Operation Chapter

'Chapter' was the British capture of the Cape Guardafui area on the extreme north-eastern tip of Italian Somalia (13 April/24 May 1941).

The task of supporting the British overland advance was entrusted to a pair of the Red Sea Force’s ships, namely the Indian sloop Clive and British special service vessel/armed merchant cruiser King Gruffydd. Departing on 13 April, the ships steamed in company to Dante, 80 miles (130 km) to the south of Cape Guardafui, with orders to be ready to make a gunfire bombardment in the event that Brigadier A. R. Chater’s land force encountered any opposition. On 16 May the two ships anchored off Hurdia Point without meeting any opposition and a boat was sent ashore to establish contact with the Italian army at Hurdia, whose small garrison had surrendered on the previous day without offering any resistance. The Italian prisoners were then transported by sea to Dante.

After this a conference between Chater, the senior RAF officer in the area, other army officers and the two ships' captains decided on the tactic to be adopted for the seizure of Tuhom and Guardafui lighthouse. The original scheme of landing at Bargal and Tuhom was cancelled, largely as a result of the bad landing conditions along the east coast, and it was decided instead to effect an air-supported landing at Damo on the north coast, about 1.6 miles (2.6 km) west of Guardafui lighthouse. Single platoons of infantry were then embarked on Clive and King Gruffydd, which got under way at 16.00 on 17 May.

At 06.40 on 18 May the ships anchored off Damo, and a party of Italian soldiers was seen retreating inland. Clive opened fire and the party dispersed, no further activity then being spotted. The disembarkation of the two platoons began at 07.25 and, despite bad weather, the landing had been completed by 11.30 using local surf boats without encountering any opposition. At 12.00 Major Musgrave moved off with the two platoons to make contact with the Italians. At the same time Clive weighed anchor and made for Tuhom to support the troops advancing overland from Damo, and anchored at 14.35 in preparation for gunfire support should this prove necessary.

King Gruffydd remained at Damo and landed an armed party to occupy Guardafui lighthouse, an operation which had been completed by 17.30.

At 04.00 on 19 May Musgrave radioed King Gruffydd to report that as a result of the strong position taken up by the Italians and the fact that his men were still suffering the effects of sea sickness while landing through the surf, he had pulled his force back to cover the defence of Damo village and the lighthouse. Musgrave then came on board King Gruffydd for another meeting, and Clive did not establish contact with the land force until about 07.00 on 19 May. At 08.15 she received a signal from Musgrave, who was in King Gruffydd, requesting that bombardment of the wadi to the west of Tuhom village as soon as possible. Just as this signal was being received, a party of Italians was seen advancing toward the beach carrying a white flag, so Clive did not open fire and informed Musgrave of the surrender.

During the course of the day all the Italians from positions to the west of Tuhom village were brought into the village without any resistance, and the embarkation of the prisoners (19 officers and 61 men) was completed between 15.00 and 06.30 on 20 May.

Clive weighed anchor at 06.45 and proceeded to Damo, where she anchored at 07.50, transferred all the prisoners to King Gruffydd and 17.00 departed for Dante. King Gruffydd embarked Musgrave and his companions, leaving one RAF officer and a platoon of soldiers to guard the lighthouse and occupy the area of Tuhom. The ship reached Alula at 08.30 on 21 May, and a landing was effected without opposition.

The ship then embarked four officers and 35 enlisted men as prisoners of war, and proceeded to Aden at 04.00 on 22 May.

At 06.45 on 21 May Clive anchored off Hurdia Point and started to embark Italian prisoners of war from Dante in the ship’s boats. Embarkation was completed at 19.00, and 15 minutes later Clive weighed anchor and steamed to Aden, which she reached at 16.15 on 23 May. All the prisoners of war were landed and passed into army responsibility.

King Gruffydd arrived at Aden at 08.00 on 24 May and also disembarked prisoners. The total number of Italian prisoners landed at Aden was seven officers and 58 men from Clive and 23 officers and 96 men from King Gruffydd.