Group Captain Wilfred Stanley 'Woof' Arthur DSO DFC, RAAF no. 565
Born 7 December 1919 in Yelarbon, Queensland, Australia, 'Woof' Arthur was a pre-war regular officer in the RAAF, serving in 22 RAAF Squadron in 1939.
He was later posted to 3 RAAF Squadron.
On 1 May 1940 Air Cadets Alan Boyd, J. H. Davidson, Arthur, B Todd, M. D. Ellerton, V. East, C. R. McKenny and F. R. McGrill of 3 RAAF Squadron were granted probationary short service commissions as Pilot Officers as from 3 March 1940.
At this time 3 RAAF Squadron was based at Richmond, Australia.
On 15 July 1940 3 RAAF Squadron embarked on RMS Orontes at Sydney for service overseas.
At this time the unit consisted of the following flying personnel:
Squadron Leader Ian McLachlan (CO).
Flight Lieutenant Gordon Steege (OC), Flying Officer Alan Gatward, Flying Officer Alan Boyd, Pilot Officer Peter Turnbull and Pilot Officer Arthur.
Pilot Officer Charles Gaden (OC), Pilot Officer L. E. Knowles, Pilot Officer V. East, Flying Officer Alan Rawlinson and Flying Officer B. L. Bracegirdle.
Squadron Leader P. R. Heath (OC), Flight Lieutenant Blake Pelly, Pilot Officer J. M. Davidson, Flying Officer John Perrin and Pilot Officer M D. Ellerton.
Totally the squadron had 21 officers and 271 of other ranks on 24 July.
On 7 August RMS Orontes arrived at Bombay and the unit was transhipped the same day to HT Dilwara.
HT Dilwara sailed on 11 August and arrived at Suez on 23 August where the squadron disembarked.
3 RAAF Squadron received a signal from H.Q.M.E. on 16 September advising that it had been decided to re-arm the squadron with two flights of Gladiators and one flight with Lysanders.
In order to carry out this re-arming, the unit was to move from Ismailia to Helwan on 23 September, where the Gladiators were to be taken over from 33 Squadron.
Arthur and Alan Boyd were promoted to Flying Officers as off 9 September.
Flying Officer Arthur force-landed Gladiator N5769 on 5 October after that the engine cut while practising formation flying with the whole squadron. Arthur was uninjured but the aircraft was extensively damaged when it hit a drum during the forced landing ¼ miles north-west of Helwan.
On 2 November 1940, squadron headquarters and ground personnel of ‘B’ and ‘C’ Flights of 3 RAAF Squadron moved by road from Helwan to Gerawla. The move started at 08:15 and was completed at 17:15 the next day.
Squadron Leader Ian McLachlan, Flying Officer Alan Gatward, Flying Officer M. D. Ellerton, Flying Officer Alan Boyd, Flight Lieutenant Charles Gaden, Flying Officer B. L. Bracegirdle, Flying Officer Peter Turnbull and Flying Officer Arthur moved from Helwan to Gerawla by air on 3 November.
Flight Lieutenant Gordon Steege, Flight Lieutenant Blake Pelly and Flying Officer Alan Rawlinson left their attachments to 208 Squadron and rejoined 3 RAAF Squadron at Gerawla while Flying Officer John Perrin, Flying Officer L. E. Knowles and Flying Officer J. M. Davidson, who also had been attached to 208 Squadron returned to ‘A’ Flight at Helwan.
15 Air gunner/Wireless operators from 3 RAAF Squadron were attached to 208 Squadron.
After the completion of these movements the disposition of the squadron was that at Gerawla there were: Officers: 13 pilots, 1 crew, 6 non-flying and 2 (attached) air intelligence liaison.
Airmen: 185 non-flying, 6 (attached) air intelligence liaison and 1 (attached) Royal Corps Signalist.
Aircraft: 10 Gladiators and 4 Gauntlets (two Gauntlets had been left at 208 Squadron, Qasaba, being unserviceable and awaiting spares).
At Helwan (‘A’ Flight):
Officers: 3 pilots and 1 crew.
Airmen: 5 crews and 32 non-flying.
Aircraft: 6 Lysanders and 2 Gladiators (in reserve for ‘B’ and ‘C’ Flights).
Attached to 208 Squadron:
Officers: 2 crew.
Airmen: 5 crew and 15 non-flying.
Attached to 6 Squadron:
Airmen: 6 crew and 14 non-flying.
At Abu Sueir (on anti-gas course):
At 11:10 on 12 December, a mixed formation from the 4o Stormo took off for a free sweep in the Ogerin Bir El Kreighat area. After the sweep, they were to ground strafe targets of opportunity. Participating pilots from the 91a Squadriglia were Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli (CO 10o Gruppo), Capitano Vincenzo Vanni, Sottotenente Andrea Dalla Pasqua, Sergente Maggiore Leonardo Ferrulli, Sergente Maggiore Natale Fiorito and Sergente Maggiore Giovanni Casero. From 84a Squadriglia came Capitano Luigi Monti, Sottotenente Paolo Berti, Sottotenente Luigi Prati, Sottotenente Bruno Devoto, Sergente Roberto Steppi and Sergente Onorino Crestani.
Sergente Giovanni Battista Ceoletta of the 90a Squadriglia was part of a formation taking off at 11:40 while his squadriglia mates Sergente Maggiore Angelo Savini and Sergente Alfredo Sclavo suffered accidents on take off, which prevented them to take part (and probably wrote off the plane of Sclavo). Tenente Aldo Gon and Sergente Gustavo Minelli from the 96a Squadriglia, 9o Gruppo also took part in this action.
Bad weather prevented the discovery of ground targets, so Romagnoli led his fighters to the Bir Enba area where a formation of Gladiators surprised the 84a Squadriglia formation. A long dogfight started after which the CR.42 of Onorino Crestani was missing and the remaining pilots claimed two victories. Crestani was taken prisoner.
According to the squadriglia diaries, the two confirmed victories were shared among the 91a Squadriglia pilots plus Ceoletta (who used 120 rounds of ammunition during the combat) and the pilots from the 9o Gruppo. Gon and Minelli in fact only claimed a shared probable in a combat against a reportedly six Gladiators, while the 10o Gruppo’s Diary downgraded the victories to two probables. Monti, Prati and Steppi were credited with a damaged each while Ceoletta also claimed two damaged Gladiators (according to some Italian historians one Gladiator was shared between Monti, Prati and Steppi and the second shared between Gon and Minelli, while one or two other Gladiators were considered probably shot down but there is however no trace of such claims in the official diaries).
They had run into five Gladiators from 3 RAAF Squadron, which had taken off from ALG 74 at 11:25 to carry out an offensive patrol around Sofafi. The patrol intercepted a reported 16 to 18 CR.42 six miles north-west of Sofafi. During the ensuing combat three of the Italian fighters were claimed shot down, one apiece being credited to Flying Officers Alan Boyd, Arthur and Alan Gatward, without loss. The Gladiators returned to base at 13:05.
On an early morning patrol on 13 December, six Gladiators (Flight Lieutenant Gordon Steege, Flight Lieutenant Charles Gaden, Flying Officers Lex D. Winten, Flying Officer Alan Boyd, Flying Officer Arthur and Flying Officer Alan Gatward) from the Advanced Detached Flight of 3 RAAF Squadron took off at 08:00 to fly an offensive fighter patrol over Sollum – Fort Capuzzo – Halfaya area. They came across five SM 79s bombing troops at Sollum escorted by a reported eight CR.42s. Diving in to attack Flight Lieutenant Steege shot down one of the bombers and claimed a second as a probable. Before the Gladiators could reform for a second attack, the escorting CR.42s intervened. Flight Lieutenant Gaden (Gladiator N5765) was killed when his aircraft was shot down and crashed into the desert. It was believed that Gaden was shot down by rear gunners of the SM 79s. Flying Officer Winten was hit in the right hand by an explosive bullet and baled out. Flying Officer Boyd claimed two CR.42s before his aircraft had its port flying wire shot away causing him to force land. Flying Officer Gatward was also forced down. Flying Officer Arthur's Gladiator (N5752) was shot to pieces and he decided to bale out. As he clambered out of the cockpit, he became entangled in his oxygen tube. He managed to break free only to be caught up in the interplane bracing wires. Unable to free himself he waited for the inevitable, when at about 1,000 feet he was thrown clear and parachuted to the ground. Later back in the mess he produced from his pocket the ripcord of his parachute, which meant that he did not have to buy drinks all round. Flight Lieutenant Steege was separated from the remainder of the flight, ran out of ammunition and returned to base at 10:30.
