Monday, July 31, 2006

The plan for attacking Gondar

The plan for attacking Gondar was for the 25th East African Brigade to assault the south while the 26th East African Brigade assaulted from the east. The guerilla bands would attack from between them. On the north side, the 1/Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, "some divisional troops, and the 53rd East African Battery" would hold the Wolchefit road. The 26th East African Brigade would be supported by "the 22nd Mountain Battery, R.A. and 54th Nyasaland Field Battery". The 25th East African Brigade was supported by the "18th Mountain Battery, R.A., 51st Gold Coast Medium Battery, the Kenya Armoured Car Regiment, and the South African Light Armoured Detachement". This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The brigades for the attack on Gondar

Vol.II of the Official History gives the composition of the two brigades that took part in the capture of Gondar in November 1941:

25th East African Brigade

2/3rd King's African Rifles
2/4th King's African Rifles
3/4th King's African Rifles
South African Light Armoured Detachment (3 light tanks, 3 Bren Carriers)
Kenya Armoured Car Regiment (less one squadron)
51st (Gold Coast) Medium Battery
18th (Indian) Mountain Battery, RA
9th South African Field Company
A Company 1/3rd King's African Rifles (Machine Gun)
6th (Uganda) Field Ambulance
25th East African Infantry Brigade Group Company
58th Reserve Motor Transport Company

26th East African Brigade

2/2nd King's African Rifles
4/4th King's African Rifles
1/6th King's African Rifles
22nd (Indian) Mountain Battery, RA
54th East African Field Company
one company of the 1/3rd King's African Rifles (Machine Gun)
7th (Northern Rhodesian) Field Ambulance
26th East African Infantry Brigade Group Company
Camforce (Ethiopian guerillas)
54th Nyasaland Field Battery "in support"

Saturday, July 29, 2006

November 1941 in East Africa: taking Kulkaber

Columns were moving in the direction of Gondar in mid-November 1941. One was the 2nd Ethiopian Battalion, which was moving north west of Lake Tana. They were near Gorgora to the south-southwest of Gondar by 13 November. Another was the Sudan Column. They attacked Chilga to the southwest of Gondar on 20 November. They at least had "pinned down the garrison of four battalions". The next step was to take Kulkaber. The place was well defended behind strong defences. Brigadier James attacked on 21 November, after the place was hit hard byfrom the air with 44 sorties dropping 9 tons of bombs the previous day. The British lost 99 men and the guerillas 107 men. They took "1,648 Italian and 775 native troops."

Friday, July 28, 2006

A fresh attempt to break through at Kulkaber

General Fowkes decided that Kulkaber must be taken so that South Force could move forward to support the attack at Gondar that had been planned for 17 November 1941. He sent the 25th East African Brigade to move towards Kulkaber from the the north side, after the engineers had found a rough road that ran to Dancaz. The road proved to have almost ceased to exist, part way there, and it had to be rebuilt, setting back the attack on Kulkaber until 21 November. While all this was happening, Gondar was being hit by air. Gondar was hit by Hartbeests and Mohawks, which dropped almost 12,000 lbs. of bombs. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

A new plan for attacking Gondar in November 1941 (UPDATED)

General Fowkes became concerned that there was insufficient artillery support available for an assault on Gondar. He also questioned whether one brigade would be sufficient. The present artillery available was just 8-3.7in and 4-4.5in howitzers. Brigadier James , commander of the 25th East African Brigade wanted 25pdrs for the attack. A field battery was being sent from Kenya to Massawa, where it would receive 8-25pdrs. General Fowkes decided to use a second brigade, the 26th East African Brigade for the attack on Gondar. General Fowkes also decided to have South Force, with the 60pdr medium guns move forward to support the attack, because it was unclear of the 25pdr battery would arrive in time. South Force would concentrate and attack at Kulkaber, with guerilla ("Patriot") forces. South Force assembled on 11 November 1941 and attacked "two days later". This effort to bring forward the 60pdrs failed. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

South Force for the attack on Gondar

We have a detailed list of units that comprised South Force. South Force was commanded by Lt-Colonel Collins and consisted of the following units (from a note in Vol.II of the Official History):

