Military Wiki
Anglo-Egyptian War (1882)
Part of Urabi Revolt
Anglo-egyptian war.jpg
Result British occupation of Egypt without French involvement; ‘Urabi sentenced to death, commuted to exile
British occupation of Egypt

 British Empire
*  United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland

  • India British India
  • Egyptian and Sudanese forces under Khedive Tewfik Pasha
Egyptian and Sudanese forces under Ahmed ‘Urabi
Commanders and leaders
Maj. Gen. Garnet Wolseley
Admiral Beauchamp Seymour
Tewfik Pasha
Ahmed ‘Urabi
Mahmoud Fehmy
Mahmoud Sami el-Baroudi
40,560 regulars unconfirmed number of regulars

The Anglo-Egyptian War occurred in 1882 between Egyptian and Sudanese forces under Ahmed ‘Urabi and the United Kingdom. It ended a nationalist uprising against the khedive Tewfik Pasha and vastly expanded British influence over the country, at the expense of the French.


In 1878, an Egyptian army officer, Ahmed ‘Urabi (then known in English as Arabi Pasha), mutinied and initiated a coup against Tewfik Pasha, the Khedive of Egypt and Sudan, because of grievances over disparities in pay between Egyptians and Europeans, as well as other concerns. In January 1882 the British and French governments sent a "Joint Note" to the Egyptian government, declaring their recognition of the Khedive's authority. On 20 May 1882, British and French warships arrived off the coast of Alexandria. On 11 June 1882, an anti-Christian riot occurred in Alexandria that killed 50 Europeans. Colonel ‘Urabi ordered his forces to put down the riot, but Europeans fled the city and ‘Urabi's army began fortifying the town. The French flotilla demurred from direct hostilities but, an ultimatum to cease the arming of the town having been refused, the British warships began a 10½-hour bombardment of Alexandria on 11 July 1882.

Reasons for the invasion

The reasons why the British government sent a fleet of ships to the coast of Alexandria is a point of historical debate, as there is no definitive information available.

In their 1961 essay Africa and the Victorians, Ronald Robinson and John Gallagher argue that the British invasion was ordered in order to quell the perceived anarchy of the ‘Urabi Revolt, as well to protect British control over the Suez Canal in order to maintain its shipping route to the Indian Ocean.[1]

A.G. Hopkins rejected Robinson and Gallagher's argument, citing original documents and second-hand sources to claim that there was no perceived danger to the Suez Canal from the ‘Urabi movement, and that ‘Urabi and his forces were not chaotic "anarchists", but rather maintained law and order.[2]:373–374 He alternatively argues that British Prime Minister William Gladstone's cabinet was motivated by protecting the interests of British bondholders with investments in Egypt as well as pursuit of domestic political popularity. Hopkins cites the British investments in Egypt that grew massively leading into the 1880s, partially as a result of the Khedive's debt from construction of the Suez Canal, as well as the close links that existed between the British government and the economic sector.[2]:379–380 He writes Britain's economic interests occurred simultaneously to a desire within the ruling Liberal Party for a militant foreign policy in order to gain political domestic political popularity to compete with the Conservative Party.[2]:382 Hopkins cites a letter from Edward Malet, the British consul general in Egypt at the time, to a member of the Gladstone Cabinet offering his congratulations on the invasion: "You have fought the battle of all Christendom and history will acknowledge it. May I also venture to say that it has given the Liberal Party a new lease of popularity and power."[2]:385

John Galbraith and Afaf Lutfi al-Sayyid-Marsot make a similar argument to Hopkins, though their argument focuses on how individuals within the British government bureaucracy used their positions to make the invasion appear as a more favourable option to Gladstone's cabinet. First, they describe a plot by Edward Malet in which he portrayed the Egyptian government as unstable to his superiors in the cabinet.[3]:477 On Galbraith and al-Sayyid-Marsot's reading, Malet naïvely expected he could convince the British to intimidate Egypt with a show of force without considering a full invasion or occupation as a possibility.[3]:477–478 They also dwell on Admiral Beauchamp Seymour, who hastened the start of the bombardment by exaggerating the danger posed to his ships by ‘Urabi's forces in his telegrams back to the British government.[3]:485

Course of the war

British bombardment

The British fleet bombarded Alexandria from 11–13 July and then occupied it with marines. The British did not lose a single ship, but much of the city was destroyed by fires caused by explosive shells and by ‘Urabists seeking to ruin the city that the British were taking over.[4] Tewfik Pasha, who had moved his court to Alexandria during the unrest, declared ‘Urabi a rebel and formally deposed him from his positions within the government.

