The Taking of Gob wen and Kismayu

When Brigadier Pienaar flew from Arbo to Garissa on 3 February 1941, to discuss with Major-General Godwin-Austen the question of a suitable successor to Lieutenant-Colonel McMenamin as Commanding Officer of the Natal Carbineers, owing to his ill-health, the 1st SA. Brigade Group, after the reconnaissance in force towards Moyale, was disposed with 1st Transvaal Scottish (less one company) at Digh Merer with a detachment of 1st Field Company, S.A.E.C, 5th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery, S.A.A., 2nd Anti-Tank Battery, S.A.A. and 10th Field Ambulance, S.A.M.C. The Natal Carbineers and detachments of 1st Field Company, S.A.E.C. and 10th Field Ambulance, S.A.M.C. were in the process of taking over from a company of the Transvaal Scottish at Gerille, just across the Somaliland border due east of Arbo. In each case the battalions were served by their usual sections of 1st or 2nd Reserve Motor Transport Companies, which had virtually become integral parts of the motorized infantry units. The rest of 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Group was a few miles inside the frontier, at Gurati, preparing to move back to Arbo. Minor instructions telegraphed by Brigadier Pienaar during his visit to Garissa re-routed the main body of the Natal Carbineers also to Gurati, with only 'C' Company being left at Gerille.1

The Brigade Commander's visit to 12th African Division's Headquarters coincided with the South African Air Force's destruction of nine Italian aircraft in one day,* thus gaining an ascendancy in the air which they were never to lose in East Africa. It was a propitious moment for the launching of an offensive and on 5 February, while the last units of his Brigade Group left at Arbo were moving forward to Gurati and a platoon of No. 3 S.A. Armoured Car Company was on its way to Beles Gugani to join 22nd East African Brigade, Brigadier Pienaar and his staff were flown down to Aligabe to pick up Brigadier C. C. Fowkes of 22nd East African Brigade. Then they flew on to Garissa, where they met Brigadier C. E. M. Richards of 24th Gold Coast Brigade, for a conference with Major-General Godwin-Austen, who revealed the details of General Cunningham's plan for crossing the Juba and taking Kismayu.

Absolute secrecy was the essence of the operation and, as in the case of General Cunningham's conference with his divisional commanders, no written orders were issued by 12th African Division, except a general

* See also page 84.


Administrative Instruction, and none were issued by 1st SA. Brigade either, apart from a series of Movement Tables for the approach march. Both General Godwin-Austen and General Wetherall--who at the time had 21st East African and 23rd Nigerian Infantry Brigades in his 11th African Division--had already received confirmation of the decisions reached at their own conference with the General Officer Commanding, East Africa Force, in a letter from the Brigadier General Staff, Brigadier Jock Edwards. With 11th African Division were also the 7th Field Brigade, S.A.A. (Lieutenant-Colonel I. B. Whyte), 2nd Medium Battery, S.A.A., 1st Anti-Tank Battery, S.A.A. (Major Carl Leisegang), one Breda section of 6th Anti-Aircraft Battery, S.A.A. (Major W. H. Morris) and 16th Field Company, S.A.E.C. (Major H. D. W. Smith). The 7th (later 107th) Reserve Motor Transport Company, S.A. Indian and Malay Corps (Major P. Cameron-Ford), with headquarters at Thika, was running supplies up to them. In the general 'swopping' of guns between the South African artillery brigades early in January, 17th Field Battery (Major F. Theron) had exchanged its 18-pounders for 3-7-inch howitzers, so that 7th Field Brigade now had one 3-7-inch howitzer battery (the 17th) and two 18-pounder batteries, the 18th Field Battery, S.A.A. (Major S. W. English) and the 5th Field Battery, S.A.A. (Natal Field Artillery) (Captain F. Harpur).

An intriguing deception plan involving a mysterious 4th Australian Division had been worked out to mislead the Italians.*


The primary task of 12th African Division was to capture Afmadu at the junction of the roads from Wajir, Kismayu and Jelib. They were then to cut the road Bardera-Kismayu on the west of the Juba opposite Jelib, to draw enemy reinforcements northward, away from the mouth of the Juba. If conditions were favourable, General Godwin-Austen was instructed to take Jelib and then capture Gobwen, on the west bank of the Juba near its mouth, thus cutting the Gobwen-Kismayu road and securing the Italian satellite landing ground 4 miles south-west of Gobwen, to prevent any reinforcements reaching Kismayu, where there had been no fewer than seventeen merchant ships in harbour since the opening of hostilities--eleven Italian, five German and one Jugoslavian. A Japanese ship had called and sailed again after discharging its cargo and in the event of attack the Italians intended that the other ships should sail for neutral or Vichy French ports,2 such as Diego Suarez in Madagascar.

Jumbo, across the river from Gobwen, was also to be occupied, but it was the early capture of Gobwen which was stressed as being 12th African Division's essential contribution towards the success of 11th African Division's task, which was the occupation of Kismayu, chief town of Jubaland, by an advance from the Bura area.

The task allotted to General WetheralPs 11th African Division was straightforward, and was only to follow the capture of Gobwen by 12th African Division. With the Royal Navy's 'Force T'† under Captain J. H. H. Edelsten, R.N., assisting operations by bombarding all

* See Chapter 16, page 214.

† Force T consisted of H.M.S. Shropshire, Hawkins, Hermes, Capetown, Ceres and Kandahar.


enemy movement, located camps, landing grounds and other targets along the coast from Jumbo up to Brava and Merca in the preliminary stages, the ships were thereafter to turn their attention to Kismayu's fixed defences and to the little town of about 3,600 people, straggling along the restricted sandy zone between the foot of the coastal hills and the beach which curves between the Island of Dei Serpenti and Cape Blankett to form a large bay.3 This treatment of the town was scheduled for D5 and D6, and was to be augmented by the South African Air Force and Fleet Air Arm, with a stipulation to ensure that the bombardment was all completed by 10 a.m. on D6 (16 February), by which time General WetheralPs troops were to be approaching the outskirts. It was essential, in view of the supply situation, that the port should be cleared by D9 for ships to enter the next day after the short run up the coast from Lamu.

The 21st East African Brigade, less one battalion, was to be withdrawn from General Wetherall's command and to come under Force Headquarters from 6 p.m. on Dl, to operate north of 24th Gold Coast Brigade, and General Cunningham's instructions to his divisional commanders were that if the enemy withdrew, or if his forces disintegrated, he was to be followed up. In any event, 11th African Division was to be prepared to advance to Mogadishu and 12th African Division to Bar-dera, situated well up the Juba on the main road from Wajir to Iscia Baidoa. Indicative of the intense activity throughout East Africa Force, 109th Reserve Motor Transport Company, S.A. Indian and Malay Corps, within twenty-four hours of its last vehicles pulling in to Nairobi from Broken Hill on 6 February, was on the way up to Liboi with rations for the forward troops.


If East Africa Force expected to achieve surprise in anything but a local tactical sense along the Juba River front, they were destined to be disappointed. A thin Banda screen west of the river had kept the Italians well informed and the Duke of Aosta's Headquarters appreciated that a possible approach to Addis Ababa would be through Italian Somaliland, coupled with a reoccupation of British Somaliland. The Italians originally had only one idea for countering an expected offensive from Kenya into Italian Somaliland, and that was to defend the Juba line to the last, the whole way from the coast near Kismayu to the boundary of the Galla-Sidamo province at Dolo4 on the westward swing of the river north of Lugh Ferrandi. All available troops had therefore been put into the 360-mile river line and there was no thought of withdrawal.

The Kismayu-Dugiuma sector (roughly the southern one-third of the line) was held by the 102nd Colonial Division under General San-tini, with a fair-sized garrison at Kismayu, the 193rd Colonial Battalion at Gobwen, the 194th and 196th slightly to the north at a spot the Italians knew as El Volud, the 195th at Jumbo and the 94th Colonial Battalion in the Jelib area backed up by the 75th.5 A Carabinieri company was on the road midway between Kismayu and Afmadu.

The 101st Colonial Division under Brigadier-General Italo Carnevali held the much longer Dugiuma-Dolo sector, and the bulk of his infantry


(the 73rd, 74th and 76th Colonial Battalions) was initially concentrated round Bardera, with the 191st Colonial Battalion near Lugh Ferrandi and the 192nd in the Dolo area.6 At Dinsor, due east of Bardera, General Bisson's Somali Dubat Group or Native Frontier Force was in reserve, and at Brava on the coast was the motorized 15th Amhara Brigade, from the Duke of Aosta's general reserve. Banda and Dubat detachments west of the river continued to act as covering and reconnaissance troops. The 8th Dubat Frontier Group was occupied generally in harassing activities towards Digh Merer, further north the 'Aulian' Banda group operated round Fafadun and the Berardinelli Banda were held in the Lugh Ferrandi area. Lack of transport was a noticeable characteristic of most formations.

Major-General Carlo de Simone, in overall command in Italian Somaliland since the El Wak episode, had his Headquarters at Mogadishu, and the Regia Aeronautica--or what was left of it--was under General Sabatini. General de Simone's forces thus manned two very unequal sectors, and the entire line was thinly held, with no illusions about how easily the river could be crossed during the dry season. In the opinion of at least one high-ranking Italian,7 with an available reserve which was recognized as being insufficient 'and the air force almost non-existent, one had to come to the conclusion that the line did not lend itself to a serious defence and most certainly, not to a long one'.

General de Simone discounted the possibility of an attack of merely diversionary character on the Juba, with the main operation across the Lakes area, as the going through southern Abyssinia was much tougher and the route could be blocked with comparative ease, especially in the Giabassire-Wadara-Wondo zone. He expected the main assault on the Bardera-Jelib sector, with the object of getting into the rear of the Italian defences and opening up the road from Jelib towards Mogadishu along the Webi Shebelli River. It was a sound appreciation, and it was to cope with any such move and with his serious lack of mechanized forces, that General de Simone had allocated the solid, motorized 15th Amhara Brigade to this southern sector. It was stationed at Brava, from which an all-weather road led to Bardera, with another to Jelib. By the end of January, the Italians were fully aware of the activities of columns crossing the frontier at Dif, Liboi and Colbio.8

With three of East Africa Force's brigades identified in front of his line between Bardera and the coast by the beginning of February, General de Simone also moved the 16th Brigade to the Lower Juba and, unbeknown to East Africa Force, planned to evacuate Kismayu and move the troops of the garrison into the Jelib sector. At the same time the Dubat group, then at Margherita, was warned that it would move into the Dinsor-Iscia Baidoa area in direct support of 101st Colonial Division.9


By the time General Godwin-Austen issued his orders on 5 February, D1 day for East Africa Force had been fixed as 11 February, and on the basis of tasks as he allotted them to his Brigade Group Commanders,


on that day Brigadier Fowkes's 22nd East African Brigade Group, known as 'Fowcol', was to move up from the area of Garissa on the Tana River to take Afmadu as early as possible and clear all roads to that point before midday, so as to allow 24th Gold Coast Brigade Group ('Dickcol') through on the same route before dusk on its way to Afrayak, Mabungo, Bulo Erillo and Jelib.

The South African Brigade Group ('Pincol') was to move southeastward from Gurati, across the frontier to Digh Merer on the night of 8/9 February, then on to Arraoba (in the Mata Uarsissa area) the following night and, again under cover of darkness on the night 10/11 February, to Garsi Guba. Then, after the Gold Coasters had passed through, the South Africans were to cross through Afmadu behind them and clear the town by dawn on 12 February, moving on the road southward towards Kismayu as far as the marshy area of Mido that same night.

On the night of 12/13 February, 'Pincol' was to move to a position only about 5 miles north of Eyadera and to lie up during the day before a night approach eastward across unreconnoitred country, past the satellite landing ground which was needed urgently for South African Air Force army co-operation aircraft, to attack Gobwen on 14 February.

It was distinctly stated that 'Pincol', on capturing Gobwen, was to seize the pontoon bridge and ferry crossings at that place and to pursue the enemy with speed and vigour to Margherita if he began to withdraw from Jumbo. The South African column was also to exploit up the roads to Jelib on both banks of the Juba. The move on to the satellite landing ground had to be accomplished on a compass bearing. Wireless silence--a subject on which there had already been some difference of opinion during the raid on El Wak--was imposed on 'Pincol' after D minus 1 except for emergency air calls.

Returning from the conference at Garissa, Brigadier Pienaar passed on to his unit commanders only the barest minimum of information required. He himself had precise orders which left him little discretion, and his instructions were to remain in bivouac at Eyadera throughout 13 February and not to carry out any patrolling or reconnaissance, a stipulation regarded as extraordinary by the South Africans, but possibly designed to avoid arousing the garrison it was hoped to trap in Kismayu.

On 6 February, with 1/2 King's African Rifles relieving the Natal Carbineers at Gerille, 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Group assembled in the Gurati area. At a final conference of unit commanders only, Brigadier Pienaar disclosed more details of his plans, but nothing beyond the fact that a constant forward move was intended.

South African artillery units were involved in all columns and to know their whereabouts at any given moment was quite an achievement. As plans were finalized for the advance into Italian Somaliland on 8 February, 2nd Anti-Tank Battery, S.A.A. (Major B. J. H. Maw-son) was at Digh Merer with 1st Transvaal Scottish. Lieutenant-Colonel M. D. McKenzie had also concentrated the three batteries of 4th Field Brigade, S.A.A. at Digh Merer, thus providing for the support of'Pincol' the 4-5-inch howitzers of 10th Field Battery (now commanded by Captain J. S. Storey after being temporarily under


Captain J. H. Louw when Major G. P. Jacobs was evacuated on account of illness); and the 18-pounders of 11th Field Battery, S.A.A. (Major R. H. E. Murray) and 12th Field Battery (Major John Gordon-Gray). On 10 February, 'Pincol' was also to be joined by the independent 18-pounder battery, 1st Field Battery, S.A.A. (Cape Field Artillery) (Major R. J. L. Simpson), which came under command of 4th Field Brigade, S.A.A.

Further south, 7th Field Brigade, S.A.A. (Lieutenant-Colonel I. B. Whyte) was moving in support of the Nigerians of 11th African Division from Bura to cross the border at Colbio with the 3·7 howitzers of 17th Field Battery, S.A.A., and the 18-pounders of 18th Field Battery, S.A.A. and 5th Field Battery, S.A.A. (N.F.A.). Headquarters of 1st Medium Brigade, S.A.H.A. (Lieutenant-Colonel L. W. K. Stephens) and the 6-inch howitzers of 2nd Medium Battery, S.A.H.A. were camped just east of the Tana River near Bura, but the howitzers were not destined to come into action in Somaliland as they were still awaiting pneumatized carriages which were being made in South Africa to render them fully mobile on the atrocious tracks of East Africa. The 1st Medium Battery's 60-pounders, now fitted with rubber-tyred 4-wheel bogies, crossed the Tana River at Garissa on 8 February under command of Major H. K. Hull--with only 1\ inches to spare on either side of the wheels on the pontoon bridge--and were in bivouac at Hagadera that evening preparatory to a night march through Liboi to report to Colonel Maurice de Villiers, who was commanding 12th African Division's artillery, and to join up with 'Pincol'.

'Pincol' was a large formation which, at the stipulated density of twenty vehicles to the mile on the road, would stretch for a considerable distance and take an awfully long time to move from one point to another at the speed of 10 miles in the hour laid down by orders from 12th African Division.*

On 7 February a Dukes patrol to the Cangiara area captured an Italian with his lorry but found no other enemy. They watched troops of 22nd East African Brigade Group passing through without opposition. Enemy artillery fired on patrols east of Garsi Guba, but otherwise there was little to report barring extreme discomfort for the troops parked without tentage in the low, almost leafless bush which afforded no shade nor any form of relief from the intense heat and glare. With one of 10th Field Battery's 4-5-inch howitzers out of action at Wajir owing to the breakage of irreparable parts during the Moyale reconnaissance, and an anti-tank gun which had never fired left behind because of a broken trail, the Brigade Group had also left a dump of surplus stores at Wajir. Only two days after leaving Wajir for Gurati, 4th Field Brigade, S.A.A. were sending back to retrieve the artillery

* At this stage the Brigade Group which was to comprise 'Pincol'--though not yet concentrated--included the Dukes, the Natal Carbineers and 1st Transvaal Scottish, 4th Field Brigade S.A.A., 2nd Anti-Tank Battery, S.A.A., a section of 5th Anti-Aircraft Battery, S.A.A., 1st Field Company, S.A.E.C. less one section temporarily attached to 22nd East African Brigade, 10 Brigade Signals Company, S.A.C.S., No. 3 S.A. Armoured Car Company (less the platoon with the East Africans) 10th Field Ambulance, S.A.M.C., 1 Mobile General Workshops, 'T' S.C., 1 Brigade Company of the 'Q' Services Corps, 1st S.A. Reserve Motor Transport Company for carrying water, 2nd S.A. Reserve Motor Transport Company for troop carrying, a detachment of the 19th Field Park Company, S.A.E.C, and one platoon of 1st Irregulars.


brigade's anti-gas equipment and the men's steel helmets which had been left there. Then the Brigade Group received orders to establish another surplus dump under a small guard at Gurati, where they also left the Field Park Company detachment of South African Engineers--a step they were later to find most inconvenient. The gunners of 4th Field Brigade, S.A.A. soon became aware that the guard was quite inadequate to prevent wholesale looting, and they sent back for all personal kit, but the stores they had left at Wajir were never seen again.

On 8 February, the phantom 4th Australian Division--whose full story must be left till later--'arrived' in the Arbo area to confuse the enemy, and a detachment of Sappers from 1st Field Company, S.A.E.C. under Sergeant A. E. Pears was sent forward towards Afmadu to provide water for the advancing King's African Rifles of 22nd East African Brigade.


That same night (8/9 February) the South African column, less the Dukes and their attached troops at Winti, joined 1st Transvaal Scottish in the Digh Merer area, moving without lights, as they were to do from now on during the Juba operations. Helped by long hours of moonlight, the move went smoothly and was completed before dawn. Units which were an integral portion of the Brigade Group were already well practised and moved with ease, but others without night-driving experience had some difficulty.

The following night's move, with the infantry strength of the long column now completed by the addition of the Dukes, was not quite so smooth-running and the strain of night-driving and quick reconnaissance of bivouac areas began to make itself felt in country where concealment was difficult.

During 10 February, while Brigadier Pienaar was conferring with his unit commanders and making minor alterations to starting times so as to facilitate his further advance, miles to the east the Duke of Aosta, who had arrived by air at Mogadishu only that morning, was inspecting the Italian defences of the Lower Juba. With 4th Indian Division hammering his far northern bastion at Keren, he could not offer General de Simone any encouraging news to dispel the aura of gloom created by reports of defeat in the Western Desert and the fall of Benghazi. The Duke simply confirmed instructions that the Italians were to resist on the Lower Juba as long as humanly possible, without any hope of reinforcement.

'There will be no withdrawal from the Juba', General de Simone reiterated almost as the first details of 12th African Division's attack on Afmadu reached his headquarters, to be passed on to Rome by the Duke of Aosta simultaneously with his report of the fall of Banno to 1st S.A. Division.

That Italian morale was not being bolstered by events elsewhere was as obvious to General Cunningham as to the Duke of Aosta, and in the knowledge of the nervous state in which he now found the enemy, East Africa Force Commander sent to 11th and 12th African Divisions that day of 10 February a signal, the closing injunction of which was to set the tone for an advance not yet envisaged even by the optimists:


Italian prisoners wait to be marched off at Mega. The fort can be seen in the background.
Italian prisoners wait to be marched off at Mega. The fort can be seen in the background.

After being brought in from the surrounding hills, captured Italian field and heavy guns are lined up beside the fort at Mega.
After being brought in from the surrounding hills, captured Italian field and heavy guns
are lined up beside the fort at Mega.

A tank of No. 1 S.A. Light Tank Company takes a captured gun in tow after the highly successful raid on El Wak. <i>(Photo:</i> Terence McNally.)
A tank of No. 1 S.A. Light Tank Company takes a captured gun in tow after the highly successful raid on El Wak.
(Photo: Terence McNally.)

South African infantry dug in among the dunes at Gobwen. <i>(Photo ■</i> Terence McNally.)
South African infantry dug in among the dunes at Gobwen.
(Photo: Terence McNally.)

'The following message from the Force Commander will be made known to all troops under your command. Force Commander also directs that the operation and its scope should also now be explained to troops. The victories of Imperial troops farther north have filled us in East Africa with pride and excitement though no doubt the ensuing period has been touched with envy and strong desire to emulate achievements. Chance is now before you to prove what I well know, that E.A. Force is no whit behind in dash, courage and endurance. In this connection I send to South African, East African, West African and Indian troops taking part in operation message of good luck. Hit them hard and hit them again. Cunningham.'10

On the night of 10/11 February 'Pincol' again moved on, being held up for some time by moves of 22nd East African Brigade ('Fowcol') across their front to attack Afmadu, where the South African Air Force had severely shaken the garrison earlier that day.

