Battle of Gura

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Battle of Gura
Part of Ethiopian–Egyptian War

Depiction of the Battle of Gura
Date7–10 March 1876
(2 days)
Result Ethiopian victory
Khedivate of Egypt  Ethiopian Empire
Commanders and leaders
Rateb Pasha
William Wing Loring
Uthman Rifqi
Ethiopian Empire Yohannes IV
Ethiopian Empire Ras Alula
Ethiopian Empire Abuna Atnatewos 
13,000[1][2] 50,000[3][4][5]
Casualties and losses
~3,500 killed or captured[6] Unknown

The Battle of Gura was fought on 7–10 March 1876 between the Ethiopian Empire and the Khedivate of Egypt near the town of Gura in Eritrea. It was the second and decisive major battle of the Ethiopian–Egyptian War.


The Egyptian army invaded the Ethiopian Empire from its coastal possessions in what is now Eritrea, and met that of Emperor Yohannes at Gundet on the morning of 16 November 1875.

After the defeat at Gundet, the Egyptians sent a much larger, well-armed force to attempt a second invasion. This army moved to Gura plain, and made two forts there: "Gura" fort and "Khaya Khor" fort. Gura fort was garrisoned by 7,500 men led by Rateb Pasha and ex Confederate general William Wing Loring and Khaya Khor fort was garrisoned by 5,500 men led by Uthman Rifqi. Yohannes soon arrived in the area with a huge army of over 50,000 men mobilized from the provinces of Tigray, Gojjam and Wollo.[7][8]

Taking advantage of the lack of Egyptian reconnaissance, the Ethiopians positioned themselves on the Godolfelassie road, Yohannes could now strike Gura, Khaya Khor or Keren. Fearing an attack on the supply depots, Rateb Pasha decided to send 5,000 out of his 7,500 strong force to attack the Ethiopian army, believing that dug-in Egyptian forces were unbeatable by enemies who did not possess artillery, such as the Abyssinians. The 5,000 strong Egyptian infantry of Gura fort sortied out early on March 7. Little did they know, Ethiopian scouts had spotted their movements and prepared to attack the heavily outnumbered Egyptians.[9]


The Battle Field of Gura. Dye (1880) p519

On March 7, the Egyptians that left the fort were attacked by the Ethiopians and surrounded. Most of the Ethiopians were armed with firearms, and although they had only one field-gun, it is said to have had no effect in deciding the action. The accounts of the American officers are silent on the point; but it is said that Rateb Pasha allowed his views to be overruled by Loring Pasha, who insisted on the ramps of the trenches which had been erected being razed, so that the artillery could have a clear zone of fire.

The gunners and infantry were enfiladed by the Ethiopians from higher ground, and the slaughter was so great that several regiments became completely demoralized. Those officers who attempted to rally their men and the survivors, were accused generally of joining in the panic, and of cowardice in the field. The Egyptian troops and officers were called upon to fight under conditions hitherto unknown to them, and without the benefit of tried and skilled leaders. The result was inevitable. Soon the whole Egyptian brigade retreated in complete panic. In this stampede, many of the Egyptian infantry who were falling into ravines or slowed down by the thorny acacias were slaughtered in great numbers as they fled back to Gura fort. According to Lockett out of the 5,000 Egyptians that sortied out only a few hundred managed to return to the fort.[10][11]

William Wing Loring describes the battle in his memoirs;

We piled them up with our artillery by scores, but for every man shot, ten seemed to take his place, until the whole plain seem alive with these black demons. Imagine 5,000 men who did not even know how to shoot, fighting over 50,000 savages who are at war all the time.[12]

Uthman Rifqi and his garrison of 5,500 men viewed the entire engagement from their fort at Khaya Khor but decided not to join the battle.[13]

The Ethiopians followed up their success, and closely invested Fort Gura, which they attacked in force on the 8th and 9 March. On March 10, Rashid Pasha and Osman Bey Neghib led an attack on the Ethiopians which was repulsed with loss, and both officers were killed while leading their men. The Ethiopians then withdrew to loot the dead and collect the rifles which the Egyptian troops had abandoned. Most of the artillery was lost, as well as considerable quantities of rifle ammunition.[14]


After the withdrawal of the Ethiopians, the angered Egyptians left their forts and burned the wounded enemies alive. The Ethiopians retaliated by a cold-blooded massacre of about 600 Egyptian prisoners whom they had taken. Among these prisoners killed were Dr. Muhammad Ali Pasha and Neghib Bey Muhammad. Dr Badr (who had been educated in Edinburgh) escaped by the assistance of an Ethiopian girl who discovered him wounded. On March 12, an amnesty was arranged, and Monsieur Sarzac (the French consul at Massawa) went over the battlefield where the survivors of the Egyptian army were collected, and reached Massawa in May.[15]

News of this defeat was suppressed in Egypt for fear that it would undermine the government of the Khedivate. The victory helped Emperor Yohannes solidify his control over the Ethiopian Empire broadly, and control over the Mareb Melash specifically. He would appoint then Shaleqa Alula as the Ras of those areas of this region under imperial authority.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dunn, John (1994). "For God, Emperor, and Country! The Evolution of Ethiopia's Nineteenth-Century Army". War in History. 1 (3): 278–299. doi:10.1177/096834459400100303. S2CID 162377977."Gura, fought six months later, confirms the superior capabilities of the Ethiopian military. Here 13,000 Egyptian regulars, backed by significant artillery, were thrashed by Yohannis and his 60,000 men. Fought on 7–9 March 1876, it was the decisive battle of the war." (294)
  2. ^ [1], p. 68
  3. ^ Jesman, Czeslaw (1959). "Egyptian Invasion of Ethiopia". African Affairs. 58 (280): 75–81. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.afraf.a094619."The Emperor mobilised it at the last possible moment since Ethiopian troops lived off the land and Commissariat services were unknown to them. It was nlore of a tribal host travelling with women and children than an organised force. It numbered some hundred thousand. About 50,000 of them were combatant troops with perhaps ten thousand rifles. At no time were more than 15,000-20,000 Ethiopians in action at the same time owing to the nature of the battlefield" (80)
  4. ^ Robinson, Arthur (1927). "The Egyptian-Abyssinian War of 1874-1876". Journal of the Royal African Society. 26 (103): 263–280. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.afraf.a100610."On November 6th and 7th the Egyptians were attacked by the Abyssinian army, which was estimated at 50,000 men, and surrounded. Most of the Abyssinians were armed with fire-arms, and although they had one field-gun, it is said to have had no effect in deciding the action." (275) The reliability of Robinson's information can be questioned, as field guns are mentioned in no other primary source, and nearly all sources agree that the Ethiopian force was not as armed with guns as Robinson asserts
  5. ^ Loring, Willaim (1884). A Confederate Soldier in Egypt. Dodd, Mead & Company. p. 410. ISBN 9781465534101."Within half a mile of Osman, and a mile and a half of our position, and in its immediate front, marshalled in barbarian splendor upon an elevated ridge, were the seated hosts of the foe, full 50,000 strong, their banners and shields glittering in the declining sun, waiting the orders of their king, the ablest and most renowned African warrior of modern times, to move en masse across the valley." (410); "No man of sense can for a moment think this isolated battery, though it might have been supported to some extent by the small battalion of 400 men placed around the mountain, and so far from it as to not afford immediate support, could have beat back King John and his 50,000 men, with every possible advantage on their side, as already detailed"(412)
  6. ^ O'Mahoney, Kevin. The Ebullient Phoenix: 1860-1881 "By late afternoon the Egyptians were routed, having lost around 3,500 dead and captured, 1,500 wounded, and no more than 400-600 had fled to safety". p. 197.
  7. ^ Historical Dictionary of Ethiopia. p. 68.
  8. ^ Khedive Ismail's Army.
  9. ^ Khedive Ismail's Army.
  10. ^ Khedive Ismail's Army.
  11. ^ A Confederate Soldier in Egypt.
  12. ^ A Confederate Soldier in Egypt.
  13. ^ Khedive Ismail's Army.
  14. ^ "The Ethiopian Egyptian War".
  15. ^ "The Ethiopian Egyptian War".
  16. ^ Erlich, Haggai (1996). A Political Biography of Ras Alula 1875 - 1897 (PhD). School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

Further reading[edit]

A Confederate Soldier in Egypt - W.W. Loring