When Turkey entered the Great War as a
German ally in early November 1914 Britain was faced with defending two
frontiers against Turkish aggression, one in Egypt and the other in Aden and
its hinterland. The Turks had invaded
Yemen in 1872 and they garrisoned the capital Sanaa and the coastal ports with
an army corps of unknown strength. A
joint Boundary Commission in 1904 (See HERE)
had established a border between Yemen and the Protectorate that Britain had
established in the Aden hinterland and Turkish troops also garrisoned tactical
points near this border.
Aden was a strategically important coaling
port and harbour for the British Empire as it lay on the shipping route between
the Antipodes and Europe, and it was near the entrance to the Red Sea that led
to the Suez Canal. However the
administration of Aden by Britain was marked by confusion and complication, and
it was left to the Government of India to administer the territory through a
Political Resident who usually was the military commander in Aden. The Aden garrison consisted of one British
and one Indian infantry battalion and the Aden Troop, which was a cavalry squadron
of both horse and camel-mounted sowars, manned by volunteers from Indian
cavalry regiments. The hot harsh climate
and rugged terrain in Aden’s hinterland presented strong challenges to both
European and Indian soldiers.
As troops were needed for France the
British battalion in Aden had been sent to Europe and initially a mixed force
was hurriedly assembled and sent from India to replace it. Later the 23rd Sikh Pioneers who
had been earmarked for service in Egypt were re-assigned to be part of the Aden
Garrison, arriving there on 9th November.
attack on Sheikh Said
The first confrontation
with the Turks occurred near the island of Perim lying 145 kilometres west of
Aden in the Straits of Bab El Mandib at the mouth of the Red Sea. Volcanic and waterless Perim Island, 13
square kilometres in area and a part of Aden territory, housed an important
lighthouse, a coaling station and a small garrison of around 50 Indian
soldiers. The African coast lay 18 kilometres
away but the Yemen mainland opposite the island lay only 2.5 kilometres
distant. On a knoll
opposite Perim, at a location named Sheikh
Said, the Turks had constructed Fort Turba which commanded both Perim Island
and the straits of Bab El Mandib. Strong
gun positions had been built using granite and concrete; these housed two
Krupp’s guns with a range of around 20 kilometres, and two more light but more
mobile field guns. Good ammunition
magazines, stores and barracks had also been constructed and a Turkish garrison
of around 500 men was deployed in and around the fort. More field guns in well camouflaged positions
were positioned in the area behind the fort.
A few small fishing villages in the area were inhabited by Yemeni
During the first week of November the
officer commanding Perim garrison alerted Aden about a new camp that the Turks
were building six kilometres from Sheikh Said.
The Indian Army was obviously anxious to keep open the shipping lane
that was being used to reinforce France and Egypt and Delhi authorised a
24-hour operation against Sheikh Said by troops on their way to Egypt. This decision to make a pre-emptive attack
appears to have been one known only to military commanders in India and Aden,
politicians being left out of the picture until afterwards. This secrecy undoubtedly prevented questions
or obstruction from above.
Left: Arab Chief in Aden
On 3rd November the 29th
Indian Infantry Brigade under Brigadier-General H.V. Cox had sailed from
Karachi for Egypt in a convoy and it was decided to use this brigade to attack
Sheikh Said. Four battalions were in the
brigade, 14th (King George’s Own) Ferozepore Sikhs, 69th
Punjabis, 89th Punjabis, and 1st Battalion of the 6th
Gurkhas. For the attack the Gurkhas were
to be left on board their ship and the 23rd Sikh Pioneers were to
join the brigade at Aden; the Pioneers were needed because of their demolition
skills. A plan was made at Aden by the
General Staff Officer there, Major C.R. Bradshaw, 9th Gurkha
Rifles. When the convoy reached Aden he
joined Brigadier Cox’s headquarters with maps, appreciations and a draft
plan. Lieutenant Colonel H.F. Jacob, the
acting Political Resident, had requested to Delhi that a Political Officer
accompany Major Bradshaw so that the tribes at Sheikh Said could be assured of
Britain’s friendly intentions towards them, but no reply came to the request
and Bradshaw went alone.
