Osman Digna’s Military Leadership Genius

Mon, 16 Oct 2017


Abubaker Hassan Mohammed


        The importance of this subject emanates from the fact that it deals with  the leadership and military characteristics of the famous Mahadist, Osman Digna. Consequently, this study aims at highlighting the character of this commander through his social composition,  the impact of the environment on his character and the military battles he fought in Eastern Sudan. The study problem is represented in that Osman Digna was characterized, unlike the others in Mahadia, by special qualities that made him widely recognized. The study follows the historical, descriptive and analytic methodology. The study concluded a number of findings, the most outstanding findings of these are that Osman Digna was able to able to stop the march of the British from the East. He represented the character of the successful military commander, preacher and eloquent speaker in the time of war and peace. The most important recommendations of the study are that it is necessary that military institutions and colleges  go through the everlasting history of the commander Osman Digna and read it in the light of his era, and it will be useful that researchers explore   the grounds of his political, administrative and military genius.



Firstly: His Birth and grow up:

        Osman Abu Bakr Digna was born in a harsh environment in the City of Suaken about 1840, that is, he is older than Imam Mahdi  by four years. His paternal lineage descends from the famous Dignawi Family, and his maternal lineage descends from Bishariab – a sub-branch of Hadandwa[1].

As young, Osman Digna joined the religious school and learned religious sciences; he learned Quran by heart and excelled in the religious sciences. He grew up in Suaken and learned Arabic Language –writing and speaking- besides his Bijawi Language. He, also, studied astronomy which greatly helped him in his fighting skills in the future[2]. Osman Digna was, as all members of his family, a follower of Magzubia Order, and worked since his youth in business in Suaken. His family supported the Mahadist Revolution for religious and national reasons and not for personal loss. Therefore, he refused an offer by the Egyptian –Turkish Administration to make up his business loss against leaving the Mahdia and had not changed his convictions till his death

        Osman  made an oath of allegiance to Mhadi in 1883, and Mahdi vested on him the Emirate of Eastern Sudan[3]. The Mahadis Revolution in Eastern Sudan was characterized by the  singularity of its approach and style unlike the other areas. The revolution in the East associated, since its outbreak until its end, with  the character of Prince Osman Abu Bakr Digna, and while Mahdia leaderships  changed dramatically, and sometimes wildly,  Osman Digna maintained the commanding position firmly[4] .


His Leadership Qualities:

        How difficult is to discuss the character of a unique character such as the character of Prince Osman Digna! He is a hero of the Mahadist Revolution , and left for us a great and full record. He was the most famous Amir inside and outside the country. He was a master of his land[5]. His profound religious education mixed up with his jumpy national spirit and legitimate anger against the colonialism and its aids. He struggled, strived and fought battles. He was a soldier, a commander, a ruler and a man of religion. Completely ruled the East for a period of fifteen years during which he was fearful to enemies and a thorn in waist of the English in the East. Many a time, he managed to pre-empt and inflicted cruel defeats on his enemies.

        Amir Osman Digna and his companions were in an equal status in terms of military equipment with other side which carried the latest types of weapons, while the arms and ammunition of Osman Digna were old. Sword and spear were the main arms of his forces. Food supplies of the invading army were sufficient  and regularly came,  while the followers of Osman Digna suffered from scarcity, difficulty and hard living conditions and sometimes lacked even the essential subsistence of life, Al-ansar (The Followers) were sowing their subsistence, and if they took care of it and harvested it, they would be faced by the insolvable transportation problems from the farms to the towns. Al_ansar faced these circumstances with the spirit of the warrior who wanted to be killed for his cause. They wanted to die for religion and homeland. This commander, also, faced the cunning of the administration of Suaken which, by using enticement, gifts, the assistance of Maraghna and their caliphs , managed to incite some tribes  against Mahdia and  imposed on Osman Digna the burden of fighting,  annoyed him, caused troubles  and paralyzed his power of clash with the invading army[6].

        The genius of the commander was manifest in making victory while facts indicate that his defeat is inevitable in such circumstances. Therefore, when he leads an army of this description and fights  victorious battles and save it  from an overwhelming defeat, when the enemy is more likely to win, this puts us in front of a revolutionist, military expert and genius by all measures. Shugair said describing Digna when he saw him at Misr Station, then at Rosetta Prison and once again at Damietta Prison after he had been  captured in 1900 in Eastern Sudan: (He is brown skinned man, with a long face , shining eyes, medium nose, wide mouth, broad white beard, thick hair, stocky physique tending to tallness. His apparent features indicated cunning, confidence and strong determination. He wore a garment of tapestry cloth and a white turban. He  shaved his head like the urban people of Suaken. It was said he was fast moving, taciturn  and had a strange patience in walking and tolerating  hunger. He would walk all day barefooted with no food or drink, but when he sits down, he would eat a whole sheep at one meal)[7].

Osman Digna was patriot, protective of his homeland, loyal to Mahdi and convinced of Mahdia. He maintained this attitude till his death after he spent more than 26 years in prison. 

        When he heard of the emergence of Mohamed Ahmed Al-Mahdi in Gazira Aba, he tracked news about him and prepared to migrate to him. Al-Obied was conqured and he migrated to Mahdi, swore  allegiance  and showed true protectiveness of Islam and Muslims. He showed his belief in Mahdeia and readiness to fight for Islam and homeland. Mahdi was pleased of him and of his unique character and his true belief in Mahdia. Since that moment, Digna jointed efforts with Mahdi sincerely and became the Mahd’s striking arm in the East since he knew the  inner feelings of the people of Suaken and as he knew their language and habits. He was good at reading and writing in Arabic language and he was appointed as an agent for him on the all lands of Bija.

Shugair says – speaking about the belief of Digna in Mhdia and his loyalty to Mhadi- (I asked him once at the Prison of Rosetta if he had supported Mahdi  in real belief. He said: “yes, Mohamed Ahmed is the  Awaited Mahdi, no doubt, and I will die on this belief”. I said: “If he is the awaited Mahdi, how come he died before fulfilling his prophesy of conquering Egypt, Constantine and Mekka? He said: “ Prophet Mohamed (PBUH) died before he completed his conquests and his caliphs  accomplished after him”. I said: but, the successors of Mohamed Ahmed did not complete his conquests and the Prophet Mohamed’s nation is still there while Mahdi’s nation disappeared!!. He said: “ Allah wishes so[8]”.

        This dialog shows Digna’s believing, trusting and loyal character to the principles. He did not compromise or give up his belief. His political attitudes were obvious  and clear from the beginning. He refused the existing Turkish occupation and he was seen many times urging traders in Suaken to rise against the government. Nothing provoked him more than seeing a Pashbuzuk or government soldier[9]. The issue of inflaming the revolution in Eastern Sudan was not easy. Bija tribes were of divided loyalty. In the south they were loyal to Khatmia Sect, but, in the North, they were either not oppressed by the Turkish administration or subjected to tens of deviated Sufi orders that, sometimes,  came close to idolatry.  But, Osman Digna moved from  a ganglion. He went with the letter of his appointment to Shekh El-Taher El-Majzub in Damar, who had a wide religious influence in the Eastern Sudan. He was well received, taken under protection and given necessary support, so, Bija tribes inflamed with revolution[10].

        Osman Digna was aware of the psychological warfare factors and methods of their use. He was perfect at exploiting and employing them. When Bija revolutionists were bored from exhaustion and stress  because of their continuous battles and constant movement and when that had an effect on their morale, he used to spread rumors that the enemy had fled and had been defeated. He knew well that the British would not stay long in Suaken, and then he instilled enthusiasm in his soldiers, reorganized them and they resumed fighting with high morale and peerless zealous. And because he was a perfect speaker who flamed the feelings, he well exploited this and even when the enemy is in front of him, he didn’t fear of giving his passionate speeches to his men. Those speeches might continue for five or six hours raising their morale once again. He used a perfect method of briefing and they would accomplish their tasks in perception and faith[11].

