Imperial Camel Corps
Overview
 
The Imperial Camel Corps was a brigade-sized military formation which fought for the Allies
Allies of World War I
The Entente Powers were the countries at war with the Central Powers during World War I. The members of the Triple Entente were the United Kingdom, France, and the Russian Empire; Italy entered the war on their side in 1915...

 in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign
Sinai and Palestine Campaign
The Sinai and Palestine Campaigns took place in the Middle Eastern Theatre of World War I. A series of battles were fought between British Empire, German Empire and Ottoman Empire forces from 26 January 1915 to 31 October 1918, when the Armistice of Mudros was signed between the Ottoman Empire and...

 in World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

. Its personnel were infantry
Infantry
Infantrymen are soldiers who are specifically trained for the role of fighting on foot to engage the enemy face to face and have historically borne the brunt of the casualties of combat in wars. As the oldest branch of combat arms, they are the backbone of armies...

 mounted on camel
Camel
A camel is an even-toed ungulate within the genus Camelus, bearing distinctive fatty deposits known as humps on its back. There are two species of camels: the dromedary or Arabian camel has a single hump, and the bactrian has two humps. Dromedaries are native to the dry desert areas of West Asia,...

s for movement across desert.

The Corps was founded in January, 1916. It attained its full strength in December that year. In May, 1918 it was reduced in strength to a single battalion. The Corps was formally disbanded in May, 1919. 346 of its personnel were killed in action.
After the failure of the Gallipoli Campaign
Battle of Gallipoli
The Gallipoli Campaign, also known as the Dardanelles Campaign or the Battle of Gallipoli, took place at the peninsula of Gallipoli in the Ottoman Empire between 25 April 1915 and 9 January 1916, during the First World War...

, the Allied troops were evacuated to Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

.
Encyclopedia
The Imperial Camel Corps was a brigade-sized military formation which fought for the Allies
Allies of World War I
The Entente Powers were the countries at war with the Central Powers during World War I. The members of the Triple Entente were the United Kingdom, France, and the Russian Empire; Italy entered the war on their side in 1915...

 in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign
Sinai and Palestine Campaign
The Sinai and Palestine Campaigns took place in the Middle Eastern Theatre of World War I. A series of battles were fought between British Empire, German Empire and Ottoman Empire forces from 26 January 1915 to 31 October 1918, when the Armistice of Mudros was signed between the Ottoman Empire and...

 in World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

. Its personnel were infantry
Infantry
Infantrymen are soldiers who are specifically trained for the role of fighting on foot to engage the enemy face to face and have historically borne the brunt of the casualties of combat in wars. As the oldest branch of combat arms, they are the backbone of armies...

 mounted on camel
Camel
A camel is an even-toed ungulate within the genus Camelus, bearing distinctive fatty deposits known as humps on its back. There are two species of camels: the dromedary or Arabian camel has a single hump, and the bactrian has two humps. Dromedaries are native to the dry desert areas of West Asia,...

s for movement across desert.

The Corps was founded in January, 1916. It attained its full strength in December that year. In May, 1918 it was reduced in strength to a single battalion. The Corps was formally disbanded in May, 1919. 346 of its personnel were killed in action.

Formation

After the failure of the Gallipoli Campaign
Battle of Gallipoli
The Gallipoli Campaign, also known as the Dardanelles Campaign or the Battle of Gallipoli, took place at the peninsula of Gallipoli in the Ottoman Empire between 25 April 1915 and 9 January 1916, during the First World War...

, the Allied troops were evacuated to Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

. This was then under British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 occupation, and was threatened by Ottoman
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

 armies in Sinai
Sinai Peninsula
The Sinai Peninsula or Sinai is a triangular peninsula in Egypt about in area. It is situated between the Mediterranean Sea to the north, and the Red Sea to the south, and is the only part of Egyptian territory located in Asia as opposed to Africa, effectively serving as a land bridge between two...

 to the east, and a rebellion among the Senussi
Senussi
The Senussi or Sanussi refers to a Muslim political-religious order in Libya and the Sudan region founded in Mecca in 1837 by the Grand Senussi, Sayyid Muhammad ibn Ali as-Senussi. Senussi was concerned with both the decline of Islamic thought and spirituality and the weakening of Muslim political...

 confederation of tribes in its western deserts.

To help suppress the Senussi, four companies of camel mounted infantry
Camel cavalry
Camel cavalry, or camelry, is a generic designation for armed forces using camels as a means of transportation. Sometimes warriors or soldiers of this type also fought from camel-back with spears, bows or rifles....

 were formed from volunteers from the Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

n infantry returned from Gallipoli. Camels had been imported into Australia during the nineteenth century for transport purposes in some desert regions, and some of the volunteers (especially from Western Australia
Western Australia
Western Australia is a state of Australia, occupying the entire western third of the Australian continent. It is bounded by the Indian Ocean to the north and west, the Great Australian Bight and Indian Ocean to the south, the Northern Territory to the north-east and South Australia to the south-east...

) were already experienced camel jockeys and handlers. The unit was commanded by Brigadier General Clement Leslie Smith
Clement Leslie Smith
Brigadier General Clement Leslie Smith VC MC was an English recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.-Details:Smith was 25 years old, and a lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion,...

 VC
Victoria Cross
The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration awarded for valour "in the face of the enemy" to members of the armed forces of various Commonwealth countries, and previous British Empire territories....

.

The Senussi were eventually forced into submission late in 1916 by starvation, and by being denied the use of wells by camel corps units and light car patrols.

The camel companies were so successful against the Senussi, that a further fourteen companies were eventually formed. The extra Australian personnel for six companies were drawn from Australian Light Horse units, although reinforcements drafted to the Camel Corps were all from New South Wales
New South Wales
New South Wales is a state of :Australia, located in the east of the country. It is bordered by Queensland, Victoria and South Australia to the north, south and west respectively. To the east, the state is bordered by the Tasman Sea, which forms part of the Pacific Ocean. New South Wales...

. Volunteers for six British companies were drawn from Yeomanry
Yeomanry
Yeomanry is a designation used by a number of units or sub-units of the British Territorial Army, descended from volunteer cavalry regiments. Today, Yeomanry units may serve in a variety of different military roles.-History:...

 mounted units (in many cases from units which were about to be converted to infantry). New Zealand personnel formed two companies.

Reorganisation

Although the company was ideal for patrolling against tribesmen, at this time the Egyptian Expeditionary Force
Egyptian Expeditionary Force
The Egyptian Expeditionary Force was formed in March 1916 to command the British and British Empire military forces in Egypt during World War I. Originally known as the 'Force in Egypt' it had been commanded by General Maxwell who was recalled to England...

 was preparing to advance against the Turks in Sinai. Larger, more cohesive, units were required. The companies were reorganised into four battalions, each of four companies. The 1st Battalion and 3rd Battalion were Australian. The 2nd Battalion was British. The 4th Battalion was formed of Australians and New Zealanders. The Corps was also augmented by a mountain artillery unit raised in Hong Kong
Hong Kong
Hong Kong is one of two Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China , the other being Macau. A city-state situated on China's south coast and enclosed by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea, it is renowned for its expansive skyline and deep natural harbour...

 and Singapore
Singapore
Singapore , officially the Republic of Singapore, is a Southeast Asian city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, north of the equator. An island country made up of 63 islands, it is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor to its north and from Indonesia's Riau Islands by the...

. It also had its own machine gunners, and veterinary personnel.

The Corps had a badge (which usually existed in unofficial forms) of a camel against a sunburst
Sunburst (design)
A Sunburst is a design or figure commonly used in architectural ornaments and design patterns. It consists of rays or "beams" radiating out from a central disk in the manner of sunbeams. Sometimes part of a sunburst, a semicircular or semi-elliptical shape, is used...

, with a scroll bearing the unit title underneath.

The camels used by the Corps were exclusively male. These were less docile and hardy than female camels, and therefore cheaper and easier to acquire. However, several hundred male camels gathered together made a roaring noise which could be heard for miles. The saddles were mass-produced in Manchester
Manchester
Manchester is a city and metropolitan borough in Greater Manchester, England. According to the Office for National Statistics, the 2010 mid-year population estimate for Manchester was 498,800. Manchester lies within one of the UK's largest metropolitan areas, the metropolitan county of Greater...