‘Urabi's response

‘Urabi then reacted by obtaining a fatwa from Al Azhar shaykhs which condemned Tewfik as a traitor to both his country and religion, absolving those who fought against him. ‘Urabi also declared war on the United Kingdom and initiated conscription.

British order of battle

The British army tried to reach Cairo through Alexandria but was stopped for five weeks at Kafr-el-Dawwar. In August, a British army of over 40,000, commanded by Garnet Wolseley, invaded the Suez Canal Zone. He was authorised to destroy ‘Urabi's forces and clear the country of all other rebels.

Order of battle of the British Expeditionary Force

1st Division (Lt Gen GHS Willis)

1st Brigade (Maj Gen HRH The Duke of Connaught)

2nd Brigade (Maj Gen Gerald Graham VC)

Divisional Troops

  • 19th Hussars (2 Sqns)
  • 2nd Battalion, Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry
  • A Battery, 1st Field Brigade, Royal Artillery
  • D Battery, 1st Field Brigade, Royal Artillery
  • 24 Field Company, Royal Engineers
  • 12 Company, Army Commissariat and Transport Corps
  • 1 Bearer Company, Army Hospital Corps (Half)
  • 3 Field Hospital, Army Hospital Corps

2nd Division (Lt Gen Sir Edward Hamley)

3rd (Highland) Infantry Brigade (Maj Gen Sir Archibald Alison)

4th Brigade (Maj Gen Sir Evelyn Wood VC)

Divisional Troops

  • 19th Hussars (2 Sqns)
  • 3rd Battalion, The King’s Royal Rifle Corps
  • I Battery, 2nd Field Brigade, Royal Artillery
  • N Battery, 2nd Field Brigade, Royal Artillery
  • 26 Field Company, Royal Engineers
  • 11 Company, Army Commissariat and Transport Corps
  • 2 Bearer Company, Army Hospital Corps (Half)
  • 4 Field Hospital, Army Hospital Corps
  • 5 Field Hospital, Army Hospital Corps

Indian Contingent (Maj Gen Sir Herbert Macpherson VC)

Cavalry Division (Maj Gen Drury Curzon Drury Lowe)

1st (Heavy) Cavalry Brigade (Brig Gen Sir Baker Creed Russell)

2nd (Bengal) Cavalry Brigade (Brig Gen H. C. Wilkinson)

Division Troops

  • N Battery, 1 Horse Brigade, Royal Horse Artillery
  • Mounted Infantry Battalion (formed from Mounted Coys of line infantry battalions)
  • 17 Company, Army Commissariat and Transport
  • 6 Field Hospital, Army Hospital Corps

Army Troops

  • Naval Brigade
  • Battalion, Royal Marine Light Infantry
  • G Battery, 2nd Horse Brigade, Royal Horse Artillery
  • F Battery, 1st Field Brigade, Royal Field Artillery
  • H Battery, 1st Field Brigade, RFA
  • C Battery, 3rd Field Brigade, RFA
  • J Battery, 3rd Field Brigade, RFA
  • T Battery, 3rd Field Brigade, RFA
  • Royal Marine Artillery
  • 1 Battery, London Division, Royal Garrison Artillery
  • 4 Battery, London Division, RGA
  • 5 Battery, London Division, RGA
  • 5 Battery, Scottish Division, RGA
  • 6 Battery, Scottish Division, RGA

Army Train

  • A (Bridging) Troop, Royal Engineers
  • C (Telegraph) Troop, RE
  • Railway Troop, RE
  • 8 Field Company, RE
  • 17 Field Company, RE
  • 18 Field Company, RE
  • A Company, Queen’s Own Madras Sappers and Miners
  • I Company, QOMS&M
  • 8 Company, Army Commissariat and Transport Corps
  • 15 Company, ACT Corps
  • Auxiliary Company, ACT Corps
  • 2 Bearer Company, Army Hospital Corps
  • 1 Field Hospital, AHC
  • 3 Field Hospital, AHC
  • 7 Field Hospital, AHC
  • 8 Field Hospital, AHC
  • Army Post Office Corps (M Company 49th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers)

Battle of Kafr-el-Dawwar

5 August 1882 - this battle took place between an Egyptian army, headed by Ahmed Orabi, and British forces headed by Sir Archibald Alison. Seeking to ascertain the strength of the Egyptian's Kafr-el-Dawwar position, and to test local rumours that the Egyptians were retreating, Alison ordered a probing attack on the evening of the 5th. This action was reported by Orabi as a battle, and Cairo was full of the news that the advancing British had been repulsed. While, most historians describe the action merely as a reconnaissance in force which was never intended as a serious assault on the Egyptian lines. However, the end result was that the British abandoned any hope they may have had of reaching Cairo from the north, and shifted their base of operations to Ismailia instead.

Battle of Tel el-Kebir

13 September 1882 - Urabi redeployed to defend Cairo against Wolseley. His main force dug in at Tel el-Kebir, north of the railway and the Sweet Water Canal, both of which linked Cairo to Ismailia on the canal. The defences were hastily prepared as there was little time to arrange them. ‘Urabi's forces possessed 60 pieces of artillery and breech loading rifles. Wolseley made several personal reconnaissances, and determined that the Egyptians did not man outposts in front of their main defences at night, which made it possible for an attacking force to approach the defences under cover of darkness. Wolseley sent his force to approach the position by night and attacked frontally at dawn, which they did successfully, officially losing only 57 troops while killing approximately two thousand Egyptians. The ‘Urabi forces were routed, and British cavalry pursued them and captured Cairo, which was undefended. Power was then restored to the khedive.

British military innovations

Railway – During the build up to the battle at Tel-el-Kebir the specially raised 8th Railway Company RE operated trains carrying stores and troops, as well as repairing track. On the day of the battle they ran a train into Tel-el-Kebir station at between 8-9am (13 September) and "...found it completely blocked with trains, full of the enemy's ammunition: the line strewn with dead and wounded, and our own soldiers swarming over the place almost mad for want of water…" (extract from Captain Sidney Smith's diary), Once the station was cleared they began to ferry the wounded, prisoners and troops with stores to other destinations.[5]

Telegraph – In the wake of the advancing columns, telegraph lines were laid on either side of the Sweet Water canal. At 2 am (13 September) Wolseley successfully sent a message to the Major General Sir H Macpherson VC on the extreme left with the Indian Contingent and the Naval Brigade. At Tel-el Kebir a field telegraph office was established in a saloon carriage, which Arabi Pasha had travelled in the day before. At 8.30 am (13 September) after the victory at the battle of Tel-el-Kebir, Wolseley used the telegram to send messages of his victory to Queen Victoria; he received a reply from her at 9.15 am the same day. Once they had got connected to the permanent line the Section also worked the Theiber sounder and the telephone.[5]

Army Post Office Corps – The forerunners of Royal Engineers (Postal Section) made their debut on this campaign. They were specially raised from the 24th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers (Post Office Rifles) and for the first time in British military history, post office clerks trained as soldiers, provided a dedicated postal service to an army in the field. During the battle of Kassassin they became the first Volunteers ever to come under enemy fire.[6]


‘Urabi's trial

Prime Minister Gladstone initially sought to put ‘Urabi on trial and execute him, portraying him as "...a self-seeking tyrant whose oppression of the Egyptian people still left him enough time, in his capacity as a latter-day Saladin, to massacre Christians." After glancing through his captured diaries and various other evidence, there was little with which to "demonize" ‘Urabi in a public trial. His charges were down-graded, after which he admitted to rebellion and was sent into exile.[2]:384

British occupation

British troops then occupied Egypt until the Anglo–Egyptian Treaty of 1922 and Anglo-Egyptian treaty of 1936, giving gradual control back to the government of Egypt.

Hopkins argues that Britain continued its occupation of Egypt after 1882 in order to guarantee British investments: "Britain had important interests to defend in Egypt and she was prepared to withdraw only if conditions guaranteeing the security of those interests were met - and they never were."[2]:388 Consistent with this view, investment in Egypt increased during the British occupation, interest rates fell, and bond prices rose.[2]:389

See also



  1. Robinson, Ronald; Gallagher, John (1961). Africa and the Victorians: The Official Mind of Imperialism. London: Macmillan. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Hopkins, A. G. (July 1986). "The Victorians and Africa: A Reconsideration of the Occupation of Egypt, 1882". pp. 363–391. Digital object identifier:10.1017/S0021853700036719. JSTOR 181140. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Galbraith, John S.; al-Sayyid-Marsot, Afaf Lutfi (November 1978). "The British Occupation of Egypt: Another View". pp. 471–488. Digital object identifier:10.1017/S0020743800030658. JSTOR 162074. 
  4. "The Bombardment of Alexandria (1882)". Old Mersey Times. Archived from the original on 8 October 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-13. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Porter, Whitworth (1889). History of the Corps of Royal Engineers, Vol. II. London: Longmans, Green and Co.. 
  6. Wells, Edward (1987). Mailshot - A History of the Forces Postal Services. London: DPCS. ISBN 0951300903. 

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