Successful Operations Against Mullah.

Oral Answers to Questions — British Somaliland. – in the House of Commons at on 17 February 1920.

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Photo of Viscount  Duncannon Viscount Duncannon , Dover

(by private notice)

asked the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies if the Government have any information in regard to recent operations in Somaliland?

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Leo Amery Lieut-Colonel Leo Amery , Birmingham Sparkbrook

I hope that the satisfactory character of my reply will excuse its length.

Ever since the Colonial Office took over the administration of British Somali-land in 1905 the situation in the Protectorate has been one of great difficulty. From 1907 onwards hostilities by the Mullah have been continuous. Moving down from the Nogal Valley, the dervishes have raided and looted far and wide, and in 1914 even raided within musket range of Berbera itself. During the last five years their fighting policy became increasingly aggressive, and instead of limiting themselves to raiding parties on the friendly tribes, they established themselves permanently in forward posts consisting of stone forts of immense strength. Forts of this character were established at Tale, the main headquarters of the Mullah himself, at Jidali in the north-eastern part of the Protectorate among the hills overlooking the Gulf of Aden, and at Baran, cast of Jidali.

To meet the dervish aggression steps were taken in 1914 to re-form and reorganise the Somaliland Camel Corps on an increased footing. This policy was completely successful so far as dealing with raiding parties was concerned, and the defeats inflicted on the dervishes at Shimber Berris in 1914–15 resulting in the destruction of the forts there, and later at Endow and the Ok Passes, cleared dervish raiding parties once for all from the western half of the Protectorate, which henceforward remained under settled administration. The position, however, stills remained most unsatisfactory and precarious owing to the fact that the dervishes (who still held more than half of British Somaliland) were firmly established in the eastern part of the Protectorate, particularly at Jidali, where their fortifications enabled them to threaten the coast and the friendly tribe of Warsangeli, who suffered severely on several occasions from dervish raids. Thus, in 1916, it was found necessary to station a detachment of Indian troops at Las Khorai, the chief town of the Warsangeli, in order to protect the tribe from constant dervish aggression from Jidali and Baran.

During the last few years it has become increasingly clear that the situation which has existed ever since the rise of the Mullah in 1901, and which has inflicted untold suffering on the inhabitants of the Protectorate, could only be cured by the definite and final break-up of his power. During the war an expedition against the Mullah was obviously impracticable, but a few months ago the whole situation was carefully reviewed, in the light of the experience gained in the war. It was decided that the operations should take the form of an attack from the air, followed up, if successful, by advanced patrols of mounted forces with infantry supports. These operations have now been carried out.

The air attack opened on January 21st, when aeroplanes attacked the fort at Jidali and the Mullah's camp at Medishe, inflicting heavy casualties and damage. Subsequent bombardments on January 23rd practically destroyed the camp and set it on fire, the dervishes fleeing to the hills to the north and north-west. On January 28th Jidali was occupied by the Camel Corps, which had moved up from Elafweina, the garrison having previously escaped northwards into the hills. Meanwhile, on January 24th, a force of King's African Rifles from Las Khorai had occupied Baran (most of the dervish garrison being killed), and destroyed the fort Aeroplanes co-operated throughout by reconnaissance work and by bombing the dervish forts and parties wherever found.

Information was subsequently received that on January 28th, the Mullah, together with his personal following and the dervish leaders, left the hills north-west of Jidali making southwards. The Camel Corps took up the pursuit from Jidali on January 30th. On January 31st, aeroplanes located the Mullah's party east of Elafweina and, descending to 100 feet, bombed and machine-gunned them to good effect, scattering the party and stampeding the riding animals. Simultaneously, a tribal levy, 1,500 strong, under the command of a British officer moved eastwards up the Nogal Valley towards Tale.

On February 6th the tribal levy intercepted the Mullah's party which had been disorganised by the aerial bombardment, capturing large quantities of stock and rifles as well as the Mullah's personal effects and his office. The Mullah himself escaped into the fort at Tale. This position (which was in fact a walled town surrounded by 13 forts) had already been bombarded and set on fire by areoplanes on previous days. It was now surrounded by the tribal levy, and in spite of the enormous thickness of the fortifications and the walls, was captured by them on February 9th. The Mullah himself, with a small party of about 70 horsemen, escaped, but the rest of the dervishes in the forts either surrendered or were captured, and large quantities of stock and arms were seized.

In the meantime the force of King's African Rifles who had occupied Baran, and Naval landing parties from His Majesty's ships have been rounding up the dervish parties scattered in the hills north and north-west of Jidali and have destroyed the smaller forts established in the hills and on the coast. Here also considerable captures of rifles and of stock have been made.

The result, therefore, of the operations which have now been concluded, is that in the course of less than 3 weeks the power of the dervishes in British Somali-land has been entirely destroyed and that no organised resistance remains. The Mullah himself with a few personal followers is a fugitive, having lost the whole of his force, all his stock, and all his be longings. He may succeed in escaping his pursuers in the desert, but his prestige and his power of endangering the peace and security of Somaliland are, I believe, at an end.

It is important to note that this remarkable achievement has been secured without bringing in large numbers of troops to the Protectorate, and I might add, in view of statements which have been made, without the co-operation of any Foreign Power.

A battalion of King's African Rifles borrowed from East Africa was the only military force specially despatched to Somaliland to reinforce the troops already serving there, i.e., the Somaliland Camel Corps and a detachment of an Indian Army battalion.

The fact that it was possible to secure these results with the comparatively small number of troops employed in a period of less than three weeks, with practically no casualties and with a minimum of expenditure, is due to the co-operation of a unit of the Royal Air Force. The moral and material effect of the aerial bombardment of the dervish positions was the vital factor in the success of the operations, without which the subsequent operations of the ground troops could hardly have been effective. For the first time, in fact, the aeroplane has been deliberately employed as the primary striking instrument, and not merely as an ancillary weapon, and the result is, I venture to think, as suggestive as it is satisfactory.

Sir J. D. REES:

Can the hon. Member say if this dispenses with the necessity for the proposed railway from the coast to the interior, and does ho remember that this Mullah has very often died?

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Leo Amery Lieut-Colonel Leo Amery , Birmingham Sparkbrook

I certainly do remember the latter statement made by my hon. Friend. As regards the question of the railway, I should like notice.

Lieut.-Colonel MURRAY:

Can the hon. Member say who was in command of these operations?

Mr. J. JONES:

The Mad Mullah.

Photo of Colonel Josiah Wedgwood Colonel Josiah Wedgwood , Newcastle-under-Lyme

Can the hon. Member say whether this puts a stop to any prospective co-operation between us and the Italian Government in warlike operations in East Africa, or are there any further operations contemplated?

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Leo Amery Lieut-Colonel Leo Amery , Birmingham Sparkbrook

The general operations, involving a number of different arms, were under the conduct of the Governor of the Protectorate. The Air Force was in command of Captain Gordon. In reply to the hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), I am not sure that any further operations will be required unless there is a possibility of the Mullah escaping.