The King’s African Rifles
in the Third Campaign against the ‘Mad Mullah’
inconclusive 1901 First and 1902 Second Somaliland Expeditions locally-raised
troops had vastly outnumbered the Indian Sepoys and British Central African
Askari that also participated. However
after the battle of Erego during the Second Expedition the mystic influence of
the ‘Mad Mullah’, Sayyid Muhammed Abdullah Hassan, had demoralized the Somalis
in British service. It was now decided
to mount a new campaign against the Dervish leader but this time the majority
of the British troops would come from outside Somaliland.
Colonel Eric Swayne, Indian Army and the British field commander in Somaliland,
was invalided and recalled to London
for discussions. On 4th
November 1902 Brigadier General W.H. Manning, Inspector General of the King’s
African Rifles (KAR), was appointed to command the Third Expedition and he
immediately concentrated at Berbera as many KAR sub-units as he could obtain
from Central and East Africa. Manning
did not wish to use more than a few Somali troops as he was extremely doubtful
of their reliability.
Above: 1 KAR Askari from the Atonga tribe with Sikh instructor1902
King’s African Rifles and associated units
mobilized for the Third Expedition
Central Africa (later named Nyasaland and now named Malawi) came:
-Local Lieutenant Colonel E.C.
Margesson (South Wales Borderers) with 7 officers and 360 Askari of 1 KAR. -Captain H.E. Olivey (Suffolk
Regiment) with 6 officers and 302 Askari of 2 KAR. They joined up
with Local Lieutenant Colonel A.W.V. Plunkett (Manchester Regiment) who
was already on the ground, having brought 5 officers, 1 warrant officer, 2
Sikhs and 308 Askari of his 2nd KAR to participate in the
-Captain C. Godfrey DSO (26th
Bombay Infantry) and 52 Sikhs of the British
Central Africa Indian Contingent (volunteers from the Indian Army who
were in the employ of the British Central Africa (BCA) government). They joined the 60 BCA Sikhs who had
been sent to Somaliland during the Second
British East Africa (now named Kenya) sent 2 officers and 100 Sudanese
Askari from 3 KAR.
Uganda sent 1 officer and 103 rifles from 5 KAR (a unit of Sikhs recruited for military
service in Uganda).
From Somalis Manning formed:
four garrison companies of levies each
100 men strong. 150 levy infantrymen for detachment
duties in the interior. 150 mounted infantry on ponies. 50 infantrymen on camels.
The mounted infantry and camelry were designed to
be the nucleus of the 6 KAR. (It had
been hoped that the camelry would number 150 men, but suitable recruits were
The two-gun 7-pounder Somali camel battery, despite
its excellent service during the Second Expedition, was now manned by 21 Sikhs
from the BCA Indian Contingent and was re-titled as the KAR Camel Battery.
Above: Somaliland Map
Other British troops provided for the Third
convinced that KAR African Askari were the best troops to use in the Somaliland interior because of their marching abilities
and easy-to-manage administrative requirements.
However he also accepted other units and sub-units.
The Indian Army
sent to Somaliland:
The 2nd Sikhs commanded by Lieutenant Colonel C.G.M.
Fasken. 150 men of the Punjab Mounted Infantry with their
mounts. Three companies of the 1stBombay Grenadiers from Aden. A Supply and Transport officer and staff also from Aden. Centre Section (two 2.5-inch
jointed guns) of the Lahore
Mountain Battery. 17th Company completeplus a detachment from 19th
Sappers and Miners. 7th Bombay
men). 58, 65
and 69Native Field Hospitals, and one Section of 15British Field Hospital. Also from India
the 2nd Bombay
Grenadiers and 400 men of the 23rd
Bombay Rifles were sent to Aden as a reserve.
The Maharajah of Bikaner, an Indian Princely
State, sent 200 rifles of
the Bikaner Camel Corps complete with camels and
commanded by Major W.G. Walker (4th Gurkha Rifles). These men were to prove both adept and
reliable at scouting duties.
The British forces in South Africa sent a British Mounted InfantryCompany (141 men) from the 4th
Bn The King’s Royal Rifle Corps, commanded by Captain G.C. Shakerley, and a
Boer Mounted Infantry Company, the Somaliland
Burgher Corps (100 men) commanded by Captain W. Bonham DSO. The men brought their own horses and 50%
spares for remounts. They were
accompanied by a further 400 ponies and 400 mules with saddlery.
From England a FieldTelegraph Section,
Royal Engineers was sent which later laid a line south eastwards from
Berbera to Damot.
A Royal Navy Marconi (wireless telegraphy)
detachment was deployed inland but was withdrawn after disappointing results.
Stores despatched to Somaliland included 2,400
water tanks, 7,300 metres of barbed wire in 91-metre legths, 500 buckets for
drawing water from wells, 4,500 metres of rope, canvas watering troughs,
portable pumps, canvas water bags for the troops, light axes and sets of
Above: Bikaner Camel Corps in Somaliland.
