Wing Commander George Victor Wildeman 'Jimmie' Kettlewell, RAF no. 33192
30 January 1916 – 16 August 2007
Born on 30 January 1916, 'Jimmie' Kettlewell joined the RAF before the war, and was commissioned in July 1937, serving initially with 29 Squadron as a Pilot Officer.
In early 1938, he was posted to 80 Squadron, accompanying this unit to Egypt in April of that year, where in January 1939 he was promoted Flying Officer.
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 Kettlewell, Pilot Officer Anthony Hugh Cholmeley,Pilot Officer Ernest Mason, Pilot Officer Arthur Weller, Pilot Officer Johnny Lancaster, Pilot Officer P. T. Dowding, Sergeant Donald Gregory, Flight Sergeant T. C. Morris and Sergeant J. C. Hulbert.
On a mission between 07:55-09:55 on 21 October, ‘A’ Flight from 80 Squadron with six Gladiators ground strafed motor vehicles and personnel between Bug Bug and Solum. Two vehicles were set on fire and a number of others damaged. All aircraft returned safely. Partaking pilots were Flying Officer Kettlewell (K5858), Pilot Officer Harold Sykes (N5812), Flying Officer Wanklyn Flower (K8009), Pilot Officer Vincent Stuckey (who took off 10 minutes after the others in K8017), Sergeant Edward Hewett (K8021) and Sergeant Donald Gregory (K8025).
During the opening weeks of the war with Italy, he served in the unit's Hurricane flight, but reverted to Gladiators prior to the departure of the squadron for Greece in November.
At 07:55 on 3 November 1940, three Gladiators from 80 Squadron were sent out to attack a motor transport concentration near Garn in North Africa. Two of the aircraft, Squadron Leader William Hickey in N5823 and Flying Officer Kettlewell in N5858 attacked whilst Pilot Officer P. T. Dowding (N5854) stayed above. The attack was most successful and much damage was done. Flying Officer Kettlewell reported that he suffered stoppage to two guns. The three pilots returned to base between 09:20 and 09:35.
On 31 January Flight Lieutenant 'Pat' Pattle lead six Gladiators up to patrol over Corfu, but nothing was seen and on return Flight Lieutenant Kettlewell’s aircraft overturned after hitting a soft patch on landing, suffering severe damage. Kettlewell survived unharmed hanging upside down in the safety straps.
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 Kettlewell, Pilot Officer Vale, Pilot Officer C. H. Tulloch, Sergeant Donald 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.
80 Squadron was now verbally promised eight Hawker Hurricanes and Kettlewell flew down to Athens on 11 February to be ready to test fly these when they arrived.
During the middle of February 80 Squadron’s Gladiators continued to operate from Yanina while the Gladiators of 21 Mira moved up to Paramythia at this time, and here on 17 February they were joined by 80 Squadrons six new Hurricanes, led by Flight Lieutenant Kettlewell, and by four 30 Squadron Blenheims.
During February 1941 he returned to Egypt to ferry one of the first Hurricanes to be sent over to Greece, and during the fighting here, was to claim five victories.
Early in the afternoon on 20 February 1941 eight Gladiators of 80 Squadron and nine of 112 Squadron flew up to Paramythia from Yannina. At 14:45 15 of these Gladiators took off in five sections of three aircraft flying in vic formation, echeloned to starboard and led by Squadron Leader H. L. I. Brown, to escort two Wellingtons of 37 Squadron, flown by Flight Lieutenant M. J. Baird-Smith and Sergeant R. T. Spiller, each carrying about one and a halt tons of supplies. A Greek Ju 52/3m accompanied the Wellingtons and their mission was to drop the supplies to the troops near Kelcyre. Low cloud and rain made the flight difficult, and near Korouode five hostile aircraft were seen, but these did not approach. The supplies were dropped successfully, and the three aircraft were escorted back to Paramythia. The fighters then returned to the frontline to patrol.
Soon after the supply-droppers had gone, 17 Blenheims (eight of 84 Squadron, six of 211 Squadron and three of 30 Squadron) commenced taking off for a bombing attack on Berat. One of the 84 Squadron aircraft suffered an engine failure and belly-landed, but the remaining 16, with an escort of six Hurricanes led by Flight Lieutenant 'Pat' Pattle (Hurricane Mk.I V7724), arrived over the target, their bombs falling on the town, supply dumps, and demolishing a bridge carrying the main road over the River Osem. AA fire was experienced and Fiat G.50bis from the 361a and 395a Squadriglie, 154o Autonomo Gruppo C.T. were scrambled from Berat airfield. As the Blenheim formation, which had completed its attack, was turning a few miles to the north of the target the climbing Italian fighters were spotted by the escorting Hurricanes.
Pattle's section took on four of the attackers and Pattle shouted to Flight Lieutenant 'Timber' Woods and Sergeant Charles Casbolt to attack individually. Pattle selected the leading G.50 as his own target. As he approached, the dark green Fiat pulled away into a steep turn, but he managed to hold it in his sights until he came into range. When he opened fire the Italian fighter exploded and disintegrated. Woods (Hurricane Mk.I V7138) claimed another and Casbolt claimed two destroyed in this combat. The crews of the Blenheims under attack verified these claims. Pilot Officer Cox's Blenheim L8542 of 211 Squadron was badly shot-up, but two Hurricanes shot down their attacker. Pilot Officer Geary, gunner in Squadron Leader Gordon-Finlayson's aircraft, reported:
'A G 50 came for us and in a flash a Hurricane just shot it off our wingtip. It simply rolled over, went on fire, and dived into the mountain. It was wizard.'Other Fiats followed the Blenheims as they withdrew. One of the 30 Squadron Blenheims had its starboard engine shot out, but Sergeant Ratlidge managed to get it back to Paramythia. As the formation neared the front, the patrolling Gladiators of 80 and 112 Squadrons spotted the pursuing Italian fighters and engaged them. Flying Officer Nigel Cullen (Gladiator Mk.II N5817) reported:
'The leader came into close range and then flicked over on its back and dived down. I did a half-roll and got into position dead astern. Four long bursts and the enemy caught fire and crashed into a snow-covered hill. Then engaged another G.50 and got in some good deflection shots. Saw two formations of biplanes, thought they were Glads and went to take a look at them. They were CR 42s. Got on the tail of one, gave him a burst, and he went over on his back, and the pilot baled out. The others made off at once. Just as well- I hadn't any ammo left.'Cullen's Gladiator received some damage during these combats and one bullet furrowed the knuckles of his right hand, but he returned to Yannina without further incident. Three G.50s were claimed damaged by 112 Squadron pilots Flight Lieutenant R. J. Abrahams, Flying Officer Edwin Banks and Pilot Officer Jack Groves. Flight Lieutenant Kettlewell (Gladiator Mk.II N5917) of 80 Squadron also claimed a G.50, but did not see it crash (thus it was only credit as a probable) whilst Pilot Officer Eldon Trollip claimed another probably destroyed.
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.
“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.
In April he became a flight commander.
During the day on 20 April Eleusis was almost under constant attack but in the afternoon there was a pause in activity, which allowed a little time for the ground crews to bring the maximum possible number of Hurricanes up to readiness state. Squadron Leader 'Tap' Jones decided that if no further attack had developed by 18:00, all available Hurricanes would undertake an offensive sweep in an effort to raise morale amongst the civilian population of Athens and the surrounding areas, and as a boost to the defenders of Eleusis as well as to the pilots themselves.
However at about 16:45 a formation of 100 plus Ju 88s and Do 17s, escorted by Bf 109s and Bf 110s was reported approaching Athens. The Ju 88s (from I/LG 1) peeled off to make low-flying attacks on shipping at Piraeus, while individual Bf 110s of II/ZG 26 scoured the area, shooting up likely targets. One appeared over Eleusis just as the Hurricanes (nine of 33 Squadron and six of 80 Squadron) were preparing to take off. Fortunately, none were hit, and all took to the air individually, climbed to 20 000 feet and headed for Piraeus, forming sections of two or three en route.
The first trio to arrive over the port, flown by Flying Officers Peter Wickham, Flight Lieutenant Henry John Starrett (RAF no. 40188) and Percival ‘Ping’ Newton (a Rhodesian), caught 15 Ju 88s dive-bombing ships in the harbour (the Greek hospital ship Ellenis was sunk during the attack). The three Hurricanes followed them down and attacked as they pulled out of their dives; Wickham claimed one shot down, whilst Newton claimed two more. Just then Pilot Officer William Vale arrived on the scene, reporting seeing some 30 Ju 88s:
“I carried out eight attacks on the Ju 88s. One caught fire and started going down, so I left him and attacked another. Big chunks broke away from his wings and fuselage, and smoke poured from his engines. He went down vertically. I was then attacked by a 109, but I easily outmanoeuvred him, had a crack at some more, and came home when my ammo was exhausted.”One Ju 88 flown by Unteroffizier Helmut Benke (L1+ZH) was lost near Athens with all the crew; a second L1+UK, piloted by Oberfähnrich Werner Ziegler, was hit by a Hurricane’s fire and the navigator Gefreiter Heinrich Baumgartner, received three bullets in the head and neck, dying almost at once. The gunners believed that they had shot down the attacking fighter, reporting seeing it fall into the sea near Kalamaki (it was probably the crash of Benke’s Ju 88 they had seen or the explosions of bombs). A second Hurricane then attacked, putting the starboard engine out of action. This was also claimed hit by Gefreiter Hans Baumann (radio operator/air gunner) and was seen making for land. However the Ju 88 was rapidly losing height and although the crew threw out all removable equipment to reduce weight, it ditched in shallow water near Karies, at the foot of Mount Athos. The remaining members of the crew survived the crash. A third Ju 88 suffered engine trouble, but struggled back to Krumovo, where it crash-landed.
“I dived on the rear one, and he rolled on his back, and crashed to the ground with smoke pouring out. I made a similar attack on a second, and the pilot baled out. I had a go at a third, but didn’t see what happened this time.”These Bf 109s were possibly from III/JG 77, two aircraft from this unit crash-landing, badly damaged. Three Do 17Zs also failed to return; U5+AL (Unteroffizier Helmut Reim), U5+HL (Leutnant Joachim Brüdern) and U5+AR (Oberleutnant Ludger Holtkampe) were all lost with their crews. Apparently Bf 109Es from 4./JG 27 were also involved in combat at this time, possibly with the 80 Squadron aircraft. Oberleutnant Rödel claimed three Hurricanes shot down in just over ten minutes 16:57, 17:01 and 17:08 (victories nos. 18-20), while Oberfelwebel Otto Schulz (victory no. 6) claimed another at 17:10. It seems that Flight Sergeant Leonard Cottingham of 33 Squadron also claimed a Do 17 in this combat.
“I took off late with Squadron Leader Pattle - we climbed into a swarm of Ju 88s protected by masses of Messerschmitt 110s. We were overwhelmed. In sun I recall shooting down a 110 off Pattle’s tail, in flames, then probably a Ju 88. Shortly afterwards Pattle got a confirmed Ju 88 (or Bf 110). Subsequently I lost contact with him, then damaged three more 110s, then, being out of ammunition returned tentatively to Eleusis. It was all over – for that day.”Ahead of Woodward, Pattle was seen going to aid of the Hurricane flown by Flight Lieutenant Woods, which was being attacked by a Bf 110. He opened fire at this aircraft and it was seen to burst into flames (presumably the aircraft Woodward had seem him to destroy), just as Woods’ Hurricane also caught fire and dived into Eleusis bay, killing him. Two more Bf 110s latched onto the tail of Pattle’s AS988, and it quickly began to blaze – there was an explosion, and the wreckage fell into the sea. Flight Lieutenant Kettlewell arrived on the scene just in time to see the demise of his gallant leader and attacked one of the two Bf 110s responsible, shooting this down into the Bay also. He claimed a second Bf 110 before he too was attacked by yet another Bf 110, and was forced to bale out when V7807 was badly hit. A large and solid man, he landed heavily, cracking two vertebrae in his spine and spending several months in a plaster cast as a result.
Subsequently awarded a Greek DFC, he took command of 213 Squadron in the Desert in January 1942, leading this unit until May.
On 1 July 1945, he was promoted to Wing Commander (temp.) (gazetted on 24 August 1945).
Kettlewell ended the war with 3 biplane victories and a total of 5.
He remained in the RAF after the war and was promoted to Wing Commander on 18 February 1949 (with seniority from 1 January 1949).
He retired as a Wing Commander on 1 April 1959.
Kettlewell passed away on 16 August 2007.
|Kill no.||Date||Time||Number||Type||Result||Plane type||Serial no.||Locality||Unit|
|1||09/02/41||10:30-12:40||1||CR.42 (a)||Destroyed||Gladiator II||N5858||Tepelene-Argyrokastron||80 Squadron|
|20/02/41||1||G.50 (b)||Probable||Gladiator II||N5917||Berat||80 Squadron|
|2||28/02/41||1||CR.42 (c)||Destroyed||Gladiator II||N5917||Tepelene-coast||80 Squadron|
|3||28/02/41||1||G.50 (c)||Destroyed||Gladiator II||N5917||Tepelene-coast||80 Squadron|
|4||20/04/41||1||Bf 110 (d)||Destroyed||Hurricane I||Piraeus||80 Squadron|
|5||20/04/41||1||Bf 110 (d)||Destroyed||Hurricane I||Eleusis Bay||80 Squadron|
Biplane victories: 3 destroyed, 1 probable.
TOTAL: 5 destroyed, 1 probable.
(a) 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.
(b) 80 and 112 Squadrons claimed six destroyed and two probables in this combat while 154o Autonomo Gruppo C.T. lost two G.50s (Tenente Alfredo Fusco of 361a Squadriglia was killed and Tenente Livio Bassi of 395a Squadriglia was later to die from wounds sustained) and got one damaged (Sergente Gambetta). 154o Gruppo claimed one bomber and one fighter but RAF only got one fighter and one bomber damaged.
(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 Bf 110s of 5./ZG 26. RAF claimed seven and one probable for the loss of three Hurricanes and two pilots (Pattle and Woods). 5./ZG 26 claimed five for the loss of two aircraft and one crash-landed.
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
Aces High Volume 2 - Christopher Shores, 1999, Grub Street, London
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
Luftwaffe Claims Lists - Tony Wood
Shark Squadron - The history of 112 Squadron 1917-1975 - Robin Brown, 1994 Crécy Books, ISBN 0-947554-33-5
The London Gazette
Additional information kindly provided by Peter Holloway.