Abu-Klea birds eye view

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Abu-Klea birds eye view

Postby Will Mathieson » 12 Jun 2015 05:45

Battle of Abu-Klea illustration
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Re: Abu-Klea birds eye view

Postby rclpillinger » 12 Jun 2015 12:37

What a fantastic picture; it has really brought home to me how the square worked, and what a brilliant concept it was. Suddenly, however, a thought has occurred to me whilst looking at it; is there a well thought through reason why a square was employed rather than a circle? The corners must have been potentially the most vulnerable points as attack could come onto both sides from two directions, so in theory a circle would have been stronger.

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Re: Abu-Klea birds eye view

Postby Puttenham » 12 Jun 2015 15:32

Fantastic print to grace one's war room. Thanks.


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Re: Abu-Klea birds eye view

Postby jf42 » 13 Jun 2015 00:31

You couldn't 'form' a battalion or brigade 'circle from its constituent sub-units, nor maintain one, without great difficulty, even less so on the move. The circle would become an amorphous uncontrollable mass.

Formations with straight faces were integral to preserving integrity. A man operating his weapon was just able to register the man on either side of him. Even so NCOs were required constantly to preserve the dressing, getting the ranks to close up when gaps opened as men fell.

In addition, fields of fire would be diffuse and the effect of volleys reduced drastically. A 'circle' in echelon or chequer-board formation with any other 'circles'- as was intended on the battlefield pre-rifle muskets and breechloaders, coud not provide supporting fire for each others 'faces', as these would not in fact exist.

PS> I think the Scots in the C13th/C14th Wars Of Independence formed circular 'hedgehog' formations of spearmen known as 'schiltrons' but they were essentially defensive, although I believe they did manouevre a little at Bannockburn, and they weren't intended to deliver concentrated missile power.
Last edited by jf42 on 13 Jun 2015 16:33, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Abu-Klea birds eye view

Postby jf42 » 13 Jun 2015 00:32

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Re: Abu-Klea birds eye view

Postby mike snook » 14 Jun 2015 20:51

The key point is that the colonial battle square was designed to move. A square is best thought of as a number of companies (or battalions) marching in line, and a number of companies (or battalions) marching in column...until such time as it necessary to halt and, in the case of the flanking sub units, left or right turn to face outwards and engage or receive the enemy. As jf has rightly proposed a circle is useless for purposes of manoeuvre/good order. I have held forth before about what is substantially a fallacy of vulnerable corners: the point being that fire is directed where fire needs to be directed. In Beyond the Reach of Empire I have argued at length that the square at Abu Klea was broken in two places, (for a combination of substantially self-inflicted reasons), but one of those places was not far shy of the centre of the left face. The corner was penetrated because there was no corner, rather than for any inherent vulnerability. The picture is a historical travesty! Neither set of antagonists, nor the ground is accurately portrayed, though the illustrator seems at least to have read an account of the battle in order to position the 3 screw guns in the centre of the front face. He has of course conjured the transport from the depths of his imagination. Sir Herbert Stewart wasn't too worried about corners. Neither the artillery nor the machine gun occupied corners.

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Re: Abu-Klea birds eye view

Postby rclpillinger » 14 Jun 2015 21:31

Thankyou both jf42 and Dr Snook. As I hope you probably wondered, I did sort of know the answer when I asked the question, however, as a bit of a beginner at this type of warfare, I wanted to hear the original arguments from experts. In this way I hope I can understand why the British army became so successful at dominating other potentially better placed foes.

In general terms it seems to me, from the little time I have been trying to understand the period from about 1850 until 1900 in our history, the armies of the Empire did suffer several defeats, but each time they came back to overcome the enemy. Even these re-visits seemed often to be pretty close affairs, but all were eventually successful due to organisation and discipline.

Am I right?

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Re: Abu-Klea birds eye view

Postby mike snook » 15 Jun 2015 01:15

We often joke about the British starting wars badly, but muddling through in the end, do we not. I think that in the period in question this is often a function of the sheer size of the empire and the difficulty of concentrating force across time and space in a sufficiently timely fashion to meet the immediate operational imperative. Thus too few soldiers in a colony or theatre of operations when the balloon goes up. Eventually the proper force level clicks into place, the tide turns and the victory is won.

Organization, training and discipline, (I would also add a 'sense of duty' and a worthy honour code, from both of which so much else flows), is everything...you are right. They were (and still are) surprisingly rare characteristics amongst the world's armies. To paraphrase Voltaire, God is, after all, not on the side of the big battalions, but the best shots.

As ever

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Re: Abu-Klea birds eye view

Postby roconn » 19 Dec 2015 02:46

Also the redcoats is a bit of a error --- the artist was listening to the wrong advisor. The number of Abu Klea photos we've seen lately in this forum indicates a somewhat less of dramatic, rolling terrain. Now we all know the grey tunics that were so well depicted in "Go Strong...
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