The past weekend WR travelled south to the St. Crispin’s Gaming day event held every 2nd Saturday in Anaheim CA. The featured scenario this month was the Battle of the Pyramids 1798 having General Bonaparte and his Armee d’Orient against the massed Mameluk cavalry under Murad Bey before the distant Giza pyramids.
Back in YR2014 WR wrote up his historical scenario for the Battle of the Pyramids 1798 as part of WR’s series of French Republican battles in the Orient. The blue linked WR blog posting includes the normal maps, scenario design notes, rosters, and some special rules for the unique French “divisional sized square” formations, massed Ottoman mameluke cavalry, and terrain around Cairo different from our normal european napoleonic scenarios. During the last two years WR had painted up more Ottoman mameluke cavalry, Egyptian fellahin infantry and additional arabic cavalry to stage this grand scenario. Never can have too much Ottoman or Islamic States cavalry or fellahin it seems. For the terrain, WR painted up two large 6×9′ drop cloths for the sandy desert open ground, dozen metal clips to hold the drop cloth, collected cake palm trees, low dike walls for Embabeh village, lengths of dry creek bed treated felt, cut and flocked the Nile River terrain banks from “tie pattern” blue fleece, and finally created eight additional mud brick buildings from floral form, covered in plaster of paris material. All for a single desert scenario it seems but WR is well-known for recycling the stored terrain for future scenarios.
The game day finally arrives for four players. Andy and Dan for the French Armee d’Orient and Joseph with WR for the Mameluk side. Scenario table is 12×6′ in size. The painted and lightly flocked desert terrain drop cloths are clamped down on the table perimeter edge, stretched to remove the slight ridges or cloth folds. Since the drop cloths have tiny stones glued with the flock material, the Nile River blue fleece and dry creek bed felt “self sticks” to the desert painted cloth like a Velcro strap. The finished effort is pictured below.
The village of Embabeh required a low dike wall around the Nile River village. WR used cut and rounded lengths of wood molding, sanded down to create slight wall angle then flocked and sanded. This low dike wall is clearly seen in the famous battle painting done by Lejuene.
The scenario maps for the Battle of the Pyramids are drawn to WR’s standard scale. Each square is 12″ on the tabletop. Wooden counters are placed on the drawn map for each French or Mameluk command and location.
In the Embabeh village there are two Mameluk infantry commands. The Albanians (8×10), with some Bedouin skirmishers (2×10) and two old provincial batteries, are positioned on the dike wall facing the two nearby French divisions of Vial and Bon, and their backup of massed Egyptian fellahin (12×10) and more Bedouin skirmishers (4×10) fill in behind. Most of this infantry are poorly armed with long barrel muskets (reduced firepower) or simple “other weapons” typical of their poor training and recruitment. On the previous miniature set up photos, the Ottoman Mameluk army is deployed in two parts. The massive body of Mameluk cavalry has the ornate mamelukes paraded in front, all eighteen “groups” of them (18×6). Following them is another large body of Arabic cavalry (8×8), including many of the personal servants of the mamelukes. Murad Bey’s headquarters, such that he had any form of a “headquarters,” set themselves up in the table center Mit Okbeth village. Local “flying carpet” salesman flies about just for group’s fun and laughs.
Since the French were hidden by the morning haze, their distant approach wasn’t noted until the last mile by the untrained infantry in Embabeh. Murad Bey knew all morning he had a battle forthcoming. Easy to say his army “out scouted” the French in modern terms. The French approached in five infantry divisions (Desaix, Reynier, Dugna (Kleber), Vial (Menou), and Bon. Each infantry division has three demi-brigades of Legere, Line, or the Maltese legion, battalion or regimental artillery, and a foot battery of 8 pds. The French cavalry division under GD Dumas had his regiments scattered to each French infantry division. Three divisions kept their attached cavalry within the large formation square. The two nearest the Nile had the cavalry behind their infantry for support. General Bonaparte set up his train and headquarters at Ouarek el Hader, a ruin of old mud bricks, just behind the advancing French battle line.
