Biplane fighter aces

The Commonwealth

Flight Lieutenant A. B. Mitchell

Mitchell served in the 430 (Army co-operation) Flight during the campaign in East Africa during 1940-41.

430 Flight emerged in August 1940 as a re-designation of 'D' Flight of 47 Squadron, then based in the Sudan for army co-operation duties and equipped with Vickers Vincent biplanes (the other three Flights of the squadron having Vickers Wellesleys). At the time of its re-designation, 430 Flight received a few Gauntlets and the flight's aircraft were divided into two sections, 'A' section with Gauntlets and 'B' section with Vincents.

On 21 August, three Gauntlets and six Vincents moved forward to Gedaref airfield for operations in support of the Army, who had been driven out of a number of frontier positions by numerically superior Italians.

On 2 September, the detachment moved to the forward landing ground at Azzoza with three Vincents and four Gauntlets.

On 7 September two Gauntlets and two Vincents took off from Azzoza at 11.20 to attack Metema airfield. The Gauntlets each carried eight 11-kg incendiaries for this operation. As they left the ground one Vincent hit some trees and was damaged, landing again. As the other Vincent just had begun dive-bombing the target at 13.05, a Caproni Ca.133 high-wing three-engined transport came in low, oblivious of their presence, and began dropping supplies by parachute. Flight Lieutenant Mitchell in Gauntlet K5355 dived and attacked from head on, reporting that the Ca133 at once went into the ground and stood on its nose with the central engine thrust back into the cockpit. He then climbed to 4000 feet and dived again to drop his incendiaries on it, without effect, and then made three strafing attacks. However, although his description was both detailed and vivid, the Italians did record the attack but no mention was made of any damage to the Ca.133. It is uncertain if their records were just incomplete, or if the aircraft was not too badly damaged, and being at an outlying base, failed to get reported. In any case this is the only know claim made by a Gauntlet pilot during the Second World War.

On 20 September, Mitchell, flying in a Gauntlet, made a strafing attack on Tessenei landing ground.

On 25 September (alternatively on 28 September), he was in action again, when he during the morning scrambled after five unidentified aircraft reported over the lines, but they turned out to be Wellesleys. He then saw three Ca.133s on Metema airfield and strafed one. This Ca.133 had just landed and suffered some damage from his attack. Just after midday two Gauntlets and two Vincents repeated the attack.

On 5 October, Mitchell (in K5355) and Pilot Officer A. N. Johnstone (in K4295) escorted three Wellesleys of 47 Squadron to bomb Galabat fort. The Gauntlets were also carrying 9-kg bombs (Coopers) themselves with which they also took part in the bombing of the target.

In the early hours on 16 October, this time flying a Vincent, he attacked Tessenei airfield.

Later he was transferred to 70 OUT, Ismailia, to work as an instructor.
Here he formed an impromptu fighter defence flight to provide some defence for the Suez Canal together with another instructor, Flying Officer D. T. Moir.

In the beginning of March 1941 he and Moir were posted to 33 Squadron in Greece.

On 6 April Germany declared war on Yugoslavia and Greece and immediately attacked.

On 15 April it was decided that 33 Squadron’s remaining Hurricanes would join 30 and 80 Squadrons at Eleusis, while 112 Squadron’s Gladiators would share Hassani with 208 Squadron.

At 09:20 on 19 April seven 33 Squadron Hurricanes were led of by Squadron Leader 'Pat' Pattle to cover the Lamia area, where the army was still hard-pressed as it approached the end of its current withdrawal. Here a lone Hs126 from 1(H)/23 flown by Feldwebel Herman Wilhus (6K+AH) was seen. Although the slow reconnaissance aircraft was flying very low, Pattle led his section down onto its tail and fired a brief burst into it. His attack was followed by Flying Officer Vernon Woodward, and then by Flight Lieutenant Littler, after which the Henschel caught fire, tipped forward and crashed in flames into the forested hillside.
The Hurricanes regrouped and continued their patrol for another half an hour when an estimated nine Bf 109Es (actually five aircraft from III/JG 77) were encountered head-on.
Pattle’s quick reactions allowed him to Immelmann out and come out on the tail of one Bf 109 at the extreme left of the German formation, and he reported that following his attack it went down in a glide, flipped over and crashed into the ground inverted. The sky was now full of dogfighting aircraft, but Pattle managed to get on the tail of another Bf 109 which he spotted flying low down in a valley towards Lamia. He believed that he had killed the pilot with his first burst, as this aircraft went into a dive and crashed. Meanwhile Flying Officer Woodward saw a Hurricane smoking. He tried to join it, but two Bf 109s intervened; one of these he shot down in flames. The crippled Hurricane with 25-year-old Flying Officer Frank Holman (RAF no. 40176) at the controls came down wheels down in swampy land near Megara and overturned, breaking the pilot’s neck. Flying Officer Moir claimed a further Bf 109, whilst Flight Lieutenants Littler and Mitchell both claimed damage to others. In return Moir’s aircraft was badly hit and he was forced down at Amphiklia, were P2643 was later destroyed as there were no spares available to repair it. Flight Lieutenant Mitchell’s aircraft was also hard hit, but he was able to get back and force-landed at Eleusis.
Three Hurricanes were claimed shot down by the German pilots, one each by Oberleutnant Kurt Ubben, Unteroffizier Johann Pichler (according to other sources Feldwebel Heinrich Hackler of 8/JG 77) and Oberfeldwebel Erwin Riehl 25 km north-west of Lamia. However Ubben’s Bf 109 was badly damaged and he force-landed in Allied lines, while the Staffelkapitän of 9/JG 77, Oberleutnant Armin Schmidt, was shot down and killed north-east of Lamia. A third Messerschmitt flown by Oberleutnant Werner Patz, was also hit and crash-landed at Larissa during the day, but there is no definite confirmation that he had been involved in the fight with 33 Squadron. Subsequently Stabsarzt Dr. Stormer of his Gruppe flew down in a Fieseler Storch and landed to pick up Ubben and fly him out; so sudden had been the combat that Ubben believed his aircraft had been hit by ground fire.

He later took part in the defence of Crete.

On 11 May Squadron Leader E. A. Howell took command of 33 Squadron at Maleme, Crete, when he arrived in a 230 Squadron Sunderland in Suda Bay. The majority of the unit’s pilots were now about to leave, as it was intended that more replacements would soon fly in with new Hurricanes. Of the originals, only Flying Officer Vernon Woodward and Pilot Officer Dunscombe would remain, together with the ex-1430 Flight pilot, Flight Lieutenant Mitchell.
The seven 33 Squadron pilots left the next day in the same Sunderland, which had brought in the new commanding officer.

On 20 May the airborne invasion of Crete begun and Flight Lieutenant Vernon Woodward took command of a party from 33 Squadron, which joined the New Zealand troops in hunting the German paratroops.

After leading the party they arrived at Suda Bay on 26 May. Woodward was informed that he would be flown out in a Sunderland that evening, and was told to stand by. At the last moment however, he was directed to take charge of a party of walking wounded and lead them to a rendezvous with the Australian destroyer HMAS Nizam in Suda Bay, which took them to Alexandria.

With the departure of Flight Lieutenant Woodward, command of the 33 Squadron party was assumed by Flight Lieutenant Mitchell. His group now numbered just 41 out of an original 102 airmen, and they were ordered to make for Sphakia, two trucks being provided for their transport.

At 03:00 on 29 May Force ‘C’ (the destroyers Napier, Nizam, Kelvin and Kandahar) off-loaded urgently-needed stores and rations at Sphakia. They then took away 744 persons, including the 33 Squadron party under Flight Lieutenant Mitchell. The destroyers returned safely to Alexandria.

Mitchell ended the war with one probable victory, this one being claimed while flying the Gloster Gauntlet.

Kill no. Date Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  07/09/40 1 Ca.133 Probably destroyed Gauntlet K5355 Metema airfield 430 Flight
  25/09/40 1 Ca.133 Damaged on the ground Gauntlet   Metema airfield 430 Flight
  19/04/41 1 Bf 109 (a) Damaged Hurricane   Lamia area 33 Squadron

Biplane victories: 1 probable destroyed, 1 damaged on the ground.
TOTAL: 1 probable destroyed, 1, damaged, 1 damaged on the ground.
(a) Claimed in combat with five Bf 109Es of III/JG 77. 33 Squadron claimed four Bf 109s for one shot down and two badly damaged Hurricanes. III/JG 77 claimed three Hurricanes while losing three Bf 109Es. Staffelkapitän Oberleutnant Armin Schmidt of 9/JG 77 was killed, Oberleutnant Kurt Ubben of 8/JG 77 force-landed in Allied lines while possibly one more flown by Oberleutnant Werner Patz damaged and crash-landed at Larissa.

Air Enthusiast Quarterly/Two, kindly provided by Börje Henningsson
Air war for Yugoslavia, Greece and Crete - Christopher Shores, Brian Cull and Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-948817-07-0
Dust Clouds in the Middle East - Christopher Shores, 1996 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-37-X
Luftwaffe Claims Lists - Tony Wood

Last modified 25 August 2004