Biplane fighter aces

The Commonwealth

Flight Lieutenant Denis Herbert Vincent Smith, RAF No. 70631

Smith was commissioned in the Reserve of Air Force Officers as a Pilot Officer on 15 December 1936.

Pilot Officer Smith joined 112 Squadron on 18 August 1940.

He took part in the Greek campaign with this unit.

On 28 February HQ 'W' Wing ordered that all available aircraft should patrol between Tepelene and the coast between 15:30 and 16:30, since Intelligence sources indicated the operation of large numbers of Italian aircraft in that area at that time. Hence during the morning all available Gladiators of 80 and 112 Squadrons were flown up to Paramythia in preparation for this action. Patrols were flown during the morning by flights of Hurricanes but nothing was seen.
At about 15:00 Squadron Leader H. L. I. Brown and Squadron Leader Edward 'Tap' Jones led of eleven Gladiators of 112 Squadron and seven of 80 Squadron to patrol over the designated area; they were accompanied by the 'W' Wing leader, Wing Commander ’Paddy’ Coote, flying an 80 Squadron Gladiator. Fifteen minutes later Flight Lieutenant 'Pat' Pattle in Hurricane V7589 led Flying Officer Nigel Cullen (V7138), Flying Officer Wanklyn Flower (V6749) and Flying Officer Richard Acworth (V7288) to the same area, while Flight Lieutenant Young led four 33 Squadron Hurricanes to patrol near the coast. Here some S.79s were seen and chased over Corfu, two being claimed damaged, one of them by Pilot Officer D. S. F. Winsland (Winsland was later during the war shot down by Bernardino Serafini). These were probably 105o Gruppo B.T. aircraft, which reported being attacked by Spitfires, one Savoia landing at Tirana with one member of the crew dead.
Meanwhile Pattle’s section spotted BR.20s of 37o Stormo B.T. flying south from Valona; they identified the ten-strong formation as comprising 15 aircraft, while the bomber crews reported being attacked by 18 ‘Spitfires'! Pattle selected one on the starboard flank of the formation, and after three short bursts it broke into flames and went down; a second bomber likewise burst into flames following a further attack by Pattle, and his windscreen was covered in oil from this doomed aircraft. Reducing speed, Pattle attempted to clean the screen with his scarf, but he was then attacked by five G.50bis which dived on him. After a brief skirmish he managed to get away and returned to Paramythia. Both Flower and Acworth also claimed BR.20s. although the latter thought his victim may have been a Z.1007bis. Flying Officer Cullen reported considerable success in the run of claims which was to bring him the award of an immediate DFC. He later recalled:

“The battle extended right across Albania. First I found four Breda 20s (sic). I got one, which went down in flames Then we found three formations of S.79s. I took on one and aimed at the starboard engine. It caught fire, and crashed in flames. I climbed and dived on the next - and he too crashed in flames. Then we attacked ten CR.42s, climbing to get above them. I got behind one, and he caught fire and went down in flames. Up again immediately, dived, fired into the cockpit, and another took fire, rolled over and crashed. I had to come home then - no more ammo.”
Three BR.20s were in fact shot down during this combat and a fourth force-landed near Otranto; others returned with wounded crewmembers aboard, plus one dead.
By now the Gladiators had joined the fighting, as had CR.42s of 160o Gruppo and G.50bis of 24o Gruppo. A single Hurricane of 33 Squadron arrived late on the scene. Flying Officer Newton having scrambled from Paramythia when news of the heavy fighting came through. On arrival over the battle area he promptly attacked a CR.42, only to find that it was an 80 Squadron Gladiator! A 112 Squadron Gladiator then got on his tail, obviously taking the Hurricane for a G.50bis, and inflicted damage on his aircraft, chasing him back towards Paramythia. A few of the Gladiators made contact with the bombers, Pilot Officer William Vale claiming an S.79 shot down, whilst Flying Officer Edwin Banks and Pilot Officer R. H. McDonald of 112 Squadron each claimed damage to a BR.20. The Gladiators’ main claims were for nine CR.42s and two probables, plus six G.50bis and three probables after that the rest of the Gladiators made contract with the Italian fighters. 80 Squadron made following claims – Squadron Leader Jones (2 CR.42s), Wing Commander Coote (1 CR.42), Warrant Officer Richens (1 CR.42), Pilot Officer Vale (1 S.79 and 1 G.50bis), Flight Lieutenant Kettlewell (1 probable CR.42 and 1 probable G.50bis), Pilot Officer Trollip (1 probable CR.42) and Flying Officer Dowding (1 probable G.50bis). 112 Squadron also made a number of claims – Squadron Leader Brown (1 G.50bis), Flight Lieutenant Fraser (1 CR.42 and 1 G.50bis), Flight Lieutenant Fry (1 CR.42 and 1 G.50bis), Flight Lieutenant Abrahams (1 G.50bis), Flying Officer Cochrane (1 CR.42), Flying Officer Banks (1 and 1 damaged CR.42 and 1 damaged BR.20), Pilot Officer Jack Groves (1 CR.42), Sergeant Donaldson (1 and 1 probable G.50bis), Flying Officer Smith (1 damaged CR.42) and Pilot Officer McDonald (1 damaged BR.20).
Squadron Leader Brown recorded that the G.50bis he attacked turned sharply to starboard on its back and fell away in an inverted spin; he thought he had hit the pilot. Flight Lieutenant Fraser claimed that his victim flew into a mountainside, while the pilot of the CR.42 he claimed baled out, but his parachute failed to open; Sergeant Donaldson’s victim was seen to crash on the seashore. Flight Lieutenant Abrahams, after his victory, was attacked by another G.50bis - believed to have been flown by Tenente Mario Bellagambi - and was shot down near Sarande. He recalled:
“The old Glad suddenly went all soft. Nothing would work. I sat there and then decided I had better get out. I couldn't, so I sat there with my hands on my lap, the aircraft spinning like mad. Then, eventually, I did manage to get out. It was so pleasant sitting there in the air than I damn nearly forgot to pull the ripcord. I reckon I did the record delayed drop for all Albania and Greece. I landed, and no sooner had I fallen sprawling on the ground than I was picked up by Greek soldiers who cheered and patted me on the back. I thought I was a hell of a hero until one soldier asked me. "Milano, Roma?" and I realized that they thought I was an Iti. They didn't realize it was possible for an Englishman to be shot down. So I said "Inglese", and then the party began. I was hoisted on their shoulders, and the "here the conquering hero comes" procession started. We wined and had fun. Jolly good chaps.”
Following his initial combats, Pattle had returned to Paramythia, landed, and taken off again ten minutes later in another Hurricane (V7724). Returning to the battle area, he spotted three CR.42s in formation, heading back towards Valona:
“I got behind them and put a long burst into all three. One went down vertically at once, but in case it was a trick I followed him. He was in difficulties, that was most obvious, and when it looked as if he was going straight into the sea I decided to go and see what the other two were up to. As I climbed again I was most surprised to see tow parachutes float down past me.”
On his return, Pattle claimed two destroyed, those from which he had seen the pilots come down by parachute, and one probable for that which he had followed down. Just before he got back to Paramythia for the second time at 17.40, Flying Officer Flower, who had returned an hour earlier, also took off for a second patrol over the area after his Hurricane had been refuelled and rearmed. There was nothing to be seen - the battle was over.
On the Italian side, the CR.42s of 160o Gruppo had been escorting four S.79s of 104o Gruppo in the Kuc area, between Tepelene and Himare, when British fighters identified as Spitfires, Hurricanes and Gladiators, were encountered. Two Gladiators were claimed shot down and one as a probable, a ‘Spitfire’ also being claimed. Sottotenente Raoul Francinetti of 394a Squadriglia landed back at base wounded in one leg, and Sottotenente Italo Traini of 394a Squadriglia was shot down and killed. Gunners in the S.79s also claimed two Gladiators shot down, as did the G.50bis pilots of the 24o Gruppo, the latter also claiming two more as probables. Tenente Bellagambi, following his combat with Flight Lieutenant Abrahams, was then shot down and wounded in one arm: he force-landed near Tirana airfield. Capitano Ettore Foschini's aircraft was also hit and he was wounded, also coming down at Tirana.
This day was recorded as RAF’s most successful during the Greek campaign. During the large engagements RAF made claims for 5 and 2 damaged BR.20s, 3 and 2 damaged S.79s, 13 destroyed, 3 probable and 1 damaged CR.42s and 6 and 3 probable G.50bis. In fact 4 BR.20s of 37o Stormo B.T. were lost with several damaged, 1 S.79 of 104o Gruppo was damaged, 1 CR.42 of 160o Gruppo and 2 G.50bis of 24o Gruppo were lost. Regia Aeronautica claimed 6 and 2 probable Gladiators and 1 ‘Spitfire’ while in fact only 1 Gladiator of 112 Squadron was lost.

