As previously reported, hostilities broke out with Italy on 12th January, 1940. The initial fighting, and Britian’s first land battles of the war, happened in a small pocket of Italian-held land in British-dominated East Africa: a pocket called Ethiopia.
To say that this conflict was short and brutal would be slightly incorrect. Brutal, yes; for the Italians at least. However, the large distances and poor infrastructure involved served to drag proceedings out over five months, despite the overwhelming superiority of the British forces involved.
The initial hammer blow came in Massaua, on the Red Sea coast, with the intention of driving a wedge down towards Djibouti and cutting off the Italian’s supplies. Two front-line and one reserve British division attach a motley bunch of Italians:
The Italians are crushed in four days:
Although it takes a while for our troops actually to reach Massaua, the salient is established and the Italians are on the run. As things go, it turns out that cutting the Italians off from their supply isn’t really necessary. This first battle used all their victuals in the theatre, and only one convoy made it to them before they were finally defeated (according to our intelligence analysis anyway: all subsequent battles but one were fought without supplies on the Italian side, even before we’d cut then off from the Red Sea).
Of course, no conflict is complete with only one front, so we begin making our presence known a little more widely This is the situation at the beginning of March:
As you can see, British forces have already driven as far south as Assab. There is a dicey moment as the Italians counter attack, making our Supreme Commander worry, for just a second, that he has overextended himself. However, our brave troops rebuff the assault with relatively minor casualties (and thanks also to some heavy naval bombardment, courtesy of the Royal Navy).
Meanwhile, the Italians, insistent on not being cut off from their non-existent convoys, have taken the undefended territories of Djibouti and Zeila. One can’t really blame them, one supposes. It won’t make much difference in the long run, anyway. This is the end of March, 1940:
This situation prompts Mr Mussolini to attempt to declare peace, the first of several such offers:
Well, it ain’t gonna happen. However, this offer does make our Supreme Leader, forever slow on the uptake [ed: my office, now], realise that we are actually embroiled in a private war against Italy, and that Italy has not yet allied herself with Germany, as had previously been assumed. We’re sure that will happen before too long though!
Meanwhile, our territorial boys from Tanganyika have joined the fray, and things are not looking good for our Mediterranean friends. This is mid-April:
By this point, it’s long past over. The Italian forces are without supply, cut off and on the run. Mopping up takes another couple of months, but is virtually casualty-free, on the British side, at least. At the end of June, we are very pleased to be able to put Haile Selassie back into power:
We now have quite a bit of reorganisation on our hands on of course, to get all those divisions back up to North Africa where the real fight is about to take place!
Editor’s note: in reality, the East African campaign took about 18 months, not six, although the outcome was never really in doubt. In retrospect, it would have made the situation much more fun and exciting if I had banned myself in my fluff settings from preparing for the conflict, especially given how Italy attacked a fair bit earlier than they did historically. As it was, Italy was quickly overwhelmed, not just by superior troops and tactics, but by vastly superior numbers as well, making what could have been a tense and interesting side-arena somewhat boring. Ah well, next time…