PREMIER MINE TO WAJIR
The First Royal Natal Carbineers were mobilised on 19 May 1940 and proceeded to the Premier Mine Camp near Cullinan in the Transvaal where the 1st South African Infantry Brigade was to undergo training, the other two battalions comprising the brigade being the Duke of Edinburgh's Own Rifles and the 1st Transvaal Scottish. The training was intensive, consisting chiefly of musketry, weapon training and platoon and company schemes.
On 15 July the battalion entrained for Durban and two days later sailed in convoy for Mombasa. The voyage was uneventful in spite of rumours of Italian submarines operating in the Indian Ocean. A strict black-out was observed throughout the voyage which lasted eight days. Soon after disembarking, the regiment entrained and the following day arrived at Gilgil, in the highlands of Kenya, where camps were being prepared for the South African troops. There followed a further period of intensive training in the scrub and bush country which is characteristic of the Gilgil district. Many platoon, company, battalion and inter-battalion schemes were carried out and arduous route marches helped to acclimatise the men to East African conditions. At this point Lt Col Hay who had commanded the regiment since mobilisation returned to South Africa due to ill health and Lt Col McMenamin took over the reins.
All were keen to 'go north' and, after a few rumours and false alarms, we finally shook the dust of Gilgil off our feet and took the road for the Northern Frontier District of Kenya on 16 September. On the second day we descended from the escarpment to the plain which stretches to the Indian Ocean in the east and the mountains of Abyssinia in the north.
Natal Carbineers in training, Kenya 1940
After three days of travelling we reached the important fort of Wajir, from where roads radiate to Buna and Moyale to the north, El Wak to the north-east and Kismayu to the south-east, as well as numerous other tracks. Outposts were established at wells and other strategic points on these possible lines of enemy approach and patrols were sent to search out the Italian positions. At this stage the 1st SA Brigade was attached to the 12th African Division.
On several occasions our patrols had minor engagements with enemy forces. Early in October, when the regiment was at Habaswein, B Company was attached to a unit of the Gold Coast Brigade and had a sharp encounter with and enemy force in the foothills south of Buna. On another occasion a platoon of A Company also operating with a company of Gold Coast troops were ambushed at Walgaras, near the boundary cut between Italian Somaliland and Kenya. Another five-day patrol was undertaken by A Company to Walgaras from where the boundary cut was followed to El Wak and back again. The District Commissioner accompanied this patrol and spoke to large gatherings of natives who came in from Italian Somaliland.
This was the first time a patrol had visited this area and it undoubtedly created a very good impression upon the local natives. C Company carried out another useful patrol when they travelled out to a point near Walgaras and attended to natives who had been injured during an Italian air raid a few days before. One native woman who was badly wounded was brought in and, after careful treatment, recovered her health.
These patrols served a two-fold purpose. By probing ever more deeply into enemy-occupied areas, we steadily pushed him back and caused him to over-estimate our forces, and we gained very useful experience in bush warfare which was to stand us in good stead later on.
The now famous raid on El Wak, the Italian post on the road from Wajir to Mandera where it crosses the boundary cut, took place on 16 December. The troops who took part were the 1st SA Brigade, a Gold Coast Brigade and a company of KAR (King's African Rifles) with SA Artillery attached. After a two day rehearsal, the force moved off from Wajir on the morning of 14 December, A Company being detached from the battalion as brigade reserve.
After a gruelling drive over dreadful roads, during which time the engineers carried out some very fine work, the regiment reached the landing ground early on the morning of the 16th and swung off due east through thick bush and deep sand until striking the boundary cut where the troops debussed.
The transport was then withdrawn about half a kilometre. The plan was roughly that the Dukes should take El Wak on the Kenyan side of the cut, the Gold Coast Brigade was to move up astride the cut, the Carbineers were to move on their right and take El Bura Hachi and the Transvaal Scottish were to move due east and then turn north and cut the El Wak - Barden road.
B Company were in advance of the Carbineers followed by C Company. The first objective, Zariba, where a number of tracks intersected, was gained without opposition and the advance continued until the enemy opened up heavy machine gun, rifle and some artillery fire. We replied strongly, our mortars operating to very good effect. B Company, having fixed bayonets, made straight for the village and with C Company coming in on the right, also with bayonets fixed, the opposition broke and the rest of the day was occupied in mopping up numerous enemy dugouts and in consolidating. Heavy casualties were inflicted upon the enemy. At dusk we withdrew from El Bura Hachi and bivouacked for the night.
Three Italian bombers came over early the following morning and bombed the positions we had gained, but our men had taken up positions well outside the village and we suffered neither damage nor casualties and had the pleasure of seeing the last bomber brought down soon after first light by three of our Hawker Harts on their early morning patrol. The whole action had been highly successful - many prisoners were taken and considerable quantities of stores and ammunition captured or destroyed. The only casualties suffered by the whole force were two Carbineers who were killed by artillery fire during our advance.
Towards sunset on the 17th the regiment withdrew leaving huge bonfires burning to attract enemy bombers. A Company covered the withdrawal. The regiment arrived back at Wajir the following afternoon.
On 20 December A Company was sent to Habaswein, other outposts were occupied by B and C Companies, and patrolling was resumed.
On 26 January 1941 the Carbineers, with artillery and armoured cars attached, moved out from Wajir to make a reconnaissance in force of the enemy positions at Moyale. At this stage Major Deane assumed temporary command of the regiment in place of Lt Col McMenamin who was sick. We passed through Buna and slept the night at Dobel where a Nigerian battalion had a sharp engagement some months previously. We lay up at Dobel on the 27th and late that afternoon set off again, travelling without lights after dusk. By midnight we had reached a point on the road about five kilometres short of the base of the lowest of the series of hills dominated by the fort of Moyale. Here we left our transport and C Company moved forward 900 metres along the road. Two hours before dawn, heavy firing was heard away to the right. This subsequently proved to be the Italian defenders firing at some of their own men who had fled from Dobel at our approach and were attempting to reach Moyale by an alternative route to the east of the main road.
At first light our Army Co-operation aircraft were over and for two days operated continuously without interference by enemy aircraft. Shortly after dawn, A Company moved forward, passed through C Company and began to clear the lower features on the left of the road. Little opposition was encountered by them, except for artillery fire and that was gradually silenced by our own artillery.
The heat was excessive and the rate of progress through extremely thick thorn bush was of necessity very slow. A COmpany was withdrawn, covered by C Company, in the early afternoon and the regiment returned to its transport.
Early the following morning the regiment moved off again, this time reconnoitring the hills on the east of the road, B Company being in advance. Again we were under shell-fire for a time but the gunnery was bad and a large proportion of the shells failed to explode. The conditions were, if anything, worse than the previous day and the regiment suffered several casualties due to the excessive heat. By midday B Company were in possession of the first objective which was a low hill short of the large range leading up towards Moyale. A Company was again in the lead in the early afternoon and had just gained a commanding feature to the right when a withdrawal was ordered. The return march in pitch darkness through thick bush and with everyone suffering from the effects of heat and thirst, was unpleasant in the extreme. It is on record that when the men reached their vehicles at about 22:00, one section of A Company - 14 men - consumed, in 20 minutes, 55 litres of coffee, water and orange concentrate. It is generally accepted that those two days were amongst the most gruelling yet experienced by the Carbineers.
The fort at Wajir
WAJIR TO BRAVA
On 30 January 1941 the regiment returned from Moyale to the base camp at Arbo. For some time previously one company of the 1st Transvaal Scottish had been manning an outpost at Gerille, about 113 kilometres due east of Wajir and just beyond the boundary cut. Here they had received constant attention from the Italian air force which bombed them systematically each day.
A few days after the return from Moyale, our C Company went to relieve the Gerille outpost. It had been there barely two days, and was in the process of being relieved by B Company, when all orders were revised and the two companies started to make their way back to Arbo. En route they met the remainder of the battalion which had left Arbo on 5 February and the whole regiment turned south west at El Tulli, towards the border. On 8 February at 18:45 we crossed the border at Dif into Italian Somaliland, and on 10 February we were lying up with the rest of the brigade in the bush about eight kilometres from the enemy post of Afmadu. As we had not yet gained air superiority all this travelling was done by night - fortunately with the aid of the moon.
Afmadu was taken by the KAR with little opposition and on 11 February our brigade passed through, making for Kismayu which was strongly fortified. The aerodrome outside Kismayu was reached about midnight on 13 February. From here, 1st TS and 1st DEOR were detailed to capture and hold the village of Gobwen, lying further east on the banks of the Juba river. The Carbineers' main task was to cut the road from Gobwen to Kismayu and prevent the latter garrison from attacking the brigade in the rear. A Company was detached to guard the aerodrome and all paths leading to Kismayu, while two platoons of B Company were detached for protective tasks. C Company pushed on towards the road which was reached at dawn. Before attaining their objective they had a sharp engagement with an enemy force which was dislodged from its position on a low ridge. Here, as ever, our mortars rendered invaluable assistance. About 200 prisoners were taken, Italian colonial infantry. It was probably stragglers from this engagement who caused our only casualty that night. One B Company platoon had been detailed for brigade guard, and were in a small perimeter among the dunes on the south side of the aerodrome. During the night, about six natives coming down a path stumbled on to the guard and in the brief exchange of shots and Italian hand grenades one of our men was shot through the chest and arm. The natives broke and ran, but next morning one of them was found dead nearby.
The village of Afmadu captured from the Italians
In the meantime, 1 DEOR and 1 TS had occupied Gobwen but Jumbo, on the opposite bank of the Juba, was bristling with machine guns, and it would have been disastrous to attempt a crossing there.
On 14 February, Kismayu was occupied by another brigade of the 11th African Division, and the west bank of the Juba above the town was in our hands. Finding the crossing at Gobwen impracticable, B Company of 1 RNC were sent upstream with a detachment of engineers to reconnoitre the river banks. On 17 February a crossing place was found just north of Ionte village, and some of the company crossed in canvas boats and established a bridgehead. This was disputed by a small party of natives who made a half-hearted attempt at resistance.
We were only left on the east bank for about two hours when 1 TS relieved us, and consolidated the position. For the next two days they held the bridgehead against spasmodic enemy attacks while the engineers constructed and launched a pontoon bridge in record time. On 19 February the remainder of our battalion had arrived and we crossed the river on foot having been shelled for a few minutes while approaching the pontoon. We moved south-east through 1 TS and that night the two battalions took up positions near the intersection of the road from Ionte with the road Jumbo - Gelib, fully expecting a counter-attack to come from the strong enemy forces known to be higher upstream.
Early next morning the Carbineers set off on foot towards Jumbo leaving A Company guarding the crossroads. The 1st TS were moving on our right, our task being to clear the sand dunes to the left of the road. The going was extremely difficult, and Jumbo surrendered before we got within striking distance. That night we slept in our transport, which had crossed the pontoon and moved south in our rear, just above Jumbo. On the following morning, 21 February, Lt Col Le Roux arrived to take over command of the regiment until the return of Lt Col McMenamin.
The next, and main, centre of opposition was the village of Gelib higher up the Juba. There strong enemy forces had prevented the Gold Coast and Nigerian troops from crossing the river. On 21 February the brigade, with 1 DEOR leading, turned north (in transport) towards this objective. At Margherita, which fell to the advance guard, we passed through the DEOR at 16:30 and formed perimeter about eight kilometres beyond that village. We were so close on the heels of the enemy that during the night we heard the lorries of the fugitives from Margherita struggling along far out in the bush.
On the morning of 22 February the advance on Gelib continued. The 1st RNC were to attack the village, with 1 DEOR in reserve, while 1 TS were dispatched north east to cut the road Gelib-Brava. The 1st RNC had armoured cars and two batteries of artillery attached. A Company was advance guard to the regiment during this approach. Little opposition was encountered, but at a large farm on the banks of the Juba a company of colonial infantry was taken by surprise and captured by A Company and the armoured cars.
Further on, a section of C Company was sent to patrol a road branching off to the right. They were heavily engaged and one of the section was killed, but the section leader managed with great presence of mind to extricate his men without further loss. When the main defences of the village were reached some heavy fighting took place.
A patrol consisting of a platoon of C Company, with mortars attached was sent down towards the river and struck heavy opposition. A party of enemy under an officer came forward to surrender with white flag raised. Our men moved out to receive them when suddenly the enemy dropped and opened fire on our patrol. Our men were pinned down and in an extremely unpleasant position, having very little cover. The enemy's fire was returned in full measure, however, and two runners managed to get back. Thereupon, armoured cars were sent out and caused terrific casualties amongst the enemy, which withdrew. Twelve men were killed and five wounded in this encounter.
In the meantime, A and B Companies were closing in on the town and had several sharp engagements, but the enemy would not stand up to our heavy fire. When they realised that they were oufflanked, organized resistance collapsed. The remainder of the day was spent in rounding up prisoners.
That day the regiment captured more than its own number of prisoners besides taking great quantities of war material of all kinds - artillery, machine guns, rifles, ammunition and grenades.
We remained outside Gelib for two more days, during which our patrols were actively engaged in rounding up parties of Italian stragglers from their hiding places in the nearby villages.
On 24 February Lt Col McMenamin returned to the regiment and resumed command, and Lt Col Le Roux assumed the duties of second-in-command.
On 25 February we left Gelib at midday and travelled in convoy down the Brava road. Evidence of the hurried flight of the enemy was plain in the burnt-out or overturned lorries that we passed every mile along the road.
We arrived at the crossroads at Modun, eight kilometres outside Brava, on 26 February, and camped nearby. Here we stayed for a fortnight. During this time the regiment manned a series of outposts along the dunes stretching south west from Brava along the coast. This was to prevent any surprise attack being made by parties of Italian troops who, having escaped from Kismayu, Jumbo, Margherita and Gelib, were known to be making their way east. In point of fact, the majority of these survivors, after suffering many hardships in the bush, eventually came and gave themselves up in Brava.
The brigade, while at Brava, was transferred from the 12th to the 11th African Division, as part of which we remained during the next phase of the advance through Italian Somaliland.
BRAVA TO ADDIS ABABA
On 13 March the regiment moved with the 1st South African Brigade in the wake of the advance elements of the 11th African Division, along a route Brava, Afgoi, and then northwards to Giggiga. On the 17th the Abyssinian border was crossed at Ferfer, and Giggiga was reached on the afternoon of the 21st. This was an advance of approximately 1 200 kilometres.
A flanking movement by African units forced the enemy to withdraw from their positions covering the Marda Pass, and the following day repairs to the road demolitions in the Pass itself, were effected.
At 07:00 on the 23rd the regiment moved over the pass. There was a slight delay due to a machine gun attack on the village by three Fiat fighters. Once over the pass our task was to follow the northern road moving along the foothills of the high ground to the north, while the Nigerian Brigade thrust forward on the southern road.
The road to the north proved to be little more than a mule track over very rough country, and progress was necessarily slow. The engineers attached to us performed excellent feats in repairing the track and constructing fords across the sandy beds of the numerous streams obstructing our advance, working parties being supplied by the companies in rotation. Foot patrols cleared dominating features on either side of the road, the regiment camping that evening on a commanding rise. An advanced patrol of attached armoured cars came under the fire of enemy field pieces. One armoured car was hit, but was able to free-wheel to safety, the crew and car later being recovered. During the night the enemy retired destroying their guns, and the following morning C Company advanced to take the enemy position but with no opposition. The regiment then moved up under cover of their advanced position.
Two armoured cars with attached intelligence personnel entered the village of Fiambur, situated in the hills two or three kilometres along a branch road to the north, and approximately sixty Europeans and colonial infantry surrendered to them.
Progress was slow as it was necessary to occupy high, commanding features on either side of the road. The arduous marches were undertaken by the rifle companies, with attached support weapons, in rotation. On one feature a platoon of A Company surprised an enemy outpost capturing some thirty prisoners. By nightfall the regiment was camped on the eastern edge of the Babile gorge and work on the considerable road blocks in the narrow defile began, being maintained in shifts throughout that night and the following day. That evening, after stupendous efforts on the part of the regiment and attached engineers, the road was clear and platoons of C Company, advancing on foot, had gained the heights of Babile, the transport moving up throughout the night. At 08:00 the regiment was subjected to a bombing attack by three Savoia aircraft, neither damage nor casualties resulting, and by 10:00 hours the regiment had assembled on the heights.
Our rapid advance along the northern road threatened the flank of the enemy force holding the southern road necessitating their withdrawal to positions before Harrar. The Nigerians pushing forward took Harrar, meeting with very little opposition. On the following day, 27th, the 1st South African Brigade moved into the advance, camping for the night on the western edge of the town.
At first light the following day the brigade moved forward, 1 TS engaging the enemy in the Hubeta Pass and forcing them to retreat to Diredawa. Numerous roadblocks were encountered on the stretch between Hubeta Pass and Diredawa, so the regiment was obliged to camp on the pan short of Hubeta Pass for the remainder of the 28th and 29th, while these obstructions were repaired.
On the 29th a platoon of B Company patrolled to the east of Hubeta Pass in an endeavour to find an alternative route to Diredawa. They did not succeed in this objective, but captured an outpost of some twenty five enemy, returning with them that afternoon.
The following morning we moved through 11 TS, who had occupied Diredawa, and advanced as rapidly as possible westwards along the Addis Ababa - Jibuti railway. Again, numerous road obstructions and the necessity of sending patrols to occupy commanding features delayed the column considerably despite all-night efforts on the part of the regiment and engineers. No contact could be made with the rearguard of the retreating enemy, though the surprising rapidity of our advance resulted in many prisoners being taken at villages along the route, and the occupation of the village and landing ground of Miesso on the afternoon of the 3 1st. This successfully cut off any possible retreat of the enemy force opposing 1 DEOR on the Asba Littorio road.
On 2 April A and B Companies patrolled to Asba Littorio, encountering a considerable road block which they repaired, and contacted 1 DEOR which had advanced along the southern mountainous road from Hubeta Pass. They returned ahead of the DEOR column the following day.
On the 4th and 5th the regiment lay inactive except for protective patrols to the surrounding areas. On the afternoon of the 5th news was received of the successful crossing of the Auasco River by the King's African Rifles who had passed through us, the regiment being unable to move owing to a shortage of petrol, and also the military evacuation of Addis Ababa. Orders were received for a rapid advance on that city to protect the European civilian population and maintain order.
The regiment left at 10:00 crossing the Auasco River during the night duly stopping for an hour's sleep and to shave shortly before dawn. Being the senior South African regiment the GOC accorded the regiment the honour of being the first South African troops to enter Addis Ababa. At 11:00 C Company, with armoured cars, escorted General Cunningham into the town and were followed by the remainder of the regiment at 14:00, which formally drove through and a short distance along the Gimma Road. By 16:00 the various dispositions had been decided and the regiment dispersed to its various duties.
ADDIS ABABA TO COMBOLCIA
The regiment stayed five days in Addis Ababa and during that time there was much work to be done. There were prisoners to be collected, the civilian population was to be disarmed and it was necessary to protect them from attacks by the natives. The Italians had left a police force in the city but they relied to a great extent on our co-operation and support in maintaining order. It was a great task for only one battalion to perform. During the five days one company was kept in the native quarters as there was a danger of crime and disturbance there. Each of the various police stations was occupied by detachments of only a few men, most of which detachments were smaller in number than a section. Their job was to co-operate with the police at each station and to superintend the surrender of arms. Other detachments occupied and supervised the civil prisons and a guard was provided for the concentration of prisoners of war and captured vehicles on the racecourse. It was also necessary to send a number of vehicles to a point 120 kilometres north west of Addis Ababa in order to collect a considerable number of prisoners who had been taken by 1 DEOR. In spite of the circumstances, during our occupation of the city there was no rioting or serious disorder.
On 11 April the regiment, except A Company, moved to a point thirteen kilometres south of the town, on the road to Gimsa. A Company remained in the town for another week to continue police duties. The plan to advance south was changed and after staying still for a day we moved back to the town and advanced northwards along the road to Massawa.
The 1st SA Brigade was neither operating on its own nor as part of the 11th Division. Our purpose was to make contact with the main enemy force under the Duke of Aosta which had withdrawn before our entry into Addis Ababa. On leaving Addis Ababa 1 RNC was advance guard to the brigade. At the end of the first day we were held up by a roadblock and when this had been cleared by relays of working parties throughout the night, 1 DEOR passed through our column and moved in advance. Progress was impeded by further road blocks, but we pushed on as quickly as possible.
On 15 April we passed through the magnificent Mussolini tunnel (3 352 metres) and on the 16th we ftalian prisoners embussing after the fall of Dessie passed through 1 DEOR to take the lead. That evening we were held up by a roadblock where a bridge had been demolished and when this had been cleared the other two regiments went ahead and we were in the rear. On the 17th we picketed a side road leading from the Dessie-Assab road along which it was reported that an enemy force was coming to take us in the rear.
The same day 1 DEOR, who were leading the column and were about forty kilometres from Dessie, encountered opposition. Their advance vehicles were shelled by the enemy who were in an excellent defensive position on high ground with naval guns commanding the road. This prevented our advancing straight up the valley and it was necessary to occupy the high mountains on the right of the road. The 1st DEOR and 1 TS occupied points in these mountains short of the enemy position. On the 16th we moved up the main road to catch up the other battalions and on the 19th occupied a hill in rear of their position, while artillery was active on both sides. The same day A Company rejoined the regiment from Addis Ababa except for twenty men who remained another three weeks for police duties.
After two days in the mountains the regiment, still in reserve to the brigade, was allowed to return to its transport on the road, arriving there at 14:00 on 10 April. At 16:00 orders were received that we were to be prepared to relieve 1 DEOR, which entailed another climb up the mountains we had just descended. Fortunately the men had time to have a hot meal and a wash and to get some rest. The regiment moved off at 02:00 on the 21st, carrying normal ammunition, and two days' rations. Two mortars with 110 bombs and two Vickers machine guns with 50 belts were taken. The first three kilometres were covered in transport and then the climb on foot started; first over ploughed fields and then up steep mountain paths, with a rise of 762 metres in six kilometres. It was very rough, heavy going, but there was no time to waste as relief had to be completed by 09:00. This was done and 1 DEOR set off down the mountain for a much-needed rest.
The remainder of that day was quiet except for occasional bursts of machine gun fire from enemy positions on the high ground 1 800 metres away. Duke's Kop was held by C Company with B Company on its right along the ridge facing the enemy position while A Company was in reserve. The main enemy positions were on four hills on the right of the road. These hills were numbered from left to right, each one being dominated by the one on its right. Late in the afternoon it was decided that 1 RNC would launch a dawn attack and the regiment was relieved by a company of 1 TS and withdrawn behind the ridge where fires were made, food cooked and the men were able to rest. Then news came that a 'patriot' force had captured Hill 4, but that Hill 3 was too big a task for them. The brigadier held a conference which was attended by Colonels Hartshorn, McMenamin and Le Roux, and the final plan of attack was decided on. The 1st RNC were to attack at dawn on the 22nd and capture Hills 3 and 2 while 1 TS was to attack and capture Hill 1.
The first phase of our attack was to be launched from a position between Hills 4 and 3, and at 01:00 on the 22nd the approach march to that position began. It was an extremely difficult move involving a detour of five kilometres to avoid attracting the enemy s attention. The night was dark with very little moonliuht and the country was more difficult than had been anticipated. There was complete silence throughout the march, and no smoking, for it was of vital importance for the success of the plan that the enemy in his strongly-held and dominant positions should be taken completely by surprise.
B Company was in the lead, followed by Bn HQ C Coy, Support Coy, and A Coy, the whole regiment moving in single file. Our plan in the initial stage of the attack was for B Company with support weapons to form up astride the nek between Hills 4 and 3 and gain a footing on Hill 3. B Company reached the nek at 04:30 and began moving up Hill 3. At this stage everybody was on tenterhooks expecting enemy fire to break out at any moment. However, it was not until 05:10, with the two leading platoons of B Company having advanced about 550 metres up the hill and circumnavigating a small ploughed land, that the enemy spotted the advance and the firing began.
Many of the enemy were asleep in their blankets, some were shot before they could rise and many others were killed in the ensuing disorder. Our forward men had been able to get within ten metres of the enemy posts without being detected. These enemy positions were quickly cleaned up, but in the meantime heavy fire by machine guns was opened on these forward platoons from high ground about a hundred metres to the right of the ploughed land. Mortars were brought up and deployed effectively, driving the enemy machine-gunners from their positions. In the meantime battalion headquarters and the other companies had reached the lip of the first ridge of Hill 3 and C Company was sent in on the right of B Company to prevent a movement by the enemy to outflank B Company.
It was just getting light when, at 05:25, the Commanding Officer, Lt Col McMenamin, was killed. It was a terrible shock to us, for we all realized what his loss meant to the regiment and to the UDF as a whole. Colonel Le Roux then assumed command of the regiment.
Shortly after, word was received from C Company that it had struck very difficult country and that its right flank was exposed. A platoon of A Company was at once sent forward to cover this gap.
It was by then quite light and the enemy could be seen withdrawing in disorder. The two leading company commanders were quick to take advantage of this and at once pushed forward their attack. Many of the retreating enemy were shot, and large numbers surrendered. By 07:05 the first phase of the battle was over and a message was sent back to brigade that Hill 3 was in our hands. B Company was now on the left, overlooking Hill 2, with C Company and the one platoon of A Company on the right overlooking the valley and the road to Dessie.
The road lay about four kilometres away at the foot of a steep slope covered with scrub and isolated native villages amongst which the patriots who moved on our right flank could be seen thoroughly enjoying themselves. Enemy artillery could clearly be seen alongside the road, and as it was trying to range on our positions, orders were given for all the men to keep down so as to avoid disclosing our exact positions. At this stage we had taken nearly 200 prisoners and much war material, while the enemy dead, some still in their blankets numbered 150.
