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Anglo-Egyptian Darfur Expedition

The Anglo-Egyptian Darfur Expedition of 1916 was a military operation by British Empire and the Sultanate of Egypt, launched as a preemptive invasion of the Sultanate of Darfur.

The sultan of Darfur Ali Dinar had been reinstated by the British after their victory in the Mahdist War but during the First World War he grew restive, refusing his customary tribute to the Sudanese government and showing partiality to the Ottoman Empire in 1915.

Sirdar Reginald Wingate then organized a force of around 2,000 men; under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Philip James Vandeleur Kelly, the force entered Darfur in March 1916 and decisively defeated the Fur Army at Beringia and occupied the capital El Fasher in May. Ali Dinar had already fled to the mountains and his attempts to negotiate a surrender were eventually broken off by the British. His location becoming known, a small force was sent after him and the sultan was killed in action in November 1916. Subsequently, Darfur was fully annexed to the British administration of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan and remained part of Sudan upon its independence.

Background

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Darfur, which means "land of the Fur", was an independent country, located to the west of Sudan and east of what was then French Equatorial Africa. It is equal in size to France and can be divided into three regions: a semi-arid region in the north, with very little rain, joining the Sahara desert; a central region divided in two by the Jebal Marra volcano, which rises above sea level that is surrounded by sand and rock plains to the east and west; and a southern region which has a rich alluvial type soil and a heavy annual rainfall.

The Sultanate of Darfur was one of the kingdoms that stretched across the centre of Africa. In 1874, it was invaded by its Islamic neighbours from the south, which resulted in the country being annexed by Egypt and joined with Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. This lasted until the Mahdist War (1881–1889), when Anglo-Egyptian suzerainty was temporarily curtailed by the forces of Muhammad Ahmad, until Anglo-Egyptian control of the region was re-established following the battle of Omdurman on 2 September 1898. In 1899, Ali Dinar became the Sultan of Darfur with the approval of the then Sirdar Lord Kitchener, on the condition that he paid an annual tribute to the British. Relations between Dinar and the Anglo-Egyptians were assisted by the Inspector-General Rudolf Carl von Slatin who had knowledge of the Darfur region and its people.

The status quo remained until disputes started over what was Darfur's exact western boundary and who had "overlordship" over its frontier districts. The British believed the delay in resolving these disputes, along with anti-government propaganda, led to a change in Dinar's attitude towards them. Their beliefs were not helped by Dinar's refusal to allow any Europeans to enter Darfur. Dinar's domestic policies caused internal unrest among the Arab portion of the population who were generally against him, or in the case of the Rizeigat tribe from the south-west Darfur, "openly hostile".

On hearing the news of war between the British Empire and Turkey, Dinar became more defiant and in April 1915 renounced his allegiance to the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan Government, declaring himself pro-Turkish and making contact with them via the Senussi. At the time, Darfur had a population of just under 1,000,000 controlled by what was described as a "slave army" of about 10,000 men. By December, affairs had deteriorated to such an extent that a small unit from the Egyptian Camel Corps was dispatched to protect trade at Nahud, and at the same time act as a warning against Dinar's proposed offensive against the Rizeigat tribe. Dinar instead countered the deployment of the Camel Corps detachment by moving his own troops—forty cavalry and ninety infantry—to reinforce Jebel el Hella. However, by then the British believed he was preparing for an invasion of Sudan.

Expedition

To counter the expected threat to Sudan, Sirdar Reginald Wingate gathered a force together at Nahud. The commander was British Lieutenant Colonel Philip James Vandeleur Kelly, of the 3rd The King's Own Hussars, on secondment to the Egyptian Army. The force was composed of:
  • Two companies of mounted infantry, commanded by Major Cobden, 9th Lancers;
  • Five companies from the Camel Corps, commanded by Major Huddleston, Dorsetshire Regiment;
  • Six companies from the 13th and 14th Battalions, Sudanese Infantry, commanded by Major Bayly, Royal Welsh Fusiliers and Major Darwell, Royal Marine Light Infantry;
  • Two companies from the Arab Battalion, commanded by Major Cowan, Cameron Highlanders;
  • Two companies from the 14th Battalion, Egyptian Infantry;
  • Two 12-pounder artillery batteries, which also included two Maxim machine guns, commanded by Major Spinks Royal Artillery; and
  • One Maxim machine gun battery.

    With medical and other non-combat units, the force totalled around 2,000 men. Intelligence gathered supported the theory that Dinar was going to invade Sudan, so in March 1916 Wingate ordered Kelly to cross the border and occupy Jebel el Hella and Um Shanga. The two villages offered the only permanent water supplies that were on the road to El Fasher, Dinar's capital.

