Monday, 7 July 2014

Balloons across the Nile - the Battle of Abu Bay 1799

'They died like Englishmen with their faces to the foe,
Faint not, nor fear to lose the righteous way;
Their lonely, sandy graves too far for us to go,
We remember yet those English heroes, the dead of Abu Bay...'

The epitaph on the crumbling tomb of Lt-Colonel Sir Colman Mustard, VC, VD, Bar and Scar, Commanding Officer of the 34th Light Dragoons (The Farah Fawcett Yeomanry) is all that is left to remind us of that far flung, hard fought (and entirely fictious) engagement on the shores of the Nile that has failed to go down in history as the Battle of Abu Bay.

Dave had kindly offered to run the scenario to show case his favourite Napoleonic rules, 'Napoleon at War'. We knew he had a beautifully painted and eclectic collection of French and other assorted exotic continentals, but we had not expected such a visual feast that did full justice to the exotic and quixotic Orient!

As is something of a habit with us now, Dave brought in some of his reference material for us to look at, including the rules themselves. These are very well presented, with a host of clear and informative diagrams and lots of eye candy.

Dave had obviously put a lot of thought into the scenario, which featured lots of Napoleonic celebrities, Generals Kleber, Desaix, Lasalle and Reynier on the French side.

The French forces could not be accused of not having adapted to the local conditions and seemed to field every form of exotic animal known to man. I suppose in the French army the more exotic the mount, the more exciting the eventual menu!

That's not to say the French force didn't contain some more conventionally hard hitting units, such as some very hard hitting Dragoons...

and the glamorous 22eme Chasseurs...

These were opposed by an unholy alliance of British and Turks, under the command of his esteemed Excellency the Grand Vizier Yousouf Zia Pacha, leading light of the Honourable and Holy Order of the Bejewelled Parasol, who was often to be seen personally leading, or at least entangled with, his faithful, or at least curious as to what he would do next; Corps of Elite Janissaries.

Since  your long suffering author also goes by the monicker of 'Ralph', I was of course given General Abercromby's command, as fine a brigade of British Infantry as ever haunted the boozers, gins parlours and pieshops of Surrey...
His Glorious Eminence the Grand Vizier Yousouf Zia Pacha
However it has to be said that fine yeomen of England (well Ireland mostly) were a little windy about our left flank, 'secured' as it was by as ragamuffin a collection of Bashi Bazooks and Pandours as has ever graced the Zanzibar waterfront... Most of these troops really didn't inspire confidence in their ability to do anything but show the enemy a clear pair of heels...  
Various units of Fellahin, Naizam and foot Janissaries - known to the sniffier British rankers as 'The Unpronounceables'...
Well I hope that has set the scene for you - an exotic setting on the banks of the Nile, enlivened by all manner of ancient ruins and the hot, scented wafts of exotic spices and strange beasts (Well actually the role-players weren't in this week...)

 Now normally when one is fighting the French its all really a bit of a bother coming up with a plan, the normal drill is just to let the blighters come up to unmisseable range and then just give 'em the old Enfield kiss right between the whites of their eyes....

However in these heathen climes you never know what might be giving you the evil eye, particularly when your flanks are held by some rather dodgy sorts, so some sort of token planning was in order - all rather effete, I know, but when in Rome and all that...Without being too much of a bothersome swot I asked my teammate and CinC Pete the Grand Vizier if we had a plan...

Casting a seasoned and professional eye across the teeming plain, full as far as the eye could see with mobs of lethal animals, and the French Army,

he muttered cryptically 'Best go right flanking, mate, and I'll see how you go...' Accordingly I acted decisively and inspiringly ordered my cavalry brigade to 'sort of go around that little oasis thingy and see if you can't manage to make a nuisance of yerselves over there'.

Used to the sometimes haphazard, and occasionally downright obstreperous, command system in Black Powder, to my surprise the entire Brigade move off smartly and at a fair old lick too...I'm not saying there weren't some mutterings from the British troopers, generally along the lines of 'Jaysus, he can make a decision', and some of the Egyptian chappies looked downright sullen, but they certainly moved off quick smart, and most of them in the direction of the enemy!

