Biplane fighter aces

The Commonwealth

Wing Commander Donald Swift 'Don' Gregory DFM, RAF nos. 565558 (NCO); 47849 (Officer)

8 May 1915 – 1986


Image kindly provided by David Slade.

Don Gregory was born in Northampton on 8 May 1915. He lived in Nottingham where he attended Workshop Central School.

He enlisted as an Aircraft Apprentice in September 1931 and was later selected for pilot training.
He was posted from 3 FTS in the Middle East to 33 Squadron in 1938 and was subsequently posted to 80 Squadron.

On 3 April 1940 he was involved in a mid-air collision with Flight Lieutenant, John Lapsley and baled out.

When the war started in North Africa on 10 June 1940, 80 Squadron was commanded by Squadron Leader R. C. Jonas and based at Amriya. It had 22 Gladiators (mainly Mk.Is) and one Hurricane Mk.I (L1669 – nicknamed Collie’s Battleship) on hand. Its main role was the defence of Alexandria. The pilots were divided into three Flights.
‘A’ Flight included Squadron Leader R. C. Jonas (CO), Flight Lieutenant Edward Jones, Flying Officer George Kettlewell, Pilot Officer Anthony Hugh Cholmeley,Pilot Officer Ernest Mason, Pilot Officer Arthur Weller, Pilot Officer Johnny Lancaster, Pilot Officer P. T. Dowding, Sergeant Gregory, Flight Sergeant T. C. Morris and Sergeant J. C. Hulbert.

In November 1940 he accompanied the squadron to Greece, where he was promoted to Flight Sergeant.

On 27 November, Squadron Leader William Hickey led nine Gladiators from 80 Squadron off from Trikkala to patrol to the north of Yanina. Here they spotted a trio of S.79s escorted by some dozen 150o Gruppo CR.42s, led by Capitano Nicola Magaldi, commander of the 364a Squadriglia. The British pilots attacked at once. Flight Lieutenant Edward 'Tap' Jones (Gladiator II N5816) and Sergeant Gregory (Gladiator II N5776), each claiming one Fiat shot down.
Magaldi was killed in this combat and Sergente Giovanni Negri returned to base unhurt, but with his aircraft very badly shot-up.

On 28 November 1940, six Gladiators from 80 Squadron's 'A' Flight flew a fighter mission led by Flight Lieutenant ’Tap’ Jones. Over Delvinakion they reported meeting 20 CR.42s. This was in fact ten aircraft of 150o Gruppo C.T. led by Capitano Giorgio Graffer, CO of the 365a Squadriglia.
In the ensuing dogfight Flying Officer H. U. Sykes (Gladiator N5812) and Sergente Corrado Mignani collided, both pilots being killed. Flight Lieutenant Jones, after claiming two CR.42s shot down off the tails of fellow pilots, had Gladiator N5816 badly shot-up, his instrument panel smashed, and a bullet wound in his neck. He was escorted back to Yanina by Sergeant Gregory, where he managed to land safely. Sergeant Gregory claimed three destroyed CR.42s in this combat. Flying Officer Wanklyn Flower was also shot-up in N5854, but believed he had shot down one CR.42 first. Gladiators N5788 flown by Flying Officer W. B. Price-Owen and N5786 flown by Flying Officer F. W. Hosken were also damaged, but both pilots also claimed one probable CR.42 each.
Apart from Mignani, two more CR.42s were actually lost, Graffer - one of the most successful Italian fighter pilots of the war thus, with five victories credited to him - being killed, while Sergente Achille Pacini baled out. Maresciallo Guglielmo Bacci's and Sergente Bruno Zotti’s CR.42s were damaged and both pilots were wounded but managed to return to base. Four Gladiators and one probable were claimed shot down.

On 4 December four newly arrived Gladiators from 112 Squadron on detachment to 80 Squadron and 11 of the resident Gladiators were flown up to Yanina for further operations, from where Squadron Leader William Hickey led 14 aircraft on an offensive patrol over the Tepelene area. Here an estimated 27 CR.42s were seen.
Flight Lieutenant 'Pat' Pattle claimed three CR.42s shot down, one onto a hillside north of Delvinakion, one in flames from which the pilot baled out, and after his own aircraft had been hit in the main fuel tank and a wing strut, a third from which the pilot was also seen to bale out. He claimed a fourth as a probable when it poured black smoke. He then attacked a fighter, which he identified as a CR.32, which stalled into cloud, claiming this as a probable also.
Sergeant Edward Hewett claimed two CR.42s and a G.50, whilst Pilot Officer William Vale, Sergeant Gregory and Sergeant George Barker each claimed one CR.42 for a total of nine victories and two probables. Barker’s victory was claimed at Klissoura.
The Italian aircraft were actually 12 CR.42s of 150o Gruppo led by Tenente Colonello Rolando Pratelli, and ten G.50bis of the 154o Gruppo. The returning G.50bis pilots claimed two Gladiators shot down, but 150o Gruppo lost two CR.42s, Tenente Alberto Triolo and Sottotenente Paolo Penna being killed. These were the only Italian losses.

80 Squadron returned to Larissa next day.

At 10.30 on 21 December 1940 80 Squadron took off from Yanina for the front in Greece. They were led by Squadron Leader William Hickey and flew in three sections. The first comprised four aircraft and was led by Hickey, the second of three was led by Flight Lieutenant "Pat" Pattle and the third trio was led by Flying Officer Sidney Linnard.
Near Argyrokastron three enemy trimotor bombers were seen. They were identified as S.79s, and then three more aircraft with twin tails were seen, recognised in this case as Fiat BR.20s. All six were in fact Cant Z.1007bis aircraft from the 47o Stormo B.T. from Grottaglie. The Italian bombers were attacked by the Gladiators and Pattle believed that he had hit one.
At this moment however 15 CR.42s of the 160o Gruppo appeared on the scene. Maggiore Oscar Molinari, the Gruppo commander, was leading these Italian aircraft on an offensive reconnaissance over Yanina, Paramythia and Zitsa. Seeing the bombers under attack by an estimated 20 Gladiators, the Italian attacked, joined by other aircraft from the 150o Gruppo so that 80 Squadron pilots assessed the number of their opponents at 54!
After 25 minutes the air battle broke up and eight of the British pilots returned to claim eight confirmed and three probables. Pilot Officer 'Bill' Vale claimed three, one of them in flames. Sergeant Charles Casbolt claimed one, which blew up and another, which spun down (later down-graded to a probable). Sergeant Gregory claimed another two, again one in flames, but his own aircraft was badly shot up and he was wounded in the right eye. He however managed to return to Yanina. Pattle and Flight Sergeant S. A. Richens also claimed one CR.42 each, Pattle reporting that his victim fell in flames, whilst Flying Officers W. B. Price-Owen and F. W. Hosken both claimed probables. However Flying Officer A. D. Ripley in N5854 was seen to be shot down in flames and killed, while Squadron Leader Hickey was spotted bailing out of N5816; sadly his parachute caught fire, and he died from injuries soon after reaching the ground. Greek troops recovered the bodies of both pilots. Flying Officer Sidney Linnard's aircraft (N5834) was also badly hit and he was hit in the left calf by an explosive bullet and was taken to hospital after landing at Yanina.
In return the 160o Gruppo pilots claimed six Gladiators, two each by Maggiore Molinari and Tenente Edoardo Crainz (in CR.42 '394-7'), and one apiece by Tenente Eber Giudici and Capitano Paolo Arcangeletti. Probables were claimed by Tenente Torquato Testerini, Sergente Maggiore Francesco Penna and Sergente Maggiore Domenico Tufano. The 150o Gruppo pilots claimed two more Gladiators in collaboration, while 47o Stormo gunners claimed one more and a probable. As in the case of the British fighters, actual Italian losses totalled only two aircraft, Tenente Mario Gaetano Carancini and Tenente Mario Frascadore of the 160o Gruppo being lost, while Maggiore Molinari was wounded in the right foot and force-landed near Tepelene with a damaged engine.

At 10:30 on 9 February 1941, Squadron Leader "Tap" Jones led off 14 of 80 Squadron's Gladiators on an offensive patrol over the Tepelene area. They took off in four sub-flights led by Jones, Flight Lieutenant "Pat" Pattle, Flying Officer 'Shorty' Graham and Flight Lieutenant "Timber" Woods. During the take-off Flying Officer W. B. Price-Owen, in the last section, experienced engine stoppage as his Gladiator became airborne and he was forced to glide back to the airfield.
Near Tepelene a trio of S.79s were seen, but lost in cloud. It is however possible that Pilot Officer William Vale claimed that he damaged one of these since he did claim one damaged during the day.
Jones took the Squadron round in a wide arc just north of Kelcyre and led them back towards Tepelene. His engine had been running rough for the last fifteen minutes and now it was beginning to vibrate. He called Pattle over the radiotelephone and told him to take over the lead. Then he throttled right back to ease the shuddering. Within a few seconds he was joined by Flying Officer Wanklyn Flower, who was also having trouble with his engine and together they flew back to Yanina.
Meanwhile, the Squadron continued their patrol and just before midday five CR.42s were seen far away off the port beam by Pattle, followed by many more, 30-40 being reported. In fact there were just 16 fighters of the 150o Gruppo, led by Capitano Edmondo Travaglini, commander of the 365a Squadriglia. The Italian pilots also overestimated the opposition, identifying the eleven Gladiators as 20 strong.
Many individual dogfights developed between Tepelene and Argyrokastron. Pattle shot down one Fiat CR.42, which crashed into the ground at speed on the outskirts of Tepelene, while Flying Officer Nigel Cullen put four bursts into another and reported seeing it crash into the hillside and burst into flames. The Squadron returned to claim four definitely shot down and three probables, but the Greek authorities provided confirmation next day that all seven had crashed, and victories were credited to Flight Lieutenant George Kettlewell, Pilot Officer Vale, Pilot Officer C. H. Tulloch, Sergeant Gregory and Sergeant Charles Casbolt, as well as Pattle and Cullen.
Pilot Officer Vale reported:

"I was slightly behind the main formation … I observed about six or more formations of five CR42s [each] above us and so I gave ‘Tally-ho!’ and I immediately climbed. A dogfight started and from my position the policy of the e/a seemed to be diving attacks and gaining height straight away. One CR42 dived on me from above but I managed to evade his fire by pulling round and up towards him. I fired a short burst, which seemed to scare him away. I then saw a CR42 diving down on another Gladiator and so carried out a diving quarter attack and he pulled away, which left me in an astern position close in. I carried on firing until the e/a turned over on its back and the pilot left the machine. I saw his parachute open and so gained height and fired a long burst at a CR42, which dived down on me from above. I then broke away from the combat and owing to shortage of ammunition and fuel returned to base with F/O Cullen, who came up and formatted with me. We landed at 1240 and on inspecting aircraft found no damage.
The initial claims had been nearer the truth, for four CR.42s were in fact hit. Sergente Romano Maionica (365a Squadriglia) and Sergente Danilo Birolo (364a Squadriglia) both failed to return, the latter being believed to have baled out (Maionica was KIA and Birolo landed in Yugoslavian territory), while Tenente Enzo Rovetta (364a Squadriglia) was wounded and crashed while attempting to land at base, and Capitano Travaglini force-landed near Tirana. In return, the Italians claimed four Gladiators destroyed and nine damaged. 364a Squadriglia pilots Tenente Alberto Spigaglia, Sottotenente Pasquale Faltoni and Maresciallo Ugo Guidi were each credited with a victory.
Flying Officer F. W. Hosken baled out of Gladiator N5811, wounded in one leg, when his controls were shot away and he came down near Tepelene. Flight Lieutenant Kettlewell force-landed Gladiator N5858 some 50 miles north of Yanina due to lack of oil pressure, but with his aircraft undamaged. Both returned to Yanina aided by the Greek army.

By February 1941, he had claimed eight victories.

On 28 March, a DFC was gazetted to Pilot Officer William Vale and a DFM to Flight Sergeant Gregory.


'B' Flight of 80 Squadron at Yanina, Greece, who together shot down more than 100 enemy aircraft.
(Left to right): Sergeant Casbolt, Sergeant Barker, Sergeant Gregory, Pilot Officer Vale, Flight Lieutenant Pattle, Pilot Officer Cullen.

Following the withdrawal from Greece, he served as an instructor at 71 OUT in late 1941 as a Warrant Officer. He was commissioned on 7 March 1942 (gazetted on 24 March and with seniority from 20 January 1942) and joined 250 Squadron in April 1942 as a Pilot Officer.

He was promoted to Flying Officer on 1 October 1942 and to Flight Lieutenant on 23 January 1944.

Gregory ended the war with 8 victories, all of them claimed while flying Gladiators.

Little else is known of his subsequent career, save that he remained in the RAF. He was promoted to Squadron Leader on 1 January 1952 and to Wing Commander before retirement on 16 January 1967.

He passed away in 1986.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
1 27/11/40   1 CR.42 (a) Destroyed Gladiator II N5776 N Yanina 80 Squadron
2 28/11/40   1 CR.42 (b) Destroyed Gladiator II N5776 Delvinakion 80 Squadron
3 28/11/40   1 CR.42 (b) Destroyed Gladiator II N5776 Delvinakion 80 Squadron
4 28/11/40   1 CR.42 (b) Destroyed Gladiator II N5776 Delvinakion 80 Squadron
5 04/12/40   1 CR.42 (c) Destroyed Gladiator II N5776 Delvinakion 80 Squadron
6 21/12/40   1 CR.42 (d) Destroyed Gladiator II ? (e) N Argyrokastron 80 Squadron
7 21/12/40   1 CR.42 (d) Destroyed Gladiator II ? (e) N Argyrokastron 80 Squadron
  1941                
8 09/02/41 10:30-12:40 1 CR.42 (f) Destroyed Gladiator I K6138 (g) Tepelene-Argyrokastron 80 Squadron

Biplane victories: 8 destroyed.
TOTAL: 8 destroyed.
(a) 80 Squadron claimed two Fiat CR.42s. 150o Gruppo lost one when the CO Capitano Nicola Magaldi was killed. A second Fiat was damaged but the pilot Sergente Negri was unhurt.
(b) Claimed in combat with 150o Gruppo C.T. 80 Squadron claimed seven destroyed and two probables while 150o Gruppo lost three CR.42s and got two damaged. One of the lost pilots were the commander of 365a Squadriglia and ace Capitano Giorgio Graffer.
(c) 150o Gruppo C.T. lost two CR.42s against RAF claims for 9 and 2 probables when Tenente Alberto Triolo and Sottotenente Paolo Penna were killed.
(d) In this combat 80 Squadron claimed 8 and 3 probables while the 160o Gruppo C.T. lost 2 aircraft and 1 one force-landed. Regia Aeronatica claimed 9 and 4 probables while 80 Squadron lost 2 aircraft and 2 damaged.
(e) Some sources claims that he flew Gladiator N5854 in this combat but this aircraft was most probably used by Flying Officer A. D. Ripley, who was shot down and killed in this combat.
(f) Claimed in combat with the 150o Gruppo, which claimed 4 Gladiators destroyed and 9 damaged while losing 4 CR.42s. 80 Squadron claimed 7 CR.42s while losing 2 Gladiators.
(g) Aircraft belonging to 112 Sq..

Sources:
53o Stormo - Marco Mattioli, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-977-5
Ace of Aces: M T StJ Pattle - E C R Baker, 1992 Crécy Books, Somerton, ISBN 0-947554-36-X
Aces High - Christopher Shores, 1994, Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-00-0
Aces High Volume 2 - Christopher Shores, 1999, Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-03-9
Air war for Yugoslavia, Greece and Crete - Christopher Shores, Brian Cull and Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-948817-07-0
Desert Prelude: Early clashes June-November 1940 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2010 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-89450-52-4
Fiat CR.42 Aces of World War 2 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2009 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-427-5
The London Gazette
Additional information kindly provided by Simon Muggleton and David Slade.




Last modified 18 August 2013