Three waves of three JU 86s and two waves of three Battles had been over the target in turn between 12.45 and 4.50 p.m., with two Hurricanes of No. 3 Squadron, S.A.A.F. giving continuous top cover. Thirty-six 250 lb bombs and 384 20-lb fragmentation bombs had been dropped in the target area, which had been ground-strafed by all the aircraft in spite of heavy anti-aircraft fire, which proved ineffective.

Early on 11 February the East Africans of'Fowcol', with 1st Field Battery, C.F.A. as additional support to 22nd Indian Mountain Battery and 51st Gold Coast Light Battery, and with a section of 1st Field Company, S.A.E.C. clearing mines and booby traps,11 captured Afmadu, and 22nd East African Brigade then concentrated in the area, with 'Dickcol' and its Gold Coasters clearing Afmadu about midday. General de Simone, with little option, authorized the garrison of Afmadu to retire on Jelib.12 The situation was just as General Godwin-Austen had hoped it would be and he visited 'Pincol' during the day.

At dusk the South African Infantry Brigade Group moved forward again, passing through Afmadu and picking up Headquarters, 12th African Divisional Artillery, 1st Field Battery, C.F.A., 2nd Medium Battery, S.A.H.A., No. 1 S.A. Light Tank Company, a section of 1st Field Company, S.A.E.C, and the column's 'navigator', Captain K. H. Lazarus of East Africa Survey Group, on the way. The advance in darkness, with the column now an unwieldy length, was halting and slow. Nevertheless, in spite of the tail of the column--and Brigade Workshops in particular--being bombed as they were leaving Garsi Guba, everyone was safely clear of Afmadu before daybreak. The 60-pounders of 1st Medium Battery, S.A.H.A., caught behind 24th Gold Coast Brigade Group, on the way to Afmadu, had not been able to pass that column on the narrow camel track but had now also taken their place with 'Pincol'.

A detachment of 19th Field Park Company, S.A.E.C. had its first taste of being bombed and strafed when it was sent to pump and treat water for the advancing troops between Liboi and Afmadu. Working in a fairly extensive but shallow pan, the men assumed that aircraft flying over them were their own until the bombs began falling and machine-guns opened up on them.13 There were no casualties.


While 'Pincol' was moving down from Afmadu, the Italians in the batteries near Kismayu were feverishly busy--but not with any preparations to defend the town. A certain nervous tension had been spreading among the men of the coastal batteries since that morning as the result of a rumour that the Duke of Aosta had arrived at 2 a.m. on the night of 10/11 February and that a council of war had decided on evacuation.14 They planned to hold the line of the Juba River with strongpoints at Jumbo, Margherita, Jelib, Bardera, Lugh Ferrandi and Dolo and with reserves held in central zones. The boundary between the 101st and 102nd Colonial Division areas remained unchanged. The Middle Juba Sector, north of Dugiuma and under the 101st Colonial Division, was split into two subsectors--Bardera, entrusted to 20th Brigade (Colonel Azzolini) and Lugh Ferrandi-Dolo, occupied by 92nd Brigade (Colonel Giaume).

The Lower Juba Sector, south of Dugiuma and under 102nd Colonial Division, was divided into three subsectors. The first was the Jelib subsector from Duguima to Cansuma, under Colonel Mazzi.* Next came the Margherita subsector, from Cansuma down to Torda, under Colonel Bivona.† In the Jumbo subsector, which immediately interested 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Group, and stretched down from Torda to the coast, Colonel Bernardi was in command. His troops, along the least fordable stretch of the Juba, included 5th Coast Battalion and 195th Colonial Battalion, 122nd mixed Artillery Group (one 120 mm and and two 77 mm batteries), one 70 mm and one 20 mm fixed battery, a company of 81 mm mortars and an Engineer detachment.15

The reaction of the Italian anti-aircraft gunners in Kismayu to the Duke's plan was interesting.


At 4 o'clock on the afternoon of 11 February, an Italian gunner officer recorded, they received orders to evacuate Kismayu and a truck that evening took away all the battery's machine-guns. At 11 o'clock all but a handful of his battery personnel left for Jumbo, while vandals began ransacking the quarters of those who had been left behind, without rations.16

All ships able to put to sea had been ordered to sail, the tanker Pensilvania making for Mogadishu to discharge its cargo. Ships unable to leave harbour were to be scuttled to block the entrance. In fact, the Pensilvania reached Mogadishu safely, followed by a small German tug. Two ships reached Diego Suarez, another two scuttled themselves at sea, five were captured and three others were never heard of again. The rest were sunk in harbour.17

* Colonel Mazzi had under command 75th and 94th Colonial Battalions and 8th Dubat Group, a mixed Italian and Colonial Naval Battalion with twenty-two machine-guns, 7th Engineer Battalion, three Fiat armoured cars, some garrison detachments, one 65 mm pack battery, a 75 mm lorry-borne battery, two 77 mm motorized batteries and one 81 mm mortar company.

† Colonel Bivona's command included 91st Colonial Brigade (193rd, 194th and 196th Battalions, the first of which was to come from the Jumbo sector, where its place was to be taken by the 195th from Kismayu), a mobile company of Carabinieri, a Banda company, a battery of 77 mm guns pulling back from Gobwen, a battery of porteed 65 mm guns (temporarily immobilized at Margherita through lack of transport) and the 3rd Dubat Group from Dinsor.


Dawn on 12 February found 'Pincol', now totalling some 1,200 vehicles and stretching over 15 miles, with barely 20 yards between vehicles, concealed off the road to Kismayu, with the tail of the long column only 6 miles south of Afmadu. On the move, at twenty vehicles to the mile, the column required 60 miles of roadway. Enemy aircraft had been active from a very early hour without causing damage or casualties, but evidence was gathering of serious unforeseen shortcomings in South African units which had only recently come into the field.

No army as fully motorized as East Africa Force had ever operated under similar conditions and it was found that the drivers, unaccustomed to sustained night moves, were prone to fall asleep, while the recently formed Brigade 'OJ Services Corps company had insufficient men to provide two per vehicle. Extra men had to be found from non-drivers among the infantry battalions, whose strength was thus sapped to the extent of two platoons. The Brigade Staff then discovered that the situation was the same in the Reserve Motor Transport Company, which needed another three platoons to bring it to the required strength. With thousands of men sitting impatiently in camps back in South Africa, it was a strange situation, for it was impossible to deplete the ranks of the fighting men any further without grave risks to the whole column. Drivers in the Reserve Motor Transport Company simply had to endure the strain of having no relief on the move at all.

During 12 February, 'Pincol' sent out from the Mido area a reconnaissance patrol of South African Engineers under Lieutenant E. W. Bibby and some armoured cars of No. 2 S.A. Armoured Car Company, which had recently been re-equipped with Mark II four-wheel-drive Marmon-Harringtons. They went forward to remove landmines, to discover whether the Soya area was held by the enemy and to locate the road junction at Andaraf. No mines were found and no opposition was offered. Local tribesmen showed the South Africans the Soya wells and the road junction at Andaraf was also located. Shortly after the patrol's return at dusk, 'Pincol' again set out, with Lieutenant Bibby this time lying on the mudguard of the leading armoured car, peering at the ground to spot any mines.

Outside Kismayu the few remaining Italian anti-aircraft gunners that morning had been amusing themselves using one gun to fill the ship Casaregis with holes in response to orders to sink it in the harbour.18 Their task completed, at 2 p.m. on 12 February they received orders from Kismayu Command to destroy their guns and withdraw to local Command Headquarters. That night, while 'Pincol' was moving down the Kismayu road to the column's turn-off point at Eyadera, the Italians at the harbour set fire to their own ammunition dumps and hutments. They then had to take cover in the bush for two hours to escape from what one of them described as 'the hell which they themselves had unchained'.

With destruction of the anti-aircraft battery thought to be complete, the Italians waited for low tide at 1 a.m. on 13 February and then set off along the beach route to report to local Command Headquarters in Kismayu itself, only to find everything there already burnt. From a sailor they discovered that the Italian Naval Headquarters had left


the previous day and the Command Staff had departed at 6 p.m.

'In fact', wrote the Italian in charge of the battery, 'the exact opposite has happened to the normal procedure on a ship. The Command has been the first to leave the sinking vessel.'19

The leading screen of 'Pincol', on its way down to Eyadera with Engineers of 1st Field Company, S.A.E.C. always in the lead searching for mines, was considerably perturbed by grass fires started by pastoral tribesmen for the age-old purpose of improving the grazing for their numerous cattle. There was some further delay owing to failure to picket the Andaraf road junction satisfactorily, and the inaccuracy of the available maps also began to complicate the move. Nevertheless, dawn on 13 February found 'Pincol' safely under excellent cover in the vicinity of Eyadera, where they spent an anxious but quiet day, completely ignorant of the fact that ahead of them a disorganized mob of Italians was pulling back from Kismayu without interference.

Further north, 24th Gold Coast Brigade ('Dickcol') in a fierce fight took Bulo Erillo, where the Juba splits into two channels, the one on the west being dry at the time, though the other branch of the river 10 miles further east, and with Jelib on the far bank, was flowing.20 The enemy bridgehead at near-by Mansur was heavily bombed. By evening, information reaching General Cunningham at last indicated that the enemy was withdrawing from Kismayu. The defences gave no reply on the approach of aircraft, and when H.M.S. Kandahar fired three salvoes at the fort the bombardment evoked nothing but silence.

The Nigerian Brigade of 11th African Division moving east through Colbio with 16th Field Company, S.A.E.C. and 7th Field Brigade, S.A.A. was still too far back to take advantage of this development, so General Cunningham ordered 12th African Division to move 22nd East African Brigade Group down from the Afmadu area at once.

In fact, the evacuation of Kismayu was already almost complete. The 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Group, lying up for the day round Eyadera, heard several explosions from the direction of Kismayu, but with a scrupulous regard for his orders not to send out patrols and for instructions regarding wireless silence, Brigadier Pienaar did not exercise his own inclination to push on. At that late stage, in any event, it is quite possible that no useful purpose would have been served. The last Italian ship had already left the port and the Integritas, Marghera and Carso had been blown up; the gun emplacements had been demolished to the satisfaction of the Italians and fuel stocks on the island of Dei Serpenti had been destroyed. Up the coast, the Royal Navy was shelling the Brava and Modun areas, and the Duke of Aosta reported to Rome that the Pensilvania had been hit by a cruiser and had lost 1,500 tons of fuel before being beached at Mogadishu to save the rest of her cargo.

In Jumbo, fugitives from Kismayu had created indescribable confusion, and all along the road up to Jelib small groups of Italian soldiers, lacking transport, were wandering about with little discipline or sense of direction. At Jelib, too, confusion reigned and the unhappy anti-aircraft officer from Kismayu found some 500 men with rifles but no machine-guns, as those he had conscientiously loaded up before evacuating his positions on the coast had been thrown away at Kismayu Headquarters to make room for the suitcases of escaping officers.21


At Eyadera, Brigadier Pienaar did depart from the rigidity of his orders to the extent of ordering a reconnaissance to the satellite landing ground, but just before moving off that night it was realized that the S.A. Light Tank Company might not be able to lead the compass march successfully, so he put No. 3 S.A. Armoured Car Company in its place. The light tanks were left to move by bounds in rear of the crawling column, which now shed all services, 'B' echelon and second line transport. These were left at Eyadera under Major P. H. Lewis of 2nd S.A. Reserve Motor Transport Company to form a defensive bivouac, with a platoon of Irregulars to assist in defence.

The final stages of the approach march made steady progress, thanks to the accurate and unhesitating advance of Captain Lazarus, escorted by one platoon of 1st Royal Natal Carbineers.


Bright moonlight helped the drivers. No. 3 S.A. Armoured Car Company, 1st Transvaal Scottish, the Dukes and the artillery with the Engineer detachments who were accompanying the infantry battalions, all reached the satellite landing ground--about 5| miles from the Kismayu road on a bearing of 103 degrees magnetic--by midnight. The ground surface on the route so unerringly followed by Captain Lazarus had been good, and along it the bush was thin though almost impenetrable to both north and south. Just north of the satellite landing ground the infantry debussed in sparse cover, without opposition. Clouds obscured the moon.

Final verbal orders for the attack on Gobwen had already been given at Eyadera. The Transvaal Scottish and the Dukes, marching on a bearing of 81 degrees magnetic from the satellite landing ground and taking with them only their Support Company vehicles, were to move an estimated 3·5 and 2·4 miles respectively to their forming-up positions south-east of Gobwen village. Then, with the Transvaal Scottish marching for 1-2 miles on a bearing of 26 degrees magnetic and the Dukes covering 0·75 miles on a bearing of 37 degrees, the two attacking battalions would get on to their start lines, where they were to be ready at 6.30 a.m. for an attack at 7 a.m.

The Natal Carbineers, who were not involved in this main action, were to detail one company to protect the satellite landing ground, with one platoon blocking a near-by road from Kismayu, another acting as escort to the artillery and yet another as protection for 'Pincol' Headquarters. They were to be prepared to establish a bridgehead across the Juba and to exploit success, while the battalion was also to provide a reserve at the satellite landing ground.

All 'Pincol's' considerable artillery, the whole of 4th Field Brigade, S.A.A., 1st Field Battery, C.F.A. and 1st Medium Battery, S.A.H.A.--more than the ammunition supply warranted in Brigadier Pienaar's expert opinion--was to support the attack on Gobwen with a timed programme from 5.30 to 7.15 a.m. fired from near the satellite landing ground. Forward Observation Officers accompanied both the Dukes and the Transvaal Scottish.

The light tanks, carried by portee as far as Eyadera, were now supposed to lead the actual attack on Gobwen, six tanks being allotted to


the Dukes and six to 1st Transvaal Scottish. Two armoured cars from No. 3 S.A. Armoured Car Company were detailed to accompany the Natal Carbineers for patrolling the Gobwen-Kismayu roads, one section remained at 'Pincol' Headquarters for the Brigadier's direct use and seven obsolete armoured cars were allotted to the Dukes, 1st Transvaal Scottish and the artillery for reconnaissance and forward observation. The remainder of No. 3 S.A. Armoured Car Company was held in reserve to exploit success.

Engineers from 1st Field Company, S.A.E.C. supplied Engineer reconnaissance parties with the infantry battalions and they had Bangalore torpedoes ready to blow barbed-wire entanglements if necessary. The rest of the Engineer company was in reserve at the satellite landing ground--not to be confused with the aerodrome at Gob wen itself. The landing ground was protected by detachments of 5th Anti-Aircraft Battery, S.A.A., who also covered the debussing area and artillery positions. An Advanced Dressing Station was set up at the satellite landing ground by 10th Field Ambulance, S.A.M.C., which had its Main Dressing Station back at Eyadera.

There were two rather contradictory stipulations in the orders for the attack--which was not planned by Brigadier Pienaar but thrust upon him by 12th African Division. If the bridge was found to be usable, the Dukes were to cross the river, seize Jumbo and exploit towards Mar-gherita, supported by the guns of 4th Field Brigade, S.A.A. Yet it was stipulated that bomber aircraft were to attack Gobwen and the pontoon bridge, with the particular object of breaking the bridge on the Jumbo side so that it would swing to the attackers' bank and be saved from destruction--which, of course, also meant that the Dukes would not be able to cross.

Gobwen was a strongly fortified village, from all reports, lying at the tip of the westerly bend made by the Juba before it enters the sea. It had been garrisoned by the 193rd Colonial Battalion with a 75 mm battery. Some 200 yards across the river, on its eastern side, stood the fishing-village of Jumbo beyond a belt of thick bush rising from the river bank. The two villages were immediately linked by a ferry, and slightly north-east of Gobwen was the pontoon bridge, which joined a partially completed road leading to the main road to Mogadishu. Dense thorn bush covered the ground round Gobwen, to the north-west of which lay the aerodrome for Kismayu, a fighter offshoot of which was the satellite landing ground where 'Pincol' had debussed. High sand dunes between Gobwen and the sea overlooked both the aerodrome and the approaches to the village itself.

In Kismayu, as Brigadier Pienaar's force prepared for its assault on Gobwen, Colonel Fucci, commander of the fortress, was withdrawing the last of his troops, and fugitive parties, having lost their way in the darkness, were wandering about in the bush and on the dunes.

First of the South Africans to run into trouble were the gunner reconnaissance and survey parties.22 Going forward to survey battery positions under Captain E. E. Steyn, they bumped an enemy outpost some time before 12 o'clock. There was a scuffle in the darkness and Captain Steyn withdrew with three prisoners and several camels carrying ammunition. When he set out again he once more ran into the enemy and had to


withdraw. With zero hour approaching, he again moved forward and became involved in a violent skirmish. The moment it subsided, he and Sergeant W. K. Emberson, though still under fire, carried on with the survey of battery positions near the satellite landing ground. Captain Steyn was awarded the Military Cross and Sergeant Emberson the Military Medal.

The guns were brought up by midnight, but subsequent proceedings were much interfered with by Banda. Two men of 4th Field Brigade, S.A.A. were wounded and had to be evacuated.

At 3 a.m. the Dukes began to move off on foot from the satellite landing ground for their forming up position. One or two enemy stragglers already picked up on the satellite landing ground had passed on the information that the Italians had evacuated Kismayu, and vehicles had also been spotted speeding towards Gobwen with headlights blazing, but in the darkness the exact topography of the surroundings was very vague.

A ridge overlooked the satellite landing ground and the enemy were in position there before the Dukes began their move with 'A' Company (Captain B. Owen Smith) forward and No. 6 Platoon in the lead, fully extended. 'B' Company (Captain F. W. Wells) and 'C' Company (Captain J. M. de Beer) were in support.23 A detachment of thirty Sappers from 1st Field Company, S.A.E.C., under Second-Lieutenant D. Wayne, accompanied them. As the leading platoon approached the ridge, it ran into heavy but poorly directed small arms fire, thought to come from an enemy force of about 200, armed with anti-tank guns, machine-guns and light automatics.

The Dukes immediately went to ground and No. 7 Platoon returned the fire. In the thick bush the enemy could not be seen and Lieutenant-Colonel Senescall ordered machine-guns and mortars to be brought into action. The Adjutant, Captain G. A. Harrison, made his way under heavy fire to give the necessary directions and the bombs were soon falling on the enemy, who then withdrew, leaving several dead but costing the Dukes their first battle casualties. Sergeant F. Bester was killed in action and three others of 'A' Company, including Captain Owen Smith, were wounded.

In sand quite impassable to trucks, the battalion continued to move through the darkness, manhandling their heavy support weapons over high dunes covered with bush and scrub. The timed shooting on Gob-wen, the approaches to the pontoon bridge and enemy defences could not start at 5.30 a.m. as planned, but was delayed for ten minutes.

By daybreak the South African artillery was bombarding Gobwen and the surrounding area and, when the Dukes crossed their start line at 7.10 a.m.--only ten minutes late--three field batteries were hammering Gobwen defences, one was firing on Jumbo, the Mediums had one gun harassing the far approach to the pontoon bridge and the rest of the 60-pounders were firing on Gobwen. The barrage lifted as the infantry moved forward for the assault and Forward Observation Officers took over direction of the shooting.

The Observation Post parties were not able to see the results of any of the predicted fire before 7 o'clock. Then Major R. H. E. Murray of 4th Field Brigade, S.A.A. and Major H. K. Hull of 1st Medium Battery,


S.A.H.A. saw that their batteries were apparently shelling undefended localities which were being simultaneously bombarded by the enemy.

The 1st Transvaal Scottish also carried their Vickers guns, mortars and ammunition when they began the advance proper at 3.45 a.m.24 It was too dark to follow the paths cleared by the Dukes, and the Transvaal Scottish, together with thirty Sappers from 1st Field Company, S.A.E.C. under Lieutenant J. M. Stacey, moved slightly to the right flank, on their allotted bearing. By first light, they had overtaken the Dukes and they cut the Kismayu-Gobwen road at sunrise. They pushed on to their forming-up position, with the sea invitingly blue on their right. Wheeling on to a bearing of 26 degrees, they then moved a little over a mile to cross the start line.

Both battalions inflicted casualties on the enemy and took prisoners on the way, capturing an anti-tank gun, some machine-guns and several lorries before they launched the actual assault.