Battle plans followed the historical battle. The French plan assaulted Embabeh with the two divisions of Bon and Vial (former Menou). The other three French divisions formed large divisional squares, with their battery and battalion artillery cannon, placed just outside the bayonet wall, and a cavalry regiment or two of mounted cavalry inside. Their path of advance was to protect the French infantry assault on Embabeh and push back the large Mameluk cavalry bodies. To achieve the historical major victory condition, they would have at some point march quickly for the distant Giza town and reach before scenario end with any French unit.
Mameluk plan… what plan? Hold the Embabeh village to the death and keep charging the French till the French break and run for their lives, soon to be shortened by sharp mameluke swords. Survivors sold in the slave market in Cairo if any.
The scenario battle report: Opening movements as planned. Divisions Vial (Menou) and Bon rush towards Embabeh village. Divisions Desaix, Reynier, and Dugua (Kleber) form divisional square as march across the hot sangy ground. Reader should note that two French commanders had their second’s commanding their divisions at the battle. Seems the hot, dusty, disease climate, or other duties sidelined both Kleber and Menou for the battle.
As the French marched forward, Mameluk provincial cannon sent their heavy ill-aimed rounds into the desert sands. Soon skirmishing muskets pop off, the occasional long-barreled musket dropping a sweating blue coat.
Out on the open plain the French divisional squares of Desaix, Reynier, and Dugua (Kleber) advance. Silence in their ranks they see the massed Mameluk cavalry before them. Ornate cavalry, dressed in jewels, rich colors, and cool loose clothing. Their fine horses speak of the their wealth and place in the Egyptian warrior caste. The Mameluk ranks rustle about….
Forming lines and columns, the veteran and trained Frenchmen of Vial and Bon divisions reach the outer Embabeh positions. French 8 pounder batteries unlimbered and send round shot into the packed Albanians. Skirmisher fire increases. ADC’s from General Bonaparte ride up and the Divisions receive their order chit (red) to attack.
Seeing the French divisional squares draw even with Embabeh, the massed ranks Mameluk cavalry trots forward. The French squares open fire from their attached battery of 8 pounders.
Suddenly the noise of battle vastly increases. French dry thorax cheers as they push away the Bedouin skirmishers and charge over the dike wall position. French Chasseurs a’cheval charge home to chase more Bedouin skirmishers and prevent them from engaging Dugua’s divisional square. Out on the open desert floor, the sound of thousands of massed trotting cavalry hoofs, leads to the dust of battle enveloping both sides.
The French 22nd Chasseur a’cheval charge home, sabring down fleeing Bedouin individuals. They fail to notice the large old Ottoman cannon lining the village dike wall to their left.
The sound of large Ottoman cannon tearing into the startled chasseur a’cheval ranks is drowned out by the massed horns and hoofs of thousands of Mameluk cavalry charging. Rank after rank of battle crazed Mamelukes thunder into the stationary divisional square of Reynier. Round shot then pointblank canister rips into their ranks. Supportive firepower from nearby Desaix’s square lends support. Nothing stops them so the final musketry volleys empty more saddles. Passing their morale tests, the mamelukes try sword vs. braced bayonet wall combat. Horses, mameluke riders, Frenchmen shot by pistol or blunderbusses struggle before death or wound. The waves are quickly repulsed. Another charges home… then another… then another. French firing is reduced for every attack as the savage combat surrounds the smoke-filled square.
Our group of gamers rarely see these types of massed cavalry attacks… waves and waves of excellent light cavalry against square. Dan rolls his dice to fire, Joseph roll his morale tests then the critical chance to disrupt the square. Low odds each attack but roll the six.
A crack, small at first, but quickly widened by sharp Mameluk sword, mace, or battle trained horse. The square is morale disrupted. They beat off that cavalry charge but another crashes home before they can plug the gap. The divisional square of Reynier rips apart as Frenchmen defend themselves dearly to live or run. Mamelukes, their sharp and honed sabers cut arms and heads off hundreds of fleeing Frenchmen.
