7 November 1940

7 November 1940

Northern Front

Despite the dramatic events of the previous day, the British are not abandoning the idea of winning the air superiority, although they are more cautious. Four Gloster Gladiators of No.1 (SAAF) Squadron take off at 05h25 to escort five Vickers Wellesley of No.47 (RAF) Squadron to bomb Italian positions at Metemma.

After the attack, a formation of at least three Caproni Ca.133 and three Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 is spotted in the direction of Gallabat. South Africans immediately prepare to engage the opponent when they find themselves, once again, confronted with several Fiat CR.42. Lieutnant Robin Pare quickly claims the destruction of an Italian fighter, but he is himself forced into a crashed-landing after being hit by the engine. Note that the Italian documentation does not report this fight. With the loss of an additional fighter, No.1 (SAAF) Squadron is out of play for the rest of the day. Due to the lack of fighters, No.47 (RAF) Squadron and No.430 (RAF) Flight are ordered to suspend operations.

Crews of No.47 (RAF) Squadron, during the Battle of Gallabat. Collection : Imperial War Museum.


The ground situation for British troops is gradually becoming more and more unmanageable. Italian bombers are able to multiply bombings. The tanks of the 6th Royal Tank Regiment, engaged on very rocky ground, are gradually eliminated by mines and technical incidents, while the Italian bombers manage to destroy the vehicles carrying the spare parts. Harassed by the Regia Aeronautics and artillery, the British troops suffer more and more. In the middle of the afternoon, the Caproni Ca.133 destroy a convoy of ammunition triggering a violent explosion making believe an Italian attack by the rear.

View of smoke escaping from the surroundings of Gallabat. Collection : Imperial War Museum.


A moment of hesitation reverberates among the troops. Part of the 1st Battalion, Essex Regiment begins to leave its positions near Fort Gallabat. The movement is gradually being interpreted by the rest of the unit and the men of the 3rd Royal Garwhal Rifles as a beginning of retreat. Officers try to regain control of the situation without success. British and Indian soldiers release their weapons to board the vehicles and flee the fort. Faced with these first movements, panic seizes other troops that beginning to retrait. Faced with the situation, and hearing rumors about the movement of several Italian reinforcements (information in fact erroneous), Brigadier General William Slim has no choice but to order or rather confirm the immediate evacuation of Gallabat and the destruction of all equipment.

For the RAF and the SAAF, the situation is much more delicate since the two fighters units have been almost decimated. K Flight will not recover from this bleeding. Responsible for providing air protection for Port Sudan until December 1940, pilots will be progressively returned to the parent unit, No.112 (RAF) Squadron in Egypt, while the remaining elements will be sent to Palestine to participate in the formation of No.250 (RAF) Squadron. No.1 (SAAF) receives the reinforcement of pilots from No.2 (SAAF) Squadron based in Kenya, including Captain Gerald J. le Mesurier to temporarily take command.

2 Responses

  1. a gray says:

    Not a pretty picture for the British.

    • ajcrou says:


      Yes, but panic movements in Battles are much more common than is mentioned in the books (all armies combined).
      Concerning Gallabat, one should not forget: inexperienced troops; new command; complicated terrain (especially for the few tankettes); reduced air support (especially fighter aircraft) against prepared and quick reacting Italians.
      Do not forget that the Gallabat offensive was more a limited operation / training for future offensives in early 1941. In January / February 1941, the situation will be reversed, proof that Gallabat’s lessons were not useless.

      Best Regards,
      Alexis Rousselot

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