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East, West and South Africa 1930 - 1947:

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 from the white population of the country. The infantry component of the Permanent Force was the Special Service Battalion, which had been formed in the depression in order to employ young men. On 15 September 1939, the one battalion was expanded to form the 1 Special Service Brigade. The outbreak of the Second World War was not well received in South Africa, with some men reluctant to serve overseas in support of the United Kingdom. This led to the reorganisation of armed forces in South Africa onto a volunteer basis for service outside the country. The Mobile Field Force was created to command the formations raised.

The 1 South African Infantry Division was formed on 13 August 1940, with its headquarters at the Military College. It was raised as three brigade groups, the 1, 2 and 5 South African Infantry Brigades, with each moving to East Africa separately. It took part in the East African campaign to its conclusion, advancing into Abyssinia on the left flank of East Africa Force. The division left East Africa by sea on 21 April 1941, arriving in Egypt on 3 May 1941.

The 1 South African Infantry Brigade was formed on 13 May 1940 at Kafferskraal, as an Active Citizen Force (A.C.F.) brigade based at Pietermaritzburg. The brigade was the first South African formation to leave the homeland, sailing on 17 July and arriving at Mombasa on 24 July 1940. It came under command of East Africa Force for three days before coming under command of the 12 (African) Division on 27 July. The brigade deployed forward with the division, and started the campaign still under command. It transferred to the 11 (African) Division on 7 March 1941, and then later that month it moved to The Sudan. It left Abyssinia on 12 June 1941 by sea for Egypt, where on arrival it joined its parent division for the first time since leaving South Africa.

The Field Force Brigade was raised at Ladysmith on 1 February 1940 with the volunteers from Special Service units prepared to serve overseas. It was renamed as the 2 South African Infantry Brigade on 13 May 1940, and mobilised for service with the Division on 22 May 1940 at Premier Mine. The 1 and 2 Field Force Battalions were the two battalions consisting of Permanent Force personnel prepared to serve overseas. The 1 Natal Mounted Rifles were an A.C.F. infantry battalion based at Durban. The brigade left South Africa on 14 October by sea, arriving at Mombasa on 21 October. It fought throughout the campaign in Italian East Africa.

The 5 South African Infantry Brigade was raised on 16 June 1940 at Barberton. The brigade left South Africa by sea on 17 November, arriving at Mombasa on 27 November. It fought throughout the campaign also.

The South Africans provided the majority of the artillery, engineers, signals, transport & supply, medical, and other arms and services for the British campaign in Italian East Africa. By 12 April 1941, there were 31,205 Europeans, 3,605 Black and 2,545 Indian and Malays serving with the South African Army in East Africa (source ORPEN). For the order of battle of 1 South African Division, and Force Troops in Italian East Africa, see:

The South Africans continued to support the U.K. after the campaign in Italian East Africa, with the 1 South African Infantry Division moving to Egypt. It played a major role in the battles in Egypt and Libya, otherwise known as the Western Desert. It was joined by the 2 South African Infantry Division, which was used to garrison Tobruk when the Axis forces advanced in June 1942, and was captured with British and Indian soldiers when the garrison surrendered on 21 June 1942. For the orders of battle for both South African divisions in Libya and Egypt, see:

Following the loss of the 2 South African Infantry Division, and with the advance of Allied troops into Tunisia, the South Africans returned home. The remaining infantry division reorganised into an armoured division, becoming the 6 South African Armoured Division. This formation saw service in the Italian campaign, during 1944 through to the end of hostilities in May 1945. For the order of battle of the 6 South African Armoured Division, see:


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