Biplane fighter aces

The Commonwealth

Flight Lieutenant Neville ‘Bowks’ Bowker DFC, RAF nos. 779035 (NCO) 89773 (Officer)

1918 - 21 May 2005

Image kindly provided by Colleen Bowker via Rob Brown

Neville Bowker was born in 1918 in the Orange Free State, South Africa, but was brought up in the Southern Rhodesia.

He joined the SAAF (it is also possible that he joined the SRAF (Southern Rhodesian Air Force)), but transferred to the RAF in mid-1940, being commissioned in the RAFVR.

On 11 November 1940, Leading Aircraftman Bowker was promoted to Pilot Officer (with seniority from 9 November 1940).

He attended 70 OTU at Nakuru, joining 112 Squadron on 14 February 1941.

He served as a Pilot Officer in 112 Squadron, when the unit moved to Greece in early 1941.

On 11 March, 15 of 112 Squadrons aircraft were over the front, this time to escort 211 Squadron Blenheims on a raid in the Bousi area. An estimated 40-50 G.50bis were reported patrolling in the area and nine of these fighters from the 24o Gruppo (led by Maggiore Cesare Valente) engaged the formation, claiming a Blenheim and one Gladiator shot down. The British fighters turned on the attackers and claimed seven shot down, one probable and seven damaged without loss. The claims were made by Flight Lieutenant Joseph Fraser (one and one damaged), Flying Officer Edwin Banks (one and two damaged), Flying Officer Richard Acworth (one), Flying Officer Homer Cochrane (one), Flying Officer Ephraim Hugh Brown (one damaged), Flying Officer Henry Harrison (one), Pilot Officer 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.

During the afternoon of 13 March Squadron Leader H. L. I. Brown led 14 Gladiators from 112 squadron and six of 33 Squadron's Hurricanes off from Paramythia for an offensive patrol over the Kelcyre area. Approaching Kelcyre at 15:30 on an altitude of 17,000 feet an estimated 14 S.79s were seen - aircraft from 104o Gruppo B.T. - with an escort identified as 20 G.50bis and 20 plus CR.42s.
Three of the Hurricanes attacked the mass of fighters, followed by the Gladiators, and many individual dogfights ensued. Squadron Leader Brown attacked the leading fighter of a flight of three, but it evaded him successfully. He then got on the tail of another, which turned and dived and eventually crashed; he claimed a G.50 and another damaged. Flight Lieutenant Joseph Fraser attacked a CR.42, which had not seen him. He reported that it burst into flames and crashed near Bousi. Two more were claimed destroyed by Flying Officer Homer Cochrane and Pilot Officer Jack Groves, while Pilot Officers Bowker and D. G. H. McDonald each claimed a probable CR.42.
The Gladiators reformed, then spotted about 30 more CR.42s with 38o Stormo BR.20s. Seven of Flight Lieutenant Charles Fry’s ‘C’ Flight pilots went after the bombers, while Flight Lieutenant Fraser’s ‘A’ Flight tackled the fighters, claiming seven more shot down. Fraser attacked a CR.42, which flick-rolled and dived away. He followed it down and got in two long bursts after which the enemy aircraft levelled off and lost speed, with the pilot slumped forward in the cockpit. The aircraft then dived vertically into the ground north of Corovode. Fraser then climbed back up to 8,000 feet and got on the tail of another CR.42 firing at it continuously until it burst into flames and was destroyed. Fraser’s own aircraft was badly shot up, as was that of Pilot Officer Groves (after having claimed a second CR.42 and one damaged), but both managed to get back to base. Flying Officer Cochrane claimed two more CR.42s while Pilot Officer P. C. L. Brunton and Flying Officer E. H. Brown each claimed a CR.42.
The ‘G.50bis’ seem to have been 22o Gruppo Macchi MC.200s, 11 of which accompanied 18 CR.42s from the 160o Gruppo over the front. The Italian pilots claimed four Gladiators and one Hurricane shot down, losing just two CR.42s flown by Tenente Gualtiero Bacchi and Sottotenente Enzo Torroni (both from 375a Squadriglia), but no MC.200s. It seems that Capitano Vittorio Minguzzi claimed a probable Gladiator in this combat.
Although no claims were made against the bombers on this occasion, several were in fact hit and damaged, a number of crewmen being wounded.
In his combat report Fraser commented that the CR.42 pilots always tried to flick-roll when attacked.