Osman Digna was characterized by another outstanding characteristic. That is he had a great durability and many stories were told in this respect. During his continuous battles, he frequently walked hundreds of miles carrying his weapon and the weapon of anyone tired of walking.


Osman Digna’s Military Genius:

His Scene of Operations and Military Tactics:

        The area in which Digna was appointed as an agent extended from the Port of Halayeb in the north on the Red Sea Coast to Port of Misaua in the south. It was bordered from the north by the countryside of Ababda and from the west it extends parallel to  the eastern heights of the River Nile until it comes to Atbara and parallel  to Sitait River towards the East. The area levels from east to west from The Red Sea Coast to The Red Sea Mountains, then it flats into a vast desert up to the course of the Nile in the south west across fertile agricultural brooks. The most outstanding features  in the area are: Red Sea Mountain series, Butana plain, Khur Baraka, Al Gash River, Road Barber- Suaken, Kasala-Misoua, Kasala- Gadarif. Important cities are Suaken, Halayeb, Toker, Sinkat and  Ageeg and the inhabitants of the area are known by Bija. They are divided into four main groups ( Bisharia, Amarar, Hadandwa, Beni Amer). There are other minorities from Halanga, Artaiga and Sheab. One of their customs is carrying swords, spears, knives and shields[12].  This setting, in general was Osman Digna’s scene of military operations. Osman Digna’s administrative and military genius at battles makes us wonder at this incomparable war secret. In addition to the information at the beginning of the study about the bringing up of Osman Digna, we notice that his family was religious, so he was able to draw much from the religious sciences until he became  a scholar, religiously learned and marvelous  intellect of the Mahdia Revolution. His presence in Suaken, the port of Sudan at that time, enabled him to communicate with the comers from east and West, so he opened his eyes and saw the intentions of the colonialism and understood early the cunning and malice of the British, so he had a lookout for them and lurked them in the East. Thus, he became the most famous Sudanese in the West at that time. Osman Digna perfected the art of fencing, wrestling and leading trading caravans and community management. He is a son of a deep-rooted family and he was named Osman Hadal (Leader or commander). From trade and wrestling he learned patience , courage and, sometimes, adventure and consequently, he acquired unique qualities which determined the course of his life later. Major General (retired) Abdul Rahman Arbab included in his valuable study of Osman Digna an analysis of the character of this outstanding and talented commander of his time when described him as a soldier and commander.

Osman Digna as a Soldier:

        He was very brave and his bravery originally came  from his environment, bringing up and strong belief in Mahdia and his good knowledge of his enemy and the struggle against him.

Osman Digna had an absolute belief in the trustworthiness of the Mahdia Call, therefore, he did not go against Mahdi or his successor . He was an obedient soldier for orders and he expanded the scene of his operations in the East and remained the absolute commander until the end of the Mahdia State oin Eastern Sudan.

His Trust in His Soldiers and His great Love of them:

He dealt with the tribes of the East from the perspective of  loyalty and fellowship and the general homogeneity of all Bija tribes provided him with the quality of command in smoothness, loyalty and obedience, and because  he was a revolutionist and warrior, he dealt with his commanders and soldiers as their colleague , therefore his soldiers were loyal to him to the last moment.

Conformity with the Orders of his Commanders : if he started to eat in the presence of the Caliph by the Caliph’s order, he would not stop until another order comes from the Caliph. If the Caliph Abdullah gave his orders to move to execute the military plans, he would take off hurriedly from Omdurman toward the East walking on foot, and it was said that his courtiers and guards would not be able to catch up with him outside the capital of the Mahdia State.

Osman Digna, the soldier and warrior had a high Durability  by which he faced all difficulties.

He was vigilant and pre-emptor and does not give his enemy a chance to take him and he was a first class maneuverer. [13] 

Osman Digna as a Commander and Warrior:

        Digna was characterized by all leadership qualities known in the fighting armies, so he was able to lead his soldiers easily and genius that made him beat his enemy in the most of the battles he fought with the great difference in equipment of his troops  and the equipment of his enemy’s troops quantitatively and qualitatively[14].

His Leadership Talent and his Wisdom were Shown in the Following:

        Flexibility enabled him to have confidence in his leaders  and fighters and to become decentralized in dealing with the leaders, and consequently he gave them freedom of movement and decision making as it may be required by situation of the battlefield and the progress of the battle. Consequently, he and his leaders excelled in the wide maneuver and he was able to move his soldiers from Tomay to Toker in a fastest maneuver ever known in the East and he was able to scatter the famous English Squares at more than one battle and was able to defeat the spearmen at the battle of Carary as will be dealt with later.


Good Management:

        In all his binterested in the ehavior, Digna was an example for his subordinates. He was interested in the psychological aspects of his soldiers, as mentioned before, and he was keen to satisfy their necessary needs. He visited them when they became sick or injured in the battles. He chose the sites of the management and camps near the quarters and supplies of the troops so that he would not be far away from his troops or fall short of meeting their administrative requirements. Digna took care of the judges and judiciary to decide on the big lawsuits and thus he maintained justice. He concentrated on the spiritual aspects as they have doctrinal and moral effects on the  combat. Finally, he was an example for his soldiers in food and drink and he stayed several days without food.


Quick Decision Making:

        With his wide experience, Digna took quick decisions and made the enemy lose much of his superiority advantages. For example, he launched a counterattack in Handub, but decided to withdraw quickly in his first operation. He decided to isolate Suaken, but after quick deliberation on the blockade, he changed his mind.

Creation of a Big Motivation for the Combatants :  Osman Digna focused on the national motivation and religious reason in his war against invaders and made a clear objective for his troops to fight against the enemy, and that is an important factor in winning wars, because armies frequently fight without a motive and become defeated.

Raising Morale: Osman Digna had a unique courage. He was brave and never feared death. He had steel determination and a will full of art and knowledge. If he gave a speech to his troops instills in them enthusiasm. He had a distinctive capacity of speaking. He would continue speaking for five hours to his to troops and he would discuss everything with them.

Creation of Spirit of Fellowship:  usually, the fighter in the fighting ditch feels the unity of destiny with his commander to defend his military honor, his homeland and belief. This is what Digna implemented in dealing with his leaders and soldiers with whom he fought fierce battles in the East. In order to be friendly with the tribes which fought with him, he  got married to women from most of the tribes[15], and he was keen to maintain balance between the tribes he dealt with. He did not favor a tribe at the expense of other tribes, but he was keen to win the friendliness of all. That is clear in his letters to Mahdi and the Caliph. He was not tribalist, but a revolutionary nationalist. 


Osman Digna’s  War Tactics:

        Osman Digna’s combat tactics  and stages developed after his successful series of battles in the East in defense and offense. The scene of the operations had expanded and armament, experiences and enemy activity had increased. At the beginning, Digna adopted the tactics of Guerilla Warfare which is a defensive strategy with offensive tactics.  When he attacked fortified Sinkat with spears and sticks, he discovered the mistake of his tactics and the daylight attack against fortified areas, such as Sinkat. Then, he learned the importance of the thorn enclosures in October 1883. After that date, he changed his plan of blockade and began the enemy attrition with guerilla warfare through the dynamic speed and avoidance of engagement in unfavorable conditions, through deception and deployment in the scene of operations. He perfectly used the element of the first strike, surprise, accurate information and knowledge of the land topography he had acquired from his business activity  before joining Mahadia Revolution[16]. His troops, always, had high morale, supreme bravery  and perfection of withdrawal operations  when he decided so, very systematically. Digna, also, employed intelligence effectively to observe the movements of the enemy and destroy his  means of movement and communication[17].

Osman Digna’s tactics developed depending on the development of the enemy’s tactics and military potential and according to conditions of long wars.  We can identify four primary stages:

First Stage: Attack on Enemy’s Defense:

        Osman Digna is the first to introduce “School of Penetration from the rear of the enemy”. His success is the result of his far sight and tactical imagination which was beyond the imagination of his European enemies and others, when they formed their force in huge squares for advance and defense. Digna, with his unique military genius, came to know the points of strength and weakness of that formation. This formation secures front and flank fires to break the direct attacks of the enemy, no matter how strong, but weak confrontations and sides can be easily penetrated. Therefore, Digna did not expose his forces to the enemy’s fire in echelons facing the enemy directly, but he maneuvered  around it to determine its points of weakness[18].

        Through watching the tactics of the enemy’s movement and fighting, Digna perceived another fact that had a great effect, and that was the weakness in the back row. When he directs his first strong blow to the rear side and penetrates it, he puts the enemies in a difficult situation. Firstly, he puts his enemy between two fires from the rear and from the front, and soon the lateral sides collapse and remain perplexed, thinking whether to reverse confrontation and direct its fires to the inside of the square or hurry to join the front side[19]. The penetration of the back square was the fastest way to the center of the square where animals and administrative personnel and the animals will be raging and winding with their loads and take off running and crying. The commander of the enemy, as a result, loses control on his force except the front side to which Osman Digna directs at the first moments of the battle, a small part of his force. These turn and find themselves alone  in a line without depth and without defense to the flank. When this confusion happens, the force loses its formation and its cohesive bond. It is divided  into small groups to be broken by the men of Osman Digna one by one[20]. The terrain had a role in the offensive tactics of Osman Digna against the defenses of the enemy. His plan was effective against the moving force and not for the stationary defensive points which implement an encircling defense. Osman Digna chose the  right time to assault during the advance of the enemy. He didn’t attack the enemy while stopping. The enemy usually built a formidable enclosure around its camp and usually attacked the enemy while moving and out of its formidable defenses. The terrain was ideal to implement that wonderful tactics, because The Red Sea Mountains and rough hills with their narrow paths, enabled him to achieve the element of surprise necessary for the success of his onslaught. The  short time between the emergence of his force and engagement with the enemy prevents the enemy from re-organizing his force or changing his confrontation. He entirely avoided the implementation of this plan in open terrain[21]. Also, the acquired individual skills of Hadandawa combatants helped him much, because the the surprising sweeping attack needed  high speed and high skill. Revolutionists came out from the holes in the ground and behind the trees at the moment of the weakness of the enemy and they darted at him at tremendous speed and crossed the distance between them and him at a speed of eight yards a second  in graceful leaps. This is still a characteristic of Hadandawa solely, and it was decisive in Digna’s battles, because the fast engulfing, sudden darting and using the sword with a high skill make the enemy absolutely stunned and in moments or minutes the contract of the enemy will be loose. The first coast battle was a wonderful example of this theory.

Second Stage: Guerilla Warfare and Enemy Attrition:

        After trying the tactics of the fast sudden attack against the English squares and his success in its penetration, Osman Digna intended to use another tactics, besides the first. He directed continuous blows (acupuncture) by selected high skilled and efficient leaders, and he was successful in his choice.

        This is another skill in his favor and it helped him to deploy and cover his scene of operations to include all the east and light maneuver with forces while securing his bases. As a result, he scattered the potentials of the enemy in more than one city or battle front and  weakened the enemy and hindered his achievement of objectives[22]. Although he did not succeed in occupying Suaken, he changed it into a large mouth of a grave in which he constantly drained  the enemy. He directed strikes to the fortified defenses to penetrate them in a war of attrition that engaged the enemy and made him think of the size of his losses[23]. Thus, he was able to complete the blockade circle on Suaken after he prevented Bedouins from renting camels to the Government. He cut the telegraph lines to isolate the garrisons from each other. He began to skirmish the blockaded enemy day and night in a long term war of attrition (Guerilla). So, the government was forced to use the spotlights of the war ships anchored on the coast of Suaken to detect any infiltration of Digna’s troops. That was, in turn, an important factor that contributed to the weakening of the enemy’s morale. On the other hand, the length of the time in the war of attrition and Guerilla warfare gave his soldiers a high morale and promoted their belief in the objectives and readiness to endure losses unlike the invading army, especially, the British[24].

Third Stage: Strategy in Blockade:

        Suaken represented a model of applying the blockade strategy by Osman Digna to paralyze the enemy’s movement abilities, contain and drain him in an attempt to destroy him and liberate the area of the strategic nature and significance for the invading forces. Therefore, the blockade of Suaken continued from October 1883 to February 1891. When the authorities decided to stub out the revolution of the East, Suaken had a great importance increased by being the start of a strategic road- Suaken-Barber.

        Consequently,  Suaken was well fortified by previous governments . In 1885, there were five gates; Al-ansary Gate, Kitchener Gate, Ahdrar Gate, Al-mahlaj Gate and Northern Gate[25]. Assembly started from Suaken to arrest Osman Digna by the Khedive and Britain. Military operations developed between the two parties from hunting to arrest the Amir of the East to fierce battles against large forceway of s. The assembly was in Suaken, in addition to Kasal, Toker and Sinkat. Since the matter was so, Mahdi ordered Digna to tighten blockade on Suaken and launch raids by double strategy- guerilla warfare and blockade[26].Blockade of Suaken

Digna’s Aims by the Blockade of Suaken were  as follows:

-Preventing the forces of the government from supporting and reinforcing outposts (Sinkat, Toker and Kasala) in order to enable his forces which besiege these areas to grab it.

-  Control of Suaken- Barner Road and cutting any reinforcements from Britain will take this road to rescue the garrisons including Khartoum and stop any government forces taking Barber- Suaken Road to rescue the garrisons.

- Cut all communications to isolate Suaken from Khartoum and is outposts.

- Drain the forces and resources of the enemy in Suaken and the area.

- Tighten the blockade to make  Suaken and outposts surrender. Wearing out the government forces in Suaken with raids, ambushes and day and night skirmishes[27]

Digna implemented his strategy in the blockade of Suaken and settled near it with his personal command in October 1883, at Tamay and commissioned troops to cut logistics across the city. This plan concentrated   on Suaken-Sinkat Road te enable the revolutionists to besiege Suaken.

He cut the telegraph lines to separate garrisons from each other as one of the procedures to isolate the aggressive forces inside Suaken. He deprived Khedive and Britain from  any strategic advantages in using the East Front[28].

Fourth Stage: End of Blockade of Suaken:

        It was reported that the orders of Mahadi were to tighten the blockade, because the size of the government forces in Suaken and nature of the government defenses ,compared to the forces of Al-ansar and consequent losses among Al-ansar, if taken by force necessitated that. Also, Digna thought about the difficulty of maintaining Suaken if he managed to capture it, because the war ships anchored at sea, the city  could  be bombarded. Digna could have not face that bombardment because of the exceed fire. All these reasons prevented   Osman Digna from the invasion of the city. After the battle of Gemaiza,  Abdullah Al –taishy ordered Digna to move to Toker. He left the vgarrisons of Handub, Suaken and Tamay, but his raids did not stop. He attacked Halayeb and defeated the government at Khur Anbet in 1889. But, in 1891, the blockade on Suaken became less aggressive as the Britain commander Hold Smith managed to attack Al-ansar at Handub and Tamay and ended the blockade on Suaken.[29]. Because of the significance of the location of Suaken, the British, always defended it by themselves, so Osman Digna, for this reason, faced most of the commanders of the Victorian era  and the most famous of its men; Baker, Graham, Kitchener, Winget and Woodhouse. Consequently, he acquired a combat experience derived from the continuous fighting against those efficient commanders and their strong and trained armies in terms of number and equipment.  When Sudan was invaded in 1898 after strenuous battles fought by the Mahdia State inside and outside, Amir Osman Digna was the only commander remaining from the  army of the Khalifa who did not suffer from military backwardness like most of the commanders of Karari[30].


Osman Digna’s Genius in Confronting British Invasion in the North:

        The Khedive’s State in the second half of the ninetieths of the nineteenth century (1895)  was a mere shadow of its old past after it was stumbled on by the enemies . When it was decided to  invade Sudan by the British from the North and orders were issued to Khedive’s forces in 18 March 1096 to advance from the north, and the railway started to be built and Ferka the furthest point of Mahdia forces in the north, that was the beginning of the invasion of Sudan. The military posts of Mahdia State were cut off and removed one after another until the British forces arrived on 26 September at Maraui. Consequently, the Caliph lost the North of Sudan from Wadi Halfa to the land of Shigaeyah and the road was paved to move forward to south. The Caliph himself knew that seizing Dongola is only a preliminary step to a complete invasion of the Mahdia State[31] .

The Caliph’s Defensive Plan:

        Caliph Abdulla, from the moment he was informed of the battle of Ferka,  narched out with his Ansar from Omdurman to the outskirt of the city and began mobilization of armies from all parts of Sudan, thinking that the invading army approaching very quickly. When he thought it would not arrive soon, he returned to the city and waited news from Dongola until he heard that Wad Bushara was defeated. Then he thought that Kitchener was following the plan of Lord Wesley and divide his army at Korti into two divisions, one of them taking  the route of the Nile to Abu Hamed and Barber and the other would take the route of the desert to Matamma. He had sent for Mahmoud and his army in Darfur and he came in 1897 and was sent to Mattama to repel the desert army.

        He had sent for Ahmed Fadeel fro Gadarif and Osman Digna from Adarma and stationed them at Sabaluga. They stayed there for a time and then a rumor spread that Italians moved into Omdurman from Kasal. He returned Ahmed Fadeel to Gadaref to repel them and ordered Osman Digna  to join Mahmoud Wad Ahmed at Mattama[32].

        After the discrepancies between the Caliph and Amir Abdullah Wad Sad which lead the famous tragedy of Mattama and killing of Abdullah Wad Sad, Amir Osman Digna proposed to the Caliph in a letter on 13 September 1897, before joining Mahmoud’s army, to move Mahmoud from Mattama because (there is no observatory at Mattama to enable surveillance of the enemy as the river is wide at that point, so the interest of the religion requires moving from Mattama to Sabaloga. Sabloga had observatories that enable them to watch the enemy and connected to the capital and all the Islamic army would in one place and would be able to strike the enemy, repel him and send him back[33].

        Caliph Abdullah had told Mahmoud Wad Ahmed to withdraw to Sabaloga as a defensive line for Omdurman and repel the enemies approaching from the north, but, Mahmoud Wad Ahmed did not obey the order for fear of desertion of his army which was suffering from exhaustion of a long journey from the west and from boredom of war and waiting.

Digna’s letter in which he supported the point of view of the Caliph shows signs of disagreement which would rise later on between skilful commander, Osman Digna and the young Amir, Mahmoud Wad Ahmed.

        Anyway, Osman Digna received the  letter of the Caliph ordering him  join Mahmoud Wad Ahmed .In his letter to the Caliph, Osman Digna says :( then we say to our guardian that we are receipt of your noble letter dated 10 Ramadan and we have been informed that Mahmoud’s men are preparing to fight and we  will mobilize the army and move decisively to the front of Shandi to meet with the men of Mahmoud   and fight the enemy and defeat him[34].

        While Osman Digna shows he is ready to obey the orders of the Caliph and Join Mahmoud Wad Ahmed, fully convinced , as long as the aim is to repel the enemy and defeat them, at the same time he was clearly showing his opinion in the military plans because he is the commander fought most his battles against the English in the East.

        His obedience is not implicit , and when the Caliph asked him to take the Emirate of Dongola after Wad El- nujumy was killed, he asked to be excused because the place does not suit him and he cannot live in the ambiance  of the north which is full of disagreements as he is used to be unquestionably obeyed by his soldiers. He also feared that the tense front of Suaken would fall and nobody but him would be able to deal with those very strong Bija. He was greatly proud of himself.


Disagreement Between Digna and Wad Ahmed at the Battle of Nakhila:

        The joining of Osman Digna, the most famous living commander of Mahdia with four thousand soldiers of his men, which is all his forces which remained engaged in continuous military operations throughout the previous years was in itself a significant event.  Mahmoud asked Digna to join him with all his forces at Mattama  as his army was chosen to face Kitchener, but, Osman Digna did not bother himself to reply[35].  The military context required that the orders should come from the Caliph directly and not from a young Amir, such as Mamoud Wad Ahmed. In spite of that, when Osman Dongola  received the Caliph’s order, he didn’t hesitate. 

        When the Caliph asked Osman Digna to join Mahmoud , he wrote to Warn Mahmoud to be cautious in dealing with Digna. The famous commander is not only a commander of a force serving him, but he is the most senior military commander for the Caliph ( and his your senior in the Call). Osman Digna throughout his life acted as an independent commander and ruler and ASmir Of the East and he was not used to take orders except from the Caliph and Mahadi, before[36].

        Time proved the Caliph’s fears, as very soon dispute broke out between the famous fighter and the young commander.  The problem aggravated until Mahmoud  had to submit it to the Caliph .  After starting marching from Atbara  towards  Kitchener on 21 February, Mahmoud clung to the Nile bearing the shells of Kitchener’s fleet throughout his marching northward . Mahmoud’s plan was to march directly parallel to the Nile and launch a direct front attack on Kitchener at Atbara.  But Osman Digna; the strategian and expert , proposed to leave the Nile from Aliab and take a wide convolution to meet at Atbara River and march towards Kitchener. Osman Digna’s way showed a instinctive understanding of the dimensions of the offensive strategy. His indirect march to the left side of Kitchener takes him away from the fatal strategic mistake -  that is marching directly to him as proposed by Mahmoud. Digna’s strategy achieves the most important elements of the sound strategy; to place the enemy in a critical position and make him doubtful to which direction and to which target to launch the attack[37].

        Mahmoud’s march towards Atabara leaving the Nile will make Barber and Atbara within his reach and he will strike whichever he wants and will take him away from the burning fires and observation of the monitoring  battleships which Mahmoud’s river march will be exposed to. Regarding the supply, they can depend on Dom trees which cover the area.  The conflict intensified about which way to take. Finally, he referred to the Caliph to have his final word. The caliph replied supporting Osman Digna’s point view, so they left the Nile from Aliab and headed east towards Atbara[38].

        It was known that Osman Digna had acquired a wide experience in fighting the enemy , especially, the regular forces. He was fully aware of the power of the modern rifle. He gave his arguments to the young commander who apparently disliked him because the problem they were facing was very serious. If they were to act, they must avoid the direct confrontation.  Therefore, they must get around the camp at Atbara heading towards the desert, according to Digna’s proposal, then attack Barber and regain it, hoping that the people of Barber would help in the operation. Then, the railway, which is indispensible for the invaders,  will be cut, and when Al-ansar get behind the invading force, it will be practically finished. The war council had agreed to Digna’s point of view[39].

        Mahmoud was not so strategic to listen to Osman Digna, and this time, he did not leave the final decision for the Caliph. He inclined inward toward the enemy. When Mahmud got at Nakhila and chose his defensive position, the conflict broke out again on two points: Osman Digna had explained to Mahmoud that the nearness of the main course of the Nile and from the castle of Atbara will enable Kitchener to take Mahmoud by surprise after one long night march. Also, the defensive position in the middle of the dry Dom trees will make it prone to flame up with fire with the launching of the first shells from the artillery of the enemy. They would, sooner or later, to evacuate it and would be exposed to the enemy’s attack in the open land[40]. Mahmoud decided to camp at Nakhila and did not listen to Digna. He started to prepare his defense position and left the course of dry Atbara River clung to the rear of the enclosure. He headed with his enclosure to the north west. Mahmoud organized his defense in which Osman Digna took the rear of the enclosure waiting for the enemy[41].

