Battle of Keren: toughest of them all?

Discussion in 'North Africa & the Med' started by Warlord, Jul 16, 2013.

  1. Warlord

    Warlord Veteran wannabe

    Lads, I know that fighting was tough all through WW2, and even the smallest skirmish was hell for those involved, but just came upon a quote by Donald Bateman, Brigade-Major at Keren and Brigade Commander at Cassino, which made me wonder:

    "No German paratrooper on Cassino ever fought more determinedly than the Italian soldiers on Keren. There is no doubt in my mind, from experience of both, that Keren was the tougher battle."

    With Monte Cassino being what it was, a prolonged stalemate of WW1 proportions, and taking into account the reputation of the Fallschirmjager, what do you lot think of Bateman's words? Can Keren truly be called "The Battle" over most other mountain warfare mid to large-scale encounters, like, say, Kohima, Shaggy Ridge or the Vosges Mountains?

    I know matters like this can be very relative, but then again, this site is the home of experts, isn't it? :wink:
  2. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    Having studied this particular battle and the contribution of 4th Indian div in both Keren and Cassino I would have to agree with Bateman inasmuch as they did not have the artillery - airforce

    support at Keren .....and if may say...better leadership as at Cassino..... Tuker was in Hospital and although Dimoline did his best - he was restricted by others above his pay was also at

    Keren where the leadership of Bill Slim was recognised - perhaps he should have taken over 8th Army after Monty

  3. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    Thinking of the East African campaign I often think that in our adulation of all things D Day and afterwards we tend to forget the massive contribution to the fighting in WW2 by the Indian nation

    with more than five divisions all through the war with at least four in more or less constant action from the early Desert fighting to Beda Fomm in 1941 - then off to East Africa - return to Syria to sort

    out the French - again to the desert with the 4th - 8th and 10th Divisions and the hand to kukri fighting at Wadi Akirit in Tunisia - on to Cassino where 4th Div bled profusely - finishing up in Greece with

    8th Div. fighting all through the Liri valley and only finishing when the war did in Northern Italy - NO one even XXX corps or 78th Division did more to ensure victory. WE owe them a great deal...!

  4. gmyles

    gmyles Senior Member


    It didn't get any easier for the 4th Ind Inf Div, for as their promised rest post Cassino, they got sent to Greece just as a short but bloody civil war was raging.

    “Throughout this operation and those following the ELAS fought with courage and a tenacity of purpose which at times reached the equal of the Germans”.

    Staff Officer, 5th Indian Infantry Brigade, 22 December 1944.

  5. sol

    sol Very Senior Member

    Slim was wounded before Keren but score of other brigade and battalion commanders later commanded division like Briggs, Savory, Messervy, Lloyd, Rees, Mayne, Russell and Raid.

    As Tom mentioned British-Indian forces at Keren lacked proper artillery and air support, and through the battle they were outnumbered by Italians (if I not wrong 40 Italian against 18 British and Indian battalions). But its difficult to compere it with other battles like Kohima or Scraggy as any of them is specific on some way.
  6. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery

  7. chrisgrove

    chrisgrove Senior Member

    It didn't help that 4th Indian (and the other divisions) had no mules in Eritrea - just what they needed for their logistic resupply. 'The Tiger Strikes' not infrequently bemoans this lack, claiming that the Indian Army had the best mules in the world. Some Indian mountain batteries equipped with pack guns would have evened up the artillery stakes too, as they would not have been restricted to gunsites in the valley like the motorised artillery. But hindsight is a wonderful thing.

  8. Warlord

    Warlord Veteran wannabe

    Tom, I am with you all the way regarding this pre-and-post D-Day thing; everything before it, tends to be overshadowed and even forgotten (sometimes on purpose, IMHO).

    The whole show being turned into a propaganda affair by the powers-that-be is the main reason why I don't like to read about the ETO, and try to concentrate on places like East Africa, ABDA/CBI/SEAC, the Balkans, even Norway, where warfare on a shoestring was more honest (if there ever was such a thing) and pitted soldier against soldier, not soldier against massed metal.

