Flying Officer Peter Hugh Swayne Simmonds, RAF no. 81020
1914 – 14 April 1942
Simmonds was born in 1914 and belonged to the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.
In March 1940 Pilot Officer Peter Simmonds served with ‘B’ Flight of 237 Squadron in the East African campaign.
237 Squadron had been reformed on 22 April 1940 at Nairobi, Kenya, by re-designating 1 Squadron, Southern Rhodesian Air Force. The unit was this time an army co-operation unit and equipped with a Hawker Hardys, Audaxes and Harts. From June 1940 they took part in the campaign in East Africa.
On 12 January 1941 he flew a sortie with Hawker Hardy K5922 with Sergeant Gray as observer over Tessenei when a Fiat CR.42 intercepted them. The Italian pilot (unfortunately his name is not known) returned to his base claiming that he had shot it down. The Hardy was in fact extensively damaged, but managed to remain in the air for 25 minutes before force-landing a mile south of Tessenei, the crew returning to base on foot.
In the end of January the unit received some brand new Lysanders from Egypt.
By the end of February the SAAF were starting to receive more Hurricanes and it was decided to pass on its Gladiators to other units. 1 Squadron SAAF handed over its remaining Gladiators to ‘B’ Flight 237 Squadron.
They returned to the front on 7 March.
On 16 March ‘B’ Flight Commander Eric Smith (Gladiator N5820) and Pilot Officer Peter Simmonds (Gladiator N5789) of 237 Squadron was dive-bombing the north-east slopes of Mount Sanchil when Simmonds was attacked by a Fiat CR.42, which damaged his aircraft. He turned on the Fiat and shot it down, the aircraft crashing and bursting into flames.
On 31 March, three Gladiators of 237 Squadron strafed Italian ground forces at Ad Teclesan in the face of heavy and accurate AA. Pilot Officer Simmonds in N5853 was hit and force landed. Simmonds managed to reach friendly territory on foot, and subsequently reached Kassala on 8 April.
In April he was promoted to Flying Officer.
On 15 April two 237 Squadron Gladiators escorted a reconnaissance Lysander to Debarech, seeing an S.79 in the air. The fighters got to within 500 yards unseen and Pilot Officer Simmonds then opened fire and hit it from astern, but the Italian pilot opened up his engines and escaped.
On the morning of 29 April three Gladiators of 237 Squadron took off to attack Alomata and Cer-Cer.
At Alomata a Ca.133 was claimed in flames and at Cer-Cer Flying Officers Spencer, Simmonds and Robinson claimed a Ca.133, a S.79 and a CR.32.
The same aircraft was again attacked during the afternoon by pilot from 237 Squadron (Simmonds was not present). The Italians admitted the destruction of a S.79, a Ca.133 and a CR.42.
Simmonds returned to Cer-Cer together with Flight Lieutenant E. T. Smith on 30 April, shooting up the same aircraft again.
The Italian aircraft was also strafed by two of the unit’s Lysanders.
Simmonds moved to Iraq where he converted to the Hurricane.
At RAF Mosul he flew operations in concert with the 10th Army.
The squadron had taken delivery of a Gladiator (K7984), provided from a reserve pool stored at the RAF Maintenance Depot, Habbaniya, to be used for communications.
On 14 April 1942, Simmonds was tasked to air-test it at Tel Kotchek. Whilst executing a looping manoeuvre, a wing of the aircraft was seen to fold back over the pilot’s cockpit, causing it to into an uncontrollable spin and killing the pilot outright on impact with the ground.
A subsequent Board of Inquiry revealed that the root end bolts of the wing in question had snapped, owing to having been in an advanced state of corrosion. It was also clear that the pilot was trapped, with no chance of being able to exit the cockpit and take to his parachute.
At the time of his death, Simmonds was credited with 1 biplane victory.
|Kill no.||Date||Number||Type||Result||Plane type||Serial no.||Locality||Unit|
|1||16/03/41||1||CR.42||Destroyed||Gladiator||N5789||Mount Sanchil||237 Squadron|
|15/04/41||1||S.79||Damaged||Gladiator||Debarech area||237 Squadron|
|29/04/41||1/3||Ca.133 (a)||Shared destroyed on the ground||Gladiator||Cer-Cer airfield||237 Squadron|
|29/04/41||1/3||S.79 (a)||Shared destroyed on the ground||Gladiator||Cer-Cer airfield||237 Squadron|
|29/04/41||1/3||CR.32 (a)||Shared destroyed on the ground||Gladiator||Cer-Cer airfield||237 Squadron|
Biplane victories: 1 destroyed, 1 damaged, 3 shared destroyed on the ground.
TOTAL: 1 destroyed, 1 damaged, 3 shared destroyed on the ground.
(a) The Italians admitted the destruction of a S.79, a Ca.133 and a CR.42 in attacks during the day. The same aircraft were shot up again the next day.
Another tragedy for 237 Squadron – Andrew Thomas, FlyPast April 2004
Dust Clouds in the Middle East - Christopher Shores, 1996 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-37-X
Gloster Gladiator Home Page - Alexander Crawford.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission