Rolling up the Juba Line
In the midst of his operations to capture Kismayu General Cunningham had received a signal, dated 12 February, 1941, from General Wavell informing him of the situation and stating: Tn East Africa capture of Mogadishu would complete isolation of Italian East Africa and hasten surrender and should be carried out after capture Kismayu provided it does not involve heavy commitment. Vital importance of support of Greece and Turkey must however be overriding consideration.'1 As operations in southern Abyssinia were now thought never likely to be decisive, General Cunningham was being asked if the South African Division could be withdrawn. It was assumed that no major operation except possibly the capture of Mogadishu would be required after the fall of Kismayu. And already it was hoped that quick victory in East Africa might deter Japan from aggression.
Any further move was dependent upon crossing the Juba River, which was 580 feet wide at Gobwen and tidal for 14 miles, but could be waded at Jelib and at some points north of it. General Cunningham's information was that General de Simone had his motorized 15th Amhara Brigade (General Brunelli) in reserve in the Jelib area.2 It was actually at Brava and on 17 February was placed at the disposal of 102nd Colonial Division3 while two of the three Dubat groups in the Jelib subsector were moved back from Dinsor to Modun.
General Cunningham realized that the enemy could not possibly defend every yard of the long river and he urged General Godwin-Austen to tap in all along and seize possible bridgeheads--which the high degree of motorization in the division made feasible. If 12th African Division were not successful, General Cunningham was even prepared to bring up 11th African Division and place the attacking force on a two-divisional front to increase its chances of finding a suitable crossing place.
The 27th Road Construction Company, S.A.E.C. was very soon improving the satellite landing ground at Gobwen for use by the South African Air Force,4 and at a conference there on 15 February General Cunningham stressed that the river had to be crossed that day or the day following at the very latest.
Brigadier Pienaar, whose initiative had so far been restricted by his orders from 12th African Division, then undertook to effect a crossing providing Divisional Headquarters agreed. General Cunningham
endorsed this and the South African Brigade Commander that same day, 15 February, ordered 1st Transvaal Scottish into Brigade Reserve in preparation for a move to Yonte. The Dukes took over the Gobwen area, which shed 1st Field Battery, C.F.A., who did a night march to support the Gold Coasters at Bulo Erillo.
At Gobwen, a 'Yonte Column' was quickly formed.* It was intended that this fighting column would join the original reconnaissance patrol at Yonte.
At first light of 16 February the Yonte Column moved off to rendezvous at Eyadera. At the same time the S.A. Light Tank Company was withdrawn from 'Pincol' with instructions to move to Bulo Erillo. The Gobwen area was left under command of Lieutenant-Colonel G. T. Senescall of the Dukes with 'Pincol' Rear Headquarters at Eyadera.
BRIG. PIENAAR'S RECONNAISSANCE
Brigadier Pienaar, on his early morning air reconnaissance in a 41 Army Co-operation Squadron Hartbeest on 16 February spotted an area where the forest belt skirting the river thinned and where vague signs of old tracks indicated that there had been a ferry5 or ford. Returning to the satellite landing ground at Gobwen he found General Cunningham there to hear his report. General Godwin-Austen's Divisional Headquarters was informed and asked to arrange for the Yonte area to be bombed that evening. Brigadier Pienaar and Major Gerrard then left hurriedly to overtake the 'Yonte Column' which was on its way under Lieutenant-Colonel E. P. Hartshorn, but unfortunately they only managed to reach the Descech Uama area that evening of 16 February, owing largely to misleading maps.6
A motorized patrol was sent out along a camel track and reached Yonte, but found no trace of the original reconnaissance party. Just after sunset some hand-grenades were thrown at the anti-tank battery in the column but no damage was done, and no other opposition was encountered.
Next morning--17 February--while 24th Gold Coast Brigade was probing northward in the hopes of finding a crossing, the 'Yonte Column' reached the right bank of the Juba at Mesandaro without incident. Captain C. G. G. Williams of 1st Field Company, S.A.E.C. noticed a line of posts a little higher up and taking off his boots and trousers, and followed by Corporal McGregor of his own company he led the first crossing of the Juba River. After him, Lieutenant-Colonel Hartshorn waded across at the head of his men. An enemy post on the island remained silent and a company of the Transvaal Scottish established the first bridgehead on the east bank of the river.7
At Mesandaro, however, the river banks were steep and high, and tidal effects were such that the depth of water increased from 18 inches to about 4 ft. 6 in. even while the column was there. It was obviously not
* The Column consisted of Brigadier Pienaar's Battle Headquarters, Colonel Maurice de Villiers's gunner party, 1st Transvaal Scottish, the 4·5-inch howitzer battery (Capt. Jack Storey), the 18-pounders of 11th Field Battery, S.A.A. (Major R. H. E. Murray), the 60-pounder battery (Major H. K. Hull), 2nd Anti-Tank Battery (Major B. J. H. Mawson), a section of 5th Anti-Aircraft Battery, Company Headquarters and one section of Major Gwillam's No. 3 S.A. Armoured Car Company and a company of 10th Field Ambulance, S.A.M.C.
the spot selected by Brigadier Pienaar, and 12th African Division appeared anxious about the extent of the operation. Brigadier Pienaar, feeling that any move up-river might provoke action by superior enemy forces from near-by Margherita, sent off a reconnaissance party downstream, where it found a demolished viaduct which the South African Engineers were taking in hand. Going on to Yonte, the party struck the original patrol that had been sent up from Gobwen, and soon the whole column was ordered down to Yonte while the covering party on the left bank at Mesandaro was withdrawn.
Captain Williams had already decided upon a point where a pontoon bridge could be put across the river, when Major Mill Colman found an even better spot where the Italians had already built small ramps down the banks on either side. He and Major John Tutton measured the gap and Brigadier Pienaar identified this as the area he had spotted from the air.
Headquarters of 12th African Division was informed. The 'Ford of Bulo Merere', the Italians called the place.
The surrounding countryside was a rich and fertile region of cultivated fields, Native villages and banana plantations, and on their dash down to Yonte the men ate their fill of bananas and laid in stocks which now hung swinging from the troop-carriers. The road at Yonte stopped near a few low warehouses with grass-thatched roofs supported on poles, not far from a cluster of abandoned mission buildings, which were soon to provide excellent facilities for the Advanced Dressing Station, which Brigadier Pienaar ordered up shortly after his arrival on 17 February, leaving a light section of 10th Field Ambulance, S.A.M.C. at Andaraf as a staging post.
CARBINEERS CROSS THE JUBA
The column was still coming in from Mesandaro on 17 February when the original patrol spotted some of the enemy on the left bank and downstream of the point selected for a crossing. Major Mill Colman, on his own initiative, asked Captain Chadwick of the Natal Carbineers if he was prepared to cross, and on receiving a very definite affirmative he and Major Tutton decided to seize the opposite bank at once. Two platoons of 'B' Company of the Natal Carbineers were sent across immediately in assault boats carried by the patrol and manned by 1st Field Company, S.A.E.C. They quickly took up defensive positions on the left bank.
On arrival, 1st Transvaal Scottish also began crossing in the collapsible canvas boats, whilst armoured cars covered them from points amid the tall tropical vegetation and dense foliage lining the west bank.8 Captain Piersen, T Officer of 12th African Division, sent a message to Divisional Headquarters endorsing 'Pincol's' request for the pontoon bridge.
The crossing was still proceeding, with batches of men in assault boats passing the 'returned empties' in midstream, when the first sign of opposition was met. Natal Carbineers on the eastern bank spotted several figures mounting machine-guns about 700 yards downstream. Almost at once the South Africans opened fire, which was speedily returned.
'The remaining boats came over in real invasion style with bullets plopping round them and whizzing through the trees above the rest of us', wrote a corporal who went across in the second wave. 'A mortar crew landed and went into action. Soon the enemy fire ceased and we busied ourselves covering every available approach to our tiny perimeter.'9
Machine-guns and mortars were used and casualties were inflicted on the enemy, and the two Carbineer platoons began to withdraw as the bridgehead was established by 'A' Company of 1st Transvaal Scottish, who were sniped at from up-river as 'B' Company with attached mortars was sent across to support them.10
The west bank, which not long before had been quiet and deserted, was now clamorous with activity. Ammunition, medical kit, and Engineer stores were being unloaded. Both 10th and 11th Field Batteries had taken up positions covering the crossing and they were joined by one section of 60-pounders while the other guns of 1st Medium Battery were on their way to support an assault on Jelib. The Sappers of 1st Field Company, S.A.E.C. were busy preparing for the arrival of the pontoon bridge, and across the river by nightfall 'B' Company of 1st Transvaal Scottish was dug in on the fringe of the bush overlooking the plain over which the enemy would have to move to attack the bridgehead. 'A' Company formed a screen on 'B's" inland flank and 'B' Company Headquarters was established in a square of impenetrable cotton bales in the thickest bush. Mortars were mounted in a clearing behind the rifle platoons, and the South Africans tensely awaited inevitable counterattack. As dusk fell over Italian Somaliland, East Africa Force had a bridgehead at Yonte.*
The line which the Duke of Aosta hoped to defend to the last was cracking.
TRANSVAAL SCOTTISH HOLD BRIDGEHEAD
On the night of 17 February, 1st Transvaal Scottish posted sentries about 50 yards out from their bridgehead and shortly before midnight detected sounds of the enemy moving up. The Scottish withdrew within the perimeter of the bridgehead as two companies of 195th Colonial Infantry Battalion under white Italian officers launched an attack on 'B' Company's sector. There was an immediate reply to the enemy machine-guns, whose positions were betrayed by flame stabbing the darkness. Both 10th and 11th Field Batteries came into action and South African mortars dropped their bombs on the enemy till they withdrew, leaving the silence punctuated only by the occasional groan or cry of a wounded man appealing to his friends for water.
Every man in the bridgehead knew that the enemy would almost certainly renew his attack.
'Then for hours the quiet was disturbed by the throbbing of vehicles bringing up enemy reinforcements',11 the Transvaal Scottish recorded. It was still dark when the sound of vehicles died down. Haifa battalion of Colonial Infantry from Jumbo began to advance under their white
* Some 60 miles to the north at Mabungo, Gold Coast patrols were seeking a second crossing place. At Gobwen the South Africans still threatened a frontal attack across the river on Jumbo, and at Bulo Erillo the Gold Coasters likewise threatened a direct assault on Jelib.
Italian officers at about 5.45 a.m. on 18 February. In the pre-dawn darkness they moved silently and unseen almost up to the Transvaal Scottish line, before the glimmer of daybreak revealed to the waiting South Africans scores of crouching figures clearly silhouetted against the glow of the eastern sky.
'B' Company of the Transvaal Scottish opened fire almost as one man. Rifle and machine-gun bullets ripped into the advancing ranks and mowed them down. With great gallantry the enemy came on again and again in the face of withering fire. Italian officers, with admirable courage, rallied their men and themselves mounted machine-guns on the open plain without cover of any sort to add their fire to the unequal contest against the Bren- and Vickers-gunners in the Transvaal Scottish bridgehead.
Pushed down the west bank of the river to positions where the enemy could be seen in ground dead to the Scottish in the bridgehead, 'C' Company, supported by armoured cars, enfiladed the attackers and added to their discomfort as one man after another dropped, in a deluge of small-arms and mortar fire. At 6.30 a.m. an Italian officer staggered forward with his hands up in surrender, and soon the survivors of the attacking force were in full flight.
The three other Italian officers were buried by the South Africans in marked graves, while the Native dead were buried in two large common graves in the middle of the battlefield, the carnage of which proved too much for many of the young victors, fresh from school, who turned ill at the sight of so much death. Even after daylight twenty-six of the enemy were buried, eleven wounded Colonial infantry prisoners were taken and it was said by the defenders of the bridgehead that of the attacking force of half a battalion not one returned to Jumbo. The Transvaal Scottish suffered only three minor casualties. Remnants of the enemy withdrew eastward to Bulo Boda, where they were reinforced by two companies of 5th Coast Battalion, a section of 70 mm guns and another of 20 mm Bredas. Later, in a build-up of a counter-attack force to wipe out the South African bridgehead, 193rd Colonial Battalion and a company of Carabinieri were also moved down from Margherita.12
All remained quiet for the rest of that day, 18 February, in the area round the Yonte bridgehead and the near-by village of Bulo Merere. Greatly facilitated by a dam scraper discovered by Lance-Corporal G. B. Kippen of 1st Field Company, S.A.E.C, and a tractor lent to the Sappers by the Mobile General Workshops, work continued at speed on the approaches for the pontoon bridge which 19th Field Park Company, S.A.E.C. was rushing forward from Afmadu.13 Captain Mervyn Steel had been made responsible for the bridging of the Juba while the Field Park Company was stationed at Garissa. The equipment had been prepared at Thika by 35th Works Company, S.A.E.C, under Major Hughes, and then sent to Garissa where 19th Field Park Company assembled it into balanced loads and prepared it for use in the field before transporting it with a convoy of lorries to Afmadu.
The bridging train of seventy vehicles, specially prepared by 24th Workshop and Park Company, S.A.E.C, had East African Native drivers, and was under command of Lieutenant W. F. Faulds, a former Kimberley Regiment Officer who had settled in Rhodesia. As a private
in the Kimberley Regiment Company of 1st South African Infantry he had won the Victoria Cross at Delville Wood in July 1916.14
Meanwhile, 60 miles further north, Gold Coast patrols on February 19 discovered another crossing place at Mabungo,15 to which point 1st Field Battery, C.F.A. was dispatched, while 7th Field Brigade, S.A.A., after a night march from Kismayu to Bulo Erillo on the evening of 18 February began a bombardment of the main enemy position in front of Jelib, into which they sent some 700 shells before dawn next day, when the guns moved to Mabungo.
On 18 February the balance of the Natal Carbineers were ordered up to Yonte from before Kismayu, towards which the Dumra was already steaming from Lamu, carrying two sections of 1st Anti-Aircraft Battery, S.A.A. (Major G. W. Meister) which were being moved forward from Mombasa. During the afternoon Lieutenant Faulds reached Yonte with his long convoy and bridging was immediately begun. The Natal Carbineers also arrived during the evening and bridge-building continued all night. It was progressing without mishap next day (19 February) when 'A' Company of 1st Transvaal Scottish under Captain Briscoe was ordered forward from the bridgehead at 11 o'clock in the morning, to get astride the Jumbo-Jelib road running roughly parallel with the river about 6,000 yards east of the bridge and passing through Mar-gherita some 18 miles to the north of the bridgehead.
The infantry, accompanied by Major Hull, in search of an observation post for his 60-pounders, had just moved off on 19 February, when Major-General Godwin-Austen arrived at Yonte to discuss the general situation and christen the new structure 'Union Bridge'. Brigadier Pienaar then issued orders for an attack on Jumbo next day, and a Dukes patrol which had come up to Yonte took back instructions to Lieutenant-Colonel Senescall at Gobwen to co-operate.
By 1 p.m. on 19 February, the leading platoon of 1st Transvaal Scottish, under Lieutenant C. St. J. Rodda, was about 1,000 yards from the Jumbo-Jelib road when it came under heavy fire. It had bumped 193rd Colonial Infantry Battalion from Margherita supported by the four '7-pounders' and two 20 mm Breda guns of the group at Bulo Boda. The Scottish were subjected to heavy rifle and machine-gun fire considerably more accurate than any previously experienced and, in addition, the enemy brought into action their four light field guns.
Working through into broken ground, the Scottish replied with very accurate fire, and as the Engineers completed the bridge and shells began landing on the west bank Major S. B. Gwillam and Lieutenant H. H. Anderson led six armoured cars across the river at speed. The cars tore out for some 5,000 yards, swung round the southern flank of the enemy and formed up in cavalry style, line abreast. With machine-guns firing, they surged forward amid clouds of dust to take the enemy in the rear. Italian gunners and Colonial infantry fled. Demoralization among the enemy Native troops was already setting in.
'A' Company of the Transvaal Scottish had only two men wounded. Four dead Italian officers, forty dead Natives and many enemy wounded were known to have been removed by the enemy, and eleven more dead and a number of wounded were found by Captain Briscoe's men, who captured numerous vehicles, the four 70 mm guns, two
20 mm Bredas and quantities of ammunition.
At 3.15 p.m. on the 19th the balance of 1st Transvaal Scottish crossed the Juba. Leaving 'B' Company as bridgehead guard, they took up positions astride the road, ready to move on Jumbo at first light on 20 February. Meanwhile, the action of Lieutenant P. E. B. Halliwell's platoon of No. 3 S.A. Armoured Car Company, in support of the Dukes at Gobwen, had put a different complexion on things in Jumbo during the afternoon of 19 February.
Under direct fire from enemy artillery in Jumbo, Halliwell's armoured cars moved right up to the river bank on the Gobwen side and poured a murderous stream of fire from the cars' Vickers guns into the palm trees and bushes on the opposite bank. At a prearranged signal the armoured cars withdrew, and Major Gordon-Gray's battery capped Halliwell's work with an intense bombardment of twenty rounds gunfire on the same area.
Some 60-100 casualties were suffered by the Italian Colonial troops in this brief action, and during the night of 19/20 February they abandoned arms and equipment, evacuated their waterside positions and refused to fight on.16 To the north, that same day, 1st and 3rd Gold Coast Regiments--the former supported by Headquarters Section of 1st S.A. Light Tank Company under Captain R. O.J. Anderson--had crossed the Juba unopposed at Mabungo at dawn and had established another bridgehead, leaving 2nd Gold Coast Regiment on the western bank to capture Alessandra.17
Orders to 1st Transvaal Scottish at the Yonte bridgehead, where bewildered fugitives from Jumbo were brought in during the night 19/20 February, were to occupy the right sector from the river bank to the Margherita-Jumbo road, leaving one company to hold the bridgehead. The Carbineers were to hold the left sector from the Margherita-Jumbo road, leaving one company on the right bank of the river to protect the bridge.
The 2nd Anti-Tank Battery was also to cross the river, allotting one gun to the bridgehead, one to the Carbineers for the road down from Jelib and Margherita, and another to cover the road up from Jumbo.
The 18-pounders of 11th Field Battery, the 4-5-inch howitzers of 10th Field Battery (which crossed the bridge that night) and the 60-pounders of 1st Medium Battery, together with the armoured cars, were available to support the infantry battalions who were to advance on Jumbo from the north, while the Dukes co-operated by making a feint crossing near the river mouth and by drawing enemy fire on Gobwen. Subsections of Engineers from 1st Field Company, S.A.E.C, under Lieutenants J. M. Stacey and D. M. Cowin, were already across the river with the Transvaal Scottish and Natal Carbineers. A special patrol from the Dukes was to protect the Transvaal Scottish right flank as early as possible, while the guns at Gobwen were to engage targets in Jumbo.
At 6.30 a.m. on 20 February the Carbineers, with the minimum of support vehicles, crossed the pontoon bridge under brief but brisk shelling. 'C' Company moved to cut the escape routes from Jumbo to the north. On the Carbineers' right flank the Transvaal Scottish, shortly afterwards, began to move forward towards Jumbo on foot with
4·5-inch howitzer sections leap-frogging forward in support.
By 7.30 a.m. the Natal Carbineers were already finding abandoned enemy guns and other material. The going became increasingly difficult and by 9.50 a.m. their ammunition vehicles had to be left behind with local protection.
DUKES TAKE JUMBO
At Gobwen it was a very different story. Lieutenant-Colonel Senes-call's force had begun their day's work on 20 February with four rounds gunfire from the artillery and some heavy firing by 'B' Company's support weapons on the neighbourhood round the tower at Jumbo, followed by a final raking of the river bank by Halliwell's armoured cars.18 Immediately white flags began to flutter all over the village and from the Italian defences.19
The Dukes had no boats and the only one in sight was on the Jumbo side, but Regimental Sergeant-Major C. W. N. Gautier discovered a cable still sagging over what had once been a ferry crossing. He hauled himself hand over hand across the Juba, waist-deep in water most of the way, and then returned in the almost waterlogged craft with the Commander of Jumbo, an Italian gunner officer and his driver.
Lieutenant-Colonel Senescall's Second-in-Command, Major Neil Hare, the T Officer, Captain E. H. Martin, R.S.M. Gautier and an escort of two riflemen, plus the Italians, then crossed back to Jumbo. At 10.30 a.m. on 20 February, Lieutenant-Colonel Senescall accepted the capitulation of Jumbo from the subsector commander, Colonel Bernardi. Thirty officers and more than 100 European artillery men surrendered.
On the seaward side of Jumbo, Lieutenant Eric Edmeades of 'B' Company of the Dukes had induced a Native to paddle a canoe across the river near its mouth and then ferried a party over to receive the surrender of enemy forces on that side of the village. It was an action of somewhat greater significance than appeared to the Dukes at the time, but its meaning was not lost on the hard-pressed Italians. During the night, the Italian Official History records, an enemy detachment landed near El Moghe, among the ruins of the residential area of Jumbo, thus completing the encirclement of the salient and blocking the only exit for the surviving defenders.20 By the time Lieutenant-Colonel Hartshorn of 1st Transvaal Scottish came tearing into Jumbo in his armoured car on 20 February, the Dukes were firmly in possession and ready to greet Brigadier Pienaar, who arrived shortly afterwards.
Mega had capitulated to 1st South African Division the previous day, and no doubt this news had added to the qualms of the Jumbo garrison regarding the possibilities of holding the Juba line. Recently recruited askaris of an inferior type and even seasoned Italian Colonial troops were cracking up in face of artillery bombardment and attacks from the air, against which they were powerless to retaliate.
Following a hasty conference, the handful of Dukes in Jumbo were ordered back across the river to make for Yonte with all speed, whilst orders were sent to the Natal Carbineers to rendezvous near the Jumbo-Margherita road and to prepare for pursuit northwards. Originally, this move--which was beginning on the morning of 20 February--had only
been scheduled for two days later.
War Correspondent Carel Birkby was sharing a pot of tea with Lieutenant-Colonel Hartshorn in a wooden bungalow which was to to serve as battalion headquarters for 1st Transvaal Scottish, when the G.S.O.I of 12th African Division walked in with the news that the battalion had to move at once. Within half an hour the Transvaal Scottish--tired, dirty and hungry--were heading back up the road towards Margherita and Jelib.21
Reaching Yonte at 3 p.m. on 20 February, with armoured cars in the lead, the Dukes crossed as quickly as possible and were directed to seize the locality of Torda and bivouac there for the night 20/21 February. Literally interpreting instructions for the Dukes column to cross alone, an over-conscientious staff officer held the column's supporting guns--12th Field Battery, S.A.A.--on the wrong side of the river,22 and the battalion passed through the bridgehead held by the Carbineers, who had been recalled from their flanking march on Jumbo. The Dukes sped on unchecked for about 14 miles in the late afternoon before coming under artillery and machine-gun fire from well-sited positions on a low ridge near the village of Torda, where the enemy aimed at delaying the advance, as part of a complicated redeployment to form an L-shaped line with the base facing south before Margherita. The upright of the 'L' would be holding the line of the Juba up to beyond Jelib, so as to avoid any sudden outflanking of Jelib itself with consequent cutting of the line of withdrawal along the road to Modun and Brava.23
Little time was left on 20 February for the South Africans to arrange a set piece attack, and Brigadier Pienaar instructed Lieutenant-Colonel Senescall to pull back out of range of the Italian guns. At the same time he ordered 10th and 11th Field Batteries to move up in support of the Dukes for an attack next morning.
MOVES ON JELIB
Two battalions of 24th Gold Coast Brigade Group, with 17th Field Battery, S.A.A., were across the river at Mabungo on 19 February and preparing to move down on Jelib as the South African column came up from the south. Simultaneously, 22nd East African Brigade was to pass through Mabungo and move in a south-easterly direction by camel tracks and through virgin bush to cut the Jelib-Mogadishu road about 18 miles east of Jelib. The 2nd Gold Coast Regiment, left on the west bank of the Juba, was to attack Jelib across the river through Alessandra.
Italian reaction to the Mabungo crossing was for 102nd Colonial Division to prepare to withdraw in bounds towards Modun, which had already been subjected to a two-hour naval bombardment.24 With General Carnevali sick, General Baccari was now in command of 101st Colonial Division and General de Simone ordered him to dispatch immediately from Bardera, in the direction of Jelib, a battalion of Colonial infantry and a lorry-borne battery to attack in the flank and rear any forces crossing the Juba between Dugiuma and Jelib.
The 102nd Colonial Division was ordered to suspend all movement and General de Simone betook himself to Omboi, where he was given news of increasing demoralization among his troops. He headed for
Jelib to learn at first hand about the situation, only to find the surrounding bush on fire and the residential area lit up in the darkness by flames, as the South African medium guns pounded the vicinity.
The 75th and 194th Colonial Battalions, greatly reduced in numbers, were in a bad state. At Madoca just north of Jelib things were no better, with one of his best units, 8th Dubat Group, as well as 94th Colonial Battalion, reduced to one-third strength. There was no guarantee that they would be able to hold out any longer and there was no news from Margherita. General de Simone decided to begin a general withdrawal.25
Lacking motor transport for anything but the artillery and heavy equipment of 101st Colonial Division on the long northern sector of the Middle Juba, General de Simone could not bring them down to defend Mogadishu and ordered them to withdraw north-east through Oddur to the Callafo area in the hopes of forming a defensive line with troops retiring northward from Mogadishu or escaping from the Juba Line.
THE CAPTURE OF JELIB AND ADVANCE TO MOGADISHU.
The capture of Jelib, keypoint in the Italian defence scheme blocking the road to Mogadishu, was essential for General Cunningham's next move and, sensing the situation correctly, on 20 February he moved up 11th African Division and 22nd East African Brigade (less 5th King's African Rifles)26 behind the Mabungo bridgehead with some armoured cars and South African light tanks, preparatory to an advance on Mogadishu. The 2nd Nigeria Regiment, with an attached machine-gun platoon from the King's African Rifles, took over the defence of the bridgehead itself and successfully withstood the counter-attack by General Baccari's forces from Bardera next day in the vicinity of 7th Field Brigade's gun area. Sappers bulldozed a way through the bush to the Bardera-Jelib road, and at 4 a.m. on 20 February 1/1 King's African Rifles and 1/6 King's African Rifles began crossing the river
and cut their way north-east to reach a track running south, from which they had to move through bush on a compass bearing next day.27
At first light on 21 February the Dukes, with a platoon of armoured cars from No. 3 S.A. Armoured Car Company, and 10th and 11th Field Batteries, S.A.A. attached, set out to seize Margherita on the road northward to Jelib. At intervals the rest of 'Pincol' followed. Slight opposition at Torda was brushed aside by the armoured cars28 and the advance continued to a point where an imposing Fascist monument marked the Equator, not far from the village of Margherita. Here the head of the column ran into heavy artillery fire. The South African guns were well forward in the Dukes column this time and quickly came into action as the infantry deployed.
A short, sharp artillery duel ensued, and though the enemy displayed some skill and determination, their artillery was silenced by accurate and effective fire by the South African 4-5-inch howitzers.
To the men on the ground it was not all that simple.
'B' Company of the Dukes, making as much ground forward as possible, was stopped by machine-gun fire from two Native battalions, whom the South Africans reckoned to be regulars.29 In fact, in one sector were the well-trained men of 49th Amhara Battalion. The enemy's artillery and infantry positions were well prepared and skilfully camouflaged, and the South African gunners' task was complicated by thick bush which rendered observation extremely difficult, but Lieutenant Halliwell's armoured cars were again conspicuous as he worked his way forward and located the Italian gun positions, sending back over the air information to the gunners, for whom Captain Storey--like his enemy counterpart apparently--was directing fire from a baobab tree so as to get a fair field of view over the bush.
One particularly troublesome enemy gun mounted on a large lorry, forerunner of later self-propelled artillery weapons, was constantly changing position until destroyed by a direct hit,30 which enabled 'A' Company of the Dukes to gain ground on the right while the armoured cars dashed forward on their own as enemy artillery fire slackened. Falling on the flank of 196th Colonial Battalion and fighting it out with enemy machine-gun posts, the armoured cars broke through the village defences, inflicting many casualties and by 3.30 p.m. on 21 February reported Margherita cleared. Within half an hour the Dukes were in possession of the whole village. Three field guns, sixteen machine-guns and some 500 prisoners were taken.
On the afternoon of 21 February, with the Dukes fully occupied in mopping up at Margherita at the end of a series of successful actions which earned for Lieutenant-Colonel G. T. Senescall the Distinguished Service Order, the Natal Carbineers were ordered through to an outpost position about 4 miles north of the newly captured village. Lieutenant-Colonel Gordon le Roux arrived on the evening of 21 February to take command of the Natal Carbineers in place of Lieutenant-Colonel McMenamin--who was in fact already on the way back from hospital--and he was given orders for the battalion to advance next day.
Other units of 'Pincol' were closing up in daylight to bivouac for the night of 21/22 February, when orders came from 12th African
Division for 'Pincol' to co-operate with the Gold Coast Brigade in the capture of Jelib, making Cansuma--midway between Margherita and Jelib--its start line at first light. At the same time, Brigadier Pienaar was to send a mobile column north-east to Bar Tucullo on the Jelib-Mogadishu road to make contact with 22nd East African Brigade, which was pushing down from Mabungo to cut the road and block the enemy's line of retreat.
General Cunningham had already raised his sights from Mogadishu, and with supplies reaching Kismayu by sea from Mombasa,31 he was planning to push on to Harar, 804 miles from Mogadishu. On the immediate front, the Natal Carbineers, led by Halliwell's armoured cars, cleared the road junction north of Margherita before first light on 22 February, by which time 1/1 King's African Rifles were pushing south through dense bush with armoured cars and light tanks, to get in rear of Jelib.32
The 1st Transvaal Scottish, less one company, moved up from the rear of 'Pincol' with some armoured cars from No. 3 S.A. Armoured Car Company and 12th Field Battery, S.A.A. very early on 24th February. In the darkness they formed a mobile column and proceeded through Margherita and on to a track leading north-eastward from a point 10 miles north of the village. Haifa mile up this road they captured two Italians and also discovered that their own maps of the area, drawn from aerial photographs, were almost useless.
At about 5.45 a.m. on 22 February, the armoured cars leading the Natal Carbineers opened fire on a company of Colonial Infantry 5 miles south of Cansuma at Beled Mamo, killing two Italian officers and twenty Native troops and capturing three Italian officers and 200 infantry.33 Brushing aside minor opposition at Cansuma, the Carbineers pushed rapidly on for another 20 miles without meeting resistance. At 8.25 they reached a road-fork about 10 miles south of Jelib and captured a lorry load of artillery ammunition and two Italian officers. Dropping a section of 'C' Company as a picket and flank protection, the battalion was only about 3 miles south of Jelib by 9 o'clock on the morning of 22 February.
Led by Corporal E. M. Osborne and reconnoitring a track through dense bush, one Carbineer section ran straight into a considerable force of enemy infantry. Lance-Corporal H. A. Robinson was fatally hit in the first burst of fire and the enemy began working round the section's left flank.34 Private M. J. Hackland--in an action which won him a Military Medal--ran 15 yards under heavy cross-fire from enemy machine-guns and rifles to recover the Bren and then, resting it in the fork of a tree, maintained a steady fire to cover the rest of the section till they had turned the truck and loaded the wounded into it.35
Corporal Osborne himself went forward with Private A. D. Evans to bring back the body of Lance-Corporal Robinson while the Bren covered the withdrawal.
At 9 a.m. on 22 February, 'A' Company of the Natal Carbineers advanced to some crossroads ahead, with orders to patrol with the armoured cars to either side along a track. The cars soon came under fire, as the area west of the road was being shelled from the west bank of the Juba by 1st Medium Battery's 60-pounders on a timed
programme which appeared to take no account of the movement of their own forces, and which 'Pincol' presumed to be from 'Dickcol'.
BOMBARDMENT DELAYS ADVANCE
Shortly after 10 a.m. on 22 February the armoured cars were heavily engaged and taking prisoners, while the shelling of Jelib continued in spite of 'Pincol' exchanging signals with 'Dickcol' in an effort to stop the bombardment. The 17th Field Battery, S.A.A. had already fought a brisk and successful action in support of 1st Gold Coast Regiment, but had ceased fire in view of uncertainty about the location of the advancing South Africans. The Right Section of 1st Medium Battery, S.A.H.A. had moved up to Bulo Erillo on 19 February to take part in the artillery 'softening up' of Jelib, and on the 20th had put down harassing fire on the approaches to the pontoon bridge between Alessandra and Jelib.
On 21 February, the rest of 1st Medium Battery, S.A.H.A. joined the Right Section and, as Divisional Troops of 11th African Division, the whole battery was in action next day, conforming to a fire plan for an attack on Jelib, with an allotment of up to 100 rounds. With the Right Section moving from one position to another, by the time the Natal Carbineers were approaching Jelib at 5 a.m. on 22 February, all four 60-pounders were in action, firing fifty-nine rounds between that time and 2 p.m. in spite of 'Pincol's' signals.
Denying that it was their artillery firing, one 'Dickcol' reply intercepted by 12th African Division stated that the 60-pounders were firing on Alessandra and the pontoon bridge. They were endeavouring to stop them. As Alessandra was just across the river from Jelib and lay directly in the path of the planned attack by 2nd Gold Coast Regiment, it seems that in the confused state of operations co-ordination with the medium artillery of 11th African Division had broken down. The Carbineers could still not advance into the overgrown village of Jelib at 11.30 a.m. on 22 February.
At midday a platoon of 'C' Company with a detachment of mortars was ordered to patrol towards the river and sweep the fringe of the bush south of two platoons of 'A' Company operating through cultivated ground on the west of the road. Shortly thereafter the advance of the Gold Coasters from the north was reported to be only 4 miles from Jelib. The keypoint of the Juba line was like a nut in a nut-cracker, but pressure could not be increased from either side while the shelling from the west continued.
By 12.38 'Pincol' was appealing to 12th African Division to call off the artillery bombardment, and 'Dickcol' was asking 'Fowcol' if it was they who were firing. None of them appeared to realize that the firing came not from their own Division, but from General Wetherall's.
The Natal Carbineers were already within 800-1,000 yards of the town by 12.50, but were still held up by shelling. Regardless of the danger, they pushed on and at 12.57 on 22 February 'Pincol' reported to 12th African Division that they had reached their objective. The Juba line was no more.
'Well done,' signalled the Gold Coast Brigade, 'beaten us by a short head. Still held up north of Limale by minefields.' The 132-mile move of the enemy's 76th Colonial Brigade to attack the Gold Coasters'
flank had had no effect on the battle at all.
The South Africans' troubles were by no means over, however, for the bombardment did not cease till 1.20 p.m. on 22 February. 'A' Company of the Natal Carbineers, which was in advance, rounded up a force of Colonial Infantry, but 'C' Company ran into heavy opposition nearer the river, where 3rd Dubat Group and the Battalion 'M' were situated. A single platoon under Lieutenant Derrick G. Norton was patrolling on the flank of the advance on the afternoon of 22 February, when a party of the enemy appeared at about 1.40 p.m., headed by an Italian officer carrying a white flag. Norton went forward to contact the officer and to arrange for the bringing in of the Native troops under the Italian's command. While the platoon commander was moving forward Italian Native troops manoeuvred unobserved into positions almost surrounding the South African patrol.
The South African and the Italian officer were just close enough to talk to each other when the Italian dropped to the ground and his men opened fire from the front and from the left flank. Several of the Carbineers fell with the first fusillade, and the little group of survivors was immediately in desperate straits.
For nearly two hours the patrol held its precarious position, with the enemy attempting to encircle it completely. The order was given to withdraw at all costs to a new position at the edge of the bush and three non-commissioned officers with a handful of men managed to worm their way back to re-form in a tiny square for a last-ditch stand under their officers.
By 3.45 p.m. on 22 February the isolated patrol had lost thirteen* killed and seven wounded. More than two hours after they had sighted the white flag, they were reached by South African armoured cars, which dispersed the enemy with heavy machine-gun fire. Lieutenant Norton was awarded the Military Cross.36
ARMOURED CARS AGAIN ACTIVE
While facing Jelib on 22 February, Lieutenant Halliwell's ubiquitous armoured cars came under heavy fire from guns only about 200 yards from their position. Zigzagging through the bush with one other car in support, and firing on the move, he rushed the enemy and captured a battery of 15-pounders, three Italian officers and thirty other ranks. Shortly afterwards, unfortunately, he and Private Heydenreich of his crew were both seriously wounded when their car was penetrated by six shots from an anti-tank gun so cleverly camouflaged in the bush37 that it was not discovered till later. Lieutenant P. E. B. Halliwell was awarded an immediate Military Cross.
Second-Lieutenant B. S. Mannion, whose obsolete two-wheel-drive armoured car was being employed as a personal reconnaissance vehicle by Lieutenant-Colonel le Roux, at one stage also went into action to rout a group of Italians who outnumbered the infantry platoon in the vicinity.38 By 4.15 p.m. on 22 February, with armoured cars and Sappers in the lead, the Natal Carbineers were entering the town of
* Members of the patrol killed in action were Sergeant R. H. F. E. Blomeyer, Corporal R. B. Robinson, and Privates F. J. H. Ball, A. Batten, C. G. Berlyn, P. C. Comrie, H. W. Cooper, J. A. Cowan, I. A. Gordon, B. M. Hornby, D. B. McCullough and H. R. B. Varty. Private J. H. Muir died of wounds the same day.
Jelib and opposition was virtually at an end, leaving the rest of the afternoon for mopping up, which was greatly complicated by wholesale looting by Natives. The landing ground was quickly reported clear of mines and made fit for use by the South African Air Force, which was rendering invaluable assistance to the ground troops, with 41 Army Co-operation Squadron, S.A.A.F. using all available aircraft to watch enemy movements in most difficult country, and to check the serviceability of roads ahead of the various columns as they pushed on, with maps which gave little true reflection of the topography.
Two Fiats caused some worry to the South African Air Force but met with little success. On 20 February the Glenn Martin on photographic reconnaissance was shot up by a Fiat whilst it was firing on motor transport near Brava and the right wing was damaged. During the next afternoon, the day before the Carbineers entered Jelib, a Battle disappeared in the vicinity of the town after dropping its bombs and turning for home. Weeks later it was confirmed that the pilot, Lieutenant B. S. M. Hamilton, had been killed and that the air-gunner, Flight-Sergeant J. W. Dixon, had baled out. Evidence indicated that he had been captured by Banda and shot.
The Jelib garrison had been almost annihilated and General de Simone had already given up hope of stemming the advance on Modun with what was left of 102nd Colonial Division--three infantry battalions and five batteries of artillery, some already in full retreat. North of Margherita 1st Transvaal Scottish could find little but sand tracks through almost impenetrable bush.
Nevertheless, at about 11.30 a.m. on 22 February the armoured cars struck the tail of the Italian 196th Colonial Infantry Battalion, with artillery, in full flight from Jelib. The enemy opened up with wild firing from '7-pounders', heavy and light machine-guns and rifles. Three South African armoured cars, unable to leave the track because of dense bush and soft sand, replied with their Vickers guns.
A platoon of'C' Company of the Transvaal Scottish was pushed forward through the bush to take up the fight, with additional armoured cars giving flanking and overhead fire, before which enemy resistance soon cracked. Unfortunately, one chance shot hit and detonated a box of bombs in an Italian ammunition truck at the side of the track and the column was held up till the conflagration subsided, with several hundred '7-pounder' shells and thousands of rounds of small-arms ammunition exploding. In the meanwhile the Transvaal Scottish captured four Italian officers and eighty Native other ranks plus their four light field guns, four 10-ton lorries, a crawler tractor and a number of machine-guns and rifles.
'C' Company of the Scottish, preceded by the armoured cars, then went on to reconnoitre. The road swung back towards Jelib, but the battalion carried on and the twisting tracks gradually swung round till they were heading to the north-east. Two Italian lieutenants in a Fiat safari car, who trundled unsuspectingly into the column and were made prisoner, had heard in Mogadishu that the South Africans had been smashed up at Jelib, and they had obtained leave to see the fun.
The Transvaal Scottish were puzzled to come upon signposts pointing to 'Umboi', no word of which had been mentioned in East Africa Force
Intelligence summaries. It turned out to be a large Native infantry cantonment with a mile or more of grass houses and signboards which indicated both battalion and brigade lines.39
At 2.30 p.m. on 22 February Lieutenant-Colonel Hartshorn's column reached its objective, cut the road from Jelib to Mogadishu and turned right towards Modun, 70-80 miles away. Travelling fast for some 8 miles to meet 22nd East African Brigade, Lieutenant-Colonel Hartshorn, with the armoured cars, reported to Brigadier Fowkes, and a Transvaal Scottish patrol swooped back over the route by which they had come. The rest of the battalion bivouacked for the night of 22/23 February near Cansuma.
Private D. C. Roodt died of wounds during the day.
The Dukes, meanwhile, moving with the main column along the Margherita-Jelib road since early morning on 22 February, were patrolling tracks to either side of their axis of advance. One such patrol encountered thick bush, through which they spotted a camp on a ridge to which even the armoured cars could not penetrate. Mortar fire was ordered on the forward slope and a tragic accident occurred when a mortar bomb exploded prematurely, killing Lieutenant J. Rudd, Corporal S. Harle, and Privates R. J. Boerien, I. A. Hayes, F. W. P. Lock, J. A. Miller, and R. G. Munnick of the Dukes and wounding four others. Private F.J. Merry of 2nd Reserve Motor Transport Company was also killed, and Lance-Corporal M. Williams of the Dukes died of wounds the same day.
That night the Dukes bivouacked at a crossroads preparatory to further mopping up of the disorganized and demoralized groups of enemy wandering about the countryside on 23 February. Major-General Godwin-Austen signalled personally to Brigadier Pienaar, 'You have done splendidly and made far more brilliant progress than I had even anticipated. I hope your troops are heartened by this success.... Remember that 11 Div. must have their chance, so do not mind if they are chosen to press on to Mogadishu.'40
Not long after midnight on 22/23 February the Comando Superiore heard the worst from General de Simone. At 3.15 a.m. a dispatch to Rome reported that the loss of the river crossing between Torda and Margherita had necessitated a withdrawal and that Mansur--the one near Mabungo--was about to fall. They were trying to assemble the troops between the sea and the Juba, facing south, to put up a final resistance, the message added. By the time the news reached Rome the Italian position was beyond saving. Their high command had no news of the Jelib garrison, and they knew little except that their forces had been thrown into confusion. Orders had gone out for what remained of 102nd Colonial Division to withdraw to Modun, which was being shelled by the Royal Navy.
GEN. CUNNINGHAM LOOKS AHEAD
General Cunningham, with Jelib captured and the Mogadishu road cut, realized that the Italians had committed practically all their available forces to the defence of the river, with very little left between the Juba and Mogadishu.41 With no cut-and-dried plan, but ready to exploit success to the full, he was confident that in view of the
disorganized state of the enemy, East Africa Force would have to face little resistance between the coast and Ffarar once Mogadishu was in his hands, and he had time to bring up supplies by opening its port and that at Merca. With stores and supplies being brought by sea from Mombasa, Kismayu was already being developed as an advance base, largely as a result of excellent work in clearing the harbour, but even so some 300 miles of road lines of communication had to be maintained in addition, with the tracks breaking down into ribbons of dust as the convoys churned up the sand.
Harar was 804 miles by road from Mogadishu, but by stripping transport from the troops left on the Kenya front, General Cunningham reckoned he would just be able to push on with three brigades. Already he was considering the use of 1st S.A. Division under General Brink for the thrust northward from Mogadishu. Not only did he think their superior equipment and firepower would be needed in the Abyssinian Highlands where the conditions would be strange and difficult for his Black troops, but also he wished to give the South African Division a more prominent part in the operations, as it appeared that an advance north of Mega and Moyale might not be possible in the approaching rains.42
General Cunningham cabled on 22 February to General Wavell at Middle East Headquarters, pointing out that as the rains in Italian Somaliland arrived later than in Kenya, he could continue operations and thought he could take Harar by the end of the first week in April--six weeks ahead. While General Wavell was still considering the matter, at 6 a.m. on 23 February, General Wetherall's 11th African Division with 23rd Nigerian and 22nd East African Brigades under command, began the advance on Mogadishu from Mabungo,43 where 35th Works Company, S.A.E.C. had played a prominent part in throwing a bridge across the river after a 3-mile track had been cut through the thick tropical jungle belt along the river bank. Engineers had accompanied the assault boats to form the bridgehead, as at Yonte.44
Many Italian Colonial troops were still at large after deserting from Margherita and Jelib,45 and while mopping up proceeded, 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Group passed into Force Reserve on 23 February.
The 10th Field Ambulance,, S.A.M.C., with one light section with the Natal Carbineers near Jelib, and another with 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Headquarters on the road Margherita-Jelib, had its main dressing station established by Captain J. D. Allen--with a heavy section of 'B' Company in support at Margherita, where they were based on a large house. The 'medicos' were hard-pressed, with twenty-nine patients admitted and so much surgical work that at one time three surgical teams were operating simultaneously.
The Officer Commanding the Field Ambulance, Lieutenant-Colonel D. B. Strachan, travelled down to Kismayu on 23 February, and found that a hospital ship and field Casualty Clearing Station had arrived. Motor ambulance convoy assistance was asked for and this helped greatly. The main dressing station admitted forty-one cases during the day and was able to clear sixty-six to Kismayu next morning, 24 February. By that time elements of 22nd East African Brigade Group had occupied both Modun and Brava, after H.M.S. Shropshire
had very effectively bombarded enemy camps and dispositions near Modun crossroads, with a S.A.A.F. Glenn Martin spotting for the Royal Navy.46
Hardest worked South Africans were still the officers and men of the Medical Corps, for at midday on 24 February the Gold Coast Brigade asked for assistance in evacuating thirty-two casualties. In fact there were seventy-eight, and all were sent direct to 10th Field Ambulance's main dressing station, which admitted eighty-nine patients that day. 'B' Company opened partly to assist in surgical treatment. They managed to evacuate eighty-one cases next day but received another thirty. The light section of 'B' Company was detached from the Natal Carbineers on 25 February and moved into Jelib to open and prepare for the arrival of its heavy section, which had been sent for to form a full advanced dressing station there. The main dressing station, meanwhile, had to clear in order to move next day. Captain J. D. Allen earned the the M.B.E. for the fine work he had put in whilst it was operating at Margherita.
ON TO MOGADISHU
On 24 February General Wavell replied to General Cunningham's cable of 22 February and instructed him to advance to Harar if possible, to cut communications between Addis Ababa and Jibuti. Middle East Headquarters would initiate operations for the reoccupation of Ber-bera and British Somaliland, to open up a short supply line for forces attacking Harar.
Continuing 11th African Division's advance, the Nigerians put an Italian rearguard to flight. The 16th Field Company, S.A.E.C. helped to clear minefields ahead of the Nigerians and they thrust on against sporadic resistance about Goluin, 50 miles south-west of Mogadishu. At Mogadishu itself the harbour entrance had been sown with magnetic mines some weeks earlier.
East of the Juba, the South African Infantry continued mopping up but 4th Field Brigade, S.A.A., left 'Pincol' on 24 February to join 24th Gold Coast Brigade Group, which still formed part of 12th African Division and was moving further north to clear Bardera and threaten Neghelli from the south-east,47 as General Brink's forces were threatening it from the south along the Mega-Moyale escarpment. Preliminary artillery programmes were worked out, but Bardera, Lugh Ferrandi and Iscia Baidoa were all found evacuated,48 and 4th Field Brigade soon reverted to 12th African Divisional Troops.
'Pincol', with 1st Medium Battery, S.A.H.A., on 25 February left for Brava and bivouacked at Cugni Barro, where they received a message to block the road junction at Tassin to prevent the escape of an enemy column north of Brava.
The Dukes duly moved to Tassin on 26 February and to posts at Modun and Brava, relieving 1/1 King's African Rifles. The rest of 'Pincol'--except for 1st Transvaal Scottish--bivouacked in the Modun area, and an enemy column still south of Brava was thus gradually collected during the next few days.
Meanwhile, brushing Banda groups aside at the village of Andegle, the Nigerians cleared the way to Afgoi on 25 February, and there
captured immense quantities of enemy material. That night--only fourteen days after the capture of Afmadu--an East African armoured car patrol shot in to Mogadishu after an unopposed 20-mile run. Three South African field security policemen were dropped in the ancient seaport town as a protective force for the telephone exchange and other vital points.49 Mogadishu had been declared an open town and a formal entry was to be made next day by Major-General Wetherall, whose leading Brigade Group had covered 275 miles in only two and a half days.
Lieutenant-Colonel Whyte had now been appointed C.R.A. of 11th African Division and Major F. Theron assumed command of 7th Field Brigade, which moved into billets in the Italian Motor Transport Park in Mogadishu on 26 February.
MOPPING UP AND AWAITING SUPPLIES
The shockingly insanitary state of the Modun area, fouled by previous bivouacs and now dotted with shallow graves and even rotting corpses--believed to be casualties from the naval bombardment--gave rise to some uneasiness about the health of the troops in the South African Brigade Group on 27 February. Strict enforcement of sanitation and hygiene measures was necessary, as no more suitable area could be found. By the month's end, 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Group had taken over the civil administration of Brava, which was conducted through reappointed Italian authorities. The South African 10th Field Ambulance had opened an advanced dressing station at Modun on 26 February, and took over supervision of the hospital 5 miles away at Brava, where deplorable conditions were found. Some sixty African patients, including wounded enemy troops, had simply been abandoned when the Italian medical staff had been interned. These doctors were released as quickly as possible and conditions rapidly improved.
Brigadier Pienaar's column, with seventeen days of achievement to its credit from the opening of General Cunningham's offensive at Afmadu, was now disposed with one company of 1st Transvaal Scottish still guarding Union Bridge at Yonte, a platoon of the Natal Carbineers guarding prisoners of war at Jelib, the rest of the Transvaal Scottish at Tassin, the main body of the Natal Carbineers in the Tassin-Modun area, and the Dukes at Modun and Brava. The remainder of the South African Brigade Group was resting round Modun, with column headquarters at Brava.
Individual achievements during recent operations were too numerous to recount, and it was likewise impossible to estimate the total number of prisoners taken. At a conservative estimate, East Africa Force reckoned, the number of enemy rendered non-effective in operations up to the fall of Mogadishu was 31,000, which accounted for the whole of the enemy's 102nd Colonial Division and more than half of the 101st Colonial Division. Great quantities of war material were captured and the main ammunition dumps, engineer and ordnance stores at Afgoi were found complete.50 The enemy certainly was not short of essential supplies--he had been roundly defeated.
Whilst 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Group gathered in the general area round Modun and Brava, in Force Reserve, 12th African Division
was ordered to move light forces to Bardera, Dolo and Lugh Ferrandi. These operations, during which 109th Reserve Motor Transport Company, S.A. Indian and Malay Corps, provided seventy vehicles to lift the 1/4 King's African Rifles over atrocious camel tracks, were carried out rapidly and, the men of the S.A. Indian and Malay Corps were surprised and delighted on 26 February to meet a convoy of Rand Light Infantry vehicles from 2nd S.A. Division at Fafadun, bringing them extra water which had been picked up during an almost direct run from Broken Hill. More prisoners were taken, including the commander and staff of 20th Colonial Brigade, all of whose African personnel--about 3,000 men--had dispersed into the bush. Shortly after arrival at Fafadun, 1/4 King's African Rifles learnt that the enemy had retired from Italian Somaliland. Two companies of 1/4 King's African Rifles, with twenty-two of 109th Reserve Motor Transport Company's vehicles, therefore moved to Bardera to make contact with the Gold Coast Brigade, the rest of the battalion returning to Wajir, which was reached on 1 March.
East Africa Force was still faced with major supply problems. From Mogadishu to Jijigga was 744 miles by road, though the reopening of Berbera could cut this to only 204 miles when an advance from Mogadishu was undertaken. The magnetic mines sown at Mogadishu itself created difficulties, as the special apparatus for sweeping these mines was not immediately available. A temporary base had to be established at Merca, using lighters and tugs from Mogadishu.51
Some 200 British officers and crews of merchant vessels were found as prisoners in Mogadishu and a number of them volunteered to assist in reconditioning the damaged tugs and to help in opening Merca.52 Damage to cranes, jetties and other appliances was quickly rectified, largely as a result of the efforts of the 41st Harbour Construction Company, S.A.E.C. (Major G. H. Deas)--only unit of its kind in Middle East Command--and 24th Workshop and Park Company, S.A.E.C. (Captain C. D. Boys). But it had not been possible to establish forward dumps for any advance from Mogadishu as had been done for the advance to the Juba River. As General Cunningham himself put it, 'There was no respite for the accumulation of reserves, for the reorganisation of transport units, by now much dispersed and in need of servicing, nor for the regrouping of staffs to establish new depots'.53 The 38th Railway Construction Company S.A.E.C. (Major J. G. Pauling) very soon had the Mogadishu-Villagio Duca degli Abruzzi narrow gauge railway working, but this was only 70 miles long. Road transport was the key to any further advance, and for that fuel was essential.
In the rear, the pontoon bridge originally thrown over the Tana at Garissa in July 1940 by Captain K. T. Gilson of 16th Field Company, S.A.E.C. was now proving a bottleneck, as it was inadequate for loads exceeding 6 tons. On the Juba the pontoon bridges at Gobwen, Yonte and Augele near Jelib also needed attention and, by coincidence, it fell to Gilson, now a major commanding the recently arrived 9th Field Company, S.A.E.C, to tackle these problems early in March.54
The 1st S.A. Brigade Group at Brava--where 1st Field Company, S.A.E.C. was repairing the long pier and organizing the supply of water--was already virtually immobilized through lack of fuel and
there seemed no possibility of bringing forward petrol in the quantities required for an advance on Harar. General Cunningham, in his determination to push his advantage to the utmost, was trusting somewhat to chance and if ever fortune favoured the brave it was now. As in ancient Greek drama, the 'deus ex machina' appeared at the psychological moment. He came in the form of an unkempt and rather decrepit Somali, who visited General Wetherall's Headquarters with a story that he knew where the Italians had hidden some petrol. It was not much petrol, but it was some.
General Wetherall offered this rapscallion a reward of some thousands of lire--worth about £10--if he would show them where this small stock of petrol was hidden. From then on, j'udicious bribery encouraged a steady stream of avaricious Somalis to descend upon the General's Headquarters,55 till no less than 350,000 gallons of motor fuel and 80,000 gallons of aviation spirit had been unearthed. Even before the ports of Mogadishu and Merca had been fully opened, General Cunningham's greatest supply problem was thus solved. The 11th African Division was poised to thrust boldly on to Harar, an enterprise which in the early days of the war with Italy would have been considered by Middle East Headquarters to be quite impossible without French support from Jibuti and a base at Berbera.
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