View Full Version : An obscure 'small war' in WW2

10-22-2016, 09:23 PM
A new book on a significant, forgotten campaign in East Africa, by a mainly British Empire force, to take Abysinia, now Ethiopia and Eritrea from the Italians.

The author teaches at the UK's Royal College of Defence Studies and has taught a course on the campaign @ Joint Services Command and Staff College, which he summarizes as:
Fighting began in early July 1940 and ended in November 1941; the principal Allied offensive actually began in the January. Just eleven months later the 70,000 strong British-led force had succeeded in defeating an Italian army of nearly 300,000 men, in the process capturing 50,000 prisoners and occupying 360,000 square miles all at a cost of 500 casualties and just 150 men killed. It was a varied and wide-ranging conflict that witnessed many different types of military operations. These ranged from commando raids to long mechanised pursuits, mountain assaults and a protracted attritional battle. Added to this was an often decisive use of airpower, a triumphal amphibious landing and a generally incredible feat of logistical planning. In the process Mussoliniís East African Empire had been destroyed and the British Empire had secured its first significant wartime victory. Having now had the opportunity to study in considerable depth the battles fought in British and Italian Somaliland, Ethiopia and Eritrea drawing upon primary sources from Britain, Kenya, South Africa, the United States and (even) Australia, this remains a reasonable description.

Amazon UK:https://www.amazon.co.uk/First-Victory-Second-Africa-Campaign/dp/0300208553/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1477170663&sr=1-1&keywords=The+First+Victory%3A+The+Second+World+War +and (https://www.amazon.co.uk/First-Victory-Second-Africa-Campaign/dp/0300208553/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1477170663&sr=1-1&keywords=The+First+Victory%3A+The+Second+World+War +and+the+East+Africa+Campaign)
+the+East+Africa+Campaign (https://www.amazon.co.uk/First-Victory-Second-Africa-Campaign/dp/0300208553/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1477170663&sr=1-1&keywords=The+First+Victory%3A+The+Second+World+War +and+the+East+Africa+Campaign)

Amazon US:https://www.amazon.com/First-Victory-Second-Africa-Campaign/dp/0300208553/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1477170944&sr=1-1&keywords=The+First+Victory%3A+The+Second+World+War +and (https://www.amazon.com/First-Victory-Second-Africa-Campaign/dp/0300208553/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1477170944&sr=1-1&keywords=The+First+Victory%3A+The+Second+World+War +and+the+East+Africa+Campaign)
+the+East+Africa+Campaign (https://www.amazon.com/First-Victory-Second-Africa-Campaign/dp/0300208553/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1477170944&sr=1-1&keywords=The+First+Victory%3A+The+Second+World+War +and+the+East+Africa+Campaign)

Now to persuade a nearby observer that this should be a Xmas gift!:)

12-20-2016, 08:22 PM
The newly published 'The First Victory: the Second World War and The East Africa Campaign' by Andrew Stewart. A good, well written book on a forgotten campaign to end Italian occupation of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia), Eritrea and Somaliland (a British colony held for a short time). The victory, with Italian surrender was over-shadowed by the defeats in Greece and Crete. 'Bill' Slim was an Indian Infantry Brigadier, who was to learn about being forgotten again in Burma.

The immense logistical aspects are included and the strategic to operational issues. The lack of theatre maps is annoying, unless you are familiar with the regional geography. For example 18k trucks came overland from Broken Hill, now Kabwe in Zambia; the half-way point from the factory in South Africa, in the 2,900 mile journey to Nairobi.

It was not an easy victory, notably with the bitter fighting @ Keren, a mountainous fortified position. Enigma helped, but the Italians consistently located Allied formations using SIGINT.

No reviews yet on Amazon:https://www.amazon.co.uk/First-Victory-Second-Africa-Campaign/dp/0300208553/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1482265281&sr=1-1&keywords=the+first+victory+the+second+world+war+an d+the+east+africa+campaign

01-23-2017, 10:39 AM
This snippet came as a surprise, with my emphasis:
The last Italian troops in East Africa were defeated at the Battle of Gondar (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Gondar) in November 1941. But several thousand escaped to wage a guerrilla war until September 1943, when Italy surrendered to the Allies.Link:http://www.iwm.org.uk/history/how-italy-was-defeated-in-east-africa-in-1941

That is very curious. I expect the guerilla war was in the former Italian colonies, Eritrea and Somaliland. Stewart's book refers to locally recruited soldiers from both and perhaps the local population were not actively hostile to their continuing presence.

02-02-2017, 05:12 PM
Read up on the battle of Gallabat (November 1940), a post on the Sudan/Ethiopian border.

Long story short is that BG Slim vowed never to let hesitation and doubt vex his decision making process for the attack, which carried over with his success against the Japanese.

As an aside, for the benefit of the Peanut Gallery, was the potential tinderbox of surrendered Italian small arms in 1941. The piles of weaponry were slated to be sent to the rapidly expanding Indian Army, primarily as training sets.

However, most of it was sitting barely secured at the port of Asmara and if it fell into the hands of Ethiopian bandits ('shifta'), that whole region would have dissolved into chaos.

Colonel Jarrett (Ordnance Corps, USA) arrived with an Ordnance Company (armed only with pistols) at Asmara in late 1941. Jarrett assessed that the K98 Mausers left behind by interned German merchant sailors were 'close enough' to 1903 Springfields to warrant their issue to the unarmed technical workers, thereby preventing a complete fumble.
(it's not mentioned in this article, but I read Jarrett's hand-written account one day at the Carlisle Barracks library - http://www.smallarmsreview.com/display.article.cfm?idarticles=269 ).

02-02-2017, 05:30 PM
Another one for the Peanut Gallery - in addition to the (mis?)-use of unopposed armor at Gallabat, there's also the battle at El Uach/El Wak (Somalia) - where the South African 1st Light Tank Company was able to stampede the defenders and give the Commonwealth a victory during a very dark time.

Recommended additional readings


Towards Dave's interest in the Italian deserters,

'This is Colonel Orde Wingate of the British Army and I want to see your commanding officer immediately' he said. 'Wait here, Sir' the writer told him and found his commanding officer, Major 'Plumber' Clark asleep in his tent. 'Oh' he said, 'He must be the chap trying to organise the Abyssinian irregulars into a regular unit to help us round up the thousands of Italian deserters in the bush - bring him in.'
It was many years later that the writer read the story of Colonel Wingate. He had previously been in Palestine, organising Arab irregulars, then he escorted Emperor Haile Selassi back to Addis Ababa. He became famous in Burma with the 'Chindits' and is remembered as 'General Lord Wingate of Burma'.

02-02-2017, 05:49 PM
Adam G,

A brilliant catch the article on Col. Jarrett and his endeavours in "Tech Int" or Weapons Intelligence, almost worthy of a thread in itself. I shall copy it to the book's author, Dr Andrew Stewart. Especially his five items used to explain what he had learnt, all of which the USSR exploited fully.

I will one day return to reading Bill Slim's account of this part of WW2.