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The EK1

The Fourth Campaign against the Mad Mullah

(This should be read as a continuation of The Third Campaign article that appeared HERE)

(Please click HERE for the Maps)


In mid-1903 the British Government, having already spent millions of pounds on three unsuccessful campaigns in Somaliland, needed to maintain its prestige by producing a visible return to show for this cost. A fourth campaign was sanctioned and a new theatre commander, Major General Sir Charles C. Egerton KCB DSO, Indian Army, was appointed.  Many of the troops used during the Third Campaign remained in-country but notable exceptions were the South African Burgher Mounted Infantry Company that returned home having completed its six-month contract, and the Punjab Mounted Infantry Company that was disbanded.  General Egerton was permitted to request reinforcements from Aden and India that raised his force to a total of 6,400 men; in Egerton’s opinion the effective use of Indian Army units would solve the Somaliland security problem and he had little faith in Somalis.  A political limitation placed upon the General was that he was not to cross into Italian territory without prior approval.

During the Fourth Campaign there was only one major land battle (at which the Mullah himself was not present), a successful amphibious landing, and a serious mounted skirmish.  However two Victoria Crosses were awarded for gallantry and at the conclusion of the campaign the Mullah and his men were outside British territory, and so victory was declared.  This perhaps was politically necessary at the time but it was a somewhat premature declaration.

Right: A 7-pounder gun of the KAR Camel Battery

Initial Organisation of the British forces under General Egerton

The previous commander, Brigadier W.H. Manning CB, the Inspector-General of the King’s African Rifles (KAR), was retained in theatre as commander of the 1st Brigade that contained:

-1st KAR from British Central Africa (BCA), now Malawi (360 African Askari - half a battalion).
-2nd KAR also from BCA (600 African Askari and Sikhs – a full battalion).
The BCA Indian Contingent (110 Indian riflemen employed by the BCA government).
-3rd KAR from British East Africa, now Kenya (one company of 100 Sudanese riflemen).
-5 th  KAR from Uganda (one company of 103 Indian riflemen in the employ of the Uganda government).

All the 1st Brigade units were already in theatre.

Brigadier General C.G.M. Fasken, Indian Army, commanded the 2nd Brigade that contained:

-1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment (a half-battalion of 300 British Army soldiers from Aden);
-27th Punjabis, Indian Army, (a complete battalion, five companies from India plus the three listed below);
-52nd Sikhs, Indian Army, (a complete battalion, formerly titled the 2nd Sikhs and already in theatre).

A Moveable Column was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel A. Wallace, 27th Punjabis, containing three companies of his 27th Punjabis and two companies of the 107th Pioneers, Indian Army, (already in theatre).

The Line of Communication was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel J.C. Swann who had under him his own 101st Grenadiers, Indian Army, (formerly the 1st Bombay Grenadiers - the half-battalion from Aden came to join the other half that was already in theatre); and the 6th KAR, a Somali battalion commanded by Major A.G.G Sharp, Leinster Regiment.

The artillery units did not change, but the two 2.5-inch guns of the section of the 28th (Lahore) Mountain Battery (Indian Army) were replaced by two 7-pounder guns, and the section handed-in its mule transport and was re-equipped with camels and purpose-made gun cradles and saddles sent from India.  The KAR Camel Battery of two 7-pounder guns remained in the field manned by Indian gunners from the BCA contingent. Other similar guns of the Camel Battery were positioned in posts along the Lines of Communication.  To allow rapid deployment when action was imminent all the mobile guns could be pulled in draught (and the mountain gunners retained 7 mules for this task, as their camels could be unsteady under fire).  Lieutenant H.E. Henderson, Royal Artillery (RA), commanded the mountain guns and Lieutenant J.A. Ballard, Royal Field Artillery, commanded the Camel Battery.

The most noticeable reinforcement for General Egerton was Mounted Infantry (MI).  One British MI company (King’s Royal Rifle Corps) was already in the field and two more British MI companies and two Indian Army MI companies arrived from India, whilst a second Somali MI company was formed, the 6th (Somali) KAR camelry being disbanded in order to provide the horsemen.  The numbering and composition of these companies was:

-1st Company, British, from The King’s Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC) and commanded by Captain G.C. Shakerley, KRRC.  This experienced company had arrived earlier from the South African War theatre.
-2nd Company, British, mobilised at Fategarh, India, from the Rifle Brigade, Norfolk and Green Howard regiments.  Commanded by Captain M.G.E. Bell, Rifle Brigade.
-3rd Company, British, mainly consisting of officers and men who had just completed a MI course at Bangalore, India.  Commanded by Brevet-Major J.R.M. Marsh, Lincoln Regiment.
-4th Company, Somali, commanded by Captain T.N.S.M. Howard, West Yorkshire Regiment and 4th KAR.
-5th Company, Somali, Commanded by Major P.B. Osborn DSO, Oxfordshire Light Infantry and 3rd KAR.
-6th Company, Poona Mounted Infantry, six detachments of sepoys from Indian infantry regiments.  Commanded by Captain W. Mitchell, 124th Baluchistan Infantry, Indian Army.
-7th Company, Umballa Mounted Infantry, eight detachments of sepoys from Indian infantry regiments.  Commanded by Captain H.B. Ford, 31st Punjabis, Indian Army.

The 1st to the 5th Companies were placed in I (MI) Corps commanded by Lieutenant Colonel P.A. Kenna VC DSO, 21st Lancers.  The 6th and 7th Companies were placed in II (MI) Corps commanded initially by Brevet Major J.E. Gough (his VC was not yet gazetted), Rifle Brigade, and later by Major R.G. Brooke, 7th Hussars.

The Bikaner Camel Corps of 500 mounted infantrymen from the Princely State of Bikaner in India remained in the field, commanded by Captain W.G. Walker VC, 1st Battalion 4th Goorkha Rifles.  This excellent unit used the Silladar system whereby the men brought their own camels or purchased them by instalments from a regimental fund.  The bulk of these men were Rahtor Rajputs with a few other Rajputs, Sikhs and Kaimkhani Mohamedans; all the men were recruited in Bikaner territory and there was keen competition to join the unit.

Above: The Sudanese company of 3rd KAR

Mounted and Foot Levies

Two Somali units were raised to be used as levies, the strength of each was 500 horsemen and 50 dismounted men.  Their training did not approach the MI standard but they could perform useful roles on ground that they knew.  These two units were The Tribal Horse, recruited from the Dolbahanta, Ba Idris, Habr Unis and Midgan tribes and commanded by Major G.T.M. Bridges, RA, and The Gadabursi Horse, recruited almost entirely from Gadabursi men and commanded by Major Honourable J.G.H.H. Beresford, 7th Hussars.

A foot levy of 280 men was also raised from the Musa Aboukr tribe.  This force was commanded by Brevet Lieutenant Colonel C.J. Mellis VC, 101st Grenadiers, and was employed on protection duties within and around its tribal area.

Three hundred and fifty Somali mounted scouts named Illalos were recruited to be the eyes and ears of the British Intelligence Department.

Other units and logistical resources sent to Somaliland

New engineer resources included the greater part of the 19th Company, Bombay Sappers & Miners, commanded by Captain W.H. Chaldecott, Royal Engineers (RE), that came from the Aden hinterland to join its detachment already in-country under Lieutenant A.L. Paris RE; the 17th Company of that corps was already in theatre under Captain W. Bovet RE.  Also Major E.P. Johnson, RE, brought an Engineer Field Park (specialist stores) from the Madras Sappers & Miners.  General Egerton concentrated the efforts of his sappers on the development of water supplies and the supervision of road construction.  Major R.F. Allen, RE, commanded all RE units. 

The 107th Pioneers, commanded by Colonel P.T.H. Aplin, was in theatre and apart from the two companies on the Moveable Column was employed on road construction and maintenance, concentrating on the section running up to and over the Sheikh Pass.  The Pioneers were assisted by labour details from Indian regiments.

No 1 Telegraph Section was already in theatre but for the Fourth Campaign it was reinforced to a total strength of 3 officers and 108 men; the personnel were Royal Engineers.  The Section held 600 kilometres of airline, 320 kilometres of cable, and 8 vibrator and 3 sounder offices plus spares.  Captain G.B. Roberts, RE, commanded the Section.

Above: Askari gathering fuel for cooking at a camp site

The high mortality rate of transport camels had been a major logistical problem on previous campaigns, and before General Egerton arrived 2,843 camels organised into four Silladar Camel Corps were sent from India, and 700 Arab camels arrived that had been purchased in Aden.  Indian camels could carry much more load but could not last as long without water as Somali camels did.  Somalis on the whole were unwilling to part with good camels, as the beasts represented wealth, and so Indian camels had to be imported to meet the military transport requirements; these Indian camels adapted and in the words of one senior British officer “saved the day”.  In October a hired Camel Corps of 972 camels arrived from Baluchistan, but these beasts were from cold regions and were long-haired, and unsuitable for work in Somaliland.  Just over 5,000 camels were employed during the campaign and just over 3,000 of them were to die in service. 

Numbers 15 and 22 Companies, Army Service Corps, with 80 buck wagons, 4 water carts and 900 mules came from South Africa with their Cape Boy (mixed-race) drivers, and 100 camel carts arrived from India.  For light transport 1,000 ponies and a similar number of ekka (pony) carts came from the Indian Punjab.  Neither the big buck waggons nor the light pony carts were a success.  Hundreds more mules were sent from South Africa and India.  Lieutenant Colonel W.R. Yeilding CIE DSO, Indian Army, was the Director of Supply and Transport.

The main Base and port at Berbera was equipped with a tramway and rolling stock and a 500-man labour corps was sent as a port workforce from Rawalpindi, India, whilst a 200-man labour corps came from Aden.  The Indian labourers proved to be of little use on port duties and were employed on well sinking, telegraph line work, grass cutting and as mule attendants.  Many of the Indians were unfit to labour, and it appeared that at Rawalpindi younger fitter men had obtained the vacancies and then sold their identities to older and less fit men.  Water supply plant was shipped from England and was installed with satisfactory results at the various posts on the line of communication.  Major E.M. Woodward, Leicestershire Regiment, was the Base Commandant. When delivering supplies forward to the troops General Egerton favoured the convoy system whereby a convoy went straight through from Base to the required location, and as stores were not transhipped there was less wastage and pilferage.  But unloaded convoys returning to base spent many unproductive days on the road, and could cause congestion around the available water when halting at a post for the night, especially when that post contained a loaded up-country convoy that was also over-nighting there.  Lieutenant Colonel Eric Swayne, Indian Army, military commander of the first two expeditions, had always preferred the staging system as it was less expensive in transport animals and more easily manageable.  A convoy practicing staging would only take stores forward to the next staging post; there it would unload them and return empty to its own post and load for the next stage forward.  In the end the Fourth Campaign used a mixture of convoying and staging.

To continue to page 2 go HERE