The Almásy Documents

from the Public Records Office, London
Foreign Office Correspondence, 1934-35


Kufra Garrison and LRDG War Diaries entries related to Almásy’s sortie accross the Gilf to Assiut with two German spies.


By the mid-1930’es, the Libyan Desert was no longer the free for all unexplored expanse that lured the early explorers. The desert, at least in broad terms, had been surveyed and mapped, and interested parties were laying their claims. Egypt, nominally independent, was firmly under British influence, while the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan was a de-facto British colony, except in name. To the west, Italy occupied Kufra, the last outpost of the Senussi, in 1931, extending their control to all inhabited parts of Libya. By 1932, the Italians have set up a small garrison at Ain Doua, and at Sarra well, both lying inside the ‘Sarra triangle’, a wedge of barren desert nominally a part of Sudan, thrust between Italian and French territories.

Understandably, the explorers have ignored these developments – after all they were there before any government decided to call a place or another their "own". Almásy had no problems crossing over to Kufra from the Gilf in 1932 to replenish the water supplies (and received a gift of several bottles of chianti from the Italian officers), and the same winter Bagnold and party dined cordially at Sarra with Major Lorenzini "both confidently within their own rights, yet occupying a territory which the other party showed on their maps as theirs".

The issue was treated in a less friendly manner by the respective governments, with an escalation of claims by Italy, corresponding with the start of the Ethiopian campaign. At the height of the tension, the Sudan Defence Force went through the trouble of placing a permanent garrison at Bir Murr, Uweinat, 500 miles from the closest inhabited point. Finally, the British government ceded the Sarra triangle in July 1934, acknowledging the impossibility of establishing their claim given that the Italians were already in posession.

It was against this backdrop, that Almasy made five major expeditions to the region between 1933 and 1935. On two of these he made a sortie across the border to Kufra, and on all of them he had companions from Austria, Hungary, Germany or Italy. This, combined with his eccentric and somewhat unpleasant personality was enough to raise suspicion in ‘official’ circles. While the Foreign Office correspondences referring to Almásy reveal nothing dramatically new, the content and tone of the messages conveys a general suspicion towards his and his companions’ activities.

1934 January - February
Italian claim to Owenat and the Sarra Triangle

PRO Ref. FO 371/18034

During the 1933 autumn expedition with Frobenius Almásy passed Kufra, Uweinat & later Wadi Halfa. The correspondence indicates, that either unsolicited, or at the request of Major Rolle, Almásy acted as a messenger conveying the Italian views to the Brits. It is also evident, that the receprion was rather cool.

Registry Number J 515/1/66

From: Cairo Chancery to Egyptian Department
No. 8/123/34
Dated: 17th Feb., 1934.
J: General


February 17th, 1934.

The Egyptian Department,
Foreign Office,

Dear Department,

Your despatch No. 117 of February 8th regarding the Oweinat question.

The sudan Agent has just had a letter from the Civil secvretary at Khartoum forwarding a copy of a report by the Governor of Halfa Province about certain statements made to him by Count Almasy in November 1st after the latter had visited Kufra and Oweinat.

We enclose a copy of his report herein. You will see that according to Count Almasy’s statements the Italians whom he had met at Kufra and Ain Doua had told him that their only object in occupying Oweinat & Sarra was to induce His Majesty’s Government to pay some attention to the matter and enter into negotiations with the Italian Government, as a result of which it was hoped that the Italians would obtain some concessions in respect of the frontier between Eritrea and British Somaliland

In his letter to Hamilton, Gillan, while expresing regret that the report of this conversation with Count Almasy had not been received earlier in Khartoum, suggests that the information contained therein should be accepted with reserve. It is not certain that the italian officers whom Almasy met knew the object of their occupation or wether they stated it correctly to Almasy who, as they were aware, was on his way to Wadi Halfa. Furthermore it may have been that Almasy himself had some ulterior motive in his trip.

Yours ever,



Count Almasy came into Wadi Halfa by car from Selima on 18th November and stayed till 21st. He had started from cairo, visited Kharga, Kufra and Oweinat before coming to Wadi Halfa via Selima to obtain permission for his party to proceed south to Lagia. This was obtained and the party proceeded to Lagia, and returned to Kharga on December 8th..

In the course of conversation he mentioned that there was still an Italian post at Ain Doua, but that the Italians were getting very tired of occupying it without any notice being taken of them by the British. He said that he understood that their object in occupying both Oweinat and Sarra was to call attention to themselves and bring matters to head. The Italians were anxious to have the Italian Somaliland boundary rectified. The matter had been pending a final and satisfactory settlement for some years, and they felt that their occupation of Oweinat and Sarra would produce a protest from Great Britain which would bring about negotiations in the course of which the Somaliland boundary would be brought up and settled to their satisfaction. He gathered from Major Rolle, the Governor of Kufra, that the Italians did not want Oweinat or Sarra and were finding their occupation and arrangements for provisioning the posts there irksome and expensive. I gathered from him that if no notice were taken by us very shortly of the occupation, the Italians would withdraw their posts. On the other hand he told me that the italian view was that the 25 degree longitude which was the boundary between Cyrenaica and Egypt was also the boundary between Cyrenaica and the Sudan, but for how far south Cyrenaica claimed to go he was unable to say.

