Defeat at Gallabat: Brigadier Bill Slim’s Formative Learning Experience

In: International Journal of Military History and Historiography
Andrew Stewart Institute for Military Operations, Royal Danish Defence College, Copenhagen, Denmark

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In November 1940 British Commonwealth troops launched an attack against a mud and stone fort at Gallabat on the frontier between the Sudan and Ethiopia. This was a strategically important position for military planners in the Middle East Command working to make best use of limited forces scattered around a vast area of operations. Poor organisation, inadequate training, ineffective subordinate command, an unanticipated level of response from the Italian air force and a collapse in morale amongst some of the British troops who fled the battlefield all contributed to the resulting defeat. The impact of uncertainty on decision-making was another significant factor and for William Slim, the brigadier in charge of the failed attack, this experience proved an important but often overlooked stage in the professional development of one of the Second World War’s leading military commanders.

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