Osman Dougna and Mumbasa had collected a small flotilla of Dhow boats. The plan was for them to take a stab at Berber to see if they can disrupt the British lines of communication and supplies. This was meant to tie up more troops from massing further up the Nile. The flotilla included; two large boats carrying 4 muzzle loaders, one medium boat carrying one gun and three more dhows carrying warriors ready to land at Berber and cause the British some problems.
We used the excellent Boilers and Breechloaders (4th Ed.) by Patrick Wilson. The majority of boats were provided by my good friend Doug Wildfong, sorry he couldn't make the battle!
It all started with the plan of the Dervish to bring on the large Dhow gunboats to provide fire on Berber and the Giza so that we could try and land some warriors in the streets of Berber. We knew the Giza was previously damaged and was hoping to sink her in this battle. Since all of the Dervish boats were Wooden Vessels they were very susceptible to British firepower. More so than the Giza having some armor. Taking so many hits from the British guns caused many serious hits on our boats, which in turn caused Critical/Special hits. It was with those those critical hits where the Dervish were very unlucky, losing rudders, masts, etc., and being sailing vessels, well that was not a good thing. We also did not intend on going too far down river if we couldn't take Berber but the current sent us downriver without the proverbial paddle into the shorter ranges for the British to take their toll.
In this battle we had fires, dismasting, grappling and a boarding action, Captains died, Dervish warriors gun downed relentlessly by MG fire, exploding dhows, and boats with no means to make way sent adrift. The Giza also took a "gut shot" in the boiler and it could have been a disaster but they were lucky. Where was the Dervish gunboat Kadesh? Next time we will have more boats!
So on to the battle according to Lt. Cmdr Owen on the HMS Giza and Major Elder defending the shoreline at Berber.
To: Colonel Manley, Theater Commander at Metemma
Sir: Yesterday the Mahdist forces sent a considerable flotilla downriver to contest Her Majesty’s occupying forces at Berber. I am pleased to report that they were singularly unsuccessful. The enemy vessels included two large, well crewed, cannon-mounted dhows and several smaller craft jammed with troops. With little advance warning, the Giza was barely able to get up steam and push out into the river. We took the dhows under fire as soon as they came into range, but soon had to divert our attention to the troop craft, which evidently had the object of boarding us. Our shooting was very capably supplemented by Major Elder’s shore battery, and the combined fires began to inflict serious damage on the enemy.
In the course of the battle, the Mahdist gunners aboard the dhows inflicted at least seven hits on Giza, including a serious boiler casualty. Additionally, the crew had to suppress a raging fire on board. I must commend subordinate officers and ratings for their alacrity in restoring the ship to nearly full fighting capability. Nor can I overlook the attached infantry Major Elder was able to second to the Giza, which not only assisted in damage control, but provided welcome firepower towards the conclusion of the fight, as I shall presently relate.
The swift current here enabled the enemy vessels to close with us, but progressive damage from our fire meant they were not fully under command. As a result, some of the troop craft drifted helplessly downriver, though they indulged in sniping at my crew with a number of captured rifles; regrettably, there were several casualties sustained. As the dhows closed, we were able to shift fire, and the shore battery did dreadful execution as well.
At this point, one of the troop carrying boats was able to close and grapple us, despite our attempts to repel them. Fortunately, our previous fire had diminished the dervish ranks, and as the survivors attempted to board, marines, infantry and crewmen dealt with them in a most convincing manner. Our forces sustained no casualties in the melee, while several dervishes were killed or wounded, the remainder fleeing back to their vessel. These were efficiently dispatched the following turn by the starboard Nordenfeldt crew, who generated an incredible rate of fire. The attached infantry supplemented this with well directed rifle fire into another troop carrier drifting towards us. As a special note, their officer (who I understand is a crack pistol shot) personally killed the last pesky dervish rifleman on this craft.
By this time the enemy dhows were drifting quite close to shore, where point blank shore battery fire devastated them; one was sunk outright, while the other’s crew was so demoralized, they proceeded to abandon ship. A number of survivors actually reached the shore, where Major Elder’s gunners and infantry did splendid execution; Major Elder reported taking prisoners aboard a drifting Dhow and picked up survivors after his guns sunk the other large dhow.
At this point, I would like to underline the outstanding cooperation afforded the Navy by Major Elder. Not only was his battery fire support of the highest quality, but his detailing several infantrymen to supplement Giza’s crew was most helpful in defeating boarders and minimizing our losses. This is a classic example of cooperative joint effort between the services, and – in my opinion – should be a standard for Her Majesty’s forces.
In addition to virtually annihilating the enemy flotilla, we were able to capture one dervish dhow and one smaller boat. These could be used to tow our infantry and artillerymen upriver where next required. (I would recommend using the Cairo for this task given the strength of the current). Giza’s boiler casualty will require some extensive repair, but we believe she can be made ready in 2-3 days. Other damage is superficial or can be made good (some hull damage) and should not impair her fighting ability.
Lt Cmdr., RN
Commanding Officer, HMS Giza
This report is in conjunction with Major Elders actions on shore at Berber;
Report is seconded and confirmed by:
Major E. Elders