Battle of Omdurman

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Battle of Omdurman
Part of: Mahdi uprising
Mahdists at the Battle of Omdurman
Mahdists at the Battle of Omdurman
date September 2, 1898
place Omdurman in Sudan
output British victory
Parties to the conflict

United Kingdom 1801United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland United Kingdom Khedivat Egypt
Flag of Egypt (1882-1922) .svg

Ansar (Mahdists)


Herbert Kitchener

Abdallahi ibn Muhammad

Troop strength
8,200 British, 17,600 Egyptians and Sudanese 30,000-50,000 men

48 dead and 428 wounded

8,000–9,700 dead and 10,000 to 16,000 wounded

In the Battle of Omdurman in Sudan on September 2, 1898, an Anglo-Egyptian army under Horatio Herbert Kitchener, who was strongly superior in terms of weapons, defeated the supporters of Mahdi Muhammad Ahmad , who died in 1885, under their leader Abdallahi ibn Muhammad . The battle marked the end of Mahdist supremacy in Sudan and enabled the establishment of an Anglo-Egyptian condominium in Sudan.


From 1821 Sudan was under the rule of the Ottoman viceroys ( Khedives ) of Egypt . The Mahdi uprising, which began in 1881, culminated in 1885 with the conquest of Khartoum . The Gordon Relief Expedition , dispatched to rescue British Khartoum evacuation commissioner Charles George Gordon , came too late.

On June 3, 1884, the Treaty of Adua was concluded between Ethiopia and Great Britain for closer cooperation, as the British feared an increase in French influence on Ethiopia. The treaty obliged the British-Egyptian troops to help the Ethiopians against the Mahdists. At the same time, the British began building an Egyptian army. In 1892 Horatio Herbert Kitchener was appointed Sirdar (Commander-in-Chief) of the Egyptian Army and from then on worked on a plan to recapture Sudan.

On March 12, 1896, Kitchener was finally given authority to begin the campaign, and the Anglo-Egyptian Nile Expeditionary Force was put on the march. The biggest problem besides the expected military resistance of the Mahdists was the securing of supplies, since the Nile cataracts did not allow continuous navigation with ships. The supply was ultimately secured with the construction of a railway line in the great arch of the Nile from Wadi Halfa to Abu Hamed and later Atbara .

After several skirmishes, at the end of August 1898 the British army finally approached the Mahdist capital of Omdurman, which is located directly on the Nile .


Anglo-Egyptian Army

In the battle, 8,200 British and 17,600 Egyptians and Sudanese fought in Kitchener's army. The British - Egyptian army was divided into a British division (2 brigades ) under Lieutenant General Sir William Gatacre and an Egyptian division (4 brigades) under Major General Archibald Hunter . In the ranks of the 21st Lancers , the then 23-year-old Winston Churchill served as a lieutenant. With the book The River War (1899) he left behind one of the most important works of the Sudan campaign. In addition, the Sirdar had ten gunboats . Of the animals, 2,469 horses, 896 mules, 3,524 camels and 229 donkeys were involved in the operation.

The Anglo-Egyptian soldiers were armed with modern Lee-Metford Mk II carbine rifles .

  • Egyptian Division ( Archibald Hunter )
    1st Brigade ( Hector Archibald MacDonald )
    2nd Egyptian Battalion
    9th Sudanese Battalion
    10th Sudanese Battalion
    11th Sudanese Battalion
    2nd Brigade ( John Grenfell Maxwell )
    8th Egyptian Battalion
    12th Sudanese Battalion
    13th Sudanese Battalion
    14th Sudanese Battalion
    3rd Brigade (DF Lewis)
    3rd Egyptian Battalion
    4th Egyptian Battalion
    7th Egyptian Battalion
    15th Egyptian Battalion
    4th Brigade ( John Collinson )
    1st Egyptian Battalion
    5th Egyptian Battalion
    17th Egyptian Battalion
    18th Egyptian Battalion
Maxim machine gun
  • Artillery (CJ Long)
    32nd Field Battery, Royal Artillery (8 guns, including 2 forty pounders)
    37th Field Battery, Royal Artillery (6 guns, 5 inch howitzers)
    Egyptian The Horse Battery (6 7.75 cm Krupp guns)
    Egyptian No. 1 Field Battery (6 Maxim Nordenfeldt 75 mm rapid fire guns)
    Egyptian No. 2 Field Battery (6 Maxim Nordenfeldt 75 mm rapid fire guns)
    Egyptian No. 3 Field Battery (6 Maxim Nordenfeldt 75 mm rapid fire guns)
    Egyptian No. 4 Field Battery (6 Maxim Nordenfeldt 75 mm rapid fire guns)
    1 unit of the 16th Company Eastern Division (6 Maxim machine guns)
    1 unit of the Royal Irish Fusiliers (4 Maxim machine guns)
    5 Egyptian batteries (10 Maxim machine guns)
  • 1 pioneer unit of the Royal Engineers
  • Nile Flotilla (Commander Colin Richard Keppel )
    older stern wheel gunboats :
    Tamai. Hafir , Abu Klea , Metemma (1 twelve pounder each, 2 Maxim-Nordenfeldt)
    Sternwheel gunboats built in 1896
    Fateh ( David Beatty ) Naser , Zafir (each 1 rapid-fire twelve-pounder, 2 six-pounder guns, 4 Maxim machine guns)
    Screw cannon boats built in 1898
    Sultan. (Walter Cowan) Melik , Sheikh (2 Nordenfeldt guns, 1 rapid-fire twelve-pounder, 1 howitzer, 4 Maxims)
    Transport steamer: Dal. Akasha , Tahra , Okma , Kaibar
HM Gunboat Sultan

