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"How did camelry fight?" Topic

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Personal logo ochoin Supporting Member of TMP25 Mar 2017 4:47 p.m. PST

I'm au fait with the concept that the Anglo-Egyptian camel forces were essentially mounted infantry.

But if they were unexpectedly attacked whilst mounted, especially given the time needed to dismount from camels, surely they had the ability to fight back?

And I'm also not sure of Mahdist camelry. The various Horse certainly would charge but how about their camel mounted forces?
I do know that in Ancient times, camels made good weapons' platforms & were used in hand to hand clashes. Has something changed by the time of the Sudan?

Coelacanth25 Mar 2017 6:06 p.m. PST

Like cavalry designed by a committee? laugh


P.S. Sorry, I couldn't resist.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP25 Mar 2017 7:02 p.m. PST

What's this about "time needed to dismount?" I understood it was very easy to fall off a camel, and indeed it was the first thing new Camel Corps recruits learned.

Grelber25 Mar 2017 7:11 p.m. PST

I've never heard of them being issued swords or lances. A bayonet on the end of a carbine or rifle would require two hands to use while limiting the possibility of having the thing knocked out of your hand, but you would need one hand to control the camel. That pretty much leaves shooting while mounted as the only option. Even there, it seems like the riders would have been happier with pistols.


dBerczerk26 Mar 2017 5:28 a.m. PST

There were at least two scenes of mounted camelry charging with cold steel alongside irregular light horse in the film "Lawrence of Arabia." Not sure if it was historically accurate, but certainly made for some impressive cinema.

Personal logo The Virtual Armchair General Sponsoring Member of TMP26 Mar 2017 10:12 a.m. PST

Please, let us exercise a little reason here!

Men mounted on Camels do NOT fight in that stance! Camels are strictly a means of transportation, and are not to be confused with what is possible from horseback in any other way. Camel riders of all kinds are really no more than mounted infantry, with man-to-man combat from the hump virtually impossible for reasons of reach, if nothing else.

The Beja warriors of the Sudan--principally the Hademdowa--on camels could carry long spears with massive blades, but these were not for engaging any other mounted enemy. Does anyone really believe in jousting camelry? And just as there are no "boot-to-boot" cavalry charges (except in art), any idea of formed camelry maneuvers are simply fantasy.

If any warriors actually engaged anyone from camel back it would only be infantry, and then most effectively in pursuit of an already broken and fleeing foe.

Recall please that the Beja tribes fought each other, not Western style armies, for centuries before the Turks showed up, not to mention the Egyptians later, and finally Anglo-Egyptian armies. Other Beja armies did not form squares, march in lines/columns, and otherwise present the kind of disciplined forces that made battlefield camelry/cavalry obsolete. What had worked between like peoples did not against modern forces.

And regarding British/Egyptian Camel Corps, they simply NEVER fought from the saddle. It is the very nature of the Sudan that an "ambush" from such close quarters was impossible. Visibility in the Sudan--not to mention even the most basic reconnaissance--effectively guaranteed that proper dismounted deployment was always possible. Fighting from camel back just never happened, so allowing for such in your games is a waste of time and resources. One might as well develop rules for U-Boat crews to fight hand-to-hand while running with the decks awash.

And even IF a Camel Corps player allowed himself to be charged and contacted by an enemy while still mounted, he fully deserves to have every negative in your rules thrown at him. Camel Corps were not issued pistols, much less sabres/lances, because it was clearly understood the situation would never arise when they would have to defend themselves in any other stance save on foot, and in proper formation.

Read about the actual tactics and practices of the British Camel Corps during the Gordon Relief Expedition for the details, and surrender any concerns about inventing special rules.



advocate26 Mar 2017 11:39 p.m. PST

Didn't Lawrence manage to shoot his own camel in the head during that charge?

GarrisonMiniatures Inactive Member27 Mar 2017 6:51 a.m. PST

' It is the very nature of the Sudan that an "ambush" from such close quarters was impossible.'

Without visiting the place I would dispute that one. Even 'flat' terrain tends to undulate and it is surprisingly easy to hide people if your opponents aren't careful.

Personal logo The Virtual Armchair General Sponsoring Member of TMP27 Mar 2017 7:06 a.m. PST

Repeat: NO ambush of Camel Corps ever happened in the Sudan, and that still allowing for the naturally, if gently, rolling terrain. If the Sudan is not simply as flat as the usual table top, it is still open enough where Camel Corps operated.

What happened to the 21st Lancers at Omdurman is the rule, not the exception. No reconnaissance, a blind charge, and fools on horseback performing what no camel corps would do in the first place.

Troops on the march knew what was around them well enough to deploy in time for any eventuality. What could not be seen from camel top was detected by scouts.

