Biplane fighter aces

The Commonwealth

Major Andrew Duncan DFC, SAAF no. 103023V

16 May 1920 – 31 May 1942

'Andy' Duncan was born in Government House, Pretoria, on 16 May 1920, son of the Governor General, Sir Patrick Duncan.

He joined the Active Citizen Force at the outbreak of war and began pilot training as a Second Lieutenant in the SAAF, qualifying as a pilot in December.

He was posted to 1 SAAF Squadron in May 1940.

On 20 September Major Schalk van Schalkwyk with Second Lieutenants Leonard le Clues Theron and Duncan strafed Tessenei airfield. A Ca.133 was reported damaged on the ground.

On 18 October 1940 three Gladiators of 1 SAAF Squadron, flown by Captain Boyle, Lieutenant Pare and Lieutenant Duncan, approached Barentu airfield at 100 feet to see three CR.42s of the 412a Squadriglia about to take off, and dispersed around the field a S.79 and five Ca133s. Attacking the formation, the South Africans set all three fighters on fire and then broke up to strafe the bombers individually, claiming hits on all of them. A subsequent army report claimed that all six multi-engined aircraft were destroyed in addition to the fighters, but this is not confirmed from Italian records, although it is likely that some, or all, may have been slightly damaged. However, such damage could have not have been important, for no mention of it was made in the wire reporting the destruction of the CR.42s. To congratulate the fighter detachment at Azzoza, General Heath sent a present of champagne!

On 1 November three Gladiators (Captain Brian Boyle and Lieutenants Robin Pare and Duncan) of 1 SAAF Squadron escorted bomb-carrying Gauntlets of 430 Flight to targets in the northern areas of Eritrea and Ethiopia. At the same time Italian Caproni Ca.133s were out to bomb British troops in the Gallabat area. One of the Ca.133s was spotted passing overhead by the South African fighters. Lieutenant Pare climbed unseen to make an astern attack, followed by a beam pass and the bomber dived steeply and crashed; two of the crew was seen to get out but both were wounded, as were all other members of the crew save one, who was killed.
The South African biplanes continued to their target, all of them attacking at low level in the face of heavy return fire. All of them were hit but they all returned safely to Azzoza.

On 3 November, Lieutenant Duncan possibly damaged one of two S.79s that he intercepted over Kumbina.

On an early patrol on 4 November over Metema three Gladiators from 1 SAAF Squadron were attacked from above by four CR.42s from 412a Squadriglia. The South Africans swiftly turned the tables, Lieutenant L. leC. Theron shooting down one from which the pilot baled out, while Captain Brian Boyle and Lieutenant Duncan claimed two more (Duncan’s was not confirmed). The Italian pilots claimed to have shot down one Gladiator and reported the loss only of the aircraft shot down by Theron.

On the 6 November, the British forces in Sudan launched an offensive to capture the Italian fort at Gallabat as well as occupy Metema, 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 Metema when a formation of an estimated six or seven CR.42s from 412a Squadriglia led by the unit commander Capitano Antonio 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 Jack Hamlyn evaded the initial onslaught but his aircraft (L7612) was badly damaged and he force-landed, returning later on foot. These three victories were claimed by Capitano Raffi, Tenente Niso Provinciali and Sergente Pietro Morlotti.
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.
It seems that Captain Boyle was credited to Sottotenente Fiorindo Rosmino.
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 Jack Maurice Hayward (RAF no. 40111) 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 21-years-old Hayward’s aircraft (K7977) was seen to crash in flames, the pilot being KIA (possibly shot down at 15:30 by Tenente Mario Visintini of the 412a Squadriglia). The South Africans at once split up into pairs, Lieutenants John Coetzer and Robin Pare taking on the fighters while Lieutenants Duncan and John Hewitson went after the bombers. The Caproni attacked by Duncan crashed on the Metema-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.
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, only to be lost again the following day, under Italian ground counter-attacks supported by continuous hammering by Caproni and SIAI bombers, as in that moment the Regia Aeronautica had the main control of the air space.

On 11 November, a reconnoitring Hardy of 237 (Rhodesian) Squadron bombed Italian lorries on the road to Gondar. Around 12:30 some Fiat fighters scramble to intercept it, but instead had a clash with three Gladiators which were patrolling the area.
Lieutenants John Coetzer, Duncan and Servaas de K. Viljoen of 1 SAAF Squadron had set off for Gallabat to intercept bombers. West of the town they ran into a reported 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. One Gladiator returned damaged by a single explosive bullet.
The Italians from 412a Squadriglia returned claiming a Gladiator destroyed (probably by Tenente Mario Visintini) and two more probables, the latter one each to Sottotenente Giovanni Levi and Sergente Maggiore Lugi Baron.

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, Duncan, John 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.

