Posted on August 25, 2020 / 146
Listing Type : Coaling Station
Location : Yemen

Prior to the British involvement in Aden it was largely under the loose control of the Ottoman Turks, although local tribal leaders held effective day to day control.  The Turks built a line of defence across the Isthmus to stop raids by tribal groups from the mainland.  Aden was occupied by the British East India Company (BEIC) on 18th January 1839 as part of a campaign to stop piracy conducted against shipping transiting to India.  Aden was thereafter administered as Aden Settlement, part of British India.  Initially the British East India Company concentrated on protecting the urban areas and anchorages.  This saw defences constructed in the following locations:

  • Isthmus Defences.  A new defence line, built closer to the mountain range
  • Steamer Point
  • Hejaf and Little Pass
  • Crater Defences including Sirah Island

While a useful naval base, Aden did not become a major priority until the Suez Canal opened .  With the opening of the Canal, a naval force operating from Aden could effectively seal the entrance to hostile vessels, thus preventing it being used by any enemy.  Aden also proved an ideal location for the steamships that need to replenish their coal bunkers and it became a coaling station.

Perim Island, which was also under British control, lay some one hundred and eight miles (174 km) to the West of Aden, and sat at the mouth of the Red Sea.  Perim Island was considered as a coaling station but being only three miles (5.6 km) by two miles (7 km) it was too small to be viable as a major base.  Perim was used for commercial coaling and linked to the undersea telegraphic cable.

The defence of Aden was considered in 1870, 1872, 1879 and 1881.  The Colonel Crossman report in June 1882 was accepted by the Royal Commission on the Defence of British Possessions and Commerce Abroad under the Chair of Lord Carnarvon. Steps were then taken to provide adequate coastal defences to Aden Settlement and its’ coaling facilities.

The Isthmus Defences, orginally built by the British East India Company, had limited artillery by 1869.

  • Victoria Battery 1 x 7-inch RBL
  • Left Demi Bastion no guns
  • Right Demi Bastion no guns
  • Right Redan 1 x 7-inch RBL

For General Defence the following armament was approved:

  • 2 x 40-pdr RML
  • 6 x 9-pdr RML
  • 7 x 7-pdr RML
  • 13 x 3-pdr QF
  • 10 x machine guns

Notes from Sir A Clarke, the Inspector-General of Artillery indicate that at this time (1883) Aden mount the following modern guns:

Fort Morbut, at this time was a two storied tower inside a masonry and earthwork line of defence with:

  • 2 x 9-inch RML guns
  • 1 x 7-inch RBL gun
  • West Cliff Battery just below the Fort with 4 x 9-inch RML

Fort Tarshayne with

  • 2 x 9-inch RML guns
  • 4 x 7-inch RBL guns

Additional artillery pieces were mounted at Hejaff (and Little Pass) Isthmus Defences and Crater Defences (see below).

The cost of works proposed for Aden were to be equally split between the British Indian Government and the Imperial Government. Thus it took some years to resolve exactly what fortifications should be built.  In January 1886 the following armament was agreed for Forts Morbut and Tarshayne as:

  • 5 x 10-inch BL guns
  • 12 x 6-inch BL guns
  • 12 x 12-pdr QF guns
  • 4 machine guns
  • 4 x 32-pdr SB BL guns for ditch defence
  • 6 x 8-inch howitzers as moveable armaments

Work on the Fort Tarshayne and Morbut commenced in August 1886 but the total cost of £270,000 caused concern to both the UK Treasury and Indian Government.  The final authorised estimate in 1887 was nearly half the original with the following costs:

Tarshayne and Morbut Forts    £103,160

Position Finding Cells                   £1,840

Minor works                                   £22,000

(These minor works were at El Hejar & Little Pass, El Ainah, Amum Khel, Sha Sham Signal Station, Road to Amun Khel)

Total                                                   £129,000

The final result in 1894 was as follows:

Fort Morbut, with the old tower integrated into the new works.  Armed with:

  • 2 x 10-inch BL HP
  • 8 x 6-inch BL HP
  • 4 x 6-pdr QF

Fort Tarshayne armed with:

  • 3 x 10-inch BL HP
  • 4 x 6-inch BL HP
  • 2 x 7-inch RBL in casemates
  • 2 x 6-pdr QF

The Forts had machine guns in the caponiers, rather than the intended 32-pdr SB BL.  Fort Tarshayne had two machine guns while Fort Morbut had six machine guns.

The two works built at Hejaf were:

  • El Hejaf Battery with 1 x 9-inch RML and 2 x 25-pdr RML
  • El Ainah Battery with 2 x 9-inch RML
  • El Ainah Lower Spur 1 x 9-inch RML

The Crater Positions included:

  • High Munsoorie with no artillery
  • Seera Hill with 2 x 9-inch RML
    Related Listings