Battle of Omdurman


Battle of Omdurman

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Omdurman
partof=the Mahdist War
(War of the Sudan)
campaign=


caption=The charge of the 21st Lancers.
date=2 September 1898
place=Omdurman, Khartoum, Sudan
casus=
territory=
result=Decisive Anglo-Egyptian Victory
combatant1=flagcountry|United Kingdom
flagcountry|Egypt|Ottoman
combatant2=Mahdist Sudan
commander1=Horatio Kitchener
commander2=Abdullah al-Taashi
strength1=8,200 British, 17,600 Sudanese and Egyptian soldiers
strength2=52,000 warriors
casualties1=47 dead [ [http://sudancampaign.blogspot.com/2005/11/omdurman-analysis-and-criticism.html The Road to Omdurman: Omdurman - Analysis and Criticism ] ]
340 wounded
casualties2=9,700 killed
13,000 wounded
5,000 captured
At the Battle of Omdurman (2 September 1898), an army commanded by the British General Sir Horatio Kitchener defeated the army of Abdullah al-Taashi, the successor to the self-proclaimed Mahdi Muhammad Ahmad. It was a demonstration of the superiority of a highly disciplined European led army equipped with modern rifles and artillery over tribesmen with older weapons and marked the success of British efforts to re-conquer the Sudan. However, it was not until the Battle of Umm Diwaykarat, a year later, that the final Mahdist forces were defeated.

Omdurman is today a suburb of Khartoum in central Sudan, with a population of some 1.5 million. The village of Omdurman was chosen in 1884 as the base of operations by the Mahdi, Muhammad Ahmad. After his death in 1885, following the successful siege of Khartoum, his successor ("Khalifa") Abdullah retained it as his capital.

Battle account

The battle took place at Kerreri, 11 km north of Omdurman. Kitchener commanded a force of 8,000 British regulars and a mixed force of 17,000 Sudanese and Egyptian soldiers. Kitchener arrayed his force in an arc around the village of Egeiga close to the bank of the Nile, where a gunboat flotilla waited in support, facing a wide flat plain with hills rising to the left and right. The British and Egyptian cavalry was placed on either flank.

The followers of al-Taashi, known as "Ansar" and sometimes referred to as "Dervishes", numbered around 50,000, including some 3,000 cavalry, was split into five groups; a force of 8,000 under Osman Azrak was arrayed directly opposite the British, in a shallow arc along a mile (1.6 km) of a low ridge leading onto the plain; the other Ansar forces were initially concealed from Kitchener's force. Abdullah al-Taashi and 17,000 men were concealed behind the Surgham hills to the west and rear of Osman Azrak's force, 20,000 more were positioned to the north-west close to the front behind the Kerreri hills, commanded by Ali-Wad-Helu and Sheikh ed-Din. A final group of around 8,000 were gathered on the slope at the right flank of Azrak's force.

The battle began in the early morning, at around 6 a.m. After the clashes of the previous day, the 8,000 men under Osman Azrak advanced straight at the waiting British, quickly followed by about 8,000 of those waiting to the north-west. It was a mixed force of riflemen and spearmen. The British artillery opened fire at around 2750 m and the Ansar forces were badly reduced before they even came into range of the Maxim guns and volley fire. The frontal attack ended quickly with around 4,000 Ansar casualties, none coming closer than 50 m to the British trenches. A flanking move from the Ansar right was also checked and there were untidy clashes on the opposite flank which scattered the Ansar forces there.

Kitchener was anxious to occupy Omdurman before the remaining Ansar forces could withdraw there and he directed the army to advance on Omdurman. The army was ordered into columns and began the advance. The British light cavalry regiment, the 21st Lancers, was sent ahead to clear the plain to the settlement. They had a tough time of it. The 400 strong regiment attacked what they thought to be a few hundred dervishes, but in fact were 2,500 infantry hidden behind these dervishes in a depression. After a fierce clash, the Lancers drove them back at some cost (three Victoria Crosses were awarded, for the loss of five officers, 65 men, and 120 horses), roughly one-fourth of their total manpower. On a larger scale, the British advance allowed the Khalifa to re-organize his forces. He still had over 30,000 men in the field and directed his main reserve to attack from the west while ordering the forces to the north-west to attack simultaneously over the Kerreri Hills.

Kitchener's force wheeled left in echelon to advance up Surgham ridge and then southwards. To protect the rear, a brigade of 3,000, mainly Sudanese and commanded by Hector MacDonald, was reinforced with Maxims and artillery and followed the main force at around 1350 m. Curiously, the supplies and wounded around Egeiga were left almost unprotected.

MacDonald was alerted to the presence of around 15,000 enemy troops moving towards him from the west, out from behind Surgham. He wheeled his force and lined them up to face the enemy charge. The Ansar infantry attacked in two prongs and MacDonald was forced to repeatedly re-order his battalions. The brigade maintained a punishing fire. Kitchener, now aware of the problem, "began to throw his brigades about as if they were companies". MacDonald's brigade was soon reinforced and the Ansar forces were forced back and finally broke or died where they stood. The Ansar forces to the north had regrouped too late and entered the clash only after the force in the central valley had been routed. They pressed Macdonald's Sudanese brigades hard, but the Lincolnshire Regiment was quickly brought up and with sustained section volleys repulsed the advance. A final desperate cavalry charge of around 500 men was utterly destroyed. The march on Omdurman was resumed at about 11:30.

Aftermath

Around 10,000 Ansar were killed, 13,000 were wounded, and 5,000 were taken prisoner. Kitchener's force lost 48 men with 382 wounded, the majority from MacDonald's command. The Khalifa escaped and survived until 1899, when he was killed in the Battle of Umm Diwaykarat.

Several days after the battle, Kitchener was sent to Fashoda, due to the developing Fashoda Incident.

Kitchener was ennobled as a baron, Kitchener of Khartoum, for his victory. Four Victoria Crosses were awarded, all to members of the 21st Lancers, as a result of this action: Second Lieutenant Raymond H.L.J. De Montmorency, Captain Paul A. Kenna, Nevill Smyth and Private Thomas Byrne. [LondonGazette |issue=27023 |date=1898-11-15 |startpage=6688 |endpage= |supp= |accessdate=2008-08-23]

Winston Churchill was present at the battle and he rode with the 21st Lancers. He published an account in 1899 as "", which is the basis for this article. Present as a war correspondent for the "Times" was Col. Frank Rhodes, brother of Cecil, who was shot and severely wounded in the right arm. For his services during that battle he was restored to the army active list.

The Battle of Omdurman has also lent its name to many streets in British cities, for example Omdurman Road in Southampton.

References

*, two-volume unabridged version, published by Longmans & Green in 1899, and abridged to one volume in 1902; unabridged two volume version to be republished by St. Augustine's Press in 2008, ISBN 1-58731-700-1 - also available at the Gutenberg Project

Further reading

*
*
*

Fictional account

The 1939 movie adaptation of the novel "The Four Feathers" is set in the time of this battle, and treats other aspects of the Sudan Campaign.The 2008 novel After Omdurman by John Ferry is partly set during the 1898 re-conquest of the Sudan, with the book's lead character, Evelyn Winters, playing a peripheral role in the Battle of Omdurman.

External links

* [http://sudancampaign.blogspot.com/2005/11/battle-of-omdurman.html Battle of Omdurman] from "With Kitchener To Khartoum" by G. W. Steevens
* [http://old.exile.ru/2007-June-29/war_nerd.html Om Der Man!] - an overview of the battle by the War Nerd


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