Might Makes Right on the Field of Death: The Bloodsoaked Battle of Omdurman — Part II

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Charge of the 21th lancers at Ondurman. William Barnes Wollen (1857-1936)

Might Makes Right on the Field of Death: The Bloodsoaked Battle of Omdurman — Part II

The British forces watched for the enemy to get within yards before opening up their artillery. They waited, breath held, for the Dervishes to cross into the killing zone.

As the Dervish warriors barreled forward, the British forces and their allies opened artillery fire. A young war correspondent working for the Morning Post, Winston Churchill describes the artillery bombardment saying, “About twenty shells struck them in the first minute.” He goes on further to say “Some burst high in the air, others exactly in their faces. Others, again, plunged into the sand and, exploding, dashed clouds of red dust, splinters, and bullets amid their ranks.”

However, the artillery barrage did not faze the Sudanese Dervishes, as they charged forward shouting, “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.”

[Read Part I Here]

Churchill further states:

 “It was a terrible sight, for as yet they had not hurt us at all, and it seemed an unfair advantage to strike this cruelly when they could not reply.

Nevertheless, I watched the effect of the fire most carefully from a close and convenient position. About five men on the average fell to every shell: and there were many shells. Under their influence the mass of the "White Flags" dissolved into thin lines of spearmen and skirmishers, and came on in altered formation and diminished numbers, but with unabated enthusiasm.”

The British cavalry quickly took out the remainder near the cannons, which allowed the Maxim guns and infantry to finish shooting down the stragglers while holding back any potential counter attack. 

“All the patrols trotted or cantered back to their squadrons, and the regiment retired swiftly into the zeriba, while the shells from the gunboats screamed overhead and the whole length of the position began to burst into flame and smoke. Nor was it long before the tremendous banging of the artillery was swelled by the roar of musketry.”

Mechanical Death

Once the enemy was in range of the British firing lines, they opened fire with their forty-four Maxim guns, spitting out 500 rounds a minute; enough rounds to hit a man multiple times before he fell to ground dead. Churchill gives a chilling account of the mechanical death:

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