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In spite of the British victory at El Teb, General Graham was aware that Osman Digna’s Mahdist force was far from broken, and the formerly cocky British troops now aware that their foes displayed a courage that bordered on the fanatic. The advance from Suakin was therefore hesitant, through natural caution, waether and the difficulty with supplies. As the newspapers of the day reported: ‘A violent sandstorm delayed the moevement considerably. The building of the Berber Railway has been suspended outside of Suakin owing to the inabiliyt of the army to afford protection along the line beyond the camp. It has been decided that the forces necessary for such protection cannot be afforded for such protection, at least until after the impending battle at Tamai, which expectd to be decisive, shall have been fought.’

 

The newspaper report, dated 28 March, was two weeks out of date, probably owing to the levels of censorship imposed as well as the difficulties of communication, because the ‘decisive’ battle was fought on the 13th. The night before, as described in Dash For Khartoum, the British camped not far from Osman Digna's positions and came under localised fire. Fortunately, the Hadendoa again proved poor shots and inflicted few casualties. The skirmishers were eventually driven off by artillery fire as soon as it was light enough for the gunners to see their enemy.

 

Storm Over Khartoum’s rendering of the actions of the battle are very accurate, graphically describing the advance of the two infantry squares, one commanded by Colonel Davis and General Graham, and the other by Colonel Redvers Buller, and the way in which Graham’s unwise decision to let the Black Watch (42nd Highlanders) break the formation to attack. This action resulted in the heaviest casualties of any battle of the Mahdist war. Only the fact that Buller kept his square tight and came to the rescue saved the day, that and the dismounted cavalry units, including Edgar Clinton, that had not been engaged until then. Osman Digna's camp was captured later that day, but – as usual – Osman Digna had already fled the immediate region.

 

In its political aims, the victory was effectively a failure, however the newspapers exaggerated its importance. It had been hoped that the defeat would weaken Osman Digna’s hold over the Hadendoa tribesmen, but within months, and after the British withdrawal from the Suakin area, Osman was back, as strong as ever. Winston Churchill’s harsh summary, written as a part of his early history of the ‘The River War’ (the subsequent re-conquest of the Sudan under Herbert Kitchener), is apt: ‘…as they [Graham's force] fought without reason, they conquered without profit.

Key Facts 3: Battle of Tamai

                                          March 1884: Appears in Chapter 8

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Soldiers advancing from Suakin towards Tamai.

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