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FLIGHT

1941

JANUARY IST, 1942

RETROSPECT

Britain) a n d sometimes so very effective, as in E a s t Africa


and Crete. Somaliland was conquered b y the middle of
M a r c h ; Eritrea was in our h a n d s b y t h e middle of April.
Addis Ababa was occupied by our troops a b o u t the same
time, a n d the remaining Italian forces in Abyssinia were
reduced one after another. ,
The last place t o hold out was Gondar, and it was left
alone during t h e rainy season, and finally forced to
surrender b y t h e end of November. I n all these operations,
aircraft, mainly the South African Air Force, played a most
prominent p a r t , both b y reconnaissance (a very i m p o r t a n t
m a t t e r in such difficult jungle country) and as a striking
force.
The Germans Come

South

The failure of t h e Regia Aeronautica all over t h e Middle


E a s t a n d t h e Mediterranean induced Hitler t o send a force
of German aircraft to t h e help of I t a l y , and a large contingent, with a high-proportion of J u 87 dive-bombers, was
stationed in Sicily. Germany was also showing signs of
preparing t o invade Greece, a n d it became i m p o r t a n t t o
send stores a n d troops t o t h a t country. On J a n u a r y 10th
an i m p o r t a n t convoy, mainly intended for Greece, was
escorted through t h e Sicilian Straits b y t h e Mediterranean
Fleet. I t was heavily a t t a c k e d b y S t u k a s on t h e way, a n d
the carrier, H . M . S . Illustrious,
was damaged internallv
by bombs. T h e cruiser Southampton
was also hit and had
t o be sunk by our own ships.
The Illustrious was t a k e n into Malta harbour, where first
aid was administered, a n d then she steamed off t o Alexandria, and was finally repaired in an American dockyard.
While she was lying a t Malta t h e Stukas made great efforts
t o destroy her, b u t t h e y failed, with heavy losses t o t h e m selves. At t h e same time, our bombers raided t h e Sicilian
airfields. As a result of t h e whole incident, the Germans
lost 90 Stukas50 shot down in air c o m b a t and 40 destroyed on t h e ground. The place of H . M . S .
Illustrious
with t h e Mediterranean Fleet was taken by H . M . S .
Formidable.
Meanwhile, transports were t a k i n g British troops to
Greece. Warships had t o guard the convoys, and aircraft
had t o a d d their protection. I t was n o t possible to w a t c h
the crossing from I t a l y and Sicily to Africa a t the same
time, and the Germans succeeded in getting a large force,
with t a n k s , across there. There was a r u m o u r t h a t a
German expedition was to sail from Genoa for some p o r t
in Africa, so t h e western p a r t of t h e Mediterranean Fleet,
under Admiral Somerville, accompanied b y t h e Ark Royal,
bombarded Genoa in F e b r u a r y , while t h e aircraft from the
carrier bombed objectives round Leghorn a n d Pisa. Shortly
afterwards a p a r t y of British p a r a c h u t e troops landed in
Southern Italy, b u t t h e objects and details of the raid
have not been d i s e a s e d .
Then, towards t h e end of March, t h e Germans advanced
on C y r e n a k a , defeated a too venturesome British column,
a n d took two Generals prisoner. General Wavell, with his
force depleted by t h e needs of Greece, withdrew, only holding on to T o b r u k , and the Axis forces once more reached
the frontier of E g y p t . ,
W i t h the Germans massing in the Balkans and t h e

r
In June the Germans captured the island of Crete by the use
of airborne troops. Gliders were used in large numbers. This
photograph shows Junkers Ju S 2 S mostly wrecked on
Maleme airfield.
British retreating in Libya, t h e Italian Fleet plucked u p
h e a r t to sally forth. A Sunderland spotted their ships and
sent in an urgent report. T h e result was the battle of
M a t a p a n , in which T.S.R. machines from H . M . S . Formidable
planted torpedoes into the Italian battleship
Vittorio Veneto, Blenheims bombed other Italian ships,
and Admiral C u n n i n g h a m ' s battleships sank two or mort'
Italian cruisers. This was some consolation for the British
setbacks in L i b y a .
T h e Failure in Greece
B u t in April t h e Germans fell upon Yugoslavia and
Greece in strength.
Their aircraft o u t n u m b e r e d those
which the E m p i r e a n d Greece could muster there, a n d
German air superiority, accompanied b y overwhelming
numbers of P a n z e r divisions, speedily overcame all opposition. After hard and gallant fighting, the British troops
and squadrons, as well as some of t h e Greek troops, were
evacuated, some t o E g y p t , some to Crete. During t h e
m o n t h of April, 250-odd Axis aircraft were destroyed by
the Middle E a s t C o m m a n d , b u t too m a n y were left over.
There p r o m p t l y followed Rashid Ali's revolt in Iraq,
which had been p r e t t y well denuded of British troops and
aircraft.
F o r a short while t h e R . A . F . station at
H a b b a n i y a h seemed t o be in danger, b u t p r o m p t and
daring air action averted t h e danger. I n d i a n troops were
flown u p in bomber-transport machines, and R . A . F .
squadrons were found somehow and sent t o t h e scene of
action. The revolt speedily collapsed.
T h e Germans, a t the time, were busy invading
Crete b y air. W e had left n o aircraft on t h e island,
and t h e N a v y undertook t o see t h a t no enemy troops
should reach it b y sea. I t was decided to t r y whether
our ground troops could hold t h e place without air
support. The experiment m a y well h a v e been worth
making, b u t it failed. A t great loss t o themselves,
t h e Germans poured in men b y troop-carriers and
gliders, some of t h e m landing b y p a r a c h u t e , while
Stukas battered our gun posts and infantry. As a
result, an air a t t a c k , unsupported b y Panzers, overH.M.S. Victorious, the aircraft carrier which played a
prominent part in the sinking of the Bismarck. H.M.S.
Formidable has also been completed and taken part in
operations.