Operations in Aden

Aden had been a British garrison since 1839 and a British Protectorate since 1869; a key location on the lines of communication to India and during much of the Great War threatened by Ottoman Forces occupying the Arabian peninsula. Its defence was a matter under control of the Government of India.

The following information is extracted from the “London Gazette”.

Beauchamp Duff’s 4 July 1916 Despatch

War Office, 4th July, 1916.
The Government of India has forwarded for publication the following despatch from General Sir Beauchamp Duff, G.C.B., Commander-in-Chief, India, on military operations in the Indian Empire since the outbreak of
war: —

Army Headquarters, India, Delhi, 9th March, 1916.
From the Commander-in-Chief, India,
To the Secretary to the Government of India, Army Department.

SIR,—I have the honour to submit the following despatch, which deals with the minor military operations, undertaken since the outbreak of the present war, on the North-West Frontier and elsewhere in the Indian Empire, including Aden. They are described in the following order: —
Gulf of Oman.
North-West Frontier—
(a) The Tochi Valley and Derajat,
(b) Mohmands, Swat and Buner,
(c) Black Mountain, Burma. Madras.
Preventive measures.


  1. On the outbreak of war with Turkey, on 31st October, 1914, reports indicated that the Turks were in some strength in the Shaikh’ Sa’id peninsula, and tlhat they were preparing to despatch troops to act against the Aden Protectorate. Consequently on November 3rd orders were issued to Brigadier-General H. V. Cox, C.B., C.S.I., Commanding 29th Indian Infantry Brigade, then on the voyage to Suez, to capture Shaikh Sa’id and destroy the Turkish works, armaments and wells at that place. Three battalions from the 29th Indian Infantry Brigade and the 23rd Sikh Pioneers were detailed for this operation, in which H.M.S. “Duke of Edinburgh” co-operated.

    On November 10th the transports conveying the force arrived off the coast of the Shaikh Sa’id peninsula, but adverse weather conditions prevented a landing at the point first selected. While the transports were moving to an alternative landing place, H.M.S. “Duke of Edinburgh” engaged the Turkish defences with satisfactory results. Covered by the fire of the naval guns, a landing was effected, all opposition encountered was overcome and the enemy were driven inland, abandoning their field guns.

    On November 11th Turbah Fort and other Turkish works in the vicinity were destroyed by the troops and a naval demolition party, and the force, having effected its object, re-embarked. …

    For some time after the operations described above the Turks did not show signs of advancing with a view to attacking Aden; but their presence on the northern boundary of the Protectorate rendered it desirable to strengthen somewhat the garrison of Aden.

    Shaikh Sa’id was again occupied by the enemy, and on the night of June 14th-15th, 1915, he endeavoured to effect a landing on the north coast of the Island of Perim. This attack was successfully driven off by the detachment, 23rd Sikh Pioneers, which formed the garrison of the island, under the command of Captain A. G. C. Hutchinson.
My highlights on this map of Aden, which is not from the “London Gazette” or this despatch.

During May 1915 the enemy was reported to be becoming more active, and during the latter half of June reports indicated a possible Turkish advance on Lahaj from Mawiyah. On definite information being received that such an advance was about to be made, Major-General D. G. L. Shaw, commanding Aden Brigade, ordered the Aden Moveable Column, under Lieutenant-Colonel H. F. A. Pearson, 23rd Sikh Pioneers, to move out to Shaikh ‘Othman on the evening of the 3rd July. Early the following morning the advance was continued to Lahaj, to which place the Aden Troop had previously been despatched. The intense heat, sand and shortage of water rendered the march and the subsequent operations most trying, but nevertheless the advanced guard reached their objective, and engaged the Turks just beyond Lahaj on the evening of the 4th July. But the desertion of the hired camels and the severe climatic conditions so delayed and distressed the main body as to necessitate a withdrawal from Lahaj to Khor ‘Maksar on July 5th. In recording this, Major-General Shaw pays a tribute to the devotion to duty of the men of the Royal Artillery, who effected the withdrawal of their guns under the most trying conditio

On the withdrawal of the Aden Moveable Column to the Khor Maksar line the Turks occupied Shaikh ‘Othman, and it was decided to increase temporarily the Aden garrison.

On July 20th, the 28th (Frontier Force) Brigade, with a battery Royal Horse Artillery and a detachment of Sappers and Miners, afterwards reinforced by another battery and the Aden Troop, the whole under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel A. M. S. Elsmie, 56th Punjabi Rifles (Frontier Force), moved out of Aden to attack the enemy next morning. The Turks, completely surprised, were expelled from Shaikh ‘Othman. Their casualties were some 50-60, in addition to several hundred prisoners, mostly Arabs.

On August 24th a small column under the command of Major W. J. Ottley, 23rd Sikh Pioneers, engaged the garrison of the Turkish post of Fiyush and forced the enemy to retire on Lahaj.

Note that what is called Lahaj in this despatch is shown here as Lahej.

