Group Captain Richard James Abrahams OBE, RAF no. 37663
Abrahams was born on 28 June 1912.
On 7 April 1936, he was granted a short service commission as Acting Pilot Officer with seniority from 23 March 1936.
He was confirmed in this appointment and graded as Pilot Officer on 27 January 1937.
He was posted to the staff of HQ, Middle East.
On 27 July 1938, he was promoted to Flying Officer.
On 27 July 1940, he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant (gazetted on 8 October 1940).
Abrahams was posted to 112 Squadron on 29 August 1940.
On 20 November, 208 Squadron despatched two Lysanders to reconnoitre an area bounded by Sollum, Sofali and Buq-Buq. They were L4724 piloted by Flight Lieutenant Burnard and L4728 piloted by Pilot Officer Waymark that took off from Qasaba at 14:20 and 14:15 landing back at 16:35 and 16:20 respectively (another Lysander, possibly L6874, an attached 6 Squadron aircraft piloted by Flying Officer T. H. Davison, was out in the same area). 33 Squadron provided nine Hurricanes (including Flying Officer Vernon Woodward (N2498), Flight Lieutenant Ernest Dean (P 3818), Flying Officer John Mackie (P3724), Squadron Leader Charles Ryley (P3970), Flight Sergeant Harry Goodchild (N2640), Flying Officer Frank Holman (P3724) and Pilot Officer Charles Dyson (N2640)) as escort. It is possible that the unaccounted pilots were one or two pilots from 274 Squadron since a quartet of Hurricanes from this Squadron, piloted by Flight Lieutenant R. V. Evers-Swindell, Pilot Officer Ernest Mason, Pilot Officer Thomas Patterson and Second Lieutenant Frederick Johannes Joubert, together with Pilot Officer Strange and Second Lieutenant Bester (who followed with the ground party) were detached on attachment to 33 Squadron on 14 November. On 21 November, Evers-Swindell, flew back from Fuka to have repairs on his fighter, reportedly damaged in a running fight with CR.42s. It seems almost sure that the “running fight” was the below described action, so it is possible that R. V. Evers-Swindell was present.
The escort took off from Fuka Satellite airfield at 14:15, with one section of three protecting each Lysander while a third section provided top cover. At the same time, a formation of six Gladiators from 112 Squadron would sweep the same general area.
East of Sidi Barrani, 18 CR.42s intercepted them and one Fiat half-rolled and dived away after being fired on by a Hurricane. It is possible that this aircraft later was credited as a destroyed to Flying Officer Mackie, who in a letter sent home to Canada on 4 December recalled:
“Just before I went on leave we had one of two bits of fun up here. On one occasion, you may have heard about it on the radio, fifteen of us got mixed up with sixty wop fighters. We lost none, and got at least eight of them. I got one of these, although not in a very convincing way from my point of view, as I didn’t see it go in. Another pilot saw the start and the finish of it. Anyhow, it sure was a mix-up. I have never seen so many machines milling around in such a small amount of sky.”However, after this both sides started to guard each other without giving battle with the Italians uncertain to tangle with the faster Hurricanes and the British finding it difficult to close in on their more manoeuvrable opponents.
“The Lysanders were to be ‘covered’ against enemy air attacks by six Gladiators from my squadron… three flying at 12,000 feet, and three, led by myself, at 15,000 feet. ‘Top cover’ was to be provided by six Hurricanes, flying at 20,000 feet. The Hurricanes had strict orders to beat a hasty retreat if they met with enemy aircraft in large numbers, as it was thought at that time that they would be ‘easy meat’ for the move manoeuvrable C.R. 42’s, the single-seater Italian opposite number of the Gladiator.The 9o Gruppo actually lost only three shot down and four damaged but two pilots were killed. The three shot down pilots were Sottotenente Carlo Agnelli of the 96a Squadriglia, who was killed, Sergente Francesco Putzu of the 97a Squadriglia, who was killed, and Tenente Gon (who usually flew CR.42 MM5605/96-2), who recalled:
We had been patrolling for about 10 minutes, when I reported forty CR 42s, in eight sections of five, flying from the direction of Libya, at approximately 25,000 feet, 5,000 feet higher that the Hurricane ‘top-cover’. To my dismay, the Hurricanes were soon speeding home, with a CR 42 sitting neatly on each tail. Our six Gladiators were left to finish the fight, for the Lysanders, their task completed, were heading for home, too.
There was not a friendly cloud in the sky, and the powerful desert sun made the enemy aircraft very difficult to see. Forthwith, they carried out the German tactics of remaining aloft, and sending down their more experienced men to finish us off one by one….but it was not to be!
With the first attacks, we broke formation, and it was every man for himself. I soon found myself very much alone, until unfriendly tracer bullets from behind, passed through the space between my right wings. I immediately steep-turned to the left, and caught sight of my attacker as he completed his dive and prepared to re-join his pals up higher, by means of a roll off the top of a loop.
Seizing my chance, I opened full throttle and followed him to the top of his loop, half rolled in formation with him, and was just about to open fire, when my aircraft stalled and flicked into a spin….not enough speed! I decided my best means of survival was to continue the spin, in the hope that he would think I had been badly hit. This was a fighter tactic from World War I, and it worked! Whilst I was spinning, I looked upwards and caught a glimpse of my adversary circling at his original height, waiting for me to crash into the desert. I came out of the spin at about 8,000 feet, no doubt much to his surprise, and didn’t have to wait long for him to dive down to finish me off.
So started a long tail-chasing session. At first, my mouth became rather dry, but after a second or two, my mind became crystal clear, and I was determined to turn the tables on him. Slowly I began to gain ground, and soon part of his tail was in my sights, but I realized it would not have been great enough. When his engine came into my sights, I pressed the firing button, and was immediately cheered to see pieces of fabric or metal ripping off his fuselage, just behind the cockpit.
The Italian pilot turned so quickly in his mad effort to escape, that he pulled his aircraft into a spin, following a ‘high-speed stall’. I followed him down, and fired at him as he tried to recover, and he promptly went into another one. On recovering from his second spin, he must have pulled an emergency boost control to give him extra speed, for he left my Gladiator ‘standing’.
However, my opponent was not easily scared, and turned about a mile away to come back at me like a bull at a gate. We both opened fire, and when it seemed that a head-on collision was inevitable, he pulled out to my left in a climbing turn. For a second, I was able to fire at his exposed fuselage, and then, with throttle fully open, I climbed into the sun, into an advantageous position. To my horror, my engine stalled near the top of the climb, and I had to carry out the usual drill of closing the throttle and opening it again, slowly. Full power came back, and looking down, I could see my opponent looking for me. This time, I had the advantage of height, and I was nicely lining him up in my sights when he saw me, and tried to turn in underneath me.
Slowly twisting, and with the right deflection, I raked him with bullets from nose to tail, at almost point-blank range. I pulled out of my dive, to regain height, and saw him commence another spin from which he did not recover. I felt immensely relieved, somewhat shaken, and eventually joined up with two stray Gladiators, and returned to Mersa Matruh. I was pleased to learn later that seven aircraft had been shot down in the engagement, and that all the Gladiator pilots had survived the fight, although two had made forced landings.
I shall never forget that day. It was my first one-against-one air battle, and the longest time I had engaged a single enemy aircraft...”
“This day [strangely enough he recorded it as on 1 November but this is for certain an error] I lost the dearest of all my wingmen [Carlo Agnelli]. We were up with all the Gruppo and the three Squadriglie were stepped at different heights. The lowest escorting a reconnaissance plane, mine (96a Squadriglia) at 3000 metres while the third stay higher. The highest group had already engaged the enemy when I saw one of our planes diving almost vertically followed by a Gloster. I made a violent overturning that my wingmen were unable to follow [again without radio equipment the Italian formation was broken at the beginning of the combat and whatever numerical advantage was impossible to put into full use] when I reach a distance suitable to open fire I had to wait because there was the risk of hitting my comrade [with the same burst aimed at the fighter that was following him] I had to concentrate only on the aim [the wingmen were far away] so I couldn’t look around and was attacked by two Glosters. With the first burst of fire they shot away my propeller, so without propulsion I could only manoeuvre to avoid further damage. All the height lost I force-landed and the English pilots that had already stopped firing while I was gliding down for my final approach flew past me waving their hands.According to the official records of the 4o Stormo, however, it seems that during the dive Gon’s guns went out of synchronisation and when opening fire he cut his propeller with the first shots.
[Gon, tried to burn his plane without success and succeeded to reach an Italian outpost the day after]
Back at base, I discovered that information about the missing pilots (we were three) were lacking.
A sergeant [Sergente Francesco Putzu] was seen to jump with parachute and another of our planes was seen to crash after a hard fight, all believed it was mine because the other missing pilot (my dear wingman) was too “green” to be able to fight against three enemies as the pilot of the crashed plane did.
The encounter with Botto was tragicomically. I went to his room and he was waiting for me near the door and as just as he saw me he threw himself right into my arms through the three steps that divided us. But I was too weak and was unable to sustain him so we fell embraced on the ground.”
On 1 December, 112 Squadron started to ferry Gladiators to the Royal Hellenic Air Force when Flight Lieutenant Abrahams, Flight Lieutenant Charles Fry, Flight Lieutenant Joseph Fraser, Flying Officer Edwin Banks, Flying Officer Homer Cochrane, Pilot Officer Alfred Costello, Pilot Officer R. H. Smith and 2nd Lieutenant H. H. Geraty (who was about to leave the 112 Squadron to be posted to 3 SAAF Squadron in East Africa) left Sidi Haneish to ferry eight Gladiators.
Twelve of the sixteen 112 Squadron pilots that had left for Greece on ferry flights returned to Sidi Haneish in a Bombay on 7 December. The pilots were Flight Lieutenant Lloyd Schwab, Flying Officer Richard Acworth, Pilot Officer Leonard Bartley, Pilot Officer Jack Groves, Pilot Officer D. G. H. McDonald, Pilot Officer R. H. MacDonald, Sergeant G. M. Donaldson, Flight Lieutenant Abrahams, Flight Lieutenant Joseph Fraser, Flying Officer Edwin Banks, Flying Officer Homer Cochrane, Pilot Officer Alfred Costello. The other four pilots remained in Greece (Flight Lieutenant Charles Fry, Flying Officer R. J. Bennett, Pilot Officer R. H. Smith, Second Lieutenant H. H. Geraty) attached to 80 Squadron.
On 22 December, 112 Squadron patrolled over Sollum and Bardia during the day. Participating pilots were Squadron Leader Harry Brown, Flight Lieutenant Lloyd Schwab, Flight Lieutenant Abrahams, Flight Lieutenant Joseph Fraser (Gladiator K7899), Flying Officer Richard Acworth, Flying Officer Oliver Green, Flying Officer R. B. Whittington, Second Lieutenant E. R. Smith and Sergeant E. N. Woodword.
Flight Lieutenant Fraser reported in his logbook that his aircraft was hit in the tailplane by AA fire and that no enemy aircraft were encountered.
Flight Lieutenant Abrahams force landed safely and later returned to base, reason unspecified.
It is possible that he was involved with the interception of the two SM 79s from the 278a Squadriglia in the morning or the combat with the 91a Squadriglia at lunchtime. A third alternative is that he also was hit by AA fire.
Abrahams accompanied 112 Squadron to Greece.
Early in the afternoon on 20 February 1941 eight Gladiators of 80 Squadron and nine of 112 Squadron flew up to Paramythia from Yannina. At 14:45 15 of these Gladiators took off in five sections of three aircraft flying in vic formation, echeloned to starboard and led by Squadron Leader H. L. I. Brown, to escort two Wellingtons of 37 Squadron, flown by Flight Lieutenant M. J. Baird-Smith and Sergeant R. T. Spiller, each carrying about one and a halt tons of supplies. A Greek Ju 52/3m accompanied the Wellingtons and their mission was to drop the supplies to the troops near Kelcyre. Low cloud and rain made the flight difficult, and near Korouode five hostile aircraft were seen, but these did not approach. The supplies were dropped successfully, and the three aircraft were escorted back to Paramythia. The fighters then returned to the frontline to patrol.
Soon after the supply-droppers had gone, 17 Blenheims (eight of 84 Squadron, six of 211 Squadron and three of 30 Squadron) commenced taking off for a bombing attack on Berat. One of the 84 Squadron aircraft suffered an engine failure and belly-landed, but the remaining 16, with an escort of six Hurricanes led by Flight Lieutenant 'Pat' Pattle (Hurricane Mk.I V7724), arrived over the target, their bombs falling on the town, supply dumps, and demolishing a bridge carrying the main road over the River Osem. AA fire was experienced and Fiat G.50bis from the 361a and 395a Squadriglie, 154o Autonomo Gruppo C.T. were scrambled from Berat airfield. As the Blenheim formation, which had completed its attack, was turning a few miles to the north of the target the climbing Italian fighters were spotted by the escorting Hurricanes.
Pattle's section took on four of the attackers and Pattle shouted to Flight Lieutenant 'Timber' Woods and Sergeant Charles Casbolt to attack individually. Pattle selected the leading G.50 as his own target. As he approached, the dark green Fiat pulled away into a steep turn, but he managed to hold it in his sights until he came into range. When he opened fire the Italian fighter exploded and disintegrated. Woods (Hurricane Mk.I V7138) claimed another and Casbolt claimed two destroyed in this combat. The crews of the Blenheims under attack verified these claims. Pilot Officer Cox's Blenheim L8542 of 211 Squadron was badly shot-up, but two Hurricanes shot down their attacker. Pilot Officer Geary, gunner in Squadron Leader Gordon-Finlayson's aircraft, reported:
'A G 50 came for us and in a flash a Hurricane just shot it off our wingtip. It simply rolled over, went on fire, and dived into the mountain. It was wizard.'Other Fiats followed the Blenheims as they withdrew. One of the 30 Squadron Blenheims had its starboard engine shot out, but Sergeant Ratlidge managed to get it back to Paramythia. As the formation neared the front, the patrolling Gladiators of 80 and 112 Squadrons spotted the pursuing Italian fighters and engaged them. Flying Officer Nigel Cullen (Gladiator Mk.II N5817) reported:
'The leader came into close range and then flicked over on its back and dived down. I did a half-roll and got into position dead astern. Four long bursts and the enemy caught fire and crashed into a snow-covered hill. Then engaged another G.50 and got in some good deflection shots. Saw two formations of biplanes, thought they were Glads and went to take a look at them. They were CR 42s. Got on the tail of one, gave him a burst, and he went over on his back, and the pilot baled out. The others made off at once. Just as well- I hadn't any ammo left.'Cullen's Gladiator received some damage during these combats and one bullet furrowed the knuckles of his right hand, but he returned to Yannina without further incident. Three G.50s were claimed damaged by 112 Squadron pilots Flight Lieutenant Abrahams, Flying Officer Edwin Banks and Pilot Officer Jack Groves. Flight Lieutenant George Kettlewell (Gladiator Mk.II N5917) of 80 Squadron also claimed a G.50, but did not see it crash (thus it was only credit as a probable) whilst Pilot Officer Eldon Trollip claimed another probably destroyed.
On 28 February HQ 'W' Wing ordered that all available aircraft should patrol between Tepelene and the coast between 15:30 and 16:30, since Intelligence sources indicated the operation of large numbers of Italian aircraft in that area at that time. Hence during the morning all available Gladiators of 80 and 112 Squadrons were flown up to Paramythia in preparation for this action. Patrols were flown during the morning by flights of Hurricanes but nothing was seen.
At about 15:00 Squadron Leader H. L. I. Brown and Squadron Leader Edward 'Tap' Jones led of eleven Gladiators of 112 Squadron and seven of 80 Squadron to patrol over the designated area; they were accompanied by the 'W' Wing leader, Wing Commander ’Paddy’ Coote, flying an 80 Squadron Gladiator. Fifteen minutes later Flight Lieutenant 'Pat' Pattle in Hurricane V7589 led Flying Officer Nigel Cullen (V7138), Flying Officer Wanklyn Flower (V6749) and Flying Officer Richard Acworth (V7288) to the same area, while Flight Lieutenant Young led four 33 Squadron Hurricanes to patrol near the coast. Here some S.79s were seen and chased over Corfu, two being claimed damaged, one of them by Pilot Officer D. S. F. Winsland (Winsland was later during the war shot down by Bernardino Serafini). These were probably 105o Gruppo B.T. aircraft, which reported being attacked by Spitfires, one Savoia landing at Tirana with one member of the crew dead.
Meanwhile Pattle’s section spotted BR.20s of 37o Stormo B.T. flying south from Valona; they identified the ten-strong formation as comprising 15 aircraft, while the bomber crews reported being attacked by 18 ‘Spitfires'! Pattle selected one on the starboard flank of the formation, and after three short bursts it broke into flames and went down; a second bomber likewise burst into flames following a further attack by Pattle, and his windscreen was covered in oil from this doomed aircraft. Reducing speed, Pattle attempted to clean the screen with his scarf, but he was then attacked by five G.50bis which dived on him. After a brief skirmish he managed to get away and returned to Paramythia. Both Flower and Acworth also claimed BR.20s. although the latter thought his victim may have been a Z.1007bis. Flying Officer Cullen reported considerable success in the run of claims which was to bring him the award of an immediate DFC. He later recalled:
“The battle extended right across Albania. First I found four Breda 20s (sic). I got one, which went down in flames Then we found three formations of S.79s. I took on one and aimed at the starboard engine. It caught fire, and crashed in flames. I climbed and dived on the next - and he too crashed in flames. Then we attacked ten CR.42s, climbing to get above them. I got behind one, and he caught fire and went down in flames. Up again immediately, dived, fired into the cockpit, and another took fire, rolled over and crashed. I had to come home then - no more ammo.”Three BR.20s were in fact shot down during this combat and a fourth force-landed near Otranto; others returned with wounded crewmembers aboard, plus one dead.
“The old Glad suddenly went all soft. Nothing would work. I sat there and then decided I had better get out. I couldn't, so I sat there with my hands on my lap, the aircraft spinning like mad. Then, eventually, I did manage to get out. It was so pleasant sitting there in the air than I damn nearly forgot to pull the ripcord. I reckon I did the record delayed drop for all Albania and Greece. I landed, and no sooner had I fallen sprawling on the ground than I was picked up by Greek soldiers who cheered and patted me on the back. I thought I was a hell of a hero until one soldier asked me. "Milano, Roma?" and I realized that they thought I was an Iti. They didn't realize it was possible for an Englishman to be shot down. So I said "Inglese", and then the party began. I was hoisted on their shoulders, and the "here the conquering hero comes" procession started. We wined and had fun. Jolly good chaps.”Following his initial combats, Pattle had returned to Paramythia, landed, and taken off again ten minutes later in another Hurricane (V7724). Returning to the battle area, he spotted three CR.42s in formation, heading back towards Valona:
“I got behind them and put a long burst into all three. One went down vertically at once, but in case it was a trick I followed him. He was in difficulties, that was most obvious, and when it looked as if he was going straight into the sea I decided to go and see what the other two were up to. As I climbed again I was most surprised to see tow parachutes float down past me.”On his return, Pattle claimed two destroyed, those from which he had seen the pilots come down by parachute, and one probable for that which he had followed down. Just before he got back to Paramythia for the second time at 17.40, Flying Officer Flower, who had returned an hour earlier, also took off for a second patrol over the area after his Hurricane had been refuelled and rearmed. There was nothing to be seen - the battle was over.
Abrahams rejoined his unit the next day, on 29 February.
He was posted away from 112 Squadron on 4 March 1941.
He returned to the UK, where he briefly served with 41 Squadron.
He commanded 129 Squadron from September 1941 – January 1942, when he was posted to Air Ministry (Directorate of Plans).
He was promoted to Squadron Leader (temporary) on 27 January 1942 (gazette on 19 May 1944).
On 1 July 1943 (gazetted 13 July 1943), Abrahams was promoted to Wing Commander (temporary).
Abrahams ended the war with 2 biplane victories, these being claimed while flying Gloster Gladiators.
He remained in the RAF after the war.
On 1 September 1945 (gazetted 11 April 1947), Abrahams was promoted to Squadron Leader (permanent) with seniority from 1 January 1941.
He was promoted to Wing Commander on 1 November 1947 (gazette on 24 October 1947) with seniority from 1 October 1946.
On 1 January 1949 (gazetted 31 December 1948), he was knighted when he received the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE).
At the time, he was serving in the RAF General Survey Organisation.
He was promoted to Group Captain on 1 January 1954 (gazetted on 29 December 1953).
In 1955, he was sent to command No. 2 Flying Training School at Hullavington. This unit was selected to train two courses of pilots directly on the Hunting Percival Jet Provost without any previous training on propeller aircraft (i.e. primary trainers).
Abrahams retired from the service on 27 July 1967.
|Kill no.||Date||Time||Number||Type||Result||Plane type||Serial no.||Locality||Unit|
|1||20/11/40||14:40-16:30||1||CR.42 (a)||Destroyed||Gladiator||Sidi Barrani||112 Squadron|
|20/11/40||14:40-16:30||½||CR.42 (a)||Shared destroyed||Gladiator||Sidi Barrani||112 Squadron|
|20/02/41||1||G.50 (b)||Damaged||Gladiator||Berat area||112 Squadron|
|2||28/02/41||1||G.50bis (c)||Destroyed||Gladiator||Tepelene-coast||112 Squadron|
Biplane victories: 2 and 1 shared destroyed, 1 damaged.
TOTAL: 2 and 1 shared destroyed, 1 damaged.
(a) Claimed in combat with CR.42s from the 9o Gruppo, which claimed seven victories and two probables while losing three CR.42s, getting four more damaged and losing two pilots KIA. 112 Squadron claimed eight victories for no losses, 274 Squadron possibly suffered one damaged Hurricane while 33 Squadron possibly claimed a CR.42 without losses.
(b) 80 and 112 Squadrons claimed six destroyed and two probables in this combat while 154o Autonomo Gruppo C.T. lost two G.50s (Tenente Alfredo Fusco of 361a Squadriglia was killed and Tenente Livio Bassi of 395a Squadriglia was later to die from wounds sustained) and got one damaged (Sergente Gambetta). 154o Gruppo claimed one bomber and one fighter but RAF only got one fighter and one bomber damaged.
(c) During this large engagements RAF made claims for 5 and 2 damaged BR.20s, 3 and 2 damaged S.79s, 13 destroyed, 3 probable and 1 damaged CR.42s and 6 and 3 probable G.50bis. In fact 4 BR.20s of 37o Stormo B.T. were lost with several damaged, 1 S.79 of 104o Gruppo was damaged, 1 CR.42 of 160o Gruppo and 2 G.50bis of 24o Gruppo were lost. Regia Aeronautica claimed 6 and 2 probable Gladiators and 1 ‘Spitfire’ while in fact only 1 Gladiator of 112 Squadron was lost.
33 Squadron Operations Record Book
Air war for Yugoslavia, Greece and Crete - Christopher Shores, Brian Cull and Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-948817-07-0
Ace of Aces: M T StJ Pattle - E C R Baker, 1992 Crécy Books, Somerton, ISBN 0-947554-36-X
Aces High - Christopher Shores and Clive Williams, 1994 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-00-0
Aces High Volume 2 - Christopher Shores, 1999, Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-03-9
Desert Prelude: Early clashes June-November 1940 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2010 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-89450-52-4
Desert Prelude: Operation Compass - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2011 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-61421-18-4
Diario Storico 73a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Diario Storico 97a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Hurricanes over the sands: Part One - Michel Lavigne and James F. Edwards, 2003 Lavigne Aviation Publications, Victoriaville, ISBN 2-9806879-2-8
Hurricanes over Tobruk - Brian Cull with Don Minterne, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-11-X
Quelli del Cavallino Rampante - Antonio Duma, 1981 Editore Dell'Ateneo, Roma, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Shark Squadron - The history of 112 Squadron 1917-1975 - Robin Brown, 1994 Crécy Books, ISBN 0-947554-33-5
Those Other Eagles – Christopher Shores, 2004 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-904010-88-1
Woody - A Fighter Pilot's Album - Hugh A. Halliday, 1987 Canav Books, Toronto, ISBN 0-9690703-8-1
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
The London Gazette
Additional information kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.