'Kassala or Bust', British vs Italians, East Africa, 1941

by The Ilkleylads, Yorkshire, UK, 5th November 2006

The town of Kassala lies on the border between Sudan and Eritrea and had been occupied by Italian troops on the 4th July 1940. This Italian victory was a hollow one as they chalked up another pile of dust and rocks for Il Duce at the cost of too many lives.

Our game is based on the early stages of the British Invasion of the Italian East African colonies. The 5th Indian Division and the fully motorized Gazelle force begin its invasion of Eritrea at Kassala in January 1941. Historically the Italians retreated without putting up any resistance. The game is based on what might have happened if the Italians had put up a fight.

The village of Kassala itself was composed mostly of mud buildings and a few government buildings. The terrain around the town is remarkably flat. A road leads from Sudan through Kassala into the interior of the Eritrea. There is some short scrub and a few trees but very little else in the way of vegetation.

The British force represents elements from Gazelle force and includes troops from the 5th Indian Division including Skinner’s Horse, 2nd West Yorkshires and the Sudan Defense Force. The Italian force is an ad hoc group consisting of Eritrean, Black Shirt and the elite Granatieri di Savoia. Both sides have armour attached and the British have off board artillery support.

British Order of Battle

  Skinners Horse (Motorized Infantry)
        2 x Bren Carriers
        1 x Marmon Herrington MKII
        4 x Trucks
        2 x Sections of Infantry (6th Rajputs)
        1 x Boys AT Rifle
        2 x Vickers MGS (Sudan Defense Force)
        3 x Vickers VIbs
  2nd West Yorkshires
        8 x Sections of Infantry
        2 x 2" Light Mortar
        1 x Boys AT Rifle
        1 x Matilda II
        2 x 25lb Howitzers

Italian Order of Battle

  5th Eritrean Colonial Infantry
        4 x Sections of Infantry
        1 x AT Rifle
        3 x Sections of Infantry
        1 x Breda MG
        1 x 47mm AT Gun
        1 x Medium Mortar
  Granatieri di Savoia
        4 x Sections of Infantry
        1 x Breda MG
        1 x M11/39
        2 x L3/35
        2 x 65/17 Field Guns

The Battle

The Italians have strung a thin line of barbed wire across part of the front with hidden mines randomly placed behind it. The Eritreans have been placed well forward behind Sangars with the Blackshirts garrisoning the town and no doubt enjoying the dubious nightlife of this frontier town. To the East of the town the Italian armour is leaguered with the artillery deployed south of the town. The grenadiers are held in reserve some kilometers further east and have been motorized by stripping all serviceable vehicles in the surrounding area.

The British advance begins at first light with Skinners Horse advancing slowly out of the shadows towards the Eritreans hoping to catch them off guard. The Vickers Light tanks supported by the motorized infantry head towards a small hillock to the north of the town hoping to use this as a fire base for the subsequent attack on Kassala. The Marmon and Brens demonstrate against the Eritreans hoping to panic them in to flight. The British FO also takes up a good position to call in fire. All is set and turn 2 sees the plan unfold.

Firstly the British FO fails to establish any communications with the artillery and after repeated attempts is forced to send a runner with a note with the coordinates of the Eritrean positions. The Italian artillery FO however is quick to act and calls in accurate fire on the 2nd West Yorkshires as they arrive. This causes enough confusion that an order to advance is misunderstood (12 on a command order) and the infantry instead retire for the safety of their lines.

With the British advance stalled the FO calls in the 25lb fire however the hastily written note has been misunderstood and the British artillery instead hits the British lines adding to the already confused situation. In annoyance the FO again tries the radio and this time manages to get in contact with his artillery but in the heat of the moment he gives his own coordinates. As the artillery lands around his position he decides on discretion and retreats to a better position i.e. some distance to the rear (yet another double 6 – in all the British threw 5 double 6s in the game).

The British CO - Messervy - is livid as he sees dust clouds in the distance signifying the arrival of Italian reinforcements before his troops have even got to grips with the enemy. Coolly however he orders the 2nd platoon of the 2nd West Yorkshires to re direct their attack South of the town with the support of the Matilda. The troops are able to clear a path through the wire and advance towards the weakly defended southern perimeter of the town. In the centre the stubborn Eritreans are finally dealt with at the cost of high casualty amongst the 1st platoon of the West Yorkshires. This makes any further advance in this sector impossible and indeed the British are relieved to use the Sangars as protection.

In the North the attack makes little headway as a Vickers is blown up by the Italian M11 and heavy and accurate rifle fire keeps the Sudan Defense force pinned. The final British attack in the South after its initial success is faced with fresh Granatieri di Savoia who have arrived in the nick of time. Unable to make headway in this sector Messervy calls the attack off at 3.30 in the afternoon.

This Italian victory is applauded a few days later by Mussolini in a particularly bombastic speech he decries the military prowess of the decadent democratic nations and the hotch potch of forces sent against the might of the Italian army.

The Game

This was a demonstration game at the FIASCO wargames show in Leeds on 4th November 2006 by the Ilkleylads. The game was played using 28mm scale miniatures.

  Map of East Africa, 1941

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