, and although clumsy and despised by Arabs, were durable and tough.
Compared with horsed cavalry units, camels had twice the radius of operation in waterless terrain. A horse unit could operate for two days without water, and therefore had a radius of one day's march, about 25 miles allowing for action. A camel unit could operate for up to five days without water, and therefore had a radius of 60 miles. Camels were also better at crossing areas of loose sand or gravel. On the other hand, they required more forage
Fodder
Fodder or animal feed is any agricultural foodstuff used specifically to feed domesticated livestock such as cattle, goats, sheep, horses, chickens and pigs. Most animal feed is from plants but some is of animal origin...

 than horses.

From its earliest days, the Corps gained a reputation for disrespect for authority and "bull", particularly among the Australian contingent, but all its personnel shared this trait. (Its camels too were noted for fractiousness.)

Battles in Sinai

During 1917, the Corps or detachments from it, took part in the battles of Magdhaba
Battle of Magdhaba
The Battle of Magdhaba took place on 23 December 1916 south and east of Bir Lahfan in the Sinai desert, some inland from the Mediterranean coast and the town of El Arish...

, Rafa
Battle of Rafa
The Battle of Rafa took place on 9 January 1917 at el Magruntein to the south of Rafa, close to the frontier between the Sultanate of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and the Ottoman Empire, and in the area to the north and east of Sheikh Zowaiid...

 and the various battles of Gaza. They suffered particularly heavy casualties at the Second Battle of Gaza
Second Battle of Gaza
The Second Battle of Gaza, fought in southern Palestine during the First World War, was another attempt mounted by British Empire forces to break Ottoman defences along the Gaza-Beersheba line...

 through mismanagement by the senior commanders.

After the Turkish defences were broken at the Third Battle of Gaza
Third Battle of Gaza
The Third Battle of Gaza was fought in 1917 in southern Palestine during the First World War. The British Empire forces under the command of General Edmund Allenby successfully broke the Ottoman defensive Gaza-Beersheba line...

, the Corps took part in the pursuit, and the attack on Jerusalem
Battle of Jerusalem (1917)
The Battle of Jerusalem developed from 17 November with fighting continuing until 30 December 1917 during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign of World War I...

. This part of the campaign was the hardest on both the soldiers and camels of the Corps. They were no longer operating in desert but in the bare Judaean Hills, the weather was cold and wet, and Turkish rearguards fought desperately. Many camels (and some soldiers) were weakened by sarcoptic mange. After Jerusalem was captured, the Corps was withdrawn for rest.

Reduction

Early in 1918, the army in Palestine, under General Edmund Allenby, was reorganised. As the army was now operating in more settled regions, there was less need for camel-mounted units. The Australian contingent was remounted on horses to form the bulk of the Australian 5th Light Horse Brigade. The New Zealanders were used to bring the New Zealand Mounted Brigade up to strength. The camels made available by these reductions were donated to the Arab forces under the Emir Feisal
Faisal I of Iraq
Faisal bin Hussein bin Ali al-Hashemi, was for a short time King of the Arab Kingdom of Syria or Greater Syria in 1920, and was King of the Kingdom of Iraq from 23 August 1921 to 1933...

 and T. E. Lawrence
T. E. Lawrence
Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence, CB, DSO , known professionally as T. E. Lawrence, was a British Army officer renowned especially for his liaison role during the Arab Revolt against Ottoman Turkish rule of 1916–18...

.

Part of the remaining 2nd Battalion was used in one diversionary raid east of the River Jordan in August, 1918. Because British infantry reinforcements were scarce, it was stipulated that they should suffer no casualties, so the raid involved much marching but little action. Cooperation with the Arab forces was difficult, and Arabs shot one British officer in a trifling quarrel.

External links


Sources

  • Imperial Camel Corps, Geoffrey Inchbald, Johnson, London, 1970, ISBN 0-85307-094-6
  • Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T. E. Lawrence
    T. E. Lawrence
    Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence, CB, DSO , known professionally as T. E. Lawrence, was a British Army officer renowned especially for his liaison role during the Arab Revolt against Ottoman Turkish rule of 1916–18...

    , Penguin Books Ltd. ISBN 0-14-001696-1
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