Biplane fighter aces

The Commonwealth

Flying Officer Edwin Thomas Banks, RAF no. 40978

1920 – 13 March 1941

Edwin Banks was born in 1920 and was from Nottingham.

He received a short service commission as Acting Pilot Officer on 20 August 1938 (gazetted on 6 September 1938).

On 16 May 1939 he was posted to 112 Squadron when this unit was formed aboard HMS Argus in Portsmouth, Hampshire.

112 Squadron was sent to Egypt and arrived on 25 May 1939.

He was promoted to Flying Officer on 3 September 1940 (gazetted on 4 October 1940).

On 10 July, twelve aircraft from the 10o Stormo, operating in four groups of three planes, attacked enemy concentrations in the Sidi El Barrani area. The first two waves attacked undisturbed and destroyed Westland Lysander from 208 Squadron on the ground. When the third formation arrived the RAF had succeeded in scrambling some fighters and a running battle began during which the S.79 ’56-6’ of the 56a Squadriglia, 30o Gruppo was forced to crash-land 60 kilometres east of Tobruk after being heavily damaged by the fire of a reported four Gloster Gladiators. The aircraft was piloted by Sottotenente Vicoli with the crew of Maresciallo Cima Sergente Piero Angelin, Aviere scelto Antonio Camedda, Sergente Maggiore Motorista Cucchi and Primo Aviere Cibrario.
Angelin and Camedda were killed in their battle positions by the fire from the Gladiators while Cibrario was wounded. Five other bombers of the 10o Stormo returned to Derna with battle damage.
Vicoli’s aircraft was reached by a recovery team on 22 July but found too much damaged to be salvaged and was abandoned. This was the first S.79 shot down by a Gladiator over North Africa but the claimants are unknown because of the incompleteness of RAF records for the period.
A clue, however, is given by the 112 Squadron’s pilots Flying Officer Banks and Pilot Officer Richard Acworth. This day, while attached to 33 Squadron, they intercepted a group of three S.79s that were attacking Sidi El Barrani. The British reported that the Italian bombers, when attacked, hurriedly jettisoned their bombs and fled out to the sea. They submitted no claims but obviously other planes of 33 Squadron (to which they were attached) were up and were most probably responsible for the shooting down of Sottotenente Vicoli.

On 15 September, 80 Squadron flew both its Flights up to the front to a location simply known as ‘Y’ landing ground.
The Italian targets of the day were closer to the battlefront and centred in the area of Sidi Barrani. At around 13:00 (the sixth Italian mission of the day) ten SM 79s from the 46o Gruppo, led by Maggiore Cunteri, were intercepted over Sidi Barrani by Gladiators from 112 Squadron, which were on patrol at 16,000 feet, thirty miles out to sea. The Gladiators were divided into two sub-Flights. In the first flew Flight Lieutenant Charles Fry, Flight Lieutenant R. J. Abrahams and Flying Officer Joseph Fraser (Gladiator K8019). In the second flew Pilot Officer R. H. Clark, Flying Officer Banks and Pilot Officer R. J. Bennett.
When the Italian bombers approached, the No 1 sub-Flight took on the first formation of five aircraft and drove them out to sea before they could release their bombs while No 2 sub-Flight closed on the second five after they had released their bombs. Banks and Clark chased this formation out to sea and managed to get close enough to open fire. Both claimed damaged to one aircraft each. Banks attacked the outside aircraft but the enemy took evasive action causing his aircraft to be hit by cross fire from the bombers and he was forced to break off the action. It seems that Flying Officer Fraser was able to put a good burst into an SM 79, which was seen loosing height but remained unconfirmed.
Two Hurricanes of 274 Squadron and two Blenheims of 30 Squadron flown by Flight Lieutenant Frank Marlow (Blenheim K7096 with gunner Sergeant Lord) and Pilot Officer Jarvis (Blenheim K7105 with gunner Sergeant Sigsworth) got amongst the enemy formation as well. Flight Lieutenant John Lapsley (Hurricane P2544/YK-T) and Sergeant John Clarke (Hurricane P2641) each claimed one SM 79 in this combat (this was Lapsley’s 6th kill of a total of 11 kills). Clarke’s Hurricane was hit and a bullet tore the mouthpiece of his flying helmet away. Jarvis and Marlow chased the SM 79s for twenty-five minutes, firing all their ammunition. They damaged two, one of which was later confirmed as destroyed by 202 Group HQ (and possibly credited to Flight Lieutenant Marlow).
Meanwhile, ten Gladiators from 80 Squadron had been on patrol on the seaward side of Sidi Barrani. Nothing was seen and the squadron split up into sections. The section lead by Pilot Officer Anthony Hugh Cholmeley (RAF no. 40988) came across five of the SM 79s approaching from the northeast. The Gladiators attacked and forced the bombers to turn back, but return fire hit Cholmeley’s aircraft (K7916) and it fell into the sea killing the 22-year-old pilot. One SM 79s was damaged by Flight Lieutenant 'Pat' Pattle.
The Italian bombers fought back with determination and claimed one Gladiator, one Hurricane and one Blenheim with a second Gladiator as a probable. Three SM 79s didn’t make it back to Maraua while four other SM 79s returned damaged. Two of the three bombers that didn’t returned were forced to make emergency landings at T2 (and were probably written off after landing). On the SM 79 flown by Sottotenente Di Francesco there were one dead and four wounded and on the SM 79 flown by Maresciallo Berghino was Maresciallo Fotografo Walter Nencini (operator of the Istituto LUCE, the propaganda service) killed and two wounded. The third SM 79 flown by Capitano Masoero of 21a Squadriglia (co-pilot Sergente Maggiore Giovanni Furini) crash-landed at Ponticelli airstrip with two crewmembers dead (1o Aviere Marconista Eustachio Masone and 1o Aviere Armiere Antonio Bordigato) and two wounded (Furini and Sergente Maggiore Motorista Mario Macerati). Masoero correctly identified his attackers as two monoplanes that had hit them in the left engine with their first bursts of fire before he was able to release the bombs, then after the bombing his bomber slowing, lagged behind the other machines of his “arrow” and once left alone they were wildly attacked by the two monoplanes. Wounded himself in the left arm and with nobody inside his bomber still able to return fire, Masoero started a steep dive with the two remaining engines at full power that possibly seemed “final” to his attackers, which in fact broke off the chase. He landed on the right leg of the landing gear only. The wreck had suffered between 600 and 700 bullet holes and was most likely abandoned in place.

