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Book Review
Nile River Gunboats
Nile River Gunboats 18821918
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

Originally published on:
Model Shipwrights

Nile River Gunboats 18821918 from Osprey Publishing LTD is the third title about gunboats in their New Vanguard series. Nile River Gunboats is the 239th title and has the Osprey short code NVG 239. The IBSN of this paperback format is 9781472814760. The book is available in ePUB and PDF.

Nile River Gunboats 18821918 is authored by Angus Konstam and illustrated by artist Peter Dennis. It is 48 pages of text and images.

Gunboats are an interesting subject to me as one of my favorite movies is The Sand Pebbles, about an American gunboat in China, which has a distant personal connection; the ship in which my dad escaped Java after the his ship USS Houston was sunk, was USS Isabel, a "China boat". While this book is not about gunboats in China, I am still captivated by these ships which "punched above their weight."
    For more than 30 years the Nile river gunboat was an indispensable tool of empire, policing the great river and acting as floating symbols of British imperial power. They participated in every significant colonial campaign in the region, from the British invasion of Egypt in 1882 to the Battle of Omdurman in 1898, when Britain finally won control of the Sudan. After that, the gunboats helped maintain British control over both Egypt and the Sudan, and played a key role in safeguarding British interests around the headwaters of the Nile - a region hotly contested by several European powers. Featuring specially commissioned artwork, this comprehensive volume offers a detailed analysis of the Nile river gunboats' entire career, from policing British colonial interests along the great river to defending Egypt against the Ottoman Turks in World War I. - Osprey

This book is 48 pages of seven sections;
    The River
      * British Interests on the Nile

    Nile Gunboat Development
      * General Gordon's 'Penny Steamers'
      * Tamai-class gunboats
      * El Zafir-class gunboats
      * Sultan-class gunboats

    The Nile Gunboats
      The 'Penny Steamers'
      * Other Khartoum gunboats
      * Later gunboats
      * Protection
      * Propulsion
      * Conditions on Board
      * Firepower

    Gunboats in Action
      * The 1884-85 campaign
      * The 1896-98 campaign

    Further Reading

This story starts with an overview of England's late 19th-century activities in north-eastern Africa, a description of the Nile and its importance to the region, and the subsequent role of the gunboat. That role included simple policing as well as combat, and eventually 'The River Dash' of the boats up the river to Khartoum, to relieve General Gordon from siege. The author enhances the text with quotes from journals and books written by Nile gunboat campaign participants, including Col. Sir Charles Wilson and Winston Churchill.
    Creeping leisurely forward along the east bank...fire was first concentrated on the two northern forts, and the shells, striking the mud walls in rapid succession or bursting in the interior, soon enveloped them in dust and smoke. The Dervishes immediately replied... One shell, however, crashed through the deck of the Zafir, mortally wounding a Soudanese soldier, and two struck the Fateh
The River examines the Nile as a watercourse as well as the geopolitical and economic importance. It was interesting to learn about the course, depth, width, flow and obstructions of the Nile, and how those factors influenced everything about gunboat design and operations.

Nile Gunboat Development examines the participation of the boats in various campaigns and demonstration. The most extensive part of the book's content is The Nile Gunboats, examining the technical aspects of the vessels. This discusses everything from the designs and builders, crew composition and "camp followers", machinery, weapons, food, general conditions aboard, and command. It discusses the Nordenfelt machine gun (and others), cannon of the day, soldiers, and 'armor' thickness. Where the vessels were constructed and how they got to the Nile is amazing.

Included for each of the vessels is a technical and information table. The author even included a brief comment on the colors a boat was painted.

Gunboats in Action is an amazing chapter. Gordon's 'Penny Steamers' relied on ersatz protection hearkening back to the days of medieval forts, and the poor aim of enemies. Later boats received successive applications of armor until the Sultan Class were built with armor. Some later protection actually left main battery crews more exposed. In places the vessels were within rifle range of both banks of the river. Conning the boats required keeping watch against rocks that could ground or sink the gunboats within enemy range. Accounts include gunboat victories and defeats; a few were even captured.

The chapter ends with a brief two-sentence paragraph recounting the role of the Nile gunboats after the Battle of Omdurman, where the gunboat cannon and machine guns supported the Anglo-Egyptian Camel Corps, Egyptian cavalry, and 21st Lancers.

Photographs, Art, Graphics
I only noticed one page with only text. Photographic support for the text is minimal considering the dearth of quality photographs that are available of the subjects. Those photographs are, not surprisingly, somewhat blurry and under- or overexposed. Still, they provide some fine detail.

The majority of the images are reproductions of sketches, engravings or painting, mainly created to illustrate newspapers and magazines of the time. Many are exceptionally detailed. A few are color lithographs. Those are very useful for presenting guidance for the uniforms and equipment of the era.

Original full color artwork and cutaway artwork greatly enhances the value of this book. Artist Peter Dennis created several "action scenes" and portraits of the gunboats (with accompanying captions);

1. Map: THE NILE: From Wadi Halfa to Khartoum.

2. Bordein (1884), the sidewheel paddle steamer, with her bulwarks and superstructure reinforced with lumber and sheet metal.

3. Tamai (1896), a sternwheel paddle gunboat, as flagship of the gunboat squadron.

4. Safia (1885), a sidewheel paddle steamer with lumber shuttering for protection.

5. El Zafir (1898), a sternwheel paddle gunboat.

6. El-Kaihar, a Nile sidewheeler pressed into service as the HQ of Major-General Wolseley.

7. Sultan (1898).

8. Cutaway: Melik, Sultan-class, with specifications and keyed to 25 components.

9. "Action scene" Abu Klea and Hafir, Khartoum, 1900, tied up alongside Khartoum's 'Gunboat Station'.

10. "Action scene" Gunboat in Action Off Khartoum, 1884, Egyptian troops and a British officer engaging Mahdists with cannon and rifles, protected with sandbags and sheets of metal.

11. "Action scene" Melik In Action Off Omdurman, 1898, as viewed from behind Mahdist riflemen engaging Melik as she fired back with cannon, machine guns and rifles.


Included for each of the vessels is an information table for the gunboats listing some, or all, of the following data:
    Built (Date, shipyard, assembly area)
    Maximum speed
    Operational summary

A fine gallery of illustrations and photographs.

Nile River Gunboats 18821918 is an interesting presentation of the Anglo-Egyptian gunboats that patrolled the Nile for 36 years. It features an interesting text which includes first-hand accounts. A fine gallery of art, illustrations and photographs enhance the text.

I have nothing of consequence to ding the book about. I enjoyed this third gunboat title and hope there will be more. I don't know where else gunboats were used aside from the American Civil War and on the Volga. Regardless, it will be interesting.

Please remember to tell vendors and retailers that you saw this book here - on Model Shipwrights.
Highs: Interesting text with first-hand accounts. Fine illustrations and photographs.
Lows: Nothing of consequence.
Verdict: I enjoyed this third gunboat title and hope there will be more.
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: 9781472814760
  Suggested Retail: $18.00
  Related Link: 
  PUBLISHED: Jan 07, 2017

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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright 2020 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. All rights reserved.


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