20 November 1940

20 November 1940

Northern Front

As the day before Bristol Blenheim, based in Aden, continue to multiply attacks against Assab. This time, No.39 (RAF) Squadron led the way with three Bristol Blenheimers between 23h30 and 02h30. They were followed by two other of No.8 (RAF) Squadron aircraft between 02h20 and 05h00. Finally, the No.11 (RAF) Squadron ends this series by sending an airplane between 09h10 and 13h05.

In all, eighteen sorties are made over Assab in two days. These bombings targeted various objectives such as the port, fuel depots and the airfield. However, it must be noted that the result seems rather paltry as indicated by the crew reports. The most frequent mention is: “results unknown”. Furthermore, the only consequence seems to be to mention the start of a fire. It is therefore difficult to assess the impact of these attacks in the light of the British archives alone. One thing is certain, the three squadrons are exhausted at the end of this series of bombings. Thus, the No.39 (RAF) Squadron no longer carries out any mission after this date.

On 24 November, instructions are given to prepare the transfer to Egypt. The same is true for No.11 (RAF) Squadron. The two Squadrons leave Aden definitively to be redeployed to Helwan (Egypt) where they will take part in operations over North Africa. This first withdrawal from the theater of operations can be interpreted in two different ways. On the one hand, it shows the relatively secondary aspect of East Africa and the priority given to North Africa. Nevertheless, it highlights the ever greater difficulty of the RAF in Aden to maintain its units in operational condition. Thus, operations since the end of the British Somaliland campaign have gradually dropped in each of the three units at an increasingly low rate, while the maintenance phases have been greatly increased. The multiplication of combined bombardments further reflects this situation. It is, therefore, not surprising to see them leaving without their aircrafts which are immediately transferred to No.8 (RAF) Squadron. In any case, the redactor of No.11 (RAF) Squadron ORB is quite realistic in commenting that :

« The Squadron arrived in Aden five days after Italy declared war on the Allies. As four of the aircraft were absorbed into Squadrons in Egypt the five remaing were all that was left for the Squadron to enter into active operations. The Squadron went into action on the 19 June and from then on was continually engaged in bombing operations, in the course of which fifty five tons of bombs were dropped and nine thousand rounds fired over a period of nearly five hundred flying hours. Four aircraft were lost, three through enemy action but losses to personnel were only on complete crew. Conditions at Sheikh Othman were difficult particulary for the ground crews in view of the fact that dust storms were almost a daily occurrence, but by exceptionally hard work our aircraft were kept in the air with commendable regularity. The Italian raids on Aden brought all ranks into the front line but they were poor attempts, worrying no one.

When the order to move back to Egypt came it was received with satisfaction by all. The Squadron’s tour at Aden was one which we look back upon with modest price as our contribution towards the success of the operations in that theatre of war, small though it was, nevertheless helped a great deal. »

The Regia Aeronautica is also active during the day with several attacks against Aden. If pilots of the No.94 (RAF) Squadron have become specialists in takeoffs on alert without meeting the opponent, the events are different this time for Squadron Leader William T.F. Wightman. He took off at 03h40, flying on Gloster Gladiator N5627, and intercepted a Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 of 15a Squadriglia BT (Colonello Francesco Via; Sottotenente Vincenzo Priore) around 04h15, east of Khormaksar. The enemy’s aircraft is then lit by the searchlights and Squadron Leader William T.F. Wightman can dive into it. He opened fire on the Savoia-Marchetti SM.81, which quickly began to emit black smoke, then dived towards the sea. The Italian crew could abandon the aircraft before it crashed.[1]

[1] Combat Report Form n°187. Kew : TNA, AIR 27/758 ; No.94 (RAF) Squadron : Operations Record Book (Form 540 and Form 541). Kew : TNA, AIR 27/753 ; 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. 78 ; SHORES, Christopher. Those other Eagles. London : Grub Street, 2004. p.645 ; CANWELL, Diane ; SUTHERLAND, Jon. Air War East Africa (1940 – 1941). The RAF versus the Italian Air Force. Barnsley : Pen and Sword Aviation, 2009. p. 77.

One Response

  1. a gray says:

    For both the British and the Italians, this must have been a miserable place to be stationed.

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