in the valley leading to its next watering stop in the valley of Abu Klea. Stewart traveling with the cavalry decided to attack after a swift reconnaissance but Col Burnaby noting the lateness of the day advised constructing a zariba and encamping in it for the night. The following morning Stewart gave his instructions and the force moved down the valley toward the Gakul wells with the 19th Hussars thrown out screening in front of the column while Stewart and the main body advanced skirting the low hills on the East side of the valley.

The Desert column advances down the valley.

Opposing forces

British forces:
GOC Brig Gen. Sir Herbert Stewart KCB
Col F.G. Burnaby
Guards Camel Regiment    12 figures armed with Martini Henry rifles
Heavy Camel Regiment     12 figures armed with Martini Henry rifles
Mounted Infantry Camel Regiment 12 figures armed with Martini Henry rifles
C and G Companies Royal Sussex Regiment 12 figures armed with Martini Henry rifles
1st Div. of the Naval Brigade   1 Gardner gun Capt. Charles Beresford RN
1st Battery 2nd Brigade, Southern Div.  3 7pdr Screw guns
2 troops 19th Hussars    8 figures Martini Henry carbines

Mahdist Forces
The Amir Wad Hilu
Amir Hamad Abu Anja
10 Rubs 30 figures each armed mostly with spears and a few rifles
Unengaged 3 Rubs 30 figures each armed with spears

19th Hussars cavalry screen crests a small hill. 

The Hussars spotted a line of flags farther down the valley and some dust clouds which could mean moving troops Hamilton the Hussar commander sent messengers back to the column and proceeded forward to determine the enemy dispositions. Occupying a small rise Hamilton sees dust clouds to his front and is spotted by the Mahdist’s hiding in the scrub who begin a desultory fire upon his command.

Mahdist infantry spots the Hussars screen and the column in the distance.

“The Mahdist’s sprouted from the ground like angry bees” Pvt. Coles 19th Hussars

Hamilton dismounts his men and begins firing volleys at the Mahdist’s gathering to his front.

The Mahdist’s return fire without effect.

Stewart informed of the action orders the column to continue moving along the ridge and to form square upon it..

Col Burnaby alerts Capt Beresford to bring his Gardner gun out of the path of the square and to support Hamilton if needed.

The Mahdist’s continue to fire on the Hussars again without effect.

The Mahdist Commander The Amir Wad Hilu orders the hidden infantry to arise and advance on the flank of the Hussars and the flank of the column.

Seeing the mass of Mahdist’s arise and move to flank his detachment Hamilton mounts up and retires before being cut off.

Capt Beresford is aware of the flanking maneuver of the Mahdist’s and opens fire to cover the withdrawal of the Hussars.

The main column arrives at the hilltop and forms into square to meet the attack.

The Mahdist’s spurned on by the chance of Paradise and the apparent weakness of the Infidel begin their mass charges against the square and the lone gun to their front.

“Blasted sand the breech is jammed”

The Mahdist’s close the distance while the crew desperately tries to clear the jam.

Capt Beresford joined by Col Burnaby continues attempt to clear the jam to fire upon the rush. Col. Burnaby orders the crew to abandon their piece and make for the protection of the square.

Their fire masked the Guard Camel Regiment watch helplessly as the Mahdist’s overrun the Gallant Burnaby and the Gardner crew.

Burnaby of the Blues gallant to the end.

The Mahdist’s frenzied by the slaughter launch an all out assault on the silent British square.

Meanwhile at the square the screw guns go into action on the now numerous field of targets rapidly moving towards them.

As the Mahdist’s close the range the front face of the square begins firing controlled volleys to attempt to halt the assault.

Despite increasing fire the Mahdist’s surge forward.

‘Our fire seemed to stagger them many would be hit several times before collapsing in death throes” Lt. Colishaw Guards Camel Regiment”

“Allah be praised the infidel shall be vanquished! Allah Akbar!”

Despite their numbers the Mahdist’s reel from the volleys of the Heavy Camel Regiment and the Guards sweeping huge gaps in their ranks the press on towards the British position.

“Steady lads! Mark your targets”

Unchecked by the intense fire, the Mahdist’s close within a few yards

The Guards Regiment prepares to receive the Mahdist charge supported by volleys from the rear ranks of the Royal Sussex Regiment and the Heavy Camel Regiment.

Finally closing with the square after receiving murderous fire the Mahdist force exacts revenge for their losses.

The issue is in doubt with many falling in the swirling melee, bayonet versus spear and revolver and sword used freely. The dead gather in clumps all along the line.

Finally the outcome is decided as the groups of Mahdist’s mixed inside the lines are bayoneted or shot down and their comrades take to flight.

The attacking Mahdist’s sullenly retreat followed by volleys of the square.

The Camel Corps stands ready to renew the engagement.

The enemy gathered on the hills to the West and milled about for perhaps and hour and withdrew towards the Nile. Capt. Thornberry  Heavy Camel Regiment.



Mahdist 57 figures about 1710 men (approx 14.5% of their force)  
British 7 figures around 210 men (approx 15% of their force)

The Mahdist rifle fire was very ineffectual I think one figure fell from it. The entire Naval crew including Beresford died, they did however kill 4 figures. Burnaby fell but his stalwart presence helped the crew fight on until overcome by the masses of Mahdist warriors. Because the square got formed and on the hill the British maintained and devastating volume of fire upon their advance still the losses are not too much higher than historical with the British losing more than history has recorded. All in all Abu Klea is a close run battle and while not successful today The Mahdist’s could win it. The Mahdist’s did not commit their reserve of 3 Rubs to the fight which may have enabled them to break the British square.


  1. That is a simply superb looking game! Great photos: love the low-angle ones looking out over the battlefield.

  2. As a fellow 15mm Colonial gamer based in Durban, many thanks for your wonderful inspiring post!