Flying Officer Alan Arthur 'Gaty' Gatward, RAAF no. 272
21 April 1917 – 19 February 1941
Alan Gatward was born on 21 April 1917 and was from Wahroonga, New South Wales.
Before becoming a regular officer in the RAAF he worked as a clerk.
In July 1940, he served with 3 RAAF Squadron.
On 15 July 1940, 3 RAAF Squadron embarked on RMS Orontes at Sydney for service overseas.
At this time the unit consisted of the following flying personnel:
Squadron Leader Ian McLachlan (CO).
Flight Lieutenant Gordon Steege (OC), Flying Officer Gatward, Flying Officer Alan Boyd, Pilot Officer Peter Turnbull and Pilot Officer Wilfred Arthur.
Pilot Officer Charles Gaden (OC), Pilot Officer L. E. Knowles, Pilot Officer V. East, Flying Officer Alan Rawlinson and Flying Officer B. L. Bracegirdle.
Squadron Leader P. R. Heath (OC), Flight Lieutenant Blake Pelly, Pilot Officer J. M. Davidson, Flying Officer John Perrin and Pilot Officer M D. Ellerton.
Totally the squadron had 21 officers and 271 of other ranks on 24 July.
On 7 August, RMS Orontes arrived at Bombay and the unit was transhipped the same day to HT Dilwara.
HT Dilwara sailed on 11 August and arrived at Suez on 23 August where the squadron disembarked.
3 RAAF Squadron received a signal from H.Q.M.E. on 16 September advising that it had been decided to re-arm the squadron with two flights of Gladiators and one flight with Lysanders.
In order to carry out this re-arming, the unit was to move from Ismailia to Helwan on 23 September, where the Gladiators were to be taken over from 33 Squadron.
In view of the fact that the propellers and air cleaners had still not been received for the Lysanders, and that stores from overseas were still being received at Ismailia, it was decided that the main portion of the unit would proceed to Helwan on 23 September, whilst the remainder of the unit would remain at Ismailia to complete the erection of six Lysanders and for the sorting of stores. These last remainders moved to Helwan on 9 October.
On 18 September an advance party from 3 RAAF Squadron proceeded to Helwan by road to commence taking over Gladiator aircraft and other equipment from 33 Squadron.
The party consisted of Squadron Leader P. R. Heath, Flight Lieutenant Charles Gaden, Flying Officers John Perrin, Alan Boyd, B. L. Bracegirdle, M. D. Ellerton and Gatward and 14 other ranks.
During 21 to 23 September the advanced party took over four Gladiators from 33 Squadron and the pilots were put on daily stand-by for operational duty, which was defence of Cairo against air attack.
Eleven more personnel followed on to Helwan on 20 September while the rest of the squadron prepared for the move which was made on 23 September.
3 RAAF Squadron’s stand-by duty was discontinued on 24 September and the pilots were able to carry out flying training.
An intensive period of training followed and the training was complemented with exercises with 6th division AIF and air fighting tactics with Blenheims from 84 Squadron. The pilots also visited Haskard range for artillery co-operation training on 4 October. This training period continued up until 31 October.
On 2 November 1940, squadron headquarters and ground personnel of ‘B’ and ‘C’ Flights of 3 RAAF Squadron moved by road from Helwan to Gerawla. The move started at 08:15 and was completed at 17:15 the next day.
Squadron Leader Ian McLachlan, Flying Officer Gatward, Flying Officer M. D. Ellerton, Flying Officer Alan Boyd, Flight Lieutenant Charles Gaden, Flying Officer B. L. Bracegirdle, Flying Officer Peter Turnbull and Flying Officer Wilfred Arthur moved from Helwan to Gerawla by air on 3 November.
Flight Lieutenant Gordon Steege, Flight Lieutenant Blake Pelly and Flying Officer Alan Rawlinson left their attachments to 208 Squadron and rejoined 3 RAAF Squadron at Gerawla while Flying Officer John Perrin, Flying Officer L. E. Knowles and Flying Officer J. M. Davidson, who also had been attached to 208 Squadron returned to ‘A’ Flight at Helwan.
15 Air gunner/Wireless operators from 3 RAAF Squadron were attached to 208 Squadron.
After the completion of these movements the disposition of the squadron was that at Gerawla there were: Officers: 13 pilots, 1 crew, 6 non-flying and 2 (attached) air intelligence liaison.
Airmen: 185 non-flying, 6 (attached) air intelligence liaison and 1 (attached) Royal Corps Signalist.
Aircraft: 10 Gladiators and 4 Gauntlets (two Gauntlets had been left at 208 Squadron, Qasaba, being unserviceable and awaiting spares).
At Helwan (‘A’ Flight):
Officers: 3 pilots and 1 crew.
Airmen: 5 crews and 32 non-flying.
Aircraft: 6 Lysanders and 2 Gladiators (in reserve for ‘B’ and ‘C’ Flights).
Attached to 208 Squadron:
Officers: 2 crew.
Airmen: 5 crew and 15 non-flying.
Attached to 6 Squadron:
Airmen: 6 crew and 14 non-flying.
At Abu Sueir (on anti-gas course):
Between 15:30 and 15:45 on 10 December, a formation from the whole 151o Gruppo took off from A3 to escort Ba.65s in the Bir Enba – Sidi Barrani area. The 366a and 367a Squadriglie flew direct cover of the assault aircraft while the 368a Squadriglia acted as top cover.
Pilots from 366a Squadriglia were Capitano Bernardino Serafini, Tenente Guglielmo Chiarini, Sottotenente Amedeo Guidi, Sottotenente Carlo Albertini, Sergente Maggiore Cesare Chiarmetta, Sergente Maggiore Fiorenzo Milella and Sergente Antonio Camerini. Pilots from the 368a Squadriglia were Capitano Bruno Locatelli, Sergente Maggiore Davide Colauzzi, Tenente Orfeo Paroli (aborted due to mechanical problems), Sergente Ottorino Ambrosi, Tenente Giuseppe Zuffi, Sergente Mario Turchi and Sottotenente Furio Lauri together with Marescaillo Giulio Cesare of the 366a Squadriglia. Not all the participating pilots from the 367a Squadriglia are known but included were Capitano Irzio Bozzolan, Sergente Maggiore Rodolfo Benco, Sergente Maggiore Gino Bogoni, Sergente Tolmino Zanarini, (plus possibly other three pilots).
After the attack of the Bredas, the close escort Squadriglie went down to strafe. The 366a Squadriglia did five passes and then it was the turn of the 367a Squadriglia. The weather in the meantime was again deteriorating and was not possible to maintain visual contact between the two covering Squadriglie and the strafing one.
Because of this, the 367a Squadriglia was surprised from astern by a formation of Glosters while intent in strafing. After a short combat the CR.42s were able to disengage, claiming only a probable victory by an unknown pilot but losing Sergente Bogoni’s CR.42 and getting Sergente Maggiore Benco’s (wounded in the right foot) and Sergente Zanarini’s fighters damaged. Capitano Bozzolan had a narrow escape when pursued by two Gladiators that damaged his engine; he was forced to land in the midst of the enemy armoured cars with a stopped engine. Suddenly the Fiat A74 engine restarted and Bozzolan was able to do a touch-an-go, just managing to return to A3.
They had run into Gladiators from 3 RAAF Squadron. Four Gladiators piloted by Squadron Leader Ian McLachlan, Flight Lieutenant Gordon Steege, Flying Officer Gatward and Flying Officer B. L. Bracegirdle had taken off from ALG 74 at 15:40 to carry out an offensive patrol over Tummar. They reported encountering twelve CR.42s that were ground strafing Allied troops near Tummar West. The Gladiators attacked the enemy aircraft and in the ensuing battle, Squadron Leader McLachlan shot one down which he saw strike the ground whilst Flight Lieutenant Steege and Flying Officer Gatward each got a possible. These were later confirmed. All Gladiators returned to base at 17:10. According to some sources Steege and Flying Officer Gatward each claimed 1 and 1 probable CR.42 in this combat, but this can’t be verified with 3 RAAF Squadron’s Operations Record Book.
While this combat was taking place the other two Italian Squadriglie didn’t notice anything but the sand thunderstorm below them.
While coming back, the 368a Squadriglia intercepted a Hurricane that was strafing along the road between Sidi Barrani and Buq-Buq. It was shot at by Locatelli, Zuffi, Colauzzi, Ambrosi and Cesare and although clearly hit was seen to escape and was claimed only as a damaged. It seems possible that this was the Hurricane of 23-year-old Lieutenant Jacobus George Fischer (SAAF no. 202883), an SAAF pilot attached to 33 Squadron, which was lost during an evening reconnaissance of the road west of Sidi Barrani.
During the landing at Amseat, two Hurricanes attacked the Bredas, shooting at them and then retreating at full speed. The assault planes didn’t suffer serious damage. They were the three Ba.65s from the 159a Squadriglia flown by Tenente Adriano Visconti, Sergente Maggiore Pietro Scaramucci and Sergente Paolo Perno, which had reached A3 the same morning to operate with the 168a Squadriglia. Visconti was the one attacked by the British fighters but landed safely with his wingmen at 16:45. Back at base, they reported that the attack, done in awful weather conditions was met by heavy AA fire. Visconti used two 50 kilos bombs, seventy 2 kilos bombs, 320 rounds of 12,7 mm and 370 rounds of 7,7 mm ammunition. The identity of their attackers remains unsure but was probably Hurricanes from 33 Squadron.
At 11:10 on 12 December, a mixed formation from the 4o Stormo took off for a free sweep in the Ogerin Bir El Kreighat area. After the sweep, they were to ground strafe targets of opportunity. Participating pilots from the 91a Squadriglia were Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli (CO 10o Gruppo), Capitano Vincenzo Vanni, Sottotenente Andrea Dalla Pasqua, Sergente Maggiore Leonardo Ferrulli, Sergente Maggiore Natale Fiorito and Sergente Maggiore Giovanni Casero. From 84a Squadriglia came Capitano Luigi Monti, Sottotenente Paolo Berti, Sottotenente Luigi Prati, Sottotenente Bruno Devoto, Sergente Roberto Steppi and Sergente Onorino Crestani.
Sergente Giovanni Battista Ceoletta of the 90a Squadriglia was part of a formation taking off at 11:40 while his squadriglia mates Sergente Maggiore Angelo Savini and Sergente Alfredo Sclavo suffered accidents on take off, which prevented them to take part (and probably wrote off the plane of Sclavo). Tenente Aldo Gon and Sergente Gustavo Minelli from the 96a Squadriglia, 9o Gruppo also took part in this action.
Bad weather prevented the discovery of ground targets, so Romagnoli led his fighters to the Bir Enba area where a formation of Gladiators surprised the 84a Squadriglia formation. A long dogfight started after which the CR.42 of Onorino Crestani was missing and the remaining pilots claimed two victories. Crestani was taken prisoner.
According to the squadriglia diaries, the two confirmed victories were shared among the 91a Squadriglia pilots plus Ceoletta (who used 120 rounds of ammunition during the combat) and the pilots from the 9o Gruppo. Gon and Minelli in fact only claimed a shared probable in a combat against a reportedly six Gladiators, while the 10o Gruppo’s Diary downgraded the victories to two probables. Monti, Prati and Steppi were credited with a damaged each while Ceoletta also claimed two damaged Gladiators (according to some Italian historians one Gladiator was shared between Monti, Prati and Steppi and the second shared between Gon and Minelli, while one or two other Gladiators were considered probably shot down but there is however no trace of such claims in the official diaries).
They had run into five Gladiators from 3 RAAF Squadron, which had taken off from ALG 74 at 11:25 to carry out an offensive patrol around Sofafi. The patrol intercepted a reported 16 to 18 CR.42 six miles north-west of Sofafi. During the ensuing combat three of the Italian fighters were claimed shot down, one apiece being credited to Flying Officers Alan Boyd, Wilfred Arthur and Gatward, without loss. The Gladiators returned to base at 13:05.
On an early morning patrol on 13 December, six Gladiators (Flight Lieutenant Gordon Steege, Flight Lieutenant Charles Gaden, Flying Officers Lex D. Winten, Flying Officer Alan Boyd, Flying Officer Wilfred Arthur and Flying Officer Gatward) from the Advanced Detached Flight of 3 RAAF Squadron took off at 08:00 to fly an offensive fighter patrol over Sollum – Fort Capuzzo – Halfaya area. They came across five SM 79s bombing troops at Sollum escorted by a reported eight CR.42s. Diving in to attack Flight Lieutenant Steege shot down one of the bombers and claimed a second as a probable. Before the Gladiators could reform for a second attack, the escorting CR.42s intervened. Flight Lieutenant Gaden (Gladiator N5765) was killed when his aircraft was shot down and crashed into the desert. It was believed that Gaden was shot down by rear gunners of the SM 79s. Flying Officer Winten was hit in the right hand by an explosive bullet and baled out. Flying Officer Boyd claimed two CR.42s before his aircraft had its port flying wire shot away causing him to force land. Flying Officer Gatward was also forced down. Flying Officer Arthur's Gladiator (N5752) was shot to pieces and he decided to bale out. As he clambered out of the cockpit, he became entangled in his oxygen tube. He managed to break free only to be caught up in the interplane bracing wires. Unable to free himself he waited for the inevitable, when at about 1,000 feet he was thrown clear and parachuted to the ground. Later back in the mess he produced from his pocket the ripcord of his parachute, which meant that he did not have to buy drinks all round. Flight Lieutenant Steege was separated from the remainder of the flight, ran out of ammunition and returned to base at 10:30.
The Italians seems to have consisted of five SM 79s from the 60a Squadriglia, 33o Gruppo Autonomo BT, which had taken off from Z1 at 07:30. The formation was led by Tenente Colonnello Ferri Forte, who flew as second pilot in Capitano Loris Bulgarelli’s (CO of the 60a Squadriglia) SM 79 and they had been briefed to attack British troop concentrations in a desert area south of Sollum. The pilot of another bomber was Tenente Pastorelli and among his crew of five was Aviere Scelto Armiere Guido Reggiani. The bombers were escorted by ten CR.42s from the 9o Gruppo. The SM 79s were the first bombing effort of the day by the 5a Squadra and attacked a group of 30 British vehicles along the road Sollum-Buq-Buq at 08:45 and immediately after this, another group of 60 armoured vehicles south-east of Halfaya. The escort was led by Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni (temporary CO of the 9o Gruppo since 10 December) and included the 73a Squadriglia (Tenente Valerio De Campo, Tenente Pietro Bonfatti, Tenente Giuseppe Oblach, Sottotenente Giulio Reiner, Sergente Maggiore Sergio Stauble and Sergente Enrico Dallari) and the 97a Squadriglia (Capitano Ezio Viglione Borghese, Sergente Franco Sarasino and Sergente Maggiore Otello Perotti). After 45 minutes of flight, between Sidi Omar and Sollum, they spotted a formation of Gladiators that soon attacked the SM 79s. Aviere Scelto Armiere Reggiani recorded that after the bombing the formation was attacked by a group of ten Gloster Gladiators. The gunners of the Savoias claimed the shooting down of two of them before they were dispersed by a squadriglia of the 4o Stormo’s fighters. Capitano Larsimont chased the leader but, while shooting at him from a short distance, he collided with a British wingman that was trying to avoid his bursts. In the collision, the Gladiator lost its wings and fell. Larsimont, whose aircraft was badly damaged in the fuselage and rudders, made an emergency landing on the Menastir M airfield; unfortunately the airstrip was already abandoned by the Italians due to the proximity of the British infantry so Larsimont had to abandon his damaged plane, which became a total loss. It seems possible that Larsimont’s victim (the Gladiator surprised while chasing the Savoias and observed to fall minus its wings) was Flying Officer Arthur who later recalled:
”(...) I was chasing some Italian bombers, Savoia-Marchettis I think they were. They were quite a lot faster than our aircraft were which meant you only chance of really catching them was to cut the corner if they were foolish enough to turn very much. In...also, if you’re chasing somebody like that you’re concentrating very much on that and you are a sitting duck for somebody else. And, in fact, that’s what happened to me. Chasing these Savoias I suddenly realised I was being attacked by an Italian aircraft which almost immediately ... a shell went into the top mainplane – do you know what I mean by the top mainplane where it was a biplane - the top main plane tore straight away and swung back towards the tail and the bottom main plane sort of followed it but a bit behind and I had no control at all, just completely loose control column. So I got out quickly (...)Arthur remembered that the whole affair lasted a short time:
”Probably only fifty seconds or seventy or something like that. I got out of the cockpit quite quickly but by that time the thing was nearly vertically downwards and I got stuck underneath one of the main planes that had folded back against the fuselage and I couldn’t get out of that. I was kicking and trying to get myself free when I was very close to the ground and finally did get free but hit the ground very hard because...well, because I hadn’t had enough time to slow up, I suppose (...)”.Wilfred Arthur hit the ground facing the wrong way and got dragged for quite a while with the parachute because there was heavy wind. After collapsing the parachute and freeing himself again, he was circled by two Italian aircraft, which he thought would shoot at him but in fact they didn’t. After the two Italian left the area, he started walking and after only a couple of hours was found and picked up by a long-range desert patrol.
“(…) we had a very bad day on 13th December, it was over Salum (…) we had an extraordinary bad day – ran into a very big lot of CR42s and Flight Lieutenant Gaiden [Gaden] was killed but Arthur, “Wilf” Arthur was shot down (…). Lex Witton [Winten] had an explosive round in one hand and he bailed out. Gatwood [Gatward] and Boyd both crash-landed. So we had five, and that was a really very bad day for the Squadron (…) It was a very traumatic sort of experience but the Squadron was very resilient and picked up very quickly and the people who’d – apart from Witton who was a casualty because of his hand - the others were back flying again next day or in a few days’ time. To a certain extent, you know, you expected these things but that was just a bit bigger than we normally expected. And seeing as we’d had so much success prior with virtually no casualties it hit us a bit hard for a start. But it was only a few days later on the 26th when we got our revenge back (…)”.In the meantime Larsimont, finding Menastir deserted, reached the nearby Balbia road and while waiting for a passing truck to stop, was shot at by a low flying Hurricane and had a narrow escape. After the collision, he was presumed dead by his pilots and so on the evening a message of condolences arrived from the HQ in Rome. In fact, he rejoined his unit the same day and at 15:05 was again at the head of his men.
On 22 January 1941, 3 RAAF Squadron commenced the first step for the reequipping with Hurricanes.
Flying Officers Gatward, Jackson and Saunders departed for Amiriya to join Flight Lieutenant Gordon Steege and Flying Officers John Perrin and Alan Boyd for the collection of the first flight of Hurricanes.
On 19 February three 3 RAAF Squadron Hurricanes flown by Flying Officer Alan Gatward, Flight Lieutenant John Perrin (Hurricane V7757) and Flying Officer Alan Boyd set out for Agedabia, from where they were tasked to carry out an offensive patrol. They encountered a number of Ju 87s from II/StG 2 dive-bombing the village.
Perrin took a look around for escorting enemy fighters before attacking together with Gatward, leaving Boyd as cover above. Perrin shot down a Ju 87 (WkNr. 5455) of 5/StG2 flown by Unteroffizier Kurt Stuber and Unteroffizier Walter Nentwig, whom both survived but both suffered wounds in this action.
At this time four Bf 110s from 8/ZG 26 attacked them. Leutnant Alfred Wehmeyer and Unteroffizier Max Hohmann attacked Gatward and shot him down. Gatward was last seen by Perrin in flames and crashing into the seashore. Feldwebel Richard Heller and the Staffelkapitän Oberleutnant Prang shot down Perrin. Perrin however managed to turn around a shot down a Bf 110 before force-landing his burning aircraft. This was Leutnant Wehmeyer's Messerschmitt (WkNr. 3886), which he managed to ditch into the sea. Wehmeyer and his wounded gunner, Obergefreiter Wilhelm Wurst got into their dinghy and was picked up 48 hours later by an Axis rescue craft.
At the time of his death, Gatward was credited with 2 biplane victories, both of them claimed while flying Gloster Gladiators.
|Kill no.||Date||Time||Number||Type||Result||Plane type||Serial no.||Locality||Unit|
|1||10/12/40||15:40-17:10||1||CR.42 (a)||Destroyed||Gladiator II||near Tummar West||3 RAAF Squadron|
|10/12/40||15:40-17:10||1||CR.42 (b)||Probable||Gladiator II||near Tummar West||3 RAAF Squadron|
|2||12/12/40||11:25-13:05||1||CR.42 (c)||Destroyed||Gladiator II||6m NW Sofafi||3 RAAF Squadron|
Biplane victories: 2 destroyed, 1 probable.
TOTAL: 2 destroyed, 1 probable.
(a) This claim can’t be verified with 3 RAAF Squadron’s Operational Record Book. Claimed in combat with the 367a Squadriglia, 151o Gruppo, which lost 1 aircraft and got 3 damaged while claiming 1 probable. 3 RAAF Squadron claimed 1 and 2 probables without losses.
(b) Claimed in combat with the 367a Squadriglia, 151o Gruppo, which lost 1 aircraft and got 3 damaged while claiming 1 probable. 3 RAAF Squadron claimed 1 and 2 probables without losses.
(c) Claimed in combat with CR.42s from the 4o Stormo, which claimed 2 probables while losing one CR.42 (Sergente Crestani PoW). 3 RAAF Squadron claimed 3 CR.42s without suffering losses.
Australian War Memorial
Desert Prelude: Early clashes June-November 1940 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2010 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-89450-52-4
Fighters over the Desert - Christopher Shores and Hans Ring, 1969 Neville Spearman Limited, London
Gloster Gladiator Home Page - Alexander Crawford.
Hurricanes over Tobruk - Brian Cull with Don Minterne, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-11-X
Italian Aces of World War 2 - Giovanni Massimello and Giorgio Apostolo, 2000 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 1-84176-078-1
National Archives of Australia
Quelli del Cavallino Rampante - Antonio Duma, 1981 Editore Dell'Ateneo, Roma, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Those Other Eagles – Christopher Shores, 2004 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-904010-88-1
Additional information kindly provided by Russell Guest, Stefano Lazzaro and Ludovico Slongo.