Sunday, 18 November 2018

Attack on the Hajez Railway at Al Tafilah , 25th January 1918 - Chain of Command

Our club is fortunate to have several collections of 28mm miniatures and a good selection of terrain, suitable for battles set in the Middle East during the First World War; so we decided to put on a Lawrence of Arabia themed game. The scenario envisioned an attack by combined Anglo-Arab forces onto an important part of the Hajez Railway. The rules used were Chain of Command, by Too Fat Lardies, along with ideas borrowed from the various supplements they have published.

Order of Battle
The Anglo-Arab force was divided into three, Bedouin tribesmen under Prince Feisal, regular Hashemite Arab troops under Prince Abdullah and the 91st Punjabi Light Infantry under Subadar Khan. The Bedouin force was a large and zealous infantry and cavalry force, but without much in the way of support weapons; to make them zealous any adverse morale results were halved. The Hashemites were a balanced force of infantry with some support elements. The Punjabis were well supplied with support weapons and some cavalry but under strict orders not to incur many casualties; any adverse morale result were doubled. Lawrence was present in his Rolls-Royce “Blue Mist” and escorted by another armoured-car. Lawrence’s roll was more as an influencer on the two Arab forces and had no effect on the Indian troops.

The defending Turkish force was infantry based with limited entrenchments, poorly maintained wire and some support weapons. The Turks also had some doubtful Arab auxiliaries, both infantry and cavalry. At the end of each turn, a unit of Arabs would skedaddle, unless a chain of command dice was played to stop this. And finally there was one section of die-hard German infantry in the town, but not under Turkish command.

The Attack
The attack started with the Arab infantry deploying onto the table, followed by Turks manning their entrenchments. The Arab infantry took considerable punishment from the Turks until the Anglo-Arabic support units began to slowly knock-out Turkish units. The Punjabis’ contented themselves with laying down heavy support fire for the Arabs, but not much else. With the Arab losses mounting, Lawrence decided to enter the fray. The two vehicles under his command drove over to the Hashemite troops to urge them on, but it was almost a disaster. The Turks had cleverly concealed a 77mm gun which opened fire on the escorting armoured car. The first shell must have been a dud, as the target was struck but not damaged. The Turks didn’t make the same mistake again and knocked out the armoured car with a second shell. Blue Mist swerved away, but not before the Turkish gun got off a third shot wounding Lawrence.

But by now Turkish fire was slackening due to increasing casualties from British support weapons and Arab infantry made it up to and then crossed the wire. The Hashemites were now to face another danger as it became clear that the Turks had turned the mosque and its walled compound into a strong defensive position. Accurate rifle fire betrayed the presence of German infantry within the complex. Suddenly the gates opened as a unit of auxiliary Arab cavalry charged out. A few saddles were emptied but not before the cavalry hit a unit of Hashimites, which recoiled, but did not break. The next phase saw most of the auxiliary cavalry shot down. By now the Bedouins had brought up a huge force of mounted troops ready to charge into the town and finish the matter. Subadar Khan seeing the battle swing in favour of the Arabs ordered his men to fix bayonets and advanced. All this was too much for the Turks and their auxiliaries, who abandoned their positions and made the best of whatever escape they could. Some made it to the mosque compound but most just melted away.

But what of Lawrence himself I hear you asking? Well Lawrence had become distracted by the discovery of an abandoned German BMW motor cycle. At that moment he was smitten by the exhilaration of motorised two wheal transport – with tragic future consequences. By the time Lawrence regained his concentration on the matter in hand, it was pretty well all over. Lawrence drove over to the mosque complex in Blue Mist, identified himself as a British officer and called on the German troops to surrender. With the town full of wild Arabs, the Germans politely declined the offer, feeling safer inside the mosque walls. Two days later, after Lawrence and his Arabs had departed, a platoon from the 39th Battalion (Zion Legion) The Royal Fusiliers, marched into town. The German officer was pleased to surrender to one Sergeant Ben Gurion.

A view of the battle from the 'other side of the hill' with a captured report taken from a Turkish officer.

Please find below a report on the action at At-Tafilah, 25th January 1918:

Army intelligence reports pointed to a large Anglo-Arab force moving into Tafileh Province, In consequence, the fortification of our line was ordered, including my position at At-Tafilah . Consequently a number of emplacements were constructed on the edge of the town, to reinforce the single line barbed wire enclosure.

At first light on the 25th January, reports were received of enemy units being sighted on the ridgeline half a kilometre to the East of the town. Immediate orders were given to deploy a platoon from the 2nd company, 1st battalion, 47th Infantry regiment and a supporting HMG section, to the redoubts and surrounding buildings.

Soon after, British artillery batteries and HMGs could be seen setting up on the ridge, with hordes of
Bedouin tribesmen and British trained Arab infantry moving towards our position. We engaged the infantry and came under heavy fire from the artillery and machineguns on the high ground. The Bedouin infantry were cut down and forced back by our accurate fire, whilst the Arab infantry suffered severe losses, which slowed their advance to a crawl.

Our own casualties to British heavy weapons were starting to mount and so another platoon of infantry was deployed, together with some tribal infantry, to stiffen the line.

At this point, the British spy Lawrence, in an armoured motor car, arrived to encourage his men forward. In support he brought a Lanchester armoured car, which the coward used to shield himself
from our fire.

In view of the danger, our field piece was deployed and quickly knocked out the Lanchester, but attracted heavy fire from the ridge in return.

With enemy troops nearing the barbed wire, a section from the German mission took up position in buildings and fired on those at the wire, forcing a unit back. Our last two reserve sections were deployed to the streets, ready for hand to hand combat.

At this point more Bedouin infantry breached the wire on our left, whilst the Arab infantry moved into the streets on our right. As the situation was critical, our tribal horse charged the Arab troops and forced them back. Their retreat left the cavalry exposed to murderous artillery and HMG fire and they routed.

With casualties caused by British heavy weapons rising to 50%, the morale of the platoon on our left
of our line was at a dangerously low level and sections started to fall back. At this point a large number of Bedouin cavalry and camelry reinforcements crested the ridge and moved on the town.
As we were now heavily outnumbered, the position was untenable. In consequence a general withdrawal was ordered, to prevent our force being surrounded.

I remain Sir, your obedient servant,
Bimbashi Erdem Cakmak