Omdurman, A Medieval Army Versus A Modern Army.

by Daniel Russ on March 19, 2018

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Sir Herbert Kitchener was not a precept while he travelled through Egypt and Sudan. He was on a mission to exact revenge for the death of Major General Charles Gordon. Kitchener was an experienced British military commander in the service of a Royal expeditionary force of the large British empire. He was putting down an insurrection from the Mahdist Abdullah al Taashi. His force consisted of a blooded British army, 8200 men, and 17,600 Sudanese and Egyptian auxiliaries.


Most of the battle is not that remarkable except for a stand that the 21st Lancers made against a force four times their size. Al Taashi’s strategy was a massive frontal assault while a second attack from the flank would surprise the British.



British 15 Pounder


It didn’t. In fact, to understand the massive defeat of Omdurman, look here at the troop strength on both sides.


British: 8,200 + 17,600 auxiliaries 


Mahdi Army: 52,000


Now here are the casualties for both sides.


British: 48 dead, 382 wounded.


Mahdi Army: 12,00 killed, 13,000 wounded, 5,000 captured.


The Mahdists had swords and spears and horses and camels. They had some muskets in undisciplined cavalry units.  The British had bolt action high capacity rifles. Consider the Lee-Metford .303 5 shot bolt action rifles, and Martini-Henry lever action rifles with larger magazines. A rifle company armed with these would decimate larger medieval style Muslim army all over the North African desert. Artillery pieces like British 12 Pounders and 15 Pounders used shrapnel shells that ripped enemies asunder almost three miles away.  5.5 inch mortars and 5.5 inch canons, handled by accurate crews tore into Mahdist lines.


Omdurman was the last place the British wore  redcoats


When you write about military history, you sometimes have to imagine what it was like to be there. The smoke. The noise. The screams. The soil below your feet, soaked in blood. The relentless, sudden and absolute haphazard indifference of a wound, a fatal bullet, the think of a deadly blow from a truncheon. You have to imagine the witless and irrefutable horror that military violence visits upon people.


Once in a while you have to imagine 12,000 bodies, many rent like pulled and charred meat, all lying in post mortem repose round a battle field. You have to imagine hungry wild dogs at the fringe of a nearby town feeding on the remains of soldiers. You have to imagine in the sea of dead also swim 13,000 screaming wounded people pleading for water or some help, none that will matter in the end. You have to imagine hooded, cloaked people wondering around, looking for husbands, and children, yelling names, finding them, and then crying their hearts out. Once in a while, you have to imagine the cost of war in all its glory. One has to imagine 15,000 horses, also thrashing about, whinnying, terrified and in pain.


When you look at a battle like Omdurman, September 2th 1898, what is telling is the casualty count on both sides, for a battle that lasted about 5 hours.


21st Lancers


British 5.5 inch Howitzer.

The Maxim Machine slaughtered a primitive army first at Nyesani River in Zululand. It would reprise that here.






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