At 14:45 on 28 January, Lieutenants Duncan and Hendrik Johannes Piet Burger (Hurricane V7622) scrambled to intercept an unidentified number of aircraft over Agordat. Two CR.42s bounced Duncan and another attacked Burger. Both managed to evade but not before Burger´s Hurricane was damaged.

At 14:00 on 29 January, 1 SAAF Squadron took off to attack Gura, with six Hurricanes (Major Lawrence Wilmot, Captain K. W. Driver, Lieutenants John Hewitson, Duncan, Hendrik Johannes Piet Burger and Leonard le Clues Theron) flying as top cover to five Gladiators, which would strafe. As they approached the Hurricanes run into several S.79s and a large number of CR.42s, which were seen over the airfield, the bombers having just returned from a raid over the front, and the fighters having scrambled at the approach of the South African aircraft. Captain Driver at once attacked an S.79 as it was going in to land, and shot it down in flames, two members of the crew baling out. The Gladiators then arrived, led by Captain Brian Boyle. These also met the Fiats, Lieutenant H. P. Smith (Gladiator N5851) and Lieutenant E. A. Jarvis each claiming one shot down.
Capitano Antonio Raffi, commander of the 412a Squadriglia, was above with two of his pilots, Tenente Luciano Cacciavillani and Maresciallo Aroldo Soffritti (they scrambled at 15:20), and he saw the Hurricane shoot down the S.79 before he could intervene. He then spotted the Gladiators, which he believed to be six strong, and at once, a great dogfight begun, during which the South Africans saw many Fiats falling away. Driver meanwhile had seen Adi Ugri landing ground on which four S.81s were dispersed, and attacking these, he left one (claimed as a S.79) in flames.
On return to base the combat with the Fiats was fully discussed, and it was decided that five had been shot down, one each by Lieutenant Smith and Lieutenant Jarvis, the other three being impossible to allocate to individual pilots. All the SAAF aircraft returned safely, although one Gladiator (N5831) had been hit by a single bullet.
This proves how easy it was to overestimate the damage caused, and indeed the numbers involved, in a whirling dogfight. Although several CR.42s were hit and damaged, none was in fact shot down. Tenente Cacciavillani's CR.42 was badly damaged by 50 hits, and Maresciallo Soffritti's was also damaged. Capitano Raffi’s own aircraft was hit five times and he recorded that he took ten bullets in his parachute and lost the fabric in the fuselage close to the cockpit and the tail plane. It seems that Raffi’s fire hit and damaged Lieutenant Smith Gladiator, who landed unhurt. The Italians reported combat against four Hurricanes and six Gladiators and reported one Gladiator shot down. Tenente Cacciavillani fired 60 rounds of 7.7mm, and claimed a Gladiator probably destroyed (shared) (strangely enough, this claim has been cancelled by a pen line in his logbook).

At 08:15 on 30 January, Captain K. W. Driver of 1 SAAF Squadron led three other Hurricanes (Lieutenants John Hewitson, Duncan and Leonard le Clues Theron) to Adi Ugri to attack three S.81, which were left from an attack the previous day. Diving down, he set one of the bombers on fire, and Lieutenant Duncan burned a second and claimed a second shared destroyed on the ground. Actually all three were already beyond repair, and were being employed as dummies to attract just such an attack.
Lieutenant John Hewitson strafed a pair of S.79s at Teramni.
The Hurricanes landed again at 09:30.

On 3 February six Gladiators from 1 SAAF Squadron flew forward to a new landing strip called ‘Pretoria’ early in the morning where they refuelled. Five of them (Captain Brian Boyle (N5824), Lieutenant Duncan, Lieutenant Robin Pare, Lieutenant Servaas de K. Viljoen and Lieutenant H. P. Smith) took off again at 11:45 to strafe airfields in the Gondar area, to the south. A landing site was spotted to the south of Azozo on which five Ca.133s were bombed up. The Gladiators attacked and claimed all five in flames. The Italians reported only one as actually destroyed in this attack.
Seeing CR.42s scrambling from Azozo, they flew over to investigate and Boyle, Pare, Viljoen and Smith claimed a shared damaged S.81 on the ground there when they reported that they had shot the wing off it while Lieutenant Duncan chased after a CR.42. The Gladiators were then attacked by Fiats and a big dogfight began. In the combat Captain Boyle claimed a Fiat shot down. Boyle reported that his claim was made towards the end of the dogfight and he was so close to the Fiat that he saw the enemy pilot clearly as he tried to bale out before crashing into the mountains.
Sergente Maggiore Enzo Omiccioli was shot down and killed in this combat. Reportedly he had scrambled alone.
The Gladiators then carried out a reconnaissance in the area, looking for reported Italian movements. On return, Lieutenant Smith crashed on landing at Azaza when starboard tyre burst and the aircraft slewed onto its side while Boyle suffered a flat tyre from the fight.

In the morning on 13 February 1941, five Hurricanes of 1 SAAF Squadron patrolled over Asmara, intercepting five fighters which they identified as CR.42s. Major Wilmot saw one evade a Hurricane and stall and he fired on this, causing the engine to stop and black smoke to issue forth. Captain Brian Boyle then attacked this aircraft and set it on fire, the pilot baling out and the fighter crashing east of Asmara. Lieutenant Duncan saw another Fiat in cloud and dived vertically on it. From this too the pilot baled out, the aircraft crashing in flames 12 miles south-east of the town. Captain Driver attacked another, but lost it in cloud, while a fourth was attacked by other pilots but escaped.
One of the fighters shot down was indeed a CR.42 of the 412a Squadriglia while the second was a CR.32 (the last available in Eritrea). Three more CR.42 were damaged in this combat, and one had to force-land, the pilot having been slightly wounded.
One of the fighters shot down was indeed a CR.42 of the 412a Squadriglia, the pilot being badly wounded; he is believed to have been Tenente Luigi De Pol, who later died in hospital. The second aircraft lost was a CR.32 (the last available in Eritrea) from which the pilot, Tenente Ubaldo Buzzi of the 412a Squadriglia, baled out. However, it was reported that he was machine gunned in his parachute by a Hurricane, and on landing was rushed to hospital where an arm and a leg was amputated, but he died shortly afterwards (it is also very possible that he was seriously wounded before baling out). Three more CR.42 were damaged in this combat, and one had to force-land, the pilot having been slightly wounded.

15 Wellesleys of 47 and 223 Squadrons raided Gura airfield on 16 February, escorted by six of 1 SAAF Squadron's Hurricanes flown by Major Laurence Wilmot, Captain Kenneth Driver, Captain Brian Boyle, Lieutenant Duncan, Lieutenant Dirk Uys and Lieutenant Adriaan Botha. The escort also strafed the airfield and claimed two S.79s burnt on the ground.

After 10:00 in the morning on 19 February, Major Laurence Wilmot led an escort of five Hurricanes (Captain Kenneth Driver, Captain Brian Boyle (V7711), Lieutenant Duncan, Lieutenant Dirk Uys and Lieutenant Adriaan Botha) from 1 SAAF Squadron to six Wellesleys bombing Asmara, following which the five Hurricanes went down to strafe, claiming three S.79s, two CR.42s and a pair of Ca.133s set on fire.
Actually it seems that one CR.42, one S.79 and two Ca.133s were burned.

Taking off alone at 11:15 on 21 February, Lieutenant Duncan made a strafing attack on Adi Ugri landing ground where he set fire to 3,000 gallons of petrol and shot up five lorries.

On 23 February 1941, seven Hurricanes of 1 SAAF Squadron flew forward to Tole where they refueled. At noon, Major Lawrence Wilmot (V7733?) led Captain Brian Boyle and Lieutenant Duncan to strafe Makele airfield while Captain K. W. Driver, Lieutenant Servaas de K. Viljoen, Lieutenant E. A. Jarvis and Lieutenant Leonard le Clues Theron provided top cover to the Vickers Wellesley acting as the navigation leader and which was intended to distract the Italians from the three low-flying Hurricanes as they went in. However, the RAF bomber lost its way soon after take-off, being dutifully followed by the top cover formation. In the target area, Major Wilmot realised that something was wrong when he saw a rising dust cloud to his left. He led his two companions toward this.
Finding Makele, the trio went in to strafe. Major Wilmot set fire to a CR.32, which was on the ground with its pilot Sottotenente Vincenzo Forcheri of the 410a Squadriglia in the cockpit, about to take off. He leapt out under fire and managed to reach a trench.
Without their top cover, the Hurricanes were vulnerable to surprise attack, and at that moment reportedly three CR.32s arrived (the dust had been the sign of their scramble). Two fled but Sottotenente Alberto Veronese made good use of their advantageous position and dived on Major Wilmot’s aircraft, shooting it down. Lieutenant Duncan was on him like a flash and shot him down in flames. Veronese managed to parachute to safety, slightly wounded.
Wilmot had in the meantime carried out a crash-landing after that his Hurricane had been hit in the radiator, and became a POW.
Captain Driver, leading the four top-cover Hurricanes, now saw smoke rising, and dived down to join the strafing, the formation claiming five S.79s and three CR.32s set on fire and three S.79s as damaged.

On 26 February, he made an offensive reconnaissance on his own over Zula airfield. There he saw a Savoia S.82, which had just arrived from Italy, and attacked this, setting it ablaze. He also fired on a hangar close by, and this blew up violently.

He was promoted to Captain in late February 1941.

