Suakin Expeditionary Force

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Suakin Expeditionary Force

Postby alvadouglas » 11 May 2015 00:08

I am new to this fórum, so please excuse my rather uninformed approach. I am having some difficulty sorting out the topographic details of General Graham's approach to Emir Uthman Diqna's first line defenses said to be hidden in Khor Gwob. First of all, the records indicate that Tama'ai is located 16 miles from Sawakin. However, the maps I have found show Tama'ai to more than 16 miles from the port of Sawakin, to the southwest. The second issue is that the maps showing Tama'ai to be on the northern side of Khor Gwob, which make it imposible for Graham to have crossed the khor before taking the village of Tama'ai and its Wells. Can anyone resolve this apparent conflict. As you can imagine, it makes all the difference in the world.
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Re: Suakin Expeditionary Force

Postby alvadouglas » 12 May 2015 13:41

Is it posible that Tama'ai was never a village, but merely a general locality? There are wells in Khor Quwab, but located about 3 miles from the spot identified as Tama'ai locality on the maps.
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Re: Suakin Expeditionary Force

Postby Mark A. Reid » 12 May 2015 20:32

Hello alvadouglas:

You raise a couple of interesting points and I was rather hoping that a cartographic expert who specialises in the Red Sea Littoral might have provided an educated response by now. Pending that, perhaps I can offer a couple of comments;

1) The distance between Suakin and Tamaai is generally given as " about " 16 miles. Using the same contemporary map that Mike Snook used in his 2010 classic, I measured it as slightly over 16 miles as the crow flies. A marching army, however, generally follows the best route, avoiding obstacles and likely areas of ambush, etc. so they would probably have marched closer to 20 miles, I suspect. Related to that estimation is where does Suakin actually begin, the central muhafiza or just outside the town walls where the column might have shaken itself into formation before stepping off? Small variables perhaps but bound to have an impact on just how far the foot-slogger has to march.

2) The village of Tamaai is depicted as South of the Khor Quwab, at least on the maps used in Mike Snook's Go Strong Into The Desert, Brian Robson's Fuzzy Wuzzy, Keown-Boyd's A Good Dusting and the Osprey epic Khartoum 1885 so I would opt for their informed interpretation. Having said that, you raise an excellent point about the vagaries of precisely locating desert settlements. With no permanent structures, inhabitants would likely have gravitated to the " best " location in an area and may have shifted as the local water source was used up or sewage became too intrusive or a dozen other reasons why anyone decides to " up sticks " and relocate in a desert.

I recall reading, perhaps even on this Forum, that when the officers of the Royal Berkshire Regiment decided to visit the site of the Battle of Tofrek during their posting in Khartoum in the 1930's, they had a difficult time actually locating the site of the action. Only an aged local remembered because he had witnessed the battle as a child. Perhaps another Member can flesh out this memory of mine?

Anyway, I hope that someone else can come along and provide a better answer for you!

Cheers,

Mark
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Re: Suakin Expeditionary Force

Postby mike snook » 13 May 2015 12:55

It has been my experience that you need to use old maps if you want to find old battlefields. 'Places' can 'move' a few miles over the course of a century, sometimes rendering modern maps into a positive hindrance rather than an aid. I have, for example, been talking on another thread of the pass called 'Lancer's Gap', above Maseru in Lesotho, which contrary to the folklore of colonial Basutoland is some 4.5 miles from where the 12th Lancers actually had their rather difficult day of 20 Dec 1852.

The best map for the purpose of locating Tamai is to be found on p.15 of my Go Strong into the Desert. As I always say I don't need a £2.50 royalty, but that's where the answer is to be found....and if you need to know, then you need to know. It is only available through the books section of perryminiatures.com, the firm which commissioned it, though you might get a second hander (yuk) elsewhere online. So the answer you seek is about 3 mouse clicks and 25 quid away.

I reckon Tamai is somewhere between 14-16 miles out of Suakin and does indeed lie to the south west. It is Hashin which lies to the west. Tamai (or shall we call it 'old Tamai') was about 1000 yards south of the Khor Gob. The primary source history leaves no room for doubt on this. Graham's brigades did indeed attack across the khor from north to south, though the heaviest fighting took place on the north side when the Bija counter-attacked pre-emptively. Tamai was a minor settlement of primitive dwellings (possibly only desert shelters made of sticks and mud) given added significance by the large rebel encampment which sprang up around it in wartime. So Tamai on a modern map is really only a district, not a place. You have your work cut out to find it if you want to go there. If you are a millionaire or a member of a reputable and generously resourced academic institution, I will take you there! :D

Tofrek, Mark, you are right, is a nightmare. It is easy enough to be sure you must be looking at it; but to be sure you were actually standing inside the zareba would take several days of meticulous fieldwork, time which I did not have available to devote to one battlefield when I was in the littoral. I have looked at it but not stood on it. I would like to. What we need is a rich sponsor of Victorian military history and then we could so these matters justice and get these places definitively plotted. I should add that I was tolerably convinced at one point that I wasn't going to get out alive and would dissuade anybody from going to these places outside the confines of a proper expedition with a joined up security plan, a surfeit of good manners and lots of experience of dodgy places.

Regards,
Mike
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Re: Suakin Expeditionary Force

Postby roconn » 19 May 2015 22:32

Dr. Mike:
The minute you mention it might be dodgy to visit the Khor Gob site...well it just sets up all kinds of interest in going to such places.... but of course one would really like to return & especially be able to describe the views to one's fellow enthusiasts and correspondents from this website.....
Would it be necessary for a ''Recce in Force or could one just gently slide into the area and just as gently depart? It strikes me that you did this quite well to garner first hand views of the battle sites for GSTD.

rgds

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Re: Suakin Expeditionary Force

Postby alvadouglas » 06 Oct 2015 02:36

Thanks all. This is all very helpful information. I have also found the old sketch maps to be the most useful in locating sites, settlements and even villages noted in the literatura. The multiple spellings for some geographical names is also a bit confusing. Again, a heavy reliance on on the old survey and intelligence maps, as well as individual sketch maps by the participants in the actions seems to be the more fruitful approach. Best to all, ADH
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