Year
1940

Italians move on British Somaliland

On this day in 1940, Italy begins its offensive against the British colony of Somaliland, in East Africa, territory contiguous with Italian Somaliland.

Italy had occupied parts of East Africa since 1936 and by 1940, when it officially entered the war, had troops far outnumbering British forces in the region. Despite their numerical superiority, the Italians had been slow to make offensive moves for fear that the British blockade in North Africa would make it impossible to get much-needed supplies, such as fuel and weapons, to sustain long engagements. But if Italy was to make greater territorial gains, it had to act, while British numbers were still relatively small.

After several forays a few miles into Sudan and Kenya, the Italians were ready for a bigger push: British Somaliland. The rationale was that it was actually a defensive move. Afraid that the British could enter Italian-occupied Ethiopia through French Somaliland, the Duke of Aosta (who was also Viceroy of Ethiopia and supreme Italian military commander of the region) ordered an invasion of British Somaliland. The British defenders at the garrison put up a fierce struggle; although they had to eventually withdraw, they inflicted 2,000 casualties on the Italian forces, while suffering only 250 of their own.

Italy would not enter the Somaliland capital, Berbera, until August 19, while Britain built up its African forces in Kenya. The war for East Africa was not over.

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