Biplane fighter aces

The Commonwealth

Lieutenant H. P. Smith, SAAF no. 47530V

Smith served in 2 SAAF Squadron between 11 November and 4 December 1940 and was then posted to 1 SAAF Squadron.

At 14:00 on 29 January, 1 SAAF Squadron took off to attack Gura, with six Hurricanes (Major Lawrence Wilmot, Captain K. W. Driver, Lieutenants John Hewitson, Andrew Duncan, Hendrik Johannes Piet Burger and Leonard le Clues Theron) flying as top cover to five Gladiators, which would strafe. As they approached the Hurricanes run into several S.79s and a large number of CR.42s, which were seen over the airfield, the bombers having just returned from a raid over the front, and the fighters having scrambled at the approach of the South African aircraft. Captain Driver at once attacked an S.79 as it was going in to land, and shot it down in flames, two members of the crew baling out. The Gladiators then arrived, led by Captain Brian Boyle. These also met the Fiats, Lieutenant Smith and Lieutenant E. A. Jarvis each claiming one shot down.
Capitano Antonio Raffi, commander of the 412a Squadriglia, was above with two of his pilots, Tenente Luciano Cacciavillani and Maresciallo Aroldo Soffritti (they scrambled at 15:20), and he saw the Hurricane shoot down the S.79 before he could intervene. He then spotted the Gladiators, which he believed to be six strong, and at once, a great dogfight begun, during which the South Africans saw many Fiats falling away. Driver meanwhile had seen Adi Ugri landing ground on which four S.81s were dispersed, and attacking these, he left one (claimed as a S.79) in flames.
On return to base the combat with the Fiats was fully discussed, and it was decided that five had been shot down, one each by Lieutenant Smith and Lieutenant Jarvis, the other three being impossible to allocate to individual pilots. All the SAAF aircraft returned safely, although one Gladiator (N5831) had been hit by a single bullet.
This proves how easy it was to overestimate the damage caused, and indeed the numbers involved, in a whirling dogfight. Although several CR.42s were hit and damaged, none was in fact shot down. Capitano Raffi’s own aircraft was hit five times, while Tenente Cacciavillani's was badly damaged by 50 hits, and Maresciallo Soffritti's was also damaged. The Italians reported combat against four Hurricanes and six Gladiators and reported one Gladiator shot down. Tenente Cacciavillani fired 60 rounds of 7.7mm, and claimed a Gladiator probably destroyed (shared) (strangely enough, this claim has been cancelled by a pen line in his logbook).

On 3 February six Gladiators from 1 SAAF Squadron flew forward to a new landing strip called ‘Pretoria’ early in the morning where they refuelled. Five of them (Captain Brian Boyle (N5824), