Pete Belli
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Tel El-Kebir 1882 -- featuring Victorian Era photographs from the archives of Lieutenant Craig Speel, a veteran of the campaign






Tel El-Kebir was the decisive battle of the 1882 campaign in Egypt. At that time Egypt was nominally part of the Ottoman Empire and ruled by the Khedive, a sort of viceroy. The region was actually under European (mostly British) domination typical in the Age of Imperialism. When a rebellion led by Arabi Pasha created an independent Egyptian government Britain invaded to protect the Suez Canal and other commercial interests.






The experienced and talented Sir Garnet Wolseley commanded the expedition. After a brilliant logistical tour-de-force the general had his troops in position to attack the Egyptian entrenchments at Tel El-Kebir. Success here would open the route to Cairo and allow Wolseley's cavalry to seize the city while attempting to capture Arabi Pasha. After some preliminary skirmishes the final assault began just before dawn on September 13, 1882.






According to some sources Lieutenant Craig Speel of the 4th Hussars was a young cavalry officer attached to General Wolseley's staff at Tel El-Kebir. Recently discovered archives include a collection of Victorian Era photographs and a lengthy Craig Speel depiction of the battle. It will be my pleasure to share these items with the BGG community. Photographs of Craig Speel from this time period are quite rare. Here we have a picture that may have been created in 1896, but this image of the lieutenant in later years has not been authenticated by historians.






According to information contained in a letter accompanying these photographs this Craig Speel narrative of the battle at Tel El-Kebir was created to amuse a group of friends in the neighborhood. Toy soldiers were used to illustrate the forces engaged and in typical Craig Speel fashion the miniatures were moved to and fro in a pattern roughly matching the plans outlined by the actual commanders. The reverse side of this photograph is marked "With General Wolseley" so the group of figures shown here probably represents Sir Garnet and his staff. We can only assume the officer figure with the revolver is the lieutenant.






I can imagine a gathering of adults and older children similar to this scene from the classic film biography Young Winston where Churchill and his father are discussing toy soldiers and military affairs. The actual Craig Speel session described in these archives probably occurred a number of years after the battle.






The caption for this photograph reads "No sand table! Had enough sand in the desert. Decided to use a board." There is another line: "Sweetwater Canal, bridge, Tel El-Kebir, dam" and this almost certainly refers to the canal shown near the village of Tel El-Kebir and the crucial drawbridge vital to any Egyptian withdrawal. This would be an important objective in any Craig Speel scenario. The word "dam" is a reference to the narrower structure straddling the canal which could be used as a crossing point by infantry formations. Cultivated areas appear to be represented by special symbols. The irrigation ditches in these hexagons would slow movement.






This is obviously a photograph of the Indian Contingent that arrived in Egypt during the campaign. The detachment included the 1st Seaforth Highlanders plus the Bengal or Punjab infantry shown here. The artillery in this image would be the useful 7 pound mountain gun, known as a "screw-gun" because the barrel could be taken apart and loaded on mules. However, it would be less powerful than field artillery.

The caption for this photograph reads "Colonel Borg suggested cards to regulate movement and dice to determine the outcome of battles. Also left flank, center, right flank. Interesting! Luncheon at Claridge's on Wednesday. Will discuss expansion with additional rules and figures." What? Colonel Borg? Surely that must be a coincidence...






This caption reads "Egyptian redoubt. Krupp guns. Bitter fighting with reluctance to retreat." and describes the strongpoints along the line of entrenchments. The cannon were the same type of Krupp artillery used during the Franco-Prussian War and would be highly effective if properly crewed. There would certainly be special rules covering the stout defense of these redoubts, which were protected by deep ditches. Arabi Pasha did miss an opportunity when he failed to create additional obstructions in front of his fortifications.

There is an additional note: "Colonel Borg says Krupp guns should roll a 3-2-2-1-1-1 pattern on the battle dice."






This photograph of a British cavalry formation is marked "19th Hussars" so these figures represent one of the most famous mounted regiments in the British Army. There is a somewhat cryptic note reading "Move 4, battle sequence 3-1, carbine range 2 hexes" underneath the top line of the caption.






Marked with "Highland Brigade dawn attack." so this photograph depicts the initial assault by these four battalions. These toy soldiers wear the kilt but neither the Highland Light Infantry (in this brigade) nor the previously mentioned Seaforth Highlanders (with the Indian Contingent) wore that uniform in 1882. An additional note reads "Battle strength increased by one. 4-3-2 pattern. Elite. Ignore 1st flag."






This caption reads "Soudan infantry. First-rate soldiers. Ignore one flag." so we can assume that these Sudanese infantrymen receive that benefit. Sudanese formations were traditionally the most aggressive units in the Egyptian order of battle. This situation continued until at least 1898 when the Sudanese infantry fighting alongside Kitchener at Omdurman performed heroically under superb British leadership at the brigade level.






This photograph has a lengthy caption: "Unknown redoubt. Buller(!!!) and narrow escape for General W after sunrise." The desert landscape can play tricks on the human eye. This redoubt was several hundred yards in front of the main Egyptian defenses but undulating terrain confused British officers. Wolseley didn't become aware of the actual location of this battery until the Egyptians started firing on his staff. An officer named Redvers Buller participated in this inadequate reconnaissance; in 1900 a similar lack of thoroughness led to Buller's defeat at Spion Kop during the Boer War.






This photograph bears the description "Horse Artillery, northern flank." so this is part of the cavalry sweep that disrupted the Egyptian defenses. Arabi was asleep when the British attack began and he never recovered his tactical equilibrium. The previously mentioned movement cards should reflect that situation. British artillery is correctly depicted with muzzle-loading guns... please note the toy soldier with the rammer. For vague reasons it was decided to keep these somewhat obsolescent artillery pieces in production. A horse artillery unit actually crossed the trench line in 1882 (although one gun was disabled in what became known as the broken wheel battery) so that move should be possible in this Craig Speel scenario.






"Naval Brigade with Gatling battery plus Duke of Cornwall's Light infantry." This attack on the advanced redoubt shows the famous Gatling guns in action. The battalion from the DCLI was part of the reserve 4th Brigade that followed the Highlanders into action. Regular infantry battalions roll a 3-2-1 pattern on the dice. British and Imperial troops wore a bewildering variety of uniforms in 1882. The navy wore blue (of course) and the Indian formations wore khaki. Artillerymen had blue tunics. Some of the infantry wore scarlet uniforms with sources mentioning gray serge (highly unusual) for other foot soldiers... and green for the Rifle Corps!






The cavalry division had one brigade of British troops and one brigade of Indian horsemen. In this photograph an Indian cavalry formation is crashing into a unit of mounted Egyptians. The British/Indian cavalry cut through every obstacle and would be quite likely to exit the sand table board during this Craig Speel scenario.






This photograph is marked "Graham 2nd Brigade" so this must be the First Division sector on the right (northern) flank of the battlefield. Due to unforeseen circumstances this brigade fell behind during the night march and struck the Egyptian line after surprise had been lost. The battalion of Royal Marine Light Infantry on the brigade's left wing took relatively heavy losses in 1882.






In 1882 the battle was a British triumph. Perhaps the fortunes of war could change during a Craig Speel session and make the narrative more interesting. In any event, it is likely the lieutenant suffered only slightly during the campaign... like many British officers, he probably had a mountain of baggage in the supply column.


Thanks for reading this article.

Any errors in the interpretation of these vintage photographs or the accompanying documents are mine alone.

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René Christensen
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WTF?
No soldiers in red uniforms???
No painted figures???
shake whistle
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Pete Belli
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Slotracer wrote:
WTF?
No soldiers in red uniforms???
No painted figures???


Spoiler (click to reveal)
OK, here it is...

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René Christensen
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Aaaaaahhhhhhhhhh...............!
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Tiggo Morrison
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Craig Speel is of German extraction no doubt...
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Mike Hoyt

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Really impressive stuff. Col. Borg should place you on the staff (and payroll)
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Mayor Jim
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Very amusing article...great pics too! As usual, another A+ effort...thanks
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Tony Broad
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absolutely spiffing old chap!

where are the minis from?
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Pete Belli
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Thanks for the positive comments.

tab1359 wrote:
where are the minis from?


A partial list:


Egyptians

HaT 8266 Askari
HaT 8193 Egyptian Camel Corps


British

HaT 8289 Bengal Lancers
HaT 8202 Colonial Highlanders
HaT 8237 British Zulu Wars Infantry
HaT 8179 Gatling Gun
HaT 8210 British Colonial Artillery
HaT 8180 Gardner Gun
HaT 8203 Colonial Wars Indian Infantry
HaT 8181 British 17th Lancers


Those extremely cool Krupp guns are Hat WWI German artillery.
The horses are from War! Age of Imperialism.
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mark feldman
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very cool
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