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Imperial War Museum War Partnership logoFirst World War - Despatch to War Office by G.F. Archer & T. Astley Cubitt, 9th and 20th February 1915 - describing actions against Dervishes in Shimber Berris, Somaliland - November 1914.

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Source: Supplement to The London Gazette (1st August 1916), No. 29690/page 7631. War Office, 2nd August, 1916

The Colonial Office has forwarded for publication the following Despatch on military operations in the Somaliland Protectorate :- From H.M. Commissioner and Commander-in-Chief, Somaliland Protectorate.
To the Secretary of State for the Colonies:—


The Residency, Berbera
20th February, 1915 SIR,-

I have the honour to transmit a report by the Officer Commanding the Troops, Somaliland Protectorate, on the recent military operations against the dervishes at Shimber Berris, at the head of the Ain Valley.

2. It will be recollected that after the action at Dul Madoba in August, 1913, the Mullah, Mahomed ibn Abdulla Hassan, sent his followers to occupy and erect forts at this spot, whence they could dominate the country providing the chief grazing grounds of our friendlies. Raids against our tribes were of frequent occurrence, and the operations under review were undertaken to drive out the dervishes from this locality.

3. Shimber Berris is a natural stronghold in the Bur-dab range, and it had been strongly fortified. Six double-storied block-houses had been erected in well-chosen positions by Yemeni Arab masons in the service of the Mullah. The walls were found to be of stone and mud plaster, some twenty feet high, twelve feet thick at the base and six feet thick at the top. Considerable military skill had been employed in construction, and the surrounding bush had been cleared to provide a good field of fire. The sides of the ravine, moreover, were honey-combed with caves affording a safe retreat for the enemy after being driven from the forts. Without modern field guns operations here involved considerable difficulties, and that they were brought to a completely successful conclusion is in consequence all the more gratifying.

4. A full account of the sharp fighting which occurred is given by Lieutenant-Colonel T. Astley Cubitt, D.S.O., in his report. On the first occasion, in November, it was found impossible to rush the main fort on the top of the escarpment, but a feature of the attack was the thrice-repeated charge of a company of the Camel Corps right up to the very walls of the fort, which was a gallant performance, reflecting great credit on officers and men. In one of these charges Captain Symons, Ring's. Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, was killed when within a yard of the door, and Captain Cartonde Wiart, 4th Dragoon Guards, was severely wounded. Other officers present attempted to batter down the door, and the men fired on the dervishes inside the fort through the loopholes. But the place was too strong and the action had to be broken off. The attack was renewed four days later, and with the assistance of an old seven-pounder gun, brought up hurriedly from Burao the position was then successfully carried. The dervishes were dislodged from the forts more by the moral effect of the shelling than by any material damage done, and fleeing down the hillsides to the caves they came under heavy Maxim fire. Unfortunately, owing to lack of time and the absence of explosives, it was impossible to destroy the forts completely, and subsequently the dervishes returned.

5. Further military operations were thus necessitated, and it was hoped to clear up the situation this time once and for all. The General Officer Commanding at Aden placed at my disposal a small detachment of the 23rd Pioneers, and a column, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Cubitt, consisting of 15 officers, 570 rank and file (Indians and Somalis), six machine guns, and two seven-pounders, left Burao on the 1st February. I myself accompanied the column, and was present during the ensuing fighting. Speaking from personal observation, therefore, I can say that the whole undertaking was admirably planned and admirably executed. The forts on this occasion were completely demolished by guncotton, and the dervishes were driven out, leaving 32 dead in the caves alone. From beginning to end there was no hitch of any sort, and it was due to capable handling by the Commanding Officer and his staff, and excellent leading by the company commanders, that the casualty list was kept as low as it was. The behaviour also of the rank and file Pioneers, Indian contingent, and Somali Camel Constabulary - left nothing to be desired, and great credit is due to all, officers and men alike. The fighting on the 4th February lasted for over five hours. The position in the ravine occupied by the dervishes was an extremely formidable one, and from the caves and inner fort they offered a desperate resistance, though not present in any great numerical strength. It is proved beyond dispute that the dervish of to-day is still a first-class fighter, and even when cornered he remains fanatically defiant to the end. During the two periods our casualties amounted to one British officer killed and five wounded (two severely and three slightly); four native rank and file killed and 25 wounded; and four tribal auxiliaries killed and ten wounded. It is impossible accurately to estimate the dervish losses, but they certainly had over 70 in killed alone. The main value of the operations, however, lies in the moral effect.

