Help for Heroes

Battle of Omdurman

The massacre of the army of Sudanese Dervishes on a plain near Omdurman on September 2nd, 1898, was an occasion that a new military technology by Britain in battle. 

The massacre of the army of Sudanese Dervishes on a plain near Omdurman in the Sudan was an occasion that a new military technology was tested – to devastating effect – by Britain in battle. It proved a major factor in Kitchener’s victory, in his efforts to re-conquer Sudan from the Madhists who had killed General Gordon in 1885, as well as to safeguard the Suez Canal and ensure the region against the threat of French occupation.

The key to Britain's presence in Egypt and the Sudan (Egypt's backdoor and the source of the Nile) was the Suez Canal, opened in 1869. The new quick route to India had to be safeguarded.

As ‘Sirdar’ or commander-in-chief of the Anglo-Egyptian army, Major-General Herbert Kitchener, an engineer and veteran of the Indian army, had spent over two years  training his troops and building up extensive railway and steamship supply lines with a view to attacking the Mahdist state to the south.

The Khalifa Abdullahi, leader of the Sudanese and religious successor to the Mahdi, aware of Kitchener’s intentions, had assembled a large army near Omdurman, since 1885 the Mahdist capital, across the Nile from Khartoum.

Kitchener’s  army of 17,600 Egyptian and Sudanese troops and 8,200 British regulars, was  heavily outnumbered, but had at its disposal fifty pieces of artillery, ten gunboats and five auxiliary steamers on the Nile. It also possessed forty single-barrelled, water-cooled Maxim machine-guns, each capable of firing six hundred rounds a minute. The British infantry was equipped with Lee Metford rifles, or its successor, the .303 Lee Enfield.   They both had a range of 2,800 yards, and a skilled rifleman could fire up to ten rounds a minute.

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