    On 16 March, five companies from the Camel Corps and mounted infantry scouts, supported by a 12-pounder artillery battery and a Maxim machine gun battery, crossed the Darfur frontier and four days later occupied Um Shanga. Their only opposition was from a small observation post which was forced to withdraw. Unexpectedly, upon arrival the Anglo-Egyptian force found the water supply at Um Shanga scarce. With the main body of his force expected to arrive that evening, having only two days' supply of water with them, Kelly considered withdrawing back to Sudan. Instead, he divided his force, forming a fast-moving column, consisting of thirty mounted infantry scouts, 240 men from the Camel Corps, two artillery pieces and eight Maxims, which left for Jebel el Hella at dawn on 22 March.

    Jebel el Hella

    Kelly's flying column faced only slight opposition from Fur scouts until they reached a position 4 mi}} from Jebel el Hella. There a force of 800 Fur horsemen tried to surround them, and were only prevented from doing so by Anglo-Egyptian machine gun fire. Advancing a further to the west. To overcome some of their supply problems Wingate started construction of a road suitable for trucks, which he had obtained to supplement his camel transport. The road would stretch from the rail line at Rahad to Taweisha then on to the capital of El Fasher, about west of Abiad and from Abiad, taking prisoner all bar two of the Fur soldiers, who managed to escape on foot. The slow moving "A" Column left Abiad on 15 May followed by the "B" Column the next day. Both columns reached the rendezvous on 17 May. The same morning an RFC reconnaissance aircraft bombed a force of around 500 Fur troops at Meliat. The next day both of Kelly's columns reached the village, which had been evacuated by the Fur troops, leaving some of their supplies behind. On 19 May, RFC reconnaissance aircraft reported there was no trace of any Fur troops within . The Anglo-Egyptians formed a square and advanced from Beringia. The main Fur Army position was to the east and west in a semi circle. Kelly's scouts could not get into a position to see all of the Fur Army positions so Kelly made the decision to launch an immediate attack. While he was organising the assault, Huddleston commanding the Camel Corps company escorting the artillery and machine guns on the right of the square, exceeded his orders and entered the village. Exiting to the south they came under heavy fire from the Fur defenders and were forced to withdraw, pursued by some of the Fur troops. However, when they came within range of the Anglo-Egyptian square, their artillery and machine guns opened fire on their open flank. Seeing this, the remainder of the Fur Army left their trenches and attacked the southern side of the square in strength. The south of the square was manned from left to right by an artillery battery, three infantry companies, another artillery battery, one infantry company and a Maxim section. There was then a gap of around . Kelly ordered an infantry counter-attack, supported by his artillery, with the Maxim guns advancing alongside the infantry. The Fur Army broke and the survivors retreated, leaving 231 dead, ninety-six seriously wounded and another 1,000 less seriously wounded behind, from a force of over 3,600. Anglo-Egyptian casualties were four officers wounded, five other ranks dead and eighteen wounded. At 16:00, Kelly resumed his advance to El Fasher stopping for the night just short of the capital.

    The Fur Army were not defeated and a force of 500 cavalry and 300 infantry attacked the Anglo-Egyptian camp at 03:00 on 23 May. Kelly's artillery opened fire with starshells, lighting up the battleground. The attack was defeated, Fur casualties are not known, but the only Anglo Egyptian casualty was a wounded gunner. Later that day, at 06:00 the Anglo-Egyptians were just about to break camp, when several hundred Fur troops appeared on their left flank. They were engaged and forced to withdraw by artillery, machine gun fire and aerial bombardment. At 10:00, Kelly and his mounted troops entered the capital, finding it deserted except for some women. Sultan Ali Dinar had left El Fasher accompanied by 2,000 troops after hearing about the defeat at Beringia. Captured in the city were four artillery pieces, 55,000 rounds of small arms ammunition and 4,000 rifles.

    Dibbis and Kulme

    Sultan Ali Dinar, fled to the Jebel Marra mountains 50 mi}} to the south-west of El Fasher, with around 2,000 men, west of El Fasher. Huddleston, with his own Camel Corps troops and men from the 13th Sudanese Infantry, two artillery pieces and four Maxim machine guns—200 men in total—were sent to occupy Dibbis . The Fur troops fled, followed by Huddleston's force, around {{convert from the Fur camp. Huddleston's troops discovered the body of Dinar shot through the head.

    Aftermath

    On 1 November 1917, after the expedition, the independent country of Darfur, and its inhabitants, became part of Sudan. The £500,000 bill for the cost of the expedition was sent to the Egyptian Government in Cairo for payment by the Egyptian taxpayers. The British commanders of the operation were also recognised. In 1917, Wingate became the British High Commissioner for Egypt. The commander of the Anglo-Egyptian expedition, Kelly, became the first Governor of the Darfur province with his office located in the Sultan's palace throne room until May 1917. He was then promoted to brigadier general and given command of the 5th Mounted Brigade, which was part of the Australian Mounted Division fighting in Palestine.