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Casualties in the battle of Keren (Cheren) Feb.-Mar. 1941

Discussions on WW2 in Africa & the Mediterranean.
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Casualties in the battle of Keren (Cheren) Feb.-Mar. 1941

Postby DrG on 18 Apr 2012 23:06

Keren was, by far, the most important and most bloody battle fought during the East African campaign. What puzzles me is the huge difference between the casualties of Italian and Commonwealth troops, something similar to the ratio of losses between Japanese and Americans in some Pacific islands.

For the Italian (including African colonial troops) probably we will be never able to find fully reliable data: documents were destroyed when Italia commands were captured and the corpses of the fallen had often to be left unburied. Yet, we know, from the Italian official history (Le operazioni in Africa Orientale), which in turn relies on the study by Bruttini and Puglisi ("L'impero tradito", 1957), that:
- Italian KIA were about 3,000;
- Italian wounded (but probably including sick): 4,500;
- colonial troops KIA: 9,000;
- colonial troops wounded (as above): unknown (but the grandtotal of WIA for Italian white and black troops is estimated at "about twice the number of the KIA", thus colonial WIA should have been little less than 20,000).
(Bruttini and Puglisi estimated a total of 12,147 KIA and 21,700 WIA).

These losses are in sharp contrast with the official casualties by the Commonwealth units (source):
- KIA: 536;
- WIA: 3,229.
But if we check the list of Commonwealth soldiers, in service in the units that were fighting in Keren, buried in CWGC cemeteries in Sudan (Khartoum) and Eritrea (Keren) we find that 789 of them died between 2 Feb. 1941 and 27 March 1941. So, quite possibly, the total of Commonwealth KIA had been underestimated of at least 32%.
The first official account of the East African campaign, the book "The Abyssinian Campaigns. The Official Story of the Conquest of Italian East Africa" by the HMSO, indeed told that "The two Indian Divisions had lost between 4,000 and 5,000 men" (page 46). Nothing is said about the other units.
So I am asking: are there any other British or Indian or South African source (documents, books, articles, etc.), official or not, which provides data on the casualties? Were all the Commonwealth KIA buried in Khartoum and Keren, or also elsewhere?
And are there data about the casualties of the Degaullist Frenchmen and Ethiopian rebels fighting along with the British?

Guido
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Re: Casualties in the battle of Keren (Cheren) Feb.-Mar. 194

Postby Andy H on 23 Apr 2012 17:41

Hi Guido

The South African Forces World War II Vol I makes no different note of numbers other than what you already have.
The British Official History of the Mediterranean & Middle East Vol I, also use the same figures.

Within the official history of the 4th Indian Division 9by Stevens) it states on Pg55:-
Fourth Indian Division had reached journeys end in East Africa. In a campaign of 66 days duration they with their comrades of the 5th Indian Division and 1st South African Division in Abyssinia, had smashed their way to complete victory. The great Eritrean Fortress has fallen, Sudan had been made secure. The operation had cost 3,273 casualties, but the death toll was light-approx 1/10th of the total.


Regards

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Re: Casualties in the battle of Keren (Cheren) Feb.-Mar. 194

Postby quechua on 25 Apr 2012 03:26

DrG wrote:Keren was, by far, the most important and most bloody battle fought during the East African campaign. What puzzles me is the huge difference between the casualties of Italian and Commonwealth troops, something similar to the ratio of losses between Japanese and Americans in some Pacific islands.


Hi Guido,

I believe the reason for the disparity in casualties is in part due to total British command of the skies and heavy artillery shelling. In his book, The British Empire and the Second World War, Ashley Jackson states that the British fired over 100,000 shells at Italian positions and made liberal use of planes.

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Re: Casualties in the battle of Keren (Cheren) Feb.-Mar. 194

Postby DrG on 28 Apr 2012 13:20

Thanks to both of you. Quechua's point about the one-sided use of artillery and bombers is certainly true and relevant, by the way I wasn't aware that 100,000 shells had been fired (I knew the extensive use of artillery, but not to this level).
Yet, no source explains the discrepacy of post-WW2 British official casualties and the number of fallen soldiers buried in war cemeteries. On the contrary, the official history of the 5th Indian division provides an even lower number of casualties, almost certainly due to mistyping or anyway a mistake by the author.
Still, it's very strange that a propaganda book printed during WW2, such as "The Abyssinian Campaigns. The Official Story of the Conquest of Italian East Africa", reported more casualties (only for the 4th and 5th Indian divisions) than post-war books (for all the British units, not only the Indian ones), despite the fact that during the war usually losses are hidden, not increased.

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