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co-operation, and the Commander-in-Chief was left



292 THE RED SEA PATROL

to his own resources, which consisted of a small
squadron of sloops and Royal Indian Marine vessels.
The orders to Captain Boyle, the Senior Naval Officer,
were that, if no troops were placed at his disposal,
he was merely to hold the enemy while the con-
tractors' plant was being removed or destroyed, but
that, in considering the further possibility of cap-
turing the garrison of Salif, he must be guided by
circumstances. With these orders Captain Boyle
left Aden on the 10th June 1917 in the Northbrook,
and, accompanied by the Topaze, Odin, Espiegle,
and MiNTO, proceeded to Kamaran Island.

The village of Sahf is situated on a peninsula, of
which the northern end is merely a mud flat, covered
by the sea at high tide. To the east of the village
is a hunch-back of a hill, which is doubtless of vol-
canic formation, and in fact has a hollow in it suggest-
ing the relics of a crater. It was in this hollow that
the Turkish garrison had taken up their position when,
at daybreak on 12th June 1917, our ships approached
Sahf. The enemy's position was well chosen, for
nothing could be seen of it from the sea, and only
the high-angle fire of a howitzer could be expected
to drop shells into it. Captain Boyle ordered the
Espiegle to go northwards round the end of the
peninsula, and enter the inlet between peninsula
and mainland, possibly with the idea that the Turkish
position might be more accessible from the eastern
side of it. In any case the presence of a ship on that
side would subject the enemy to a cross-fire, which
is always disconcerting. The only danger to be
avoided was that of the Espiegle's gunlayers, in
an excess of enthusiasm, plumping shells right over
the hill into the other ships ; but fortunately no
contretemps of this kind occurred.

The NoRTiiBROOK anchored close inshore at the
soutliern end of the peninsula, while Minto, Topaze,
and Odin made a line to the north of her. They



THE TAKING OF SALIF 293

all kept as near to the shore as the depth of water
would allow, in order that the landing parties might
have as short a distance as possible to cover in the
boats. As it turned out, the Topaze and Odin
unconsciously followed the example of Lord Charles
Beresford in the Condor at the bombardment of
Alexandria, when he ran his ship in so close that
the enemy ashore could not depress their guns suffi-
ciently to hit him. The Turks in their hollow were
in exactly the same predicament. They had two
Krupp mountain-guns and three one-inch Norden-
feldts, with which they blazed away persistently,
but their shells, in clearing the sides of the
crater, also cleared our ships, and they did not score
a single hit, though they occasionally dropped
near enough to create an uncomfortable feeling on
board.

The Northbrook's men landed at the south end
of the peninsula, and took up a position near their
ship to the right of the town. The others all landed
at the pier, and extended themselves behind a ridge,
flanked by a salt-mine at the south end, and by some
houses at the north end. They then advanced cauti-
ously to the foot of the hill, making a crescent-
shaped line round it, with a party of Marines in the
centre. The Odin's seamen remained behind in the
village (where there were no signs of any Turks)
and took possession of the condensing plant, the
telegraph office, some mines, and one or two harems
belonging to the Turkish officials. The last-named
were transferred at the first opportunity to the
NoRTHBROOK, which in due course took the women
and children and the civiUan males to Aden.

Commander A. R, W. Woods of the Topaze was in
charge of the landing party, with Commander Sal-
mond of the Odin as his second in command. His
plan was to advance up the hill from three directions
towards the Turkish position, and thus effectually



294 THE RED SEA PATROL

surround it, for the fourth side was closed by the
inlet from which the Espiegle was steadily plumping
shells at the Turks. It is probable that the enemy,
knowing that our force was a very small one, hoped
to cause such havoc in it with their rifle-fire, while
our men were coming up the hill, that w^e should
be compelled to abandon the attack. If this was
their calculation it failed to take into account the
effectiveness of our gunnery.

An excellent system of signals had been arranged,
and by means of this Commander Woods was able
to turn on or off a barrage of fire as if it were a water-
tap. The gunlayers were unfortunate in having the
sun in their eyes, but, in spite of this, their shooting
was so accurate that the men on shore could follow
with confidence close behind the barrage. Under
its cover they gradually crept towards the foot of
the hill whereon the enemy were posted, and
then, at a given signal, they made a rush forward
and completely surrounded the Turks. The whole
business lasted about three hours before the enemy
surrendered. In justice to them, it must be said
that they put up quite a good fight.

