In 1863, Ismail Pasha succeeded Said Pasha as Viceroy of Egypt and in 1867 was given the title of Khedive by the Sultan of Turkey (Egypt at this time was still part of the Turkish Empire). His efforts to westernise the country and expand its’s territory led to financial ruin and with Egypt in dire straights, he sold his shares in the Suez canal to Britain in 1875. In 1879, he was deposed by the Sultan of Turkey and replaced as Khedive by his son Tewfik.
With a deteriorating state of internal affairs and increased foreign intervention, the Egyptian Army mutinied in favour of Ahmed Arabi Pasha Al-Misri and other leaders who in early 1882 formed a Government with Arabi as Minister of War.
Britain and France both considered that their nationals in Egypt were at risk as well as their financial interests and consequently despatched naval squadons, which arrived off Alexandria, May 1882. Admiral Sir Beauchamp Seymore was given orders to prevent any Egyptian attempt to fortify the port and on 11th July 1882 bombarded their fortifications (without French support as the French squadron had left refusing to participate in the ultimatum). On the 12th, a force of marines landed to police the area as the Egyptian Army had withdrawn along with Arabi Pasha and Tewfik took up residence under the protection of British Guns.
Further action followed with an expeditionary force of 25,000 men put together to secure the Suez canal along with 40 Royal Navy warships. After a final engagement at Tel-el-Kabir on 13th September, the British entered Cairo on 14th September and Arabi and the remainder of his army surrendered. Following his trial in December 1882, he was banished to Ceylon and later pardoned in 1901.
In July 1881, Sheik Mohamed Ahmed of Dongola proclaimed himself as the Mahdi (guided by God). He quickly gathered thousands of Moslem fundamentalist followers and led them in revolt against Egypt. With some initial successful clashes between 1881 and 83, they then annihilated an Egyptian force at Kashgil near El Obeid, Kordofan and on 1st February 1884 destroyed another Egyptian Army at El Teb being led by Osman Digna, one of the Mahdi’s military commanders.
Osman Digna was ultimately defeated at El Teb 23rd February 1884 losing 1500 men and again at Tamaai on 13th March with losses of around 2000. However, The Mahdi, Osman Digna and their followers remained uncaptured and unsubdued.
The Nile Expedition
In 1884, the British Government under Gladstone was quite content to abandon the Sudan to the Mahdi and in January 1884, General Charles Gordon was sent to Khartoum to supervise the withdrawal of Egyptian and Sudanese forces along the Nile as well as civilians. With no support, the Mahdi’s forces were able to besiege Khartoum entrapping Gordon who whilst being able to make some successful attacks, was never in a position to raise the siege without external assistance. Prime Minister Gladstone did not want a confrontation however was eventually pressurised into sending a relief force albeit too late and in August 1884, 5 months after the siege started, relief preparations started.
2 Relief Expeditions were to advance to Khartoum under the command of Sir Garnet Wolseley, one, accompanied by Sir Garnet, advanced up the Nile. The second operated from Suakin. When the Nile column reached Korti on 26th December 1884, the Camel Corps under Maj Gen Sir Herbert Stewart was ordered to cross the desert to Metemmeh and join up with the Nile steamers sent by Gordon. On the way, scouts reported that the water wells at Abu Klea were held by Mahdi forces and on 17th January, a major battle ensued at Abu Klea with British forces totaling 1500 facing an attack by 10,000 Sudanese. The British succeeded in driving off the enemy and suffered 74 dead and 94 wounded to over 1,000 Sudanese casualties. Leaving the wounded, the remaining force reached the Nile steamers on 21st January and after effecting repairs, eventually left for Khartoum on 24th January. It was later on that the news that Khartoum had fallen on 26th January and that General Gordon had been murdered. The expedition had been unsuccessful. The second column, which had been cutting across the desert, halted on hearing the news of Gordon’s demise and afterwards engaged Sudanese forces at Kirbekan 10th February. A further engagement followed at Tofrek on 20th March 1885.
The Mahdi died of smallpox in June 1885 and was succeeded by Khalifa Abdullah el Taashi. On 30th December 1885, the British with a force of 4,500 troops defeated 6,000 Sudanese at Ginnis. Fighting between Osman Digna and tribes opposed to Khalifa occurred during 1886-7 in Eastern Sudan and in 1888, Osman again threatened Suakin. With additional reinforcements sent from Cairo, Osman was defeated at Gemaizah.
In 1889, a Sudanese force under Emir Wad en Nejumi crossed the border with 14,000 men in attempt to conquer Egypt but were heavily defeated at Toski. In Jan 1891, Osman Digna was again defeated at Afafit by an Egyptian force under Colonel Hollan-Smith who then occupied Tokar and with this the danger to Suakin was removed and the campaign effectively came to an end.
13 Bars attributable to the Egypt Medal with 2 different reverses (one dated 1882 and one undated)
Suakin 1885 – 1st March – 14th May 1885 – awarded to those who took part in operations at Suakin between these dates.
Tofrek 22nd March – awarded to those present at the action in Tofrek
Suakin 1884 – 19th February – 26th March 1884 – Awarded to those who landed at Suakin or Trinkitat between the above dates.
The port of Suakin, on the Red Sea, could be supplied by ship and still held out. But further inland, the towns of Tokar and Sinkat were completely cut off. In February 1884, a 3,000 strong force was dispatched from Suez to Suakin to relieve the beleaguered garrisons. The command of this force was entrusted to Baker Pasha accompanied by other European officers. From the start the expedition was beset with problems. The greater part of the infantry was formed from Egyptian Gendarmerie Battalions who had enrolled on the condition they would serve only for civil service in Egypt. On the news they were being sent to Sudan, many of them deserted, and the others grew dispirited and mutinous.
On the 3 February, Baker moved his force by ship from Suakin to Trinkitat, on the coast near Tokar. He set up a camp on the beach, and set off the next day. The Egyptians, who were not used to marching in formation, advanced in a confused mass. At the halting place of El Teb, on the road to Tokar they were attacked by a Mahdist force 1,000 strong. Despite their superiority in numbers and weaponry, the troops became panic-stricken, and fled after firing a single volley. The Mahdists caught up with them and inflicted huge losses, killing all the European officers who tried to resist. Baker, unable to rally his men, retreated to the camp with the few survivors and managed to protect it from the Mahdists. Of a force of 3,500, barely 700 returned.
After returning to Suakin, Baker tried to organize the defense of the city, but the Egyptian troops had grown distrustful of the British officers, and refused to obey. This defeat sealed the fate of the garrisons: the Sinkat garrison sallied out to try to reach Suakin on foot; they were massacred. The Tokar garrison surrendered without a fight.
El -Teb_Tamaai 29th February – 13th March 1884 – Awarded to those who had taken part in both actions (see El-Teb Caption Below).
Kirbekan 10th February 1885 – awarded to those who took part in the action at Kirbekan. (always in conjunction with The Nile 1884-85)
The Battle of Kirbekan was a battle in the Mahdist War. It was fought February 10, 1885, when the British Nile Column, about 1,000 strong, under General Earle, stormed the heights of Kirbekan, which were held by a strong Mahdist force, and totally routed them, with heavy loss. The British lost 60, among whom was General Earle, killed. It was the first appearance of the Egyptian Army Camel Corps under Bimbashi Marriott in action. A brass plaque on the North wall of Lichfield Cathedral commemorates the death of Lieutenant colonel Philip Eyre of the First South Staffordshire Regiment in the battle.
The Nile 1884-85 awarded to those who served south of Assouan on or before 7th March 1885 in the expedition to relieve General Gordon in Khartoum.
Tamaai 13th March 1884 – awarded to those present at the action at Tamaai (a medal with a single clasp is unusal)
On the night of March 12 the British formed an encampment, not far from Osman Digna’s positions. From around 1 o’clock until dawn, Mahdist riflemen approached the camp and opened fire, but their shooting was imprecise, and they inflicted few casualties.
At dawn, the artillery was brought to bear against the Mahdist skirmishers and they were driven back. The infantry (which included the Black Watch) then formed into two infantry squares each of brigade-size and advanced. One square was commanded by Colonel Davis, with General Graham, and the other by Colonel Buller. A scouting party discovered that the main body of the Mahdist force was hidden in a nearby ravine, whereupon General Graham ordered the 42nd Black Watch to charge to clear those Mahdists out, leaving a wide gap where they had been stationed in the square. A sudden onslaught of Mahdists rushed into this gap.
