The 1901 Ad Dareja Towers Confrontation: Navigating Diplomacy and Tribal Tensions in Aden

In early 1901 reports reached Aden that tribesmen loyal to Turkey had built two towers near the village of Ad Dareja, northwest of MusAmir, close to the Yemeni border and just off one of the two main caravan routes from the Yemen to Aden. Permission was sought from India to mount a punitive expedition to destroy the towers. India, not wanting to sour relations with the Turks, wanted to be absolutely certain that the information was correct, and not just based on an uncorroborated report from local tribesmen.

The Resident, Brigadier General O’ Moore Creagh, had already sent someone out to check. That someone was G. Wyman Bury, an Englishman who had ‘gone native’ and who had already carried out some dangerous intelligence assignments for Creagh far into the interior, especially around Beihan. In the hinterland Bury wore Arab dress and travelled with the minimum of escort. His exploits at Al Dareja are amusingly described by him in ‘The Land of Uz’, which was published in 1911, and which was reprinted a few years ago. Interestingly, Creagh protected his source of good intelligence, not mentioning Bury by name in any of his reports. India gave the go-ahead for an expedition, final permission only arriving on 12 July.

Due to reports that Turkish troops as opposed to irregulars might be in the area the size of the expedition was increased accordingly. The force consisted of 200 men of the Royal West Kents (RWK) and a similar number from the 5th Bombay Light Infantry, a half company of Indian engineers and, most importantly, a battery of six mountain guns, plus part of the Aden Troop which was already in the hinterland. The Sultan of Lahej also lent his active support to the expedition, supplying 30 horsemen and a similar number of camel sowars. The expedition was to be commanded by the CO of the RWKs with Major Davies, the 1st Assistant Resident, going out as Political Officer to the column.

Orders were given for the force to concentrate at Sheikh Othman, but there was a delay as not enough camels could be obtained to carry supplies etc. Being July the weather was extremely hot and the CO of the RWKs was one of the first to succumb to the heat (although he would have been mounted, unlike the soldiers under his command). The Resident, by this time Brigadier General More Molyneaux, agreed that the 2i/c of the RWKs should take over command. It had been hoped that it would take one week to get to Ad Dareja but due to the heat, the sandy going and the unfitness of the troops it took over 11 days. This delay had given time for Turkish troops to join the locals at the forts but as they had no artillery the forts were captured quite easily on 27 July.

Our casualties were four killed and five wounded; it was estimated that around 100 Turkish troops had been involved, eight of whom were taken prisoner. The towers were destroyed by the engineers and the force left Ad Dareja on 3 August, arriving back at Sheikh Othman on the 11th. By then the RWKs were well acclimatised to operating in the interior and were sorry to be going back to garrison life in Aden. Their one crib was regarding the unsuitability of their issue boots for operating in the terrain they had encountered. [Surprise, surprise – things had not changed over 60 years later when British troops deployed ‘up country’ during the Radfan campaign]. When the column returned to Aden one company of Indian infantry, with six sabres of the Aden Troop, were left at MusAmir to ensure that the forts were not rebuilt.

​As a result of this incursion at Ad Dareja the Turkish authorities would soon agree to the setting up of a joint Anglo-Turkish Boundary Commission to agree on, survey and mark the border between the Aden Protectorate and the Yemen. Useful lessons were learnt from this expedition, especially regarding logistics, that would still be valid 14 years later. One vital lesson would be forgotten, however. On their return to Aden the infantry units in the garrison, and in particular the British battalion, were ordered to undertake route marches into the interior as a regular part of their training programmes. The failure to carry on doing this would be one of the main reasons for the disaster at Lahej in July 1915.

G. Wyman Bury an emissary to Aden who 'went native'
G. Wyman Bury an emissary to Aden who 'went native'

G. Wyman Bury