Our task was not yet completed, however. Hill 2 still had to be captured, but as our artillery was still firing on that feature, we were unable to advance. The enemy could be seen moving about on Hill 2, and a few parties of them attempted to make their way through the scrub on our left flank. A Company was ordered to move forward on our left flank and deal with the enemy. By 08:00 they had completed this task, taking about fifty more prisoners.
In the meantime the 1st TS attack on the enemy's right flank - Hill 1 - had apparently been held up, owing to difficulties of which we were not aware at the time. We could see large bodies of men on Hill 1 but the range was too great for us to be of any assistance to 1 TS.
At 10:00 the artillery barrage was lifted from Hill 2 and B Company, with the supporting weapons, moved across and occupied it, their advance being covered by A and C Companies. By 11:00 Hills 3 and 2 were completely in our hands, with 300 prisoners, 25 machine guns, many more light machine guns and rifles and cases of grenades and ammunition. The task had proved far more difficult than had been anticipated, but every man in the regiment had done his job and the determination and boldness of action of junior commanders brought well-earned success.
By 12:00 our small arms ammunition and mortar bombs were running dangerously low. We were expecting a counter-attack to be launched against B Company at any moment, and A Company was ordered to had over twenty five rounds per man to B Company, and Brigade was asked to send forward further supplies as soon as possible.
It was now clear that if 1st TS failed to take Hill 1, B Company would not be able to hold Hill 2 during the night. Brigade was informed that Hill 1 had been cleared by our fire from Hill 2 but that some enemy returned to it when our fire slackened due to shortage of ammunition. Terrific casualties were caused by our men firing down on to Hill 1, but it was not until 16:00 that 1 TS were able to push home their attack, and all three features fell into the hands of the First Brigade.
Our positions were consolidated, food was prepared and water fetched from waterholes on captured mules. We settled down for the night with every man on the alert, for although we had seen the enemy withdraw towards Dessie, we expected them to launch a counter-attack.
We were all very pleased to see the sun rise the following morning and to hear from the brigadier high praise of our good work. At 08:00 on the 23rd officers and men of the regiment paid their last tribute to the Commanding Officer and the three comrades who had fallen in battle. At 10:00 we were relieved and thankfully moved off the hills into the valley below.
FROM COMBOLCIA ONWARDS
Afterwards returning to the road we remained there for a day while 1 DEOR cleared the mountains on the right of the road as far as the village of Combolcia. The next day we received orders to support them. At 23:00 that night we set out and marched up the mountain till 04:00 when we connected with C Company who were already up there. No enemy were encountered and later that day we returned to the road. As Lt Col Le Roux was in command of the regiment, Capt Comrie had become second-in-command.
After the engagement on 22 April the main enemy force defending Dessie had retreated northwards and some trucks had also been moving down the road to Assab. We now remained with our transport on the road near Combolcia while I TS entered Dessie and 11 DEOR went on a patrol a short distance down the road to Assab. Our advance northwards from Dessie was hindered by a large roadblock north of the town. On 30 April the task of clearing this had been completed by the engineers, and 1 RNC and attached troops moved through Dessie to advance north and occupy Alomata.
That night we halted on the road and the following day we reached Waldia. A number of POWs were taken here and the small civilian population was evacuated back to Dessie. The high ground overlooking the town was picketed. The enemy had just withdrawn as we entered the town and a short distance beyond was another large road block. This was the worst we had encountered and the engineers estimated that it would take 12 days to clear. Meanwhile a body of Abyssinian patriots, led by Lt Campbell of the Black Watch, went ahead and did very valuable work in clearing the way in front of us.
Work on the roadblock was carried on vigorously by night and day, the regiment and attached troops providing relays of working parties, and in spite of the estimate of twelve days the task was completed in three days. On 5 May we left Waldia and at 14:00 we reached Alomata. Here we again found a number of the enemy lined up and ready to surrender. There was a road block on the high pass beyond the town and A Company was sent to picket the hills at the top of the pass. C Company picketed a side road running east from the town and B Company, who had been in advance of the column, remained in reserve. At 16:30 two RAE aircraft came over the mountains from the north. Evidently mistaking us for enemy troops they machine-gunned the party working on the roadblock and then attacked the rest of the regiment in the town below. Our casualties were one killed and two wounded. Two days later the road block was clear and Lt Campbell and some patriots came back over the pass leading a convoy of trucks which contained enemy POWs and some Greek refugees. The regiment provided an escort to take them on to Dessie.
