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Royal Navy evacuates British Somaliland

The italian Flag flies over the former British Governor\’s bomb damaged residence.

The British completed their evacuation of British Somaliland on 19th August 1940, following the invasion on 3rd August and the Battle of the Tug Argan Gap. There were some 250 British forces casualties and over 2,000 on the Italian side. It was the only campaign during the Second World war that the Italian fascist regime successfully concluded without the assistance of German armed forces.

Churchill put a brave face on the development, in public it was argued that British Somaliland was not strategically important and the troops were needed elsewhere. In private he suggested to the Commander in Chief, Middle East Command, General Archibald Wavell that, judging by the number of casualties, the British led forces might have put up more resistance. Wavell responded that a ‘butchers bill’ was not necessary to prove the value of a textbook tactical withdrawal.

Meanwhile back in Britain another period of bad weather limited the intensity of the fighting in the air war over Britain. Both sides were taking stock.

In Britain strenuous efforts had been made to keep aircraft repaired and serviceable, and more kept arriving from the factories. The problem was pilots. The RAF had lost 90 pilots killed in the last ten days and a further 50 injured and out of combat. Only 65 replacements had arrived from the training schools – and it was this cohort of inexperienced young men who were to suffer particularly badly in the following weeks.

In Germany Hermann Göring, head of the Luftwaffe was becoming increasingly frustrated. The knockout blow to Britain’s air defences, which he had promised Hitler, had failed to materialise either on ‘Eagle Day’ or since. He held a conference on the 19th with his air chiefs. The outcome, alongside the sacking of a number of junior commanders, was the clarification of the objectives:

We have reached the decisive period of the air war against England. The vital task is to turn all means at our disposal to the defeat of the enemy Air Force.

Our first aim is the destruction of the enemy’s fighters. If they no longer take to the air, we shall attack them on the ground, or force them into battle by directing bomber attacks against targets within the range of our fighters.

At the same time, and on a growing scale, we must continue our activities against the ground organisation of the enemy bomber units. Surprise attacks on the enemy aircraft industry must be made by day and by night.

Once the enemy Air Force has been annihilated; our attacks will be directed as ordered against other vital targets.

It was these tactics which would start to put real pressure on the RAF. For Britain the the battle was entering its most dangerous phase.

Children embarking on a ship in the first wave of evacuation to Australia under the government scheme, 19 August 1940.