It was a battle worth fighting
By Meera Bhardwaj
20th November 2012 10:49 AM
The East African Campaign 1940-41 which is one of a series of eight books brought out by the Union Ministry of Defence is considered as the official history of the Indian army under the British East India Company in the Second World War, 1939-45.
This particular volume chronologically describes the campaign of Indian soldiers under the British command in Eritrea and Ethiopia that was under the occupation of Italy of the Axis group.
The Government of India has brought out a reprint of these volumes after 60 years, as there is a great demand by military experts and research scholars about a time when Indian soldiers had been deployed by the British as part of the Allied forces during the Second World War in East Africa, Burma, South East Asia, North Africa and West Asia.
Covering the operations of the Indian soldiers that has been sourced from the War Diaries of many a campaigner, the book gives a clear insight into important campaigns, strategic aspects, administrative and organizational matters related to the war.
With Second Lieutenant Premindra Singh Bhagat of the Royal Bombay Sappers and Mines and Jemadar Richpal Ram of 4th Battalion, 6th Rajputana Rifles awarded the Victoria Cross for their meritorious service in East Africa, the book is a must read for defence experts, journalists, scholars as well as serving officers to get a clear picture of a heroic campaign in an unknown land and that too for your oppressors, the Britishers, to serve their colonial interests.
The East Africa campaign that involved two infantry divisions of Indians commanded by the British Empire was responsible for capturing key regions from the Axis group thereby, delivering a mortal blow to Italians, leading to their collapse in this region.
In fact, the battle of Keren and the capture of Amba Alagi has been vividly described and detailed by the editors.
The book even highlights in excessive details the topography, climate, communication networks, the strategy of attacks, the sequence of attacks, the description of both Indian and Italian forces, planning, operations, the ammunition used, the capture of various regions and finally the retreat and fall of the Italians.
The capture and fall of Keren forms major part of the book as after a siege of fifty-three days, the British troops along with Indian soldiers entered Keren.
With the Italians concentrating the bulk of their forces (39 battalions and 36 batteries) at Keren as their strategy was if Keren fell, Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, would also be lost.
Therefore, the battle of Keren where in the Italians lost 3000 men including General Lorenzini, has occupied many chapters in the book.
This siege broke the back of Italian resistance and finally shattered the morale of the Italian army.
The subsequent operations for the British proved to be relatively easier.
According to General Platt, it was a ding dong battle, a soldier’s battle fought against an enemy that was infinitely superior in numbers, on a ground of their own choosing which gave them every bit of observation against the movement of our troops, the positions of our guns and approaches of our transport.
But the battle was won due to the tenacity and determination of our commanders and troops and the whole-hearted cooperation of all ranks and race.
The long siege claimed high British casualties while the 4th Indian Division was particularly hard hit, he adds.
The ‘ultimate pattern of the conquest’ says the Book Editor, Bisheswar Prasad, was a pincer movement on the largest scale through Eritrea for the success of the operations. Through the East Africa campaign, it paved the way for Imperial British communications as the Suez Canal was not only a major artery but even the Red Sea passage was vital for the existence of British Empire as otherwise the rise of the fascist would have endangered British interests.
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