Southern Asia 1940: Italian Conquest of British Somaliland

Political map of South & Southwest Asia on 07 Aug 1940 (World War II: The Middle Eastern Theater: Italian Conquest of British Somaliland), showing the following events: Lahore Resolution; Italian entry into World War II; Second Armistice at Compiègne; Capture of Kassala; Capture of Moyale; British closure of the Burma Road; Italian conquest of British Somaliland.

The Second World War did not start well for the Allies, with Germany defeating France in June 1940 and Italy entering the War in the same month. The armies of Italian East Africa immediately set about invading the British territories of Sudan and Kenya, but lack of resources meant their only major success was to conquer the much smaller colony of British Somaliland in August.


Changes to the map 22 December 1939–7 August 1940

British Somaliland: The Italians have captured Zeila and Hargeisa and are advancing on Berbera.

Egypt & Sudan: The British have occupied Egypt in response to the Italian entry into the War. In Sudan, the Italians have occupied Kassala, Gallabat, and Kurmuk.

Italian East Africa: The British have evacuated Gambela to the Italians.

Kenya: The Italians have occupied Moyale, Buna, Dabel, and land to the west of Lake Rudolf.

Vichy French Empire: Syria, French Somaliland, French Indochina and French India (Pondicherry) have declared loyalty to the Vichy French government, which is collaborating with the Germans. Chandernagore, surrounded by British territory, has declared for the pro-Allied Free French.

British Protectorates in the Persian Gulf

The British Residency of the Persian Gulf maintained British India's influence in a number of Gulf states from the 19th Century until 1947. These states were nominally independent - and shown as such in most atlases from the period - but all signed treaties guaranteeing British control over their foreign affairs.

The Sultanate of Muscat and Oman was the only one of these states with significant international relations, having obtained trade agreements with the US and France before it signed its treaty with Britain. Maps of the time often show Trucial Oman and even Qatar as regions of Oman.

Trucial Oman was the region to the west of Oman which collectively signed treaties with Britain. The sheikhdoms of this region were often called the Trucial States, and later became the United Arab Emirates. However at this time they had little unity, with no regional council until 1952.

Indian Empire

The British Indian Empire, also known as the British Raj, was comprised of a complex of presidencies, provinces, protectorates, and agencies. Only the top level subdivisions are shown here.

The area under direct British rule was known as British India and made up of presidencies and provinces - a presidency simply being the name for an older province.

Outside British India, but often included within the sphere of the presidencies/provinces, were the hundreds of protectorates or 'princely states'. These were indirectly ruled states, the largest being Hyderabad, Kashmir, and Mysore. The others were either collected into agencies - which might in turn contain other smaller agencies - or fell under the sway of the provinces.

Main Events

22–24 Mar 1940 Lahore Resolution

Encouraged by Lord Linlithgow, the Viceroy of the British Indian Empire, Muhammad Zafarullah Khan writes a resolution calling for the separate independence of a state composed of the Muslim-majority North Western and Eastern Zones of India. The All-India Muslim League adopts the resolution at its three-day conference in Lahore on 22-24 March 1940, with the name ‘Pakistan’—from the northern British Indian regions of Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sind, and Baluchistan—generally being accepted as the name of the proposed wikipedia

10 Jun 1940 Italian entry into World War II

Holding that Germany would soon defeat the Allies, Benito Mussolini declared Italy’s entrance into World War II, effective as of midnight 10/11 June 1940. The Italian government presented the declaration to the British and French ambassadors in Rome shortly after 16:30, with Mussolini informing the Italian public later that wikipedia

22 Jun 1940 Second Armistice at Compiègne

Adolf Hitler and top military officials of Nazi Germany signed an armistice with representatives of the French Third Republic at 18:36 near Compiègne, France—the exact location of the 1918 armistice ending World War I. This new armistice ended French involvement in World War II on the side of the Allies and established a German zone of occupation in northern and western France, leaving the remainder (“Vichy France”) to be governed by the wikipedia

4 Jul 1940 Capture of Kassala

Three Italian columns advancing from Italian East Africa converge on Kassala, across the border in Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, at 03:00. After initial resistance by the Sudan Defence Force, the Italians capture the town. After also occupying Gallabat and Kurmuk, the Italians end their offensive in the Sudan for lack of wikipedia

15 Jul 1940 Capture of Moyale

Italian forces from Italian East Africa, advancing into the British colony of Kenya, capture Fort Harrington in Moyale. By the end of the month, they will have marched almost 100 km into Kenya and occupied Buna and Dabel. However, lack of supplies will prevent any further Italian conquests and these gains will be lost by February wikipedia

18 Jul 1940 British closure of the Burma Road

Yielding to Japanese diplomatic pressure, the United Kingdom closes down the Burma Road as a route of supplies to Nationalist China (at war with Japan since 1937). The closure lasts for three months and is conditional on a Japanese commitment to peace with wikipedia

3–19 Aug 1940 Italian conquest of British Somaliland

Some 24,000 Italian troops from Italian East Africa invade British Somaliland, defended by around 4,000 British and native troops. The British fight a delaying action over two weeks before being evacuated from the port of Berbera by the Royal wikipedia