South African Army

South African Army

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The Second World War

Within two decades, as had been predicted by General Smuts at the Peace Conference in 1919, the Second World War broke out. Once again, her political divisions intractable, South Africa entered the fray on the side of the Allied Powers. Fielding three divisions, two infantry and one armoured, and with its own air force and navy, the South Africans played a significant role in the struggle against the German-Italian Axis. A motorized infantry brigade (7th SA Brigade), was sent to Vichy occupied Madagascar in June 1942.

East Africa and Abyssinia

The 1st South African Division was instrumental in driving Fascist Italy from its East African colonies of Abyssinia and Somaliland. On 24th July 1940, the first South African ground forces, all volunteers, arrived in Kenya. The number of South African troops committed to the East African theatre escalated to 43 730 before they were finally withdrawn for service in the Western Desert.

The first action by South Africans ground forces was on the 16th December 1940 at El Wak where Brigadier General “Dan” Pienaar’s 1st South African Brigade attacked and captured the Italian positions. The 1st South African Division advanced into southern Abyssinia and took Mega on the 19th February 1941. The South African advance thereafter was rapid. Mogadishu fell on the 26th February 1941, Harar was captured on the 25th March, the Awash River was crossed on 3rd April, and Addis Ababa was liberated on the 6th April. The 1st South African Brigade had advanced 2 735 km in 53 days. On 17th April 1941, it reached the Combolcia Pass. By 23rd April, the Brigade had stormed the pass suffering losses of ten killed and twenty-eight wounded ; however it had succeeded in inflicting 400 casualties on the Italians and had captured 1200 more. The South African Brigade arrived at Amba Alagi defences on the 11th May 1941. On the 12th May, Khake Hill was stormed. The attack on Mount Corarsi, the key to the Amba Alagi defences, began on the 14th May and fell to an attack by the South African and Indian troops on the morning of the 15th May. The 1st South African Brigade had traveled 4023 km from El Wak to Amba Alagi in 100 days. South Africans had suffered a total of 270 battle casualties (73 killed).

Western Desert

The 1st South African Division then embarked for Egypt where it was joined by the 2nd South African Division which had arrived in the Middle East from the Union in June 1940, in preparation for the campaign against the Axis forces in the Western Desert.


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Corporate Communication

Department of Defence
SA Army Headquarters
Corporate Communication
Private Bag X981

Tel: 27 12 355 9111(Switchboard)

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