At 10:30 on 14 March three of 33 Squadron's Hurricanes were off with twelve Gladiators to escort 211 Squadron Blenheims to the Tepelene-Kelcyre area, where a large formation of Italian fighters was reported, variously identified by the Hurricane pilots as twelve CR.42s, twelve G.50bis and twelve MC.200s, and by the Gladiator pilots as 40-50 CR.42s and G.50bis. In addition ten Z.1007bis and five BR.20s were seen - aircraft from 47o and 38o Stormo respectively. The opposing fighters were 16 MC.200s from the 22o Gruppo and twelve CR.42s of the 160o Gruppo reporting meeting 20 Gladiators and eight Hurricanes, escorting five Blenheims.
Flight Lieutenant Charles Fry and his flight attacked the bombers, Fry himself claiming a BR.20 shot down north of Kelcyre near the front line after having attacked three formations of enemy bombers. Flying Officer D. H. V. Smith claimed a damaged BR.20 (and a probable G.50). 'C' Flight led by Flight Lieutenant Joseph Fraser became involved in a swirling dogfight with the Italian monoplane fighters, claiming four shot down, four probables and a damaged. Sergeant 'Paddy' Donaldson claimed two, both of which dived away pouring smoke, while Flight Lieutenant Fraser was attacked head-on by one, but managed to evade this and get on its tail, his fire causing the aircraft to roll onto its back and the pilot to bale out. One Macchi shot the tail off N5916 and Squadron Leader H. L. I. Brown managed to bale out only with the greatest difficulty; Pilot Officer Bowker's Gladiator was also damaged after having claimed a probable G.50, which was seen going down out of control. Pilot Officer P. C. L. Brunton attacked one and appeared to knock bits off it so that it went into a spiral dive with smoke coming from it. Other claims were made by Flying Officer R. J. Bennett (one G.50), Flying Officer Homer Cochrane (one G.50) and Pilot Officer Jack Groves (one probable G.50).
The Hurricanes also engaged the Macchis, 33 Squadron claming two shot down and two probables, but after believing that he had got one of these, Flying Officer Holman was himself shot down and had to bale out. Flight Sergeant Leonard Cottingham claimed one and one probable of the 'monoplanes' while Pilot Officer Starett claimed one probable..
The Italian pilots claimed two Hurricanes and two Gladiators shot down on this occasion. It seems that Capitano Vittorio Minguzzi claimed one of the Hurricanes and a shared in one of the Gladiators during this combat. The 22o Gruppo lost Tenente Luigi Locatelli, who was killed, and Sergente Ferruccio Miazzo, who baled out, while Sottotenente Edgardo Vaghi's fighter was damaged. Gunners in one Cant Z.1007bis claimed one Gladiator shot down, and one bomber was damaged (reportedly by AA) returning with some of the crew wounded.

The 14 remaining Gladiators (only 6 of them being operational) of the 112 Squadron evacuated Greece on 22 April for Crete, where Bowker had arrived the day before.

During the evening on 11 May five Bf 110s of II/ZG 76, which had arrived at Argos from North Germany four days earlier, swept in over Heraklion airfield to strafe. Insufficient warning allowed only a single 112 Squadron Gladiator to get into the air, but Bofors and Lewis gunners opened fire as the Bf 110s swept round the airfield. As they completed their circuit, Pilot Officer Bowker attacked one and a low level dogfight commenced, during which the lone Gladiator pilot attempted to lead his opponents over the gun positions. After a few minutes the Bf 110s made off to the north-west, Bowker landing to claim one probably shot down.
This claim was definitely confirmed destroyed in the Command Intelligence Summaries.

During the defence of Heraklion, Bowker was slightly wounded and captured. He managed to escape from the field hospital and on 29 May he reached Egypt aboard the Orion, where he rejoined his squadron.

In his logbook, Bowker noted 30 hours in the air during his time in Greece and 35 hours over Crete.

Bowker spent the rest of the year flying Tomahawks over the Desert.

On 14 September, six Tomahawks from 112 Squadron received an R/T message that there was a ‘bandit’ over Mersa Matruh at 19,000 feet. The formation climbed to about 16,000 feet and spotted a S.79 bellow Flight Lieutenant Henry Harrison engaged the S.79, which he hit. The Italian bomber was then engaged by Pilot Officer Bowker firing his wing guns only as his .5” machine gun had jammed. He reset and returned to the attack and at 150 yards, he saw petrol streaming from the enemy aircraft. He pumped shots into the starboard engine and the fuselage and the S.79 blew up.
This was 112 Squadrons 77th victory and the first with their new P-40 Tomahawk IIBs.
Harrison did not submit a claim for a share in this victory.

At mid-afternoon on 25 November, a total of 23 Tomahawks of which 13 from 112 Squadron with ten of 3 RAAF Squadron (effectively only seven), and led by Wing Commander Peter Jeffrey (Tomahawk IIb AN337), took off at 15:25 (3 RAAF Squadron at 15:12), arriving just in time (about 15:40) to catch a large enemy formation of aircraft bombing and dive bombing our troops just north of Sidi Rezegh. Reportedly the enemy formation included between 60-80 enemy aircraft and before breaking up, the enemy formation appeared to be a top cover of 20-30 fighters of which very few Bf 109s, the balance G.50s at 15,000 feet. Below this about 20 medium bombers - mostly Bf 110s and a few Ju 88s at approximately 11,000ft. Also at lower level 15 Ju 87s escorted by five unidentified fighters.
3 RAAF Squadron, being above 112 Squadron, dived to attack the Bf 110s which were breaking up formation on spotting them. It seems that 3 RAAF Squadron chased the Bf 110s towards the sea, The Ju.87s dived westwards and made for home while the enemy fighters dived down to attack 112 Squadron.
3 RAAF Squadron landed back at 17:10 and claimed eight destroyed and eight damaged while losing one Tomahawk.
Sergeant Rex Wilson (AK506) clashed with Bf 110s, shooting one down and damaging two more, and then he engaged a Bf 109, which he claimed as a damaged and finally he shot down two Fi 156 Storch aircraft that were passing nearby.
Wing Commander Peter Jeffrey claimed one Bf 110 and another damaged.
Sergeant Frank Reid (AN408) claimed a Bf 110.
Flying Officer Edward Jackson (AM406) claimed a damaged Bf 110 but returned slightly wounded.
Sergeant M. Baillie (AK378) claimed a Bf 109E.
Flying Officer Robert Gibbes (AN374) claimed two G.50bis and three more damaged.
23-year-old Flying Officer Bruce Aitken Evans (RAAF No. 713) (AK343) was shot down and killed in action.
Of this hectic combat, Robert Gibbes later recorded:

