23 January 1941

Northern Front

Following the movements of the 10th Indian Infantry Brigade on its flank, XLI Brigata Coloniale abandons the position of Keru to retreat towards Agordat. The 4th Battalion 11th Sikh Regiment enters Keru at 14h30. The fighting in the area will extend until 25 January. Heavy losses are reported on the Italian side, while about 700 to 800 men of the XLI Brigata Coloniale are taken prisoner (including Generale Ugo Fongoli). [1]

As in previous days, Regia Aeronautica is still very active over the fighting zone with several claims. Thus the Italian fighters indicates to have intercepted a formation of bombers, attacking a bridge on the road connecting Agordat to Keren, and claimed a Hawker Hurricane. In the Biscia sector,  a Bristol Blenheim (strongly damaged) is claimed as probably destroyed, while a third British aircraft is reported destroyed during an attack of armored car on the road connecting Aicota to Debri Mela . Once again, it remains difficult to match these events with the British archives. [2]

Indeed, RAF activity is still very limited. Three Wellesley, of No.47 (RAF) Squadron, take off from Blackdown forward airfield to bombard the railway line in the vicinity of Agordat between 12h15 and 15h30. No particular event is reported, one of the reports reporting only the take-off of an Italian fighter on the nearby Agordat airfield, while the crews can not observe the results of the bombing. [3] At the same time, a Hawker Hardy (K4319), No.237 (Rhodesia) Squadron, patrol, between 09h50 and 12h20 the sector of Keru in support of the troops on the ground. [4]

For its part, No.1 (SAAF) Squadron knows a hectic day with several attempts of interception against Italian aircraft. At 6h50, Lieutnant Thomas A.W. Irvine took off in Hurricane to intercept two Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 in the vicinity of Tesseney, though without success. Around 7h00, Captain Brian J.L. Boyle (Hurricane) and Lieutnant E.A. Jarvis, Robien Pare and Denis L. Taylor (Gladiator) were tasked with patrolling the Keru area. They meet on the spot two Savoia-Marchetti SM.79. Here again the South African pilots are not able to catch up with the Italian bombers. Only Captain Brian J.L. Boyle managed to make an attack on one of the opposing units, but without consequences. At 15h00, Lieutnant Leonard Clues Theron and Walter J. Townshend-Smith took off, in Hurricane, to join Agordat in order to escort Wellesley of No.47 (RAF) Squadron. Two Fiat CR.42s are reported, one in flight (at approximately 3 000 m) and the second undergoing take-off. A short confrontation is mentioned, but without result. [5]

Southern Front

As on the northern front, the Italians decide to evacuate the border forts. Indeed, the General Carlo De Simone considers that the plains of southern Somalia and southern Ethiopia are indefensible, while this desert area will be able to slow down any adverse movements. The sector is, thus, left to the charge of the native troops (Bande) to harass the British advance. Thus the 102ª Divisione coloniale somala (Generale General Adriano Santini) folds down along the river Jubba (connecting Kismayoo to Bardera) with approximately 14 000 men, while the 101ª Divisione coloniale somala (Generale Italo Carnevali), approximately 6,000 men, is responsible for blocking access to the mountainous massifs of southeastern Ethiopia. West of this line, only the towns of Afmadow and Kismayoo are held by Italian troops. Following the evacuation of the border, the 1st SA Infantry Brigade is ordered to begin a series of offensive patrols in the Wajir area, while the 5th SA Infantry Brigade is to do the same in the vicinity of Moyale in order to to test the Italian defense. [6]

Because of these different movements, several aerial attacks by Regia Aeronautica are reported against South African ground troops in the Wajir sector. [7] In parallel, the No.40 (SAAF) Squadron Hartbees conduct several offensive reconnaissance patrols in the Marsabit and Hobok areas. [8] After a long period of inactivity, No.60 (SAAF) Squadron regained some form thanks to Avro Anson. This reinforcement aircraft allows crews to conduct a series of photographic reconnaissance of Italian Somalia during the month of January. For example, Avro Anson No. 1129 (Lieutnant Edward A. Gebhardt) is in charge of taking a photo series of the area of Liboi – Afmadaow (06h30 – 17h30). The report mentions that this last city seems to appear as deserted as the Italian troops. [9]

[1] PRASAD, Bisheshwar. East African Campaign, 1940-41. Official History of the Indian Armed Forces In the Second World War. Combined Inter-Services Historical Section (India & Pakistan), 1963. http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/UN/India/EAfrica/EAfrica-4.html ; MOCKLER, Anthony. Haile Selassie’s War. 2003.

[2] SHORES, Christopher ; RICCI, Corrado. Dust Clouds in the Middle East – The Air War for East Africa, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Madagascar, 1940 – 1942. London : Grub Street, 2010 (Reprinted). p.99.

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

[4] No.237 (Rhodesia) Squadron : Operations Record Book (Form 540 and Form 541). Kiew : TNA, AIR 27/1450.

[5] No.1 (SAAF) Squadron : War Diary. Kew : TNA, AIR/54/1.

[6] ORPEN Neil. East African and Abyssinian Campaigns, Raid on El Wak : http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/UN/SouthAfrica/EAfrica/EAfrica-6.html ; STEWART, Andrew. The First Victory : The Second World War and The East Africa Campaign. Yale University Press New Haven and London, 2016. p.129 ; I.S.O. PLAYFAIR (MAJ GEN), The Mediterranean and Middle East, The early successes againt Itay (to may 1941), Uckfield, The Naval & Military Press, coll. « History of the Second World War, United Kingdom military series », 2004, p.411.

[7] SHORES, Christopher ; RICCI, Corrado. Dust Clouds in the Middle East – The Air War for East Africa, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Madagascar, 1940 – 1942. London : Grub Street, 2010 (Reprinted). p.99.

[8] No.40 (SAAF) Squadron, War Diary. Kew : TNA, AIR 54 / 79.

[9] No.60 (SAAF) Squadron, War Diary. Kew : TNA, AIR 54 / 7.

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