18 January 1941

Northern Front

Two additional Vickers Wellesley (K7739 and K8527), of No.47 (RAF) Squadron, were sent to the Blackdown advanced landing ground, while five and two aircraft were sent respectively to bomb the Barentu airfield (11h55 – 15h15) and positions in Umm Hagar (12h25 – 15h25) in anticipation of the offensive, towards Agordat, which should start the next day. [1] It is the same for the No.223 (RAF) Squadron, with four Wellesley [2] attack Agordat aerodrome between 09h10 and 13h45. It should be noted that aircrafts are equipped with time bombs ranging between 6h and 24h.

An escort by Gladiator of No.1 (SAAF) Squadron is organized for the various raids, however the fighters and bombers are unable to find each other. Only Lieutnant P.H. Smith is able to reach the Wellesley heading for Agordat. At the same time, the No. 1 (SAAF) Squadron detachments are ordered to regroup on the advanced airfield of Oxo (west of Kassala).

Southern Front

After the failure of the day before, the South Africans relaunch the attack against El Yibo. This time, Force C is able to capture a first forward station around 09h00. Shortly after Force B and C with the reinforcement of the A Company of the 1st Natal Mounted Rifles (called urgently to reinforce the troops) and three more armored cars try to push towards the main position. However, again, the movement failed, around 13:00, the various elements quickly losing contact, while the heat quickly tires the troops, while Italian troops open fire from slightly elevated positions. Once again, three No. 40 Hartbees (SAAF) Squadron are called in as reinforcements to bombard enemy positions several times in the afternoon. 

Finally, at 15h00, Brigadier Buchanan decides to stop the assaults explaining that :

« The enemy’s position to be impregnable to unsupported infantry attack (…) to carry out the assault the following day, supported by artillery and aircraft. » [3]

Still according to Douglas Baker : 

« The Regiment spent a sleepless night in discovering that the extreme heat by day of semi-desert is exchanged in the night by freezing conditions. Worse ! Water supplies did not get throught until the next day. The following day was almost as frustrating. The ennemy, 150 strong, counterattacked but were driven off after they had reached a point 100 yards distant from battalion headquarters. More humming and aharring around and after this further day of heat exposure the exhausted regiment had to spend a further night on the bare mountain ». [4]

[1] No.47 (RAF) Squadron : Operations Record Book (Form 540 and Form 541). Kiew : TNA, AIR 27 / 463.

[2] The number of aircraft is questionable since the Form 540 reports four planes: « four aircraft (…) attacked the aerodrome of Agordat », while Form 541 lists only three Wellesley, in this case: L2715, K8528 et K8530. No.223 (RAF) Squadron : Operations Record Book (Form 540 and Form 541). Kiew : TNA, AIR 27 / 1373.

[3] ORPEN Neil. East African and Abyssinian Campaigns, Raid on El Wak : http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/UN/SouthAfrica/EAfrica/EAfrica-6.html

[4] KATZ, David Brock. South Africans versus Rommel : The Untold Story of the Desert War in World War II. Stackpole Books, 2017.

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