Flight Lieutenant Ronald Leonard Slater, RAF nos. 563695 (NCO); 50685 (Officer)
Pilots of 33 Squadron at Helwan.
From left to right: Sergeant Slater, Pilot Officer Vernon Woodward, Flying Officer Ernest Dean and Pilot Officer A. R. Costello.
Slater was born on 13 January 1914.
He entered Halton as an aircraft apprentice in September 1929, passing out as a fitter on 19 August 1932.
He subsequently volunteered for pilot training, which he undertook at 4 FTS, Abu Sueir, Egypt.
On qualifying as a pilot, he joined 33 Squadron on 5 April 1937
With this unit, he took part in the Arab rebellion in 1938-1939.
On 2 December 1938, Flying Officer Al Bocking was returning from an “airpin” sortie when he realized that he still had a handful of leaflets stuffed down the side of his flying boot. At that moment, he was just passing a large village called Talluza and, on an impulse, he called his No. 2, Sergeant Slater, to wait for him while he peeled off into a quick dive and dropped a handful of leaflets just to see what reaction he could get. Before the leaflets hit the ground, a very large band of rebels was scattering in every direction. Slater then joined his flight commander and they made strafing runs, killing 13 of the rebels. Return fire was heavy and both Gladiators were damaged. Bocking’s Gladiator took 13 hits through the fuselage, four of them through the cockpit, but not one hitting the pilot.
In this sortie Bocking had innovated a new operation called “vilpat” (for village patrols), which became standard for the squadron.
On June Italy declared war on the UK and France.
At 16:00 on 24 July, a formation of eleven CR.42s from the 10o Gruppo, backed by six more from the 13o Gruppo took off to patrol the Bir el Gobi – Sidi Omar – Sollum – Bardia area. Leading the 10o Gruppo formation was Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli (using an aircraft from the 91a Squadriglia) and with him were Tenente Franco Lucchini, Maresciallo Omero Alesi and Tenente Giovanni Guiducci of the 90a Squadriglia, Capitano Luigi Monti, Capitano Aldo Lanfranco, Tenente Vincenzo Vanni and Tenente Giuseppe Aurili of the 84a Squadriglia, Tenente Enzo Martissa, Sergente Maggiore Lorenzo Migliorato and Sergente Luigi Ferrario of the 91a Squadriglia. Pilots from the 13o Gruppo were Tenente Giulio Torresi, Tenente Eduardo Sorvillo and Sergente Maggiore Ernesto Scalet of the 77a Squadriglia, Sergente Francesco Nanin of the 82a Squadriglia and Capitano Giuseppe Dall’Aglio with Sottotenente Dario Magnabosco of the 78a Squadriglia.
During the patrol they met a British formation estimated to nine Blenheims, which was attacking Bardia, escorted by 15 Gladiators. The CR.42s attacked the bombers and were in turn attacked by the British escort. Tenente Lucchini was the first to enter combat and damaged three of the British bombers by using 510 rounds of ammunition while the others were dispersed. Tenente Guiducci claimed a Gladiator using 90 rounds of ammunition. The CR.42s of the 84a Squadriglia remained manoeuvring in close formation until a 90a Squadriglia aircraft (Lucchini?) drove them against the enemies breaking their formation. Three aircraft from the Squadriglia returned to base one by one. Tenente Giuseppe Aurili met three Gladiators and damaged one. Capitano Lanfranco became isolated and, attacked by a reported three enemy fighters, was shot down and obliged to bale out in the Sidi Azeiz area. A British patrol took him prisoner a little later. Lanfranco was one of the oldest pilots of the 4o and a few days later a British message was thrown down near Tobruk, telling that he was wounded in Alexandria hospital. Tenente Martissa forced an enemy fighter to force-land then, coming back to base, saw his wingman in difficulties against the determined attack of an enemy fighter and, even with his guns jammed, attacked it, forcing the Gladiator to break away. Sergente Ferrario returned to base with a damaged fighter. According to some sources Tenente Lucchini is credited with an additional Gladiator during the day, but this can’t be verified with the Squadriglie’s Diaries.
Tenente Torresi claimed another Gladiator with 250 rounds of ammunition. No losses were suffered by the 13o Gruppo formation, which landed back at base between 17:25 and 18:05.
It seems that the Italian formation had been involved in combat with eight Blenheims from 55 Squadron tasked to attack targets in the Bardia area and five Gladiators from ‘B’ Flight of the 33 Squadron flown by Flying Officer Ernest Dean (Gladiator L9046), Pilot Officer Alfred Costello (N5776), Pilot Officer Vernon Woodward (N5768), Sergeant Slater (N5783) and Sergeant Shaw (N5775), which had taken off from Sidi Barrani at 17:40 and met a reported 18 CR.42s over Sollum at 18:30. In the combat Woodward claimed one of the enemy aircraft shot down and a second as a probable. Slater claimed a second CR.42 destroyed while Costello claimed a third. One more CR.42 was claimed by the other pilots and since Dean doesn’t seems to have claimed anything during the day it is possible that this was claimed by Shaw but it haven’t been possible to verify this. During the return flight Shaw was forced to land east of Buq-Buq with engine trouble probably caused by combat damage (probably the aircraft claimed by Martissa). Enemy bombing the day after destroyed his aircraft on the ground, although he rejoined his unit unharmed after a long walk across the desert. The other pilots from 33 Squadron landed back at base between 18:55 and 19:35.
Returning crews from 55 Squadron reported that after releasing their bomb load at 18:20, ‘A’ Flight was attacked by a single CR.42, which was part of a very open formation that didn’t attack. The Italian biplane attacked from out of the sun, damaging slightly Blenheim L8667 flown by Sergeant Vignaux. The British bomber was hit by two bullets (one explosive), one in each mainplane. At 18:35, ‘B’ Flight was also attacked by a single CR.42. The attack was made from above and astern twice but none of the British aircraft were hit. It seems that one or both of these attacks were made by Tenente Lucchini.
At 09:15 on 25 July, Derna El Ftàiah N1 suffered a heavy air attack, which destroyed two SM 79s on the ground and damaging two more heavily (RD). Five personnel were killed and thirteen more wounded. The personnel killed were Aviere Vincenzo Marinelli, Aviere Vincenzo De Fazio, Aviere Danilo Bartin, Aviere Nicola Fioravante and Aviere Paolo Fogliata who were part of the 30o Gruppo, 10o Stormo as were the destroyed SM 79s.
The attack was carried out by six Bristol Blenheims from 211 Squadron led by Flight Lieutenant Gordon-Finlayson. Originally nine bombers were to take part but two Blenheims didn’t take off owing to engine troubles and one broke the tail wheel on landing at Sidi Barrani where a refuelling stop was provided. On the return journey L1482 flew by Pilot Officer Dundas lost its port airscrew and reduction gear and was forced to make an emergency landing at Fuka where the port undercarriage collapsed further damaging the plane.
33 Squadron was detailed to sweep the border area to cover eventual stragglers of 211 Squadron. Five Gladiators from the unit’s 'B' Flight, flown by Flying Officer Ernest Dean (Gladiator L9046), Pilot Officer Alfred Costello (N5761), Pilot Officer Vernon Woodward (N5768), Sergeant Slater (N5783) and Sergeant Shaw (N5776) encountered a reported seven CR.42s over Bardia. Woodward and Slater each claimed one CR.42, of which Woodward’s went down in flames before they shared a third. Slater was then seen spinning down, out of the fight, and Woodward became separated from the remaining Gladiators. He was attacked for seven or eight minutes at low level by several CR.42s before escaping. Costello claimed one shared CR.42 but who he claimed it with is unknown. A fifth CR.42 was also claimed in the combat by an unknown pilot. Dean didn’t claim anything in this combat and whether Shaw claimed anything is unknown. Pilot Officer Woodward experienced a very hard combat, probably his hardest against Regia Aeronautica, and was very impressed by his opponents, in fact after this combat he once reflected:
“They were clean fighters, those Wops, and quite the equal of any Hun in the skill of combat flying.”A quite rare recognition from a RAF fighter pilot of the period.
On 1 October 1941 he was promoted to Warrant Officer.
He was commissioned on 19 November 1942 and promoted to Flight Lieutenant two years later.
Slater ended the war with 2 biplane victories, these being claimed while flying Gloster Gladiators.
He retired at own request from the service on 12 May 1947.
|Kill no.||Date||Time||Number||Type||Result||Plane type||Serial no.||Locality||Unit|
|1||24/07/40||18:30||1||CR.42 (a)||Destroyed||Gladiator||N5783||Sollum area||33 Squadron|
|2||25/07/40||10:10–11:20||1||CR.42 (b)||Destroyed||Gladiator||N5783||Bardia area||33 Squadron|
|25/07/40||10:10–11:20||½||CR.42 (b)||Shared destroyed||Gladiator||N5783||Bardia area||33 Squadron|
Biplane victories: 2 and 1 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 2 and 1 shared destroyed.
(a) Claimed in combat with CR.42s from 10o and 13o Gruppi C.T., which claimed three or four destroyed and 1 damaged while losing one CR.42 and getting another damaged. 33 Squadron claimed four and one probably destroyed while losing one Gladiator.
(b) Claimed in combat with CR.42s from 13o Gruppo C.T. 33 Squadron claimed five and 112 Squadron claimed one while losing one Gladiator from 112 Squadron and two damaged from 33 Squadron (one a write off). 13o Gruppo claimed one destroyed and one damaged without losses.
2o Stormo - Note storiche dal 1925 al 1975 - Gino Strada, 1975 USSMA, Rome, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
33 Squadron Operations Record Book kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Aces High - Christopher Shores and Clive Williams, 1994 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-00-0
Aces High Volume 2 - Christopher Shores, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-03-9
Desert Prelude: Early clashes June-November 1940 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2010 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-89450-52-4
Desert Prelude: Operation Compass - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2011 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-61421-18-4
Diario Storico 77a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Diario Storico 78a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Diario Storico 82a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Diario Storico 84a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Diario Storico 90a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Diario Storico 91a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Fighters over the Desert - Christopher Shores and Hans Ring, 1969 Neville Spearman Limited, London
Gloster Gladiator Aces - Andrew Thomas, 2002 Osprey Publishing, London, ISBN 1-84176-289-X
Gloster Gladiator Home Page - Alexander Crawford.
Gloster Gladiator in action - W. A. Harrison, 2003 Squadron/Signal Publications, Carrollton, ISBN 0-89747-450-3
GORIZIA ed il QUARTO STORMO
Gloster Gladiator Home Page - Alexander Crawford.
Hurricanes over the sands: Part One - Michel Lavigne and James F. Edwards, 2003 Lavigne Aviation Publications, Victoriaville, ISBN 2-9806879-2-8
Hurricanes over Tobruk - Brian Cull with Don Minterne, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-11-X
Le giovani aquile – Antonio Trizzino, 1972 Longanesi Milano, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
La Regia Aeronautica - volume I: Dalla non belligeranza all'intervento – Nino Arena, 1981 USSMA, Rome kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Quelli del Cavallino Rampante - Antonio Duma, 1981 Editore Dell'Ateneo, Roma, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
The Desert Air War 1939 – 1945 – Richard Townshend Bickers, 1991 Leo Cooper, London, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
The Gloster Gladiator - Francis K. Mason, 1964 Macdonald & Co. Ltd. London
The London Gazette
Those Other Eagles – Christopher Shores, 2004 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-904010-88-1
Woody - A Fighter Pilot's Album - Hugh A. Halliday, 1987 Canav Books, Toronto, ISBN 0-9690703-8-1
Additional information kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro and Ludovico Slongo.