At one point, one Black Watch defensive square found themselves under intense attack from the Sudanese. The square broke and was flooded with a rush of tribesmen and a brutal hand-to-hand fight resulted. The Black Watch nearly fled, but were mustered by able non-commissioned officers to stand and fight and eventually won the contest, driving the Sudanese out, and reforming their square. It is one of the most embarrassing events for the Black Watch, even to this day. Even now, if Welsh soldiers yell out “Broken Square” at a Scotsman, particularly associated with the Black Watch, a fight is liable to ensue.
Finding themselves in danger of being cut off, the British units fell back in disarray but were quickly reformed in good order. The Mahdist advance was halted by volleys from the other (Buller’s) square, which had survived the attack, and by dismounted cavalry units that had not been engaged until then. The concentrated flanking fire they inflicted caused huge casualties among the Mahdists, who were forced to retreat.
The British units then reformed, and resumed their advance, driving the shaken Mahdists out of the ravine and inflicting more casualties on them as they fled. Osman Digna’s camp was captured later that day, but Osman Digna escaped
Gemaizah 1888 20th December 1888 – Awarded to those who landed at Suakin before the action at Gemaizah on 20th December 1888, and who took part in it.
The Battle of Suakin (also known as the Battle of Gemaizah) occurred on 20 December 1888 when Francis Grenfell defeated the Mahdi forces near Suakin a chief port of Sudan. After one and a half hours of fighting, the casualties were 12 on the side of the British and Egyptians, and 1,000 on the side of the Arabs. In this battle, three of the swords of the 20th Hussars broke short, an incident which later caused debate in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom. From Suakin, a sortie was launched against Osman Digna and his Dervish forces, who were attempting to capture the Water Forts. The Dervishes advanced on Suakin with an intention to invest it. In the ensuing fighting, Osman Digna lost his arm.
Abu Klea 17th January 1885 – awarded to those who took part in the action at Abu Klea, 17th January 1885 and always found with the Nile 1884-85.
As the Desert Column approached the wells at Abu Klea, they were set upon by a Mahdist force. Stewart formed the troops into a square, with the cannon on the north face and the Naval Brigade, with their Gardner machine gun, at a corner. Several officers and men of HMS Alexandra were killed at the battle. As the British advanced to outflank the Mahdist force, a gap had opened up towards the rear left corner of the square. The Gardner gun was run out to the left flank of the infantry square to provide covering fire. The square closed behind them leaving them exposed. Two companies of the Heavy Camel Regiment were also wheeled out of the square to support the Gardner gun. The Gardner gun had been tested and found very reliable in Britain, but had not been tested in a desert with loose sand getting into its mechanism. After seventy rounds were fired, the gun jammed and as the crew tried to clear it they were cut down in a rush by the Dervishes. Out of the forty men in the Naval contingent, Lieutenants Alfred Piggott and Rudolph de Lisle were killed along with Chief Boatswain’s Mate Bill Rhodes and five other seamen and seven more were wounded. Lord Charles Beresford was ‘scratched’ on the left hand by a spear as he managed to duck under the gun. The weight of the rush pushed the sailors back into the face of the square. Several Dervishes got inside the square, but found the interior full of camels and could not proceed. The troops in the rear ranks faced about and opened fire into the press of men and camels behind them, and were able to drive the Dervishes out of the square and compel them to retreat from the field.
The battle was short, lasting barely fifteen minutes from start to finish. Casualties for the British were nine officers and 65 other ranks killed and over a hundred wounded. The Mahdists lost 1,100 dead during the fifteen minutes of fighting, made all the worse by the fact only 5,000 of the Dervish force were engaged. Among the Dervish dead was Musa wad Helu, one of the Mahdist chiefs. British national hero Colonel F. G. Burnaby of the Royal Horse Guards was killed by a spear to the throat. Frank Rhodes (brother of Cecil) distinguished himself when several horses were shot under him during the engagement, earning him a Distinguished Service Order. Gunner Alfred Smith fought bravely to save his officer, Lieutenant Guthrie, and was awarded a VC. Another action happened two days later at Abu Kru (the Battle of El Gubat) and the advance rescue force leader Sir Herbert Stewart was mortally wounded leaving command to the inexperienced leader Sir Charles Wilson (the column’s intelligence officer) who was slower in organising his forces.
Alexandria 11th July – 11th July 1882 – awarded to those present at the bombardment of Alexandria on 11th July. 594 medals issued to Temeraire.
At 7:00 a.m. on 11 July 1882 Admiral Seymour aboard HMS Invincible signaled to HMS Alexandra to commence firing at the Ras-el-Tin fortifications followed by the general order to attack the enemy’s batteries. According to Royle, “a steady cannonade was maintained by the attacking and defending forces, and for the next few hours the roar of the guns and the shrieks of passing shot and shell were alone audible.” The attack was carried out by the off-shore squadron as it was underway, the ships turning from time to time to keep up the barrage. This was not entirely effective and by 9:40, HMS Sultan, HMS Superb and HMS Alexandra anchored off the Lighthouse Fort and concentrated their now-stationary batteries on Ras-el-Tin. The fort battery was able to score hits, particularly on Alexandra, but by 12:30, Inflexible had joined the attack and the fort’s guns were silenced.
Meanwhile, HMS Temeraire had taken on the Mex Forts (with Invincible splitting its broadsides between Ras-el-Tin and Mex) and was causing damage to Mex when she grounded on a reef. The gunboat HMS Condor (Beresford) went to her assistance and she was refloated and resumed the attack on the Mex fort. While the off-shore squadron was engaging the forts at long-range, HMS Monarch, HMS Penelope and HMS Condor was ordered into close engagements with the forts at Maza-el-Kanat and Fort Marabout.
HMS Condor seeing that Invincible was within range of the guns at Fort Marabout sailed to within 1,200 feet of the fort and began furiously firing at the fort. When Fort Marabout’s guns were disabled, the flagship signaled “Well Done, Condor.” The Condor’s action allowed the ships to finish off Fort Mex.
With the Mex Fort’s guns silenced, HMS Sultan signaled to Invincible to attack Fort Adda, which she did with the assistance of Temeraire. At 1:30, a lucky shell from HMS Superb blew up the magazine of Fort Adda and those batteries ceased firing. At about this time, the British fleet began to run short of ammunition. However, nearly all of the guns from Fort Adda west were silenced. HMS Superb, Inflexible and Temeraire focused their fire on the remaining eastern forts until at 5:15, the general order to cease fire was issued. The Egyptians, both outmanned and outgunned had used their firepower to good effect, but the outcome of the bombardment had never been in doubt. The Cairo newspaper El Taif erroneously reported that the Egyptian forts had sunk three ships.
The next day, HMS Temeraire reconnoitered the forts and discovered that the Hospital battery had reconstituted its defences. At 10:30 a.m., Temeraire and Inflexible opened fire and the battery raised the flag of truce at 10:48 a.m. Very soon an Egyptian boat set out to the flagship bearing the flag of truce and a cease-fire was ordered. By 2:50 p.m., HMS Bittern signaled that the negotiations had failed and the bombardment was to resume. Still, most of the forts flew white flags and an irregular cannonade by the British fleet began.
By 4:00 p.m. a fire had broken out on shore, and by evening the fire had engulfed the wealthiest quarter of Alexandria, the area predominantly inhabited by Europeans. The fire raged for the next two days before it burned itself out. Admiral Seymour, unsure of the situation in the city didn’t land any troops to take control of the city or fight the fire. It was not until 14 July that British marines and sailors landed in Alexandria.
Tel-el-Kebir 13th September 1882 – awarded to those who took part in the night march from Kassassin and the assault on Tel-el-Kebir.
Urabi redeployed to defend Cairo against Wolseley. His main force dug in at Tel el-Kebir, north of the railway and the Sweetwater Canal, both of which linked Cairo to Ismailia on the canal. The defences were hastily prepared as there was little time to arrange them. Urabi’s forces possessed 60 pieces of artillery and breech loading rifles. Wolseley made several personal reconnaissances, and determined that the Egyptians did not man outposts in front of their main defences at night, which made it possible for an attacking force to approach the defences under cover of darkness. Rather than make an outflanking movement around Urabi’s entrenchments, which would involve a long march through waterless desert, or undertake formal bombardment and assault, Wolseley planned to approach the position by night and attack frontally at dawn, hoping to achieve surprise.
Wolseley began his advance from Ismailia on September 12, with two infantry divisions and a cavalry brigade. A brigade of Indian troops covered the flank on the southern bank of the Sweetwater Canal. The approach march of the main forces was made easier because the desert west of Kassassin was almost flat and unobstructed, making it look like a gigantic parade ground. Even though there were repeated halts to maintain dressing and alignment, the British troops reached the Egyptian position at the time Wolseley intended.
