The RAF vs the Mad Mullah

Discussion in 'Between the wars 1918-1939' started by Njaco, Jan 1, 2008.

  1. Njaco

    Njaco The Pop-Tart Whisperer
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    from "Airpower" by Stephen Budiansky

    "Mohammed bin Abdullah Hassan, the 'Mad Mullah' of British Somaliland, had been a thorn in the side of British rule for decades. Inspired by tales of the Mahdi's dervishes in Sudan who had fought a holy war against the British, and imbued with the doctrines of a tiny, puritanical Islamic sect he had joined during a pilmgrimage to Mecca, Hassan began preaching his own fanatical brand of Islam among the Somali clans upon his return to his country in 1895. With a following that at times grew to more than 10,000, he declared a jihad to drive the infidel from the shores and to purge the faith of its corruptions.

    Four British expeditions had been mounted against him, the last, in 1904, fielding 5000 regular troops and 10,000 irregulars under the command of a major general. Each time the Mullah lost thousands of men in battle; each time he survived his defeat and regrouped to resume his raiding. In 1909 the British administration of the territory basically gave up and withdrew from the interior of the country. An orgy of destruction followed, in which a third of the population was slaughtered.

    In late 1918, the War Office dispatched a general to Berbera to assess what it would take to deal with the Mullah once and for all. He reported back that it would be a matter of a difficult 3 month campaign against the Mullah's well-equipped troops. The War Office immediately balked at the cost of such an undertaking and refused to pay. Whereupon the Colonial Office, fearful that it would get stuck with the bill, privately approached Hugh Trenchard to ask if perhaps airplanes might be able to do the job a bit more cheaply.

    Churchill was immediately enthusiastic. He had always liked airplanes, and now he also saw an opportuniy to make a splash as a forward-looking, efficent administrator. Demonstrating that modern technology could not only do a job better than the old services but do it more cheaply to boot would suit the politics of the moment. Churchill began incessantly pressing the Cabinet to let the RAF have a crack at Somaliland. At first the War Office strenuosly objected, but it at last gave way in October 1919 after securing a promise that "under no concievable circumstances" would regular Army reinforcements be demanded to bail out the RAF if it got into a jam.

    And so on 21 January 1920, the Mullah was at his compound at Medishe when he and his men caught sight of 5 machines in the sky heading their way. One of the Mullah's men suggested that perhaps they were messengers from Istanbul come to inform the Mullah of Turkish victory in the Great War. (News traveled slowly). A more imaginative aide suggested they were chariots sent from Allah to carry the Mullah to heaven. Whether he was being sycophantic or wry is unclear; in any case those who suspected the truth of what the airplanes' appearance portended knew better than to say so directly, for the Mullah, true to the practice of despots from time immemorial, regularly put to death those who bore ill tidings.

    Failing to spot the Mullah's compound, the flight passed by and struck a nearby fort. But then one plane was seen returning. The Mullah went outside to watch and was leaning on the arm of his vizier when the first bomb fell. The vizier was killed, the clothes of the great man himself singed.

    Over the next 3 days, the RAF's Z unit - 36 officers, 189 enlisted men and one flight of 6 DH9 bombers plus 6 spares, all transported on 3 warships - bombed Medishe and the Mullah's nearby fort twice daily. When word then came that 2 of his other forts had fallen to British-led native troops, the Mullah fled with about 700 riflemen. The British forces pursued, and a month later it was all over and the Z unit on its way home. The Mullah escaped to Abyssinia, where he and a small number of remaining followers died a month later of disease and malnourishment. Total British casualties were 2 native soldiers killed.

    It was the money that spoke the loudest, though: Churchill told the House of Commons that the last conventional land expedition against the Mullah had cost 6 million pounds. The RAF had done it for 70,000. The 'Aeroplane' magazine crowed that the operation was proof that henceforth the infantryman's role would be degraded from that of "the first line of attack to the position of mere 'mopper up'"
     
  2. Negative Creep

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    Good story. Wonder how much of an effect it had upon the thinking of men like Harris or Trenchard?
     
  3. Njaco

    Njaco The Pop-Tart Whisperer
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    Alot! According to the book they held this up as an example of how effective the RAF was and should be included in the major services and thinking.
     
  4. Negative Creep

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    Which opens up the question just how different could World War 2 have been if it weren't for this relatively minor skirmish?
     
  5. Njaco

    Njaco The Pop-Tart Whisperer
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    True, true. I like the collarolation between who they were fighting and today.:rolleyes:
     
  6. Soundbreaker Welch?

    Soundbreaker Welch? Active Member

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    Too bad Osama Bin Laden can't be taken care of in a similar way.
     
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