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British Battles

British Battles

Egypt, 1882

The Battle of Tel-el-Kebir

Occupying Alexandria

British landing parties entered Alexandria (in what was described as a policing action) on 13 July, two days after the bombardment. The city had been partially destroyed by fire and, following the departure of Urabi's soldiers, law and order had collapsed. That same day Khedive Tawfiq sought British protection leaving Urabi as leader of the Egyptian government. Urabi's troops were encamped outside Alexandria and the British feared for the security of the Suez Canal.

Securing the canal

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Gladstone's response was to send an expeditionary force to restore order and install a new administration. Between 13 July and 6 September 1882, two armies, one (24,000-strong) from Britain and the other (7,000-strong) from India, converged on Egypt under the command of Lieutenant-General Sir Garnet Wolseley. Over 40 Royal Navy warships were involved in securing the Suez Canal from both the Red Sea in the south and the Mediterranean in the north.

Battle of Tel-el-Kebir

Minor skirmishes between British and Egyptian forces took place at Zagazig and Kassassin, but it was the battle at Tel-el-Kebir (strategically placed between Alexandria, the Suez Canal and Cairo) that proved decisive. Here, the Egyptian army had prepared defences consisting of a number of deep ditches and embankments constructed out of the desert sand. The desert around Tel-el-Kebir was extremely flat, so any approach by the British would easily be spotted. As a result, the British decided to march across the desert by night and attack the Egyptian positions at dawn.


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Egyptian defences at Tel-el-Kebir


The British formation for attack


Report on the Battle of Tel-el-Kebir - with transcript

The British army was guided by Commander Wyatt Rawson, naval aide-de-camp to Lieutenant-General Wolseley. He navigated successfully using the stars and the army moved into position silently. The Highland Brigade moved to the front of the attacking force. At about 05:00 on 13 September 1882, the Highland Brigade approached the Egyptian positions and there was a blaze of gunfire. The bagpipe players struck up and the Scots charged the Egyptian defences. The British army had approached the lines at Tel-el-Kebir in a staggered formation and so attacked in waves from left to right. The fighting was intense, but after just over an hour, the Egyptians fled.

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