B Squadron, Kenya Armoured Car Regiment
51st Gold Coast Medium Battery (4-60pdrs)
1/6th Kings African Rifles
D Company, 1/3rd Kings African Rifles (Machine Gun)
9th South African Field Company
1st and 2nd Battalions, East African Pioneers (less three companies)
25th South African Road Construction Company
HQ 1st (Tanganyika) Field Ambulance
Survey Section
58th Reserve Motor Transport Company
one flight, No.41 Army Cooperation Squadron, SAAF

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Air operations in East Africa from September 1941

Those few Ju-86s the SAAF had were sent to the force blockading French Somaliland in late September 1941. That left a very reduced force to operate against Gondar. In an attack on Gondar in October 1941, 7 Hartbeests, 4 Gladiators, and 1 Hurricane "dropped 7,810 lb. of bombs on the northern positions". A Gladiator had shot down a lone CR42 over the Gondar-Wolchefit road, later in October. At the end of October, No.3 Squadron SAAF had returned after rearming with Curtis Mohawks. Air operations intensified in anticipation of the assault on Gondar. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Monday, July 24, 2006

After the surrender at Wolchefit

The British had planned to attack Gondar from Debra Tabor, but the continued heavy rains made that look less appealing. The 25th East African Brigade had been conducting probing operations towards Gondar, and the decision was made to take the all weather road from there towards Gondar. The British commander had intelligence that indicated that the Italians might surrender if threatened by sufficiently large regular force. The plan was for the 25th East African Brigade to attack on 9 November 1941. The 26th East African Brigade would follow up and "clear up the Italian positions further south". This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The surrender of Wolchefit in September 1941

The 25th East African Brigade was sent to Massawa, Eritrea, arriving there by ship on 15 September 1941. They advanced to Wolchefit. General Platt conferred with his commanders on 20 September, and they decided to send a second brigade to Wolchefit. Before that could happen, the Italians at Wolchefit surrendered. 1,631 Italians and 1,450 Colonial troops surrendered. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

More about the East African Command in the fall of 1941

The East African Command had responsibility for operations in the following countries:
  • Ethiopia
  • Eritrea (the Official History says "for a short time only")
  • Italian Somaliland
  • British Somaliland
  • Kenya
  • Zanzibar
  • Tanganyika
  • Uganda
  • Nyasaland
  • Northern Rhodesia
The command headquarters was located in Nairobi, Kenya. The commander was assisted by a "Chief Political Officer", a diplomat.
This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History

Friday, July 21, 2006

The East Africa Command in the August and September 1941

The East Africa Command was to be directly under the War Office in Britain. The idea had been to relieve the theater commander in the Middle East from this responsibility. After the debacle in Greece and Crete, General Wavell had become increasingly balky at taking on new responsibilities. He was gone, succeeded by General Auchinleck, but the command remained. The command only formally came into existence on 15 September 1941. Lt-General Platt was appointed as the commander, but he was given a leave of absence. The acting commander became first Major-General Godwin-Austin. Shortly, Major-General Wetherall acted in his place. Lt-General Cunningham left East Africa on 29 August to become 8th Army commander, an unfortunate appointment. General Godwin-Austin left with him to become the 13th Corps commander. Lt-General Noel Beresford-Peirse was sent his place. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Organizational changes in East Africa in July 1941 and later

General Platt commanded in "the Sudan and and the northern part of Eritrea". He did not actually have responsibility for Gondar, but he continued to direct operations in that area. To the south, General Cunningham's force was changing. He had lost the South Africans in July. The Chiefs of Staff in Britain directed that the 23rd Nigerian and 24th Gold Coast brigades be sent to Freetown, Sierra Leone. The Chiefs wanted protection against any Vichy French strikes against the important port. The 11th and 12th African Divisions were to have new brigades to replace those sent to Freetown and other assignments. There 22nd and 25th Brigades were assigned to the 12th Division. A new brigade, the 28th was formed, and the 28th and 21st Brigades would be given to the 11th Division. Because the experienced 26th Brigade was wanted for the planned attack on Gondar, the 28th was sent to "the border of French Somaliland". The 26th Brigade was added to the 12th Division. Two artillery regiments were sent to reinforce the 12th Division. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Wolchefit in July to September 1941

Major Ringrose, commanding guerillas near Wolchefit, had wanted some regular troops to attack, expecting that the Italians would surrender to them. The 3/14th Punjab Regiment had traveled from Asmara to Wolchefit. Their attack was repulsed. The air force remained active. No.45 Squadron continued to supply the guerillas with "food and ammunition". The conducted five of these supply drops, presumably with Wellesleys. No.203 Group SAAF acquired responsibility for Wolchefit and Debarech, and conducted bombing attacks. Apparently both the RAF and SAAF conducted "almost daily attacks on these two positions". The Italians had 20mm Breda LAA guns, and they show down three South African planes that apparently attempted low-level attacks. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

I received my "desert tanker boots" tonight

I had almost given up hope, but my "desert tanker boots" finally arrived, tonight:

I bought my boots from the Armed Forces Merchandise Outlet.

More action near Gondar

Two battalions, the Composite Battalion from the Sudan Defence Force and the 3rd Ethiopian Battalion had attacked Chilga on 17 May 1941, but were repulsed. The place was strongly defended, so it was left alone until November. In the meantime, the air force continued to be active. No.47 Squadron still was flying Wellesleys, and with the Free French Flight, with Blenheims, hit "Gondar, Azozo airfield, Dabat, Chilga, Debarech and Woldchefit". They were apparently making low-level attacks. The air activity apparently helped to keep the Ethiopian guerillas inspired to keep fighting. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Wolchefit Pass in April and May 1941

Wochefit Pass was a natural obstacle that was defended to a three mile depth by positions manned by about 3,000 Italian and 2,000 Colonial soldiers. They had some artillery, machine guns, and mortars. There was an escarpment as part of the feature, below which "the No.2 Motor Machine Gun-Group of the Sudan Defence Force" was located. There were also guerilla groups, led by British officers. The guerillas had some success. Dabat was taken in April and on 5 May, "the Italians evacuated Amba Giorgis". Attacks were attempted in May, but failed. An Italian counter-attack in June took Ras Ayalu. The lack of success caused the guerilla groups to leave the area for the time. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

More developments in late 1941 with guerillas

When the Italians at Debra Tabor surrendered, their 79th Colonial Battalion crossed over to the British side, and fought as the "79th Foot". Their commander was Captain McLean from the Royal Scots Greys. Another company, bandas, became the Wollow Banda. Their commander was Captain Pilkington of the Royal Horse Guards. They all came under Major Douglas's command and allowed him to surround Kulkabar and to interdict supplies to Gondar. There was still heavy rains, and they aloso ran out of money. More money was dropped from six No.47 Squadron Wellesleys. This allowed harassing operations to continue until November, when the rains ceased. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Guerilla operations east of Lake Tana in April to July 1941

The goals for guerilla operations east of Lake Tana was to cut the road from Debra Tabor to Gondar and "clear the country of Italian posts". The British army officer with the guerillas from April to May was Major Simonds, who was with the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry. His guerilla band besieged Debra Tabor, starting in April. More guerillas arrived, and for a short time, they were supported by troops from the Sudan Frontier Battalion. Major Douglas, from the Highlands Light Infantry, took over the leadership from Jamor Simonds in May. He tried to get the guerillas to stage attacks, but they would only harass the Italians. The air operations were more effective. No.47 Squadron made almost daily raids on Debra Tabor in June. That finally broke the Italian resistance, causing them to surrender on 6 July. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Friday, July 14, 2006

General Platt's situation immediately after April 1941

Operations in Eritrea ended in April 1941. General Wavell had intervened and redirected General Platt to secure the road from Asmara to Dessie, as General Wavell wanted to smooth the way for the movement of South African troops north to Egypt. General Platt had to be content, for the moment, to just screen the Italians in Wolchefit. By the time that General Platt had forces available, the weather in the north of Ethiopia precluded major operations. Most of what was happening in northern Ethiopia was either air operations or raids by Ethiopian guerillas ("The Patriots"). There were also a certain number of British officers and senior enlisted men who had "gone native" and were operating with the guerillas. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History

Thursday, July 13, 2006

More air power for Gondar in August 1941 and later

The Sudan command received additional air resources. As usual, in East Africa, there was an interesting collection of aircraft:

August 3, 1941

No.3 Fighter Squadron, SAAF Hurricane, Gladiator, Mohawk
No.l5 Bomber Squadron, SAAF Fairey Battle (2 aircraft)
No.16 Bomber Squadron, SAAF Ju-86
No.41 Army Cooperation Squadron, SAAF Hartbeest

No.15 Squadron ceased operation in two weeks
No.3 Squadron departed to re-equip with only Mohawks in late August
to return at the end of October

