Squadron Leader Richard Alvin Acworth DFC, RAF no. 40496
19 December 1916 – 1 March 1971
Image kindly provided by Ian Acworth
Richard Acworth was born in London on 19 December 1916.
He granted a short service commission as Acting Pilot Officer on probation from 19 February 1938 (gazetted on 8 March 1938).
His appointment was confirmed on 29 November 1938.
On 16 May 1939, he was posted to 112 Squadron when this unit was formed aboard HMS Argus in Portsmouth, Hampshire.
112 Squadron was sent to Egypt and arrived on 25 May 1939.
When the war started in North Africa on 10 June 1940, 112 Squadron was commanded by Squadron Leader D. M. Somerville. It was based at Helwan 15 miles south of Cairo and solely responsible for the defence of Egypt’s Capital. It probably had between 13 to 21 Gladiators and five Gauntlet Mk.IIs (among these were K5292, just received from 6 Squadron) left in Egypt. When the unit reached Egypt at the end of May 1939 for a “6 months temporary duty” it had 24 Gloster Gladiator Mk.Is (all used machines coming from 72 Squadron). Flying Officer Joseph Fraser remembered a slightly superior number: around 30. Since then only one machine was known to be lost before the beginning of the war. This was the CO Gladiator whose engine caught fire on 15 March 1940 during a training flight. Somerville was badly hurt in the accident and Squadron Leader A. R. G. Bax temporarily took command of the Squadron. The Squadron was organised in three flights:
‘A’ Flight was commanded by Flight Lieutenant W. C. Williams and included Flying Officer H. C. Worcester, Flying Officer W. B. Price-Owen, Pilot Officer Ross, Pilot Officer Acworth, Pilot Officer Davison, Pilot Officer Smither, Pilot Officer Anthony Gray-Worcester, Pilot Officer Harrison, Pilot Officer Peter Wickham, Pilot Officer Peter Strahan and Pilot Officer Van der Heijden.
‘B’ Flight was commanded by Flight Lieutenant Savage but this unit had been ordered to Sudan on 2 June (with 10 Gladiators – 8 aircraft according to the memories of the Adjutant, Flying Officer Fraser) to act as a detached unit, subsequently known as ‘K’ Flight. This flight was finally detached from 112 Squadron on 31 August 1940.
‘C’ Flight was commanded by Flight Lieutenant Charles Fry and included Flying Officer R. H. Smith, Flying Officer Joseph Fraser (Adjutant of 112 Squadron), Pilot Officer Clarke, Pilot Officer Chapman, Pilot Officer Duff, Pilot Officer de la Hoyde, Pilot Officer R. J. Bennett, Pilot Officer Homer Cochrane, Pilot Officer Butcher and Sergeant George Millar Donaldson.
On 10 July twelve aircraft from the 10o Stormo, operating in four groups of three planes, attacked enemy concentrations in the Sidi El Barrani area. The first two waves attacked undisturbed and destroyed Westland Lysander from 208 Squadron on the ground. When the third formation arrived the RAF had succeeded in scrambling some fighters and a running battle began during which the S.79 ’56-6’ of the 56a Squadriglia, 30o Gruppo was forced to crash-land 60 kilometres east of Tobruk after being heavily damaged by the fire of a reported four Gloster Gladiators. The aircraft was piloted by Sottotenente Vicoli with the crew of Maresciallo Cima Sergente Piero Angelin, Aviere scelto Antonio Camedda, Sergente Maggiore Motorista Cucchi and Primo Aviere Cibrario.
Angelin and Camedda were killed in their battle positions by the fire from the Gladiators while Cibrario was wounded. Five other bombers of the 10o Stormo returned to Derna with battle damage.
Vicoli’s aircraft was reached by a recovery team on 22 July but found too much damaged to be salvaged and was abandoned. This was the first S.79 shot down by a Gladiator over North Africa but the claimants are unknown because of the incompleteness of RAF records for the period.
A clue, however, is given by the 112 Squadron’s pilots Flying Officer Edwin Banks and Pilot Officer Acworth. This day, while attached to 33 Squadron, they intercepted a group of three S.79s that were attacking Sidi El Barrani. The British reported that the Italian bombers, when attacked, hurriedly jettisoned their bombs and fled out to the sea. They submitted no claims but obviously other planes of 33 Squadron (to which they were attached) were up and were most probably responsible for the shooting down of Sottotenente Vicoli.
During the morning on 17 August, the Mediterranean Fleet was out for a raid in support of the Army. The battleships HMS Warspite, HMS Ramilles and HMS Malaya, supported by the cruiser HMS Kent and three flotillas of destroyers bombarded Bardia harbour and Fort Capuzzo, starting at 06:45 and continuing for 22 minutes. As the vessels headed back towards Alexandria a series of bombing attacks were launched against them by the Regia Aeronautica.
The RAF and the FAA provided escort for the fleet. HMS Eagle's Fighter Flight of three Sea Gladiators had been flown to Sidi Barrani airfield in Libya, and from here patrolled over the Fleet. 'B' and 'C' Flights of 80 Squadron provided air support with flights of four Gladiators over the ships from dawn to dusk. ‘A’ Flight of 112 Squadron was positioned at Z Landing Ground (Matruh West) while ‘C’ Flight of 112 Squadron was based at Y LG about 18 kilometres further west and they also took part in the covering missions.
The attacks on the Royal Navy began when, at 10:40 five SM 79s were seen at 12,000 feet, heading in from the north-east. Over the fleet there were, on standing patrol, at least the Gladiators of ‘A’ Flight 112 Squadron (probably six of them), the three Sea Gladiators of HMS Eagle’s Fighter Flight and a single Hurricane from ‘A’ Flight 80 Squadron flown by Flying Officer John Lapsley (P2641). They intercepted the Italian bombers and altogether claimed six of them; one by Flight Lieutenant Lloyd Schwab, one by Pilot Officer Peter Wickham, (both from 112 Squadron) and three by Lapsley. Two Sea Gladiators flown by Lieutenant (A) Kenneth Keith (N5513) and Lieutenant Anthony Young (N5567) attacked several formations. Young attacked one in company with a 112 Squadron Gladiator flown by an unknown pilot. Keith joined the attack and the port wing of the bomber burst into flames, two members of the crew bailing out before the Savoia crashed into the sea. Commander Charles Keighly-Peach (N5517) became separated, and realizing the futility of chasing the fleeing bombers alone, headed back over the Fleet in time to see to more formations attacking (totally 25 SM 79s were counted). He made three attacks on one bomber, seeing numerous pieces fall off and it went into a shallow dive. One man baled out, but as the aircraft lost height rapidly, it disappeared into cloud. He attacked another twice but without result.
The Italians lost four bombers and claimed seven Gladiators shot down in return (it seems that all the seven claims were submitted by the gunners aboard the Savoia bombers, two of them by 10o Stormo gunners). In fact only the Gladiator of Pilot Officer Acworth was seriously damaged when he attacked an SM 79s, but although wounded himself Acworth was able to fly back to base where he crash-landed and the aircraft was written-off.
In 1942, Joseph Fraser remembered:
“During August, the Squadron’s C.O. Slim Somerville was still non-operational, recovering from extensive burns which he had received getting out of a Gladiator on fire while practicing aerobatics at Helwan. The Flights were commanded by F/Lt C. H. Fry and Algy Schwab, the latter had just been posted in Wally Williams place as O.C. “A” Flight. A number of patrols were carried out during August between Sollum and Mersa Matruh and a couple more victories were credited to the Squadron. F/O Acworth was badly injured by shrapnel in the leg during a dog-fight off Sidi Barrani but he managed to get his aircraft back to Gerawla, landing downwind and finishing up at the opening of the medical tent. The medical officer was infuriated at this demonstration, until he realized Acky was unable to get out of the cockpit and that it had saved him carrying Acky some hundreds of yards. A dozen or more splinters were taken out of Acky’s leg, two weeks sick leave in Alex. and he was back in the cockpit again.”John Lapsley told a newspaper about this combat:
“I arrived just as five S 79’s had dropped their bombs, all well astern of the fleet, and were making off. One immediately went down in flames – evidently hit by anti-aircraft fire from the battleships. I picked on the leader and gave him about eight short bursts. He fell away, obviously in difficulties. Actually he landed his aircraft in our lines – there were six hundred bullet holes in it [probably ’56-9’ flown by Tenente Lauchard of the 56a Squadriglia].Italian units participating in the attack were the 10o Stormo with ten aircraft and the 15o and the 33o Stormi with another 16 aircraft. The Italians arrived over the target in consecutive waves. There is a lack of details of the attack of the 15o and the 33o Stormi but they suffered no losses even if it seems that the bombers from the 15o Stormo were intercepted by the British fighters. Primo Aviere Antonio Trevigni of the 53a Squadriglia, 47o Gruppo, although seriously wounded in both legs, kept firing against them until his aircraft was able to escape, claiming two victories in the process. Trevigni was awarded with a Medaglia d’Oro al valor militare but was never able to recover and finally died in an Italian hospital on 23 October 1942.
Then I picked on another and had just got a second burst into him he went up in flames. I was about one hundred yards away and the planes were much too close for comfort so I swerved away just as the crew of the S 79 ‘baled out’.
The third remaining S 79 by this time was quite close to the coast and he was diving like mad for a cloud. I gave him three or four long bursts, and with one engine smoking he disappeared. I think he went into ‘the drink’.
These Italian aircraft seem to be built of ply-wood. At any rate you have to dodge the pieces that come flying back at you when you fire your guns.
There didn’t seem to be much more doing, so I came home. Even then I had some ammunition left.”
On 29 August, Acworth was promoted to Flying Officer (gazetted on 5 November).
After some days of inactivity due to the incessantly blowing Ghibli wind a big coordinated Italian action against Mersa Matruh was planned for 31 October. It was planned to use at least 50 SM 79s from the 9o Stormo, 14o Stormo and 33o Gruppo with an escort of 40 CR.42s from the 2o Stormo and 151o Gruppo to attack the British base and its different targets.
At 10:10, Menastir M was attacked by British bombers reported as ten Armstrong Whitworth Whitleys (in fact seven Blenheims from 55 Squadron and three from 84 Squadron). The bombers arrived from a northerly direction completely undetected and hit the parking area of the 93a Squadriglia with many small and medium calibre bombs launched from 3000 metres. The Squadriglia HQ hut was completely destroyed by a direct hit while four CR.42s were lightly damaged by splinters (RS) and one was heavily damaged (RD). The heavy damaged CR.42 was immediately taken to the S.R.A.M. of El Adem (according to other sources the RD Fiats were three and the RS Fiats were two). Luckily no losses were suffered by the personnel of 8o Gruppo.
At 10:15 (09:40 according with other sources), while the 9o Stormo formation was taxiing on Gambut airstrip, a formation of seven Blenheims from 211 Squadron led by Squadron Leader Gordon-Finlayson and two others from 84 Squadron suddenly appeared overhead. The British bombers had managed to approach undetected by gliding down from 3000 metres with turned off engines and bombed with extreme precision, destroying three bombers while three others remained RD and many others were less seriously damaged. Heavy were also the losses among 9o Stormo’s personnel, with two dead among 63a Squadriglia (Sergente Armiere Carlo Marchi and Primo Aviere Radiotelegrafista Eugenio Bonino).
Three fighters of the resident 82a Squadriglia scrambled after the bombers had turned on their Mercury engines. They were flown by Sottotenente Virgilio Vanzan, Sergente Maggiore Dante Davico and Sergente Nino Campanini but they were unable to intercept.
Three fighters of the 78a Squadriglia also scrambled at 10:00. These were flown by Tenente Ippolito Lalatta, Sottotenente Luigi Cannepele and Sergente Ernesto Taddia. These were also unsuccessful and they landed back at base at 10:45.
Sergente Maggiore Roberto Marchi and Sottotenente Carlo Albertini of the 366a Squadriglia scrambled from the nearby Amseat A3 for the British bombers. While in pursuit an enemy fighter, identified as a Hurricane, crossed the path of Albertini, who spent 420 rounds on it. The aircraft escaped smoking heavily and Albertini, who landed at 10:45, was credited with a probable victory.
At 10:25, three CR.42s from 92a Squadriglia, 8o Gruppo, scrambled from Menastir M. The three fighters were flown by Sottotenente Luigi Uguccioni Sergente, Mario Veronesi and Sergente Marcello Mosele. Veronesi intercepted a Hurricane which he claimed damaged with 150 rounds of ammunition. The three aircraft returned to base at 10:45.
It seems that both scrambles from 366a and 92a Squadriglie had been involved in combat with Hurricanes escorting the British bombers and in fact, 80 Squadron had put up eight Gladiators and two Hurricanes between 9.00 and 11.00 to patrol off Bardia at 15,000 feet and to cover bombers attacking Menastir and a target 38 miles west of Bardia (Gambut). The returning pilots didn’t report any encounter with Italian aircraft while returning 211 Squadron crews reported that an Italian CR.42 tried to follow them but after firing two bursts from 500 yards was set upon by a Gladiator and a Hurricane and last seen diving towards the ground with smoke trailing from it.
The Italian mission against Mersa Matruh was not cancelled and at 10:50 only ten SM 79s of 9o Stormo (that in the original intentions were to constitute the bulk of the formation) took off together with 11 SM 79s of the 14o Stormo and five from the 33o Gruppo. The bombers were escorted by 18 CR.42s from the 13o Gruppo, which flew as close escort, and 18 more from the 151o Gruppo, which was to fly an indirect support sweep.
At 11:45 two sections with six CR.42s of the 78a Squadriglia took off from Gambut G with Capitano Giuseppe Dall’Aglio leading Sottotenente Luigi Cannepele (a future posthumously Medaglia d’Oro al valor militare winner and inspirer of the famous “Gigi tre osei” symbol of the 150o Gruppo C.T.), Sergente Rovero Abbarchi, Tenente Ippolito Lalatta (leading the second section), Sergente Ernesto Taddia and Sergente Teresio Martinoli. They were followed at 11:55 by two sections from the 82a Squadriglia. The first section included Tenente Guglielmo Chiarini (section leader), Sottotenente Giuseppe Timolina and Sergente Maggiore Dante Davico while the second section included Tenente Gianfranco Perversi (section leader), Sergente Francesco Nanin and Sottotenente Virgilio Vanzan. Together with these six CR.42s, six more of the 77a Squadriglia took off with Capitano Domenico Bevilacqua leading Tenente Eduardo Sorvillo, Sottotenente Carmelo Catania, Sergente Maggiore Ernesto Scalet, Sergente Ernesto Paolini and Sergente Renato Gori. Capitano Giuseppe Dall’Aglio took command of the whole formation.
For the 151o Gruppo this was the first long range escort mission since arriving in Libya and they received the order to move at 11:00 and at 12:10 they took off from Amseat A3 to arrive over Mersa Matruh at the same time as the bombers. Participating pilots were from all three Squadriglie - 366a Squadriglia (Capitano Bernardino Serafini, Tenente Mario Ferrero, Tenente Piero Veneziani, Sergente Maggiore Fiorenzo Milella, Sergente Maggiore Roberto Marchi and Sergente Rosario Di Carlo), 367a Squadriglia (Capitano Simeone Marsan, Sergente Maggiore Renato Mingozzi, Sergente Maggiorino Soldati, Tenente Irzio Bozzolan, Sergente Maggiore Gino Bogoni and Sergente Bruno Celotto) and 368a Squadriglia (Capitano Bruno Locatelli, Sergente Maggiore Davide Colauzzi, Sergente Mario Turchi, Tenente Giuseppe Zuffi, Sergente Piero Hosquet and Sergente Ottorino Ambrosi).
The bombers gathered over Tmimi and then headed east in groups of five in arrow formations. The fighters from the 13o Gruppo flew in flights of three in echelon right formation at 5000 meters, directed to a rendezvous point 20 kilometres south-west of Mersa Matruh along the road that connected this base with Bir Kenayis, which they reached at 12:56.
After the bombers arrived over Mersa Matruh, each formation went for different targets but was attacked by British fighters while aiming for their targets.
At 12:46, the 14o Stormo, led by Tenente Colonnello Lidonici, attacked the airfield of Bir Kenayis but finding it empty they headed for an alternative target of enemy troops south-west of Mersa Matruh, who were hit at 13:01. In fact, 80 Squadron pilots on the ground noticed Italian bombers attacking the aerodrome of Bir Kenayis at 12:45 and reported that bombs fell to the south-west and some distance away, obviously they thought that the Savoias had missed their intended target of some miles. Gunners of the 14o Stormo claimed two Hurricanes and a Gladiator destroyed, and another Gladiator probable. One SM 79 crash-landed near Sidi Barrani and was written off while a second crash-landed in the desert near Tobruk and was also written off. Three more SM 79s returned at 14:40 so badly damaged that they were classified RD and another one went to the SRAM for major repairs. Among the crews there were three dead (Sottotenente pilota-puntatore (pilot aimer) Federico Tonizzo, Primo Aviere Montatore Mario Padalino, Primo Aviere Armiere Guerino Invorti) and two wounded (Tenete Beltramini (another aimer) and Tenente Martinelli (observer)). Of its 11 SM 79s, in the evening only five were still fit for further operations.
At 12:55 the 9o Stormo, led by Tenente Colonnello Italo Napoleoni, released its bombs on the railway near El Qasaba airfield. The diarist of 6 Squadron noted that Quasaba had been bombed at 13:05 by five Savoia SM 79s, dropping approximately 30-40 100kg bombs and that no casualties nor damage had been suffered by the Squadron’s detachment while the diarist of 208 Squadron reported that around 40 bombs of the 100kg type were dropped by 15 SM 79s and that four of them fell in the camp damaging three lorries and three tents while the remainder fell around the railway siding. Two SM 79s from the 11a Squadriglia, 26o Gruppo B.T. were shot down. The Squadriglia flew in a ‘V’ formation led by Tenente Giovanni Ruggiero and it was the two outer SM 79s that were shot down in flames by a Hurricane (Sottotenente Fulvio Fabiani, Sergente Arturo Bigliardi, Primo Aviere Fotografo Adorno Antonini, Primo Aviere Motorista Francesco Farina and Primo Aviere Armiere Vincenzo Scarinci) (Tenente Roberto Di Frassineto, Sergente Maggiore Armando Zambelli, Aviere Scelto Motorista Camillo Caiazzo, Primo Aviere Armiere Alfredo Pacifici and Aviere Scelto Radiotelegrafista Giuseppe Costa); all but Zambelli (POW) were killed. In an aircraft of the 13a Squadriglia was Primo Aviere Motorista Tommaso Giorgio killed and Aviere Scelto RT Canaponi was wounded by Hurricane bullets.
A gunner in the SM 79 to the left of Tenente Ruggiero, at the time 22-years-old Aviere Scelto Armiere Cherubino Mariotti recalled, of this his first combat mission:
"On 31 October 1940 I was on a S79, first left wingmen of a five planes formation that was attacked by British fighters after bombing enemy troops near Mersa Matruh. We, gunners, were returning fire when I noticed that the two end wingmen of our formation were hit and were losing height in flames. Suddenly I centred in my gun sight a Hurricane that was closing to the last three planes shooting continuously at us. Arrived at the distance suitable to start the “famous” turn that permit it to fan with its eight guns its target, I was able to aim at its belly and saw my tracers entering it. Obviously hit, the plane directed towards the ground leaving a thick cloud of black smoke. In this way I avenged the ten dear friends lost in the two planes fell in flames.”Sergente Pilota Armando Zambelli who was the only survivor of the SM 79 flown by Tenente Di Frassineto recalled:
“It was 31 October 1940, I was hospitalised in Derna infirmary when I heard that we were going to start for an important bombing mission. Today it can seem a bit excessive all the enthusiasm with which we wanted to take part in war missions, but twenty years old and with the high spirit of those days all seemed normal for us. I left the infirmary and reached the Squadriglia. When my Commander Capitano Giovanni Ruggiero asked me how I felt I told him: “Perfectly and I’m ready to start” [in fact, Tenente Ruggiero wasn’t promoted to Capitano until 15 November 1940].An anonymous crewmember of a 13a Squadriglia SM 79 (the 13a Squadriglia composed the second arrow of the 9o Stormo) described the combat:
My crew was composed by: Tenente Di Frassineto, me, Primo Aviere Fotografo Antonini, Primo Aviere Motorista Stramccioni and Aviere Scelto Armiere Costa [Strangely enough, Zambelli here quotes among his crew, a member of the crew of Sottotenente Fabiani and an airman: Stramaccioni that neither is recorded among the casualties of 9o Stormo in WWII]. The action was one of the most important of the war so far and our forces were fifty S 79s with the escort of forty fighters started from an airstrip near Derna [It appears that the 9o Stormo was divided in two formations - one from the 26o Gruppo (11a and 13a Squadriglie), which started from Derna and the other from the 29o Gruppo (62a and 63a Squadriglie), which was surprised by the Blenheims at Gambut and was prevented to take part in the action] and after around an hour of flight we arrived over the airbase of Matruh.
Our section was composed by five planes disposed in arrow formation under command of Capitano Ruggero. We were almost on the target when a hand on my shoulder made me turning the head. It was the Motorista that told me that we were attacked by enemy fighters of which we had already shot down one [the aircraft claimed by Mariotti], sadly the Hurricanes and Gloster Gladiators from a superior height continued to fire without respite and after a short while I saw the end wingman opposite to my position falling in flames; pilots were Tenente Fabiani from Rome and Sergente Bigliardi from Bologna. We succeeded in bombing the target but following another enemy’s burst of fire our plane started to burn and being made of wood and fabric it burned like a wax match.
I told the members of the crew to bale out but without avail because they tried to fight the fire. Enemy bullets continued to enter the plane and I saw the poor crewmembers hit by the bullets and reached by the flames. We decided to leave the plane, I opened the exit door on the top of the cockpit and immediately air suction threw me against the tail of the plane that was burning; I lost consciousness and I woke up when the parachute opened. I was descending under the area where our CR 42s and the Hurricanes were fighting. Moving my legs I tried to move towards the land to avoid falling into the sea but in that moment I lost consciousness again. When I woke up for the second time I was on a British vehicle between a bearded Shik driver and an English officer that pointed his gun on me. I was taken to the infirmary because I was burned in the face and in the hands and had a dislocated ankle; there I was left resting for a while. Subsequently I was examined by a General that told me that he was Canadian and that he had fought as our alley during the First World War [Raymond Collishaw!]. He asked me, in an approximate Italian, if in Italy we thought that they killed the aviators that jumped with the parachute. […].”
“Immediately after the bomb release a hard attack of Hurricanes […] immediately the plane took 116 hits […] one wing damaged, engines nacelles damaged, flaps and empennages damaged, bomb bay damaged, the three propellers hit, […] 1o Aviere Motorista Tommaso Giorgio, that was shooting back with the gun in the “hunk” died, […] his place was taken by Aviere Scelto Marconista Canaponi but after a short while he was wounded too […] finally Primo Aviere Fotografo Marcucci took the gun […].”In the end the gunners of the SM 79 expended 1337 gun rounds, notwithstanding the damage suffered, the aircraft was back at base at around 15:00.
Eight Italian Planes Down – Air Battle over Mersa Matruh. Cairo, Saturday.The Italian fighters totally claimed ten victories in this combat (Colauzzi, Turchi, Locatelli, Marchi, Serafini, Bevilacqua (2), Perversi (2) and Chiarini’s and Nanin’s shared) (post war studies raised this number to eleven considering the one claimed by Martinoli, which was not credited to him by his unit) while the bombers claimed seven for the loss of one CR.42 and two SM 79s (two more where write-offs after forced-landings). The British fighters claimed four CR.42s and three SM 79s (and one probable) for the loss of five Gladiators and two Hurricanes. 33 Squadron’s ORB in recording the presence of 112’s Gladiators claimed that they had shot down three CR.42s and two SM 79s.
It was announced from Headquarters, RAF, Middle East on Friday, that a large force of enemy bombers (SM 79s) escorted by a dozen fighters (CR 42s) attempted an attack on targets in the Mersa Matruh area yesterday. Fighter aircraft of the RAF immediately engaged the enemy. In the ensuing battle, four SM 79s were shot down and four CR.42s were destroyed. In addition, four more enemy aircraft were so damaged that it is unlikely that they returned to their base. During the battle, two of our fighter aircraft collided, but the pilots landed safely by parachute. One of our fighters was shot down and one, which was last seen engaging three SM 79s making for home, has so far not returned to its base.
“On 31 October, two S 79s of 11a Squadriglia failed to return from a bombing action done at 12.57 over enemy positions.The Italian fighters were rightly quite pleased with their performance, the 151o Gruppo started well and the 13o Gruppo confirmed that it was the best Italian unit in theatre. However, considering the ordeal of the SM 79s their Commander, Generale Matricardi, Commander in Chief of Va Squadra Aerea awaiting Felice Porro return from Italy, wasn’t satisfied. In a reserved note regarding the 31 October engagement Matriciardi commented:
Crew chief of one of those planes was Tenente Di Frassineto.
It seems that coming back from the action the two planes were attacked by numerous enemy planes, together with them other eight planes of the same Gruppo; the two S 79s were seen to fall near Mersa Matruh, one of them presumably hit by the AA fire.
The other crewmembers were Sergente Maggiore Armando Zambelli, Aviere Scelto Motorista Camillo Caiazzo, Primo Aviere Armiere Alfredo Pacifici, Aviere Scelto Radiotelegrafista Giuseppe Costa.
All this personnel until now is considered missing in action.
We already started the procedures on the Red Cross, necessary to know the names of possible prisoners.”
“Indirect protection in the sky over the target was not reliable for the protection of big formations of S79s (…) so, it happened that the S79 had to fight hardly (…) while the fighters, in areas far from the fighting, (…) didn’t do nothing!”.Looking at RAF losses the judgement of Matriciardi seems to be (undeservedly) too hard. But indeed, such were the losses of the bomber force that for some weeks after the 31 October daylight operations had to be curtailed.
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 4 December 1940, Flight Lieutenant Lloyd Schwab, Flying Officer R. J. Bennett, Flying Officer Acworth (who was promoted to Flying Officer during the day with effect from 29 August 1940), Pilot Officer Leonard Bartley, Pilot Officer Jack Groves, Pilot Officer D. G. H. McDonald, Pilot Officer R.H. MacDonald, Sergeant G. M. Donaldson of 112 Squadron left Sidi Haneish to ferry Gladiators to the Royal Hellenic Air Force. Four fighters were to be handed over to the Greek while the other four would remain on attachment to 80 Squadron with the attached pilots.
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 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 R. J. 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 14 February 80 Squadron despatched five pilots led by Flight Lieutenant 'Timber' Woods, and including Flying Officer Acworth, in a Bombay to Athens to collect the Squadrons eagerly awaited Hurricanes. Eight had been sent to the unit but only six where now available since two of them had been directed elsewhere.
On 21 February 80 Squadron’s Hurricane detachment at Paramythia was joined by Flying Officer Acworth to gain further experience on the type.
At 15:00 on 27 February, nine Blenheims, six from 211 Squadron and three from 11 Squadron, set off to bomb Valona, escorted by five 80 Squadron Hurricanes and four more from 33 Squadron. An hour later, as the formation arrived over Valona, 13 CR.42s of the 150o Gruppo attacked as the Blenheims were bombing. Although the Hurricane escort engaged them at once, some got through to the bombers and damaged five of them, including all three of the 11 Squadron machines. Two of these (N5379 and T2399) would crash-land on return to Paramythia, both having suffered heavy damage to their hydraulic systems and both were written off. The Hurricanes meanwhile had become involved in a heavy battle with the Fiats during which seven of the Italian fighters were claimed shot down, and two more were reported to have collided with each other after being attacked by Sergeant Edward Hewett and crashed. Claims were made by Flight Lieutenant 'Pat' Pattle, Flying Officer Nigel Cullen, Sergeant Hewett (two), Flying Officer Acworth, and Flying Officer Wanklyn Flower, who shared one with a 33 Squadron pilot, believed to have been Flying Officer H. J. Starrett. The seventh claim was believed to have been made by 33's Flight Sergeant Leonard Cottingham.
In the event it seems that only two CR.42s were lost but it hit the 364a Squadriglia, which had scrambled three fighters since both of them were from the unit. Sottotenente Pasquale Faltoni, the formation leader, baling out after suffering wounds, as did Sergente Osvaldo Bertolaccini, who was almost dead when he hit the ground. Sergente Bertolaccini later succumbed to his wounds. The Italians made no claims and believed that their attackers had been Spitfires (this indicates that Bertolaccini actually shot down two Blenheims and thus made an ace before dying). Pattle’s Hurricane suffered a single bullet through the petrol tank - the only damage recorded to the British fighters. A further CR.42 of the Gruppo's 364a Squadriglia was destroyed on the ground by the Blenheims’ bombs, and several others were damaged. A dozen drums of fuel went up in flames, and two airmen were wounded.
Pilot Officer Geary, gunner in Blenheim L1481 of the 211 Squadron, recorded his impressions of the raid:
“I had a grandstand view of the whole affair. It was lovely bombing - direct hits all over the aerodrome and on buildings. A large formation of CR42s took of to intercept us. One got on my tail, so I put a burst into him, and he fell away. Then two Hurricanes appeared in a flash, and well, he just fell to pieces. The Hurricanes wheeled and proceeded to deal with the others. The sky was full of crashing aircraft - and they were all enemy. We had a most pleasant tour home, and the scenery looked more lovely than ever.”
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 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.
On 3 March two Hurricanes from 80 Squadron were ordered up on patrol at 1025, flown by Flying Officer Nigel Cullen and Pilot Officer William Vale, while a third, flown by the attached 112 Squadron pilot Flying Officer Acworth, was sent up on an air test. As these got into the air ten Cant Z.1007bis bombers of 50o Gruppo Autonomo B.T. from Brindisi approached the area in two formations of five each, while other such aircraft from 47o Stormo B.T. were also over Greece at this time. The 50o Gruppo aircraft bombed the earthquake-shattered town of Larissa, and were on their way home by the time the Hurricanes were vectored onto them. Flying Officer Acworth was first on the scene, soon joined by the other pair, and he reported:
“Took off to test aircraft - before leaving heard that ten enemy aircraft heading towards Preveza. I flew in that direction and saw bombing in progress, and although I had not enough speed to catch the first section of bombers, I finally got near enough to second section - attacked No 5 and shot it down in flames - witnessed by Flying Officer Cullen, who shot down No 4. I saw one crew member leaving No 5 but afterwards, apart from an empty chute floating down, no trace of him was found. Both mine and Flying Officer Cullen’s first bomber crashed into the sea five miles south-west of Corfu.”Cullen continued to attack and returned to claim a total of four Cants shot down and one probable, although his Hurricane was badly damaged by return fire, one bullet passing through his flying boot and grazing his shin; he reported seeing 18 parachutes in the air at one time. Pilot Officer Vale also claimed a bomber shot down, but identified his victim as an S.81.
By March 112 Squadron had also moved to Greece, and he joined this squadron for the rest of the campaign.
During the morning on 4 March five Italian warships identified as two cruisers and three destroyers, sortied down the Albanian coast and commenced shelling the coastal road near Himare and Port Palermo, under cover of a strong fighter escort of G.50bis and CR42s from the 24o Gruppo C.T. The flotilla actually comprised of the destroyer Augusto Riboty, the torpedo boat Andromeda and three MAS boats.
An immediate strike was ordered by RAF units, 15 Blenheims being ordered off. Nine 211 Squadron aircraft and five from 84 Squadron (a sixth failed to start) were led to the area by Squadron Leaders Gordon-Finlayson and Jones, escorted by ten Hurricanes, followed by 17 Gladiators, 14 from 112 Squadron and three from 80 Squadron. Four 80 Squadron Hurricanes led by Flight Lieutenant 'Pat' Pattle flew on the starboard flank of the bombers, with four from 33 Squadron to port, and two more above as ‘weavers’. At 15:00 the warships were seen ten miles south of Valona, and the Blenheims went in to bomb in line astern; several near misses were seen, but no hits were recorded.
At this point six G.50bis dived on the Hurricanes, shooting down V7801 in flames; 24-year-old Warrant Officer Harry J. Goodchild DFM (RAF No. 517435) was killed. It seems that the Italian fighters did not see the bombers, for they reported only single-engined types - ten ‘Spitfires’, three ‘Battles’ (obviously Hurricanes) and 20 Gladiators. Once the Blenheims had completed their run and were on their return flight, Pattle ordered the Hurricanes to hunt in pairs over the warships, where a number of Italian fighters were seen. At once a lone G.50bis attacked Pattle and his No 2 - on this occasion Flying Officer Nigel Cullen - but Pattle promptly shot this down and watched it spiral into a mountainside just north of Himare. At this moment a second Fiat ‘jumped’ Cullen (Hurricane V7288) and he was not seen again; his aircraft crashed near Himare, and the Australian ‘ace’ was killed.
Pattle flew on towards Valona, and was attacked by another lone G.50bis which he reported went into the sea south-west of Valona harbour after a brief combat. He then became involved with a third such fighter over Valona harbour and claimed to have shot this down into the sea in flames on the west side of the promontory. Nine CR.42s were then seen below and he dived on these, reporting that one went into a spin with smoke pouring from its engine; he claimed this as a probable. Sergeant Edward Hewett was also heavily engaged, claiming one G.50bis shot down near Himare and three of eight CR.42s near Valona. The only other claim by a Hurricane pilot was made by Pilot Officer William Vale, who claimed another G.50bis.
Meanwhile the Gladiators, led by Squadron Leader H. L. I. Brown, tangled with a reported ten G.50bis and five CR.42s. Flight Lieutenant Joseph Fraser led the third section after some G.50bis which entered clouds, but he claimed one shot down and a second shared with Brown, Pilot Officer Jack Groves and Pilot Officer D. G. H. McDonald. Flying Officer Acworth was about to attack another when he came under fire himself and was driven down to 2000 feet. He got in a few deflection shots, saw smoke issue from his opponent’s engine before being attacked by another, and thus only claimed a probable. Flying Officer Edwin Banks attacked a G.50bis which went into a spin; as he saw a parachute in the vicinity he also claimed a probable, and two more such claims were made by Flight Lieutenant Charles Fry and Sergeant 'Paddy' Donaldson, while four more aircraft damaged were claimed by Groves, Brown, McDonald and Flying Officer Homer Cochrane.
In return the 24o Gruppo pilots claimed four Gladiators, one ‘Spitfire’ and one ‘Battle’ shot down. Sottotenente Nicolo Cobolli Gigli of 355a Squadriglia, who was flying a CR.42 on this occasion, and Sergente Marcello De Salvia of 354a Squadriglia were both shot down and killed, while Tenente Francesco Rocca of the latter unit was wounded. No losses by other CR.42 equipped units have been discovered. Cobolli Gigli and De Salvia were both awarded posthumous Medaglia d’Oro al valor militare.
On 9 March a new Italian offensive begun in Greece. During the afternoon on this day Squadron Leader H. L. I. Brown led 15 Gladiators in five vics of three from 112 Squadron on an offensive patrol over Kelcyre and Tepelene, where at 14.00 an estimated 30 G.50bis were reported, escorting BR.20s which were bombing forward troops. Additional CR.42s were spotted flying high cover but these never intervened. The Italian aircraft were flying in tight vics of five aircraft each.
Flight Lieutenant Joseph Fraser led his section in an diving attack on the bombers, claiming one shot down, which he reported fell near Garneo. Flying Officer Edwin Banks attacked another with long bursts without obvious results, but was then engaged by one of the escorts, chasing it down from 16,000 feet to 8,000 feet before being forced to withdraw to Yannina when his engine blew a sparking plug. Flight Lieutenant Charles Fry’s section also went after the low-flying bombers, one of which was seen to jettison its bombs, and one of these aircraft was claimed probably destroyed by Pilot Officer Jack Groves.
At this point the escort, which in fact compromised 25 MC.200s from the newly arrived 22o Gruppo, attacked and became involved in a dogfight with Fry’s flight. Fry claimed one shot down, which dived vertically and crashed. Squadron Leader Brown attacked two enemy fighters diving from 14,000 feet and getting on their tails. The Italian fighters displayed poor evasive tactics and it was easy to keep behind them and he gave one aircraft a long burst and saw it crash into a hillside. The second enemy managed to escape. Six more were claimed by Sergeant George Millar 'Paddy' Donaldson (two), Flight Lieutenant Fraser, Flying Officer Acworth, Flying Officer Homer Cochrane and Pilot Officer Groves, while Flying Officer R. J. Bennett claimed a probable.
Despite all these claims, it seems that only one Macchi was actually lost. Sergente Maggiore Marino Vannini of 369a Squadriglia failing to return: Maresciallo Guido LaFerla landed at Lushnje and was taken to hospital - reportedly due to illness, rather than wounds. The Italian fighters were unable to submit any claims. The bombers attacked had been BR.20s of 37o Stormo and S.79s of 105o Gruppo, the former reporting that two of their aircraft were damaged, apparently by AA fire, while one or two Savoias were hit by fire from Gladiators, one man being wounded. The 105o Gruppo’s gunners claimed three Gladiators shot down, while the crew of a Z.1007bis of 50o Gruppo, reportedly attacked by a lone Gladiator (possibly a Greek machine), also claimed shot down. One Gladiator was in fact shot down, 27-year-old Pilot Officer Robert Haldane MacDonald (RAF no. 42316) baling out of his blazing N5823, while four more of these fighters were damaged.
Flying Officer Cochrane saw a Gladiator falling flames and a parachute opening. He broke of his attack and circled the parachute until he saw it fall into some tree by a river. He landed on a village green at the nearest Greek village to organise a search for the pilot (MacDonald), who would die of the burns and other injuries he had sustained two months later on 7 May.
In their reports both Sergeant Donaldson and Flying Officer Acworth remarked that they saw Italian pilots bailing out of their aircraft and then fall to the ground without their parachutes opening.
On 11 March, 15 of 112 Squadrons aircraft were over the front, this time to escort 211 Squadron Blenheims on a raid in the Bousi area. An estimated 40-50 G.50bis were reported patrolling in the area and nine of these fighters from the 24o Gruppo (led by Maggiore Cesare Valente) engaged the formation, claiming a Blenheim and one Gladiator shot down. The British fighters turned on the attackers and claimed seven shot down, one probable and seven damaged without loss. The claims were made by Flight Lieutenant Joseph Fraser (one and one damaged), Flying Officer Edwin Banks (one and two damaged), Flying Officer Acworth (one), Flying Officer Homer Cochrane (one), Flying Officer Ephraim Hugh Brown (one damaged), Flying Officer Henry Harrison (one), Pilot Officer Neville Bowker (one), Pilot Officer Gerald Westenra (one), Flight Lieutenant Charles Fry (one probable and one damaged), Squadron Leader Harry Brown (one damaged) and Flying Officer Denis Herbert Vincent Smith (one damaged). Bowker and Westenra where both involved in only their second engagements since joining the unit from Flying Training School.
Two G.50bis went down at once. Maggiore Valente and Sergente Luigi Spallacci both were killed, while Sergente Bruno Fava and Sergente Maggiore Ermes Lucchetta were both wounded and crash-landed their Fiats on their bellies. MC.200s of the 22o Gruppo may also have become involved, for Sergente Anselmo Andraghetti of 369a Squadriglia was lost, the cause not being ascertained.
After the combat Banks remarked that the G.50s must be armoured as they stood up to so much punishment. Fry reported that he attacked a G.50, which spun slowly twice then flattened out and turned slowly onto its back with smoke coming from it. It went into cloud and he didn't see it again. He also attacked another G.50bis of 24o Gruppo, which went over onto its back and flew inverted into cloud. Squadron Leader Brown emptied all his rounds into a G.50 without effect. No doubt the all-metal construction of these monoplane fighters helped to hold them together.
Image kindly provided by Colleen Bowker via Rob Brown
On 20 August 1941, he was decorated with a DFC (gazetted on 4 November 1941)
In summer 1941, he served as an instructor at 71 OUT, Gordon's Tree, Sudan, returning to 112 Squadron on 27 October 1941, but was posted from this unit on 11 November. He later returned to the UK in early 1942, joining 55 OUT from No 1 RAF Depot as a Flight Lieutenant Instructor on 26 March. He was promoted Acting Squadron Leader in August 1942, being posted as a supernumerary to 118 Squadron on 30 April 1943.
On 27 June 1943, 32 Spitfire LF.Vbs from 12 Group RAF (10 from 118 Squadron, 10 from 402 Squadron, 11 from 416 Squadron and Wing Commander Loyd Chadburn, Digby Wing Leader) lead by Wing Commander Rabagliati DFC and Bar made rendezvous at 1,000 feet over Coltishall at 14:26 with 21 Beaufighter TB.Vis from 16 Group to attack a south-bound convoy reported off The Hague.
The North Sea was crossed at zero feet and after sighting The Hague the formation turned north and at 15:02 the convoy was sighted slightly north of The Hague about 6 miles off shore. The convoy consisted of about 16 ships including six minesweepers and six cargo vessels, the largest of which was about 4,000 tons. About half a dozen balloons were being flown. At the same time, two single-engine fighters were seen orbiting the convoy just below cloud at about 1,000 feet and as Blue Section 118 Squadron came up on port side of the Beaufighters who were turning in to attack the convoy from west to east they sighted three more enemy aircraft coming out of cloud north of the convoy.
These enemy aircraft, identified as Fw 190s attempted to attack the Beaufighters as they came away from attacking the convoy. Blue Section, which was at about 1,000 feet, turned to cut off the enemy aircraft.
Flight Lieutenant Newbury fired a short burst at the nearest Fw 190 at about 250 yards range from the starboard quarter with apparent result. On closing in to 150 yards dead astern, he gave a four second burst whereupon the enemy aircraft completely disintegrated and fell into the sea near Den Helder.
Blue 2, Flight Sergeant Hollingworth attacked the second Fw 190 from 15 degrees port at 300 yards and gave a two second burst allowing one ring deflection. Many strikes were seen on the port wing root and fuselage. Flight Sergeant Hollingworth then got dead astern and gave a one second burst by which time grey smoke was pouring from the enemy aircraft, which dived away steeply. Flight Sergeant Hollingworth then broke violently away as a warning came over the R/T that there were other enemy aircraft about (probably the three enemies were those sighted and attacked by 416 Squadron).
Blue 3, Flight Lieutenant Acworth, followed a Fw 190 which had broken away from the Beaufighter it was attacking and was making towards The Hague. Flight Lieutenant Acworth opened fire from 400 yards direct astern with a three second burst but the enemy aircraft took violent evasive action. Acworth fired a further six or seven bursts until his ammunition was expended. Strikes were seen on the top of the fuselage of the enemy aircraft, which was last seen at 800 feet in a straight 45 degree dive. Acworth then broke away, climbed into cloud and returned to base.
During these combats, the Beaufighters pressed home their attacks in spite of heavy and accurate flak and three of the minesweepers in front of the convoy were hit by the rockets and were left smoking. Beaufighter JL948 of 143 Squadron was lost (21-year-old Flying Officer Joel Brooks Mann (RCAF no. J/13317) and Sergeant George Edmund Wilson (RAF no. 1286547) both KIA).
The rear cover by eight aircraft from 315 Squadron took off from Coltishall at 14:40 according to plan and landed at 15:56 without incident.
118 Squadron and 402 Squadron landed at Coltishall between 15:45-15:50 and 415 Squadron landed at Digby at 16:15.
Totally in this combat, 118 Squadron claimed one destroyed (Flight Lieutenant Newbury) and two damaged Fw 190s (Flight Sergeant Hollingworth and Flight Lieutenant Acworth) between 15:05-15:10, 402 Squadron claimed one destroyed Bf 109 (Squadron Leader Geoff Northcott (EP120/A)) at 15:05 8 miles off The Hague, 416 Squadron claimed one shared destroyed Fw 190 (Pilot Officer Robert Phillip (AR529) and Flight Lieutenant John Rae (EP206)) at 15:05 off The Hague and finally Wing Commander Chadburn who claimed a probable Fw 190 8-10 miles off The Hague at 15:05. Squadron Leader Northcott's claim was first claimed as a probable but was later upgraded to a confirmed. The RAF fighters didn't suffer any losses.
It seems that they had been in combat with fighters from JG 1 since Feldwebel Erich Kaiser of 1./JG 1 claimed a Beaufighter at 300 meters altitude west of Scheveningen at 15:04. Two fighters of I./JG 1 were damaged by enemy gunfire during the day and four other were damaged without enemy action during operational flights.
From mid October 1943, a number of Gladiators (around ten) arrived at Rednal to make a film based on James Aldridge's "Signed with their honour", which is a story about the air war in Greece in 1940-41. A Wellington was also brought in to be used as a camera plane. This force of aircraft was officially termed Q Flight and was attached to 61 Operational Training Unit probably for administration and maintenance duties. Two of the pilots of the unit were Squadron Leader Acworth and Flight Lieutenant Wanklyn Flower, which both had taken part in the Greek campaign.
On 24 November, two Gladiators were lost. Flight Lieutenant R. G. Kleimeyer (K7927) and Second Lieutenant Knut Bache (Norwegian in Gladiator K8045) were carrying out a formation change when they both collided. The two pilots were able to bale out, although both were injured. The accident card for K7927 had the following:
“Collision in mid air when aircraft changing formation. Pilots baled out. Flt Lt Kleimeyer did not maintain a proper lookout while in formation, which was not authorised by the I/C flying for this work. Sqn Ldr Acworth was negligent in not obtaining OC’s flying permission to use OTU instructors. CO concurs. Recommends cessation of Sqn Ldr Acworth’s attachment to film with GP Com.”
In late 1944, he joined 80 Squadron in 2nd TAF as a supernumerary Squadron Leader, but on 1 October was wounded when an Me262 of KG(J)51 dropped anti-personnel bombs on Grave airfield.
Acworth ended the war with 4 victories flying the Gloster Gladiator and a total of 7.
Richard Acworth died on 1 March 1971
|Kill no.||Date||Time||Number||Type||Result||Plane type||Serial no.||Locality||Unit|
|1||31/10/40||13:00-||1||CR.42 (a)||Destroyed||Gladiator||Mersa Matruh area||112 Squadron|
|2||20/11/40||14:40-16:30||1||CR.42 (b)||Destroyed||Gladiator||Sidi Barrani||112 Squadron|
|20/11/40||14:40-16:30||½||CR.42 (b)||Shared destroyed||Gladiator||Sidi Barrani||112 Squadron|
|3||27/02/41||16:00||1||CR.42 (c)||Destroyed||Hurricane I||V7288||Valona||80 Squadron|
|4||28/02/41||1||BR.20 (d)||Destroyed||Hurricane I||V7288||Tepelene-coast||80 Squadron|
|5||03/03/41||1||Z.1007 (e)||Destroyed||Hurricane I||5 m SW Corfu||80 Squadron|
|04/03/41||1||G.50 (f)||Probable||Gladiator II||Valona-Himare||112 Squadron|
|6||09/03/41||1||G.50 (g)||Destroyed||Gladiator II||Kelcyre-Tepelene area||112 Squadron|
|7||11/03/41||1||G.50 (h)||Destroyed||Gladiator II||Bousi area||112 Squadron|
|13/04/41||1||S.79||Damaged||Gladiator II||112 Squadron|
|27/06/43||15:05-15:10||1||Fw190 (i)||Damaged||Spitfire Vb||AR450||off The Hague||118 Squadron|
Biplane victories: 4 and 1 shared destroyed, 1 probable, 1 damaged.
TOTAL: 7 and 1 shared destroyed, 1 probable, 2 damaged.
(a) Claimed in combat with bombers from 9o and 14o Stormi and 33o Gruppo and fighters from 13o and 151o Gruppi. 112 Squadron and 33 Squadron claimed 4 CR.42s, 3 S.79s, 2 probable S.79s and 1 damaged S.79 while losing 5 Gladiators and 2 Hurricanes. The Italian fighters totally claimed 11 victories while the bombers claimed 7, while losing 1 CR.42 and 2 S.79 (2 more S.79s being damaged beyond repair).
(b) 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.
(c) Claimed in combat with CR.42 of 150o Gruppo. 80 and 33 Squadrons claimed seven Fiats shot down and two more were reported to have collided with each other and crashed. 150o Gruppo lost only two CR.42s when Sottotenente Pasquale Faltoni and Sergente Osvaldo Bertolaccini (DFW) were shot down, both pilots baling out. The Italian aircraft didn’t claim anything and the British aircraft didn’t suffer any losses.
(d) 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.
(e) Claimed in combat with Z.1007bis from 50o Gruppo B.T. 80 Squadron claimed 6 and 1 probable while only 2 were in fact lost.
(f) Claimed in combat with G.50bis and CR42s of the 24o Gruppo C.T. RAF claimed seven G.50bis destroyed, four probables and four damaged, three CR.42s and one probable, while losing two Hurricanes. 24o Gruppo C.T. lost two CR.42s and got one damaged while claiming four Gladiators, one Spitfire and one Battle. No losses to G.50bis have been found.
(g) Claimed in combat with BR.20s of 37o Stormo and S.79s of 105o Gruppo escorted by MC.200s of 22o Gruppo. 112 Squadron claimed 8 and 1 probable G.50s and 1 and 1 probable BR.20 while losing 1 Gladiator. It seems that only 1 MC.200 was lost when Sergente Maggiore Marino Vannini of 369a Squadriglia failed to return and 2 or 3 bombers being damaged for the claim of 4 Gladiators by the bombers gunners.
(h) Claimed in combat with G.50bis from 24o Gruppo. 112 Squadron claimed seven shot down, one probable and seven damaged without loss. 24o Gruppo lost four aircraft (Maggiore Cesare Valente and Sergente Luigi Spallacci were killed and Sergente Bruno Fava and Sergente Maggiore Ermes Lucchetta were wounded) while claiming a Blenheim and one Gladiator shot down.
(i) Possibly claimed in combat with I./JG 1, which claimed 1 Beaufighter with possibly two damaged fighters. RAF fighters claimed 3 enemy fighters destroyed, 1 probable and 2 damaged without losses. One Beaufighter was lost.
53o Stormo - Marco Mattioli, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-977-5
33 Squadron Operations Record Book
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
Air war for Yugoslavia, Greece and Crete - Christopher Shores, Brian Cull and Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-948817-07-0
Decimo Stormo. La storia del reparto: 1936 – 1943 - Cesare Gori, 1991 Giorgio Apostolo Editore, Milano, kindy provided by Ludovico Slongo
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
Fiat CR.42 Aces of World War 2 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2009 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-427-5
Fighters over the Desert - Christopher Shores and Hans Ring, 1969 Neville Spearman Limited, London
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
Il Savoia Marchetti S.M. 79 nel Secondo Conflitto Mondiale - Bombardamento Terrestre - Ricognizione Quelli del Cavallino Rampante - Antonio Duma, 1981 Editore Dell'Ateneo, Roma, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Ministero della Difesa
RAF 112 Sqn Tribute
Strategica - Aviazione Sahariana – Cesare Gori, 2003 USSMA, Rome, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Shark Squadron - The history of 112 Squadron 1917-1975 - Robin Brown, 1994 Crécy Books, ISBN 0-947554-33-5
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
The London Gazette
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
Additional information kindly provided by Ian Acworth, Csaba Becze, Rob Brown, Col Bruggy, Alex Crawford, Tor Idar Larsen, Stefano Lazzaro, Giovanni Massimello Ross McNeill, Laurent Rizzotti and Ludovico Slongo.