Biplane fighter aces

The Commonwealth

Wing Commander Henry Willoughby ‘Jerry’ Harrison, RAF no. 40910

21 February 1917 – 1990s

Harrison was born in Gillingham, Kent, on 21 February 1917, but was taken to Canada as a baby and was raised in Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan.

Having failed to get into university, he decided to join the RAF, and in order to assist in doing so, he trained for and obtained his private pilot’s license at Regina in June 1936.

Travelling to the UK in April 1938, he was awarded a short service commission the following month, then undertaking flying training at 8 FTS, Woodley, and 10 FTS, Ternhill, qualifying as a pilot on 3 March 1939.

Confirmed as a Pilot Officer in May, he had been posted to Egypt during April were he joined 33 Squadron.

In June, he was sent to Ismailia to do two months administrative works, and then undertook similar duties at the new Western Desert HQ.

On 3 February 1940, he joined 112 Squadron.
He saw action with this unit over the Desert and in Greece, making a number of claims that were recorded in his logbook, but not in the squadron’s ORB.

At 06:00 on 29 June 1940, three CR.32s of the 160a Squadriglia took off for Ponticelli and from there at 11:15, a couple of them took off to operate in the Sollum-Sidi Omar area.
At 12:15, they were intercepted by an unrecorded number of Gladiators which quickly shot down the plane of Sottotenente Antonino Weiss, Adjutant of the 12o Gruppo. The pilot, wounded, made a forced landing near the “Litoranea” road, west of Bardia.
It seems that the CR.32s had clashed with 33 Squadron. At 04:55, in the first light of the morning, six Gladiators from 33 Squadron’s ‘B’ Flight flew to Sidi Barrani for patrols covering Mersa Matruh and during the day, several sorties (at least three) were flown.
At 11:00, three Gladiators flown by Flying Officer Ernest Dean (Gladiator L9046), Sergeant J. Craig (N5783) and Pilot Officer Peter Wickham (K8031) took off. These were followed by two more flown by Pilot Officer Vernon Woodward (N5774) and Pilot Officer Harrison (a 112 Squadron pilot on attachment to 33 Squadron) (N5768), which took off at 11:40.
At 12:30, enemy aircraft was intercepted and a Ro.37 was forced to land three miles west of Sidi Aziez after being attacked by Pilot Officer Wickham. The rear gunner was apparently hit and the aircraft landed in enemy territory.
Three CR.32s were encountered at 12:40 by one formation of three Gladiators in the Ridotta Capuzzo area. A dogfight ensued and Pilot Officer Woodward forced one of the aircraft down 2-3 miles north of Fort Capuzzo, near the road between Capuzzo and Bardia. He then pursued another aircraft of the enemy formation, which he shot down after a long dogfight. Both aircraft were shot down over territory occupied by the enemy.
During this patrol, Pilot Officer Harrison claimed a damaged CR.32 in the Capuzzo-Sidi Aziez area.
The 33 Squadron pilots seem to have been spilt up and Craig landed at 12:30, Dean at 13:15 and the three other pilots at 13:20.
The IMAM Ro.37bis claimed by Wickham probably belonged to 64o or 73o Gruppi Osservazione Aerea. It is possible that this claim in fact relate to the combat Wickham was involved in the next day (30 June). Wickham also claimed an additional CR.32 during the day.
Woodward’s claim seems to have been Sottotenente Weiss.
Totally, it seems that 33 Squadron claimed three or four victories during the day while in fact the Italian losses seem to have been one CR.32 (Sottotenente Weiss).

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 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 Joseph Fraser claimed an unconfirmed SM 79 on this occasion.

He claimed a CR.32 in the Sidi Barrani area on 17 September.

In January 1941, the 112 Squadron moved to Greece.

On 20 February, he claimed a damaged Fiat G.50 in the Berat area. Since 112 Squadron flew sorties in the Berat area in both the morning and afternoon and was involved in combat on both occasions, it is not known when Harrison claimed this aircraft.

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 Joseph 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 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.

After escaping from Crete back to North Africa in May 1941, he was promoted to command ‘A’ Flight the following month.

On 8 September the squadron moved forward from Fayid to LG92 (south of Alexandria) and thence to LG102 (inland from Maaten Bagush and Sidi Haneish).

On 14 September, six Tomahawks from 112 Squadron received an R/T message that there was a ‘bandit’ over Mersa Matruh at 19,000 feet. The formation climbed to about 16,000 feet and spotted a S.79 below. Flight Lieutenant Harrison engaged the S.79, which he hit. The Italian bomber was then engaged by Pilot Officer Neville Bowker firing his wing guns only as his .5” machine gun had jammed. He reset and returned to the attack and at 150 yards, he saw petrol streaming from the enemy aircraft. He pumped shots into the starboard engine and the fuselage and the S.79 blew up. This combat took place between 16:25-19:10.
This was 112 Squadrons 77th victory and the first with their new P-40 Tomahawk IIbs.
Harrison did not submit a claim for a share in this victory.
The Italian aircraft was S.79 MM21751 from 19a Squadriglia, 28o Gruppo, undertaking a reconnaissance over the Derna-Mersa Matruh-Sidi Barrani area and it was shot down in the Sidi Rezegh area; Capitano Sergio Fonsili and his crew were KIA.

He left the squadron on 31 October, becoming an instructor with 335 Squadron, which had just been formed in Palestine with Greek pilots; he was later to be awarded the Greek DFC.

In February 1942 he joined the staff of 25 Air School in South Africa, and from there was sent to Canada where he instructed at Port Hope, Trenton and Kingston.

Ultimately posted back to the UK, he flew with 1 and 124 Squadrons until the end of the war, commanding the latter unit from June 1945 – April 1946, when it was renumbered 56 Squadron.

Harrison ended the war with 2 biplane victories.

He remained in the RAF, being promoted to Wing Commander on 1 January 1953, and becoming a graduate of the RAF Staff College, Bracknell.

Promoted Acting Group Captain, he retired in that rank on 21 February 1972 when he returned home to Canada.

Harrison died during the late 1990s.

Kill no. Date Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  29/06/40 1 CR.32 (a) Damaged Gladiator N5768 Capuzzo-Sidi Aziez area 112 Squadron
1 17/09/40 1 CR.32 Destroyed Gladiator   Sidi Barrani area 112 Squadron
  20/02/41 1 G.50 Damaged Gladiator   Berat area 112 Squadron
2 11/03/41 1 G.50 (b) Destroyed Gladiator   Bousi area 112 Squadron

Biplane victories: 2 destroyed, 2 damaged.
TOTAL: 2 destroyed, 2 damaged.
(a) Not verified with Italian records.
(b) 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.

A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945: Volume One – Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello with Russell Guest, 2012 Grub Street, London, ISBN 978-1908117076
Air war for Yugoslavia, Greece and Crete - Christopher Shores, Brian Cull and Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-948817-07-0
Shark Squadron - The history of 112 Squadron 1917-1975 - Robin Brown, 1994 Crécy Books, ISBN 0-947554-33-5
Those Other Eagles – Christopher Shores, 2004 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-904010-88-1
Additional information kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.

Last modified 03 February 2015