Somaliland after the Shimber Berris actions
February 1915 saw the successful British
demolition of the Mullah’s forts at Shimber Berris and the raising of morale
amongst the Somaliland Camel Corps and the irregular Illaloes who both patrolled
the interior to protect friendly tribes from the Dervishes. The Mullah’s men withdrew from the Ain Valley
back to Tale and Jidale, establishing a few forward blockhouses to protect
their grazing grounds. The British
concentrated on keeping the western end of the protectorate free for the use of
friendly tribes whilst confining the Dervishes to the eastern end.
However British plans for another campaign
were thwarted by the general situation in the region, as Turkish forces from
Yemen had entered British-controlled territory north of Aden and occupied
Lahej. This resulted in London banning
offensive action in Somaliland, as with the Great War developing into new
theatres such as Mesopotamia there was no possibility of more troops being
available for operations in Somaliland.
The British troops in the Protectorate in March 1915 were:
Camel Corps (SCC) – 500 mounted Somalis. § Indian
Army Contingent attached to the SCC – 400 Punjabi and Hindustani Muslim Sepoys
of whom 150 were mounted. These soldiers
volunteered to serve on three-year deployments in Somaliland before returning
to their Indian Army regiments. § Indian
Army temporary garrison troops – 400 Sepoys sent from India or an adjacent
theatre of war. § Irregular
Illaloes – 320 Somalis who were not uniformed but who wore a distinctive red
and yellow pagri in their head-dress.
They were armed with a mixture of .303-inch and .450-inch carbines and
rifles plus French Le Gras rifles. § Two
12-pounder field guns manned by Sepoys. § As
they became available wireless sets were located at Berbera and the Field
Headquarters at Burao, and a portable wagon set was located at Las Dureh.
The mounted troops consisted of one Indian
and two Somali Camel Companies and 1 Somali Pony Company concentrated at Ber
and Burao; the Sepoys garrisoned Las Khorai, Las Dureh, Burao, Berbera and
Hargeisa. The Illaloes manned tribal
posts and scouted for signs of Dervish raids.
Although the British troops were on the defensive, with their weaponry
and offensive patrolling tactics they usually established moral superiority
over the Mullah’s men whenever fighting occurred.
British activity for the remainder of 1915
was characterised by long fast SCC mounted deployments that demonstrated to the
Dervishes that raiding into the western part of the Protectorate was becoming
hazardous. In April the Pony Company
commanded by Captain J. Kingdon, 86th Carnatic Infantry, Indian Army,
pursued raiders for 200 kilometres in 40 hours without a replenishment of
water. Two months later the British
commander in Somaliland, Lieutenant Colonel T. Astley Cubitt CMG DSO, Royal
Field Artillery, took the SCC mounted troops to El Afweina to reconnoitre a
Dervish route from Jidali; at Las Adey a mounted Dervish party was engaged
until it broke away back towards Jidali.
In August Colonel Cubitt patrolled to Bohotleh, and after returning to
Garrero he traversed the Ain Valley to Badwein; three enemy parties were
engaged by the Illaloes and in each case were defeated with loss. This patrol covered 500 kilometres before its
return to Burao via Shimber Berris.
Above: Watering a camel on the march
In July the situation in Aden became
difficult and the Aden Field Force requested that the Indian mounted company
and one infantry company of the Indian Army Contingent SCC, along with the two
12-pounder field guns, move to Berbera in anticipation of embarkation for
Aden. The necessary preparations were
made but the request was later cancelled.
In January 1916 Colonel Cubitt left the
Protectorate, handing over command of the troops to Brevet Major (Temporary
Lieutenant Colonel) G.H. Summers, 26th Cavalry, Indian Army. Captain H.L. Ismay, 21st Cavalry, Indian
Army, took over Summers’ old post of Staff Officer and Intelligence Officer. The Intelligence Officer was responsible for employing
and tasking the Illaloes.
