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NAVAL OPERATIONS IN THE RED SEA, 1916-17. (Received in April, 1920.)

This article was adapted from The Naval Review, Vol. XIII, p.648-666. Despite there being no formal indication, it may be safely assumed that Admiral William Henry Dudley Boyle, 12th Earl of Cork, was the author. He commanded the light cruiser HMS Fox in the Red Sea in 1915, then commanded the Red Sea Patrol in 1916. He worked closely with T.E. Lawrence. The original spelling of names and places has been retained.


No doubt all those whose fate caused them to be employed in the various backwaters of the war were generally of the opinion that their services were not appreciated, and that they were forgotten in the midst of the stupendous events taking place at the storm centre. This feeling was particularly prevalent among those serving in the Red Sea during 1916 and 1917.

For political reasons it was not then desirable that it should be known that the Arabs in their rebellion were financed, armed and assisted by the British.

The Turks had been held up to the contempt of all good Moslems for having allied themselves with Christians, and it was not considered politic to expose the Grand Sherif of Mecca to the same taunt. Consequently those announcements in the home papers which alluded to the events taking place in Arabia, studiously avoided all reference to the aid being given to the rebellion by the ships on the station. As the revolution resulted in the expulsion of the Turks from the Holy Land of the Moslem faith, it cannot fail to be an event of considerable historical importance.

It therefore seems fitting that the assistance given to the movement by units of the British Navy should be placed on record in the NAVAL REVIEW, and it is with this object, and this alone, that the following pages have been written. This narrative of events is limited to the period during which all hope of Arab success wa based upon having control of the sea. The minor operations which took place during this time in the Southern Red Sea will also be mentioned. Earlier in the war certain action had already been taken, such as that by the Black Prince at Sheik Sa'id, but the were sporadic in character and have moreover been described in the pages of the NAVAL REVIEW.

Between these two periods of activity there was a long lull, during which arrangements were made and agreements entered into, which were essential if the Arab revolt was to have any chance of success.

The negotiations took place mostly in Cairo and were unavoidably protracted, as they were conducted by agents who, in order to ensure secrecy, had to be embarked or disembarked either at isolated spots on the Arabian coast, or from dhows at sea.

During 1915 the Red Sea had been divided at the 21st parallel into a Northern and Southern Patrol, based on Suez and Aden respectively. In the north the ships were under the orders of a French Rear-Admiral, who went home in December of that year.

Both patrols were controlled by the C. in C., Vice-Admiral Sir R. F. Peirse, K.C.B., M.V.O., whose flag was flying at Port Said.

Politically the Northern Patrol was advised from Cairo, while the Southern carried out the policy of the Indian Government as made known through the Political Resident at Aden. As the policies of these two authorities were not always working in the same direction, a somewhat anomalous state of affairs resulted, and different treatment was meted out to dhows according to whether they were north or south of lat. 21N. To the Arab traders this was perplexing.

The general policy was one which aimed at conciliating the Arabs while keeping up hostilities against the Turks. With this in view, food, etc., was allowed to be imported for Arab consumption, but cargoes were to be destroyed if supposed to be destined for the Turks.

When it is stated that the Turks controlled the customs and had garrisons at every port, the success that this policy achieved can be estimated.

Moreover, British steamers laden with foodstuffs were sent to Jiddah by the Indian Government, and these cargoes were checked into dhows by enemy officials. The food thus imported was supposed to be for certain Indian pilgrims caught in Jiddah on the outbreak of war. In practice it was a free gift to the Turks. The general situation was from a naval point of view most unsatisfactory.

Chart of the Red Sea region, 1916-18. Click for enlargement.

Before proceeding with the narrative it may be as well to give a brief description of the general and political situation in Western Arabia in January 1916.

The Red Sea coast of Arabia extends from Akaba at the head of the Gulf of that name, to Sheik Sa'id opposite Perim. This littoral is divided into three parts, each of which then formed a Villayet of the Ottoman Empire. These are the Hejaz, the Asir and the Yemen. According to Turkish definition, the Hejaz extends south from the latitude of Akaba to the neighbourhood of Lith in 21N. The Arabs, however, limit the northern boundary by a line drawn through the port of Wejh and El-Ala on the Hejaz railway.

South of this extends the Holy territory, into which no Christian prior to the war was allowed to penetrate.

To the Turks, the great value of the Hejaz lay in the fact that the Holy cities of Mecca and Medina are situated there. Much of the prestige the Turks enjoyed among their coreligionists was due to the fact of their possession of these sacred places, together with their ports of Jiddah and Yambo respectively.

Other so-called ports are Muweilah, Dhaba, Wejh, Umlejh, Rabugh and Lith. The population of the Hejaz has been estimated at 1,000,000. It is composed of one-fifth settled and four-fifths Bedouin Arabs.

In the great pilgrim port of Jiddah the population is very varied, "the mixed products of many a generation's pilgrimage," and representatives of almost every race professing the Mahommedan faith are to be found there. The settled Arabs are either grouped around the ports, or living in Mecca, Medina or Ta'if.

The country is mostly desert; the Bedouins are badly nourished, dishonest and treacherous. The Hejaz does not produce what it requires and is dependent for its food supply upon the Sudan and Egypt. Its inhabitants are divided into numerous tribes, the most important from our point of view being in the north the Howeitat, whose territory reaches to Dhaba. Their neighbours to the south are the Billi who are grouped round Wejh. South again are the Juheinah in the Yambo district, and the rest is the domain of the great Harb tribe, which supplied the bulk of the fighting forces in the early days of revolution. Around Mecca itself are several small communities known as the Ashrafi, who claim descent from the Prophet's family. The Hejaz being a Villayet, the Turkish government was represented by a Vali who resided in Mecca.

Turkish sovereignty all through Arabia has always been of a somewhat shadowy description. As a rule it extended little further than gun range from the Turkish posts. Garrisons were maintained in the Hejaz at Mecca, Medina, Ta'if, and at the coast ports and along the railway line. Travel by road was precarious, even over the 70 miles between Jiddah and Mecca being unsafe.

The Turkish method of policing the highways was to pay the local Sheiks to protect travellers while they passed through their districts. As for the cities of Mecca and Medina, not only were they free from taxation, but they received a large subsidy from the Ottoman treasury.

The Hejazites were exempt from conscription. The real authority in the Hejaz has for some years been the Grand Sheriff of Mecca, now King Hussein. He was appointed to the post by the Sultan in 1908, and was at the time living in Constantinople. Immediately upon taking office Hussein set to work to acquire the supreme authority in the Hejaz, with the intention of ultimately gaining complete autonomy, if not independence. Although he had on several occasions supplied Arab levies to assist the Turks, he had steadily resisted all attempts by them to introduce conscription into Arabia, and has consistently taken the side of the Arabs in their numerous quarrels with the local Turkish authorities. Assisted by his three elder sons, Sheriffs Ali, Abdullah and Feisal, Hussein had worked for the support of the Bedouins, and won great favour with them by opposing the Turkish plan of continuing the railway from Medina to Mecca, via Rabugh. He lived in considerable state, received a handsome salary, maintained his own bodyguard, and exercised all magisterial authority.

As it was only by the goodwill of the Grand Sheriff that the Turks could get any attention paid to their decrees, the Vali had orders to maintain good relations with him. Using his sons as agents in his cause, Hussein's intrigues were widespread, extending to Syria, and even to Constantinople itself, where one son was a deputy in parliament. The great support to Turkish dominion in the Hejaz has latterly been the railway. Built ostensibly to facilitate the pilgrims, and as such financed by the subscriptions of The Believers all over the world, it was in reality designed as, and proved, a strategical line of great value.

Leaving the Syrian system at Damascus, the railway runs through Ma'an, 70 miles E of Akaba, and then follows the Red Sea coast, running from 70 to 100 miles inshore of it. To the south of the Hejaz lies the Asir, extending from the latitude of Lith to as far south as the 16th parallel. The principal ports are Qunfudah, Birk, Jeizan, and Midi. The tribes in the northern portion around Lith are under the influence of Mecca, but in Qunfudah and its hinterland Turkish influence predominates. The centre and south are ruled by one Seyyid Mohamed of the Idrissi family, a cadet of the Senussi clan.

The Idrissi, as he is usually called, is a man of no mean individuality. Educated in North Africa he returned to Sabbia, the home of his family in 1906, and at once set to work to establish himself as the independent ruler of the Asir. He met with considerable succes, but his extension to the north was limited by the intervention of the Grand Sherif on the Turkish behalf. Consequently no very friendly feeling existed between Sabbia and Mecca.

Siding with the Italians in the their war against the Turks, the Idrissi was able by their help to consolidate his position, and has since then been tacitly recognised by the Turks.

In 1915 the Idrissi entered into an agreement with Aden whereby in exchange for certain trading privileges he undertook to take joint action against the Turks.

He cannot be said to have proved a very energetic ally, but could not be altogether disregarded by the common foe. The Indian government forced upon the Idrissi four batteries of old 15-pounder field guns, and some howitzers of an antique pattern, and at one time he was in possession of 32 guns with nine partially trained men to serve them. The Idrissi's capital is at Sabbia, some 20 miles inland from Midi, and between the two he journeys in a Ford car presented to him by the British Government.

The most southern province the Yemen, extends from Midi to Shiek Sa'id the principal ports being Loheia, Saliff, Hodeidah, and Mocha. The sea-board of the Yemen was largely controlled by the Turks, who maintained garrisons at all the places named.

The island of Kameran, opposite Salif, is the most southern pilgrim station and was occupied by a joint military and naval force sent from Aden early in 1915. A garrison of 350 Indian troops was quartered there. The Arab potentate of the Yemen is the Ima'm Yahya, who, after fighting against, allied himself with the Turks in 1913. With their consent he conducted the civil administration of the country. The office of Im'am is a religious one, the occupant being the head of the Zeideist sect of Mahommedans.

A bitter enemy of the Idrissi, the latter's agreement with the British drove the Im'am into closer relationship with the Turks. He, however, never actually committed himself by any act against the Entente, and maintained distant relations with the Political Resident at Aden. The Grand Sheriff's invitation to the Im'am to take part in a general Arab offensive against the Turk met with no success, as there has always been ill feeling between the two, the Im'am being looked upon as a schismist in Mecca.

In considering the Arabian Red Sea littoral as a sphere for naval operations, it should be borne in mind that the coast is of coral formation and studded with outlying reefs. The so-called harbours are mostly inlets between reefs and are only approachable at certain times of the day. Navigation is difficult and dangerous. By the middle of 1917 a considerable amount of surveying had been done and some buoys and beacons placed, which made conditions easier, but they never became comfortable.

In January, 1916, the situation in the Red Sea was as follows :-

Both in the northern and southern portions a blockade was supposed to be in force, but in neither case was it effective. In the north owing to the policy already described, in the south because so many passes had been granted for political reasons that it was impossible to exercise any control.

Owing to fears of arousing Moslem susceptibilities in India and elsewhere, no hostile action was allowed to be taken on the coast between Wejh and Jiddah. When ships or boats approached the shore on that part of their patrol, the Turkish troop adopted a defiant attitude and no doubt succeeded in impressing the Arabs with their power and British helplessness. At this time Rear Admiral Sir R. E. Wemyss, K.C.B., C.M.G., became C. in C., and in March abolished the divided control and formed the ships into one Red Sea Patrol. Coincident with this he convened a conference at Aden at which representatives of the Indian and Egyptian governments and of the Navy met under his presidency.

As a result of this a better understanding was arrived at. It was determined to make the blockade effective, and the necessary warnings were sent out to those who would be affected.

The ships forming the patrol were:- The Fox, Captain W. H. D. Boyle the Senior Naval Officer, and Minerva, Captain C.D.S. Raikes, and the R.I.M. vessels Dufferin, Northbrook, Hardinge and Minto, the armed boarding steamers Lunka, Lama, Perth, Suva, Scotia and Enterprise, with an armed launch and tug.

With a coast line of 1,200 miles to watch no close blockade could be established. Ships were placed at the focal points of trade and frequent visits were paid to the various ports, where all dhows were made to haul up and dismast. At Jiddah over 100 were made to do this, and this measure had the double advantage of stopping traffic and at the same time shewing the Arabs how very powerless the Turks were to protect them. In the north, dhow trade was almost completely suppressed as the result of the more stringent blockade, but in the south not only were the conditions more difficult, but also certain treaty obligation, e.g., with the Idrissi, had to be observed. The general policy now was to make the Arabs realise that allowing the Turks to stay among them resulted in many discomforts. In addition to these blockade duties the patrol ships were utilised for the transport of arms, munitions, provisions,

and money, from Suez and Port Sudan to the Arabian coast, and to carry secret agents backwards and forwards. The Gulf of Suez also had to be patrolled and touch kept with the small garrisons maintained at Tor and Abu Zenima on the coast of Sinai.

The first hostile action taken on the Holy part of the coast was on the 21st March, when the Fox and Suva destroyed the Turkish forts at Umlejh and Wejh respectively. Thes were old masonry buildings used as barracks and local headquarters. At Umlejh an officer and 12 men were killed. Turkish truculence on the coast ceased.

During the spring of 1916 the preparations for revolt were well advanced, and at a conference held on board the Dufferin at the latter end of May, which was attended by Mr. Storrs, then Oriental Secretary at the Residency, Cairo, but now Governor of Jerusalem, Officers of the Arab Bureau, Sherif Zeid, the Grand Sheriff's youngest son by a Turkish mother, and Naval representatives, it was decided that the revolution should begin at 9 p.m. on June 9th.

On that day the Fox and Hardinge were anchored off Jiddah ready to support the rising at that place.

It was evident that the Turks had wind of the Arab intention, for the whole garrison was out during the day throwing up defences against assault from the land side. Those to resist attack from the sea had been perfected for many months.

At 9 p.m. as arranged the ships switched on their search lights and opened fire on the Turkish trenches to the north and south of the town and on the barracks, etc.

On the following day the Dufferin and Perth joined, and for six days the ships maintained an intermittent bombardment. Much difficulty was experienced owing to the Arab refusal to allow the establishment of observation posts, their failure to carry out the arrangements made and their ignorance as to the situation of the Turkish positions.

Their leaders had no idea of time, and the only real assault made by the Arabs was started two hours before the covering fire was to have commenced. By the time the ships had opened fire to support the attack it had already collapsed and the plain was full of flying Arabs pursued by Turkish shrapnel. The Turks, however, had no chance of relief. The risings which had taken place simultaneously at Mecca and Ta'if the only garrisons which could have sent help, had been successful and the Turks there were either besieged in their barracks or had already capitulated. On the 5th day, the Ben-my-Chree arrived with her seaplanes and a combined bombardment and bombing attack brought out a white flag; the next morning 45 officers, 1,460 men, with 16 guns surrendered to the Arabs.

A considerable amount of military stores were captured and these were of great value to the insurgent cause.

The capture of Jiddah was of first rate importance. It provided the necessary seaport through which supplies could be sent to the interior, and allowed of unrestricted communication with Cairo.

The Jiddah-Suakin cable cut at the beginning of the war was quickly put into working order by the Eastern Telegraph Company.

The buoys and beacons on the outlying coral reefs which the Turks had removed were replaced or renewed. Full use was at once made of the possession of a port.

Egyptian artillery was sent over and went up to Mecca to assist in the reduction of the Turkish barracks, a result they quickly brought about. Egyptian officers also went up to assist the Arabs in organising their supply and transport, and to act as liaison officers generally.

Lieut.-Col. C. C. Wilson, Governor of the Sudan Red Sea Province and a Major-General in the Egyptian Army, crossed over and established himself as British representative, living at first in a ship of the patrol, but later at the British Consulate. To the ability, tact and energy of this officer, whose obvious single-mindedness and integrity completely won over the Arabs, the ultimate success of the rising is principally due.

In preparation for the revolt the Grand Sheriff had made overture to the Idrissi, in order to induce him to take common action against the Turks. The Idrissi, however, although professing agreement was suspicious and jealous, and seemed inclined to "sit on the fence." It became desirable to force his hand, and with this object the bait of Qunfudah was offered him and was readily taken.

On July 7th the Fox, Suva, Minto and Enterprise assembled off that town, the first named having two Idrissi representatives on board. The Commandant was summoned to surrender but refused.

The Turkish positions were therefore bombarded, and after sustaining this for a short time the garrison gave in, IQ officers, 195 men being made prisoners, 2 guns and 40 mules captured. The Idrissi flag was hoisted over the town and the prisoners shipped off to Egypt the same night.

At the request of the inhabitants of the town, who were fearful of being looted by the Bedouins, 2 officers and 30 men were landed from the Fox and garrisoned the place pending the arrival of Idrissi Arabs. These were brought up by the Minto after a delay of nine days. The party ashore were sniped but never really attacked.

Meanwhile in the north the Hardinge captured the Turkish post at Yambo and disembarked an Arab force there. By the possession of Jiddah, Mecca and Ta'if, the control of the country south of Medina passed into Arab hands. As a base for operations against the latter place Jiddah was too far south, and Rabugh, a good natural harbour 70 miles to the north, was therefore selected for the purpose.

After light trouble with the local Sheik who proved to be pro-Turk, Arabs, with Egyptian artillery and infantry were landed there, and by degrees a large base was established. The Egyptians constructed an entrenched camp and made roads, while the avy surveyed the harbour and built a timber pier which allowed of landing guns, motor-cars, aeroplane, and large quantities of stores, etc. The Minerva was principally responsible for this work.

The Turkish force covering Medina was estimated to be about 10,000 rifles commanded by Falui Pasha, an energetic soldier, who, however, was somewhat handicapped by having to cover the railway by which alone supplies and reinforcements could reach him.

Before any move could be made against Medina, it was necessary to form some sort of a force which could act as a trained nucleus to the Bedouins. The townspeople of Mecca, with the Sherifial family's dependants, slaves and retainers, formed the native material, and to these were added a considerable number of Turkish prisoners of war of Arab blood, both officers and men, who had been captured in the eastern theatre of war, and who elected to throw in their lot with the nationalist movement. Among these was Nuri Pasha, who accompanied Prince Feisal on his recent visit to London and Paris.

As was to be expected not all these renegades turned out well, but the great majority did so, and from among them were procured the artillerymen, etc., who would not otherwise have been obtainable.

Everything for the creation and maintenance both of this force, and the Arabs generally, had to be supplied from Egypt or the Soudan, and the ships of the patrol were kept busy transporting water, provisions, guns, munitions, uniforms, sadlery, etc., as well as forage both for horses and camels. For this work the R.I.M. ship proved invaluable.

A distilling ship was sent down and moored with a pipe line to the shore, and wire1ess stations were established both here and at Jiddah, and manned by the Navy. An " X " lighter was lent from Egypt and proved a valuable adjunct to the dhow transport which was always most unsatisfactory, even to the extent of striking for higher pay! More Egyptian troops came across and proved exceedingly useful, doing all the manual work required.

The Arabs were content to look on, they would not work, and although in considerable fear of a Turkish offensive could not be induced to dig for their own defence. The recognised route from Medina to Mecca was via Rabugh. As was mentioned earlier, this was the line the projected railway was to have followed.

During the formation of the base there was considerable anxiety as to Turkish intentions. Fakri Pasha was known to be planning an expedition against Mecca. Had he been able to effect the recapture of that town the revolution would undoubtedly, at that stage have collapsed. The Arab Commandant at Rabugh was Sherif Ali, who had with him his half brother Zeid. No trouble was taken about defences. The only hope of repulsing a Turkish attack was that the Egyptian troops, assisted by landing parties, and covered by the ships guns would be able to do all that was required. The consequences would have been so serious had the Turks recaptured Rabugh, that the dispatch of a brigade of British troops to defend the place was seriously considered, but ultimately rejected.

A "flight" of the R.F.C. arrived and encamped ashore and their tents, together with those of the Egyptians, probably gave the Turks the idea that a considerable body of troops had been landed. At that time two or three ships were generally in the harbour, in addition to the one British and one French vessel which always remained there. By the autumn of 1916 some sort of a force had been collected and partially trained, and Sherif Ali moved up country and obtained touch with the Turkish outposts.

Sherif Abdullah, the second son, proceeded from Mecca to the Eastward of Medina, and Feisal established himself at Yembo, whither the patrol vessels had conveyed his force. Here there was a distilling plant which had been used for pilgrims, and this, having been put into order by H.M. ships supplied all the water that was required. Everything else had to be brought by sea. M31 was made guard ship in the harbour, and the provision of three G class transports eased the regular patrol vessels to a certain extent.

October 1916 was an unfortunate month for the Arab rebellion. Sherif Ali was driven into Rabugh, and Sherif Feisal, who had advanced against the Turks was forced to retire into Yambo, each force sheltering under the guns of the ship. At Yambo the Turks pursued them down to the hills bordering the coastal plain, a distance of about six miles. Here they were attacked by seaplanes from the Anne, and their spirited behaviour coupled with the presence of three ships in the port prevented an attack on the town, which had only the most rudimentary defences.

Sherif Feisal owed his reverse to a part of his force quitting their place in the line owing to a desire to make coffee! The spirit of the Arabs was not affected by their misfortunes, the Sherifs shewing a very good example, and the forces were soon ready for further effort. Moreover, Sherif Abdullah made a welcome diversion by a successful raid on the railway, crossing the line from East to West, destroying a considerable length of permanent way, and capturing a valuable convoy. This alarmed Fakri Pasha for his communications, that he at once drew in his outlying detachments for their better protection, thus easing the pressure on both Rabugh and Yambo.

The Arabs from both places moved out again and the position was re-established. A further move to the north was now contemplated. The possession of the sea rendered it easy to turn the right flank of any Turkish line formed to resist the Arab advance from the south, provided a landing could be made good. Every such movement threatened another section of the line and decreased the probability of a Turkish offensive to the south.

At Wehj the enemy were known to be in some force, and the local Arabs of the Billi tribe to be in sympathy with them. It was thought possible, however, that a threat of bombardment might induce the Turks to withdraw from the town. Consequently the Fox, Hardinge, and seaplane carrier Anne appeared off the port at daylight one morning and summoned the Commandant to surrender, which, however, he refused to do. In spite of bombardment and bombing the Turk maintained their position, and in the absence of sufficient landing force it was not possible to turn them out.

A smartly carried out disembarkation of a small party of seamen and Arabs from the Hardinge succeeded in destroying a depot of stores with the loss of an Arab killed, and a seaman and officer wounded. The immediate occupation of Wehj not being practicable, it was decided to make Um Lejh the next objective.

However, another duty which the patrol ships had to perform about this time deserves mention, the conveyance of the Holy Carpet (presented annually by Cairo to Mecca) from Suez to Jiddah. The carpet and its escort, which consists of about 400 in all, comprising a section of artillery, a troop of cavalry, and infantry were shipped on board the Hardinge.

These troops (Egyptian) accompany the carpet to Mecca and carry out the pilgrimage dressed in the towel-like garment which is de rigeur for the Faithful attending the ceremonies. In 1916 there was a sporting interest introduced into this pilgrimage, as the Turks had their carpet and a new Grand Sherif at Medina, and had vowed that they would get them to Mecca first. As this was the first pilgrimage under the new regime it was desired to do everything possible to make it a success. The C. in C. came down in the Euryalus to witness the landing, and the Fox and Perth were also present for saluting purposes. The attention paid to this religious festival gave much gratification, and the whole pilgrimage passed off most satisfactorily.

It was not until December that the move to Um Lejh took place. A force of several hundred Arabs was put on board the patrol vessels (and particularly unpleasant passengers they proved) while Feisal and Lawrence led the camelmen on a march across the Turkish front. Lawrence, who had come down to the Hejaz in August, had by this time completely won over the Arab leaders. His influence with them was very great, and most wisely used.

Possessed of intrepid courage and speaking Arabic fluently he lived amongst the Bedouins dressed in the native costume, and was freely admitted to their councils. When Um Lejh was reached it was found to have been evacuated so shortly before that a dhow laden with the garrison's baggage was overtaken.

At Um Lejh the advance to Wejh was arranged. This had become very desirable on account of the stagnation that now existed in the Medina district, where the Arabs had been unable to penetrate the enemy outposts and knew little of what was going on behind them. It was known that the Turks had received reinforcements and rumour credited them with the intention of bringing off the long projected march to Mecca. It was thought that the presence of an Arab force so far north as Wejh would effectually check any such scheme.

On January 21st, 400 Arabs were embarked in the Hardinge, and that vessel, together with Fox, Espiegle, Suva and Anne, proceeded to an anchorage 20 miles south of Wejh, to which the Arab army was to march along the coast. 24 hours after the_appointed time there was no sign of the Arabs, and as it was desired to prevent the escape of the Turks, who by this time must have known of the assemblage of ships, it was decided to carry out the operation with the available Arabs and a landing party from the ships.

These were disembarked during the forenoon of the 23rd. The original intention was to use the naval brigade as a stiffening force, and to allow the Arabs to have the credit of actually taking the town. This did not work, however, as only about 200 followed Major Vickery and Captain Bray, two British officers leading them, and of these over 100 broke off and looted the first houses they got to. The remainder sat on the beach and refused to budge.

The following morning at dawn the landing party advanced and occupied Wejh, but the bulk of the enemy force had got away during the night and only slight resistance was offered. Some 80 prisoners were taken with the town. The Arab army came up the next day, having been delayed by water difficulties, which a ship had to be sent down the coast to rectify. The Arab casualties were about 20, the British one officer (an observer) killed, and two seamen wounded.

The occupation of Wejh marked a definite advance in the revolt. Not only did it paralyze the Turks by its threat to the railway, but it enabled Sherif Feisal to get into touch with the northern Arabs who were only waiting for a leader to join the insurrection. The local tribe (Billi) at once made allegiance.

There was no room in the harbour for anything larger than a sloop and the nearest safe anchorage was several miles to the south, so that the difficulties of supply were considerably increased. Wejh gradually became the most important base and by degrees the majority of the Egyptians, the "flight," the armed cars, and the bulk of the stores were transferred there by the ships. A water ship, the El Kahira, was moored in the harbour, and the motor lighter also came north.

A halt which lasted nearly five months was made at Wejh. The time was employed by the Arab leaders in negotiations with a view to attaching other Arabs to the cause, and by the British officers in organising raids on the railway, which were most audaciously and successfully carried out, and fully occupied the Turks.

While these operations had been in progress in the northern part of the Red sea, it had not been possible to do much in the south. Ships were cruising continually up and down the coast inside the Farisian Bank, which was difficult navigation and a most trying climate. A continuous patrol was also kept up in me Straits of Perim, a particularly tedious duty. The vessels employed on the coast had little excitement beyond an occasional boat action with dhows attempting to evade the blockade. An armed launch, in charge of a petty officer distinguished herself by the number of captures she made, and the daring way she was handled on a hostile coast. Her crew consisted of 5 seamen, 3 Arabs (firemen), and a Maltese who in peace time was her captain and chief engineer. Sheik Sa'id afforded occasional diversion, ships exchanging shots with the defences at intervals.

Qunfudah, after having proved a bone of contention between the Grand Sherif and the Idrissi, was finally handed over to the former by order of the British government. The garrison sent there by the Sherif was driven out by the Turks, reinstated by the "Minto," and driven out as soon a she had departed. It took refuge at Lith and the Turks, fearing to occupy the town, it remained deserted for many months.


During the stay at Wejh the Arabs were not altogether inactive. On February 8th the Northbrook conveyed a small force to Dabha, which assisted by the landing party from the ship captured the town taking 30 prisoners. The same day Muheilah was also occupied, it having been evacuated by the Turks previous to the arrival of the ship. It was during this month that a train was actually blown up for the first time, and this still further increased the Turkish apprehensions for their communications. During one of these raids the Arabs naively admitted to the military officer with them that they were out for British gold, not the Grand Sherif.

Owing to the practice earlier in the movement, of paying the monthly subsidy in sovereigns, they had become the most common coin in circulation. On one occasion an Arab came down to a ship's boat and offered the bowman a sovereign for cigarette papers. The sailor, although surprised, rose to the occasion. In March for the first time a British aeroplane flew over Medina, but for fear of wounding religious susceptibilities no bombs could be dropped. In April the Turks showed symptoms of nervousness as regards Akaba, which indeed now remained the only port not in Arab hands.

An intelligence report from Ismailia stated that mines had been laid in the anchorage. The Northbrook, Lama, Espiegle and armed tug Slieve Foy proceeded there and arriving off the place at daylight, landed their men and drove the Turks out of their trenches covering the harbour. The enemy left three dead and II prisoners. The only two boats in the place were destroyed, the mines located and 12 were destroyed by the Espiegle and Slieve Foy, working under long range rifle fire from the enemy trenches further inland.

The capture of prisoners was important, as the intelligence officers were anxious to get information of the Turkish forces in the district.

In May the Commander-in-Chief, accompanied by the late Sir Mark Sykes, M. Picot, the French Commissioner, Captain L1loyd and others visited the Red Sea port on board the Northbrook. On this occasion the King of the Hejaz came down to Jiddah to meet him, and for the second time displayed his friendliness for his Christian Allies by going on board their ships.

During June, Captain Lawrence made his wonderful raid into the heart of the enemy's country. With only a few Arabs he penetrated as far as Damascus, took stock of the Turkish troops at their various garrisons, carried the Sherif's message to all Arabs, collected a force with which he raided the enemy communications, destroyed a bridge, derailed a train, fought a pitched battle with and annihilated a Turkish force sent against him, and then coming down on Akaba from inland, captured the garrison, ending his ride with over 600 prisoners, and the possession of the last point occupied by the Turks on the coast. This latest event occurred on July 8th, 1917.

His success was almost too great, for being quite unexpected, no ship wa at Akaba to meet him, and there was no food there for the large number of men assembled. As soon as it was known the Hardinge and Dufferin took up the necessary stores, and also transported 3,000 men with guns and animals to hold the place against the expected counter attack.

A proportion of the prisoners embraced the Arab cause, the remainder were shipped to Egypt.

The Humber came from Suez to act as guard ship, a good pier was constructed by the Navy, and a road by the Egyptians sent for the purpose, the Arabs as usual, when manual labour had to be done, looking on. A large force of camelry also came in overland from the south. At the end of July Feisal arrived, and the whole of the Wejh base was shifted north.

The Turks collected a force at Ma'an to retake Akaba and at first sent aeroplanes over to bomb the ships and Arab encampment, but this they discontinued as soon as the British planes arrived. However, the expected attack never materialised, Allenby's forward movement was already having its effect. In the autumn the position was well established, and was made more secure in November by the arrival of Sherif Zeid with another 2,000 men transported by sea from Wejh.

From henceforth the Navy had little to do in the northern part of the Red Sea beyond carrying stores etc. The campaign had lost its amphibious character, and developed into land warfare pure and simple.

Only occasional allusion has been made in this account to the British military officers who were working with the Arab forces. It seems fitting here to record the excellent feeling which existed between the two services, The naval officers were full of admiration for the devotion to duty which enabled their military confreres to carry the rebellion to a successful conclusion in spite of hardships, and discouragements which would have daunted many men.

Newcombe, Joyce, Stent, Davenport, Basset, Thompson, Garland, Parker, and many others worthily maintained the honour and reputation of the British army, and should these pages ever meet their eyes it may please them to know that those of the Navy with whom they were associated will always remember them as good comrades and fine officers.


In order to bring this narrative to a close it only remains to recount what had taken place in the southern Red Sea while the events recorded above were in progress. At the beginning of 1917 the general position was most unsatisfactory. The Turks were in possession of several places on the coast which afforded shelter to the blockade runners and which were difficult for the ships to approach.

The Idrissi was abusing his privileges, his merchants were trading with the enemy and his flag covering Turkish goods. A very considerable business was being done at Hodeida, and other ports from whence the enemy obtained the necessary money to carry on with. The Turkish government was cut off from Constantinople and had to subsist on forced loans. So long as there was plenty of money in the country they could extract these without causing a dangerous amount of discontent.

The matter was taken up by the Aden government. Stringent rules were introduced into the colony to prevent leakage from there, and representations made to the French and Italians who were asked to confine their dhows to certain routes, and order them to report themselves at Kameran. This was agreed to. The amount of imports allowed into the Idrissi country was still further limited and only twelve of that ruler's dhows were allowed to trade.

In February the depredations of the raider Wolf in the Indian Ocean necessitated the establishment of a patrol off Sokotra, and the keeping of a guard ship off Aden during the dark hours, and this considerably increased the responsibilities of the vessels available. A mine sweeping force was formed with a nucleus of officers and men from the ships, and a buoyed channel was laid down.

On March 4th, the Odin on night duty off Aden sighted a strange vessel steering for the harbour but shewing no lights, and which would not stop when ordered. She was chased towards Perim where the Clio was on patrol. a fact revealed to the stranger by the necessary exchange of messages, and which caused her to sink herself at dawn. She proved to be the British oiler Turitella, a prize to the Wolf, and fitted out by that ship as a minelayer.

Two officers, twenty-six petty officers and men surrendered to the Odin, together with the original Chinese crew of the ship, who had been forced to work for the captors. Before and during the chase the Turitella had laid 24 mines off Aden. Most of these were swept up and destroyed by the mine sweepers, one ship only, the SS Danubian, being damaged by them.

During April the Topaze convoyed the transport Purnea with the 33rd Punjabis on board to carry out a small punitive expedition against one of the Sheiks on the Hardramut coast who had been flirting with the Turk, a mission which they successfully accomplished under cover of her guns. Activity on the coast now became necessary not only to enforce the new regulations, but also because native risings inland were giving the Turks considerable trouble, and the retention of bodies of troop to watch the movements of the ship afforded indirect help to the revolting Arabs.

At Kameran was installed as Political Officer the former British Consul at Hodeida, Dr. Richardson. This gentleman had established a very efficient secret service, and was in close touch with the officials in the Turkish telegraph service, little passed that was not known to him. By this means it was ascertained that a village on the coast 20 miles north of Perim, Dubab, was extensively used for running cargoes of contraband. The dhows or sambuks employed for this work were considerably lighter than those which traded in the northern part of the Red Sea, and the stipulation that they must be hauled up was of little use as they were run up on the beach as soon as cleared and so remained until wanted again.

Moreover, the inhabitants of Dubab made no secret of their readiness to resist any attempt to interfere with their lucrative trade, and boats from the Clio were fired on by soldiers and villagers. At dawn on 6th May, men from the Northbrook, Clio, and Odin, landed and destroyed the watch tower and some twenty boats and dhows hauled up on th beach, while the Odin captured and burnt a large dhow laden with all sorts of luxuries which there had not been time to unload.

On July 8th, the boats of Northbrook and Clio attacked and destroyed another 'notorious smuggling resort Ibn Abba' on the coast opposite Kameran, 12 dhows and a large store of petroleum and ammunition being consumed in the flames. In this case a seaman was wounded and a corporal of marines killed.

An addition to the strength of the patrol was made about this time by the commissioning of some of the captured dhows, and these proved very effective.

A gallant deed by Lieut. Davis, R.I.M., deserves placing on record. While the dhow he commanded was engaged with contraband runners a seaman shot through the body fell overboard. The officer went in and rescued the man, while exposed to rifle fire and in water infested with sharks.

On June 8th, the Turks surprised Aden by bringing down field guns and firing at the shipping in the harbour at 11 p.m. No harm was done, the range being just too long for the weapons used.

It having been decided to remove the Turkish military post stationed at Salif, a rocky promontory opposite to and overlooking Kameran, from which it is within easy gun range, the Northbrook, Topaze, Espiegle, Odin and Minto moved into their assigned positions during the night of June 11th, and at dawn landed 250 seamen and marines who attacked the Turkish position and captured it with the loss of one killed and two wounded. 12 officers including civilian officials, 5 soldiers, and 30 Arabs who had assisted the defence surrendered, with two guns and three machine guns.

The Turks had eight killed. Among the defenders was an Abbysinian woman who was surprised sniping a party of bluejackets.

In normal times Salif does an extensive salt trade, and in connection with this Sir J. Jackson's firm had been engaged in harbour works when war broke out. The British foremen were made prisoners, and the plant allowed to rust to pieces. The distilling plant, however, was found to be in use and efficient. This was dismantled and removed to Aden, together with some lathes, etc., of a modern type. Salif was never re-occupied by the enemy.

On the 20th, 21st, and 22nd, boat expeditions destroyed some 30 dhows on the coast, in two instances where resistance was offered, the villages being burned. The result of these measures was to restrict the dhow traffic to such an extent as to seriously perturb the officials at Hodeida whose customs receipts shewed a falling off.

On Jun 25th, it was reported that two British and 200 Indian prisoners were in Hodeida in a very bad plight. Permission was obtained from the C. in C. to attempt their release, and the Euryalus on passage from Bombay to Suez was lent to assist. The Northbrook. Euryalus, Topaze, Odin and Suva anchored off the town before dawn on the morning of the 29th, and some 4OO men were put ashore before daylight.

It was hoped that when day broke and the presence of the ship and landing party were discovered. the local authorities would agree to liberate their prisoners under threat of bombardment. This, however, they refused to do, and the government buildings were destroyed. The landing party advanced. but were subsequently withdrawn to the beach after having had eleven casualties, only two of which were wounded, nine suffering from heat stroke. In view of the latter, and as it was then not 10 a.m., it was not considered advisable to advance again and the party was reembarked.

Although the principal objective had failed the secondary was most successful. The population completely deserted the town and trade came to a stand still. The Turks who had a few 4-in. guns in position, fired on the ships but without scoring a hit.

A large schooner built at Aden to the order of some shady Frenchmen and not allowed to leave the Colony, was at this time obtained for patrol work. She was fitted for a motor and when this was obtained she proved a very valuable adjunct.

A second punitive expedition against Dubab was rendered necessary by the continued truculence of the inhabitants who were egged on by a few Turkish soldiers quartered among them. This time the village was burnt. Only slight resistance was offered, resulting in one Seedie boy being mortally and one seaman severely wounded. One prisoner was captured -- he subsequently proved to be the village idiot!

Trade on the coast was now reduced almost to vanishing point. In July Rear Admiral Sir E. Gaunt, K.C.B., relieved Vice Admiral Sir R. Wemyss as Commander-in-Chief, and Rear Admiral Thomas Jackson took up the appointment of R.A., Egypt.

In August the Red Sea was attached to the Mediterranean, and Aden reverted to the East Indies. With these changes it would appear opportune to close the narrative.

The activities of the Patrol, however, continued, but with the gradual withdrawal of the R.I.M. ships to other parts of the world, its composition was changed, and with the Arabs in full possession of Northern Arabia, its duties were modified. It is hoped, however, that a similar account of the later operation in the southern part of the Red Sea again the the Ports still held by the Turks, may some day be forthcoming.

In conclusion a tribute should be paid to the excellent work done by the R.I.M. ships in the Red Sea, and to the efficient manner in which the officers and men of these ships carried out the multifarious duties which fell to their lot.

NOTE. -- Although ships often changed the following is a list of those who at one time or another were employed in the Red Sea:-

Captains W. H. D. Boyle and L. N. Turlon.
Captain C. S. Raikes.
Commander A. R. W. Woods.
Captain L. R. Oliphant.
Commander G. C. W. Crispin.
Commander A. W. Lowis.
Commander R. Fitzmaurice.
Commander E. M. Palmer and J. S. C. Salmond.
Captains L. J. Turton and W. H. D. Boyle
Commander A. G. Warren.
Acting Commander T. Linberry.
Acting Commander C. Crawford.
Acting Commander M. Murray.
Acting Commander C. M. L. Scott.
Commander H. P. Ritchie, V.C.; Acting Commander K. A. F. Guy.
Commander G. H. Arnot, R. .R.; Commander E. H. Pentecoote, R.N.R.
Temporary Lieut. J. F. Pinchin, R.N.R.
Lieut.-Commander E. H. Dauglish, R.I.M.
Slieve Foy
Lieutenant Davy, R.N.R.
A C.P.O in command


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