An exploration of themes of African military history

Biafra: A Quick Overview of the first African Civil War

May 14, 2014
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Download article as PDF Nigeria exists today as the most populous, the most vibrant but also one of the most corrupt and unpredictable nations in Africa. Like many colonies within the European imperial spectrum , it began its modern existence as an asset of a chartered company, in this case the Royal Niger Company. The territory more or less conformed to two regional blocs, the north and the south. The north comprised the Islamised Hausa/Fulani language group which fell under the leadership of traditional emirs who maintained a conservative adherence to ancient codes and systems of education that were extremely resistant to modern influence. The South, very broadly speaking, was home to the Christian/Animist Yoruba and Igbo blocs, closer to […]

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An Innocent Abroad: Of Submarines and Spies

August 6, 2013
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Download article as PDF Excerpt from Bruce Daymond’s diary For images and explanatory text AN INNOCENT ABROAD: OF SUBMARINES AND SPIES Diary Of Bruce Daymond DSO DFC, an Australian Catalina Pilot with the RAF 1941 to 1945 Covering his service with 209 Squadron Coastal Command Published privately by Bruce Cunynghame Daymond Copyright Bruce Cunynghame Daymond 2005 Except where the works of others are quoted, all rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright above, no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without prior permission in writing from the author’s estate. September 2005 Squadron Leader Bruce Daymond DSO […]

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Images from 209 Squadron RAF Coastal Command

July 15, 2013
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Download article as PDF These images were shared with me by Australian Denis Saunders, whose father, a pilot with the RAF, served with 209 Squadron off the coast of East Africa for much of WWII. RAF 209 Squadron began life in 1918 as No: 9 Squadron Royal Naval Air Service in 1918, being renamed 209 Squadron in March 1930 when all former RNAS squadrons had 200 added to their flight numbers. The Squadron saw service in both world wars, as well as the Malay Emergency and the Korean War, being effectively disbanded after 1968. From March 1942 until July 1945, No.209 was stationed in East Africa. It flew patrols over the Indian Ocean with detached bases in South Africa, Madagascar, […]

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Rhodesia Regiment – A Complete History 1899 to 1981

June 28, 2013
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Download article as PDF The definitive history of the Rhodesia Regiment was authored by Peter Baxter as a combined project with the Rhodesia Services Association, including significant contributions from: Hugh Bomford Craig Fourie Tony Fraser Adrian Haggett Gerry van Tonder The book covers the formation and evolution of the Rhodesia Regiment from the earliest days of the settlement of the British colony of Rhodesia, through it’s involvement in the Anglo/Boer War, WWI, WWII and the iconic Rhodesian Bush War that was fought throughout the 1970s, culminating in independence for Rhodesia, the formation of Zimbabwe and the dissolving of all the formations of the Rhodesian Security Forces. The book includes some 2000 images chronicling the Regiment from its inception to its […]

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Somalis: US Intervention 1992 1994

June 28, 2013
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Download article as PDF The end of the Cold War introduced an altered global dynamic. The old bond of East/West patronage in Africa was broken, weakening the first crop of independent revolutionary leadership on the continent who no longer had the support of one or other of the superpowers. With collapse of the Soviet Union, all this changed. The question of global/strategic security devolved into regional peacekeeping and peace enforcement, characterized primarily by the Balkans War, but also many other minor regional squabbles across the developing world that erupted, as old regimes fell and nations sought to build unity out of the ashes. In Africa, the situation was exacerbated by an inherent tribalism and factionalism that had tended to be […]

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Selous Scouts Operation Miracle: 26 September 1979

October 20, 2012
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Download article as PDF Gerry van Tonder is a well known author, archivist and researcher on warfare in Southern Africa, Rhodesian military history and military history in general. He, along with Adrian Haggett, is the author of the definitive Rhodesian War Roll of Honour In spite of previous Rhodesian Security Forces successes against ZANLA bases in the Manica Province of Mozambique, it became evident from reconnaissance missions that camps had again been established in a sixty kilometre radius from the town of Chimoio, not far from the Rhodesian border town of Umtali. Within this area, in what was now called the Chimoio Circle, and to the east of the Chimoio-Tete Road, aerial photographs revealed a large sprawling complex of five […]

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Selous Scouts Operation Eland

October 12, 2012
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Download article as PDF In early July 1976 Reid Daly began preliminary planning for Operation Eland. Air reconnaissance over the camp continued and Winston Hart searched ‘every capture and scrap of paper found in the rubbish tip, or on dead terrorists’ to build an accurate intelligence picture of the Nyadzonia Camp.[1] Reid Daly’s account of the operation, and several other sources too, make mention of a ZANLA section commander by the name of Morrison Nyathi who was captured in Inyanga and debriefed personally by Mac McGuinness. The impression gained is that information received by Nyathi clarified the picture considerably, lending detailed information on numbers, camp protocols, layout and other key intelligence. Discussion with surviving Special Branch Liaison Officers involved in […]

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Siege of Elands River: 4 – 16 August 1900

August 1, 2012
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Download article as PDF Map: Siege of Eland’s River Staging Post 4-14 August 1900 Map: Battle of Eland’s River 4 August 1900 With the capitulation of Johannesburg and Pretoria by early June 1900, the Commander-in-Chief of British Forces in South Africa, Lord Frederick Roberts VC, divided the Western Transvaal operational theatre into districts, with the sole objective of mopping up pockets of Boer resistance.  The Marico District, including the towns of Mafeking, Zeerust, Lichtenburg and Rustenburg, was assigned to Maj. General Robert Baden-Powell, his force including 1,100 Rhodesia Regiment troops, Southern Rhodesia Volunteers and BSA Police. Boer Generals Koos de la Rey and Christiaan de Wet continued to believe that victory might still be within the grasp of their respective […]

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Fireforce: A Memoir of the Rhodesian Light Infantry

April 30, 2012
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Download article as PDF Fireforce: One Man’s War in the Rhodesian Light Infantry. Written by Chris Cocks. Published by 30 Degrees South, Johannesburg South Africa. 2006 There is always a book somewhere out there that should have been read, but has not. As an author and writer on themes of African warfare and general history it is incumbent on me to read as much on the subject as is available, and there is a lot available. The Rhodesian War has generated an enormous amount of biographical material and general military analysis over the years, to the extent, I sometimes feel, that the whole episode has been mythologized far beyond the scope and significance of the war itself. To put it […]

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Operation Quartz: Zimbabwe/Rhodesia on the brink

April 18, 2012
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Download article as PDF Ceasefire and Elections The closing chapter of Rhodesian history was decided in Lancaster House, London, between 10 September-15 December 1979. There, in what has been described by some as the Funeral Parlour of the British Empire, the principal protagonists in the unfolding drama of the Zimbabwe/Rhodesia Bush War brought the curtain down on this, the last substantive act in the drama of British imperial disengagement. It was a moment of profound delicacy. The Rhodesian conflict had been deliberately regionalised in an effort (a) to attack and destroy external guerrilla forces in their bases of operation in both Mozambique and Zambia (also in Angola during Operation Vanity in February 1979), and (b) to so reduce the national […]

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Biological Warfare in Rhodesia

April 15, 2012
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Download article as PDF This is an excerpt from Rhodesia: Last Outpost of the British Empire. Article by Jeremy Brickhill highlighting the matter in more detail. On the battlefield, meanwhile, the intensity of reprisal and counter-reprisal grew, and as manpower shortages in the armed services became critical, any and every type of force multiplier was considered. The Selous Scouts and Special Branch were behind most of these ideas and were highly creative and successful in employing them. One such scheme turned the tables on the terrorist‟s tendency to rob rural stores. Operatives fitted transistor radios, much coveted by guerrillas in the field, with secret homing transmitters effective within a radius of 50 kilometres. The transmitters were usually only active when […]

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Zimbabwe’s Poisoned Legacy: Secret War in Southern Africa

April 15, 2012
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Download article as PDF This is an embedded article published in Covert Action Quarterly dealing with the use of biological agents during the Zimbabwe Rhodesia War of 1965-1980. A brief summary of the Rhodesian biological war program can be found here CAQ Magazine Zimbabwe,Rhodesia,Anthrax

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Mau Mau: The Legacy of an African Rebellion

March 21, 2012
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Download article as PDF The Africa@War series Volume 7 offers and introduction to Mau Mau and will be available in mid-2012. In 1952 violence broke out in the British colony of Kenya, setting in motion what would be arguably the first of the modern African liberation struggles. The characteristics of the Mau Mau Rebellion were very different from later manifestations of the African liberation movement – the most notable of these probably being the Rhodesian War, but also similar wars in Angola, Mozambique and South West Africa (Namibia). The Mau Mau rebellion was fairly narrowly defined inasmuch as it was largely a Kikuyu affair, and took place in the Kikuyu heartland of what is today the Central Province, and what […]

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The South African Air Force in the Border War

March 21, 2012
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Download article as PDF The Africa@War series Volume 9 offers and introduction to South African air force operations in Angola  and will be available in mid-2012. The South African Border War was the last of the true African Liberation Struggles, which, at its simplest, pitted the monolithic South African Defense Force (SADF) and South African Air Force (SAAF) against the rag-tag guerrilla army of the South West African people’s Organization, or SWAPO. It was also, however, intertwined with the internal and international anti-Apartheid struggle, with the simultaneous war of liberation in Zimbabwe, and both the Angolan liberation war and the subsequent Angolan civil war that immediately followed. Initially – from 1966 to 1976 – the war followed a low-key counter-insurgency […]

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The South African Border War

February 4, 2012
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Download article as PDF At the end of 1987 and the beginning of 1988 arguably the largest tank battle in Africa since WWII, and the only one of its kind ever to take place in sub-Saharan Africa, was fought. The Battle of Cuito Cuanavale was a key episode in what has since come to be known as the South African Border War. While the Portuguese fought two intense guerrilla wars in the region, those being Angola and Mozambique, and white Rhodesia similarly battled internal nationalist movements throughout the 1970s, none of these compared in any way in terms of size and regional impact to the semi-conventional, and at times fully conventional, war that South Africa fought against a combination of […]

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Robert Bell Smart the Royal Engineers Signals Unit

January 27, 2012
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Download article as PDF I was recently contacted by Eleanor Smart regarding a collection of photographs belonging to her and concerning her father who served in East Africa during WWI. What follows is her own description of the circumstances of Robert Bell Smart, and a selection of his photographs. Robert Bell Smart.  Born in Glasgow July 1890. Died in Paisley Sept. 1962  My father started his working life as a telegraph boy in the Post Office in Glasgow. In 1915 he enlisted in the Royal Signals, or The Royal Engineers Signals Unit, as Sapper R B Smart.  Not sure exactly. He was sent to France. This bit he never spoke of, so I don’t know where he was or what […]

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Rourkes Drift and Isandlwana: Key sites of the Anglo Zulu War of 1879

January 1, 2012
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Download article as PDF Deep in the signature countryside of Zululand – undulating grassland punctuated by rubble crowned kopjies and shallow river valleys – lie two key sites in the mythology of the black/white struggle for Southern Africa. The Anglo/Zulu War in many respects was the beginning of the end of black independent monarchy in Southern Africa. It came about as a consequence of a number of factors, some political and some visceral, but all of which were defined by one simple defining principal.: the simple fact that an aggressive and expanding British Empire could not tolerate the existence alongside it of of an independent, militarily vigorous, politically cohesive and culturally intact black mass such as the Zulu. Whatever might […]

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THE OPERATIONS ON LAKE TANGANYIKA IN 1915

December 27, 2011
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Download article as PDF By COMMANDER G . B. SPICER-SIMSON,. S.O., R.N. Wednesday, 28th March, 1934, at 3 p.m. ADMIRAL SIR WILLIAM GOODENOUGH,. C.B., M.V.O., in the Chair. The Chairman, in introducing the Lecturer, said that Commander Spicer-Simson had had a very varied and adventurous career. He saw service in China; he was on the Boundaries Commission in North Borneo; he made a triangulated survey of the Upper Yangtze; and between 1910 and 1914 he was the Director of the Gambia Survey. In 1915 he was sent out with a small party of officers and men on the expedition to Lake Tanganyika, which, if it was a minor operation of the War, was nevertheless one of great importance. Lake Tanganyika […]

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Ian Henderson and the Hunt for Dedan Kimathi

December 4, 2011
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Download article as PDF During the course of 1956 an extraordinary drama played out in the forests of the Kenyan Aberdare Range, as two men, Dedan Kimathi, a Kikuyu Mau Mau forest leader, feared in equal measure by friends and enemies alike, and Ian Henderson, a local Special Branch member and guerrilla hunter extraordinaire, enacted a deadly game of cat-and-mouse that marked the final death throe of one of Africa’s first authentic liberation struggles. The Mau Mau is one of those historic events that has the capacity to be all things to all people To the white settler community of the time, anguished by a sudden and catastrophic rebellion against their very existence, the Mau Mau represented a reversionist, primal […]

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I Can Never Say Enough About the Men

September 8, 2011
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Download article as PDF I had noticed in my general browsing of the web that a new book associated with the East Africa Campaign of World War I had been published, strongly titled I Can never Say Enough About the Men. It did not drift into my orbit, however, and I found no opportunity to read it until I was contacted by Andrew Kerr, the author of the book, with a request to review it on behalf of the Great War in East Africa Association. This I gladly agreed to do and shortly afterwards a copy arrived in the post. At a glance I found a richly illustrated narrative configured along the lines of a standard regimental history that dealt, […]

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The Rhodesia Regiment

August 15, 2011
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Download article as PDF The Old Drill Hall Nowadays serving as an Interior Ministry building along Leopold Takawira Street more or less opposite the Harare Gardens. The Lion & Tusk is still in evidence. This is a reproduction of an historic publication reproduced by the Orafs, otherwise known as Old Rhodesian Air Force Sods How many thousands of soldiers have passed through (and sweated in and around) Salisbury’s Drill Hall In the past 60 years? And how many have staggered or been removed from the adjacent “Rat Pit?” It was in the Drill Hall that “Bomber” Harris, of Royal Air Force fame, after World War Two blew again a bugle which he had sounded when he served with the Regiment […]

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The Shangani Patrol

August 13, 2011
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Download article as PDF As Rhodesian Administrator Leander Starr Jameson rode into the smoking ruins of Bulawayo in the aftermath of the first phase of the Matabele War he somewhat naively expected to find Lobengula waiting to surrender formally. This would have crowned an impressive advance with a clean victory and wrapped up the war in favour of the BSA Company with a minimum of dispute. However, with no formal surrender in hand and the King still at large,the game was still wide open. Technically the threat of an official decree from Sir Henry Loch on behalf of the Imperial Government remained. Neither Jameson nor Lobengula had expected such a swift advance on Matabeleland, and Lobengula could certainly not have […]

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A Quick Sketch of the Zimbabwe/Rhodesia Bush War

August 8, 2011
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Download article as PDF I have noticed a lot of search traffic on this site pertaining to the Zimbabwe/Rhodesian War.  Aside from the Wikipedia entry covering the period, there is very little on the world wide web dealing with the subject. What follows is a thumbnail sketch drawn from my own reading of the episode which is not intended to be an accurate historical synopsis. The political background to the Rhodesian Civil War The Rhodesian War of the 1970s was a civil war. It was fought for the preservation of the Anglo/Saxon values and culture that had been grafted onto the landscape as a consequence of British imperialism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The territory of Rhodesia […]

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Selous Scouts: Rhodesian Counter-Insurgency Specialists

August 4, 2011
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Download article as PDF The Africa@War series is being launched this year as a joint venture between 30 Degrees South publishing of SA and the Helion Group of the UK. It covers African warfare in the post WWII period, which, as we all know, is a very rich period in this particular field. The first book to be released in the series is Prof. Richard Woods treatment of Operation Dingo, the attack on the ZANLA Chimoio base in late 1977. Next is Battle for Cassinga by Mike McWilliams followed by two written by myself, France in Centrafrique and Selous Scouts: Rhodesian Counter-Insurgency Specialists. The Selous Scouts The story of the Selous Scouts has been covered comprehensively in Commanding Officer Col. […]

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France in Centrafrique

July 21, 2011
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Download article as PDF An interesting project landed in my lap a few months ago. My publisher, Chris Cocks of 30° South Publishing in Johannesburg asked me if I would be interested in providing the copy for a pictorial account of Frances military relationship with the Central African Republic. What I knew about the country was fairly limited – it had been at one time the home to Emperor Jean Bedel Bokassa, one of the most notorious of the lunatic fringe of African demagoguery – but besides that only that it was one of least known of all the struggling, under developed and hopeless of Africa’s numerous basket case economies. Another notable gap in my knowledge of Africa had also […]

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The fight at el Wak, Northern Province, Kenya 23rd August 1926

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This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Harry Fecitt

Download article as PDF This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Harry Fecitt The background In the summer of 1926 No.4 Company of the 3rd King’s African Rifles (3 KAR) was stationed at Wajir and Mandera in Kenya’s Northern Frontier Province.  The company commander sent out regular patrols to monitor security activities along the border with Italian territory.  Jubaland had been ceded over from Kenya to Italy on 29th June 1925, purportedly as a reward for Italy joining the Allies in the Great War, and was recognised as the Italian colony of Trans-Juba.  The colony had its own Governor and postage stamps.  On 30th June 1926 Trans-Juba was incorporated into the neighbouring colony of Italian Somaliland. The […]

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The Maruka Patrol: The Central Highlands of British East Africa September to October 1902

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This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series Harry Fecitt

Download article as PDF This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series Harry FecittBackground In 1901 the colonial authorities in British East Africa (now named Kenya) had completed a railway line from Mombasa on the Indian Ocean coast to Kisumu on Lake Victoria.  Ferries then transported passengers and goods across the lake to and from Port Bell in Uganda.  Having thus spent nearly 500 million pounds sterling (nearly US$800 million) in today’s money, the authorities wanted to make the railway pay its running costs.  To help towards this goal prime areas of land in the Central Highlands were selected to house white settlers. However the Central Highlands were populated by indigenous people living in tribal societies, and they […]

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The fight at Gurin, The Cameroon Campaign 29 April 1915

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This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Harry Fecitt

Download article as PDF This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Harry FecittIn April 1915 Captain Derek Wetherall Pawle, 2nd Battalion The Border Regiment, was aged 27 and serving on secondment with the 2nd Battalion of The Nigeria Regiment, West African Frontier Force. At that time British, French and Belgian allied forces had invaded the Cameroons, Germany’s largest West African colony. The Germans put up a spirited resistance with their local troops and a number of European officers and NCOs. >> Map of Gurin Most of the fighting was concentrated in the jungle country between Douala, the main port on the coast, and Yaounde, a German administrative centre further inland. However the Germans maintained garrisons in the […]

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The Action Around OK Pass, Somaliland Protectorate, 1st to 3rd March 1919

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This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Harry Fecitt

Download article as PDF This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Harry FecittDuring the Great War internal security still had to be maintained throughout the vast British Empire.  One continuous problem facing the British was the ongoing insurgency in the Somaliland Protectorate inspired by the Dervish leader Sayyid Muhammad Abdullah Hassan, the so-called ‘Mad Mullah’.  This insurgency had been running sporadically since 1901 and adjacent Italian territory had often been used for refuge by the insurgents when British operations in Somaliland appeared to be succeeding.  But by 1919 the situation was changing in that the Mullah was hiring Yemeni stonemasons to build sturdy forts within parts of the Protectorate that he controlled, and his followers were settling […]

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Fighting the Aliab Dinka Southern Sudan, November 1919 – May 1920

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This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series Harry Fecitt

Download article as PDF This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series Harry Fecitt  In southern Sudan in 1919 the Aliab Dinka, Bor Dinka and Mandari tribes inhabited an area west of the upper White Nile river.  The tribesmen tended to be tall and fit-looking cattle herders who were adept at using spears.  They had little if any time for western conventions such as wearing clothing or paying tax demands.  The shared governing authority in the Sudan was a joint Anglo-Egyptian condominium in which the British held the higher administrative posts and Egyptians the lower ones. But nobody did much to help the tribesmen, who were expected to pay tax and to provide labour for the Hakuma (government) […]

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