I'm not too sure what was happening on the rest of the battlefield, reeling as I still was from the slightly unsettling prospect of commanding a formation that would unhesitatingly do what it was told...However I do vaguely remember we were handed sealed orders (yes really, no detail left unprepared) that detailed what reinforcements we might expect.

Perhaps equally surprised at the ease of C2 with these rules, I do recall that Pete lost no time in committing his chaps into the fray...

And to my considerable surprise the 'Unprounceables' Brigade did not melt away completely on first contact with the enemy! However, I now had problems of my own...

Now standard practice when commanding a Regiment of Light Cavalry when a Regiment of Heavy Cavalry from 'the other Field Post Office's number' hoves into view is to smartly about face and retire smartly to the rear of one's own lines, muttering something about 'recconaisance in force'....However the unfortunate troopers of the 34th Light Dragoons were commanded by Lt-Col Colman Mustard, who's moving epitaph opened this little tale... I shall draw a discrete veil over the sorry tale of wasted horseflesh and brave troopers in which the gallant, but not tactically gifted, Colonel met his fate.

Suffice it to say the French Dragoons, supported by a strategically positioned regiment of Chasseurs, shrugged off this attack, and the succession of wave attacks that followed, with barely more effort than a gallic shrug...To be entirely fair to our gallant Turkish allies, though, I should point out that the only time the French Cavalry felt the slightest discomfort during these cavalry skirmishes, it was a the hands of the elite Mounted Janissaries Regiment - probably something to do with all that armour...

I may say that a this point, having failed to disperse the French Cavalry, things were not looking too good, the Jonny Crapauds having rather unsportingly taken advantage of our equine disappointments to bring up their infantry quick smart...

Another unscrupulous trick the French pulled was to fly some sort of fiendish air-lofted contraption accross our lines, manned, I assume, by a couple of their more intelligent troopers (obviously no Officer would be so cowardly as to take advantage of a gallant foe in this unchivalrous manner) to spy out our lines. Had I had any mounted men left, I would of course have dashed off an indignant despatch to my opposite number about this outrage, but as it was I had to content myself with a mid morning brandy, most of which ended up in my ample mustache, I was so upset by the horrors of modern warfare...

However revenge was sweet, as just in the nick of time to stabilise our now rather precarious left flank, along came a Turkish fellucca (no doubt with a keen young Royal Navy Middie on board to keep 'em honest) to spread grapeshot sized alarm and despondency amongst the onion eaters...

Actually, to be honest, by now both flanks were rather shaky...

And I felt the time had come to 'exit stage left' as the Bard has it! Now extricating oneself from an embarrasing tactical conundrum, particularly when operating with gallant allies, can be fraught with all manner of etiquette issues. As I understand it, there are two schools of thought. The first, rather scientific method, is to actually inform your gallant allies that you intend to draw stumps.

On the other hand, why bother their command with such bothersome details as the fact you are going to withdraw and leave their flank wide open? - after all they are probably quite busy themselves, don't cha know! And of course its rather handy having them stay behind...

Its a bit like when Tiger hunting goes horribly wrong - you don't have to be able to outrun the Tiger, just make sure you are faster than at least one of your beaters, what! So, confident in the knowledge that I could deflect any blame onto my 'unreliable allies' I boldly gave a 'follow me' order to my gallant troops and we embarked on a lightening strike towards our lines of communications.

A very enjoyable game, with Dave's efforts well rewarded with a picturesque and novel game. 


  1. Great write up, Sparker, or should I say Flashman, because it's every bit as entertaining. You have certainly managed to capture some of the grandeur of David's terrain and troops through your photography, mind you, your British troops are very nice too. Excellent and thanks for giving me a good laugh through lunch.

    1. My pleasure, and thanks for being such a challenging opponent - I think....

  2. A most enjoyable write up and display. My compliments to the artists who painted those gorgeous figures.

  3. The French in Egypt are so colourful with their multi-coloured Demi-brigades. Loved the balloon. Great report.

  4. Love it, love it, love it. So much work went into this, and it's paid off wonderfully.


  5. Great looking pictures, love the balloon, the camels and the beautiful table!

  6. Thank you all very much gentlemen!

  7. This is an inspiring game. I've always found Napoleon in Egypt to be an enticing period. Great write up and photos.