A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, August 28, 2015

August 30, 1915: Sir Henry McMahon's First Response to Sharif Hussein

Just a reminder: Postings will be sparse during my current two week vacation. Normal blogging pace will resume on Monday.

Back in July I noted the anniversary of the first letter from Sharif Hussein of Mecca to Sir Henry McMahon, British High Commissioner in Egypt, which initiated the celebrated Hussein-McMahon correspondence that would become a key element in the subsequent Arab-Israeli dispute and lead to the Arab Revolt in 1916. The correspondence took considerable time; the Sharif was an Ottoman subject after all, and Britain and the Turks were at war; McMahon was not an Arabist and was dependent on his experts in Cairo and the approval of London. This weekend marks the centennial of the August 30 initial response by McMahon:

McMahon's August 30 response was evasive on the questions of what borders Britain would support for a new Arab Caliphate, the issue that would later haunt the correspondence:
McMahon (Seven Pillars)
WE have the honour to thank you for your frank expressions of the sincerity of your feeling towards England. We rejoice, moreover, that your Highness and your people are of one opinion-that Arab interests are English interests and English Arab. To this intent 'we confirm to you the terms of Lord Kitchener's message, which reached you by the hand of Ali Effendi, and in which was stated clearly our desire for the independence of Arabia and its inhabitants, together with our approval of the Arab Khalifate when it should be proclaimed. We declare once more that His Majesty's Government would welcome the resumption of the Khalifate by an Arab of true race. With regard to the questions of limits and boundaries, it would appear to be premature to consume our time in discussing such details in the heat of war, and while, in many portions of them, the Turk is up to now in effective occupation; especially as we have learned, with surprise and regret, that some of the Arabs in those very parts, far from assisting us, are neglecting this their supreme opportunity and are lending their arms to the German and the Turk, to the new despoiler and the old oppressor.
Sharif (Later King) Hussein
Nevertheless, we are ready to send your Highness for the Holy Cities and the noble Arabs the charitable offerings of Egypt so soon as your Highness shall inform us how and where they should be delivered. We are, moreover, arranging for this your messenger to be admitted and helped on any journey he may make to ourselves.
Friendly reassurances. Salutations!
(Signed) A. H. McMAHON.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Erdoğan's Second Roll of the Dice

Just a reminder: Postings will be sparse during my current two week vacation.

My vacation posting has been spotty  and largely devoted to historical themes, rather than current commentary; when I'm back on the clock next week I'll do some catching up, but meanwhile it seems appropriate to comment on this week's major (if expected) development: the scheduling of a new round of Turkish elections for November 1.

The june elections deprived the ruling AKP of its majority and blocked President
Erdoğan's hopes of amending the Constitution to produce a strong presidency. The AKP no longer had a majority in the Grand National Assembly, and weeks and months of negotiations with opposition parties failed to produce a viable coalition, so it had become obvious that new elections would be required.

But will Erdoğan win his gamble this time around, or will the opposition parties, encouraged by the blow already administered by the AKP, try even harder. I'm sure they'll try, but the first round put
Erdoğan on notice that the AKP is vulnerable. I leave detailed analysis to the Turkey experts, but I expect the next couple of months of campaigning could produce a wild ride for Turkey.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Ottomans Expelled from Qatar, August 1915, Part III

Just a reminder: Postings will be sparse during my current two week vacation.

In Part I of this post, I explained the background of the fact that at the outbreak of World War I, the Ottomans still retained a small garrison at Doha, Qatar, and at the neighboring al-Bida‘ Fort. Part II described the dramatis personae on the British and Qatari sides, and the orders given to the key players, Major T.H. Keyes, British Political Agent in Bahrain, and Commander Viscount Kelburn of the HMS Pyramus. For the actual events at Doha, the best approach seems to be to quote extensively from Major Keyes' account of the affair sent to Percy Cox:
From Major T.H. Keyes, I.A. [Indian Army], Political Agent, BAHRAIN To the Hon'ble Lieut-Colonel Sir Percy Cox, K.C.I.E., C.S.I., Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, BASRAH
Bushire 23rd August 1915
I have the honour to report that H.M.'s Ships "Pyramus: and "Dalhousie" arrived at Bahrain on the 18th instant, when your 1633-B of the 16th instant was delivered to me by the Commander of the "Pyramus" [Commander the Viscount Kelburn].
2. As there were no Tangsiri [= Tangistani] boats in Bahrain, I left the same afternoon in "Pyramus", arriving off Doha early on the 19th. Large numbers of boats were leaving Doha that morning, as the second fishing was just commencing. While "Pyramus" was negotiating the difficult entrance to Doha bay, I went away in an armed cutter and examined all boats that were under sail, but found no Tangsiri boats among them.
3. "Pyramus" having anchored within 2,000 yards of Doha Fort while "Dalhousie anchored out of range of the Turkish guns, I sent my interpreter ashore to fetch Shaikh Abdullah [‘Abdullah bin Jasim Al Thani, Ruler of Qatar].
The terminology of British Imperial officers at the height of the Empire is telling. Qatar still had an Ottoman garrison and would not be a British protectorate until 1916, yet Keyes sent to "fetch" the ruler. I am reasonably sure that when a foreign warship pus into Doha today, no once sends to "fetch" Sheikh ‘Abdullah's great-great-grandson, Sheikh Tamim. Keyes continues:
The shaikh arrived on board in the early afternoon, and assured us there were no Tangsiri boats in his port, and that none had been there for some time,  but said that he believed that some Turkish deserters had joined the Tangsiris with several rifles and large quantities of ammunition. He vehemently denies having sent Rais Ali any ammunition [See Part Two] and said that he only sent him 8 cloaks in exchange for the ten hawks Rais Ali had sent him. From independent enquiries which I instituted in Doha and Al Bida I am inclined to believe his version of the affair.
Doha about 1904 (Lorimer's Gazeteer)

Doha Fort Today
As we saw in Part Two, Cox had added an additional task (afterthought or perhaps the main motive all along?) to looking for Tangistani dhows: offering the Ruler an incentive if he could get the Ottoman garrison out of Doha and turn over its guns. He was authorized to pay 2,500 rupees per gun or, since there turned out to be two guns, 5000 rupees. (As near as I can tell, in 1915 the rupee under the raj was pegged at 480 silver rupees to one gold sovereign, but I may have this wrong.)


Keyes' report continues:
4. We then proceeded to discuss the question of the Turkish fort.  Shaikh Abdulla [sic, Abdullah elsewhere in the report] informed me that there were two officers and forty men with two guns and one mountain gun at the Fort.  Entrenchments could be sen around the Fort, the emplacement of the mountain gun could be easily distinguished, and also two objects which we took to be the emplacements for the field guns. All of these in the entrenched line.
I requested Shaikh Abdullah to place the following alternative before the Turkish Commandant:
(a) That he should surrender, when the officers would be allowed o retain their swords and be treated in the manner indicated in your letter sent by Abdul Jabbar Effendi.
(b) That he should vacate the fort leaving the guns intact in which case I would hand the Fort [inconsistent capitalization in original] over to Sheikh Abdullah, on the latter;s agreeing to look after the Turks, I insisted on an answer by 7 a.m. the next morning and Shaikh Abdullah agreed to settle the matter during the night, though he was very anxious to have ten days for the negotiations.
I promised him 5,000/- [Rupees] if he arranged the surrender of the Fort without a hitch and gave him to understand that if he failed the Fort could be taken by H.M.'s ships. I may add that the Shaikh was under the impression that "Dalhousie" was a trandport.
As noted in Part II, HMS Dalhousie had been a transport in the Indian Marine Service, but four guns had been added to her.
On the morning of the 20th I landed with Commander Viscount Kelburn. On learning from Shaikh Abdullah that the Turks had fled in the night, we proceeded to the Fort which was first occupied by a landing party and searched, and then formally handed over to Shaikh Abdullah.
Besides the three guns in the trenches there were 14 rifles, about 8,000 rounds of ammunition, 500 projectiles, some casks of black powder, tents, great coats, and odds and ends of stores in the Fort. Three old muzzle loaders had also been used for revetments. The cordite charges for the guns and the breech blocks had been removed At Shaikh Abdullah's request I gave him the rifles and unfortunately promised all the rifle ammunition. Shortly after this a blue-jacked discovered 105 cases of mauser ammunition in a magazine about 100 yards way. I handed this over to the Shaikh subject to your approval.
"Dalhousie" sailed for Charbar that afternoon and "Pyramus" for Bahrain ...
The remainder of the report deals with the question of the location of the Tangistani dhows. In subsequent correspondence, Cox asked for clarification as to whether the full 5,000 Rupees had been paid and whether it was possible to get the Sheikh to hand over the 105 boxes of Mauser ammunition. Keyes noted he had paid 3,000 Rupees and promised to send the other 2,000 from Bahrain, which was done along with a request for the 105 boxes, which seem to have been delivered.

Thus the Ottoman presence in Qatar came to an end.The following year Sheikh ‘Abdullah signed a Protectorate agreement with the British, handing over responsibility for foreign affairs and defense. The Protectorate lasted until independence in 1971.

Sheikh ‘Abdullah bin Jasim
As for Sheikh ‘Abdullah, he ruled until 1940, when he abdicated in favor of his son. When the son died unexpectedly in 1948 he resumed the throne for a year and then abdicated again in 1949 in favor of another son. He witnessed the discovery of oil and lived until 1959.

Sir Terence Humphrey Keyes
As for Major Keyes, Terence Humphrey Keyes went on to serve in the  Western intervention in the Russian Civil War, serving in southern Russia. receiving British, Romanian, and (White) Russian decorations. Returning to Indian service in Baluchistan, served in Nepal and in various Indian administrative posts until retirement in 1932 with the honorary rank of Brigadier General He was knighted (Knight Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire) in the New Year's Honours List of 1933. He died in 1939

Commander Viscount Kelburn
As for Viscount Kelburn, Commander of HMS Pyramus, as previously noted, he was the eldest son of the 7th Earl of Glasgow. Just a few months after the affair at Doha, in December 1915, he succeeded his father to become the 8th Earl. He too served in the intervention in the Russian Civil War, as a Naval officer at Vladivostok, and this made him a lifelong anti-Communist. In the 1920s and 1930s he became an open British Fascist supporting the British Union of Fascists. He died in 1963.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Vacation Note

Part III of my Qatar post has been delayed as I'm on vacation and it's taking longer than I thought, but it should go up tomorrow.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Ottomans Expelled from Qatar, August 1915, Part II

 Just a reminder: Postings will be sparse during my current two week vacation.

In Part I of this post, I explained the background of the fact that at the outbreak of World War I, the Ottomans still retained a small garrison at Doha, Qatar, and at the neighboring al-Bida‘ Fort. If you have not yet read Part I, it provides the necessary context for this second part.

The Men and the Ships

In conjunction with the British intervention at Bushire (Bushehr) and the punitive expedition against Dilwar in 1915 (Part I and Part II of the Dilwar posts), the British decided to clear any Tangistani dhows trading with Bahrain or Qatar from the Arab side of the Gulf and, at the same time, resolve the question of the Ottomans in Qatar. In the Anglo-Ottoman Convention of 1913, discussed in Part I, Turkey had agreed to remove them, but the Convention had not been ratified when the war broke out.

Sir Percy Cox
The India Office Records show that the British political agents in Basra (Sir Percy Cox, Agent for the entire Gulf) and his agents in Bahrain (Major T.H. Keyes), Bushire (A.P. Trevor), and Kuwait (W.G. Gray) had been receiving reports of major desertions from the Ottoman garrison in Qatar, including reports that some had crossed to the Iranian side and were providing arms and assistance to the Tangistani rebels.

Let me note that I am basing this account almost entirely on the India Office Records in the British Library, but helpfully available online at the Qatar Digital Library. Most of the documents cited here appear in the "File No. E.7: Qatar & Anglo-Turkish Convention of 1913." The documents appear in roughly chronological order and are all in the same file, so I have not given separate links for each document, as I would if this were a scholarly article rather than a blogpost.

By July 30 the Political Agent in Bahrain, the closest British post to Qatar, Keyes, reported to Cox that "there are now only 34 soldiers in the Fort and ten in the villages, and that that [sic] all but about ten men and three officers are preparing to desert. The Commandant has told them they may go."

Terence Humphrey Keyes (1877-1939) in 1915 was a 38-year old officer in the British Indian Army, son of a General and younger brother of a later Admiral. In 1914 he was made Political Agent in Bahrain and had been newly promoted Major when these events occurred.

Terence Humphrey Keyes in later years
At least from my vacation perch I have not found a portrait of young Major Keyes in 1915, so I must ask you to retro-imagine a younger version of his later self. At left is the elderly Brigadier General Sir Terence Humphrey Keyes later in his career.

On August 16, the Political Agent in Bushire, Major A.P. Trevor, notified Keyes that the Senior Naval Officer for the Gulf (Captain Drury St. Aubyn Wake) was dispatching HMS Pyramus to Bahrain to hunt for Tangistani dhows there and in neighboring regions. He added:
I expect a number of Tangistani dhows may be at Doha and I have also heard that Shaikh Abdullah [‘Abdullah bin Jasim Al Thani, Ruler of Qatar] has sent a present (a most useful one) of 50,000 cartridges to Rais Ali [Ra'is ‘Ali Delvari, leader of the Dilwar opposition to the British occupation of Bushire] just before the affair at Dilwar began. I think it would be worth while to follow this up. I think it would be worth while [repetition in original] for "Pyramus" to go over there (perhaps the Commander would take you over) and take away the Tangistani dhows which might be taken somewhere to be destroyed unless you think it advisable to destroy them there.
In a telegram to Sir Percy Cox in Basra, Trevor in Bushire added the detail that the Ruler had sent the cartridges to Ra'is ‘Ali "in return for a present of hawks last year." (As will be seen later, the Ruler insisted that he only sent cloaks to Ra'is ‘Ali in return for the hawks. Hawking and falconry have long been the sport of Gulf sheikhs, of course.)

On the 18th of August, Cox telegraphed approval of the plan including the sending of Keyes, but expressed uncertainty hat Pyramus could enter Doha under the guns of the Turkish fort. Cox added a new twist, though:
Object of Keyes' visit would be seizure of hostile dhows. If shaikh fears to cooperate he can look on and plead force majeure. Incidentally Keyes should ascertain exact state of affairs regarding Turkish detachment and guns. If shaikh agrees to hand the guns over intact and clear out remainder of Turks, Keyes can offer him two thousand five hundred rupees per gun complete same as our price here or a bit more if necessary.
So, "Incidentally,"(!)  Cox has added to the search for Tangistani dhows an inducement for the Ruler to expel he Turks and hand over the guns of the Fort. One wonders if this had been a goal all along, especially since no hostile dhows were found in either Bahrain or Doha. (This is my own speculation not supported by the documentation.)

