• Si Biggs

Battle of Tofrek - Suakin Campaign

Unit/ Formation: Royal Marines Light Infantry


Location: Africa


Period/ Conflict: Sudanese War


Year: 1885


Date/s: 22 March 1885


The sacking of Khartoum and the killing of General Gordon and the massacre of thousands of civilians at the hands of Mahdist warriors in January 1885, together with the failure of the relief effort of General Wolseley's Nile Expedition, prompted the British government to revive plans to build a railway between the port of Suakin on the Red Sea and Berber on the River Nile some 300 miles north of Khartoum, to provide a supply route for Wolseley's force in further actions against Khartoum.


In order to provide protection from Osman Digna's Mahdist tribesmen who were well established in the coastal area, and to supervise the construction of this new railway, a second Suakin Field Force of some 13,000 men was assembled under General Graham who had commanded the first Suakin expedition the previous year. The force arrived in Suakin on 12 March 1885.


The Battle of Tofrek was fought on 22 March 1885 some 5 miles inland from the port of Suakin on the Red Sea coast of Sudan.


A contingent of some 3,000 troops from the British and Indian "Suakin Field Force" including 1st Battalion Royal Marine Light Infantry under Lt. Col. Ozzard and led by Major General Sir John Carstairs McNeill VC, GCVO, KCB, KCMG were attacked near Tofrek.


Sketch map showing disposition of troops etc. during Battle of Tofrek 22nd March 1885

Osman Digna’s army attacked taking advantage of high thorn bushes & dry wadis to conceal their movements. In the ensuing fight the British troops resisted strongly & overwhelmed their attackers.


The Mahdists were heavily defeated, losing some 1,000 of their 2,000 fighters as compared to the loss of 70 British and Indian soldiers plus over 100 casualties.


Royal Marines mopping up after the battle at Tofrek

An eyewitness recalled: "Everything seemed to come at once: camels, transport of all kinds, water carts, ammunition mules, 17th Native Infantry, Madras Sappers, sick-bearers, Transport Corps, Cavalry and Arabs fighting in the midst. All these passed close to me, and went out on the other side of the zeriba, carrying away with them a number of the Marines and Officers who eventually got together and returned. The dust raised by this crowd was so great that I couldn't see anything beyond our zeriba for a minute or two, and it was impossible to see who was standing or what was likely to happen. The men behaved splendidly and stood quite still. It was the highest test of discipline I shall ever see."


It became a hollow victory however, when two months later, the British government changed tack and withdrew the bulk of its forces from the Sudan, leaving the Mahdi's successor, Abdallahi ibn Muhammad (the Khalifa), in control of the region for the next 13 years.


8 Royal Marines killed:


Private W. Butcher - Royal Marines

Private C. Eastel:

Private E. Hockey:

Private C. Hutchings:

Sergeant J. Mitchell:

Private E. Smith :

Private W. Stanton:

Private R. Willon:

Lieutenant Houston Stewart


Read more here Wikipedia


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