January 7 – Italian torpedo boat Clio sinks Free French submarine Narval off the coast of Tobruk, Libya.
Free French submarine Narval was also reported sunk 35°03 North and 11°53 East off Tunisia, between 13 and 16 December, 1940. The wreck lies not far from the Italian torpedo boat La Farina.~ Additional commentary courtesy Jean-Louis Maurette (jean-louis.maurett(@)libertysurf.fr)
January – The Duke of Aosta orders the abandonment of Gallabat and Kassala and moves his 50,000 man army to more rugged ground in Agordat and Barentu east of Kassala.
January 10 – Italian torpedo boat Vega is sunk off Pantelleria by British destroyer HMS Hereward
January 12 – The Duke of Aosta sends Elite Savoia Grenadiers to defend Keren.
January 20 – Emperor Haile Selassie returns to Ethiopia under the protection of the British.
January 22 – Tobruk, Libya is taken from the Italians by British and Australian forces. Italian coastal defense ship San Giorgio is scuttled off Tobruk by the Italian crew. San Giorgio was cited for its bravery at maintaining its position and bombing advancing Commonwealth forces, halting them for 11 hours.
January 24 – Considered the first real “armored clash” is spawned at Mechili (* see notes below). The Italian Special Armored Brigade destroys 15 British tanks and pursue the the British for an additional 20 kilometers before losing communication with the home base and turning back. They then destroy another 6 tanks from a British counterattack. O’Connor orders a two week halt to bring in fresh supplies after his 70 cruisers are reduced to 50, and 120 light tanks reduced to 95. He considers this force to small to attack the 57 M13/40’s and 25 L3/35’s of the Italian Brigade.
* Playfair vol.1 p.353: States the British 4th Armoured Brigade at Mechili lost one cruiser tank and six light tanks. After the action the British counted 8 Italian medium tanks destroyed and one captured. The action had no effect on O’Connor’s operations – indeed, the British perception was that they had an opportunity to destroy the Italian armor, and wished to increase their pursuit. However, O’Connor’s advance was stopped four days later by heavy rain and running out of petrol. The Regimental History of 3rd Hussars states that the light tanks were knocked out by the Italians only after they had broken down first. These figures are confirmed in the War Diaries of 3rd Hussars and 2nd Royal Tank Regiment.~ Additional commentary courtesy Paul (goldwood(@)paradise.net.nz)
* Mario Paesani, who consulted various Italian military publications, reports in his website Italians Tanks at War, that there were two clashes in the armored battle and that the Italian tankers claim to have damaged or destroyed 25 British tanks. According to reports in United Press and Associated Press dispatches from Cairo, four Italian tanks were destroyed and two captured in the battle. Additional commentary by David Aldea (2manypeople(@)gmail.com)
January 27 – 2 Indian Divisions under Major General Platt attack Agordat and 2 Indian Infantry Brigades attack Barentu.
January 31 – After 3 days of heavy fighting, the Italian Army withdraws to the Keren Plateau. At this point, the Duke of Aosta, in command at Addis Ababa, has only 67 aircraft available for combat in all East Africa. Fuel and supplies are at an all time low, and infantry could only be moved on foot. But in North Africa, the Italians bring in more and better tanks and no longer use them in a haphazard way as the Maletti Group and Brigata Corazzata Speciale (Special Brigade Unit). They are now grouped in organic armored and motorized divisions and the M13/40’s prove very effective when used “en masse”. Italy now has in North Africa their first company of motorized cars with RECAM (Reparto Esplorante di Corpo d’Armata di Manovra – Reconnaissance Unit of the Army Mobile Corps).
February 3 – The British attack Keren with a force of 30,000 against 23,000 Italians made up of 3 Brigades of Colonial Levies and 3 Brigades of Savoia Grenadiers. After attacks and counterattacks, the Italians were able to push the Indian Infantry Brigade back. Then the Scottish attacked and were also repelled by the Italians. Finally, on March 27, the British were able to push the Italian forces back from Keren after 7 weeks of fighting. In this battle, 3,000 Italians die and 500 British die with 3,000 wounded.