Biplane fighter aces

The Commonwealth

Lieutenant Commander Albert B. ‘Bert’ Sabey DSM, RN no FX76465

Albert Sabey joined the Fleet Air Arm in 1938, undertaking his flying training at 1 FTS, Leuchars, and then Netheravon, between May and December.

At the start of April 1939, he joined 801 Squadron at Donbristle, flying Ospreys and Sea Gladiators until November, when he went to 757 Squadron at Worthy Down, flying trainee air gunners.
In December 1939, he was sent to 802 Squadron, at that time based at Hal Far, Malta, with Sea Gladiators.

He returned to Hatston in the Orkneys in February 1940 to fly Sea Gladiators with 804 Squadron.

Germany invaded Norway and Denmark on 9 April in Operation Weserübung. The preparation of this and the execution resulted in large fleet movements including that the British Home Fleet sailed for the Norwegian coast and some contacts were made especially between the Luftwaffe and the British fleet.
Following the unwelcome but not unexpected appearance of the British Home Fleet, ten He 111s of KGr. 100 were sent out on the morning on 10 April on an armed reconnaissance east and south-east of the Orkneys and Shetlands, followed by and He 111P of 3(F)/ObdL flown by Oberleutnant Karl Heinz. Immediately after this reconnaissance screen came 35 He 111 of KG 26 to respond immediately to any target spotted. As the 3(F)/ObdL aircraft approached the Scottish coast, it was intercepted by seven Hurricanes of 43 Squadron led by Squadron Leader George Lott from Wick, Caithness, which was flying out to sea towards Ronaldsay. Five miles east of Ronaldsay Island, Oberleutnant Heinz’ aircraft was spotted and the fighters attacked in line astern. Squadron Leader Lott and his two flight commanders Peter Townsend and Flight Lieutenant Caesar Hull, all getting in shots, as did the four other pilots (one of them was George Christie in Hurricane L1608). Oberleutnant Heinz’s aircraft was shot down into the sea and broke in half. Three men were seen swimming, but were too far from land for there to be any chance of being picked up before they succumbed to exposure.
The KGr. 100 aircraft subsequently reached the area and reported that two convoys had been seen off the Moray Firth, and heavy naval units south of the Orkneys. These reports referred to two cruiser flotillas and a French force, which were now retiring to Scapa Flow, and at once these became the prime targets. The first attack began when the KGr. 100 aircraft found shipping off Kinnaird Head, but their bombing caused little damage. Numerous interceptions by defending fighters followed, and some heavy fighting ensued. The first such engagement occurred during the afternoon when a Hurricane from 605 Squadron flown by Pilot Officer Ian Muirhead (Hurricane I L2059), also based at Wick, on convoy patrol spotted a German aircraft at 15:45 (according to some sources this claim was made 17:30). This claim was made 20-30 miles north-east of Kinnaird Head and was a Heinkel of 1./KGr. 100. Two attacks were made, but the bomber slipped away in cloud, returning with the flight engineer (Oberfeldwebel Richard Röder) dead, and a second crew-man (Unteroffizier Alfred Taupe) wounded, but with only minor damage to the aircraft.
Almost an hour later, Flying Officer ‘Pat’ Leeson from the same unit was leading Red Section out on a patrol when two He 111s were seen at 14,000 feet. The three Hurricanes climbed to attack and one of the bombers was shot down by Leeson, Pilot Officer Peter Carter (Hurricane I L2018) and Sergeant W. M. F. Moffat. Only two members of the crew were seen to bale out but in fact Oberleutnant Harald Vogel and all his crew of 4./KG 26 survived and were rescued by a Royal Navy Trawler.
The Sea Gladiators of 804 Squadron were also active in repelling these attacks. Lieutenant Donald Gibson remembered:

“In our Gladiators we had several alerts after German reconnaissance aeroplanes; there was an RAF Hurricane Squadron at Wick, which had success and our first blood was partly by courtesy of this squadron. I think we both intercepted more or less together and somehow we became involved and shot it down.”
The successful pilots were Sub Lieutenant Michael Fell (N5510), Petty Officer (A) Geoff Peacock (N5538) and Petty Officer (A) Sabey (N5509) of Yellow Section who opened the scoring for 804 Squadron when they shot down one of the Heinkels, as recorded by the unit’s diarist:
“A tremendous day for HMS Sparrowhawk [RNAS Hatston], the first and we hope by no means the last. 804 began their fun at 16:05 hours when Yellow Section flew off to Copinsay. There were a great many plots on the board, the weather fine with layers of cloud varying in density up to about 10,000 feet. About 16:40hrs Yellow 3 saw a Do 17 [sic] and the Section gave chase. Sub-Lt Fell got in a burst at about 500 yards as the Do 17 disappeared into the cloud: but followed him in. Yellow 2 went in above the cloud and as he came out so did the Do 17 some 400 yards away. Peacock got in a burst before the e/a dived away back into the clouds. We were later informed that Do 17 was crying SOS with a leaking petrol tank and did not reach his base.”
There were no Do 17s involved in these actions, only He 111s and it seems probable that their victim was a Heinkel from 1./KG 26 that crashed into the sea off the island of Sylt on return, in which Oberleutnant Otto Houselle, Unteroffizier Franz Gruber and one other member of the crew were drowned.
At 16:45hrs Red Section were sent to patrol between Copinsay and Burray. As soon as they got there, Red 1 saw a He 111 about ten miles east going north-east. Hot pursuit was begun and as the Section followed, Hurricanes could be seen gathering on the cloud-dodging Heinkel’s tail. After a few minutes the e/a began climbing, twisting and diving. By the time Red Section arrived and got within range No.43 Squadron had done their job. The e/a motors were idling and he dived down to 20 feet over the sea. For two or three miles he held at 20 feet with a dark oil streak trailing behind him on the sea and finally flopped port wing first. Six Hurricanes and Red Section flew around the wreck as ‘Nifty’ got the position and saw the fuselage break in half, the port wing come off and the remainder sink as three of the crew swam for it.”
This was the He 111P of 3(F)/ObdL flown by Oberleutnant Karl Heinz and claimed by 43 Squadron.
Meanwhile, following the reports of the British shipping, a heavy raid had been prepared, and this came in at dusk, when about 40 bombers approached, comprising 19 He 111s of I./KG 26 followed by 19 Ju 88s from I. and II./KG 30, the latter briefed to bomb naval oil supplies at Scapa. Ten Hurricanes from Wick based 43, 111, 605 Squadrons were scrambled. First off at 20:05 being Yellow Section of 111 Squadron. Flight Lieutenant Peter Powell, Flying Officer Henry Ferriss and Sergeant William Dymond managed to shoot down one Heinkel, 10-15 miles east of Burray before landing again at 21:15. This was an aircraft of Stab I./KG 26 flown by Feldwebel Busacker, and commanded by the Gruppenkommandeur, 45-year-old Oberstleutnant Hans Alefeld, who perished with his crew. Flying Officer G. R. Edge of 605 Squadron attacked three bombers, while Pilot Officer C. F. Currant expended all his ammunition into another, but no definite results were observed in either case.
The anti-aircraft defences claimed three bombers shot down and it seems that on this occasion their fire had been most effective. Two Ju 88s were lost, one 2./KG 30 machine (Oberfeldwebel Walter Brünn) failing to return after radioing an SOS that one engine had been lost due to a Flak hit, whilst a 4 Staffel machine flown by Leutnant Hans Hohendahl was also missing.
A dozen Sea Gladiators from 804 Squadron was also involved in this late combat. At 20:45 the evening the blitzkrieg began. Red Section were scrambled to Copinsay and 15-20 enemy aircraft were reported approaching from the east at 20,000ft, so Red patrolled at 18,000 feet between Copinsay and Burray. By 21:00hrs all Sections were in the sky and the party had started, the guns putting up an ugly barrage. Yellow had the first chase after an e/a, which was in a long dive towards Kirkwall and which peppered Kirkwall and Hatston with front guns. Yellow Section unfortunately could not keep pace though optimistic Yellow 3 [Petty Officer (A) Peacock] gave the e/a a burst at a very long range in order to ease his repressed fighting spirit.” Lieutenant Rodney Carver was at the head of Red Section, with Lieutenant Donald Gibson and Sub Lieutenant David Ogilvy:
“At 21:10, Red Section dived down to 11,000 feet about four miles east of Burray (an island between Kirkwall and South Ronaldsay). Unfortunately Red 2 was left behind in the dive. As soon as they flattened out a bomber crossed 200 yards ahead from port to starboard, Red 1 and Red 3 turned and pursued and loosed off nearly all ammunition, gradually closing in from 300-200 yards. The enemy fired back narrowly and finally turned and dived away to the south-east with smoke coming from his starboard motor. During this party Blue Section [Lieutenant Richard Smeeton N2275, Petty Officer (A) W. E. J. Stockwell and Petty Officer (A) Theobald] were lurking further west and came galloping up on seeing the shooting. Plenty of e/a were coming in and so “Smee” chose a back one and stuffed himself under its tail. He and his section rattled away with such good effect that the e/a was last seen in a flat right hand spiral going down toward South Ronaldsay. Unfortunately no wreckage was found and so the very probable result could not be confirmed.”
By 21:50hrs the party was over and 11 Gladiators had returned. The 12th was Blue 3 [Petty Officer (A) Theobald] who shortly afterwards could be hearing calling “Where am I?” Nifty told him and led him back to Wick where he spent the night.”
One Gladiator crashed on landing after the engagement; it may have been damaged during the fight.
In a Fighter Command Combat Report, Lieutenant Smeeton (Blue Leader) reported:
"Blue leader was on patrol with his section of 3 a/c at 10,000 feet to the East of Burray. Weather was clear and good visibility with 5/10 cloud at 7,000 feet in a large bank. Blue leader was one mile off Burray when at 2120 hours, he was attracted by machine gun fire to the south and saw an E/A travelling west towards Scapa Flow at about 200 m.p.h. some 500 feet above him. The E/A appeared to be machine gunning searchlight positions from his from gun.
There was a second aircraft in formation but as soon as Blue Leader climbed under the first E/A's tail to attack, the second E/A broke away and was not seen again.
Blue Leader closed rapidly and opened fire at from 350 to 250 yards closing to about 100 yards. This was repeated four times the attacks being delivered from either dead astern or over the port or starboard quarter. Each attack consisted of one burst of about 6 seconds. Tracer was observed to be entering the fuselage of E/A; tracer bullets were seen from both top and lower rear guns.
After Blue Leaders first attack lower gun was silenced but top gun continued to fire. Throughout the attacks E/A performed a series of violent turns necessitating deflection allowance by Blue leader. Towards the end of the fourth attack, E/A started to lose height.
Blue 2 now dived to attack and fired 1000 rounds from astern by which time E/A was in a flat right hand spiral dive. Having lost formation Blue 2 landed at Wick. Blue 3 did not get an opportunity to fire as Blue 1 and 2 were conducting their attack from astern. But he saw the starboard engine was disabled with clouds of smoke issuing from it and followed till the E/A's dive become too fast for him to follow any more.
Some slipstream was noticed when at close range and at some stage in the combat a bullet of rifle calibre passed through a spar of port main plane. In all Blue leader fired 2,600 rounds and experienced no stoppages. The R/T was not working very well either from the ground or between pilots owing to jamming interference.
No cine camera gun was carried and it was to dark to distinguish any marking or the type of plane, though it was thought to be a Heinkel IIIK.
Blue Leader landed at Hatston at 2204 hours."
Blue Sections victim was possibly a He 111 of 2./KG 26 (Leutnant de Res Hubert Schachtbeck), which had been very badly damaged by fighters and crash-landed at Marx and was a total loss.
A German report of the action revealed:
“At 12:40, ten aircraft of KGr. 100 are sent out on an armed reconnaissance searching off the Shetlands and Orkneys. Between 16:17 and 16:40 east of the Orkneys in the Moray Firth two convoys are spotted consisting of 14 steamers, 10 destroyers, two cruisers and four individual steamers. The convoy and steamers are heading on a westerly heading, the warships on a northerly heading. At 17:10 off the southern tip of the Orkneys two battleships, three cruisers and six destroyers are spotted on a north-north-westerly heading. This fleet was attacked without recognizable success. Throughout the flight Spitfire [sic] and Hurricane fighters and shipborne flak harass the unit. In an air battle a Hurricane fighter was shot down.
At around 12:50, six aircraft of 1(F)/122 take off for a reconnaissance mission in the northern area of the North Sea. At 17:00, one battle-cruiser
[HMS Hood?] with four cruisers as well as several destroyers are spotted on a course steering north-west off the Orkney Islands. Concerns raised that this may be the same fleet reported by KGr. 100. Aircraft have a short encounter with two Lockheed [Hudson] aircraft with no result.
At 11:00, a He 111 of 3/ObdL is sent on a reconnaissance mission to Scapa Flow. The aircraft is shot down with the loss of all crew.
Between 12:38 and 12:39 II./KG 26 take-off for operations over North Sea. On basis of information supplied the Gruppe heads towards the Orkneys. Due to bad weather attacks are limited. At 18:40 from 700 metres, coming out of cloud, a surprise attack was launched on a destroyer with two SC500 bombs. At 18:30 an attack on a cruiser was unsuccessful. The attack had to be called off due to worsening weather
[cloud base had dropped from 700 to 500 metres and visibility was less than a kilometre]. Two aircraft were lost, while one other crash landed at Stavanger.
Nineteen aircraft of I./KG 26 – taking off about 18:20 – head out to attack the reported naval forces east of the Orkney Islands. Due to worsening weather and the approach of nightfall many crews did not find their target. Of thos that did some were unable to attack due to being blinded by floodlights carried by the ships. Those aircraft that did bomb could not observe their result because of the blinding effect, though a large warship was probably hit with one SC250 bomb. During the attack three floodlights and some flak was knocked out. The defence of the ships was an unknown quantity of flak and about 200 floodlights. In addition, Gladiator fighters also tried to intercept the bombers. One of these was shot down.
Nineteen aircraft of KG 30 take off at 18:37 to attack naval forces in Scapa Flow. Seventeen aircraft were able to attack. Several near misses on the tidal walls and one SD500 hit on a cruiser were observed. Within the area 2 cruisers and several destroyers and steamers were also spotted. Defence of Scapa Flow was provided by floodlights and ground and ship-based flak. One aircraft was lost in the attack.”