On 1 December 1940, 112 Squadron started to ferry Gladiators to the Royal Hellenic Air Force when Flight Lieutenant R. J. Abrahams, Flight Lieutenant Charles Fry, Flight Lieutenant Joseph Fraser, Flying Officer Banks, Flying Officer Homer Cochrane, Pilot Officer Alfred Costello, Pilot Officer R. H. Smith and 2nd Lieutenant H. H. Geraty (who was about to leave the 112 Squadron to be posted to 3 SAAF Squadron in East Africa) left Sidi Haneish to ferry eight Gladiators.

Twelve of the sixteen 112 Squadron pilots that had left for Greece on ferry flights returned to Sidi Haneish in a Bombay on 7 December. The pilots were Flight Lieutenant Lloyd Schwab, Flying Officer Richard Acworth, Pilot Officer Leonard Bartley, Pilot Officer Jack Groves, Pilot Officer D. G. H. McDonald, Pilot Officer R. H. MacDonald, Sergeant G. M. Donaldson, Flight Lieutenant R. J. Abrahams, Flight Lieutenant Joseph Fraser, Flying Officer Banks, Flying Officer Homer Cochrane, Pilot Officer Alfred Costello. The other four pilots remained in Greece (Flight Lieutenant Charles Fry, Flying Officer R. J. Bennett, Pilot Officer R. H. Smith, Second Lieutenant H. H. Geraty) attached to 80 Squadron.

On 30 December, 112 Squadron carried out the last patrol in the Western Desert before moving in Greece, while the relieving 73 Squadron started to arrive.
112 Squadron’s last patrol were flown by Flying Officer Banks, Flying Officer Jack Hamlyn (newly promoted ?), Flying Officer R. J. Bennett, Second Lieutenant H. H. Geraty and Pilot Officer Alfred Costello. Flying Officer Banks force-landed in severe dust storm but eventually arrived home safely. The ORB of the Squadron didn’t record claims or even combats for the month, but this is probably due only to the extreme incompleteness of this document. In fact it is known from 3 RAAF Squadron’s ORB that 112 Squadron’s Gladiators claimed at least 2 S.79s on 14 December over Sollum.

Banks accompanied 112 Squadron to Greece.

