The Sudan at war
The Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, in essence - though not in name - a colony, was born out of war. Some years after the death of Gordon and the expulsion of the Egyptian garrison, the re-conquest of the Sudan (1896-1899) was a bloody affair, bringing about the deaths of many thousands of Sudanese. Despite its violent beginnings, however, the threat of large-scale conflict was relatively unknown during the years of Anglo-Egyptian rule. Though the Sudan played its own small role in the Second World War, the two world wars largely passed by with little military impact on the country. That is not to say, however, that the Sudan was not the target of any hostilities, notably from the Italians upon their entry into the Second World War. Likewise, internal conflict was largely minimal with the exception of localised uprisings, such as that leading to the Darfur campaign (1916). The Sudan Government was largely successful in keeping any threat of conflict at bay and when independence finally came to the Sudan it did so in a relatively peaceful manner.
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Extract from the diary of F.R. Wingate concerning the death of Gordon and the fall of Khartoum, 4 February 1885
The death of the Governor-General of the Sudan, General Charles Gordon, at the hands of Mahdist forces in 1885, led to the evacuation of Khartoum and the beginning of the 14-year period of Mahdist rule. Contemporary accounts at the time criticised the British Government for the delay in sending reinforcements which arrived two days late. This diary entry of F.R. Wingate, aide-de-camp to the SIrdar, Sir Evelyn Wood (and later Governor-General of the Sudan) is typical of the popular perception of the events surrounding Gordon's death.
Letter from Major-General Archibald Hunter to Captain Beech concerning his work during the Dongola campaign, hauling boats up the second cataract of the Nile, 23 July 1898
As with any war of conquest, the overcoming of logistical obstacles was as important as the winning of battles. The Nile cataracts between Toski and Khartoum proved a particular difficulty to the joint British and Egyptian force as boats, essential to the campaign, were unable to sail unaided any further south. The large steam vessels instead had to be hauled over the cataracts by teams of men numbering in their thousands. Archibald Hunter, then a Major-General and Kitchener's right hand man, oversaw the hauling of the boats over the second cataract near Wadi Halfa.
Photograph of steamer on the Nile, 1898
This photograph is taken from the collection of W.R.G. Wollen of the Royal Engineers and shows a steamer being hauled over the Second Cataract of the Nile in preperation for the Battle of Omdurman
Letter from Hunter to an unknown recipient giving an account of the battle of Omdurman, 14 October 1898
The battle of Omdurman brought about the end of the Khalifa and his army. As a direct result of superior organisation and weapons technology the British suffered relatively few losses throughout the whole of the Nile Campaign. Despite this, Hunter still expresses his fears that the Battle of Omdurman might have been a disaster had it not been for luck.
Large navy blue flag with red anchor insignia, 1898
The flag is that of a gunboat involved in the battle of Omdurman, probably the Melik or Sobat.
Proclamation to the inhabitants of Darfur, to be dropped by aeroplane on El Fasher (Arabic with English translation), 1916
Although the Sudan played no direct part in the First World War, its government found itself distracted with internal conflicts. The Darfur Campaign saw the Sudan Government suppress an uprising in the old independent Fur sultanate. At the outbreak of the First World War, 'Ali Dinar, Sultan of Darfur, had allied himself with the Ottoman-Turks against the Anglo-French. This prompted the Sudan government to launch an expedition which defeated the Fur army in May 1916. This proclamation is evidence of the propaganda campaign to persuade the people of Darfur to reject the Sultan. It is also an example of the increasing use of aeroplanes to distribute propaganda over a wide area.
Brass Sudan Auxiliary Defence Force headdress badge, ca. 1940
The Sudan Defence Force (SDF), consisting of Sudanese troops under British officers, was established in the aftermath of the 1924 Mutiny and the assassination of the Governor-General, Sir Lee Stack. The involvement of the SDF in the Second World War led to the creation of an auxiliary organisation with its own distinctive uniform, including this headdress badge.
Photograph of H.B. Arber and a Sudanese policeman investigating the wreckage of an Italian Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 aircraft shot down near Suakin, Red Sea Province, 1940
The Sudan's role in the Second World War was greater than in the First World War. Fascist Italy's declaration of war against the Allies led to the involvement of the Sudan Defence Force in the East African Campaign, during which the Italians briefly occupied Kassala and other minor strongholds in Eastern Sudan. The SDF later played an active role in the Western Desert Campaign, supplying Allied troops including the Free French.
Letter from G.C. Wood describing bombing raids on Khartoum, 25 October 1940
The impact of war can also be observed on the capital itself, where bombing raids were not uncommon. However, the letter here illustrates that these raids only succeeded in causing minor damage, so much so that the letter-writer, G.C. Wood, actually slept through the whole raid!