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Battle Name : Keren

Date(s) : 03 February 1941 - 15 March 1941

Part of : Second World War , Middle East and Africa , Middle East campaign ,

Outcome : A victory for British Forces over Italian Forces,

Type of battle : Land


Protected to the west by a range of mountains over 5,000ft Keren proved a difficult prize for the British Forces operating from the Sudan in February 1941. A series of three attacks were made by British, Imperial, Sudanese and Free French troops under the command of General Platt. The first assault made on 3 February and the third and final assault made on 15th March. The last assault, unorthodox by the generally accepted tactical doctrine of the day, was by way of the Dongolaas Gorge and railway tunnel with the Italians in control of the high ground on either side.


Keren (Cheren) Eritrea 15.47 N 38.28 E (Eritrea)

More details

On 2nd Feb 1941 "Gazelle Force", elements of 5 Indian Div under command of Brig Messervy encountered a delay in crossing the Ponte Mussolini over the R. Baraka some 40 miles from Keren. The main British Force of 4 Indian Div and 5 Indian Div closed up and early on 3rd Feb 11 Indian Infantry Brigade of 4 I Div was launched against the heights on either side of the Dongolaas Gorge some 4 miles south of Keren. The Rajputana Rifles attacking the Dologorodoc feature east of the gorge failed after meeting an impressive artillery Barrage. To the west of the Gorge the Cameron Highlanders with one company succeeded in occupying the foothill feature 1616 later named Cameron Ridge and holding despite a number of counter attacks.During this operation the Italians succeeded in blowing the Rail tunnel and blocking the road through the gorge.

The second battle of Keren on the 11th Feb followed accepted tactical doctrine in the British carrying out a two Divisional attack to seize the high ground. 5 I Div on the right attacking Dolgorodoc and Falestoh peaks and the Acqua Col, and 4 I Div on the left with Sanchil and Brigs peak as objectives. The detached force including the Free French Brigade d’Orient made a left flanking attack on the Samanna feature. Dolgorodoc Fort was seized but although progress was made on the other objectives ground was lost after sustained counter attacks by the Savoia Grenadiers and Bersaglieri assisted by armour.

The third and final battle starting at 4.30 on 15th March was unorthodox in that an armoured thrust of 8 Matilda tanks of 4 RTR and seventeen Bren Gun Carriers of the Central India Horse supported by infantry was made directly up the Dongolaas Gorge, the rail tunnel and road block having been cleared, the latter under fire. Keren was seized and the Italians withdrew from their mountain positions.

The British force moved on to the encirclement of the Port of Massawa which surrendered on 8th April and the 4th Indian Division was returned to Middle East Command.

Casualty figures

British Forces

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Italian Forces,

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