Early in the afternoon on 20 February 1941 eight Gladiators of 80 Squadron and nine of 112 Squadron flew up to Paramythia from Yannina. At 14:45 15 of these Gladiators took off in five sections of three aircraft flying in vic formation, echeloned to starboard and led by Squadron Leader H. L. I. Brown, to escort two Wellingtons of 37 Squadron, flown by Flight Lieutenant M. J. Baird-Smith and Sergeant R. T. Spiller, each carrying about one and a halt tons of supplies. A Greek Ju 52/3m accompanied the Wellingtons and their mission was to drop the supplies to the troops near Kelcyre. Low cloud and rain made the flight difficult, and near Korouode five hostile aircraft were seen, but these did not approach. The supplies were dropped successfully, and the three aircraft were escorted back to Paramythia. The fighters then returned to the frontline to patrol.
Soon after the supply-droppers had gone, 17 Blenheims (eight of 84 Squadron, six of 211 Squadron and three of 30 Squadron) commenced taking off for a bombing attack on Berat. One of the 84 Squadron aircraft suffered an engine failure and belly-landed, but the remaining 16, with an escort of six Hurricanes led by Flight Lieutenant 'Pat' Pattle (Hurricane Mk.I V7724), arrived over the target, their bombs falling on the town, supply dumps, and demolishing a bridge carrying the main road over the River Osem. AA fire was experienced and Fiat G.50bis from the 361a and 395a Squadriglie, 154o Autonomo Gruppo C.T. were scrambled from Berat airfield. As the Blenheim formation, which had completed its attack, was turning a few miles to the north of the target the climbing Italian fighters were spotted by the escorting Hurricanes.
Pattle's section took on four of the attackers and Pattle shouted to Flight Lieutenant 'Timber' Woods and Sergeant Charles Casbolt to attack individually. Pattle selected the leading G.50 as his own target. As he approached, the dark green Fiat pulled away into a steep turn, but he managed to hold it in his sights until he came into range. When he opened fire the Italian fighter exploded and disintegrated. Woods (Hurricane Mk.I V7138) claimed another and Casbolt claimed two destroyed in this combat. The crews of the Blenheims under attack verified these claims. Pilot Officer Cox's Blenheim L8542 of 211 Squadron was badly shot-up, but two Hurricanes shot down their attacker. Pilot Officer Geary, gunner in Squadron Leader Gordon-Finlayson's aircraft, reported:

'A G 50 came for us and in a flash a Hurricane just shot it off our wingtip. It simply rolled over, went on fire, and dived into the mountain. It was wizard.'
Other Fiats followed the Blenheims as they withdrew. One of the 30 Squadron Blenheims had its starboard engine shot out, but Sergeant Ratlidge managed to get it back to Paramythia. As the formation neared the front, the patrolling Gladiators of 80 and 112 Squadrons spotted the pursuing Italian fighters and engaged them. Flying Officer Nigel Cullen (Gladiator Mk.II N5817) reported:
'The leader came into close range and then flicked over on its back and dived down. I did a half-roll and got into position dead astern. Four long bursts and the enemy caught fire and crashed into a snow-covered hill. Then engaged another G.50 and got in some good deflection shots. Saw two formations of biplanes, thought they were Glads and went to take a look at them. They were CR 42s. Got on the tail of one, gave him a burst, and he went over on his back, and the pilot baled out. The others made off at once. Just as well- I hadn't any ammo left.'
Cullen's Gladiator received some damage during these combats and one bullet furrowed the knuckles of his right hand, but he returned to Yannina without further incident. Three G.50s were claimed damaged by 112 Squadron pilots Flight Lieutenant R. J. Abrahams, Flying Officer Banks and Pilot Officer Jack Groves. Flight Lieutenant George Kettlewell (Gladiator Mk.II N5917) of 80 Squadron also claimed a G.50, but did not see it crash (thus it was only credit as a probable) whilst Pilot Officer Eldon Trollip claimed another probably destroyed.
The Italian fighters had claimed one Blenheim shot down and one fighter identified as a 'Spitfire'. Despite the many RAF claims, it seems that only two Fiats were actually lost. Tenente Alfredo Fusco of the 361a Squadriglia was shot down and killed, while Tenente Livio Bassi of 395a Squadriglia was wounded and while attempting to force-land his damaged aircraft at Berat, the Fiat flipped over and caught fire. Bassi, credited at this time with seven victories, was to linger for 43 days before dying in hospital in Rome. A third G.50bis, flown by Sergente Gambetta, was damaged. Both Bassi and Fusco were subsequently awarded posthumous Medaglia d'oro al valor militare.

On 28 February HQ 'W' Wing ordered that all available aircraft should patrol between Tepelene and the coast between 15:30 and 16:30, since Intelligence sources indicated the operation of large numbers of Italian aircraft in that area at that time. Hence during the morning all available Gladiators of 80 and 112 Squadrons were flown up to Paramythia in preparation for this action. Patrols were flown during the morning by flights of Hurricanes but nothing was seen.
At about 15:00 Squadron Leader H. L. I. Brown and Squadron Leader Edward 'Tap' Jones led of eleven Gladiators of 112 Squadron and seven of 80 Squadron to patrol over the designated area; they were accompanied by the 'W' Wing leader, Wing Commander ’Paddy’ Coote, flying an 80 Squadron Gladiator. Fifteen minutes later Flight Lieutenant 'Pat' Pattle in Hurricane V7589 led Flying Officer Nigel Cullen (V7138), Flying Officer Wanklyn Flower (V6749) and Flying Officer Richard Acworth (V7288) to the same area, while Flight Lieutenant Young led four 33 Squadron Hurricanes to patrol near the coast. Here some S.79s were seen and chased over Corfu, two being claimed damaged, one of them by Pilot Officer D. S. F. Winsland (Winsland was later during the war shot down by Bernardino Serafini). These were probably 105o Gruppo B.T. aircraft, which reported being attacked by Spitfires, one Savoia landing at Tirana with one member of the crew dead.
Meanwhile Pattle’s section spotted BR.20s of 37o Stormo B.T. flying south from Valona; they identified the ten-strong formation as comprising 15 aircraft, while the bomber crews reported being attacked by 18 ‘Spitfires'! Pattle selected one on the starboard flank of the formation, and after three short bursts it broke into flames and went down; a second bomber likewise burst into flames following a further attack by Pattle, and his windscreen was covered in oil from this doomed aircraft. Reducing speed, Pattle attempted to clean the screen with his scarf, but he was then attacked by five G.50bis which dived on him. After a brief skirmish he managed to get away and returned to Paramythia. Both Flower and Acworth also claimed BR.20s. although the latter thought his victim may have been a Z.1007bis. Flying Officer Cullen reported considerable success in the run of claims which was to bring him the award of an immediate DFC. He later recalled:

“The battle extended right across Albania. First I found four Breda 20s (sic). I got one, which went down in flames Then we found three formations of S.79s. I took on one and aimed at the starboard engine. It caught fire, and crashed in flames. I climbed and dived on the next - and he too crashed in flames. Then we attacked ten CR.42s, climbing to get above them. I got behind one, and he caught fire and went down in flames. Up again immediately, dived, fired into the cockpit, and another took fire, rolled over and crashed. I had to come home then - no more ammo.”
Three BR.20s were in fact shot down during this combat and a fourth force-landed near Otranto; others returned with wounded crewmembers aboard, plus one dead.
By now the Gladiators had joined the fighting, as had CR.42s of 160o Gruppo and G.50bis of 24o Gruppo. A single Hurricane of 33 Squadron arrived late on the scene. Flying Officer Newton having scrambled from Paramythia when news of the heavy fighting came through. On arrival over the battle area he promptly attacked a CR.42, only to find that it was an 80 Squadron Gladiator! A 112 Squadron Gladiator then got on his tail, obviously taking the Hurricane for a G.50bis, and inflicted damage on his aircraft, chasing him back towards Paramythia. A few of the Gladiators made contact with the bombers, Pilot Officer William Vale claiming an S.79 shot down, whilst Flying Officer Banks and Pilot Officer R. H. McDonald of 112 Squadron each claimed damage to a BR.20. The Gladiators’ main claims were for nine CR.42s and two probables, plus six G.50bis and three probables after that the rest of the Gladiators made contract with the Italian fighters. 80 Squadron made following claims – Squadron Leader Jones (2 CR.42s), Wing Commander Coote (1 CR.42), Warrant Officer Richens (1 CR.42), Pilot Officer Vale (1 S.79 and 1 G.50bis), Flight Lieutenant Kettlewell (1 probable CR.42 and 1 probable G.50bis), Pilot Officer Trollip (1 probable CR.42) and Flying Officer Dowding (1 probable G.50bis). 112 Squadron also made a number of claims – Squadron Leader Brown (1 G.50bis), Flight Lieutenant Fraser (1 CR.42 and 1 G.50bis), Flight Lieutenant Fry (1 CR.42 and 1 G.50bis), Flight Lieutenant Abrahams (1 G.50bis), Flying Officer Cochrane (1 CR.42), Flying Officer Banks (1 and 1 damaged CR.42 and 1 damaged BR.20), Pilot Officer Jack Groves (1 CR.42), Sergeant Donaldson (1 and 1 probable G.50bis), Flying Officer Smith (1 damaged CR.42) and Pilot Officer McDonald (1 damaged BR.20).
Squadron Leader Brown recorded that the G.50bis he attacked turned sharply to starboard on its back and fell away in an inverted spin; he thought he had hit the pilot. Flight Lieutenant Fraser claimed that his victim flew into a mountainside, while the pilot of the CR.42 he claimed baled out, but his parachute failed to open; Sergeant Donaldson’s victim was seen to crash on the seashore. Flight Lieutenant Abrahams, after his victory, was attacked by another G.50bis - believed to have been flown by Tenente Mario Bellagambi - and was shot down near Sarande. He recalled:
“The old Glad suddenly went all soft. Nothing would work. I sat there and then decided I had better get out. I couldn't, so I sat there with my hands on my lap, the aircraft spinning like mad. Then, eventually, I did manage to get out. It was so pleasant sitting there in the air than I damn nearly forgot to pull the ripcord. I reckon I did the record delayed drop for all Albania and Greece. I landed, and no sooner had I fallen sprawling on the ground than I was picked up by Greek soldiers who cheered and patted me on the back. I thought I was a hell of a hero until one soldier asked me. "Milano, Roma?" and I realized that they thought I was an Iti. They didn't realize it was possible for an Englishman to be shot down. So I said "Inglese", and then the party began. I was hoisted on their shoulders, and the "here the conquering hero comes" procession started. We wined and had fun. Jolly good chaps.”
Following his initial combats, Pattle had returned to Paramythia, landed, and taken off again ten minutes later in another Hurricane (V7724). Returning to the battle area, he spotted three CR.42s in formation, heading back towards Valona:
“I got behind them and put a long burst into all three. One went down vertically at once, but in case it was a trick I followed him. He was in difficulties, that was most obvious, and when it looked as if he was going straight into the sea I decided to go and see what the other two were up to. As I climbed again I was most surprised to see tow parachutes float down past me.”
On his return, Pattle claimed two destroyed, those from which he had seen the pilots come down by parachute, and one probable for that which he had followed down. Just before he got back to Paramythia for the second time at 17.40, Flying Officer Flower, who had returned an hour earlier, also took off for a second patrol over the area after his Hurricane had been refuelled and rearmed. There was nothing to be seen - the battle was over.
On the Italian side, the CR.42s of 160o Gruppo had been escorting four S.79s of 104o Gruppo in the Kuc area, between Tepelene and Himare, when British fighters identified as Spitfires, Hurricanes and Gladiators, were encountered. Two Gladiators were claimed shot down and one as a probable, a ‘Spitfire’ also being claimed. Sottotenente Raoul Francinetti of 394a Squadriglia landed back at base wounded in one leg, and Sottotenente Italo Traini of 394a Squadriglia was shot down and killed. Gunners in the S.79s also claimed two Gladiators shot down, as did the G.50bis pilots of the 24o Gruppo, the latter also claiming two more as probables. Tenente Bellagambi, following his combat with Flight Lieutenant Abrahams, was then shot down and wounded in one arm: he force-landed near Tirana airfield. Capitano Ettore Foschini's aircraft was also hit and he was wounded, also coming down at Tirana.
This day was recorded as RAF’s most successful during the Greek campaign. During the large engagements RAF made claims for 5 and 2 damaged BR.20s, 3 and 2 damaged S.79s, 13 destroyed, 3 probable and 1 damaged CR.42s and 6 and 3 probable G.50bis. In fact 4 BR.20s of 37o Stormo B.T. were lost with several damaged, 1 S.79 of 104o Gruppo was damaged, 1 CR.42 of 160o Gruppo and 2 G.50bis of 24o Gruppo were lost. Regia Aeronautica claimed 6 and 2 probable Gladiators and 1 ‘Spitfire’ while in fact only 1 Gladiator of 112 Squadron was lost.