Reynier’s division is shattered and runs scattered across the open desert chased by some battered mamelukes. The mamelukes try to chase but their other massed cavalry regiments (groups) are faced by the two other divisional French squares.
While Division Reynier fights for their very lives, the first of many French assaults into the dense ranks of Albanians and Egyptian fellahin infantry commences. Close range long-barreled musketry drops Frenchmen into the hot sand. The French march over the fallen and take the first Albanian positions with loss. GD Vial is killed leading his soldiers into the enemy position. Occasional Mameluk cannon-fire drops another French miniature.
Mameluk position is tight, dense, and has limited retreat options. The first of many Albanians or fellahin rout towards the Nile River bank and plunge into the crocodile infested waters.
Division Reynier tries to rally in place. Disordered units form up to repeal the pursuing mameluke horsemen to no avail. More dead Frenchmen lie on the hot desert sands. But soon, the small numbers of mamelukes and round shot from both nearby intact squares, sends the pursuers back towards their friends.
Division Reynier suffers almost 30% losses from the savage close combat and flight. They will rally up in their depleted units and slowly march forward later in the scenario. Almost 1,800 soldiers were killed or wounded lie on the open desert during the 20 minutes of game time combat. The Mameluk cavalry suffered half the losses from charging the square then pursuing the fleeing French and the scenario is just starting.
Note: Unlike our normal rules for square vs. cavalry combat, we played with a special rule of the square must suffer two (2) morale disorder results before the shock table morale disorder effect is applied. Causing just one will cause the loss of a single miniature without morale disruption. This prevents the lucky roll (1 out of 6) chance to disrupt an entire large divisional square easily on the early charge attacks, leading to a second following charge sweeping away the square. The second morale disruption result is applied as normal. Divisional squares receiving firepower hits (miniature removal) requires two miniature losses before a divisional square (36+ miniatures) checks morale for firepower loss.
These special rules only applies to large “divisional squares” of 36+ miniatures in size. Smaller sized squares follow the normal shock combat result rules.
Having cleared an open section of the dike wall position, the French try to widen their entrance into the Embabeh palm groves and village. Forming new massed columns, the French charge with their bayonets between the palms. French artillery send their shot into the dense Mameluk ranks.
One hour of intense combat and the battle is just warming up. More Mameluk cavalry forms up to charge the exposed solitary divisional square of General Desaix. They know they are next…. and resolve to hold their ground… or else. They see the adjacent destruction and bloody trail of General Reynier’s division lying on the open desert ground. Dugua’s divisional square edges towards the western flank of Embabeh village. Bedouin skirmishers swarm around the square while French hussars try to force them back.
Murad Bey is pleased so far with the battle. The defenders of Embabeh village are holding their ground. His Mameluk cavalry broke one French divisional square. The others are under the charges of his cavalry. Thousands of Arabic cavalry await there turn to chase the French army when broken by the arms of the Mamelukes.
Division Desaix sees the massed ranks of Mameluk cavalry line up and trot forward. Each Frenchmen looks at his fellow rankers. The ordeal of the fear is coming. Horns sound and the thundering enemy mass is charging. Artillerymen touch off their cannon, sending round shot deep into the Mameluk ranks. Switching to canister, the Mameluk ranks tumble into the sands. Battalion cannon add their salvoes followed by the ranks of musketry. Mameluk losses steeply mount. General Desaix rallies and shouts above the din. Hold… steady men… as several drop nearby from the flying Mameluk bullets or spears. Bitter fighting along the divisional bayonet wall. Individual unhorsed Mamelukes try to fight on foot into the French ranks. Point blank musketry drop horses and men along the savage fighting front. Neither side gives ground as additional Mameluk charges thunder into the brawl. The second charge fails to break the French, then the third, the fourth, the hand gripping fight continuous till the Mamelukes finally drift away and give the ground to the French for now. By holding firm, the French losses are almost non-existence but the desert is covered with mamelukes and horses. The smoke and dusty haze drifts away…. the French see more Mameluk cavalry riding forward in the distance.