On 19 April, a captured Arado Ar 196A floatplane (ex-Admiral Hipper) touched down at Sullom Voe. At the controls was Norwegian NAS pilot Lieutenant Kaare Kjos, who had been ordered to fly to Scotland from Romsdalsfjord, in company with two Walruses - HMS Rodney’s L5649 and HMS Glasgow’s L2311, and a Norwegian MF-11 floatplane (F-346), although varying speeds meant that the formation had become split. Flying HMS Glasgow’s Walrus was Lieutenant (A) Johnny Levers:

“After four or five days there was a favourable easterly wind and we set off for the Shetlands, which was the nearest point in the United Kingdom. The Arado was sent off ahead with Rodney’s observer [Lieutenant Conway Bush] in the back. It was twice as fast as we were, and there was no point in keeping him with us doing 80 knots. Shortly after departure the wind went round to due west and started to blow Force 6 to 7. We went down lower and lower on the water until we were flying at about 100 feet to lessen the wind effect. After some three and a half hours with no Shetlands in sight, we decided to ask Hatston for a D/F bearing which was immediately forthcoming and told us ‘You are bearing 090’, which meant that not only had we missed the Shetlands but we were about to miss the Orkneys as well.
After some four-and-a-half hours airborne and with fuel gauges showing virtually empty, out of the sky came a flight of three Sea Gladiators from 804 Squadron
[Yellow Section comprising Lieutenant Commander John Cockburn, Lieutenant Alex Wright RM and Petty Officer (A) Sabey in N5509] which had been scrambled to investigate the bogeys approaching from the east! They proceeded to riddle the wretched Norwegian seaplane full of holes. Besides the Norwegian pilot there were three of four of his countrymen crowded in the back seat but mearcifully none of them was hit. I decided that the best thing was to get down on the water, which we did, being by then in the lee of the islands, and we taxied the last three of four miles rather ignominiously and beached the aircraft. The Arado meanwhile had flown straight into the Shetlands and landed at Sullom Voe without being challenged at all, with German markings [sic] and the lot. It always struck me as wonderful the British get shot down and the Germans comes in unscathed!”

Sabey remained with 804 Squadron until June 1940 when he joined 800 Squadron on HMS Ark Royal, operating against the Fench Fleet at Mers el Kebir with Skuas.

Operations against the Italians in the Western Mediterranean followed, for which he was later to be Mentioned in Despatches.

In support of the Mediterranean Fleet, a new battle squadron known as Force ‘H’, which was based at Gibraltar under Vice-Admiral Sir James Somerville, sortied on 8 July 1940 in an effort to create a diversion. Heavy air attacks by Sardinian-based aircraft during 9 July convinced the admiral that the risk did not justify the continuation of such a minor operation, and before the day was out turned back, losing the damaged HMS Escort to submarine torpedo attack. This brief operation brought action for the air group on HMS Ark Royal however. Having just completed their attacks on the French Fleet at Mers el Kebir, the aircrews were on top form. A shadowing Cant Z.506B floatplane of the 287a Squadriglia R.M. flown by Capitano Domenico Oliva was caught by three Skuas of 800 Squadron at 15:30 after it had been on patrol for three hours. Lieutenant Richard Smeeton, the Commanding Officer, and his observer/gunner Lieutenant E. S. Carver, in Skua A6A led Sub Lieutenant Michael Fell/Naval Airman D. H. Lowndes (A6B) and Petty Officer (A) Sabey/Leading Airman J. Coles (A6C) in a determined attack, the stricken Cant falling into the sea. They continued to strafe it until it was totally destroyed, but during this sustained attack the observer and radio operator were mortally wounded.
Subsequently S.79s of 38o Gruppo B.T. from Decimomannu attacked the carrier but were chased by Skuas of 803 Squadron, an aircraft of the 49a Squadriglia being shot down. This S.79 fell to the Skua crewed by Petty Officer (A) Alfred Theobald and Naval Airman Freddy de Frias, who recalled:

“Theo and I were flying in L3017, as usual in Red Section led by Lieutenant Gibson. Throughout the day the Italians had pressed home medium level attacks on the Force; the Italians were pretty efficient and determined. They stayed in formation and were frightening good in their bombing. We took off at 19:20, warned to expect a large formation. Fortunately we were able to get to 10-12,000 feet before they came in below us. Gibson led the Section in a diving turn to get at them and for some reason Theo didn’t get a decent burst in. But we ended up flying straight and level with the enemy leader only forty to fifty feet on our starboard beam. I could hardly believe it was happening as I opened up with the Lewis on a simple no deflection shot using the nose of the enemy as an aiming point. After my first aiming burst the S.79 appeared to go nose down so I gave it the rest of the 100-round pan. Before I had finished, a side hatch opened and at least two people, perhaps three, baled out. The aircraft went into a dive and I caught a glimpse of it going into the sea before it went out of my vision behind the tailplane.”
De Frias would later be awarded the DSM mainly for this action.
A second S.79 was badly damaged by the combined fire of the other two Skuas of Red Section – A7P crewed by Lieutenant Donald Gibson/Sub Lieutenant M. P. Gordon-Smith and A7Q manned by Petty Officer (A) J. A. Gardner/Naval Airman A. H. Pickering – and made an emergency landing on Majorca. Two others were claimed damaged by the Naval airmen, one by Midshipman (A) Arthur Griffith/Naval Airman F. P. Dooley in A7G, and one by Lieutenant J. N. Christian/Sub Lieutenant A. H. S. Gore-Langton in A7F.
In both these engagements, the Italians incorrectly identified their opponents as Fulmars.

On 24 September 1940, Swordfishes and Skuas from HMS Ark Royal attempted to attack French warships at Dakar. They missed the main warships but managed to inflict some damaged on the shore installations.
French Curtiss H-75As from GC I/4 intercepted and five Swordfishes were shot down during the day (at least one was claimed by shore batteries) while one French fighter was shot down with Aspirant Duval KIA. Two Skuas also force-landed on sea due to combat damage with both crews being rescues. The first was A6C from 800 Squadron while the second was A7K from 803 Squadron (Petty Officer (A) Sabey and Leading Airman J. Coles).
The only known French claim on a Skua was made by Cdt Guy Fanneau de La Horie of GC I/4, who claimed a probable at 09:40.

At around midday on 27 November, the British and Italian fleets clashed in what was later called the Battle of Cape Spartivento. Eleven Swordfishes from 810 Squadron of HMS Ark Royal led by Lieutenant Commander M. Johnstone attacked at around 12:40, claiming a hit on the battleship Vittorio Veneto (in fact, they all missed).
In the early afternoon, nine Swordfishes from 820 Squadron of HMS Ark Royal led by Lieutenant Commander J. A. Stuart-Moore attacked the Italian cruisers, claiming two hits (none achieved). Three CR.42s of 154a Squadriglia piloted by Capitano Tovazzi, Tenente Giannini and Sergente Maggiore Bortolani intercepted a British plane identified as a “Blackburn” during a cruise over the Italian fleet and Giannini claimed it shot down. Ten SM 79s of the 32o Stormo, escorted by CR.42s of the 3o Gruppo Autonomo then arrived over Force “H” and seven Fulmars of 808 Squadron, which were up, intercepted at 14:30 claiming two or three victories without being able to stop them. Green Section’s Lieutenant Rupert Tillard claimed one SM 79 shot down but then he and the men of his section were bounced by the CR.42s. A formation of five CR.42s of the 153a Squadriglia led by Capitano Giorgio Tugnoli and including Tenente Alfonso Mattei, Sottotenente Cesare Ciapetti (154a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Visconti and Sergente Lucato (154a Squadriglia) reported a combat against seven British fighters probably “Hurricanes” over the sea 200 km south-west of Cagliari. They claimed five victories with the use of 1080 rounds, one of the victories was claimed individually by Ciapetti while Lucato failed to return. In fact, unable to fight back because low on ammunitions and after having mistaken the Fiats for Sea Gladiators, Fulmar N1941 (pilot Sub Lieutenant Richard Maurice Scott Martin and TAG L/A Alexander Laird Milne Noble (FAA/FX 79397)) was shot down into the sea with the loss of the crew. The FAA pilots were unable to claim anything and the missing CR.42 probably run out of fuel after the combat and disappeared in the sea with its pilot.
All the SM 79s from the 32o Stormo returned to base, even if eight out of ten were damaged by the Fulmars and the AA, two of them seriously. However, a transit Vichy French Farman 223 was involved in the combat and shot down, most likely by the Fulmars.
One hour later, seven Skuas of 800 Squadron led by Lieutenant Richard Smeeton dive bombed the Italian ships without success but while coming back to HMS Ark Royal they run across the Ro.43 seaplane spotter of Vittorio Veneto (piloted by Capitano Violante with observer Sottotenente di Vascello Davide Sovrano). Four of the Skuas shot it down into the sea (Lieutenant Rooper/Sub Lieutenant Woolston in L3015, Petty Officer (A) Sabey/L/A Cooles in L2900, Petty Officer (A) Burston/N/A Holmes in L3007 and Petty Officer (A) Jopling/N/A Glen in L3017).

On 21 May 1941, during Operation ’Splice’, he led a group of Hurricanes off from HMS Ark Royal in his Fulmar with Sub Lieutenant Bernard Furlong as navigator. Immediately after take-off they discovered that their undercarriage would not retract, and as this reduced speed and increased fuel consumption – due to the drag created – they led the flight back to the carrier, signalled their predicament and another Fulmar was launched. Unfortunately, for them, some of the Hurricane pilots failed to see this and stuck to their Fulmar, ignoring all signals to break away. Aware that it would be difficult and dangerous for the Hurricanes to attempt land back aboard. Sabey set off towards Malta, hoping to meet one of the aircraft despatched from the island to lead any lost aircraft before their fuel ran out. This in fact transpired, and the Naval crew were further fortunate in being picked up safely after ditching in the sea; they were transported to the island where they were to remain.

Now incorporated into 800X Flight, he undertook night intruder sorties over Sicily for which he was awarded a DSM.

On the night of 11/12 June, the engine of his Fulmar, N2900, caught fire and he ditched off Delimara Point, Malta. He and his observer (the unit’s CO Lieutenant J. S. Manning) were picked up next morning after three and a half hours in the water.

On 6 July, he claimed a bomber shot down in the sea off Catania. At this mission, his observer where Lieutenant J. S. Manning.

On the night of 16/17 July, two Fulmars from 800X Flight intruded over the Catania area, dropping a number of bombs. One Fulmar, flown by Sabey with Sub Lieutenant Furlong as navigator, circled Gerbini aerodrome with their navigation lights on and were given the green to land! Flying low over they runway the released their 20 lb. bombs and believed they set an aircraft on fire.

On the night of 7/8 August, Petty Officer (A) Sabey and Lieutenant Manning (navigator) strafed five bombers on Gerbini airfield and claimed all badly damaged.

Late on the night of 2 September, two Fulmars took off for a nocturnal visit to Sicily where the Gerbini-Catania area was the chosen area of search. Sub Lieutenant Tritton first flew to Gerbini aerodrome where he dropped to of his 20 lb. bombs, then strafed dispersal points and machine-gun posts before flying to Comiso and depositing his other two bombs on the airfield.
Petty Officer Sabey with Lieutenant Manning (navigator) (Fulmar N1931) also arrived over Gerbini. Once over the airfield he saw an aircraft with its landing lights on, but this disappeared as he approached. Another was seen coming to land, which he attacked with a short burst, but saw no result before the aircraft was down safely. Climbing to 1200 m, he chased a third aircraft out to sea, and saw another which he caught just south of Mount Etna. Putting in a long burst, he saw his target go down in flames to the north-east of the airfield, but he then spotted three Italian fighters climbing up, so he departed for Comiso. Here he released his bombs on the north dispersal area, but then he spotted another fighter so made his way home, landing at Hal Far at 23:30.
The various targets of his attacks had been BR.20Ms from the 43o Storm, returning from a raid on Malta. The Italians mistook the intruding Fulmar for Beaufighters (!), reporting that one bomber (MM22689) crashed a few kilometres from the airfield in flames. Three members of the crew baled out, but one was dead when found; the remainder were KIA. A second bomber was damaged – obviously that attacked by Sabey as it was landing.

During October and November, he was transferred to the Air-Sea Rescue Flight at Kalafrana when no more Fulmars were available, but he was then returned to the UK, where he was commissioned from Petty Officer.

Initially he joined 781 Squadron, a ferry pool unit at Lee-on-Solent, but in March 1942 he moved to 776 Squadron at Speke, a target towing unit, where he remained until April 1944.

After a spell off flying, he joined 762 Squadron at the start of 1945. This was a twin-engined conversion unit, which he was to serve with on three occasions up to 1947, interspersed with periods at 7 FIS, Upavon, 772 (a Fleet Requirements unit) and 704 (an OTU) Squadrons.

Sabey ended the war with 1 shared biplane victory and a total of 3 shared destroyed.

Sabey continued to serve in the Fleet Air Arm after the war.

From August 1947-June 1949, he served at NAFDU, West Raynham, then joining 796 (Observer’s School) Squadron at St. Merryn, during 1950.
From June 1950, he spent the next two years with the Ship’s Flight, first on HMS Implacable and then HMS Indomitable.
He then joined US Navy Squadron VC 12 at NAS Quonset Point to become familiar with operating Douglas AD Skyraiders in an anti-submarine role. After two months he returned home to command 849 Squadron equipped with these aircraft, leading the unit until January 1954.
The next ten months were spent at RNAS Lossiemouth, followed by 18 months with 751 Squadron at Watton, a radio warfare unit.
15 months at RAF Valley were followed in July 1957 with a posting to 737 Squadron at Eglinton. This was an anti-submarine training unit, equipped with the new Fairey Gannets.
A month later, he took command of the similarly-equipped 719 Squadron at the same base, where he remained until January 1958.
February-November were spent on the staff of FOR A, and then a posting to 705 Squadron, a Whirlwind helicopter unit.
In May 1959, he was sent to RNAS Pentland, where he remained until November of that year.
He retired as a Lieutenant Commander.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  10/04/40 16:40 1/3 He 111 (a) Shared destroyed Sea Gladiator N5509 Copinsay area 804 Squadron
  09/07/40 15:30- 1/3 Z.506B (b) Shared destroyed Skua L2900/A6C near Mers el Kebir 800 Squadron
  27/11/40 p.m. 1/4 Ro.43 (c) Shared destroyed Skua L2900/A6C SW Sardinia 800 Squadron
  09/02/41   1/3 Z.506B Shared destroyed Skua L2900/A6C Gulf of Genoa 800 Squadron
1 06/07/41   1 Bomber Destroyed Fulmar N4031 Sea off Catania 800X Flight
  02/09/41 -23:30 1 BR.20 (d) Damaged Fulmar N1931 While landing at Gerbini 800X Flight
2 02/09/41 -23:30 1 BR.20 (e) Destroyed Fulmar N1931 S Mount Etna 800X Flight

Biplane victories: 1 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 2 and 4 shared destroyed.
(a) Possibly a He 111 from 1./KG 26 that crashed into the sea off the island of Sylt on return, in which Oberleutnant Otto Houselle, Unteroffizier Franz Gruber and one other member of the crew were drowned.
(b) Cant Z.506B of the 287a Squadriglia R.M. flown by Capitano Domenico Oliva shot down; the observer and radio operator killed.
(c) Ro.43 seaplane spotter of Vittorio Veneto (piloted by Capitano Violante with observer Sottotenente di Vascello Davide Sovrano) shot down.
(d) BR.20M from the 43o Stormo damaged.
(e) BR.20M MM22689 from the 43o Stormo shot down.

A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945: Volume Three – Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello with Russell Guest, Frank Olynyk & Winfried Bock, 2016 Grub Street, London, ISBN-13: 9781910690000
Fighters over Malta – Brian Cull and Frederick Galea, 2018 Fonthill Media, ISBN 978-1-78155-663-4
Fledgling Eagles - Christopher Shores with John Foreman, Christian-Jaques Ehrengardt, Heinrich Weiss and Bjørn Olsen, 1991 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-948817-42-9
Flying Sailors at War: Volume 1 – Brian Cull with Bruce Lander and Mark Horan, 2011 Dalrymple & Verdun Publishing, Stamford, ISBN 978-1-905414-14-7
Gloster Gladiator Home Page - Alexander Crawford
Hurricanes over Malta - Brian Cull and Frederick Galea, 2001 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-91-8
Malta: The Hurricane Years 1940-41 - Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-89747-207-1
Those Other Eagles – Christopher Shores, 2004 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-904010-88-1

Last modified 11 January 2024