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East, West & 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 Ethiopia by Italian troops in October 1935. The conquest of Ethiopia was complete by May 1936, when 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, Ethiopia 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, Ethiopia, 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 in a mountain fortress 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.

Read about the loss of five British non-commissioned officers who died in a fire at the Signals Training School at Nanyuki in 1944.

Further information on each of the units and formations can be found in the sections as below:

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