Beni Boo Alli (battle honour)
Genesis of the problem
The Bani Bu Ali tribe (named after their ancestral village Jalan Bani Bu Ali (in present-day Oman) resorted to rampant piracy in Eastern Arabia and the Persian Gulf region leading the East India Company to carry out a punitive expedition in 1819 to Ras al Khaimah which destroyed the pirate base and removed the threat from the Persian Gulf. The Government of the Bombay Presidency also sent a letter of protest through an envoy on a British ship to Eastern Arabia. The Bani bu Ali rose and murdered the pilot of the ship at Rass al Junaiz, resulting in the dispatch of a small punitive expedition from India to Ash Sharqiyah (Oman).
First punitive expedition
The expedition sailed from Bombay in October 1820 and sailed to Sur via Muscat where they landed. The small force consisting of 380 Indian Infantry, along with 2000 irregulars, proceeded inland to Balad Bani bu Hasan, the tribal capital. On 18 November 1820, this force was attacked and almost annihilated as they approached the capital, with most British officers and two-thirds of the soldiers being killed as the Arabs gave no quarter. The survivors, including many of the wounded, escaped to Muscat from where they were taken to Qishm at the entrance of the Persian Gulf.
The destruction of this force was a major blow to British prestige in Arabia and a second stronger expedition was assembled. This force of 6000 mixed British soldiers and Indian sepoys, under Major General Lionel Smith, sailed from Bombay on 11 January 1821.
This force contained engineer elements of the Bombay Presidency army consisting of the newly formed company of the Bombay Sappers and Miners who, under Capt. T. Dickinson (Bombay Engineers) and assisted by Lt T.B. Jervis (Bombay Engineers), were proceeding abroad for the first time in their history. Along with the Sappers and Miners company sailed the 3rd Company of the Bombay Pioneers who had recently served in the 1819 Ras al-Khaimah Expedition to suppress piracy in the Persian Gulf.
The force disembarked at Sur on 27 January and marched into the interior. Repulsing an attack on 10 February, they reached Balad Bani Nu Hassan on March 2. The Bani bu Ali advanced with desperate fanaticism to give battle in the open, ignoring the cannonades of grape-shot from the British guns. The Arabs fought bravely with broad-sword and shield, attempting to break the British line, causing havoc at close quarters wherever they could do so. However, the line of bayonets prevailed and the Bani bu Ali were beaten off, leaving behind 500 dead and dying. On the other hand, the British casualties were 29 dead and 173 wounded. The fort at Balad was occupied after a brief bombardment. Later, the expedition returned to Sur where they embarked for Bombay.
The Bani bu Ali were vanquished, the fort at their capital occupied and British prestige restored.
By a General Order of the Bombay Presidency, dated 11 February 1831, all units which had served in the expedition were awarded the battle honour Beni Boo Ali, including the Bombay Pioneers and the Bombay Sappers and Miners. Beni Boo Ali heads the list of battle and theatre honours of the Bombay Sappers today. This honour is not considered repugnant.
The following units were awarded the battle honour :
- 3rd Company, Bombay Pioneer Battalion - Bombay Sappers
- 1st/13th Bombay Infantry - The Grenadiers Regimental Centre
- lst/3rd Bombay Infantry - 1st Battalion Maratha Light Infantry
- 1st/5th Bombay Infantry - 2nd Battalion Maratha Light Infantry
- 2nd /4th Bombay Infantry - 1st Battalion, Rajputana Rifles - now 3rd Battalion, Brigade of Guards
- 2nd/18th Bombay Infantry (Disbanded)
- 1st/17th Bombay Infantry (Disbanded 1933 as the 1st Battalion 2nd Bombay Pioneers)
- 1st Troop/The Horse Brigade, Bombay Artillery
- 5th Company/2nd Battalion The Foot Artillery, Bombay Artillery
- ^ Also known as Rass al Hadd.
3.F.W.M. Spring.The Bombay Artillery list of officers the regiment of Bombay Artillery from its formation in 1749 to amalgamation - with the royal artillery, with dates of first commissions, promotions, casualties, also appointments held, war services, honours, and rewards. pp 33-49
- Sandes, Lt Col E.W.C. The Indian Sappers and Miners (1948) The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham.
- Bombay Engineer Group or the Bombay Sappers
- British Indian Army
- East India Company
- British Raj in India
- Indian Army Intelligence Branch (1907), Frontier and overseas expeditions from India (Frontier and overseas expeditions from India. ed.), Simla: Govt. Monotype Press, pp. 253–258. Account of the battle.
- Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register for British and Foreign India, China and Australasia. Black, Parbury, & Allen. 1821. pp. 364–368.. Military despatches.