While the Dukes and 1st Transvaal Scottish, with the light tanks now on the scene, were about to begin their attack, minor brushes were occurring on all sides and enemy elements from Golgusha and Kismayu began to run into the Natal Carbineers astride the junction of the two roads running almost parallel with the coast and linking Gobwen and Kismayu. The Natal battalion, less 'A' and 'B' Companies, had moved across the satellite landing ground at 3.30 a.m. on a bearing of 105 degrees and, finding themselves still short of the coastal road two hours later, they sent a platoon of 'C' Company and a detachment of armoured cars under Lieutenant L. S. Steyn forward to the objective. The remaining platoons of 'C' Company followed and at 7.15 a.m.--only a few minutes after the Dukes and Transvaal Scottish crossed their start lines--the whole of'C' Company of the Carbineers set off towards Kismayu, moving along high ground dominating the coast road.

Encountering about twenty of the enemy with two light machine-guns, the Carbineers dispersed them with Vickers gun and mortar fire and consolidated in their commanding position. Three Italian officers and a number of Colonial Infantry were taken prisoner shortly after 8.30 and, to protect their own right flank, it was arranged that 'A' Company should come out of reserve at the landing ground and send patrols with armoured cars out west and south-west of its position. A South African Engineer demolition party under Lieutenant D. M. Cowin meanwhile went down the road to Golgusha to disarm a mine discovered by the armoured cars during the morning, and in the same area it found and exploded no fewer than sixty-six mines in a minefield betrayed by one carelessly left at the roadside.

Scattered enemy parties attempting to escape to the east continued to be driven back by the Carbineers or dispersed into the bush, while behind them the Dukes and 1st Transvaal Scottish went into the attack on Gobwen, where daylight had revealed a chaotic state of affairs, as the enemy in his flight from Kismayu had abandoned many lorries and much material.

'A' Company of the Dukes, supported by light tanks, was given the task of clearing the left side of Gobwen while keeping in close touch with the Scottish on its right. It was not realized that the South African guns had been pounding away at a village already deserted by the


enemy. Six JU 86 bombers of the South African Air Force had already been over the defences and the pontoon bridge which the infantry aimed to cross, and had already damaged the bridge, causing it to sink at a point about one-third of its length from the Gobwen side.

'B' Company's task was to advance across the aerodrome and seize the ground on the Gobwen side of the pontoon bridge.

The light tanks, advancing ahead of 'B' Company, found well-constructed defences covering the village unoccupied and the infantry passed through to their objectives, 'A' Company entering the village unopposed and systematically clearing the huts, in which the Dukes were surprised to find some Native civilians. Shortly after the foremost enemy positions had been overrun, an intense artillery bombardment fell on the cluster of flimsy huts, through which 'A' Company and the Dukes' Battalion Reserve ('C' Company) were at that moment passing, and on the aerodrome, where 'B' Company was caught in a hail of fire from field guns, mortars and machine-guns as it made across the open field for the already useless pontoon bridge, which 1st Field Company, S.A.E.C. thought to be still intact at 7.40 a.m. in spite of the efforts of the South African Air Force.

'B' Company was in full view from a tower on the other side of the river and the enemy's main artillery effort was switched on to them, while Captain F. W. Wells went on ahead of his company in a light tank to reconnoitre. He found formidable barbed-wire entanglements, which had not shown up on the aerial photographs, guarding the end of the aerodrome and the bridge, and he too came under heavy fire. With no means of cutting through the wire and with his men now also under machine-gun fire and suffering casualties, he was forced to order his company to withdraw almost at the moment when a loud explosion announced that the enemy was completing the destruction of the bridge, a third of which was definitely under water by early afternoon. The Dukes had lost Private W. H. Cronje, who was killed in action.

Sergeant H. R. Kent of the S.A. Light Tank Company drove his light tank across the aerodrome under very heavy fire to pick up wounded, and received an immediate award of the Military Medal.

Private V. A. Brand of the Dukes also won the Military Medal for driving an open truck up to the aerodrome under heavy artillery and machine-gun fire on three separate trips to bring in wounded. Private H. R. Stiger was similarly decorated for carrying on as a platoon runner even though wounded in the face earlier in the action, and helping other wounded to cover.

Captain B. Owen Smith, though already wounded in the action during the previous night, led his company throughout the Dukes' advance and was awarded the Military Cross, as was Captain G. A. Harrison.

Once off the aerodrome, 'B' Company of the Dukes reformed and joined 'A' Company who, with the Transvaal Scottish, had moved unhurriedly back to the cover of large sand dunes. A detached platoon on the extreme left, aided by light tanks, cleared up the outer defences and were also brought back across the aerodrome under fire.

The Transvaal Scottish had their 'C' Company on the left, 'B' Company on the right, Support and Headquarters Companies in the centre


and 'A' Company in reserve. Three light tanks ahead of either flank cleared each ridge in advance of the infantry, meeting practically no opposition beyond a few rifle shots in the initial stages.

At about 7.30 a.m. small parties of enemy infantry were observed heading along the beach towards Jumbo, about 1,000 yards away and were engaged briefly with two Vickers guns. By 8 o'clock, the artillery Forward Observation Officers had fully established communication with their guns. An Observation Post was set up with an excellent view of Jumbo and the area east and north of the Juba River bend, after about twenty Banda had been rounded up from a sand-bagged strongpoint on a high sand dune.

By 8.45 a.m. the forward companies of the Transvaal Scottish had reached the sand ridges overlooking the Juba River, Jumbo and Gobwen. Everything was ominously quiet till the Scottish and the Engineers occupied a house giving a good view of the river. The Transvaal Scottish paused and, to protect the exposed right flank of the Dukes, 'C' Company was ordered in at the double. It was halfway through Gobwen village at 9.20 a.m., when the enemy's blanket of artillery fire fell on it before switching to the aerodrome and then spreading on to the sand ridges and all along the front.

The artillery Observation Post on the dunes came under heavy shellfire but Major Murray simply moved forward to a better--and even more exposed--position, which he refused to vacate in spite of continued bombardment.25

The Observation Post itself was being shelled by guns situated below the mosque in Jumbo, and 11th Field Battery engaged. Colonel de Villiers, commanding 'Pincol' artillery, gave one section of 60-pounders a target on Jumbo ridge and Major Hull diverted four rounds from the heavier guns on to the position near the mosque, putting two 60-pounder shells within 25 yards of the Italian guns.

'C' Company of the Transvaal Scottish, finding no opposition in the village, was pulled out to the cover of the sand dunes, whilst enemy shelling kept up without pause, an estimated 3,000 shells falling on and around the aerodrome and dunes in two hours. The Transvaal Scottish, in retaliation, directed machine-gun and mortar fire rather blindly across the river, but this merely invited more enemy artillery fire, which continued heavily till about 11.30 a.m. With the whole of 4th Field Brigade firing on Jumbo ridge, counter-battery fire by the South African guns at last began to tell and by 1 p.m. the Italian guns were almost silenced. Support weapons kept up firing on enemy positions all day but no advance or crossing was achieved. Sergeant Barend Vorster of 11th Field Battery, S.A.A. won the Military Medal for maintaining the artillery telephone line throughout the Italian bombardment.

A number of men had been hit and Captain F. J. H. de Marigny, the Medical Officer attached to the 1st Transvaal Scottish, had established his regimental aid post within 100 yards of the forward troops, carrying his own medical supplies and tending the wounded under fire. When more men were hit and no stretcher-bearers were on hand, he went forward himself to bring in the injured, whom he continued to attend under fire. He was the first medical officer with the South African forces to be decorated, winning the Military Cross.26


While the Dukes and Transvaal Scottish were undergoing this ordeal by shellfire, the Carbineers located a cave full of enemy ammunition and stores about 1| miles forward of their position facing Kismayu, which H.M.S. Shropshire had bombarded for twenty-two minutes from 25,000 and 20,000 yards before turning her 8-inch guns on the island of Mtanga Ya Papa for a further fifteen minutes without evoking any reaction.

The 10th Field Ambulance, S.A.M.C. (Lieutenant-Colonel D. B. Strachan), unable to move ambulances forward to Gobwen through the sand in the dark, had had some difficulty in establishing their Advanced Dressing Station, but had nevertheless been fully open by first light. During the day they evacuated nineteen casualties to the Main Dressing Station at Eyadera, with sixteen of them able to continue the journey to Afmadu. To increase surgical facilities, the Main Dressing Station was moved to the satellite landing ground next day.


During the early afternoon Major-General Godwin-Austen and Brigadier Fowkes arrived at 'Pincol' Headquarters to review the situation with the South African brigade commander, who had gone forward in an armoured car and had a narrow escape on his return when the armoured car struck a landmine between Gobwen and the landing ground. Fortunately no one was hurt and the car was not damaged by the explosion. There were some discussions about the possibility of forcing a crossing elsewhere--which hindsight makes one feel should have been the obvious course in the first instance in view of the depth and tidal nature of the Juba near its mouth. The Divisional Commander stressed the fact that he expected the better crossing to be found somewhere near Jelib, and the rival merits of a move by the direct road Gobwen-Yonte or by the longer route Gobwen-Andaraf-Yonte were considered. It was felt that the former would be directly under enemy artillery and small-arms fire and that any move there would inevitably warn the Italians in Jumbo that something was afoot.

As a result, a reconnaissance party made up of a skeleton company of the Natal Carbineers and one section of No. 3 S.A. Armoured Car Company was sent off at 12.15 p.m. on a route from Gobwen to Andaraf and thence across country to Yonte, with Major H. Mill Colman and thirty Engineers of 1st Field Company, S.A.E.C, who had volunteered to man assault boats. Major John Tutton, Royal Engineers, went with them and, turning off the main road at Andaraf, the patrol travelled 46 miles before stopping for the night.

Brigadier Fowkes already had one and a half battalions of 1/1 and 5th King's African Rifles27 from 22nd East African Brigade on the way to occupy Kismayu, ahead of General Wetherall's 11th African Division, and was given a section of South African armoured cars from No. 3 S.A. Armoured Car Company and a subsection of 1st Field Company, S.A.E.C. under Lieutenant E. W. Bibby to assist him. Major Rex Simpson, with the right section of 1st Field Battery, C. F. A., was also temporarily detached to help the East Africans, but soon returned to his positions at Gobwen.28

The South African armoured cars entered Kismayu unopposed, and


the King's African Rifles officer who had led the 22nd East African Brigade convoy down from Afmadu simply drove on past 'Pincol's' outposts and into the town.

Such was the entry into Kismayu, with the populace out in the streets ululating to welcome the 5th King's African Rifles and mostly rolling drunk after looting all the wine stores.29 The 1/1 King's African Rifles occupied the hills overlooking the town.30

By 5 p.m. the East Africans had completely occupied the fly-ridden town, finding three of the eight 120 mm (4·7-inch) coast defence guns and ten out of sixteen 76 mm anti-aircraft guns still in condition to be put back into action. Water was very short, but that evening Lieutenant Bibby and his South African Engineers found a windmill in good order, cleaned out the tank and soon had it ready for use by the East Africans, who were generally clearing and cleaning up the town. Natives who had taken to the bush streamed back, Arab traders reopened their stores and merchants clamoured for Kenya shillings.31

Requisitioning two small boats, the King's African Rifles occupied the island of Dei Serpenti before nightfall. A small dhow carried a platoon across the water to take possession of Mtanga Ya Papa next morning, thus completing the occupation of Kismayu and its defences six days ahead of schedule. Lieutenant-Colonel I. B. Whyte's 7th Field Brigade, S.A.A. and Major H. D. W. Smith's 16th Field Company, S.A.E.C. bivouacked near Kismayu on 16 February, and 16th Field Company was soon doing everything possible to develop water supplies and establish water points.

The night of 14/15 February passed quietly opposite Jumbo, though the enemy completed the destruction of the pontoon bridge.

With only fifty-six aircraft of all types left, the Duke of Aosta was appealing to Rome for fighter and bomber reinforcements, and with Kalam in the far south-west of Abyssinia being threatened by 25th East African Brigade, with 2nd and 5th S.A. Infantry Brigade Groups closing in on Mega and a phantom 4th Australian Division's signals coming over the air from 20 miles along the Gerille-Fafadun road leading to Bardera, there was no hope of moving men from any front to bolster up the Juba line. The serious threat along the lower Juba could very soon become critical, and on available information it seemed quite possible to 'Pincol' that the Italians were pulling out. 'The absence of air power', the Duke of Aosta reported to Rome, 'is more bitterly felt every moment.'

However, patrols of 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Group soon established that no appreciable withdrawals had taken place in the Gobwen-Jumbo area, where the situation was temporarily one of stalemate, with rather desultory firing on both sides, though in one brief period that day the Italians sent over some 500 shells.32 On the other hand, the South African gunners themselves were doing good work.

Lieutenant A. H. de Wet, Adjutant of 4th Field Brigade, S.A.A., had gone up in an aircraft over Jumbo to direct the fire of the South African guns and had a narrow escape when the machine was hit by enemy small-arms fire early in the sortie, but the pilot just managed to glide back to safety behind his own lines.

Major John Gordon-Gray occupied an observation post on a sand


dune that was under almost continuous fire,33 and the gunners' work was seriously handicapped by poor observation on account of bush. The fulfilment of artillery tasks was made the more difficult by the necessity to economize on ammunition, which bore out Brigadier Pienaar's contention--an unusual one coming from a gunner--that his column was overloaded with artillery.

Another Military Medal was won by a member of the Dukes when Corporal R. W. Sayers, though himself wounded in three places by shellfire, attended first one wounded man and then saved Private Gordon Solomon's life at the risk of his own, by sheltering the badly wounded Solomon with his own body for fifteen minutes before he could lift him on to a light tank to be carried back to safety.34

General Cunningham, whatever the slight upset to his timetable at Gobwen--the capture of which had originally been intended mainly to prevent enemy reinforcements reaching Kismayu--already had his sights set on Mogadishu, after which the South Africans could possibly be released for operations in the Middle East, where General Wavell was keen to have them as soon as possible. Grave decisions had been taken by the War Cabinet and Chiefs of Staff Committee in London on 11 February to offer every possible assistance to Greece and Turkey in the event of German attack, which seemed imminent.35


Table of Contents
Previous Chapter (13) ** Next Chapter (15)

Transcribed and formatted by Larry Jewell & Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation