Though the forcing of the Awash was not a major
engagement, it turned out to be one of the most successful little operations in
the whole campaign, reflecting great credit upon 5 KAR and particularly on ‘D’
Company, commanded by Captain T.C.C. Lewin (King’s
African Rifles Reserve of Officers).
page 519 of the Regimental History)
On 2nd April 1941 as 22nd
(East Africa) Brigade approached the Awash (the vernacular spelling of Auasc or
Ausc is used in the gallantry citations) River, Italian troops withdrew before
the British advance, and in the evening 5 KAR, the leading battalion, heard the
sound of a demolition as enemy engineers dropped the road bridge 30 metres down
into the river that itself was 30 metres wide; luckily this was the low-water
season and the river was fordable. The
adjacent rail bridge had been dropped some time before.
Major R.A.F. Hurt commanded 5 KAR plus
the following attachments:
platoon ‘C’ Company 3 KAR (Medium Machine Guns). Ø One
section of an Anti-Tank Battery. Ø One
section of 22nd Mountain Battery, Indian Army. Ø One
section of 54 Field Company, Royal Engineers. Ø One
squadron (less one troop) East African Armoured Car Regiment.
At first light Major Hurt went forward
on a reconnaissance with two platoons and a troop of armoured cars. This drew medium machine gun fire from the
enemy’s left flank but Italian positions on the right flank, although observed,
remained silent. The left flank
positions were accurately registered by the mountain gunners. The ground favoured the British medium and
heavy weapons as it had forced the Italian infantrymen to site themselves well
forward in order to bring fire down into the gorge. The enemy field artillery was in Awash village
to the rear, and out of sight.
5 KAR patrols were sent out on a wide
front to look for a crossing point, especially south of the dropped bridge
where an old ford was believed to exist.
Enemy positions opened fire on the patrols but the mountain and medium
machine guns hit back, causing Italian attrition.
‘D’ Company was tasked with crossing at
the site of the dropped bridge whilst ‘B’ and ‘C’ Companies made attempts
further upstream. In the ‘D’ Company area
2nd Lieutenant R. A. Langridge’s platoon went down into the gorge where
the road bridge had been whilst Lieutenant Valentine’s platoon moved towards
the railway bridge; 2nd Lieutenant G.H. Howard and his Askari
covered the forward platoons. Lieutenant
Ridley’s platoon was out on patrol.
Valentine was soon pinned down in the
open by heavy enemy fire but the Askari returned fire well, No. 1963 Private
Boiyo Arapmurgor winning a Military
Medal with the citation:
marked gallantry in Action. At AUSC on
3rd April 1941, Private BOIYO, under heavy fire, pressed forward alone with a
Bren Gun and effectively returned enemy fire.
His gallantry and initiative enabled his platoon to continue its
Down in the gorge Ronald Albert
Langridge, to the surprise of all, achieved his mission and the citation for
his Military Cross tells how:
conspicuous gallantry in action. This
2nd Lieutenant at AUASC on 3 April 1941, on being ordered to cross the river
and gain the heights above which were held by the enemy, he first waded the
river up to his chest in water, and was swept downstream. On gaining the far
side he found a safe passage for his men, got them across, and led them up the
reaching the heights the Platoon came under medium machine gun fire from both
flanks. 2nd Lieutenant Langridge proceeded to deal with one part after another
until he had cleared up the whole position. During this action he and his
platoon were under constant medium machine gun fire, until the final post was
Officer’s fine example and coolness under fire was an inspiration to his men,
and was responsible for the capture of a very strongly fortified position.
During the fighting on the west bank No.
1679 Lance Corporal Farah Isak, one of Langridge’s section commanders, was
awarded a Military Medal:
marked gallantry in action. At AUSC on
3rd April Lance Corporal Farah set a fine example when his Section came under
heavy fire on both flanks, pressed on to a good fire position, silenced an
enemy gun and captured the crew.
No. N/1674 Private Chemetai Arap
Kandiye also became a ‘D’ Company hero and received a Military Medal:
marked gallantry in action. This rank at
AUSC on 3 April 1941 was No. 1 of a light machine gun section, forded the river
AUSC with 2nd Lieutenant LANGRIDGE although he was in considerable danger of
being swept away. Subsequently when the
platoon came under heavy medium machine gun fire, he displayed gallantry and
devotion to duty by advancing against the enemy machine gun posts firing his
light machine gun from the hip. Due chiefly
to this Private’s courageous action, the advance was not held up, and the
opposition was quickly overcome.
As directed by ‘D’ Company Commander, Captain
T.C.C. Lewin, Girth Hillsides Howard took his platoon across the river after
Langridge and came under heavy enemy machine gun fire as he climbed up the west
bank but he immediately reacted, winning a Military
conspicuous gallantry in action at AUASC on April 3rd 1941. Under heavy machine gun fire 2nd Lieutenant
HOWARD rallied the Platoon, scaled the cliffs and finally rushed a machine gun
post singlehanded, killing two and capturing the remainder of the crew.
Lieutenant Ridley then appeared and
took his platoon across the river followed by Valentine; concurrently the
anti-tank, armoured car and medium machine gunners engaged every enemy target
that they could see.
to the south
Whilst ‘D’ Company was forcing a
crossing by the road bridge David Horace Abercrombie Kemble moved beyond the
old ford and took his ‘C’ Company across the river and up on to the west
bank. After fighting in three other
actions he was soon to be awarded a Military
Cross whose citation included:
GORGE 3 APRIL 1941 and FIKE 1 May 1941. During the actions at AUASC GORGE and
FIKE, Captain Kemble commanded his Company with skill, courage and
determination, and his fine example has been an inspiration to his subordinate
commanders and men.
Left: Awash Gorge - the new British road bridge
‘B’ Company under Captain Buxton located
the old ford and also successfully crossed the river to consolidate 5 KAR’s
hold on the west bank; the company then cleared Awash village finding that the
enemy field artillery had withdrawn. Mainly
because of incompetence these guns had not fired except to clear their barrels
before leaving, as the gun position was not aware of what was happening in the
gorge. ‘B’ Company, supported by a
platoon of ‘C’ Company 3 KAR, took around 70 officers and 500 other ranks
prisoner in and around the village and seized four anti-tank guns and a light
It was vital to maintain the momentum
of the advance and Askari man-handled six armoured cars across the ford; along with
two platoons of ‘B’ Company under Captain Buxton the armoured cars moved
westwards . Meanwhile sappers constructed
a new bridge that was in use by midnight on 4th/5th
April. The “race to Addis Ababa”
On the night of 3rd April
enemy Vehicles approached 5 KAR’s positions and a patrol went out to deal with
them, which it did taking five prisoners.
But No. LF 421 Warrant Officer II, Company Sergeant Major Stanley
Leonard Jarrett, Kenya Regiment attached to 5 KAR, was mortally wounded; he is
buried in Addis Ababa cemetery. The
Commonwealth War Graves Commission lists an Askari buried in the same cemetery
who died on 3rd April 1941, he was No. PS/7293 Private Usingro
Sierompre. Neither the battalion nor the
regimental histories give casualty figures for 3rd April 1941 but
several other men must have been wounded.
Above: Addis Ababa War Cemetery
W.D. Draffin & T.C.C. Lewin. A War Journal of The Fifth (Kenya)
Battalion, The King’s African Rifles.
Lieutenant Colonel H. Moyse-Bartlett. The King’s African Rifles.
Major General I.S.O. Playfair. British Official History. The Mediterranean
and Middle East. Volume I. The early successes against Italy (to May 1941).
All the above are available From Naval
& Military Press as softback reprints.
Citations are available from the