Biplane fighter aces

The Commonwealth

Lieutenant John Jacobus 'Coetz' Coetzer, SAAF No. 103000V

1918 - 21 February 1941

John Coetzer was born in 1918 and was from Tarkastad, Cape Province, South Africa.

He joined the South African Permanent Force and attended the Military College 1939 – 1940, gaining his wings on 25 April 1940.

Coetzer was posted to the 1 SAAF Squadron in May 1940.

On 5 August nine Gladiators led by Captain van Schalkwyk arrived at Khartoum from Egypt to take part in the East African campaign.
At first they were held by Air Commander Slatter to assist in the defence of the Sudan.

On 18 September, three Gladiators of 1 SAAF Squadron were patrolling in the Kassala area between 14:50 and 17:15 when two CR.42s climbed up to challenge them. The South Africans got in first, Major Schalk van Schalkwyk claiming one and Second Lieutenants Coetzer and John Hewitson (N5852) claiming a second shared; one CR.42 was seen to spin and crash while the other was chased to its airfield at Tessenei, where it was reported to have crash-landed.
Second Lieutenant Hewitson reported in his logbook a dogfight with two CR.42s over Kassala. One retired while the other apparently fell out of control. He fired 1000 rounds of ammunition during the combat.
The identity of the Italian pilots remains unknown since no account of this combat can be found in Italian records.

On the 6 November, the British forces in Sudan launched an offensive to capture the Italian fort at Gallabat as well as occupy Metemma, which was just across the frontier. All that the RAF could provide in way of support was six Wellesleys, two Vincents, six Gauntlets, ten Gladiators (drawn from ‘K’ Flight and 1 SAAF Squadron) and four Hawker Hardys (from the Rhodesian Air Force). The Wellesleys were first into action bombing Gallabat, with the Gladiators requested to over fly the area in large formations. Three Gladiators of ‘K’ Flight arrived over the advancing troops at low level. They were patrolling to the east of Metemma when a formation of an estimated six or seven CR.42s from 412a Squadriglia led by the unit commander Capitano Raffi attacked them from out of the sun. The Gladiator pilots were taken by surprise; 24-year-old Flight Lieutenant Kenneth Howard Savage (RAF no. 37483) (L7614) was shot down and killed while Pilot Officer Kirk (K7969) was forced to take to his parachute; neither pilot saw their attacker. Pilot Officer J. Hamlyn evaded the initial onslaught but his aircraft (L7612) was badly damaged and he force-landed, returning later on foot.
Meanwhile Major Schalk van Schalkwyk (N5855) of 1 SAAF Squadron had also taken off from Azzoza, but on arriving over the front was also attacked by the CR.42s. Observers on the ground at once rang the strip at ‘Heston’ to report the lone Gladiator in combat with eight opponents, and despite thick mud caused by an unexpected downpour during the night, Captain Brian Boyle at once took off, arriving just in time to see the commanding officer's Gladiator going down in flames, the pilot taking to his parachute with his clothes on fire; he did not survive. Immediately Boyle was also attacked, bullets entering the cockpit and wounding him in hands and legs; desperately he fought on until the engine of N5852 stopped, and he had to crash-land between the lines. Boyle was brought in by Indian troops and sent by ambulance to Wadi Seidna where he was hospitalised for some weeks. He was subsequently warded a DFC (1 SAAF Squadron’s first) on 7 January 1941 for his gallant action in going single-handed to van Schalkwyk’s assistance.
Capitano Raffi reported that four victories were claimed as a result of these engagements, but Sottotenente Rosmino's aircraft was hit and he returned with his parachute pack riddled with bullets.
During the morning another ‘K’ Flight Gladiator was flown up to the front, and shortly after midday Flying Officer Haywood (K7977) joined four Gladiators of 1 SAAF Squadron from ‘Heston’, which took off at 13:20 in another patrol over the front. There five Ca.133s were seen at 7,000 feet, 2,000 feet lower than the Gladiators, approaching the battle area. As the fighters prepared to attack, they were bounced from above by six CR.42s and Haywood’s aircraft was seen to crash in flames. The South Africans at once split up into pairs, Lieutenants Coetzer and Robin Pare taking on the fighters while Lieutenants Andrew Duncan and John Hewitson went after the bombers. The Caproni attacked by Duncan crashed on the Metemma-Gondar road, while Hewitson’s fell out of control after he’d fired three burst and crashed; he also damaged a third bomber on the ground. The crew of one of the shot-down bombers survived, and was to return on foot several days later.
While this was going on, the two pilots fighting the CR.42s had managed to drive them off, each claiming one of the fighters shot down; no losses of CR.42s were recorded however, although either or both of those attacked may have been damaged, and force-landed. Two more victories were claimed by the Italians to raise their total for the day to six, two or three of which were credited to Tenente Mario Visintini, who claimed two destroyed and one probable enemy aircraft in the Gondar area during the day.
By the end of the day, despite the loss of air superiority by the British forces, Gallabat Fort had been captured and the garrison virtually annihilated.

On 11 November, Lieutenants Coetzer, Andrew Duncan and Servaas de K. Viljoen set off for Gallabat to intercept bombers. West of the town they ran into eight enemy fighters instead. These were stepped up in echelon in three groups, 1524 meters above the three Gladiators. Despite tactical and numerical disadvantage, the South Africans attacked, chasing two of the Fiats down to ground level before they escaped, while the rest made one pass on the Gladiators and then fled.
It seems that the Gladiators had clashed with Fiat CR.42s from the 412a Squadriglia, which returned claiming one Gladiator shot down and two more as probables.
One Gladiator returned damaged by a single explosive bullet.

On the morning on 27 January 1941, six Hurricanes and six Gladiators of 1 SAAF Squadron, using Sabderat as an advanced landing ground for refuelling, attacked Gura airfield during the day, many aircraft being seen there. While Major Wilmot, Lieutenant Theron and a third pilot remained above as top cover, the other nine strafed, claiming hits on nine S.79s, seven S.81s and three Ca.133s.
The Gladiators taking part in the strafe were led by Captain Brian Boyle (Gladiator N5815) and the other five pilots were Lieutenants Servaas de K. Viljoen, Robin Pare, Andrew Duncan, Coetzer and Taylor. Hurricane pilots included Major Wilmot, Captain K. W. Driver, Lieutenant John Hewitson and Lieutenant Leonard le Clues Theron.
It seems that the attack was contested since Tenente Luciano Cacciavillani (attached to 412a Squadriglia) reported in his logbook that he scrambled at 12:35 and fought against a couple of Hurricanes, with no results.
After the strafe at Gura, Captain Driver and Lieutenant Hewitson continued to Adi Ugri where Driver strafed four more S.81s, claiming damaged to two of them. Hewitson meanwhile strafed other ground target.
The Italians reported that three S.79s and four S.81 were substantially damaged.

In the afternoon on 30 January, Lieutenants Coetzer and Robin Pare were in the end of a patrol of the Biscia-Agordat road when they sighted four CR.42s slightly above them. Coetzer managed to get in a beam shot at one but without any observed result.

At 14:30 on 1 February, Lieutenants John Hewitson and Coetzer spotted five S.79s and a pair of CR.42s, 915m below them. The two Hurricanes made one stern and two head-on passes, resulting that the Italian bombers jettisoned their bombs and turned back. The escort fighters turned to attack one Hurricane then left with the bombers.

After refuelling at Metemma at noon on 4 February, three Hurricanes (including Lieutenant John Hewitson in Hurricane V7655) and three Gladiators from 1 SAAF Squadron took off to attacked Bahar Dar airfield where three Ca.133s were seen on the ground. Lieutenants Coetzer and White set two of these on fire, and a third blew up when attacked by Captain Driver. They also attacked a petrol dump. One of the Gladiators was damaged and became unserviceable with ashot through a main rib while Captain Driver’s Hurricane received one bullet in the mainplane from the ground.
Italian records confirm all claims.

Around noon on 5 February four Hurricanes and two Gladiators from 1 SAAF Squadron flew an offensive patrol over Asmara, stepped up in echeloned pairs, when they saw six CR.42s also stepped up in pairs, on the port beam. THe SAAF fighters climbed to attack and the CR.42s tried to evade into clouds. Lieutenants Robin Pare and White were unable to obtain conclusive results. Captain K. W. Driver, in a Hurricane, attacked the leading one head on, and hit the engine, the pilot breaking away and making for Asmara. Driver fired again and the Fiat crash-landed near the airfield. Lieutenant Coetzer, in one of the Gladiators, claimed a second in a stern attack, firing three bursts before it dived into a cloud. Pulling up and over the cloud, he saw the CR.42s crash in flames near a road, around 4.8km east of Asmara around 12:45. A third was claimed by Captain Gerald Le Mesurier, also in a Hurricane, but this could have been confused with Coetzer's claim.
One Gladiator was hit in the engine, but managed to land at Agordat.
Italian records show that one CR.42 crash-landed badly damaged and with the pilot slightly wounded, while a second from 412a Squadriglia was shot down, the Sottotenente Giovanni Consoli bailing out. He was badly wounded and died later that day.

At 14:30 on 19 February, five Hurricanes (Captain Kenneth Driver, Lieutenants Coetzer, Leonard le Clues Theron, Johan van der Merwe and W. J. A. White) from 1 SAAF Squadron took off to escort four Wellesleys attacking Asmara again. The Hurricanes claimed one destroyed CR.42 by strafing.

At 12:30 on 20 February Lieutenants Robin Pare, Coetzer, Leonard le Clues Theron and Dirk C. Uys took off to attack Massawa aerodrome (and Decamere and Adi Ugri?). They found and damaged four CR.42s and a Ca.133.
It seems that in fact four CR.42s, two Ca.133 and two S.81s were damaged in this raid.

Air reconnaissance had reported that new CR.42s being assembled at Massawa after delivery by transport aircraft, and at 08:00 on 21 February, Major Lawrence Wilmot from 1 SAAF Squadron took off from Kassala with Captain Brian Boyle and Lieutenants Robin Pare, Coetzer, Leonard le Clues Theron, Servaas de K. Viljoen and E. A. Jarvis. The Hurricanes refuelled en route at Agordat and took off at 11:00, attacking Massawa an hour later. A small number of aircraft was seen outside the hangars, but the number inside was not known, so all six hangars were attacked, the pilots approaching at zero feet and firing directly into them; all were left in flames, the roof of one being blown right off by Major Wilmot. Six Ca.133s and a CR.42 were strafed in the open, and claimed in flames, while Lieutenant Robin Pare wiped out an anti-aircraft position and crew, which were firing on Major Wilmot. His guns then jammed but he continued to make dummy runs on the AA posts, being the last to leave the area. Lieutenant Coetzer was however shot down and killed by AA fire, his Hurricane (V7658) was seen crashing in flames.
In fact, three Ca.133s and two S.81s, all of which had been damaged the previous day, were destroyed, and one more of each was damaged.

He is buried at Asmara War Cemetery, Eritre.

At the time of his death, Coetzer was credited with 2 biplane victories.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
  18/09/40 14:50-17:15 1 CR.42 (a) Shared destroyed Gladiator II   Kassala area 1 SAAF Squadron
1 06/11/40 13:20- 1 CR.42 (b) Destroyed Gladiator   Metemma area 1 SAAF Squadron
  1941                
  04/02/41 noon ½ Ca.133 (c) Shared destroyed on the ground Gladiator   Bahar Dar 1 SAAF Squadron
  04/02/41 noon ½ Ca.133 (c) Shared destroyed on the ground Gladiator   Bahar Dar 1 SAAF Squadron
2 05/02/41 12:45- 1 CR.42 (d) Destroyed Gladiator   Asmara area 1 SAAF Squadron
  19/02/41 14:30- 1/5 CR.42 (e) Shared destroyed on the ground Hurricane   Asmara 1 SAAF Squadron
  20/02/41 12:30- 1/4 CR.42 (f) Shared destroyed on the ground Hurricane   Massawa 1 SAAF Squadron
  20/02/41 12:30- 1/4 CR.42 (f) Shared destroyed on the ground Hurricane   Massawa 1 SAAF Squadron
  20/02/41 12:30- 1/4 CR.42 (f) Shared destroyed on the ground Hurricane   Massawa 1 SAAF Squadron
  20/02/41 12:30- 1/4 CR.42 (f) Shared destroyed on the ground Hurricane   Massawa 1 SAAF Squadron
  20/02/41 12:30- 1/4 Ca.133 (f) Shared destroyed on the ground Hurricane   Massawa 1 SAAF Squadron
  21/02/41 12:00- 1/7 Ca.133 (g) Shared destroyed on the ground Hurricane V7658 Massawa 1 SAAF Squadron
  21/02/41 12:00- 1/7 Ca.133 (g) Shared destroyed on the ground Hurricane V7658 Massawa 1 SAAF Squadron
  21/02/41 12:00- 1/7 Ca.133 (g) Shared destroyed on the ground Hurricane V7658 Massawa 1 SAAF Squadron
  21/02/41 12:00- 1/7 Ca.133 (g) Shared destroyed on the ground Hurricane V7658 Massawa 1 SAAF Squadron
  21/02/41 12:00- 1/7 Ca.133 (g) Shared destroyed on the ground Hurricane V7658 Massawa 1 SAAF Squadron
  21/02/41 12:00- 1/7 Ca.133 (g) Shared destroyed on the ground Hurricane V7658 Massawa 1 SAAF Squadron
  21/02/41 12:00- 1/7 CR.42 (g) Shared destroyed on the ground Hurricane V7658 Massawa 1 SAAF Squadron

Biplane victories: 2 and 1 shared destroyed, 2 shared destroyed on the ground.
TOTAL: 2 and 1 shared destroyed, 15 shared destroyed on the ground.
(a) This claim has not been possible to verify with Italian records.
(b) Claimed in combat with CR.42s from 412a Squadriglia led by the unit commander Capitano Raffi. 1 SAAF Squadron claimed two aircraft but none were actually lost.
(c) 1 SAAF Squadron claimed three Ca.133s destroyed on the ground. Italian records confirm all claims.
(d) 1 SAAF Squadron claimed three CR.42s in this combat and got a Gladiator damaged in this combat. Italian records show that two CR.42s were shot down with one wounded pilot and one dead.
(e) Totally during the day it seems that one CR.42, one S.79 and two Ca.133s were burned on the ground against claims by 1 SAAF Squadron on three S.79s, three CR.42s and two Ca.133s.
(f) Four CR.42s, two Ca.133 and two S.81s damaged on the ground.
(g) Three Ca.133s and two S.81s, all of which had been damaged the previous day, were destroyed, and one more of each was damaged.

Sources:
Luciano Cacciavillani's personal logbook and photo courtesy of Cacciavillani family (Luciano jr and Alberto)
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
Dust Clouds in the Middle East - Christopher Shores, 1996 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-37-X
Gloster Gladiator Home Page - Alexander Crawford.
Springbok Fighter Victory: East Africa Volume 1 1940 – 1941 – Michael Shoeman, 2002 African Aviation Series No. 11, Freeworld Publications CC, ISBN 0-958-4388-5-4
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Those Other Eagles – Christopher Shores, 2004 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-904010-88-1
Additional info kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro, Michele Palermo and Ludovico Slongo.




Last modified 12 April 2012