Thursday, August 4, 2016

Rules for Engagement 1898 Omdurman Campaign

I found this interesting excerpt in a book titled, Khartoum Campaign 1898 by Bennet Burleigh, in which the author discusses the preparations that the British army made for its campaign to capture Khartoum/Omdurman in 1898. While Kitchener was the overall commander, he delegated command of the British brigade in his army to Major-General William Forbes Gatacre, who brought his command into such a great state of fitness and preparedness that it was able to march 140 miles in a week.

Click on the link below to read the on-line version of the book:

To prepare for eventualities, and clench the special training he had bestowed upon his men, Major-General Gatacre issued a printed slip of notes, or hints, to his men. I give the salient points of that production:—

"1. As the strength of a European force lies in the occupation of and in movement over open ground, which gives it advantage of fire, so the strength of a dervish force lies in fighting in depressions of the ground, or in a jungle country out of which they can pour suddenly and quickly their thousands of spear-armed warriors, who, unless checked by a murderous fire, constitute a grave danger, even to a perfectly disciplined force.

"It follows, then, that a force halted for the night must always be protected where possible by a zereba, which will check under fire the attacking dervishes.

"2. That a cleared zone be prepared along outer edge of the zereba.

"3. That a force, when moving, should march at a respectful distance from jungle cover.

[Pg 25]"4. It should have the ground in its front and on its flanks searched out by cavalry, mounted infantry, or native levies.

"5. That when mounted troops have found the enemy, they must invariably clear the front of the infantry to enable the latter to use their rifles.

"6. That brigades must be so trained that each battalion and individual soldier must know how to get into the best formation with the least possible delay for meeting the attack of the spearmen, who, it must be remembered, can move at least three times as quickly as a British soldier can double.

"To carry out the above, a high standard of training and steadiness is required, and battalions must be provided with a liberal supply of cutting tools, felling axes, hand axes and bill hooks to enable them, the instant the battalion marches into bivouac, to cut down small trees or strong branches of prickly trees with which to construct a thorn fence.

"Piquets must be withdrawn at dusk, otherwise they might get surrounded and cut off, or, in falling back, would possibly suffer from the defenders of the zereba.

"The protection of the zereba against surprise must depend on the vigilance of its sentries and piquets which line the fence, and whose strength will naturally depend on the proximity of the dervishes to the force. With reliable information, and the ground properly reconnoitred, a patrol of ten men per company, patrolling constantly and noiselessly along the inner edge of the zereba, is adequate, so long as the enemy's dem is say 15 miles distant (a day's march); when nearer than[Pg 26] this, the strength of the piquets to remain awake and under arms will depend upon the circumstances of the moment.

"All night duties of this nature should be found by companies, so that portions of the line along its whole length shall be on duty. Words of command and orders must be given in a low tone; there must be no shouting and no fires burning till the hour arrives for making the morning tea. Men should always be allowed to smoke, but should be warned of the danger of fire in zereba by a cigarette or match-end thrown into dry grass.

"Officers must sleep immediately behind their men; a certain number will always be on duty.

"All, officers and men, must sleep in their clothes, boots and accoutrements, and each man must have his rifle with him. None but sentries' should be loaded, and bayonets should not be fixed, even by the patrols, except when there is expectancy of attack. Under no circumstances should men sleep with their bayonets fixed, or serious accidents will occur.

"And here, one word about 'alarms.' I do not refer to the assembly by bugle sound, but what is ordinarily called a panic, in other words a disgraceful absence of discipline and self-control, which, while ruining the reputation of the corps concerned as a reliable battalion, may be the cause of serious mischief, and must be disastrous to the confidence the General Officer places in its officers and men.

"One of the great advantages accruing to an army on service is the close association of the officer with the[Pg 27] man; each learns something from the other, and the officer will, in after years, appreciate the value of the habit he gets into of talking to his men and of storing up in his mind all sorts of dodges and hints, which assist troops in the field to make themselves comfortable; more than this, it is in the field only that the officer can get the opportunity of instilling into the men's minds the necessity for deliberation under fire, the high standard of the regiment, its past history, its superiority in everything to all other regiments in the division, and his confidence in his men to maintain such a standard of excellence. In many expeditions it has happened that shots have been fired at nothing, night after night, thus disturbing the whole force; such bad habits must be firmly checked."



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