        Kitchener had all information about the Mahmoud’s movement once by the steamers and once by cavalry, while Mahmoud  had no information about the enemy.  Supplies and food started to decrease and Mahmoud’s stores at Shandi were destroyed once they were left behind. While Ansar could live on eating Dom fruits, the situation did not last long.  The Ansar  soldiers, actually, started to sneak away as a result of hunger and fatal waiting[42].

        Kitchener marched with an army of strength of  sixteen thousand soldiers , tenty four artillery pieces,  a large number of  maxim guns and a missiles battery under the command of lieutenant David Pane toward   Mahmoud Wad Ahmed’s enclosure and engaged Mahmoud’s forces on the eighth of April 1898 in an epic battle where Ansar strived and brought more than two thousand martyrs and thousands of inured personnel including the commander Amir Wad Ahmed and Digna  left the enclosure before the resistance collapsed[43] . Zolfo reported from the stories told by Jackson about those who fought with Digna at the battle of Nakhila near Atbara, that Osman Dign, when he saw that Mahmoud had not listened to his advices, ordered his men to withdraw  before  the battle  if they saw they were losing and not to incur any losses. This is a story closer to the truth and conforms with Osman Digna’s fighting technique in case of enemy’s fire superiority as his strategy depended on the war of attrition and not involving his troops in a lost battle[44].

        Anyway, Osman Digna managed to withdraw with his remaining soldiers and headed east to Atbara River, but he found the Italians occupying Asbry and Fasher districts on River Setit and he was cut off from his base at the Red Sea. He marched to Gadaref and from there to Omdurman and joined the Caliph’s armies to begin with him planning for the decisive battle in front of the gates of Omdurman, the national capital of the Mahdia State[45] .


Digna’s Military Genius at Karary:

        After the loss of Mahdia loss at the battle of Nakhila and capture of Mahmoud Wad Ahmed and taking him to Rosetta prison in Egypt where he  stayed until he died in 1906, the road was paved to Omdurman. At the end of August 1898 ,  British and Egyptian forces of a strength of  twenty five thousand men assembled at Wad Hamed, only sixty miles away from Omdurman. That army was a new army completely different from the army lead by Wellesley one decade before . this army has a modern artillery, highly explosive shells, machine guns, spotlights, advanced rifles, battleships and large numbers of  well trained warriors[46].

        On the hand, Caliph  Abdullah had a large of warriors of incomparable courage beside him, but he did not have anything to face the fire power and the innovative technology in the late nineteenth century which Kitchener mobilized  against him. The options available before the caliph in 1898 were less than that available for Mahdy  in 81-1885.

        The caliph was a ruler and not a religious symbol for a people, like Mahdy, and Mahdia was no longer the mighty power it had been , after drained by the internal and external wars when Kitchener started marching toward Omdurman on twenty eighth of  August 1898.

        The caliph Abdullah El _Taishi  had spent the months following the battle of Nakhila on 8 April 1898 in counseling with his military and civilian top leaders on they should do for the pending invasion of Mahdia State. The caliph had two kinds of  councils;  a Shura Council which includes caliphs, Yagub, senior Amirs and main banner agents, and another council that includes judges and scholars.  In the field, both councils are combined in one council and the second council gains importance. The caliph’s council convened in the first week of may and attended by the caliph with others: caliph Ali Wad Hilo, caliph Mohamed Sherif, Amir Yagub, Amir Osman Digna, Osman Sheikh Eldin, Ibrahim Khalil, Ahmed Abdul Kariem (yellow banner agent), Abdullah Abu Suar (green banner agent), Yagu8b Abu Zeinab, Osman Azrag and Mohamed Bushara [47].

        The caliph gave the latest information he received from the scouts to the council. Caliph Mohamed Sherif started to speak and proposed to face the enemy at Sabaloga after occupying it. That was, also, the point of view of  Ibrahim Alkhalil and Osman Digna. The plan, according to Ibrahim Al Khalil, boils down to going north and engaging the enemy at Sabaloga provided that towers should be built on both sides of the narrow course of the Nile and all the artillery should be moved to them (50 pieces).

        Part of the army shall amass them fill in the course of the Nile at the cataracts which is relatively narrow there and build barriers using large stone blocks at the cataract a line after a line. This plan should protect against the battleships that would be a close target from the narrow course of the Nile. The narw course of the Nile in itself and the nature of the high mountains that directly overlook the Nile would make any force, no matter how simple, effective from that site and incapacitate  the battleships. In this case, Kitchener will have one of two choices; either try to go around the Sabaloga Heights to proceed  to Omdurman and try to assault the infantry positions to advance toward the main force , and here facing the main army will be easy because the most important of its components (battleships and artillery)  will have been separated from it, or Kitchener will stop pinned around his incapacitated battleships and easier can ramming it[48].   

        Zolfo believes Al-Khalil’s point of view originally the point of view of Osman Digna, because Al-Khalil had never seen that area before. This a probable belief because when Osman Digna spoke, he supported  Al-Khalil’s plan, but disagreed with him on the  defensive nature. Digna spoke for a long time in his local accent with insight and profound thinking which amazed the others. He was the only expert among the present at fighting the English. His point of view was the entire army of the caliph  should attack after fortifying positions with artillery and barriers at Sabaloga on a certain time determined by the scout parties[49]. However, the caliph decided to meet the  enemy at the doors of Omdurman and he chose Karary Mountain as the battlefield to defend the capital of the Mahdia  national State. On Thursday the first of September, the caliph marched with his army from Al-Arda Square to meet Kitchener’s army.  At Mountain Sargham, Kitchener stooped watching the caliph’s army and he saw it three miles away approaching Karary roaring on the ground like a sea of high waves and he thought the caliph would attack him that day. He immediately returned from the mound  and began to prepare to meet him. Then the news came that the caliph was intending to attack at night, and since that was not in their favor, Kitchener’s  intelligence  spies from Agiga Village and they spread the news at the caliph’s camp  that the army was going to attack them before nightfall, in order to make them  busy themselves in preparing to defend instead of attacking at night[50].


Digna And Attack at Night or During the Day:

        The caliph held a meeting, from his side, for the formations leaders council attended by Amir Yagub, Amir Osman Digna, Amir Ahmed Abdul Karim, Amir Abdullah Abu Suar , Amir Shaikh Eldin , Amir Ibrahin Al Khalil, Amir Yunis Al Dekaim, Amir Osman Azrag, Osman Al Dkaim and Mohamed Bushara. Ibrahim Al Khalil spoke first and supported the opinion of immediate attack at early night on the evening of Thursday 1 September. Al-Khalil said: ( I saw the infidels. If you give me Shekh Eldin’s  quarters I will give their bodies in trhe morning).  Meaning to begin the attack with the lieutenants’ fires under his command and the that operation to continue pre-dawn when the rest of the army should  storm Kitchener’s enclosure[51]. Osman Digna spoke after Al Khalil for a long time and concluded his speech supporting the night attack and said: ( I have known the English for fifteen years  and the good idea is to attack them at night. Only  the war of deception works against them ). Osman Digna and  they looked at him admiringly. The man does not speak nonsense, but from many years experience of severe fighting against Suaken garrison and the famous squares of Graham. The caliph who had not seen a single English soldier except the dead body of Hex Pasha and Gordon’s head, was very amazed by the Osman Digna’s speech and he was the most one dazzled  by his opinion. He listened him smiling, then a long discussion began among a number of commanders[52].

        Osman Digna, Azrag and Khalil were the most important surviving commanders and they believed that the night attack might neutralize the firearms which depend on aiming during the daylight and attacking in the morning will make the Answar who will be attacking from the west to the east face the sunlight and that would weaken their vision and make them an easy target for the enemy’s firearms and  the guns of his ships, but their opinion was defeated. The attack was decided to take place in the morning and it was a tragic decision  because Kitchener was scared from a night attack but that did not happen[53].

Osman Digna’s duty which was assigned to him was securing the caliph’s withdrawal and preventing the enemy from advancing  on the left side parallel to the Nile with a force of 700 soldiers of his brave soldiers who fought with him the battles of the east, and with his usual genius, he chose Khur Alsonot as a most appropriate place to cover the withdrawal for the following reasons;-

        The area deep and covered with a clay layer  due to rain. It  is a abrupt area with sandy edges and the edges of the khur are covered with shrubs and grasses for general hiding of the troops. The area  blocks the direct road  which joins Omdurman with the Kitchener’s enclosure, and it is in fact the shortcut.

        Digna’s plan primarily depended on hitting the enemy by prepared ambush in a suitable area (killing zone) where his balance is equivalent to the enemy’s and  the enemy’s overwhelming fires are decreased or neutralized. Therefore, Khur Sonot was the suitable place for this plan.

The area helps troops distribution in a way that guarantees luring the enemy, then,  the close-hand fighting with the enemy. This is what happened in fact[54].

        Digna’s troops at Karary represented a different model of the rest of the troops participating in the defense of Omdurman. Digna’s troops were from Bija in general and Hadandawa in particular. They differ in terms of environment and terrain. It is noted that the tribes of the East, even their individual quarrels and fighting, depend on  the flash surprise. This necessitated frequently directing their blows from the back and they were perfect at the speed of separating from the enemy. It is difficult to imagine another way these people could achieve their objectives if we considered the countermeasures they faced represented in short of men and the type of the enemy they faced and the horrors they experienced in the raging fighting , constant movement and big losses. The Eastern force was the most experienced and knowledge of the British army for a long time, and they knew more about the enemy’s tactics, ways  and more superior weapons[55].

        On the Karary Day, when the battle began, Digna’s distinction was evident as usual and inflicted on the enemy heavy losses. They know him well and he was in the British press for fifteen years. How did Digna act in this battle despite of his lack of conviction with the strategy of caliph Abdullah Al Taishi?

Enemy Confrontation:

        The caliph said addressing Osman Digna: ( You, Sheikh Osman, may Allah bless you for the protection of the religion……please guard the sea). Osman Digna proceeded with his men toward Sirkab. At the beginning, he marched behind the lines of Al Khalil Ibrahim, but he separated and headed directly toward the east taking a covered pass through the short trees of Khur Abu Sonot.

        Neither the legendary commander  nor his famous fighters were in their best mood that day. He lost the best of his aids, including  his chief of staff, Mohamed Musa Digna, his nephew the brave creative fighter and Mohamed Al Taher Al Magzub; the most efficient of his men. No one remained from his old quarters Amirs, except Ibrahim Said,  with a force not more than seven hundred fighters of his most loyal men. Years of fighting, continuous arduous movement or even the heavy loss at the Nakhila battle  did not succeed in weakening their trust and loyalty to their commander. Digna’s firepower was not more than thirty rifles, all that was left from thousands of rifles he captured at the garrisons of Suaken, Toker and battles of Elteb and Tamay.  That situation determined his duty on the way to withdraw to Omdurman. He was not assigned an offensive duty within the different stages of the caliph’s plan[56] although the caliph provided him with a  reinforcement quarter of a strength of  two thousand soldiers and  150 rifles.

        Osman Digna waited the last meeting with his old enemies; the British, and when the caliph arrived immediately after the  reinforcement quarter,  Digna hurried to receive him and the caliph told Osman Digna  what he had seen about the advance of the  cavalry of the enemy.

        Osman Digna returned to organize his increasing force after the reinforcement quarter had joined it. All that was with the caliph’s knowledge as he was so interested in the expected battle  that he left his secured command position and went on to supervise the battle from a close distance[57].

        Kitchener says about the ambush which was set by Osman Digna at Khur Abu Sonot Battle: ( 250 yards away,  the black men were firing their rifles madly (….) . the step was fast and distance short, but before we cross half of the distance, suddenly all the situation changed. A course of rain water appeared; a small stream that we thought a flat plain. Suddenly from within this stream came out a human mass with the length of our division and depth of twelve groups of fighters and horses as if they are  a demonic sprout . They  carried a dozen bright flags. Their fighters rushed forward to receive the shock and the others stood steadfast waiting for us….[58].

        So, the final image was complete to catch the famous spearmen division which was commissioned to cut the way for the caliph’s return  to Omdurman to fight a street war and avoid the fire superiority of the enemy. More than two thousand fighters under the command of Digna sat on the ground with the heads of their bayonets upward concealed with the abrupt depression of Khur Abu Sonot  for six feet above the level of the ground. After organizing his men, Osman addressed his men. His loud voice rose as usual to reach the rifle carriers who gave him their backs. He reminded them that their first duty was to dismount the enemy from their horses to the ground and then cause losses among the enemy’s lines[59].

Digna continues explaining his plan: “when the mounting enemy lost his horses  and their cavalry dismounted  it will be easy for you to destroy them. The first duty is to destroy the horses. No matter how much you have suffered losses by the enemy fire, when they are in your midst,  your number superiority  will tolerate it”. [60].

        After Digna wished his soldiers good luck, he retreated a little to where the caliph was and climbed the edge of the khur (dry stream) to observe the enemy, and when the spearmen paralleled him, he signaled with his hand to the rifle carriers to open fire. They stuck on the ground and opened effective fires and the enemy’s cavalry started to fall down one after another.  The range was close and the target clear. When the battalion slowed down to have an offensive formation, Osman Digna feared that the intention of the enemy would be stop advancing directly toward him or go around him, so he signaled with hand to seize fire. His men seized fire despite the cavalry of the enemy was at four hundred yards from them.  When the enemy lined up and rushed in their quick attack and they could not escape crashing into his fighter, he ordered them to stand up on the ground  absorb the shock[61].

        The momentum of  the enemy’s cavalry from the spearmen battalion took them to the heart of Osman Digna’s troops in the middle of the ambush. They were lead by Churchill who rushed with his horse to penetrate the the lines of Ansar and crossed the khur to the left side. Then, he returned to the assembly area to save one of the British soldiers who lost his horse at the battle[62].  Churchill himself describes this scene when was of horsemen  fell victim of a trick and an ambush by Osman Digna, in his book “River War”  (… the reaction of the spearmen to this surprise   was to increase speed of running so that every horseman might pass that formidable line. The horsemen on the flanks withdrew inward in a shape of a crescent. Al this took a few seconds and enemy’s riflemen shooting  bravely to the end, but the horses of the horsemen swept them and more than 30 horsemen fell with them in the khur and more than 200 Arabs,also, fell . The Surprise was astounding for both sides. For ten seconds no one  took notice of his enemy. The Frightened horses jumped among the crowd . Injured men shaken  by surprise are heaped (..). Collision of two human walls with each other. Ansar fought bravely. They tried to injure the knees of the horses. They fired their rifles until the barrels of their rifles touched the bodies of their enemies. They cut the leather belts, threw their spears hard  and used all techniques  known in war to fight the cavalry. They brought out their swords that thrust deep. The man to man fighting had ended after nearly one minute.   Then, the horses began to dash and spearmen got rid of their foes and after two minutes from the fearful clash, every surviving man one out of the Ansars’ masses of bodies. The ones who fell were hit with swords until they died, but they was no technical mayhem of the bodies..[63]).

        Churchill adds in his description of predicament of the invaders who fell in the ambush made by Osman Digna. (….this is a special battle. The other battle was perhaps a massacre, but here, the fighting is equal and fair because we also fight with bayonets and swords . Actually they have the advantage of the land and number. It appears all want to the settle the account as soon as possible and for good.  Cost of our unplanned attach and the impasse began to appear to the seniors. Horses without horsemen running on the plains, men hanging out their saddles and blood seeping from more than one wound , horses suffering from terrible stabs and limping with their horsemen on their backs. In 120 seconds, 5 officers, 65 soldiers and 119 horses died or injured, among 400 men..)[64].