At 05.15 on 21 March three 1 SAAF Squadron Hurricanes took off on an offensive reconnaissance, and 15 minutes later four more followed to patrol over Keren, while a Lysander of 237 Squadron set out on an artillery observation mission. The Lysander, R1988, flown by Flight Lieutenant G. A. Smith, was attacked by five CR.42s and damaged, the pilot being slightly wounded. The gunner, Sergeant A. K. Murrell, DFM, claimed to have damaged one of the attackers in return.
The four Hurricanes on patrol spotted four CR.42s in line astern and attacked. Captain Driver hit the third aircraft in line and saw it crash. Lieutenant Robin Pare meanwhile had chased the last fighter in the line, but it escaped. He them attacked the second, which crashed in flames, the pilot bailing out. The leading Fiat then attacked him head on, and they became involved in a dogfight, which ended with the CR.42 crashing four miles north of Keren and bursting into flames.
The Italians reported that two CR.42s were shot down, while a third fighter was damaged. This returned to Asmara, but while landing was strafed by Captain Duncan in one of the three Hurricanes that had taken off first.
The Italian pilots claimed both Smith’s Lysander and Driver’s Hurricane shot down.
That evening Duncan’s DFC award was announced.

On 5 April 1941 1 SAAF Squadron flew its last mission over Eritrea when five Hurricanes strafed Gondar, where all suffered damage from small arms fire. Duncan strafed an S.81 on the ground at Azozo, claiming to have destroyed it.

From Sudan 1 SAAF Squadron, having claimed 48 victories in the air and 53 aircraft destroyed on the ground for the loss of six pilots killed to all causes, took its Hurricanes to Egypt on 6 April 1941.

He returned to the Union later in April, and was posted to 5 SAAF Squadron on 25 June as a flight commander.

In March 1942 the unit began operations over the Western Desert,

At 16:00 on 5 March 1942, “Blue” Section of 5 SAAF Squadron with Captain Duncan (Tomahawk AN247) and Lieutenant Basil Searby Thornhill-Cook (AN420/P) took off from LG. 121 for a patrol over LG. 14. At 16:10 over Fuka station, they attacked and shot down Ju 88A-4 WNr. 5548 L1+FK of 2.(K)/LG 1, which crashed in flames, Leutnant Werner Ziegler and the other two of his crew baling out.
Captain Duncan reported:

“Blue section was scrambled at 1600 hrs and ordered to proceed to Fuka station where a force of J.U. 88s were reported. Arriving at the place at about 1500 ft. an enemy aircraft was seen in a gap in the clouds 1000 ft. above on the starboard beam. He was climbing to reach cloudbase and was not first aware of the attack. I went in first and got a good burst in from stern quarter damaging port engine as smoke was seen to issue from it. No return fire was encountered in the first attack. Enemy did steep turns to jettison bombs and started losing height. Second attack was from beam, most of the shots seeming to hit the rear gunner’s section. He baled out. I did a stall turn then, and came up from underneath and set him on fire in the belly. He lost height rapidly and after two more short bursts from stern attacks, two more of the crew baled out and the machine burst into flames and crashed.”
Lieutenant Thornhill-Cook reported:
“At approx. 1600hrs. observed J.U. 88 on the starboard approx. 500 ft above. No. 1 climbed and attacked. Enemy rocked aircraft wildly then stall turned into me underneath, where I got a long burst from below. When I fire his port engine seemed damaged from No. 1s first attack. I then followed No. 1 in, in a quarter stern and saw flames starting from below – top gunner baled out. I lost No. 1 then and pulled around into a 3/4 frontal. He seemed to be burning now and on giving a burst I observed 2 more of the crew bale out from the front.
The machine then crashed in flames. The last two of the crew I should say baled out at approx. 300ft. All three parachutes opened.
As a point of interest: On being attacked the enemy aircraft emitted blackish smoke trails from each wing tip in an endeavour to bluff if he was on fire. Return fire was scarce and wild. Only one bullet struck my mainplane.”
Both fighters returned and landed at 16:20.
Pilots of 1 SAAF Squadron returning from Cairo by truck saw this combat and captured the survivors from the bomber.

At 14:45 on 6 May, Captain Duncan (Tomahawk AN247/P) claimed a probable Ju 88. He had scrambled from LG 121 at 14:20 together with Second Lieutenant Frederick Louis Stevens (Tomahawk 263) as No. 2. They flew in an open formation with Stevens 1000ft. below Duncan. Duncan reported:

“I was scrambled at 1420 and given a vector of 330 deg. and ordered to climb to cloudbase which was at 15000 ft. After reaching this height I was ordered to orbit position. This I did for three minutes before being ordered to provide top cover for convoy ‘Magog’. Just after this I saw a JU 88 about 6000 ft. below me heading South. He saw me as I turned and dived, and he turned sharply North and jettisoned his bombs. I came down fast and closed on the stern quarter, giving him a good burst at close range, and pulling over him and coming in from the other side in a beam attack. This time the rear gunner fired a bit though well behind me and then stopped after I had opened up. I think he was killed. I then did another attack from the other side and he turned in towards me. My guns jammed, however, after a short burst and I pulled round too steeply and blacked out, losing about a thousand feet in height. I cleared my guns and gave chase. He was about a mile ahead and above and was turning from side to side. I overhauled him in about five minutes and did another beam attack on him. He turned in to me again and I held my fire until I was on top of him. When I opened up I allowed a lot of deflection and fired, breaking the glass of the cockpit and getting hits all along the fuselage. I missed his tail by about 20 ft. and then pulled round and saw him on his back. I then tried to turn too steeply to watch him go down and blacked out in a vicious spiral. When I came out on the sea I could not find him and went off on what I thought was the same course, but found myself going at right angles to the former course. I returned and circled but saw no sign of the enemy plane and returned to base.”
Second Lieutenant Stevens reported:
“I was scrambled at 1420 and given a vector of 330 deg. and ordered to climb to cloudbase which was at 15000 ft. I was ordered to orbit my position and did this for three minutes before being ordered to provide top cover for convoy ‘Magog’. Just after this No. 1 gave ‘Tally Ho’ and started diving. I did a wing-over and saw a JU 88 about 4000 ft. below, heading in a Southerly direction, but when he saw us he jettisoned his bombs and turned sharply to the North. I dived on him with the intention of doing a quarter-astern attack. When I came within range I gave him a short burst but my guns jammed and I had to break away. I tried to clear my guns, but to no avail. Unfortunately I lost sight of the E/A and I decided to return to base.”
Duncan landed at 15:20 and Stevens at 15:00.
It seems that Duncan attacked an aircraft from 1.(F)/122, which crash-landed at Trapani, Sicily.

On 31 May he was promoted to take over command of the unit from Major Jack Frost.
At 05:40 on this day, seven Bf 109F-4s from 4. and 6./JG 27 took off to escort Stukas (included Ju 87s from III./St.G. 3, which took off at 05:25 and landed 06:25) to attack enemy tanks 20 km south of Acroma. After the bombing and on the way back, south-west of Acroma, they clashed with five Hurricanes with eleven P-40s entering the fight shortly afterwards. Four P-40s were claimed by the Schwarm of 4./JG 27 when Oberleutnant Ferdinand Vögl one south-west of Fort Acroma at 06:15 and a second 2km north-east of Mteifel Chebir at 06:20 and at an altitude of 2,000m. The third was claimed by Feldwebel Franz Stigler south-west of Fort Acroma at 06:23 and the fourth was claimed at an altitude of 1,700m west of Fort Acroma at 06:24 by Feldwebel Alfred Heidel. However, the German fighters suffered hard and all three Bf 109F-4s from 6./JG 27 were shot down by P-40s over Bu Amud. The staffelkapitän Oberleutnant Emmerich Fluder (Bf 109F-4 trop WNr 8660 Yellow 3) was killed while Oberfeldwebel Erich Krenzke (Bf 109F-4 trop WNr 8774 Yellow 9) was taken PoW. The third was flown by Feldwebel Fritz Gromotka (Bf 109F-4 trop WNr 8548 Yellow 4) was luckier and came down on friendly territory, able to report back to Tmimi the next day.
They had clashed with eleven Tomahawks of 5 SAAF Squadron on a free sweep over Gazala-Bir Hacheim (06:25-07:50). The South African pilots had been informed of both the approach of bandits and that Stukas were bombing Acroma. Thus, at 06:55 and at an altitude of 10,000 feet, they turned their planes east. They met ten Ju 87s protected by a reported twelve Bfl09s and C.202s near Acroma. Four of these planes were close cover, four more 2,000 feet above as medium, and another four 3,000 feet further above as top cover. The latter were at 10,000 feet, the same level as the Tomahawks.
Major John Frost (Tomahawk IIb AM385/GL-W) ordered Blue Flight to attack the top cover and Red Flight the medium cover. He himself attacked the bombers with his flight of three. Frost and Lieutenant Kenneth Collin Morgan (AN354/GL-X) fired at the rear Stuka from astern; the aircraft glided away and was claimed as a shared probable victory at 06:55. Frost then warded off a Bf 109 before he and Lieutenant Charles Sommerville (AN431/GL-S) attacked a lagging Stuka and claimed as a shared damage at 07:00. Second Lieutenant John Michael Scott Martin (AM401/GL-I) banked in behind a Bf 109 at the same altitude, firing from 300 yards and then following him in a steep dive; at 200 yards, he fired two more bursts, seeing pieces falling off from the starboard wing and yellow-brown smoke coming from the wing root. Then he cleared his tail, losing sight of it being credited with a damaged at 06:55. Captain Duncan (AK523/GL-R) shot down a Bf 109 at 07:00 while Captain John Hewitson attacked another without results. At 07:10 the enemy broke away. Total ammunition use were: .50-2420 and .303-8010 (Major Frost .50-400 and .303-380) (Lieutenant Morgan .50-40 and .303-160) (Lieutenant Sommerville .50-120 and .303-180) (2nd Lieutenant Martin .50-220 and .303-120).
It seems that 6./JG 27 probably was top cover, clashing with the Blue Section; Duncan and Martin claiming two of them. 4./JG 27 was probably medium or close cover. The Germans certainly suffered heavy losses, but nevertheless the Stukas did not sustain considerable damage. Therefore, it is possible that in some way the three pilots sacrificed themselves to protect the Stukas. Oberleutnant Rudolf Sinner took over as staffelkapitän of 6./JG 27.

Later on the same day, 18 Ju 87s and ten Bf 110s attacked motor vehicles in the Acroma-Tobruk-Bir Hacheim area between 17:30-19:45 with twelve Bf l09s of II./JG 27 (18:38-19:38) and four of III./JG 53 as escort. Enemy planes were encountered and five P-40s were claimed shot down when Oberleutnant Wilfried Pufahl claimed the first at 18:50 and Leutnant Jürgen Harder the second at 18:57 (both from 7./JG 53 and both west of El Adem) while Oberleutnant Otto Schulz (Stab II./JG 27) claimed one 20km south-west of El Adem at an altitude of 500m at 18:57 and a second 15km south-west of El Adem at 19:00. Major Erich Gerlitz (Stab III./JG 53) claimed the fifth at 1,000m west of El Adem at 19:08. On his return flight, Schulz also damaged a P-40 that was attacking a Bf 110.
The clash that had taken place was part of a poorly planned attempt by the Commonwealth forces to attack Rommel in person when 239 Wing (24 fighters) and 233 Wing (26 fighters) together, under the command of Wing Commander Tristram Beresford were sent to chase the German commander. They consisted of all available planes of as many as eight squadrons.
Four Kittyhawks of 3 RAAF Squadron and eight of 112 Squadron (18:45-20:15) were off to attack point 375415 with ten Kittyhawks of 450 Squadron as top cover and three of 250 Squadron as medium cover; three aircraft of 450 Squadron returned because of engine trouble while two others did not even take off. One additional from 250 Squadron had to return early. The large number of planes of 450 Squadron that returned ahead of time because of engine trouble would seem to indicate that the efficiency of the aircraft was starting to decline.
The whole of 233 Wing provided the rest of the escort for the Kittyhawks (eight Kittyhawks of 2 SAAF Squadron (19:25-20:30), four Tomahawks of 4 SAAF Squadron, eight Tomahawk of 5 SAAF Squadron and six Kittyhawks of 260 Squadron). It is probable that such a mass of fighters was subdivided into more formations even if they were adjoining ones.
Suddenly 450 Squadron, acting as top cover of a main formation of 24 Kittyhawks and Tomahawks at 6,000 feet, was ordered to return to base. But then the order was changed for it join the formation of 233 Wing. About 10 miles west of El Adem, they saw four Kittyhawks 1,000 feet above (perhaps the four aircraft of 4 SAAF Squadron) being attacked by two enemy aircraft diving on them. The leader did a turnabout and pulled up with another aircraft to attack the two enemy aircraft. Sergeant Dyson (AL170) also attacked three times but without result. One Kittyhawk was seen to go down. Sergeant Gordon Lindsey (AL190) claimed a Bf 109 between 18:45-20:20 before his plane was set on fire and he had to bale out. 27-years-old Flight Sergeant Eric Teulon Thompson (RAAF No. 404069) (AK787) went missing (KIA) while Sergeant Law (AK897) force-landed 25 miles south-west of El Adem due to engine trouble.
3 RAAF Squadron proceeded to bomb the target and one aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire. 21-years-old New Zealander Pilot Officer Stuart Stewart Mitchell (RNZAF No. 41348) of 112 Squadron (AK999) was shot down at 19:45 and KIA. He was a victim of anti-aircraft fire which exploded his bomb-load. He was later found by the army and buried. In this confused combat, losses were much greater than claims and only 450 Squadron (out of the entire Wing) reported air combats.
2 SAAF Squadron was top cover with 260 Squadron when ten Bf l09s and MC.202s were encountered at 19:55. Lieutenant Johannes Olivier de Waal (AL176) was shot up with the rudder controls damaged and crashed upon landing at Gambut Satellite at 19:55 (CAT.II). Captain Smith: ”Ran into Macchis, 109s W of El Adem; shambles! Got in a good poop at a Macchi from abeam - no time to see any results.”
260 Squadron damaged a Bf 109 but Flight Lieutenant Thomas Hindle (RAF No. 120026) went missing (KIA) after he had been seen in combat with four Bf 109s. Meanwhile, Flight Sergeant J. V. Carlisle was hit and crashed upon landing (Cat.II).
4 SAAF Squadron reported the attack of more than 15 Bf l09s. Captain William Munroe Copeland was shot down (probably by Bf 109s) but returned.
5 SAAF Squadron reported the attack of more than twelve Bf l09s and C.202s 20 miles south-west of El Adem at 20:00. The engine of Lieutenant Grobler’s plane cut out during the engagement and so he returned home. Lieutenant Basil Searby Thorhill-Cook (AM420/GL-L) was flying at 5000 feet south west of El Adem at 20.00:

“Observed a number of EA believed no less than 12 about 10000’ flying in open line abreast. Lost sight of them, when someone shouted ‘Duck’. All our AC seemed to Duck. The escort was broken up and our machines began milling with 109s diving down amongst them. I saw a 109F on the tail of another of our AC. I closed with him and gave him a short burst from a fine quarter. My shots seemed to go into the engine. I noticed fairly thick black and whitish smoke come down from the engine and the machine seemed to spiral down at a low speed. I could not see if he went in.
One 109 probably destroyed. .50-100, .303 340”
Major Duncan (AK523/GL-R) crashed to his death about 10 miles south-west of El Adem at 20:00 (probably shot down by Oberleutnat Schulz). The undercarriage of Lieutenant Kenneth Collin Morgan’s Tomahawk (AN354/GL-X) collapsed upon landing at 19:40. 2 SAAF Squadron reported:
“General Rommel was supposed to have landed in the forward areas. The whole Wing was scrambled to escort Kittybombers who were to bomb the area he was supposed to be in. The show turned out to be a shambles as the order was given at such short notice but none of the Squadrons knew exactly what their duty was. We were attacked by I09’s, a most unsatisfactory defensive circle was formed and five aircraft from the Wing were shot down. All pilots from this Squadron returned safely from this operation.”
The accounts are rather critical about the haphazard way in which the mission was planned am conducted. It was considered a miracle that only five aircraft were lost. Perhaps, however, this criticism is excessive as the action had probably been ordered at the last moment. Further, it should be underlined that very rarely did more than one wing operate together. Nevertheless, the losses were heavy and in the end as many as eight planes were put out of action. The clash must have taken place when the Stukas were already on their way back because most of the Commonwealth fighter pilots just limited themselves to spotting them.

At the time of his death, Duncan was credited with 1 biplane victory and a total of 4.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  18/10/40   1/3 CR.42 Shared destroyed on the ground Gladiator   Barentu 1 SAAF Squadron
  18/10/40   1/3 CR.42 Shared destroyed on the ground Gladiator   Barentu 1 SAAF Squadron
  18/10/40   1/3 CR.42 Shared destroyed on the ground Gladiator   Barentu 1 SAAF Squadron
  18/10/40   1/3 S.79 Shared damaged on the ground Gladiator   Barentu 1 SAAF Squadron
  18/10/40   1/3 Ca.133 Shared damaged on the ground Gladiator   Barentu 1 SAAF Squadron
  18/10/40   1/3 Ca.133 Shared damaged on the ground Gladiator   Barentu 1 SAAF Squadron
  18/10/40   1/3 Ca.133 Shared damaged on the ground Gladiator   Barentu 1 SAAF Squadron
  18/10/40   1/3 Ca.133 Shared damaged on the ground Gladiator   Barentu 1 SAAF Squadron
  18/10/40   1/3 Ca.133 Shared damaged on the ground Gladiator   Barentu 1 SAAF Squadron
  04/11/40   1 CR.42 (a) Unconfirmed Gladiator II   Metema 1 SAAF Squadron
1 06/11/40   1 Ca.133 Destroyed Gladiator II   Metema-Gondor road 1 SAAF Squadron
  30/01/41 08:15-09:30 1 S.81 (b) Destroyed on the ground Hurricane I   Adi Ugri 1 SAAF Squadron
  30/01/41 08:15-09:30 1/2 S.81 (b) Shared destroyed on the ground Hurricane I   Adi Ugri 1 SAAF Squadron
  03/02/41 11:45- 1/5 Ca.133 (c) Shared destroyed on the ground Gladiator   S Azozo 1 SAAF Squadron
  03/02/41 11:45- 1/5 Ca.133 (c) Shared destroyed on the ground Gladiator   S Azozo 1 SAAF Squadron
  03/02/41 11:45- 1/5 Ca.133 (c) Shared destroyed on the ground Gladiator   S Azozo 1 SAAF Squadron
  03/02/41 11:45- 1/5 Ca.133 (c) Shared destroyed on the ground Gladiator   S Azozo 1 SAAF Squadron
  03/02/41 11:45- 1/5 Ca.133 (c) Shared destroyed on the ground Gladiator   S Azozo 1 SAAF Squadron
2 13/02/41   1 CR.42 (d) Destroyed Hurricane I   12m SE Asmara 1 SAAF Squadron
  16/02/41   1/6 S.79 Shared destroyed on the ground Hurricane   Gura airfield 1 SAAF Squadron
  16/02/41   1/6 S.79 Shared destroyed on the ground Hurricane   Gura airfield 1 SAAF Squadron
  19/02/41 10:00- 1/5 S.79 (e) Shared destroyed on the ground Hurricane   Asmara airfield 1 SAAF Squadron
  19/02/41 10:00- 1/5 S.79 (e) Shared destroyed on the ground Hurricane   Asmara airfield 1 SAAF Squadron
  19/02/41 10:00- 1/5 S.79 (e) Shared destroyed on the ground Hurricane   Asmara airfield 1 SAAF Squadron
  19/02/41 10:00- 1/5 CR.42 (e) Shared destroyed on the ground Hurricane   Asmara airfield 1 SAAF Squadron
  19/02/41 10:00- 1/5 CR.42 (e) Shared destroyed on the ground Hurricane   Asmara airfield 1 SAAF Squadron
  19/02/41 10:00- 1/5 Ca.133 (e) Shared destroyed on the ground Hurricane   Asmara airfield 1 SAAF Squadron
  19/02/41 10:00- 1/5 Ca.133 (e) Shared destroyed on the ground Hurricane   Asmara airfield 1 SAAF Squadron
3 23/02/41 p.m. 1 CR.32 (f) Destroyed Hurricane I   Makele 1 SAAF Squadron
  26/02/41   1 S.82 Destroyed on the ground Hurricane I   Zula airfield 1 SAAF Squadron
  05/04/41   1 S.81 Damaged on the ground Hurricane I   Azozo 1 SAAF Squadron
  05/03/42 16:10-16:20 1/2 Ju 88 (g) Shared destroyed Tomahawk IIb AN247 Maaten Bagush-Fuka 5 SAAF Squadron
  06/05/42 14:45 1 Ju 88 (h) Probable Tomahawk IIb AN247/K N Barrani over convoy 'Magog' 5 SAAF Squadron
4 31/05/42 07:00 1 Bf 109F (i) Destroyed Tomahawk IIb AN523/GL-R near Acroma 5 SAAF Squadron

Biplane victories: 1 destroyed, 1 unconfirmed, 8 shared destroyed on the ground, 6 shared damaged on the ground.
TOTAL: 4 and 1 shared destroyed, 1 probable, 1 unconfirmed, 2 and 18 shared destroyed on the ground, 1 and 6 shared damaged on the ground.
(a) Claimed in combat with CR.42s from 412a Squadriglia, which lost one aircraft while claiming a Gladiator. 1 SAAF Squadron claimed three Fiats without losses (of which two were confirmed).
(b) Actually all aircraft claimed in this attack were already beyond repair, and were being employed as dummies to attract just such an attack.
(c) The Italians reported only one as actually destroyed in this attack.
(d) 1 SAAF Squadron claimed two aircraft in this combat. The 412a Squadriglia lost two aircraft; one CR.42 (Tenente Luigi De Pol died in hospital of his wounds) and one CR.32 (Tenente Ubaldo Buzzi died in hospital of his wounds). Three more CR.42s were damaged.
(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) CR.32 of 410a Squadriglia C.T. flown by Tenente Alberto Veronese, who had just shot down Major L.A. Wilmot; Veronese baled out, wounded.
(g) Ju 88A-4 WNr. 5548 L1+FK of 2.(K)/LG 1.
(h) Aircraft from 1.(F)/122, which crash-landed at Trapani, Sicily.
(i) Claimed in combat with Bf 109F-4s from II./JG 27 escorting Ju 87s, which claimed 4 P-40s while losing 3 Bf 109F-4s (1 pilot KIA and 1 PoW); no Ju 87s were lost. The 5 SAAF Squadron claimed 1 and 1 damaged Bf 109 and 1 probable and 1 damaged Ju 87 without losses.

Luciano Cacciavillani's personal logbook courtesy of Cacciavillani family (Luciano jr and Alberto)
Aces High - Christopher Shores and Clive Williams, 1994 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-00-0
A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945: Volume Two – Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello with Russell Guest, Frank Olynyk & Winfried Bock, 2012 Grub Street, London, ISBN-13: 9781909166127
Dust Clouds in the Middle East - Christopher Shores, 1996 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-37-X
Eagles over Gazala: Air Battles in North Africa May-June 1942 – Michele Palermo, IBN Editore, ISBN (10) 88-7565-168-X
Fighters over the Desert - Christopher Shores and Hans Ring, 1969 Neville Spearman Limited, London
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
Additional info kindly provided by Massimo Indovini, Stefano Lazzaro, Giovanni Massimello, Michele Palermo and Ludovico Slongo.

Last modified 16 November 2020