1st S.A. Division enters Abyssinia

The 5th S.A. Infantry Brigade Group, while the El Yibo-El Sardu moves were being made on 2nd S.A. Infantry Brigade front, was busy with very active patrolling on the Marsabit-Moyale road to drive out any enemy troops remaining on the Kenya side of the frontier, whilst at the same time creating the maximum impression that an advance was being planned against Moyale itself from Marsabit. As part of this general policy of aggressive subterfuge, instructions were issued on 12 January for 5th S.A. Infantry Brigade Group to send out a strong fighting patrol to the Turbi Hills to locate and test waterholes, with a view to basing a strong detachment in the area. Travelling over an atrocious road, and taking a whole day to cover only 80 miles, the patrol found only one waterhole with a meagre yield of 50 gallons a day.

Subsequent reports indicated to Force Headquarters that the enemy was withdrawing from the Moyale-Mega area, and 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade--still under command of 12th African Division--was instructed to patrol towards both British and Italian Moyale from the Wajir-Arbo area. On 22 January Brigadier Armstrong was instructed to send a strong 5th S.A. Infantry Brigade patrol towards Sololo and Moyale, from the west. It consisted of 'B' Company, 3rd Transvaal Scottish, with one section of Vickers guns, one section of mortars, an anti-tank rifle section, a detachment of Engineers from 5th Field Company under Sergeant G. W. Tytherleigh and a wireless van in Force 'A' under Major G. E. Sturgeon of the Transvaal Scottish, and 'C Company of 2nd Regiment Botha under Captain E. Delaney, with similar supporting and ancillary sections plus No. 3 Platoon of No. 1 S.A. Armoured Car Company under Lieutenant Roy Irwin, all in Force 'B'. A light section of 11th Field Ambulance, S.A.M.C. accompanied the patrol. Force 'B' was to patrol actively to Sololo first and then towards Moyale, backed by Force 'A'.

On 24 January the combined force arrived at the Turbi Hills, where they prepared a defensive position. Lieutenant Irwin, with Lieutenant W. H. Penny, was instructed to escort the Regiment Botha company the 20 miles or so north-eastward towards Sololo with only four armoured cars next morning, the other cars of the platoon being kept as mobile protection for the Transvaal Scottish at Turbi--an extraordinary display of lack of confidence on the part of infantry with their


own supporting Vickers guns and mortars in a prepared defensive position.


With two armoured cars leading and two in rear of the column, the Regiment Botha patrol left Turbi at 5.15 a.m. on 25 January. Thick bush on either side of the road hemmed the convoy in, so that the vehicles could only proceed in line-ahead formation. Had they been told, the patrol might have been heartened by the knowledge that 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Group was preparing to move against Moyale with a strong fighting patrol which was making itself ready well to the south at Arbo that same day so as to move on 26 January. Of this, they knew nothing.

All went peacefully with the Regiment Botha patrol until about ten minutes before 8 a.m., when the leading armoured cars entered an 'S' bend about 2,000 yards from a ridge some 20 miles north-east of Turbi Hills and not far from the foot of the Mega-Moyale escarpment.1 They immediately came under rifle and machine-gun fire from a hill ahead of them. This was reported back to Captain Delaney, who then sent forward two sections of infantry supported by a Vickers gun section and the other two armoured cars. Firing on the move, all four armoured cars deployed through the bush and advanced on the enemy machine-gun post they had spotted on the ridge, which was about 80 feet high and a mile long, with the road running for half a mile or so near its base.

With two cars providing covering fire, the infantry moved up on the ridge while the other two cars tried to work round to the rear of the Banda post, whose occupants hastily withdrew, leaving nothing but a pool of blood to testify to the accuracy of the armoured cars' Vickers gun-fire. Two cars working to the rear of the ridge returned empty-handed to the road, where the patrol reformed and pushed on.2

Only some 2 miles from Dakakat Hill at Sololo, the track ran through thick scrub which made it almost impossible to move off the road, though vehicles could pass one another. Ahead of the leading car, a Banda dashed across the road at about 10.30 a.m. and before the armoured car could open fire, it plunged into a concealed tank trap about 3 ft. 6 in. deep. Only 20 yards ahead of the trap a heavy machine-gun nest covered the road and a light machine-gun was sited on the right. Taken by surprise, the enemy had left the posts unmanned, though it is a mystery why the engagement down the road had not alerted them.

Now, the Banda corporal who had been seen darting from the bush made a determined effort to reach the machine-gun, just as the second armoured car moved up to support its trapped consort. Twice this brave man moved to get to his post and both times he was sprayed with bullets from the armoured cars' Vickers guns. Wounded and unable to walk, he then tried desperately to crawl towards his gun and the crew of the car, with great reluctance, had to finish him off with a burst of fire at close range.

Unknown to the South Africans but fortunately well covered by the hull gun of the trapped car, the plunger of an electrically operated mine which had been positioned to blow the car to pieces could not be


reached by the enemy. On learning what had occurred, the patrol commander sent forward the other two cars from the rear of the column and also brought forward his infantry and Sergeant G. W. Tytherleigh's Engineer detachment. With one car deploying to each side of the road, the Engineers helped the fourth car to pull the victim out of the trap, which was filled in to allow the patrol to advance after collecting the enemy machine-gun. Sergeant C. van Heerden was shot through the hips and Sergeant Tytherleigh himself was slightly wounded by splinters from an enemy hand-grenade, as also happened to Sapper A. W. A. McEwan.

Moving with two armoured cars in front of them, a Regiment Botha platoon then advanced on foot in extended order to reconnoitre Daka-kat Hill, 2 miles ahead, whilst another car moved on along the road beyond the tank trap. The fourth car was kept back with the rest of the force, which Captain Delaney deployed to left and right of the track. With the armoured cars thus widely scattered and the advance just continuing, the middle of the column was suddenly attacked from the left flank by about a company of the 59th Colonial Infantry Battalion who rushed out of the bush yelling and hurling grenades, while firing furiously with both rifles and automatic weapons.

It was a first-class ambush and a determined effort, apparently aimed primarily at the Bothas' transport, and although the South African infantry and armoured cars held their ground, the No. 1 Brigade Signals Company wireless van had thirty-eight bullet holes and the set was temporarily put out of action. The leading armoured cars, unaware of what was going on behind them, moved on to engage an outpost nearer Dakakat Hill.

A three-ton lorry burst into flames and blocked the road to Sololo, but Captain Delaney managed to reach the armoured car ahead of the tank trap, only to find it also unable to contact the two leading cars. He set out himself to call them back. Meanwhile, enemy grenades had set fire to the dry grass and bush, and fighting continued beneath a pall of smoke. The fourth and lone armoured car with the infantry was unable to turn on the narrow track and its Commander, Staff-Sergeant A. Kahn, to keep his hull gun bearing on the enemy, was running the car in reverse and then forward again with both guns firing on the determined attackers, who at one stage closed to within 10 yards in their frenzied efforts to overwhelm the car with grenades.

Momentarily blinded by the bursting grenades, the driver lost control for a few seconds and crashed into a tree, putting the car temporarily out of action with a damaged radiator and one gun jammed.3 Scenting the kill, the attackers made even greater efforts, but by good fortune one of the other cars returned in time to add the fire of both its guns to that of the Bothas, who were by now getting the upper hand. Further disaster was averted by Sergeant Tytherleigh, whose truck containing gelignite (which is liable to explode if hit only by a rifle bullet) was now in grave danger of becoming enveloped by the bush-fire. Though accompanied by his driver, Sapper E. H. Stretch, Sergeant Tytherleigh himself took over the wheel and drove the load of high explosive through the flames to safety in disregard of the possibility of being blown to pieces--an act for which he was commended by his


Company Commander.

Not long afterwards the Banda and Colonial Infantry fell back into the scrub under cover of the bush-fire, carrying their dead and wounded with them into the Burroli Hills north of Sololo track, where the armoured cars could not penetrate the dense bush to pursue them. Corporal J. Wright, Lance-Corporal C. H. Shaw and Lance-Corporal L. E. Ashworth, working on the damaged set in the patrol's wireless van, and displaying remarkable coolness under fire, had meanwhile managed to re-establish communication, as bullets had only grazed the set.

The armoured cars escorted the Regiment Botha platoon back from its forward position at Sololo, and at 12.45 p.m. the patrol, having been through a testing baptism of fire, began to withdraw to the Turbi Hills. Lieutenant T. M. Kleinenberg of Regiment Botha had been killed in action and in the two-hour engagement ten South Africans had been wounded, including the driver of the ambulance, Private Heath, who was fortunately out of the driver's seat when three bullets went through it and penetrated the dashboard. It took thirty-six hours of careful driving over more than 100 miles of devastatingly bad roads to get the wounded back to Marsabit, but all recovered.

Twenty enemy dead were counted in one small area and it was estimated that they must actually have suffered thirty to forty casualties. In fact, they had been even more shaken than at first appeared.

The splitting of the armoured car section under infantry command did not please Major Harry Klein, commanding No. 1 S.A. Armoured Car Company. Lieutenant W. H. Penny and Staff-Sergeant A. Kahn were highly commended for the part they had played in the engagement,4 which Italian reports described as an attack on Sololo by about four companies, on whom they reckoned they had inflicted fifty killed and many wounded. Their own losses were admitted as nine killed and ten wounded. The destruction of Regiment Botha's three-tonner was also duly recorded by the enemy.


As the shaken Regiment Botha patrol withdrew from Sololo to the Turbi Hills that afternoon of 25 January, not many miles to the east the advance elements of a strong fighting patrol from 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Group--still unknown to General Brink's Headquarters--were moving up the Wajir-Moyale road to establish bases at Buna and north-west of it at Dobel for a probing operation against Moyale, with the object of ascertaining enemy strength there and then continuing beyond Moyale for some distance without becoming committed. A company of the Dukes, a detachment of 6th Anti-Aircraft Battery, S.A.A., one section of No. 3 S.A. Armoured Car Company and one platoon of Grant's Irregulars--a force of Somalis commanded by Major Hugh Grant, M.C., of the Cameron Highlanders--established themselves at Buna with one Dukes platoon, the Irregulars and the antiaircraft detachment, while the rest of this base force moved on up the road to Dobel on 26 January, to occupy the commanding heights there without incident.

Second-Lieutenant D. W. Wayne and a few Sappers had been left to maintain the water supply at Wajir, and water detachments from


1st Field Company, S.A.E.C. were also attached to both the forward bases. Lieutenant D. A. Anderson erected a well pump at Buna to produce 2,000 gallons a day, and at Dobel they installed a Cameron pump and three 400-gallon tanks.

At 8 a.m. on 26 January the main force moved off from Arbo.* The column reached Buna at 3 p.m. that day, and while resting there was joined by a platoon of Grant's Irregulars. By 8 o'clock that evening the head of the column had reached Dobel, but it was not till four hours later that all units were reported in, except for damaged vehicles, which came in during the morning of 27 January. The day also marked the beginning of General Brink's concentration of the South African brigades of his division in the area Dukana-El Yibo, to begin the outflanking of the Mega-Moyale escarpment by crossing into southern Abyssinia with 2nd and 5th S.A. Infantry Brigade Groups, in accordance with an East Africa Force instruction just received by the Division. There had for some time been unconfirmed information that the enemy might withdraw from the Mega-Moyale escarpment and that if they did so they might go back as far as the line Jimma-Soddu-Dilla-Neghelli and thence to Bardera and the line of the Juba. General Cunningham had drawn the attention of his Divisional Commanders to the uncertainty of enemy intentions and possible reactions to events on the Sudan front and pressure from the south, and he warned them to be prepared for any eventuality.

If the enemy withdrew, they were to be followed up vigorously, even if administrative difficulties limited such operations to small columns. More precise information regarding the enemy's plans on the Mega-Moyale escarpment, it was hoped, would become available as a result of 1st S.A. Division's patrol activities along the Turbi-Moyale route or from 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Group's patrolling in the Buna-Moyale area. Brigadier Pienaar's Brigade Group was to come under temporary command of 1st S.A. Division if the Italians were in fact withdrawing. There was also provision for General Brink to shed 25th East African Brigade if it became necessary to pursue the enemy towards Neghelli and Alghe.

At about 10.40 a.m. on 27 January 5th S.A. Infantry Brigade patrol at Turbi Hills heard heavy firing some miles to the east, little realizing that the Dukes were by then picketing the defile north of Dobel. At 4.30 that afternoon the main reconnaissance force of 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Group began its move towards Moyale from Dobel, a few hours after 2nd S.A. Infantry Brigade Group had completed concentration at Dukana, from which Lieutenant A. G. Hawarden's section of 28th Road Construction Company, S.A.E.C. was soon forcing a track northward through the bush with bulldozers, while both 12th and 5th Field Companies, S.A.E.C. also moved up to help with development of water supplies.

* In the column were the Natal Carbineers, the Dukes (less two companies), 10th Field Battery, S.A.A. (commanded by Captain J. S. Storey, as Major G. P. Jacobs had been evacuated on account of illness), 11th Field Battery, S.A.A. (now with 18-pounders), a section of 6th Anti-Aircraft Battery, S.A.A., 1st Field Company, S.A.E.C. (less two sections), No. 3 S.A. Armoured Car Company (less the platoon with the base force), part of 10th Field Ambulance, S.A.M.C. and 2 R.M.T. Company, 'Q' S.C. plus detachments from 1st Mobile General Workshops, T S.C.


The 5th S.A. Infantry Brigade Group, moving in two echelons under Lieutenant-Colonel J. Dobbs (S.A. Irish) and Lieutenant-Colonel W. H. Kirby (3rd Transvaal Scottish), was also on the point of going forward to Dukana, leaving Lieutenant-Colonel J. C. du Preez in command at Marsabit with 2nd Regiment Botha and ancillary troops.

By 2 a.m. on 28 January 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade column was parked in the bush south of the landing ground below the Moyale escarpment. Even now, with Natal Carbineer and Regiment Botha patrols almost within hearing distance of one another's fire, no one informed General Brink of what was going on south of Moyale, where the enemy reacted to 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Group's presence at 4.15 a.m. with rifle, light automatic and heavy machine-gun fire. The South Africans did not reply.

Owing to the density of the bush, reconnaissance by 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade even at first light gathered no useful information. Brigadier Pienaar therefore ordered No. 3 S.A. Armoured Car Company to reconnoitre east of the landing ground to a small feature east of the Moyale-Mandera road--which runs roughly eastward below the escarpment--and south of Harbar, a Banda camp-site south-east of Italian Moyale. The Natal Carbineers were instructed to occupy a feature west of the landing ground, where the road from Sololo cuts through a spur jutting out to the south.

These moves had hardly begun when a South African Air Force machine, hit by machine-gun fire from an enemy position at British Moyale, came down on the landing ground and was subjected to enemy artillery fire. The pilot (Lieutenant C. W. Beach) and air-gunner escaped from the disabled aircraft, which was met by Dukes scouts under Lieutenant Pieter van der Byl, who tried to wheel it under cover of the bushes while the Italians redoubled their shelling. Anxious about the unexploded bombs still in the aircraft's racks, the Dukes temporarily abandoned the effort, but an armoured car pulled the machine off the landing ground after dark and handed it over to Major Neil Hare, Second-in-Command of the battalion. A party then removed the wings, loaded the tail into Corporal N. W. Muller's one-tonner, and later towed it back to Wajir.

Meanwhile, the dense bush which interfered with artillery observation and seriously handicapped the 18-pounders with their flat trajectory, also prevented the armoured cars from gathering information about the feature beyond the Moyale-Mandera road, which was overgrown and impassable.

Though the Natal Carbineers reported machine-gun fire from west of the landing ground, they were unable to pinpoint the enemy positions. The Italian observation posts, it was felt, were most likely on the spurs of Harbar and the 4-5-inch howitzers of 10th Field Battery, S.A.A., in a position about 2 miles from the landing ground, were brought into action with Captain Jack Storey as forward observation officer well to the front in a mobile armoured observation post. The armoured cars moved up on to the junction of the Buna-Moyale and Moyale-Mandera roads north of the landing ground and near the start of the defile leading up to Moyale. They drew heavy small-arms and artillery fire from the western slopes of Harbar and from the Topeisa Hill feature west of the


landing ground.

The gunners, still unable to bring the 18-pounders of 11th Field Battery, S.A.A. into action because of the long range and intervening crests and bush blocking the guns' field of fire, switched the 4·5-inch howitzers on to the suspected enemy positions and after some excellent shooting--especially on the spurs of Harbar--they silenced the enemy guns. A company of the Natal Carbineers was then able to occupy the Topeisa feature, where it was soon subjected to artillery bombardment. This fire was quickly silenced, while the Natal Carbineer company moved down the forward slope of the feature to avoid casualties. Some time later what was considered to be a section of medium guns opened fire on the landing ground from north of Italian Moyale and it became obvious that Harbar was a defended locality, held by one company with machine-guns. Brigadier Pienaar appreciated that the area of the defile on the Buna-Moyale road was similarly held, and it was assumed that other suitable localities from which artillery fire had been drawn were also held in company strength.

The Moyale area, he considered, was held by one battalion with a considerable number of machine-guns, a battery of light artillery and a section of a medium artillery battery. So well concealed were the Italian positions that reconnaissance aircraft co-operating with 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Group could find no evidence of the enemy's presence, other than the incontrovertible fact of their own disabled aircraft, two of which had now force-landed. The second (piloted by Lieutenant A. D. Maxwell) occasioned a display of initiative on the part of a handful of men of 4th Field Brigade, S.A.A. Staff-Sergeant J. C. Hosie and Sergeant E. Augustine, both Permanent Force men of the 'T' Services Corps attached to the artillery, and Gunner D. Barlow--all of whom were mentioned in dispatches after the operation--volunteered to strip Lieutenant A. D. Maxwell's aircraft on the landing ground. They loaded it on to an artillery portee before withdrawing, under fire, thus salvaging a machine which East Africa Force could ill afford to lose.*

The Italian gunners were silent while there was any sign of South African aircraft above the area, and the locality of their gun positions remained a mystery.

Brigadier Pienaar considered that the primary object of the patrol--to assess enemy strength at Moyale--had been attained. To avoid casualties he instructed his forward troops to move no further, but to consolidate to meet any threat before darkness, under cover of which he intended to withdraw.

Not till 4 o'clock that afternoon did General Brink receive information that 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Group had been moving on Moyale since the previous afternoon. This news was contained in a Most Immediate telegram originated at 1.20 p.m. at Force Headquarters, and it is remarkable that no effort at co-ordination between 12th African Division and 1st S.A. Division was made before the 1st S.A. Infantry

* Brigadier Pienaar's report gives the impression that both aircraft were stripped and loaded on to artillery portees by a party under Staff-Sergeant J. C. Hosie of 4th Field Brigade, S.A.A., but both Major N. Hare and Lieutenant (later Lieutenant-Colonel) Pieter van der Byl are positive that at least one of the aircraft was salvaged by the Dukes. A S.A. A.F. report indicates that Dukes and gunners assisted Lieutenant Beach's aircraft, whilst a gunner and two fitters salvaged Lieutenant Maxwell's.


Brigade Group patrol set out or even during its approach march. In any event, General Brink acted at once and on receipt of the news of 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Group's movements he issued instructions for the company of 2nd Regiment Botha at Turbi Hills to patrol forward vigorously and to try to make contact with Brigadier Pienaar's force, which actually had instructions to be prepared to act under 1st S.A. Division's orders, but had no knowledge of the whereabouts of any Regiment Botha patrols, though 41 Army Co-operation Squadron, S.A.A.F. was fully aware of the moves of both columns.

All enemy fire on 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Group had ceased and there was no response to aggressive action by South African aircraft. The enemy appeared to be withdrawing and this was confirmed by a brief spell of light artillery fire from positions further back. During the afternoon the South African patrol received instructions to maintain contact on 29 January if a general enemy withdrawal seemed likely, so all orders for return to base were cancelled and gun positions were prepared well forward, with much cutting away of bush to clear a field of fire for the 18-pounder battery, which had not yet engaged. One 4-5-inch howitzer had gone out of action due to mechanical trouble and was never replaced in 10th Field Battery, S.A.A.

At 5.30 that evening Brigadier Pienaar issued instructions for the advance next day, but as it became obvious that the enemy was not pulling out of Moyale, he later fell back on his original instructions and ordered 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Group to withdraw, which was done without incident, the rear of the column pulling into Arbo at about 2 a.m. on 31 January.

Regiment Botha, meanwhile, had found Sololo evacuated on 30 January. As 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Group settled back at Arbo, the Regiment Botha patrol penetrated from the west to within 5 miles of British Moyale before coming under heavy machine-gun and rifle fire, which caused the 5th S.A. Infantry Brigade party to withdraw without casualties. The first indication that 1st S.A. Division had that Brigadier Pienaar's strong patrol had withdrawn from Moyale was a retransmitted message from its own Rear Headquarters at Marsabit--originated by 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade on 30 January--to advise them that the rearguard had reached Korondil, south of Dobel. An earlier message from 12th African Division, originated at 7.15 a.m. on 29 January and advising General Brink that 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade was breaking off the engagement, was not received by 1st S.A. Division until 31 January.

No great immediate dividend seems to have been reaped from 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Group's effort.


A wireless message from Force Headquarters informed General Brink on 28 January that General Cunningham and 'a visitor from Cairo' would arrive at Marsabit by air next day. Postponing his own move to establish his Advanced Headquarters at Dukana for the forthcoming advance into Abyssinia, the South African Divisional Commander met Generals Wavell and Cunningham next morning, and while the aircraft was refuelling they began discussion of General


Brink's plans. Brigadier Armstrong and Colonel Steve Joubert were also there and when the party landed at Dukana they were joined by Brigadier Buchanan.

From a position above 2nd S.A. Infantry Brigade Headquarters General Wavell studied the surrounding country, showing great interest in the problems facing the South Africans, the most pressing of which were still shortage of water and the lack of roads. The Commander-in-Chief Middle East was back in Cairo on 1 February, to send off a private signal to the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, General Sir John Dill, informing him of General Cunningham's decision to attack from Kenya and of his own approval of that decision.5 A telegram from the Commander-in-Chief East Indies to the Admiralty, asking for permission to retain Force 'K' to support Operation Canvas, put the original estimate of time required for the capture of Kismayu at five days. It was hoped to carry out the operation between 10 and 16 February, he reported.

Having built up fifteen days' reserve supplies for 5,000 men both at North Horr and at Dukana, and with thirty days' supplies for 25th East African Brigade's two battalions and ancillary troops at Kalin and Lokitaung, General Brink's staff had also accumulated 25,000 gallons of petrol at North Horr, another 35,000 at Dukana and 50,000 gallons for 25th East African Brigade. Stocks of ammunition were fully organized and two additional Reserve Motor Transport Companies were available at Marsabit and Kalin, building up still more forward supplies. An advance party of No. 1 Divisional Signals Company, S.A.C.S. was already at Dukana organizing communications between Divisional Headquarters and the infantry brigades for impending operations when, on 28 January, the Headquarters of 3rd Field Brigade, S.A.A. (T.H.A.) and 7th Field Battery moved up from Marsabit to Dukana. By 30 January the whole of the Transvaal Horse Artillery brigade was concentrated at Dukana, but 7th Field Battery was ordered back to Marsabit while 8th and 9th Field Batteries joined 2nd and 5th S.A. Brigade Groups respectively.

With both General Wavell's and General Cunningham's stamp of approval on a scheme not quite as ambitious as General Brink would have preferred, on 30 January the Divisional Commander held a conference to put the finishing touches to his plans for the invasion of Southern Abyssinia. Besides Colonel Joubert, the Divisional G.S.O.l, those at the meeting included Colonel J. P. de Villiers, the A.D.M.S.; Lieutenant-Colonel A. Fraser-Lawrie, the Divisional Engineer Officer; Lieutenant-Colonel Hunt-Davis, A.A. & Q.M.G.; Lieutenant-Colonel G. A. King, the Divisional Signals Officer; and Major K. Roodt, the Divisional Armoured Fighting Vehicle Officer. Having settled details with his staff, shortly before midday General Brink gave Brigadiers Armstrong and Buchanan an outline of his plans for the seizure of Gorai, El Gumu and Hobok, and probably also of Kunchurro as a second phase. He warned them that if the enemy showed signs of withdrawing from Moyale they must be prepared to follow up rapidly, and he also mentioned the possibility of operations against Yavello. It was made quite clear, however, that the first phase of the operations was designed to secure the Gorai-El Gumu-Hobok triangle, with the object of linking


up with the rebels in the Gundile Mountains.

All along the hundreds of miles of the Kenya front the brigades of East Africa Force's three under-strength divisions were now poised for attack. Nearest the coast, 11th African Division under Major-General Wetherall was ready to advance on Kismayu; northward from its left flank, Major-General Godwin-Austen's 12th African Division--which included 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Group--had closed up on the frontier and lay ready to force the Juba River line in Italian Somali-land, which the Italians were determined to hold to the last; and westward from 12th African Division's left flank Major-General Brink's 1st S.A. Division was on the move to enter Abyssinia west of Mega with 2nd and 5th S.A. Infantry Brigade Groups and west of Lake Rudolf with the 25th East African Brigade.


On 30 January 1941, General Brink issued the Operation Order which marked the real beginning of offensive operations from Kenya in what was to be the Allies' first fully successful campaign in World War II. Immediate intention was to occupy the line Gorai-El Gumu-Hobok, and the operation was to be carried out by 2nd and 5th S.A. Infantry Brigade Groups. (Appendix 9.)

At El Yibo, garrisoned by elements of the Natal Mounted Rifles with two companies of 2nd Abyssinian Irregulars--all under Captain G. Beaumont--the Natal company and a company of Irregulars were held ready to move up the Lugga Bulal, and No. 40 Army Co-operation Squadron, S.A.A.F. was ready to provide air support for both South African brigades from the new Dukana landing ground.

On 31 January 1941, the 2nd and 5th S.A. Infantry Brigade Groups crossed the frontier into Abyssinia. By nightfall they were bivouacked between Dibbandibba and Dubacha, and the visual signalling section of the Divisional Signals Company, S.A.C.S. carried everything they required, including water, for 1,500 feet up the formidable hill to establish communications.

Far to the north, the Emperor was on his way to Balaiya to head a rebellion of great political but little new military significance, to tie down Italian forces in the heart of Abyssinia. Italian response was to reorganize their command structure so as to limit the responsibility of Lieutenant-General Luigi Frusci to a new Northern Command embracing only Eritrea. Dancalia--the Danakil--now became a part of a new Western Command which included the provinces of Shoa and Amhara. The Eastern Sector--now Eastern Command--thus gave up control of Addis Ababa, while the boundaries of the Southern and Juba Commands remained unchanged. General Nasi took over the new Western Command, where the need for political direction in Amhara almost overshadowed the necessity for military action.6

Within a few weeks of General Brink's opening moves, South African troops, with their East and West African allies, were to be fully engaged in one of the most spectacularly successful campaigns of modern history, during which the forces of the Italian East African Empire were destined to be crushed between General Cunningham's forces from the south and General Piatt's from the north.


Into Abyssinia--1st S.A. Division columns cross the rolling grasslands during their advance to attack Gorai and El Gumu.
Into Abyssinia--1st S.A. Division columns cross the rolling grasslands
during their advance to attack Gorai and El Gumu.

In the unexpected 20-mile belt of bush on the way to Gorai, officers stand on top of their vehicles to get a better view.
In the unexpected 20-mile belt of bush on the way to Gorai, officers stand on top of their vehicles to get a better view.

Lieut.-Colonel J. F. K. Dobbs, Commanding Officer, of 1st S.A. Irish.
Lieut.-Colonel J. F. K. Dobbs, Commanding Officer, of 1st S.A. Irish.

Men of 1st S.A. Irish occupy enemy field works after the capture of El Gumu.
Men of 1st S.A. Irish occupy enemy field works after the capture of El Gumu.

Table of Contents
Previous Chapter (8) ** Next Chapter (10)

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