Sudan Defence Force (SDF) was a
British Army unit formed in 1925,
as its name indicates, to maintain the borders of the
Sudan under the
British administration. During the Second World War, it also served
Sudan in the East African Campaign and in the Western
4 Inter-war years
5 Second World War
7 British officers
8 See also
Between 1898 and 1925 Sudanese soldiers served in separate infantry
battalions of the Egyptian Army, under British and Egyptian officers.
These were designated as either "Sudanese Battalions" or "Arab
Battalions" according to their region of recruitment within the Sudan.
By contrast to the bulk of the Egyptian Army, who were recruited
through annual conscription, the Sudanese units enlisted only
Following a mutiny of Sudanese troops in 1924, and at a time of unrest
in Egypt itself, the garrisoning of the
Sudan was put on a new basis.
Egyptian military units and Egyptian officers of Sudanese battalions
were transferred back to Egypt itself. The Sudanese troops remaining
were incorporated into the newly created
Sudan Defence Force. The
junior commissioned officer and NCO positions previously held by
Egyptian personnel, were now open to "Sudanisation". A military
academy was opened in Omdurman to train the new Sudanese officer
corps, most of whom were Muslims from the north. By 1939 the SDF
numbered 5,000 officers and men.
Sudan Defence Force consisted of a number of battalions,
misleadingly styled 'Corps', each of which had a set area of
the Shendi Horse
Sudan Camel Corps ('the Hajana')
the Western Arab Corps
the Eastern Arab Corps
the Equatoria Corps
In peacetime, the SDF comprised approximately 4,500 regular Sudanese
soldiers. During the Second World War, the SDF expanded greatly to
counter the threat from the four neighbouring Italian territories: to
the north-west, Libya, to the east Eritrea, Italian Somalia; and the
recently (1936) occupied Abyssinia (Ethiopia). To accommodate the
extra numbers, a new war-service battalion was formed, the Sudanese
Frontier Force. In wartime, the SDF grew to as many as 20,000 men.
There were also two regiments of irregular special forces:
Gideon Force (under Orde Wingate)
the Gazelle Force 
The British did not garrison their Empire exclusively with British
troops; almost every territory had a local militia or an indigenous
regular force. Prior to 1925, the garrison of the
Sudan comprised a
British battalion near the capital, and battalions of the Egyptian
Army, both Egyptian and Sudanese, in the regional capitals.
British military involvement in the
Sudan goes back to the days of
Herbert Kitchener and
General Gordon who were sent by London
to defend British interests in the country. In 1895 Kitchener led the
march to Khartoum in command of the Anglo-Egyptian Expeditionary Force
composed of British, Egyptian and Sudanese troops. As a young Army
Winston Churchill saw military service in the Sudan.
Sudan had been a territory loosely administered by Egypt, but in
the 1880s it had fallen to the forces of the Mahdi. From 1885 to 1898
it was ruled, de facto, by the
Mahdi and his successor the Khalifa
(literally 'Successor'). Following the defeat of the Mahdists at the
Battle of Omdurman, the
Sudan was reorganised as an Anglo-Egyptian
Condominium. The Head of the Egyptian Army was the Governor-General
and there was still a large garrison, as the territory was huge and
the remoter parts, such as Darfur, were not pacified until 1916.
In 1925, the Governor-General Sir
Lee Stack was assassinated by a
group of Egyptian nationalists, while being driven through Cairo.
Sudanese soldiers in Khartoum mutinied, the Egyptian Army garrison
Sudan was deemed unreliable and the Egyptian battalions were
sent home, while the Sudanese battalions were disbanded. One hundred
and forty British officers were transferred from the Egyptian army and
a new Sudanese force was formed under the first Kaid Lewa Huddleston
who had previously been acting
Sirdar (Commander-in-Chief) of the
Egyptian Army. The structure of the new force of about 6,000 troops
was slightly different: a little looser and more territorial, to give
a better esprit de corps and sense of responsibility in each 'Corps'
for its own territory. Unlike the old battalions, with anonymous
numbers, the names of the four main corps were Camel Corps, Eastern
Arab Corps, Western Arab Corps and Equatoria Corps. These were
intended to give a distinct, and regional, identity, like English
county regiments. Recruitment in each Corps reflected the local
ethnicities. These corps were supported by artillery, engineer,
armoured car and machine-gun units; plus medical, signals and
However, some continuity was maintained. The Egypt ruler, the Khedive,
or Viceroy, had been, nominally, a subject of the Ottoman
so the SDF continued to use Egyptian ranks, which in turn were derived
from former Ottoman titles. The result was that British officers in
Sudan were called
Bimbashi not Major, or an Arabic equivalent, and
Kaimakam. The use of Turkish military terms extended beyond the rank
The main duties of the SDF were internal security: assisting the
police in the event of unrest or natural disaster. In such a vast
country, companies could be detached on garrison duties far from the
actual Corps headquarters.
In the mid to late 1930s, the SDF was used to counter the aggressive
actions of Italian military forces under
Italo Balbo based in
Italian North Africa
Italian North Africa (
Africa Settentrionale Italiana, or ASI) Libya.
In December 1933, the Italians probed various positions in the Jebel
Uweinat area along the poorly defined border between the Kingdom of
Egypt, the Sudan, and ASI. Responding to the Italian probes in the
area, the SDF was ordered to occupy the Merga oasis and then the area
around the Karkur Marr spring. The Italian conquest of
to a reorganisation and an increase in scope of the force. By June
1940 the SDF comprised twenty-one companies — including five (later
six) Motor Machine Gun Companies — totalling 4,500 men.
Second World War
As part of the Anglo-Egyptian "Condominium," the
Sudan was at war with
the Axis from the time
Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939 and the
United Kingdom declared war on Germany. Initially the war was limited
Europe and so the
Sudan Defence Force had little to do other than
preparation work should the land war reach Africa.
From 10 June 1940, when
Fascist Italy declared war on Britain and
France, the SDF was involved in the East African Campaign. At first,
the SDF went on the defensive against attacks into the
Sudan by forces
Italian Royal Army (Regio Esercito) and the Italian Royal Air
Force (Regia Aeronautica) based in Italian East
Orientale Italiana, or AOI). The Italians occupied the railway
junction at Kassala, the small fort at Gallabat, and the villages of
Ghezzan, Kurmuk, and Dumbode on the Blue Nile. In the first days of
August, an Italian force of irregular Eritreans raided as far north as
Sudan Defence Force fought during the East African Campaign on the
"Northern Front" under the command of
Platt. In October 1940, three motor machine-gun companies from the SDF
were part of Gazelle Force, a mobile reconnaissance and fighting force
commanded by Colonel Frank Messervy. The Frontier battalion from
the SDF was part of
Gideon Force commanded by
Major Orde Wingate. In
January 1941, during the British and Commonwealth offensive into the
AOI, the SDF took part in the successful invasion of Eritrea. During
this invasion, the SDF contributed machine gun companies, howitzer
batteries, and other forces (including some homemade armoured cars).
The SDF also played an active role during the Western Desert Campaign
along the Sudanese border with ASI in North Africa. The SDF was used
to supply the Free French and then the
Long Range Desert Group
Long Range Desert Group (LRDG)
garrisons of the former Italian Fort Taj at the
Kufra oasis in
southeastern Libya. In March 1941, French and LRDG forces had wrested
control of the fort from the Italians during the Battle of Kufra.
SDF convoys of 3-ton trucks had to make a round trip of about 1,300
miles to keep the garrisons at
Kufra supplied with petrol, food, and
other vital supplies. The overall scarcity of petrol meant that LRDG
patrols could do little more than guard
Kufra against attacks from the
north. They were unable to raid northwards from Kufra. In February
1941, the situation was somewhat improved when twenty 10-ton trucks
were added to the convoys. Ultimately the SDF took over the garrison
duties at the oasis from the LRDG.
The SDF provided the garrison for Jalo Oasis. British Military
Intelligence in Cairo worked very closely with the SDF and used them
in numerous operations during the North African campaign in World War
II. In 1942 on instructions from London, British Military
Intelligence, Cairo and elements of the
Sudan Defence Force were
involved with countering Operation Salaam, the infiltration of German
Brandenburger commandos into Egypt. Together with British
intelligence agents, members of the SDF were ordered to intercept and
capture the German intelligence (Abwehr) commandos and their Hungarian
guide, desert explorer László Almásy.
Even after the
Tunisian Campaign had ended in Allied victory, SDF
patrols were busy thwarting German efforts to land agents behind the
lines. The Germans continued attempts to make contact with Arab
rebels. On 15 May 1943, a four-engine aircraft with German markings
attempted to land at El Mukaram only to be engaged and shot up by a
SDF patrol. The aircraft was able to take off and make good its
escape, but it did so with casualties and flying on two engines.
By the end of the war, the SDF was an experienced military force with
about 70 Sudanese officers, almost all of them Muslim northerners.
Gradually Sudanese officers were appointed to replace British officers
in the years that preceded independence.
In March 1954 British Troops in the
Sudan consisted of one battalion
stationed in Khartoum, reporting ultimately to the
Governor-General. The Governor-General's military commander was
the Major-General Commanding British Troops in the Sudan, who was also
Commandant of the
Sudan Defence Force. In this post from 1950 onward
Major General Reginald 'Cully' Scoons. The last British
troops, 1st Battalion Royal Leicestershire Regiment, left the country
on 16 August 1955.
Ibrahim Abboud was Commander of the SDF in 1949
and Assistant Commander in Chief in 1954. He was appointed Commander
in Chief of the Sudanese armed forces at independence. Aboud later
served as Prime Minister of
Sudan from 1958-1964 and as President in
One source wrote that
Sudan was "the one African Country south of the
Sahara to emerge from the colonial period with a military
establishment possessing the attributes of an independent national
army." However internal religious and racial divisions led to the
mutiny and disbandment of the Equatoria Corps (recruited from southern
black Africans) in 1955 and the commencement of a 17-year civil
Most of the officers of the SDF were
British Army officers on
secondment for a few years. The attraction was independence of
command, sporting (game-hunting) opportunities in leisure hours and
local promotion (1 rank). On the outbreak of war, many young men of
Sudan Political Service, the administrative service for the
Condominium, were allowed to join up. These men included:
Wilfred Thesiger, desert explorer
Maurice Stanley Lush, chief political officer
History of the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium
East African Campaign
Order of Battle, East African Campaign
Auto-Saharan Company (La Compania Auto-Avio-Sahariana)
Bikaner Camel Corps
Somaliland Camel Corps
King's African Rifles
^ page 169 "Military Report on Egypt", War Office 1906
^ a b Keegan, John. World Armies. p. 652.
^ Keegan 2005, p. 852.
^ a b "citation pending".
^ a b c (2012) The
Sudan Defence Force The Melik Society, Retrieved 20
^ Kelly 2002, p. 106.
^ Playfair 2004, p. 169.
^ Cernuschi, Enrico. La resistenza sconosciuta in
^ Mackenzie 1951, p. 32.
^ a b Kelly 2002, p. 156.
^ Kelly 2002, p. 193.
^ Kelly 2002, p. 247.
^ Abdel-Rahim, Muddathir "Imperialism & Nationalism in the Sudan:
A Study in Constitutional & Political Development, 1899-1956"
Ithaca (1987), ISBN 978-0863720758
British Parliament House of Lords Debate, 10 March 1954
^ Sir Reginald-Cully-Scoones
^ British Troops in the Sudan
^ Ibrahim Aboud Rediff, Retrieved 20 April 2013
^ Coleman, James and Bruce, Belmont Jr. "The Military in Sub-Saharan
Africa" in Johnson, John, J. (ed): "The Role of the Military in
Underdeveloped Countries", Rand Corporation Study, Princeton
University Press, 1962 p. 336. Toronto, Saunders,
John Orlebar: 'The Tales of the
Sudan Defence Force' & 'The Story
Sudan Defence Force' 2 volumes 1981 & 1986 (Newport, Isle
of Wight, England: Crossprint)
Keegan, John (2005). Dear, I.C.B.; Foot, M.R.D, eds. Oxford Companion
to World War II. Oxford University Press.
Kelly, Saul (2002). The Lost Oasis: The Desert War and the Hunt for
Zerzura. Westview Press. ISBN 0-7195-6162-0.
Mackenzie, Compton (1951). Eastern Epic: September 1939 – March 1943
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Brigadier C.J.C.; Toomer, Air Vice-
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