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615sqn_Manfred

Air War over the Horn of Africa (1940 - 1941)

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Sorry for my bad english, I am French, I hope everything will be understandable.

 

For the past few years (six years), I have been researching air operations during the East African Campaign (1940 - 1941). Part of my research is available on my website https://aviationaoi.com/ 

I am also preparing the publication of a chronicle of the Air War over the Horn of Africa (three volumes) in French (the first volume to be released in early 2020). In parallel, I am also working on a project to publish this work with an English publisher (unfortunately the translation of the 300 - 400 pages of the first volume is very complicated).

 

In order to share my research and also to have some opinions / criticisms / corrections / additions, I started a regular publication (every day) of the chronicle on the East African Campaign on several French forums.

 

I therefore suggest that you also discover in English this forgotten Air War of WWII with a post every day (first the introductions, then the daily operations since 11 June 1940).

 

My research is based on the use of different archives: British, South African and Italian. Unfortunately if the British archives are generally fairly complete (despite some gray areas), the situation is more complicated for the South African archives which suffer from numerous gaps (or written after the events). The Italian archives are even worse since all the local documents in East Africa were destroyed before the fall of the Italian Empire. Thus, for example when in April 1941, the last remains of the Regia Aeronautica were folded up at Dessie aerodrome, all the archives were recovered by the command to be buried in a secret place. These documents are now considered missing. The same is true for the other official archives. 

I also tried to consult a maximum of works published on the subject: dealing essentially with the Campaign of East Africa or only in part (in particular for the numerous chronicles of air or ground units proposing a chapter or some pages on the topic).

The comparison between all these documents (archives and written publications) makes it possible to analyze with many details and precisions the air operations which took place over the Horn of Africa between June 1940 and November 1941. Unfortunately many shadows , questions and uncertainties are still present and impossible to correct / analyze.

 

I apologize in advance for the many errors in English, I tried to provide a correct and understandable translation. I would try to make the necessary corrections. Do not hesitate to report them to me.

 

I wish you a good reading.

 

 

 

Introduction

 

The following few lines are not intended to provide a detailed summary of the East African Campaign, a much longer study would be required, but to draw the reader's attention to certain basic points. The goal is to understand the issues and the course of this event, in order to better understand the story.

 

It should be made clear at the outset that the East African Campaign was a minor event of the Second World War, the impact of which was almost insignificant. However, it would be wrong to consider this confrontation as useless, especially for the British. Indeed, the existence of Italian East Africa (AOI thereafter) constitutes a danger to the British Empire in the event of conflict. This danger is explained by the geographical position of the Italian colonies: located opposite the Red Sea one of the essential communication routes between Egypt and the Indies. Any threat to navigation in the Red Sea therefore constitutes an existential danger for the British. In addition, the AOI allows the opening of a second front facing Egypt (and indirectly across the Middle East), in coordination with the Libyan front. Of course, in fact Italy will never be able to threaten navigation in the Red Sea, due to the lack of available resources. The same goes for the threat to Egypt, which is more like a fantasy. However, the threat is present, even if it is in reality completely non-existent and necessarily involves a British reaction in order to put an end to it. Consequently, if the impact of the East African Campaign is almost nil, it is necessary in the systemic conception of British command. Indeed, in order to do war, especially in Egypt and the Middle East, it is necessary to first ensure protection and control over the communication routes. This explains the interventions in Iraq or Syria. The same is true in East Africa. To better understand this campaign, however, we need to go back a few years (decades) in order to study the origins of this Italian Empire to understand the issues.

The history of Italian East Africa almost coincides with the emergence of the Kingdom of Italy after a long unification. However, if the young state wishes to center its imperialism on the concept of the enlarged Mediterranean, it is clear that the opportunities are greatly limited by the British and French spheres of influence. The young Italian state quickly developed a broader vision of the concept, which ultimately regrouped the former provinces of the Roman Empire as well as its supposed areas of influence and production. This doctrinal evolution makes it possible to include East Africa in the potentially Italian sphere. Indeed, in its search for a place in the sun, Italian diplomacy is able to play on the struggles between French and British.

 

The British Empire then welcomed the first explorations in Eritrea by Italians, then the signing of a concession agreement with a local sultan, aimed at using a port: Assab. This establishment quickly spread to the entire coastal area, while a royal decree (1st January 1890) created the Colony of Eritrea. A similar process takes place in parallel along the Somali coast, an arid territory which does not interest many people, concluded by a royal decree in 1889.
However, Italian ambitions were quickly stopped. Desirous of extending their territory towards Ethiopia, whose more fertile grounds are suitable for the installation of colonists, the Italians seek to take advantage of the anarchy provoked by the sudden death of Emperor Yohannes IV. 
After having favored one of the contenders, the future Menelik II, a treaty was signed : article 17 is in fact supposed to establish an Italian Protectorate (version confirmed at the infamous Berlin Conference). This subjugation was nonetheless denounced in 1893 by Emperor Menelik II and Italian Prime Minister Francesco Crispi decided to create an expeditionary force  to impose the decision on a recalcitrant Ethiopia.

Without going into details, the Italian intervention turns to disaster with the defeat of Adoua, where the Italians lost 5 700 men (including three of the four brigade commanders). If this defeat is to be put into perspective from a military point of view, its political impact is enormous and temporarily ends the policy of Italian expansion.

 

It was not until the late 1920s that the plans for colonial expansion towards Ethiopia emerged again. They will initially be relatively moderate, aimed solely at the establishment of privileged trade relations between the two countries. Tensions returned, however, from 1932 for two reasons: on the one hand, due to the increasing influence of France (via the Djibouti - Addis Ababa railway) and Japan ; on the other hand following a series of border incidents between Ethiopian and Italian troops. An irrevocable march towards war begins and Mussolini ends up ordering a military operation intended to destroy the Ethiopian army and conquer the country. It will not be a question here of analyzing the conquest of Ethiopia, but of showing the consequences.

 

First of all, the confrontation turns out to be a rare brutality on the part of Italian troops: executions of prisoners and massive use of gas. Once the conquest is complete, Italy leads a veritable campaign of terror against the Ethiopian nobility and the religious in order to destroy the structures of the Ethiopian Empire.
At the same time, the escape of Emperor Hailé Sélassié defeated the Italian Protectorate project. Indeed, having respected the military tradition, he kept his imperial dignity intact, which allowed a part of the nobility to seize the tradition of the Shifta. The latter refers to the bandit, often of noble origin, who revolts against authority or the institution to ensure the triumph of good justice in the face of treatment deemed abusive. This notion is thus part of a certain romanticism developed in many popular history (therefore known by the inhabitants of the countryside), but also doubly legitimized by tradition and institutions. 

There followed a series of rebellions in various parts of Ethiopia. If the Italian troops are able to pacify the territory more or less, the situation remains unstable and uncertain. Thus in 1939, one of the fascist leaders Arcanovaldo Bonacorsi recognized that "the empire is everywhere in a state of latent rebellion, which can have a tragic outcome, when war breaks out with our enemies. If an English or French detachment were to enter a point, it would need little or no troops since it would then find a large number of Abyssinians ready to join them and make our forces retreat. "

 

At the outbreak of the war, the situation of the AOI was most delicate for the Italians due to extreme heterogeneity: more than a whole, it was actually the addition of three relatively different territories.

Eritrea appear to be a sufficiently solid base, either vis-à-vis the local population or equipment. The Ethiopian War in particular enabled the construction of numerous aerodromes and port facilities. The predominantly mountainous local geography also makes it possible to ensure fairly solid lines of defense despite a relatively limited depth of territory.

Italian Somalia is in a fairly close situation, although its development remains limited (with the exception of the ports of Mogadishu and Kismaayo). This is explained by the hostility of the territory, most of which is made up of arid zones that are not conducive to any defense. However, a quick glance at a map shows the lack of communication between Italian Somalia and Eritrea due to the enclaves formed by Djibouti and British Somalia.
We can then understand that the AOI depends exclusively on the Italian takeover of Ethiopia despite the various weaknesses of which have been mentioned above. However, these weaknesses are numerous, with in particular reduced communication roads between the various parts of the Empire and a latent rebellion which only requires to be activated by a potential adversary.

The Italians are therefore obliged to permanently concentrate around one third of the available troops in order to carry out colonial police operations. These are important as Ethiopia was established as a settlement, hence the presence of many Italian settlers who should be protected. More generally, the AOI also suffers from its distance from the mainland. If the Suez Canal is closed, the only communication road remains the air roads connecting the oases of the far south of Libya to Ethiopia with a long crossing of British-controlled Sudanese airspace.

 

For the British, the existence of AOI posed a danger to the Empire. If not vital, the conquest (or at least neutralization) of Italian East Africa is a necessity for the British Empire, and this for several reasons. First of all, it cannot be denied that this enclave represents a possible threat to Egyptian territory through double access: from the west by Libya and from the south by Sudan. 

This aspect must however be highly nuanced, the real issue being that of internal communications within the Empire. Indeed, the closure of the Mediterranean requires the British to modify the transport routes to Egypt and more generally to the Middle East. The maritime road must be carried out by the Cape of Good Hope, then going up the coast until the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, to reach the Sudanese and Egyptian ports. This communication road therefore requires a passage along the Somali and Eritrean coasts with a risk  by Regia Aeronautica and Regia Marina against convoys. A similar situation should be noted concerning the links between the British Raj and the Middle East. The Red Sea and its surroundings thus appear essential to the Empire's internal communications.

The same problem arises for the trans-African air road connecting the port of Lagos to Sudan from Takoradi: whose last points of arrival are in fact within bombardment range by Italian aircrafts. Finally, the neutrality of the United States prohibits any passage of a ship flwith the American flag in a war zone, which is the case of the Red Sea.

 

However, the British could also benefit from the aid of a part of the Empire including South Africa which quickly became a major player in the events. While most Dominions responded quickly to the United Kingdom's entry into the war in the name of Empire's united defense, the position of the Union of South Africa was more complex. Indeed, the white population and the political class are deeply divided on the question of the alliance with the Empire. A debate was quickly organized within the South African Cabinet, but it did nothing to resolve the situation: if Prime Minister Jan Smuts managed to rally six members to the proposal for the declaration of war, six others opposed it. Finally, a decision was made to consult Parliament and, after 3 days of intense debate, the declaration of war was voted on the night of 6 September 1939, by 80 votes to 66. However, in order to obtain a favorable vote, the Government was forced to make several concessions to the nationalists, including the ban on conscription and a service strictly reserved for the African continent.

 

General Jan Smuts then offers to send a contingent to Kenya to take part in the conflict that will soon break out against the Italians. This participation also corresponds to the foreign policy towards Italy: in 1936, the Union of South Africa was the only member of the League of Nations (with New Zealand) to wish the application of heavy sanctions, including military ones, during the conquest of Ethiopia. For its part, the United Kingdom is favorable to this participation: it allows it to recover troops accustomed to the conditions of life and operation in this conflict zone, as well as to the various tropical diseases. An advantage that had also played out during the First War, during campaigns against the German possessions in South West Africa (Namibia) and East (Tanzania) where South African troops had demonstrated high efficiency.

 

There are also several political objectives specific to Jan Smuts. This one is deeply obsessed, since its political beginnings, by three big ideas. One internal to South Africa a search for union between the two components of the white population: in this case the Anglo-Saxons and the Afrikaners. He thus considers this military adventure as a means of forging a common spirit. The second major idea in his political vision is based on international order. He was one of the essential actors in the constitution of the League of Nations after the war, even if part of his ideas were rejected by the United Kingdom and France. These include the creation of a permanent body, relatively close to the current United Nations Security Council, and having the capacity for military action against a state that does not respect international legality. In this sense, intervention in Italian East Africa seemed to him to be a means of restoring a posteriori a legal situation violated by the Italians. Finally, the last idea is that of the establishment of a large South Africa grouping together the Union of South Africa and all the British colonies under the Zambezi river, plus the south of Portuguese Mozambique. This great South Africa would then be able to bring progress to the whole of the African continent, which would be liberated by negotiation from the European colonial empires. Here again, the expulsion of the Italians and the re-establishment of the Emperor Haile Selassie on the throne are in conformity.

 

To be continued...

Edited by 615sqn_Manfred
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Part One: The Italian Offensives to secure the Borders (June - August 1940)

 

At the start of the war (10 June 1940), the British situation in East Africa was very delicate. The British and the Empire  had about 10 000 men distributed between Sudan, British Somaliland and Kenya. Troops mainly trained for colonial police missions.

 

The Sudan Defense Force, for example, is made up of only 4,500 poorly equipped men without artillery. Although they were later reinforced by first elements of the 4th and 5th Indian infantry divisions, the fact remains that Lieutenant-General William Platt can only field a strength of 7 000 soldiers.

In Kenya, Lieutenant-General Alan Cunningham's resources are hardly superior and he has only two brigades of the Kings African Rifles, one for the defense of the coast and one for the interior.

Finally, the troops of British Somaliland under the orders of Colonel Arthur Reginald Chater are composed only of 1 465 men, including the Somaliland Camel Corps and a battalion of the regiment of Northern Rhodesia.

 

The situation is similar for the RAF.

In Sudan the RAF seems to have, on paper, a force with the impressive name of Advanced Striking Force but in reality, it consists only of three Squadron equipped with obsolete bombers (Vickers Wellesley and Vickers Vincent even more old). This Force will be urgently reinforced by the dispatch of the K Flight detached from the No.112 (RAF) Squadron with some Gloster Gladiator.

Further south in Kenya, the situation is even worse with only few old biplanes of the Kenya Auxiliary Air Unit without any operational utility. Fortunately, the colony of Southern Rhodesia will quickly respond to the Empire call by sending its entire air force there… a Squadron equipped with a collection of old Hawker Audax, Hardy and Hart biplanes.

The territory of British Somaliland has no air units except two loosely airfields if necessary. Finally, the only serious elements are found on the other side of the Red Sea, on the strategic naval base of Aden, with a Squadron on Gloster Gladiator (whose role remains exclusively the protection of the naval base) and two on Bristol Blenheim (one of which on the fighters version Mk IVF). Two more Squadron on Blenheim arrived from India at the start of hostilities.

 

Regarding South Africans : the state of SAAF is particularly worrying. Despite several attempts to modernize the air force, the hesitation and procrastination of officials has slowed down the various programs. Modern aircraft can be counted on the fingers of one hand: four Hurricane Mk I bipales, a Fairey Battle and a Bristol Blenheim. Others aircrafts are various biplanes notably Hawker Fury and Hartbees (a local variant of the Hawker Hart). A few South African Airways Junkers Ju.86 that could be turned into bombers are also available. Therefore, if the Expeditionary Force has the impressive name of No.1 (SAAF) Bomber Brigade, the reality is less glorious with only No.12 (SAAF) Squadron on Junkers Ju.86, No.11 (SAAF) Squadron on Hartbees and No.1 (SAAF) Squadron with six Hawker Fury and three Hawker Hurricane. A contingent of pilots is also sent to Egypt to recover a stock of old Gloster Gauntlets and Gladiator from the RAF.

 

The Italians have in AOI a fairly considerable force made up of 250 to 280 000 men, including 91 000 Italians and 200 000 askaris (colonial troops). The latter, representing approximately 70% of the total and are of very heterogeneous quality. While the Eritrean contingents will quickly be feared and reputed as the best soldiers deployed by Italy, those from Ethiopia will not be as effective. Initially recruited to carry out colonial police missions (with the corresponding equipment), they deserted in large numbers as the troops of the British Empire advanced in 1941. The quality of the “white” units is also very heterogeneous.

In reality, only a regular unit of the Italian army is present, in this case, a division of the Granatieri di Savoia, to which is added a battalion of Alpini (which will be illustrated during the battle of Keren) ; the others being made up of auxiliary elements: territorial units and Black Shirt battalions. The entire Italian land force is equipped with approximately 3 000 machine guns, 24 M11/39, several L3 /35 , 126 armored vehicles and 813 pieces of artillery.

 

Unlike the RAF, the Regia Aeronautica seems to be in better shape with some modern planes (Savoia-Marchetti SM.79, Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 or Fiat CR.42). However, the reality is more complicated with a large number of older aircraft such as the Fiat CR.32 or the Caproni Ca.133. In all, Generale Pietro Pinna, commander of the Comando Aeronautica Impera, has 138 operational bombers, 36 fighter planes and 9 reconnaissance planes. In addition, there is a reserve of 140 aircraft of which only 59 are actually usable, all the others being under repair.

 

The Italian strategy is quite simple: it consists in ensuring the survival of the Empire while awaiting events in Europe. The objective is first to take the initiative against French and British Somalia in order to strike a blow to discourage any offensives. The expectation of the evolution of the conflict will follow (capitulation of the United Kingdom, conquest of Egypt to follow up on the offensive in North Africa, etc.). Then wait for the evolution of the conflict (capitulation of the United Kingdom, conquest of Egypt ...) while ensuring the survival of the Empire in East Africa.

In parallel, a series of limited attacks must be carried out along the borders. In an underdeveloped area ( especially on the southern front), the possession of the main forts and water points makes it possible to block to block any enemy offensives.

 

This strategy (which is explained by the need for the Italian command to save its military force due to lack of potential reinforcement in the immediate future) would have the consequence of depriving the Italians of the strong initial qualitative and quantitative advantage. Indeed, the British feared an attack on Egypt by Sudan at the start. According to some authors, this Italian choice is encouraged by the effectiveness of British intelligence, which led to the belief that there is a considerable concentration of british forces along the borders. Thus, according to these authors the Italians would have missed a unique chance to threaten Egypt.

However, we can easily criticize the hypothesis of an offensive towards Sudan. It quickly appears that an attack which would aim to cross all of Sudan, then the south of Egypt, would be a logistical nightmare: a long progression through an arid and partially desert area, a lack of road, without harbor to ensure the refueling (because of domination in the Red Sea by the Royal Navy). It is obvious that faced with such an attack, it would probably have been enough for the British to fight a delaying fight, then to let the movement wear out Italian. It is obvious that the British would simply have had to fight a delaying fight and then let the Italian movement run out.

The Italians have only a force for the colonial police, they have no mechanical means necessary for an operation of this scale. We must not forget also the state of rebellion in Ethiopia, as well as the existence of the southern front, which constitute many threats on their rear. The hypothesis of this failed offensive in Sudan therefore remains more of a myth than a reality, which the Italian command had perfectly understood when making an informed decision.

The Italian command had perfectly understood that such an offensive was impossible, and the border defense strategy was the most logical.

 

More generally, the Italians and their troops encounter three major problems:
- Firstly, their geographic isolation from the mainland makes it difficult, if not impossible, to send reinforcements and supplies;
- Secondly, they suffer heavily in the face of endemic diseases in the region, in particular malaria. It is estimated that almost a quarter of the men defending Amba Alagi during the siege of April 1941 suffered from it, including Amédée II, Duke of Aosta. The latter died of tuberculosis on 3 March 1942, while he was detained by the British;
- Third, the situation of "latent rebellion" in Ethiopia forces the Italians to keep permanently, despite the needs of the front, a certain number of units on the rear to maintain order and fight against the partisans.

 

 

Chapter 1: Threats to Djibouti (June 1940)

 

The first phase of the Italian offensives targets the French colony of Djibouti. A far from insignificant territory, despite its small size compared to the whole of East Africa.

 

Two essential reasons for this:
- first of all, it is worth recalling the Italian claim over Djibouti. This is highlighted in particular in a speech by Count Ciano, Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs in Parliament:
"The entry into force of the Easter Pact represented an effective and concrete contribution to the consolidation of Peace. This consolidation is and will remain the priority objective of our policy (...) but we intend to protect with inflexibilitye interests and natural aspirations of the Italian people (At this moment, in several sectors of the Chamber, cries of: Tunis, Djibouti, Corsica ! Despite timid requests to return to calm but without interruption and with the applause of the Minister) ".
- In parallel, a press campaign was launched from 1938 on the question of Djibouti and the necessary colonial compensation. The territory is mentioned as:
"Nonsense and an insult to our imperial dignity. (…) Djibouti [must] become an Italian port on Italian soil. (…) Thorn (…) boils ”.

 

A proposal is even made (indirectly) to the French Government to negotiate with the British the cession of the Cheikh-Saïd peninsula in exchange for Djibouti.

 

There are also concrete problems with the demarcation of the borders between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Djibouti. As early as 1936, Italian troops did not hesitate to physically occupy certain outposts, but also to conduct a propaganda policy among the Afar tribes. On 15 and 16 June 1937 an Italian meharist platoon entered the Hanlé plain in order to place on the ground inscriptions, on stone, painted in white ITALIA. A French post is evacuated, while the Italians settle there. A report on 12 December, 1938 indicates that the Italians now occupy a territory of two thousand seven hundred square kilometers in the plain of Hanlé and two hundred square kilometers around Dumera.

 

Thus, a telegram of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, coming from the French Embassy in Italy and dated on 1st March 1939, indicates that: "Mussolini is said to have given an order a month ago to create a border incident in French Somalia in order to provoke negotiations and not an armed conflict."

 

This claim covers several aspects:
- firstly economic, because of the excellent port of Djibouti and its railroad linked to Addis Ababa, which appear necessary to facilitate the settlement of Italians and trade with the metropolis;
- but also political, by eliminating a supposed center of Ethiopian intrigue.


To this is also added a strictly military aspect since Djibouti appears to be essential on the Franco-British system against Italian East Africa. Thus, the Franco-British plan aims to focus the main effort from Djibouti, which has the most numerous land forces in the region, while the RAF (based in Aden) and the Royal Navy will have to intervene in support. From this location, the Allied troops would be able to concentrate in the direction of the Ethiopian cities where the Italian troops are stationed.
Proof of this priority, it is planned that in the event of an Italian offensive, the British troops must abandon Somalia to withdraw to Djibouti, while French General Paul Legentilhomme is responsible for ensuring the command of the French and British troops in Somalia. According to a joint report of 11 January 1940:
"(...) despite the great numerical superiority of the Italians, Djibouti is now impregnable and that from Djibouti once the reinforcements have arrived, that offensive can be launched towards Ethiopia".

 

Italian troops advance into the hinterland of French Somalia at 04h00 on 11 June, but they are quickly stopped by gunfire from French border. The skirmishes continued until 15 June, with a series of attempted infiltrations and counterattacks with no real human consequences. These first Italian attacks were repulsed without difficulty by French troops.

 

To be continued...

 

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My grandfather witnessed a dogfight in rural Eritrea as a young man at the close of the Italian occupation, saw a Brit shoot down an Italian pilot. I’ll find out the details from my dad.

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3 hours ago, von_Michelstamm said:

My grandfather witnessed a dogfight in rural Eritrea as a young man at the close of the Italian occupation, saw a Brit shoot down an Italian pilot. I’ll find out the details from my dad.

 

Thank you for the information, I would be curious to learn more about this event including the date to look in my documentation.

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11 June 1940

 

Northern Front

 

The battle began at 05h30 when eight Vickers Wellesley of No.47 (RAF) Squadron took off from Erkowit (Sudan) to bomb the Italian airfield of Asmara (Eritrea). Attacks are conducted at low altitude and completely take the opponent's defense by surprise. However, the RAF suffer its first loss and the K7730 must land in emergency, after being damaged by anti-aircraft fire, while the crew (Pilot Officer B.K.C. Fuge and Sergeant Samuel A. Elsy) is taken prisoner. Note that, according to some sources, the bomber was shot down by Tenente Carlo Canella (412a Squadriglia CT). Subsequent aerial photographs, however, confirm significant damage to Asmara.

 

No.14 (RAF) Squadron is also active during this first day by sending nine bombers to the nearby Massaua airfield at 16h00. The first wave arrives at 18h30 and claim several shots on the target. According to Sergeant Leslie A.J. Patey (L2645) :

 

“There was no difficulty finding the target area, the light conditions being just sufficient to see the target.  On the run in to the target the height was so low that I could see personnel standing in the entrances to the hangars.  Our arrival must have caught them by surprise... the first load of bombs was on target because fire immediately started as we broke formation in readiness for the second run-in. By the time we had started our second run it was quite dark and it seemed as if all hell had broken loose: tracer and ‘flaming onions’ together with flashes from the heavier calibre guns from the naval ships in the harbour lit the sky.  Being the first experience of this sort of thing it was quite frightening to fly into to drop our remaining bombs... and it seemed as if any aircraft going in at the height we were flying would be shot to pieces.”

 

The following aircraft are firmly awaited by the air defense, so Sergeant Arthur F. Wimsett (L2652), remembers :

 

“Watching the flak and searchlights as our flight approached Massawa and thinking how pretty the flak looked: it was sufficiently dark to show up in red and green.  On arrival the flak seemed to be going above our height, probably up to 1 500 – 1 800 m, but we also saw tracers coming up at us from small arms fire from the ground ... when we actually arrived the daylight had gone, but we could see the hangars and airfield clearly illuminated by the dump fire and several smaller fires around the airfield.  Our Flight went into line astern, opened bomb doors and selected the bombs for dropping - four 250-pounders.  I believe I dropped mine on a hangar on the north side of the airfield and turned south round the airfield and harbour with the air gunner enjoying himself at the back by firing at items on the ground.  Coming back up the coast we did not see another aircraft until we crossed the Sudan border, when all aircraft had been briefed to switch on navigation lights.  It then seemed that we were surrounded by aircraft.”

 

All aircrafts land in Port Sudan, where Vickers Wellesley of Flying Officer Reginald P.B.H. Plunkett (L2710) is reported missing. However, he will be back the next day explaining that having lost in the night, he had preferred to land on the coast. Three others were damaged by anti-aircraft fire.

 

11juin40_entete.jpg?w=500&ssl=1

Vickers Wellesley L2645. Used by the No.14 and No.47 (RAF) Squadron during the East African Campaign, the aircraft is seen here later with the No.117 (RAF) Squadron in Khartoum. Source Imperial War Museum collection.

 

The activity of the Regia Aeronautica is reduced and limited to some armed reconnaissance over Port Sudan and Aden by Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 belonging to 28bis Gruppo BT and 29bis Gruppo BT. The MM 20275 (10a Squadriglia BT) is reported to have struck a hill near Massaua on its way back to Zula, causing the death of the entire crew.

 

 

Southern Front

 

 

Four Junkers Ju.86 of No.12 (SAAF) Squadron C Flight, led by Major Danie A. du Toit, take off from Eastleigh (Kenya). After two hours of flight, they land on the advanced airfield of Bura (along the border with Italian Somaliland) :

 

“A dusty field in the bush, without any infrastructure, the crews need to refuel by hand.”

 

They take-off at 10h00, equipped with 250-lb bombs, instructed to bomb Moyale (a fort on the Kenyan-Ethiopian border) where several columns of vehicles, including armored cars, are reported. According to Major Danie A. du Toit (No. 641) :

 

“We fly so low over the target [250 meters, according to the mission report due to low cloud cover] that almost every one of our planes was hit by fragments of our own 250-pounders. We caught them by surprise. There was some smallarms fire but we hit a big shed packed with transport and light tanks. We landed to refuel at Wajir’s airfield where the boys of Rhodesia’s No.237 Squadron were on stand-by with their antiquated Hardy’s.”

 

It is interesting to note that this attack took place six hours before the official declaration of war from South Africa to Italy ...

 

For its part, the No.237 (Rhodesia) Squadron begins a long series of monotonous missions with its old biplanes. Unfortunately, it is difficult to describe these operations, but it should be remembered that in the coming months, the Rhodesians will perform daily patrols along the border. These missions will only rarely result in significant events.

 

Edited by 615sqn_Manfred
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Interesting stuff. You don’t think of WWII taking place in that part of Africa, or with South African Ju-86s!

 

Ju-86 of No. 12 SQN SAAF

0F34090B-DF55-428A-B88D-8B3A7AC54004.jpeg.5f7be34b723b77a71efd50192091507b.jpeg

 

The light-coloured protrusion on the bottom is the belly gunner’s extendable and retractable basket.

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Thanks for this photo. It'is Ju.86 ZS-ANI, n°658 (crash on 07/10/41). The only Ju.86 K-1 of SAAF.

 

Indeed, the position of the belly gunner is very impressive. 

 

We can also see it in this photo.

3.thumb.jpg.c06a382658c2ecfca24892a604cd7981.jpg

 

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12 hours ago, 615sqn_Manfred said:

 

Thank you for the information, I would be curious to learn more about this event including the date to look in my documentation.

 

From my pops. He was 5 at the time. He'll probably have more first hand details later.

"It was the battle of Keren, about 90 Km north of Asmara - between Mussolini’s colonial Italian forces, and the Allied forces represented by Britain. The Allies had troops from the British Empire (Sudanese, South Africans and Indians, as can be seen in the well-kept cemetery in Keren). We lived then in the village of Himbirti, 30 km NW of Asmara. I remember seeing the flashes of light from the night artillery battle, and the search lights shot into the sky. In the daytime, we could see the dogfights above Himbirti. Some people also saw the downed planes and injured British pilots saved by their parachutes. The Italians fought bravely in Keren, and much praise is due for their Eritrean Askari. Even Churchill acknowledged Keren in his books on WWII."

Edited by von_Michelstamm

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Some more:

 

"Himbirti is at end of the Asmara plateau. Below that all the way to Keren are low lands until you reach a large mountain where the Italians had dug in, mowing down the Allies climbing the hills and mountains from the valleys on the other side. The Allied planes were as much engaged in fighting as in distributing leaflets near the battlefield promising freedom. Eventually desertions took effect. Another memory is when the Allies reached the highlands and the Sudanese soldiers camped in Himbirti. The Italians had withdrawn to defend Asmara, or had been captured, leaving their caches behind. The farmers helped themselves to the hidden barrels containing petrol, some dumping the gas to use the barrels as water containers. Aboy (grandad) also got couple. Then the Sudanese went on a search for the ‘contraband’ and two officers came to our house. Adey (grandmother) smartly offered them tea, as they were respectful of Aboy and the family. They gave us children pieces of the the colorful ropes they wear with their uniforms, but left without inspecting the small store room. Some people were taken to jail for possession. Before that, a smart farmer friend of Aboy had taken one of the military trucks, filled it with the petrol, to fertilize all his fields with manure, returning it before he got caught. When I revisited Himbirti two years ago it looked exactly as I remembered, and I met people who knew Aboy well, as well as Amanuel (my uncle) as a lively child. memories!"

Edited by von_Michelstamm

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Thank you very much for this truly fascinating testimony. Indeed, it is already very difficult to find them on the East African Campaign. But, a testimony from the local civilian population, it is really very interesting to read. Really great.

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12 June 1940

 

Northern Front

 

The British continue to attack Italian airfields with a series of bombings conducted between 11h00 and 16h45 by No.47 and No.223 (RAF)Squadron, with no less than eighteen sorties. They are welcomed over the airfields of Gura and Asmara by the anti-aicraft fire and several Fiat CR.42 of 412a Squadriglia CT. During the short fighting two bombers were claimed by the Italians :  one by fighters and the second by AA, while the British gunners reported having damaged two enemy aircraft. Two Vickers Wellesley of No.223 (RAF) Squadron (K7747 and K7788) are severely damaged. On the Italian side, one of the fighters crash-landing (pilot slightly injured) although the loss would be caused by a motor problem.

 

Italians continue their attacks against Aden. Seven Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 of 29bis Gruppo BT take off during the day from Assab to bomb the port and airfield of Khormaksar, with no results. Despite, the night Caproni Ca.133 continue as a bombing is reported on Sheik Othman.

 

 

Southern Front

 

31bis Gruppo BT made several attacks on Moyale, in anticipation of a limited offensive of Italian troops in this area, with at least nine Caproni Ca.133. In addition, 9a Squadriglia BT is transferred, with six Caproni Ca.133, to Lugh Ferrandi.

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13 June 1940

 

Northern Front

 

Four Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 of 4bis Gruppo BT take off at dawn from Scenele towards Aden. At 04h40, four Gloster Gladiator Mk I of No. 94 (RAF) Squadrons were sent to intercept the intruders. If Flying Officer Gordon S.K. Haywood (N2290) and Pilot Officer Bartlett (N2289) can engage Italian bombers, the other two are forced to return due to a technical problem. The ensuing fight quickly turns into a disaster for italians. The aircraft of Sottotenente Temistocle Paolelli and Mario Laureati is shot down over Ras Imran by Flying Officer Gordon S.K. Haywood. That of Colonello Mario Pezzi and Capitano Parmeggiani is damaged by the AA and must land at Assab. The third must land urgently in British territory, east of Aden. The latter does the same in italian territory and the crew fearing to have landed in enemy territory preferring to set it on fire…

 

The rest is short for No.94 (RAF) Squadron and nine Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 of 44bis Gruppo BT are announced at 07h30. The attack is still very complicated for the Italians and the aircraft of Sottotenente Ruffini is hit by AA of ships and crashes at sea. The remaining eight then attack, but are forced to make a second pass... because bomb bay of the leader refused to open ! In the meantime, two Gloster Gladiator Mk I : Pilot Officer Stephenson (N2293) and Sergeant Price (N2279) have time to take off and can intercept the bombers, while Flying Officer Gordon S.K. Haywood has to make a crash-landing at Little Aden, seriously damaging the N2290. Pilot Officer Stephenson attacked the Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 of Capitano Serafini, already damaged by AA. However, the dorsal machine gunner damaged the fighter's wing and radiator and forcing the latter to break off the fight. The Italian pilot, wounded in the head, will finally succeed in bringing back to Assab his heavily damaged aircraft. Another italian plane lands damaged on the same airfield. Claims of two fighters shot down by the machine gunners makes it possible to lessen a relatively catastrophic day for the Regia Aeronautica which loses five bombers and two damaged on thirteen planes engaged.

 

 

While the first days were essentially characterized by the action of Vickers Wellesley from Sudan, Squadrons based in Aden also participate in the attempt to neutralize Italian airfields.

At 07h50, Flying Officer Branson, from No.203 (RAF) Squadron, took off aboard Bristol Blenheim Mk IVF L9044 for a reconnaissance over Eritrea. Above Assab, at 5 500 meters, the aircraft is intercepted by two or three Fiat CR.42 of 413a Squadriglia CT. The Blenheim is damaged on the right tank and various impacts in the cockpit. However, despite the damage and the injury of the observer (Leading Aircraftman Wilson), the pilot managed to bring back his aircraft.

 

No. 8 (RAF) Squadron and No.39 (RAF) Squadron bomb the Macaaca airfield at 16h20 and 19h00 respectively, where three Caproni Ca.133 of 27bis Gruppo BT are destroyed on the ground. As a result of these regular air strikes, the Gruppo is moved further south to Dessie. At the same time, three Fiat CR.42s of the 414a Squadriglia CT are detached to reinforce the defense of the airfield.

 

 

Southern Front

 

 

Three Caproni Ca.133, of 9a Squadriglia BT, take off at dawn from Lugh Ferrandi towards the airfield of Wajir, under the command of Capitano Piva. Arrived above the target (around 10h20), a dozen No.237 (Rhodesia) Squadron aircraft are observed on the ground. The Caproni Ca.133 quickly attack and claim three aircraft, as well as the destruction of fuel tanks and several buildings.

The attack is indeed a success since according to different sources two Hawker Audax (K7531 and K7545) and 5 000 gallons of fuels go into smoke, while five ground personnel are killed or wounded and a pilot and eleven Askaris (King's African Riffles) injured. At least two members of No.237 (Rhodesia) Squadron are also injured : Flying Officer R.J.D. Christie and Corporal J.H. Killner. However, the damage inflicted has little impact as activity continues, with three sorties in the afternoon.

For example, in the middle of the morning, Flying Officer Cyril L. Sindall (Audax K7546) drop two 20lb bombs on a border post near El Wak.

 

entete_articles_13juin40.jpg?w=500&ssl=1

Hawker Audax K7548 of No.237 (Rhodesia) Squadron

 

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14 June 1940

 

Northern Front

 

The day is essentially marked by the first victory of Tenente Mario Visintini (412a Squadriglia CT). Flight Lieutenant A.T. Irvine and Flying Officer Reginald P.B.H. Plunkett, No.14 (RAF) Squadron, decided to experiment Vickers Wellesley as dive bombers. To test this idea, they take off without authorization at 15h30 towards Massawa with the K7723 and K7743. The attack is conducted without difficulty, but the Italian pilot shoot down the Wellesley K7743 (Flying Officer Reginald P.B.H. Plunkett). Flight Lieutenant A.T. Irvine managed to get home, but was immediately sent back to the rear at Amman by Squadron Leader Anthony D. Selway.

 

 

Three Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 of 44bis Gruppo BT attack Berbera harbor (British Somaliland) around noon, one of the aircraft being damaged by AA, while one plane is claimed destroyed on the ground.

 

In addition, the Italians make several changes as 29bis Gruppo BT leaves Assab for Mille in Ethiopia, while 413a Squadriglia CT sends three aircrafts at Addis Ababa to support colonial police operations where they are joined by eight Savoia-Marchetti SM.79.

 

 

Southern Front

 

 Three Hartbees of No.11 (SAAF) Squadron take off from Nairobi at 10h00 with the aim of attacking the radio station, buildings and fuel reserves at Bardera (Italian Somaliland). Because of the remoteness of the target, at the limit of the autonomy of the planes, a supply is provided to Wajir to go and Habaswein to return. However despite these precautions, the return turns into a nightmare. Second Lieutnant B.L. Hutchinson (No. 856) lands at Wajir with the tank empty, while Captain Hans H. Borckenhagen (No. 803) and Second Lieutnant Piet J. Robbertse (No. 804) are forced to a landing along the border and can only be retrieved after seven days. In all, ten days will be required to bring back all aircraft and pilots.

 

 

The name of this aircraft is questioned and there are several different spellings depending on the documentation: including Hartbees, Hartbeest or Hartebeest. Without entering into a long linguistic debate, it should be noted that the terms Hartbees (in Afrikaans) and Hartebeest (in English) refer to the same thing, an antelope of local fauna. The first reference to the term Hartebeest seems to appear in an official British document, summarizing the Campaign in East Africa, dated December 1942. But he term Hartbees is regularly found in the SAAF War Diaries, as well as in the flight logs of several South African pilots.

 

17.jpg?zoom=1.25&resize=600,314&ssl=1

Extract from Lieutenant Lawrence H.G. Shuttleworth's flight log, No. 40 (SAAF) Squadron, showing the term "Hartbees". Collection: Laurie Shuttleworth, via Tinus le Roux.

 

 

18.jpg?resize=768,596&ssl=1

It is the same: "Hartbees" in the flight log of Solomon Berchowitz, machine gunner at No.41 (SAAF) Squadron. Collection: David Berchowitz, via Tinus le Roux.

 

 

19.jpg?resize=768,726&ssl=1

as an example, an extract from the War Diary of No.40 (SAAF) Squadron, again the term "Hartbees" is used.

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15 June 1940

 

Northern Front

 

From Aden, the RAF is targeting Dire Dawa airfield with a joint operation with Bristol Blenheim Mk I of No.8 and No.39 (RAF) Squadron. The first formation took off with six aircraft from Khormaksar at 09h15 and claimed the destruction of a Fiat CR.32 on the ground and a destroyed gas-mustard depot. The attack by the six aircrafts of No.39 (RAF) Squadron at 14h30 is more hectic. A short fight breaks out against Fiat CR.32 of 410a Squadriglia CT.  Sergeant Maggiore Enzo Omiccioli attacked a bomber without results, while a British gunner (Leading Aircraftman Ford) claimed the destruction of an enemy fighter, although no loss appears on both sides.

 

According to Capitano Corrado Ricci (410a Squadriglia CT)
One of the many bombings gave rise to an almost comical episode. Indeed, the English touched two deposits containing old bombs already damaged and buried for some time, because useless. They then ignited instead of exploding, while the wind gradually sent black smoke towards Danakil and then the town of Dire Dawa (Ethiopia). The smoke from these old war explosives has a pungent smell that makes breathing difficult. The inhabitants still remaining in town poured into the streets en masse, fleeing to the heights, breaking all the racing records and using all possible means of locomotion. Within an hour, however, it was all over and they began a careful return in the afternoon when another bombing went on, luckily without damage.

 

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Bristol Blenheim Mk I (L6653 HV-Y), of No. 8 (RAF) Squadron, at Khormaksar Airfield (Aden). Collection: No.8 (RAF) Squadron.

 

The airfields of Eritrea are not forgotten and in the evening (17h00) five Vickers Wellesley of No.223 (RAF) Squadron leave for Gura. The adventure turns quickly to disaster when the L2711 catches fire on the takeoff, fortunately without human consequence. Arriving over the island of Difnein, a second aircraft : the L2654 (Pilot Officer Michael T.E. Jenkins ; Leading Aircraftman John J. Dixon) is shot down by the Italian AA, while the L2714 and K7769 are severely damaged and forced to crash landings, respectively on a beach north of Port Sudan and on the airfield.

 

Finally, the RAF receives the reinforcement of the first five Bristol Blenheim Mk I of No.11 (RAF) Squadron, from India, at Sheik Othman (Aden).

 

 

Southern Front

 

The South Africans of No.11 (SAAF) Squadron still face difficulties with their Hartbees and during a reconnaissance above the sector Afmadu, Jelib and Kismayu No. 839 (Second Lieutnant Murdoch MacDonald, Air Corporal Erik H. Pettersen) is forced to land around Garissa due to lack of fuel. The aircraft is however intact and the crew unscathed. They are quickly recovered by a patrol, while a track will be improvised on 26 June to recover the plane.

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16 June 1940

 

Northern Front

 

Taking advantage of a lull, No.14 (RAF) Squadron decides to test a modification of the defensive armament of the Vickers Wellesley, following the difficult confrontations against the Italian fighters. A second Lewis machine gun is added through a ventral panel initially provided at the rear of the fuselage to insert a camera. An additional solution is proposed by Sergeant Edwin T. Crouch to remove the two triangular windows on each side of the fuselage. In the free space thus created, a machine gun is installed on each side to cover an arc from the engines to the tail. Five aircraft are modified, the extra machine guns being handled by volunteers of non-flying personnel.

 

entete_articles_16juin40_aoi.jpg?w=500&s

One of the modified Vickers Wellesley of No.14 (RAF) Squadron. Collection No.14 (RAF) Squadron Association.

 

No.11 (RAF) Squadron continues its deployment with a second contingent of five Bristol Blenheim Mk I. The squadron is then attached to No.39 (RAF) Squadron to form a Provisional C Flight during the month of June.

 

At the same time, three Gloster Gladiators of K Flight were sent to Erkowit to protect the airfield.

 

 

Southern Front

 

 

The day is mainly marked by the "massive" raid by No.12 (SAAF) Squadron against Italian airfields in southern Ethiopia. All available aircrafts are used... four Junkers Ju.86. Aircrafts took off from Eastleight and landed soon after in Lodwar, along the border near Rudolf Lake, to receive fuel and be armed with 250 lb. bombs. The crews also receive survival rations and weapons in the event of a forced landing in enemy territory. In such eventuality, order is given to destroy the aircraft then attempt to return on foot.

 

The South Africans are divided into two sections to carry out bombing, around 12h30, from an altitude of about 600 meters. The first pair, consisting of Major Charles E. Martin (No. 641) and Lieutnant Thomas S. Fisher (No. 654), bombs Negele Borana, where eight Caproni Ca.133 are claimed to be damaged. The second, with Major Danie du Toit (No.650) and Second Lientnant Christian J. Rosslee (No.647), attacked Yavello and reported shots on three Caproni Ca.133 and four hangars. In both cases, the losses would be much lower and only one Caproni Ca.133 from 65a Squadriglia BT was destroyed on the second airfield, as well as two dead and three wounded.

 

At the same time, Flying Officer Evert P. Kleynhans and Aircraftman Strickland (Hawker Audax K7546), of No.237 (Rhodesia) Squadron, attacks, between 12h15 and 15h10, an Italian column spotted north of Fort Moyale. Two armored cars and one vehicle are reported destroyed. At the same time, several skirmishes on the ground between the Italian troops and the Kings African Rifles in anticipation of the first limited offensive aimed at capturing several border posts.

 

 

 

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17 June 1940

 

Northern Front

 

The RAF continues its bombing campaign against coastal airfields. For example, No.223 (RAF) Squadron sends five Vickers Wellesley at 04h40 against Gura where four Caproni Ca.133 are reported damaged.

 

The crews of Vickers Wellesley are decidedly imaginative, as No.47 (RAF) Squadron decides to test a new method to ensure the protection of Erkowit. The K7772 takes off at 17h05 with the bomb pod removed. The patrol however is short-lived and three Gloster Gladiator Mk I of K Flight (from Port Sudan) immediately attack this strange bomber. The attack was quickly stopped when Sergeant Bavin-Smith managed to fire an identification flare, but the right wing was damaged with fuel leak, the pilot prefers to land after only ten minutes of flight.

 

 

The Regia Aeronautica loses two aircrafts in operations against Aden and British Somaliland : two Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 of 18a Squadriglia BT, victim of the British anti-aircraft defense.

 

On the same date, Generale Pietro Pinna indicates in his report to Rome his fears following the first days of fighting :

“Enemy raids destroyed a large amount of aeronautical equipment and fuel, as well as fifteen aircraft of all types. For now, our reserves can offset these losses, but if the attacks continue with the same regularity, it will take less than a month for the air force to be in serious trouble. If no help comes from Italy, I still give Regia Aeronautica four months of life as a fighting force.”

 

 

The situation at Djibouti remains relatively calm, despite the entry into the war of the Italians. On 11 June, at 04h00, the Italian troops advance in the hinterland, but are quickly stopped by fire from the French border posts. The skirmishes continue until 15 June with a series of attempts and counter-attacks without any real consequences. On 16 June, French Potez 25 are reported bombing the Daouenle post, according to Italian documentation.

 

The events however evolve abruptly, on 17 June when France collapse is confirmed by the request of armistice. However, the Italians have already written a memorandum containing their claims including that of Djibouti which must be attached immediately to the Italian East Africa. In order to support this point, it is therefore essential to quickly launch a ground and air offensive to occupy the territory, or at least block any rally to the British Empire.

 

We thus note at least two reconnaissance missions by the Italians: the first by an IMAM Ro.37bis of 110a Squadriglia RT above the port of Djibouti, and the second by a Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 of 15a Squadriglia BT above the hinterland.

 

 

Southern Front

 

 

The first ground fighting on the East African front broke out as the Italians launched an offensive against El Wak and Moyale border posts in Kenya. Only a few actions can be conducted by No.237 (Rhodesia) Squadron, between 11h55 and 15h05, by Flying Officer Off R.J.D. Christie (Audax K7546).

 

This day is also marked by the misadventure of Major Robert H. Preller and his crew. Indeed, while the latter learns that No.11 (SAAF) Squadron must return to South Africa to be transformed on Fairey Battle, order is given to conduct a final reconnaissance mission above the port of Kismayu.

 

He takes off with the unique Fairey Battle Mk I available : No. 901 with Air Corporal Brian Ackerman and Erik H. Pettersen. The aircraft is hit and damaged by the DCA of two ships above Kismayu. Major Robert Preller decides to return when he sees Afmadu airfield. He can not resist the temptation and decides to make two passes when his radiator is hit by shots from the ground. Finally, the pilot is forced into a landing into Somali territory. The three crew members, only slightly wounded, retrieve the Lewis machine gun and set the Fairey Battle on fire. Exhausted after seven days of walking, they find a water point.

 

According to Major Robert Preller :

“We were hit in the radiator by a single bullet, probably fired from a rifle. A jet of glycol and stram blew into the aircrafte, forcing the observer and gunner to hang over the side to breathe. I dived the machine to keep the engine cool. The sturdy Battle throught the branches of big trees and came to rest. We removed the compass, soaked a parachute in petrol, spread it over the aircraft and, having set it alight, turned south with the Lewins gun and one waterbootle. We soon discarded the Lewis gun and kept a Very pistol to signal search planes. We suffered intensely, when we wame on a mudhole covered with green slime, stripped naked and wallowd in the cool mud. Filling the waterbottle with slime, we managed to distil a few mouthfuls of driking water in a funnel made of photographic film… stark naked and caked with mud we staggered on, carrying our clothing unitl the mud dried off. We lose all sense of everything… even vision… you like biting into your own flesh to draw some moisture. Me and Ackerman chewed the pulpy leaves of aloes – only to suffer greater torment. We smashed the compass to get at the fluid inside. The alcohol was impossible to swallow so we mixed it with urine in the waterbottle and wet our mouths. By that time, Air Corporal Ackerman had lost so much weight it was possible to see the screws stricking out of his skin from a metal plate in his arm. Finally I went alone in an effort to rech the border : 43 km, and encountered two Somalis who put me on a camel and led me to a patrol of the Kings African Rifles.”

 

On 1st July, Pilot Officer Alec T.R. Hutchinson of No.237 (Rhodesia) Squadron, on patrol on the Garissa - Liboi area, saw several camels. Passing above, he notices a European dressed in khaki making signs. Quickly, a detachment is sent, where it finds Major Robert Preller. He indicates that he left two crew members near a waterhole, which he points roughly on a map. Finally, these last two will be rescued on 4 July.

 

44.jpg?resize=768,464&ssl=1

Fairey Battle du No.11 (SAAF) Squadron au Kenya. Collection : SAAF Museum, via Tinus le Roux.

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18 June 1940

 

Northern Front

 

Italian fears seem to confirm by general order number four of General Paul Legentilhomme :

 

"General Order No. 4. Last month the French Government solemnly undertook not to conclude a separate peace before the final victory. It was the word of France that he pledged to the whole world. A few days ago Mr. Paul Reynaud addressing America said: "We will fight to the end. If the whole of France is invaded, we will fight in North Africa, we will fight in our Empire, we will fight even in our possessions of America ". It is still the word of France. Yesterday refusing to deny the word of France, Mr. Paul Reynayd had to withdraw defeated by the 5th column. A French government, constituted by an old man with a glorious past, has accepted the denial of France's sacred word. He surrendered. Officers, non-commissioned officers, corporals and brigadiers, soldiers of France. Do you agree to hand over your weapons to an adversary who has not dared to attack you ? Do you accept a captivity all the more dishonorable that in a few months it is our opponent, blocked from all sides, having six months of supply, which will in turn capitulate in this part of the world before the legendary British tenacity ? Do you accept that our flag is absent on the guebi of Addis Ababa where will float the English and South African pavilions ? I am sure of your answer. I declared yesterday to the Governor of the Colony, in the presence of the British Consul, that if the British Empire continued the struggle I would continue it on its Sides. If General Nasi wants to enter Djibouti, the Italian Army must prove itself in front of the formidable defenses you have built for the last 16 months with ardor and an admirable sense of duty. You will know how to defend them with an indomitable courage, because it is the honor of our three colors that you defend. Officers, NCOs, corporals, brigadiers and soldiers, I await your answer. Done at Q.G. of Djibouti. On 18 June 1940, Général de Brigade Legentilhomme, commander of the Somalia Operation Theater.”

 

General_Le_Gentilhomme_Djibouti.jpg

General Paul Legentilhomme reviews troops in Djibouti

 

 

It is therefore not surprising to see a new reconnaissance sortie over Djibouti by a Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 (between 08h00 and 12h45) from the 63a Squadriglia BT, to observe any movement of British troops in support.

 

However, the situation is more confused. Thus, Governor Hubert Deschamps is very cautious about the position of General Paul Legentilhomme. In a telegram to the Colonial Department, he declared his willingness to follow the decision of the Government, but that he feared being dismissed by the local military authorities. In reality, a real Franco-French struggle of influence breaks out in Djibouti. At the same time, the British are very cautious. If some reinforcements are sent, it is only the Ethiopian Guard of Emperor Haile Selassie previously stationed in Aden.

 

 

Port Sudan is attacked by three Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 of 44bis Gruppo BT and several shots are claimed against the fuel depots. In addition, three Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 of 29bis Gruppo BT intervene against Aden with however less success and one of the aircraft is forced to a crash-landing in Italian territory. Finally, three aircraft of the same type, but belonging to 4bis Gruppo BT, bomb Zeila airfield. However, one of the bombers crashed to the ground, killing his crew.

 

 

On the RAF side, K Flight continues to detach its planes at various aerodromes in Sudan. However, Sergeant Charles J.W. Tait's Gloster Gladiator Mk I (K6136) crashed at Erkowit during a test flight, the pilot was killed.

K6136_18juin40.jpg?w=447&ssl=1

 

 

Southern Front

 

Following the events of the previous day, the situation worsened on the southern front when an Italian column launched an attack aimed at capturing El Wak, forcing the Kings African Rifles to abandon the position at night.


The British command can only send a few No.237 (Rhodesia) Squadron aircraft in support as no South African aircraft is available. Flying Officer John Walmisley and Aircraftman Marshall take off (Audax K7546) at 05h55 to carry out several attacks before being charged to drop a message to troops. The plane however is shot at the engine and forced to land near El Wak.

 

The Hawker Hart SR103 (Flying Officer R.J.D. Christie and Aircraftman Strickland) is immediately dispatched, at 11h00, as a replacement. After dropping his four 20-pound bombs, the pilot decides to land on the advanced airfield to rearm. At that moment, a Caproni Ca.133 piloted by the Capitano Piva of 9a Squadriglia BT appears and drops his bombs, damaging the aircraft on the ground. If Flying Officer R.J.D. Christie manages to bring his damaged plane back to the base, the command decides to suspend the air operations to avoid any additional losses.

 

At the same time, after trying to unsuccessfully repair the Hawker Audax K7546 Flying Officer John Walmisley decides to have his plane towed but after a few meters, the train breaks. Despite several attempts the imminent evacuation of the fort forced the crew to set it on fire.
 

Edited by 615sqn_Manfred
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19 June 1940

 

Northern Front

 

A new reconnaissance flight was made over Djibouti by a Savoia-Marchetti SM.81, this time belonging to 15a Squadriglia BT, between 06h45 and 10h45. A light AA is reported from the airfield and ships anchoring in the harbor.

 

 

Southern Front

 

 

This day is marked by the first operation of the South African fighters. This is a fundamental event given the role they will play in the future with the progressive annihilation of Regia Aeronautica. At dawn on 19 June, the South African fighters is composed of only No.1 (SAAF) Squadron, of Major Noël Niblock-Stuart, with four Hawker Hurricane Mk I two-bladed propellers (three of which are at Port Reitz) and six Hawker Furies.

 

Group Captain William Sowrey (RAF Kenya) decides to send three Junkers Ju.86 of No.12 (SAAF) Squadron, under Major Charles E. Martin, to Yavello. It is further decided that the bombers will have a fighter escort. The goal is twofold : to limit losing precious Junkers Ju.86, while continuing the campaign of misinformation to make believe in the presence of large numbers of modern fighters.

 

The reality is quite different, as No.1 (SAAF) Squadron can only line up two Hawker Hurricane Mk I (274 and 271) with Captain St. Elmo Truter and Second Lieutnant Brian Griffiths. The two fighters join the bombers at the rendezvous point fixed above the desert of Chalbi and head for Yavello, which they reach at 09h00.

 

19juin40_ju86.jpg?resize=768,483&ssl=1

Collection : SAAF Museum, via Tinus le Roux.

 

 

But while Junkers Ju.86 hit the target and destroy nine Caproni Ca.133s, two Fiat CR.32s of the 411a Squadriglia CT take off on alert. Not expecting an opposing intervention, the two fighter pilots turn quietly above the target.

Captain St. Elmo Truter spots a plane approaching him. Thinking of dealing with his teammate, he does not react, when suddenly he hears shots. He turns around immediately and sees an Italian aircraft overtaking him. At the same time, he saw Second Lieutenant Brian Griffiths aircraft perform evasive maneuvers, an enemy fighter behind him. But he does not have time to see more as he is himself attacked. He ends, however, by positioning himself behind the Italian and seems to touch him. The Fiat CR.32 goes into a downward spiral, while Captain St. Elmo Truter looses sight. Flying over the italian airfield, he notices five Caproni Ca.133 on fire, but :

“At that time, I was terribly isolated, realizing that I was the only Afrikaner in a vast empty sky, over enemy territory, and I felt it was time to return.”

 

Heading south, he quickly meets an isolated Junkers Ju.86 and decides to escort him to the Kenyan border. When he lands, he learns that Second Lieutenant Brian Griffiths aircraft has not yet returned. Shortly after, the crews of the bombers announced the bad news : a Hawker Hurricane was seen crashing to the ground. This first mission sees the South African Fighters claims their first victory but also suffer their first loss.

 

The two Fiat CR.32 of 411a Squadriglia CT were used by Tenente Aldo Meoli and Maresciallo Flaminio Bossi. The latter claim two Hawker Hurricanes and a Junkers Ju.86 destroyed. One of the No.12 (SAAF) Squadron aircraft is actually damaged during combat. For its part, the Tenente Aldo Meoli must make a forced landing.

 

The next day, orders are given to return all South African fighters (six Hawker Furry, the remaining Hawker Hurricane Mk I being considered too damaged) to Port Reitz. It will be necessary to wait for the month of July before seeing them again in action. Following this clash, the Italians decided to detach three Fiat CR.32, of 411a Squadriglia CT on Yavello to counter any attack, while the 9a Squadriglia BT leaves the Lugh Ferrandi for Belet Uen (center of Italian Somalia).

 

p20-hurri-q-d.jpg.opt836x451o00s836x451.

Hawker Hurricane Mk I at Port Reitz Airfield. Note in the foreground n°277 "Q", and n°278 "D" in the background. Collection: Tinus le Roux - SAAF WW2 Heritage Site

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20 June 1940

 

Northern Front

 

From Khormaksar, six Bristol Blenheim Mk I of No.8 (RAF) Squadron take off at 05h55 to attack Dire Dawa, although the L4817 has to return prematurely. Arrived above the objective, the British are engaged by a Fiat CR.42 of 413a Squadriglia CT (Tenente Luciano Cacciavillani) and a Fiat CR.32 of 410a Squadriglia CT (Sergente Maggiore Antonio Giardinà). The two Italians claim a shared victory, but all bombers return without damage, their pilots claiming to have escaped the Italian fighters thanks to their higher speeds.

 

If a new reconnaissance sortie is made by an IMAM Ro.37bis of 110a Squadriglia RT over the port (five to six warships reported) and the airfield (fifteen to sixteen aircraft on the ground) of Djibouti, between 13h15 and 16h45, the Italian pressure is strengthening in the hinterland. Indeed, Italian troops launch an attack from Andoli towards Dadda'to, though without success. Potez 25 also seems attacks Italian columns near Daouenlé.

 

 

Southern Front

 

 

In Kenya, No.237 (Rhodesia) Squadron day is hectic. In the morning, at 09h05, the Hawker Hart SR 103 took off (Flying Officer Ted Jacklin and Sergeant Ken Murrell) for the usual reconnaissance. Flying above the road between the Moyale border post and the Italian fort of Dolo, the crew sees a column of troops estimated of sixty men. The four 20-pound bombs are immediately dropped followed by several machine-gun attacks. Once the attack is over, the pilot sets an immediate course towards Moyale to deliver a warning message to the Kings African Rifles detachment.

 

Shortly after, in the afternoon (14h05), Flying Officer Brian White (Hawker Hardy K5983), patrolling above Moyale, saw ground fire. Fearing an attack on the fort, he immediately went toward the camp to warn of the situation. Finally, after verification, this is only tests conducted with a Bren machine gun by the British garrison. Otherwise, this error made it possible to test the new air warning system put in place after the loss of El Wak.

 

Finally, the airfield of Marsabit is attacked by three Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 having take off from Addis Ababa at 10h45. The bombing is a success and the fuel reserves on fire making the aerodrome out of service.

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21 June 1940

 

Northern Front

 

Eleven Caproni Ca.133 of 27bis Gruppo BT take off from Dessie, in three waves, between 18h30 and 18h50 to take direction of the port of Djibouti. However, the formation is quickly dispersed due to the heavy cloud layer, while two aircraft have to go back to the base for technical problems. The nine aircraft arrive on the target around 20h30 and begin their bombing, several fires are reported. A high concentration of AA is present and two aircraft are forced to land in French territory, the two crews being captured : the MM20571 (Sottotenente Federico Sconci, Sergente Bruno Belcaro, Primo Aviere Antonio Pallaro and Pietro Garito) of 18a Squadriglia BT and the MM60086 (Sottotenente Giuseppe Putzolu, Sergente Maggiore Armando Saura, Primo Aviere Mario Treghini and Rodolfo Fuoco) of the 52a Squadriglia BT. In addition, three others must make a forced landing in Italian territory.

 

In parallel, two Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 are sent during the night against Berbera, but one of the aircraft had to land urgently in British Somaliland. The entire crew will be tragically killed by natives.

 

Southern Front

 

 

The southern front is quieter after the last turbulent days, despite two successive bombings of Garissa, in the morning, by two Caproni Ca.133 of 31bis Gruppo BT from an altitude of about 3000 meters. No damage is reported.

 

The 410a Squadriglia CT detaches three Fiat CR.42s (MM2983, MM3004 and MM3428), as well as the following pilots (Sottotenente Osvaldo Bartolozzi, Sergente Maggiore Enzo Omiccioli and Sergente Ugo Zoino) with the 411a Squadriglia CT based in Addis-Abeba.


This situation is reinforced by the absence of South African aircrafts.


Indeed, during the second half of June, the SAAF made major changes in its order of battle. No.11 (SAAF) Squadron receives the order, on 18 June, to return to South Africa to take delivery of fifteen Fairey Battle Mk I. At the same time, Hartbees are recovered by the new No. 40 (SAAF) Squadron in formation. However, if the journey is scheduled on 10 June, it is delayed when the airmen are instructed to leave for Durban to participate in the search for two Italian ships that left the port the night before the declaration of war. The mission is a failure, while serious problems in the system of bomb drops are reported making aircrafts inoperative. On 18 June, only four planes are sent to Kenya (two of which will be lost during the transfer), while the other crews will join in Junkers Ju.52 to recover those of No. 11 (SAAF) Squadron. Finally, the A Flight is declared operational at Isiola on 25 June, and the B Flight at Nairobi on the 28th.


Finally, the SAAF receives the reinforcement of No.1 (SAAF) Survey Flight as the commandment is quickly confronted with the lack of accurate maps of the region. To remedy this problem, and the lack of available British resources, South Africans decided to send a unit specialized in strategic reconnaissance and aerial photography as soon as possible. Problem, even when searching, nothing is available to perform this type of mission. There is a No.67 Air School Photography, but it only exists on paper... Finally, some specialists are hardly found and, in the absence of a full squadron, the order of creation of a Flight is decided on 10 June to join as soon as possible Kenya. The flight is very modest since it initially includes only one pilot : Captain Samuel Scott and one aircraft : an Airspeed AS.6 Envoy (No. 252) which is a decommissioned and obsolete aircraft, judged even dangerous by the technical services (the second aircraft crashes during the transfer even before leaving the South African territory, killing all crew). It is therefore hardly surprising that No.1 (SAAF) Survey Flight presence is rather anecdotal for several months.

 

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22 June 1940

 

Northern Front

 

The Italians are back over Djibouti with consistent strength. The day begins very early as three Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 of 63a Squadriglia BT bombard the habour between 03h40 and 07h55, dropping several bombs near the ships.

 

They are followed by five IMAM Ro.37bis of 110a Squadriglia RT (including Colonel Mario Pezzi) escorted by a Fiat CR.32 from 410a Squadriglia CT (Capitano Corrado Ricci) and three Fiat CR.42 of 413a Squadriglia CT, between 05h40 and 08h30, to attack the airfield. IMAM Ro.37bis (MM10767) is destroyed on landing.

 

According to Capitano Corrado Ricci :

 

"At 04h00 in the morning, we are all ready, hot engines and propellers moving. (...) The Colonnello Mario Pezzi is leading with a patrol of three IMAM Ro.37bis. He has with him, as an observer, an artillery officer who will take care of the bombs. Shortly after, I take off with the other two reconnaissance aircraft, then follow the three Fiat CR.42 escort. Today, I do not have to work as a fighter. These IMAM Ro.37bis are very slow and I have to maneuver constantly to not distance them. We are sailing slowly along the tracks. The landscape is monotonous: yellow sand and some bushes burned. The Danakil, rich in innumerable termite mounds, gives birth to melancholy thoughts. This desert has its charm: towards the border with British Somalia, it is entirely bristling with many yellowish cones rising in the sand. The sea is visible in the distance, we pass over Zeilah. (...) We follow the coast on our left so as not to be spotted. Zeilah, which we have just passed, is a group of a few huts. There is also a makeshift aerodrome: it is naturally desert. The port of Djibouti is emerging: there is black smoke and I see explosions coming from the firing of the anti-aircraft defense. As expected, in the order of operation, our arrival coincides with a bombardment by a patrol of Savoia-Marchetti SM.79.

At the agreed time, I signal my wingers to join Mario Pezzi, who orders them to stand in single line before diving for the attack. I am higher so I can defend them in the event of an attack from the opponent's fighters as they approach the target at low altitude. The anti-aircraft defense opens fire: first on Fiat CR.42 that I see above my head, then on me. The shots are very accurate and the shells burst just a few hundred meters to my right. It's quite amusing to see these little bluish-white flakes bloom one after the other, at an almost regular distance, next to me (as long as they do not get too close!). I see the airfield and prepare: I close the radiators, I cut the engine, I start my dive and drop my bombs. I can see from a distance the long row of IMAM Ro.37bis that continue to hover in the direction of the target. The air defense is still active and sometimes I have the impression of seeing tracers. The Fiat CR.42 continues to fly at higher altitudes, but it seems that the French fighter is not part of it. Fortunately for us, because according to our information, they have "Morane Saulnier": a monoplane very fast and very well armed. Here is the attack of IMAM Ro.37bis: a blackish smoke rises from the area while I continue to monitor the surroundings. I see trenches near which anti-aircraft guns seem strangely motionless behind a protection erected with sacks of earth. I attack with my grenades, then continues strafing. I see an area with small shacks very well ordered, certainly military and I decided to throw my last grenades, but I miss the target: shooting too short. I leave in the direction of the airfield. One of our reconnaissance aircraft finally emerges from the blackish cloud that rises above the airfield. Other aircrafts also appear nearby, all scattered after the attack. I'm getting closer to the first one: it's Colonnello Mario Pezzi. I then stand a hundred meters from him, a little higher up, to escort him while the others tighten in close formation. French fighters can still intervene.

We are just two hundred meters and we go slowly. Below us, the ground made of a blackish stone reverberates an infernal heat. The cooling water of my engine is almost 100°C, but I can not do anything. And here is the border: the stretch of yellow sand starts again. We pass over the railway station of Aysha (Ethiopia) and its advanced airfield, then we find the long expanse of termite mounds. Finally, the bush in which Dire Dawa and our airfield stand out. I land after three hours of flight: I have almost no fuel. "

 

At 08h05, two Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 of 7a Squadriglia BT take off from Addis Ababa to attack also the airfield and the habour. The attack was made around 10h15, with pilots claiming several hits against the hangars and the south jetty. The two bombers returned at 12h35. They were followed by three other Savoia-Marchetti SM.79, from the same unit, between 08h55 and 12h55, then one Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 of 6a Squadriglia BT between 09h45 am and 13h50 (bombs dropped around 12h00).

 

 

 

According to the Italian documentation, Dire Dawa airfield is attacked between 12h00 and 13h00 by unknown aircrafts. Some sources mention French Potez 25, but it is probably Bristol Blenheim Mk I. No.11 and 39 (RAF) Squadron send five aircraft (three + two) between 11h00 and 15h10 and claim the destruction of at least one aircraft on the ground. Sottotenente Miroslav Komjanc (413a Squadriglia CT) tries to join his Fiat CR.42, but it is damaged by a bomb. The Sergeant Maggiore Gaetano Volpe (410a Squadriglia CT 410) try also, but the engine of his Fiat CR.32 (MM4648) refuses to start. Another aircraft is damaged by the bombing while a member of the ground staff is killed and two others wounded.

 

According to Capitano Corrado Ricci :

 

“We couldn’t start to have our lunch that a bomb rain, damned close, hurries us: who runs to recovery, who lies on ground, … windows glass shatters and breaks, roof vibrates and a rain of debris and powder covers us and our maccheroni, floor shatters and it seems that explosions never end. Santoro is on the ground beside me, we’re flat as soles as we look on one another, while the hell continues: we’re both pale… As soon the explosions cease we jump up and run to the airport. There had been three bombers, absolutely unexpected: a driver is dead, hit by a splinter; Colonnello Pezzi shows me it, a few grams of iron, and says: “For this small bit of damned iron a life has gone… and I’ll have to write this to his mother!” Two more airmen have been slightly wounded, a fighter burns at the end of the field, the oil sump of my engine has been penetrated from side to side. Sottotenente Komjanc was on alarm duty and was running towards his CR.42, which his engineer had soon started. While he was wearing his parachute, some bombs dropped nearby and the shock wave threw him on ground. As he rose up, he saw his fighter burning: he’s now telling this to Santoro, and he’s desperate for having lost an aircraft. It seems he still doesn’t realize of the extraordinary luck that protected him!”

 

 

 

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23 June 1940

 

Northern Front

 

A last mission is reported over Djibouti with an IMAM Ro.37 bis of 110a Squadriglia CT between 14h00 and 17h15 before the end of operations following the signing of an armistice between France and Italy.

 

However, despite the end of Italian operations the future of Djibouti still remains very uncertain. On 26 June 1940, a meeting of the Board of Directors at Governor Hubert Deschamps's palace led to a conclusion that was fairly wait-and-see: resistance while refraining from any hostile initiative against Italians, and waiting for the next events. This meeting nevertheless shows a very deep opposition between the various participants. This uncertainty is reinforced by a silence from France between 25 June and 10 July 1940. During this interval, the voice of General de Gaulle is heard when he sending a telegram to General Paul Legentilhomme, dated on 6 July 1940 to consider collaboration between common interests. At the same time, sporadic clashes erupt between Italians and French for the control of the outposts, while several Italian aircraft attacks are reported on the airfield, which remains used by British planes for reconnaissance - bombing, from Aden, on long-range targets.

 

The situation changed on 10 July 1940, after the receipt of a telegram from General Maxime Weygand indicating the clauses of the armistice imposed on the territory of Djibouti. A new meeting of the Board of Directors is organized with again the choice of a waiting position pending further information from France.

 

According to Governor Hubert Deschamps:

 

“From that moment, then, we lived in a sort of equivocal truce, the general and myself, hoping each one, while maintaining courteous relations, to bring the other little by little to his point of view. The regime that reigned at that time in Djibouti was a kind of dictatorship in the hands of the general who had the police, who controlled the letters and telegrams, who had a means of correspondence with the English cable of Aden which maintained a secret correspondence by this means with General Wavell and the British authorities who had kept the liaison officers in Djibouti and allowed English ships and planes to frequent our base.”

 

Things are evolving, however, quickly because of a series of events: the gradual rallying of the various French Colonies, the Mers el-Kebir affair, the loyalist attitude of the various officials, and the Italian threats through the Italian Armistice Commission.

 

The situation changed radicaly, on 14 July 1940, with the arrival of General Germain (in charge of handling the situation in favor of the French Government) at the Djibouti border from Italian territory, after a first attempt on 10 July. Indeed, when the British authorities informed General Paul Legentilhomme of the landing of an Italian plane, carrying a French general to Asmara, he says that: "The orders have not changed. All Italian aircraft must be intercepted and shot down by your fighters ".

 

Finally, a first meeting between the two men took place on 15 July in the hinterland during which General Germain was refused entry into Djibouti. However, the next day, Governor Hubert Deschamps moves to meet the representative of Vichy, then decides that the time has come for a final decision. An extraordinary Board of Directors meets in the afternoon of 19 July, which votes loyalty to the government of Vichy. At the same time, the military authorities began to crack, starting with the commander of the Navy and quickly that of the Air Force, while General Paul Legentilhomme is gradually outvoted.

 

On 23 July, a new ultimatum was issued by Vichy with three essential points: confer on General Germain full civilian and military powers, remove General Legentilhomme and Governor Deschamps from the colony, install General Aymé as new commander of the troops. In the last days of July, General Legentilhomme attempted a last bluff by threatening an imminent revolt of the troops no longer obeying their officers and, in particular, Corsican NCOs and Senegalese. Finally, Paul Legentilhomme, nervously exhausted and now completely isolated, decided to abandon Djibouti by fleeing in the night of 1st to 2 August 1940 in the direction of British Somaliland in the company of two officers.

 

50f15c45-04a6-43fa-bcc4-b80cb53008a4.jpg

General Paul Legentilhomme. Source : L'Ordre de la Libération

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24 June 1940

 

Northern Front

 

A new bombing mission by Vickers Wellesley is organized. However due to the lack of available aircrafts, decision is made to organize a joint mission of No.14 and No.47 (RAF) Squadron against Asmara with each five aircraft. Arriving above the target, aircrafts begin a rapid dive to 3 300 meters in order to drop bombs on the airfield, despite very bad visibility. Italian fighters are seen, but without consequences, and all crews land at 15h00. Italians report slight damage to a civilian Caproni Ca.133 from Ala Littoria, as well as the forced landing of a Fiat CR.32, due to a motor problem during the interception (410a Squadriglia CT ?).

 

A more serious confrontation took place, when six Bristol Blenheim Mk I of No.11 and No.39 (RAF) Squadron attack Dire Dawa, around 12h00 and are intercepted by the Fiat CR.32 of Sergeant Maggiore Antonio Giardina of 410a Squadriglia CT. Being warned of the arrival of the formation, he can dive on the first three aircrafts which he seems to damage. However his machine guns jammed during the attack. He is however joined by two Fiat CR.42 of 413a Squadriglia CT (including Tenente Luciano Cacciavillani) who claim one Blenheim as destroyed. However, Pilot Officer D.G. Hunter, of No.39 (RAF) Squadron, arrives to crash-landing with his badly damaged Bristol Blenheim Mk I L4920 near the British border. Isolated in adverse territory, Leading Aircraftman Rechinald Olley (radio operator) decides to leave for British Somalia, but he will be found dying on 29 June. Pilot Officer D.G. Hunter and Sergeant R.G.D. Ellis, injured, decide to stay near the aircraft. They will be rescued soon after by Somalis who will guide them to friendly territory. Two other bombers return to the base with various damages.

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 I have only read a bit so far but this is very interesting. I'd recommend posting your work in the appropriate sub-forum on the Axis History Forums. 

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25 June 1940

 

Northern Front

 

No.47 (RAF) Squadron reports the loss of the Vickers Wellesley L2696 following engine problems during a reconnaissance mission above the sector: Asmara, Gura and Massawa. The aircraft was forced into a forced landing and its crew (Sergeant F.A. Saunders ; Corporal G.A. Battye) was captured by the Italians.

 

The No.8 (RAF) Squadron sends several Bristol Blenheim Mk I, in the morning, to fly over the vicinity of the Italian Fort of Biyo in Ethiopia following major troop movements in front of British Somaliland.

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26 June 1940

 

Northern Front

 

Ten Vickers Wellesley of No.14 and No.47 (RAF) Squadron take off to bomb the airfield of Gura. They can carry out the bombing, but they are intercepted at 07h30 by seven Fiat CR.42 of the 414a Squadriglia CT, while they take a return course.

 

According to Squadron Leader Anthony D. Selway Squadron :

 

“The Fiat CR42s were doing beam and stern attacks firing tracer.  One of them dived underneath me and pulled up well ahead and up into a half loop and fired at me as he came back completely upside down ... he - or one of the others - was quite a good shot.  There was suddenly a very strong smell of petrol and Mildren [Sergeant Joseph J.W. Mildren] said ‘Sir, there’s petrol pouring into the belly of the fuselage from somewhere and it’s nearly ankle deep!’ and indeed the fumes were so powerful that I wondered they could put me out.  I told Mildren to switch off all electrics and to stop firing the guns and that he and Lund were to prepare to bale out if I said so.  I undid my straps, opened my sliding hood and the little side door and stood up and perched on the side of the cockpit and tried to keep the Wellesley straight and level with one hand.  My team drew closer in formation and watched me with some concern ... fortunately there was no spark and no hot pipe and therefore no fire and after about five minutes Mildren said ‘I think it’s going down’. Apparently we had lost most if not all of the fuel in the starboard wing and so I had to watch out for the engine cutting.  In any other aeroplane it would have meant a landing in enemy territory but not with the Wellesley with its vast reserves of fuel.”

 

All aircrafts arrive to return to Port Sudan, although two others were damaged during the fight. The gunners claim two Italian fighters damaged : one would have left leaving a trail of smoke, while the second would have fallen on the ground. Italians report that only one aircraft was hit, pilot injured.

 

Following the capture of Italian maps, No.203 (RAF) Squadron fly a reconnaissance above Dessie and Milo (Blenheim Mk IV L9215) which show the presence of ten Caproni Ca.133 on the first airfield and eight Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 and SM.81 on the second. Note that a thorough study of Italian and British maps shows sometimes differences of nearly 25 km.

 

 

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27 June 1940

 

Northern Front

 

Regia Aeronautica makes several transfers. Three IMAM Ro.37bis of 110a Squadriglia RT leave Dire Dawa for Assab where they are joined by three Fiat CR.42 of 414a Squadriglia CT under the orders of Capitano Lucertini. Finally, the 412a Squadriglia CT receives three additional aircraft under the command of the Sottotenente Sola.

 

 

Southern Front

 

In Kenya, Caproni Ca.133 of 31 bis Gruppo BT continue to harass the Wajir airfield and the Rhodesians respond by attacking Italian positions near Moyale.

 

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28 June 1940

 

Northern Front

 

The day is mainly marked by a series of bombings on Macaaca led by No.39 (RAF) Squadron.

 

Squadron Leader Alan McD. Bowman opens the day by taking off at dawn on the L8385 with two Glosters Gladiator Mk I of No.94 (RAF) Squadron : N2283 (Squadron Leader William T.F. Wightman) and N2279 (Pilot Officer Alan D. Carter).

 

They are followed by four other Bristol Blenheim Mk I, between 10h00 and 14h00, when one of them surprises the IMAM Ro.37bis of Sergente Maggiore Mario Di Trani landing. Quickly attacked, he tries to use his maneuverability, but the speed of the opponent leaves him no chance. He then decides in despair to hit the enemy, but without success. His landing gear damaged, his instrument panel riddled with bullets, with no fuel, he managed to landing despite its flaps are no longer functional and gets away without serious injury.

Several fuel tanks are left on fire by the bombers.

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29 June 1940

 

Northern Front

 

In response to the British bombardments of previous days, three Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 of 10th Squadriglia BT are sent to Port Sudan at dawn. As they approach, around 05h00, Pilot Officer Jack Hamlyn (K Flight) is ordered to take off with his Gloster Gladiator Mk I L7619. He intercepts one of the bomber, which he sees explode during the fight. Two crew members will survive, including Capitano Umberto Barone.

 

According to Sergeant Arthur F. Wimsett of No.14 (RAF) Squadron :

 

“Aroused by the sound of bombs falling on the airfield.  We adjourned to our slit trenches and were most amused at the sight of Flight Sergeant Johns who had slept in the nude - and was rather portly - clutching a blanket to himself like a Venus disturbed at the Bath. Overhead we saw a Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 at about 1 800 m, but what we did not know, was that the two Gloster Gladiators which bad been detached to Port Sudan, were airborne.  As we watched the Gloster Gladiators attacked the Savoia-Marchetti SM.81, which exploded in a ball of white flame.” 

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30 June 1940

 

Northern Front

 

Five Vickers Wellesley of No.223 (RAF) Squadron are dispatched at 04h35 to bomb the Massawa fuel depot. The mission is not easy, as crews face a very strong AA, while enemy fighters are met above the objective. The Vickers Wellesley K7724 is damaged, while the L2694 (Sergeant Bernard Poskitt and Leading Aircraftman Lewis P. Jepp) is shot down by 412a Squadriglia CT which claims two aircrafts, one being credited to Sergente Maggiore Luigi Baron, and the second to Tenente Mario Visintini.

According to a letter sent to his mother by Tenente Mario Visintini on 1st July :

"Yesterday (...), fighters under my command shot down two aircraft, one being to my credit (...)".

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Chapter 2 : Italian Offensives on the borders

 

The beginnings of the new month are mainly marked by a series of limited Italian offensives along the borders aimed at capturing the posts and forts located there. Indeed, they are located in relatively arid areas. Thus that controls the main wells and infrastructures is placed immediately in a situation of advantage compared to its opponent. The latter, in case of offense, will have a more complicated logistics, while the likely location of his first attacks will be known. At the beginning of the war, when the Italians still have a superiority over the British Empire, he imposes to control them quickly. While operations targeting Sudan's border crossings (Kassala, Kurmuk and Gallabat) are fast (the Sudan Defense Force is unable to hold any advance and the weather conditions blocking RAF), the situation in the south is more complex and several clashes break out to capture the forts of Moyale and El Wak. The two British positions fell, however, into Italian hands in mid-July.

 

 

1st July 1940

 

Southern Front

 

On 1st July 1940, an attack is launched on the southern front against Fort Moyale, defended by the A Company of the 1 Kings African Rifles under the command of Captain F.C. Drummond. A column of about 2 000 Italians, mostly Eritrean troops, with around twenty tankettes, was reported in the area as early as 23 June. The attack began at dawn, after a ten-minute bombardment by artillery, when Italian troops attacked several times in the morning, though without success.

 

Due to the lack of available aircrafts, the British can only use those of No.237 (Rhodesia) Squadron. For this purpose, two Hawker Audax and two Hawker Hart take off, at 10h00 from Wajir followed by two others at 14h30 under the orders of Flying Officer Evert P. Kleynhans (Hawker Audax K7531). However, if crews claim several hits, it seems that several bombs have fallen on areas in the hands of the King African Rifles.

 

At the same time, Italians are moving 29bis Gruppo BT to the new Shashamane airfield in southern Ethiopia to support the offensive.

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2 July 1940

 

Northern Front

 

The northern front remains relatively calm and the routine of the month of June continues. The British are still seeking to neutralize the Italian threat to the Red Sea and are mounting a series of operations to eliminate the Italian fighters at Assab.

 

The day begins very early with the dispatch of three Bristol Blenheim Mk I of No.39 (RAF) Squadron at 07h50. The opposing defense is, however, already alert after a first raid by two other British aircraft, and they are intercepted by two Fiat CR.42 of 414a Squadriglia CT. A short confrontation broke out to repel the bombers, although the crew of L8387 claimed the destruction of an enemy fighter on the ground. The skirmish expands with the arrival of three Gloster Gladiators of No.94 (RAF) Squadron at 08h36. Squadron Leader William T.F. Wightman (N2283) claims two Fiat CR.42, one on the ground and the other in combat. Sergeant William H. Dunwoodie (N2279), meanwhile, is strafing vehicles when he notices a fighter in his tail. He manages, by maneuvering, to stand in his back and to touch his opponent, which crushes on the ground.

 

On the Italian side, 414a Squadriglia CT recognizes the loss of two Fiat CR.42 and their pilots. If the first, Sergente Luigi Barengo is killed in combat, the second Sergente Fosco Celleri succeeds to jump in parachute but he need to stay two months in the hospital.

 

Later in the afternoon, five Vickers Wellesley of No. 47 (RAF) Squadron took off to bomb concentrations of enemy troops near the Metemma. Unfortunately, one aircraft (K7777) was hit by AA and crashed on the ground near Gallabat, causing the loss of the crew (Pilot Officer Colin G. Bush, Leading Aircraftman Joseph W. Davidson).

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3 July 1940

 

Northern Front

 

In the North, after a few days of rest, Vickers Wellesley of No.14 (RAF) Squadron are back in operation.

 

Three aircraft take off for photographic reconnaissance of the Eritrean coast and Zula airfield. Unfortunately, L2652 (Flying Officer Samuel G. Soderholm, Sergeant Bernard L. Trayhurn and John C. Dawson) is lost and will never return to base. He reportedly fell victim to a Fiat CR.42, from 412a Squadriglia CT (Tenente Mario Visintini) over Dekemhare.

 

Southern Front

 

The British decided to deploy at Moyale the entire 1/3 Kings African Rifles (Major J. F. Macnab) and the 22nd Mountain Battery R. A. to support the garrison.

 

For this purpose, Flying Officer Off Cyril L. Sindall and Sergeant Ken Murrell of No.237 (RAF) Squadron are instructed to conduct artillery fire guidance with the Hawker Hart SR103.

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4 Juillet 1940

 

Northern Front

 

Italians launch offensivee along the border with Sudan where the Sudan Defense Force can only oppose 320 men against about 8 000 Italians. The attack began at 03h00 when the Italian columns headed for Fort Kassala, preceded by a cavalry detachment under the orders of Tenente Francesco Santasilia. After several hours of fighting, Kassala was abandoned around 13h00 by his garrison despite fierce resistance that would have killed about 43 enemy soldiers (and 114 wounded), as well as the destruction of six tankette for only 1 dead (and 16 missing) on British side. At the same time, the forts of Gallabat and Karora are also captured. Regia Aeronautica strongly supports the operations with five Squadriglie engaged in ground attack.

 

If the Wellesley of No.14 (RAF) Squadron are placed on alert in the afternoon to intervene in the battle, bad weather leads to the cancellation of all flights while No.47 (RAF) Squadron claims a Caproni Ca.133 damaged during a bombing of Metemma on late afternoon.

 

Note that the Regia Aeronautica makes some moves : two Fiat CR.42 of 413a Squadriglia CT to Assab, while IMAM Ro37bis of 110a Squadriglia RT return to Dire Dawa.

 

Indeed, according to the Capitano Corrado Ricci (410a Squadriglia CT), the bombings on Assab have serious consequences for the Italians :

 

“The port of Assab, very important for its position at the mouth of the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, did not have a moment of tranquility. Unfortunately its sheds were filled with many goods: crates of mineral water, wine, rare provisions, clothes, etc. The continuous day and night shelling seriously damaged our reserves and forced our command to disarm the base. Corrado Santoro, who was there before being transferred to Dire Dawa, told me that every night an English plane was flying half an hour over the airfield, dropping some bombs though often without doing any damage. All remained awake during the night and arrived exhausted at the beginning of work each morning.”

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7 July 1940

 

Northern Front

 

The Italians continue their operations along the Sudanese border by attacking the Kurmuk Fort, opening the way to Khartoum, with the support of at least two Caproni Ca 133. The attack is a success and the garrison (60 members of Sudanese police) surrenders, allowing the capture of the fort.

 

Regia Aeronautica makes some transfers: two Fiat CR 42s of 413a Squadriglia CT are sent to Assab, while IMAM Ro.37bis of 110a Squadriglia RT return to Dire Dawa.

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8 July 1940

 

Northern Front

 

In Sudan, five Vickers Wellesley of No.14 (RAF) Squadron take off around midday to bomb the airfield of Zula. Approaching the target, they intercept at low altitude a Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 of 10a Squadriglia BT.

According to Flying Officer Cecil Rowan-Robinson, commanding one of the improved Vickers Wellesley (K7723) :

“For it was low over the sea and gave it a long burst from my front gun.  Then I overtook it and turned round it to give my chaps a chance to have a go with all their rear guns … eventually we drove it down into the sea where it crashed with a great splash.”

 

This is the beginning of a real ordeal for the Italian crew. All injured during the fight or landing, they manage to put the inflatable raft into the water. But at this moment Sottotenente Goffredo Franchini realizes that it can not float with more than three people. He orders his crew to leave him on the spot, hung on one of the pieces of wings, in order to reach a nearby island and then come back for him. When Sergeant Maggiore Piero Violetti returns, he can not find any trace of Sottotentente Goffredo Franchini (he will receive the Medaglia d'Oro posthumously). Isolated, the unfortunate will take nearly two weeks to reach a village, feeding on bird eggs, before being repatriated to Massawa by a destroyer.

 

Note that the L2649 is damaged during the attack and the pilot receiving bursts of the canopy in the eyes. Injured, partially blinded by blood, Pilot Officer Richard J. Willitts is forced to land in emergency on the island of Aqiq Kabir, off the Sudan, where the crew will be quickly rescued.

 

 

Southern Front

 

 

The South Africans of No.40 (SAAF) Squadron receive, on 7 July, the order to deploy six Hartbees at Wajir.

 

The next day, Captain Louis J. Schravesande took off at 14h00 with his aircraft to attack the Italian artillery near Moyale, while Lieutnant Neville K. Rankin (802) was responsible for attracting air defense thanks to the addition of an additional armor plate. The Hartbees attack in dive and claim the destruction of eleven pieces of artillery on the twelve present. After the attack, they return to Wajir before leaving, the next day to Isiolo. During this flight, No. 843 is forced to crash-landing at mid-way. The aircraft is severely damaged, while the pilot : Lieutnant Geoffrey L.H. Tatham suffers from a a broken shoulder.

 

24-scaled.jpg?resize=768,511&ssl=1

Example of the means used by the Hartbees to relay messages on the Kenyan border. Collection: Laurie Shuttleworth, via Tinus le Roux.

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9 July 1940

 

Southern Front

 

Due to the events in Moyale, SAAF decided to redeploy its aircrafts to support the operations.

 

Six Hartbees are sent to Wajir and Buna, while four Junkers Ju.86 are placed on alert at Nanyuki.

 

Finally, Captain Peter J. Ffytche-Hogg takes command of a detachment of No.1 (SAAF) Squadron (SAAF) at Nairobi. This C Flight consists of four Hawker Fury (n° 200, 203, 205 and 206), as well as Lieutenant Jacobus A. Kok, Thomas W. Irvine and Patrick K.Q. Rushmere, will form the basis of the future No.2 (SAAF) Squadron. The pilots are nevertheless put to hard tests and in the following days not less than four aircraft are forced to landings due to lack of fuel or as a result of an engine problem.

 

At the same time, the situation on the ground evolves and the garrison of Moyale is reinforced by the D Company of 1 Kings African Rifles under the orders of Captain David Henderson. An offensive is planned for the 27th with a preparation to begin between 14 and 16 July.

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10 July 1940

 

Northern Front

 

In the north, the British decide to destroy the Italian fighters in Assab by organizing two raids by four Bristol Blenheim Mk I of No.8 and No.39 (RAF) Squadron between 05h30 and 13h40. They are accompanied by three Gloster Gladiators of No.94 (RAF) Squadron during which Flying Officer Gordon S.K. Haywood (N2284) claimed the destruction of two Fiat CR.42 on the ground. The mission appears to be a success as the Italian documents confirm the destruction of two aircraft, while a third is damaged by attempting to intercept the attackers.

 

As a result of this succession of heavy losses, the 414a Squadriglia CT was dissolved shortly due to lack of available aircrafts.

 

 

Southern Front

 

Despite the optimistic plans of the British, the situation continues to worsen in Moyale.

 

At 05h40, another intense artillery bombardment was reported,during which Captain Frederic C. Drummond was mortally wounded while attempting to deploy his men (four askaris were, moreover, killed and seven others wounded).

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