Biplane fighter aces

The Commonwealth

Wing Commander Joseph Frederick 'Joe' Fraser DFC, RAF no. 70229

1915 – 11 August 1946


Image kindly provided by Rob Brown and Patricia Molloy.

Joe Fraser was born in Colombo, Ceylon, in 1915.

He was sent to the UK for his education, attending Malvern College and Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he served in the University Air Squadron. In consequence he was commissioned in the Reserve of Air Force Officers as a Pilot Officer on 15 December 1936, transferring to the RAFVR on 1 January 1938, and then to the RAF. He received a permanent commission as a Pilot Officer on 6 September 1938 (with seniority from 6 June 1937).

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

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

In 1939, he became adjutant in the squadron.

When the war started in North Africa on 10 June 1940, 112 Squadron was commanded by Squadron Leader D. M. Somerville. It was based at Helwan 15 miles south of Cairo and solely responsible for the defence of Egypt’s Capital. It probably had between 13 to 21 Gladiators and five Gauntlet Mk.IIs (among these were K5292, just received from 6 Squadron) left in Egypt. When the unit reached Egypt at the end of May 1939 for a “6 months temporary duty” it had 24 Gloster Gladiator Mk.Is (all used machines coming from 72 Squadron). Flying Officer Fraser remembered a slightly superior number: around 30. Since then only one machine was known to be lost before the beginning of the war. This was the CO Gladiator whose engine caught fire on 15 March 1940 during a training flight. Somerville was badly hurt in the accident and Squadron Leader A. R. G. Bax temporarily took command of the Squadron. The Squadron was organised in three flights:
‘A’ Flight was commanded by Flight Lieutenant W. C. Williams and included Flying Officer H. C. Worcester, Flying Officer W. B. Price-Owen, Pilot Officer Ross, Pilot Officer Richard Acworth, Pilot Officer Davison, Pilot Officer Smither, Pilot Officer Anthony Gray-Worcester, Pilot Officer Harrison, Pilot Officer Peter Wickham, Pilot Officer Peter Strahan and Pilot Officer Van der Heijden.
‘B’ Flight was commanded by Flight Lieutenant Savage but this unit had been ordered to Sudan on 2 June (with 10 Gladiators – 8 aircraft according to the memories of the Adjutant, Flying Officer Fraser) to act as a detached unit, subsequently known as ‘K’ Flight. This flight was finally detached from 112 Squadron on 31 August 1940.
‘C’ Flight was commanded by Flight Lieutenant Charles Fry and included Flying Officer R. H. Smith, Flying Officer Fraser (Adjutant of 112 Squadron), Pilot Officer Clark, Pilot Officer Chapman, Pilot Officer Duff, Pilot Officer de la Hoyde, Pilot Officer R. J. Bennett, Pilot Officer Homer Cochrane, Pilot Officer Butcher and Sergeant George Millar Donaldson.


Joseph Fraser, thirsty after a forced landing in the desert.
Image kindly provided by Patricia Molloy.

On 8 August he was married in Cairo, Egypt.

On 6 September, a series of operations started with the aim of putting the railway station of Mersa Matruh out of action.
The first formation, 15 bombers in three vics of five, took off from Tmini led by Generale Porro himself. The take off was done under a sand storm and three SM 79s suffered engine failures and were forced to crash-land immediately (they were classified RD) while three others were forced to turn back The rest of the formation: four aircraft of the 60a Squadriglia, 33o Gruppo, with Porro and Tenente Pastorelli and five planes of the 45o Gruppo under Colonnello Attilio Biseo proceeded to the target. After the bomb release, seven Gladiators attacked damaging slightly the plane of Pastorelli. All SM 79s landed at Tmini at 10:40.
In the meantime 15 SM 79s of the 15o Stormo (ten SM 79s of the 47o Gruppo led by Colonnello Napoli and Maggiore Tivegna and five SM 79s of the 21a Squadriglia led by Capitano Lualdi) took off from Maraua with the same target. The attack was carried out under heavy AA fire while the Gladiators attacked. This time too the SM 79s were able to defend themselves without suffering losses, the returning crews claimed many hits on the railway and two Gladiators shot down plus two probables.
It seems that the two Italian formations had clashed with Gladiators from 112 Squadron. A patrol composed of Flight Lieutenant Lloyd Schwab, Pilot Officer Henry Harrison and Pilot Officer Peter Wickham, was over Matruh at 15000 feet and reported to have met and driven out to the sea a group of five SM 79s.
Another patrol composed of Flying Officer A. M. Ross, Pilot Officer Leonard Bartley and Sergeant G. M. Donaldson attacked five SM 79s without results; Ross’ Gladiator was damaged by one bullet in fuselage on the starboard side. It seems that Flying Officer Fraser claimed an unconfirmed SM 79 on this occasion.

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

After some days of inactivity due to the incessantly blowing Ghibli wind a big coordinated Italian action against Mersa Matruh was planned for 31 October. It was planned to use at least 50 SM 79s from the 9o Stormo, 14o Stormo and 33o Gruppo with an escort of 40 CR.42s from the 2o Stormo and 151o Gruppo to attack the British base and its different targets.
At 10:10, Menastir M was attacked by British bombers reported as ten Armstrong Whitworth Whitleys (in fact seven Blenheims from 55 Squadron and three from 84 Squadron). The bombers arrived from a northerly direction completely undetected and hit the parking area of the 93a Squadriglia with many small and medium calibre bombs launched from 3000 metres. The Squadriglia HQ hut was completely destroyed by a direct hit while four CR.42s were lightly damaged by splinters (RS) and one was heavily damaged (RD). The heavy damaged CR.42 was immediately taken to the S.R.A.M. of El Adem (according to other sources the RD Fiats were three and the RS Fiats were two). Luckily no losses were suffered by the personnel of 8o Gruppo.
At 10:15 (09:40 according with other sources), while the 9o Stormo formation was taxiing on Gambut airstrip, a formation of seven Blenheims from 211 Squadron led by Squadron Leader Gordon-Finlayson and two others from 84 Squadron suddenly appeared overhead. The British bombers had managed to approach undetected by gliding down from 3000 metres with turned off engines and bombed with extreme precision, destroying three bombers while three others remained RD and many others were less seriously damaged. Heavy were also the losses among 9o Stormo’s personnel, with two dead among 63a Squadriglia (Sergente Armiere Carlo Marchi and Primo Aviere Radiotelegrafista Eugenio Bonino).
Three fighters of the resident 82a Squadriglia scrambled after the bombers had turned on their Mercury engines. They were flown by Sottotenente Virgilio Vanzan, Sergente Maggiore Dante Davico and Sergente Nino Campanini but they were unable to intercept.
Three fighters of the 78a Squadriglia also scrambled at 10:00. These were flown by Tenente Ippolito Lalatta, Sottotenente Luigi Cannepele and Sergente Ernesto Taddia. These were also unsuccessful and they landed back at base at 10:45.
Sergente Maggiore Roberto Marchi and Sottotenente Carlo Albertini of the 366a Squadriglia scrambled from the nearby Amseat A3 for the British bombers. While in pursuit an enemy fighter, identified as a Hurricane, crossed the path of Albertini, who spent 420 rounds on it. The aircraft escaped smoking heavily and Albertini, who landed at 10:45, was credited with a probable victory.
At 10:25, three CR.42s from 92a Squadriglia, 8o Gruppo, scrambled from Menastir M. The three fighters were flown by Sottotenente Luigi Uguccioni Sergente, Mario Veronesi and Sergente Marcello Mosele. Veronesi intercepted a Hurricane which he claimed damaged with 150 rounds of ammunition. The three aircraft returned to base at 10:45.
It seems that both scrambles from 366a and 92a Squadriglie had been involved in combat with Hurricanes escorting the British bombers and in fact, 80 Squadron had put up eight Gladiators and two Hurricanes between 9.00 and 11.00 to patrol off Bardia at 15,000 feet and to cover bombers attacking Menastir and a target 38 miles west of Bardia (Gambut). The returning pilots didn’t report any encounter with Italian aircraft while returning 211 Squadron crews reported that an Italian CR.42 tried to follow them but after firing two bursts from 500 yards was set upon by a Gladiator and a Hurricane and last seen diving towards the ground with smoke trailing from it.
The Italian mission against Mersa Matruh was not cancelled and at 10:50 only ten SM 79s of 9o Stormo (that in the original intentions were to constitute the bulk of the formation) took off together with 11 SM 79s of the 14o Stormo and five from the 33o Gruppo. The bombers were escorted by 18 CR.42s from the 13o Gruppo, which flew as close escort, and 18 more from the 151o Gruppo, which was to fly an indirect support sweep.
At 11:45 two sections with six CR.42s of the 78a Squadriglia took off from Gambut G with Capitano Giuseppe Dall’Aglio leading Sottotenente Luigi Cannepele (a future posthumously Medaglia d’Oro al valor militare winner and inspirer of the famous “Gigi tre osei” symbol of the 150o Gruppo C.T.), Sergente Rovero Abbarchi, Tenente Ippolito Lalatta (leading the second section), Sergente Ernesto Taddia and Sergente Teresio Martinoli. They were followed at 11:55 by two sections from the 82a Squadriglia. The first section included Tenente Guglielmo Chiarini (section leader), Sottotenente Giuseppe Timolina and Sergente Maggiore Dante Davico while the second section included Tenente Gianfranco Perversi (section leader), Sergente Francesco Nanin and Sottotenente Virgilio Vanzan. Together with these six CR.42s, six more of the 77a Squadriglia took off with Capitano Domenico Bevilacqua leading Tenente Eduardo Sorvillo, Sottotenente Carmelo Catania, Sergente Maggiore Ernesto Scalet, Sergente Ernesto Paolini and Sergente Renato Gori. Capitano Giuseppe Dall’Aglio took command of the whole formation.
For the 151o Gruppo this was the first long range escort mission since arriving in Libya and they received the order to move at 11:00 and at 12:10 they took off from Amseat A3 to arrive over Mersa Matruh at the same time as the bombers. Participating pilots were from all three Squadriglie - 366a Squadriglia (Capitano Bernardino Serafini, Tenente Mario Ferrero, Tenente Piero Veneziani, Sergente Maggiore Fiorenzo Milella, Sergente Maggiore Roberto Marchi and Sergente Rosario Di Carlo), 367a Squadriglia (Capitano Simeone Marsan, Sergente Maggiore Renato Mingozzi, Sergente Maggiorino Soldati, Tenente Irzio Bozzolan, Sergente Maggiore Gino Bogoni and Sergente Bruno Celotto) and 368a Squadriglia (Capitano Bruno Locatelli, Sergente Maggiore Davide Colauzzi, Sergente Mario Turchi, Tenente Giuseppe Zuffi, Sergente Piero Hosquet and Sergente Ottorino Ambrosi).
The bombers gathered over Tmimi and then headed east in groups of five in arrow formations. The fighters from the 13o Gruppo flew in flights of three in echelon right formation at 5000 meters, directed to a rendezvous point 20 kilometres south-west of Mersa Matruh along the road that connected this base with Bir Kenayis, which they reached at 12:56.
After the bombers arrived over Mersa Matruh, each formation went for different targets but was attacked by British fighters while aiming for their targets.
At 12:46, the 14o Stormo, led by Tenente Colonnello Lidonici, attacked the airfield of Bir Kenayis but finding it empty they headed for an alternative target of enemy troops south-west of Mersa Matruh, who were hit at 13:01. In fact, 80 Squadron pilots on the ground noticed Italian bombers attacking the aerodrome of Bir Kenayis at 12:45 and reported that bombs fell to the south-west and some distance away, obviously they thought that the Savoias had missed their intended target of some miles. Gunners of the 14o Stormo claimed two Hurricanes and a Gladiator destroyed, and another Gladiator probable. One SM 79 crash-landed near Sidi Barrani and was written off while a second crash-landed in the desert near Tobruk and was also written off. Three more SM 79s returned at 14:40 so badly damaged that they were classified RD and another one went to the SRAM for major repairs. Among the crews there were three dead (Sottotenente pilota-puntatore (pilot aimer) Federico Tonizzo, Primo Aviere Montatore Mario Padalino, Primo Aviere Armiere Guerino Invorti) and two wounded (Tenete Beltramini (another aimer) and Tenente Martinelli (observer)). Of its 11 SM 79s, in the evening only five were still fit for further operations.
At 12:55 the 9o Stormo, led by Tenente Colonnello Italo Napoleoni, released its bombs on the railway near El Qasaba airfield. The diarist of 6 Squadron noted that Quasaba had been bombed at 13:05 by five Savoia SM 79s, dropping approximately 30-40 100kg bombs and that no casualties nor damage had been suffered by the Squadron’s detachment while the diarist of 208 Squadron reported that around 40 bombs of the 100kg type were dropped by 15 SM 79s and that four of them fell in the camp damaging three lorries and three tents while the remainder fell around the railway siding. Two SM 79s from the 11a Squadriglia, 26o Gruppo B.T. were shot down. The Squadriglia flew in a ‘V’ formation led by Tenente Giovanni Ruggiero and it was the two outer SM 79s that were shot down in flames by a Hurricane (Sottotenente Fulvio Fabiani, Sergente Arturo Bigliardi, Primo Aviere Fotografo Adorno Antonini, Primo Aviere Motorista Francesco Farina and Primo Aviere Armiere Vincenzo Scarinci) (Tenente Roberto Di Frassineto, Sergente Maggiore Armando Zambelli, Aviere Scelto Motorista Camillo Caiazzo, Primo Aviere Armiere Alfredo Pacifici and Aviere Scelto Radiotelegrafista Giuseppe Costa); all but Zambelli (POW) were killed. In an aircraft of the 13a Squadriglia was Primo Aviere Motorista Tommaso Giorgio killed and Aviere Scelto RT Canaponi was wounded by Hurricane bullets. A gunner in the SM 79 to the left of Tenente Ruggiero, at the time 22-years-old Aviere Scelto Armiere Cherubino Mariotti recalled, of this his first combat mission:

“On 31 October 1940 I was on a S79, first left wingmen of a five planes formation that was attacked by British fighters after bombing enemy troops near Mersa Matruh. We, gunners, were returning fire when I noticed that the two end wingmen of our formation were hit and were losing height in flames. Suddenly I centred in my gun sight a Hurricane that was closing to the last three planes shooting continuously at us. Arrived at the distance suitable to start the “famous” turn that permit it to fan with its eight guns its target, I was able to aim at its belly and saw my tracers entering it. Obviously hit, the plane directed towards the ground leaving a thick cloud of black smoke. In this way I avenged the ten dear friends lost in the two planes fell in flames.”
Sergente Pilota Armando Zambelli who was the only survivor of the SM 79 flown by Tenente Di Frassineto recalled:
“It was 31 October 1940, I was hospitalised in Derna infirmary when I heard that we were going to start for an important bombing mission. Today it can seem a bit excessive all the enthusiasm with which we wanted to take part in war missions, but twenty years old and with the high spirit of those days all seemed normal for us. I left the infirmary and reached the Squadriglia. When my Commander Capitano Giovanni Ruggiero asked me how I felt I told him: “Perfectly and I’m ready to start” [in fact, Tenente Ruggiero wasn’t promoted to Capitano until 15 November 1940].
My crew was composed by: Tenente Di Frassineto, me, Primo Aviere Fotografo Antonini, Primo Aviere Motorista Stramccioni and Aviere Scelto Armiere Costa
[Strangely enough, Zambelli here quotes among his crew, a member of the crew of Sottotenente Fabiani and an airman: Stramaccioni that neither is recorded among the casualties of 9o Stormo in WWII]. The action was one of the most important of the war so far and our forces were fifty S 79s with the escort of forty fighters started from an airstrip near Derna [It appears that the 9o Stormo was divided in two formations - one from the 26o Gruppo (11a and 13a Squadriglie), which started from Derna and the other from the 29o Gruppo (62a and 63a Squadriglie), which was surprised by the Blenheims at Gambut and was prevented to take part in the action] and after around an hour of flight we arrived over the airbase of Matruh.
Our section was composed by five planes disposed in arrow formation under command of Capitano Ruggero. We were almost on the target when a hand on my shoulder made me turning the head. It was the Motorista that told me that we were attacked by enemy fighters of which we had already shot down one
[the aircraft claimed by Mariotti], sadly the Hurricanes and Gloster Gladiators from a superior height continued to fire without respite and after a short while I saw the end wingman opposite to my position falling in flames; pilots were Tenente Fabiani from Rome and Sergente Bigliardi from Bologna. We succeeded in bombing the target but following another enemy’s burst of fire our plane started to burn and being made of wood and fabric it burned like a wax match.
I told the members of the crew to bale out but without avail because they tried to fight the fire. Enemy bullets continued to enter the plane and I saw the poor crewmembers hit by the bullets and reached by the flames. We decided to leave the plane, I opened the exit door on the top of the cockpit and immediately air suction threw me against the tail of the plane that was burning; I lost consciousness and I woke up when the parachute opened. I was descending under the area where our CR 42s and the Hurricanes were fighting. Moving my legs I tried to move towards the land to avoid falling into the sea but in that moment I lost consciousness again. When I woke up for the second time I was on a British vehicle between a bearded Shik driver and an English officer that pointed his gun on me. I was taken to the infirmary because I was burned in the face and in the hands and had a dislocated ankle; there I was left resting for a while. Subsequently I was examined by a General that told me that he was Canadian and that he had fought as our alley during the First World War
[Raymond Collishaw!]. He asked me, in an approximate Italian, if in Italy we thought that they killed the aviators that jumped with the parachute. […].”
An anonymous crewmember of a 13a Squadriglia SM 79 (the 13a Squadriglia composed the second arrow of the 9o Stormo) described the combat:
“Immediately after the bomb release a hard attack of Hurricanes […] immediately the plane took 116 hits […] one wing damaged, engines nacelles damaged, flaps and empennages damaged, bomb bay damaged, the three propellers hit, […] 1o Aviere Motorista Tommaso Giorgio, that was shooting back with the gun in the “hunk” died, […] his place was taken by Aviere Scelto Marconista Canaponi but after a short while he was wounded too […] finally Primo Aviere Fotografo Marcucci took the gun […].”
In the end the gunners of the SM 79 expended 1337 gun rounds, notwithstanding the damage suffered, the aircraft was back at base at around 15:00.
The first formation of five SM 79s from 33o Gruppo, led by Tenente Colonnello Ferri Forte was able to repel the attack of a reportedly three Gladiators. At 13:03 they hit with precision the new railway station of Mersa Matruh, built after the old one was definitely put out of action by the last months bombing attacks.
Totally the Italian War Bulletin reported that seven enemy planes were shot down by return fire from the bombers while in exchange for two bombers that failed to return. It is known that the 14o Stormo claimed two Hurricanes and a Gladiator plus another Gladiator as a probable. It seems that 33o Gruppo didn’t claim anything and so the other four claims should be credited to the 9o Stormo, one of them by the gunner Mariotti of the 11a Squadriglia (and following this deductive argument the other three were probably claimed by the gunners of the 13a Squadriglia).
The Italian escorting fighters arrived over Mersa Matruh at around 13:00 and immediately entered combat with enemy fighters that were already attacking the SM 79s.
The formation of the 368a Squadriglia first attacked three Hurricanes. One of them was claimed shot down in flames by Sergente Maggiore Davide Colauzzi while a second one was claimed by Sergente Mario Turchi. The third one, attacked by Capitano Bruno Locatelli was hit by a precise burst in the cockpit area and seen abandoning the fight (the pilot was reputedly wounded). Locatelli then headed towards the sea and encountered a lone Gladiator. He closed in on its tail and from close distance he hit it with a short burst. The Gladiator first emitted a cloud of black smoke and then exploded in mid air. The other section of the Squadriglia (Zuffi, Hosquet and Ambrosi) didn’t entered the combat since the fighters from the 13o Gruppo that were flying higher waded in and split the 368a formation, excluding Zuffi and his men from the ensuing combat. At 14:10, all the CR.42s were back at base.
The formation of the 367a Squadriglia didn’t obtain concrete results in the combat, which they described as started at 5500 metres of height. All its pilots were back at base at 14:10.
