5/7/1915 Lahej: a British defeat in southern Arabia

The southern Arabian port of Aden is part of the British Empire, a vital way station on the trade routes between Britain to India. Aden is under direct British rule while the hinterland is ruled by various chieftains who accept British protection.

The Turks have decided to strike against the British at Aden and despatched a force to oust the pro-British sultan of Lahej. On hearing of this, the British in Aden sent a column of mostly Indian troops to Lahej.

The situation in Lahej is confused. A Turkish column bumbles into the British force, thinking the town is undefended. The British are able to capture the Turks’ commander and seize much of their equipment before the enemy realise their mistake. But the Turks soon recover their composure and go on the offensive against the outnumbered British.

The Turks and their Arab supporters greatly outnumber the British, who decide to retreat. However, in the confused night-time fighting, disaster strikes: the sultan of Lahej, Britain’s ally, is mistaken for a Turk and shot by one of the soldiers sent to protect him.

When the British force makes it back to Aden, its numbers have been depleted by combat and heat stroke on their forced march. They have also left behind much of their heavy equipment. Worse, the Turks have been able to establish themselves in Lahej, in striking distance of Aden itself.

image source (The Soldier’s Burden)

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