Teething Troubles overcome
On 13 August 1940, 1st South African Division under command of Brigadier-General George Brink and consisting of 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Group already in Kenya, and 2nd and 5th S.A. Infantry Brigade Groups, was officially formed, initially with Lieutenant-Colonel W. H. E. Poole as G.S.O.1.
On a tour of duty overseas during 1937, General Brink had studied the latest developments in Britain, Germany, France and Italy, and in the capacity of Deputy Chief of the General Staff and Director of Army Organization and Training from May 1939, he had directed the training of South Africa's field army till his appointment as South Africa's first divisional commander. With Lieutenant-Colonel Poole being appointed Commandant of the Military College, his place as G.S.O.1 was taken by Colonel S. J. Joubert, a British Staff College graduate, who had served a brief attachment to the German Army, in January 1939, followed by a spell in Italy. As Senior Staff Officer on the staff of General Sir Pierre van Ryneveld shortly after the outbreak of war, Colonel Joubert had been largely responsible for the detailed staff work on which the wartime build-up of the South African forces had been based.
Proposals for distinctive flashes for South African troops were submitted to General Brink, who recommended their adoption and they were approved by Defence Headquarters, thus becoming the flashes of 1st, 2nd and 3rd S.A. Divisions, followed later by the green and gold superimposed triangles of 6th S.A. Armoured Division.*
While General Brink's Headquarters was still forming, 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Group at Gilgil was having inevitable teething troubles. A number of changes in officers' postings was effected towards the end of August.
Lieutenant-Colonel L. N. Hay, M.C., V.D., after a period of
* The Union Defence Force had now adopted as uniform for bush warfare the khaki bush-shirt, with khaki drill slacks, anklets and boots. Full webbing was worn in the field and regulation headgear was the light, polo-type helmet. The first morning Colonel Joubert walked into the headquarters of 1st S.A. Division, the Adjutant-General's staff appeared with scrolls of expensive drawing-paper on which there were designs for flashes for every unit of the newly constituted division. On a sheet of paper Colonel Joubert drew a square, a circle and a rectangle. He drew a diameter through the circle, bisected each of the other designs with one straight line and wrote 'Gold' in the upper and 'Green' in the lower segment of each of them. Selecting the square as the flash of 1st S.A. Division, it then dawned on him that by balancing this design on one corner it became a diamond, and this was adopted.
Lieut.-Colonel C. L. Engelbrecht, Commanding Officer of 2nd Field Force Battalion,
talking to General Smuts at Gilgil.
Colonel S. J. Joubert, G.S.O. 1, 1st S.A. Division.
(I. to r.): Generals Wavell, Brink and Cunningham during a visit by the Commander-in-Chief, Middle East,
to the 2nd S.A. Infantry Brigade Group's sector in the Northern Frontier District.
Cape Corps drivers beside a convoy of Y.M.C.A. canteen trucks and military supply vehicles,
about to move off in East Africa.
A party of Cape Corps personnel outside the Orderly Room at their tented leave camp at Mombasa.
ill-health, relinquished command of the Natal Carbineers to return to the Union and on 24 August was succeeded by Lieutenant-Colonel J. G. McMenamin, a former officer of the Transvaal Scottish who was brought into the brigade from East Africa Force Headquarters in Nairobi. At the same time, Lieutenant-Colonel D. F. Smitheman was appointed Officer Commanding Troops in the Gilgil area and succeeded as Officer Commanding, 1st Transvaal Scottish by Major
E.P. Hartshorn, D.C.M., E.D., the one-armed Brigade Major. Major Hartshorn was succeeded on 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Staff by Captain
F.I. Gerrard, M.C., a British Regular Army Reserve officer who had emigrated to South Africa in 1933 and been appointed to East Africa Force Headquarters.
Two days after these changes, the first move of South African infantry to the forward areas began when the Dukes, forming the main body for 'RANK Plan'--which envisaged the Turkana sector being taKen over by the South Africans--left Gilgil under Lieutenant-Colonel G. T. Senescall. A section of 1st Field Company, S.A.E.C. went with them, and two sections of 2nd Reserve Motor Transport Company provided transport.
Colonel SenescalPs column passed through Nakuru, Eldoret and the railhead at Kitale, not far from the Uganda border, before reaching the impressive Nepau Pass on 28 August and descending to the plain hundreds of feet below as it headed into the Turkana, driest and hottest district of Kenya.
On 29 August the Dukes' advance party and seventy-four men of 1st Field Company, S.A.E.C. reached Lodwar, on the banks of the Turkwell. There Lieutenant-Colonel Senescall set up his Battalion Headquarters with one company, and the Sappers immediately began developing water supplies.
By the end of the month forward posts at Lokitaung and Kalin, some 90 miles north of Lodwar, had each been garrisoned by a company with mortar and machine-gun detachments, thus relieving two companies of the King's African Rifles, one of which had been recently bombed at Lokitaung, a fact that pointed to possible ground attack on one or other of the posts, at which 1st Field Company, S.A.E.C. subsections developed the water supplies, provided sanitation and helped the infantry build defence works. In a minor brush with Merille tribesmen from southern Abyssinia a patrol fired the first shots at a visible enemy, but no engagement developed.
For No. 10 Brigade Signals Company, S.A.C.S. the situation presented many problems. The Dukes had their Battalion Headquarters at Lodwar; Brigade Headquarters was at Gilgil, 400 miles away; it was 116 miles from Lodwar to Kalin and 130 miles from Lodwar to Lokitaung. Force Headquarters was at Nairobi, 80 miles from 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade at Gilgil. For inter-communication, wireless had to be relied upon and two extra Collins sets were provided to help cope with the task, which was well beyond what could normally be expected of a Brigade Signals Company. From Nairobi, dispatches for the Dukes had to be sent to Kitale by train and then by road to Lodwar. From Gilgil a daily dispatch rider service was run to Nairobi and the S.A. Corps of Signals constructed a permanent telephone line between Gilgil and
Nairobi for two speech circuits, on which a telegraph circuit was later superimposed.
A high degree of vigilance was necessary in the Turkana, but irksome inactivity drove the Dukes to request East Africa Force to allow them 'to have a crack at the enemy'1 occupying the former British outposts at the northern tip of Lake Rudolf. Permission was not forthcoming for offensive action.
At Gilgil on 6 September, after watching a combined exercise by 1st Transvaal Scottish and the Natal Carbineers, Major-General Dickinson informed the two battalions that for the completion of their training he intended attaching them to the King's African Rifles and West Africans in the forward areas. After about three weeks, the General said, the South African brigade would reassemble for final brigade training. He later announced that, at the same time, Colonel Pienaar's Brigade Headquarters would do a round of visits--to Wajir one week, to Habaswein the next week and then to the Turkana sector for a week. Colonel Pienaar, initially quiescent, agreed to the Wajir and Habaswein moves but pointed out the impossibility of visiting the Turkana in the time available unless an aircraft could be provided for himself and his staff.
The suggestion of splitting the brigade group--the basis of South Africa's field army organization--came as a shock to both Colonel Pienaar and his senior officers. Addressing the battalions on parade after General Dickinson's departure, he told the men that the disappointment must be accepted as one of the exigencies of war; nevertheless, he went to Nairobi himself to point out to General Dickinson that the proposed moves were not consistent with South African organization or policy. That limitations on his authority could embarrass any commander is obvious, and General Dickinson was not prepared to reconsider his decision which was based on factors of which no record appears to have been kept. The 1st Transvaal Scottish duly moved off on 18 September for Habaswein for attachment to 2nd East African Brigade, with whom it took part in an exercise at Melka-Galla from 24 to 26 September; on 30 September it relieved a company of 1st King's African Rifles at Point 709, about 40 miles north-by-east of Melka-Galla on the Arba Jahan road, close to the wells of Dololo.
The Natal Carbineers moved to Wajir and on 17 September became attached to 4th Gold Coast Brigade. They immediately took over various tasks and patrols from 1st Nigeria Regiment. The 10th Field Battery, S.A.A., with its 4-5-inch howitzers, also moved to the Gold Coast Brigade area.
The breaking up of 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Group was a sad blow to its commander. To have his men submitted to what he considered the indignity of being 'trained' by Native troops deeply upset Colonel Pienaar. He had no South African Divisional Commander to whom he could appeal, and unlike the Australian and New Zealand authorities, the South African Government made no stipulations against fragmentation of its fighting formations.
Instructions issued by 2nd African Division in the name of Major-General Godwin-Austen, who only arrived in Nairobi six days after General Dickinson had personally informed 1st Transvaal Scottish and
the Natal Carbineers of the moves, contained the information that the Divisional Commander wished attention to be given to some particular points including general adaptation to bivouacking in the bush; making the men as comfortable as possible; cleanliness and tidiness of person and of bivouac; sanitation; preventive measures against all kinds of sickness and chills and local protective measures.
More followed, in similar vein, and the instructions contained the encouraging news that officers and N.C.O.s would be taken on patrols and minor operations with experienced troops.
One paragraph of the instructions held out the promise that if the standard of operational efficiency reached by the battalions towards the close of their attachment appeared to justify it, the Divisional Commander would be prepared to consult the Force Commander as to whether he might associate them with other troops in the capture of some small enemy post. If this were permitted, the South Africans would be under the command of Colonel Pienaar; the whole operation being commanded by the Commander, 4th (Gold Coast) Infantry Brigade.
Colonel Pienaar on 23 September reported to the South African Liaison Officer that the battalions of his brigade were now dispersed over about 1,000 miles laterally by road. Fortunately General Dickinson was so pre-occupied with the possibility of an Italian attack that he curtailed the attachment and informed the South African Chief of the General Staff on 1 October that he was concentrating Colonel Pienaar's brigade at Habaswein in 2nd African Division area.
For Major Frykberg's sorely tried No. 10 Brigade Signals Company, S.A.C.S. this simplified matters. Here it came under 2nd African Division at Garissa--a mere 200-mile run from Habaswein as compared with the 400 miles which separated Brigade Headquarters from the Dukes while they were still at Lodwar. Moreover, all units of the Brigade Group were now within reasonable distance of one another from the signals point of view. With a Divisional dispatch rider's van meeting the brigade van about half-way between Habaswein and Garissa twice daily, the system worked quite well even though No. 10 Brigade Signals Company's dispatch rider had twenty-nine points of call each trip.
Meanwhile, though the Union Defence Force as a whole was getting into its stride, with experienced business men and university graduates in increasing numbers in the ranks, the necessity to rely on volunteers accentuated the shortage of manpower. Allowing for casualties from all causes, it was calculated that initial requirements--with total available white manpower about 347,225 (of whom 251,519 were in the 18-44 age-group)--would demand 209,073 men, of whom only 2-3,000 were expected to be Non-European. It was not long before this estimate of the number of Non-Europeans was shown to be quite unrealistic in face of the demand for drivers, cooks, batmen and labourers.
Partly as a result of prodding from 2nd Echelon in Nairobi, red tape holding up the attestation of women had been finally unravelled, and on 19 September the first contingent of the Women's Auxiliary Army Services, the 'Mossies',* arrived in East Africa.
* Mossie is the Afrikaans word for Sparrow.
Among the general public in Kenya, the withdrawal from British Somaliland, coming on top of the Italian occupation of British Moyale and other frontier posts, had pushed civilian morale down to a low level. The situation had not been improved when it became known that a scheme had been worked out for the evacuation of women and children from Nairobi.2 Thus the arrival of 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Group marked the turn of the tide in morale in Kenya. But General Dickinson had still to maintain an almost completely passive role, while building up administrative services and training troops who as yet had little practical experience. In the meantime his forces could not do much more than strive for ascendancy over the extensive area of bush and desert that comprised no-man's-land.
With such preparatory moves still in progress, on 23 September East Africa Force added to Pretoria's anxiety regarding a possible attack on Kenya after the release of enemy forces from British Somaliland--to which General Smuts had drawn General Wavell's attention--by informing Sir Pierre van Ryneveld that all indications pointed to a serious attack being made on Wajir on about 15 October. Wajir, General Dickinson noted, practically represented the key to Kenya. He was determined to fight for it and asked if two armoured car companies could be sent up by road as early as possible if shipping had not already been arranged. Two days later he asked for priority also to be given to a medium artillery brigade.
By the end of September, No. 1 S.A. Motor-Cycle Company--the South African Police company under Captain R. D. Jenkins*--No. 2 S.A. Armoured Car Company (Major C. G. Walker) and No. 3 S.A. Armoured Car Company (Major S. B. Gwillam)† had sailed for Mombasa. The latter Company had had no proper tactical training, but the men were full of enthusiasm and could handle their machines well.
Major Walker's company moved to Mitubiri Camp outside Nairobi and on 12 October the armoured cars pulled out on a dull, cloudy day and headed along the dusty road to Garissa, where they soon had a platoon of armoured cars on reconnaissance with a company of infantry from 3rd Nigerian Brigade, going right up to the outskirts of Liboi on the frontier of Italian Somaliland. The gunners of 4th Field Brigade, S.A.A. had just had their first taste of bombing by three Capronis at Wajir on 10 October, but suffered no damage or casualties.
On 16 October, while Colonel Pienaar was visiting No. 3 S.A. Armoured Car Company at Gilgil before its move via Isiolo to Haba-swein, No. 2 S.A. Armoured Car Company struck the enemy near the border in the first action involving South African ground forces in World War II. Four armoured cars and two motor-cycle combinations from No. 1 S.A. Motor-Cycle Company were advancing up the cutting through the bush which marked the frontier not far from the waterhole at Liboi, when they spotted a Banda patrol, and opened fire. Two troopers, Forster and Van der Vyver, were wounded when the little column was suddenly attacked by a force of Banda and Colonial
* Later, as Lieut-Colonel R. D. Jenkins, D.S.O., he commanded the Natal Mounted Rifles in 6th S.A. Armoured Division in Italy during 1944--5.
† Later as Lieut-Colonel S. B. Gwillam, M.C., he commanded 3rd S.A. Reconnaissance Battalion in North Africa.
infantry, who were beaten off. One car stopped long enough for the wounded side-car passenger to climb into it and then it joined the rest of the column returning to base. The action was especially interesting as a demonstration--to the enemy as much as to the South Africans--of the invulnerability of the armoured cars to small-arms fire and Italian hand-grenades; it also provided Captain T. M. S. Spilhauss' 'A' Company of the 12th Field Ambulance, S.A.M.C. with its first experience of handling battle casualties.
Radio Rome announced a few days later that, 'The enemy advanced in two columns of armoured cars supported by aircraft on our post at Liboi. The enemy was easily repulsed, leaving some killed on the battlefield, including the Commander of the armoured cars. Our losses were unimportant.'3 This news item was a useful yardstick for assessing the accuracy of future reports originating from border posts which, as often as not, relied on 'bush telegraph' for effective communication.
While affairs were thus developing in Kenya, the British Prime Minister was far from satisfied with the tempo of events. In reply to his impatient queries regarding the 'South African Union Brigade of 10,000 men' in July, General Wavell had stated that the South African brigade was only partially trained and had also to become acclimatized and to learn anti-malaria precautions.4
'Conditions in East Africa', he stated, 'necessitate crossing of 200 miles of almost roadless and waterless bush desert before offensive against Italian East Africa can be made. African Native troops who have smaller requirements and are more accustomed to bush conditions are more suitable than white troops for forward role....' It was a strange contention, since Kenya's topography and climate were far more foreign to the Nigerians and Gold Coasters than to the white South Africans, while some of the black troops, including recently recruited East Africans, were in the opinion of qualified South African officers of little use except as lines of communications troops. However, the pre-war Kenya Military Report stated clearly: 'One of the outstanding lessons of the last campaign in East Africa was the unsuitability of other than Native troops for employment on active service in East Africa.'5
Mr. Churchill was not satisfied, and in a further memorandum to General Wavell on 10 August--the day before the Italians launched their attack on the Tug Argan Gap in British Somaliland--he mentioned the South Africans in Kenya once again, 'probably as fine material as exists for warfare in spacious countries'. Adding in some 2,000 Kenya 'Settlers' thoroughly used to the country, two West African brigades and at least two brigades of the King's African Rifles, he could not resist asking pointedly, 'Why should these all stand idle in Kenya waiting for an Italian invasion to make its way across the very difficult distances from Abyssinia to the south, or preparing themselves for a similar difficult inroad into Abyssinia, which must again entail long delays, while all the time the fate of the Middle East, and much else, may be decided at Alexandria or on the Canal?'6
Returning once more to the subject only two days after suggesting the movement of the bulk of General Dickinson's force, including the South Africans and West Africans, Mr. Churchill refused to accept that
the South African brigade was so far untrained that it could not go into action. 'The Natal Carbineers were much further advanced in training before the war than our British Territorials, and they have presumably been embodied since the declaration',7 he said.
In fact, the Natal Carbineers, like the Dukes and 1st Transvaal Scottish, were at that moment still in training at Gilgil. Unlike the heterogeneous Colonial and Irregular units on the enemy side, these South African infantry battalions were homogeneous regiments with fine traditions built up over many years.
In a long General Directive for the Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, on 16 August 1940, the British Cabinet and Chiefs of Staff agreed with Mr. Churchill's general thesis that the defence of Kenya must rank after the defence of the Sudan and that accordingly either two West African brigades or two brigades of the King's African Rifles should be moved forthwith to Khartoum.8> General Smuts was meanwhile being asked to allow the South African infantry brigade, or a large part of it, to move to the Canal Zone and the Nile Delta for internal security purposes.
With available information already indicating a possible Italian attack on Greece, Middle East Command faced potential dangers both in the Desert and in the Mediterranean which could not fail to affect the British Prime Minister's attitude to what he obviously felt was a gross exaggeration of the Italian threat to Kenya. But General Wavell, aware of the nervousness not only in Kenya itself but also in Rhodesia and even in South Africa,9 remained firm about keeping the South Africans and West Africans where they were.
With less resolution, and harried by a direct threat of dismissal unless he attacked, the Italian Marshal Graziani eventually advanced in overwhelming strength across the Libyan-Egyptian frontier, reaching Sidi Barrani on 16 September. There his forces halted. Mussolini was 'radiant with joy',10 but within a fortnight his elation had evaporated and by 12 October he was again talking of sacking Graziani, who would not budge another mile in face of General Wavell's small but determined force.
If Mussolini was annoyed, Mr. Churchill was no less so. On 24 September, in the course of a long memorandum to Mr. Anthony Eden, Secretary of State for War, he had returned to his pet subject of 'the increasing waste of troops in Kenya'. He added, 'I fear that when General Smuts goes there he will naturally be influenced by the local situation.'11 On 6 October the British Prime Minister suggested that Malta should be reinforced from the Canal Zone, the men then being replaced in Egypt by dismounted Yeomanry, by Australians now in Palestine, or by 'South African units presently to be moved from Kenya'.
Mr. Churchill appears to have disagreed radically with General Wavell's dispositions. To put forward his own views he asked the Secretary of State for War to visit the Middle East personally, and on 15 October Mr. Eden arrived at Alexandria, already worried by indications that Germany had just done a deal with Japan, which necessitated Britain's making provision for the landward defence of Singapore.12 As regards East Africa, he had already listed for Mr. Churchill
the forces in Kenya, carefully placing asterisks against those units regarded as 'not fully trained and, so far, not employed'. Quite erroneously these included 4th Field Brigade, S.A.A., which had been on full-time service for nine months or more, with some highly qualified regular Permanent Force officers and a Commanding Officer with World War I experience. Similarly, the generalization covered 3rd Field Brigade, T.H.A., which had been mobilized a year before, and the S.A. Light Tank Company, which had actually been operating along the Italian Somaliland Frontier for nearly three months. The two South African anti-aircraft brigades, totalling over 1,500 officers and men, were not even mentioned.
'Fully trained' was an expression providing a convenient avenue of escape for any commander whose lack of aggressive spirit encouraged an exaggerated opinion of the enemy's ability, which was unlikely to be shared by Brigadier-General George Brink or his G.S.O.I. Both of them had had personal experience of the Italian army and held the enemy forces in East Africa in low esteem.
The South African Divisional Commander received long-overdue promotion and flew to Nairobi as a Major-General on 20 October to discuss the concentration of 1st S.A. Division and future operations in Kenya, where the arrival of 2nd and 5th S.A. Infantry Brigade Groups would further strengthen the forces at General Dickinson's disposal. General Dickinson himself had asked the South African Chief of the General Staff to consider the provision of a South African Divisional Commander and Staff, making it clear that the proposal was made on the understanding that South African formations might at times be placed under command of African Divisions or might in turn have African formations placed under their command. General Sir Pierre van Ryneveld, in his reply on 28 September, had named General Brink as the probable Divisional Commander. All South African troops, he added, were under General Dickinson's command with the full implications of that word.
General Brink and Colonel Joubert managed to pay a flying visit to 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Headquarters at Habaswein, where they discussed matters with Colonel Pienaar, whom they found in low spirits as a result of the fragmentation of his Brigade Group. Operational plans were very vague, but Force Headquarters at Nairobi did point out a rough area for the South African Division. On 25 October General Brink was already sending off a signal to Sir Pierre van Ryneveld, expressing his concern at the proposal to attach 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Group to an African Division and to replace it in his own division with an African brigade. He urged the Chief of the General Staff to inform General Smuts of his views.
Brigadier Buchanan, who learnt of his own promotion from General Brink in Nairobi, had sent off 2nd S.A. Infantry Brigade transport overland from South Africa early in October and on the 14th of the month he had embarked at Durban with 114 officers and 2,360 men of 2nd S.A. Infantry Brigade Group. They reached Mombasa on 21 October and immediately entrained for Gilgil. There they were joined on 31 October by 12th Field Ambulance, S.A.M.C. (Lieutenant-Colonel C. H. Fouché).
The Mobile Field Force, with two brigade groups now in East Africa, had just become officially 'South African Forces'--as from 17 October--and East Africa Force Headquarters renumbered the two African formations under Major-General Wetherall and Major-General Godwin-Austen as 11th and 12th African Divisions respectively to avoid confusion with 1st South African Division. By coincidence, back in South Africa, 2nd S.A. Division Headquarters was born on 23 October under Major-General I. P. de Villiers, M.C., with Lieutenant-Colonel Poole once again nominated as G.S.O.l. The 3rd, 4th and 6th S.A. Infantry Brigades were allotted to the new division and came under its command on 5 November.
At Gilgil, 2nd S.A. Infantry Brigade Group got down to intensive training and hardening. No. 3 Brigade Signals Company, S.A.C.S. had platoons attached to all three infantry battalions and manoeuvres of all types were conducted.
On 27 October Brigadier Buchanan was summoned to Nairobi to attend a conference with the Commander of East Africa Force and General Smuts, who was on his way by air to Khartoum for a meeting with Mr. Anthony Eden, General Wavell and Lieutenant-General W. Piatt, who was in command of the troops in the Sudan.
Mr. Eden, after being woken early on the morning of 28 October 1940, by a telegram from Athens13 announcing an Italian ultimatum to Greece, found General Wavell nevertheless prepared to fly with him to Khartoum to review the whole situation in East Africa. They landed just before dark and found that among those already in Khartoum was General Smuts, accompanied by Sir Pierre van Ryneveld and Lieutenant-General Dickinson, whom General Wavell had decided to replace. With General Smuts was a newcomer to the scene, Lieutenant-General Alan Gordon Cunningham, D.S.O., M.C., brother of the Royal Naval Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean.
'Smuts repeated several times that our first task was to create an army in the Middle East to replace Weygand's', Mr. Eden later recalled, 'Everything depended upon that. As to East Africa, if we could knock out Italians there we should free important forces, including South African for operations elsewhere.'14 General Piatt estimated that the Italians had 250,000 troops in East Africa--Aosta already put the total at 350-360,000.15 The British had only 28,000 in the Sudan, but General Piatt was confident of his ability to prevent any serious threat from Kassala. General Smuts stressed that attacks on the Italians from elsewhere, especially Kenya, should synchronize with any action against Kassala and he drew attention to the importance of securing the port of Kismayu before advancing into Abyssinia.
General Smuts and General Cunningham discussed the problem of whether the Kismayu project could be launched before the rains, which usually started in March, and when they informed Mr. Eden that an attack on Kismayu was feasible, the conference decided that the operation should be carried out early in 1941. However, Nature still presented one unpredictable and insuperable problem--the rains.
Over a large part of Kenya there are two rainy seasons each year, and, with the lack of properly macadamized roads, operations were inexorably governed by the weather. From October to December the
'Short Rains' could be expected, while the 'Long Rains' would fall during the period March-May in most areas, though there would be considerable variation from one district to another. In the coastal area the south-east monsoon brings specially heavy rains in April and May (20-30 inches) and light, occasional rain continues right up to October, usually followed by heavier rain again till November. From December to March comparatively dry weather can be expected in these areas--a significant fact in any planning of operations against Italian Somaliland across Kenya's eastern frontier.
With the veil of secrecy over General Smuts's movements lifted somewhat on 29 October, a number of officers and war correspondents gathered at Nairobi air station, where a Guard of Honour from 2nd Anti-Aircraft Brigade, S.A.A. was drawn up to meet him. As darkness fell, General Smuts stepped out of his Lodestar, followed by the new General Officer Commanding East Africa Force, Lieutenant-General Alan Cunningham.16 The enormous strain of having to build up the defences of Kenya from virtually nothing had told heavily on General Dickinson and poor health had made his relief imperative.* General Cunningham's assumption of command triggered off a marked change for the better in relations between British officers and the South Africans.17
Within twelve hours of arriving at Nairobi, General Smuts, General Cunningham and the Chief of the South African General Staff were on their way by road to Gilgil, where they were given a rousing reception by 2nd S.A. Infantry Brigade Group whose troops were inspected by General Smuts before his party lunched in the Brigade Officers' Mess. The party then drove on to Nakuru airfield to meet Lieutenant-Colonel S. A. Melville and men of No. 1 Bomber Brigade and 40 Squadron, S.A.A.F.
Sleeping that night at Nanyuki, General Smuts's party--including Major-General Godwin-Austen--left next morning at sunrise, not in the Lodestar this time but in a Junkers 86 bomber of the South African Air Force piloted by Captain D. B. Raubenheimer and accompanied by a second Junkers 86 carrying war correspondents, and by a Dragon Rapide and an escort of two Hurricanes. The aircraft were making straight for Garba Tulla but changed course because General Smuts had been specially asked to fly over Archer's Post airfield, headquarters of No. 11 Bomber Squadron, S.A.A.F., which the bombers approached at about 2,000 feet without lowering their undercarriages or waggling their wings in the common form of recognition over a friendly aerodrome. Having not been warned to expect the approach of friendly aircraft, three Furies led by Captain J. Meaker took off to intercept.
Captain Meaker brought his formation into position quickly and closed to open fire on the bombers. As he manoeuvred to engage the right hand aircraft he noticed that it had twin rudders and climbed slightly to look at its markings, which he immediately recognized. He pulled up and away to the right, but Lieutenant Doug. Pannell, flying on his leader's starboard side, took this to indicate that Captain Meaker had finished his attack. He opened fire on the leading bomber,
* Lieutenant-General Dickinson officially only relinquished his appointment and acting rank on 26 November 1940 (London Gazette No. 35047, 21.1.41).
only recognizing it as he broke away.
The pilot of the third Fury did not open fire, and fortunately the Junkers was not shot down. General Smuts insisted that, as it was his first visit, no disciplinary action should be taken and General Cunningham fully agreed.
Landing at Garba Tula after this little episode which might have changed the course of the war in East Africa, General Smuts and his party visited 40 Army Co-operation Squadron, S.A.A.F. (Major J. T. Durrant) and then took off for Habaswein and 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Headquarters. With the landing ground at Habaswein soaked but drying out, a call was first made at Wajir, where the South African Commander-in-Chief had a brief opportunity to see his son, Second-Lieutenant Jan Smuts of 3rd Field Company, S.A.E.C, who had taken over from 1st Field Company at Wajir on 22 October. General Smuts then flew on to Habaswein in time to inspect a composite Guard of Honour of men from the Natal Carbineers, the Dukes and 1st Transvaal Scottish.
Returning to Nairobi in the late afternoon, the 71-year-old South African Commander-in-Chief visited every South African depot and mess that he could, and next morning took off for home in his Lodestar, with his personal pilot, Lieutenant-Colonel Piet Nel, at the controls.
A decision had been reached for action in East Africa, General Smuts had had an opportunity of getting to know the new General Officer Commanding and, having agreed to send to Kenya yet another fully motorized brigade group, provided Middle East made up its deficiencies of 60 Bren guns and 18-pounder ammunition, he left the military future of East Africa Force in the capable hands of General Cunningham.
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