Incident Caproni Ca.309 , 11 Jan 1941
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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 192734
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Type:Caproni Ca.309
Owner/operator:99a Squadriglia Aviazione Sahariana, Regia Aeronauti
Fatalities:Fatalities: 0 / Occupants:
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:Murzuk -   Libya
Phase: Standing
Departure airport:
Destination airport:
In January 1941, in co-operation with the Free French of Chad Province, the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) made a series of raids on the Italian garrisons of the Fezzan, in south-west Libya, a region of sandy and stony deserts, long wadis, and fertile oases. The chief objective was Murzuk, the capital of the Fezzan, a thousand miles from the LRDG base in Cairo and 350 from the nearest French post in the Tibesti Mountains.

Commanded by Major Clayton, a force comprising G and T patrols, seventy-six men in twenty-six vehicles, left Cairo on 26 December 1940 and crossed the Egyptian and Kalansho Sand Seas into unknown country to the north-west of Kufra. To reach the Fezzan without being seen, they avoided the routes that led to wells and oases. Leaving the patrols at a rendezvous about 150 miles to the north, Clayton took four trucks to Kayugi, in the foothills of the Tibesti Mountains, to collect Lieutenant-Colonel Jean Colonna d’Ornano, commander of the French forces in Chad, together with two French officers, two French sergeants, five native soldiers, and some petrol that they had brought by camel over the mountains. While Clayton was away, Lieutenant Shaw took three trucks to explore a pass through the Eghei Mountains on the route to Kufra. The combined party then continued its journey into the Fezzan by a detour to the north-east of Murzuk. The only men they had seen since leaving Cairo were three wandering natives with their camels.

On the morning of 11 January the force reached the road running southwards from Sebha to Murzuk, which they mined and picketed. Major Clayton led the column of vehicles along the road towards the fort at Murzuk. A group of natives at a well, mistaking them for Italians, gave the Fascist salute. The Italian postman, overtaken while cycling towards the fort, was forced into the leading truck as a guide.

The garrison, some of whom were strolling outside the gates of the fort, were taken completely by surprise. Lieutenant Ballantyne led a troop of T patrol to the airfield and the remainder of the force deployed to engage the fort with the Guards’ Bofors gun, two two-inch mortars, machine guns, and rifles. Recovering from their surprise, the Italians offered stubborn resistance. One New Zealander, Sergeant C. D. Hewson, was killed when he stood up to repair his jammed machine gun. Trooper G. C. Garven who was beside him, moved the body to shelter and then took over the gun. Four others were wounded, including Corporal L.H. Browne, T Patrol’s navigator, who despite being hit in the foot remained at his post during this critical time and kept his Lewis gun in action. The fort was now successfully contained, and a shot fired by Trooper I.H. McInnes’s 2-inch mortar hit a petrol drum that set the tower ablaze destroying the flagstaff complete with its flag.

During the attack, a staff car carrying the garrison commander, Capitano Giulio Giua, accompanied by his wife and two children, drove up to the gate. The vehicle was hit by machine-gun and Bofors gun fire and the occupants killed. It was not till later that the men discovered who was in the car, which saddened them, though it was considered a very foolish thing for the commander to approach the fort while it was still under fire.

At the airfield, Ballantyne’s troop of six trucks with the Bofors gun from T patrol opened fire on men running to machine-gun posts. Major Clayton, who was accompanied by Colonel d’Ornano, drove off to encircle the hangar. Turning a corner, the truck ran into a machine-gun post firing at close range. Before Clayton could reverse, d’Ornano was killed by a bullet through the throat, and an Italian who had been forced to replace the postman as a guide was also killed. Ballantyne’s troop continued to fire on the hangar until its defenders surrendered. About twenty-five men, most of them in air force uniform, were taken prisoner. The troop removed many rifles and thousands of rounds of small-arms ammunition and then set fire to the hangar, which contained three Italian aircraft Caproni Ca.309 Ghibli of 99a Squadriglia Aviazione Sahariana, a two-way wireless set, some bombs and parachutes. Thick black smoke rose and the noise of exploding bombs was heard for a long time.

After two hours’ fighting, the fort, although damaged, had not been captured. The purpose of the raid had been achieved, however, in the destruction of the airfield. It was estimated that ten of the enemy had been killed and fifteen wounded, while the attackers had suffered two men killed and three wounded. Of the twenty-odd prisoners taken, all except two, the postman and a member of the air force, were released for lack of transport space and rations. Hewson and d’Ornano were buried by the roadside near the town. One of the French officers, shot in the leg, cauterised the wound with his cigarette and carried on as if nothing had happened. A guardsman with a serious leg wound had to be taken by truck about 700 miles across country to the French outpost at Zouar before he could be flown to Cairo.

"Incident at Jebel Sherif", by Kuno Gross, Brendan O’Carroll and Roberto Chiarvetto. ISBN 0-620-42010-5
"Batailles Aériennes n° 62: Guerre sur le désert. La Regia Aeronautica au combat 1940-1943 (4e partie)" (by Giancarlo Garello. French magazine. Fall 2012)

Revision history:

11-Jan-2017 09:16 Laurent Rizzotti Added

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