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March 1915 – October 1919

Minor Operations against the ‘Mad Mullah’



British 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:

§  Somaliland 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.

Actions in 1915

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.

The 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

Actions in 1917

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 May 1917.”

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 Pass

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 guns.

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 efficiency.

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 Medal:

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. 


Military 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 being.

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.


The 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 get away. 

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 scented.


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 were made:


To be a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order (DSO)

Captain (Temporary Major) C.A.L. Howard, 32nd Lancers, Indian Army.

Military Cross


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.


Conclusion

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.


(TO BE CONCLUDED) 

SOURCES: (The most economical publishings are listed)

Archer’s Despatch dated 30th April 1920 published in The London Gazette of 4th March 1921, pages 1790 to 1794.
Digest of History of Somaliland Camel Corps, King’s African Rifles.  (The National Archives, reference WO 106/272).
An 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.

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