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HMS Kingston, destroyer, took part in action when sister ship Kandahar lost (Navy Photos, click to enlarge)

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1922 - Benito Mussolini and his Fascist Party came to power in Italy.

1935 - Following border disputes between Italian Somaliland and Abyssinia, Italy invaded in October. League of Nations sanctions had little effect and by May 1936 the country had been taken over by Mussolini's forces





Italy declared its neutrality



JUNE 1940

Strategic Situation -
The Mediterranean region included two other theatres of war - the oil production regions of the Near East, and the Red Sea and Italian East Africa area:

Near East - Iraq, Persia (Iran) and the Persian Gulf area were within the British sphere of influence and surrounded by Allied or neutral countries.

Red Sea Area – To the east Saudi Arabia had close ties with Britain, and at the southern end of the Red Sea, Aden was a British colony. On the west shore were Egypt and the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, and further south French and British Somaliland. In between the Sudan and Somaliland were the linked Italian colonies of Eritrea, Ethiopia (Abyssinia) and Italian Somaliland. Bordering them to the south was British Kenya.

Military and Maritime Circumstances - From bases in Italian East Africa the Italian Air Force and Navy were capable of cutting Allied supply routes to Suez through the Red Sea. The Italian army was also powerful enough to conquer British and French Somaliland and posed a threat to the Sudan and Kenya. The Italians' one major problem was the impossibility of supplying these forces other than by air from Libya.

Naval Strengths - The major Allied and Italian strengths were in the Mediterranean. However the Italian Navy maintained a small but useful force in the Red Sea. Based at Massawa were 7 destroyers, 8 submarines and 2 torpedo boats. Against these could be deployed ships of the East lndies Command based at Trincomalee in Ceylon, although these could be reinforced through the British-controlled Suez Canal.

Italy Declared War - Italy declared war on Britain and France on the 10th. Two weeks later France was out of the war. Still on the 10th, Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and South Africa declared war on Italy.

Red Sea Area Operations

15th - In the Red Sea and Indian Ocean area, four of the eight Italian submarines based there were soon accounted for starting with “MACALLE” which ran aground, a total loss.

19th - At the southern end of the Red Sea, the Italian “GALILEO GALILEI” on patrol off Aden was captured by armed trawler “Moonstone” following a gun duel.

23rd - Also in the Gulf of Aden, but off French Somaliland, Italian boat “EVANGELISTA TORICELLI” was sunk by destroyers “Kandahar” and “Kingston” with sloop “Shoreham”. During the action, destroyer “KHARTOUM” suffered an internal explosion and sank in shallow water off Perim Island, a total loss.

23rd - Italian submarine “Galvani” sank Indian patrol sloop “PATHAN” in the Indian Ocean

24th - The following day off the Gulf of Oman, “GALVANI” was accounted for by sloop “Falmouth”.

Merchant Shipping War - Losses in the Mediterranean throughout the war were generally low as most Allied shipping to and from the Middle East was diverted around the Cape of Good Hope. To reach the Eastern Mediterranean meant passing through the Red Sea within reach of Italian bases in Abyssinia.

JULY 1940

East Africa - Italian forces from Ethiopia occupied British border posts in Kenya and the Sudan.


East Africa - Italian forces from Ethiopia invaded British Somaliland. The capital of Berbera was evacuated on the 14th and the garrison carried across to Aden. Italians entered the town five days later, just as a British mission went into Ethiopia to help organise uprisings against the Italians there.


Red Sea - Convoy BN7 was attacked by Italian destroyers based at Massawa in Eritrea on the 21st. The escorts, including New Zealand cruiser "Leander" and the destroyer "Kimberley", drove "NULLO" ashore with their gunfire, where she was destroyed next day by RAF Blenheims.




East Africa - The British and Dominion campaign to drive out the Italians from East Africa started. Eritrea in the north was invaded from the Sudan by largely Indian forces, while East African and South African troops attacked Italian Somaliland from Kenya to the south.


East Africa - In the north the Indian advanced into Eritrea was held up for most of February and March by the Battle for Keren. In the south, the Italian Somaliland capital of Mogadishu was captured on the 25th, after which British forces advanced northwest into Ethiopia. The East lndies Command under Vice-Adm R. Leatham continually supported the land campaign.

27th - After breaking out of Massawa, Eritrea's Red Sea port, Italian armed merchant cruiser "RAMB 1" was located off the Indian Ocean Maldive Islands and sunk by New Zealand cruiser "Leander".

MARCH 1941

East Africa - British forces were transported from Aden to Berbera in British Somaliland on the 16th. From there, they advanced southwest into southern Ethiopia. To the north, Keren fell to the attacking Indian troops and the road was opened to the Eritrean capital of Asmara and Red Sea port of Massawa.

APRIL 1941

Near East - A pro-German coup in Iraq on the 1st threatened Allied oil supplies. British and Indian units were entering the country through the Persian Gulf by the middle of the month. The campaign continued through May.

East Africa - On the Red Sea coast of Italian East Africa, the capture of Eritrea was completed when Asmara was occupied on the 1st and the port of Massawa on the 8th. Two days earlier, Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, had been taken. Italian resistance continued mainly in the north of the Ethiopia. 3rd - Leading up to the capture of Massawa, the surviving eight Italian destroyers and torpedo boats were lost or scuttled. On the 3rd, five seaworthy destroyers sailed to attack Port Sudan, Sudan further north along the Red Sea shore. Shore-based Swordfish from carrier "Eagle" sank "MANIN" and "SAURO". 8th - Before the final scuttling at Massawa, Italian MTB MAS-213 torpedoed and damaged cruiser "Capetown" escorting a convoy off Massawa. Four Italian submarines did manage to escape and eventually reached Bordeaux, France after sailing right round Africa.

MAY 1941

Near East - British bases in Iraq were besieged as British and Dominion forces advanced on Baghdad from Jordan and the Persian Gulf. An armistice was signed on the 31st May and Baghdad occupied the next day.

East Africa - The remaining major Italian forces in northern Ethiopia surrendered at Amba Alagi on the 19th. Some resistance continued until November.

JUNE 1941

Near East - Concerned about German influence in Vichy French Lebanon and Syria, British, Dominion and Free French forces invaded on the 8th from points in Palestine, Jordan and later from Iraqi territory. The Free French entered Damascus on the 21st, but strong resistance continued into July. During the campaign a Royal Navy cruiser and destroyer force, including cruisers Australian "Perth" and New Zealand "Leander", provided close support on the Army's flank. They also fought a series of actions with Vichy French warships as well as German aircraft. A number of British destroyers were damaged, but a French destroyer and submarine were sunk. 16th - Fleet Air Arm torpedo-bombers flying from Cyprus sank the large destroyer "CHEVALIER PAUL". 25th - Submarine "Parthian" torpedoed submarine "SOUFFLEUR"

JULY 1941

Near East - An Allied/Vichy French armistice signed in the middle of the month brought the fighting in Lebanon and Syria to an end.


Near East - The possibility of a pro-Axis coup d'etat led to Anglo-Soviet forces going into Persia (Iran) on the 25th from points in Iraq, the Persian Gulf and Russia. A cease-fire was announced within four days, but later violations led to Teheran being occupied in the middle of September. The landings in Persia from the Gulf were made from a small force of British, Australian and Indian warships of the East ladies Command.

Near East & East Africa - With the exception of small parts of Ethiopia, the whole of the Middle East with its vital oilfields and pipelines together with East Africa was now under Allied control.


East Africa - The last Italian forces surrendered at Gondar in the north of Ethiopia on the 27th. The Italian East African empire ceased to exist.


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