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Get our Marines back

Hearing that 15 British sailors and marines had been kidnapped in Iraqi territorial waters by the naval forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, we recalled a dramatic hostage crisis in 1866, when the Emperor of Abyssinia seized British hostages, and did not respond to Queen Victoria’s appeal to release them.

The man put in charge of extricating the captives was Lieutenant-General Sir Robert Napier, “a military engineer of genius”, who “privately approached his task with the gloomy realism of the professional soldier”. He hoped that the “Diplomatists” would see some success before he had to launch a flotilla of 13,000 British and Indian soldiers, 26,000 camp followers, 13,000 mules and ponies, an equal number of sheep, 7,000 camels, 7,000 bullocks, 1,000 donkeys, 44 elephants, a prefabricated harbour, complete with lighthouses, and a railway (quotes from Niall Ferguson's Empire). The diplomatists did not, and the force sailed to Massowah on the Red Sea.

“The Abyssinian Emperor had taken it for granted that no invading force would be able to cross the 400 parched and mountainous miles between the coast and Magdala.” Obviously he had not reckoned on the British Empire and Napier. They took the rocky citadel with only twenty British soldiers wounded and not one killed, and recovered the captives unharmed.

It is all far more difficult today, for reasons well known to you. Certainly Napier would have been incredulous to learn that the Marines were seized because their rules of engagement specifically forbade them defending themselves. The Iranians took advantage of a seriously stupid policy. If the Marines had been allowed to defend themselves, it is unlikely they would have been attacked.

However we wish the government success equal to Napier's. We want our Marines back pronto.