26 November 1940

26 November 1940

Northern Front

Six Bristol Blenheim of No.14 (RAF) Squadron take off at 07h00 to attack Nefasit station, on the railway line connecting Asmara to Massawa. At 08h30, above Dessie, they were intercepted by three Fiat CR.42s of 412a Squadriglia CT. In fact, six planes were deployed on 23 November at Gura, while another section of six planes was sent to Gondar, under the orders of the Tenente Niso Provinciali. The Italian fighters are piloted by Tenente Mario Visintini and Sergente Aroldo Soffritti. The identity of the third pilot is not known.

In the battle, Tenente Mario Visintini is able to claim the destruction of the Bristol Blenheim R3593 (Flying Officer Murray MacKenzie, Sergeant Maurice E.F. Hitchin and Kenneth C.A. Ball), while Sergente Aroldo Soffritti damages another aircraft. Flying Officer Murray MacKenzie was effectively forced to land on the coast, northwest of Massawa. Fortunately for the crew, Squadron Leader Deryck C. Stapleton (Bristol Blenheim T1877) is in a position to land nearby, to embark the crew in their aircraft, before returning to Port Sudan.[1]

In a letter to his mother, dated on 15 December 1940, Tenente Mario Visintini wrote :

« On the 26th of last month, I intercepted a formation of six Blenheim, shooting down one and dispersing the others who did not reach their goal. »[2]

The Squadron Leader Deryck C. Stapleton will be awarded the DFC, dated on 22 December 1940 :

«Acting Squadron Leader Deryck Cameron Stapleton, A.F.C. (37948), No. 14 Squadron. Squadron Leader Stapleton was the leader of two formations in a combined attack against a target in Eritrea. South of Massawa, they were intercepted by enemy fighters and an engine of one of our aircraft was put out of action. The pilot endeavoured to escape, but was followed by an enemy fighter and eventually forced to land in enemy territory. Squadron Leader Stapleton, having shaken off the fighters, ordered the remainder of the second formation to join up with him and successfully attacked his alternative target. He then returned to the coast to search for the missing aircraft, which was sighted and observed to crash on landing. Squadron Leader Stapleton landed alongside, and waited while the crew set fire to their papers. He then emplaned the crew in his own aircraft, and flew back to base with the rest of the formation, which had been circling overhead. Courageous leadership, skill and daring are characteristic of all this officer’s operations against the enemy. »[3]

Note that this day also sees the last sortie of No.14 (RAF) Squadron on Vickers Wellesley, when K8529 (Sergeant Alexander G. Brown) take off on a reconnaissance mission.[4]

[1] No.14 (RAF) Squadron : Operations Record Book (Form 540 and Form 541). Kew : TNA, AIR 27/192 ; NAPIER M. Winged Crusaders : The Exploits of 14 Squadron RFC & RAF 1915 – 1945. Barnsley : Pen & Sword, 2013 ; 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. 80 ; GUSTAVSSON, Håkan. Maresciallo Aroldo Soffritti. Biplane Fighter Aces from the Second World War : http://surfcity.kund.dalnet.se/italy_soffritti.htm ; GUSTAVSSON, Håkan. Capitano Mario Visintini Medaglia d’oro al valor militare. Biplane Fighter Aces from the Second World War : http://surfcity.kund.dalnet.se/italy_visintini.htm

[2] EUSEBI, Eugenio, LAZZARO, Stefano et SLONGO Ludovico. Le vittorie aeree di Mario Visintini in Africa Orientale, in Storia Militare, n°246, 2014, p. 62.

[3] The London Gazette, 7 January 1941 : https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/35037/page/151

[4] No.14 (RAF) Squadron : Operations Record Book (Form 540 and Form 541). Kew: TNA, AIR 27/192.

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