The 366a Squadriglia were more successful. Immediately after the arrival over Matruh at 13:00, Capitano Serafini attacked a Gladiator that, damaged, escaped by diving. Sergente Maggiore Marchi followed it shooting until they were down at 2000 metres and the British fighter was considered shot down. Then Serafini discovered an “arrow” of five SM 79s with a Hurricane that was following at close distance. He gave full throttle trying to cut the path of the Hurricane but had to witness one of the Savoias being hit and falling in flames. Finally, he managed to overtake the Hurricane and hit it in the side. The RAF fighter went down immediately. AA fire at this moment was extremely intense and Serafini saw another SM 79 of the same formation that suddenly was engulfed by flames and went down. He was unable to understand if the aircraft was previously hit by the Hurricane or if it was hit by flak. Another Hurricane tried to attack the SM 79s but this time Serafini was quick in reacting and hit the Hawker that dived away smoking; Sergente Maggiore Colauzzi also took part in this last attack. In the meantime, Tenente Ferrero hit and damaged three Hurricanes before being forced to disengage with the guns jammed. While coming back he was attacked by another enemy plane but was able to outmanoeuvre it and land safely at base. The 366a Squadriglia were back at 14:00. It also seems that the 151o Gruppo claimed a probable Gladiator (possibly recorded as a Gruppo claim).
The CR.42 of the 13o Gruppo following the road between Bir Kenayis and Mersa Matruh arrived over the target at 13:00 and discovered the 151o Gruppo some 500 metres higher and then at a distance of 4 to 5 kilometres to the west, two formations of Italian bombers heading towards the frontier. The 78a Squadriglia opened the formation followed by the 77a Squadriglia and the 82a Squadriglia. A Gloster Gladiator was seen to heading towards the 78a Squadrigla fighters and was immediately counter-attacked by Capitano Bevilacqua and his section. In the meantime, the 78a Squadriglia was crossing the path of the bombers and discovered a Hurricane that was following them, but this aircraft escaped diving before the arrival of the Fiats. Meanwhile more fighters from the 78a and 82a Squadriglie joined the fight. Those of the 78a Squadriglia endeavoured to protect their comrade Sottotenente Luigi Canneppele, who because of problems with his propeller only was able to fly straight and level. Sergente Taddia was damaged in the process but remained in fight being credited with a probable Gloster while Sergente Martinoli (claimed as a destroyed in his logbook), Tenente Ippolito Lalatta and Sergente Abbarchi claimed damaged Gladiators. Bevilacqua in the meantime fought down to ground level, claiming two Gladiators in the process and while pursuing a third British machine witnessed another CR.42 that while trying to close on the same aircraft collided with it. It was the Fiat of Tenente Perversi of the 82a Squadriglia, who was killed. Before leaving the area, Bevilacqua saw two British parachutes (bright white in colour and hemispherical in shape) so he argued that Perversi had possibly shot down another British aircraft before colliding with the other. The rest of the 77a Squadriglia under Tenente Sorvillo and the 82a Squadriglia under Tenente Chiarini remained high and attacked British Hurricanes that were attacking the SM 79s. Sergente Gori damaged a Hurricane and Sergente Paolini a Gloster, which he left to other Falcos to finish it off. Tenente Chiarini and Sergente Nanin claimed a shared Spitfire that was attacking the SM 79s while Sergente Maggiore Davico claimed a second as a damaged. All the pilots were back between 14:05 and 14:20.
The Italian aircraft had been in combat with at least nine Gladiators from 112 Squadron and twelve Hurricanes from 33 Squadron.
112 Squadron’s Gladiators from Sidi Haneish carried out many patrols over Mersa Matruh during the morning, participating pilots were: Flight Lieutenant R. J. Abrahams, Flying Officer Fraser (Gladiator K7973), Flying Officer Robert Hugh Clark, Pilot Officer B. B. E. Duff and Second Lieutenant E. R. Smith (SAAF).
At 13:00, Pilot Officer Duff sighted a reported ten SM 79 and gave chase However, he failed to see the escorting fighters; six CR.42s, which was part of an 18 strong escort formation, dived on him and shot him down. Fortunately, he managed to escape by parachute, suffering only slight burns. The fighters were engaged by Flying Officer Lloyd Schwab, Second Lieutenant Smith and Pilot Officer Richard Acworth (who had just joined the patrol scrambling from readiness). Schwab claimed two CR.42s shot down after which he reported that his engine failed and he force-landed, later returning to his unit by a N.Z. Staff car. Acworth claimed a third CR.42. Acworth and Smith then collided and both had to bale out. Acworth being unhurt and Smith suffering from a dislocated collarbone (possibly after having been engaged by Bevilacqua’s and Perversi’s sections). Flying Officers Fraser and Clark (both also ordered on patrol from readiness) also engaged the bombers and Fraser managed to put one engine of an SM 79 out of action (from Fraser’s logbook it appears that this Savoia was credited to him as a “confirmed” victory). 24-year-old Clark (RAF no. 40513) was posted missing at the end of this engagement. When last seen he was engaging three SM 79s and he was presumed killed by return fire coming from them. Squadron Leader Harry Brown, Flight Lieutenant R. J. Abrahams, and Flying Officer Edwin Banks also took off but were unable to intercept.
33 Squadron with its new Hurricanes, which had taken off at 13:15 from Fuka, also encountered the Italian aircraft over Mersa Matruh and they reported meeting SM 79s escorted by 12 CR.42s, which caused the Hurricanes some inconvenience since they were intercepted during the climb up. Three of the bombers were claimed shot down. Two of them were seen to be shot down (“witnessed and confirmed by land troops”) by the 26-year-old Canadian Flying Officer Edmond Kidder Leveille (RAF no. 40837) who was then attacked by a reportedly four CR.42s. Leveille was forced to bale out but was killed when his parachute failed to deploy completely. The third SM 79 was claimed by Flying Officer Perry St Quintin (Hurricane P3724), who claimed a second as a probable, reportedly with the starboard engine on fire. St Quintin was however also shot down by the escort and he was forced to make a forced landing at Qasaba with a holed fuel tank. These victories were the CR.42s first over Hurricanes in the Western Desert. Flying Officer Frank Holman (Hurricane P3725) claimed a CR.42 between Matruh and Barrani after a running fight (possibly Tenente Ferrero) and another probable SM 79 was claimed Flying Officer Henry Starrett (Hurricane P3729). Flying Officer Littler’s Hurricane was considerably shot up and forced to turn back during the combat.
The combat was the most important since many weeks and received the press honours. An Egyptian newspaper reported:
Eight Italian Planes Down – Air Battle over Mersa Matruh. Cairo, Saturday.

It was announced from Headquarters, RAF, Middle East on Friday, that a large force of enemy bombers (SM 79s) escorted by a dozen fighters (CR 42s) attempted an attack on targets in the Mersa Matruh area yesterday. Fighter aircraft of the RAF immediately engaged the enemy. In the ensuing battle, four SM 79s were shot down and four CR.42s were destroyed. In addition, four more enemy aircraft were so damaged that it is unlikely that they returned to their base. During the battle, two of our fighter aircraft collided, but the pilots landed safely by parachute. One of our fighters was shot down and one, which was last seen engaging three SM 79s making for home, has so far not returned to its base.

The Italian fighters totally claimed ten victories in this combat (Colauzzi, Turchi, Locatelli, Marchi, Serafini, Bevilacqua (2), Perversi (2) and Chiarini’s and Nanin’s shared) (post war studies raised this number to eleven considering the one claimed by Martinoli, which was not credited to him by his unit)while the bombers claimed seven for the loss of one CR.42 and two SM 79s (two more where write-offs after forced-landings). The British fighters claimed four CR.42s and three SM 79s (and one probable) for the loss of five Gladiators and two Hurricanes. 33 Squadron’s ORB in recording the presence of 112’s Gladiators claimed that they had shot down three CR.42s and two SM 79s.
The killed Tenente Di Frassineto was son of a senator, count Alfredo Di Frassineto, thus the notice of his loss required special cares. Therefore, on 21 November 1940 Generale Urbani, Chief of cabinet of the Air Ministry, wrote a personal letter to marquise Pierfranco Citterio, son in law of the father of the missing pilot:
“On 31 October, two S 79s of 11a Squadriglia failed to return from a bombing action done at 12.57 over enemy positions.
Crew chief of one of those planes was Tenente Di Frassineto.
It seems that coming back from the action the two planes were attacked by numerous enemy planes, together with them other eight planes of the same Gruppo; the two S 79s were seen to fall near Mersa Matruh, one of them presumably hit by the AA fire.
The other crewmembers were Sergente Maggiore Armando Zambelli, Aviere Scelto Motorista Camillo Caiazzo, Primo Aviere Armiere Alfredo Pacifici, Aviere Scelto Radiotelegrafista Giuseppe Costa.
All this personnel until now is considered missing in action.
We already started the procedures on the Red Cross, necessary to know the names of possible prisoners.”
The Italian fighters were rightly quite pleased with their performance, the 151o Gruppo started well and the 13o Gruppo confirmed that it was the best Italian unit in theatre. However, considering the ordeal of the SM 79s their Commander, Generale Matricardi, Commander in Chief of Va Squadra Aerea awaiting Felice Porro return from Italy, wasn’t satisfied. In a reserved note regarding the 31 October engagement Matriciardi commented:
“Indirect protection in the sky over the target was not reliable for the protection of big formations of S79s (…) so, it happened that the S79 had to fight hardly (…) while the fighters, in areas far from the fighting, (…) didn’t do nothing!”.
Looking at RAF losses the judgement of Matriciardi seems to be (undeservedly) too hard. But indeed, such were the losses of the bomber force that for some weeks after the 31 October daylight operations had to be curtailed.
This remarkable combat was remembered by Fraser and Richard Acworth with two short poems.
In the late 1960’s, Acworth wrote an unpublished short story about this combat as seen by him: The Unfinished Game by Richard Acworth DFC.

On 12 November, Flying Officer Fraser (Gladiator L7622) of 112 Squadron reported an interception on a SM 79 during the day. He fired one burst in a quarter attack and saw strikes on the enemy bomber but did not make any claims.

At unknown hour on 17 November, Flying Officer Fraser (Gladiator L7621) of 112 Squadron reported an interception on a SM 79. He fired two bursts at long range but his aircraft was to slow and he made no claims.

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

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

The operational activity of 112 Squadron in December remains one of the less detailed but some interesting hints are given by the memories of Flight Lieutenant Fraser who noted:

“Patrols over Maktilla and Tumma camps on 9th & 10th, beginning of advance. Sidi Barani taken so opposition till battle for Sollum, 8 Glads v. 20 plus CR.42s. Sea Glads all U/S engines (no air cleaners in sand storms). Glads forced landing all over the place – dead beat not from action, prop flew off over Sidi Barani, returning to Base, pilot forced landed, Engines running dry of oil after an hour and quarter flying. 6 remaining Glads operating from LG. 89 (20 miles S.E. Sollum) doing patrols over Bardia over Xmas. 6 x 60 gallon barrels of Italian Chianti and Brandy found near L.G. and arrived at base Sidi Haneish Xmas Eve. Squadron supplied with motorbikes, diesel trucks down to Italian blankets and boots. Mess full of enemy trophies. Self and ‘Doc’ Newnham in pickup to Sollum. RO.37 & CR.42 reported on L.G. serviceable - to see if possible to fly back, mutilated by troop souvenir hunters had to be left. Fry’s back ended in mine hole in road unmarked, radiator holed, stuck, hitchhiked to Mersa Matruh and towed back to Sidi Haneish.”

On 22 December, 112 Squadron patrolled over Sollum and Bardia during the day. Participating pilots were Squadron Leader Harry Brown, Flight Lieutenant Lloyd Schwab, Flight Lieutenant R. J. Abrahams, Flight Lieutenant Fraser (Gladiator K7899), Flying Officer Richard Acworth, Flying Officer Oliver Green, Flying Officer R. B. Whittington, Second Lieutenant E. R. Smith and Sergeant E. N. Woodword.
Flight Lieutenant Fraser reported in his logbook that his aircraft was hit in the tailplane by AA fire and that no enemy aircraft were encountered.
Flight Lieutenant Abrahams force landed safely and later returned to base, reason unspecified.
It is possible that he was involved with the interception of the two SM 79s from the 278a Squadriglia in the morning or the combat with the 91a Squadriglia at lunchtime. A third alternative is that he also was hit by AA fire.


Joseph Fraser in the cockpit of a Gladiator.
Image kindly provided by Patricia Molloy.

He was promoted flight commander before the unit moved to Greece early in 1941. Here he was heavily involved over the Albanian front during late February/early March, claiming nine victories in the first two weeks of March. He was awarded a DFC before the end of the month.

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

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

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


Joseph Fraser in front of Gladiator N5627 at Yanina in March 1941. He claimed six victories while flying this aircraft.
Image kindly provided by Rob Brown and Patricia Molloy.

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

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

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 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 Neville 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 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 Neville 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.

On 19 May 1941, Flight Lieutenant L. G. Burnard, Flying Officer Stephenson and Pilot Officer B. A. B. Attwood, all from 208 Squadron at Gaza, were sent to Amman on attachment to 112 Squadron for a few days. On arrival they were sent with Flight Lieutenant Fraser and Flying Officer Homer Cochrane to Lydda to collect five Hurricanes on loan from 80 Squadron (112 Squadron had no aircraft of its own at this point, having just returned from Crete.
Flying back to Amman, the five pilots took off early next morning (20th) to attack the French airfield at Mezze, just outside Damascus. On the run-in they missed the target, but on the return flight they found it, and at once attacked a Ju 52/3m and a Bf 110, which had just landed. Flight Lieutenant Fraser claimed the former badly damaged. Six French aircraft and 50 vehicles were also claimed strafed, as was the Bf 110. Two of the Hurricanes were struck by small arms fire. The French reported that both German aircraft were damaged, the Ju 52/3m subsequently being burnt out while two French aircraft were also damaged.

On 13 June 1941, he left 112 Squadron and was posted to 71 OTU as an instructor, being promoted to Squadron Leader. In November, he became Chief Ground Instructor, and he was still with the unit in September 1942.

He was promoted to Wing Commander on 1 July 1944, and was Mentioned in Despatches on 14 June 1945.

Fraser flew Spitfires out of Northolt airfield towards the end of the war.
He flew Spitfires Mk.Vs, IIs, XIVs, IXs, and IXBs in England until the end of August 1945 when he was posted to Ankara, in Turkey where he had been posted to train the Turkish Air Force on jet aircraft..

Fraser ended the war with 10 victories, all of them claimed while flying Gladiators.

He continued to serve in the RAF after the war.

On 11 August 1946, he was killed in a jeep accident in Ankara. He is buried in the War Graves Commission Cemetery, Haida Pasha, Istanbul, Turkey.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
  06/09/40   1 S.79 Unconfirmed Gladiator   Mersa Matruh area 112 Squadron
  15/09/40 13:00 1 S.79 (a) Unconfirmed Gladiator K8019 Sidi Barrani area 112 Squadron
  31/10/40 13:00- 1 S.79 (b) Damaged Gladiator K7973 Mersa Matruh area 112 Squadron
  1941                
1 28/02/41   1 CR.42 (c) Destroyed Gladiator II N5910 Tepelene-coast 112 Squadron
2 28/02/41   1 G.50 (c) Destroyed Gladiator II N5910 Tepelene-coast 112 Squadron
  04/03/41   1/4 G.50 (d) Shared destroyed Gladiator N5627 Valona-Himare area 112 Squadron
3 04/03/41   1 G.50 (d) Destroyed Gladiator N5627 Valona-Himare area 112 Squadron
4 09/03/41   1 BR.20 (e) Destroyed Gladiator N5757 near Garneo 112 Squadron
5 09/03/41   1 G.50 (e) Destroyed Gladiator N5757 near Garneo 112 Squadron
6 11/03/41   1 G.50 (f) Destroyed Gladiator N5627 Bousi area 112 Squadron
  11/03/41   1 G.50 (f) Damaged Gladiator N5627 Bousi area 112 Squadron
7 13/03/41   1 CR.42 (g) Destroyed Gladiator N5627 Bousi area 112 Squadron
8 13/03/41   1 CR.42 (g) Destroyed Gladiator N5627 N Corovode 112 Squadron
9 13/03/41   1 CR.42 (g) Destroyed Gladiator N5627 Bousi-Corovode-Kelcyre 112 Squadron
10 14/03/41   1 G.50 (h) Destroyed Gladiator N5627 Tepelene-Kelcyre area 112 Squadron
  20/05/41   1 Bf 110 Damaged on the ground Hurricane Z4178 Mezze 112 Squadron

Biplane victories: 10 and 1 shared destroyed, 2 unconfirmed, 1 damaged, 1 damaged on the ground.
TOTAL: 10 and 1 shared destroyed, 2 unconfirmed, 1 damaged, 1 damaged on the ground.
(a) Claimed in combat with S.79s from the 46o Gruppo, which claimed 1 and 1 probable Gladiator, 1 Hurricane and 1 Blenheim while losing 3 S.79s and getting 4 more damaged. RAF claimed 3 destroyed, 1 unconfirmed and 4 damaged while losing one Gladiator (Pilot Officer Cholmeley KIA).
(b) Noted as ‘confirmed’ in his logbook. Claimed in combat with bombers from 9o and 14o Stormi and 33o Gruppo and fighters from 13o and 151o Gruppi. 112 Squadron and 33 Squadron claimed 4 CR.42s, 3 S.79s, 2 probable S.79s and 1 damaged S.79 while losing 5 Gladiators and 2 Hurricanes. The Italian fighters totally claimed 11 victories while the bombers claimed 7, while losing 1 CR.42 and 2 S.79 (2 more S.79s being damaged beyond repair).
(c) During this large engagements RAF made claims for 5 and 2 damaged BR.20s, 3 and 2 damaged S.79s, 13 destroyed, 3 probable and 1 damaged CR.42s and 6 and 3 probable G.50bis. In fact 4 BR.20s of 37o Stormo B.T. were lost with several damaged, 1 S.79 of 104o Gruppo was damaged, 1 CR.42 of 160o Gruppo and 2 G.50bis of 24o Gruppo were lost. Regia Aeronautica claimed 6 and 2 probable Gladiators and 1 ‘Spitfire’ while in fact only 1 Gladiator of 112 Squadron was lost.
(d) Claimed in combat with G.50bis and CR42s of the 24o Gruppo C.T. RAF claimed seven G.50bis destroyed, four probables and four damaged, three CR.42s and one probable, while losing two Hurricanes. 24o Gruppo C.T. lost two CR.42s and got one damaged while claiming four Gladiators, one Spitfire and one Battle. No losses to G.50bis have been found.
(e) Claimed in combat with BR.20s of 37o Stormo and S.79s of 105o Gruppo escorted by MC.200s of 22o Gruppo. 112 Squadron claimed 8 and 1 probable G.50s and 1 and 1 probable BR.20 while losing 1 Gladiator. It seems that only 1 MC.200 was lost when Sergente Maggiore Marino Vannini of 369a Squadriglia failed to return and 2 or 3 bombers being damaged for the claim of 4 Gladiators by the bombers gunners.
(f) 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.
(g) 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.
(h) 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.

Sources:
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
Ace of Aces: M T StJ Pattle - E C R Baker, 1992 Crécy Books, Somerton, ISBN 0-947554-36-X
Air war for Yugoslavia, Greece and Crete - Christopher Shores, Brian Cull and Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-948817-07-0
Desert Prelude: Early clashes June-November 1940 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2010 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-89450-52-4
Desert Prelude: Operation Compass - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2011 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-61421-18-4
Dust Clouds in the Middle East - Christopher Shores, 1996 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-37-X
Fighters over the Desert - Christopher Shores and Hans Ring, 1969 Neville Spearman Limited, London
Hurricanes over Tobruk - Brian Cull with Don Minterne, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-11-X
Il Savoia Marchetti S.M. 79 nel Secondo Conflitto Mondiale - Bombardamento Terrestre - Ricognizione Strategica - Aviazione Sahariana – Cesare Gori, 2003 USSMA, Rome, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
RAF 112 Sqn Tribute
Shark Squadron - The history of 112 Squadron 1917-1975 - Robin Brown, 1994 Crécy Books, ISBN 0-947554-33-5
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
The London Gazette
Additional information kindly provided by Ian Acworth, Csaba Becze, Rob Brown, Stefano Lazzaro, Patricia Molloy, Carlo Minguzzi and Ludovico Slongo.




Last modified 07 September 2013