The British plan
were believed to be grouped around Mudug in Italian
Somaliland. Starting from
both ends and working inwards Manning planned to establish a line of posts from
Berbera running southeastwards to an Italian port on the Indian
Ocean coast. These posts were
intended to control the wells that the Mullah’s followers and their vast herds
would have to use if they moved eastwards.
Menelik of Abyssinia agreed to deploy troops to the south of British territory
to block any escape that the Mullah and his dervishes might mount, whilst the
Italian government agreed to British deployments inside Italian
Somaliland. Having thus
contained the Dervish force the British troops would then attack and destroy it,
seizing the flocks and herds which were the focal points of the dissident
tribes’ existence. Unfortunately Manning
did not possess Eric Swayne’s intimate knowledge of Somaliland’s
inhabitants, terrain, and climatic conditions.
Finally the War Office in London
was to control operations.
reinforcements from British Central Africa
reached Berbera by the end of November 1902, as did the 150 men of the Punjab
Mounted Infantry. A half company of 1st
Bombay Grenadiers from Aden
was sent inland to strengthen the Somali levy garrisons at Hargeisa and Burao. Plunkett’s 2 KAR was sent to Garrero to be
used as a flying column against the enemy when it was time to attack. Godfrey and his 112 Sikhs from British
Central Africa were divided between the
garrisons at Garrero and Bohotle and the KAR Camel Battery.
After a joint
British – Italian naval reconnaissance along the east coast Obbia was selected
as a base port. The son of Yusuf Ali, the
Sultan of Obbia, stated that up to 6,000 camels and drivers could be made
available for transport duties, and 300 local mounted scouts could be recruited. On 19th December Manning received
orders from London
to move to Obbia with his 1, 3, and 5 KAR companies and the Punjab Mounted
Infantry. The SS Haidari was hired from Aden
for the voyage and besides the troops and mounts she carried ammunition, stores
and rations for six months. After a four-day voyage 1 KAR began
disembarking through the surf on 26th December and started to build
a breakwater. All stores were landed by
the 2nd January 1903. Major
P.A. Kenna VC DSO, 21st Lancers, was initially appointed to command
the combatants at Obbia; later he commanded the mounted troops. Local Lieutenant Colonel G.T. Forestier
Walker, Royal Field Artillery, was Manning’s Chief Staff Officer.
mountain gunners, Sappers and Miners and the Bikaner Camel Corps that were
coming from India sailed
directly to Obbia, as did the mounted infantry from South Africa. When all the men had disembarked Manning had
a column numbering 2,296 combatant troops encamped a kilometer inland from
Obbia, and over 2,000 more men based there permanently on logistical duties.
difficulties emerged as Sultan Yusuf Ali and his son obviously did not rate the
British chances of success too highly, and they began to obstruct British
interests. Manning needed 3,500 camels
but by mid-January only four had been obtained, the Sultan having instructed
his subjects to only deal with the British through himself. By the end of January the British had 150
camels, but it was obvious that firm action was needed and so an Italian
warship deported Yusuf Ali and his son through Aden
to Eritrea. This action resulted in more purchasing
opportunities for Manning’s transport officers but even so the local Somalis
were not keen to co-operate and many camel drivers deserted soon after being
hired. 1,000 camels were shipped around
the coast from Berbera, but they had to be retained aboard until a heavy monsoon
swell subsided at Obbia, and this event later resulted in a high mortality rate
amongst the animals.
Local Lieutenant Colonel A.S. Cobbe DSO (32nd Sikh Pioneers) arrived
to take over command of the three 1 KAR companies from Margesson who reverted
from his local rank and remained with the unit. Manning ordered Cobbe to take a
strong column inland to reconnoitre the route towards Galkayu. Cobbe did this, cleaning out wells along the
route. The column advanced in square at
all times and was not allowed to pile arms.
Cobbe returned to Obbia on 21st February with 400 camels that
he had obtained from the Hawiyya tribe around El Hur. The following day Manning paraded the Obbia
Force to witness the presentation of a Victoria Cross to Cobbe, awarded for
conspicuous bravery displayed at the fighting at Erigo in the Second Campaign. The medal had been sent with an accompanying
letter from Field Marshall Lord Roberts.
parade Manning took a flying column of his most mobile troops out and seized
the wells at Galkayu without a fight, building a strong zareba (fortification
of thorn trees) there. A second slower
column commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Fasken joined Manning on 24th
March. Cobbe was then sent out to link
up with Plunkett who was now at Damot.
Manning now had in place his continuous line of posts stretching from
Berbera to Obbia. Manning appears to have disliked the mule
transport of the Lahore Mountain Battery, preferring to send the KAR Camel
Battery out with mobile columns.
Searching for the route to Wardair
concentrated his force by ordering Plunkett to join him from Damot with ‘A’,
‘C’ and ‘F’ Companies of 2 KAR, 50 Somali Mounted Infantry of 6 KAR, the KAR
Camel Battery and a thousand transport animals.
