11 June 1940

11 June1940

Northern Front


The “Battle of the Airfields” began at 5.30 when eight Vickers Wellesleys of No.47 (RAF) Squadron took off from Erkowit (Sudan) to target the Italian airfield at Asmara (Eritrea). The raids were carried out at low altitude and took the enemy defences completely by surprise. However, the RAF suffered its first loss when K7730 was forced to make an emergency landing after being damaged by anti-aircraft fire. Its crew (Pilot Officer Brian K.L. Fuge and Sergeant Samuel A. Elsy) were captured. The bomber was shot down by the Tenente Carlo Canella (412 Squadriglia), according to some sources. However, subsequent aerial photographs confirmed extensive damage to the Asmara base.

No.14 (RAF) Squadron also took part in this first day, sending nine bombers to the nearby Massawa airfield at 16:00. The first wave of bombers arrived over the target at 18:30, where the pilots scored a number of hits. 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 were eagerly awaited by the anti-aircraft defence, recalls Sergeant Arthur F. Wimsett (L2652):

“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.”


The aircraft finally touched down at Port Sudan, where Flight Commander Reginald P.B.H. Plunkett’s Vickers Wellesley (L2710) was reported missing. However, he returned the next day with the explanation that he had preferred to land on the coast as he had been lost during the night. Three other aircraft were damaged by enemy anti-aircraft fire.


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

 Wellesley of No.14 (RAF) Squadron. Collection : No.14 (RAF) Squadron Association.


The activity of the Regia Aeronautica was rather limited to a few armed reconnaissance flights over Port Sudan and Aden by Savoia-Marchetti SM.81s belonging to 28bis and 29bis Gruppo. MM 20275 (10 Squadriglia) was reported to have crashed into a hill near Massawa on its way back to Zula (Eritrea). All on board were killed.


Southern Front


On the southern front, the SAAF opened hostilities. Four Junkers Ju.86s from No. 12 (SAAF) Squadron C Flight, commanded by Major Danie du Toit, took off from Eastleigh (Kenya). After flying for two hours, they landed at Bura forward airfield (bordering Italian Somaliland):

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


They took off again at 10.00 with 250lb bombs and orders to bomb the Moyale fortress (a post on the Kenya-Ethiopia border) where several columns of vehicles, including self-propelled guns, were reported. According to Major Danie du Toit (No. 641) : 

“We went in 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 South Africa’s official declaration of war on Italy…

Junkers Ju 86 no. 641, former ZS-ANI. This aircraft is the only example of the K-1 version purchased by the SAAF. The belly gunner station specific to this version was quickly adapted to the other Z-5 models. After being used with No.13 (SAAF) Squadron for maritime patrols, this aircraft was transferred to No.12 when it left for East Africa, and then to No.16. It was lost in an accident at Debra Tabor on 23 September 1941, when it was assigned to No.5 (SAAF) Coastal Flight. Collection: Lawrie Shuttleworth, via Tinus Le Roux.


The No. 237 (Rhodesia) Squadron, for its part, began a long series of monotonous missions with its old biplanes. Describing these operations is difficult. Suffice it to say that, over the next few months, the Rhodesians would carry out a large number of individual flights every day to patrol the border. It is rare, however, that these missions will lead to any significant events.


Wajir Fort (Kenya). Collection: SAAF Museum via Tinus le Roux.

Kitchen at Wajir airfield. Collection: SAAF Museum via Tinus le Roux.


Losses Commonwealth

 No.47 (RAF) Squadron

Wellesley K7730Pilot Officer Brian K.C. Fuge ; Sergeant Samuel A. Elsy (POW)Shot Down by AA or CR 42, Asmara or Keren.
Losses Italy

 28bis Gruppo

10a Squadriglia

Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 (MM 20275)Sottotenente Giovanni Dotta ; Sergente Maggiore Ugo Restelli ; Sergente Oberdan Rinaldi ; Primo Aviere Ventura Caravello ; Aviere Bruno Cusini (Killed)Near Massawa
Claims Italy
412 Squadriglia1 WellesleyTenente Carlo Canella (CR 42) Keren.


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