East, West and South Africa 1930 - 1947

This section covers the British colonies in East and West Africa, and the Dominion of South Africa. It also covers the Sudan, a country which was a Protectorate of Egypt, and because of the British involvement in Egypt, a British responsibility. In East Africa, the British Empire included the countries of Kenya, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), Nyasaland (now Malawi), Uganda, and the former German territory of Tanganyika (now Tanzania). The colonies in West Africa were the Gambia, the Gold Coast (now Ghana), Nigeria and Sierra Leone. The Dominion of South Africa was an independent nation that still had political links with the United Kingdom.

The political situation in East Africa became more tense with the invasion of the sovereign nation of Ethopia by Italian troops in October 1935. The conquest of Ethopia was complete by May 1936, when the Emperor Haile Selassie fled to British protection. Italy established Italian East Africa from the previously separate countries of Eritrea, Ethiopia and Italian Somaliland.

Italy declared war on the United Kingdom and France on 10 June 1940. This raised security issues on the northern border between Kenya, Ethopia and Italian Somaliland. In August 1940, Italy attacked British Somaliland, quickly securing the country.

The General Officer Commanding-in-Chief Middle East Command decided to reinforce the British forces in East Africa and the Sudan with a view to dealing with the Italian forces in Eritrea, Ethopia, British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland. In early 1941, a two-pronged assault commenced to conquer Italian East Africa.  Two Indian divisions attacked into Eritrea from The Sudan; with East Africa Force attacking into Italian Somaliland from Kenya with two African divisions and one South African division.

The Italians defended robustly in Eritrea, with a fierce battle over several days to force the mountainous positions at Keren, but, after the positions were forced, the Italians fell back towards Addis Ababa. The capital was entered on 8 April 1941, and the main Italian forces surrendered on 19 May 1941. Some Italian troops held out at Gondar until the final surrender on 27 November 1941.

The role of East Africa Force and British Troops in The Sudan became that of an occupation force, with East Africa becoming a major military base. Meanwhile, in West Africa, the initial threat of attack from the Vichy French countries that surrounded the British colonies did not materialise. Two West African brigades took part in the campaign in Italian East Africa, and then returned to West Africa. Under the leadership of General GIFFARD, two infantry divisions from West Africa and one from East Africa (plus two independent brigades) were raised and sent to the Far East to play a major role in the Burma campaign.

In 1942, a protracted campaign was fought to occupy the Vichy French island of Madagascar, which was seen as a threat to British shipping and a potential base for Japanese naval forces. This campaign was important in that it was the first British amphibious operation of the Second World War (and the first since the Gallipoli landings in 1915). It was also the only Army operation during the war commanded by a Royal Marines general.

By 1944, with the three African divisions now overseas and Africa now peaceful, British Troops in The Sudan, East Africa Command and West Africa Command became relative backwaters. All three commands continued to exist post-war until the various countries achieved independence from the United Kingdom.

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British Troops in The Sudan 1930 - 1947

The Sudan became a condominium ruled jointly and equally by the United Kingdom and Egypt following the British victory over the Mahdists at the Battle of Omdurman on 2 September 1898. After the Great War (First World War) and the break up of the Ottoman Empire, there was increased tension ...view details

East Africa 1930 - 1939

The British colonies in East Africa were: Kenya; Uganda; Nyasaland (now known as Malawi); Northern Rhodesia (now known as Zambia). As a result of the Great War, the former German colony of Tanganyika also became a British colony. The King's African Rifles were raised in 1902 from the various colonial ...view details

East Africa 1940 - 1947

The declaration of war by Italy on the United Kingdom and France on 10 June 1940 created additional problems for the Middle East Command. In August 1940, the Italians invaded British Somaliland overwhelming the small garrison of one British, two Indian and two African battalions which was successfully evacuated to ...view details

Madagascar 1942

Madagascar is a large island off the south-eastern coast of Africa. It is about 1,000 miles in length from north to south, and at its widest point, is about 360 miles across. It was a French colony, and after the fall of France in 1940, it aligned itself with the ...view details

South Africa 1930 - 1947

The pre-war South African Army comprised a small Regular Army known as the South African Permanent Force. There was a territorial force called the Active Citizen Force (similar to the Territorial Army in the United Kingdom) and a militia called the Defence Rifles Association. These three organisations only drew personnel ...view details

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