I. The War in East Africa FROM the time that Ethiopia became apart of the Italian Empire it was clear that the British position in Egypt could be threatened by Italy both from the west and from the south and that Italian East Africa was a potential menace to Britains link by sea with the Far East and Australasia. Sudan had a frontier with Ethiopia and Eritrea the total length of which was over 1200 miles and any operations against the Sudan would threaten the security of Egypt. At the time of the outbreak of war against Italy the garrison of the Sudan consisted of only three British battalions (the 2nd Bn. The West Yorkshire Regiment the 1st Bn. The Essex Regiment and the 1st Bn. The Worcestershire Regiment) and the Sudan Defence Force, which numbered twenty-one companies and was largely occupied with internal security duties. To the south the frontier between Kenya and Italian East Africa was also some 1200 miles in length stretching from Lake Rudolph to the Indian Ocean and here too the forces available for the defence were far too small—two brigades of The Kings African Rifles and the Northern Rhodesia Regt. of one battalion until reinforcements arrived from West Africa and from the Union of South Africa. From 3rd February 1940 East Africa came under the command of the Commander-in-Chief Middle East General Wavell. The Northern Campaign After Italy entered the war on 10th June 1940 the only immediate activity from the Italian inside the Sudan-Eritrea frontier area was in the air and the Italian air-raids caused no serious military damage despite the considerable Italian superiority in numbers in the air. On the ground the Sudan Defence Force made some successful raids on Italian positions especially in the vicinity of Kassala. On 4th July however, the Italians moved towards Kassala in force with some 8000 rifles 10 batteries of artillery and 24 armoured vehicles they captured the town at a cost of some 500 casualties while the British and Sudanese lost only 1 killed 4 wounded and 5 missing. On the same day the Italians also attacked Gallabat farther south on the Ethiopian border and there too suffered disproportionate losses before forcing the small garrison to withdraw. The defenders of the Sudan had never expected or intended to hold the frontier posts their aim was to keep the three principal towns of Khartoum, Atbara and Port Sudan and to harass any Italian advance that threatened these points. In fact although the Italians continued to deliver small raids and made plans for a A iii
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