Thursday 20 February 2020

Battle of Sheikh Sa'ad 1916

It's Xmas Time, or it was a month or two ago, and Xmas means Mesopotamia here at YG. Over the years we have fought our way up from Basra to the outskirts of Bagdad only to be forced back to Kut where our last game saw the Turkish forces trying to break into that town.

With the Poona Division tied up in Kut we move to the newly formed Tigris Corps and their attempts to relieve the siege.

Highland Regiment waiting to attack
Historical Background 

South of Kut at Ali Gharbi, Lt Gen Alymer was putting together a force to save Gen Townsend and his besieged men. Pressure from above was strong to get the relief force in motion and Alymer set off on the 4th Jan 1916 with just three Brigades of Infantry and some Cavalry, around 10000 foot and 1340 Cavalry supported by 42 guns of various calibre.

British Cavalry waiting for the off
The Turkish Forces had settled into a siege at Kut, the German Commander Von Glitz over ruling the Turkish Officers who remained in favour of taking Kut by force. A substantial amount of the soldiers in the area were needed to keep the British hemmed in. It was down to Colonel Pasha and his XIII Corps to move down river and position themselves to block the advancing Empire Force digging in just south of Sheikh Sa'ad.

Turkish Lancers
The British and Indian Troops were advancing blind, the weather preventing any air Recon and the Cavalry not immediately available. Younghusband, in charge of the leading troops said "with no means of reconnoitering and the country as flat as a billiard table, the only way to find the enemy was to bump into them". On the 5th of Jan 1916 word came from local tribesmen that the Turks just up stream, the next day Younghusband did bump into the Turkish positions.

Turkish troops wait patiently for the Empire troops to advance into range
Set Up and Terrain 

The game was played on our usual 12 x 6 table using the Too Fat Lardies rules "If the Lord Spares Us" which are specifically designed for Mesopotamia Palestine etc using 28mm figs from a variety of companies, mostly Woodbine Design Company but with Artizan, Great War, East Ablaze and Empress added in.

Above shows the Turkish positions, empty of figures for the moment, the picture below is the Empire side.

The terrain is very sparse, the odd area of scrub with a couple of low rises randomly placed. The river Tigris has been considerably shrunk in width to give more playable area, it had no effect on the Battle other than splitting the attacking and defending forces. Below is the only map I have found of the battle, pretty sparse as you can see.

British Briefing and OOB 

The British task is simple break through the Turkish positions in front and race to Kut to rescue the besieged troops there. The game represents the initial attacks of the 6th.

Each Empire Battlion is represented on table by a 2 Fig HQ, 4 x 8 men Companies and 1 MG base, not all units present on the day are represented.

Army Command - 4 figs rated Eton.

28th Brigade - 2nd Leics Regt (with 1 Lewis Gun per Company), 51st Sikhs and 56th Punjabi, set up on the left bank (as viewed from the British Lines).

British Signallers with urgent Tea supplies
19th Brigade - Seaforth Highlanders (with Lewis Guns), 28th Punjabis with the 92nd Punjabis in support off table. Centre of the lines.

35th Brigade - 1/5 Buffs (no Lewis Gun Teams), 37th Dogras and the 97th Deccan Infantry in support off table. Right side of Empire lines, as shown in set up photo so flank is about 2/3 of the way down the table,  with 1 Sqn of Cavalry on right flank (thats all 1 have painted).

Artillery 4 Batteries (1 gun model each) , 1 with each Brigade and 1 spare.

Empire Supports arrive on a throw of 9 or more on 2d6 any turn after the 5th.

Empire troops are unaware of the exact location or strength of the Turkish Troops and at the start of the game all they can see are empty trenches. Turkish troops become visible at 20", and cannot be fired at from a range great that that by none artillery units.

British units are give a Rating of 0, Indian 2, Highlanders are classed as Aggressive.

Turkish Briefing and OOB 

Unbeknown to the Empire leaders on the 6th January they outnumbered the defenders quite considerably nearly 4 to 1. The Turkish troops initially will struggle to cover the whole frontage.

It's not Mesopotamia without some random Marsh Arabs 
Army Command - 4 Figures rated Young Turk

Initial on table units are 3 Battalions each with,

1 HQ Section 2 Figs, 4 x 8 Fig companies with 1 MG base in support.

Also there are,

2 Batteries of Artillery, 1 unit of Lancers (12 figures) and 1 unit of Camel Mounted Marsh Arabs.

The Infantry can set up (hidden) anywhere in the trenches, the mounted units on the left flank.

Turkish troops fire and spot as normal with no restrictions. Turkish Troops are all graded 2.

There are two Battalions of Infantry in reserve, organised as above. They are activated if the British get a foothold in any of the Turkish trenches. The Turkish Commander must decide which side of the river each battalion is before the game starts.

In the next post I will have a look at how our game went compared to the actual event.


  1. I always enjoy your Christmas Mesopotamia games Ken, I just wish you did them more often. That’s a stinking big artillery piece and the vital Yorkshire Tea would be missed.

    1. Many thanks Peter, everyone at YG seems to enjoy the Xmas Game.

  2. Looking good for the battle. I always enjoy your Xmas games, too. In fact I'm tempted to buy the ITLSU rules.

    1. Thanks AJ, the rules are only about a tenner I think, we have certainly got our monies worth 👍

  3. I hope that the tommies won't have to surrender after eating their boot like inrl

    1. Unfortunately my Great Uncle Samuel was one of those Tommies who, as you so eloquently put, was eating his boot. He didn't come home.

  4. That is one fine looking game Ken. Who the heck makes those Turkish Lancers mate? They look superb!

    1. Many thanks, they are from Minifigs, a small range called Setting the East Ablaze 👍

    2. Ah, of course! I was just looking through to see what Caliver had by way of BoB stuff a month or so back. I wish they had better pics :>(

    3. Hi Ken, Just coming back to the subject of the British Army in Mesopotamia during WWI. Are there any good books you could recommend on the subject? I'm not so much interested in the Gallipoli campaigns, more the Mesopotamian campaign outright. It's four years long, things like technological and tactical changes and uniforms etc. Sorry for such a long question pal. :)

    4. No worries, always happy to try and answer readers questions. Sharing info with fellow gamers is what this blog is all about.
      Book wise, essential number 1 is the Official History of the Great War 1914 - 1918, The Campaign in Mesopotamia 1914 - 1918 by F J Moberly. Written in 1923 in 4 parts, it's packed full of maps orbats etc, very old school and decidedly pro Empire but has everything you need.
      Apart from that there are some good personal memoirs out there, look for "With a Highland Regiment in Mesopotamia".
      A lot of the original stuff is avaliable as free pdf due to their age, I prefer hard copies but I have in the past found free versions of the office history books in a middle eastern libary website, they were reprinted recently and can be got for 25 pounds ish each.
      I have a few modern books, Siege of Kut by Nicholas Gardner is worth a look, there are also a few books from the Ottoman perspective to have a look at, Sadly I can't recall the title at the moment.
      Since I found I had relatives in the Campaign I have got a real interest outside gaming in the battles.
      Regards Ken

    5. Thanks mate, that is a great selection of lit. from which to make a start.

      Cheers for that :)

  5. Very atmospheric, outstanding terrain and gorgeous units!