French pour over the dike wall and into the palm groves. The Albanians and Egyptian fellahin retreat a bit and reform another position of men and drag old cannon into position.
A regiment of French hussars, the 7th Hussars, form line and sound a charge. They cause disorder and fear in the Bedouin skirmishers. A French foot 8 pounder and 4 pdr. horse battery pound the nearby Mameluk infantry.
Struggling to reform their ranks, several broken Albanian infantry units fail to rally and join the Nile swimmers club.
Riding forward another group of Mameluk cavalry forms before the Division Desaix. Their horns sound and the charging waves of cavalry head for the worn but tested French infantry. Dead and wounded Frenchmen from Reynier’s Division or mamelukes litter the ground around Desaix’s position.
While Desaix’s Division undergoes another savage round of close combat charges, Division Dugua sees more massed Mameluk cavalry form up and charge. Two French divisions are now under direct Mameluk charges. The battle truly is seen and heard in Cairo across the Nile River as the army of Ibrahim Bey lines the riverbank. The French 7th Hussar abort their charge and quickly retire behind their French square after seeing masses Mameluk cavalry.
Another Albanian or fellahin position is breached at Embabeh. Half the palm grove is now controlled by the French infantry. French infantry losses are mounting, a French miniature in this assault, another from the enemy muskets, spears, sticks, or rocks. French now control one of the Albanian command’s defend zonal order markers.
Note: Defend order requires one or more, generally two markers, for each command under the Defend order. If overrun by the enemy unit, the marker remains in place but 5 MFP applied against the owning side once per issued Defend order. If all defend zonal order markers are overrun, then the command must automatically change order to Engage order.
Both French divisional squares successfully hold their ground and defeat all the Mameluk charges. The number of charges, four or five against each square failed to breach the French ranks. Mameluk losses are rapidly mounting… six against Dugua’s Division, 13 miniatures against battle tested Desaix’s Division.
Out on the open desert plain the battle enters a lull phase for the moment. French soldiers gather additional musket rounds from their wounded comrades while other nip out to search the fallen mamelukes for riches. Divisional artillery crew count the few rounds they have left since the ammunition trains don’t dare to run the open ground with the loose mamelukes riding about. Division Reynier reforms their square with depleted ranks. The Mameluk cavalry is battered with almost 30% losses thinning their ranks. Still they have the fresh Arabic cavalry ranked behind them for the final attacks.
Far different in Embabeh village. French infantry continues their push deeper into the ranks of the massed Egyptian fellahin. The remaining Albanian units number but a few now, their losses leave a path of destruction and carnage from the dike wall position.
French Aeronautiers article and model balloon.
French DB Legere finally clear the corner of the village from the last Albanian units. This exposes the first building of Embabeh to assault and creates risk for the fleeing Egyptian fellahin at the Nile River bank.
On the western wall of Embabeh, an old large cannon battery pokes their cannon over the dike wall. This battery inflicted the losses on the French 22nd Chasseurs a’cheval earlier and now see the large divisional square of Dugua march into view. What a target! Firing several rounds…. and miss or send the shot into the desert each time. Their crew training is non-existent and it shows. French reaction is swift. New assaults are directed to overrun that battery to avoid heavy French losses.
Taking French assaults all afternoon, the Albanians lead one last column assault to push back the French in the palm grove. Their commander Abu Bakr Bey, on horse, leads the column into combat just as a French sharpshooter shoots him in the chest. His slumped body is carried back to the Nile as his soldiers force a rare French retirement.
The first building of Embabeh falls to French control. A brief Bedouin sortie recaptures some center palm grove territory. Another old cannon battery fires into the palm grove, shattering more palm trunks then French bodies.
All during the battle French see arab dhow sailing up and down the Nile between the two armies of Ibrahim and Murad Bey. Occasionally they land some reinforcement parties on the western shore.
