Sunday, July 31, 2016

Up the Great Gray Greasy Zambesi

Trouble in the interior.....again. The Arab slavers and their tribal allies, the uWanna have resumed raiding the peaceful tribes near our coaling station at the mouth of the Zambesi river. A small expedition upriver to burn a uWanna village and take some cattle should serve to restore order.
                     The Governor decided to punish the natives and would not be gainsaid!
So it was that Captain Poulet found himself disembarking from a decrepit paddle steamer deep in the territory of the fierce uWanna. He led his company of about 50 Marines, a handful of sailors from the boat and a gatling gun. Hauling the gatling might slow him down a bit but it would come in handy if he met resistance. The key would be to strike quickly and get out before the tribesmen had a chance to gather.
                      The heat! The insects! Let's get this over with and return to the coast.
The heat was oppressive as the small expedition made its way inland. They were not halfway to the target village when they spotted Arabs advancing on them in the distance. The slavers had their spies watching the coast and had decided to interfere. They must be hoping to link up with the uWanna warriors to oppose the incursion. Cursing his luck, Poulet directed his small column toward a position where he could see off the rabble of slavers armed with swords, spears and a few ancient muskets.
                                                    Damned slavers, how came they here?!
As the Marines jogged into position on the ground Poulet had chosen, he ran an eye over the site. Yes, this would do very well. A stream to his front would slow the attackers. To his right an impassable ravine, His left and rear were somewhat exposed but his Bluecoats would hold, come what may.
                                          A good position, clear field of fire. Let them come!
Just as he began directing his men into position, a Lieutenant called to Poulet and directed his attention off to his left. In the distance he could see a large number of uWanna warriors moving rapidly to envelop him and cut off his retreat to the river. This was starting to look like a proper battle! For just a moment Poulet remembered the stories of the terrible things done to the rare European who had the misfortune to fall into their hands. Shaking off the thought, he returned to the business of deploying his men.
                  The uWanna Chieftain known to the Europeans as 'Pete' makes his dispositions
Poulet had planned to form a line along the bank of the stream and direct all of his considerable firepower against the Arabs advancing slowly toward his front. The arrival of the fast moving, aggressive uWannas on the field had changed everything. Now he was cut off from the riverboat with enemies on three sides. He quickly changed his dispositions, setting his back to the ravine and positioning his rifles and gatling gun in a three sided "square". Everything now depended on the steadiness of his Marines and the awful stopping power of their breech loading rifles.
                                                                     Form Square!
The Marines had seen action before but they couldn't help but feel apprehensive at the swiftness and discipline with which the uWanna warriors formed up. On the other side of their position the Arab leaders seemed to be having some difficulty preparing their men for the attack.
                                                             The lull before the storm
The white men and their enemies stood in their ranks in silence for what was probably just a few minutes, but seemed much longer. At last the silence was broken by the uWanna chief who called out the order to advance, which was repeated by his several sub chiefs. The warriors jogged forward on two sides of the square, chanting their war song. On the third side the Arab leaders were doing all they could to move their men against the Marines, but those men knew better than the tribesmen the power of the white mans weapons.  
                                               The tribal wave breaks on the wall of fire
At a word of command from their Chief, the uWanna warriors gave a great shout and broke into a run. The commands Present...Fire! were barked out along the line of bluecoats and the terrible volleys crashed out, blending with the chatter of the Gatling. The bullets tore great bloody holes in the ranks of the charging warriors. In a few places, knots of warriors managed to close with the enemy only to be cut down by the steady line of Marines. For most of the natives the fire was more than flesh and blood could bear. The charge faltered, stopped and then fell back, step by step still facing the enemy. Their Arab allies had failed to charge at all, and that account would be settled in time. Poulet, seeing the enemy withdraw, ordered the cease fire. The Marines waited in their position until mid day. It was clear the enemy had withdrawn and Poulet had just enough time to burn a nearby village and get back to the river by dark.   

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