Sudan has seen so much warfare over the past 100 years that it is sometimes hard to tell when one war ended and the next began. What is often called the country’s “first civil war” ran from, depending on when the start date is counted, 1955 to 1972. Even in the latter stages, it was dominated by old WWII weapons. This conflict is today overshadowed by the “second” war which was much more violent and fought with Cold War-era weapons.
Sudan at a glance
Sudan (since 2011, Sudan and South Sudan) was from 1899 called the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. It was a condominium with Great Britain and Egypt sharing control of the territory. It was located south of Egypt, west of Ethiopia, and north of Uganda and the Congo. The capital and largest city was Khartoum, where the Blue and White Niles meet.
The condominium’s borders were drawn on the limits of a 19th century Egyptian military expedition. They were one of numerous “disasters through map-making” in colonial Africa.
The northern two-thirds of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan was inhabited by Afro-Arabic people who practice Islam and speak Arabic.
The southern third was inhabited by African peoples of the Nuer, Dinka, Zandi, Acholi, Bari, and Moru tribes. They speak the Madi, Thok Naath, Otuho, Dinka, and other languages. They practice Christianity or folk religions. The only major city was Juba.
In short, the two groups had nothing in common. Of different ethnicity, they had different languages, different religion, different customs, and different lifestyles. Even the climate and terrain was different; the south being a savanna with chest-high elephant grass and the north being largely desert.
Although the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan was a unitary thing on the map, the British administered the south (which they called Equatoria) differently; for example during meetings of colonial officials the overall governor-general met with officials from Arab regions, while the governor of Equatoria met with officials from eastern Africa.
In all, it really is not difficult to see how the stage was set for later problems.
the Sudan Defense Force
Before WWII a British-commanded local militia was raised, the Sudan Defense Force. It was in four parts; a camel cavalry unit in the northwest, two commands in the north, and the Equatoria Corps in the south. The latter was run differently than the others; as Muslim soldiers generally refused to follow orders from southerners. It was also considered beneficial from a health standpoint to barrack men in the climate they had grown up in. The Equatoria Corps used English, while the rest of the force used Arabic.
After WWII began in 1939, the Sudan Defense Force quadrupled in size. It saw some action against Italian units during the liberation of Ethiopia.
While some newer equipment, including towed artillery, was introduced into Anglo-Egyptian Sudan it was generally considered a secondary theatre, especially in the latter half of WWII.
(RAF Wellesley bomber operating out of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan during WWII.) (Imperial War Museum photo)
The Vickers Wellesley was a type based in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan during WWII. These bombers, too dangerous to use in Europe against Luftwaffe fighters like the Bf-109, instead flew missions against Italian East Africa where fighter opposition was mostly biplanes. Use of older weapons was common for the Allies in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.
after WWII to independence
For the first year after WWII the British ran the Sudan no different than before the war. In 1947, the British considered severing off the south and adding it to the Protectorate Of Uganda. This was rejected and instead, a vague goal of “unifying” the condominium was announced. Privately the UK hoped that this would be increasingly under Egyptian authority, not theirs.
None the less, the Equatoria Corps was kept in place as a semi-separate military.
In July 1952 the Egyptian king was overthrown and the new republican government there wanted to get out of the condominium. As a result the UK decided to just move Sudan towards independence.
This is when the real problems began. Of the 800 government posts planned for the new nation, only 4 were given to southerners, which infuriated men of the Equatoria Corps. In May 1955, the final British commander of the Equatoria Corps, Col. W.B.E. Brown, bluntly told his presumptive northern Sudanese relief that a mutiny was “guaranteed”.
Torit mutiny and beginning of the Anya-Nya
He was correct. On 18 August 1955, southern soldiers of the Equatoria Corps at the Torit army base violently rose up, liquidating their northern Sudanese officers and NCOs. The mutiny quickly spread to all the other Equatoria Corps bases. Although redeployment of the other Sudan Defense Force units quelled the mutiny, the rebelling troops had cleaned out armories of WWII Bren machine guns and Enfield rifles, and taken them back to their villages.
At 00:00 on 1 January 1956, Sudan became independent and the Sudan Defense Force became the national army. A policy of “sudanization” was announced; restricting Christianity in the south and mandating the use of Arabic. With that, a civil war became certain.
“Anya-Nya” means snake venom in the Madi language. This is the name the southern guerillas chose for their fight.
WWII weapons in the Sudanese civil war
the Enfield – general information
The Enfield family of rifles served Great Britain during both world wars and beyond. All were bolt-action rifles firing the .303 British cartridge.
(A Sudanese-headstamped .303 round manufactured in 1963. Sudan had some domestic .303 production capacity; other rounds with this headstamp were made in Egypt. Naturally, surplus WWII British ammunition was also used.)
Enfields were already pre-existing in Sudan before the Anya-Nya rebellion, on account of the Sudan Defense Force using them during WWII.
(Anya-Nya fighter with a WWII SMLE in 1970.)
“SMLE” (“Short, Magazine, Lee-Enfield”) correctly refers to any Enfield family rifle put into service after 1904. Informally in the firearms community, SMLE has become casual shorthand for the pre-1930s versions – the “stubby-nose” variants – and for ease that is followed here.
the SMLE No.1 Mk.III*
Prior to WWI, Great Britain introduced an updated Lee-Enfield Magazine rifle; shorter with the furniture extending nearly to the muzzle. The P.07 bayonet boss was moved off the barrel into the metal front retention piece which also carried the front sight. This “stubby-nose”-looking rifle was designated SMLE Mark 1. In the interwar period, the British changed the nomenclature to SMLE, No.1 Mk.III.
This rifle was good, but expensive and time-consuming to build. An updated WWI variant, the SMLE No.1 Mk.III*, entered service with the asterisk denoting simplification. These were still in widespread use when WWII began in 1939.
(SMLE No.1 Mk.III*) (photo via gunsamerica website)
Omitted were extraneous things like the middle dial sight, volley-fire features, and the fixed magazine cutoff. The asterisk version fought just as well as the base model during both world wars and was cheaper. The SMLE was 3’9″ long and fired the .303 British cartridge (2,300fps muzzle velocity, or 2,440fps with improved spitzer bullets) from a stripper-loaded internal 10rds magazine.
Overwhelmingly the SMLE No.1 Mk.III* was the most-represented WWII-era longarm during the Anya-Nya rebellion of the 1960s – 1970s. This had been the standard rifle of the Sudan Defense Force during and after WWII, and was still a standard-issue rifle of the new national army at independence in 1956.
(Sudan Defense Force soldiers with SMLE No.1 Mk.III* rifles, Mk.II Tommy helmets, and a truck-mounted Bren machine gun. All of this was WWII equipment.)
The northern-dominated national army called the SMLE “Abu Ashura” referencing the 10th day of the first Islamic month. This is from the SMLE’s 10-round capacity, compared to the 5 rounds of the earlier P-14 rifle, another British gun of the first world war which saw use in the second and then in the Sudan Defense Force.
(It is possible some P-14s were still floating around southern Sudan in the late 1960s but none was noted.)
Oddly enough, despite the linguistic difference between north and south and the religious aspect of the war, the Anya-Nya were aware of the Arabic nickname for the SMLE and sometimes used it themselves.
(An early 1970s patrol of Anya-Nya with “Abu Ashura” rifles aka SMLEs.)
As mentioned earlier the SMLE was overwhelmingly the most common Anya-Nya rifle. The first were obtained during the 1955 Torit mutiny and its aftermath, and then regularly via capture from the Sudanese army.
the Enfield No.4 Mk.I
Entering service in 1941, the Enfield No.4 Mk.I might be regarded as “the” classical British rifle of WWII, with about four million being made.
(photo via armslist website)
This version returned to a traditional layout, with the front sights attached to the barrel which extended past the end of the furniture. Compared to the “snubby” SMLE, the appearance hides the fact that the Enfield No.4 Mk.I was actually an inch shorter. The basic concepts were unchanged and it also fired the .303 British cartridge from a fixed 10rds internal magazine.
(Sudanese postage stamp showing an Enfield No.4 Mk.I rifle.)
The Anglo-Egyptian Sudan received some Enfield No.4 Mk.I rifles during WWII, but nowhere near enough to replace the SMLEs which continued in use throughout WWII and after. Additional Enfield No.4 Mk.Is were provided as British military aid and during the run-up to independence and then afterwards.
(Anya-Nya soldier with an Enfield No.4 Mk.I. Also visible is a SMLE as described above; and HP-35 pistols, Bren machine guns, and Sten Mk.II submachine guns as described later. All this gear was of WWII vintage.)
The Anya-Nya obtained these the same routes as the SMLEs.
(Anya-Nya fighter with a WWII Enfield No.4 Mk.I during the summer of 1972.)
the Enfield No.4 Mk.2
This was simply a No.4 Mk.I, but made after WWII with urgency eliminated (brass parts replacing zinc, etc.)
(photo via milsurps website)
The rifle above is an Enfield No.4 Mk.2 (Roman numerals were abandoned after WWII) made at Royal Ordnance Factory Fazakerley (F) near Liverpool. It was made in August 1953. The half-rectangle and P indicate it is a post-1947 contract; awarded to Fazakerley, F. The 3 is a set serial prefix; 02637 is the serial number in the 2,500-rifle contract spanning 01548 to 04047 for Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.
Even though the Enfield No.5 was already in service and the L1A1 preparing to start production, ROF Fazakerley made these “contract” No.4 Mk.2s for six years in the late 1940s – early 1950s. Besides Anglo-Egyptian Sudan some other contracts were Ireland, Bermuda, Uganda, St Kitts & Nevis, Burma, and the Royal Hong Kong Police.
The Enfield No.4 Mk.2 was the last bolt-action service rifle for Sudan, with deliveries overlapping the nation becoming independent. Later procurement would be G3A3s, Armalite AR-10s, and AK-47s.
The air-cooled Bren was the standard light machine gun of British and Commonwealth forces throughout WWII. It fired the .303 British cartridge (2,440fps muzzle velocity) from a 30rds overhead banana magazine at 500rpm.
The Bren was based on a pre-WWII Czechoslovak machine gun, the vz.27. The British army introduced it during 1936. The Bren Mk.I was the initial model, and the Bren Mk.II was a simplified WWII version with things like the buttstock grip handle and rear sight drum omitted. The Mk.II accounted for most WWII production and was the most common type seen during the 1960s – 1970s fighting in Sudan. The Bren Mk.III was a shorter-barrelled Mk.II. It was originally intended for paratroopers but found good use by troops fighting the Japanese in the CBI theatre of WWII. All three versions were functionally identical.
The Bren, which shared ammunition with the Enfield rifles, was very popular with Anya-Nya fighters. They used it both as a light machine gun, and also as an auto-rifle, similar to the role the US Army employed the BAR during WWII.
There were ample opportunities for the Anya-Nya to capture Brens, as it was widely used within the Sudanese army. In a Sudan Defense Forces (then later, Sudanese army) division, each of the three rifleman sections (infantry squad in American terms) of the three platoons of the four companies in the division; all had a Bren, and there were additional ones assigned at the battalion and divisional level. Still more were assigned to static defensive units.
Additional Brens were supplied by the Israelis, as detailed later below.
Overshadowed by the MG-42; one of the best machine guns of all time, Germany’s MG-34 served as the template for that gun and was a very successful WWII design in its own right.
(photo via warrelics.eu website)
The air-cooled MG-34 was a revolutionary design in the mid-1930s and some firearms historians consider it to be the first successful application of what is called the GPMG (general-purpose machine gun) concept today. It fired the 7.92x57mm Mauser cartridge (2,510fps muzzle velocity) at 800rpm from either a 250rds belt or an attached 50rds Patronegurt, which was basically a snail shell for a truncated belt.
This was an effective concept. The MG-34 weighed 26¾ lbs, which was half of its WWII French counterpart, the Hotchkiss Mle. 1914; and about the same as a British Bren which carried only half as many rounds and had no belt capability. At 4′ long it was only 4½” longer than a 98k rifle and could be wielded by one soldier. It was accurate past 2,000yds and the twin-crescent trigger allowed single shots or full auto, depending on the pull. The only drawbacks were its cost and production time. An effort to correct these resulted in the more famous MG-42. None the less, MG-34s were made late into WWII and served all of WWII, from the first day to the last.
(MG-34 of the Nile Provisional Government in 1969.)
The USSR captured many and after WWII, these were doled off to fellow communist nations including Czechoslovakia. (The MG-34 had also been built there, under occupation, during WWII.) As part of operation “Balak” (described more below) Israel obtained some and used them during the 1948 war.
(Anya-Nya MG-34 in the late 1960s or early 1970s.)
Whatever its battlefield virtues, the MG-34’s biggest handicap to the Anya-Nya was the 7.92 Mauser round. It was common with very little else in their lineup and was an added burden, all the more so as the weapon consumed ammunition at a hefty rate.
the Sten – general information
Great Britain’s Sten submachine gun was one of the most-produced firearms of WWII, despite being one of the crudest.
After the fall of France in 1940, the British army needed many new submachine guns to replace those lost. Great Britain faced a possible German invasion across the English Channel, so it needed to be something that could be mass-produced quickly. Finally as the Blitz began, the UK feared a “bottleneck” where an arsenal making a specific type of gun might be bombed, to that end it was desired to have a weapon simple enough that multiple arsenals could make it, with subassemblies manufactured off-site.
The Sten was a success, with millions being built during WWII. All models fired the 9mm Parabellum cartridge (1,198fps muzzle velocity) from a side-mounted 32rds detachable box magazine. In theory it was accurate to 100 – 200yds but in reality it was a close-quarters battle gun only.
Stens were built largely of stamped metal, and had minimal machining or complicated parts.
Like any military firearm (let alone one designed from the start to be cheap and simple) the Sten had problems. It was not at all ergonomic and an odd thing to aim. It jammed more often than desired. One thing many soldiers who used it remember is the magazine; both the box magazine itself (made of cheap stamped metal) and the receiver wore out, and the double-stack / single-feed magazine was unpleasant to load, with the spring’s force making the last rounds very hard. During WWII many Canadian and British soldiers would not load all 32 rounds as this tended to increase the odds of a jam as well.
(Civilians, including a child, load the magazine of an Anya-Nya’s Sten Mk.II in 1970.)
Millions of Stens survived WWII. While they saw some use with Commonwealth troops during the Korean War, the Sten overall was considered a built-for-the-purpose WWII gun in Great Britain, and by the 1960s they had been surplused off abroad or into the hands of arms dealers.
the Sten Mk.II
(A soldier of the Nile Provisional Government in 1969 with a Sten Mk.II, this one having the “strut”-style stock.)
This was overwhelmingly the most common Sten variant during WWII and also the most commonly-seen one during the 1960s and 1970s fighting in southern Sudan. During WWII, over 2 million Sten Mk.IIs were made.
(photo via weaponsystems.net website)
The Mk.II was 2’6″ long and weighed 8½ lbs with a loaded magazine. The barrel extended 3″ past the sleeve, which had drilled cooling holes. The rate-of-fire was 550rpm. If the soldier chose to “dump” a full magazine, it was expended in 3 seconds.
There were several stock styles with the Mk.II. The original (which the Mk.II and Mk.III shared) was a “strut” type, a metal bar with a flat stamped metal buttplate. For all Mk.IIs made in Canada, and some in the UK, there was a “skeleton” style as seen above. Some British-made Mk.IIs, especially early in the production run during WWII, used leftover “A-frame” welded steel stocks of the Sten Mk.I. Finally the wood stock of the Sten Mk.V was backwards-interchangeable with Mk.IIs.
(The three stock styles of the Sten Mk.III. These were fixed and not foldable.) (photo by Sgt. Dennis Russell)
(Sten Mk.II with the “strut” style used by the Anya-Nya in the early 1970s.)
(A Sten Mk.II retrofitted with the wood stock of a Sten Mk.V carried by an Anya-Nya fighter in the late 1960s / early 1970s. This gun also has the original WWII British sling, a 2’7″ canvas-web design ½” wide, with a hook that fit into one of the sleeve’s cooling holes. Late in WWII and after the war, a 1″-wide design was also made. Many Anya-Nya Stens had neither, using just a piece of rope or no sling at all.)
The Sten Mk.II’s sight was a crude peephole at the top rear; fixed to 100yds which was near the weapon’s upper accurate range anyways.
The Sten Mk.II was fired either shouldered or from the hip. In either situation it was intended that the soldier have his shooting hand on the trigger and free hand on the sheet metal jacket atop the barrel. Contrary to Hollywood depictions, it was neither intended nor advised that the magazine be used as a grip. This was sometimes done anyways during WWII (to detriment of both the magazine and receiver) and because it was such a natural temptation, done quite often after WWII by lesser-trained guerilla factions using the Sten, of which the Anya-Nya were just one of many.
The metal jacket meant to guard the soldier’s hand itself often became hot, and later during WWII a laced leather sleeve was introduced. By the late 1960s these were largely missing from the Sten Mk.IIs the south Sudanese rebels used (many WWII Stens never got one at all).
(A fighter of the Nile Provisional Government with a Sten Mk.II; he appears to have wrapped part of his makeshift sling around the Sten’s jacket, perhaps as a heat shield.)
For the Anya-Nya, the Mk.II was not only the most common type of Sten in use, but probably the most common firearm of all. Some of these came from Sudanese army battlefield captures, others from Israel, and still others from the worldwide arms black market where 2½ decades after WWII, the Sten Mk.II remained a staple on account of so many having been built during WWII.
(Israeli Defense Forces manual for the Sten Mk.II.)
The Sten Mk.II was one of the most important, if not the most important, weapons in the Anya-Nya lineup.
(A Sten Mk.II or Mk.V being cleaned by an Anya-Nya fighter in 1970. The Mk.III described below could not be field-stripped to this degree as it had fewer parts.)
the Sten Mk.III
This was the absolute simplest and cheapest version of the WWII Sten family, with as few as possible parts. The stock was similar to the Mk.II’s; a single strut of steel welded onto a buttplate of stamped steel. The barrel’s rifling was also simplified, and basically any possible way to make the Sten even cheaper was done.
A total of 876,886 were made during WWII. One issue with this gun was that over time, the trigger wore out, and it could fire uncontrollably even with the selector in the semi position. For guerilla users like the Anya-Nya who had a blend of Sten types in simultaneous use, another drawback was that some Mk.III parts were not interchangeable with other Sten models.
the Sten Mk.V
Designed in 1944 and put into production when the Allies had clearly gained the advantage during WWII, this was the most elaborate version of the Sten, and also the final WWII production of the gun.
The Sten Mk.V had a removable wooden foregrip, a wooden pistol grip, and a wood buttstock with top-mounted sling attachment. It had a front sight adapted from that of the Enfield No.4 rifle, and a bayonet lug.
The wood buttstock was the most appreciated improvement of this version. It attached via a flat holed plate onto the Sten’s spring cup, and a J-hook secured it in place on the bottom. This wood buttstock was interchangeable with the drawn steel “skeleton” and “strut” styles on earlier Stens.
Overall the worksmanship was higher quality. The firing components of the Mk.V were identical to that of the Mk.II and many parts were interchangeable. The rate-of-fire was slightly better at 600rpm. The cocking handle was different and a hole drilled into the gun allowed the handle to be snapped in, preventing the gun from firing if dropped or jarred from behind. (Many Mk.IIs which survived WWII had this added as a modification.)
(An Anya-Nya fighter in 1970 reassembling his Sten Mk.V after field-stripping it. The foregrip, magazine, and buttstock are off. On account of the pistol grip, the Mk.V could also be wielded as an automatic handgun which was harder to do on the other variants.)
(A WWII German MP-40 with the Anya-Nya in 1970.)
The MP-40 was Germany’s most common submachine gun during WWII. It followed the MP-38 which was functionally identical; the changes being on the manufacturing side to speed up production. About 1.1 million were made during WWII.
The MP-40 was 2′ long with the stock folded and 2’9″ with it in combat position. It fired the 9mm Parabellum cartridge (1,312fps muzzle velocity) from a 32-round detachable box magazine. The rate-of-fire was 500rpm and the effective range was 150 – 200yds. This was a good WWII submachine gun. It was also inexpensive, costing 57 Reichsmark during WWII or $252 in 2021 American dollars.
(Anya-Nya patrol during the early 1970s, all armed with WWII guns: the soldier on point has a MP-40, followed by a Bren machine gun, then Enfield rifles and additional Brens.)
(The MP-40’s rear sight was a simple “flick-up” design while the front sight was fixed. This photo was taken in the early 1970s.)
sources for ex-German weapons
By 1970 a quarter-century had passed since WWII, and ex-Wehrmacht weapons had ceased to be common on the world’s battlefields. For the Anya-Nya, there were two possible sources for these weapons.
During the late 1940s Israel undertook operation “Balak”, an effort to source WWII-surplus weapons internationally evading the arms embargo. A significant number of ex-Wehrmacht weaponry was sourced from Czechoslovakia including 98k rifles, MG-34 machine guns, and MP-40 submachine guns. A few additional MP-40s were captured during the 1948 war from Syria which had received them as aid from France after WWII, but most came through “Balak”.
The IDF formally obsoleted the MP-40 in 1956 although they had realistically left Israeli service years before. Israel had already provided as aid, or sold off, some 98k rifles by the end of the 1960s so it is not unreasonable that warehoused MP-40s and MG-34s came via Israel.
The other possible source was the USSR. The Soviets may have included warehoused WWII captures in the aid sent to the Simbas in the Congo, which was then intercepted by the Anya-Nya.
(Anya-Nya fighter with a WWII Soviet F1 hand grenade in 1972.)
The F1 hand grenade was called limonka (lemon in Russian) duing WWII. With a 60g TNT charge, this weapon was used heavily during WWII with production continuing afterwards. The USSR supplied F1s to Egypt who in turn passed some onto Sudan. After 1967 the Soviets directly sold F1s to Sudan, where they were not infrequently captured by the Anya-Nya. Israel captured massive hauls from Arab armies during the Suez Conflict and Six-Day War, and in all likelihood included F1s in the aid given to the Anya-Nya. The one above could have come from any of these sources or even from the black market, where the F1 was decently represented in late-1960s Africa.
(Anya-Nya fighter with HP-35 in the late 1960s or early 1970s.)
Fabrique Nationale’s semi-auto HP-35 (aka Browning Hi-Power) was the WWII Belgian army’s standard sidearm. The HP-35 fired the 9mm Parabellum cartridge from a 13rds magazine. The Germans continued production at the occupied Herstal factory under the designation Pistole 640(b), mainly for Waffen-SS and Luftwaffe use; while Allied WWII production was done in Canada with blueprints evacuated out of Belgium in 1940. During and after WWII it was used by Force Publique, the Belgian army across the border from southern Sudan in the Belgian Congo, and later many of these went to the Congolese / Zairian army.
During and after WWII, the pre-1956 Egyptian army’s system for officer sidearms was that each officer bought, with his own money, whatever handgun he wanted. For this reason a lot of WWII-made HP-35s ended up in Egypt via private traders, as the HP-35 was a popular sidearm buy (including King Farouk) for Egyptian officers. When the Egyptian army changed to a standard-issue system, some Egyptian officers resold their HP-35s to traders who took some south to Sudan.
FN restarted Hi-Power production after WWII with a series of pistols of the HP-35 design. The one in these photos appears to be an actual WWII HP-35, based on the round hammer spur, rear sight arrangement, and lanyard. It could have been captured from the Sudanese army, bought from an Arab merchant in the south, or migrated across the Zairian border.
(WWII-manufactured HP-35.) (photo via Gun Digest magazine)
(WWII-manufactured wood PMD-6 and the plastic Israeli A/P No.4 copy.)
During WWII, the USSR used the PMD-6 “shoebox mine”. This was a 8″-long wooden box in two parts, with a 400g explosive inside. For use the PMD-6’s top half was tilted up on one end and the mine then covered with dirt; when stepped on it slid back down and onto a MOV fuze which detonated the mine. The Germans considered the PMD-6 challenging as other than the fuze there was no metal for a mine detector to detect, and (depending on the manufacturing quality) as little as 4psi could move the top lid, making it dangerous to probe for with a stick or bayonet.
A drawback was that since it was wood, soil moisture and insects could degrade it when laid. This was not always certain; for example in 2012 a South Korean EOD team neutralized a live PMD-6 which had been laid by North Korea during the early 1950s.
The Soviets supplied PMD-6s to Egypt after WWII who may have supplied some to the Sudanese, in turn captured by the Anya-Nya. Israel captured PMD-6s from Egypt and reverse-engineered them (using weatherproof plastic instead of wood) as the A/P No.4. These were certainly provided as aid to the Anya-Nya and laid extensively.
Mines of all types and eras were laid both by the Sudanese army and the southern rebels, both in the 1960s – early 1970s and then again in the 1980s – 2000s fighting. Now in the 2020s, land mines remain a major problem in South Sudan.
(A real old-time Anya-Nya rifle by the time of this 1970 photo was this Martini-Enfield Mk.II.)
Early in the conflict, some quite old ex-British firearms were used by the southern Sudanse rebels. Above is a Martini-Enfield Mk.II. This rifle was a rebuild of old Martini-Henry rifles, converting them to the .303 cartridge. About 10,000 of these conversions were done for Australia between 1897 – 1900 with another 7,000 for elsewhere in the British empire, mostly in Africa. After WWII these were still used by police in Sudan.
a mixture of WWII & postwar weapons in the Anya-Nya
Like any guerilla force, the Anya-Nya were fighting to win and blended in as much modern weaponry as possible with their WWII weapons.
(Anya-Nya fighters in 1973. WWII weapons represented are the SMLE No.1 Mk.III*, Bren Mk.I, and Sten Mk.II. Modern weapons include the RPG-7 and Franchi LF-57s.)
(The Franchi LF-57 was a post-WWII Italian navy 9mm submachine gun. It was good but could not out-muscle the lobbying strength of Beretta and H&K within NATO and saw no further adoption. It was sold to several African armies, usually as PDWs for gendarmerie units. For the Anya-Nya, the LF-57 shared common ammunition with their Stens, MP-40s, and HP-35s of WWII. It was more prized than any WWII gun. Some Anya-Nya called it “uzzi” in the mistaken belief that it was an Israeli-made Uzi.)
As the insurgency continued on, Kalishnikov-platform guns were used in ever greater numbers.
(A mounted soldier of the Nile Provisional Government in 1969, with AK-47 and a WWII American M1 pot helmet.)
(Soldiers of the Nile Provisional Government, one with AK-47 and the other with a WWII Sten Mk.II.)
Sometimes the roles reversed and the “old” WWII weapons were the most “modern” thing available.
(This Nile Provisional Government soldier has a WWII Sten Mk.II. The man behind him has a töng, a traditional Dinka hunting spear.)
arming the Anya-Nya
For their weaponry, WWII and otherwise, the Anya-Nya had several sources.
Naturally the first was the Sudanese national army. A huge lot of weapons; mainly Enfields and some Brens, were captured or taken by deserters during the 1955 Torit mutiny and its aftermath. Enfields, especially SMLEs, continued to be captured throughout the whole conflict along with some Brens and a number of Stens.
The Simbas were another source. In neighboring Congo (later Zaire, today D.R. Congo) the Simbas mounted a rebellion in the mid-1960s. The Anya-Nya “hit up” the Simbas on two ends. During the rebellion the Sudanese government supported the Simbas, and allowed Soviet and Chinese weapons (mainly SKSs and DShKs) to cross southern Sudan for handover at the Congolese border. If the Anya-Nya could pinpoint them, they simply robbed the trucks. Later, when the Simbas collapsed in December 1963 – January 1964, some fled across the border into southern Sudan where Anya-Nya were waiting to relieve them of their rifles in exchange for sanctuary.
(Anya-Nya soldier with a SKS in 1970. These post-WWII Soviet rifles served alongside WWII Enfields and newer AK-47s. SKSs came from the Simbas and the Israelis.)
(Anya-Nya near the Ugandan border in 1972. The submachine gun is a post-WWII Vigneron.)
The 9mm Vigneron submachine gun was designed in Belgium during the Korean War to replace WWII Stens and Thompsons. As it turned out, most ended up going to Force Publique in the Belgian Congo as the Vigneron excelled in tropical conditions. When Belgium gave up its colony in 1960, most were left behind and saw use by both the Congolese and Simbas later in the decade. The Vigneron was highly-prized in Cold War Africa and proliferated around the continent. For the Anya-Nya, it shared ammunition with the WWII Stens, HP-35s, and MP-40s.
The BDU is a pattern worn by Czechoslovak paratroopers in the 1960s. Arms dealers of the 1980s called it Litsin (clown in Hebrew) from a (possibly apocryphal) belief that the Mossad sourced this on the black market when it wanted to provide uniforms to somebody, but not attributable to Israel. Which leads to the next part of the story….
Israel and the Anya-Nya
(Owini Kibul, where much of the Israeli aid went.) (photo by Giorgio Rapanelli)
In 1967, Joseph Lagu sent a telegram to the Israeli embassy in Kenya congratulating the IDF on the Six-Day War and mentioning that the Anya-Nya “……are fighting the same Arabs”. This was of interest to Israel. The Sudanese army was perhaps the worst in the middle east, but Sudan had a growing population of military-age males. The Israeli government reasoned that if Sudan was tied down with an internal conflict in its south, it would be unable to contribute manpower to any future pan-Arab war against Israel.
Israel had experience with this type of thing. Earlier during the 1960s, operation “Porcupine” covertly air-dropped WWII weapons, mainly German 98k rifles, to guerillas fighting the Egyptian army in North Yemen.
In 1968 Mossad director Efraim Halevy authorized the secret supply of guns to the Anya-Nya. To obscure Israel’s involvement, the guns would either be foreign WWII weapons obsoleted out of the IDF, or newer Soviet-made guns (SKSs and AK-47s) captured from Arab armies during the Six-Day War. Israel would also provide training for the Anya-Nya.
A problem would be delivering the guns. The Kenyan government was receptive to the scheme but the most distant from southern Sudan. In late 1969, Israeli Gen. Zvi Zamir visited Uganda, the most natural route. Uganda’s president Milton Obote was against the plan. At the same time, an ambitious general named Idi Amin had been put in charge of Uganda’s northern defense sector (the one which abutted Sudan). Gen. Amin was already stealing army funds and saw little reason to not “go into business for himself” regarding this matter as well, and had word passed to the Israelis that he would ignore Obote and at least look the other way, if not outright cooperate.
In neighboring Ethiopia, the emperor Haile Selassie was publicly trying to mediate a peaceful end to Sudan’s troubles but at the same time privately anti-Sudanese. Selassie agreed to give Israel overflight rights and establish a training camp for Anya-Nya fighters in Ethiopia.
With this, the Israelis had several options for airdropping guns. Planes from Israel could fly to Kenya, refuel there, file a false flight plan and do the air-drops in southern Sudan, then land in Uganda to refuel for the flight back to Israel. If the Ugandans inspected the empty planes, there would be nothing aboard to find. Another option was to use Ethiopia, although this kept the Israeli plane in Sudanese airspace much longer.
In January 1971 Idi Amin overthrew Obote and took complete control of Uganda. This not only allowed better air access, but land smuggling as well.
The Israeli team was a four-man unit; two instructors, a medic, and a radioman. The commander was David Ben-Uziel. A former IDF commando, he had previously served as a defense attache in South Africa and was regarded in the Mossad as an expert on Africa. All the Mossad agents used simple one-word generic names, in the case of Ben-Uziel “John”.
(David Ben-Uziel, or “John”, at center with the Anya-Nya.)
The main location was Joseph Lagu’s makeshift GHQ at the small village of Owini Kibul, 8 miles north of the Ugandan border on the small Nyimur river. This little hamlet was basically a “land island”, with only one dirt trail in and out. The closest town with a paved road was Farajok, over 10 miles away. This made it easy to conceal from Sudanese army patrols. (The Sudanese later did find it, and overran it in an operation which took a whole battalion plus an Egyptian SpecOps team.)
The Israelis found the Anya-Nya very receptive to being trained. They made unimaginably long foot patrols in the savanna, and were skilled at setting up drop points and quickly retrieving the air-dropped weapons. The Israelis provided land mines and trained the Anya-Nya on the best places to lay them. Soon the Anya-Nya even had “commando” units able to destroy bridges and in one remarkable operation, sink a river freighter on the White Nile.
(Anya-Nya fighter being trained on the WWII Bren during 1970, here with the magazine out.)
The specific number and types of WWII guns given to the Anya-Nya has never been revealed by Israel. For certain Brens were delivered as proof exists of this.
(Freshly-delivered Brens being tested out by the Anya-Nya in 1970. There is one Mk.I and two Mk.IIs.)
A journalist claimed to have seen WWII Stens being delivered by Israel as well. It is very likely that many of not all of the ex-Wehrmacht equipment (MP-40s and MG-34s) came via Israel. The Israelis also supplied ammunition. An adequate ammunition supply was one of the Anya-Nya’s biggest woes, as it is heavy and consumed at a rapid rate. The Israelis and the Anya-Nya cooperated to limit the calibers in use: .303 British sufficed any Enfield rifle and the Brens; 9mm Parabellum the Stens, MP-40s, HP-35s, and post-WWII Vignerons and LF-57s; and 7.62x39mm filled the post-WWII combloc weapons. All three calibers were available in Israel’s obsolete / non-standard pool and all could also be captured from the Sudanese army.
Israeli involvement ended in 1972 for reasons detailed later below.
In Zaire, Mobutu was sympathetic to the Anya-Nya as vengeance for Sudan supporting the Simbas. He was also keen to have no direct involvement in the conflict. For that reason ex-Simba arms and ammunition were “dumped” in the remote jungle of Garamba National Park. Anya-Nya fighters would then cross into Zaire, retrieve it, and carry it on foot back into southern Sudan.
The Anya-Nya had a surprising number of supporters in France and Italy, who raised funds to buy clothing and medical supplies. This non-lethal aid was shipped to the French embassy in Kampala, Uganda and then overland to the Sudanese border where it was smuggled across.
(An Anya-Nya with a WWII Sten Mk.II guards donated Italian goods during 1970.) (photo by Giorgio Rapanelli)
Some weapons were also obtained by the donations of wealthy benefactors in Europe, which were routed through several banks and used to buy WWII-era small arms from private weapons dealers.
course of the war
After the 1955 Torit mutiny the insurrection in the south simmered at a low scale, with the early Anya-Nya using WWII rifles taken during that event to make petty raids against army units and police stations. The latter were a good source as Sudan was over-policed and the officers usually armed with military rifles.
In 1963 the disconnected bands of Anya-Nya fighters were brought together under an umbrella organization known as the SSPG. It set up a general command post at the town of Bungu, 30 miles west of Juba. In the field, Anya-Nya fighters now started to be a serious problem for the Sudanese army. The non-military leadership however, was often at odds with one another.
(Anya-Nya fighters armed with SMLEs.)
The SSPG disintegrated over time and during the spring of 1969, the Nile Provisional Government was formed. The intent was that it would be the diplomatic face of the Anya-Nya fighting in the field, and a way for foreign governments to recognize southern Sudan’s independence. The Nile Provisional Government sought to organize the various Anya-Nya bands into formalized military units, and also integrate various tribes into each to promote unity. In 1970, Joseph Lagu became the sole recognized leader of the combat elements.
(The short-lived and rarely-seen flag of the Nile Provisional Government was red, white, and green with a black star and a spoonbill (a native bird species) in the center.)
The years 1968 – 1972 were the high point of the rebellion, when they were really presenting a serious challenge to Sudanese authority in the south. It was also the most violent portion of the conflict. Sudanese army Col. Jaafar M. Nimeiri had seized the government during a May 1969 coup and sought to deliver a “knockout blow” to the Anya-Nya, both through military action and a manufactured famine, via burning crops in the south.
(A Sudanese air force MiG-21 “Fishbed”, supplied by the USSR in the late 1960s. Some of these were based at Juba, in the heart of the south, at a heavily-guarded airbase. None of the WWII Anya-Nya weapons could counter a modern supersonic jet like this. MiG-21s attacked Anya-Nya guerillas with rockets and napalm bombs.)
At its peak during this time, the Anya-Nya numbered around 18,000; having grown from about 10,000 during the mid-1960s. The Sudanese national army, which started the war around 16,000, had grown to 26,000 by the end of 1968 and 50,000 by 1972. The war was very expensive for the national government; in 1967 it was spending $42.5 million ($334.7 million in 2021 dollars) annually on anti-guerilla operations. They had little to show for it. Other than killing a lot of southern civilians through the artificial famine, they were no closer to defeating the rebellion than they had been five years previous.
This is also the time when Israeli military aid was arriving. The Mossad considered the Nile Provisional Government as much a hassle as a help, and just dealt directly with Joseph Lagu. The Nile Provisional Government faded away. Lagu cancelled the integration policy and ordered that Anya-Nya units each be of the same tribe and language. This increased their effectiveness.
The turning point came not in Sudan, but in Uganda. During a state visit to Libya, Muammar Quaddafi told Idi Amin he would grant a large cash loan and modern weapons if Uganda broke relations with Israel. In April 1972 the Israeli embassy in Kampala closed, and the Anya-Nya gun smuggling project ended.
Without Israeli aid, the Anya-Nya had no realistic hope of winning. On the other hand, the Sudanese government still faced the prospect of a long, drawn-out conflict to eradicate all of them. For that reason, an Ethiopian-brokered truce was signed in 1972. The south would legally still be part of Sudan, but with a good deal of self-rule. Anya-Nya rebels were given amnesty and a number were to be enrolled into the national army.
The story did not have a happy ending. As early as 1975, the deal started unraveling. In November 1983, the national government, crippled by foreign debt and endless coup attempts, cancelled the 1972 deal. The southern autonomy was voided and the government set about to “islamize” the south. Predictably a second civil war started. Now, the WWII guns were all gone and this conflict was fought entirely with modern weapons.
This new conflict was even more violent and bloody than the original Anya-Nya uprising and ran until 2011 when the south was finally granted full independence as the Republic of South Sudan.