This is a country that, to put it mildly, has been through difficult times recently and is still, in many ways, going through them at the time of writing.
As you would expect by now, we have played a large part in conflict in Somalia, at times. At quite a lot of times, in fact.
We started taking a serious interest in the area in the late nineteenth century, and by 1888 we had established a protectorate over what became known as British Somaliland. It wasn’t a part of the empire that was hugely valued by Britain, and in the early twentieth century we began to realise that some of the locals weren’t too enthusiastic about us either. In particular, there was one Somali clan leader, Mohammed Abdullah Hassan, who was very unenthusiastic. In fact, he was so unenthusiastic that he led a long war of resistance attempting to drive us out and build a state.
Hassan started his campaign in 1899 and we soon clashed with him and his forces. We fought him in assorted actions up until 1905, with very mixed fortunes. In 1903 at Gumburu, for instance, his forces overran a reconnaissance force of ours after all their ammunition was expended and almost 200 of our men were killed. At Erego in 1902, Hassan’s men ambushed a British column and bitter fighting followed. Finally, on 9 January 1904, we won what seemed a decisive victory at Jidballi in which thousands on the other side were killed. And in 1905 a peace treaty was signed.
But by 1907, fighting had broken out again. In 1913, in the Battle of Dul Madoba, our Somaliland Camel Constabulary suffered badly; thirty-six members died, including the commander Colonel Richard Corfield.
Conflict continued and Hassan was still around, so in 1920 we prepared for another offensive. This time, instead of relying on ground forces, a major role was allotted to the new RAF. Planes were being used against men who had never seen an aircraft before. The air and ground forces developed techniques of cooperation in which aircraft would bomb a fort, and ground forces would then attack with aerial support. After just three weeks, Hassan’s main fort at Taleh was taken and he himself fled into the Ogaden. He died later the same year.
To the south of British Somaliland was an area called Italian Somaliland. For a time, this wasn’t a problem from our point of view, but in the Second World War it became a problem. A big problem. In August 1940, the Italians invaded British Somaliland with an overwhelming advantage in terms of troops, artillery and tanks. It could only end one way and we managed to evacuate almost all of our troops by sea to Aden.
But Italy wasn’t to hold on to British Somaliland for long. By 1941, it was time for us to invade Somalia again. We started with Italian Somaliland. In January, Cunningham’s forces advanced north from Kenya into the territory. His troops moved rapidly, taking the port of Kismayu on 14 February and reaching Mogadishu itself on 25 February.
Then in March, Operation Appearance, the first successful Allied assault on an enemy-held beach of the war, went into action, with British and Commonwealth forces from Aden landing on both sides of Berbera and eventually linking up with Cunningham’s forces. The whole of British Somaliland was soon back under British control.
British Somaliland became independent from Britain in 1960 and shortly afterwards joined with former Italian Somaliland to become Somalia.
Our naval forces recently returned to the area to counter pirates.