HMS Pyramus in 1914
HMS Pyramus, the main ship designated for the mission, was a Protected Cruiser 3rd Class, launched in 1897, an older ship by the standards of the time, and nearing the end of her useful life in the age of Dreadnoughts. She spent most of her life in colonial service, and when the war broke out in 1914 she was in the Pacific and took part with a New Zealand force that occupied German Samoa at the outbreak of the war. In fact, though a Royal Navy ship, she had more New Zealanders serving in her during the war than the Royal New Zealand Navy's  first ship of its own, HMNZS Philomel,  which would also serve in the Middle East during the war. She had served at Basra and in the landing at Bushire and Dilwar.

Commander Viscount Kelburn
Commanding the Pyramus on its mission to Qatar was an aristocrat, Patrick James Boyle, the Viscount Kelburn. Kelburn was the eldest son of the 7th Earl of Glasgow (and four months later in December  would become the 8th Earl on his father's death). (Kelburn, as the Earl of Glasgow, would have a certain notoriety in the 1920s and 1930s as a supporter of the Union of British Fascists.)

HMS Dalhousie
The Pyramus was accompanied by another vessel on the Doha mission, HMS Dalhousie. Before the war she had been a troopship in the Indian Marine Service, but had been brought into Royal Navy Service for the Mesopotamian campaign (replacing HMIMS with HMS) and also adding four six-inch guns. Her exact designation is unclear but she may have been classed as an armed merchant cruiser.

Sheikh ‘Abdullah bin Jasim
Those are the men and the ships on the British side. One other key player needs an introduction, the previously mentioned Sheikh ‘Abdullah bin Jasim (or Qasim, pronounced Jasim in the Gulf and often spelled with a jim in modern Qatari sources) bin Muhammad Al Thani, Ruler of Qatar (lived 1880-1959, ruler 1913 or 1914-1940 and again 1948-1949, when he abdicated in favor of his son). As in the case of Major Keyes above, the only available public domain photo I can find on vacation shows Sheikh ‘Abdullah bin Jasim, not as the man of 35 he would have been in 1915, but as a man of advanced age. He is the great-great-grandfather of the current Ruler, Sheikh Tamim; the great-grandfather of his father, Sheikh Hamad, who abdicated in 2013, and the grandfather of his father, Sheikh Khalifa, deposed in 1995. All three of the latter are still living at this writing.

This post will conclude with the action in Doha in Part III, on Monday with any luck.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

More Gunboat Diplomacy: Ottomans Expelled from Qatar, August 19-20, 1915: Part I

 Just a reminder: Postings will be sparse during my current two week vacation.

Early last week we dealt with the British intervention at Bushire (Bushehr) and the punitive expedition against Dilwar in 1915 (Part I and Part II). Yesterday and today mark a century since the British used an aftermath of that campaign to do a little Imperial mopping up of a leftover of Anglo-Ottoman rivalry in the Gulf: ousting a residual Ottoman garrison from Doha, Qatar.

The Background

This requires a bit of historical scene-setting. (This is the Reader's Digest Condensed Version; there are many potential future blogposts here.) During the 19th Century, Britain, concerned with protecting its control of the sealanes with India, had been forming allegiances with the local rulers on both the Arab and Iranian sides of the Gulf, turning the Gulf into a virtual British lake, though without actual colonizing. The rapid decline of central authority in Qajar Iran posed little threat to this pattern, but the Ottoman Empire still saw these territories as Ottoman. In 1871, the Ottoman Empire, not quite yet the "Sick Man of Europe," began reasserting (or in some cases arguably asserting for the first time in years) Ottoman authority in the Arabian Peninsula. This included an expedition in Yemen and Ottoman efforts to establish sovereignty in what are today Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar. (The ruling Al Khalifa of Bahrain had established a protectorate agreement with Britain as early as 1820, and the "Trucial" Emirates of the future UAE made their deals with Britain between 1820 and 1853. Oman was never under Ottoman control other than a brief interlude in the 1500s.)

In or soon after 1871, along with the expedition to Yemen, the Ottomans sent envoys to the various emirates of Arabia and to Kuwait and Qatar and persuaded the local rulers to hoist the Ottoman flag and to acknowledge a least a vague Ottoman suzerainty. This was the case in Qatar.

Now Qatar's history is a complex one. The Al Khalifa we associate today with Bahrain had an ancestral base at Zubara on the west coast of Qatar, but as the Al Khalifa became increasingly identified with Bahrain, other forces emerged elsewhere in the Qatar peninsula, notably the Al Thani around al-Bida‘ (BIdda or Bedaa in Western sources) and its adjacent port of Doha on the eastern side. (Al-Bida‘ is now a neighborhood of Doha.) Both the British and the Ottomans sought to cultivate the Al Thani rulers, who however raised the Ottoman flag and allowed the dispatch of 100 or so Ottoman soldiers to Qatar.

Since Bahrain was under British protection and the Al Khalifa still had a foothold at Zubara in Qatar, this added to Anglo-Ottoman rivalry in the Gulf. In 1893 an Ottoman effort to enforce tax collection by force was resisted by the Ruler and, in the end, the Ottomans were beaten and had to settle for a token presence at Al-Bida‘ and a very loose nominal suzerainty.

In 1913 Great Britain and the Ottomans negotiated a rather comprehensive agreement delineating their respective spheres in the Gulf and elsewhere. This Anglo-Ottoman Convention of 1913 recognized British influence in both Kuwait and Qatar and was signed July 29, 1913,

However, competing Russian, French, German and other claims made ratification difficult. Eleven months minus one day later, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated at Sarajevo, and a few months later Britain and the Ottoman Empire were at war. Though the Ottomans had agreed to evacuate Qatar, the agreement was never ratified, and the residual Ottoman garrison remained at Al-Bida‘ Fort.

In passing, I should mention that as an unratified agreement, the Anglo-Ottoman Convention of 1913 has had a remarkable impact in both international law and politics in subsequent years. Both Kuwait's claim to independence and Iraq's claim to rule Kuwait relate to the status of the 1913 accord,  and the longstanding dispute between Bahrain and Qatar over the Hawar Islands, fought in the International Court of Justice between 1991 and 2001 and decided in the latter year, also saw both sides resorting to citing the unratified agreement.

August 1915

The campaign against the Tangistanis provided an opportunity for the British to do something about the residual Ottoman garrison in  to do something about the residual Ottoman garrison in Qatar. The British believe that some of the garrison at Doha had slipped across to the Iranian side and were aiding the Tangistanis. They also reported a rumor that the Ruler of Qatar had provided ammunition to the Tangistani leader Ra'is ‘Ali in exchange for a gift of hawks (for falconry). And they were determined to search for any Tangistani dhows in Qatari waters. That set the stage for the naval operation to be described in Part II.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Not So Much a Cold Peace as a Quiet Peace

Just a reminder: postings will be sparse during my current two week vacation.

Jacky Hugi recently had a piece at Al-Monitor cleverly entitled "Egypt and Israel: a lover and his mistress." He led by noting the four regional countries not invited to Egypt's recent Suez Canal festivities: Turkey, Syria, Qatar, and Israel. President Sisi's government sees the first three as hostile, but it actually maintains close security and intelligence links with Israel. While the lover and his mistress imagery only goes so far, it's also true that Egypt doesn't publicize (for a domestic audience at any rate) the closeness of its cooperation with Israel on issues such as Gaza, Sinai, and Hamas, though they're well enough known to outside players. In the early years of the peace treaty some Israelis complained of a "cold peace"; what has evolved is instead a quiet peace, hence the lover-mistress analogy.

