East African Campaign, 1940-41

Official History of the Indian Armed Forces
In the Second World War

General Editor
Bisheshwar Prasad, D. Litt.

Combined Inter-Services Historical Section
(India & Pakistan)




Secretary, Ministry of Defence, India
Dr. Tara Chand
Prof. K.A. Nilakanta Sastri
Prof. Mohammad Hasbib
Dr. R.C. Mujumdar
General K.S. Thimayya
Lieut.-General Sir Dudley Russell
Lieut.-General S.P.P. Thorat
    Military Adviser to the High Commissioner
        for Pakistan in India
Dr. Bisheshwar Prasad





This volume is the fourteenth to be published in the series "Official History of the Indian Armed Forces in the Second World War." The story relates to the Western Theatre and is a fitting companion to our earlier publication Campaign in North Africa. It described the fighting with the Italian forces in East Africa. The regions covered are Eritrea and Ethiopia where the two Indian Infantry Divisions, the 4th and the 5th, played a distinguished role. A shattering blow was inflicted on the Italians in East Africa by a giant pincer movement on a large scale, the northern arm of which was formed by British and Indian forces operating from the Sudan and the southern arm by the forces advancing through Kenya. The Indian forces from the north conquered Eritrea and broke the back of Italian resistance in East Africa at Keren; the forces from the south conquered Italian Somaliland and opened Addis Ababa for the return of the Ethiopian Emperor. As the jaws of the pincer closed the army of the Duke of Aosta was pinned between the two forces and he surrendered at Amba Alagi in May 1941. This meant the military and political collapse of Italian East Africa.

The Government of India set up an organisation before the termination of the Second World War to gather material for writing an objective and authentic account of the operations in which the Indian armed forces had participated. This organisation grew into the War Department Historical Section, which on the partition of India in 1947 was designated as the Combined Inter-Services Historical Section, India and Pakistan, and was to work as the joint venture of the two Governments. This organisation was commissioned to produce a history of military operations and organisational activities relating to war. This official history has been planned into three series, viz., the campaigns in the western theatre; the campaigns in the eastern theatre; and the activities pertaining to organisation and administration. The present volume is the last of the series dealing with the Campaigns in the Western Theatre. The material for this volume was initially compiled by Major N.A. Qureshi. More information was subsequently added and the draft of the history prepared by Dr. Dharm Pal, which was revised and rewritten in parts by Dr. K.N. Pandley. All these officers at one


time or the other belonged to the Historical Section. To them my thanks are due. The maps for this volume as for others were prepared by Shri T.D. Sharma to whom I am grateful. Iia am also grateful to Shri P.N. Khera for reading the narrative and seeing it through the Press.

The narrative has been read and approved by Prof. K.A. Nilakanta Sastri and Lieut-General S.P.P. Thorat, DSO, both members of the Advisory Committee to whom I am grateful.

In conclusion, IN acknowledge with thanks the unstinting co-operation and encouragement I have received from the Ministries of Defence of India and Pakistan.

New Delhi
March 1963



  Preface x

Chapter   Page
I. The Background 1
II. Topography 12
III. The First Encounters 24
IV. Italians on the Retreat 40
V. The First Assault on Keren 50
VI. The Advance Down the Red Sea Coast 72
VII. Plan for the Final Attack on Keren 81
VIII. The Battle of Keren 92
IX. The Advance Continues 122
X. The Capture of Amba Alagi 132
XI. Conclusion 153
Appendices 157
Bibliography 173
Index 175
I. Order of Battle of 5th Indian Division (on 27 September 1940) 159
II. Order of Battle GAZELLE Force on Being Formed on 16 October 1940 160
III. Order of Battle--Troops in the Sudan as on 20 January 1941 161
IV. Estimated Order of Battle of Italian Northern Army on 10 April 1941 169
  Facing page
1. East Africa 13
2. Eritrea (Communications) 17
3. Northern Ethiopia 21
4. Gallabat--Metemma Area 31
5. The Advance--Kassala to Keren, Part I 41
6. The Advance--Kassala to Keren, Part II 45
7. Operations in Om Ager Area 47
8. Keren--The First Attack, Part I 51
9. Keren--The First Attack, Part II 69
10. Operations by 7th Indian Infantry Brigade, Part I 75
11. Operations by 7th Indian Infantry Brigade, Part II 79
12. Operations by 7th Indian Infantry Brigade North of Keren page 96
13. Keren--The Final Battle Facing page 115
14. The Pursuit by the Indian Division, Keren to Asmara 123
15. Advance to Massawa 127
16. Battle of Massawa 131
17. The Pursuit, Southward from Asmara 133
18. The Area North of Amba Alagi 135
19. The Features North of the Falaga Pass page 140
20. The Battle of Amba Alagi Facing page 145
(between pages 24 and 25)
1 Captain Premindra Singh Bhagat, V.C., Royal Bombay Sappers and Miners
2. Subedar Richpal Ram, V.C., 4/6 Rajputana Rifles
3. General Sir Archibald P. Wavell
4. Lt.-Gen. Sir William Platt
5. Maj.-Gen. A.G.O. Mayne
6. Maj.-Gens. L.M. Heath and N.M. de la P. Beresford-Peirse
7. Ethiopian Patriots on the March
8. Captured Italian War Material at Agordat
(between pages 56 and 57)
9. One of the fine thoroughfares in Asmara
10. Lt.-Gen. W. Platt Inspects His Guard of Honour at the Governor's Palace at Asmara
11. Sappers and Miners of the Indian Army Clearing a Road Block Between Asmara and Massawa
12. The Sign Post Showing Massawa
13. Men of the 4/10 Baluch March Into Asmara
14. Indian Troops Manning an A.A. Post at Tessenei
15. A View of the Deserted Laquatat Fortress Near Agordat
16. Captured Italian War Material at Agordat
(between pages 62 and 63)
17. Captured Italian War Material at Agordat
18. Punjabi Soldiers in Position on a Hill Top Between Tessenei and Barentu
19. A Bren-gun Carrier Section of the Garhwalis About to Move off on Reconnaissance Somewhere in Eritrea
20. A Panorama of the Mountains Around Keren
21. Supplies for the Troops by the Mules in Keren Hills
22. Supplies for Troops in Keren--Unloading Provisions and Stores at the Dumps
23. In the "Dug Out' Office of the G.O.C. of an Indian Division at the Foot of the Keren Hills
24. A View of Keren
(between pages 84 and 85)
25. Signalmen Operate the Field Telephone at Battalion Hq. on Top of One of the Keren Hills
26. Men of the Central India Horse in Action in the Front Line in the Keren Hills
27. Bren-gun Carriers of 4/11 Sikh Regiment Coming into Action Around Keren
28. Keren at Last
29. These Punjabis in Eritrea With an Anti-tank Gun are Ready for All Comers
30. Men of 4/16 Punjab Regt. in Action With Their 3" Mortars in Eritrean Highlands
31. Indian Troops Constructing a Road in Eritrea
32. Some of the Bren-gun Carriers of a Famous Indian Cavalry Regiment in the Mountains of Ethiopia
(between pages 102 and 103)
33. A Despatch Riders Section in the Amba Alagi Area
34. A Truck of a Mechanised Column of an Indian Cavalry Regiment About to Start off on a Patrol in the Amba Alagi Area
35. A Bren-gunner and a Rifleman in a Stone Sangar at an Observation Post, Ethiopia
36. A Squadron Section Post and Observation Post Beyond Amba Alagi
37. Road Block Partly Cleared for the Trucks to Carry Supplies to the Forward Troops in Ethiopia
38. Panorama of the Country on the Southern Side of the Falaga Pass in Ethiopia
39. Members of the Jammu and Kashmir Mountain Battery at Work Camouflaging Their Guns
40. With Bayonets Fixed a Platoon of the Sikhs Attack an Italian Position up a Mountain in Ethiopia
(between pages 142 and 143)
41. A 25-Pounder Gun in Action Against Amba Alagi
42. On the Level Top of the Hill Men Take Their Next Advance at the Double, During an Attack on a Mountain Feature in Amba Alagi Area
43. Italian Motor Transport in Fort Toselli Captured by Allied Troops
44. The Prisoners of War in Enda Medani Alem Make a Huge Dump of Arms
45. Indian Troops on Guard Over What Was Left of Fort Toselli
46. The Duke of Aosta, After His Surrender, With British Generals and Staff Officers Leaving the Former Italian Stronghold at Amba Alagi
47. Maj.-Gen. Mayne With Some Officers After the Amba Alagi Victory
48. Italian Prisoners of War March Down From Toselli Fort to the Bottom of Toselli Pass at Enda Medani Alem



R.H.A. (A.T.)       Royal Horsed Artillery (Animal transport)
R.A.       Royal Artillery
MMG Group       Motor Machine-Gun Group
Medium Machine Gun Group
SDF       Sudan Defence Force
SR       Sudan Regiment
pdrs.       pounders

Transcribed and formatted by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation