British Somaliland

On 3 August 1940, approximately 25,000 Italian troops invaded British Somaliland. The Italians were commanded by General Guglielmo Nasi [Guglielmo Nasi (1879-1971) wikipedia].

The Italian force attacking British Somaliland in August included five colonial brigades, three Blackshirt battalions, and three bands (banda [Bands (Italian Army Irregulars) wikipedia]) of native troops. The Italians had armoured vehicles (a small number of both light and medium tanks), artillery, and, for the moment, superior air support.

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Italian Collapse in Somaliland

On paper, the British East African territories were seriously threatened when Italy went to war; yet, as in the Western Desert, the gaudy show of the Italian forces was found eventually to be a sham. Here is the story of the initial loss of British Somaliland as a result of the delay in organising a reasonable state of defence, and the prompt remedy provided by the British invasion and conquest of Italian Somaliland: another paralysing conquest over Mussolini’s army, a conquest with its origins in a defensive strategy.

The ceaseless struggle against both terrain and the elements was as much a feature of the 17-month East African campaign – from June 1940 to November 1941 – as the fighting, and sometimes more so. Throughout the campaign the very nature of the terrain demanded originality, improvisation, and extraordinary endurance, while at the same time, imposing severe tactical limitations.

In the centre of the vast terrain lay Ethiopia, a mountain fastness and the most inaccessible territory in the whole of Africa, spread over nearly 500,000 square miles. At that time still a medieval, incoherent feudal state, closer to the Old Testament than the 20th Century, it was slowly discouraging the Italians who had been trying to govern it since their conquest four years earlier. [Second Italo-Ethiopian War (1935-1936) wikipedia]


Pieter Lessing
taken from History of the Second World War
[Phoebus Publishing Ltd in collaboration with the Imperial War Museum]