There are one or two amusing incidents to be
recorded. Sergeant McLoughlin of the Royal Marines
came across twelve Turkish soldiers, of whom one was
wounded, decided that they were just about his
own fighting weight, and went for them without
a moment's hesitation. It was perhaps fortunate
for him that Petty Officer Beaver was close behind
him, for as a general rule the Turk docs not allow
estimates of this kind to be made with impunity.
Between the pair of them they shot one of the twelve,
took seven of them prisoners, while the rest retreated
precipitately, but only to fall into other hands.
Meanwhile Private Bartlett of the Royal Marines
was having a little adventure of his own. He chanced
upon a hut, and was prompted by curiosity to poke



THE TAKING OF SALIF 295

his head inside. There he discovered three Turks
and three Arabs, all fully armed. Some people
might have been disconcerted and even embarrassed
by such a discovery, but Private Bartlett regarded
it as merely coming within the day's work. He
was no great linguist, but he had his own methods
of explaining to the assembled company that they
were his prisoners, and he left not a shadow of doubt
in their minds that he meant business. So they
meekly handed over their rifles, and in due course
Private Bartlett, wearing little more than a bland
smile (for the sun was beating down hotly) handed
them over to his commanding officer.

Having captured the whole garrison, together
with their guns, ammunition, and stores, and having
placed the prisoners aboard the Topaze for transport
to Aden, the squadron moved oil, leaving only the
ESPIEGLE behind to collect what was serviceable of
Messrs. Sir John Jackson's plant, and to destroy the
rest. Three days were spent in clearing up the place,
during which time a company of Indian troops were
sent over from Kamaran Island to do garrison duty.
There was no idea of holding Salif permanently, for
no object was to be gained by doing so. The removal
of the condensing plant made the place uninhabit-
able, since the only water supply is too brackish for
ordinary consumption, and it was therefore most
improbable that the Turks would attempt to re-
occupy the village. Their removal made matters
more comfortable for our small garrison at Kamaran,
and we must also reckon on the credit side of the
account the recovery of a certain amount of useful
plant. On the other side we must place the death
of Private Read of H.M.S. Odin, who had the mis-
fortune to jump almost on top of a Turk, and to
receive a rifle-bullet at point-blank range. It would
seem that the Turk fired by accident rather than
intent, for all his messmates were on the point of



296 THE RED SEA PATROL

holding up their hands, realising that they were com-
pletely surrounded.

I have recorded this small affair at Salif, not because
it was of any intrinsic importance, but because it is
a fair sample of several small incidents, which have
served to vary the monotonous routine of the Red
Sea Patrol. There was another affair at Hodeida,
which must, however, be written off as a failure, for
it was an attempt to bluff the Governor into re-
leasing some British Indians interned there, and
the Governor showed very clearly that he did not
belong to the race of those who are easily bluffed.
There was also a small cutting-out expedition lower
down the coast, when some blockade-running dhows
were successfully captured ; and more recently there
were some bombardments of the coast, and the
capture of the port of Lohciya. Take it on the
whole, the Red Sea Patrol has had a fairly busy time
of it.

This chronicle of naval operations during the
Great War does not profess to be more than a collec-
tion of samples, which does not even include any
mention of the main task devolving upon the Navy.
Yet I cannot refrain from winding up these stories
by pointing a moral to them. There were oc-
casions during the war when our cautious wise-
acres spoke of a stalemate as the probable result,
and our thoroughbred pessimists frankly contemplated
defeat. Even now, when victory has been achieved,
there are many who cannot realise that this end
was pre-ordained from the beginning; that, how-
ever the fortunes of the combatants might fluc-
tuate, the ultimate issue was decreed from the very
outset. They saw the transportation of the first
Expeditionary Force across the Channel ; they
watched that small band of heroes expand into
a mighty Army ; they know that that Army
was kept supphcd with food and munitions.



THE TAKING OF SALIF 297

that large sections of it were transported over-
seas to the distant tlieatres of war, that, wherever
British soldiers and British arms were needed, there
they were sent with unfaibig regularity ; they
have been told that some millions of men and some
thousands of tons of munitions were brought from
America to France ; they saw the enemy's colonies
snatched away from him one by one, while he was
reduced to the role of a helpless spectator. All
these things have been before their eyes, and yet
there are some who cannot understand the true
significance of what they have seen, who cannot
realise that the result of the war was decided when
Great Britain threw the weight of her Navy into
the scale.

What will be the verdict of posterity upon this
Armageddon ? How will the generations yet unborn
sum up England's part in the conflict ? I venture
to hope that their verdict will be, firstly, that Eng-
land's greatest pride was the quahty of the officers
and men who served her both ashore and afloat ;
secondly, that her greatest feat was the creation of
a mighty army out of a small nucleus ; and, thirdly,
that her greatest good fortune was that victory was
assured to her from the first moment of the war,
because she had her Navy Everywhere.



THE END



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Online LibraryConrad CatoThe navy everywhere → online text (page 21 of 21)