Brigadier Cox and Captain H. Blackett,
Royal Navy, captain of the supporting cruiser HMS Duke of Edinburgh, agreed a combined-operations plan to arrive
off Sheikh Said at 0100 hours, make a covert landing in darkness, and then
attack Fort Turba at dawn under the supporting fire of the cruiser’s six 240mm
(9.2-inch) and ten 152mm (6-inch) guns.
Meanwhile the remainder of the convoy would anchor off Aden for 24
In the event when the brigade in their
transports and the cruiser arrived off Sheikh Said in the early hours of 10th
November they encountered rough seas.
The cruiser’s picket boat made a reconnaissance and returned, the Beach
Master reporting that the sea was too rough to make a landing and that the
picket boat had been observed and had attracted Turkish rifle fire. The plan was changed to one where the cruiser
shelled Fort Turba at dawn and then took the convoy to the western side of
Sheikh Said where a daylight landing would be made supported by naval gunfire. The disadvantages of this new plan were that
the line of Turkish retreat could not be cut off from the west, and fringes of
rocks along the shore meant that the transports had to anchor well out to sea.
Above: Camel transport Aden
The new plan was put into effect and went
well until the troops started disembarking when it was found that the
transports’ gangways were not suitable for laden soldiers entering small
boats. Many sepoys had never seen the
sea before this voyage and took some time to adjust to the landing boats that
were being towed towards the shore. The
landing boats from the transports were found to be leaking and often rudderless
and were quickly replaced by naval boats.
The tug boats were crewed by civilians from Perim Island and Aden and
these crews were unhappy at receiving heavy Turkish shrapnel fire. Strong winds also hampered the landings.
By 1100 hours landings had been made but
only the 89th Punjabis and a double-company and the machine guns of
the 69th Punjabis were ashore and digging-in to secure the
beach-head. Realising the shortage of
time remaining for the operation Brigadier Cox ordered these troops to attack
towards Fort Turba whilst the remaining troops from his brigade were brought
from the transports. The Punjabis fought
slowly forward over ground providing little cover whilst the Turks engaged them
with machine gun and rifle fire and shrapnel from field guns. During this fighting a machine gunner of the
69th Punjabis, No. 765 Naik Labh Singh, displayed gallantry whilst providing
covering fire from exposed positions and he later received an Indian Distinguished Service Medal. The naval gunfire was effective in
encouraging the Turks to withdraw, and the Punjabis continued their advance
throughout the night with the aim of being at Fort Turba by 0600 hours 11th
After dusk the cruiser sailed eastwards and
at dawn provided covering fire whilst Fort Turba was taken without a
fight. The naval lyddite shells had
caused extensive damage to the fort and its gun positions but had not detonated
the Turkish ammunition magazines. Whilst
the two Punjabi battalions re-embarked the 14th (King George’s Own)
Ferozepore Sikhs (1) occupied positions to cover the 23rd Sikh Pioneers. The Pioneers, assisted by a naval demolition
party, successfully destroyed the 2 Krupp guns, 4 field guns, 1 brass cannon,
about 10,000 rounds of small arms ammunition, gun emplacements and large
quantities of artillery shells and cordite.
The 3,000 men that had been landed were all back on board by 1730 hours;
the 29th Indian Infantry Brigade re-joined its convoy and sailed for
Egypt whilst the 23rd Sikh Pioneers sailed back to Aden. Six dead Turks and a few wounded had been
found on the battlefield and two wounded prisoners had been taken; the Turks
had removed their other casualties when they withdrew. Brigadier Cox’s force had lost 5 men killed
or died of wounds and around a dozen wounded during a very successful combined
operation. But due credit must be given
to the Royal Navy who provided the seamanship skills and firepower that ensured
On 29th May 1915 No. 1 Company of the 23rd
Sikh Pioneers under Captain H.S. Hutchison was garrisoning Perim Island. That night a sepoy shot dead in their beds
the two senior Indian officers in the battalion, Subedar Major Balwant Singh
and Subedar Paritam Singh. No. 3886
Havildar Uttama Singh (2) closed with the murderer, No. 4510 Sepoy Basakha Singh, and although fired at,
arrested him. Basakha Singh was tried,
found guilty, and hanged in Aden Special Prison on 7th June.
