SAAF Northern Narrative

The Suez Canal was vital to maintaining the British ability to support India and the Far East in time of conflict.

British and French policy was to share the security of the link by holding territory at the waterway entrances to both the Mediterranean and Red Sea while Britain had armed forces stationed in Egypt to defend the Canal Zone.

The effect of Gibraltar/France/Tunisia to the west and Aden/British Somalia/French Somalia/Sudan to the east led to a feeling in Italy of being isolated to the ocean trade routes.

Libya in the 1920s had first provided the Italian Empire with a secure land access on the southern mediterranean and, with the rise of Mussolini, the small Italian colony of Italian Somaliland expanded into surrounding Ethiopia in 1935/36.

This enlarged Italian colonial state of Italian East Africa encircled British and French Somalia and gave Red Sea ports along with the desired Indian Ocean access.

Despite these gains and along with other lands claimed in the Eastern Mediterranean, Italy still did not have a secure land route to the ocean ports.

The early success of Germany in Europe led Mussolini to enter the Second World War with a declared desire to gain land in western Yugoslavia, southern France, Corsica, Malta, Tunisia, part of Algeria, Morocco, British Somalia, French Somalia, Suez and Sudan.

Recall of men and equipment to the UK coupled with absence of reinforcements and new equipment in early 1940 had resulted in British forces being very weak in Sudan/Egypt and non existent in Kenya.

Italy delared war on Britain and France on 10th June 1940 and planned a three front attack on British interests in Egypt, Sudan and Kenya.

The Union of South Africa did not hesitate and advanced equipment to cover Kenya.

In the early hours on the day after the Italian Declaration the SAAF launched a small air attack on Italian East Africa from bases in Kenya. This reaction was so swift that it actually took place six hours before the Union had declared war on Italy in support of the UK.

On the border between Sudan and Italian East Africa the RAF launched a bombing attack at dawn on the 11th June by eight Wellesley bombers of No.47 Squadron.

This was the opening of a campaign in East Africa that was to last until November 1941.

The initial months were fought using aircraft from the 1930s order of battle, biplane fighter/bombers and early monoplane light bombers.

Support from French forces against Italian actions continued for a few days after the armistice was signed between Itay and France on 24th June but soon Italy gained French Somalia without further action.

Recall of the bulk of British forces in the Sudan to aid Greece prolonged the conflict as was the case of the Western Desert but Italian forces were eventually defeated in Oct/Nov 1941.

The SAAF Northern Narrative is the Air Headquarters East Africa day to day record of the campaign in the form of Daily records of operations and associated appendices of signals and reports.

On declaration of war with Germany the SAAF inventory was declared as

65 Hawker Hartbees
74 Hawker Hart (23 being delivered)
6 Hawker Fury
23 Westland Wapiti
37 Avro Tutor (in production)
6 Airspeed Envoy
3 Hawker Hurricane (4 being delivered)
1 Bristol Blenheim MkI
1 Fairey Battle
1 Gloster AS31 Survey
3 DH66 Hercules
1 DH9J

Many of the above aircraft were u/s because of lack of spares.

In addition 18 Junkers Ju86 and 11 Junkers Ju52 airline aircraft of the South African Airways were also pressed into service as bombers.

As to manpower the SAAF permanent force consisted of 160 officers, 35 cadets and 1,400 men