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Operation Appearance (16 March 1941) was a British landing in British Somaliland against troops of the Italian Army. In August 1940, seven months previous, the British had withdrawn from British Somaliland after it had been invaded by the Italians. The British and Empire forces from the United Kingdom, British India, Australia and South Africa conducting Appearance made the first successful Allied beach landing of the war and retook the colony.

Operation Appearance
Part of East African Campaign of the Second World War
British Somaliland in its region.svg
British Somaliland
Date16 March – 8 April 1941
09°33′N 44°04′E / 9.550°N 44.067°E / 9.550; 44.067Coordinates: 09°33′N 44°04′E / 9.550°N 44.067°E / 9.550; 44.067
Result Allied victory
British recapture Somaliland

 United Kingdom

 South Africa


Commanders and leaders
Arthur Reginald Chater Arturo Bertello
Units involved
1st Punjab Regiment
2nd Punjab Regiment
11st African Division
15th Punjab Regiment
70th Colonial Infantry Brigade
2 cruisers
2 destroyers
2 auxiliary cruisers
2 trawlers
2 transports



On 10 June 1940, Italy declared war on Britain and France, with Italian forces in the AOI threatening the British and French colonies in East Africa. Italian forces endangered British sea routes along the coast of East Africa, the Gulf of Aden, Red Sea and the Suez Canal. Egypt, the Suez Canal, French Somaliland and British Somaliland were vulnerable to attack.

On 3 August 1940, the Italians invaded British Somaliland, Kassala was bombed by aircraft and then attacked.[1][2] The small garrison of the Somaliland Camel Corps skirmished with the advancing Italians as the main British force slowly retired. On 5 August British Somaliland was cut off from French Somaliland. Close to being cut off, Major-General Alfred Reade Godwin-Austen was instructed by the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief Henry Maitland Wilson to withdraw from the colony and retreated to Berbera. By 2:00 p.m. 18 August most of the contingent had been evacuated to Aden, with the HQ sailing with HMAS Hobart on the morning of 19 August. Italian forces entered Berbera that evening.[3]


The Italian occupation in the former British colony soon deteriorated. A British ruse known as Operation Camilla had forced the Italians to withdraw a significant number of troops from the region as the Italians colonies of Ethiopia and Italian Somaliland were attacked in late 1940 and early 1941.[4] After the Italians had been routed at Jijiga and subjected to a seventeen day pursuit by the 11th East African Division, the Italian position in British Somaliland became untenable and more troops were withdrawn. By March 1941 most of Italian Somaliland had been captured and the 70th Colonial infantry Brigade (Colonel Arturo Bertello), a token force defending British Somaliland retreated to Abyssinia and avoid being cut off.[5]

Landing at BerberaEdit

The operation to recapture British Somaliland began on 16 March 1941 from Aden, in the first successful Allied landing on an occupied beach of the war.[6] The 1/2nd Punjab Regiment and 3/15th Punjab Regiment (which had been evacuated from the port in August 1940) and a Somali commando detachment, landed at Berbera. Supporting them was Force D; the cruisers HMS Glasgow and Caledon, the destroyers HMS Kandahar and Kipling, the auxiliary cruisers Chakdina and Chantala, Indian trawlers Netavati and Parvati, two transports and ML 109.[6] The Sikhs were able to capture and occupy Berbera with only light resistance.[7]The 70th Colonial Brigade meanwhile had its retreat cut off by the Nigerians at Jijiga; Bertello was later captured in Western Abyssinia who later claimed that his brigade had simply "melted away".[5][8]

Repairs began on the port and supplies began to pass through within a week, shortening the road distance to the front line by 500 mi (800 km). On 20 March, a small motorised column of Nigerian troops occupied Tug Wajale on the border, from there two armoured cars captured Hargeisa, linking up with the Berbera landing force. From this combined force they moved on to occupy the colony, meeting virtually no resistance.[7]


On 8 April, Brigadier Arthur Reginald Chater was appointed Military Governor.[9] British forces were able to advance into eastern Ethiopia, the 11th African Division being supplied through Berbera.[10] The Somaliland Camel Corps was reformed by mid-April and supported British forces over the next few months mopping up during the Italian guerrilla war in Ethiopia.


The British suffered 38 killed and 222 wounded; the Italians 2,052 casualties.[11]


  1. ^ Playfair 1954, p. 170.
  2. ^ Mackenzie 1951, p. 23.
  3. ^ Playfair 1954, pp. 172–177.
  4. ^ Rankin 2009, pp. 316–317.
  5. ^ a b Glover 1987, p. 128.
  6. ^ a b Rohwer & Hümmelchen 1992, p. 54.
  7. ^ a b Abys 1942, pp. 90–91.
  8. ^ Playfair 1954, p. 417.
  9. ^ Playfair 1954, p. 418.
  10. ^ Playfair 1954, pp. 418–420.
  11. ^ Raugh 1993, p. 82.


  • The Abyssinian Campaigns: The Official Story of the Conquest of Italian East Africa. (Issued for the War Office by The Ministry of Information). London: HMSO. 1942. OCLC 162657275. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
  • Glover, Michael (1987). An Improvised War: The Ethiopian Campaign, 1940–1941. L. Cooper. ISBN 978-0-85052-241-9.
  • Mackenzie, Compton (1951). Eastern Epic: September 1939 – March 1943 Defence. I. London: Chatto & Windus. OCLC 59637091.
  • Playfair, Major-General I. S. O.; et al. (1954). Butler, J. R. M. (ed.). The Mediterranean and Middle East: The Early Successes Against Italy (to May 1941). History of the Second World War, United Kingdom Military Series. I. HMSO. OCLC 494123451. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  • Rankin, N. (2009) [2008]. Churchill’s Wizards: The British Genius for Deception, 1914–1945. US title: A Genius for Deception: How Cunning Helped the British Win Two World Wars, Oxford University Press, New York. London: Faber & Faber. ISBN 978-0-19-538704-9.
  • Raugh, H. E. (1993). Wavell in the Middle East, 1939–1941: A Study in Generalship. London: Brassey's. ISBN 0-08-040983-0.
  • Rohwer, Jürgen; Hümmelchen, Gerhard (1992) [1968]. Chronik des Seekrieges, 1939–1945 [Chronology of the War at Sea, 1939–1945: The Naval History of World War Two] (in German). Translated by Masters, D. (2nd rev. ed.). Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-105-X.
  • Stewart, Andrew (2016). The First Victory: The Second World War and the East Africa Campaign. Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300208559.

Further readingEdit

  • Shores, C. (1996). Dust Clouds in the Middle East: The Air War for East Africa, Iran, Syria, Iran and Madagascar, 1940–42. London: Grub Street. ISBN 1-898697-37-X.