Plunkett’s men and animals made a hard march of 170 kilometres over
waterless terrain in four days. A
typical rifleman’s load was: rifle and bayonet, 100 rounds of ammunition,
canvas water bag, water bottle, one day’s ordinary rations, one day’s emergency
rations, axe or digging tool, cape or blanket, and personal items, all in a
haversack and pouches.
News arrived of
the Dervish herds being seen between Dudub and Galadi and so Manning marched to
Galadi, arriving there on 31st March. Water, the biggest logistical problem for the
British troops, was found in quantity at Galadi.
Both Cobbe and
Plunkett now took out columns and successfully raided Dervish herds around
Gumburu. Believing that the Mullah’s
main force was at Walwal and Wardair Manning hoped to strike a decisive blow,
and he ordered Cobbe and Plunkett to make a strong reconnaissance towards those
two wells from Galadi. Cobbe was in charge
of this detachment which finally totalled:
5 officers and 116 Askari of 1 KAR. 10 officers, 1 warrant officer and
253 Askari of 2 KAR. 1 officer and 10 mounted infantry
of 6 KAR. 1 officer and 50 sepoys of 5 KAR. 2 officers and 21 British mounted
infantry. 1 officer and 22 Burgher mounted
infantry. 2 guns of the KAR Camel Battery. 4 Maxim guns and 380 transport
problem was a navigational one in the thick bush as local guides proved to be
unreliable. Contact was made with enemy
horsemen on 14th April and the firing stampeded some of the British
transport animals. Luckily a heavy
thunder-storm broke during the next day which allowed the animals to water from
pools near Gumburu, but Dervish horsemen were seen hovering around the flanks
of the British troops.
On the morning
of 16th April Cobbe sent out two patrols, each a half-company
strong, to the west and south-west to search for water. The patrol commanders were Captains H.H. de
B. Morris (East Kent Regiment) and C.E. Luard (Norfolk Regiment). A mounted infantry patrol went north to
search for the route to Wardair. Morris
was soon in contact with Dervishes to his front and Luard’s patrol was also
heard firing. Another half-company and a
mounted infantry detachment under Captain Shakerley marched to support Luard.
In the fighting
that followed Lieutenant C.E.Chichester (Right) 6 KAR (Somersetshire Light Infantry) was
killed and Burgher Hill and two Somali mounted
infantrymen of 6 KAR were wounded. Rifleman
No. 2556 Joseph Miller, King’s Royal Rifle Corps, was later awarded a
Distinguished Conduct Medal after Captain Shakerley had reported:
On 16th April 1903 I was in command of
the mounted patrol sent out from the column.
We came in contact with some mounted dervishes, and were eventually
surrounded by several hundreds. Rifleman J. Miller was standing close to me, and
heard me say I was going to send a message to Officer Commanding Column; he
immediately volunteered to carry the message.
He succeeded in getting through the enemy’s lines at great risk, and
delivered the letter to Officer Commanding Column.
patrols withdrew back to Cobbe’s position at Gumburu, and a message was sent to
Manning requesting him to march to Gumburu where a battle appeared imminent. That afternoon Captain H.C. Vesey and 48
sepoys of 2nd Sikhs reached Cobbe having escorted a water convoy.
The battle of Gumburu
morning, 17th April, Cobbe sent out two more reconnaissance patrols
whilst he waited for Manning to arrive.
Captain H.A. Walker (Royal Fusiliers) took a half-company of 1 KAR to a
hill 2.5 kilometres to the south-west.
Captain H.E. Olivey (Left) took ‘C’ Company 2 KAR five kilometers to the
west. Olivey left before dawn and made
good progress but had no contacts and started to withdraw. At 0805 hours he sent a message back to Cobbe
stating that enemy foot and horsemen were now advancing upon ‘C’ Company and
that reinforcements were needed.
Plunkett out in support with ‘A’ Company 2 KAR, 5 men from 1 KAR, the water convoy
escort of 48 sepoys from 2nd Sikhs and two Maxim guns. Captain Vesey had requested that his 2nd
Sikhs party be included. The Maxims were
loaded and an extra 50 rounds per rifleman were issued to the KAR Askari only,
the Sikhs carried the standard issue of 100 rounds. Plunkett departed at 0915 hours. Two British mounted infantrymen from the 4th
Battalion KRRC accompanied Plunkett, as did a Medical Officer from the Indian
Medical Service and a Hospital Assistant from 5 KAR. Just before he left
Plunkett saw another message from Olivey to Cobbe stating that he was 2.5
kilometres out and not in contact.
Cobbe’s orders to Plunkett were to recover ‘C’ Company and bring it
back. Neither Plunkett nor any of the officers
with him were ever seen again.
patrol and strengthened his zareba. Firing
was then faintly heard from a distance, and Somali scouts went out to
reconnoitre. A scout returned with
Plunkett’s guide, who was wounded, across his saddle. The guide reported that Plunkett’s force had
been cut up. Cobbe did not have
sufficient men with him to leave the zareba, so he entrenched and strengthened
it. Wounded Askari from 2 KAR then
trickled in, assisted by the mounted infantry.