Dervish attack on Las Khorai
The Sultan of the Warsangli tribe lived on
the coast in Dervish-controlled territory at Las Khorai. Usually he intrigued with the Mullah whilst
offering to work with the British, but in early 1916 greed got the better of
judgement and he made a successful raid on Dervish stock. Retribution swiftly followed and on 6th
May around 2,000 of the Mullah’s men attacked Las Khorai, seizing the western
part of the town and killing 300 Warsanglis, mainly women and children.
The Sultan and his followers in the eastern
forts held out for four days, killing over 90 Dervish attackers, whilst a dhow
sailed with a lucky following wind to Aden to request help. RIMS (1) Northbrook under Commander L. Turton, Royal Navy, was swiftly despatched to
Las Khorai, arriving on 10th May.
On sighting the ship the Dervishes broke off their action and withdrew
westwards and then south towards the pass leading over the hills to
Jidali. Commander Turton observed and
followed the enemy withdrawal along the coast, firing lyddite explosive shells
from his six 4.7-inch guns until the Dervishes were out of sight. Later 171 corpses were counted at the
entrance to the pass. Whilst returning to
their own territory the Dervishes vented their spleen on a large group of Musa
Aboker tribesmen who had wandered out of the protected western area to graze
their herds at Bur Dolandol. The Musa
Abokir lost many men and camels and the survivors fled westwards.
On returning to Las Khorai the sailors
found that 39 Warsangli had been killed and over 60 wounded. The wounded had not been treated in any way
and most of their wounds were now gangrenous.
The ship’s surgeon, Doctor McCowen, worked intensely for several hours
and most of the casualties survived thanks to his surgery and the strong constitutions
of the Warsangli.
It was decided to maintain a permanent
British garrison at Las Khorai as the Indian Army temporary garrison troops had
been reduced to 150 rifles of the 73rd Carnatic Infantry who were all based in
Berbera. Two hundred Sikh soldiers and two machine guns from 58th
Vaughan’s Rifles, Indian Army, under Major R.W. de Waller, 108th
Infantry, Indian Army attached to 58th Vaughan’s Rifles, were
despatched to Las Khorai from Egypt (2). The Sikhs stayed there for nine months before
handing over to 150 men from the 5th Light Infantry, Indian Army,
who were sent from East Africa. However
the coastal conditions were not healthy for the Sepoys and the majority of the
detachment moved to a fort that was constructed in the hills to overlook the
pass that led inland.
Above: 'A' Company SCC machine gun in action
In April Lieutenant Colonel Summers was
patrolling with the mounted troops and at Anaibo he received news that a
Dervish force led by leader named Amir was near Durdur Dulbeit, preparing for a
large-scale raid. Colonel Summers led
his column through very heavily flooded country to Daba Dalol where Dervish
horsemen were observed galloping off towards El Afweina. An immediate reconnaissance of El Afweina
found it deserted as Amir had abandoned his raid on sighting the SCC column and
the Dervishes had dispersed back to Tale and Jidali. The SCC column needed grain for its animals
and withdrew to its advanced supply dump at Las Adey and then back to Las Dureh
and Burao; this patrol had covered 540 kilometres and whilst there had been no
fighting the aim of keeping Dervish raiders out of the western half of the
Protectorate had been achieved.
At the end of May No. 168 Lance Corporal
Osman Hersi, Somaliland Camel Corps, commanded a patrol that encountered
raiders and his conduct on that day resulted in the award of an African Distinguished Conduct Medal with
the citation: “(He) showed judgement,
coolness and gallantry when in pursuit of a Dervish raiding party on 30th
During 1917 a German Mission was discovered
operating in the Danakil region of Ethiopia adjacent to French Somaliland, and
the Djibouti authorities requested British and Italian assistance in capturing
it. A composite SCC camel company with
one pony troop was organised, but the French later cancelled the combined
operation and handled the matter themselves.
During 1917 several friendly tribes
realised that the strength and influence of the Mullah, whose health and
obesity was by then so bad that he had to be lifted onto his horse by six men (3),
was still dangerous but was declining and they were prepared to fight his
raiding parties without surrendering ground.
These tribes were supplied with ammunition by the Protectorate
administration. The SCC Pony Company
tended to be the first to make contact with raiders closely supported by the
Camel Companies, Illaloes and friendly tribesmen. More often than not Amir was the leader or
organiser of the raiding parties, but the SCC tactics ensured that even if the
raiders captured stock they would be swiftly pursued before they could herd the
slow-moving animals back to Tale and Jidali.
Desertions increased from the Mullah’s force often because of the
cruelty that he imposed on raiders who returned to Tale without bringing in sufficient
stolen stock. Meanwhile the friendly
tribes in the protected area were happily making money by selling burden camels
that were constantly in demand for the Egyptian Expeditionary Force.
In September a very successful raid was
made on Dervish stock by friendly Dolbahanta acting without SCC support. The
Dolbahanta successfully attacked a Bagheri Dervish grazing ground 320
kilometres south of Bohotle and despite taking casualties removed 1,600 camels
and 1,000 head of cattle. During the
same month a far less successful raid was made by 1,200 Warsangli, 700 of them
being riflemen, who attacked Dervish grazing grounds in the Surud area; a
strong Dervish group killed or wounded 120 Warsangli who withdrew with only 300
head of cattle.
Left: A zareba holding stock
The action at the Endow
The major confrontation in 1917 was an
action that culminated at the Endow Pass; it saw Dervish raiders get away with
herds of stolen stock but it also saw them abandon rifles on the battlefield -
a very unusual occurrence. In late
August the Dervish leader Hussein Yusuf, known as Agararan, began raiding for
camels from the Habr Toljaala, Musa Abokir and Omer people who were grazing
herds near the foot of the Duberrin range of hills, and 200 camels were taken. The nearby Dongerrah Illaloe post was too
weak to intervene but an Illaloe officer named Jemadar Ali Abokir gathered some
friendly tribesmen and, knowing that the SCC mounted troops were too far away
to intervene, he attacked Agararan’s men near Hadla on 12th
September. Ali Abokir had been sniping
the withdrawing Dervishes at close range throughout the previous night. The fight was one-sided as the Dervishes
nearly surrounded Ali Abokir’s men, but the Illaloes and friendlies withdrew in
good order after killing around 40 of their enemies for the loss of 15 men
killed and three severely wounded.
Agararin did not pursue but concentrated on getting his stolen stock to
El Afweida where the animals could be secured and watered.
On 5th October Agararin struck
again, attacking Musa Abokir herdsmen south-east of Las Dureh and stealing 300
camels and 7,000 sheep and goats. A
column consisting of all the fit SCC mounted troops was quickly put together
under the command of Major G.R. Breading DSO, Worcestershire Regiment. Moving via the Ok Pass the column reached Eil
Dur Elan on the morning of 8th October. Leaving there those camels that were tiring,
Breading pushed on with 150 pony riflemen, 100 camel riflemen and five machine
There were only two passes that Agorarin
could now use to withdraw the stolen stock, and Captain H.L. Ismay was sent
ahead with the pony riflemen and two machine guns. Ismay reached the passes at 0800 hours to find
that the stock had passed through and that Dervishes were picqueting the high
ground and occupying suitable caves to prevent a rapid British pursuit. Ismay sent Illaloes to contain the enemy at
the western Aglub Pass whilst he attacked the Dervish picquets and cave
positions above the Endow Pass, making maximum use of his machine guns. Breading and the camel riflemen arrived an
hour later with the other three machine guns.
Agagorin sent back reinforcements for his
picquets but the firepower of the machine guns was too much for the Dervishes
to withstand despite the high ground that they occupied, and by early afternoon
the SCC had pushed the picquets back 1,600 metres. However Agagorin’s tactic had worked and his
stolen herds were now too far away for a successful British pursuit. Breading was carrying only two more days’
rations for his men and his animals and his nearest supplies were over 200
kilometres away; he broke off the action having killed around 70 Dervishes for
the loss of one officer, Lieutenant A.W. Back, Pembroke Yeomanry, and nine men
wounded. In one small area of the
battlefield 32 Dervish dead and 18 rifles were found, showing both how deadly
the British machine gun fire was and how demoralised the Dervish survivors on
that position were to have left precious rifles behind. Whilst the SCC withdrew some Illaloes and
friendly tribesmen did carefully pursue the Dervishes and were able to recover
straggling stock. On this operation the
Pony Company had marched 450 kilometres in seven days without serious loss of
The following gallantry awards were made
after the action at Endow Pass:
Brevet Promotion to the rank of Major:
Captain H.L. Ismay, 21st Prince
Albert Victor’s Own Cavalry (Frontier Force) (Daly’s Horse).
The African Distinguished Conduct
No. 60 Sergeant Hassan Omar, Somaliland
Camel Corps – “For leading his men to
crown a height with great determination and holding his ground in difficult
circumstances until reinforced.”
No. 186 Lance Corporal Dualeh Mohamed,
Somaliland Camel Corps – “Took a machine
gun and team to crown one of the heights. It was largely owing to his personal
exertion and example that this effort was successful." (4)
Mentioned in Despatches
(all Somaliland Camel Corps):
No. 126 Sergeant Hurreh Deria; No. 91 Sergeant Awaleh Hersi; No. 106 Lance Corporal Ibrahim Elmi; Interpreters Farah Ali and Adan Mohammed.
Activity in 1918
The rains had been poor in 1917 and this
extended into 1918; the result was that there was little good grazing in the
Protectorate. The SCC established
special grazing camps to keep their animals fit, and remounts had to be ordered
from Egypt – a reversal of the burden camel situation. This reduced the numbers of men available for
operations and patrols. The Dervishes
now raided successfully from Jidali but themselves became tied to certain
locations where they could graze their increased herds. The extensive Dervish fort-building programme
led to a further decline in the former nomadic life style as more forts were
completed and occupied. Seven forts
ringed the main one at Tale, five others were at Jidali, two were on the coast
and individual forts were at Las Anod, Dariali, Damot, Galadi and Wardair;
these latter five protected the raiders’ withdrawal route to the Webi Shabelle.
Eventually in 1918 this led to a
reversal of the former tactical situation as the Dervishes were now protecting
fixed locations whilst the SCC counter-raided them to recover stolen stock.
Soon after the Armistice of November 1918 a
mission under Major General A.R. Hoskins CMG DSO visited Somaliland to prepare
a report on and propose a solution to the Dervish problem. General Hoskins consulted with the SCC
officers who had been on the ground for the previous four years and with a SCC
mounted escort of 200 rifles visited Badwein to study the approach to the Nogal
Valley; he also visited Las Khorai to see the Warsangli situation. The SCC officers advised that a swift
offensive with limited numbers could destroy the Mullah’s forts and thereby his
forces and his influence, but General Hoskins was reluctant to propose a
campaign that could go wrong and require reinforcements to rescue it. The General departed in February 1919 but his
proposed plan of campaign required so large a force that the British
government, alarmed by the cost, put it in the pending tray for the time
In November 1918 the 5th Light
Infantry temporary garrison had been replaced in Somaliland by two companies of
the 101st Grenadiers, Indian Army.
The Grenadiers manned posts at Berbera, Las Khorai and Hargeisa; a post
at Haleya had been moved to Hargeisa on account of lack of water.
action at the Ok Pass
Although the Mullah’s personal influence
was on the decline other younger leaders were appearing from the Dervish ranks
and there was little chance of dervishism dying out of its own accord. In late February 1919 the notorious Nur
Hashi, accompanied by Ibrahim Bogol and the Mullah’s nephew Mehemet Abdu Rehmnn,
mounted a large and successful raid on the tribes grazing south of Las Dureh;
700 Dervishes were in the field and 500 of them carried rifles.
Illaloes picked up some of the raiders’
tracks and from Burao Major C.A.L. Howard, 32nd Lancers, Indian
Army, speedily led the Indian Camel Company commanded by Captain F.H.
Worlledge, 26th Cavalry, Indian Army, and ‘A’ Camel Company SCC under
Lieutenant J.W. Watts, Hampshire Regiment, to Negegr Spur. There he was joined from Ber by ‘B’ Camel
Company under Lieutenant E.N. Park MC, Border Regiment, and ‘C’ Pony Company
under Captain R.F. Simons, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. Howard had a force of 8 officers, 372 rifles,
6 maxim machine guns and one Lewis light machine gun under his command.
A definite sighting of the raiders was made
at Rujuna. Howard took the camel
companies to a supply dump at Eil Dur Elan so that he would not run short of
food and grain as Breading had done after the Endow Pass action, whilst Simons
built a thorn zareba at the head of the Ok Pass. At first light on 1st March a
heavy fire was opened on the west corner of ‘C’ Company’s zareba followed by a
Dervish charge that was beaten back by rifle fire. Almost simultaneously similar heavy fire and
a charge was made on the east corner, and here the Lewis gun was very effective
at shooting down attackers. Shortly afterwards
a third attack was made on the south corner but this also was defeated by rifle
fire. Each attack was a series of
fanatical rushes, and around 400 Dervishes were involved.
The Dervishes then occupied a hillock to
the north-west until they were shot off it.
Then Illalloes reported an enemy concentration in the bush near the
south-west of the zareba and Simons’ men opened rapid fire into the area which
resulted in Dervishes fleeing without taking the wounded or their discarded
rifles. Questioning of wounded prisoners
revealed that the Dervishes had thought, perhaps because of disinformation from
an old lady nearby, that the zareba only held stock and a few tribal
guards. The Dervishes moving in the bush
to the south-west had been waiting to seize the tribal stock once the riflemen
had killed the zareba guards. Simons
then occupied the hillock and sent out two troops on patrol under Lieutenant
W.R. Haymes, Indian Army Reserve of Officers.
Simons had lost 2 men, 3 camels and a pony killed and 3 men and 2 ponies
wounded. The Dervishes had lost 63 men
and 6 ponies killed, 3 men taken prisoner with 24 rifles and 12 bandoliers
captured; many other wounded Dervishes had walked or crawled away.
Simons sent his news to Howard who realised
that the Dervishes were unaware of the Camel Companies in the field; Howard
marched towards Ok Pass whilst Simons carefully followed up the raiders before
withdrawing from the field and riding to water at Elal. The Dervishes shouted derisively at the Pony
Company’s withdrawal, thinking that the British were pulling out of the fight. Meanwhile Howard approached Boboliheh and
occupied a concealed reverse slope position where the Dervishes and their stock
would debouch from the pass. The Indian
Company was sited in an ambush position with the machine guns whilst the two
Somali Camel Companies were warned to be ready to ride. Illaloes moved forward to prevent the
Dervishes from quickly exiting the ambush area.
At noon the next day Illaloes positioned on
a hill observed the Dervishes and their stolen herds begin to leave the pass
and move towards the ambushers, and an hour later the Indian Company moved onto
the crest of the ridge that had concealed it and opened fire. The machine guns immediately began to empty
enemy pony saddles and cause confusion, despite brave efforts by the Dervish leaders
to rally their men. Howard ordered the
Camel Companies to mount and advance and they trotted forward for 30 minutes
engaging the enemy until the Dervishes broke, panicked and fled away from the
stolen stock, some of them discarding clothing and weapons in their haste to
The Camel Companies pursued the escaping
Dervishes for a couple of hours until the ground became too broken. Howard’s command then re-formed and moved to
water at Rujuna, staying there for the night whilst Illaloe patrols reported no
signs of Dervishes in the area; none of the camel companies reported casualties
but it is likely that light wounds were ignored by some of the Somali riflemen
who did not wish to leave their companies.
