Aden is on the south-west tip of the Arabian Peninsula, on the Gulf of Aden. It was captured by the East India Company in 1839, and was governed from India through the Bombay Presidency. This was one of three centres of British administration in India, which reported to the India Office, via the Viceroy of India. The port of Aden acted as a gateway to trade for the interior of Arabia. It gained greater strategic importance after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, as a fuelling station for ships en route to India. As well as the port of Aden, which was a British colony, the coast of the Gulf of Aden, which stretched inland to include 112,000 square miles of Arabian desert, was controlled as a Protectorate. It consisted of territories whose chiefs had made treaties with Britain.

When Britain entered the war on 4 August 1914, Aden was defended by one Indian and one British battalion and a cavalry unit, the Aden Troop, of around 100 men. There was also a garrison made up from troops of the Indian Army, the Aden Brigade, which was under the command of the Political Resident, a diplomatic officer who reported to the India Office, via the Viceroy of India (WO 95/5434). When Britain and France declared war on Turkey on 5 November 1914, Aden’s defences were not strong enough to properly defend both the port and protectorate.

Battles with the Ottomans

WO 95/5438 23rd

Sikh Pioneers sketch map, Turba Fort, Aden, 1915. WO 95/5438 23rd

The first engagement affecting Aden took place on 11 November 1914 after Ottoman forces had gathered in neighbouring Yemen. They occupied a fortification at Sheikh Said at the mouth of the Red Sea, near the island of Perim. Perim lies 100 miles west of Aden, at the furthest extremity of the Aden Protectorate.

The 29th Infantry Brigade, who had arrived in Aden on 9 November on their way to India, stormed the fort under the cover of gunfire from HMS Edinburgh and drove the Ottoman forces inland, destroying their entrenchments and magazines. On their departure from Aden the next day, the Brigade left behind the 23rd Sikh Pioneers, to bolster the Aden garrison (WO 95/5438). Sheikh Said was later reoccupied by the Ottomans, and they continued to harass Perim for the remainder of the war.

In late June 1915 the Aden Troop was sent to Lahej, 25 miles north of the port of Aden, where the Abdali Sultan was besieged by Ottoman forces. The column reached Sheikh Othman, around 19 miles from Lahej, that morning, but the hot midsummer conditions caused many casualties. The 109th ‘Baluchi’ Infantry reached Lahej by dawn the next day and were joined by the Brecknockshire Battalion of the South Wales Borderers (WO 95/9438). However, a string of Ottoman attacks and a lack of ammunition, food and water, meant that Lahej was abandoned on the morning of 5 July and Sheikh Othman on 7 July.

Aden was supplied with water from Sheikh Othman. When the Ottomans took the town they cut off the water supply, meaning that the port and garrison of Aden was forced to rely on water condensers in the middle of a hot Arabian summer. On 12 July 1915 Major–General Sir George Younghusband arrived to take control of the port and garrison. His main priority was to recover Sheikh Othman.

On 21 July 1915 the Frontier Force Brigade attacked and retook Sheikh Othman and regained control of the aqueduct and water supply (WO 95/9438). Having achieved his objective, Sir George Younghusband left Aden for Egypt on 10 September 1915, when the new Political Resident, General Price, arrived and took command in his place. In July 1916 General Price was in turn replaced as Political Resident by General J M Stewart.

The Arab Revolt

WO 158/640B (4)

Notes on Kasr El Asrak by T E Lawrence, 1918 WO 158/640B (4)

In the summer of 1916 Hussein bin Ali, the Sheriff of Mecca, led the ‘Arab Revolt’ in the Hejaz, the Western part of what is now Saudi Arabia. This was against the Turks in Arabia. Encouraged by British and French officials, including T E Lawrence, the main intention was to create a unified Arab state, free from Ottoman domination, running from Aleppo in Syria all the way down to the Gulf of Aden (FO 141/461/3).

The main effect on Aden was that it prevented more Ottoman troops from arriving in Yemen and diverted some of the Ottoman Yemeni force further north. The Ottoman troops that were not diverted to deal with the revolt were forced to take on a more defensive position, and the British took the opportunity to construct an 11 mile long defensive cordon around Aden. Nevertheless, Ottoman forces in Yemen and the occupied parts of the Protectorate still outnumbered the Allied presence by around two to one. Around 5,500 Ottomans, discounting Arab support, faced close to 3,000 British and colonial troops. For the remainder of the war, few attempts were made to take back territory lost to the Ottomans, relying instead on a policy of ‘active defence’ involving skirmishes and raiding parties. 


CO 1047/13

Aden Protectorate, 1914. CO 1047/13

When the Armistice was signed with the Ottomans at Moudros on 30 October 1918, hostilities in the Middle East were supposed to end at noon the next day. Ottoman forces in Yemen and the occupied parts of the Aden Protectorate refused to surrender, but began to do so after successful attacks in December on Lahej and on Hodeida, located on the Western coast of Yemen. Nevertheless the Ottoman garrison did not evacuate Lahej until March 1919, when the Aden Field Force could finally be stood down. 

Key figures

David George Levigne Shaw

David George Levigne Shaw

Political Resident, Aden (1915)

Detail of NPG x65169 , David George Levinge Shaw, © National Portrait Gallery, London.

Major–General Sir George Younghusband

Major–General Sir George Younghusband

Commander 28th Brigade, 10th Indian Division (1915)

Detail of NPG x67955 , Sir George John Younghusband, © National Portrait Gallery, London.

General Charles Henry Uvedale Price

Political Resident, Aden (1915-1916)

General James Marshall Stewart

Political Resident, Aden (1916-1919)

Key documents

CO 1047/14/1

Aden Protectorate, 1914. CO 1047/14/1

  • War Diaries, Aden Force troops WO 95/5434-5439
  • Arab revolt and Arab independence: campaign of the Sheriff of Mecca against the Turks FO 141/461/3
  • Map of Aden Protectorate, 1914 CO 1047/13
  • Sketch Map of the Persian Gulf & Arabia, 1914 CO 1047/14

Preview images