6. By the destruction of his forts at Shimber Berris and the routing of his followers the Mullah has undoubtedly sustained a severe blow and his prestige is badly damaged. It is clear, moreover, that this success will be of inestimable value to a young corps, imbuing our Somali troops with confidence in themselves and in their officers; while the moral effect produced on the minds of the friendlies is, of course, excellent. I consider the operations under review, therefore, not only extremely successful in themselves, but very important in their general bearings on the country, and I desire to bring to your personal notice, for some special mark of recognition, the good services of Colonel Cubitt. I also desire to put forward, for military reward, the names of the following officers, native officers, non-commissioned officers, and men:-

Captain A. Carton de Wiart, 4th Dragoon Guards, for gallantry in charging a fort on the 19th November, though severely wounded.
Major A. S. Lawrence, 1st County of London Yeomanry, displayed great coolness and courage on the same occasion, and was wounded.
Captain H. C. Dobbs, 124th Duchess of Connaught's Own Baluchistan Infantry, brought a gun into action on the 23rd November within sixty yards of a fort, under a hot fire, and conducted a flank attack with success. During the past few years this officer has commanded the Indian contingent in Somaliland with marked ability.
No. 4392 Naik Sher Singh, 23rd Sikh Pioneers, for bravery on the 4th February. In placing a charge of guncotton against the door of a fort, under a hot fire from inside, he was knocked over and stunned; but, collecting himself, he returned and duly laid the charge.
No. 4584 Havildar Teja Singh, 23rd Sikh Pioneers, followed Sher Singh, placed his charge coolly, arranged fuses correctly, and fired the charge, also under fire.
Jemadar Feroze Khan, Indian contingent and 56th Punjabi Rifles, displayed great activity and driving power in marching his column from Burao to Little Bohotleh, and a high degree of military knowledge both in the measures taken for the security of his column and in the handling of a platoon during the attack on the forts on the 23rd November.
293 Naik (local Havildar) Shan Khan, Indian contingent and 76th Punjabis, was in charge of the gun that came into action on the 23rd November within sixty yards of a fort under a hot fire. He also distinguished himself after Dul Madoba in August, 1913.
329 Lance-Corporal Gudali Elmi, Somaliland Camel Corps, was wounded in the first charge on the 19th November, but gallantly took part in all subsequent charges until compelled to desist from loss of blood.
196 Private Handulla Ismail, Somaliland Camel Corps, displayed great personal courage. He led two charges against the door of the fort on the 19th November, and was wounded in the final attack.
The following officers, non-commissioned officers and men also distinguished themselves, and are deserving of mention:-
Captain W. A. H. Bird, 23rd Sikh Pioneers, displayed great skill in the demolition of the forts, on one occasion under a hot fire at close range.
Captain H. W. Symons, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (killed), made a gallant attempt to rush the door of the fort in the charge of the 19th November.
Lieutenant C. A. L. Howard, 32nd Lancers, displayed considerable courage in throwing hand grenades into caves under fire, and was wounded in doing so.
Brevet Major G. H. Summers, 26th King George's Own Light Cavalry, as Staff Officer and Intelligence Officer, provided timely and most accurate information, and was indefatigable in the performance of his duties.
Captain H. L. Ismay, 21st Prince Albert Victor's Own Cavalry, made the staff arrangements in February prior to and during the operations, and with complete success, this not being an easy task in a waterless country such as Somaliland in the dry season.
146 Private Ismail Abokr, Colour-Serjeant Gabobi on several occasions, and 128 Private Hassan Ali, all Somaliland Camel Corps, also rendered valuable services during the operations.

I have, &c.,
G. F. ARCHER,
His Majesty's Commissioner and Commander-in-Chief, Somaliland Protectorate.


From Lieutenant-Colonel T. A. Cubitt, Commanding the Troops, Somaliland Protectorate, to H.M. Commissioner and Commander-in-Chief. Military Headquarters, Burao,

9th February, 1915. SIR,-

In accordance with your request I have the honour to render the following report on the operations at Shimber Berris in November, 1914, and February, 1915. I left Burao on 17th November with a self-contained mounted column of 14 officers and 520 rank and file, composed partly of Indian contingent and partly of Camel Constabulary. The neighbourhood of Shimber Berris was reached on 19th without the dervishes being aware the column had even left Burao. The column ascended the Burdab, and the enemy were found to be in occupation of three forts on the top of the hill. The attack on the two nearest forts commenced at 11 a.m.; one was rushed by a party of the Indian contingent under Lieutenant Howard, but the other, though charged repeatedly by a company of the Camel Corps, was firmly held by the dervishes. During one of these charges Captain Symons, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, was killed within one yard of the door. Machine guns were brought into action at close range, but to no avail. Realising that the fort was too strong to be rushed, I broke off the action at 3 p.m., the withdrawal being effected in good order and almost without molestation. The column camped eight miles south of the Burdab. Reinforced by a gun from Burao, the column advanced again against the forts on the morning of 23rd November. One fort again offered no resistance, and the fort attacked on the 19th was speedily captured. Captain Dobbs was despatched with two companies and the gun to attack a third fort situated 1,100 yards away, but necessitating a detour of four miles owing to the presence of precipitous ravines. The attack was well executed; 60 to 70 dervishes fled precipitately out of the fort and down the hill, suffering some casualties. A fort in the valley near the wells and 800 feet below my position was shelled, whereupon the enemy evacuated the forts and caves in the valley and fled eastwards.

In view of the fact that there were a number of severely wounded, officers and men in my camp, I deemed it imperative to return to Burao as soon as possible. Moreover, without explosives it was impossible to effect anything more than very partial demolition of the forts; therefore I decided not to attempt any demolition in the valley. The column was accordingly assembled at 3 p.m., and Burao was reached on 25th.

The terrain at Shimber Berris is extremely difficult; the Burdab range rises a sheer 1,100 feet out of the plain, and is intersected with steep ravines covered everywhere with boulders and thick scrub. The forts are remarkably well sited and very strong. The walls are 9 to 12 feet thick at the base 16 to 20 feet high, and 24 feet wide, provided with well-made machicouli galleries but badly constructed loopholes, and each fort is capable of holding from 50 to 70 men. The sides of the cliffs are honeycombed with caves, some of which are capable of containing 100 men and animals.

The troops were not in sufficient strength to leave a post in Shimber Berris, and, as I anticipated, the dervishes returned in about a fortnight. The Mullah was careful, however, to send an entirely new detachment to replace the former one, whose moral had been severely shaken. Explosives were obtained from Aden and India, and an officer with thirteen men 23rd Sikh Pioneers was placed at our disposal by the General Officer Commanding Aden, so that I was enabled to concentrate a force, partly mounted and partly dismounted, of 15 officers, 570 rank and file, six machine guns, and two guns in the neighbourhood of Shimber Berris on 2nd February. The mobility of this column was hampered by 280 transport camels, the majority of which were carrying water.

On 3rd February I advanced in two columns against the forts of the Burdab. Although the dervishes had commenced construction of new forte, the hill top was unoccupied, and the forts were blown up by the Pioneers. The following morning, 4th February, the column was transferred from south to north of the Burdab by a pass seven miles west of Shimber Berris, and was concentrated in the plain close to that place by noon. The enemy were holding two forts overlooking and flanking a deep nullah and a fort at the far end of the nullah, also in occupation of the numerous caves in the hillsides.

One company was despatched against each of the flanking forts, while the middle fort was also engaged at long range.

The two flanking forts were captured after two hours fighting, but the enemy developed a heavy fire from the caves, from the middle fort, and from the vicinity of the fort. The guns were brought forward, and with machine guns engaged the middle fort and the caves at close range. The enemy's fire slackened, and dervishes were observed to be evacuating the fort and retiring southwards up the ravine. I despatched a company against this fort, but, although unable to effect an entrance, the company remained round the fort and enabled the Pioneers to place a charge of guncotton against the door, under a hot fire from the occupants inside. The fort and its defenders were blown up, hand grenades were thrown into caves known to be still occupied, and the two flanking forts were also blown up. I then withdrew the column, reaching my zareba at 6.15 p.m., fighting having lasted continuously for more than five hours. The next morning all the caves were found to have been evacuated. Leaving a tribal post at Shimber Berris, the column returned to Burao on 7th and 9th February.
It is difficult to estimate the numbers opposed to the column, or the numbers killed either in November or February, but information leads me to believe that 400 to 500 were present in November, of whom some 40 were killed and many died of wounds subsequently; while in February not more than 100 to 120 remained to oppose the advance, of whom 32 alone were found dead in the caves. The casualties during both periods are as follows:- Killed, 1 officer, 1 rank and file (Indian contingent), 3 rank and file (Camel Corps), 4 tribal auxiliaries; wounded, 5 officers, 1 rank and file (Indian contingent), 24 rank and file (Camel Corps), 10 tribal auxiliaries. I desire to bring to your notice the services rendered by the following officers :-

(a) In November.
Captain A. Carton de Wiart, 4th Dragoon Guards, for gallantry in charging a fort on 19th November, though severely wounded. Major A. S. Lawrance, 1st County of London Yeomanry, displayed great coolness and courage on the same occasion, and was wounded.
Captain H. C. Dobbs, 124th Duchess of Connaught's Own Baluchistan Infantry, brought a gun into action on 23rd November within sixty yards of a fort, under hot fire, and conducted a flank attack with success.
The following are also deserving of mention:-
Major G. H. Summers, 26th King George's Own Light Cavalry, my Staff Officer, Captain H. W. Symons, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (killed), and Lieutenant J. W. Hornby, 12th Lancers. See obituary below.

(b) In February.
Captain W. A. H. Bird, 23rd Sikh Pioneers, displayed great skill in the demolition of the forts, and on one occasion under a hot fire at close range.
Captain H. L. Ismay, 21st Prince Albert Victor's Own Cavalry, made all the staff arrangements prior to and during the operations, an exceedingly difficult task in a waterless country in the dry season, and with the complete success that you witnessed.
Lieutenant C. A. L. Howard, 32nd Lancers, displayed considerable courage in throwing hand grenades into caves under fire, and was wounded in doing so.
Captain G. R. Breading, D.S.O., Reserve of Officers, and Mr. A. Gibb, Somaliland Camel Corps, also distinguished themselves.

(c) The following native officer, non-commissioned officers and men:-

In November.
329 Lance-Corporal Gudali Elmi, Somaliland Camel Corps, was wounded in the first charge on 19th November, but took part in all subsequent charges until compelled to desist from loss of blood.
Jemadar Feroze Khan, 56th Punjabi Rifles, 293 Naik (local Havildar) Shan Khan, 76th Punjabis, and 196 Private Handulla Ismail, Somaliland Camel Corps, also rendered valuable services.

In February.
No. 4392 Naik Sher Singh, 23rd Sikh Pioneers, for bravery on 4th February. In placing a charge of guncotton against a door of a fort, under a hot fire from inside, he was knocked over and nearly insensible, but as soon as he got clear he returned and placed the charge in the correct place.
No. 4584 Havildar Teja Singh followed Sher Singh, placed his charge coolly, arranged fuses correctly, and fired the charge, also under fire.
146 Private Ismail Abokr, Somaliland. Camel Corps. though severely wounded, insisted on helping to carry a wounded officer to a place of safety on 4th February. The following also distinguished themselves:- Colour-Serjeant Gabobi Ali, on several occasions, and 128 Private Hassan Ali, both Somaliland Camel Corps.

I have, &c.,
T. ASTLEY CUBITT, Lieutenant-Colonel,
Commanding the Troops, Somaliland Protectorate.


Reported in The Times, 1st December 1925
OBITUARY
SIR GERALD SUMMERS
Colonel Sir Gerald Henry Summers, K.C.M.G., Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Somaliland Protectorate, died on Sunday, at Oakdene, Horeham-road, Sussex, in his 41st years.
He was the youngest son of the late Rev. Walter Summers, of Danehill, Sussex, and was educated at Ashdown House, Bradfield School, and Sandhurst. Entering the Army in 1904, he was attached to the 1st Royal Sussex Regiment, but was tranferred to the Indian Army in the following year and joined the 93rd Burma Infantry. Later he entered what is now the 8th (King George's Own) Light Cavalry. In the Somaliland operations in 1912-13 he was attached to the Indian contingent with the King's African Rifles. In the action of Dul Madoba with the Somaliland Camel Corps, he was severely wounded three times. He was given the brevet of major, and in the following year was made Staff Officer and Intelligence Officer. The campaign against the dervishes dragged on, and Summers was in the operations at Shimber Berris in 1914-15. He was appointed to command the small body of troops later retained in the country and appointed a deputy commissioner, being made temporary lieutenant-colonel. In the great ferment of the war this corner of the field of conflict attracted little attention, but was not without its importance. Summers kept his end up in face of many difficulties, and in the early months of 1920 he commanded the force operating against the dervishes. At last the "Mad" Mullah, who had been able to draw back into the interior again and again, was finally overthrown and became a fugitive in Abyssinian territory. Summers received the S.M.G. and was made temporary colonel. He acted as Governor for nine months in 1921, and was appointed to succeed Sir Geoffrey Archer in August, 1922. Thus his later active career was spent entirely in the Protectorate, ad he gained an intimate knowledge of its tribes and its problems. he was promoted to the knighthood of the Order of St. Michael and St. George in the last Birthday Honours.
Sir Gerald married in 1916, Margaret Frances Troath, daughter of the late Lieutenant-Colonel T. R. Swinburne, and had a son and a daughter. The funeral takes place to-morrow, at Danehill, Sussex.