Biplane fighter aces


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).
“A” Flight:
Flight Lieutenant Gordon Steege (OC), Flying Officer Alan Gatward, Flying Officer Alan Boyd, Pilot Officer Peter Turnbull and Pilot Officer Arthur.
“B” Flight:
Pilot Officer Charles Gaden (OC), Pilot Officer L. E. Knowles, Pilot Officer V. East, Flying Officer Alan Rawlinson and Flying Officer B. L. Bracegirdle.
“C” Flight:
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 Hospital:
2 airmen.
At Abu Sueir (on anti-gas course):
2 airmen.

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.
Viglione fired at several Glosters and claimed one of them (the British pilot was seen parachuting by Bonfatti) while Perotti claimed another in a head-to-head attack (not verified with the Squadriglia diaries). Sarasino claimed damage to several Gladiators. Meanwhile, another formation of Gladiators jumped the 73a Squadriglia from above but these had been alerted and could react properly and a long and harsh dogfight began. Bonfatti, Oblach and Stauble claimed one each, while De Campo, Reiner and Dallari claimed one probable each. Several other Glosters were claimed damaged. Reiner’s, Bonfatti’s and Oblach’s aircraft were slightly damaged in combat but returned to base safely.
The 60a Squadriglia suffered no losses but Capitano Bulgarelli was hit in the head and killed by a burst of fire from one of the Gladiators. The same burst of fire also wounded Tenente Colonnello Forte. The dead Bulgarelli fell over the controls and only after the help of Tenente Pier Luigi Meroni, who managed to rise Bulgarelli body, thus keeping it clear from the controls, was Ferri Forte able to nurse back the damaged Savoia. Meroni remained all the time in front of the broken skull of Bulgarelli with blood and pieces of brain close to his face. (After the war, Meroni became a pilot in civil aviation and was the pilot of the plane in which the then famous football team of Turin (winner of many Italian championships) crashed against the hill of Superga on 4 May 1949; the greatest tragedy in the history of Italian sport). Bulgarelli was a highly regarded leader and during the last days was always at the head of the 33o formations attacking the advancing British troops. He was awarded a posthumous Medaglia d’Oro al valor militare for bravery in this and previous actions. During the landing, back at base Bulgarelli’s SM 79 and another one suffered additional damage and were classified RD.
Boyd’s force-landed Gladiator was possible to repair on site and he returned to Gerawla at 11:10 with Gatward sitting on his knee.
Out of the six Gladiators that took part in the combat, four were lost and the remaining two were damaged but repairable in the unit.
Flight Lieutenant Gaden was found dead in the cockpit of his Gladiator by the 7th Hussars while they were on the march. He was buried by Lieutenant J. Napier.
It was one of the hardest day of the war for the Australians and Flight Lieutenant Peter Jeffrey, then the Signals Officer of the unit but later to became its CO remembered it this way:
“(…) 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.
It seems that another Italian fighter took part in this mission since Sottotenente Giuseppe Bottà of the 82a Squadriglia, 13o Gruppo, who was out on a “solo” reconnaissance over the front, discovered four Gladiators. These were attacking a patrol of SM 79s and he claimed to have forced the British fighter to disengage from the bombers with his intervention.

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.

Image kindly from 3 RAAF Squadron Association.

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, he was despatched from Sidi Haneish in 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 - on this date, 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.

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 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.”
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).
Luftwaffe claims were very precise on this occasion, three P-40s being claimed shot down; Hauptmann Wolfgang Lippert (Stab II./JG 27) claimed one souh-east of Ain el Gazala at 10:20, Oberleutnant Hugo Schneider (1./JG 27) claimed one east of Bir el Gobi at 10:35 and Hauptmann Karl-Wolfgang Redlich (1./JG 27) claimed one east of Bir el Gobi at 10:40. A Bf 109F-4 Trop of l./JG 27 force-landed north-west of El Gobi and a Bf 109F-4 Trop was reported missing, an Ultra intercept confirming that both were as a result of this combat.

On 30 November, six MC.200s of the 153o Gruppo, operating alongside G.50s of the 155o and 20o Gruppi, escorted Ju 87s of II/StG 2 out to attack allied troops in Tobruk. Bf 109s from II/JG 27 was also involved in escorting this mission. Between Sidi Rezegh and Bir el Gobi, Tomahawks from 3 RAAF Squadron and 112 Squadron attacked the Axis aircraft.
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 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 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. Two of 112 Squadron Tomahawks were lost, but both pilots were safe. 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 an unknown pilot from the Squadron. 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 LG122, 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 between 40 and 50 enemy aircraft and in the ensuing combat they claimed 13 destroyed and 18 damaged. Squadron Leader Alan 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 two MC.200s 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.
The 153o Gruppo claimed to have shot down one Tomahawk, with another probably shot down. Two Macchis were badly damaged, one being written off and the other reported as repairable. Two other MC.200s were slightly damaged and a fifth, hit in the fuel tank, force-landed near Umm er Rzem. The 374a Squadriglia pilots Tenente Mario Muro and Maresciallo Egeo Pardi, returned to base slightly wounded.
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. This was his victories nos. 23-24.
Totally the Allied fighters claimed 16 destroyed and 20 damaged for the loss of five P-40s (no pilots lost) while the Axis fighters claimed 3 shot down, 1 probable for five damaged fighters.

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, where he was still living, in retirement, 1994.

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   1 Bf 110 (d) Destroyed Hurricane V7734 (e) Tobruk 3 RAAF Squadron
  12/10/41   1 Bf 109 Probable Tomahawk IIb AN314 Sheferzen area 3 RAAF Squadron
  12/10/41   1 Bf 109 Damaged Tomahawk IIb AN314 Sheferzen area 3 RAAF Squadron
  22/11/41 10:30 1 Bf 109F (f) Damaged Tomahawk IIb AN389 Bir el Gobi 3 RAAF Squadron
  22/11/41   1 Bf 109 Damaged Tomahawk IIb AN389 Bir el Gobi 3 RAAF Squadron
  22/11/41   1 Bf 109 Damaged Tomahawk IIb AN389 Bir el Gobi 3 RAAF Squadron
  22/11/41   1 Bf 109 Damaged Tomahawk IIb AN389 Bir el Gobi 3 RAAF Squadron
4 30/11/41 08:40- 1 Ju 87 (f) Destroyed Tomahawk IIb AN224 Bir el Gobi 3 RAAF Squadron
5 30/11/41 08:40- 1 Ju 87 (g) Destroyed Tomahawk IIb AN224 Bir el Gobi 3 RAAF Squadron
6 30/11/41 08:40- 1 G.50 (g) Destroyed Tomahawk IIb AN224 Bir el Gobi 3 RAAF Squadron
7 30/11/41 08:40- 1 MC.200 (g) Destroyed Tomahawk IIb AN224 Bir el Gobi 3 RAAF Squadron
8 10/03/43 09:50-10:39 1 'Betty' (h) 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

Biplane victories: 2 destroyed, 1 damaged.
TOTAL: 8 destroyed, 2 probables and 6 damaged.
(a) Claimed in combat with CR.42s from the 4o Stormo, which claimed 2 probables while losing one CR.42 (Sergente Crestani PoW). 3 RAAF Squadron claimed 3 CR.42s without suffering losses.
(b) Both Alan Boyd and Wilfred Arthur are stated to have flown N5752 in this combat!
(c) Claimed in combat with CR.42s from the 23o Gruppo, which claimed 1 Hurricane and 1 Gladiator and the 10o Gruppo, which claimed 2 and 2 probable Gladiators while losing one CR.42 and getting five more damaged. 3 RAAF Squadron claimed 2 and 3 probables without any losses while Hurricanes from 33 Squadron possibly claimed a damaged CR.42 during the day.
(d) Claimed in combat with III/ZG26. 3 RAAF Squadron claimed two, III/ZG26 only lost one - Werk. Nr. 3418 - on this date, the crew of which survived.
(e) Listed as P3725 on the combat report but P3725 is also stated to have been flown by Lieutenant Tennant in this sortie by other sources.
(f) Claimed in combat with JG 27, which claimed 3 P-40s for the loss of 2 Bf 109Fs. 3 RAAF Squadron claimed 2 probables and 5 damaged for the loss of 3 Tomahawks (3 pilots KIA).
(g) Claimed in combat with fighters from the 153o, 155o and 20o Gruppi and II/JG 27. Totally the Allied fighters claimed 16 destroyed and 20 damaged for the loss of five P-40s (no pilots lost) while the Axis fighters claimed 3 shot down, 1 probable for five damaged fighters.
(h) Credited as destroyed by Arthur but could be a shared with Sergeant K. R. Wilson.

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
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
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 Russell Guest, Stefano Lazzaro and Ludovico Slongo.

Last modified 20 August 2014