    Regarding the Indian Army contribution, I also share your opinion completely. After the BEF fiasco, the Dominions were the King's last resort, and they didn't fail Britannia, with the Indian and ANZAC contingents first into the fight; as time went by, their formations became more and more experienced, thus "earning" them a place in the line for the duration.
  9. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    Warlord's initial posting referred to Batemans thinking that between Cassino and Keren - The Keren battle was worse - and that I agreed with - there was no mention of any other has

    also been said that the battles for Croce and Gemmano in the Gothic Line of the Italian campaign were worse than Cassino - and again I would agree with that as again - we were reinforcing failure

    which started with US Gen. Clark hauling back the successful three French African divisions to assist his failing 54th Div behind the Monastery - which was still a big NO NO at the Gothic as we lost

    1st Armoured Div - had 46th and 56th Divs decimated and once more 4th Indian came to finish it all off - then headed for the little skirmish in Greece much to Alanbrooke's disgust as he knew they

    would be followed by others that we couldn't afford to send anywhere as we had nothing left by then.....OCT '44.... he was right !

    The other brigadiers you mention who were promoted to Div Commanders - apart from Briggs - not many survived - but Slim went all the way - thankfully

  10. sol

    sol Very Senior Member


    Alberto in first post asked if was Keren the toughest of all mountains battles during ww2, and that's why I mentioned Kohima in my post.

  11. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    of course you are correct however the statement made before the mention of the others compared Cassino with Keren - OF WHICH HE HAD EXPERIENCE - was what was referred - obviously he

    had NO experience of the others

  12. Warlord

    Warlord Veteran wannabe

    Well, there were a couple of Cypriot Mule Companies, but did not nearly have enough carrying capacity to provide the necessary ammount of supplies to the defenders of Dologorodoc or Cameron Ridge. Platt and the rest of the brass tried all sorts of alternate solutions, including embrionary attempts at supply airdrops by a Vincent and a Wellesley (see attachment).

    Now, would the pack guns have been able to even the score against lots of heavier batteries, pre-registered and firing from higher ground?

    Attached Files:

  13. Warlord

    Warlord Veteran wannabe

    Both answers I am aiming at, lads:

    Through the analysis of Bateman's words, I intend to gather opinions on Keren being (or not) the toughest (or at least highly ranked among) mountain brawl of WW2.

    Remember, unity makes strength :wink:
  14. Uncle Jack

    Uncle Jack Member

    Father in law was there too ... then Sgt Hird C E of 4th Durham Survey Regiment RA. ... he was with R Troop of No1 Bty .. sound rangers .. must have been very difficult ground for them technically .. so they mainly worked on straight survey for the guns ...

    We have a folder of photos and his personal diary ... plus the war diary for Y Troop of the 4th Durham Survey who were there too.

    Here is a Sergeant's view...

    Seriously his diary tells a tale of the conditions and respect for the Indian Div work...


    Attached Files:

  15. Warlord

    Warlord Veteran wannabe

    Well, sounds like postable material ASAP... :biggrin:
  16. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Warlord / Sol

    My only experience of mountain warfare was in Italy and extensive study of the East African campaign so I must back off in a viewpoint of the other mountain battles mentioned but I

    would add the mountain battles at Croce / Gemmano as decreed by the commander of 4th Indian as being worse than Cassino also

  17. chrisgrove

    chrisgrove Senior Member

    Perhaps not entirely, but they could have reached gun positions which were a lot less obvious to the Italians than the positions down in the valley which were all that the motorised guns could get to.

  18. Uncle Jack

    Uncle Jack Member

    Wilco .... must get clearance from CO first .... but she laughed at photo of her dad and two friends ...
  19. Warlord

    Warlord Veteran wannabe

    Well, the "Soft Underbelly" was as tough as it gets regarding the struggle in the heights, so your expertise in it is more than welcome and almost Vox Dei, my dear Tom :wink:
  20. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    Thank you for the nice compliment - still giggling over another thread of the use of the 3.7AA gun as an anti - tank gun - some posters are convinced that the 88mm gun of the germans was

    merely an over blown myth but we have to forgive them as they know not what the hell they are talking about - only one of them agreed that their special 75mm was just as good - the only way to

    describe an 88mm was to stand on the very edge of an enclosed railway station platform when a super Express train goes by your ears.....and that he can see you from more than a mile away - but

    you can't see him - he can kill you from a mile away but you have to get as close as 500 yards to see your shot bounce off him - then they had panzer turrets with a 75mm dug in and covered in

    bushes - no way you could see him - until he fired....ask Gerry Chester....he caught one at the Hitler line - those were fun ..


Share This Page