The next day, 8 May, we moved over the pass from Alomata and reached Quoram. The hills overlooking the road were picketed and we stayed here for two days. On 10 May we advanced to Mai Ceu where we were held up a short time by another roadblock. The following day we moved a short distance in motor transport and then, after leaving our transport, we occupied a hill which overlooked the valley before the lofty peak of Amba Alagi. The enemy force had retreated to this mountain stronghold where they had joined their other army which had been driven from Cheren and Asmara. Their combined forces, under the command of the Duke of Aosta, were attacked from the north, east and west by a force of British, Indians and Sudanese, and with the arrival of the patriots and ourselves in the south they were completely surrounded. By this time the rest of the brigade had come up from Dessie.
At 13:00 on 11 May we returned to our transport. A plan had been formed by which we were to go down into the valley that night and occupy two hills on either side of the road in order to provide protection for the artillery who were to find a position below the hills. The hill had already been cleared by the patriots and the task was to be completed by dawn the next day.
Two platoons of B Company with attached support weapons were to occupy the first hill on the right of the road: one platoon of B Company and C Company with attached weapons were to occupy Khaki Hill, on the left of the road. The two platoons of B Company, moving in armoured cars, were the first to go down into the valley. The other platoon of B Company and C Company followed in motor transport. There was a long and strenuous climb on foot, particularly for those occupying Khaki Hill, but both the companies were in position by dawn. Battalion HQ was on the road below the first hill.
During the next few days the artillery, in position below the road, bombarded the enemy; and 1 TS and 1 DEOR worked their way round the mountains to make contact with the enemy on the south eastern and eastern sides of Amba Alagi. On 13 May the three platoons of B Company were withdrawn from the two hills and C Company took over the whole position. B Company and A Company, who had been in reserve below the first hill, were to move forward that night to join in the attack with the other battalions. This order was later cancelled and the plan was delayed 24 hours. Next day we heard the first rumours that the enemy were seeking an armistice and a plan was formed by which we were to attack on the left if the armistice broke down. However, on 17 May, after the armistice had been extended, we heard the news that the enemy had given in and that war in Abyssinia, at any rate for us, was over.
It was agreed that we should now protect the Italians against the patriots who would otherwise have continued to attack them. On the evening of 17 May, A Company moved right up to a position astride the road and just below the Italians' position. By this time 18 of the 20 men from A Company who had been left in Addis Ababa had rejoined the regiment. The other two remained to give evidence at a trial. The following day B Company and some support weapons also moved up the road towards the Italians' position. They occupied the area to the east of Amba Alagi, between the road and the triangle hill, while A Company contacted the Worcestershire Regiment in the west. C Company were withdrawn from their position on the two hills, and together with the remainder of the battalion they moved a short distance forward to a bivouac area in the valley.
By 20 May 1941 all the Italians had been moved from Amba Alagi and A and B Companies were withdrawn from the mountain. We remained in the bivouac area for another three days.
On 23 May the regiment moved north and that night we halted at Adigrat. The next day we reached Gura aerodrome, near Decamere. Here we stayed about three weeks before proceeding to Egypt. This was a time of comparative rest and recuperation from the strenuous campaign and the entire regiment was allowed day leave in Decamere or Asmara. The mornings were largely spent in squad drill. The day after we reached Gura the commanding officer addressed the regiment and said that we were definitely going to Egypt. A few days later, on 28 May. the 1st SA Brigade was inspected by General Platt. who was general officer commanding forces operating from the Sudan. That evening an advance party consisting of A and C Companies, and a few from Headquarter and Support Companies left for Egypt under the command of the 2i/c. On llJune the rest of the regiment moved down to Massawa and sailed the next day to join the advance party in Egypt.
No account of the campaign would be complete without a reference to the extremely valuable work by the motor transport drivers and quartermasters. We often travelled over very rough ground and we also drove long periods at night where great endurance and concentration were required from the drivers. Very few trucks were delayed on the road by breakdowns, and throughout the campaign the regiment did not lose one vehicle. The question of supplies was also very difficult as we always had long lines of communication, and, from the invasion of Somaliland onwards, we were moving quickly and our supplies came from different bases. We were helped to a slight extent by captured enemy supplies, but it was a very great achievement on the part of the quartermasters that we were never hungry. It may also be recorded that the follow decorations were awarded to members of the regiment: three Military Crosses, two Distinguished Conduct Medals and three Military Medals.
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