Omdurman, Sudan (1898 AD)
The Battle of Omdurman was one of the greatest victories of the British during the Colonial era, and in some ways may have been the high-water mark, militarily speaking, of the British Empire. It checked, at least for the time being, the greatest threat to the British in Africa, and helped to secure the Suez Canal zone as war began to loom amongst the great European powers. It also foreshadowed the rise of the Muslim states in East Africa, as well as the the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the region. The victory made a hero and a household name of the British Commander, Herbert Kitchener, who went on to serve in the Boer War and later as a Field Marshall during World War I.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the British Empire began to expand its territory in the last unclaimed stretches of East Africa. With the cooperation of Egypt, for all intents and purposes a British colony, the British expanded southwards into the Sudan in the 1880s. The expanded territory, also a de-facto British colony, became known as Anglo-Egypt Sudan. Not surprisingly, this did not sit well with the locals.
Under the leadership of one Muhammad Ahmad, who was acclaimed as an Islamic Messianic figure by the locals, the Sudanese rose up to oppose the British and their allies. The capital of Khartoum was retaken in 1885. Most of the territory was subsequently lost to the British, who abandoned the region for the better part of the next decade. However, in the 1890s, a new British force under Kitchener was dispatched to retake the colony.
Unlike much of Sub-Saharan Africa, which had fallen easily to the European powers in prior decades, Sudan was in a much stronger position, with greater numbers, better organization, and at least some access to modern weaponry. Unfortunately, Ahmad’s successor, Abdullah al-Taashi was not quite so gifted a military commander. Moreover, the Sudanese were still significantly outmatched in terms of artillery.
The two armies met at Omdurman in September 1898. The Sudanese made the mistake of a massive frontal assault against the entrenched British. Despite their significant advantage in numbers, the Sudanese attack was a disaster. Subsequent attacks also failed. By the time the British counterattacked, Sudanese casualties were already terrifyingly high. By the time the Sudanese finally gave up the field, they had lost more than half of their men. The victory led to the securing of Sudan as a British colony which endured for another half a century.
The Battle of Omdurman is, not surprisingly, not well regarded in modern Sudan. Nevertheless the battlefield is still an important historical site. The area where the battle was fought is still a dusty, desert terrain surrounded by lightly developed suburban areas.
The Omdurman Battlefield is located about ten miles north of central Khartoum. As of this writing no visitor information was available. Web: www.sudtourism.com (official tourism website of Sudan).