21 January 1941

Northern Front

The vanguard of the 5th Indian Division enters Eritrea by capturing the village of Aicota at 10h30. The 10th Indian Infantry Brigade then pushed further east towards Biscia and made contact with the Italian rearguard. For its part, the 11th Indian Infantry Brigade is able to advance to Keru, about 60 km east of Kassala. British troops find themselves, however, blocked by an opposing defensive position with the XLI Brigata Coloniale (Generale Ugo Fongoli).

The advance of the Gazelle Force is more difficult. Indeed, the latter threatens the flank of Italian troops. The command ordered Capitano Amedeo Guillet to charge the British troops with the Gruppo Bande Amahara, to delay the enemy for at least 24 hours. The Eritrean riders manage to infiltrate during the night and launches a charge, at dawn, on the raer of Gazelle Force totally taken by surprise. A first group of about 60 riders attack first, dropping grenades, to cause a panic movement in the opponent. A second charge, with 500 men, is then made in the British defense. The Eritrean horsemen are, finally, only repulsed at the moment of coming into contact with the HQ and artillery of the Gazelle Force thanks to the intervention of the Matilda and several machine guns. If the Gruppo Bande Amahara suffered significant losses: 179 horsemen killed and about 260 wounded, the Gazelle Force is ordered to stop, which allows all Italian troops to join the defensive positions in Agordat.

According to a British officer : 

« As our battery takes position, we suddenly see a group of native riders, led by an officer on a white horse, charging from the hills to the north. With impressive courage, these soldiers galloped up to 30 meters from our guns by firing and throwing grenades. We turn our cannons 180° and shoot almost at ground level. Some shells fall without even exploding, while others tear the chest of horses. We are finally forced to use our machine guns and our armored to repel this furious charge. « 

According to an Italian document :

« (…) with the task of protecting the withdrawal of the battalions (…) with skillful maneuver and intuition of a commander (…) In an entire day of furious combats on foot and horseback, he charged many times while leading his units, assaulting the preponderant adversary (in number and means) soldiers of an enemy regiment, setting tanks on fire, reaching the flank of the enemy’s artilleries (…) although huge losses of men (…) Capitano Guillet (…) in a particularly difficult moment of this hard fight, guided with disregard of danger, an attack against enemy tanks with hand bombs and benzine bottles setting two on fire while a third managed to escape while in flames. »

Regia Aeronautica continues to harass British troops by sending bombers and fighters. Conversely, the RAF continues to be used primarily outside the combat zone. Thus, No. 8 (RAF) Squadron sends four Blenheim bombing Aysha on the railway line from Djibouti, between 13h20 and 16h25. No.14 (RAF) Squadron returns to Massawa Harbor with three aircraft between 22h25 and 23h45, although crews fail to identify the target due to a heavy cloud layer. Finally, six Wellesley of No.223 (RAF) Squadron take off for a support operation to Ethiopian patriots in the Tana Lake area between 22h25 and 02h25. Here again the bombing gives little result since the targets can not be identified, after circling in the sector during one hour, because of the fog covering the highlands.

The No.237 (Rhodesia) Squadron, whose two Hawker Hardy patrols the area of Keru in the morning, is able to turn the entire C Flight on the Westland Lysander Mk II to replace the Hawker Audax.

No.1 (SAAF) Squadron also continues patrols over the combat zone. At 07:20, Lieutnant Oscar B. Coetzee, Johan J. Coetzer, Hendrik J. Burger, Robin Pare and Denis L. Taylor take off with Gloster Gladitator to intercept a formation of Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 to the west of Aicota. As the day before, South Africans are not able to intercept the opponent. As a result of his failures, a decision is made to divide the squadron into three flights spread over advanced terrain as close as possible to the front :

  • À Flight (Oxo, ouest de Kassala) : Captain Gerald J. le Mesurier ; Lieutnant Servaas de Kock Viljoen, Hendrik J. Burger, Oscar B. Coetzee et Leonard le Clues Theron ;
  • B Flight (Kassala) : Captain Brian J.L. Boyle ; Lieutnant Thomas A.W. Irvine, Robin Pare, E.A. Jarvis et Denis L. Taylor ;
  • C Flight (Kassala) : Lieutnant John L. Hewitson, Johan J. Coetzer, P.H. Smith, Walter J. Townshend-Smith et K.A. Young.

Southern Front

As on the day before, six Fairey Battle of No.11 (SAAF) Squadron take off from Archers Post, under command of Major A.D. Irvine, at 08h00 to bomb the Ethiopian airfield of Shashamané where at least six Italian aircraft are reported. The attack is carried out in two waves and the South Africans claim the destruction of three Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 and two others damaged. In reality, only a bomber would have been really destroyed. All Fairey Battle returns, despite the antiaircraft defense.

For its part, No.2 (SAAF) Squadron sees its Hawker Fury multiply the technical problems following the heat that boils the oil in the engines. In order to remedy the situation, a new type of oil is being tested with very little success since : « She overheated beautifully. The engineers are disgusted ». Finally order is given to temporarily grounded the Hawker Fury, while No.40 (SAAF) Squadron lends several Hartbees in order to ensure the aerial alert in replacement. Thus, Lieutnant Basil Guest and Air Corporal Potgieter (a mechanic) are responsible for patrolling, throughout the day, the Lokitaung sector in one of these aircraft. Commented No.2 (SAAF) Squadron’s panied Diarist : « Heat, dust and flies all in good health. The end of a perfect day. »


Allied Claims
No.11 (SAAF) Squadron 3 Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 destroyed on ground and deux damaged Fairey Battle Airfield of Shashamané
Pertes Italie
1 Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 destroyed on ground. Airfield of Shashamané

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