Sunday, July 07, 2019

Muslim Attack on Australian Picnic Train: 1915 at Broken Hill

Rifles and flag used in the Picnic Train Attack by Muslims in Broken Hill Australia, 1 January, 1915

One of the lesser known, but informative actions of the First World War, was an attack, by Muslims, on a picnic train of unarmed civilians in Australia. The attack killed four civilians. A quick response by police, soldiers and civilians killed the two attackers after they took up a defensive position on a nearby hill top at Broken Hill, in New South Wales.

At the start of the First World War, the Ottoman Empire had not chosen sides. Blunders by the British Empire and internal plotting inside the Ottoman Empire dragged the Ottomans into the war on the side of Germany.

A day after declaring war on Germany, on 5 August, 1914, the British confiscated two nearly completed Ottoman warships in British yards. The ships  had been paid for by donations from Ottoman subjects. The Prime Minister of the Ottoman Empire, Sait Halim, was outmaneuvered by the Minister for War, Enver Pasha. Enver was able to engineer an attack on Russian naval forces in the Black Sea, on 29 October, 1914. In addition to military targets, 14 civilian ships were sunk. Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire on 2 November, 1914.

On 14 November, 1914, Sheikh-ul-Islam, declared an Islamic holy war on behalf of the Ottoman Empire. He called on Muslims all over the world to rise up in Jihad against the enemies of the Empire. From
The sheikh’s declaration of a holy war, made two weeks later, urged Muslims all over the world–including in the Allied countries–to rise up and defend the Ottoman Empire, as a protector of Islam, against its enemies. “Of those who go to the Jihad for the sake of happiness and salvation of the believers in God’s victory,” the declaration read, “the lot of those who remain alive is felicity, while the rank of those who depart to the next world is martyrdom. In accordance with God’s beautiful promise, those who sacrifice their lives to give life to the truth will have honor in this world, and their latter end is paradise.”
Australia was part of the British commonwealth, although it had been self-governing as a nation since 1901.  At least two Muslims in Australia listened to the call to Jihad and took it seriously.  They plotted an attack on a picnic train of Australians. The train was a holiday celebration of 1 January, 1915. The picture is of the actual train, shortly before the attack. The picture timing was verified by the distinctive automobile, its tires, and by a woman who was on the train and in the picture.

Picture from Railway Museum in Broken Hill, Australia

The two Muslim men used an ice cream cart (owned by one of the men, Mullah Abdullah) to transport their rifles unobserved, into position for the attack. They opened fire on the train, killing three people and wounding  four others. People on the train recognized the two men. The first thoughts were they were firing blanks in celebration. Reality set in with wounds, blood, and death. The train stopped about 850 meters (930 yards) down the track, but continued to come under fire until it was moved a further 1200 meters (1300 yards) away. From
Mullah Abdullah and Gool Mahomed had fled the scene on foot heading in a north east direction where they knocked on the door of a house near the Allendale Hotel on the corner of Jones and Morgan Streets to seek refuge. Some words were exchanged between the two men and the resident, 70 year old Thomas Campbell, which resulted in one of the men firing a shot at Campbell with the bullet passing through the side of his abdomen (Campbell survived). By this time the police had arrived and Abdullah and Mahomed ran off heading in the direction of their cameleer's camp and as they neared the Cable Hotel the two men came under fire from mounted Constable Robert Mills. Shots were exchanged between both parties and Constable Mills was injured, taking two bullets, one to the thigh and one in his groin. The police were forced to pull back and continue their pursuit from a distance enabling the two men time to take cover at a rocky outcrop of white quartz (White Rocks). Military men from the local base along with men from the rifle club joined in the combat. Police Inspector James Miller and Lieutenant Richard Resch were now present and gave instructions, an unrelenting tirade of bullets were fired at the two men who were hiding behind the rocks with both men returning fire. Civilian James Craig who was in his backyard at the time quickly became a victim during the conflict when a 'stray' bullet hit him in his abdomen from 500 yards away. Mr Craig was treated by a doctor on site and was later transported to the local hospital where he sadly passed away hours later as a result of his wound.
The attackers knew this was a suicide mission. They expected to be killed. Both men came to Australia from areas now in modern Pakistan or Afghanistan, though from different tribes.  Mohamed claimed previous military experience. It is likely both were experienced fighting men. They kept their pursuers at bay. They wounded a policeman and another civilian as they retreated.  They took up a position with good cover (there were no aircraft available at the time) at the white rocks, for their final stand. I visited the site. The rocky outcrops rise about two feet above  ground level, providing excellent cover against rifle fire (center top of picture).

 The rifles used by the attackers were a Martini-Henry in .450-577 caliber, and a Snider carbine in .577 caliber.

The typist misspelled Snider in the identification at the Museum.
The attack has many similarities to modern terrorist attacks by Muslims following jihad.

The attack was precipitated by a missive issued by a religious authority figure.

The attack was planned and executed independently of authority, using locally available materials and a soft target.

Police were informed of the planned attack, but did nothing because of lack of details. A concerned Muslim, Khan Bahader, told the police the men were planning an attack.  He had accurately identified the two attackers by name. Police had not bothered to question the men.

The police were not able to provide sufficient response to overcome two riflemen.

Unlike most situations today, a combined force of police, military men, and armed civilians were mobilized to bring the attackers under fire.

The Muslim men had chosen a good hasty defensive position, but they lacked any resupply or reinforcement.

When examined, they each had multiple gunshot wounds.  One was dead at the white rocks, the other died at the hospital.

While not noted in the historical record, I suspect the two Muslims had run out of ammunition. 

It is noteworthy that rifle club members participated in the armed response. There were no calls for gun control after this attack.

The Ottoman Empire suffered a severe loss at the end of World War I. In the process, from 1915 to 1922, they murdered about a million Armenian Christians.

©2019 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

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1 comment:

willford said...

When will history repeat ??????