The Naval Brigade in Egypt and the Soudan

On July 11, 1882 HMS Alexandra, flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet, fired the opening shot of the lengthy Egypt/Soudan war. The
causes of the war, like all wars, was mainly political, & was one in another of the many Colonial wars & conflicts during Queen Victoria’
s long reign. Many times Britain had to come to the aid of an inept or tyrannical ruler, or was required to take naval or military actions
to protect her vast colonial empire & the essential sea routes that made that empire possible.   The Suez Canal was of great
importance to Britain & played a very large part in the important & necessity of keeping both Egypt & the Soudan  politically stable &
friendly towards British interests.  The troubles in Egypt with fanatical religious leaders was to keep Britain’s naval & military
resources well occupied for most the of the 1880’s decade.
Due to the time span involved & the complexity of the various campaigns this summary will be of necessity  very brief, but if the
reader wishes to read further on the conflict in Egypt, the internet is your best bet, or Cassell’s ‘History of the War in the Soudan’(6
vols pub in ‘1886), a heavy read but worth it!

I respectfully dedicate this display to the members of the Royal Naval Brigade, who fought & died in this conflict.

The Bombardment of Alexandria
by the Mediterranean fleet took place on July 11, 1882. 15 of the forts on the coast were
bombarded with varying degrees of success. The opening shot was at 0700 & by 1700 it was all over.  Loses on board the ships
were light, only 5 ratings being killed & 27 wounded, however a few of the ships suffered hits, including a bad one on HMS Sultan.  
Ashore the losses were another matter, with over 1100 defenders & civilians being killed & wounded.  All of the 13 ships in the fleet
rec’d the Egypt medal with clasp for
Alexandria.  This clasp is common with 4562 being awarded.  All of the ratings medals you view
in the two frames have the Alexandria clasp.

The Battles of Kassassin & Tel El Kebir   followed.  A Naval Bde went ashore immediately the following day in order to help quell
the rioting & fighting that ensued after the bombardment.  Capt Jackie Fisher was in command of the Naval Bde  & his engineers
constructed an armoured train to participate in the two actions.  After the Suez Canal was secured the safety of the fresh water
supply became vital necessity, & in so doing lead to the battles of Kassassin on 26 Aug & Tel El Kebir on 13 Sep.   
General Wolseley
marched on Tel El Kebir during a moonlit night on 12/13 Sep & fought a well managed battle on the 13th, entered Cairo on the 14th,
& received the surrender of Arabi Pasha the same day.

Thus the 1882 campaign was brought to a successful close.

The Tel El Kebir clasp to the Naval Brigade members is seen much less than the Alex clasp with 1116 being awarded.  The Tel El
Kebir clasp could be seen alone & did not require the Alex clasp in conjunction with it.

The 1884-1885 Campaign  was initiated in the Soudan (south of Egypt) to attempt to quell the uprising of the Mahdi, a fanatical
religious leader who had declared a ‘jihad’ (holy war) against the British run Egyptian army.  The Mahdi’s forces were initially victorious
& managed to virtually annihilate two Egyptian armies in ’83 & early ’84.  To attempt to crush the Mahdi & restore order a large Naval
Brigade  was landed at the port city of Suakin on the Red Sea, which effectively prevented the Mahdi’s forces from capturing the city.  
A large  British & native Army was assembled at Suakin & subsequently moved out into the desert to defeat the Mahdi’s forces at the
battles of El Teb & Tamaai. Many members of the Naval Bde remained in Suakin to garrison the many zeribas(outposts) or
encampments along the army’s supply route. All members of the Naval Bde who were present at Suakin qualified for & rec’d the
Suakin 1884 clasp to their Egypt medals, or if not in possession of the ’82 medal, rec’d an undated medal.  The Suakin ’84 clasp
could exist alone & 578 of them were awarded to the RN.

The battle of
El Teb was fought on Feb 29 & Tamaai on 13 Mar, both were fairly large significant battles.  Both produced Victoria
cross winners, one being won by Capt Wilson (Captain of HMS Hecla) at El Teb.  

The Mahdi’s forces fought with great fanaticism & bravery in both battles & succeeded in breaking the famed square at El Teb.  It was
the Naval  Gardner gun’s crew that closed that square thus preventing a disaster.
Although both battles were a defeat for the Mahdi he was by no means finished, & did not surrender, but escaped into the desert to
plan future trouble.
The  Naval Bde participation in the two battles was relatively small {just over 200 men with about 120 of them Marines} with  86 El
Teb clasps, & 214 Tamaai clasps being awarded, & for those who saw action at both battles, 143 clasps for El Teb Tamaai.  Both El
Teb and Tamaai as single clasps are fairly rare.

The Nile Campaign of 1884-1885 was a result of the Mahdi’s siege of the Soudan city of Khartoum & the desire to rescue General
Gordon’s force that was besieged within its walls.  The attempted relief was unsuccessful & the Mahdi’s forces took the city &
proceeded to massacre almost all of the British subjects therein including General Gordon.
The attempted relief of Gordon necessitated the Nile expedition. Part of the expedition proceeded overland via the desert & the other
via the treacherous Nile River.  Both expeditions  left Korti on 26 Dec ’84.  On the way up the Nile the battle of
Abu Klea was fought,
resulting in the award of
the Nile & Abu Klea (always in combination) clasps, & this one is rare, with 110 being awarded.
The Nile River expedition was commanded by Capt  Charles Beresford & members of the flotilla have noted on their service records:
“Nile Flotilla”.
Both of the expeditions were unsuccessful & made a mess of the whole operation, & finally returned to Korti on 7 Mar ’85, leaving the
Mahdi undefeated in the Soudan.  The Nile Flotilla however received commendation for its part & was particularly successful in handling
the small boats & steamers req’d to transport the troop & supplies, involving a lot of small & skilled  boatwork & seamanship. The Nile
cataracts were difficult to negotiate at the best of times.

The Nile clasp was awarded alone & 157 of them were awarded to the Naval brigade & Nile Flotilla, making it a fairly scarce clasp.

The Mahdi remained undefeated so the Nile campaign continued into 1885, & the ’85 campaign was operated out of the port city of
Suakin.  The Naval Bde  was primarily involved in the operations & fighting along the long rail line from Suakin to Berber, along the
Nile River, & in operations around Tamaai.  Many served in the small garrison zeribas &  at Suakin in support roles.  Thus one sees
the single
Suakin ‘85 clasp awarded to the RN.  There were 1291 of these awarded.  There were two major battles in the’ 85
campaign, these being at Hasheen on 20 Mar & Tofrek on 22 Mar. The Mahdi was finally brought to bay at
Tofrek & defeated there in
a very hard fought & bloody battle.  He succeeded in escaping again tho but died shortly afterwards of smallpox.   Unfortunately
Tofrek did not end the Egyptian/Soudan  campaign - it only postponed the ending for a few years.

Tofrek clasp is always paired with the Suakin ’85 clasp, & although common to the Army & Royal Marines, it is very rare to the
Naval brigade as the Naval unit only consisted of a small Gardner’s gun crew, made up of experienced senior ratings.

The medals to
CPO Anderson in the frame displayed show an example of this rare award to a member of the RN brigade.  There were
only 4 clasps of this combination awarded to the RN.  I have never seen another one.

Gemaizah campaign was in future but that is another story……………….