The Italians seems to have consisted of five SM 79s from the 60a Squadriglia, 33o Gruppo Autonomo BT, which had taken off from Z1 at 07:30. The formation was led by Tenente Colonnello Ferri Forte, who flew as second pilot in Capitano Loris Bulgarelli’s (CO of the 60a Squadriglia) SM 79 and they had been briefed to attack British troop concentrations in a desert area south of Sollum. The pilot of another bomber was Tenente Pastorelli and among his crew of five was Aviere Scelto Armiere Guido Reggiani. The bombers were escorted by ten CR.42s from the 9o Gruppo. The SM 79s were the first bombing effort of the day by the 5a Squadra and attacked a group of 30 British vehicles along the road Sollum-Buq-Buq at 08:45 and immediately after this, another group of 60 armoured vehicles south-east of Halfaya. The escort was led by Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni (temporary CO of the 9o Gruppo since 10 December) and included the 73a Squadriglia (Tenente Valerio De Campo, Tenente Pietro Bonfatti, Tenente Giuseppe Oblach, Sottotenente Giulio Reiner, Sergente Maggiore Sergio Stauble and Sergente Enrico Dallari) and the 97a Squadriglia (Capitano Ezio Viglione Borghese, Sergente Franco Sarasino and Sergente Maggiore Otello Perotti). After 45 minutes of flight, between Sidi Omar and Sollum, they spotted a formation of Gladiators that soon attacked the SM 79s. Aviere Scelto Armiere Reggiani recorded that after the bombing the formation was attacked by a group of ten Gloster Gladiators. The gunners of the Savoias claimed the shooting down of two of them before they were dispersed by a squadriglia of the 4o Stormo’s fighters. Capitano Larsimont chased the leader but, while shooting at him from a short distance, he collided with a British wingman that was trying to avoid his bursts. In the collision, the Gladiator lost its wings and fell. Larsimont, whose aircraft was badly damaged in the fuselage and rudders, made an emergency landing on the Menastir M airfield; unfortunately the airstrip was already abandoned by the Italians due to the proximity of the British infantry so Larsimont had to abandon his damaged plane, which became a total loss. It seems possible that Larsimont’s victim (the Gladiator surprised while chasing the Savoias and observed to fall minus its wings) was Flying Officer Arthur who later recalled:
”(...) I was chasing some Italian bombers, Savoia-Marchettis I think they were. They were quite a lot faster than our aircraft were which meant you only chance of really catching them was to cut the corner if they were foolish enough to turn very much. In...also, if you’re chasing somebody like that you’re concentrating very much on that and you are a sitting duck for somebody else. And, in fact, that’s what happened to me. Chasing these Savoias I suddenly realised I was being attacked by an Italian aircraft which almost immediately ... a shell went into the top mainplane – do you know what I mean by the top mainplane where it was a biplane - the top main plane tore straight away and swung back towards the tail and the bottom main plane sort of followed it but a bit behind and I had no control at all, just completely loose control column. So I got out quickly (...)Arthur remembered that the whole affair lasted a short time:
”Probably only fifty seconds or seventy or something like that. I got out of the cockpit quite quickly but by that time the thing was nearly vertically downwards and I got stuck underneath one of the main planes that had folded back against the fuselage and I couldn’t get out of that. I was kicking and trying to get myself free when I was very close to the ground and finally did get free but hit the ground very hard because...well, because I hadn’t had enough time to slow up, I suppose (...)”.Arthur hit the ground facing the wrong way and got dragged for quite a while with the parachute because there was heavy wind. After collapsing the parachute and freeing himself again, he was circled by two Italian aircraft, which he thought would shoot at him but in fact they didn’t. After the two Italian left the area, he started walking and after only a couple of hours was found and picked up by a long-range desert patrol.
“(…) we had a very bad day on 13th December, it was over Salum (…) we had an extraordinary bad day – ran into a very big lot of CR42s and Flight Lieutenant Gaiden [Gaden] was killed but Arthur, “Wilf” Arthur was shot down (…). Lex Witton [Winten] had an explosive round in one hand and he bailed out. Gatwood [Gatward] and Boyd both crash-landed. So we had five, and that was a really very bad day for the Squadron (…) It was a very traumatic sort of experience but the Squadron was very resilient and picked up very quickly and the people who’d – apart from Witton who was a casualty because of his hand - the others were back flying again next day or in a few days’ time. To a certain extent, you know, you expected these things but that was just a bit bigger than we normally expected. And seeing as we’d had so much success prior with virtually no casualties it hit us a bit hard for a start. But it was only a few days later on the 26th when we got our revenge back (…)”.In the meantime Larsimont, finding Menastir deserted, reached the nearby Balbia road and while waiting for a passing truck to stop, was shot at by a low flying Hurricane and had a narrow escape. After the collision, he was presumed dead by his pilots and so on the evening a message of condolences arrived from the HQ in Rome. In fact, he rejoined his unit the same day and at 15:05 was again at the head of his men.
At 11:45 on 18 December, nine Gladiators from 3 RAAF Squadron took off from the LG at Bir Mella to carry out an offensive patrol over the Capuzzo – Bardia area. No enemy aircraft were encountered and the aircraft returned to base at 13:55. The patrol reported that heavy AA fire was encountered over Bardia and lighter AA fire at two places between Fort Capuzzo and Bardia. One Gladiator flown by Flying Officer Arthur was hit and a portion of the aileron shot away.
At 09:15 on 26 December, eight Gladiators from 3 RAAF Squadron took off from the LG south-west of Sollum to escort a Lysander doing artillery reconnaissance over Bardia. The Lysander failed to appear. At approximately 14:05 (obviously during a third patrol) two flights of five SM 79s escorted by a number of CR.42s were observed a few miles north-east of Sollum Bay. A separate formation of 18 CR.42s was following the bomber formation and escort 2,000 feet higher as top cover. Two Gladiators attacked the bomber formation whilst the remainder climbed to meet the higher formation. The attack on the bombers was broken off when the higher formation attacked the Gladiators. In the ensuing combat, Flight Lieutenant Gordon Steege and Flying Officer Arthur each claimed a destroyed (seen to fall into the sea) and a damaged CR.42. Flying Officer Peter Turnbull, Flying Officer John Perrin and Flying Officer Alan Rawlinson each claimed one probable.
The CR.42s were 14 fighters from the newly arrived 23o Gruppo led by the CO, Maggiore Tito Falconi and 22 CR.42s from the 10o Gruppo. The CR.42s from the 23o Gruppo included three from the 70a Squadriglia (Tenente Claudio Solaro, Sergente Pardino Pardini and Tenente Gino Battaggion), five from the 74a Squadriglia (Capitano Guido Bobba, Tenente Lorenzo Lorenzoni, Sottotenente Sante Schiroli, Sergente Maggiore Raffaele Marzocca (forced to return early due to a sudden illness) and Sergente Manlio Tarantino) and five from the 75a Squadriglia (Tenente Pietro Calistri, Tenente Ezio Monti, Sottotenente Renato Villa, Sottotenente Leopoldo Marangoni and Maresciallo Carlo Dentis). The fighters from the the 10o Gruppo included seven from the 91a Squadriglia (Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli, Capitano Vincenzo Vanni, Capitano Mario Pluda, Sottotenente Andrea Dalla Pasqua, Sottotenente Ruggero Caporali, Sergente Maggiore Lorenzo Migliorato and Sergente Elio Miotto), nine from the 84a Squadriglia (Capitano Luigi Monti, Tenente Antonio Angeloni, Sottotenente Luigi Prati, Sottotenente Bruno Devoto, Sergente Domenico Santonocito, Sergente Corrado Patrizi, Sergente Piero Buttazzi, Sergente Luciano Perdoni and Sergente Mario Veronesi) and six from the 90a Squadriglia (Tenente Giovanni Guiducci, Tenente Franco Lucchini, Sottotenente Alessandro Rusconi, Sottotenente Neri De Benedetti, Sergente Luigi Contarini and Sergente Giovanni Battista Ceoletta), which had taken off at 13:00.
They were escorting ten SM 79s from the 41o Stormo under Tenente Colonnello Draghelli and five SM 79s 216a Squadriglia, 53o Gruppo, 34o Stormo, led by Tenente Stringa. The SM 79s had taken off from M2 at 12:25 and attacked Sollum harbour’s jetty (reportedly hit) and two destroyers inside Sollum Bay (with poor results because of the heavy AA fire). AA from the ships hit four bombers from the 34o Stormo; one of them, piloted by Sottotenente Bellini had to force land close to Ain El Gazala with the central engine out of action. Returning pilots reported an attempt to intercept by some Gladiators but the escort repulsed the British fighters. They landed without further problems at 15:15.
Over the target, immediately after the bombing, the Italian fighters reported the interception of “enemy aircraft” alternatively “many Glosters” or “Hurricanes and Glosters”. The 70a Squadrigli pilots claimed a shared Hurricane, this was possibly an aircraft from 33 Squadron. This unit’s ORB reported that during the day’s patrols many SM 79s and CR.42s were intercepted with one CR.42 believed damaged. Two Gladiators confirmed and two probables were shared between the whole 10o Gruppo. Another Gladiator was assigned to the 23o Gruppo (in the documents of 75a Squadriglia but this is not confirmed by the other two Squadriglie). Many Glosters were claimed damaged by Tenente Lorenzoni, Sottotenente Schiroli, Sergente Tarantino, Sottotenente Marangoni, Tenente Calistri, Tenente Monti and Sottotenente Villa. The CR.42s were back between 14:30 and 15:05.
No Gladiators were lost even if three of them were damaged (all repairable within the unit). The Australians had done a very good job indeed, facing a formation four times more numerous (even if it seem improbable that all the Italian fighters were able to join the combat). From the Italian reports it seems that only the front sections of the escort (including the 74a, 75a and the 84a Squadriglie) were engaged in a sharp dogfight with the Gladiators. The Australians were able to shot down the CO of the 74a Squadriglia, Capitano Guido Bobba, who was killed when his fighter fell in flames into the sea and damaged Tenente Lorenzoni’s fighter, who landed at T2 (and came back to Z1 the day after). Three more CR.42s were damaged when Tenente Angeloni was forced to land at T5 before reaching Z1, Sergente Veronesi’s fighter was damaged and Sottotenente Prati was forced to make an emergency landing short of T2 (his fighter was reportedly undamaged and only suffering for a slight engine breakdown). Maggiore Falconi’s fighter was also heavily damaged but managed to return. The morning after Angeloni was able to return to Z1 with his aircraft.
Capitano Guido Bobba was awarded a posthumously Medaglia d’Argento al valor militare. He was replaced as CO of the 74a Squadriglia by Tenente Mario Pinna.
On 22 January 1941, Flying Officers Alan Rawlinson (Gladiator K7963) and Arthur (L8009) took off at 10:20 and attacked a stationary schooner in the sea, 13 miles north of Tobruk. They landed back at 11:10. The schooner was later reported on fire.
During the morning on 14 April, Flying Officer Arthur was despatched from Sidi Haneish (Hurricane V7734) together with Lieutenant A. A. Tennant SAAF (P3725) to investigate the latest attack on Tobruk. At 10:45, when about ten miles east of the garrison while flying at 10,000 feet, they encountered three Bf 110s of III/ZG26, which they engaged. Arthur attacked one, which was last seen diving steeply towards the sea with blue smoke issuing from its fuselage but, owing to low cloud, he did not see it crash. The Messerschmitt attacked by Tenant - in all probability the same aircraft as that attacked by Arthur - was similarly last seen in a steep dive, upside down, with smoke also issuing from its fuselage. While both pilots claimed only probables, both claims were apparently upgraded later and are shown as such in 204 Group records. However, III/ZG26 reported only the loss of one aircraft, Werk. Nr. 3418, the crew of which survived. The two pilots meanwhile continued their patrol and sighted a Ju 52/3m on the landing ground at Menastir. Each carried out two strafing runs and bullets were seen to strike the transport aircraft although it did not burn.
After the first Libyan campaign he was rested, serving as an instructor at 71 OTU, Sudan. He returned to 3 RAAF Squadron in September 1941 for a second tour, subsequently flying Tomahawks in Syria and Libya.
By 12 October 1941, the RAF’s fighter units in North Africa had been grouped into three wings for future operation. 258 Wing comprised 112, 250, 2 SAAF and 3 RAAF Squadrons. All equipped with Tomahawks, for offensive actions over Cyrenaica, and to provide escort to bombers and reconnaissance aircraft.
Between 07:30-09:45 on this date, twelve Tomahawks of 2 SAAF and 12 of 3 RAAF Squadron took off to carry out a protective sweep over the army in the Sheferzen area. The Australians, which took off at 07:30 flew at 10,000ft with 2 SAAF Squadron as top cover at 12,000ft. At 09:10 reportedly four Bf 109Es attacked their formation and three Bf 109Fs joined in later. During the combat Flying Officer H. G. H. Roberts aircraft was hit by cannon shells in the elevators and port wing causing his to force land within friendly territory, while Sergeant D. Scott’s aircraft was extensively holed by fire from enemy aircraft but he was able to get away and crash-landed with his wheels up at LG.05. Roberts aircraft was later temporarily repaired and flown back to base, and later to 55 RSU for repair. These losses all seem to have accrued to Oberleutnant Ludwig Franzisket (1 P-40 over Bir Sheferzen at 08:08) and Leutnant Hans-Joachim Marseille (2 P-40s over Bir Sheferzen at 08:12 and 08:15) of 3./JG 27, who claimed three ‘P-40s’ in the opening minutes of the action.
Subsequently, 28-year-old Sergeant Thomas Dudley Parker (RAAF no. 402391) was shot out of a defensive circle, apparently by 2./JG 27’s Leutnant Rudolf Sinner (1 P-40 at 09:05 over Sidi Omar). The latter’s burst of fire hit the cockpit of the Tomahawk on the port side, cannon shells setting the fuel tank behind this ablaze at which Parker baled out. Possibly, he was already critically wounded, or else fell through a burst of fire, for when he reached the ground he was dead. It was thought at the time that he had been shot on his parachute, but it is most unlikely that in the heat of a dogfight any pilot would have been able to leave the fight and concentrate on such a difficult target as a man swinging beneath a parachute. Immediately after seeing Parker bale, Sinner was targeted by two Tomahawks at which time he pulled his Messerschmitt nearly vertical and stalled. Pulling out of the ensuing dive when he reached a lower defensive circle of Hurricanes, he nosed down at top speed and made for Gambut where he was the first back. The 3 RAAF Squadron claimed one Bf 109F, two probables and three damaged in the Sheferzen area when Sergeant Alan Cameron (AK506) claimed a destroyed Bf 109F at 09:10, Flying Officer Wallace Jewell (AK476) claimed a probable at 09:15, Flying Officer Arthur (AN314) claimed one probable and one damaged, Flying Officer Percival Bothwell (AN224) claimed a damaged at 09:25 and Flying Officer Frank Fischer (AK390) claimed the third damaged. By 10:15, all Australians had landed back at base.
The 2 SAAF Squadron took off at 07:45 (and landed 10:25) and reported combat with eight Bf 109s. 27-year-old Lieutenant Charles Albert Whaites (SAAF no. 103316V), who was acting as weaver to the South African unit, was hit, his aircraft gliding down trailing white smoke, but he was found dead in the cockpit when help got to him. Lieutenant Douglas Rogan’s aircraft was also shot-up after claiming a Bf 109 damaged, one of three Tomahawks which returned in a damaged condition. Lieutenant Dennis Lacey claimed a probable Bf 109 in this combat.
Shortly behind the first Tomahawks to reach the area, ten more of these aircraft from 112 Squadron appeared (take-off 06:20). They were led by Flying Officer Jack Groves and encountered a reported ten G.50s and 15 Bf 109s. Two more 2./JG 27 pilots, Hauptmann Erich Gerlitz (1 Hurricane 80km south-south-east of Sollum at 09:30) and Leutnant Friedrich Körner (1 P-40 south-east of Sollum at 09:34), at once shot down Pilot Officer F. E. Parker (AN220), who was slightly wounded and Sergeant R. M. Leu (AM396), while Flying Officer Groves’ AM444 was badly damaged as was Sergeant C. F. McWilliams’ AM481. Pilot Officer Peter Charles Lindsay Brunton was slightly wounded in the knee (he was sent to Cairo for examination) and he also returned with a damaged Tomahawk (AK503). Pilot Officer R. J. D. Jefferies (AM410) claimed a Bf 109 over Bir Sheferzen-Sofafi while Flying Officer Groves claimed a Bf 109E and a G.50 over Sheferzen. All aircraft from 112 Squadron had landed by 09:00.
The German casualties on this occasion seems to have been one 1.Staffel aircraft (Bf 109E-7 Wnr. 6001) suffering 40% damage in combat, this probably inflicted by the 3 RAAF Squadron pilots. That evening F. E. Parker and R. M. Leu, both having been slightly wounded, were found by troops of the Coldstream Guards, and were back with the unit by the 14th.
At 09:45 on 22 November, twelve Tomahawks of 3 RAAF Squadron took off to escort Blenheims of 45 Squadron on a raid on the Acroma-El Adem road. The Tomahawks were subdivided into two groups of six, the first were formed as close cover, and three per side of the Blenheims, the second was placed as top cover with three pairs of aircraft. Flying Officer Bobby Gibbes recorded:
“I was on the morning operation in which B flight was to escort six Blenheims to bomb Bir el Gubi. After take-off we rendezvoused with five Blenheims instead of the expected six. We split into two sixes close cover, flying three aircraft on either side of the bombers. I flew in number one position on the port.The Australian fighters were back at base by 11:10. They claimed two probable (Sergeant Derek Scott in AN305 claimed both) and five damaged; Squadron Leader Alan Rawlinson (AN406) and Flight Lieutenant Arthur (AN389) one each of these – the other three were claimed by unknown pilots. Initially two pilots were missing and one killed but in the end all three were KIA; 22-year-old Pilot Officer Eric Hall Lane (AM378) (RAAF no. 406002), 21-year-old Flight Lieutenant John Henry William Saunders (AN416) (RAAF no. 471) and 28-year-old Flying Officer Malcolm Hector Watson (AK510) (RAAF no. 845).
The Blenheims were very much slower than our Tomahawks and we had to weave in order to stay alongside them. This actually was advantageous as it enabled us to scan the skies well, in search of enemy aircraft. We had arranged with the bomber crews for their rear gunners to fire into the air above if they saw enemy aircraft, and this would alert us if we hadn’t already spotted them. Our radio frequencies were different to those which the bomber radios were tuned to, and this was always a great disadvantage to all pilots and crews.
On the way to the target area, we passed a few miles to the port of enemy aircraft which were busily bombing our troop positions, with their fighter escort weaving above. We passed without much apparent notice of each other, as both lots of protective fighters were obliged to remain with their charges.
Shortly before reaching our target, a line of single black ack-ack bursts was seen above the broken cloud layer, and these, we knew, were to indicate to the German fighter pilots our position and heading. A few minutes later, a force of about 15 109s appeared above, and this formation split into two sections and started to attack our top cover. The top cover was free to mix it with the enemy, but we pilots giving close cover were obliged to remain with our five Blenheims.
Our top six did a wonderful, but terribly costly job in engaging the enemy and preventing them from attacking the Blenheims. Only two got through in an attempt to attack the bombers, and only one of these actually fired a quick burst at one of the rear aircraft. Two of us attacked it, driving it off. I was able to get into a very close position behind it, and only broke off my attack when I was in danger of running through the curtain of fire from the rear gunners of the bomber formation. I know that I was hitting it and I doubt if it did any real damage to the bomber, nor was I able to claim having damaged it as I did not see any bits fly off.
A second 109 dived onto the tail of my number three, Malcolm Watson. I saw it coming and 1 called a desperate warning to him, but again, our poor radio communication resulted in him not hearing me and he continued his weave. It hit him hard, and he half rolled, and went into a lazy spiral dive, evidently having been killed in the attack. I pulled around onto the 109 and fired at it as it dived away, but whether I damaged it or not, I do not know.
On two or three occasions during the combat, I felt my aircraft being hit and the strong smell of cordite permeated the cockpit. Each time my heart nearly stopped as I hadn’t seen an attacking aircraft. I took wild evasive action, but could not see the aircraft which had hit me. After suffering terrific fear on each occasion, I suddenly realized that I had been firing my own guns, and the point fives, being in the cockpit, accounted for the vibration and the smell of gunpowder. It was the first time that I had worn gloves when flying, and I wasn’t conscious that, without the normal feel of my finger on the trigger, I had been tensing my grip without being aware of doing so. I threw the gloves onto the floor of the cockpit and never wore them again.
The fighters up above slowly disappeared behind us and the plumes of dense black smoke from the desert below, bore mute testimony to the gallant action of our top cover. How many of the fires were enemy, and how many ours, we didn’t know. The bombers had done a good job. They ran up steadily on their target and dropped their bombs, I believe with great accuracy but unseen by us. It was enough for us to see the bombs leave their aircraft and to see them turn for home, while we wondered the while if we would ever make it. How slow those bombers were, and how slowly the desert passed below! How we wished that we could open our throttles and dive for home and safety, but this could not be! After landing back with our five bombers intact, our remaining top cover landed. We had lost three of our pilots, Malcolm Watson who I saw go down, and Johnny Saunders and Eric Lane. The three were killed. I have told how Malcolm went and later I learned that Eric Lane had been seen battling with three 109s. He got on the tail of one of these and had it smoking badly when another 109 jumped him from behind and shot him down in a mass of flames.
We never did hear how Johnny died.”
At 15:40 on 22 November, nine Tomahawks from 112 Squadron (led by Flight Lieutenant Gerald Westenra) and 13 from 3 RAAF Squadron led by Wing Commander Peter Jeffrey (CO 258 Wing in Tomahawk AN244 from 3 RAAF Squadron) took off for an offensive sweep over the Tobruk-El Adem area. With them were Wing Commander Fred Rosier (262 Wing) in a Hurricane II, who was planned to land in Tobruk during the return from the sweep.
At 16:15, south-east of El Adem a reported 15-20 Bf 109Fs were encountered at 11 o’clock at an altitude of between 4000 and 5000 feet and a furious battle ensued (112 Squadron also reported G.50s but this seems false since not Italian units is reported to have taken part in this combat).
For the first 15 minutes it was a free-for-all which gradually separated into individual dog-fights. Finally eleven Tomahawks formed a defensive circle with the Germans in a similar position, but slightly above. The circles flew round and round while every now and then an aircraft, seeing an advantage, would slip out and attack. While this was going on the enemy ground troops kept up a continuous fire of small arms and flak. In effect deadlock ensued, despite the Germans superiority in every respect but there was nothing he could do to force the issue. The fight lasted over an hour, and ended up, as night fell, with the Bf 109s flying off (with the height advantage they had all the initiative).
When 112 Squadron returned at17:20, the Tomahawks were short of fuel and landed all over the place, Pilot Officer John Bartle being the only one to reach LG 122. They claimed two victories when Pilot Officer Neville Duke (AK402/F) destroyed a Bf l09 south of El Adem at 16:15 after giving it a long burst at 100 yards. The hood and pieces of the fuselage falling off and the pilot, wearing a field-grey uniform, baled out. Pilot Officer John Bartle (AK538) managed a sustained burst with all his guns on another Bf l09F, killing the pilot over El Adem between 16:15 and 17:20. Their only loss was Sergeant H. G. Burney (AM390) who was shot down while three planes were badly damaged and three others slightly.
“…bound for Tobruk were attacked by 15/20 Me.109F’s from about 1000 feet above at 16.15 hours SE of El Adem. A dogfight ensued resulting in heavy damage on both sides. It is difficult to form a true picture of the battle which moved at great speed for the better part of an hour. For the first 15 minutes it was a free for all, gradually separating into individual dogfights from which our own and enemy planes began to break away one or two at a time. Finally 11 Tomahawks of both Squadrons formed a defensive circle 500 feet above the ground, with 6 Me.109’s 1000 feet above watching for possible stragglers. The 109’s made repeated dives on the outside of the circle which were immediately countered by the machines following the one attacked, pulling out to give the enemy a send off, and these on the opposing side lifting nose to meet the attack. This proved successful and the enemy eventually broke off and made for home…”Pilot Officer Sands observed:
“Pilot baling out of machine shot up by P. O. Duke.Pilot Officer Duke recorded:
A 109 burst into flames after a stern attack by an unidentified Tomahawk.
A 109 with pieces flying off and spinning in with wheels flapping and piece off wing after an assumed collision with a Tomahawk which had its wing shot off in this attack. FO Humphrey saw this machine crash.
2 Me. 109F destroyed…However, as at least six pilots made attacks on passing 109’s they must have suffered further unobserved damage.
1. Smoke trails from enemy guns seemed to indicate a high percentage of tracers or incendiary bullets.
2. Camouflage- desert, with blue underneath and black crosses under wings and on fuselage with white edgings.
3. At least one G.50 was seen with a black cross on fuselage… [It seems unlikely that there were G.50s.]”
“One Me. 109 destroyed, own machine undamaged. Pilot baled out after long burst from 100 yards. Stern quarter. Hood and pieces of fuselage disintegrated. Pilot had on German Field Grey Uniform. Unable to strafe pilot owing to presence of other E/A.”It seems that Duke felt the need to justify himself for not having tried to kill the German pilot; this would make one think that there were orders to do precisely that, perhaps limited to when one was over enemy territory. After the war, Duke wrote:
“I got on the tail of one and followed him up. Got in a burst from stern quarter and its hood and pieces of fuselage disintegrated. Machine went into a vertical dive and the pilot baled out. Flew round and round the pilot until he landed, then went down to look at him. I waved to him and he waved back. Poor devil thought I was going to strafe him as he initially dived behind a bush and lay flat.Wing Commander Rosier landed beside Sergeant Burney to try to pick him up. The Hurricane burst a tyre on take-off and they had to abandon it. Enemy armoured cars were nearby so the two men had to hike 30 miles back to our lines where they were picked up none the worse for wear by the Indian Division. Wing Commander Rosier himself recorded later:
Rejoined Squadron which was going round and round in a defensive circle. The 109s kept diving down on us and I saw a Tomahawk go in with half its wing off after colliding with a 109. The fight lasted about 40 minutes. Longest ever! Force-landed after breaking away from circle by myself, at an advanced landing ground (LG. 134).”
“…I decided to fly to the besieged fortress of Tobruk to organise the airfield facilities for fighter operations and to find out why the post (radar) there was failing to give us early warning of the approach of aircraft from the west.The combat hit 3 RAAF Squadron harder and only Squadron Leader Alan Rawlinson (AN365) landed back at LG 122 at 17:15 while five others (including Flight Lieutenant Arthur in AN389) landed at LG 134 at 17:45 (one with starboard mainplane damaged). Two Tomahawks had returned earlier (both with magneto trouble) but six fighters were missing! Wing Commander Jeffrey was forced to land, but was picked up by Commonwealth troops uninjured and returned to 3 RAAF Squadron on 24 November while Sergeant Ronald Simes (AM507) was picked up by the 4th Hussars and returned to the Squadron on 26 November. Flying Officer H. G. H. Roberts in AN373 and Flying Officer W. G. Kloster in AK390 were both taken PoW while 24-years-old Flight Lieutenant Lindsay Eric Shaw Knowles (RAAF No. 456) in AN410 and 27-years-old Pilot Officer Lawton Lees (RAAF No. 400092) in AN305 both were KIA. In return, the Australians claimed three destroyed Bf 109s, one probable and eight damaged; Squadron Leader Rawlinson claimed two destroyed and two damaged, Flight Lieutenant Arthur claimed three damaged, Sergeant Simes claimed one destroyed, Flying Officer Robert Gibbes claimed one probable, Flying Officer Edward Jackson (AN441) claimed one damaged and Flying Officer Thomas Trimble (AK382) claimed two damaged. Flying Officer Gibbes of 3 RAAF Squadron recorded:
That afternoon with an escort of two Tomahawk squadrons, 112 (Shark) Squadron and 3 Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force, I set off in my Hurricane II for Tobruk. We were well on the way when at 1615 hrs, south-east of El Adem, we were intercepted by a group of perhaps 20 Bf 109s. Bobby Gibbes wrote in his diary that day: ‘They straight away climbed up into the sun and came down onto us and started to dogfight. Soon got sick of that and formed a big circle about 2,000 feet above us and came down in twos and threes from all directions.’
After about 20 minutes, on breaking away, I saw a Tomahawk of 112 Squadron, diving down streaming smoke. I followed it down. He lowered his undercarriage and force-landed, only a few miles away from an enemy column which I had noticed. In order to prevent the pilot falling into the ‘bag’ I decided to attempt to rescue him. I landed the Hurricane alongside the Tomahawk and the pilot. Sgt Burney, an Australian, ran across to me. I jumped out, discarded my parachute and he climbed into my cockpit. I sat on top of him, opened the throttle and started to take off. Then disaster struck, just as I started my take-off run my right tyre burst. I accelerated but the wheel dug into the sand and we ground to a halt. There was nothing to do but abandon the plane.
At that time it was nearly dusk and, as there was an Italian armoured column about two miles away, we ran to the shelter of a nearby wadi. After some time as there was no sign of the enemy, we returned to the aircraft and I quickly removed all my possessions from the Hurricane, including my wife’s photograph…and hid them under some nearby brushwood. Taking some food and water we returned to our hiding place where we planned to spend the night. A little later, trucks arrived and Italian soldiers began to search for us. They found all my possessions but although they came within yards of where we were hiding behind some rocks, they did not see us.
The next morning, anxious to get as far away as possible from the scene of our landings, we set off in an easterly direction to walk the 30 miles or so back to our lines. That night, using the Pole star to navigate, we found ourselves in the middle of some German tanks and lorries. We started crawling on our hands and knees and I thought the game was up when lights came on and we were twice challenged by sentries. Eventually, when all became quiet we continued walking. As dawn was breaking we found ourselves still close to the enemy force who were searching for us on motorcycles. We therefore made for the shelter of some brushwood surrounding a dry well which was the only bit of cover for miles around.
At about 0800 that morning (24 November) we found ourselves in the middle of an artillery battle with shells falling on and around the enemy force close to us, which immediately began to disperse and withdraw. We then heard unmistakable orders being barked out in English. I decided that the best thing to do was to make a dash for it, so we ran until we eventually reached the artillery unit. We were at first greeted with suspicion but we were soon given some tea and food and sent on to an armoured brigade headquarters not far away.
They welcomed us and provided us with a truck and driver to take us to Fort Maddalena. En-route, as we approached a South African armoured car unit, shells started falling around us and a number of enemy tanks coming straight towards us appeared about two miles away The enemy force which we had encountered had broken through and was heading east towards the Egyptian frontier. The South African major’s last words to us were. ‘I think we are the last line of defence before the wire.’ So we turned round and went like the wind, heading east. Later we were strafed by 110s but our fighters appeared and shot down four of them. Again, we passed a most uncomfortable night not knowing the position of the Hun tanks but got back to Maddalena the next morning - 25th.”
“In order to ensure a full squadron strength of 12 aircraft, we would have one and sometimes two extra machines standing by, or taking off with the formation. If an aircraft turned back, the extra aircraft would take its place.Flying Officer Gibbes continued:
On the afternoon of the 22nd I foolishly volunteered to be the thirteenth man and when one aircraft turned back I took its place and became number two to Lin Knowles. I was to regret having made this stupid decision. The operation was to be an offensive patrol of the forward area by two squadrons, number 3 and 112, with 3 leading, led by Peter Jeffrey. We were escorting Wing Commander Freddie Rosier who was flying a Hurricane Mark 2. He wanted to get into Tobruk and it was planned that he would drop down there on the homeward leg of the patrol. Fred did not make Tobruk. We crossed the wire on Egypt’s boundary and climbed on a westerly heading weaving our way towards Bir el Gubi. Shortly after passing this landmark, and about to turn onto a northerly heading towards Tobruk, aircraft were seen and reported above our level, coming towards us. They passed about 3 or 4,000 feet above us on our port. Peter turned the wing to the left in a gentle turn behind the 20 plus 109s which climbed up into the sun and started to dive down and vigorously attack us. A fierce fight commenced. After a short time, the enemy started to form a circle about 2,000 feet above us, and they then started coming down in twos and threes from all directions.
After their attacks they would climb up again or sometimes, continue their dive through our formation and pull away before climbing up for further attacks. Ultimately, we ourselves somehow formed a defensive circle, when the lead aircraft caught up with the end machines. This circle was a recommended tactic and supposedly provided great protection to all aircraft in it. When enemy aircraft attacked, they would be subject to the firepower of one or more aeroplanes flying behind the machine being attacked. What a dreadful fallacy this theory really was. All it did with certainty, was to ensure that the leader was no longer recognisable, and virtually this made all aircraft leaderless. As the pairs were broken up by repeated attacks, we became a gaggle of single aircraft.
The Messerschmitts had the advantage of height and when they dived on us they proved to be difficult targets due to the great speed which they had built up in their dive. It was hard to get more than a fleeting shot at them as they flashed past.
One of our pilots, Wilfred Arthur, at the time a Flight Lieutenant, tried breaking upwards after each attack on him, meaning to play the Germans at their own game. He gained quite a lot of altitude before a number of the enemy made a concerted attack on him forcing him to make a hurried diving retreat back to us. From memory, I believe that one or two of our more twitchy pilots took a pot at him as he rejoined the circle. They had become used to seeing only enemy aircraft come down from above.
Eddie Jackson’s Tomahawk was hit by an explosive 20mm shell in the starboard wing root. A big section of the wing was blown off and it was quite amazing that the aircraft still flew. He remained aggressive and continued to use his aircraft to the full. This spoke well for the rugged construction of the Curtiss aircraft which was still able to take high G forces without the wing collapsing.
As I mentioned earlier, I was flying as Lin Knowles’s number 2. When the first attacks started, Lin pulled up to fire at a 109 which was diving onto our formation. I followed him up until a second 109 pulled in behind us. I called out a warning and broke out of its way. From then on I was not able to locate him again and indeed was kept too busy to really try. The intensity of the attacks was quite horrendous and we were all fully occupied in trying to stay alive and fighting back when possible.
At one stage I pulled up after a 109 which dived from south to north across the formation and I managed to get a full deflection shot at it. There was a vivid flash from his cockpit area on the starboard side, and the aircraft which had been climbing, fell off to starboard and started diving away. I felt that it had ‘had it’, but I was not able to watch further as I was myself attacked and by the time I got clear, there was nothing to be seen of my possible victim.
During the combat I fired at several aircraft but was unable to claim any results although I must have scored the odd hit. I only saw the definite strike. At one time I pulled up to have a shot at a 109 which was pulling away after an attack. I noticed a 109 shooting at me from extreme range, but he had to allow full deflection to hit me and as I didn't think he was laying off enough lead, I kept on with my attack on the escaping aircraft. I completely overlooked my diminishing speed and when near the stall, I was startled to hear the sound of bullets striking my aircraft and saw my starboard wing start to look like the family colander. In an agony of fear, I kicked on full left rudder and rammed the stick forward in a desperate attempt to get clear of the hail of bullets. The next moment, I was being thrown violently around the cockpit. I thought for a moment that my controls had been shot away but then realised that I was in an inverted spin. I thought of opening my canopy and releasing my harness and dropping clear, but as I had 4,000 feet I decided to stay with it and to see if I could regain control. Due to having my harness fairly loose, I had terrific difficulty in getting my feet onto the rudders. I was completely clear of the cockpit seat because of the outward inertia of the spin and my head was hard up against the canopy. By a supreme effort I manage to get on some opposite rudder and came out inverted. It was a simple matter to roll out. I tightened my harness. A short time later, while flying almost on the deck after diving out of the defensive circle to shoot at a 109, I pulled up fairly hard to rejoin my friends. I must have hit a slipstream as I flipped onto my back at about 300 feet above the desert. I had long practiced low aerobatics, but never this low. My reaction was automatic and I pushed the stick forward and rolled out. I was amazed to be still alive and I was shaking even more than before, if this was possible. Afterwards, one of the surviving pilots discussing the combat in the safety of the mess, said, ‘Did you see that bloke flick onto his back right on the deck and go in.’ So positive had he been of my fate that he hadn’t bothered to watch me actually hit. He was amazed when I finished the story for him.
A 109 carried out an attack on one of our aircraft and as it started pulling away and I was trying to get a shot at it, a Tomahawk dived from somewhere above with a lot of speed and firing from about a hundred yards, hit it cleanly in about the cockpit area. The Messerschmitt disintegrated in a ball of flames. As I watched the wings and bits falling down I could only admire such magnificent shooting. I think the Tomahawk was flown by Alan Rawlinson.
A 109 dived in to attack. A Tomahawk pulled up and carried out a head-on attack on it, both aircraft shooting furiously. Each held his attack until the last moment before breaking. They left it too long, clipped their starboard wings and each flew in a gentle but steepening dive away from each other to the desert below and hit almost simultaneously. A wing from each aircraft fluttered down almost together like falling leaves, hitting the ground about half way between the crashed aircraft. I watched and prayed that our pilot would bale out but he did not open his canopy, and was probably knocked out by the impact. The 109 pilot also went in with his aircraft. We later confirmed that the Tomahawk was flown by Lindsay Knowles.
The fight raged on and gradually we were forced lower and lower. Some of the lowest planes were literally skimming the desert. This gave some measure of relief as the 109s were no longer able to dive straight down through us and away. Instead they had to pull up after their attacks. Again, it stopped them diving as steeply which resulted in less speed and gave us a fraction more time to shoot at them as they flashed past. On the debit side, due to wind effect, our circle was gradually drifting to the south-east and this was carrying us over various German and Italian concentrations of troops, guns and tanks with a resulting hail of fire coming up at us from below to add to our worries. Some of the more aggressive pilots aimed an occasional burst at ground targets as they passed over, but I for one, was content to save my ammunition for use against the Luftwaffe. It seemed unlikely that any of us would survive, but I wanted to at least be able to shoot back until I was killed. The numbers of 109s would sometimes seem to dwindle, but just as we were starting to have some faint hope, a fresh batch would arrive, keen to be in at the kill. We were 150 miles from our base and they were a mere few miles from theirs. As they used up their supply of ammunition and petrol, they would land back, hurriedly re-arm, refuel and return to this combat.
Time passed and the fight went on. I looked at my watch, at my gauges and noting the way my petrol was diminishing, eased back my throttle a little, leaned my mixture as much as possible, probably more than I should have. Would my petrol last until darkness? If so, how far would we be able to fly before being forced to land, still miles inside enemy territory? Would we survive a landing in darkness away from an aerodrome? It would be unlikely.
At last the sun sank below the horizon and in the east a slight bluish tinge told of approaching night. There are fewer 109s now. There might be a hope, if only the leader would make a break for home. But where is the leader? Perhaps he is dead. Would it be possible for me to lead this team out of the circle where we were like a mob of sheep. I called up the CO. I called up Lin. Dead silence. I called up the mob and told them that I was going to make a break for home and broke away waggling my wings. Not a soul followed. I hurriedly rejoined the circle. The 109s looked as if they were leaving us. I called up again and again broke towards home waggling my wings. The circle broke almost to a man and followed. ’Woof’ Arthur flew up alongside me and took over the lead. It was a great relief to see him as I had doubts about my ability to find my way back to base. The little enemy dots were fading into the darkness.
Woof’s navigation was good and he led us into a newly captured aerodrome. We landed in approaching darkness, most of us very low in fuel and morale. The combat had lasted for one hour and five minutes. During this time we were under constant attack from above and for a fairly long period, from below as well.
I landed with only ten gallons of petrol left and I was practically right out of ammunition. The other pilots were also suffering from fuel shortage, and on reaching the aerodrome there was no pansy flying and of carrying out a normal circuit; no time to take precautions. Wheels went down and we went straight in praying that the runway was clear, and that we would be able to see the ground when the time came to hold off and put the aircraft down. A couple of the pilots had to make dead-stick landings when their motors cut on final and another had his motor cut when taxying in to disperse his aircraft.
We assembled, those who were left, at the mess tent of the squadron which had just moved up to this newly captured aerodrome. Word was passed to our squadron that we had landed. The relief of the squadron people must have been quite considerable, as only Alan Rawlinson had landed back and he had only been able to report having shot down two 109s (credited as one and one probable).
Word came through that Peter Jeffrey was safe but that Freddie Rosier was missing. Fred was not seen after the fight started. Also missing from the operation were Lin Knowles, Sammy Lees, Robbie Roberts, Ron Simes and Bill Kloster. Peter had been the sixth pilot missing. Sammy Lees and Lin Knowles were later confirmed to have been killed and Bill Kloster and Robbie Roberts had become prisoners of war. Ron Simes walked back.
When the combat started, Fred Rosier was flying just below the Tomahawks in his Hurricane. He tried to keep up with the climbing squadrons but his machine was not capable of doing so. He saw one of the Tomahawks get shot down and the pilot land and get out of his aircraft. As he couldn't get up to the fight and as this pilot was miles behind enemy lines, he decided to do the next best thing and pick him up.
“22 November 1941 proved to be a day of disaster for 3 Squadron. By dusk our pilot strength had been depleted by almost 50%. In the morning battle we lost three pilots, all killed, and in the afternoon, a further four, two of whom were killed and the other two became prisoners of war. Al Rawlinson had been the only pilot of our 11 to land back at base. A further five surviving pilots had landed at a forward aerodrome, and two others arrived back the following day.Totally the two Tomahawk squadrons five Bf 109s destroyed, one probable and eight damaged for the loss of eight fighters (seven Tomahawks and one Hurricane) and several others damaged.
My morale was at bedrock and I thought that I would not be able to take it anymore, and I spent the whole (next) morning mooching around in a state of funk and dreaded bring asked to fly again. I was ashamed of my fear and frightened that my friends might see it. I kept to myself as much as possible, but occasionally I would go to the operations tent, pretending that I wanted to have another go at the Huns, but frightened that if I was given a job I would not be able to force myself into getting into my aeroplane. It would have to be a new aircraft too. My aircraft was in the workshops and would be there for quite a while being patched up.”
After a night of doubt as to a column of vehicles seen the previous night making east from south of Sidi Omar, Squadron Leader Alan Rawlinson (Tomahawk IIb AN408) and Flight Lieutenant Arthur (AN224) took off at 06:25 on 25 November to find out the latest position. They returned after 30 minutes and took off at 07:20 for a second tactical reconnaissance when they identified the column in position 491335 moving fast. As a result 12 Tomahawks took off at 08:25 to strafe the tanks and motor-transports.
It seems that the convoy had been attacked by 112 Squadron ten minutes before the arrival of 3 RAAF Squadron, so surprise had been lost and they received a hot welcome.
Flight Lieutenant Arthur (AN224) returned with five bullet holes in his mainplanes at 09:00 (remaining aircraft returned at 09:25).
Flight Lieutenant J. G. Manford (AM400) crash-landed after his cooling system had been shot up. He landed close to a convoy of 451Squadron, who were evacuating LG 132 and was brought in by them. His aircraft had burst into flames on landing and was completely destroyed.
Flying Officer Wallace Jewell (AN406) did not return from the operation, and it was believed that he had been taken prisoner. This proved correct when he returned to the unit at 17:10. He had been taken prisoner by a small detachment of Germans who were making for Sidi Omar. The asked Flying Officer Jewell if they were travelling in the right direction, and as they were heading south, he told them they were. After being a PoW for two hours, a German car drew alongside out of which appeared three New Zealanders armed with Bren Guns. The driver of the car Flying Officer Jewell was in did not stop, so he jumped out. The New Zealanders drove him back to the squadron, after leaving the prisoners to Corps Headquarters.
20-years-old Flying Officer Percival Roy Bothwell (RAAF No. 695) (AM398) failed to return. Three officers went out the following morning thinking he might be injured. They found his body and buried it. His Tomahawk had hit the ground at speed, the engine being found 100 yards from the airframe. In the opinion of the officers who found the body, Flying Officer Bothwell was wound before his aircraft crashed.
Between 08:20 and 08:30 on 30 November, six MC.200s of the 153o Gruppo, five G.50bis of the 378a Squadriglia, 155o and three G.50bis from the 20o Gruppo took off to escort 18 Ju 87s of II/StG 2 out to attack troops of the New Zealand Division. Bf 109s from II/JG 27 was also involved in escorting this mission as top cover. The formation of Ju 87s proceeded to the target in Bir el Gobi in a column, with the G.50bis of the 155o Gruppo on their right in line abreast.
En route to the target they were intercepted by a reportedly five Hurricanes or P-40s. The attack was interrupted by the prompt intervention of the Bf 109s and Oberfeldwebel Otto Schulz of 4./JG 27 claimed two P-40s; one at 09:10 north-east of Bir el Gobi and a second at 09:20 south-west of El Adem.
The Stukas reached the target at 09:10 and here an indefinite number of enemy fighters engaged all the escorting fighters and the combat continued during the return flight. Totally the returning Italian pilots claimed five destroyed, two probable and two damaged. Tenente Colonnello Luigi Bianchi (155o Gruppo) attacked some fighters attacking the rear of the Stukas and he returned claiming one Hurricane shot down and a probable Tomahawk having used 260 rounds of ammunition. Segente Italo Abraim (378a Squadriglia) claimed a destroyed Tomahawk (using only 12 rounds of ammunition!). Tenente Tulio Martinelli, Tenente Giuseppe Bonfiglio and Tenente Vittorio Galfetti (all 378a Squadriglia) returned claiming two shared damaged. Sottotenente Giorgio Oberwerger (352a Squadriglia, 20o Gruppo) and Sottotenente Pietro Zanello (352a Squadriglia, 20o Gruppo) claimed one Tomahawk each while Maresciallo Egeo Pardi (374a Squadriglia, 153o Gruppo) claimed one and one probable Tomahawk. Two G.50s from the 378a Squadriglia were shot down; Sottotenente Eugenio Giunta (MM5967) PoW and Sergente Girolamo Monaldi (MM6023) KIA. The 374a Squadriglia suffered two damaged MC.200s with both pilots wounded (Maresciallo Egeo Pardi and Tenente Mario Mauro) while a third MC.200 from 153o Gruppo, hit in the fuel tank, force-landed near Umm er Rzem. Two more MC.200s returned to base slightly damaged.
They had been in combat with Tomahawks from 112 and 3 RAAF Squadrons which had taken off together for a sweep.
112 Squadron reported that they took off at 08:30 with 12 Tomahawks and joining up with an equal number from 3 RAAF Squadron in an offensive wing sweep over the El Adem area, the wing being led by Wing Commander Peter Jeffrey DFC. They intercepted a force of 35-40 enemy machines in several layers, 15 Ju 87s at 6,000ft, 20 G.50s and MC.200s from 7,000-8,000ft and five Bf 109s as top cover. Wing Commander Jeffrey detailed one section from 112 Squadron to watch the Messerschmitts and the remainder of the squadron, with 3 RAAF Squadron, to concentrate on the middle and lower formations. The Stukas jettisoned their bombs and in the combat, one MC.200 and two G.50s were claimed destroyed by 112 Squadron with one Bf 109 and one G.50 damaged. One of the G.50s were shot down by Sergeant 'Rudy' Leu (AK509) after a stern attack while a G.50 was claimed damaged by Pilot Officer ‘Ken’ Sands. Pilot Officer Neville Bowker (AN338) claimed one MC.200 destroyed, but he was then shot down by a G.50 and was forced to crash-land on the outskirts of LG 122, his machine being badly damaged. Pilot Officer Neville Duke (AK402/F) chased a G.50 for a long way before finally shooting it down. Two or three Bf 109s and a G.50 or MC.200 then attacked from him astern. He turned and gave one of the Bf 109s a short burst, which appeared to have damaged it. He was followed home by another Bf 109F and was hit in the port wing and main petrol tank. His machine went over onto its back at about 500ft and hit the ground on its belly just as he pulled it round. The aircraft took to the air again with a burst of power and crash-landed. Duke leapt out and had only just cleared the aircraft and hidden himself in the scrub when it was strafed and set on fire. Later he was picked up by a Lysander and returned to base. His victor seems to have been Oberfeldwebel Otto Schulz of 4./JG 27 whose habit was to strafe downed aircraft for good measure.
3 RAAF Squadron reported that 12 Tomahawks took off at 08:40 and joined 112 Squadron in an offensive wing sweep over the El Adem area, the wing being led by Wing Commander Jeffrey DFC. Australian pilots taking part were Sergeant 'Tiny' Cameron (AK506), Flying Officer Robert Gibbes (AN499), Sergeant Derek Scott (AN374), Squadron Leader Alan Rawlinson (AN408), Flight Lieutenant Arthur (AN224), Flying Officer Louis Spence (AN457), Sergeant Frank Blunden Reid (AM406), Flying Officer Thomas Trimble (AM384), Sergeant Rex Wilson (AM392), Pilot Officer Eggleston (AN336), Sergeant 'Wal' Mailey (AK446) and Pilot Officer 'Nicky' Barr (AM378). Pilot Officer Barr returned at 09:00 with engine trouble. The patrol intercepted reportedly between 40 and 50 enemy aircraft and in the ensuing combat they claimed 13 destroyed and 18 damaged. Squadron Leader Rawlinson landed back at 09:40 claiming one MC.200 destroyed. Flying Officer Spence followed him. Sergeant Wilson landed with wheels up just off the aerodrome at 09:45 with landing gears unserviceable, and oil running everywhere. He claimed one MC.200, one Ju 87 and one Bf 109 damaged. At 09:55, Flying Officer Trimble, Sergeant Reid and Sergeant Mailey landed. Trimble claimed two MC.200s destroyed and three Ju 87s damaged, Reid claimed three damaged Ju 87s while Mailey claimed one MC.200 and one G.50 destroyed and three damaged Ju 87s. Pilot Officer Eggleston landed at 10:05. At 10:10, Flying Officer Gibbes and Sergeant Scott landed. Gibbes claimed one G.50 destroyed and one Bf 109 damaged and Scott claimed one G.50 and one Ju 87 destroyed and one Ju 87 damaged. Finally, at 10:15, Wing Commander Jeffrey landed sitting well up in the cockpit - he had landed alongside Sergeant Cameron and picked him up in the desert. Sergeant Cameron who after having claimed one G.50 destroyed and four Ju 87s damaged had been shot down and forced to baled out. From this operation Flight Lieutenant Arthur failed to return but he returned to the Squadron at 17:00 in a borrowed Hurricane. He had been forced to land inside the Tobruk fortress when his distributor became unserviceable. He had had a field day claiming two Ju 87s, one G.50 and one MC.200 destroyed.
No Ju 87s were lost in this combat but two from 4./St.G 2 returned with wounded gunners (Unteroffizier Otto Herbert and Gefreiter Manfred Spiegelberg).
Having become a flight commander late in 1941, he received a DFC on 20 January 1942, at which point he returned to Australia. Here he served with 76 RAAF Squadron in New Guinea on Kittyhawks from 13 April 1942 to 21 January 1943, when he became commanding officer of 75 RAAF Squadron, with which unit he made two further claims against the Japanese.
At 09:02 on 10 March 1943, Squadron Leader Arthur (A29-125/Y) and Sergeant Keith Wilson (A29-127/L) departed Milne Bay on a reconnaissance patrol to Urasi Island. At 09:50 when about five to seven miles from Fergusson Island, toward the Trobriand Islands, Arthur, flying at 21,000 feet spotted an aircraft approximately 4,000 feet below. Silhouetted against a bank of cumulous cloud, the aircraft was flying toward them at seven to eight miles distance. Knowing that a friendly aircraft was carrying out a photographic reconnaissance in the area the two pilots initially maintained course and height. Upon seeing that it was a twin engine aircraft, Arthur called Wilson into position and the two pilots dropped belly tanks. Wilson then followed Arthur into a dive to port and soon the red Hinormaru's on a greenish brown Betty bomber came clearly into view. Alerted to the presence of the fighters the bomber appeared to drop its bomb load, but then failed to close its bomb doors.
Arthur pressed the first attack, coming in on the port beam. Under inaccurate fire from the bombers port blister and tail guns he managed to ”get in a good burst”. After which the Betty made a slow turn from east to a north east direction. Wilson in his first combat then followed with a rear quarter attack, but observed his tracer falling just below his target. Soon after, the twin tail guns fell silent, and remained pointing skyward for the duration of the combat. Arthur’s guns had stopped, so he recharged and made several attacks from the same position as his first attack. However on each pass he could only get one gun to fire. Wilson tried another beam attack but again observed no hits. By this time the bomber had entered a shallow dive and was heading toward a bank of cloud.
Arthur again recharged his guns and chased the aircraft down. Closing rapidly, he fired another short burst then pulled away to starboard as it entered the cloud. As the Betty emerged from the cloud, Arthur found himself in a good position for a bow attack, which he commenced from about 400 yards. His tracer entered the starboard engine and forward fuselage before he broke away at 70 yards. Once again his guns stopped, but he managed to get three going again before making a final quarter attack. With the side gunner on the Betty firing wildly he closed to 15 yards in the stern position. Another burst from Arthur saw his tracer entering the fuselage before he pulled away to starboard. The bomber began to turn towards the sea, Wilson making a stern attack as it did so. Closing from 500 yards down to 150 yards, he saw a few small pieces fly off the aircraft before the starboard engine caught fire. Wilson broke away at a height of 2000ft with flames extending from the Betty’s leading edge to the tail. The aircraft continued on its shallow dive until it struck the water and exploded. The two Kittyhawks flew low over the wreckage which burnt for less than a minute. The main wheels being the only recognisable objects floating in the oily yellow slick left behind. Both pilots then returned to Turnbull Strip, arriving at 10:39.
On 15 April 1943, he led the squadron against an estimated 100 Japanese aircraft over Milne Bay, but his guns would not fire. He attempted without success to drive a bomber into the sea. He was however, awarded a DSO on 25 May 1943 for his action.
At 06:01 on 5 November 1943, Wing Commander Arthur of 73 Wing Headquarters, flying Kittyhawk A29-356 of 76 RAAF Squadron, received green light from the Duty pilot to take off from the northern end of the South Kiriwina strip for a weather reconnaissance. While taking up position, Spitfire F.Vc/trop. JG884 (A58-177), piloted by Flight Sergeant Ian Hope Callister (RAAF no. 408963) of 79 RAAF Squadron came out of 79 RAAF Squadron’s alert area on to the strip. The aircraft collided resulting in an explosion, which seriously damaged both aircraft (the Spitfire was subsequently struck off charge). 21-year-old Flight Sergeant Callister was killed in the collision while Wing Commander Arthur suffered burns to head, hands and shoulders.
Subsequently he led 71 Wing, RAAF, and the 81 Wing at Noemfoor, leading strikes on ground targets.
He became a Group Captain at 24, but became one of a group of rebellious leading fighter pilots who took action in protest at the RAAF's lack of operations and the waste of pilots on worthless targets.
He commanded 2 OTU at Midura, east of Adelaide, Victoria, from 5 July 1944 until November the same year.
Arthur ended the war 2 biplane victories and a total of 8.
Post-war Arthur ran a retail business in Darwin, Northern Australia.
Arthur passed away on 23 December 2000.
|Kill no.||Date||Time||Number||Type||Result||Plane type||Serial no.||Locality||Unit|
|1||12/12/40||11:25-13:05||1||CR.42 (a)||Destroyed||Gladiator II||N5752/NW-G (b)||6m NW Sofafi||3 RAAF Squadron|
|2||26/12/40||14:05||1||CR.42 (c)||Destroyed||Gladiator II||N5753||NE Sollum Bay||3 RAAF Squadron|
|26/12/40||14:05||1||CR.42 (c)||Damaged||Gladiator II||N5753||NE Sollum Bay||3 RAAF Squadron|
|3||14/04/41||10:45-||1||Bf 110 (d)||Destroyed||Hurricane||V7734 (e)||10m E Tobruk||3 RAAF Squadron|
|12/10/41||09:10-||1||Bf 109 (f)||Probable||Tomahawk IIb||AN314||Sheferzen area||3 RAAF Squadron|
|12/10/41||09:10-||1||Bf 109 (f)||Damaged||Tomahawk IIb||AN314||Sheferzen area||3 RAAF Squadron|
|22/11/41||10:30||1||Bf 109F (g)||Damaged||Tomahawk IIb||AN389||Bir el Gobi||3 RAAF Squadron|
|22/11/41||16:15||1||Bf 109 (h)||Damaged||Tomahawk IIb||AN389||Bir el Gobi||3 RAAF Squadron|
|22/11/41||16:15||1||Bf 109 (h)||Damaged||Tomahawk IIb||AN389||Bir el Gobi||3 RAAF Squadron|
|22/11/41||16:15||1||Bf 109 (h)||Damaged||Tomahawk IIb||AN389||Bir el Gobi||3 RAAF Squadron|
|4||30/11/41||09:15||1||Ju 87 (i)||Destroyed||Tomahawk IIb||AN224||Bir el Gobi||3 RAAF Squadron|
|5||30/11/41||09:15||1||Ju 87 (i)||Destroyed||Tomahawk IIb||AN224||Bir el Gobi||3 RAAF Squadron|
|6||30/11/41||09:15||1||G.50 (i)||Destroyed||Tomahawk IIb||AN224||Bir el Gobi||3 RAAF Squadron|
|7||30/11/41||09:15||1||MC.200 (i)||Destroyed||Tomahawk IIb||AN224||Bir el Gobi||3 RAAF Squadron|
|8||10/03/43||09:50-10:39||1||'Betty' (j)||Destroyed||Kittyhawk||A29-125/Y||Tobriand Islands||75 RAAF Squadron|
|31/10/43||1||'Betty'||Probable||Kittyhawk||A29-365/V||Jacquinot Bay||75 RAAF Squadron|
3 RAAF Squadron Association
3o Stormo, storia fotografica - Dai biplani agli aviogetti - C. Lucchini and E. Leproni, 1990 Gino Rossato Editore kindly provided by Jean Michel Cala with translations kindly provided by Birgitta Hallberg-Lombardi
53o Stormo - Marco Mattioli, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-977-5
A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945: Volume One – Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello with Russell Guest, 2012 Grub Street, London, ISBN 978-1908117076
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
Fighters over the Desert - Christopher Shores and Hans Ring, 1969 Neville Spearman Limited, London
Gloster Gladiator Home Page - Alexander Crawford.
Hurricanes over Tobruk - Brian Cull with Don Minterne, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-11-X
Italian Aces of World War 2 - Giovanni Massimello and Giorgio Apostolo, 2000 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 1-84176-078-1
La Battaglie Aeree In Africa Settentrionale: Novembre-Dicembre 1941 – Michele Palermo, IBN, ISBN 88-7565-102-7
Luftwaffe Claims Lists - Tony Wood
National Archives of Australia
Pacific Victory Roll
Quelli del Cavallino Rampante - Antonio Duma, 1981 Editore Dell'Ateneo, Roma, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Shark Squadron - The history of 112 Squadron 1917-1975 - Robin Brown, 1994 Crécy Books, ISBN 0-947554-33-5
Spitfire International – Helmut Terbeck, Harry van der Meer and Ray Sturtivant, 2002 Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd, Kent, ISBN 0-85130-250-5
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
The London Gazette
Additional information kindly provided by John Engelsted, Russell Guest, Stefano Lazzaro and Ludovico Slongo.