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The EK1

The Final Campaign against the “Mad Mullah”

A continuation to the article BRITISH SOMALILAND March 1915 – October 1919, Minor Operations against the ‘Mad Mullah’

British Somaliland in 1919

With the Great War over a period of financial austerity was applied to British military operations around the world, however in British Somaliland the ‘Mad Mullah’ (Sayyid Muhammad Abdullah Hassan) and his followers were still at large raiding tribes under the protection of the British administration.  A final solution to this problem had to be found quickly. 

Major General Sir A.R. Hoskins CMG KCB DSO returned (1) to Berbera in 1919 to reconnoitre and plan a military campaign that would finally eliminate the Mullah who was then residing in his massive fort complex at Tale.  Major H.L. Ismay, the Intelligence Officer of the Somaliland Camel Corps (SCC), attempted to convince the General that Dervishism was on the wane as the Mullah only retained around 1,000 effective fighting followers, and that victory could quickly be achieved with only a small addition to the existing British garrison in the Protectorate.  However the General was a cautious man and doubtless he did not wish to advocate another minor expedition that could fail like all the previous efforts.

General Hoskins moved to London and proposed a military operation involving around 5,000 British troops supported by six warships, three Royal Air Force (RAF) squadrons and howitzer artillery; the neighbouring Italians and Abyssinians were to be invited to take part.  The size and cost of such an expedition was unacceptable to the British government, and alternative forms of action were required.  Advice was sought from the Chief of Air Staff, Sir Hugh Trenchard KCB DSO, who after making an appreciation stated that the RAF could achieve the military result required on its own, and very economically.  At this time Trenchard was looking for ways of keeping the RAF in an independent continuing role and out of the hands of the other two services who would have liked to dismember it and incorporate the pieces into the Army and the Royal Navy.  After deliberation the politicians agreed with Trenchard’s proposal and it was confirmed that a RAF operation would commence in British Somaliland as soon as possible, directed from the Air Ministry in London.  

‘Z’ Unit, Royal Air Force

A new RAF unit was formed titled ‘Z’ Unit; it was led by Group Captain Robert Gordon DSO and the flying component was twelve DeHavilland DH9 aircraft operated and supported by 36 officers and 183 airmen.  Due to the lack of resources in British Somaliland ‘Z’ Unit was designed to be totally self-sufficient.  Fuel was shipped to Berbera along with transport consisting of two Crossley Tenders, ten Ford vans, two motorcycles, a workshop trailer, two Trailers Mark 1A and two water trailers.

Gordon led an Advance Party to the Protectorate arriving on 25th October 1919.  He reconnoitred for a main base at Las Khorai, rejecting that location because of unpleasant beach landings through the surf combined with the inclement weather conditions; however an emergency landing strip was prepared at Las Khorai.   Berbera was selected as the main base and Eil dur Elan as the advance base.   The main body of ‘Z’ Unit and the disassembled and crated aircraft arrived at Berbera on 30 December 1919 aboard HMS Ark Royal.  Cranes, lighters and dhows were used to move the crates and stores ashore and from there they were moved onto a newly prepared air strip where the aircraft could be assembled.  All aircraft had been assembled and airtested by 19th January 1920 – a magnificent effort on the part of ‘Z’ Unit and its locally-hired employees.

Right: illaloe scouts

The campaign plan

The land forces to be involved in the campaign, but only when ordered to act by the Air Ministry, were:

A’ Force – 3 Camel Companies and 2 Pony Companies of the Camel Corps; and 1½ companies of the 101st Grenadiers, Indian Army, who were garrisoning the Protectorate.  There were also 300 illaloe scouts and a signals detachment with a camel-borne portable wireless set.  The role of the 101st Grenadiers was to provide security on airstrips and supply dumps.  ‘A’ Force was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel H.L. Ismay (21st Prince Albert Victor’s Own Cavalry (Frontier Force) (Daly’s Horse), Indian Army and Somaliland Camel Corps).

‘B’ Force – A composite King’s African Rifles (KAR) battalion consisting of three companies (recruited from the Tanganyika coast, the Kavirondo tribe, and Ugandan tribes) of 6th KAR (2), plus No. 2 Company from 2nd KAR, recruited in Nyasaland.  A group of 63 illaloe scouts was attached to the Force.  ‘B’ Force was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel J.S. Wilkinson DSO MC (Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Regiment) commanding 6 KAR. 

Tribal Levies – 3,000 Somalis from friendly tribes were raised to hold various posts on the Mullah’s anticipated line of retreat from Tale, and to intercept Dervish fugitives and stock.  During the waiting period whilst the RAF arrived and assembled their aircraft the levies had to be reduced to 1,500 men ‘owing to the difficulty in maintaining and controlling in comparative idleness a large force of these nomadic professional looters’, as the history of the Camel Corps aptly puts it.  Captain Allan Gibb DCM, a former SCC officer and now an employee in the Protectorate civil administration, commanded the Tribal Levies.  The Second-in-Command of the Tribal Levies was the famous Somali soldier Risaldar-Major Haji Musa Farah ISO (3), late SCC.

The Royal Navy also had a land role.  Seamen from HMS Odin and HMS Clio were to land a party on the coast between Las Khorai and Ankhor to the west, and then to march inland to attack, capture and destroy the Dervish fort at Galbaridur.  The party was supported by illaloes and gun-coolies recruited in Berbera and trained to drag a field gun.  Captain G.G.P. Hewett, Royal Navy, Captain of HMS Odin, commanded this naval force.

Transport –
42 companies each containing 120 burden camels were recruited in the Protectorate to support the military operations, and a motorable road was improved from Berbera towards Las Dureh, two-thirds of the way to El Dur Elan where an airstrip and supply dump were prepared.  .

The Air Ministry plan was that Force ‘A’ and six aircraft were to occupy El Dur Elan whilst Force ‘B’ landed at Las Khorai and moved inland up the escarpment to a fort at Musha Aled built by the Indian Army garrison.  The campaign was to be conducted in two phases.  During Phase 1 ‘A’ Force would advance to El Afweina and sit tight whilst ‘Z’ Unit bombed the Dervish forts.  ‘B’ Force was to advance on and attack Baran Fort during Phase 1.  Once the Air Ministry considered that the RAF had achieved what it could independently then Phase 2 would commence, the other land and naval forces would move and ‘Z’ Unit would support them whilst continuing the bombing and machine-gunning of forts and opportunity targets.

This plan was simple but not to the liking of the Camel Corps who considered that the ‘sit tight’ order stopped it from moving forward into suitable positions to apprehend and kill dervishes fleeing from air attacks.  The Air Ministry ordered the ‘sit tight’ rule to maintain secrecy about the impending air attacks, but as for some time the Berbera shop keepers had been asking the RAF personnel “When are the aeroplanes coming?” it is unlikely that the Mullah did not know about British aggressive intentions.  However he had no knowledge whatsoever about aeroplanes and the threat that they represented.  During this time the Mullah had moved his retinue, stock and 1,000 fighters up from Tale to Medishe, 20 kilometres north-west of Jid Ali; the reason for this move was that the now-reduced number of Dervishes could not prevent raids by Mijertein tribesmen on their stock in the open countryside of the Tale district.  The Camel Corps was pleased with this move as it took the Mullah further away from his usual place of sanctuary in Italian territory, and the British plan was amended accordingly.

Operations commence – Phase 1

On 21st January Phase 1 began when six planes flew from Eil Dur Elan to bomb Medishe.  But flying over the rugged Somali terrain was a new navigational experience for the aircrew and only one plane arrived at and bombed Medishe.  The Mullah and his men came out into the open to watch this new strange machine in the sky and one of the bombs narrowly missed the Mullah, singeing his clothing and killing his uncle.  This plane dropped eight 20-pound bombs and fired two full panniers of Lewis gun ammunition.  Of the other five planes, one had engine problems and made an emergency landing at Las Khorai (4) whilst the remaining four came across Jid Ali and bombed the fort there.

On the following morning four planes flew to attack Medishe but one returned with engine problems whilst the remaining three could not find their target because of low cloud so they attacked Jid Ali again, dropping two 112-pound bombs on the fort and their remaining 20-pound and incendiary bombs onto herds of stock.  In the afternoon two planes set out again for Medishe, one plane returned with mechanical problems but the other bombed the southern of three forts at Medishe and then machine-gunned Dervishes and stock.  Although very few bombs hit his forts and minimal damage was done, the Mullah now appreciated the threat and he moved with his family into a cave near Medishe.  Independent RAF operations continued up to 24th January when the pilots and observers could not find any Dervish herds to attack, and on Gordon’s advice the Air Ministry ordered Phase 2 of the campaign to start.

On the 24th January at 1000 hours another plane had to make a forced landing but this time in the interior.  The two crew members survived the landing and started walking the 65 kilometres to the coast, where the Royal Navy was looking out for them.  The airmen were only carrying revolvers, water bottles, a Verey pistol and some chocolate.  They slept in a cave and next morning found the spoor of lion and hyena outside.  On 25th January they arrived near the coast and fired Verey flares that were observed by the Navy who sent a whaler in through the surf to rescue them.

The attack on Baran Fort

‘B’ Force (6 KAR and 63 illaloes) advanced southwards on 21st January; the strength of 6 KAR was 24 British officers, 7 British senior ranks, 731 Askari, 4 Vickers medium machine guns, 16 Lewis light machine guns and 2 Stokes Mortars, these mortars were being used for the first time in the Protectorate.  Baran Fort was approached at noon on 22nd January by the 2 KAR company advancing in lines of platoons with the mortars in the centre and the medium machine guns on the flanks.  The fort had four 12-metre high corner towers connected by a wall nearly 4 metres high; the main entrance was surmounted by a small tower with a gallery.  Over 80 dervish riflemen defended this solidly constructed masonry fort, and they had plenty of well-sited loopholes to fire through.  A dervish sniper in one of the towers hit three Askari as they advanced.

The company halted and the KAR machine guns kept the defenders’ heads below the parapet whilst the mortars fired 320 rounds.  However many rounds failed to explode and the fire was inaccurate, only 6 rounds hitting the fort.  As dusk fell the KAR moved off to a camp that had been prepared with a zareba near a water hole whilst the illaloes observed the fort.  The next day two companies approached nearer to the fort by using a dry water-course and the mortars opened fire at a range of 250 metres with better results.  Twelve rounds hit the fort but did little damage and the defenders continued shouting insults and defiant words at their attackers.  The decision was then made to blow up one of the corner towers.

During the setting of the moon at 1945 hours Lieutenant G. Godfrey, Acting Quarter Master Sergeant H. Wood and four Askari, all from 6 KAR, crept up to the eastern tower whilst machine guns fired at the parapets and detonated 45 kilograms of gun cotton explosive.  In the darkness the results of the explosion could not be seen so the KAR returned to camp whilst the illaloes observed activities around the fort. 

Later Lieutenant George Godfrey (Special List) was awarded a Military Cross.  Askari 2625 Private Sekwa, 2644 Private Kahema Masanga and 2519 Yowana Musoke (5) were each awarded the African Distinguished Conduct Medal with the citation: For distinguished conduct in the field.  Number 305039 Corporal (Acting Quarter Master Serjeant) H. Wood (8th Battalion Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Regiment) was awarded the Imperial Distinguished Conduct Medal with the citation: For gallantry and devotion to duty on the 23rd January 1920, when during the second attack on the Baran forts he volunteered with the demolition party to lay and detonate charges.  He subsequently advanced over fire-swept ground and detonated the charges under the wall of an enemy fort, and showed admirable pluck in the performance of a dangerous operation.

At 0600 hours the next day Lieutenant J. Minnery reconnoitred with a platoon to check on the results of the explosion.  When he was about 250 metres from the fort he saw a dozen dervishes running out of the main gate and up to a much smaller nearby hill fort.  Lieutenant Minnery and his platoon rushed through the main gate and quickly occupied three of the corner towers without resistance.  A solitary sniper in the fourth tower continued to resist so Minnery and an Askari climbed up the ladder to kill the dervish.  Later Lieutenant John Minnery DCM MM (Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders) was awarded a Military Cross.  Askari 2159 Private Cholo bin Solo, 6 KAR (6), was awarded an African Distinguished Conduct Medal with the citation: During the final clearing of the forts at Baran, a dervish refusing to surrender remained in the top of the towers and defied all attempts to kill or capture him.  After Lieutenant Minnery had bombed the top of the tower from below and was about to climb the ladder to the top, Private Cholo Bin Solo mounted the ladder in front of the officer and climbing to the manhole, assisted in killing the dervish.  He showed a fine example of courage and devotion to duty

The remainder of No. 1 Company 6 KAR moved up into the fort and energetically dealt with anyone found alive whilst a platoon of No. 2 Company occupied the hill fort without opposition.  The corpses of 18 men and three women were identified in the main fort which was in a filthy condition and littered with animal carcases.  A wounded prisoner brought in by the illaloes stated that smallpox had broken out in the fort and that the Mullah had forbidden the defenders to make contact with the Medishe forts.  The demolition of the Baran forts was completed by 25th January and an aeroplane then dropped a message ordering Colonel Wilkinson to stand fast at Galgalla until the Mullah’s whereabouts were known.

On 31st January ‘B’ Force received orders to move to the Jid Ali area to round up dervish stock.  In early February an important find, both tactically and historically, was made in the Jid Ali area by No. 2 Company, 2KAR attached to 6KAR.  The diary of the company commander, Captain D. St. J. Clowes (Leinster Regiment) dated 7th February 1920 recorded: ‘Two machine guns and a bugle marked 2 KAR captured yesterday from 15 dervishes in a cave, only one tripod with guns: one gun a Maxim Nordenfeld, 1895, No. 5260, and the other Vickers, Sons & Maxim, No. 9358. Tripod belongs to the latter. Both converted .450 to .303. We believe one was taken from Swayne’s Sikhs at Erigo (7) in 1901, Bullet hit on feed block. It is very strange that we blew Last Post over the captured forts with this very bugle, and that a 2 KAR Company should return these trophies to the Regimental Headquarters at Tabora.’  Colonel Wilkinson and his men spent the next few weeks patrolling the north-eastern part of the Protectorate, demolishing Jid Ali Fort and several other smaller ones.

The Somaliland Camel Corps advance to Jid Ali and beyond

The commencement of Phase 2 of the campaign allowed ‘A’ Force to move on Jid Ali and it arrived there on 28th January.  The Camel Corps found the fort still occupied by dervishes and after a RAF bombing attack which induced some but not all of the defenders to leave the forts, ‘B’ Company SCC opened fire with mortars and machine guns.  Some mortar bombs penetrated inside the fort but those hitting the masonry did no damage.  As there was no breach in the walls the land forces commander, Colonel G.H. Summers (26th King George’s Own Light Cavalry, Indian Army) decided that an assault would be too costly and he broke off the action whilst more mortar bombs were brought forward. 

Whilst reconnoitring next morning Captain W.P. Lousada (Norfolk Regiment and Officer Commanding ‘A’ Company SCC) noticed that goats were wandering in and out of the open fort door.  Along with Major C.A.L. Howard DSO (32nd Lancers, Indian Army, attached to SCC) and two illaloes he rushed the entrance.  Lousada later described his reactions: ‘What a stench met our nostrils in the dark outer passage!  Filth of every description, and decaying animal carcases.  We dashed through the courtyard in which we found an old woman stone dead, and up into the main building by a narrow staircase onto the roof.  It was quite true, the fort had been evacuated some time during the night; no doubt the terrifying Stokes shell detonations had been too much for the nerves of the defenders, who left us to a bloodless victory.  Many rifles (8) but not much else was found in the fort, with the
exception of one very small boy who had somehow been left behind.  He was quite unhurt and I later handed him over to my Colour Sergeant, Jama Hersi (9), as our only prisoner.’  

On 30th January a dervish prisoner stated that the Mullah had left his cave near Medishe and had quickly moved south, making for Tale; the Camel Corps at once left Jid Ali in pursuit.  The tracks of the Mullah’s party were found and Ismay followed them whilst Summers returned to El Afweina to organise the round-up of the dervish herds of stock.  During Summers’ operations the African Distinguished Conduct Medal was awarded to No. 372 Private Medeh Yusuf (10): For conspicuous dash and contempt of danger in hunting down the enemy at Bihen on 11th February.

Left: Camel Corps Bugler

The capture of Galbaribur Fort by the Royal Navy

On 5th February the Naval force landed at Sanak from HMS Odin and HMS Clio.  Captain Hewett’s command consisted of 8 officers, 91 Petty Officers, non-commissioned officers and seamen, 28 illaloes and 112 Somalis recruited to be gun coolies and transport drivers.  Weapons carried were 104 rifles, 3 Lewis guns, 2 medium machine guns and one 12-pounder 4-cwt naval field gun.  Full equipment plus 120 rounds of ammunition was carried along with an emergency ration of a quarter kilogram each of dates and biscuits.  White naval uniforms had been stained khaki by coffee or Condy’s fluid (11).  Rations for four days, reserve ammunition, blankets and one day’s supply of water (12)were packed in 27-kilogram donkey-loads.

After considerable confusion caused by the donkey drivers loading as little as possible onto their own donkeys, discipline was restored in a determined manner and the seamen marched off in a square formation, with the illaloes ahead and on either flank at about 5,000 metres distance.  After a march of about 30 minutes, when the party was well away from the beach, the square halted for the night; there were no thorn trees to make a zareba but machine guns were placed at each corner, sentries posted, alarm posts and a main guard designated, and each man lay on his blanket facing outwards.  The illaloes halted in their marching positions.    The donkeys were unloaded and tethered inside the square, hot food was prepared and water was boiled for the next day’s ration.  This routine was a training exercise for the seamen who were still protected by the ships’ guns offshore.  During the night an illaloe patrol confirmed that dervishes were manning Galbaribur Fort.

At 0400 hours the square ‘stood-to’ with each man alert and prepared for a dervish attack, and when dawn had fully arrived breakfast was eaten, donkeys were loaded and the square resumed its march across a stony plain.  After a couple of hours the route dropped down into a sandy ‘Tug’ (dry river bed) where water could be sourced by digging.  The 31 gun-coolies had a hard time pulling the field gun on the sand but this problem had been predicted and caterpillar treads had been fitted around the gun wheels to assist movement on soft ground.  After a 3-hour bully-beef and biscuits lunch break during the hottest part of the day the march resumed, and in the late afternoon Galbaribur Fort was sighted.  Smoke surrounded the fort as the dervishes cleared their fields of fire by burning their surrounding huts.  The RAF had bombed the fort but ineffectually.

Above: HMS Odin

The square halted under some trees about 700 metres from the fort, where a few pools of scum-covered water appeared on the Tug floor.  A guard was immediately put over the cleanest pool to preserve it as a drinking source.  Cut thorn trees were on the ground ready to be used by the dervishes as walls for cattle enclosures, and they were used to make a zareba around the square.  Evening routine was established and during the night illaloes crept up to the fort to fire through loopholes and exchange threats with the dervishes.  An officer and 6 seamen with a Lewis gun occupied high ground 140 metres from the fort; from this location the fort roof could be swept by fire and movement out of the main entrance could be halted.  However the defenders remained inside blowing conch shells in defiance.

Above: The assault on Galbaribur Fort

After breakfast whilst the men cleaned and prepared weapons Captain Hewett gave his orders to the officers and Petty Officers and at 0725 hours a bugler sounded the Advance.  The men advanced in extended line, with machine guns on the flanks, until the field gun was in a suitable position to engage the loopholes in the upper storey of the fort with High Explosive (HE) shells.  Fire from Lewis guns protected the movements of the gun crew.  Forty seven rounds were fired in an hour and the effects of the shells led to a crumbling of the upper walls with the falling debris masking the lower loopholes on that side of the fort.  But the fort could still not be entered without scaling ladders which the force did not possess.  Captain Hewett ordered a return to the zareba whilst more gun ammunition was sent up; machine gun teams prevented the defenders from making repairs to the damaged wall.

The force had established a heliograph link from a hill above the zareba to a hill above the shore and more ammunition was ordered from the ships; meanwhile eight donkeys with an Illaloe escort went back to the shore.  The donkey convoy returned at 0300 hours next morning bringing solid practice projectiles as well as more HE shells.  The action resumed after dawn and the practice projectiles drilled themselves into the masonry of the fort making it easier for the HE shells to crumble the walls.  At 0920 hours the storming party advanced, covered by fire from the Lewis gun on the hillside, and scrambled into the breach and quickly climbed up onto the roof.  From the roof the visible defenders in the courtyard could be engaged with rifle fire and grenades but some dervishes were still resisting 30 minutes later.

Above: The naval field gun used at Galbaribur

The field gun was brought forward to fire at the courtyard wall which was 170 centimetres thick.  At this point some women and children came out with a dervish who surrendered, this man said that more women and children were inside.  The force interpreter shouted to the defenders to send the women and children out but the reply was shots that hit two illaloes.  The naval party resumed fire with all weapons and a man with a rifle ran out and tried to escape, but he was shot down after covering 50 metres; he was identified as the fort commander.  Nine more rounds from the field gun breached the courtyard wall and the illaloes ran inside and killed the remaining dervish men.  Twenty women and children were taken prisoner and 15 dervish corpses were removed from the fort; around 40 animal carcases were in the fort along with a dozen sheep and goats that were unharmed but were removed to become fresh rations for the force.

Examination showed that the fort had been extremely soundly built by the Mullah’s Yemeni masons, and later in the afternoon gun cotton explosive was used to reduce the structure to rubble.  After gorging themselves on meat that evening the Somalis entertained the soldiers with an energetic traditional dance, whilst the enemy corpses awaited the attention of hyena and jackal.  After stand-to next morning the naval force packed up and returned to the beach for embarkation; illaloes escorted the dervish women and children on foot the 110 kilometres to Las Khorei.  The naval force had not suffered any fatal casualties.    

The pursuit of the Mullah

Ismay and his Camel Corps companies pursued the Mullah southwards and on 9th February one of the Mullah’s many sons rode into Ismay’s camp at Gaolo to advise that his father was at Tale, 20 kilometres further eastwards, but that he was on the point of leaving.  Ismay hastened towards Tale and during a night contact with dervishes No. 223 Sergeant Abokir Mohamed, Somaliland Camel Corps, was awarded an African Distinguished Conduct Medal (13): For great coolness and judgement when in command of a night patrol.  His patrol came under fire from both the enemy and ourselves, but he carried out his mission and brought back a very clear report and prisoners.

Left: Tale Main Fort

Gibb’s Tribal Levies joined Ismay’s force and they urged their mounts towards Tale which was subject to random bombing raids by the RAF (14).  Ismay’s force reached Tale at night with most of the mounts needing rest, watering and feeding; additionally most of the European officers were suffering from vomiting and violent diarrhoea due to the insanitary water holes that had to be used.  The Tribal Levies had achieved an important success near Tale, capturing 1400 dervish camels, 450 cows, 50 ponies, 51 rifles, 2,000 rounds of ammunition and 300 camel loads of supplies.

Ismay continued the pursuit with 150 of the fittest men and mounts and his advance patrol came across a dervish picquet who stated that a large number of men, women and children were resting in a dry watercourse a couple of kilometres ahead.  Ismay gave his orders and later recorded: ‘The general lassitude disappeared; the men became animated and cheerful; even the camels entered into the spirit of the hunt and increased their pace perceptibly.  When we reached the banks of the watercourse there was a scene of wild confusion, women and children screaming blue murder and riflemen firing in all directions.  The latter had been specially charged by the Mullah with the protection of his wives and children, and they died fighting.  The women and children were providentially unharmed and were soon being given titbits, and even an occasional cup of very weak tea, by my starving men.  There is a rough chivalry among soldiers the world over.’

The next day another contact with an enemy group resulted in the deaths of most of the dervish men and the capture of the Mullah’s favourite wife.  Scouts reported tracks in the sand of one horseman and a dozen foot-men with two camels, and Ismay, hoping that this party was the Mullah’s, followed with 20 of his pony-men, the only men now left that could move faster than a walk.  After two hours of pursuit the enemy group was cornered and most of the men in it were killed, but the dead horseman proved to have been an important Abyssinian from the Mullah’s retinue with his personal escort.  Although the Mullah could not have been far ahead Ismay, sick at heart, was forced to abandon the chase as his exhausted and malnourished men and mounts could not proceed further and in fact his mounts were so worn out that they had to be led back to Gaolo.  The SCC history expresses regret that the Tribal Levies took no interest in pursuing the Mullah and doubtless the abandoned herds of dervish stock were pre-occupying the Levies.  The Mullah had escaped yet again.  

Above: The Taleh Forts

During these violent fights three African Distinguished Conduct Medals were won by members of the Somaliland Camel Corps.  No. 27 Sergeant Mohamed Jama’s citation read: For conspicuous dash and skill in command of a handful of Ponymen at Gerrowei on 12th February and for contempt of danger and relentless determination in the pursuit from that place.  No. 633 Private Abdi Ali’s citation stated: For outstanding dash and contempt of danger in the action of Gerrowei on 12th February.   The citation for No. 370 Lance Corporal Dualeh Mohammed (15) read: For conspicuous dash and contempt of danger in reconnaissance and great determination in pursuit.

Three Indian Army sepoys on attachment to the Somaliland Camel Corps: Jemadar (Local Subadar) Burhan Ali Khan, 59th Scinde Rifles (Frontier Force); Jemadar Firoz Khan, 56th Punjabi Rifles; and No. 271 Havildar Firoz Khan, 54th Sikhs (Frontier Force) were awarded the Indian Distinguished Service Medal for acts of gallantry performed during the pursuit operations but citations were not published.  No. 1 Colour Sergeant Jama Hersi, Somaliland Camel Corps, was awarded an African Distinguished Conduct Medal for gallant actions in 1919 and 1920 but also for his behaviour over a six year period: For fine leadership in the presence of the enemy on all occasions.  This non-commissioned officer set a magnificent example of devotion to duty, as he has in every action during the past six years.  

The final days of the Mullah

Although Dervishism was defeated in British Somaliland, and the Mullah’s army destroyed and most of his family retinue captured, Sayyid Muhammad Abdullah Hassan remained alive.  But he did not survive for very long.  With a small band of faithful followers he moved into Abyssinian territory and stayed at Galadi before moving further west; there he was reluctantly visited by a deputation of important Somali Sheikhs sponsored by the Governor of British Somaliland, Geoffrey Archer.  The deputation was tasked with brokering an agreement between the Mullah and the British, but the nervous Sheikhs could make no progress when they found that the Mullah was not a reasonable human being but a deranged wandering figure who refused to enter into meaningful discussions. 

The Mullah then moved to Imi in the upper length of the Webbi Shebeli hoping to receive support from the Abyssinian authorities, but they rejected him.  Here at the age of 64 the Mullah had his final battle, not against an armed foe, but against the great influenza epidemic that was sweeping around the world.  As the history of the King’s African Rifles states: ‘It was apparently of this disease that on 23rd November 1920, the ‘Mad Mullah’ died.  His death brought peace to a territory continually harried by every species of villainy for more than twenty years.’ 

Today the Mullah is a revered historical figure in Somalia, his many depraved acts of violent cruelty towards his own people having been air-brushed out of public consciousness, and he is commemorated with a statue in Mogadishu.  From a military perspective he justly deserves respect for being a ruthless and determined commander who waged the longest effective insurgency campaign in British colonial history.

Above: RAF casualty evacuation mission

The role of the Royal Air Force in the 1920 British Somaliland Campaign

For the Air Ministry in London the 1920 British Somaliland campaign was a victory; in less than a month the service appeared to have achieved everything that it had stated could be achieved.  Sir Hugh Trenchard succeeded in his aim of keeping the RAF independent and it was soon tasked with suppressing insurgency in Iraq, formerly Turkish Mesopotamia. But in his Memoirs Lord Ismay commented that independent air action made a very slender contribution to the campaign.  Without intelligence supplied by land forces, gained over many years of ground fighting, the RAF would have lacked worthwhile targets.  Even so although initial bombing runs had a shock effect, the dervishes soon realised that most bombs missed their targets, and those that hit stone forts did little damage.  Whilst the Mullah moved into caves to avoid bombs he never ran away until the Somaliland Camel Corps arrived on the scene.  The dervishes were finally evicted from their forts by the attacks of the land forces and the Royal Navy force at Galbaribur, and the British casualties sustained during these land operations were negligible.

By 1920 the Mullah’s authority was waning and the majority of tribes in the Protectorate were ready to fight him at an opportune time.  Probably the greatest threat that the RAF posed to the average dervish was its ability to decimate his herds of stock with bombs, incendiaries and machine gun fire – that was a real threat that was hitting at personal wealth.  But it would be churlish to detract from the organisational ability of the RAF and the bravery of its aircrew (16); fortunately for them none were brought down over enemy territory where they could have been subject to the Mullah’s personal brand of hospitality!

Right: The Imperial Service Order

Other gallantry awards for the 1920 campaign

Gallantry awards not already mentioned in this article were:

The Distinguished Service Order

Captain Allan Gibb DCM, Tribal Levy late Somaliland Camel Corps.
Temporary Lieutenant Colonel Hastings Lionel Ismay, 21st Cavalry, Indian Army and Somaliland Camel Corps.
Major Arthur Salisbury Lawrance, Reserve of Officers, late Somaliland Camel Corps.

A Bar to the Military Cross

Captain John Walter Hornby MC, 12th Lancers and Somaliland Camel Corps.

The Military Cross

Temporary Lieutenant James Beattie, General List and Somaliland Camel Corps.
Temporary Major Charles Alfred Lowray Howard DSO, 32nd Lancers, Indian Army and Somaliland Camel Corps.

Awards to the Royal Navy

The only two that can be identified are Mentions in Dispatches to Surgeon Commander E. Cameron, Royal Navy and to Captain G.G.P. Hewett, Royal Navy.

Awards to the Royal Air Force

Over 40 awards to RAF personnel are published in the London Gazette Supplement dated 12 July 1920, Number 31974, pages 7421 - 7424.

Campaign Medal

The African General Service Medal with clasp SOMALILAND 1920 was awarded to those personnel who served during the campaign in the sphere of operations, which was declared to be that portion of the Protectorate lying east of a line drawn due south through Ankor on the coast to the southern border of the Protectorate.

(1)  A former Inspector General of the King’s African Rifles, General Hoskins had served in British Somaliland during the 1902-1903 campaign as Deputy-Assistant Adjutant-General, Lines of Communication, with the rank of Major.  He commanded the Damot garrison and received a Mention in Despatches.

(2) This was not the old 6KAR raised in British Somaliland but a new 6KAR raised during the Great War German East Africa campaign.

(3) Imperial Service Order, awarded for long and meritorious public service within the British Empire

(4) The aircrew survived the landing and were accommodated by the garrison of the 101st Grenadiers at Las Khorei until HMS Bulwark arrived to salvage the aeroplane.

(5) Yowana Musoke was initially recommended for the award of a Military Medal but this was upgraded to the African Distinguished Conduct Medal.

(6) Both Moyse-Bartlett and Shorthouse name the fourth Askari as Sergeant Saa Nane, but this name does not appear in the awards list.

(7) The machine guns were captured by the Dervishes at Erego in 1902 and Gumburu in 1903.

(8) 76 rifles and 2 corpses were found in the fort.

(9) Note the award of the African Distinguished Conduct Medal to Jama Hersi later in the text.

(10) Medeh Yusuf was initially recommended for the award of a Military Medal but this was upgraded to the African Distinguished Conduct Medal.

(11) Potassium Permanganate, a common household disinfectant.

(12) One day’s water ration was 2.84 litres per seaman for all purposes.

(13) Abokir Mohamed was initially recommended for the award of a Military Medal but this was upgraded to the African Distinguished Conduct Medal.

(14) In Phase 2 of the campaign it must be assumed that the local Land Forces Commander, Colonel Summers, tasked the RAF with reconnaissance, attack, message dropping and casualty evacuation missions, and when not thus employed the aeroplanes patrolled and engaged opportunity targets.

(15) Abdi Ali and Dualeh Mohamed were both initially recommended for the award of a Military Medal but this was upgraded to the African Distinguished Conduct Medal.

(16) A very comprehensive account of the RAF operation is given in the Cross & Cockade journal article listed below in SOURCES.

SOURCES: (The most economical publishings are listed)

Digest of History of Somaliland Camel Corps, King’s African Rifles.  (The National Archives, reference WO 106/272).

‘I will descend upon them unawares’. Z Unit, RAF, British Somaliland 1919-1920. Article by Ian Burns in Cross & Cockade International Journal Volume 38, Number 2, 2007.

RAF Operations 1918-1938 by Chaz Bowyer. (William Kimber, London 1988).

Smashing the Mullah, the Navy’s part - II.  Article on page 627 of The Naval Review, Volume IX, Number 4, dated November 1921.  Available here:

Sport and Adventure in Africa by Captain W.T. Shorthose DSO. (Seeley, Service & Co. Limited, London 1923).

The African D.C.M. compiled by John Arnold. (Orders and Medals Research Society 1998).

The Indian Distinguished Service Medal compiled by Rana Chhina. (InvictaIndia 2001).

The Mad Mullah of Somaliland by Douglas Jardine OBE. Available here:

The King’s African Rifles by Lieutenant Colonel H. Moyse-Bartlett MBE MA PhD. (Naval & Military Press reprint).

The London Gazette Supplements dated 1st November 1920, Number 32107, page 10589; dated 8th November 1920, Number 32116, page 10829; dated 29 November 1920 1920, Number 32142, page 11777; and dated 12 July 1920, Number 31974, page 7421.

The Memoirs of Lord Ismay by General The Lord Ismay KG PC GCB CH DSO. (Heinemann 1960).

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