Air operations were limited to close support for the army in the field. They were also to eliminate any remaining Italian aircraft that might still be found. They also bombed enemy positions in support of Ethiopian guerilla warfare ("The Patriots"). This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The air force in support of General Platt in April 1941

General Platt's air force was commanded by Air Commodore Slattery. In April 1941, his force consisteded of the following units:

Squadron Aircraft
No.47 Squadron, RAF Wellesley
No.237 Rhodesian Army Cooperation Squadron Hardy, Lysander, Gladiator
Free French Bomber Flight Blenheim IV

There were also some
some South African communication aircraft

This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

General Platt's activities

General Platt's force had advanced to Amba Alagi in May 1941. He had been totally occupied in those operations until then. Now, a small force had been made available:

2/6th King's African Rifles
Composite Battalion of the Sudan Defence Force
a Belgian unit from the Congo:
a headquarters
5th Infantry Regiment of two battalions
a company of heavy mortars

These troops had operated in "The Blue Nile" region in March 1941. The Belgians and 2/6th KAR "had taken Gambela". They waited while General Cunningham advanced and greatly pressed the remaining Italians. General Platt sent the Belgians to the attack, and this caused the Italian commander to ask for a cease fire south of the Blue Nile. The Italians surrendered on 6 July. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Monday, July 10, 2006

On the BBC "WW2 People's War", they have a contribution about the war in East Africa in 1941

The BBC has a completed project with outside contributions. One of those is about the war in East Africa from February 1941 until November 1941. It includes the campaign we are currently studying, in Ethiopia. On the visible page, this campaign has just a mention, although there is more, if you follow the links to their archive site, and look at the related stories. They seem to be more of the "oral history" sort of thing, transcribed for reading on the Internet.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Another sheet of wargame pieces

My wife found about 30 copies of this sheet, and I thought it might be of interest to wargamers. You may need to scale the image to fit your needs. The AFV's on the page include:

  • French FCM 3b infantry tank
  • Russian T-27 MG carrier
  • British Crusader II cruiser tank
  • German Pzkw II Ausf.G light tank
  • German Pzkw I Ausf.A light tank
  • German Pzkw III Ausf.G battle tank
  • Russian T-26 light tank
  • Russian BT-5 fast tank

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Later in June 1941 in Ethiopia

General Cunningham had hoped to not move immediately into Jimma, to avoid the bother of having to care for Italian civilians. After the Italians had declared Jimma to be an "open city". General Cunningham ordered the 22nd East African Brigade to through Jimma and beyond to come up in support of the 23rd Nigerian Brigade. The 22nd took Jimma on 21 June, and taken 12,000 Italian and 3,000 Colonial troops prisoner. The 23rd Nigerian Brigade was advancing towards Ghimbi, and had reached the river Didessa. The brigade "had captured the last Italian rearguard east of the river". The 22nd East African Brigade took more prisoners at Dembi on 27 June. Finally, when an RAF "Hartbeest dropped 40 lb. of bombs on Belleta and the Italian force there surrendered on the spot". The Italians seem to have been in full collapse. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The OOBs of the 22nd East African Brigade and the 23rd Nigerian Brigade

In two notes in Vol.II, the Official History supplies the OOBs of the two brigades. Some of the units were divided amongst the two brigades.

22nd East African Brigade:

2nd Nigerian Regiment
1/6th King's African Rifles
5th King's African Rifles
1st South African Light Tank Company
HQ squadron 1st East African Armoured Car Regiment
1st South African Field Battery
7th South African Field Battery
Composite Section of 1st South African Medium Brigade
(1-60pdr and 1-6in Howitzer)
18th (Indian) Mountain Battery, RA
22nd (Indian) Mountain Battery, RA
54th East African Field Company
2 platoons, 1/3rd King's African Rifles (Machine Gun)
A Company (Tanganyika) Field Ambulance
22nd East African Brigade Group Company

23rd Nigerian Brigade:

1st Nigerian Regiment
3rd Nigerian Regiment
1/1st King's African Rifles
one squadron (less one troop) East African Armoured Car Regiment
7th South African Field Brigade
1st South African Medium Brigade (less composite section)
52nd Nigerian Light Battery
51st Nigerian Field Company
17th South African Field Park Company
one company 1/3rd King's African Rifles (machine gun) (less two platoons)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

At attack at Sciola by the 23rd Nigerian Brigade

The British troops arrived at Sciola on 30 May 1941. They attempted to rush the bridge on the 31st and failed. The 23rd Nigerian Brigade perpared for an assault. The Italians destroyed the bridge and withdrew upstream. One artillery battery was left to defend the shore. The river had a strong current at that spot and the troops were unable to get across. A better crossing spot was found and elements of the 2nd Nigerian Regiment and 5th King's African Rifles were able to cross. The boats had been damaged, so they needed a day to repair and regroup. On 4 June, the rest of the 5th King's African Rifles were able to cross. They were able to defeat the guns on the shore. They took 1,100 prisoners, "nine guns and destroyed 9 more". This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The next move in Ethiopia in late May 1941

The 23rd Nigerian Brigade had been engaged in protecting communications, but was reassigned to the advance on Jimma. They were given "most" of the 12th African Division's artillery for the mission. That freed the 1st Natal Mounted Rifles and the 1st Field Force Battalion to rejoin their units. The river Omo was a barrier to the brigade, as it had been to the Italians. The far side of the river seemed like a good defensive position. Because the British had built over 70 bridges in the campaign, they had little bridging equipment left. There was some at Berbera, so this would be brought forward. The plan was for the 22nd East African Brigade to cross at Sciola and "the 23rd Nigerian Brigade at Abalti". Ethiopian partisans were able to harras the Italians at will and the RAF dominated the skies. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The 22nd East African Brigade in May 1941

The remaining Italian position in Ethiopia was at the point of collapse. The 22nd East Africa Brigade had fought an action at Colito on 21 May, where "Sergeant N. G. Leakey, attached 1/6th King's African Rifles, routed six Italian tanks single-handed." He died, but won a Victoria Cross award. Colito was taken and the advance continued. The 22nd East African Brigade took Soddu on 23 May, and with the town, "the commanders and staffs of the 25th and 101st Colonial Divisions". At this point, the Italian commander ordered the 21st and 24th Colonial Divisions to the "north of Lake Abaya", so that Italian nationals could be taken "west of the river Omo". In the end, the plan was unsuccessful and first the 21st Colonial Division was captured and then the 24th, which was not able to cross the Omo. In about six weeks, 18,396 prisoners were taken (by mid-June). This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Monday, July 03, 2006

A change in plan in Ethiopia

Given the recognition that the current plan was unworkable, due to weather and roads, General Cunningham redirected the 11th African Division to Soddu. He also ordered the 12th African Division to take over on this line, so that the 11th African Division could be used on the road from Addis Ababa to Jimma. This was a road passable in all weather. General Godwin-Austin, who we know from his time in the desert, ordered his division, the 12 African, along the Neghelli road, as the Yavello road was too poor. General Cunningham decided to send the 11th African Division to both Jimma and Soddu, because the 12th African Division was slow to arrive. The 12th African Division was relegated to holding the rear. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

In Ethiopia in April and May 1941

The 22nd East African Brigade Gr0up had planned to head for Aselle, thinking that they would encounter Italian forces. Their Italian map was inaccurate and there were no Italians. After the road turned to mud, the brigade group turned to go to the west of Lake Zwai. They pushed through an Italian "position at Mount Fike". They stopped to give the 12th African Division time to move forward. The brigade group pushed off again on 9 May, going around Lake Shala. They reached Shashamanna on 14 May. Elements pushed a further 40 miles "towards Dalle". Dalle had been designated as the 12th African Division's objective, and it had already fallen. The division was no where close, though. The 24th Gold Coast Brigade had hit a defended position at Wadara, and was blocked. They were only able to attack on 4 May and finally defeated the position on 10 May. The brigade reached Wondo on 25 May, 100 miles further. The 21st East African Brigade had tried to advance up the Yavello road, but the road was so bad that this was not a faesible line of advance. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

General Cunningham's long supply lines

The supply lines for General Cunningham's divisions were long an tortuous. The supply hub for the 11th African Division was in Addis Adaba, and stretched 560 miles, using both roads and rail, to the port of Berbera. Supplies came by sea, presumably, from Aden. The 26th East African Brigade had to be positined to watch the frontier with French Somaliland, as the situation there was unstable. The 12th African Division had a supply line that was centered in Mogadishu and went through Dolo. As there was more rain, this became increasingly difficult. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

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