During the morning on 4 March five Italian warships identified as two cruisers and three destroyers, sortied down the Albanian coast and commenced shelling the coastal road near Himare and Port Palermo, under cover of a strong fighter escort of G.50bis and CR42s from the 24o Gruppo C.T. The flotilla actually comprised of the destroyer Augusto Riboty, the torpedo boat Andromeda and three MAS boats.
An immediate strike was ordered by RAF units, 15 Blenheims being ordered off. Nine 211 Squadron aircraft and five from 84 Squadron (a sixth failed to start) were led to the area by Squadron Leaders Gordon-Finlayson and Jones, escorted by ten Hurricanes, followed by 17 Gladiators, 14 from 112 Squadron and three from 80 Squadron. Four 80 Squadron Hurricanes led by Flight Lieutenant 'Pat' Pattle flew on the starboard flank of the bombers, with four from 33 Squadron to port, and two more above as ‘weavers’. At 15:00 the warships were seen ten miles south of Valona, and the Blenheims went in to bomb in line astern; several near misses were seen, but no hits were recorded.
At this point six G.50bis dived on the Hurricanes, shooting down V7801 in flames; 24-year-old Warrant Officer Harry J. Goodchild DFM (RAF No. 517435) was killed. It seems that the Italian fighters did not see the bombers, for they reported only single-engined types - ten ‘Spitfires’, three ‘Battles’ (obviously Hurricanes) and 20 Gladiators. Once the Blenheims had completed their run and were on their return flight, Pattle ordered the Hurricanes to hunt in pairs over the warships, where a number of Italian fighters were seen. At once a lone G.50bis attacked Pattle and his No 2 - on this occasion Flying Officer Nigel Cullen - but Pattle promptly shot this down and watched it spiral into a mountainside just north of Himare. At this moment a second Fiat ‘jumped’ Cullen (Hurricane V7288) and he was not seen again; his aircraft crashed near Himare, and the Australian ‘ace’ was killed.
Pattle flew on towards Valona, and was attacked by another lone G.50bis which he reported went into the sea south-west of Valona harbour after a brief combat. He then became involved with a third such fighter over Valona harbour and claimed to have shot this down into the sea in flames on the west side of the promontory. Nine CR.42s were then seen below and he dived on these, reporting that one went into a spin with smoke pouring from its engine; he claimed this as a probable. Sergeant Edward Hewett was also heavily engaged, claiming one G.50bis shot down near Himare and three of eight CR.42s near Valona. The only other claim by a Hurricane pilot was made by Pilot Officer William Vale, who claimed another G.50bis.
Meanwhile the Gladiators, led by Squadron Leader H. L. I. Brown, tangled with a reported ten G.50bis and five CR.42s. Flight Lieutenant Joseph Fraser led the third section after some G.50bis which entered clouds, but he claimed one shot down and a second shared with Brown, Pilot Officer Jack Groves and Pilot Officer D. G. H. McDonald. Flying Officer Richard Acworth was about to attack another when he came under fire himself and was driven down to 2000 feet. He got in a few deflection shots, saw smoke issue from his opponent’s engine before being attacked by another, and thus only claimed a probable. Flying Officer Banks attacked a G.50bis which went into a spin; as he saw a parachute in the vicinity he also claimed a probable, and two more such claims were made by Flight Lieutenant Charles Fry and Sergeant 'Paddy' Donaldson, while four more aircraft damaged were claimed by Groves, Brown, McDonald and Flying Officer Homer Cochrane.
In return the 24o Gruppo pilots claimed four Gladiators, one ‘Spitfire’ and one ‘Battle’ shot down. Sottotenente Nicolo Cobolli Gigli of 355a Squadriglia, who was flying a CR.42 on this occasion, and Sergente Marcello De Salvia of 354a Squadriglia were both shot down and killed, while Tenente Francesco Rocca of the latter unit was wounded. No losses by other CR.42 equipped units have been discovered. Cobolli Gigli and De Salvia were both awarded posthumous Medaglia d’Oro al valor militare.