Colonel Martin tried to reorganize his troops and encircle Digna’s troops. Then, he stopped and headed west to open fires on the Digna’s flank, and of course their mounting nature enabled them to accomplish the maneuver in a quick manner.

        But, the reaction of Digna, the expert in such war tactics, was quicker. He quickly changed his confrontation to interdict  his enemy from pouring his fires on his left flank and he pushed his troops outside the khur . Digna assembled his lines to advance and attack the enemy who was interchanging fires with him at a distance of 600 yards. But, the caliph Abdullah who was watching the situation after he mounted his horse ready to withdraw, ordered Digna to stop fighting. After short skirmishes, the British spearmen stopped attack, assembled again and returned in heavy slow steps to the enclosure to the north carrying their dead and wounded men[65].

Kitchener had not heard the news of the battle of the British spearmen yet when he decided to  order the infantry to go out of the enclosure and  head to Omdurman.

        That action of Colonel Martin not only destroyed his battalion, but also prevented him from carrying out his main  mission in the foreword observation  and monitoring the rest of the retreating troops of the caliph towards Omdurman to prevent them to return to the city and become fortified. Many of the Ansar were moving on the plains or on the low mountain slopes, but there were no massive assemblies, and it appeared that the Karary battle had almost  ended[66]. Osman Digna was witty at planning and the  administration of Abu Sonot Battle which he4 wanted as it was. He attracted the enemy towards him and showed them a small part of his force to tempt them to attack. He was successful in the selection of the wide deep land at that spot of Abu Sobot, so that the enemy will have no way but inevitably fall in it. He direct his familiar strikes to the horses, first, instead of horsemen at their relative height on the ground. He was quick in his reaction and changing his confrontation to avoid their fires, wise in his refuse to pursue a mounted enemy  by an infantry armed with small arms[67].

        This is Churchill’s description of  Khur Sonot battle at which he fought against Osman Digna. Here becomes apparent the prominence of Osman Digna and his experience in war despite of the small number of his men which did not exceed two thousand  even after the involvement of units from Ibrahim Al Khalil’s troops.

        The caliph saw Osman Digna’s  method for the first time as he was sitting on a carpet on the ground. He admired  him very much as he realized that that small force destroying  the enemy’s forces while his large army did not manage even to get at the enemy. They  were devastated by the infernal war machine at far distances.  Despite their courage and determination, they could not defeat the enemy. Here comes the qualitative difference in the art of command and genius of great commanders is manifested. Osman Digna made a miracle with standards of that day of Friday September 1898. Osman Digna’s troops were the only force which was enabled by its smart command to engage and cling with the enemy hand in hand. At Karay, the question was not how to kill the enemy, but how to get at him.  To that end, blood flowed like rivers and thousands of lives were lost. But, Osman Dina made his men grab on the enemy.

        Of course, Osman Digna was used to English tactics, especially, the cavalry. What happened was exactly a repletion of what had happened at Tamai against Graham when Osman Digna assaulted with a few echelons and when Graham’s cavalry dashed at them, Digna penetrated the rear side of the square with his small arms infantry.


Osman Digna’s Withdrawal After Um Debaikrat Battle and Capturing Taking Him Prisoner:-

        Caliph Abdulla Al Taishi had left Omdurman after his defeat at Karary on his way to the west. This time, he was not at the head of his enormous armies with which he marched yesterday to Karary full of confidence in victory. This time he was at the head of bereaved and orphans.  He quickly  overcame his shock paralysis of the horrors of the turbulent day. He decided to act like Osman Digna and resume fighting and this is not the end of everything. He headed west to remobilize his forces and begin facing the enemy once again. There is still there Ahmed Fadeels’ army in Gadaref,  AlKhateem Musa’s army in Obeyed and Arabi Dafallah’s army at Al-rajjaf.  He will send for them to join him and then, they will  break into Omdurman and enter it victorious as he did with Imam Mahdi thirteen years before.

        He was surrounded by a number of Amirs, at the head of all the great fighter Osman Digna. Yunis Al Dikaim and his son Osman Shekh Eldin, Abdul Bagi El Wakeel, Yagub Abu Zeinab, Siddig Al Mahdi and a large number of lieutenants who returned with Sheikh Eldin after they had joined him in Omdurman[68].

        The invading enemy tried frequently to eliminate the caliph Abdullah Al Taishi and his companions  and Winged caught  the caliph while marching to Omdurman at Umdebaikrat, near Kosti in November 1899, and in a swift confrontation, the  modern weapons eliminated the caliph’s forces which did not exceed seven thousand fighters.

        Nearly one thousand men of the caliph’s army were either killed or injured and 3150 men and 6250 women and children were taken prisoners. Besides the caliph,  Caliph Ali Wad Hilo, Amir Ahmed Fadeel, Amir Basheer Agab Alfih, Amir Hamed Ali, Al Siddig Ibn Al Mahdi and Harun Mohamed, the brother of the caliph were also killed. Amir Osman Sheikh Aldin ,Amir Yunis Aldekaim, Amir Ali Farfar, Amir AlKhateem Musa, Amir Smael Ahmed and Amir fadl Husna were taken prisoners. But, Osman digna escaped captivity and headed east. So, Osman Digna managed to withdraw from the battlefield after they lost the battle at Um Debaikrat. That was his tactics at all unequal battles with the enemy. He was asked about his strategy and answered: ( I do my best before the war to assemble the Ansars and urge them to fight bravely and strong determination and if the enemy overwhelmed my army I withdraw not because I love withdrawal or fear death but to escape  being taken a prisoner.  I want to live to defeat them and I collect my men once again and go back to fight them until I find to defeat them[69]. Osman Digna ran away before the ninth battalion could envelop the caliph’s headquarters and with his usual swiftness he  reached the Nile. He crossed it in the darkness  near Duaim and crossed Gazira  in a quick dash and continued walking  and crossed Atabara River at Adarama and reached the mountains on the coasts of the Red Sea. He remained hidden in a cave waiting for a boat to sail him to Hijaz. He was harbored by Sheikh Mohamed Ali Omer Aur, the Sheikh of Jamilab and he told him his intention and asked him to help him to get a boat from one of the ports of The Red Sea far from the cities. The Sheikh agreed and promised him and thought to betray him[70].

        At that time, the  occupation authorities were tired of searching everywhere looking for him and a financial prized had been allocated for anyone to guide them to him dead or alive. The Sheikh sent his nephew to report to the authorities the hiding place of Digna. The governor of Suaken asked Sardar Kitchener to give him permission to arrest Digna  and sent Major Barges,  the inspector of the province with a party of the army soldiers and Major Mohamed Beck Ahmed, the police commandant  of Suaken to Sheikh Mohamed Ali Aur who guided them to the hiding place of Digna. This force encircled the cave while Digna’s servant was preparing food and Digna was lying down reading from The Quran when he heard the dog barking. He asked the servant who was told by his master to grab hold of him and the servant said the was barking at some passing cattle. Digna resume d his reading, then, he was surprised by the soldiers entering. He was immediately arrested and they found with him a bag containing some doum fruits. He was wearing a Gibba (robe) and a turban and they put him in irons. While the soldiers were shackling him  in chains he did not turn to them, but turned to his friend who betrayed him and said him bitterly: ( Wad Ali I am arrested. I hope you have not sold me at cheap price[71]).

        The soldiers took Osman Digna To Suaken after he had been arrested on 18 January 1900. Then. He was moved to Cairo 27 January and on the same day, he was sent to Rosetta Prison to join the Ansar prisoners of war, then to Damietta[72]. Naum Shugair and many others tried to debrief him but he refused to talk. Some tried to make him change his mind in order to release him from detention but he also refused. When he was to moved to the prison in Wadi Halfa, he remained in the same principles believing in Mahdia. He  discomfited many very important visitors who visited him at the detention including the King of Britain and the Khedive of Egypt.

In 1924, he allowed to perform pilgrimage and Al Saud tried to convince him to stay in Hijaz but he refused and returned to his detention in Halfa and died in 1926 and was buried in Halfa. When it was decided to build the high dam, his dead body was removed in the early sixtieths to Arkawit  where he remains buried there now.



        No military commander of the leaders and symbols of the Mahdist Revolution received  as much attention as that received by Osman Digna in the British public opinion and western public opinion, in general for causing heavy human and material  losses among his British and Turkish enemies, and for intelligence, farsightedness, ability to maneuver  and quick to act by which he overstrained his enemies throughout fifteen years he spent in the East until his enemies despaired.

        Not only the coincidence which made Osman Digna start his military expedition against the ambitions of the Vast British Empire after two years from the startof the Mahdist Revolution in 1881 , one year from crushing Orabi’s Revolution in Egypt in 1882 and  its occupation by the British forces and one year before Berlin Conference which allowed the colonization in Africa to devour the flesh of the already overtired Black Continent. The difference was big between those who sat in the lobbies of that conference and those who were tired from the Turkish rule and cruelty over sixty years until the national views unified to get rid of the usurper occupier wherever it comes from and under any logo or name.  the national awareness, knowledge, piety, courage and intelligence are qualities in the confrontation of the enemy.  All were combined in Amir Osman Digna and he invested them perfectly. Yes, the difference was so big between his capacities and his enemy’s capacity which he was able to reduce his intelligence. Digna never knew the no man’s land that separated between two fighting forces. He didn’t work himself hard to reach the heart of the enemy who dispersed within a few minutes. Such are the characteristics of the east where you find high hills and extending mountain series over the horizon. There, where vultures dart on their preys. The nights of Bija and  Digna’s fighters learned darting on the enemy to shatter all the modern military theories. How the sword neutralizes the gun and how the spears neutralize the machine guns. Digna fight stupid wars. He swirled around the enemy around his prey   as vultures do  to choose the right time to dart on him. His force did not break or weaken.  He fights and retreats when he decides in a manner that always  agitates his enemies.



        The east very was costly for the British who bundled their military honor their ambitions and hatreds to duck behind them in their struggle against Digna. But, he destroyed the British vanity by destroying the invincible famous squares at the first and second battles with the British and the remaining Turks.

He was a successful military command, preacher and eloquent speaker in war and peace .He gave the best examples in his belief in Mahdism, his home country and his loyalty to Mahdi  and his caliph after him. He disagreed with the caliph in his military tactics and plans, but he did not let him down or leave the battlefields until the last moment before arresting him in 1900.

        At the time of the invasion of Sudan  in 1896, the Mahdi State was only shadow of its old  past. Digna had lost most of his commanders in relentlessly cruel wars to secure the eastern front and to prevent from being a cross bridge for invaders, and he was successful. Seven fighters only from the terrible Bija fighters were with Digna on the day of the battle in Karary, but they did miracles on that bloody day of the second of September 1898. They fought in the samr way they had fought in the East of Sudan with the difference of the terrain , climate and size and capacities of the enemy (hit the horse and sever the legs of the camels). That was Dign’s strategy to disperse his enemies.

Osman Digna preempted his time militarily with the qualitative difference between his resources and others’ resources throughout his long national struggle  against the invaders.



It is necessary to study Osman Digna’s  the everlasting record by military institutes and colleges to read it in the light of its time.

Researchers shall uncover the secret of his loyalty and his political, military and administrative genius which made the East of Sudan , despite the rough roads, clung to its national entity.


Sources and References

Drar Saleh Drar, Modern History of Sudan, Al Hayat Bookshop, Beirut 1968, P. 146.

Osman Digna’s Diary, checked out by Mohamed Ibrahim Abu Saleim, Dal El Habal, Beirut, 1991, P. 7

The same source

Drar Saleh Drar, previous reference, P.

Mohamed Said Al Gaddal, Modern History of Sudan, Abdul Kareem Migani’s Center, Khartoum, ed- 2002, P. 208

Osman Digna’s Diary, previous reference, P.11

Same source, P.  (d)

Naum Shugair, History of Sudan, checked out and introduced by Mohamed Ibrahim Abu Saleem, Dar Al Jabal , Beirut, 1981, P. 420-421

Same source, P. 421

Mohamed Sulaiman Saleh Drar, The Amir of the East, Osman Dign,  Dar Al Sudania Bookshop, Kjartom , without date, P. 22

Esmat Zalfo, Karary, Printing & Publishing House, Khartoum University, 1973, P. 252-253

Same reference, P. 253-254

Abdulrahman Diab, Osman Digna, Air Defence Training Institute, Khartoum, 1985,P. 3

Same reference, P. 15

Same reference, P. 16

Same reference, P. 16-17

Osman Digna’s Diary, previous reference, P.  30-31

Abdulrahman Arbab, previous reference, P. 16-17

Esmat Zalfo, previous reference, P. 255

Same reference

Same reference

Same reference

Abdulrahman Arbab, previous reference, 15

Osman Digna’s Diary, previous reference, P.  111

Same source

Mohamed Saleh Drar, Suaken and The Red Sea, Dar ElSudania Bookshop, Khartoum, 1981, P.

Same reference, P. 91

Abdulrahman Arbab, previous reference, P.9

Osman Digna’s Diary, previous reference, P.  97

Abdulrahman Arbab, previous reference, P.11

Esmat Zalfo, P. previous reference, P.256

Halt, previous reference, P. 259-261

Naum Shugair, Mahdia in Sudan, Translated by Dr. Amil Ebaid. Revised by Ahmed Abdulrahman Mustafa, Dar Elfikr el –arabi, (without reference) 1978-P. 880-881

Osman Digna’s Diary, previous reference, P.  430

Same reference, P. 439

Esmat Zalfo, P. previous reference, P.235

Sdame reference

Mohamed Sulaiman Saleh Drar, previous reference, P. 122-123

Halt , previous reference, P. 269

Winston Churchill, The River War , translated by Ezeldin Mahmoud,  Public Egyptian Corporation for Book, Cairo, 2002,P. 192.

Esmat Zalfo, P. previous reference, P.236

Same reference, P. 237

Winston Churchill, previous reference, P. 192-193

Robin Nilland, Wars of Mahdism, translated Abdul Gader Abdulrahman, Al Wohda -Printing Houses, Abu Dhabi, 2002, P. 234-2-36

. Esmat Zalfo, P. previous reference, P.237

Mohamed Said Al Gaddal, previous reference, P. 315

Robin Nilland, previous reference, P. 240

. Esmat Zalfo, P. previous reference, P.237

Same reference , P. 338-339

Same reference, P. 339

Naum Shugair , Mhdia in Sudan, P. 930

Esmat Zalfo, P. previous reference, P.409

Same reference, P. 409- 410

Mohamed Said Al Gaddal, previous reference, P. 316

Abdulrahman Arbab, previous reference, P.13

Esmat Zalfo, P. previous reference, P.288

Same reference, P. 481

Esmat Zalfo, P. previous reference, P.483

Winston Churchill, previous reference, P. 255

Esmat Zalfo, P. previous reference, P.489

Same reference

Same reference

Robin Nilland, previous reference, P. 249

Winston Churchill, previous reference, P. 256

Same source, P. 256-257

Esmat Zalfo, P. previous reference, P.494

Robin Nilland, previous reference, P. 249-250

Esmat Zalfo, P. previous reference, P.497

Same reference, P. 553

Naum Shugair, Mahdia in Sudan, P. 961-962

Same source, P. 962

Esmat Zalfo, P. previous reference, P.962

Naum Shugair, Mahdia in Sudan, P. 961-962

















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