Wednesday 2 August 2023

Onwards to Omdurman

Onwards to Omdurman, the Anglo-Egyptian Campaign to Reconquer the Sudan, 1896-1898by Keith Surridge is No.26 and a most worthy addition in Helion’s ‘From Musket to Maxim 1815-1914’ series. This book was published earlier this year and it has been inexcusably sitting on my to-do pile of books to review for some time. Well, having now got around to reading it I am very happy to report that this is a fascinating account of the campaign that culminated in the iconic battle of Omdurman in the Sudan following on from the shock of General Gordon’s no less iconic death at the fall of Khartoum over a decade earlier.

The author provides detailed information on the background to the conflict and the relationship between Britain, Egypt and theSudan. The chapter covering the Mahdist state that emerged following the conquest of Sudan provided for me an insight into the demographic, geographical and geopolitical issues. The chapter covering the British led Egyptian army is no less interesting in describing the recruitment, training and armament of this much maligned force.

The meat of the book are the chapters covering the advance to Khartoum up the Nile, and each of the encounters with the Mahdists on the way, from Dongola through to Atbara, Kereri and Omdurman. Each of these is examined in detail, supported by helpful maps of the battlefields depicting the terrain, dispositions and troop movements. There is also a nice postscript as the author then examines the final stages of the campaign culminating a year later in the battle of Um Dibaykrat, the death of the Khalifa and the famous Fashoda Incident which almost sparked off a war between Britain and France.

I found the discussion and narrative covering the British utilisation of the ultimate in Victorian technology to pursue their goals by far the most interesting. This was not just about magazine rifles, machines guns and modern artillery but also about the use of the telegraph to ease communication difficulties caused by the vastness of the territory being campaigned over, but also rail and river transport, supported prefabricated gunboats, to more quickly move troops and vital supplies.

The book contains a large number of contemporary black and white images together with a central block of 14 full page and largely colour illustrations, some contemporary and others especially commissioned from renowned artist Peter Dennis.

This is a well written and researched, with contemporary published and unpublished material and interestingly tries to see the campaign from the perspective of the Mahdists through the use of published sources where available also from intelligence reports from British officers and spies and informants in the Sudan. I enjoyed this book and can recommend it to anyone interested in British campaigns of the late Victorian era.

ISBN 978-1-915070-51-7 Softback, 155 pages


  1. Outstanding review. Not my period but I will have to get a copy. Fascinating.

  2. Great book review. I wasn’t aware of this book but I plan to buy it based on your review and recommendation.