On 11 March, 15 of 112 Squadrons aircraft were over the front, this time to escort 211 Squadron Blenheims on a raid in the Bousi area. An estimated 40-50 G.50bis were reported patrolling in the area and nine of these fighters from the 24o Gruppo (led by Maggiore Cesare Valente) engaged the formation, claiming a Blenheim and one Gladiator shot down. The British fighters turned on the attackers and claimed seven shot down, one probable and seven damaged without loss. The claims were made by Flight Lieutenant Joseph Fraser (one and one damaged), Flying Officer Edwin Banks (one and two damaged), Flying Officer Richard Acworth (one), Flying Officer Homer Cochrane (one), Flying Officer Ephraim Hugh Brown (one damaged), Flying Officer Henry Harrison (one), Pilot Officer Neville Bowker (one), Pilot Officer Gerald Westenra (one), Flight Lieutenant Charles Fry (one probable and one damaged), Squadron Leader Harry Brown (one damaged) and Flying Officer Smith (one damaged). Bowker and Westenra where both involved in only their second engagements since joining the unit from Flying Training School.
Two G.50bis went down at once. Maggiore Valente and Sergente Luigi Spallacci both were killed, while Sergente Bruno Fava and Sergente Maggiore Ermes Lucchetta were both wounded and crash-landed their Fiats on their bellies. MC.200s of the 22o Gruppo may also have become involved, for Sergente Anselmo Andraghetti of 369a Squadriglia was lost, the cause not being ascertained.
After the combat Banks remarked that the G.50s must be armoured as they stood up to so much punishment. Fry reported that he attacked a G.50, which spun slowly twice then flattened out and turned slowly onto its back with smoke coming from it. It went into cloud and he didn't see it again. He also attacked another G.50bis of 24o Gruppo, which went over onto its back and flew inverted into cloud. Squadron Leader Brown emptied all his rounds into a G.50 without effect. No doubt the all-metal construction of these monoplane fighters helped to hold them together.

At 10:30 on 14 March three of 33 Squadron's Hurricanes were off with twelve Gladiators to escort 211 Squadron Blenheims to the Tepelene-Kelcyre area, where a large formation of Italian fighters was reported, variously identified by the Hurricane pilots as twelve CR.42s, twelve G.50bis and twelve MC.200s, and by the Gladiator pilots as 40-50 CR.42s and G.50bis. In addition ten Z.1007bis and five BR.20s were seen - aircraft from 47o and 38o Stormo respectively. The opposing fighters were 16 MC.200s from the 22o Gruppo and twelve CR.42s of the 160o Gruppo reporting meeting 20 Gladiators and eight Hurricanes, escorting five Blenheims.
Flight Lieutenant Charles Fry and his flight attacked the bombers, Fry himself claiming a BR.20 shot down north of Kelcyre near the front line after having attacked three formations of enemy bombers. Flying Officer Smith claimed a damaged BR.20 (and a probable G.50). 'C' Flight led by Flight Lieutenant Joseph Fraser became involved in a swirling dogfight with the Italian monoplane fighters, claiming four shot down, four probables and a damaged. Sergeant 'Paddy' Donaldson claimed two, both of which dived away pouring smoke, while Flight Lieutenant Fraser was attacked head-on by one, but managed to evade this and get on its tail, his fire causing the aircraft to roll onto its back and the pilot to bale out. One Macchi shot the tail off N5916 and Squadron Leader H. L. I. Brown managed to bale out only with the greatest difficulty; Pilot Officer Neville Bowker's Gladiator was also damaged after having claimed a probable G.50, which was seen going down out of control. Pilot Officer P. C. L. Brunton attacked one and appeared to knock bits off it so that it went into a spiral dive with smoke coming from it. Other claims were made by Flying Officer R. J. Bennett (one G.50), Flying Officer Homer Cochrane (one G.50) and Pilot Officer Jack Groves (one probable G.50).
The Hurricanes also engaged the Macchis, 33 Squadron claming two shot down and two probables, but after believing that he had got one of these, Flying Officer Holman was himself shot down and had to bale out. Flight Sergeant Leonard Cottingham claimed one and one probable of the 'monoplanes' while Pilot Officer Starett claimed one probable..
The Italian pilots claimed two Hurricanes and two Gladiators shot down on this occasion. It seems that Capitano Vittorio Minguzzi claimed one of the Hurricanes and a shared in one of the Gladiators during this combat. The 22o Gruppo lost Tenente Luigi Locatelli, who was killed, and Sergente Ferruccio Miazzo, who baled out, while Sottotenente Edgardo Vaghi's fighter was damaged. Gunners in one Cant Z.1007bis claimed one Gladiator shot down, and one bomber was damaged (reportedly by AA) returning with some of the crew wounded.

He was posted away from 112 Squadron on 22 October 1941.

Smith was promoted to Flight Lieutenant and posted to 2 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit, Royal Air Force (RAFO).

During the afternoon on 6 April 1942 his photo-reconnaissance Beaufighter was intercepted by a ‘schwarm’ of BF109s from 7./JG 27 based on Crete. He was shot down and killed by Leutnant Wilhelm Scheiter at 15:40 south of the island.
This was Scheiter’s first victory.

At the time of his death, Smith was credited 1 probable biplane victory.

Kill no. Date Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  28/02/41 1 CR.42 (a) Damaged Gladiator   Tepelene-coast 112 Squadron
  11/03/41 1 G.50 (b) Damaged Gladiator   Bousi area 112 Squadron
  14/03/41 1 BR.20 (c) Damaged Gladiator   Kelcyre area 112 Squadron
  14/03/41 1 G.50 (c) Probable Gladiator   Kelcyre area 112 Squadron

Biplane victories: 1 probably destroyed, 3 damaged.
TOTAL: 1 probably destroyed, 3 damaged.
(a) During this engagements RAF made claims for 5 and 2 damaged BR.20s, 3 and 2 damaged S.79s, 13 destroyed, 3 probable and 1 damaged CR.42s and 6 and 3 probable G.50bis. In fact 4 BR.20s of 37o Stormo B.T. were lost with several damaged, 1 S.79 of 104o Gruppo was damaged, 1 CR.42 of 160o Gruppo and 2 G.50bis of 24o Gruppo were lost. Regia Aeronautica claimed 6 and 2 probable Gladiators and 1 ‘Spitfire’ while in fact only 1 Gladiator of 112 Squadron was lost.
(b) Claimed in combat with G.50bis from 24o Gruppo. 112 Squadron claimed seven shot down, one probable and seven damaged without loss. 24o Gruppo lost four aircraft (Maggiore Cesare Valente and Sergente Luigi Spallacci were killed and Sergente Bruno Fava and Sergente Maggiore Ermes Lucchetta were wounded) while claiming a Blenheim and one Gladiator shot down.
(c) Claimed in combat with Z.1007bis and BR.20s from 47o and 38o Stormo and MC.200s from the 22o Gruppo and CR.42s of the 160o Gruppo, which claimed 2 Hurricanes and 3 Gladiators while losing 2 MC.200s and getting 1 MC.200 and 1 Z.1007bis damaged. 112 Squadron claimed 5 destroyed, 2 probables and 1 damaged G.50s and 1 destroyed and 1 damaged BR.20 while losing 1 Gladiator. 33 Squadron claimed 2 ‘monoplanes’ and 2 probables while losing 1 Hurricane.

Ace of Aces: M T StJ Pattle - E C R Baker, 1992 Crécy Books, Somerton, ISBN 0-947554-36-X
Air war for Yugoslavia, Greece and Crete - Christopher Shores, Brian Cull and Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-948817-07-0
Fighters over the Desert - Christopher Shores and Hans Ring, 1969 Neville Spearman Limited, London
Luftwaffe Claims Lists - Tony Wood
Shark Squadron - The history of 112 Squadron 1917-1975 - Robin Brown, 1994 Crécy Books, ISBN 0-947554-33-5
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
The London Gazette
Additional information kindly provided by Carlo Minguzzi.

Last modified 17 January 2007