“The Wing Leader led the squadrons down after the enemy aircraft as they dived out to sea, slightly east of Tobruk. I started to follow, but noticed quite a lot of fighters above us, so I changed my mind and climbed up alone after them. Luck was with me. They proved to be mainly Italians in G.50s and Macchi 200s who were flying in line astern, in groups of five aircraft, in each formation. They had watched our wing dive down after the bombers, and this appeared to have absorbed their interest, as I seemed to be almost unobserved. On each occasion, they had almost passed by me before I was seen, and the leader, by then, was so committed to his dive, that he was not able to do much about dealing with me, and I found that I was able to get good bursts at numerous machines, without once leaving myself open.
One team of five aircraft came down in a gentle dive, noticed me at the last moment, and the leader tried to pull round onto me. This put me into a very favourable position as I came in at them from the opposite direction on the inside of their turn, and I was able to have a crack at each of the five as they swept by, in line astern. The same thing happened three or four times and although I didn't do much noticeable damage, I did however, succeed in breaking up their formation considerably. Without doubt, I prevented a few co-ordinated attacks on the squadron below.
A G.50 came at me shooting madly. I returned his fire, crouching low behind the engine and feeling the size of a house. He made the mistake of breaking his attack too early, and turned away to starboard. I pulled off a little lead, and saw bits and pieces fly from his cockpit area. The aircraft rolled onto its back to the right and went into an uncontrolled spin, pouring black smoke. I turned my aircraft and watched it plummet down towards the sea below, and then with a jerk, realising my foolishness, I kicked on hard rudder and looked behind. I was just in time. Macchis and G 50s were coming at me from all directions. I gave the old Tommy everything, weaving my way through them, and climbed above. Suddenly, they all seemed to be so very harmless, like clueless children out on a Sunday jaunt, whose aunt had temporarily left them. My morale was terrific, and for the first time, no residue of fear remained. I saw a line of G.50s below my level and dived to attack. They were doing a gentle turn to port when I joined them, making the formation six, but only for a moment. My bullets concentrated around the tail-end aircraft and I don’t think he would have known what hit him. His aircraft shuddered, hesitated in its turn, bunted outwards, pulled up into a half loop, then fell away, obviously completely out of control leaving a spiral trail of black smoke behind it. It was probably flown by a dead pilot. I pulled around onto the next aircraft, and when I fired, it flicked onto its back and dived away, but it appeared to be under control. Maybe I didn’t damage it too much, but I certainly frightened hell out of the pilot.
The remainder of the flight broke up in all directions, and taking advantage of the superior performance of my aircraft, I climbed up above them, to avoid any tests of manoeuvrability, and to take stock of proceedings, and try to get my machine guns working again, as some had given up the ghost. I noticed a splash in the sea below, but didn’t know if it was my G.50 or not, but supposed that it was.
The fight went on and I am afraid that I was now behaving in a childish manner and I was whooping like a wild Indian on the warpath. I do not believe that I shot anything down after this, but things were moving at too fast and furious a rate to get time to observe the results of further attacks. Without doubt I hit the further odd machine as I was able to get into infallible positions. The air-space which had been full of stunting Italians, suddenly cleared like magic as seems to happen in air combat. I looked around and the only aircraft which I could see was a 109 below me. I chased after it at full throttle, climbed up into the sun and positioned myself for an attack. I then saw why the 109 was not more alert. His eyes were fastened on another prey in the form of two unsuspecting Tomahawks cruising in formation below him. He put his aircraft into a gentle dive heading south-west and behind the Tomahawks and I started my dive from the north to north-east, out of the sun, heading him off, coming in at right angles. I called a warning to the two Tommys, and on a converging course, I rapidly closed on the 109 which had now dropped slightly below them in order to stay out of sight. At last I had a complete drop on a 109.
My dreams had materialised and I had one exactly where I wanted it. At high speed, in range, fire. I pressed the trigger and my guns barked in response. By almost a sixth sense my German friend saw me at the last moment, and pulled his stick back making my fire pass below him. He then proceeded to pump-handle his joystick rapidly backwards and forwards, as if following the track of the switchback rail at Luna Park, and I didn't have a hope in hell of hitting him in my first attack. I overshot, pulled around, washing a lot of speed off, and got in an attack from the port rear quarter, which I believe hit him, but did not stop him. I fired again and again, but although he looked a bit sick in the end, he was nevertheless still flying and gradually pulled out of range. I had lost what should have been a certain kill. The Hun beat me by fast thinking and a trick which was too good for me. Full credit to him. I noted this trick and added it to my limited repertoire, and it was later to prove useful in getting out of a similar jam.”
112 Squadron also landed at 17:10 and claimed two destroyed and two more as probable while losing a Tomahawk.