The Turks reoccupied Sheikh Said and they
attacked Perim Island on 13th June firing around 300 shells from a
4.1-inch gun and two lighter guns. The
lighthouse was hit several times but not badly damaged. The following night at 0100 hours the enemy
launched dhows full of soldiers in an attempted landing on the island. Most of the dhows were discouraged by
effective defensive fire but some Turkish troops landed successfully. However after being illuminated by a British
star shell the Turks rapidly withdrew.
disastrous attempt to defend Lahej
In early 1915 the Aden
garrison was increased with the Territorial 4th Battalion, South
Wales Borderers (Brecknockshire Battalion) arriving from Britain as a
replacement for the departed Regular Army battalion. However the Brecknocks were not fully trained
and needed to acclimatize to Aden’s unrelenting severely hot weather. The
Indian battalions in theatre were the 23rd Sikh Pioneers,
the 109th Infantry and half of the 126th Baluchistan
Infantry, but the Sikh Pioneers and the Baluchis were sending reinforcement
drafts to battalions in France whilst the 109th Infantry and some of
the Sikh Pioneers were manning outposts such as Perim and also Kamaran Island
off the Yemen Red Sea coast. On the
political front the new garrison commander and Political Resident, Major-General
D.L.B. Shaw, made a treaty with a tribal leader outside Aden and supplied him
with money, rifles and ammunition. The
pro-British Sultan of Lahej, north of Aden port, was presented with four field
guns and a British officer was seconded to teach gunnery to the Sultan’s
soldiers. General Shaw hoped that these
arrangements would provide him with security outside Aden town. The Aden Troop patrolled to the north of
Above: 15-pounder Camel Battery Aden
Meanwhile the Turks were preparing to
advance with 2,000 men and 6 guns on Lahej, and they received the co-operation
of the Adeni tribes whose land they would cross. The Turkish advance was made in late June
when the power of the sun was approaching its strongest, but General Shaw had
to despatch a Moveable Column to defend Lahej.
This column concentrated at the oasis of Sheikh Othman, just north of
Aden port, on 3rd July and contained:
15-pounder Camel Battery,
Royal Garrison Artillery (6 guns).
Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery (4 guns packed on camels).
Elements of the 23rd
(Fortress) Company, Bombay Sappers & Miners.
A Wing (half a battalion)
A company of 23rd
Sikh Pioneers with two .450-inch machine guns and two .303-inch machine guns.
A Wing of the 109th
Infantry with two .450-inch machine guns and two .303-inch machine guns.
Two companies of 126th
The column departed at 0300 hours the
following day and as the sun rose higher in the sky cases of dehydration and
heat-stroke began to occur in the column.
The fitter elements marched on whilst undisciplined chaos set in amongst
the rest of the column. Meanwhile a
flying advanced guard of machine gunners in cars had set out ahead of the
marching men, arriving in Lahej at 0800 hours.
By 1030 hours the first 100 of the 109th Infantry under their
commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel H.C. Wooldridge, and the Sappers &
Miners under Captain C.F. Stoehr, Royal Engineers, had marched the 45
kilometres into Lahej; the remainder of the battalion and company trickled in
by 1730 hours. Colonel Wooldridge briefly
rested the men and commenced planning a defence.
The company of 23rd Pioneers
arrived at Lahej at 1330 hours; the Pioneers’ commanding officer, Lieutenant
Colonel H.F.A. Pearson, was the commander of the Moveable Column and his
Adjutant, Captain F.C. Squires was the Column Staff Officer. Colonel Pearson took over command of the
British force from Colonel Wooldridge.
The camel-packed mountain battery arrived at Lahej in good order but the
15-pounder guns being hauled by camels were stuck in the sand on the
track. Fitter men of the Baluchis and
the Brecknocks also trickled in. To the
rear on the track from Sheikh Othman the logistical side of the operation had
collapsed as the Adeni camel drivers carrying water, ammunition and supplies
abandoned their tasks and retired with their camels (3). Not all the allocated medical units were in
place on the line of march and men were dying of heat-stroke.
In Lahej, which was the size of a village,
Colonel Pearson organised a defence based on the north-west edge as the Turks
attacked. To the rear were two gardens
where the British and Indian troops respectively had rested after their
march. Three awards of the Indian Order of Merit, 2nd Class,
were later made for gallantry displayed during the Lahej fighting:
2007 Havildar Shah Nawaz, 109th Infantry: For gallantry on the 4th and 5th July 1915 while
in charge of a machine gun section. It
was mainly owing to his exertion that the guns were got up to Lahej. He handled his men well throughout the action
and showed much discretion in checking one or two rushes.
No. 3979 Lance Naik Gil Baz, 126
Baluchistan Infantry: This
non-commissioned officer, while wounded, was of the greatest assistance in
steadying the men during the action on the 4th and 5th
The third award was made in 1920 after the
recipient had escaped from captivity (4). Sepoy Sohan Singh, 1st Battalion
23rd Sikh Pioneers: For
conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty on 4th July 1915 when he
carried messages between his machine gun section and the officer commanding the
unit. Sepoy Sohan Singh also showed the
greatest pluck and determination when he escaped from captivity. He made his way through 350 miles (560
kilometres) of strange country and after
undergoing many privations due to lack of food and water and a bad climate,
rejoined the British forces.
The British held their line during the
hours of daylight mainly due to effective use of the mountain guns, one of the
Sultan’s guns, and the machine guns.
However after dusk the enemy fired huts that illuminated the British
positions and the Turks and their local Arab allies started to turn both
British flanks. Colonel Pearson had to
withdraw to the garden area 550 metres to his rear, abandoning two of the
mountain guns which were first disabled.
Close quarter fighting took place in the village main street in which
Captain Squires was mortally wounded; men of the Sappers & Miners were
prominent in the fighting at this time and Captain Stoehr was very active with
his revolver. Meanwhile the Sultan of
Lahej’s artillerymen had fled but his remaining loyal riflemen cheerfully fired
from rooftops at anyone who moved. Unfortunately the Sultan himself was shot by a
British bullet, a case of mistaken identity, whilst he observed the battle from
a balcony of his palace. The British fought and held the garden line until 0300
hours 5th July, when the Turks withdrew after suffering around 250
casualties. The British wounded were
then evacuated on all the available camels.
At dawn Colonel Pearson made an
appreciation of his situation and decided that without ammunition and supplies
he must withdraw to Sheikh Othman; this was achieved but the .450 machine guns
had to be disabled and abandoned because of the lack of pack animals. The Turks did not immediately follow-up the
British withdrawal. At Sheikh Othman
General Shaw decided that his troops were not in a fit state to defend the
oasis, which was the main water supply for Aden, and a further withdrawal was
made to the Khor Maksar line at the outskirts of the port. Local inhabitants gleefully looted Sheikh
Othman and the Turks occupied it, cutting off Aden’s water supply; British
prestige was at its lowest point and in Aden drinking water had to be produced
from condensers on ships in the harbour.
British casualties on the Lahej operation were: Captain Squires died of
wounds, 6 British and 6 Indian soldiers killed or missing, 5 British and 10
Indian soldiers wounded and 35 men dead from heatstroke, most of them from the
arrival of the 28th (Frontier Force) Brigade
Swift action was called for and on 8th
July half of the 108th Infantry arrived in Aden as reinforcements,
and the 4th Battalion The Buffs (East Kent Regiment), another
Territorial unit, relieved the Brecknocks.
The most important development was the arrival in Aden of a new
commander and an infantry brigade from Egypt; Major General Sir George
Younghusband replaced General Shaw, bringing with him the 28th
(Frontier Force) Brigade and two British Territorial batteries, the Berkshire
Battery, Royal Horse Artillery and ‘B’ Battery, Honourable Artillery
Company. The battalions in the 28th
(Frontier Force) Brigade were: the 51st Sikhs (Frontier Force), the 53rd
Sikhs (Frontier Force), the 56th Punjabi Rifles (Frontier Force) and
the 62nd Punjabis; the Brigade disembarked at Aden on 20th
July and marched to bivouac at Khor Maksar.
General Younghusband quickly appreciated
that Sheikh Othman had to be held by the British but that there would never be
sufficient troops to occupy other locations in the hinterland, therefore an
‘aggressive defence’ had to be practised from Aden. This meant that a Flying Column was to be on
standby as a quick-reaction force and a Moveable Column was to be quickly
formed when a short expedition was mounted against a Turkish post. The basic factor that underlay all tactical
planning was that columns had to carry sufficient water with them for both the
outward and return journeys, and this factor limited the distance that
operations could be mounted from Aden.
Right: Honourable Artillery Company guns at Sheikh Othman
At 0300 hours on 21st July the
28th (Frontier Force) Brigade, with the Aden Troop in support,
marched the six kilometres to Sheikh Othman under the temporary command of
Lieutenant Colonel A.M.S. Elsmie, 56th Punjabi Rifles. The 53rd Sikhs were on the left, the 56th
Rifles on the right, the 51st Sikhs marched in support and the 62nd
Punjabis were in reserve at Khor Maksar.
The sepoys approached Sheikh Othman at dawn and firing broke out from
enemy troops shooting from houses and over walls. However surprise had been achieved and the
Brigade maintained momentum, attacking the Turkish positions. An enemy counter-attack was mounted onto the
British left but was beaten back, and brisk fighting developed in the oasis
during which Lieutenants V.W.K. Mackinnon and G.C. Southern, both of the 53rd
Sikhs, were killed along with 3 sepoys, 22 other sepoys were wounded. The Turks did not defend Sheikh Othman for
long before withdrawing towards Lahej, harassed by the Aden Troop. The Brigade then occupied the oasis,
supported by an artillery battery.
Subedar Molar Singh, 53rd Sikhs
(Frontier Force), was awarded an Indian
Order of Merit, 2nd Class: On
the 21st July 1915 this officer led a platoon in action with great
coolness and conspicuous gallantry and gave an excellent example to his men at
a time when they had several casualties in the space of a few minutes.
action at Fiyush and the reconnaissance of Waht
The water supply from Sheikh Othman to Aden
was restored within 24 hours of the oasis being captured, and the policy of
‘aggressive defence’ was implemented. An
attack by a small column was mounted against Fiyush, a Turkish post on the eastern
camel track to Lahej. The column
consisted of the Aden Troop, two guns of the Berkshire Battery, Royal Horse
Artillery, two guns of the Honourable Artillery Company, Royal Horse Artillery
and the 56th Punjabi Rifles.
On 25th August the 56th Rifles attacked the
village frontally whilst the cavalry rode around to the Turkish rear where 16
Arab irregulars, 7 rifles and 8 camels were captured. In the village the 56th Rifles had
lost 5 sepoys dead and 3 wounded, but enemy casualties were estimated at 12
dead and 20 wounded.
On 28th August Aden Troop was
out again with the 53rd Sikhs under Lieutenant Colonel C.H. Davies
DSO. The mission was to reconnoitre Waht
under cover of darkness. As the cavalry
rode to the rear of the village, greatly impeded by flooded fields, stone walls
and steep banks, a commotion was seen and heard in the village. A couple of villagers advised that 2,000
enemy troops, 100 horsemen and 14 guns with 200 mules had just arrived from
Lahej. A mounted orderly rode to alert
Colonel Davies but he was already in contact with the enemy. As the new day dawned Colonel Davies realised
the overwhelming strength of the Turks, and made a fighting withdrawal.
Three men of the 53rd Sikhs
(Frontier Force) were awarded the Indian
Order of Merit, 2nd Class, for gallantry displayed at Waht. The joint citation for No 3543 Naik Bahadur
Shah and No. 3218 Sepoy Allah Khan read: For
conspicuous gallantry on the 28th August 1915 during operations in
the vicinity of Aden. After three other
signallers had been shot down these men, in spite of a heavy fire directed at
them, succeeded in correctly transmitting a message to their commanding officer.
During the fighting a subaltern, Indian
Army Reserve of Officers attached to 53rd Sikhs, was severely
wounded. Jemadar Faiz Talab, 53rd
Sikhs (Frontier Force) rescued the subaltern, receiving the Indian Order of Merit, 2nd Class:
For conspicuous gallantry in operations
in the vicinity of Aden on the 28th August 1915. When 2nd Lieutenant P.F. Durand
was wounded, Jemadar Faiz Talab carried him on his shoulders across an open
field under a heavy fire to a place of safety.
By his devotion he undoubtedly saved 2nd Lieutenant Durand’s
Colonel Davies withdrew his battalion to
Sheikh Othman, struggling in deep sand and excessive heat. The camel-mounted sowars of the Aden Troop
provided security against the enemy horsemen and several wounded and exhausted
Sikhs were brought in on the camels.
Enemy losses were not known but one sowar was wounded whilst the Sikhs
suffered 2 sepoys killed, 2 officers and 18 sepoys wounded and 2 sepoys
missing. Missing men were rarely seen
This was the last action before the 28th
Brigade (Frontier Force), less the 56th Punjabi Rifles, left Aden on
7th September to return to Egypt.
Major General J.M. Stewart took over command of the British forces in
Aden.http://www.kaiserscross.com/304501/462522.html Colonel Elsmie and his 56th
Punjabi Rifles remained in Aden until mid-October when the battalion returned
to Egypt. A newly arrived unit, the
Malay States Guides (see Here),
then took over the role performed by the 56th Punjabi Rifles.
attack on Waht
A much bigger column attacked Waht on 28th
August. The British forces were:
One section, 23rd
Fortress Company, Sappers & Miners.
Royal Navy Machine Gun
One Wing of the 1st
Battalion, 4th Buffs (East Kent Regiment).
One Wing 23rd
The Turkish forces at Waht consisted of 700
Turks, 1,000 Arab irregulars and 8 guns.
Hostilities commenced at dawn on 25th September when the Aden
Troop on the British right came into contact with a Turkish picquet; the
subsequent firing alerted the enemy force.
The well-acclimatised 62nd Punjabis under Lieutenant Colonel E.W.
Grimshaw led the initial attacks, seizing some small villages. The 23rd Sikh Pioneers were then
deployed to the British right to secure Sharj village that had been taken by
the Punjabis. Colonel Grimshaw pushed
on, entering the south of Waht village as Turkish reinforcements from Lahej
entered from the north, but as the Punjabis pushed the Turkish defenders back
the enemy reinforcements fell back as well, forming a line in thick scrub 1200
metres north of Waht. Turkish officers
were seen urging their men forward but British shrapnel dissuaded any forward
A stalemate developed as the well-handled
Turkish artillery, always in superior numbers, prevented any further British
advance. Having occupied Waht for a
couple of hours Colonel Elsmie withdrew to Sheikh Othman. No. 437 Havildar Bishen Singh, 62nd
Punjabis, was awarded an Indian
Distinguished Service Medal: (He) led
the attack on Sharj Village, and was of great assistance in leading and urging
on the men of his section throughout the day.
This attack had failed to kill many Turks and
reading between the lines of after-action reports and regimental histories it
is apparent that once again the effects of the climate were under-estimated by
the planners, as 11 British soldiers and one sepoy died of heatstroke. It is probable that many of the men in this
large column were incapacitated on the battlefield by dehydration and heat
exhaustion. Other British casualties
were one British soldier who died of wounds, and one officer, 3 British and 13
sepoys who survived wounds.
arrival of the 26th (King George’s Own) Light Cavalry, Indian Army
On 19th September 1915 the 26th
(King George’s Own) Light Cavalry arrived in Aden where it was to stay until
1922; during those seven years the regimental war diary recorded 239 actions
against the Turks and their irregular Arab allies. This was a four-squadron Class Squadron
Regiment with a squadron each of Madras and Dekhani Mussalmans, Punjabi
Mussalmans, Rajputana Rajputs, and Jats.
The commanding officer was Lieutenant Colonel A.S. Arnold and his 2nd
in Command was Lieutenant Colonel R. de L. Faunce. The arrival of this regiment relieved the
strain on the Aden Troop which had less than 90 sowars on strength yet had been
performing the tasks of a regiment since the Turkish advance on Lahej.
The 26th Light Cavalry wasted no
time in getting out on patrols and missions such as the arresting of enemy
agents known to be in outlying villages.
On 7th October ‘D’ Squadron under Captain J.A. Collum
deployed on an operation with the 15-pounder Camel Battery. ‘D’ Squadron used darkness to covertly occupy
a concealed position 1,000 metres north-east of As Sela Village where enemy
irregular troops were known to be based. At dawn the Camel Battery shelled As
Sela resulting in around 40 of the enemy retreating towards Al Darb Village on
the track to Lahej. The enemy group was
mostly mounted on camels and fled to the north-west. Captain Collum ordered the troop commanded by
2nd Lieutenant R.A. O’Connor to pursue at the gallop and
attack. Collum brought up his other
three troops as quickly as he could.
When the enemy group was about 2.5
kilometres south of Al Darb Connor’s troop caught up with them and charged
straight in with the lance, killing or wounding around 20 of the enemy. The other three troops were only 200 metres
behind but the surviving enemy moved into thick brush and engaged the cavalry
with rifle fire, supported by a strong concealed picquet. Captain Collum ordered dismounted fire action
until the enemy from As Sela withdrew with their casualties; the enemy picquet
remained in place. The squadron then
advanced on foot in extended order and under fire to recover the body of an
Indian officer who had been killed in the fighting. This was accomplished and as it was not in
Collum’s orders to attack fixed positions he withdrew his squadron.
The dead officer, Jemadar Muhammad Khan, 26th
(King George’s Own) Light Cavalry, was awarded a posthumous Indian Order of Merit, 2nd Class,
with the citation: For conspicuous
gallantry and courage in a skirmish near As-sela in the vicinity of Aden on the
7th October 1915. He showed
great dash and gallantry in leading an attack on the enemy and he himself
attacked a group of Arabs armed with rifles.
He killed three and wounded another but was shot by the fifth.
Until the end of 1915 General Stewart did
not order any large operations with a Moveable Column, but low-level patrolling
and skirmishing continued aggressively. Neither
side was strong enough to eject the other, but both sides wanted to skirmish,
and needed to do so in order to retain the support of their respective groups
of allied local tribes.
spies in Aden
In his book 40 Years a Soldier General Younghusband describes the apprehension
of a Turkish spy in Aden port. The man
was a leading Arab merchant who regularly corresponded with Said Pasha, the
Turkish commander in Lahej. The letters
containing information were entrusted to local camel drivers who went into the
hinterland to bring supplies back into Aden; doubtless these camel drivers then
passed the letters on to others who would deliver them to Lahej. One night a camel driver with a letter
noticed that at the postern gate exit from Aden town everyone was being
Slipping away from the camel train for a
few minutes the driver found a British red letter box and deposited the letter
there. The following day after the
letter box had been opened the contents were taken to the Postal Censor,
Colonel Cleveland. The letter to Said
Pasha was opened and found to contain an accurate plan of Aden showing all the
defences and gun positions. Exact ranges
were marked in red ink between all the important points in Aden and landmarks
on the mainland. The signed letter also
mentioned the fact that the writer was owed 100 rupees for his last letter, and
he asked for another 100 rupees for the information he was sending now. After being found guilty by court martial the
writer was executed by firing squad in front of a group of the leading citizens
In a similar vein the war diary of the Aden
Troop mentions that local Arab and Somali deserters from the British force who
were later captured whilst in the service of the Turks, were also court
martialled and shot when found guilty.
(1) A sepoy
from the 14th (KGO) Sikhs, fed up with the problems of cooking on board using
coke, chopped the Turkish flagpole down in the fort to take back to his
transport. He discarded the Turkish flag
which he saw no use for but the flag was recovered and later was displayed in
the battalion Officers’ Mess. (2) Later
Uttama Singh received the Indian Meritorious Service Medal and was promoted to
Jemadar. (3) Whenever it was tactically possible experienced battalions would march in
hot regions with an escorted water supply at the head of the column; this
discouraged men from dropping out further back in the column. (4) The 1st Battalion 23rd
Sikh Pioneers later fought in Palestine and Sohan Singh was probably taken
prisoner there. (5) Jemadar Faiz Talab later also received the French Croix De Guerre.
Betham, Lieutenant Colonel
Sir G. and Geary, Major H.V.R. The Golden
Galley. The Story of the Second Punjab Regiment 1761-1947. (Oxford
University Press 1956).
Chhina, Rana. The Indian Distinguished Service Medal.
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Polden Aldershot 1962).
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