The key point in this is that to allow mounted Camel Corps to fight is historical fantasy, and unless that is the object, not worth spilling ink for special rules.


Personal logo chicklewis Supporting Member of TMP27 Mar 2017 12:15 p.m. PST

Hooray Patrick !

The only charge by mounted camelry of which I am aware was a body of Tuareg charging a French encampment by surprise. They were reported to have a spearman grasping each camel's tail running along behind with very long strides.

The French breech-loading rifles put an end to that bold charge.

I have forgotten the name of that engagement.


Royal Marine27 Mar 2017 1:56 p.m. PST

I always thought they fought with the hump!!

Lion in the Stars27 Mar 2017 5:39 p.m. PST

@Royal Marine: But that's fighting with the camel, not fighting from the camel. evil grin

I read one anecdote while I was working on estimating my supply train for my NWF troops about one camel who had enough of these idiot Englishmen riding him and went on a rampage, until some crusty old sergeant grabbed a pick handle and beat the camel about the nose until it got the message that Englishmen were not to be trifled with. Seems he chased the camel back to the paddock after it got the initial message, whacking it with the pick handle all the way.

Personal logo Wolfshanza Supporting Member of TMP27 Mar 2017 10:37 p.m. PST

I had heard that the camels were way too valuable to be used in a charge where the anglos would just shoot them down, anyway ?

sjwalker38 Inactive Member28 Mar 2017 11:11 a.m. PST

+1 Patrick.

But next you'll be telling me that the Camel Corps didn't use their camels as cover when in square – and I know that must be true, because I've seen it being done on film!

Personal logo The Virtual Armchair General Sponsoring Member of TMP28 Mar 2017 12:19 p.m. PST

Actually, I ought to apologize for the rant, but it drives me nuts whenever I encounter (well meaning, to be sure) folks who rationalize an idea for gaming which, if only studied at all, would quickly become an obvious waste of time/energy.

I think of the Gent from many years ago now, who having seen "Khartoum," worked up extensive rules for the reduction of native cities/sieges by British Victorian Era Armies, overlooking the minor detail there was no such occurrence.


Personal logo ochoin Supporting Member of TMP01 Apr 2017 5:28 a.m. PST

Actually, I ought to apologize for the rant,

Apology accepted. It was some rant, though. Now that's over could you possibly answer the questions I actually asked in the OP rather than the ones you thought I asked?

I checked & thought I was clear enough but maybe I wasn't.

In the OP I described the Camel Corps as "mounted infantry".
I thought that indicated I was clear they dismounted to fight? But not cowering behind camels, used as cover (thanks, Simon!….where's that Sarcasm emoticon when you need it?).

I *did* ask what they might do if attacked whilst mounted as dismounting from a camel was a reasonably slow process. And speedy assault, as well as downright ambush, was the usual Mahdist tactic.

Did they flee? Did they dismount & attempt to get a line of rifles together? Did they ever, desperately, fire from camel-back? In wargaming terms, if ambushed, do I simply take them off the table, give them a negative in fighting or just allow them to rout?

I also asked about the Mahdist camelry. I received a slightly clearer answer for this but to confirm it: they *might* charge disorganised infantry?

sjwalker38 Inactive Member02 Apr 2017 1:25 a.m. PST

No criticism or sarcasm intended from me, Ochoin, I assumed you'd have seen that execrable film (remake of Four Feathers, IIRC) in which they'd done exactly that. For many gamers, present company excepted, that film would be the closest they got to primary source material on actual tactics employed.

Problem with your OP is that both are cases that never actually happened, so there's no definitive answer, though we can make some informed assumptions.

Were the Camel Corps ambushed while mounted, I'd think their first instinct would be to dismount and form a firing line, because that's what they would do best. In gaming terms, it rather depends on the rules; SvP had an 'emergency response' test which gave them a small chance to successfully do so, but otherwise they would be fighting at a major disadvantage.

On Mahdist Camelry, I don't think I've seen accounts of any separately formed 'units' of camel riders. Mention of the odd warrior mounted on a camel, but usually charging alongside cavalry or infantry. Even if such a unit every existed in the Mahdist army, I'd not allow them to charge anything, ever: the camel was a transport element rather than a battle platform, too useful to be risked in combat and the rider lacked weaponry suited to fighting from camel-back.

Just my 2 cents.

Personal logo ochoin Supporting Member of TMP02 Apr 2017 3:59 a.m. PST

….and a useful 2c it was too.


oldjarhead1 Inactive Member02 Apr 2017 8:13 a.m. PST

I painted Mahdist camel mounted warriors for nothing??????

Personal logo ochoin Supporting Member of TMP02 Apr 2017 2:17 p.m. PST

I painted Mahdist camel mounted warriors for nothing??????

I've already painted foot figures to represent my Camel Corps British & Egyptian units.