Construction of the simple flat arab dhow display model is covered in WR’s Battle of Aboukir 1799 scenario. Scroll to the end of the article.
The Mameluk army has one last effort to control the desert open plain terrain. Realizing the defense of Embabeh is crumbling under each French assault, they must force a wide gap in the three French divisional squares to surround the French and loot the rear military and civilian trains and support troops. Then the French will run short of ammunition and the squares grow silent. The weary mameluke ranks form up, several units are reduced in strength by a third. Their tired hornists sound the charges.
The spirit of earlier charges is lacking. After several mameluke “groups” bounce from the dense French bayonet ranks, the effort wavers and soon the French and mameluke soldiers separate from mortal combat. Losses are light since the French divisional artillery remained silent, their ammunition used up from the previous charges.
When artillery batteries use all their allotted ammunition supply, their firepower is reduced to 1/4 (25% of normal) and a low on ammo marker placed on the battery. Generally this forces the owning player to limber up the battery and retire to safe areas to resupply from the military trains and rest the worn crews. While out of the front lines, a replacement battery from the Corps reserve can be sent forward to maintain the artillery bombardment effort .
The scenario battle is nearing a climax. With the Mameluk cavalry worn and spent, the French divisional squares can advance behind the Embabeh village position, cutting off any Mameluk infantry retreat except for the Nile River swim and crocodile tag team route. Readers should be told that the massed Arabic cavalry is more for show than combat. Their lower unit CMR combative value would have little effort on the veteran and battle tested French squares.
The French divisional squares feel the victory. They march forward quickly to push the wavering Mameluk cavalry back and cut off the Embabeh village defenders. The Mameluk cavalry forms up again…. will they charge one last time?
No more charges. Team Mameluk (Joseph and WR) declares for a French minor victory. The French divisional squares can cut off and flush out the final defenders in Embabeh village given the hours remaining of daylight. But marching to Giza village and arriving before day end is beyond their capabilities. Both armies are approaching their army fatigue levels (MFP) so the lower unit CMR Mameluk army would scatter first… be forced to retire from the battlefield since their CMR drop one level every hour. Lowering the CMR in stages will eventually cause any morale test to fail and the unit rout from the battlefield.
A few more turns are quickly played. The French divisional squares move their full 4″ movement each turn as the Mameluk cavalry is forced backwards. the Embabeh village fighting continues with losses on both sides. By battle end both the French divisions of Vial (Menou) and Bon reach 20% loss levels while the Egyptian fellahin peasants formations just fall apart. Whole units start to flee the battlefield, some into the Nile river, most fleeing along the narrowing route along the river bank into the open desert and towards Giza. Evening gives the predicted result. French control Embabeh village and the remains of the Mameluk army retiring towards Giza with the French in pursuit.
Fun for all. The scenario somewhat played to the historical result with the exception for the french reaching Giza that night. Losses were heavy for the Mameluk army but the French suffered too in the Embabeh village fighting and the rout of Reynier’s division. Thank you to Dan, Andy, and Joseph for playing out the historical scenario. Till the next scenario at the LAX Gamex convention (Battle of Alcolea 1808), the rabbit needs to find a waterhole.
Battle of the Pyramids scenario notes: Battle of Pyramids 1798 Scenario Notes
All 25-28mm miniatures and terrain from the personal collection of WR painted over several years (decades). Most of the French are Dixon French Republican range. The Ottomans (Mameluk) are a mixture of almost all the major miniature manufacturers: Dixon, Old Glory, Minifig, Hinchcliffe, Redoubt, Falcon, Phoenix, Hasslefree conversions etc. The two sailing dhow construction was covered under my Battle of Aboukir 1799 scenario. Since playing this scenario play test, WR has constructed three divisional square movement wooden trays to ease the movement of the large infantry square formations (8″x8″ trays) on the tabletop. This enables the player to form the square miniature formation on the wooden movement tray and just move the entire tray with miniatures in one motion.
Dry cheers from the warren. Out looking for water…. this rabbit is parched.