British Operations Against The mad mullah

A wargamer's Guide 


The Air Operations 1919 - 1920

Given the impressive achievements of the Fifth Expedition it is worth looking in some more detail at the Air Operations that I have not included in the main text.

The ground locations were selected with great care for future operations.  Originally the main base was to be sited at Las Khorai but this was found to be unsuitable because of the difficulties of landing stores over the beach and the monsoon wind which blew for 6 hours a day raising a sandstorm to an altitude of 200 feet.  It was, however, suitable as an Emergency Landing site.  Stocks of petrol and oil were positioned there.  The main base was moved to Eil Dur Elan where a suitable site was found half a mile from a running water supply. 

 In order to facilitate anticipated exploitation operations against the mountain fortress of Taleh once the Mullah had been forced out of the lowlands, two further advanced landing sites were selected at Burao and Eil Dab.  Work on these was carried out at the same time as the main base was being built. 

HMS Ark Royal was loaned by the Royal Navy for the deployment and this proved to be of great value as it allowed the whole contingent of aircraft, stores and motor vehicles to be delivered at once.  Unloading the crated aircraft at Berbera was considerably facilitated by the use of a lighter with an improvised deck. The harbour facilities there were quite primitive.  The assembly of the aircraft started on 1 January 1920.  It took a week to get the first three DH-9A aircraft into a flying condition and the others constructed awaiting flight testing. 

DH 9A Ambulance open DH 9A Bombers of Force Z DH 9A Ambulance

The DH-9A bombers were not the only part of the air component.  At least two DH-9A air ambulances were brought in to carry out aero-medical evacuation.

 The Director of Public Works, Somaliland, improved the camel trails so that they could be used by motor vehicles and as a result the aerodrome at Eil Dur Elan was quickly completed on 17 January.

The British use of aircraft came as a complete surprise to the Dervishes.  The bombing raids on the forts caused heavy casualties amongst the Dervish followers and their livestock.  They also attacked the brushwood huts that were scattered around the forts and many were set on fire.  In addition to bombing from 800 feet, the aircraft came down to 300 feet to strafe the Dervishes and this proved particularly effective in both terms of inflicting material damage, casualties and reducing morale.  These operations lasted from 21-23 January and a reconnaissance on 24 January showed a cleared area nearly 30 miles radius around the forts.  From this it was deduced that the Mullah had already started to move his followers and the Haroun southwards.  The semi-independent air operations were now halted in favour of close support to the Somaliland Field Force.   

The first of these combined operations took place between 25 and 30 January.  They consisted of intercommunication between the Somaliland Camel Corps, with 1˝ companies of the 101st Grenadiers, operating eastwards from El Afweina and the Somaliland Camel Corps units advancing westwards from Musa Aled.  The aircraft carried out reconnaissance, reported positions and progress, dropped messages and carried despatches between the units and the headquarters.  This service provided fast communication and enabled co-ordination to level that had been impossible before.  Once Baran was captured by the Kings African Rifles an advanced landing ground was prepared there.  As the campaign progressed over the next few days aeroplanes established contact with the “friendlies” giving a degree of co-operation and communication that had always bedevilled previous operations. 

The demoralisation caused amongst the Dervishes by the bombing attacks is very apparent when the assault on the fort at Baran by the KAR and the flight of the Dervishes from Medishe and Jidali after they had been bombed.  At Baran, the fort had to be surrounded, bombarded and then attacked.  It did not fall until the last defender was killed.  Medishe and Jidali were much stronger forts and were abandoned almost immediately after the bombing raids.  The panic caused is exemplified by the number of rifles left behind by the Dervishes.  This was completely unknown in previous campaigns.  Taleh also fell comparatively easily even though it was the most powerful of the Dervish fortresses.   

Taleh being bombed by Force Z Taleh aerial view Taleh

 The aircraft provided valuable reconnaissance photographs, mapping data and information on the Dervish forces.  In addition they photographed their own operations giving information on the effectiveness of the bombing.

Native huts

It is also worth noting that two days after Taleh fell the Governor flew there so that he could thank the friendlies for their excellent work.  He was also able to talk with them on the spot about local administrative and political matters of importance.  This also had a deep psychological effect on the tribal leaders.

Mad Mullah Introduction


First Expedition

Second Expedition

Third Expedition

Fourth Expedition

First World War

Fifth Expedition

Air Operations 

The Mad Mullah's Dervish Army

The British Empire Army 

Inch High Page 

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