22 January 1941

Northern Front

At 04h00, the 4th Battalion 11th Sikh Regiment begins its attack against the Italian position of Keru. The latter must imperatively be captured since the only road towards Agordat passes through a particularly narrow gorge at this location. If the Sikhs are able to capture one of the hills, the main Italian position is impossible to cross. Several reinforcements from 2nd Battalion The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders are sent late afternoon, while the advanced elements of the 10th Indian Infantry Brigade manage to cut the Italian ear from Aicota.

Regia Aeronautica is still very active as an attack on Tesseney airfield is reported with damage to a British aircraft. [1]

Unlike previous days, South Africans are able to intercept the opponent. In this case, two Hawker Hurricane and two Gloster Gladiator of No.1 (SAAF) Squadron take off at 08h30 for a patrol over Keru during which they see a formation of three Caproni Ca.133, from the 18 Squadriglia (27 Gruppo) escorted by two Fiat CR.42 from the 412 Squadriglia. Lieutnant Oscar B. Coetzee attacks one of the bombers, who dropps his bombs into disasters. He is, however, pushed back by the Fiat CR.42, as he sees the bomber falling into flames. At the same time, Lieutnant Hendrick J. P. Bruger (Hurricane Mk I No. 298) also claims the destruction of Caproni Ca.133 in a similar situation. A shared victory is then granted to the two South African pilots. If a Caproni Ca.133 is well lost (part of the crew is able to enter the Italian lines), the other two return heavily damaged in Agordat with several wounded. Note that a Gloster Gladiator is claimed by Sergeant Maggiore Luigi Baron (412 Squadriglia). According to the testimony of one of the Italians :

« On the morning of 22 January 1941 a formation of three Caproni Ca.133 of the 18° Squadriglia, 27°Gruppo, took off from Asmara to bomb the enemy advancing from the north. Tenente Passetto was in command and I, a Sergente, was the second pilot. The aircraft on the right was flown by Sottotenente Nicoletti and Sergente Berlcao, while that on the left was flown by an officer whose name I do not remember, and Sergente Dichino. After take-off I took over control from Tenente Passetto who gave me the course and altitude. Over Agordat we received an escort of two Fiat CR 42s which stayed 200 metres above us. Not long after, the Observer Commander of the aircraft came into the cockpit and, staying between the two pilots, indicated to the Tenente to look down to the left. After a moment I saw a shower of flak coming from below and I then saw two Hurricanes. The Tenente ordered us to jettison the bombs, took over control and started to bank in the direction of home. A Hurricane attacked from behind and the aircraft on the left crashed in flames, while that on the right was hit, dived away and disappeared from our view.

We were alone in the sky, the Tenente banked again, increasing speed. I saw the needle of the tachometer move forwad and stop at 175 km/h. The Hurricane turned back, attacking us again. We were hit by one bullet after another and the Observer Commander was wounded in the thigh. Our radio operator was very good ; he was firing with a Lewis gun to the rear and was managing to reload very swiftly. In the meantime the engineer was manning another Lewis but was only getting off single shots.

The next thing that happened was that the petrol tank was hit by a burst of fire. I saw a torrent of fuel pouring over the engineer, the floor, and eventually disappearing through the doors, leaving a grey trail behind us… I was looking at all that fuel and worrying about the engine exhaust. We were then attacked again from the right – the Hurricane was determined to finish this old Caproni that was still flying ! The right engine was hit. I heard the sound of bullets hitting metal parts all round the aircraft, but fortunately none of us was shot. Our escort did intervene, but from my seat I couldn’t see a thing. Those who could see said that there were four Gladiators present also.

The Tenente landed at Agordat, the tyres burst and the Caproni ran on the wheel rims with a terrible noise ; after that it draw to a halt. A moment later Sottotenente Nicoletti’s Caproni also landed, damaged and with one wounded. When banking I had though I saw for a moment a very, very small Caproni far below. It was Sottotenente Nicoletti ; up higher something bright was coming down very slowly. These images disappeared very quickly from my vision. When we landed a mechanic explained the mystery. It was the radio operator of the plane that had been shot down in flames ; he had been soaked in fuel and caught fire as he baled out, falling like a burning torch on this parachute – ironically his surname was Fuoco (fire).

The ambulance arrived and picked up the wounded. The engineer complained that the was very sore because of being showered with fuel and was longing for a proper shower ! After this action the 18 Squadriglia had no more aircraft. The Officer, Sergente and engineer (wounded in the shoulder) from the aircraft shot down, had been able to bale out and arrived in our lines on foot. Out of the three crews there was one person dead and three wounded. The mechanics were able to repair the damage to Sottotenente Nicoletti’s Caproni just sufficiently to allow the aircraft to fly back to Asmara. However, I confirm that in the afternoon the Hurricanes returned and blew up my Caproni ; it carried the number 18-4″.

Indeed, the aerodrome of Agordat is attacked by Lieutnant Hendrik J. P. Burger and John L. Hewitson (Hurricane No. 298 and 272) in the afternoon (around 14h45), a Caproni being claimed destroyed and a second damaged.

Lieutnant Hendrik J. P. Burger

Lieutnant John L. Hewitson

Southern Front

As in previous days, SAAF continues to target aerodromes in southern Ethiopia and Somalia. This time, three Junkers Ju.86 No.12 (SAAF) Squadron take off in the direction of Negele Borana. The bombing is carried out between 04h10 and 04h30 on a series of camouflaged buildings. While air defense is reported to be relatively weak, South African crews are not able to observe significant damage to the target.

No.41 C Flight Squadron (SAAF) Squadron, based in Wajir, is busy during the day with a series of aerial photography of the road between Dif and Afmadow, near the Somali border. Hartbees No. 806 (Captain Albert E. Klette, Flight Sergeant Cyril A. de Bruin) was reported missing, while a second aircraft (No. 869 : Lieutnant JC Collins, Sergeant Solomon Berchowitz) was allegedly engaged by two Italian fighters in the vicinity of Gerile.

According to a letter from Sergeant Solomon Berchowitz : 

« Some days ago, whilst out on photograhic reconnaissance over enemy territory, I spotted two Fiats. These are very fast Italian single-seat fighters. I pointed them out to my pilot, and we attacked both of them. We dived down from 4 000 ft to 2 000 ft, on to the buggers tail. Meanwhile the other one swooped up our tail to within about 150 yards. He opened fire on us, but I gave him such a warm welcome, that he didn’t like it, and cleared off. The other followed hot on his tail. It’s a unique experience. When we touched down, I was happy to feel Mother Earth again… ».

The fate of the other aircraft (Hartbees n°806) remains more difficult to determine since his wreckage will be found only on 3 February, during the advance of the South African troops in Somalia, with his dead crew (Captain Albert E. Klette, Flight Sergeant Cyril A. de Bruin).

There is no Italian claim for this day, according to Christopher Shores. It should be noted, however, that a IMAM Ro.37bis operating in the same sector is slightly damaged as a result of a fight with a South African fighter. It is not impossible that these events are connected. It is interesting to note that since 17 January 1941, the 110 Squadriglia also has four Fiat CR.42.

[1] There is, however, no record of a damaged aircraft in the British archives.

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