Sergeant Leakey wins the Victoria Cross

The Duke of Aosta, in command of Italian troops in Ethiopia, requested an 'honourable surrender' for his 19,000 men. On the 19th May South African troops presented arms as the Italians marched into captivity.

Although it was over for the Italians in East Africa there was still fighting in parts of Ethiopia where word of the Duke of Aosta’s surrender had not yet arrived. Sergeant Nigel Leakey was the elder brother of Rea Leakey, at this time [permalink id=11096 text=”besieged in Tobruk”] with a small force of tanks.

On the 19th of May, 1941, at Colito, Abyssinia, two companies of the 1st/6th The King’s African Rifles successfully crossed the Billate River in the face of strong enemy opposition, and established a precarious bridgehead without hope of immediate reinforcement. Throughout the operation Sergeant Leakey had been supporting the crossing with 3 in. mortar fire, and having expended all his ammunition, he went forward to see what he could do.

Suddenly, the enemy launched a surprise counter-attack with medium and light tanks which emerged from the bush threatening to over-run the two companies of the 1st/6th The King’s African Rifles. Advancing from the rear, one of these tanks was bearing down on the troops, who had no anti-tank weapons for their defence.

With complete disregard for his own safety, and in the face of withering machine gun and rifle fire from the enemy’s ground troops, and from more tanks in front, Sergeant Leakey leaped on top of the tank which was coming in from behind our position and wrenched open the turret. With his revolver he shot the Commander of this tank and the crew with the exception of the driver whom he forced to drive in to cover.

Having failed to get the cannon of this tank to fire he dismounted, calling out ” I’ll get them on foot,” and charged across ground which was being swept by machine gun and shell fire from the other enemy tanks which were advancing and causing casualties to our infantry.

In company with an African C.S.M. and two other Askari, he proceeded to stalk these tanks. The first two tanks passed, but Sergeant Leakey managed to jump on to the third tank and opened the turret and killed one of the crew before the fourth tank opened fire with a machine gun and shot him off the tank.

Sergeant Leakey throughout the action displayed valour of the highest order, his determination and his initiative were entirely responsible for breaking up the Italian tank attack; by his own individual action he saved what would have undoubtedly developed into a most critical situation, for had the Italian tanks succeeded the result would have been the loss of a most valuable bridgehead which would have had most far reaching results on the subsequent operations.

The superb courage and magnificent fighting spirit which Sergeant Leakey displayed, facing almost certain death, was an incentive to the troops who fought on with inspiration after witnessing the gallantry of this N.C.O.’s remarkable feat, and succeeded in retaining their positions in face of considerable odds.

Sergeant Leakey’s posthumous award of the Victoria Cross was not made until 1945.

4 thoughts on “Sergeant Leakey wins the Victoria Cross”

  1. Massresha

    Thank you very much for adding your long comment. It is good to know that some aspects of the British involvement in Abyssinia are still remembered positively by the citizens of Ethiopia today.


    Based on firsthand historical information from the then battled participants and heroes of Alaba Nation in Alaba Kulito around May 1941, in World War II, One of the Great Britain Regiment which was the 22nd (East African) Brigade forces and Ethiopian Patriots aligned at Aalaba Kolito, Great Abyssinia (now Ethiopia), and the Alaba people together with Great Britain Regiment 22nd Brigade forces had made a bridgehead against the strong Italian opposition. The specific area was in the back of Kulito city of South-West location, nears to Bilate River at the right and the left side of the oldest Bilate River bridge that was built by the Italians. There were strong fight between the Great Britain (together with Ethiopian) and Italian, the battled was with different modern handguns, local handguns, Scalpel Javelin light and medium tanks and other.

    During the fight there were so many soldiers, heroes and patriots form Ethiopian, Alaba people and Great Britain armies had been killed by Italian fanciest army and then so many the Italian fanciest army died and killed by the Britain army together with Ethiopian. At that specific area of the South-West of Kulito City and South-East of Kulito City at the top of the Bilatte River toward the Alaba City nears to Nureleahimed (old religious area) and the top of Italian old bridge (which was Broken down) there were two tombstone and tomb area those are Britain soldiers, Ethiopian Soldiers, Italian Soldiers and Ethiopian Religious leaders tomb including the Halaba people heroes.

    Because I have been grown up there, I know the specific area, I have firsthand historical information, I have different memories of that place when I was kid and then adolescent, but I never ever thought about the tomb have been registered by Britain history and then one day it will have been recognized by concerned body. Now after a long period of time I saw some information about Britain Hero Sergeant Nigel Gray Leakey VC one of Great Britain hero who had been fought with Fascist Italia to support Ethiopian at Alaba Kulito city, and he had made a nice victory to Ethiopian as well as Great Britain with wrote Bolder history in Ethiopia, but Sergeant Nigel Gray Leakey VC couldn`t see that victory had been killed by Fascist Italian army at Alaba Kulito based on the written history of him, in the battle of Alaba kulito City;-

    In the face of withering fire, Sergeant Leakey leaped on top of one of the tanks, wrenched open the turret and shot all the crew except the driver, whom he forced to drive the tank to cover. Along with three others, he tried to repeat this with another tank, but just as he opened the turret, he was killed. The confusion and loss of armor Leakey caused was critical to the Italian defeat in the battle. Captain David Hines witnessed the event through binoculars, as did other soldiers. Leakey has no known grave but he is commemorated on the East Africa Memorial, near Nairobi, Kenya.

    Now Sergeant Nigel Gray Leakey VC is our hero! We will celebrated his death at Halaba City with Halaba people including the South Nation Nationality and People as well as all Ethiopian people. We would like to contribute to build museum Historical and Cultural Musiem in Halaba to memorize such likes of things.

  3. What a guy! Made the ultimate sacrifice for his men. Sucks he died though.

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