Again on August 28th a similar successful reconnaissance was made towards Waht. In September reports indicated that the Turks were preparing to retire from Lahaj; a column under Lieutenant-Colonel A. M. S. Elsmie, 50th Punjabi Rifles (Frontier Force), was therefore directed to ascertain the situation at Waht. On September 25th this column surprised the enemy, estimated at 700 Turks with 8 guns and 1,000 Arabs, and seized and occupied Waht. Major-General Sir G. J. Younghusband, K.C.I.E., C.B., who was commanding the Aden Brigade during a portion of the period when these operations took place, brings to notice the great assistance he received on all occasions both by sea and land from Captain Hall Thompson, R.N., H.M.S. “Philomel.”‘

In October, and again in December, our cavalry have had small affairs with hostile reconnoitring parties, in which the latter were driven off with loss, and in December friendly Arabs, supported by a small infantry detachment, drove off a hostile Turkish and Arab force which was advancing on ‘Imad. Owing to the Turks despatching troops to coerce the tribes in the East of the Aden Protectorate, a demonstration in support of these tribes was made by the Aden Moveable Column on January 12th, 1916, in the direction of Subar. The column located a Turkish force near Subar and engaged it, inflicting considerable losses on it. As a result of this action the Turkish pressure on the Arab tribes is reported to have been relieved.

The list of those mentioned in despatches for the Aden operations.
British Newspaper Archive. From the “Illustrated London News” of Saturday 25 March 1916. Gordon Humphrey Chapman, who had been mentioned in despatches for his work at Aden, was killed in action in Mesopotamia on 8 March 1916, was the eldest son of Rev. Theodore C. Chapman, secretary of the Church Pastoral Aid Society of 6 Malcolm Road, Wimbledon. He was 33 years of age and is buried at Amara War Cemetery. Chapman was commissioned into the Manchester Regiment from the Militia in 1903, and two years later entered the Indian Army, being promoted Captain 1911. He had seen active service in the Second Boer War and on and the North-West Frontier India (1908). His brothers brothers Perceval and Theodore also lost their lives in the Great War.

Additional information

Extract from despatch London Gazette 21 June 1916

From the General Officer Commanding Canal Defences (Major-General Alex Wilson), to The General Staff, Army Headquarters, Cairo.

1st August, 1915

On the 8th July [1915] orders were received for two batteries RHA (TF) and one infantry brigade to proceed urgently [from Egypt] to Aden, and accordingly “B” Battery, Honourable Artllery Company, the Berkshire Battery, RHA (TF), and the 28th (T.F.) Brigade (51st, 53rd Sikhs, 56th Rifles and 62nd Punjabis) left Suez on the 12th and following days.

British Newspaper Archive. “Aberdeen Express” Thursday 20 January 1916. William Leslie was originally buried at Sheikh Othman, but this plot was cleared as recently as January 1982 and the men reburied at Maala Cemetery in South Yemen.
Comonwealth War Graves Commission. Details of the 1982 reburials. In all, 145 men of the Great War now lie in this cemetery. A small number of others, buried at the remote places Kamaran and Perim and whose graves cannot easily be maintained, are commemorated at a memorial at the cemetery.

Monro’s 31 October 1917 Despatch

War Office,
31st October, 1917.
The-Government of India has forwarded for publication the following Despatch from General Sir Charles Monro, G.C.M.G., K.C.B., Commander-in-Chief, India, on military operations in the Indian Empire from 10th March, 1916, to 31st March, 1917: —

Army Headquarters, India,
Simla, 23rd July, 1917.
From the Commander-in-Chief in India to the Secretary to the Government of India.

In continuation of my predecessor’s despatch dated 9th March, 1916, on the minor military operations undertaken, since the outbreak of the present war, on the North-West Frontier of India and elsewhere in the Indian Empire, including Aden, I have the honour to submit the following despatch, which deals with operations subsequent to the above date up to 31st March, They are described in the following order:

South Persia.
South-East Persia.
Mekran Mission.
Jhalawan. .
North-West Frontier.
Protection of the Indian coasts.


During the period under review our forceshave been in occupation of the Shaikh Othman—Imad line covering Aden, and facing the Turkish forces in Lahej and south-east of that place. Throughout the year our troops have been in constant contact with the enemy, engaging in numerous outpost and patrol skirmishes. The Turks made only one attempt to assume the offensive. On 16th March, 1916 they attacked Imad in force. The enemy was beaten off without difficulty and withdrew, followed up by the garrison and by the movable column from Shaikh Othman.

An attack was made on the Turkish posts at Jabir and Mahat on 7th December, 1916, in which the enemy casualties were estimated at 200. The’action is reported to have had a demoralising effect on the Turkish Arab auxiliaries, and to have produced the intended result, viz., preventing the withdrawal towards the Yemen of Turkish troops from Lahej.
In maintaining the active defence of Aden during this period, the assistance and co-operation of the Royal Navy, which has been readily afforded at all times, has been invaluable.

List of those mentioned in Monro’s Despatch


Beauchamp Duff’s Despatch in the “London Gazette”

General Sir Charles Monro’s summary despatch from India in 1919 (includes mention of Aden)

British field commanders’ despatches

British units stationed in India in July 1914

Royal Horse Artillery