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Somali Naval Battles

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Post 26 Oct 2018, 13:40
Somalia played a unique place into the Cold War conflict scenario. After a bloodless coup d’état, the general Siad Barre took power and established Somalia as a communist nation. Soviet Union at first supported Somalia, and helped establishing a Navy, however Siad Barre quickly exposed nationalistic and antagonist views with the neighbor countries, especially against the communist Ethiopia. Somalia expelled Soviet advisors and searched help from the United States while initiating the Ogaden War.

As outcome of the defeat (thanks the direct involvement of Cuban and Soviet forces on the side of Ethiopia), Somalia turned a peculiarity of the Cold War because while being officially a communist nation it was widely backed by the United States! While Siad Barre regime turned more and more bloody (with massacres committed against northern ethnic groups, the “Isaaq Genocide”), the US support only increased under the Reagan administration, including war exercise in collaboration with the regime.


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Ogaden War
While both Somalia and Ethiopia possessed a relatively well-armed navy (including missile boats), apparently, no naval clash occurred and no attempt to engage the enemy forces on the sea border.
Somalia threatened to invade Socotra Island (of the communist South Yemen, allied with Ethiopia), but the establishment of a Soviet garrison prevented this threats to materialize.

1982 Border War
During the 1982 Border War between Somalia and Ethiopia, once again no known naval incident occurred.
Image
Rare photo of Somali project205U missile boats: photo taken in 1983 during exercises with US Marines.


Unclear day 1984
The Ethiopian Navy patrol boat P-202 defected to Somalia. Commander and three crewmembers forced the rest of the crew of 22 overboard, while the vessel was on patrol at the port of Assab (reportedly many of the sailors killed by sharks before reaching the shore). The patrol boat joined the Somali Navy, it was a rare incident of mutiny and defection of a communist nation vessel, defecting to another communist nation.



Somali Civil War
The first stage of the Somali Civil War was a peak of the paradox of Cold War: a nominally Communist nation, but US-backed and aligned to the western world, engaged with multiple rebel groups including some exposing open anti-communist views but openly backed by the communist Ethiopia and thus sided with a Soviet Union ally. To be correct, of the four armed group (SSDF, SNM, SPM and USC) followed different political lines: SSDF (Somali Salvation Democratic Front) was the first to engage the government in conflict, and was also the most left-wing oriented and officially backed also by Soviet Union and South Yemen.

SSDF was active since 1978 but since 1985 lost ground and there is no details about naval operations. Eventually the group managed to establish the (not internationally recognized) Putland state, dropping socialism.
In the last stages of Siad Barre regime, the Somali National Movement (SNM) engaged in naval activities with armed speedboats; SNM was sometimes described as “anti-communist” but more like exposing a separatist line, establishing the still existing (and not internationally recognized) Somaliland state.



? – 1989
At least two unknown ships claimed seized by SNM. Unclear but likely released


5 December 1989
Speedboats of the SNM claimed seizing a Panamanian-flagged ship sailing to Berbera (mixed Italian and Somali crew). It was reportedly the third ship seized by SNM.


11 December 1989
Speedboats of the SNM seized the Italian tanker Kwanda (cargo of 350 tons of oil), sailing from Djibuti. Ship and crew (mixed Italian and Somali) released after a month, but the cargo of oil was impounded. (Unclear if the previous incident was actually a mix-up of Kwanda seizure).



12 January 1990
Speedboats of SNM seized a “Somali merchant”, and claimed to have shot down one of two MiG-19 fighter-bombers on 15 January dispatched to sink the seized vessel.
While details are unclear, it is possible there was a mix-up between sources with the incident involving the merchant MV Naviluck; 3 speedboats seized her, killed 3 Philippines crewmembers and set afire the ship after looting.
Interestingly the captain of ship (survived) did not specified the cargo stating was sailing from Kenya to Saudi Arabia. It is possible that SNM was indeed responsible for attacking the ship, and that the vessel was actually carrying material for the Somali government, and that (contrary to the SNM claim) the MiG-19 fighters indeed set afire the ship possibly to avoid the cargo being unloaded.
NOTE: Most of sources regard the attack against MV Naviluck as a “first episode of Somali piracy”, but they are likely unaware of the SNM claim.


With the downfall of Siad Barre in January 1991 and its nominally communist state, the rebel groups begun infighting from power (SSDF dropped socialism references and entangled in such fights with rivals), Somali spiraled-down in a series of constant civil war and the rise of local Islamists.
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