South Arabia during World War I
The campaign in South Arabia during World War I was a minor struggle for control of the port city of Aden
Aden is a seaport city in Yemen, located by the eastern approach to the Red Sea , some 170 kilometres east of Bab-el-Mandeb. Its population is approximately 800,000. Aden's ancient, natural harbour lies in the crater of an extinct volcano which now forms a peninsula, joined to the mainland by a...

, an important way station for ships on their way from Asia to the Suez Canal
Suez Canal
The Suez Canal , also known by the nickname "The Highway to India", is an artificial sea-level waterway in Egypt, connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. Opened in November 1869 after 10 years of construction work, it allows water transportation between Europe and Asia without navigation...

. The British Empire
British Empire
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...

 declared war
Declaration of war
A declaration of war is a formal act by which one nation goes to war against another. The declaration is a performative speech act by an authorized party of a national government in order to create a state of war between two or more states.The legality of who is competent to declare war varies...

 on the Ottoman Empire
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...

 on 5 November 1914, and the Ottomans responded with their own declaration on 11 November. From the beginning, the Ottomans had planned an invasion of Britain's Aden Protectorate
Aden Protectorate
The Aden Protectorate was a British protectorate in southern Arabia which evolved in the hinterland of Aden following the acquisition of that port by Britain in 1839 as an anti-piracy station, and it continued until the 1960s. For administrative purposes it was divided into the Western...

 in cooperation with the local Arab tribes. The Ottomans had gathered in some strength on the Cheikh Saïd
Cheikh Saïd
Cheikh Saïd is a rocky peninsula in Yemen, near the island of Perim on the Bab-el-Mandeb at the entrance to the Red Sea. In 1868 it was purchased from the local ruler, Sheikh Ali Tabet Ahmed, by Bazin et Rabaud, a private company based in Marseilles in France, which wanted to use it as a base for...

, a peninsula which juts out into the Red Sea
Red Sea
The Red Sea is a seawater inlet of the Indian Ocean, lying between Africa and Asia. The connection to the ocean is in the south through the Bab el Mandeb strait and the Gulf of Aden. In the north, there is the Sinai Peninsula, the Gulf of Aqaba, and the Gulf of Suez...

 towards the island of Perim
Perim is a volcanic island strategically located in the Strait of Mandeb at the southern entrance into the Red Sea, off the southwestern coast of Yemen, at . It has a surface area of 13 square kilometers and rises to an altitude of 65 meters. The island has a natural harbour on its southwestern...


At the start of the war, the British had one force stationed in the Aden Protectorate, the Aden Brigade
Aden Brigade
The Aden Brigade was a formation of the British Indian Army formed for service in Aden during World War I. It was commanded by Major General Bell and consisted of the:*Aden Cavalry Troop*1st Battalion Royal Irish Rifles*109th Infantry...

, which was part of the British Indian Army
British Indian Army
The British Indian Army, officially simply the Indian Army, was the principal army of the British Raj in India before the partition of India in 1947...

. In November 1914, an Ottoman force from Yemen
North Yemen
North Yemen is a term currently used to designate the Yemen Arab Republic , its predecessor, the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen , and their predecessors that exercised sovereignty over the territory that is now the north-western part of the state of Yemen in southern Arabia.Neither state ever...

 attacked Aden, but was driven off by the Brigade.

Capture of Cheikh Saïd

The 29th Indian Infantry Brigade
29th Indian Infantry Brigade
The 29th Indian Infantry Brigade was an Infantry formation of the Indian Army during World War II. It was formed in October 1940, by the renumbering of the 21st Indian Infantry Brigade. It was assigned to the 5th Indian Infantry Division...

, under Brigadier-General J. H. V. Cox, CB
Order of the Bath
The Most Honourable Order of the Bath is a British order of chivalry founded by George I on 18 May 1725. The name derives from the elaborate mediæval ceremony for creating a knight, which involved bathing as one of its elements. The knights so created were known as Knights of the Bath...

, then on its way from India to Suez
Suez is a seaport city in north-eastern Egypt, located on the north coast of the Gulf of Suez , near the southern terminus of the Suez Canal, having the same boundaries as Suez governorate. It has three harbors, Adabya, Ain Sokhna and Port Tawfiq, and extensive port facilities...

, was ordered to interrupt its voyage to capture Cheikh Saïd and destroy the Ottoman works, armaments, and wells there. On 10 November transports conveying three battalions of the 29th Indian Infantry and the 23rd Sikh Pioneers
23rd Sikh Pioneers
The 23rd Sikh Pioneers were a regiment of the British Indian Army. They could trace their origins to 1857, when they were known as the 15th Regiment of Punjab Infantry....

 arrived off the coast of the peninsula. They were accompanied by the armoured cruiser HMS Duke of Edinburgh, which opened fire on the Ottoman defences while the transports were seeking a satisfactory landing-place. The point that had been at first selected proved impossible on account of the weather, and the troops had to land a little way off under the cover of the fire of the cruiser. They stormed the Ottomans' positions and compelled them to retreat, leaving their field guns behind. The sailors took active part in the fighting with the troops, and a naval demolition party assisted, on 11 November, in destroying the Ottoman fortifications. Having accomplished its task, the British force re-embarked and continued on to Suez. It was not considered advisable at this time to push an expedition inland. The Ottomans, consequently, retained some forces on the northern boundary of the Aden Protectorate.

Seven months later they reoccupied Cheikh Saïd and endeavoured from there to effect a landing on the north coast of Perim. This attack was successfully repulsed by the garrison of the island, the 23rd Sikh Pioneers.

Sultanate of Lahij

In July 1915 an Ottoman force from North Yemen crossed the frontier of the Aden hinterland and advanced towards Lahij
Lahij or Lahej is a city and an area located between Ta'izz and Aden in Yemen. From the 18th to the 20th century, its rulers were of the Al-Abdali family who with Al-Sallami, Al-Ramada, Al-Sindi and al-Aqrabi, claims relation to Ahl al-Bayt...

, which was at this time one of the most important towns in South Arabia and the capital of the Abdali Sultanate of Lahij (Lahaj). Placed in an oasis, surrounded by a fertile plain with the deserts beyond, it was the centre of trade between Aden, a British crown colony
Crown colony
A Crown colony, also known in the 17th century as royal colony, was a type of colonial administration of the English and later British Empire....

, and its hinterland, the princely states under a protectorate. In the years leading up to the war, relations between Britain and Lahij had been friendly, the British paying the sultan a subsidy for the occupation of certain land in the interior and protecting him and his agricultural people against the tribes of the desert, who frequently raided them. Propagandising during the war, British historian F. A. McKenzie wrote of the sultan:

Under our protection the Sultan of Lahaj had waxed very prosperous. His city, with its palace, its gallows— built for ornament rather than use—its purely Oriental life, its fine horses, its little show army, and its constant traffic in camels and caravans, seemed like a vision out of the Arabian Nights. When war broke out the Abdali Sultan proved that his loyalty to Britain was real. Though other tribes turned against us he came to our side and prepared to help us. He soon made himself an object of special detestation to the [Ottoman] and to many of the surrounding tribes by his open and unwavering friendship for Britain.


The sultan sent word to General D. S. L. Shaw, commanding the Aden Brigade, that the Ottomans were advancing from Mawiyah to attack him, and asked for help. General Shaw ordered the Aden Movable Column, under Lieutenant-Colonel H. E. A. Pearson, towards Lahij. The Aden Camel Troop was despatched to reconnoitre. It discovered a strong Ottoman force beyond Lahij, supported by a large number of Arab tribesmen. The Camel Troop fell back on Lahij, where it was reinforced by the advance guard of the Movable Column, numbering two hundred and fifty rifles, with two ten-pounder guns. This advance guard had moved up under most trying conditions. The heat was intense, there was great shortage of water, and progress was difficult over the sand. The main body of the Column was so delayed by difficulties of transport and by shortage of water that it did not reach Lahij at all.

The British in the sultan's capital found themselves faced by several thousand Ottoman troops and twenty guns. In addition, Arab tribesmen had rallied by the thousand to help the Ottomans. The British were backed by the few hundred men of the sultan of Lahij's native army. The Arab camp-followers of the Aden detachment deserted them in a body at the most critical hour, taking with them all their camels. Fighting opened on the evening of Sunday, 4 July. The Ottoman forces made several attacks against the British line, but each was driven off. Although after the battle the efforts of the Royal Artillery
Royal Artillery
The Royal Regiment of Artillery, commonly referred to as the Royal Artillery , is the artillery arm of the British Army. Despite its name, it comprises a number of regiments.-History:...

 drew a tribute from General Shaw, the superior Ottoman artillery had kindled fires in different parts of Lahij, and the British were in danger of being outflanked and cut off by the Arab tribal horsemen. The sultan was killed with many of his men. When the main Aden Column never arrived, the British withdrew on 5 July with the loss of three officers wounded, but the main loss was not so much in men as in prestige.


In the official report on the operations issued by the Government of India
British Raj
British Raj was the British rule in the Indian subcontinent between 1858 and 1947; The term can also refer to the period of dominion...

 much stress was laid on "the intense heat, sand, and shortage of water", and "[t]he desertion of the camel-drivers and the severe climatic conditions so delayed and distressed the main body as to necessitate a withdrawal from Lahij". McKenzie notes that "we do not seem to have made such arrangements for transport and for water supply as would have prepared us for the difficulties which every experienced traveller knew we would have to face. . . But the severe heat of the climate, the potential treachery of hired Arabs, and the shortage of water were all of them factors which had been familiar from the beginning to the Indian authorities, and, one might suppose, ought to have been allowed for."

Reinforcements from India

After the debacle at Lahij, the British force fell back on the Kawr. The Ottomans followed them up and occupied Shaikh Othman, a town about two miles inland from the harbour of Aden. This place was formerly part of the Sultanate of Lahij, within the British protectorate. The Ottomans at this stage held practically the whole of the Aden hinterland, except immediately around the crown colony itself. They had reoccupied Cheikh Saïd and had destroyed Lahij. The Indian authorities, under Commander-in-Chief
Commander-in-Chief, India
During the period of the British Raj, the Commander-in-Chief, India was the supreme commander of the Indian Army. The Commander-in-Chief and most of his staff were based at General Headquarters, India, and liaised with the civilian Governor-General of India...

 Beauchamp Duff
Beauchamp Duff
General Sir Beauchamp Duff, GCB, GCSI, KCVO, CIE, KStJ , was a Scottish officer with a distinguished military career in the British Indian Army serving as Commander-in-Chief of India during World War I.- Early life :...

, decided to increase the Aden garrison after "subsequent Turkish victories". Major-General Sir George J. Younghusband, a soldier with a distinguished career, succeeded to the command of the Aden Brigade.

On 20 July 1915, troops from the Aden Brigade, the 28th (Frontier Force) Brigade, a battery of Royal Horse Artillery
Royal Horse Artillery
The regiments of the Royal Horse Artillery , dating from 1793, are part of the Royal Regiment of Artillery of the British Army...

, and a detachment of Sappers and Miners
Indian Army Corps of Engineers
The Indian Army Corps of Engineers has a long and illustrious history dating back to the mid-18th century. The earliest existing subunit of the Corps dates back to 1777 while the Corps officially recognises its birth as 1780 when the senior most group of the Corps, the Madras Sappers were...

, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel A. M. S. Elsmie, a soldier well trained in frontier fighting, surprised the Ottomans at Shaikh Othman, completely defeated them and drove them out of the place. Between fifty and sixty Ottoman soldiers were killed and wounded, and several hundred men, mostly Arab tribesmen, were made prisoners. This success was followed up in the following month by an attack by a small column on an Ottoman post between Lahij and Shaikh Othman. The Ottomans were driven from the town. Another attack in a different direction was equally successful. Reports reached Aden that the Ottomans were preparing to retire from Lahij itself, and in September a column under Colonel Elsmie set out in the direction of Waht
WAHT is an Oldies formatted radio station that serves Clemson, South Carolina, USA. WAHT offers an all-Oldies format with a lot of Carolina Beach Music. The station is owned by Golden Corners Broadcasting, Inc...

. Here it surprised a force of seven hundred Ottomans, with eight guns, who were supported by about a thousand Arabs. The Ottomans were driven back, and Waht fell to the British troops, who had been aided both on sea and land by the cooperation of the cruiser
A cruiser is a type of warship. The term has been in use for several hundreds of years, and has had different meanings throughout this period...

 HMS Philomel
HMS Philomel (1890)
HMS Philomel was a Pearl-class cruiser. She was the sixth ship of that name and served with the Royal Navy from her commissioning in 1890 until 1914, when she was transferred to the New Zealand Navy with whom she served until 1947...

 of the New Zealand Naval Forces
New Zealand Naval Forces
New Zealand Naval Forces was the name given to a division of the Royal Navy. The division was formed in 1913 and it operated under this name until 1921, when it became the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy....

, under Captain Percival Hill-Thompson.

Ottoman claims of victory

A series of minor engagements and skirmishes between the Ottomans and Arabs and the British followed, during which the latter were generally successful, but found it impossible to hold the country far inland. Early in 1916 the Ottomans claimed that the British had been driven back on to Aden itself, and had retreated to within range of the covering fire of their warships, where they had been inactive for some months. Many of the Ottoman claims were greatly exaggerated, and some wholly false. In February 1916, Major John Pretyman Newman
John Pretyman Newman
Lieutenant-Colonel Sir John Robert Pretyman Newman was an Irish-born British Army officer and Conservative politician....

, MP
Member of Parliament
A Member of Parliament is a representative of the voters to a :parliament. In many countries with bicameral parliaments, the term applies specifically to members of the lower house, as upper houses often have a different title, such as senate, and thus also have different titles for its members,...

, asked in the British Parliament for any information about the fighting near Aden. Austen Chamberlain
Austen Chamberlain
Sir Joseph Austen Chamberlain, KG was a British statesman, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and half-brother of Neville Chamberlain.- Early life and career :...

, then Secretary of State for India
Secretary of State for India
The Secretary of State for India, or India Secretary, was the British Cabinet minister responsible for the government of India and the political head of the India Office...

, responded that the Ottoman claim of success which had recently been put forward would seem to have been founded on an engagement which took place on 12 January between a reconnoitring column of the Aden garrison and an Ottoman force in the neighbourhood of Shaikh Othman. The loss on our side was one British officer and thirty-five Indian rank and file killed, and four British and thirty-five Indian rank and file wounded. The enemy losses were severe, amounting to about two hundred killed and wounded. The British column was neither annihilated nor defeated, but withdrew when the purpose of the movement was completed, Chamberlain said.

Later on, the Ottomans officially claimed to have scored a substantial victory in further heavy fighting around Shaikh Othman and Bir Ahmad. This was a sheer invention. In January 1916, the Aden Movable Column moved out to protect some friendly troops to the east of the Aden Protectorate against Ottoman troops who had been sent to coerce them. The column located the Ottoman force near Subar
Subar is a village in western central Yemen. It is located in the San‘a’ Governorate.-External links:*...

, and defeated it. The general position was so unsatisfactory, however, that in April 1916, it was decided, on the suggestion of the Government of India, that ladies should not be allowed to land at Aden without receiving permission from the Commander-in-Chief in India.

End of the campaign in South Arabia

The eruption of the British-sponsored Arab Revolt
Arab Revolt
The Arab Revolt was initiated by the Sherif Hussein bin Ali with the aim of securing independence from the ruling Ottoman Turks and creating a single unified Arab state spanning from Aleppo in Syria to Aden in Yemen.- Background :...

 in the Hejaz
al-Hejaz, also Hijaz is a region in the west of present-day Saudi Arabia. Defined primarily by its western border on the Red Sea, it extends from Haql on the Gulf of Aqaba to Jizan. Its main city is Jeddah, but it is probably better known for the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina...

 diverted Ottoman attention from Aden in the summer of 1916. Those Ottoman troops which remained reverted to the defensive, while the British built an eleven-mile-long defensive perimeter around Aden. They did not attempt to resecure lost territories in the hinterland, and no major fighting took place after 1916. The Ottomans continued to hold territories in the protectorate until the Armistice of Mudros
Armistice of Mudros
The Armistice of Moudros , concluded on 30 October 1918, ended the hostilities in the Middle Eastern theatre between the Ottoman Empire and the Allies of World War I...

 in October 1918 and the partition of the Ottoman Empire after the war.

Uses of the South Arab ports during the war

On 18 October 1914, a convoy
A convoy is a group of vehicles, typically motor vehicles or ships, traveling together for mutual support and protection. Often, a convoy is organized with armed defensive support, though it may also be used in a non-military sense, for example when driving through remote areas.-Age of Sail:Naval...

 of ten troopships carrying the New Zealand Expeditionary Force
New Zealand Expeditionary Force
The New Zealand Expeditionary Force was the title of the military forces sent from New Zealand to fight for Britain during World War I and World War II. Ultimately, the NZEF of World War I was known as the First New Zealand Expeditionary Force...

 was escorted by the Imperial Japanese
Imperial Japanese Navy
The Imperial Japanese Navy was the navy of the Empire of Japan from 1869 until 1947, when it was dissolved following Japan's constitutional renunciation of the use of force as a means of settling international disputes...

Battlecruisers were large capital ships built in the first half of the 20th century. They were developed in the first decade of the century as the successor to the armoured cruiser, but their evolution was more closely linked to that of the dreadnought battleship...

 Ibuki out of Wellington
Wellington is the capital city and third most populous urban area of New Zealand, although it is likely to have surpassed Christchurch due to the exodus following the Canterbury Earthquake. It is at the southwestern tip of the North Island, between Cook Strait and the Rimutaka Range...

. It joined a group of twenty-eight ships carrying the First Australian Imperial Force
First Australian Imperial Force
The First Australian Imperial Force was the main expeditionary force of the Australian Army during World War I. It was formed from 15 August 1914, following Britain's declaration of war on Germany. Generally known at the time as the AIF, it is today referred to as the 1st AIF to distinguish from...

, and the total convoy, with Ibuki and the Australian cruiser , crossed the ocean, which was being patrolled by the Japanese protected cruiser
Protected cruiser
The protected cruiser is a type of naval cruiser of the late 19th century, so known because its armoured deck offered protection for vital machine spaces from shrapnel caused by exploding shells above...

Japanese cruiser Chikuma (1911)

. While Sydney was sidetracked, and ended up in the Battle of Cocos
Battle of Cocos
The Battle of Cocos took place on 9 November 1914 during the First World War off the Cocos Islands, in the north east Indian Ocean. The German light cruiser attacked the British cable station on Direction Island and was engaged several hours later by the Australian light cruiser...

, the rest of the convoy reached Aden on 25 October.

On 9 November 1914, a small landing party, numbering five officers, one surgeon, and forty-seven petty officers and men, under Lieutenant Hellmuth von Mücke
Hellmuth von Mücke
Hellmuth von Mücke was an Officer in the German Kaiserliche Marine in the early 20th Century and World War I.-Early life:Von Mücke was born in on June 21, 1881 in Zwickau, Saxony. He was a son of an Army Captain who later joined the Imperial Civil Service...

, was separated from their ship, the SMS Emden during the Battle of Cocos, and piloted the Ayesha to the Dutch
Dutch East Indies
The Dutch East Indies was a Dutch colony that became modern Indonesia following World War II. It was formed from the nationalised colonies of the Dutch East India Company, which came under the administration of the Netherlands government in 1800....

 port of Padang
Padang, Indonesia
Padang is the capital and largest city of West Sumatra, Indonesia. It is located on the western coast of Sumatra at . It has an area of and a population of over 833,000 people at the 2010 Census.-History:...

 on the west coast of Sumatra. There von Mücke arranged a rendezvous with the German freighter Choising, which transported he and his men to the Ottoman city of Hodeida in Yemen. Once on the Arabian Peninsula, von Mücke and his men experienced months of delay securing the assistance of local Turkish officials to return to Germany. At last he decided to lead his men on an over-water voyage up the east coast of the Red Sea to Jiddah. Ultimately, Von Mücke and forty-eight of his men returned to Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...


When the Arabs of the revolt of June 1916 attacked the port of Jiddah, they were supported by the seaplane carrier , based at Aden.

Further reading

  • Bruce, Anthony. The Last Crusade: The Palestine Campaign in the First World War. London: Murray, 2002.
  • Connelly, Mark. "The British Campaign in Aden, 1914–1918". Journal of the Centre for First World War Studies, 2:1 (2005) 65–96.
  • Farndale, Sir Martin. History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery: The Forgotton Fronts and the Home Base, 1914–18. London: Royal Artillery Institution, 1988.
  • Mehra, R. N. Aden and Yemen, 1905–1919. Delhi: Agram Prakashan, 1988.
  • Walker, G. Goold. Honourable Artillery Company in The Great War 1914–1919. London: Seeley, Service & Co. Ltd., 1930.

External links

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