Pilot Officer Bowker (AK503), flying with 3 RAAF Squadron shot down a Bf 110 into the sea (confirmed by Wing Commander Jeffrey).
Flying Officer Peter Humphreys (AK505) claimed one CR.42 destroyed west of El Adem and a probable Bf 109F, last seen diving at high speed vertically, 500 feet from the sea off Tobruk Harbour (it was credited as a probable). Confirmation of this was expected from Tobruk as Pilot Officer Bowker and Wing Commander Jeffrey both saw an unidentified plane splash into the sea 5 miles north-west of Tobruk.
Flight Lieutenant Gerald Westenra clashed with ten G.50s that were flying lined up in pairs opposite him. He hit a G.50 that had left the defensive circle and left it spiralling down apparently out of control 5 miles south-west off Tobruk. This aircraft was claimed as a probable.
New Zealander and 20-year-old Sergeant Frederick Dunford Glasgow (RAF No. 402469) (AK461/A) of 112 Squadron flying with 3 RAAF Squadron was KIA.
Pilot Officer Bowker’s machine was hit by the machine gunner of the Bf 110, whose plane he had shot down, but repairable at unit and Flying Officer Humphreys’ machine was also hit and repairable, but not at unit.
Flying Officer Humphreys was 3 miles east of Tobruk at an altitude of 8000 feet at 16:00, when he spotted the enemy at a bearing of 12 o’clock, at a slightly higher altitude. He gained height and attacked the tail of a Bf 109:
“Put a 5 seconds burst into enemy starting at 200 yards to 500 yards as 109 F drew away after astern attack on myself when I was hit in the tail and wing root. After my attack I was attacked by another 109 and was forced to turn away, and looking back.
Saw E/A joined by another Me.110. Also saw E/A I had attacked then begin to dive steeply towards the sea ...”
At 16:30, Humphreys came down from a greater height and attacked the tail of a CR.42 at an altitude of 100ft above LG 122. He reported:
“E/A seen to wobble after first attack and after second attack dived towards ground and after breaking away after attack saw E/A crash land in cloud of dust.”
The Axis formation included both German and Italian aircraft and the force included 17 Ju 87s of I./StG 3, 15 of II./StG 2, 12 Bf 110s III./ZG 26 and 12 Bf 109s of I and II./JG 27. The German fighter pilots made six claims:
Oberleutnant Gustav Rödel of 4./JG 27 claimed one Hurricane I at 15:55 and one P-40 at 15:57; both were claimed north of Tobruk.
Oberfeldwebel Otto Schulz of 4./JG 27 claimed one P-40 north of Tobruk at 16:00.
Leutnant Hans Hufnagel of 9./ZG 26 (based at Derna) claimed one P-40 at 16:01.
Oberfähnrich Gerhard Endmann of 4./JG 27 claimed one P-40 north of Tobruk at 16.05.
Oberfeldwebel Albert Espenlaub of 1./JG 27 claimed one P-40 south-east of Tobruk at 16:05.
It seems that German losses were two Bf 110s from 8./ZG 26 when WNr. 3985 (Oberleutnant Dieter Bidlingmaier and Unteroffizier Gerhard Becker MIA) and WNr. 3181 (Leutnant Joern Scharf and Unteroffizier Hermann Bogler MIA; Scharf later reported to be PoW) both failed to return. The two Fi 156s shot down by Rex Wilson were both aircraft of II./JG 27 which had been unlucky in flying into the combat area when on the way to attend the funeral of Leutnant Scheppa. They were flown by Leutnant Gorny and Oberarzt Heydenreich, who subsequently reported that after crashing, their aircraft were strafed on the ground, Gorny suffering wounds.
The Italian aircraft included four G.50s of the 378a Squadriglia together with two of the 351a Squadriglia, 155o Gruppo, acting as close cover (15:00-16:30). Five G.50s of the 20o Gruppo (two of the 151a, one of the 352a and two of the 353a Squadriglie) provided top cover together with the Bf 109s. They were led by Capitano Riccardo Roveda (14:25-16:40). There were also eleven C.200s of the 153o and one of the 157a Gruppi; presumably they were the close cover. There were also four CR.42Ts (fighter bombers) of the 376a Squadriglia.
The G.50s were on patrol on line abreast at 4,000m, when the target was reached at 15:45. A formation of about ten Hurricanes and P-40s was spotted north of Bu Amud after the bombing and they were engaged in combat (probably over the sea). It would seem that only Capitano Roveda and Sottotenente Alcide Leonio of the 353a Squadriglia engaged the enemy fighters and they claimed to have shot down one P-40 each, firing 235 rounds. The pilots of the 155o Gruppo reported that they limited themselves to sticking close to the bombers without taking part in the combat.
The CR.42 took off at 14:45 and returned to base at 16:30. They encountered very heavy anti-aircraft fire, nevertheless the action was considered to have gone very well and they didn’t suffer any losses. The aircraft claimed as a CR.42 by 112 Squadron’s Flying Officer Humphreys, appears actually to have been a Ro.37bis of 129a Squadriglia. This had taken off at 15:50 to explore the El Adem-Sidi Rezegh-Hagfet El Haei-bir El Gobi zone but was attacked by a fighter and forced to crash-land at El Adem, and while Tenente Antonio Grillo and Tenente Giuseppe Conti survived unhurt, the biplane was a complete write-off.
It seems that this confusing combat took place when the aircraft were returning from the bomb attack. The Stukas, CR.42s and escort of the 153o and 155o Gruppi were probably not involved in the combat, even if identified by the Commonwealth fighter pilots.
It is interesting to note what was reported by 112 Squadron on the decision by the G.50s to form a defensive circle despite their superiority in numbers.
Totally, the Tomahawks of 3 RAAF and 112 Squadrons claimed ten enemy aircraft, two probable and eight damaged while losing two Tomahawks. The Axis fighters claimed eight Allied fighters shot down while losing two Bf 110s.

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 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 Wilfred 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 Wilfred 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.

On 4 December 1941, eleven MC.202s from the 17o Gruppo (six from the 71a Squadriglia, three from the 72a Squadriglia and two from the 80a Squadriglia) led by Tenente Colonnello Bruno Brambilla had taken off at 09:45 for an indirect escort to Ju 87s to be followed by a free sweep over Bir el Gobi.
At 10:20, in conditions of poor weather and at the height of 4000 metres over the target area, the Italian fighters met a Commonwealth formation of an estimated 30 P-40s and Hurricanes. In the ensuing combat, the pilots of the 1o Stormo claimed eight confirmed and one probable victories (the confirmed went to Tenente Colonnello Brambilla, Capitano Pericle Baruffi, Capitano Pio Tomaselli, Tenente Conti, Tenente Ottorino Cappellini, Sottotenente Renato Bagnoli, Sergente Maggiore Gabriele Romagna, Sergente Egidio Buogo; they had spent 2195 rounds of ammunition). Sottotenente Lorenzo Chellini’s Macchi was hit in the cooling system and he was obliged to force-land close to El Adem writing off the fighter in the process while Maresciallo Marcello Lui had to force-land due to an engine breakdown. The remaining fighters landed back at 11:00.
It seems that opponents were Hurricane IIs coming from 1 SAAF Squadron and 274 Squadron (both parts of 258 Wing). Ten fighters from the first unit had taken off at 09:15 (one of them forced to turn back early due to engine problems) while twelve Hurricanes from the second unit had taken off at 09:20. The ORB of 1 SAAF Squadron recorded a free sweep over El Adem while 274 Squadron recorded a patrol cruise over the Army’s armoured units in the Trigh Capuzzo. 1 SAAF Squadron flew at superior height when it encountered a loose formation of MC 202s. It appeared to be a decoy formation for when Captain C. A. van Vliet climbed to attack, the Italians attacked the flanks of the formation; only now above them were seen six more and above these were some 16 Macchis and Messerschmitts, the former dark-green, the latter identifiable by their square wingtips. Meanwhile a straggling Hurricane had been picked off; Lieutenant T. Meek came down 40 miles from base and walked in two days later. In the ensuing general dogfight the Italians showed their fatal love for aerobatics. Lieutenant Vivian Penberthy caught one at the top of its loop, upside down and shot its tail off. Lieutenant Robert Kershaw DSO, claimed one and a probable, Lieutenant Lawrence Waugh caught one pulling out of its attack, half-rolled and sent it down smoking. Another pulling up in front of him went into a spiral and he saw it crash and finally he fired a long head-on burst on a third, which sent debris flying from it. Second Lieutenant C. B. Wilson saw his victim stop a burst, flick onto its back and go down in a trail of black smoke. The final score in the encounter was judged at two Macchis destroyed (Lieutenants Penberthy (Hurricane DG626) and Waugh), three probables (Waugh, Lieutenant Kershaw and Second Lieutenant Wilson) and two damaged (Waugh and Kershaw).
274 Squadron reported combat with Bf 109s and MC.200s claiming one Bf 109 confirmed and two damaged.
The South Africans, pleased with their own performance landed back at 10:45 while 274 Squadron landed back between 10:50 and 11:05.
At 09:10, 16 German Ju 87s together with six ’Picchiatelli’ of 239a Squadriglia BaT, had taken off to bomb enemy vehicles 20km north-east of Bir el Gobi. The close escort was provided by ten MC.200s from 153o Gruppo (take off at 09:30) and the indirect provided by ten Bf 109s of JG 27.
At 09:30, ten Tomahawks of 250 Squadron had taken off together with ten more from 112 Squadron to escort reconnaissance Hurricanes to El Adem and Tobruk. Between El Adem and Sidi Rezegh they met a huge formation of Stukas escorted by enemy fighters (most likely the Axis formations from the 17o and 153o Gruppi and JG 27) and attacked with devastating effects.
112 Squadron claimed heavy when Flight Lieutenant Gerald Westenra (Tomahawk AN303) claimed two G.50s (perhaps mixed with MC.200s), Pilot Officer Bowker (Tomahawk AN372) claimed a G.50 and a Ju 87, Pilot Officer Neville Duke (Tomahawk AN337/F) claimed a MC.200, a probable Ju 87 and another damaged while a Bf 109 and a probable were claimed by Sergeant Ronald Christie (Tomahawk AK354) and a damaged Bf 109 was claimed by Flying Officer Peter Humphreys (Tomahawk AK415). Finally, Flight Lieutenant Bary of 250 Squadron claimed a probable Bf 109.
Two Tomahawks of 112 Squadron were damaged, one of them (Sergeant Ferguson) heavily.
The MC.200s met the P-40s. Tenente Mezzetti, slightly wounded, landed at Gazala while four more Macchis were hit but the Stukas were able to land unscathed thanks to their action.
Messerschmitt pilots reported to have met around 40 P-40s, claiming three of them by Oberfeldwebel Otto Schulz (at 10:16 over Bir el Gobi), Oberleutnant Gustav Rödel (10:18 north-east of Bir el Gobi) and Unteroffizier Alfred Heidel (at 10:20 over Bir el Gobi) of 4./JG 27.

On 5 December, 14 MC.200s of the 153o and 157o Gruppi, accompanied by 14 G.50s of the 20o Gruppo, provided close escort for 40 Italian and German Stukas, including nine Picchiatelli of the 239a Squadriglia, that were sent to attack targets in the Taieb el Esem-Bir el Gobi area. Top cover was provided by high-flying Bf 109Fs of I. and II./JG 27. Fifteen miles south of El Adem the Axis formation encountered seven Tomahawks of 112 Squadron and 12 more from 250 Squadron, led by Squadron Leader Clive "Killer" Caldwell.
112 Squadron reported taking off at 11:20 led Flight Lieutenant Charles Ambrose (AK475) and including Flying Officer John Soden (AK377), Pilot Officer Neville Duke (AN337/GA-F), Sergeant Rudy Leu (AK354), Pilot Officer "Jack" Bartle (AN372/GA-Q), Pilot Officer Bowker (AK509) and Pilot Officer Joseph Sabourin (AK457). They sighted a formation of 30-40 Ju 87s in vics of three, supported by 20-25 G.50s and MC.200s as close escort. Twelve Bf 109s were flying as high flank cover in two groups of six and there may have been about three MC.202s. On sighting the Tomahawks some of the Ju 87s immediately jettisoned their bombs, but the majority, more daring, started the bombing dive. 250 Squadron started after the Ju 87s and 112 Squadron engaged the fighters. The G.50s and MC.200s stayed up as the Ju 87s went down and in fact started to climb towards the Bf 109s. There was a general mêlée and all the aircraft were mixed up. The Ju 87s got involved with the retiring Italian fighters and, to add the distraction, there was a hail of fire from the ground. Pilot Officer Bowker destroyed three Ju 87s (two of which blew up in the air) and damaged a G.50 south of El Adem. He noted that when a Stuka was knocked out of the formation, the remainder closed up and continued stolidly towards their target. Flight Lieutenant Ambrose claimed a G.50 and a MC.200 as probables in the Tobruk-El Adem area. Flying Officer Soden attacked a Ju 87 and shot its tail off, which fell off by degrees as the stricken aircraft dived. A Bf 109F that he shot at lost its cowling and cockpit hood but was not seen to crash and it was claimed as a probable. Sergeant Leu attacked a MC.200 from out of the sun, which spun in. He also attacked a Bf 109F, which "seemed to falter in the air" and then dive, but he did not see it crash but it was credited as a probable. Pilot Officer Sabourin shot down a Bf 109E, which fell in an uncontrollable spin with smoke coming from it, and a G.50, which also fell burning. He claimed a Ju 87, which crashed near El Adem and also damaged a G.50, a Bf 109E and a Bf 109F. Pilot Officer Bartle shot down one Ju 87 and chased a G.50 over El Adem where it was shot down by its own flak. Bartle claimed it as his victory as the enemy aircraft had been destroyed because of his action!
112 Squadron's casualties were Pilot Officer Duke, who spun in from 10,000ft down to 2,000ft and belly landed at Tobruk having been hit in the leg by an explosive shell. His radio had failed and his cockpit had sanded up so that he hadn't seen his attacker until cannon shells started hitting his aircraft.
Known claimers among 250 Squadron were Squadron Leader Caldwell, who was credited with shooting down five Ju 87s, two of which were Italian-flown and damaging a MC.200. Sergeant "Bob" Whittle (AN313) claimed two Ju 87s, with one more initially claimed as probably shot down but this was later upgraded to a "confirmed" after that it had been found crash-landed. Sergeant William Cable claimed two Ju 87s and one damaged while Pilot Officer Francis Albert Creighton claimed one Ju 87 and one damaged Bf 109. Flight Lieutenant Rose claimed a probable Bf 109.
250 Squadron lost four aircraft when Pilot Officer Coles was shot down and wounded as was Sergeant McWilliam, both returning the next day. Sergeant James Ross Gilmour (RAF no. 1365007) and 19-year old Sergeant Edmondson Peter Greenhow (RAF no. 1059800) were both shot down and killed.
The pilots from JG 27 claimed five P-40s without known losses. These were claimed by Hautpmann Wolfgang Redlich of 1./JG 27, who claimed one at 12:05 south of Bir-el-Gobi, Unteroffizier Horst Reuter of 5./JG 27, who claimed one at 11:43 south-east of Bir-el-Gobi, Leutnant Franz Külp of 6./JG 27, who claimed one at 11:45 over Bir-el-Gobi, Oberleutnant Gustav Rödel of 4./JG 27, who claimed one at 11:55 north-west of Bir-el-Gobi and Unteroffizier Josef Grimm of 1./JG 27, who claimed one south of Bir-el-Gobi.
The Italian fighters claimed ten victories, one of them by Ennio Tarantola of the 151a Squadriglia, 20o Gruppo. No Italian fighters were actually lost in this combat. However, several G.50s were hit and one pilot slightly wounded, and one MC.200 of the 153o Gruppo was damaged. Having had the radiator of his fighter holed, the unnamed pilot had to make an emergency landing at Ain el Gazala.
At least two Italian Ju 87s seems to have been lost while a third Italian dive-bomber was severely damaged, being forced to land off the runway. Three other Italian Ju 87s were hit by anti-aircraft fire.

On the 27 December 1941, he was shot down by small arms fire when strafing, flying a Tomahawk (AN283). The Germans took him prison again, but this time for the rest of the war. The award of a DFC was announced in October 1943, but with effect from 6 January 1942, by which time he had been promoted to Flight Lieutenant.

Bowker was credited with 2 biplane victories and a total of 10 victories at the time of his capture.

After the war, he returned to Southern Rhodesia and married. He farmed together with his wife in Rhodesia and Mozambique and ended in South Africa in Mining machinery.

They retired to Australia in 1992 where he and his son have been instrumental in producing the first machine to remove the meat from coconuts.

Neville Bowker passed away on 21 May 2005.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1941                
1 11/03/41   1 G.50 (a) Destroyed Gladiator II N5817 Tepelene-Bousi 112 Squadron
  13/03/41   1 CR.42 (b) Probable Gladiator II N5817 Bousi 112 Squadron
  14/03/41   1 G.50 (c) Probable Gladiator II N5817 E Valona 112 Squadron
  13/04/41   1 S.79 Damaged Gladiator II   Koritza 112 Squadron
2 11/05/41   1 Bf 110 (d) Destroyed Gladiator II   Heraklion 112 Squadron
3 14/09/41   1 S.79 Destroyed Tomahawk IIb AN218 Sidi Barrani 112 Squadron
  20/11/41   1/3 Bf 110 Shared destroyed Tomahawk IIb AN415 El Adem-Acroma 112 Squadron
  20/11/41   1 Bf 110 Probable Tomahawk IIb AN415 El Adem 112 Squadron
4 25/11/41 15:40 ca 1 Bf 110 (e) Destroyed Tomahawk IIb AK503 1-2m off Tobruk 112 Squadron
5 30/11/41 08:30- 1 MC.200 (f) Destroyed Tomahawk IIb AN338 El Gobi 112 Squadron
6 04/12/41 09:30- 1 G.50 (g) Destroyed Tomahawk IIb AN372 El Adem-Sidi Rezegh 112 Squadron
7 04/12/41 09:30- 1 Ju 87 (g) Destroyed Tomahawk IIb AN372 El Adem-Sidi Rezegh 112 Squadron
8 05/12/41 11:20- 1 Ju 87 (h) Destroyed Tomahawk IIb AK509 S El Adem 112 Squadron
9 05/12/41 11:20- 1 Ju 87 (h) Destroyed Tomahawk IIb AK509 S El Adem 112 Squadron
10 05/12/41 11:20- 1 Ju 87 (h) Destroyed Tomahawk IIb AK509 S El Adem 112 Squadron
  05/12/41 11:20- 1 G.50 (h) Damaged Tomahawk IIb AK509 S El Adem 112 Squadron

Biplane victories: 2 destroyed, 2 probable, 1 damaged.
TOTAL: 10 and 1 shared destroyed, 3 probable, 2 damaged.
(a) 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.
(b) Claimed in combat with MC.200s from 22o Gruppo and CR.42s from 160o Gruppo. 112 Squadron claimed 10 CR.42s destroyed, 2 probables and 1 damaged and 1 ‘G.50bis’ and 1 damaged without losses. The Italian pilots claimed four Gladiators and one Hurricane shot down, losing two CR.42s flown by Tenente Gualtiero Bacchi and Sottotenente Enzo Torroni (both from 375a Squadriglia), but no MC.200s.
(c) Claimed in combat with Z.1007bis and BR.20s from 47o and 38o Stormo and MC.200s from the 22o Gruppo and CR.42s of the 160o Gruppo, which claimed 2 Hurricanes and 3 Gladiators while losing 2 MC.200s and getting 1 MC.200 and 1 Z.1007bis damaged. 112 Squadron claimed 5 destroyed, 2 probables and 1 damaged G.50s and 1 destroyed and 1 damaged BR.20 while losing 1 Gladiator. 33 Squadron claimed 2 ‘monoplanes’ and 2 probables while losing 1 Hurricane.
(d) Claimed in combat with Bf 110s from II/ZG 76.
(e) In this combat the Tomahawks of 3 RAAF and 112 Squadrons claimed ten enemy aircraft, two probable and eight damaged while losing two Tomahawks. The Axis fighters claimed eight Allied fighters shot down while losing two Bf 110s.
(f) 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. (g) Claimed in combat P-40s from 112 and 250 Squadrons, which claimed 6 destroyed, 2 probables and 2 damaged while getting two P-40s damaged. Axis fighters claimed 3 destroyed while getting five MC.200s damaged.
(h) Claimed in combat with bombers and fighters from Regia Aeronautica and JG 27, which claimed 15 P-40s for the loss of at least 2 Ju 87 and 1 damaged. Several Italian fighters were damaged. 112 and 250 Squadrons claimed at least 21 destroyed, 5 probables and 7 damaged while losing 5 P-40s.

Sources:
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, 1994, Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-00-0
Aces High Volume 2 - Christopher Shores, 1999, Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-03-9
Air war for Yugoslavia, Greece and Crete - Christopher Shores, Brian Cull and Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-948817-07-0
Desert Prelude: Early clashes June-November 1940 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2010 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-89450-52-4
Eagles Strike - James Ambrose Brown kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.
Fighters over the Desert - Christopher Shores and Hans Ring, 1969 Neville Spearman Limited, London
La Battaglie Aeree In Africa Settentrionale: Novembre-Dicembre 1941 – Michele Palermo, IBN, ISBN 88-7565-102-7
Luftwaffe Claims Lists - Tony Wood
RAF 112 Sqn Tribute
Shark Squadron - The history of 112 Squadron 1917-1975 - Robin Brown, 1994 Crécy Books, ISBN 0-947554-33-5
The London Gazette
Those Other Eagles – Christopher Shores, 2004 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-904010-88-1
Additional information kindly provided by Colleen Bowker, Rob Brown, Carlo Minguzzi, Michele Palermo and Ludovico Slongo.




Last modified 10 September 2014