Imperial Camel Corps organisation

The Camel Company 1916-1918

When the Imperial Camel Corps was first formed in January 1916 it was organised into four camel companies that were intended to operate independently of each other. Reflecting their ad hoc origins, the camel companies used a unique mixture of infantry and mounted rifles organisation and nomenclature. They consisted of four 'sections', each made up of seven 'groups' of four cameliers. Together with a small company headquarters group, this gave each camel company a strength of 130 men, all of whom were armed with nothing more than the standard British Army .303 Lee-Enfield bolt-action rifle. 

The increasing use of the Camel Corps in more conventional combat roles, as opposed to just long-range desert patrol work, led to  a reorganisation and expansion in strength in August 1916. The 'new' camel company boasted a strength of 184 men by adding an eighth group to each section, introducing a machine-gun section of 15 men equipped with three Lewis Guns, and increasing the size of the company headquarters group with specialist personnel (including eight signallers, a medical orderly and a veterinary sergeant). This was the organisation used by the New Zealand camel companies and it would remain unchanged for the rest of the Imperial Camel Corp's existence.

The Camel Battalion 1916-1918

In December 1916 the hitherto independent camel companies of the Imperial Camel Corps were officially reorganised into a brigade of three, and later four, camel battalions. Each battalion consisted of four camel companies and a headquarters company and had a strength of 770 men (and 922 camels). Although a fourth battalion was formed in May 1917 the actual frontline or field strength of the brigade remained limited to three camel battalions - the creation of a fourth battalion simply allowed the instigation of a rotation system. This meant that one battalion was always out of the line being refitted, reinforced and rested back in Egypt while the other three continued to take part in frontline operations.

The Imperial Camel Corps Brigade 1916-1918

While the camel battalions constituted the bulk of the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade's fighting capability, the creation of a brigade-level structure also allowed support units to augment and further enhance that capability. For the first time the cameliers had their own dedicated artillery support in the form of the Hong Kong and Singapore (Mountain) Battery which, together with the eight Vickers heavy machine guns of the 265th (Camel) Machine Gun Squadron, dramatically increased the firepower available to them.

Other additions, like the Australian (Camel) Field Ambulance, and logistic units such as the Brigade's Train and Ammunition Column, gave the cameliers the ability to better sustain themselves and remain on operations for periods of greater duration and intensity. 

It took some time, especially in relation to the brigade-level support units, for the Brigade's organisation to be finalised, and there was much chopping and changing of these units in early 1917. However by the latter part of that year the organisation of the Brigade had settled into the form and the units that it would retain until its disbandment in June 1918.  A snapshot of this organisation or 'order of battle' is given below.

Order of Battle

Imperial Camel Corps Brigade, late 1917

Total strength: approximately 4150 men and 4800 camels

Field strength (minus one camel battalion): approximately 3380 men and 3880 camels

  • Brigade Headquarters                  (40 men)
  • 1st (Australian) Camel Battalion  (770 men)
  • 2nd (Imperial) Camel Battalion   (770 men)
  • 3rd (Australian) Camel Battalion  (770 men)
  • 4th (Anzac) Camel Battalion*      (770 men)

Plus brigade-level support units including:

  • Hong Kong and Singapore (Mountain) Battery      (255 men) 
  • 265th (Camel) Machine Gun Squadron                 (115 men)
  • 10th (Camel) Field Troop, Royal Engineers            (71 men)
  • Signal Section, ICC Brigade                                 (30 men)
  • Australian (Camel) Field Ambulance                   (185 men)
  • 97th Australian Dental Unit                                    (4 men)
  • ICC Mobile Veterinary Section                              (42 men)
  • ICC Brigade Ammunition Column                         (75 men)
  • ICC Brigade Train                                             (245 men)

* incl No 15 (New Zealand) Company & No 16 (New Zealand) Company

How to cite this page: 'Imperial Camel Corps organisation', URL: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/war/camel-corps/organisation, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 7-Feb-2013