Mahdist army

The Mahdist army was led by the Caliph Abdallahi ibn Muhammad himself. In the official reports from Kitchener and the chief of intelligence, Reginald Wingate , the number of soldiers is given as 52,000. This number has since been adopted in most of the factories for battle. Eyewitnesses of the troop deployment and information from the reconnaissance of the British troops speak of 30,000–35,000 soldiers.

The individual departments of the army were headed by different emirs , who were recognizable by their different flags. In doing so, the Mahdists followed the tradition of the Islamic armies and caravans at the time of the Prophet Mohammed . Osman Digna , the most experienced of the Mahdist leaders, did not fly a flag because he lost it in the fighting for Tamai in 1884.

The most important units were:

  • Uthman al-Din [Osman Sheikh Ed Din] (dark green flag), 10,000-15,000 men or 25,000 men (12,000 riflemen and 13,000 lancers) Mulazimin
  • Yaqub (black flag) 12,000-14,000 men
  • Caliph Ali wad Ullu [Ali Wad Helu] (light green flag) 2800-5000 men
  • Osman Digna (no flag) approx. 700-2700 men
  • Abdallahi ibn Muhammad (bodyguard), approx. 2000 men
  • Caliph al-Sharif (red flag) approx. 2000 men.

In terms of artillery, the army had a total of six Krupp guns, eight ten-barrel mitrailleuses and 18 other guns of different types. The ammunition was largely self-made.

The soldiers were not equipped with firearms and artillery, and were of inferior quality, as the basic tactical consideration for the use of these weapons was not the targeted killing of the enemy. The handguns were used to support those fighting with sword and spear during attack and later in close combat. As a rule, the basic tactical orientation consisted of a massed frontal attack, in which corresponding victims were also accepted. Targeted shooting from cover or lying down was considered cowardice.



The Nile between Abu Hamed and Shabluka
Situation before Omdurman on September 1st, 1898

The army's preparations lasted through the summer of 1898. A second British brigade and the 37th Field Battery were sent to Sudan for reinforcement. There were also two forty-pounder guns, a British Maxim battery (Royal Irish Fusiliers), the 21st Lancers and three new gunboats.

By August 23, the entire army had been moved from the Atbara military camp to Wad Hamed along the left bank of the Nile. Wad Hamed was just before the Shabaluka Gorge and 93 kilometers from Omdurman. From Wad Hamed onwards, the army no longer had a fixed communication link with Atbara or Cairo. Food supplies were provided for 21 days.

On the right bank of the Nile, Edward Montagu-Stuart-Wortley advanced with about 2500 recruited irregular Arab mercenaries.

The gun emplacements of the Mahdists in the Shabaluka Gorge were unoccupied so that the Nile flotilla could travel upstream undisturbed. The gunboat "Zafir" capsized on August 28 near Metemma without any external interference.

On August 28, the whole army broke out of their intermediate camp near Royan Island. From this point on, they marched as a rule in a broad front and ready for action at any time. The British division took over the left and the Egyptian division took over the right. The advance was unhindered by opposing troops. The camp on the evening of August 31 was about 25 kilometers from Omdurman. On the same day the Caliph Abdallahi held his troop display at the gates of Omdurman.

The reconnaissance by the cavalry observed the march of the Mahdi army and their movement towards Kerreri at around 11 a.m. on September 1. At the same time, the gunboats had already advanced to Omdurman and fired at the gun batteries and fortifications there. Wortley's troops simultaneously captured a village on the opposite side of the Nile from Omdurman. A howitzer named “Sheikh” was brought ashore, and from 1.30 a.m. Lyddit grenades were fired at the Mahdi’s tomb .

The Mahdi's army advanced steadily until 1:45 a.m. Then the advance suddenly stopped, and the Ansar camped on the spot, about four miles from the British and the banks of the Nile. Meanwhile the Anglo-Egyptian army had marched on in battle formation. When it became clear that no further attack by the Mahdists was to be expected, a camp was set up on the banks of the Nile. As is customary in Sudan, this zeriba was protected with thorn hedges. The gunboats also returned to the camp in the afternoon and anchored there overnight.

1st attack

September 2, 6:45 a.m.
HM Gunboat Melik

Kitchener's army was awakened at 3:40 a.m. The army's reconnaissance revealed that the Mahdi's army had not changed its location overnight. Their troops had fanned out on a front eight kilometers at dawn and were marching towards the bank of the Nile.

The Anglo-Egyptian army holed up in their semicircular camp. The two flanks ending on the river banks were secured by the gunboats. On the Kerreri Hill on the right, the Egyptian Cavalry and Camel Corps were under the command of Broadwood, and on the left of the camp the 21st Lancers took up positions.

In the Mahdi’s army, Ali Wad Helu stood on the far left. This bypassed the Kerreri Mountains on the left. Next to it were the troops of Osman Sheikh Ed Din with around 15,000 men. Osman Azrak commanded 8,000 soldiers in the center. On the far right on Surgham Hill, 6,000 men with white flags advanced. The remaining troops were in reserve at the location of the Khalifa.

At around 6:30 am, the Mahdi's army began the attack. First a volley was fired from the few cannons in the center. The British and Egyptian artillery responded immediately and fired directly at the attacking enemy, some 2,700 m away. The troops attacking on the far right came shortly afterwards into the field of fire of the gunboats and the guns in the camp. Within a few minutes this unit was almost completely wiped out by the gunfire.

On the right flank of the Anglo-Egyptian army there was a confrontation between the troops advancing northeast of Osman Sheikh Ed Din and the cavalry Broadwoods. As a result of flanking fire on Kerreri Hill, Broadwood had around 50 dead and wounded. Since the Camel Corps had problems with the rocky ground, Broadwood sent them back to camp. The Mahdi troops were almost 350 meters from the returning camel riders. The Camel Corps withdrew directly west towards the Nile, pursued by Ansar units. Shortly before they could cut off their retreat to camp on the banks of the Nile, the Camel Corps received fire support from a gunboat. The attack was halted by the firepower from rifles, Maxim's and rapid-fire artillery, and the riders were able to reach the camp unscathed. Then the Mahdi soldiers began to harass the remaining cavalry units. However, due to their radius of action, these were able to escape and lure a number of enemy soldiers away from the battlefield.

Meanwhile the frontal attack on the center of the camp continued. However, the Mahdists did not get further than 300 meters from the entrenchments. Around 8 o'clock, the attack gradually subsided due to the high losses of around 2,800 dead and 4,200 wounded.

Attack by the 21st Lancers

The attack of the 21st Lancers
The attack of the 21st Lancers as portrayed by Richard Caton Woodville junior

Kitchener and his generals now planned to occupy Omdurman as soon as possible. For this it was necessary to clear the area between the camp and the city from the enemy. The corresponding order was given to the 21st Lancers. The regiment reached the crest of Surgham Hill around 8:20 a.m. A reconnaissance brought the knowledge that south of the hill in a north-south running dry river course about 700 Ansar were staying. The Khalifa noticed the movement of the British and reinforced his soldiers in the river by another 2,000 men. At around 8.40 a.m., the advancing British were around 275 meters away when they came into enemy rifle fire. Immediately afterwards all 16 companies of the cavalry regiment swiveled into a line and began to gallop towards the enemy. When the regiment was about 230 meters away, the Ansar rose from their entrenchment. The British realized at that moment the number of opponents they were facing. When the two combat groups clashed about thirty British and about 200 Arabs were overturned. Immediately afterwards a violent close combat developed. The 21st Lancers, who were riding on, gathered around 8:50 a.m. on the opposite side of the trench at a distance of around 230 meters. Of the almost 400 men in the regiment, five officers and sixty-five soldiers were killed or wounded. 119 horses were dead.

At around 9.15 a.m. the regiment took up position south of the trench. The dismounted soldiers fired at the Arabs from this position. The fire of the rapid-fire carbines had a corresponding effect, so that the Mahdists finally retreated north.

2nd attack

September 2, 9:40 a.m.
September 2, 10.15 a.m.

Around 9:00 a.m. the main force of the Anglo-Egyptian troops began to advance on Omdurman. The infantry brigades, having replenished their ammunition supplies, turned left and advanced in the direction of Surgham Hill. Lewis' 3rd Egyptian Brigade followed in marching order on Maxwell's right. MacDonald's first brigade marched directly west to take their position in the deployment order. With the Maxwell and Lewis brigades advancing too far south, a void arose between the Lewis and MacDonald brigades, isolating the latter from the rest of the troops. The fourth Egyptian brigade under Collinson followed with the train along the Nile bank south. At that time the area towards the Kerreri Hills was without any protection from Anglo-British troops, although Ali Wad Helu's force was still there.

Mounted forces soon advanced from the area of ​​the Kerreri Hills to the abandoned camp. The soldiers of the field hospital who remained in the Zeriba began to accelerate the removal of the wounded. At the same time the first wounded of the 21st Lancers reached the camp.

MacDonald had noticed the troops around the Khalifa waiting on the western side of Surgahm Hill as he advanced. Immediately he took up battle position and had the gun batteries fired from around 1,100 meters. A short time later the troops under Yaqub advanced against MacDonald's brigade. Kitchener had the crest of Surgham Hill conquered by Maxwell's troops in support of MacDonald. Lyttelton's brigade secured the left and Lewis the right flank. Wauchope's brigade was instructed to bridge the gap between Lewis and MacDonald's forces. Collinson's Brigade and Camel Corps were ordered to the right flank of MacDonald. This restored protection against attacks from the north and west.

The attacking forces of Yaqub put pressure on the right flank of the Lewis Brigade. MacDonald's south-facing brigade took Mahdi forces under fire from the other side. However, there was still a risk that they could break through the gap between the two Anglo-Egyptian troops. The troops standing on the Surgham Hill were able to inflict heavy losses on the enemy soldiers with their Maxim machine guns and push them further and further west.

The attack on MacDonald's brigade

Wauchope's brigade arrived at the front line just as it became apparent that the enemy attack had failed. At this point the right flank of MacDonald's brigade was attacked from the Kerreri Hills. The Lincolnshire Regiment, which had just arrived at the front, was immediately ordered to the right flank. Since the attack from the west subsided at the same time, MacDonald was able to move more battalions and batteries from this side to the northwest. By skillfully and timely relocation of his troops, MacDonald was able to successfully repel the successive attacks by the Mahdi troops.

The Sudanese soldiers fired relatively randomly at the Mahdists, so that there was no corresponding effect. Only after the arrival of the British from the Lincolnshire Regiment and the beginning of rhythmic combat shooting could the forward thrust of the Ansar be stopped. The attack by around 400 mounted Mahdists could also be repulsed.

After the attacks stopped, the Anglo-Egyptian forces advanced westward by 11:30 a.m.

Cast of Omdurman

September 2 noon
The Battle of Omdurman. Contemporary British representation

The returning Mahdists were pursued by the Egyptian cavalry and attacked with carbine fire from the flank by the 21st Lancers.

After the defeat on the battlefield, the Khalifa rode back into the city. There he tried to organize the resistance. However, only very few of the Arabs followed the request. Many of the Mahdists surrendered or fled south and west. Around 4:00 p.m. the Khalifa left the city and followed the troops moving south. Around 30,000 people fled with him. Among the surviving military leaders were Uthman al-Din, Osman Digna and the seriously wounded Ali Wad Helu.

Kitchener's army had meanwhile swung south and gathered around noon on the river about three miles from town. At 2.30 p.m. the 2nd Egyptian Brigade under Maxwell marched into the city on a broad front. The rest of the army followed.

No sooner had Kitchener rode into the suburbs than he was offered the city's surrender. This was accepted and he granted exemption for those who laid down their arms. Because of this, the army was able to advance quickly to the great wall around the inner district of Omdurman. This was defended by several hundred Mahdists. By using the machine guns, however, their resistance was broken within a quarter of an hour. Since the wall had been destroyed in many places by the gunboat fire the day before, the further advance did not cause any problems. In the city center, the troops encountered many dead soldiers and civilians, including women and children. These had fallen victim to the artillery fire.

From 4 p.m. the cavalry rode around the city in circles to make escape attempts more difficult. At nightfall, the units received word that the Khalifa had fled the city. A persecution was soon abandoned.


Muhammad Ahmad's grave after the bombardment
Number of Mahdists killed

The use of modern weapons on the part of the Anglo-Egyptian troops led to very different losses on the two sides of the adversary.

Three British officers and 25 British soldiers died among the Anglo-Egyptian troops, as well as two Egyptian officers and 18 Egyptian soldiers. Eleven British and eight Egyptian officers as well as 136 British and 273 Egyptian soldiers were wounded.

British officers counted 7,899 dead on the battlefield. Then there are the Sudanese buried immediately afterwards by their relatives. It is assumed that around 9700 people were killed. The number of wounded is estimated at 10,000 to 16,000. In addition, 5,000 soldiers were taken prisoner. This amounts to almost total annihilation of the Mahdi's army.

Many of the wounded Ansar lay on the battlefield for several days and received inadequate care. Many of the wounded were also killed by British soldiers.

For this battle, three men from the 21st Lancers were awarded the Victoria Cross , the highest distinction in the United Kingdom, for superior bravery in the face of the enemy .

From a technical and tactical point of view, the battle is considered a turning point in military history, which marked the transition between the warfare of the 19th and 20th centuries in a particularly striking way. This results from the fact that on the one hand one of the last frontal cavalry attacks in world history was ridden in their course ; on the other hand, the recently developed Maxim machine guns were used in larger numbers by the British for the first time .

After the battle, Omdurman and Khartoum , destroyed by the Mahdi , were occupied, which was then rebuilt by Kitchener. At the same time, however, he also ordered the tomb of the Mahdi to be torn down. Muhammad Ahmad's body was beheaded. The torso was then thrown into the Nile. The head was displayed as a trophy for a while until it was buried in Wadi Halfa by order of Lord Cromer .

The Mahdists fled south. Here they controlled the area from Darfur to the border with Ethiopia until 1899 . In October 1899 Kitchener dispatched 8,000 soldiers under Francis Reginald Wingate to defeat Abdallahi ibn Muhammad for good. He was killed in the battle of Umm Diwaykarat in the province of Kordofan .

Immediately after the victory in Omdurman, after the Faschoda crisis had been settled, the British secured their rule over Sudan and thus their sphere of influence in eastern Africa.

The reclaimed land was not returned to Egypt, but constituted as an Anglo-Egyptian condominium in 1899 , with Lord Kitchener as the first governor general.

For victory in the battle Kitchener received the title of baron ( Lord Kitchener of Khartoum and of Aspall in the County of Suffolk , November 1, 1898) and the Bath Order .


  • Winston Churchill: The River War: An Account of the Reconquest of the Sudan . (German crusade against the kingdom of the Mahdi ); Frankfurt am Main 2008, ISBN 978-3-8218-6204-0 . (English original edition 1899, abbreviated 1902)
  • Judith Philadelphy: The Battle of Omdurman 1898 in the mirror of the British press . Thesis. Faculty of Philological and Cultural Studies at the University of Vienna, 2013 ( PDF file; 4021 kB ).
  • William Wright: Omdurman 1898 . The History Press, 2012, ISBN 978-0-7524-6872-3 .
  • Ismat Hasan Zulfo: Kerari: The Sudanese Account of the Battle of Omdurman. ISBN 0-7232-2499-4 .

Web links

Commons : Battle of Omdurman  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Winston Churchill: The River War. London 1902, p. 310.
  2. Winston Churchill: The River War. London 1902, p. 311.
  3. Winston Churchill: Crusade against the Empire of the Mahdi. P. 302 ff.
  4. Ismat Hasan Zulfo, p. 102.
  5. ^ Doug Johnson: The Egyptian Army 1880-1900.
  6. Ismat Hasan Zulfo, p. 112f
  7. Ismat Hasan Zulfo, p. 39.
  8. Ismat Hasan Zulfo, p. 100 f.
  9. Ismat Hasan Zulfo, p. 179 f.
  10. Winston Churchill: Crusade against the land of the Mahdi. P. 365.

Coordinates: 15 ° 45 ′ 7 ″  N , 32 ° 31 ′ 12.5 ″  E