Sunday, April 14, 2013



The first campaign to explore the possibility of exploiting air power's reach and power in this manner took place in British Somaliland in the Horn of Africa. A Muslim cleric Mohammed bin Abdullah, colloquially, if inaccurately known as "The Mad Mullah", had proved a thorn in the flesh of the colonial administration for many years and had frustrated repeated attempts to bring law and order to the area. In 1920 his activities had reached such a pitch that the Colonial Office again wished to take military action against him and his large band of armed followers. The British Army estimated that this would require a full scale expeditionary force involving 2 or 3 divisions of troops and attendant bag and baggage at a cost of several million pounds. Trenchard, however, offered to do the job using one squadron of de Havilland DH9s, in collaboration with the local gendarmerie regiment, the Somaliland Camel Corps and a battalion of the King's African Rifles. His offer was accepted and the Squadron of 12 aircraft, to be known as "Z Force" was shipped to the area.

In a matter of weeks, operating in conjunction with the Camel Corps, Z Force successfully bombed and harried the Mullah's forces, driving them from their traditional stone forts. The entire campaign cost in the region of £100,000, and it was said afterwards to be the "cheapest war in history". The political effects for the RAF were out of all proportion to the local impact in Somaliland. The RAF had demonstrated its ability to undertake effective police actions

DH9 Air Ambulance with Z Force British Somaliland 1919


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lieutenant-Colonel David Rose

Lieutenant-Colonel David Rose, who has died aged 98, was awarded a DSO during active service in British Somaliland and a Bar while commanding a battalion of the Black Watch in the Korean War.

Rose (right), in command of 1 BW in Korea, accompanies General Collins, the US Army Chief of Staff, during the latter's visit to the Battalion Command Post on The Hook.

In 1940 British Somaliland was defended by a small force mainly composed of colonial troops, with the 2nd Battalion the Black Watch (2 BW) held in reserve. Five Italian brigades, stiffened by Black Shirts and supported by aircraft, armour and artillery, forced the main British contingent to withdraw towards Berbera, having fiercely defended the only natural obstacle, a dry wadi known as the Tug Argan.

On August 17 the battalion, equipped with a single anti-tank gun, was at Barkasan and acting as rearguard. After a long day's fighting, ammunition was running short and Rose, then a captain commanding the forward company, found himself at great risk of being cut off.

He decided to counter-attack and led his men down the hill in a fierce bayonet charge. After being wounded in the shoulder, he stuffed his arm into his belt to stop it flopping about and continued to lead the attack.

The Italian forces broke and fled, and many of their native levies were shot down by Black Shirts who had been waiting at their rear. The Highlanders pursued the enemy for a mile and left them so demoralised that they offered no further interference to the battalion's withdrawal under cover of darkness. Rose was awarded his first DSO, at that time an unusual award for a junior officer.

David MacNeil Campbell Rose, the son of Brigadier John Rose, was born at Alverstoke, Hampshire, on March 23 1912. His three brothers had distinguished careers in the Army in the Second World War; two of them were highly decorated.

After Glenalmond and Sandhurst, David was commissioned into the Black Watch. Army service in Scotland included a period spent on the Royal Guard at Balmoral. King George V was Colonel-in-Chief of the Black Watch and nearing the end of his reign. On one occasion, at the Ghillies' Ball, he discovered Rose and a fellow officer helping themselves to a bottle of champagne which had been specially left out for himself.

As a "punishment" he ordered both young officers to dance with the Queen and then come shooting with him the next day. During the shoot, Rose's overenthusiastic dog retrieved a grouse from immediately behind the King's butt.

"My bird I think, Rose!" said the King.

Not wishing to be deprived of one of his small bag, and aware that the King was very proud of being a superb shot, Rose, in some trepidation, replied: "No, Sir, it must be one of mine. It's a runner!"

After a snort, the gruff reply came back: "Proper little courtier, aren't you, Rose? All right. I suppose you can count it as one of yours!"

In 1938, 1 BW was deployed to Palestine. The troopship docked at Tangiers, allowing time for a run ashore. While visiting the souk, Rose was astonished to recognise his youngest brother dressed as an Arab and begging. The young man subsequently joined the Foreign Legion and was awarded the Croix de Guerre and M├ędaille Militaire.

After his exploits in British Somaliland, Rose attended Staff College in Haifa. But soon after taking up his first staff appointment in Cairo, 2 BW urgently needed reinforcements following its attempt to break out from Tobruk, and he returned to the battalion as adjutant.

Rose was subsequently posted to Burma to command one of the two Black Watch columns in the second Chindit campaign. There he was wounded again in the shoulder, but managed to continue in command behind Japanese lines for some weeks before severe blood poisoning forced his evacuation and a long period of convalescence.

After a spell on a military mission in Cairo and a posting to Tripoli as brigade major, he was recalled from commanding the regimental depot in Perth to take command of 1 BW shortly before its departure for Korea in June 1952.

That autumn the battalion took over defence of "The Hook", a prominent salient dominating the Samichon river valley. With the help of the Royal Engineers, deep tunnels were excavated in each company position to provide protection from bombardments and allow the soldiers to take cover if they were overrun. Rose was able to call for airburst shelling to be brought down on his own positions to break up enemy attacks before clearing the trenches by bayonet.

On November 18 and 19, 1 BW was subjected to repeated assaults from two Chinese battalions. On the first night, when they came under heavy bombardment, Rose was never out of touch with his forward platoons. The Hook was held and the Chinese suffered large losses. In recognition of his outstanding leadership, Rose was awarded a Bar to his DSO.

In August 1953 he took the battalion to Kenya to help suppress the Mau Mau uprising. On returning to England, he went to the small arms school as chief instructor.

He retired from the Army in 1958 and, having settled in Perthshire, enjoyed shooting and fishing and creating a garden.

David Rose died on October 24. He married, in 1945, Lady Jean Ramsay, younger daughter of the Earl of Dalhousie. She predeceased him, and he is survived by their son and daughter.

Source: Telegraph

Friday, May 01, 2009

Lieutenant-Colonel Eric Wilson, VC: Camel Corps officer

For valour: Wilson, who left the army in 1949, is seen here at a 1988 VC and GC Association reunion in London, with Gurkha holders of the decoration

For valour: Wilson, who left the army in 1949, is seen here at a 1988 VC and GC Association reunion in London, with Gurkha holders of the decoration

Somaliland, 1940: Wilson is seated in the front of the truck holding the dog. It was killed on the first day of the action in which Wilson was taken prisoner

Somaliland, 1940: Wilson is seated in the front of the truck holding the dog. It was killed on the first day of the action in which Wilson was taken prisoner

Eric Wilson won the first Victoria Cross to be awarded in the campaigns in Africa during the Second World War. His story is one of persistent yet seemingly nonchalant gallantry as, by his lights, he was simply doing what he was trained to do. He stuck to his precious guns to the bitter end and so certain was the brigade staff that he had been killed in the enemy’s final attack he was awarded a posthumous VC. But he survived to fight in two more campaigns.

Mussolini’s declaration of war on June 10, 1940, two weeks before the fall of France, found him with no enemy immediately to hand. He therefore ordered his forces in Abyssinia to attack the nearby British colonial garrisons. In August, three columns each of brigade strength with tanks and supported by bomber and fighter aircraft crossed into British Somaliland south of Hargeisa and headed for the Tug Argan pass leading to the seaport capital, Berbera, on the Gulf of Aden. The Somaliland Camel Corps delayed the advance from the frontier, covering as best it could preparation of the main defensive position astride the Tug Argan pass.

Wilson, then a captain, commanded the Camel Corps machinegun company. His task was to provide fire support for the Northern Rhodesia Regiment manning the central sector of the front across the enemy’s path. So far as the terrain allowed, he positioned his water-cooled Vickers medium machineguns where they could strike the enemy in the flanks when they moved forward. But, because of the width of the front, several had to be sited frontally with wide arcs of fire. Having briefed all his gun crews, he joined the most forward pillbox on Observation Hill overlooking the enemy’s main approach.

The Italian attack opened on the morning of August 11 with an artillery bombardment of Wilson’s positions. A shell of the first salvo exploded immediately outside the embrasure of his pillbox, blowing the Vickers off its tripod and wounding one of the crew. To Wilson’s surprise the weapon was undamaged and he had it in action again within minutes, but the next salvo killed the corporal in charge of the gun, wounded Wilson in the right shoulder and left eye and smashed his spectacles.

During the afternoon he detected an Italian mountain artillery battery working its way up from the road to the pass. He had its range and opened fire, only to receive an immediate retaliation from the enemy’s fixed-charge high-explosive shells. Counter-battery fire from his own artillery and a tropical downpour brought action to a halt for the day.

Next morning the Italians began to push forward small groups of infantry and artillery that worked their way along the sides of the Tur Argan gap to attack the British positions at close quarters. Then, on August 13, the enemy launched a large-scale assault, overran the British artillery position and renewed their fire on Wilson’s machinegun posts. On the 15th two of his guns were blown to pieces but he continued to man his own gun until the position was overrun. The citation for his VC, gazetted on October 11, 1940, opened with the words, “For most conspicuous gallantry on active service in Somaliland” and ended with, “The enemy finally overran the post at 5pm when Captain Wilson, fighting to the last, was killed.”

He had been taken prisoner, however, not just wounded but suffering from malaria. This only became known in April 1941 when the 5th Indian Division captured the prisoner-of-war camp at Adi Ugri in Eritrea, where Wilson was being held. Together with other prisoners, he had almost completed a tunnel for a mass escape attempt when they awoke one morning to find all their guards had gone. By then he had learnt of his award from an RAF officer who had been shot down and taken to the same camp.

Eric Charles Twelves Wilson was born in Sandown, Isle of Wight, the son of the Rev C. C. C. Wilson. He was educated at Marlborough and Royal Military College Sandhurst from where he was commissioned into the East Surrey Regiment in 1933. He had been attracted to Africa since boyhood through stories told by his grandfather, who had founded the Church Missionary Society station in Buganda in 1876. So, after four years with the East Surreys, he volunteered for secondment to the King’s African Rifles and served in Tanganyika with the 2nd (Nyasaland) Battalion until he secured a second secondment to the Somaliland Camel Corps in 1939.

On release from the Italian PoW camp he volunteered to join the Long Range Desert Group operating round the flanks of Rommel’s Afrika Korps in the Western Desert. His knowledge of desert conditions proved a useful asset but, at the end of the North African campaign, he went to Burma as second-in-command of a battalion of The King’s African Rifles. He took part in the advance of the 11th East African Division down the notoriously disease-ridden Kabaw Valley to establish a bridgehead over the Chindwin at Kelawa. He then contracted scrub typhus and spent two months in hospital before being medically downgraded and returned to East Africa. He spent the final months of the war commanding the Infantry Training Centre at Jinja in Uganda.

Wilson left the Army in 1949 to join the Overseas Civil Service in Tanganyika, where he served until independence of the British East African countries led to his retirement in 1961.

He joined the staff of the London Goodenough Trust for Overseas Students, where his fluency in Kiswahili, Gikuria and Chinyakusa stood him in good stead. He was the honorary secretary of the Anglo-Somali Society, 1972-77, and again from 1988 to 1990.

He married Anne Pleydell-Bouverie in 1943. The marriage was dissolved in 1953, and in that year he married Angela Joy, daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel J. McK Gordon. He is survived by his second wife, one of the two sons of his first marriage and one son of his second. His death leaves nine surviving holders of the Victoria Cross.

Lieutenant-Colonel Eric Wilson, VC, was born on October 2, 1912. He died on December 23, 2008, aged 96

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ubique - remembering Somaliland

Illustrating the point I made yesterday about Somaliland deserving our support, here is a quote from a debate in The House of Commons in 2004:

The people of Somaliland have worked extremely hard to rebuild their country and community, and they deserve our help and support. Somaliland supported this country during the Second World War. It is worth recalling that 91,000 Italian troops, together with 200,000 local troops raised by the Italians, confronted 9,000 soldiers, mainly from the Somaliland Scouts and the Somaliland Camel Corps. The BBC documentary, "The Second World War", reported that the Italians

"were held at bay for four days"

and that our troops had

"inflicted over 2,000 casualties at a cost of around 250 men."

The documentary concluded:

"Furthermore, the impression that their defence left on the Italians would greatly influence future actions."

The people of Somaliland stood shoulder to shoulder with us in the past and, as the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie said, they have done everything asked of them. They have had free and fair presidential and municipal elections. When we addressed both their Houses of Parliament and said that they would need parliamentary elections, there was no dissent. They said that they had to address some issues to achieve that, but that they want to do so. If ever a community deserved long-term development assistance, it is the people of Somaliland.

Source: Charles Fred Blog:

RAF 1920 - Somaliland Camel Corps in British Somaliland


A Z Force DH9 in air ambulance role Jan - Feb 1920- The RAF's first "little war". RAF units were involved in operations with the Camel Corps in British Somaliland (now Somalia) to overthrow Dervish leader Mohammed bin Abdullah Hassan, the "Mad Mullah". The airborne intervention was "the main instrument and decisive factor" in the success of the operation. Ten dH9s were dispatched to form "Z Force", and were used for bombing, strafing and as air ambulances.

Royal Air Force College Cranwell 5 Feb 1920- The RAF College opened at Cranwell, Lincolnshire.

1 Apr 1920- The WRAF was disbanded.

3 Jul 1920- Over 60,000 spectators attend the first RAF Pageant at Hendon, London.


SOMALILAND Scouts - War Covers

No. 736 1947 cover & letter - SOMALILAND Scouts £45
1947 cover & letter - SOMALILAND Scouts 1947 cover & letter - SOMALILAND Scouts

1947 (Oct.) cover & letter from NYASALAND to 'c/o Major H French, SOMALILAND Scouts, British Somaliland' with s/r. HARGEISA receipt p/m. Roughly opened. BRITISH PROTECTORATE. Fighting Nov. & riot in Dec. 1947.