On 9 March a new Italian offensive begun in Greece. During the afternoon on this day Squadron Leader H. L. I. Brown led 15 Gladiators in five vics of three from 112 Squadron on an offensive patrol over Kelcyre and Tepelene, where at 14.00 an estimated 30 G.50bis were reported, escorting BR.20s which were bombing forward troops. Additional CR.42s were spotted flying high cover but these never intervened. The Italian aircraft were flying in tight vics of five aircraft each.
Flight Lieutenant Joseph Fraser led his section in an diving attack on the bombers, claiming one shot down, which he reported fell near Garneo. Flying Officer Banks attacked another with long bursts without obvious results, but was then engaged by one of the escorts, chasing it down from 16,000 feet to 8,000 feet before being forced to withdraw to Yannina when his engine blew a sparking plug. Flight Lieutenant Charles Fry’s section also went after the low-flying bombers, one of which was seen to jettison its bombs, and one of these aircraft was claimed probably destroyed by Pilot Officer Jack Groves.
At this point the escort, which in fact compromised 25 MC.200s from the newly arrived 22o Gruppo, attacked and became involved in a dogfight with Fry’s flight. Fry claimed one shot down, which dived vertically and crashed. Squadron Leader Brown attacked two enemy fighters diving from 14,000 feet and getting on their tails. The Italian fighters displayed poor evasive tactics and it was easy to keep behind them and he gave one aircraft a long burst and saw it crash into a hillside. The second enemy managed to escape. Six more were claimed by Sergeant George Millar 'Paddy' Donaldson (two), Flight Lieutenant Fraser, Flying Officer Richard Acworth, Flying Officer Homer Cochrane and Pilot Officer Groves, while Flying Officer R. J. Bennett claimed a probable.
Despite all these claims, it seems that only one Macchi was actually lost. Sergente Maggiore Marino Vannini of 369a Squadriglia failing to return: Maresciallo Guido LaFerla landed at Lushnje and was taken to hospital - reportedly due to illness, rather than wounds. The Italian fighters were unable to submit any claims. The bombers attacked had been BR.20s of 37o Stormo and S.79s of 105o Gruppo, the former reporting that two of their aircraft were damaged, apparently by AA fire, while one or two Savoias were hit by fire from Gladiators, one man being wounded. The 105o Gruppo’s gunners claimed three Gladiators shot down, while the crew of a Z.1007bis of 50o Gruppo, reportedly attacked by a lone Gladiator (possibly a Greek machine), also claimed shot down. One Gladiator was in fact shot down, 27-year-old Pilot Officer Robert Haldane MacDonald (RAF no. 42316) baling out of his blazing N5823, while four more of these fighters were damaged.
Flying Officer Cochrane saw a Gladiator falling flames and a parachute opening. He broke of his attack and circled the parachute until he saw it fall into some tree by a river. He landed on a village green at the nearest Greek village to organise a search for the pilot (MacDonald), who would die of the burns and other injuries he had sustained two months later on 7 May.
In their reports both Sergeant Donaldson and Flying Officer Acworth remarked that they saw Italian pilots bailing out of their aircraft and then fall to the ground without their parachutes opening.

On 11 March, 15 of 112 Squadrons aircraft were over the front, this time to escort 211 Squadron Blenheims on a raid in the Bousi area. An estimated 40-50 G.50bis were reported patrolling in the area and nine of these fighters from the 24o Gruppo (led by Maggiore Cesare Valente) engaged the formation, claiming a Blenheim and one Gladiator shot down. The British fighters turned on the attackers and claimed seven shot down, one probable and seven damaged without loss. The claims were made by Flight Lieutenant Joseph Fraser (one and one damaged), Flying Officer Banks (one and two damaged), Flying Officer Richard Acworth (one), Flying Officer Homer Cochrane (one), Flying Officer Ephraim Hugh Brown (one damaged), Flying Officer Henry Harrison (one), Pilot Officer Neville Bowker (one), Pilot Officer Gerald Westenra (one), Flight Lieutenant Charles Fry (one probable and one damaged), Squadron Leader Harry Brown (one damaged) and Flying Officer Denis Herbert Vincent Smith (one damaged). Bowker and Westenra where both involved in only their second engagements since joining the unit from Flying Training School.
Two G.50bis went down at once. Maggiore Valente and Sergente Luigi Spallacci both were killed, while Sergente Bruno Fava and Sergente Maggiore Ermes Lucchetta were both wounded and crash-landed their Fiats on their bellies. MC.200s of the 22o Gruppo may also have become involved, for Sergente Anselmo Andraghetti of 369a Squadriglia was lost, the cause not being ascertained.
After the combat Banks remarked that the G.50s must be armoured as they stood up to so much punishment. Fry reported that he attacked a G.50, which spun slowly twice then flattened out and turned slowly onto its back with smoke coming from it. It went into cloud and he didn't see it again. He also attacked another G.50bis of 24o Gruppo, which went over onto its back and flew inverted into cloud. Squadron Leader Brown emptied all his rounds into a G.50 without effect. No doubt the all-metal construction of these monoplane fighters helped to hold them together.

On 13 March 1941 when out to test the guns on Gladiator N5913 over Lake Yannina, he suddenly dived into the water for no apparent reason, and was killed.

At the time of his death Banks was credited with 2 biplane victories, these being claimed while flying Gloster Gladiators.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
  15/09/40 13:00 1 S.79 (a) Damaged Gladiator   Sidi Barrani area 112 Squadron
  1941                
  20/02/41   1 G.50 Damaged (b) Gladiator   Greece 112 Squadron
1 28/02/41   1 CR.42 (c) Destroyed Gladiator   Tepelene-coast 112 Squadron
  28/02/41   1 CR.42 (c) Damaged Gladiator   Tepelene-coast 112 Squadron
  28/02/41   1 BR.20 (c) Damaged Gladiator   Tepelene-coast 112 Squadron
  04/03/41   1 G.50 (d) Probable Gladiator   Greece 112 Squadron
2 11/03/41   1 G.50 (e) Destroyed Gladiator   Greece 112 Squadron
  11/03/41   1 G.50 (e) Damaged Gladiator   Greece 112 Squadron
  11/03/41   1 G.50 (e) Damaged Gladiator   Greece 112 Squadron

Biplane victories: 2 destroyed, 1 probably destroyed, 6 damaged.
TOTAL: 2 destroyed, 1 probably destroyed, 6 damaged.
(a) Claimed in combat with S.79s from the 46o Gruppo, which claimed 1 and 1 probable Gladiator, 1 Hurricane and 1 Blenheim while losing 3 S.79s and getting 4 more damaged. RAF claimed 3 destroyed, 1 unconfirmed and 4 damaged while losing one Gladiator (Pilot Officer Cholmeley KIA).
(b) 80 and 112 Squadrons claimed six destroyed and two probables in this combat while 154o Autonomo Gruppo C.T. lost two G.50s (Tenente Alfredo Fusco of 361a Squadriglia was killed and Tenente Livio Bassi of 395a Squadriglia was later to die from wounds sustained) and got one damaged (Sergente Gambetta). 154o Gruppo claimed one bomber and one fighter but RAF only got one fighter and one bomber damaged.
(c) During this large engagements RAF made claims for 5 and 2 damaged BR.20s, 3 and 2 damaged S.79s, 13 destroyed, 3 probable and 1 damaged CR.42s and 6 and 3 probable G.50bis. In fact 4 BR.20s of 37o Stormo B.T. were lost with several damaged, 1 S.79 of 104o Gruppo was damaged, 1 CR.42 of 160o Gruppo and 2 G.50bis of 24o Gruppo were lost. Regia Aeronautica claimed 6 and 2 probable Gladiators and 1 ‘Spitfire’ while in fact only 1 Gladiator of 112 Squadron was lost.
(d) Claimed in combat with G.50bis and CR42s of the 24o Gruppo C.T. RAF claimed seven G.50bis destroyed, four probables and four damaged, three CR.42s and one probable, while losing two Hurricanes. 24o Gruppo C.T. lost two CR.42s and got one damaged while claiming four Gladiators, one Spitfire and one Battle. No losses to G.50bis have been found.
(e) Claimed in combat with G.50bis from 24o Gruppo. 112 Squadron claimed seven shot down, one probable and seven damaged without loss. 24o Gruppo lost four aircraft (Maggiore Cesare Valente and Sergente Luigi Spallacci were killed and Sergente Bruno Fava and Sergente Maggiore Ermes Lucchetta were wounded) while claiming a Blenheim and one Gladiator shot down.

Sources:
Ace of Aces: M T StJ Pattle - E C R Baker, 1992 Crécy Books, Somerton, ISBN 0-947554-36-X
Air war for Yugoslavia, Greece and Crete - Christopher Shores, Brian Cull and Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-948817-07-0
Decimo Stormo. La storia del reparto: 1936 – 1943 - Cesare Gori, 1991 Giorgio Apostolo Editore, Milano, kindy provided by Ludovico Slongo
Desert Prelude: Early clashes June-November 1940 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2010 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-89450-52-4
Desert Prelude: Operation Compass - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2011 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-61421-18-4
Gloster Gladiator Home Page - Alexander Crawford.
Hurricanes over Tobruk - Brian Cull with Don Minterne, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-11-X
Shark Squadron - The history of 112 Squadron 1917-1975 - Robin Brown, 1994 Crécy Books, ISBN 0-947554-33-5
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
The London Gazette
Those Other Eagles – Christopher Shores, 2004 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-904010-88-1
Additional information kindly provided by Csaba Becze and Ludovico Slongo.




Last modified 23 October 2011