Somaliland Camel Corps

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Somaliland Camel Corps
Engelse kameelruiters - English camel troopers.jpg
English camel troopers in 1913, between Berbera and Odweyne in British Somaliland.
Active Early 20th century - disbanded in 1944 and succeeded by the Somaliland Scouts.
Country Flag of British Somaliland (1950-60).png British Somaliland
Allegiance  British Empire
Branch Cavalry
Type Camel Cavalry
Headquarters Laferug (Lafaruug)
Engagements Somaliland Campaign
Second Somaliland expedition
Third Somaliland expedition
Fifth Somaliland expedition
Italian conquest of British Somaliland
East African Campaign
Hastings Ismay, 1st Baron Ismay
Eric Charles Twelves Wilson

The Somaliland Camel Corps (SCC) also referred to as the Somali Camel Corps, was a unit of the British Army based in British Somaliland. It lasted from the early 20th century until 1944.

Beginnings and the Dervish State[edit]

Main article: Dervish State

In 1888, after signing successive treaties with the then ruling Somali Sultans, the British established a protectorate in northern present-day Somalia referred to as British Somalia.[1] The British immediately recognized the affinity between the Somali people and their camel charges. The "Somali Camel Constabulary" was an early attempt to harness this natural affinity militarily.

By 1899, the religious and nationalist leader Mohammed Abdullah Hassan's (The "Mad Mullah") Dervish resistance had begun. The period was to last until 1920.

Somalia Campaign[edit]

Main article: Somaliland Campaign

On 9 August 1913, the "Somalia Camel Constabulary" suffered a serious defeat at the Battle of Dul Madoba at the hands of the "Mad Mullah." Hassan roamed British Somalia and had already evaded several attempts to capture him. At Dul Madoba, 57 members of the 110-man unit were killed or wounded. The dead included the British commander, Colonel Richard Corfield.

On 12 March 1914, the British set out to create what was to become the "Somalia Camel Corps" the better to maintain order in the protectorate, much of which was coextensive with the Warsangali Sultanate's and Dervish State's respective domains. The corps served against the "Mad Mullah", but after a total of four major expeditions to capture him, Hassan remained on the loose. During the same period, the corps set an impressive standard by covering one hundred and fifty miles in seventy-two hours. The camel corps grew to include some 700 mounted riders.

In November 1919, the British launched the fifth and final expedition. In 1920, a combined land and air offensive — which included the Somaliland Camel Corps, the 12 aircraft of the Royal Air Force's Z Force, Somalia Police, elements from the 2nd (Nyasaland) Battalion and 6th (British Somalia) Battalion of the King's African Rifles (KAR), and an Indian battalion — defeated Hassan's Dervish army and occupied the capital.

During the period between World War I and World War II, the Somaliland Camel Corps was re-configured better to defend the protectorate in the event of a future war. In 1930, Colonel Arthur Reginald Chater of the Royal Marines was placed in command of a slightly smaller corps of five hundred troopers. Like many other colonial units the Somalia Camel Corps had British officers. In the late 1930s, the corps was given 900 British pounds to build pillboxes and reserve water tanks. After the financial crisis of 1931, the Somalia Camel Corps numbered 14 British officers, 400 Somali Askaris, and 150 African Reservists.[2]

World War II[edit]

In September 1939, the Somalia Camel Corps had a total strength of fourteen British officers, one British non-commissioned officer, and 554 non-European (mostly ethnic Somalis) other ranks. Initially, the corps was placed under the garrison commander of French Somalia. The four companies of the Somaliland Camel Corps were split among five different locations in the colony. Only "A" Company retained its camels, while the other companies had become infantry units.

Field Marshal Archibald Wavell, Commander-in-Chief of the Middle East Command, was appalled by the under-equipped force that was supposed to defend an entire colony. In 1940, as a result of his concern, the unit was partially mechanised and further defences were built. However, before the upgrades could be completed, the funds dried up.

At the beginning of the East African Campaign, the Somaliland Camel Corps, bolstered with a battalion of the Northern Rhodesian Regiment, had 1,475 men to defend British Somalia. Reinforcements were eventually sent from Aden in a vain hope to stop the Italian invasion.

During the Italian conquest of British Somaliland, the Somalia Camel Corps skirmished and screened the attacking force along the border before pulling back to more defensible positions. At Observation Hill, the corps made a formidable stand. One of its officers, Captain Eric Charles Twelves Wilson of the East Surreys, received a Victoria Cross (VC) for his use of a machine gun during the defence. Despite wounds, malaria, and having several guns destroyed from under him, he stayed at his post. Wilson was the only VC recipient during the Italian invasion of British Somalia; only six other VCs were awarded for operations in East Africa. Wilson was later found alive in an Italian prisoner of war camp.

However, despite a spirited defence, the British were over-matched and withdrew from Berbera on 17 August 1940.[3] With the final withdrawal, most of the troops of the Somalia Camel Corps were disbanded.[4]

On 16 March 1941, less than one year from the date of withdrawal, the British returned to the colony. Soon afterwards the Somaliland Camel Corps was re-founded. By 18 April, the unit was at about 80% of its former strength. The Camel Corps spent the following months rounding up stray Italians and policing against local bandits. In 1942, the Somalia Camel Corps became a mechanized regiment.

On 30 April 1944, six bombers of 61 Squadron, Royal Air Force, attacked and damaged the German submarine U-852 (Kapitänleutnant [Lieutenant-Captain] Heinz-Wilhelm Eck). He and 52 members of the crew came ashore, where members of the corps captured them on 13 March and interned them.[5] For some time there were plans to send the corps to Burma. However, the British disbanded the Somaliland Camel Corps in 1944 after several mutinies had taken place. It was succeeded by the Somaliland Scouts that year.


In 1939, on the brink of war, the Somalia Camel Corps was organized as follows:

  • Headquarters and Headquarters Company, The Somalia Camel Corps: Laferug (Lafaruug - located near Mandheera between Berbera and Hargeysa along Route 1 Highway)
  • 'A' (Camel) Company: Hargeisa
  • 'B' (Nyasa Infantry) Company: Tug Argan - southwest of Laferug near Hargeisa south of Assa Hills
  • 'C' Company: Burao
  • 'D' Company: Tug Argan (less 2 Platoons at Sheekh)


The troopers of the Somalia Camel Corps had a distinctive dress which was based on the standard British Army khaki drill, but included a knitted woollen pullover and drill patches on the shoulders. Shorts were worn with woollen socks on puttees and "chaplis", boots or bare feet. Equipment consisted of a leather ammunition bandolier and a leather waist belt. The officers wore pith helmets and khaki drill uniforms. Other ranks wore a "kullah" with "puggree" which ended in a long tail which hung down the back.[6] A "chaplis" is typically a colourful sandal. A "kullah" is a type of cap. A "puggree" is typically a strip of cloth wound around the upper portion of a hat or helmet, particularly a pith helmet, and falling down behind to act as a shade for the back of the neck.

Notable servicemen[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Somalia. 25. At the University press. p. 383. LCCN 11027773. OL 6536395M. 
  2. ^ Wavell, p.2719
  3. ^ Time Magazine, Little Dunkirk
  4. ^ Mollo, p. 138
  5. ^ Klemen, L (1999–2000). "The U-Boat War in the Indian Ocean". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941–1942. 
  6. ^ Mollo, p. 139


  • Mollo, Andrew; McGregor, Malcolm; Turner, Pierre (1981). The armed forces of World War II : uniforms, insignia, and organization. New York: Crown Publishers. ISBN 0-517-54478-4. 
  • Wavell, Archibald, Operations in the Somaliland Protectorate, 1939-1940 (Appendix A - G. M. R. Reid and A.R. Godwin-Austen) published in The London Gazette: no. 37594. pp. 2719–2727. 4 June 1946. Retrieved 2009-12-05.

External links[edit]