A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, February 2, 2015

Suez Canal Notes: Auchinleck and the 62nd Punjabis at Suez 1915

Badge of the 62nd Punjabis
Tomorrow, February 3, marks the 100th anniversary  of the Ottoman attack on the Suez Canal in 1915. I'll be narrating the battle tomorrow, but I thought I'd anticipate it with a vignette of one Indian Army Regiment that distinguished itself in the battle, the 62nd Punjabi Regiment.

This regiment's lineage traced to an Indian Army unit formed in 1759, and which had served under Arthur Wellesley (the future Duke of Wellington) in one of his first great victories, at Assaye in 1803.

It arrived in Egypt in December 1914. As fate would have it, the 62nd happened to be deployed near the Tussum Post on the Canal, at the site of what would be the only point where Turkish pontoons actually reached the west bank of the Canal. Only three pontoons made it across.

Two landed at mile 47.6, and a third at milepost 43.3. The Turks (actually Syrians of various ethnicities from the 23rd Homs and 25th Damascus Divisions. The 62nd Punjabis attacked and killed or captured the Turks who made it ashore. Naik Safdar Ali and Sepoy Sher Khan of the 62nd rushed forward; Safdar Ali was killed and Sher Khan badly wounded; both won the Indian Order of Merit.
Naik Safdar Ali (source)

The next day, the 62nd was instrumental in pushing the Turks back from British trenches they had occupied on the east bank of the Canal, Havildar Muhammad Azim distinguished himself and won yet another Order of Merit.

The 62nd went on to fight hard in Mesopotamia, One of its British captains at the Canal battle was getting his first taste of combat, but not his last: Captain Claude Auchinleck, better known in World War II as Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck (and to his men as "the Auk"), commander in the early stages at El Alamein and the last British Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army. Captain Auchinleck is standing at far right in this photo from Egypt in December 1914 of the officers of the 62nd Punjabis:
The 62nd Punjabis later became the 1st Battalion, 1st Punjab Regiment, and  at Partition in 1947 were allocated to the new Pakistani Army. Today, as the ist Battalion, the Punjab Regiment of the Army of Pakistan, they are said to enjoy the oldest unit lineage of any Indian Army regiment still in existence.

No comments: