The Camel Corps

The Camel Corps plays a pivotal role in Destiny’s War. Marion has traveled with the Camel Corps on several operations, reporting from the front for the London papers. He joins Ben and the 2nd Battalion under Major Basset, another legendary leader, and friend of TE Lawrence.

“Tuff” Marion’s camel. Sketch from Marion’s Diary 1917

What I found exciting in writing Destiny’s War is the history; the people, the places, and actual events. The Camel Corps is an interesting part of military history. Its life span was short, the theater of operations relatively vast, and the impact was pivotal in the Middle East as the British Empire battled against the Ottoman Empire.

The camel had been used for centuries carrying goods and supplies across deserts and a crucial part of trade routes. With their load capacity, long-distance range, and domestication over the centuries, they became the cavalry for military troops in the desert campaigns of the First World War.

The camel became the horse, tank, and train in the desert operations. They ferried supplies, operated as ambulances, hauled small artillery and machine-guns, charged against enemy encampments, and carried soldiers across the far reaches of the desert.

TE Lawrence and the Arab Revolt relied on the camel and worked closely with the Camel Corps in their raids along the Ottoman railway and the legendary attack on Acaba. To this day, the camel remains a fixture of the desert as the caravans peacefully traverse the desert.

 

Camel Corps History

1916 - 1919
The legendary Imperial Camel Corps Brigade (ICCB) was formed in 1916. It was a camel-mounted infantry brigade of the British Empire serving in the Middle East during the Great War (First World War).

A multi-national force, including New Zealand, Australia, British, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Indian troops. The Battalions included; Machine Gun Squadrons (Vickers), Mountain Battery (2.75-inch guns), Field Ambulance, Signal Section, Supply and Logistics section, and even a Dental Unit. With over 4,000 men and 4,800 camels and equipment, the Brigade also included a veterinary section.

The desert was an inhospitable place and a reasonably new field of operation for the British Empire. While camels had been used in previous British Army operations, nothing of this scale had been achieved in modern warfare. The camel became an essential part of military operations in the Middle East.

Camel Type

The Egyptian camel became the mount chosen for troops and could cover an average distance of 3 miles an hour or 6 miles an hour trotting, while under load (soldier, equipment, and supplies). The camel could routinely travel for four days without water. Each camel was expected to carry a load of at least 325 lbs. (the average weight of a cameleer, his equipment, and supplies—which included 300 rounds of .303 ammunition for his rifle).

Service

The Camel Corps formation began in January of 1916, first with a few Australian and New Zealand companies that were reassigned after the failed Gallipoli Campaign. These initial companies preformed light operations, scouting missions, and long-range patrols (LRP).

As the Camel Corps was assigned more combat operations, it was reorganized into more defined companies, consisting of rifle sections, machine-gun sections, support and command staff. Company strength was approximately 180 men. The new Came Corps now consisted of four companies operating independently, soon Australian, New Zealand, and British all had active companies. By June 1916 over a dozen Camel Corps Companies were operating.

The Imperial Camel Corps Brigade (ICCB) was formed on December 19th, 1916, commanded by Brigadier General Clement Leslie Smith. Initially, with three battalions, it soon grew, and by June 1917 the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade had 4,150 men and 4,800 camels. Two of the British Companies fought with TE Lawrence in the Arab Revolt.

After the First World War, the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade was eventually disbanded in May of 1919.


Memorial
London, England

The Imperial Camel Corps memorial.

 

To the Glorious and Immortal Memory of the Officers, N.C.O's and Men of the Imperial Camel Corps – British, Australian, New Zealand, Indian – who fell in action or died of wounds and disease in Egypt, Sinai, and Palestine, 1916, 1917, 1918.

Battles

The Camel Corps fought in 18 battles, dozens of raids, long-range patrols, and alongside TE Lawrence from 1916 to 1918.

1916: Romani, Baharia, Mazar, Dakhla, Maghara, El. Arish, Maghdaba
1917: Rafa, Hassana, Gaza 1, Gaza 2, Sana Redoubt, Beersheba, Bir Khu Weilfe, Hill 265
1918: Amman, Jordan Valley, Mudawar (Hedjaz)

During their service, the Camel Corps lost over 240 men: 106 British, 84 Australians, 41 New Zealanders, and 9 from India.

 

Imperial Camel Corps Brigade (ICCB)
1916 - 1919
Commander: Brigadier General Leslie Clement Smith

The strength of the brigade/corps in the field approximately 4150 men and 4,800 camels (late 1917)

Brigade Organization

Battalion (770 men) (4 companies)
– Company (184 men) (6 sections)
– – Command Section (40 men)
– – Machine-gun Section (15 men) (3 Lewis guns)
– – (4) Rifle Sections (32 men) (8 Groups)

The four-man group was the smallest level of organization unit in the camel companies.

 

Order of Battle 1917

Brigade Headquarters (40 men) — Brigadier General Smith
First Battalion (770 men)
Second (British) Camel Battalion — Major Basset (770 men)
– Fifth Company — Captain Wilson (185 men)
– – First Section — Lieutenant York (32 men)
– – Second “Support” Section — Lieutenant Richards (32 men)
– – Machine-gun Section — Second Lieutenant Wright (15 men)
Third Camel Battalion (770 men)
Fourth Camel Battalion (770 men)
Hong Kong and Singapore (Mountain) Battery (255 men)
265th (Camel) Machine Gun Squadron (115 men)
Tenth (Camel) Field Troop, Royal Engineers (71 men)
Signal Section, ICC Brigade (30 men)
Australian (Camel) Field Ambulance (185 men)
Ninety-seventh Australian Dental Unit (4 men)
ICC Mobile Veterinary Section (42 men)
ICC Brigade Ammunition Column (75 men)
ICC Brigade Train (245 men)

note: Second British Battalion and Companies highlighted are from Destiny’s War.

 


Further Reading
The Fighting Cameliers – The Exploits of the Imperial Camel Corps in the Desert and Palestine Campaign of the Great War 
by Frank Reid

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