I'll do the same for my Hadendowah camelry: 10 figures + a kneeling camel marker. No big deal.

In wargames' terms it'll make for a highly mobile unit & my opponent (no matter which side he takes) will want to shoot up such units while mounted as an easy tactical option.

Henry Martini02 Apr 2017 6:57 p.m. PST

Introduce a mounted/dismounted rule, as I have for my Mex Rev variant. In this, units represent at least a company. With the time represented by a turn therefore having been considerably expanded the change of posture is free and performed at the start of a turn. The unit then counts as having adopted the new posture until it again changes posture. If you're playing at the skirmish level make mount/dismount an action. Either way you get to use all your painstakingly painted figures!

oldjarhead1 Inactive Member02 Apr 2017 7:21 p.m. PST


Great Idea, I do hope you don't mind if i steal it??


Personal logo ochoin Supporting Member of TMP02 Apr 2017 8:42 p.m. PST

@ Colin

Sure: not really my original idea.

I don't have any Sudan shots (yet) but here's the AZW NMP in mounted/dismounted poses:


oldjarhead1 Inactive Member02 Apr 2017 8:57 p.m. PST


I have done something similar with my 15mm Colonial Light Horse for my ImagiNation games, I did not think to pur a representational horse holder behind them. The camel mounted Ansar when dismounted should better like this.


Personal logo ochoin Supporting Member of TMP02 Apr 2017 9:10 p.m. PST

@ Colin

The horse holder looks good but it also marks where the troops dismounted so you know where to put them when they re-mount. The exact distance *can* be critical.

BTW in our last AZW game (TSATF) this unit was devastating. They'd dismount, fire & re-mount & scoot away as the Zulus charged. Dismount & start over. As long as you have room to move, you're unbeatable.

I figure the Camel Corps chaps can do this but the Mahdist Camelry don't have enough guns/modern rifles to be all that effective with this tactic.

sjwalker38 Inactive Member03 Apr 2017 3:04 p.m. PST

We did the same in a recent Plains War game using MWWBK. A single marker to indicate where the horseholders were, with mount-/dismount as a new action (bearing in mind Henry's comment about the scale of the action). Depending on how far the skirmish line moves away from the horseholders there was a risk of the latter being scattered by enemy firing/fighting targeting either the Skirmishers or the horseholders themselves.

Murvihill03 Apr 2017 3:13 p.m. PST

So just reading through the posts above,
1. Camel Corps were mounted infantry. They wouldn't fight mounted under any circumstance.
2. Natives didn't have any camel units and if they did they would dismount to fight, except that they did charge a French infantry unit and got creamed, meaning that a. there must have been an African camel unit at some time in history, b. that they did consider charging a valid tactic and c. they received the same result that would occur in most wargames if native camelry charged European rifle units without some mitigating circumstances.
Kinda reminds me of the "Tigers always fought enmasse" argument.

Lion in the Stars07 Apr 2017 2:55 a.m. PST

Horse-holders are MOUNTED, dammit! No dismounted human is going to hold ONE horse that doesn't want to stay put, let alone 4!

Ramming Inactive Member07 Apr 2017 4:01 a.m. PST

YouTube link

looks pretty damn 'ambushy' to me.

Ramming Inactive Member07 Apr 2017 4:03 a.m. PST

YouTube link

Also charging camels, just saying.

YouTube link

… more charging camels

YouTube link

… even more

Personal logo ochoin Supporting Member of TMP07 Apr 2017 6:37 a.m. PST

Horse-holders are MOUNTED, dammit!

I think we're speaking about camels not horses. They're different animals.

This is a camel:


It's sitting down. See the point now?

sjwalker38 Inactive Member07 Apr 2017 8:09 a.m. PST

I think LitS is pointing out that most horse-holders would have stayed mounted while the rest of the unit dismounted to form a firing line, it being almost impossible to control a single horse when on foot, let alone 3-4. Its odd that almost all figures in 28mm or 15mm depict dismounted horseholders.

Of course, the Camel Corps made their camels sit and then hobbled them, so all men, bar a few guards, would deploy in the firing line.

Ramming: great theatre, but about as historically accurate as 'Braveheart': but the author does encourage the 'Hollywood' interpretation for games of MWWBK.

Corporal Fagen26 Oct 2017 3:41 p.m. PST

Daily News, March 3rd, 1884 reporting on El Teb:

"In the charge the 19th (Hussars) found themselves confronted by a large body of rebels, mounted on camels and horses, the former masking the latter, behind which again were considerable numbers for spearmen on foot. The rebel horsemen, armed with two-edged sword, made for the 19th, however, producing, however, little or no effect. The real opposition came from the spearmen, who, lying down as the cavalry galloped on, started up and attempted to hamstring our horses . . ."

The did the camelry just get out the way?

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