(Sgd) D.L. PURVES.
Governor Halfa



This is interesting but does not seem to ring true in view of the steady Italian drive southwards in Libya, not to mention their claims on Tibesti & Borku. This does not seem worth copying to W.O. o A.M., but ? copy C.O.

J.S. Somers Cooks 27/2

Count Almasy is a hungarian who has traveled much in the Libyan desert: he visited owenat by car with sir R. Clayton-East-Clayton and Wing Cmdr. Penderel in April 1932. We know of no reason for his visits except that he likes desert exploration.

There have been some difficulties with regard to the boundary between British and Italian Somaliland, both in the neighborhood of the coast (Bandar Zioda) and in the region where the frontier connects with Ethiopia where the Italians are grabbing what they can.

The last sentence of Major Purves’ report is inconsistent with the earlier part.

W.B. Mack (?) Feb.28

I do not see how the Italians – now they have raised the question – can fail to hold out for Sarra, without which they can never hope to substantiate their claim upon French Tibesti and Borkou.

S 28.2.

1934 February - March
Expedition of Count Almasy to Lybia

PRO Ref. FO 371/18034

In the Spring of 1934 Almasy organised a trip for a group of Egyptian and German notables to the Gilf and Uweinat. (The most notable event of the trip was Almásy succeeding in shoting a waddan). It was more the participants, rather than Almásy himself, who captured attention. While it is very unlikely that Almasy had any hidden motives, the selection of the particular group of companions may have been somewhat unwise at the height of the Sarra dispute.

Registry Number J 683/1/66

From: Cairo Chancery to Egyptian Department
No. 442/4/34
Dated: 8th march 1934.
J: General


Egyptian Department,
Foreign Office, S.W.1.

Dear Department,

You may be interested to see the enclosed copy of a letter which we sent the other day to the Sudan Agent here suggesting that he should warn Khartoum that an expedition under the leadership of Count Almasy was about to start off on a trip to the libyan desert in the course of which Oweinat would probably be visited. You will see that this expedition was more than likely be accompanied by an Italian journalist.

We imagine that you know as much about Almasy and his expeditions into the Western Desert as we do here. Prince Abdel Moneim is of course the son of the ex-Khedive while Baron Pfyffer is a middle aged Swiss resident mainly in Alexandria of no particular importence.

Herr von der Esch is rather a mystery man. He is a German from Wurtemberg about thirty six years old. He served in the German army during the War and was one of the first Germans to go to Oxford again after the war. He was at the "House" and while there met his future wife, an attractive Swede, who was learning English in north Oxford at the time. His father is still alive and lives in Wurtemberg, but Herr von der Esch does not often go back to Germany. In conversation he and his wife both profess little sympathy for the Nazis and they have been in fact ‘mal vu’ by the local German colony on this account. Nevertheless they go about a great deal with the German Minister and Frau von Stohrer and are in close touch with the Legation. They see a great deal of the English residents here both Army and civilian and get on very well with them. Nevertheless no one seems to know quite what von der Esch is doing here and why he choses to live in Cairo. He is ostensibly employed in the local branch of the "Maschinen Fabrik Augsburg-Nuremburg" but the Commercial Secretariat have never been able to trace any salesmanship on his part. The firm have a very competent Manager and Assistant Manager and von der Esch’s connection with it is rather hard to fanthom. On the other hand nothing definitely sinister has been discovered about von der esch. He spends a good deal of his spare time, of which he seems to have a lot, in making motor expeditions to the desert and this fact may explain his participation in the Almasy expedition.

Yours ever,


February 24th, 1934.

J.A. de C. hamilton Esq., M.C.,
Sudan Agent,

Dear John,

As I told you on the telephone this morning we have learnt that Almasy is starting off on an expedition into the Libyan Desert next week. His objective is, we think, the Gilf Kebir but he has stated that he proposes visiting Oweinat – though exactly which sector he means is not clear. He is to be accompanied by Prince Abdel Moneim, Baron Pfyffer and Herr von der Esch and the expedition will probably be absent from Cairo for a month.

Apparently the ‘Giornale d’Italia’ have asked if they can send a representative with the party and this proposal is likely be accepted in order to reduce expenses.

I gather from what you said that you have not been asked by Almasy for any permit to enter the Sudan and it may therefore be that the party do not intend to go south of latitude 22. But you may think it desirable to put Khartoum ‘au courant’ particularly in view of the probable presence of an Italian journalist.

Yours ever,



The Italian journalist, if he goes, may cause a nuisance.

J.H. Wallings (?) 20/3/34

Count Almasy is indefatigableé he visited oweinat as recently as last autumn (J 515/1/66)

W.B. Mack (?) Mch.20

If Count Almasy takes the Italian view, he clearly will not seek sudan permission to go to Oweinat.

S 21.3.

1935 November - December
Proposed shooting trip to the Sudan of Prince Ferdinand of Lichtenstein and party

PRO Ref. FO 371/19099

Almásy, ever short on funds, was always on the look-out for a possible sponsor to finance another desert expedition. The opportunity apparently arose again in late 1935, when Prince Ferdinand Lichtenstein was planning a hunting trip to the Sudan. There is no other reference of this trip other than the Foreign Office correspondence, however it can be assumed that Almásy persuaded his friend (with whom they made their first major desert venture, the traverse of the Darb el Arbain in 1929) to go hunting to the Meidob hills and the Wadi Howar, from where he just returned with Count Széchenyi. It was probably also Almásy’s suggestion to drive from Cairo to Fasher.

The following is the correspondence between the Foreign Office, and Sir Miles Lampson, the British High Commissioner in Cairo. It is interesting to note, that it is not Lampson, or the Governor-General of Sudan that oppose the trip, but the War Office & the Air Ministry. Ther is no reference from Almásy to this refusal, but it is interesting to note that he made no more deep desert trips in Egypt after this.

Registry No. J8064/8064/16

Sir M. Lampson
Telegram No 56 (Saving - Airmail)

Copy corr
S.G.O. ref my telephone conversation with Mr Howell of Nov 22.

Nov 22, 1935
Despatched 7 P.M.

Prince Ferdinand Lichtenstein wishes to organise a shooting trip in the Sudan this season. The party which wd. consist of himself (Lichtenstein passport) a Canadian and a Czech, would travel by car from Cairo to Fasher, in which case Count Almasy would accompany the party to the latter place. Alternatively, Prince Ferdinand would travel to Port Sudan.

Please enquire of sudan Govt (1) whether there is any restrictions on such shooting parties this year owing to the war in Abyssinia and, if not (2) whether there is room for Prince Ferdinand’s party, as he apperrs to think that the numbers of such parties allowed is limited.

Please reply by air mail

JSS Cooks

Initially the response is favorable:

Registry No. J9021/8064/16

From Sir Miles Lampson (Cairo)
No. 1380 (1229/2/35).
Dated 2nd Dec. 1935
J: Egypt and Sudan

Mr Somers Cooks comps.
to Mr Mack (Vienna)
to Mr Howell (S.G.O.)
Copy Khartoum tel. No. 115 to W.O. & A.M. on J9622




No. 115 of December 1, 1935.

Your Despatch No. 330.

There will be no objection to the entrance of the party via Port Sudan and their shooting north of Fasher, but it is advisable that they make arrangements direct with the Game Warden through our London Office. Permission to travel by car from Cairo to Fasher could only be given if cars with light air-wheels are used and the trip is undertaken in winter, without ladies and under an expert guide.

Then, 20 days later:

Registry No. J9622/8064/16

Sir M. Lampson (Cairo)
No. 678 Decypher.Secret.
Dated 20th Dec.1935
J: Egypt and Sudan

Repeated to Vienna No.50 dec.20.
Tel. Vienna No.51. Dec 20.
Repeated to Cairo No. 62. Saving Dec 20.
Mr Somers-Cooks comps. To Mr Howell (Sudan Govt. Office)


Decypher. Sir M.Lampson (Cairo)

20th December, 1935

D. 10.44 a.m. 20th December, 1935

R. 10.35 a.m. 20th December, 1935




Khartoum telegram No.115.

Military and air authorities are strongly opposed to expedition from Cairo to El Fasher through western desert, owenat and northern province at present time particularly as party is to be accompanied by Count Almasy who has friends on both sides of the Libyan frontier.

They urge therefore that ot be arranged that they should travel via Port Sudan.

Addressed to Foreign Office No.678 december 20th repeated to Khartoum

Registry No. J9622/8064/16
Sir W.Selby, (Vienna)
Telegram No.51
Cypher K.
No distribution

  1. Repeat in cypher to Cairo by air mail, No 62, Saving
  2. Copy correspondence herein to Mr. Howell (Sudan Government Office comps., ref., secret.
  3. Copy telegram to Cairo in J8064, Khartoum telegram in J9021 and correspondence herein to War Office and air Ministry, inf. Secret.

20th December, 1935

Despatched 10 P.M.


My telegram No. 50 of December 20th and private correspondence between Mr. Mack And Mr. Somers Cook [shooting trip of Prince ferdinand of lichtenstein to the Sudan].

Please inform the Prince, if you can get in touch with him, that route from cairo to El Fasher cannot be permitted.



Continue to Kufra Garrison and LRDG War Diaries entries related to Almásy’s sortie accross the Gilf to Assiut with two German spies.