Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Raid on Suez (1915)

I only get to see my mate Anton about twice a year. When we do meet up, it is usually to fight one of the outstanding Boer War scenarios he's been very gradually compiling. With Anton, it's definitely a case of quality rather than quantity.

Since the New Year, though, he's had an uncharacteristic flurry of activity and bombarded me with several scenarios from diverse corners of history. There is another Boer War scenario in his ready-for-testing queue (Diamond Hill), but the one that took to the table this week was some early WWI action: the Ottoman raid on Suez in 1915.

 
 A lot of desert to cross! Ottomans arrive from the right,
approaching the Suez Canal left of picture.
(6mm figures from Irregular Miniatures - WWII Italians proxying for the Turks;
WWI Brits painted as Balkan Wars Greeks return to Imperial service.)

The history: an Ottoman force of some 13,000 men marched from Beersheba to the Suez Canal - about 150 miles. The Canal was guarded by 30,000 or so British Empire troops, so there was never any question of the Ottomans holding what they took. The aim was presumably more to stir up revolt against the British in Egypt. Still, with the advantage of choosing their point of attack, even though their approach march was detected, the Ottomans were able to achieve sufficient brief local superiority to get a few hundred men across. However, when Imperial reinforcements came up, the feeble Ottoman toeholds were soon eliminated. The raiders retired having suffered heavy losses.

Our game of it surprised everyone. Garry and Bruce arrived first, read the scenario, and decided the Turks had no chance so they'd play the British. David B and Dave W then turned up and fatalistically accepted their role as the doomed Ottomans. The first couple of turns confirmed everyone's prejudices as the Turks and their Arab irregulars struggled across the open ground being mown down by the intense fire from entrenched Indian troops with magazine rifles, artillery and gunboats.

Yet as the Turks doggedly pressed closer to the trenches and brought their own artillery into play, they began suppressing enough of the British fire to make it less lethal. Eventually the Ottomans managed to storm not one but two of the four British outposts on the east bank of the Canal. British reinforcements arrived: Rajputs, Australians and a couple more gunboats. The northern Ottoman force (mostly Arabs) was virtually wiped out, but its artillery deterred the Aussies from retaking Ismailia Ferry Post. In the south, the Ottoman 10th Division in the second wave had established a foothold across the Canal and could not be prized loose.

This was a remarkable turnaround in fortunes, and a result which had seemed extremely unlikely for most of the game. Hard to say whether it was down to dice or tactics (I was only watching the northern half of the table), but it was certainly entertaining. This scenario will be rolled out again, for sure.

Scenario is in the files of the BBB group on groups.io for anyone interested.