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Bardia to Enfidaville

Air Support

Air Support

It has been seen above that great care was to be taken to indicate the leading wave of tanks and infantry, and it was hoped that the orange smoke would appear from the air as a continuous line.

The air attack was to open with simultaneous bombing by three squadrons of escorted light bombers, approaching at low level to achieve surprise. Thereafter two and a half squadrons of Kittyhawk page 213 bombers would enter the area every fifteen minutes to bomb selected targets, including gun positions. Throughout the period Hurricane tank-busters were to break up enemy tank concentrations. The normal night heavy bombing would continue, and was directed against El Hamma for the night 26–27 March.

The following extract from de Guingand's account of the campaign explains the genesis of this new departure in North Africa:1

We in the Army had always wanted to try out what is generally called a ‘Blitz’ attack. The Germans…used their dive bombers for that very close and intimate air support which we felt would prove very effective. Hitherto the close support given to the attack had always been by bomb from the light bomber, and the fighter bomber. The RAF had for very good reasons been against the dive bomber, but we felt the cannons from the fighter bomber with their bombs dropped from comparatively high the fighters might prove more deadly and disrupting to the enemy than altitudes. In view of the importance of this attack, and the narrow frontage to which we were confined, this did look to be the right occasion for trying out this type of attack. Using the fighter in this low-flying role over the immediate battle area was a considerable risk, and it was possible that the casualties would prove very severe. On the other hand, we felt that, from our own experiences from low-flying attacks, the defence took some time to recover equilibrium, and that some sort of temporary paralysis often set in.

The Commander of the Western Desert Air Force, Air Vice-Marshal Broadhurst, agreed to give full co-operation and supply ‘the whole boiling match’, and both commander and pilots entered into the plan with an enthusiasm that guaranteed success.