At 5.45 a.m. Wolseley’s troops were barely three hundred yards from the entrenchments and dawn was just breaking, when Egyptian sentries saw them and fired. The first shots were followed by several volleys from the entrenchments. British troops, led by the Highland Brigade on the left flank, and the 2nd Brigade on the right flank with the Guards Brigade (commanded by Queen Victoria’s third son, Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn) in support, charged with the bayonet. The resulting battle was over in an hour. Most of the Egyptian soldiers were tired from having stood to all night. Because of the haste with which Urabi’s forces had prepared their defences, there were no obstacles in front of them to disrupt the attackers. Several groups stood and fought, mainly the Sudanese troops in the front of the Highland Brigade, but those not overwhelmed in the first rush were forced to retreat. In the end, it was less a battle than a massacre. Official British figures gave a total of 57 British troops killed. Approximately two thousand Egyptians died. British cavalry pursued towards Cairo, which was undefended.
Suakin 1885 – Awarded to those who took part in operations at Suakin beween the above dates.
Khedive’s Star 1882-91 -Authorised by the Sultan of Turkey and conferred by the Khedive of Egypt, Tewfik Mohammed, to all those involved in the suppression of the Egyptian rebellion 1882 and in the campaigns in Egypt and Sudan between 1884 and 1889. All recipients of the British Egypt Medal 1882-89 received the appropriate star.
Toski 1889 – 3rd August 1889 awarded to thise present at Toski 3rd August 1889.
The battle of Toski (Tushkah) took place on August 3rd, 1889 in Egypt between the Anglo-Egyptian forces and the Mahdist Sudanese.
Since 1882, the British had taken control of Egypt and found themselves involved in the Sudan war. For this reason, they decided to reform and rearm the Egyptian Army. A British general, Sir Francis Grenfell was appointed Sirdar (commander-in-chief) and British officers trained the newly formed units.
The Sudanese, on the other hand had not renounced their ambition of spreading the Mahdist faith to Egypt. In 1889, the Khalifa Abdallahi ibn Muhammad sent the Emir Wad-el-Nujumi and an army 6,000 strong into Egypt for this purpose. The Mahdists avoided Wadi Halfa where most of the Egyptian troops were garrisoned, and camped at Toski by the Nile, 76 km within the Egyptian border. Here they were attacked by the Egyptians, who completely annihilated them after a five-hour fight, the Emir being killed trying to rally his men. Apart from the officers commanding the Egyptian units, the only British troops participating were a squadron of the 20th Hussars.
This battle effectively ended the Mahdist threat to Egypt.
The Battle of Tofrek
On 22 March 1885, the 49th Regiment, 1st Royal Berkshire with Royal Marines and an Indian Contingent(comprising the Madras Sappers, the 17th Infantry and a few others), marched eight miles towards Tamai, Sudan to build three zaribas (i.e. “fortified bases”). While still unfinished, they were heavily attacked upon by Arabs of the Hadendoa tribe. After severe fighting enemy were driven off, losing 3000 killed and died of wounds. The Battalion lost 21 killed, 33 wounded.
El-Teb 29th February 1884 awarded to those present at the action of El Teb. 4200 issued with undated reverse to those who had not already received a medal.
On the 21st, the force under the command of Sir Gerald Graham left for El Teb, via Trinkitat. It was composed of 4,500 men with 22 guns and 6 machine guns. On the 29th, they approached the main Mahdist position, on a hill near El Teb. This position consisted of various entrenchments and rifle pits. The Mahdists also had several artillery pieces including Krupp guns captured off the Tokar garrison, some of whom had changed sides, and were now fighting for the Mahdists. The British, forming into a square, circled the Mahdist entrenchments to outflank them, under a dense rifle and cannon fire. After a brief artillery duel, the Mahdist guns were silenced, and the British advanced. The Mahdists hid in trenches to avoid incoming British rifle and artillery, then rushed out in small groups of twenty to thirty warriors instead of the massive attack that was expected. Another tactic was to pretend to lie dead on the battlefield as British cavalry charged through, then, as the cavalry returned at a slower pace back through the ranks of the ‘dead’, the Mahdists would rise up and slit the hamstrings of the horses then proceed to kill the riders. At the top of the hill, a village had been fortified by the Mahdists, and here they resisted the most stubbornly. The British infantry had to clear the trenches with bayonets after which the fighting died down.