The Allan and Janet Woodliffe Collection of Medals Relating to the Reconquest and Pacification of the Sudan (18 May 2011)

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Date of Auction: 18th May 2011

Sold for £3,000

Estimate: £3,000 - £3,500

The rare Second World War M.M. group of six awarded to Onbashi Musa Ahmed Hamad, Sudan Defence Force

Military Medal, G.VI.R. (34668 Onbashi Musa Ahmed Hamad, Sudan D.F.) impressed naming; Sudan Defence Force General Service Medal 1933; 1939-45 Star; Africa Star; Defence and War Medals, these unnamed, nearly extremely fine (6) £3000-3500


One of 13 Military Medals awarded to the Sudan Defence Force.

M.M. London Gazette 8 July 1943. The original recommendation states:

‘For marked gallantry in action. He was machine-gun section commander in the raid on Ioe Mariam on 20 November 1941 and was in the vital position which was subjected to the heaviest artillery, mortar, and automatic fire. He personally dragged one of his guns to a position from which he could engage an enemy machine-gun which was causing casualties to his company, and controlled his section’s fire with admirable skill and coolness although suffering casualties. When eventually ordered by his C.O. to see at all costs that a platoon which was stuck 50 yards from the enemy trenches must get away, he went forward and stood on top of the hillock and shouted and beckoned to the platoon to withdraw, and at the same time opening up a heavy covering fire, thus enabling the platoon to get out.’

Onbashi Musa Ahmed Hamad was serving in No. 3 (Idara) Company, Eastern Arab Corps, Sudan Defence Force, at the time of the above related deeds.

The strongly fortified position at Ioe Mariam, south-west of Celga, was raided by the Sudan Column, supported by air and artillery on 20 November 1941. The action, which was fiercely contested, lasted from early morning until midday. The enemy resisted strongly, especially his white troops. A portion of our troops penetrated the inner defences of Ioe Mariam causing considerable havoc. The enemy casualties are unknown but were certainly very heavy. We suffered some loss in killed and wounded.

The vastly outnumbered Sudan Defence Force had earlier served with great distinction during the the Italian invasion.

Early in July, some 10,000 Italian troops from Eritrea crossed the Sudanese border to capture the town of Kassala. Opposing them were three motor machine-gun and one Mounted Infantry Companies of the Sudan Defence Force, about 600 men in all. The tactics chosen by General Platt were to fight and run, guerrilla style, as any pitched fight against such overwhelming odds was pointless, and to cap it all the Italians also had air power, whereas the nearest R.A.F. base was hundreds of miles away on the Red Sea.

The Italians also seized the small British fort at Gallabat, just over the border from Metemma, some 200 miles to the south of Kassala, and also the villages of Ghezzan, Kurmuk and Dumbode on the Blue Nile. Having taken Kassala and Gallabat, however, the Italians decided not to venture any further because of sand storms and a lack of fuel, so decided for the moment simply to fortify Kassala with anti-tank defences, machine-gun posts, and strong-points. The front line was now nearly 1200 miles long, defended by a Sudan Defence Force of 4,500 men, three British Infantry Battalions, and any volunteers, English and Sudanese, who could be found. Until re-enforcements could arrive, some 6,000 Sudanese, and 2,500 Europeans without artillery, tanks, or aircraft had to hold this huge front line against a potential force of 100,000 Italians with 200 aircraft.

On 16 October 1940, “Gazelle Force” was created in the Sudan as a mobile reconnaissance and fighting force. It comprised three Motor Machine-Gun Companies from the Sudan Defence Force, the 1st Duke of York's Own Skinner's Horse, and some mobile artillery. Other mobile forces were also formed, with names such as “Meadow Force”, “Bakr Force”, “Gideon Force”, and “Frosty Force”, and thanks to their speed of action, and their hit and run tactics, and planted misinformation, convinced the Italians that the Sudan was defended by substantial numbers of troops. Their stories make fascinating reading. These defensive ploys, coupled with a fairly inept Italian campaign, and a reluctance to fight over hostile terrain, meant that the invaders did not penetrate very far into the Sudan before reinforcements and aircraft began to arrive.

By January 1941 sufficient reinforcements had arrived in the Sudan for a full scale counter attack to begin. In two months the Italians were pushed back into Abyssinia on two fronts. Now the northern advance was brought more or less to a halt when the heights of Keren were reached. These almost impassable Abyssinian mountains were far more easily fortified and defended by their superior numbers of troops and artillery, and here it was that the Italians found their ‘fighting spirit’. It took the allied forces two months of desperate, bloody fighting to finally overcome this barrier and capture Massowa. Addis Ababa fell on 6 April, and Emperor Haile Selassie returned to his capital shortly afterwards. Amongst his escorting troops, men of the S.D.F.

In the South the advance reached Gondar after long sustained mountain fighting, and Italian resistance collapsed.

The official report of the Abyssinian Campaign states:

‘If the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan had gone, the supply lines to the Middle East up the Red Sea and across Africa from Takoradi to Khartoum would have gone too. Egypt itself would have become untenable. There could have been, in fact, no front in the Middle East ... General Platt and his men succeeded in bluffing the Italians into thinking that our forces were far stronger than in fact they were. This difficult and vital task fell mainly upon the motor machine gun companies - incidentally a purely Sudanese force with only two British officers to each company. They deserve in the Battle for Africa the same tribute as the Prime Minister paid to the fighter pilots of the R.A.F. in the Battle of Britain: for rarely has “so much been owed by so many to so few.’

With copied research.