The Jordanian-Israeli peace also generally is kept to a low profile inside Jordan. But recently both Jordan and Israel participated in the international Red Flag exercise in Nevada, and according to a military website at least, after ferrying two flights of Israeli F-15s to Spain and on to Lajes in the Azores. Israeli aerial tankers also ferried a flight of Jordanian F-16s on the same route. Again, that the two countries cooperate on security and intelligence matters is no secret, but this sort of close cooperation gets as little domestic publicity in Jordan as in Egypt.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Tears of Isis: Wafa' al-Nil

The flood nearly to the Pyramids, 1927
Tomorrow, August 15, is the traditional date Egyptians mark an ancient celebration known as Wafa' al-Nil, "the fullness of the Nile," referring to the Nile Food, even though the Nile has not flooded since the Aswan High Dam was built.  (Another name was Jabr al-Nil, "the strength of the Nile."It is one of two celebrations, with Sham al-Nassim in the spring, that arguably date from Pharaonic times. I have posted on this before, and since my vacation is beginning, this post is mostly a rerun, an amalgam of earlier posts going back to 2009. From previous years:


Last spring I did a post on the Egyptian holiday known as Sham al-Nassim, noting that it was one of only two Egyptian holidays still celebrated that (arguably at least) are survivals from Pharaonic times, and which are celebrated with equal enthusiasm by Muslims and Copts (other than purely secular days like National Day).

Now we're at the other one. August 15 traditionally represents the beginning of the celebration (which lasts for two weeks) of Wafa' al-Nil. Wafa' al-Nil literally means something like "Fullness of the Nile" and refers to the Nile flood. (In earlier times the feast was celebrated whenever the Nile reached a certain height.)

Every summer, since the beginnings of human civilization (and long before), the Nile flooded. Until 1964,when the floodgates of the Aswan High Dam were closed. If you follow the above link on Sham al-Nassim you'll find a comment by my former boss, former MEI VP Ambassador David Mack about his posting in Egypt in 1964-65, when he saw the last Nile flood. I came to Egypt the first time in 1972 — antiquity for many of my readers, no doubt, but after the end of the cycle that created Egyptian civilization. The old-timer expats recounted many tales of flooded basements to us young whippersnappers who'd never see the Nile in flood. (The High Dam was not fully complete until 1970, but the floods stopped after the floodgates were closed in 1964, and the reservoir began to fill.)

Herodotus said that Egypt was the gift of the river, and the Egyptian dating system was based on the heliacal rising of Sirius because Sirius rose with the sun as the Nile began to rise, and thus had a profound symbolism for Egypt. (Some say we still call August the "dog days" because of the rising of Sirius, the Dog Star, in August.)

The annual rise and fall of the Nile — a mystery to the ancient Egyptians, who had little rainfall and knew nothing of the rains of Equatorial Africa, though by Ptolemy the geographer's time there was a vague tradition of the "Mountains of the Moon," an early echo of the Ruwenzori, or perhaps the Ethiopian highlands — was the lifeblood of Egypt. The silt deposited when the river rose irrigated and fertilized the arable lands of the Delta. The rhythm of the Nile flood was the heartbeat of Egyptian history. The Pyramids were built at floodtime: farmers were unemployed because their farms were inundated, and the broader Nile allowed stones from Muqattam to the east to be carried by boat to Giza in the west. (The usual word for river in Arabic is Nahr, with one exception: historically the Nile has been classically referred to as Bahr al-Nil, the "Sea of the Nile." In flood, with much of the arable land under water, it must have seemed more like a sea than a river.)

Anyone who has seen the Nile valley from the air knows how dramatically the desert is delineated from the sown: where the water goes, there is richness; where it does not, there is arid barrenness. And the flood deposited the silts that made Egypt the granary of the Roman Empire.

The Nile flood until 1964 was the pulse of Egypt, and the pulse of Egypt was the pulse of the ancient world. While I'm not an adherent to Karl Wittfogel's "hydraulic" interpretation of the ancient world, there is truth in the power that the flood gave to a unified monarchy and a common religion: someone had to be in charge of making sure the river flooded. The traditional beginnings of Egyptian history are the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, symbolized in Egyptian art by the lotus (Upper Egypt) and the papyrus (Lower Egypt): both plants intimately associated with the Nile.

The Egyptian God of the Nile, Hapi, was closely linked to the flood. (So perhaps I should wish you a Hapi Wafa' al-Nil. Sorry.) And, of course, there was the mythological explanation of the flood as the river rising from the tears Isis shed for her brother/husband Osiris. And the resurrection of Osiris is itself a symbol of the renewal of life through the flooding of the river.

The flood and its relationship to political power is a common theme. One of the many great Mamluk historical compendia on Egypt, Ibn Taghri Birdi's Nujum al-Zahira fi Tarikh Misr wa'l-Qahira, is a year-by-year chronology of Egypt from the Muslim conquest to his own day, and for every single year, he gives the height of the Nile flood.

Two of the great historical artifacts of Egypt are the Nilometer at Roda Island at Cairo, and another Nilometer at Elephantine Island in Aswan. The Nilometers are just what they sound like: they measured the rise of the Nile each year. One of the great historical compendia of the early 20th century is the multi-volume work by Amin Sami called Taqwim al-Nil, a book theoretically on the measurement of the Nile (the meaning of its title) which gives the level of the Nile flood for each year and describes the river and its dams, barrages and other controls in detail, but also links them to the annalistic history of Egypt's rulers. It recognizes the genuine links between political power and the Nile.

The feast of Wafa' al-Nil has all sorts of pre-Islamic and pre-Christian artifacts related to it. The Copts call it the "Finger of the Martyr" (isba‘ al-shahid) because they once tossed a saint's relic into the Nile each year to assure the flood would occur, to placate the river gods, though as good Christians they would not have put it that way. Some legends say virgins were drowned in the Nile at flood time in ancient Egypt, and Egyptians have continued to drop small paper dolls, called brides of the Nile, into the river at the feast. (Islamists do not approve of this pagan survival of course, and the practice is said to be in decline since the end of the flood.)

For an account of the festival in the early 19th century, there is the classic work by Edward William Lane, in his Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, and through the generosity of Google Books you can read it online; with the Wafa' al-Nil account beginning on page 496 of the Everyman Edition at the link.

The rhythm of the flood created Egypt; the richness of the river's silt sustained its civilization. There is much fertility symbolism involved with Wafa' al-Nil, of course; the River God Hapi is depicted a male God with female breasts, and the Isis-Osiris-Horus trinity is intimately linked to the river. While Sham al-Nassim is at least arguably a survival of an Ancient Egyptian religious ceremony, there is no question about Wafa' al-Nil.

From the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under either King Scorpion or Menes (Mina) in about 3000 BC until 1964 AD, Wafa' al-Nil was not just an annual excuse for a holiday. It was the country's lifeblood. For the past 45 years, it is merely a symbolic remembrance of an annual event that will not return until, in some hopefully far distant future, the High Dam fails. But Egyptians still celebrate., though the Nile no longer floods.

Vacation Postings

This weekend I begin a two-week vacation. Unlike some past years I have not prepared one post daily in advance, but I do have two or three in reserve and will likely come up with more, but the rate of postings will be less than usual.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A "Paranormal" Legend from Gallipoli: The Lost Sandringhams

Ever since the History Channel dropped history for Ancient Aliens and UFOs, The Learning Channel changed to TLC and started hunting Bigfoot and ghosts, and even the Travel Channel started visiting haunted houses, the "Paranormal" is big business on TV and (need I say) the Internet. So who am I (other than an actual, real, trained, historian) to demur?

If you search online for "Lost Sandringhams" or "Lost Battalion Gallipoli," you will quickly begin to encounter a story that goes something like this (my paraphrase of the usual version: the full original account is quoted later in this post):
At Gallipoli on August 12, 1914 an entire British battalion advanced against the Turkish lines to take a strategic hill. As their comrades behind them watched, a mysterious haze or fog closed in over the battalion. When it lifted they were nowhere to be seen. They were never seen again, and could not be accounted for by the Turkish authorities after the war; their fate is an unsolved mystery.
Cue the Twilight Zone theme.

This has, with some variation, become a favorite of the paranormal crowd, and, of course, the UFO buffs have suggested a mass alien abduction. What else could it be? Some websites even refer to a "Lost Regiment." (More on British Army formations in WWI later.)

Well, a British Army unit did march into oblivion 100 years ago today at Gallipoli, and its fate remained a mystery for the duration of the war. Not a man returned. But there are some flaws in the tale as usually told:
  1. It wasn't a battalion (over 1,000 men). The missing men were about a company in strength, part of the 1/5 Battalion, Norfolk Regiment. At most 266 officers and men disappeared, though others give smaller numbers. Official casualties for the day from the 1/5 were 16 officers and 141 men.
  2. The "mist" or "fog" was first reported in 1965 on the 50th anniversary of the battle.
  3. The primary witness to the "fog" got the date wrong by more than two weeks and also got the battalion's designation wrong and the location wrong. But even though he didn't tell the story until 1965, believers assume his account was otherwise accurate.
  4. Oh, and the "fate is still unknown" part: after the war a mass grave was found of soldiers with at least 122 men with badges from the Norfolk Regiment from which the missing men came. One captain's watch was located in Turkey and returned to the family after the war.
Other than that, the UFO theory seems pretty solid, except that when the abductees come out of the alien ship at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the Sandringhams weren't among them.

Let's return to reality-based history now.

The term "Sandringhams" originates from the special circumstance that a great many of the men in the lost company were raised from the Royal Sandringham Estates, which by World War I were the property of Queen Mother Alexandra, widow of King Edward VII and mother of the reigning King George V.

The 1/5 Battalion (or just 5th Battalion) of the Norfolk Regiment had begun as a Territorial force that trained part time. The battalion was largely raised from the southern part of the county, with "E" Company recruited from Sandringham, and with Queen Alexandra taking a particular interest in the unit.

Captain Frank Beck
Watchers of Downton Abbey (or for my generation, of Upstairs/Downstairs) will not be surprised to learn that in recruiting from the Estate, the Gentry provided the officers, the senior staff (butlers, gamekeepers, etc.) the NCOs, and the lesser employees the "Other Ranks." Queen Alexandra's Land Agent, Frank Reginald Beck, became the Company's Captain. Though Beck was 54 years old by the time of Gallipoli, he had volunteered for overseas service with his company.

In February 1915, however, Company E was merged with Company C (King's), as this account and others point out,  so strictly speaking there was no longer a "Sandringham Company" as such. In fact, of the 16 officers and 141 men lost that day, it is said that only Beck and 16 others were actually from Sandringham, further complicating the "Lost Sandringhams" myth.

The 1/5 Battalion as a whole was commanded by Colonel Sir Horace George Proctor-Beauchamp, Sixth Baronet of Langley. Despite his wonderful double-barreled name, Proctor-Beauchamp was a cavalryman who had never commanded infantry. The fact that the battalion commander would also die in the battle may account for the popularity of the idea of a "Lost Battalion."

The 1/5 had only arrived at Suvla Bay on the 10th, as a reinforcement of the original landings on August 6-7. On August 12, the 1/5 was ordered to advance in company with other battalions of the 163 Brigade, 54th Division, IX Corps  against a position known as Kuchuk Anafarta Ova. Colonel Proctor-Beauchamp was given local command by the Brigade Commander to lead his own  battalion along with the 1/8 Hants [Hampshires], 1/5 Suffolks and 1/4 Norfolks.

Things apparently went wrong quickly. The 1/5 managed to move out ahead of the supporting battalions to their left and were separated and isolated. Rather than fall back and realign the Brigade, Proctor-Beauchamp kept advancing. Some troops reached a sunken road and came within range of a Turkish machine-gun. One witness who survived spoke of Proctor-Beauchamp waving his cane and shouting "Hound them out, boys!" He was not seen again.

But the whole 1/5 Norfolks did not vanish; a few hundred men at most did. Surviving officers withdrew the rest to their own lines. But the presence of Captain Beck, King George V's land agent at Sandringham, and the personal interest of Queen Mother Alexandra drew attention to the uncertainty about the fate of the lost men.

Adding to the myth was the fact that the overall commander, General Sir Ian Hamilton, would write in 1916 that "But the Colonel, with sixteen officers and 250 men, still kept pushing on, driving the enemy before them. ... Nothing more was ever seen or heard of any of them. They charged into the forest and were lost to sight or sound. Not one of them ever came back." That is the origin of the number of 266 missing, still far short of a "Lost Battalion," as a British Battalion at the time was over 1,000 men. (And certainly not a "Lost Regiment," since a British Regiment, unlike its American namesake at the time, was not a combat formation but a historical/honorary identification that, in wartime, could consist of any number of Battalions stationed in different theaters or colonial outposts.)

And as noted earlier the number 266 was not final. Official lists of casualties vary (16 officers and 141 men; 11 officers and 151 men) but those actually unaccounted for seem to be somewhere in the 160 range. At least one officer reportedly ended up as a POW in Constantinople; some men filtered back to the lines.
Norfolks' Regimental Badge
And the "never seen again" part: As this web post by a student of the unit quotes, the Battalion chaplain, Rev. Pierrepont Edwards, reported finding them in 1919:
‘We have found the 5th Norfolks – there were 180 in all; 122 Norfolk and a few Hants and Suffolks with 2/4th Cheshires. We could only identify two – Privates Barnaby and Carter. They were scattered over an area of about one square mile, at a distance of at least 800 yards behind the Turkish front line. Many of them had evidently been killed in a farm, as a local Turk, who owns the place, told us that when he came back he found the farm covered with the decomposing bodies of British soldiers, which he threw into a small ravine. The whole thing quite bears out the original theory that they did not go very far on, but got mopped up one by one, all except the ones who got into the farm.’
Frank Beck's watch fob was reportedly located in Turkey and returned to the family.

It seems fairly clear that the men were cut off and cut down in their isolated position. Without the Royal Sandringham cachet, they would be just one more unit sent into the meat-grinders of the Great War.  The mysteries of 1915 seemed mostly cleared up by 1919.

End of reality-based history. Cue Twilight Zone theme and return to fantasy.

Then in 1965, on the 50th anniversary of the battle, things got weird. A New Zealand vet named Frederick Reichardt attended a UFO meeting and told a tale; later he provided a written version signed by several other veterans. The fullest version I can find is taken from the NZ Skeptics website:

Gallipoli, August 28, 1915.

The following is an account of a strange incident that happened on the above date, in the morning, during the severest and final days of fighting, which took place at Hill 60, Suvla Bay, ANZAC.
The day broke clear, without a cloud in sight, as any beautiful Mediterranean day could be expected to be. The exception, however, was a number of perhaps six or eight “loaf of bread” shaped clouds — all shaped exactly alike — which were hovering over “Hill 60″. It was noticed that in spite of a four or five mile an hour breeze from the south, these clouds did not alter their position in any shape or form, nor did they drift away under the influence of the breeze. They were hovering at an elevation of about 60 degrees as seen from our observation point 500 ft. up. Also stationary and resting on the ground right underneath this group of clouds was a similar cloud in shape, measuring about 800 ft. in length, 200 ft. in height and 200 ft. in width. This cloud was absolutely dense, almost solid looking in structure, and positioned about 14 to 18 chains from the fighting, in British held territory. All this was observed by 22 men of No 3 section of No 1 Field Company NZE, including myself, from our trenches on Rhododendron Spur, approximately 2,500 yards southwest of the cloud on the ground. Our vantage point was overlooking “Hill 60″ by about 300 ft. As it turned out later, this singular cloud was straddling a dry creek bed or sunken road and we had a perfect view of the cloud’s sides and ends as it rested on the ground. Its colour was a light grey, as was the colour of the other clouds.
A British regiment, the First Fourth Norfolk, of several hundred men, was then noticed marching up this sunken road or creek towards “Hill 60″. However, when they arrived at this cloud, they marched straight into it, with no hesitation, but no one ever came out to deploy and fight at “Hill 60″. About an hour later, after the last of the file had disappeared into it, this cloud very unobtrusively lifted off the ground and, like any fog or cloud would, rose slowly until it joined the other similar clouds which were mentioned at the beginning of this account. On viewing them again, they all looked alike as “peas in a pod”. All this time, the group of clouds had been hovering in the same place, but as soon as the singular “ground” cloud had risen to their level, they all moved away northwards, ie, towards Thrace. In a matter of about three quarters of an hour, they had all disappeared from view.
The Regiment mentioned is posted as “missing” or “wiped out” and on Turkey surrendering in 1918, the first thing Britain demanded of Turkey was the return of this regiment. Turkey replied that she neither captured this regiment, nor made contact with it, and did not know that it existed. A British regiment in 1914-18 consisted of any number between 800 and 4000 men. Those who observed this incident vouch for the fact that Turkey never captured that regiment nor made contact with it.
We, the undersigned, although late in time, that is at the 50th Jubilee of the ANZAC landing, declare that the above described incident is true in every word. Signed by witnesses: 4/165 Sapper F Reichart, Matata, Bay of Plenty, 13/416 Sapper R Newnes, 157 King St, Cambridge, JL Newman, 73 Freyberg St, Otumoetai, Tauranga.
And a postscript:
The above described incident was observed by 22 men of No 3 section of 1st Div. Coy. NZE. And others, including myself, from our trenches on Rhododendron Spur, a distance of about 2500 yards. From this vantage point about 5,000 ft up we had a perfect view including both sides and ends of the cloud as it rested on the ground. (Owing to the elevation of the observers.)
A complete statement of this incident as given here is included in one of the official histories of the Gallipoli campaign. Also incorporated are descriptions of the disappearance of a British platoon in the fighting in the Sudan about 1898, under similar circumstances, and the mysterious disappearance of a company (could have been British Engineers) during the fighting on the North West Frontier of India and Afganistan [sic]. This happened in the Khyber Pass area. On search parties being sent out to investigate the disappearance of both these units, it was found that the tracks ended suddenly, the footmarks all pointing straight ahead, but nothing beyond, sideways or backwards. The above description of the disappearance of troops on Gallipoli is absolutely correct as I witnessed the event, and the other two events I have read about, contained in one of the history books of which I cannot give the name, but which contains full description of all three incidents. (signed) F Reichardt
Now, 50 years after the fact, we have this strange account. He places the event on August 28 and says the Battalion was the 1/4 Norfolks, when we have seen that it was August 12 and the 1/5 Norfolks. He makes it a Regiment, "of between 800 and 4000 men," (incorrect anyway) not even a Battalion, let alone just a few hundred men. Oh, and they weren't attacking Hill 60 (a real place at Suvla) either. He says it is included in "one of the official histories of the Gallipoli campaign." It isn't in the British, Australian, or New Zealand official histories and I doubt he read Turkish. and said the Turks had never heard of the unit. The references to Sudan and Afghanistan raise more questions than they answer; but little about this statement argues for the credibility of the account. (Also if the transcription is accurate his own name is spelled two different ways.)

The NZ Skeptics analysis suggests that the story may confuse elements of the 1/5 Norfolks' disaster with an attack made on Scimitar Hill (near Hill 60) by the 29th Sherwood Foresters on August 21. They did not "disappear," but did take heavy losses fighting in an evening mist (though the Reichardt account says it was morning). So perhaps some  trick of memory is at work here, especially if the witness was already a UFO believer.

But Reichardt's story, however improbable, has fueled a cottage industry among the paranormal,  UFO, and historical mysteries genres, few of whom take the time to look at the factual basis, however small, for the "Lost Battalion." You are of course free to search them out if you wish, but I hope this post makes the history as clear as we can make it through the fog of war.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Gunboat Diplomacy: The British Occupy Bushehr (Bushire) and Move Against the Tangistanis, August 1915, Part II

Note: If you have not read Part I of this post, which appeared yesterday, please do so first, as it sets the stage for the campaign described here.

The Punitive Force

Since here was no chance the impotent Iranian government could provide the compensation demanded for the July attack, the British immediately began assembling a punitive expedition to occupy Bushire and punish the Tangistanis.

Drury St.A. Wake (as an Admiral)
In anticipation of the campaign, the Royal Navy named Captain (later Admiral Sir) Drury St.Aubyn Wake as Senior Naval Officer, Persian Gulf. Up to this point, the Gulf force had been under the Senior Naval Officer, Mesopotamia, but the commands were now separated.

Defenses of Bushire, September 1915
The British formally occupied Bushire on August 8, reinforcing the garrison there. They met no resistance at the port On August 9 it was decided to send elements from four companies of the 96th Berar Infantry (70 rifles from each) to land at Dilwar, along with Royal Navy elements, a Royal Marine covering force and a Navy demolition team. The 96th was under the command of Major C.E.H. Wintle, and the force was accompanied by the Royal Navy's HMS Juno under the aforementioned Captain Wake, along with the HMS Pyramus  and the Royal Indian Marine ships HMIMS Dalhousie and HMIMS Lawrence as troopships along with a Naval Landing Party of about 100 men. After the landings the ships would seek to seize any Tangistani dhows in the Gulf.

HMS Juno
The ships arrived off Dilwar on the morning of August 10, but they discovered the  survey of the coast previously made was unreliable and they had to seek safe anchorages; also a shamal wind was blowing, preventing landings. This continued on the 11th, though in the interim they were able to do reconnaissance and practice landing operations.

The landing finally became feasible on August 13 and operations began at 9:30 AM. The tides forced a landing to the south of the original plan. The Tangistanis were in trenches onshore and opened fire with rifles, and Juno's landing boat lost four dead and seven wounded.

I reproduce he map accompanying Major Wintle's report to General Nixon, to illustrate the actions onshore though the resolution isn't  great, and another map below it.

The small boats had Maxim guns, and tried to suppress the rifle fire, but it was the six-inch guns on Juno, firing from 9,000 yards offshore, that had the most effect,

Due to considerations of light, it was decided to land he troops at 11 AM. Once the Royal Marines were ashore the infantry landings began.

The British did not have good maps of the area, and thought the villages of Old Dilwar and New Dilwar and its fort lay just beyond a palm grove. At 3:30 on the morning of August 14, Wintle ordered his troops forward to the palm grove, only to discover, as the maps a left show, that it lay some 1200 yards south of the villages.

Wintle's men in the grove began cutting down palm trees to punish the Tangistanis, but encountered resistance (as well as an instance when naval gunfire fell on the grove). After taking casualties, Wintle withdrew toward the British camp, but resolved to take the fort the next day

At 3:30 in the morning of the 15h, to avoid the heat of the day in the Gulf in August, Wintle moved out and took he village of Old Dilwar, stationing a company and a machine-gun there, and moving on to New Dilwar and its fort. It was discovered that the Tangistanis expecting him to return to the palm grove to cut down more trees,had reinforced the palm grove. The British were able to breach the walls of the fort. Wintle blew up the fort and burned the village of Dilwar.

At the time of the landings, Wintle estimated the hostile forces at Dilwar at 150-200 men, but by late on the 15th at 500 to 600, suggesting that reinforcement had come from other villages in the vicinity. He also makes reference to seeing a "white officer," who he suggested might be a Turk, with the enemy.

HMS Pyramus
Wintle was planning to return and destroy more palm trees, but due to a shortage of ammunition and naval shells and the growing enemy force, along with growing dissent among the local population back in Bushire, it was decided to order the force back to Bushire, considering the destruction of the fort and the village sufficient punishment to the Tangistanis, and the punitive force re-embarked that night.

Casualties were: Killed: Royal Navy: 1 officer, 5 seamen, 1 Royal Marine; 96th Berar Infantry: 1 Indian officer, 7 sepoys. Wounded: Royal Navy: 1 officer, 12 seamen and 12 Marines; 96th Berar Infantry: 1 Indian officer and 14 sepoys. As noted earlier, some casualties were from friendly fire when the Navy shells fell at the palm grove.

This was not the end of the campaign. The Tangistanis would attack Bushire itself again on September 9, and we will resume the story then.

A note on sources:
I was originally going to list a range of sources, but in the end most of the narrative of the campaign was taken from the primary source, available digitally online from the India Office Records digitzed by the Qatar Digital Library: "Report from General Sir J. E. Nixon, K.C.B., Commanding I.E.F. "D." on the Operations at Dilwar 10th-16th August 1915." This contains the texts of Major Wintle's and Captain Wake's official reports to Nixon, their daily orders, detailed casualty and decoration lists, and maps. The Qatar Digital Library has done a great service in digitizing these India office records.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Gunboat Diplomacy: The British Occupy Bushehr (Bushire) and Move Against the Tangistanis, August 1915, Part I


Stamp of Ahmad Shah with Overprint
Back in July, I discussed the provocation that would lead to another sideshow of the First World War in Iran, the British occupation of the Iranian port of Bushehr (then usually spelled Bushire in English) and its hinterland. On July 12, 1915, Tangistani tribesmen under Ra'is ‘Ali Delvari, encouraged by German agents, attacked a small British garrison  stationed at the British Residency in Bushehr to protect the telegraph line along the Gulf coast. Two British Indian Army officers and a sepoy were killed in repelling the attack. As I noted at that time, the British demanded compensation from the Iranian government, but the late Qajar Shahs had little control over their tribal areas, and so the British resolved to occupy Bushehr (hereafter Bushire as I'm drawing from contemporary accounts), and punish the Tangistanis at Delvar, which the British routinely called Dilwar following the Arabic pronunciation, or Dilbar. It is "Dilbar" on the map below, some miles southeast of Bushire.

Who are the Tangistanis?
Tangistan (Persian  تنگستان) is described in J.G. Lorimer's great geographical opus on the British imperial era in the Gulf, Gazetteer of the Persian Gulf, Oman and Central Arabia (which I wrote about in 2012) treats Tangistan in Volume II ("Geographical and Statistical," Calcutta 1908), Part IIB, pp.1859-1871. He's the rare British source in this period to use the spelling Bushehr.) In his usual detail. He says the region along the coast consists, in his day, of a population of "various little known tribes [which he then lists] . . . but they are generally spoken of in the aggregate as Tangistanis." He details the characteristics of the tribes and notes all are Shi‘a and speak a dialect of Persian. He sys the tribal traditions trace several of their origins to central Persia or Afghanistan and one tribe claims an origin in central Arabia, "but are now completely Persianized." He discusses their fierce reputation (remember he is writing at the height of British Imperial power):
Notwithstanding their nearness to Bushehr Town, they still live in a rude and uncivilized state; blood-feuds flourish amongst them, and their name continues to be, in Bushehr Town, a synonym for lawlessness, brutality and ignorance. The houses in the villages are mostly date leaves plastered with mud, but some are built of stones. The people are poor in consequence of their perpetual wars There are about 2 rifles to every 3 houses.
Ra'is ‘Ali  Delvari with Tangistani fighters
In Iran today the resistance to the British is seen as a nationalist resistance to foreign colonialism, and Ra's ‘Ali Delvari is considered a nationalist hero and martyr. His home in Delvar now is the Delvar Ethnological Museum, and while I'll probably never see it, I'm guessing it offers a different narrative of the Tangistanis from that of Lorimer.

As for Dilwar/Delvar village itself Lorimer treats it [he spells it Dilbar (دلبار) and treats it together with the neighboring village of ‘Amari on pages 1864 and 1865 of the aforementioned volume of the Gazetteer], he describes the adjacent villages as having 70 houses,growing wheat and barley, grapes, and watermelons, and lists numbers of everything from date palms to donkeys in his day.He does not seem to have a count of people.

So these are the people, the Tangistanis, who pulled the tail of the British Lion on July 12 and were about to face invasion.

The Players

Gen. Sir John E. Nixon
Let's also review the Dramatis Personae. The British troops in the Gulf were Indian Army troops engaged in the Mesopotamian campaign. This being before the disaster at Kut, the British still were enjoying success in "Mespot," and felt they could flex muscles in the Gulf. The Commander of British Indian Forces in Mesopotamia and the Gulf was General Sir John Nixon, a Sandhurst graduate and Indian Army veteran of the Second Afghan and Second Boer Wars. The British garrison at Bushire that was attacked in July came from the 96th Berar Regiment of the Indian Army, and they would bear the brunt of the campaign.

Ra'is ‘Ali Delvari
 In my July post I introduced the Tangistani leader, Ra'is ‘Ali Delvari. Born around 1882 and thus in his 30s in 1915, his Wikipedia profile is obviously written by an Iranian nationalist admirer. (As near as my limited Persian allows me to judge, this is equally true of the Farsi version.)
Wassmuss in Persian Garb

When the British were not portraying the Tangistanis as mere brigands they saw them as instruments of Berlin. We also met the German diplomat/spy Wilhelm Wassmuss in my earlier post.

It is perhaps only fair to mention one of the players most conspicuous by his absence. Britain, Germany, and the Tangistanis were all playing the geopolitical games of the Great War, and they (and he Ottomans and the Russians as well) clearly with felt free to manipulate Iranian tribesmen and local sheikhs and khans with impunity.

All tended to forget that Iran was still technically a sovereign state and formally a neutral in the war. Ottomans and Russians fought on Iranian territory in the northwest; Britain occupied the south and the refineries at Abadan and were about to occupy Bushire, and Wassmuss had agents at work among the tribes.

Ahmad Shah Qajar
The man who wasn't there was Ahmad Shah Qajar. He had taken the throne in 1909 at the age of 12 after his father was deposed in the wake of the Constitutional Revolution of 1905. By the time he came of age and took the throne in his own right in 1914, he was virtually powerless. Eventually deposed while still in his 20s (and dying while still in his 30s), he is mostly remembered as the last of the Qajar Dynasty. The stamp at the top of this post, showing the very young Ahmad Shah overprinted with "Bushire under British Occupation," is a visual symbol of his weakness.

Part II will deal with the actual operations to occupy Bushire.

Melhem and Cook on Egypt

There's a big historical post coming later this evening. Meanwhile, I wanted to call your attention to two excellent posts on Egypt. My old friend Hisham Melhem, Washington Bureau Chief of Al Arabiya, has a perceptive and eloquent piece called "Whatever is the Matter with Egypt?"  Another perceptive Egypt-watcher, Steven A. Cook at the Council on Foreign Relations has responded with a (somewhat) dissenting post at the From the Potomac to the Euphrates blog, "Whatever is the Matter with Egypt? Nothing All That New." 

Both are well worth a read.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

"Their Lonely Graves are by Suvla's Waves": Doubling Down to Make it Worse: Suvla Bay, August 6-7, 1915

The Plan
On April 25, 1915, you will recall, the British and French allies landed troops (mostly Australians and New Zealanders) at ANZAC Cove and Sud al-Bar on the Gallipoli peninsula. More than three months later they were still trapped on narrow beaches under fire from Ottoman artillery and hemmed in by Turkish infantry entrenched on rocky ridgelines. A maneuver intended to sidestep the stalemate in the trenches of the Western Front had instead replicated it, but with most of the carnage limited to the Allied side. A military situation such as this suggests to a sane strategist two options: 1) find a way to outflank the enemy, or 2) cut your losses and withdraw from an unwinnable situation.

What did Britain do?

What part of "Gallipoli 1915" did you not understand? Let's land more troops in the same impossible positions! It worked so well on the Western Front. But the August landings added a few new twists: giving command to a general who had never commanded in battle, and landing in darkness. What could possibly go wrong?

The landings were intended to assist a breakout by the ANZACs from ANZAC Cove by having the ANZACs attack from their position against the Sari Bair mountainous ridge as additional troops landed at Suvla Bay just to their north. Another attack was to be launched from Cape Helles. The map above shows the intended plan. The new troops being landed at Suvla Bay were the IX Corps consisting of two brigades  (the 30th and 31st) of the 10th (Irish) Division and all of the 11th (Northern) Division (32nd, 33rd and 34th Brigades). These were "New Army" units formed at the outbreak of the war,  The 11th was to go ashore the night of August 6 and the 10th to follow the morning of the 7th. But little went according to plan.

Stopford
The theater commander, Sir Ian Hamilton, had asked for an experienced general from the Western Front, but those considered were junior in seniority to the 10th Division  commander and could not be considered. Instead Lord Kitchener chose Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Stopford,who had fought at Tel el-Kebir back in 1882, and risen through the ranks in mostly staff and adjutant and headquarters positions. The younger son of an Earl, Stopford, despite high rank, had never commanded a large force in battle. He had retired in 1909, but returned to active duty for the war.

In a war marked by disastrous British generalship, Stopford was unusually bad.

The Ottomans knew new landings were coming, but didn't know where. They reinforced the Asian shore and other parts of the peninsula, but as the British prepared to land 20,000 troops at Suvla, only some 1,500 Turkish troops faced them. Stopford still managed to fail.

Late on August 6, the ANZAC forces launched assaults against positions at Lone Pine and Chunuk Bair in a new attempt to break out and also provide a diversion for the troops landing at Suvla Bay. (Though the Suvla troops were English and Irish, "Suvla" would become a notorious term among the ANZACs, who considered that they were sacrificed to cover the British landings.) (The final scene of the 1981 Mel Gibson film Gallipoli portrays the ANZAC August offensive, and does so in a rather anti-British way.)

Two brigades of the 11th were to go ashore south of Nibrunesi point while the 34th Brigade was to land in Suvla Bay proper, with the Irish brigades to follow. Landings were to begin at 10 pm after Australian breakout was under way.

It began with a success, if a Pyrrhic one. Two companies of 6th Battalion, the Yorkshire Regiment, drove the Ottomans off the small hill known as Lala Baba, but with the loss of a third of the men and most of the officers killed or wounded.

The 34th Brigade landing in Suvla Bay was a disaster: many had to wade ashore in neck-deep water while under Turkish fire. Stopford had decided to remain aboard HMS Jonquil, and soon went to sleep.

The Reality: Situation August 7
The landings had begun in darkness. When the moon came up, Turkish snipers began to fire. The beaches were a confused jumble of men, many landed in the wrong place, or left without orders. The Irish brigades came ashore and added to the chaos. Drinking water was in short supply. IX Corps is said to have taken 1,700 casualties in the first few hours, more than the total number of Ottoman forces opposing them. The German commander of the Ottoman troops on Gallipoli ordered two divisions to reinforce the Suvla front on the 7th. Stopford had still not come ashore. Nevertheless, he signaled Hamilton that he was going to "consolidate his position."

Sir Ian Hamilton dispatched aides to the front and then came himself. Overnight on August 8-9 he ordered an assault on the ridgeline; the Turkish reinforcements had now arrived and made mincemeat of the 32nd Brigade.

Mustafa Kemal, Gallipoli, 1915
As the British chain of command remained in chaos, Liman von Sanders replaced the local Turkish commander in the Suvla-Chunuk Bair sector with the commander of the 19th Division. This was Mustafa Kemal, the future Atatürk.

If  Liman von Sanders now had the right man in command, the British did not. It was not until the 14th that Hamilton communicated to Lord Kitchener the need to replace the Suvla commanders.  On the 15th Stopford was recalled and replaced with Sir Julian Byng. The 11th Division Commander was also replaced, and the 10th Division Commander resigned his command rather than serve under Stopford's temporary replacement. Meanwhile, the Australians and New Zealanders were heavily engaged in the Chunuk Bair region, receiving no relief.

The disaster at Suvla would find many echoes in later memory. Though the only Australians at Suvla proper were a bridging engineer unit, Eric Bogle's antiwar And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda refers to Suvla Bay, perhaps in the sense that Chunuk Bair was part of the campaign. The 1981 movie Gallipoli would contain a reference to the English drinking tea on the beach at Suvla while the Australians are thrown into battle.

The Irish also, like the ANZACs, would in years to come show ambivalence about whether their worst enemy at Gallipoli was the Turks or the British. Suvla is also invoked twice in the Irish rebel song The Foggy Dew, by Canon Charles O'Neill, about the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin, referring to the Irish Division at Suvla and Cape Helles (Sud El-Bar):
Right proudly high over Dublin town
They hung out a flag of war.
'Twas better to die 'neath an Irish sky
Than at Suvla or Sud el Bar.
And from the plains of Royal Meath
Strong men came hurrying through;
While Brittania's sons with their long-range guns
Sailed in from the foggy dew.

'Twas England bade our wild geese go
That small nations might be free.
Their lonely graves are by Suvla's waves
And the fringe of the grey North Sea.
But had they died by Pearse's side
Or fought with Valera true,
Their graves we'd keep where the Fenians sleep
'Neath the hills of the foggy dew.
Here's a version by Sinead O'Connor and The Dubliners, illustrated with scenes taken from the 1996 Liam Neeson film Michael Collins:

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

On the Eve of Egypt's Big Day

After all Egypt has gone through in recent years, Egyptians could probably use something to celebrate, and celebrate they will, though not everyone is on board. Tomorrow the "new Suez Canal" project will be dedicated. It's a genuine accomplishment, however much it is being overhyped. For those who know Arabic, here's a selection of Thursday's early edition newspapers, both state-owned and private (Hat Tip to Thomas Gorguissian of Al-Tahrir):




Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Two Interesting Takes on Chinese Migrants in Egypt

Since my daughter is ethnically Han Chinese, I have a certain interest, in addition to the natural interest as a historian and cultural observer, in the Overseas Chinese experience. When I first lived in Egypt in 1972 I knew of only two Chinese restaurants. There may have been some in Heliopolis or Maadi but the two downtown were not great, and the menus avoided pork dishes (though there may have been separate menus for Chinese patrons even then.) Today Chinese restaurants and even delivery are commonplace in Cairo, but also of interest is a growing ethnic Chinese population working in Egypt.

First, note a current New Yorker article by David Hessler, "Learning to Speak Lingerie: Chinese merchants and the inroads of globalization" about Chinese lingerie sellers in Egypt.  This in turn led me to this 2013 documentary about Chinese workers in Egypt, some of them Uighurs and other Chinese Muslims, and many of them undocumented: