Imperial Camel Corps

Imperial Camel Corps

The Imperial Camel Corps was a brigade-sized military formation which fought for the Allies in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign in World War I. Its personnel were infantry mounted on camels for movement across desert.

The Corps was founded in January, 1916. It attained its full strength in December that year. In May, 1918 it was reduced in strength to a single battalion. The Corps was formally disbanded in May, 1919.

346 of its personnel were killed in action.


After the failure of the Gallipoli Campaign, the Allied troops were evacuated to Egypt. This was then under British occupation, and was threatened by Ottoman armies in Sinai to the east, and a rebellion among the Senussi confederation of tribes in its western deserts.

To help suppress the Senussi, four companies of camel mounted infantry were formed from volunteers from the Australian infantry returned from Gallipoli. Camels had been imported into Australia during the nineteenth century for transport purposes in some desert regions, and some of the volunteers (especially from Western Australia) were already experienced camel jockeys and handlers.

The Senussi were eventually forced into submission late in 1916 by starvation, and by being denied the use of wells by camel corps units and light car patrols.

The camel companies were so successful against the Senussi, that a further fourteen companies were eventually formed. The extra Australian personnel for six companies were drawn from Australian Light Horse units, although reinforcements drafted to the Camel Corps were all from New South Wales. Volunteers for six British companies were drawn from Yeomanry mounted units (in many cases from units which were about to be converted to infantry). New Zealand personnel formed two companies.


Although the company was ideal for patrolling against tribesmen, at this time the Egyptian Expeditionary Force was preparing to advance against the Turks in Sinai. Larger, more cohesive, units were required. The companies were reorganised into four battalions, each of four companies. The 1st Battalion and 3rd Battalion were Australian. The 2nd Battalion was British. The 4th Battalion was formed of Australians and New Zealanders. The Corps was also augmented by a mountain artillery unit raised in Hong Kong and Singapore. It also had its own machine gunners, and veterinary personnel.

The Corps had a badge (which usually existed in unofficial forms) of a camel against a sunburst, with a scroll bearing the unit title underneath.

The camels used by the Corps were exclusively male. (These were less docile and hardy than female camels, and therefore cheaper and easier to acquire. However, several hundred male camels gathered together made a roaring noise which could be heard for miles.) The saddles were mass-produced in Manchester, and although clumsy and despised by Arabs, were durable and tough.

Compared with horsed cavalry units, camels had twice the radius of operation in waterless terrain. (A horse unit could operate for two days without water, and therefore had a radius of one day's march, about 25 miles allowing for action. A camel unit could operate for up to five days without water, and therefore had a radius of 60 miles). Camels were also better at crossing areas of loose sand or gravel. On the other hand, they required more forage than horses.

From its earliest days, the Corps gained a reputation for disrespect for authority and "bull", particularly among the Australian contingent, but all its personnel shared this trait. (Its camels too were noted for fractiousness.)

Battles in Sinai

During 1917, the Corps or detachments from it, took part in the battles of Magdhaba, Rafa and the various battles of Gaza. They suffered particularly heavy casualties at the Second Battle of Gaza through mismanagement by the senior commanders.

After the Turkish defences were broken at the Third Battle of Gaza, the Corps took part in the pursuit, and the attack on Jerusalem. This part of the campaign was the hardest on both the soldiers and camels of the Corps. They were no longer operating in desert but in the bare Judaean Hills, the weather was cold and wet, and Turkish rearguards fought desperately. Many camels (and some soldiers) were weakened by sarcoptic mange. After Jerusalem was captured, the Corps was withdrawn for rest.


Early in 1918, the army in Palestine, under General Edmund Allenby, was reorganised. As the army was now operating in more settled regions, there was less need for camel-mounted units. The Australian contingent was remounted on horses to form the bulk of the Australian 5th Mounted Brigade. The New Zealanders were used to bring the New Zealand Mounted Brigade up to strength. The camels made available by these reductions were donated to the Arab forces under the Emir Feisal and T. E. Lawrence.

Part of the remaining 2nd Battalion was used in one diversionary raid east of the River Jordan in August, 1918. Because British infantry reinforcements were scarce, it was stipulated that they should suffer no casualties, so the raid involved much marching but little action. Cooperation with the Arab forces was difficult, and Arabs shot one British officer in a trifling quarrel.


Although only a minority of the Corps was British, a monument to the Corps exists on Victoria Embankment, in London.


An auxiliary unit of the Indian Army, the Bikaner Camel Corps (a unit raised in a princely state in Rajastan) also operated against the Senussi, and took part in the earlier actions in Sinai. It was not part of the Imperial Camel Corps, and was withdrawn in 1917.

The Camel Transport Corps was a logistical unit, with British officers, and Egyptian drivers and handlers. It aided the British advance in Sinai until the end of 1917, and then transported supplies from Aqaba to Arab forces operating against the Hejaz Railway.

ee also

*Camel cavalry

External links

* [ Australian Camel Corps history]
* [ Australian government site]
* [ Imperial War Museum information]
* [ Danish Military History Society article (in Danish)]


* "Imperial Camel Corps", Geoffrey Inchbald, Johnson, London, 1970, ISBN 0-85307-094-6
* "Seven Pillars of Wisdom", T. E. Lawrence, Penguin Books Ltd. ISBN 0-14-001696-1

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