Another 36 rifles were later found on the battlefield, but friendly
tribesmen had homed in immediately after the battle to finish off wounded
Dervishes and seize their weapons and bandoliers. It was estimated that at least 200 Dervishes
had been killed or wounded in the ambush; carnivorous animals also later
scoured the area and accounted for any concealed wounded Dervishes that they
Above: A Sepoy in the Indian Camel Company
The Ok Pass action was the biggest defeat
of a Dervish force since Jidbali in 1904, and the following gallantry awards
To be a Companion of the Distinguished
Service Order (DSO)
Captain (Temporary Major) C.A.L. Howard, 32nd
Lancers, Indian Army.
Captain R.F. Simons (5),
Loyal North Lancashire Regiment.
Indian Distinguished Service Medal
No. 4030 Naik (Corporal) Najib Khan, 129th
Duke of Connaught’s Own Baluchis, attached to Somaliland Camel Corps.
African Distinguished Service Medal (both
Somali Camel Corps)
No. 9 Colour Sergeant Gabodi Ali and No.
151 Lance Corporal Mohamed Rageh, both with the citation: ‘For service in the field, more particularly at the action at the Ok
Pass (March 1919).’ Mention in Despatches
(all Somali Camel Corps)
No. 126 Sergeant Hurreh Deria; No. 91
Sergeant Alawa Hersi; and No. 106 Lance Corporal Ibrahim Elmi.
After the Ok Pass ambush some of the
Dervishes were reluctant to go home and face the Mullah’s bestial wrath. After licking their wounds they mounted a
successful raid in mid-April on friendly tribes near the coast west of Ankhor. Major H.L Ismay pursued the raiders with a
mounted column but bad terrain, extreme heat necessitating the leading of
mounts, and extremely poor and brackish or sulphurated water pools slowed him
down. Eventually he abandoned the
pursuit when his supply situation required replenishment from a dump at El
Darad brought in by sea. This column
covered 580 kilometres and completed one of the most arduous marches made by
the Somali Camel Corps.
And so in mid-1919 the Mullah and his
warriors continued to operate aggressively from the perceived security of their
several fortified locations in the eastern half of the Protectorate. But nemesis was literally in the air and
imminent, as the Dervishes were about to be confronted by a weapon of modern war
that they had never encountered and could not defend themselves against.
SOURCES: (The most economical publishings
Despatch dated 30th April 1920
published in The London Gazette of 4th March 1921, pages 1790 to
of History of Somaliland Camel Corps, King’s African Rifles. (The National Archives, reference WO
Outpost of Empire in Somaliland. Chapter XVII in The Navy Everywhere by Conrad Cato.
Available here: https://archive.org/details/navyeverywhere00cato The
Mad Mullah of Somaliland by Douglas Jardine OBE.
Available here: https://archive.org/details/TheMadMullahOfSomaliland The
King’s African Rifles by Lieutenant Colonel H.
Moyse-Bartlett MBE MA PhD. (Naval & Military Press reprint). The
Memoirs of Lord Ismay by General The Lord Ismay
KG PC GCB CH DSO. (Heinemann 1960).
1) Royal Indian Marine Ship 2) An article mentioning this
deployment can be seen here: http://www.kaiserscross.com/304501/511922.html 3) It is thought that the Mullah
suffered from a dietetic deficiency known as barasheh, common in Somaliland,
that resulted in severe burning pain in the extremities, weakening of the heart
and swelling in the legs, abdomen and shoulders. 4) Dualeh Mohamed never received his
medal as by the time it arrived in the Protectorate he had left the Somaliland
Camel Corps and was untraceable. 5) Regrettably Captain Richard
Frederick Simons MC died on 9th January 1920, aged 45, whilst on his way home
for leave in the UK. He is buried the
Commonwealth War Graves Commission Port Said War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt.