Biplane fighter aces


Major Gerald John 'Lemmie' Le Mesurier DFC, SAAF no. P102636V

27 June 1914 – 8 July 1943

'Lemmie' Le Mesurier in the Western Desert in mid 1942.

'Lemmie' Le Mesurier was born on 27 June 1914 in Cape Province, undertaking survey work after attending the University of Cape Town.

In March 1936, he joined the Cadet Company of the Special Service Battalion, but in September transferred to the Military College as a Permanent Force Cadet, entering the SAAF. He became a flying instructor in June 1939 and from March to July 1940 was acting commander of Baragwanath FTS.

On 8 November he joined 1 SAAF Squadron in East Africa and took temporarily command over the unit, which had lost its commander, Major Schalk van Schalkwyk, on 6 November.
He arrived with three replacement Gladiators from 2 SAAF Squadron in Kenya. One of the (N5813) flown by Lieutenant B. R. Dimmock was shot down by over-eager Sudanese gunners and made a forced landing on an island in the Nile.
He became 'A' Flight commander in December 1941, acting as temporary commanding officer again during February-March and June 1941.

On 24 January 1941, Italian raids were made on troops in northern Eritrea, and also on concentrations near Metema and Gallabat.
In the morning (take-off after 06:30), Lieutenant John Hewitson (Hurricane V7655) strafed a Ca.133, which he found in a clearing 40 miles west of Agrodat.
At 11:30, Captain Le Mesurier with Lieutenants John Coetzer and E. A. Jarvis took off from Sabdaret in Gladiators, joining up with two Hurricanes (Lieutenants Hewitson and Leonard le Clues Theron) for another raid on Agordat. The Gladiators ran into two CR.42s at the enemy airfield. Captain Le Mesurier and Lieutenant Coetzer chasing one for about 24km, firing at intervals, before it finally outran them. Le Mesurier retuned and claimed it as a damaged. Lieutenant Jarvis engaged the other for about 15 minutes but failed to register any damage on it while the Fiat’s fire hit his top wing.
Italian fighters patrolling over the front seem to have claimed two victories during the day.
The South African fighters were back at 12:05

At 10:15 on 3 February, Captain Le Mesurier and Lieutenant Leonard le Clues Theron took off for a patrol over Gura.
At 11:10, they intercepted two CR.42s attacking a RAF bomber near Gura. Le Mesurier shot down one of the attackers.
This was Sottotenente Vincenzo D'Addetta of the 412a Squadriglia who reportedly was lost in a battle over Gura with eleven bombers and five escorting fighters.

Around noon on 5 February four Hurricanes and two Gladiators from 1 SAAF Squadron flew an offensive patrol over Asmara, stepped up in echeloned pairs, when they saw six CR.42s also stepped up in pairs, on the port beam. The SAAF fighters climbed to attack and the CR.42s tried to evade into clouds. Lieutenants Robin Pare and White were unable to obtain conclusive results. Captain K. W. Driver, in a Hurricane, attacked the leading one head on, and hit the engine, the pilot breaking away and making for Asmara. Driver fired again and the Fiat crash-landed near the airfield. Lieutenant John Coetzer, in one of the Gladiators, claimed a second in a stern attack, firing three bursts before it dived into a cloud. Pulling up and over the cloud, he saw the CR.42s crash in flames near a road, around 4.8km east of Asmara around 12:45. A third was claimed by Captain Le Mesurier, also in a Hurricane, but this could have been confused with Coetzer's claim.
One Gladiator was hit in the engine, but managed to land at Agordat.
Italian records show that one CR.42 crash-landed badly damaged and with the pilot slightly wounded, while a second from 412a Squadriglia was shot down, the Sottotenente Giovanni Consoli bailing out. He was badly wounded and died later that day.

After a short spell as temporarily OC of 1 SAAF Squadron, Captain Le Mesurier left command of the unit on 16 March when Major T. Ross Theron arrived.

On 12 July 1941, he returned to the Union.

He returned to the squadron on 24 April 1942, becoming commanding officer on 10 May 1942.

On 4 July 1942, he was shot down and wounded by one of the leading pilots of I/JG27, force-landing near El Imayid and being taken to hospital. He returned to the squadron once more as temporary CO during September-October, although not fully recovered, but resumed his full position during October.

On 14 November 1942 he returned to the Union, medically unfit for further operational flying, where he was advised of the award of a DFC on 23 April 1943.

He served as Acting Senior Flying Instructor at Waterkloof.

He travelled to England to attend 5 ECFS course and collect his medal.

On 8 July he was killed in a flying accident in a mid-air collision in Master III W8453 while practicing dive-bombing on the Hilmarton Bombing Range, with Flight Lieutenant Lewis. Two Americans were also killed in the other aircraft, Oxford V3830.

Although listed as having six victories, this appears to have been an amalgam of all his claims, the total of those confirmed being three.

Le Mesurier had 1 biplane victory and a total of 3 destroyed at the time of his death.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  24/01/41   1 CR.42 Damaged Gladiator II   East Africa 1 SAAF Squadron
1 03/02/41 11:10 1 CR.42 (a) Destroyed Gladiator II   airfield S Gondor 1 SAAF Squadron
2 05/02/41 12:45- 1 CR.42 (b) Destroyed Hurricane I   Asmara 1 SAAF Squadron
3 03/07/42   1 Ju 87 Destroyed Hurricane II BG971/V Alamein 1 SAAF Squadron
  04/07/42   1 Ju 87 Probable Hurricane II BG971 ‘V’ near El Imayid 1 SAAF Squadron

Biplane victories: 1 destroyed, 1 damaged.
TOTAL: 3 destroyed, 1 probable, 1 damaged.
(a) Sottotenente Vincenzo D'Addetta of the 412a Squadriglia KIA.
(b) 1 SAAF Squadron claimed three CR.42s in this combat and got a Gladiator damaged in this combat. Italian records show that two CR.42s were shot down with one wounded pilot and one dead.

Aces High - Christopher Shores and Clive Williams, 1994 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-00-0
Dust Clouds in the Middle East - Christopher Shores, 1996 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-37-X
Gloster Gladiator Home Page - Alexander Crawford.
Springbok Fighter Victory: East Africa Volume 1 1940 – 1941 – Michael Shoeman, 2002 African Aviation Series No. 11, Freeworld Publications CC, ISBN 0-958-4388-5-4

Last modified 10 January 2011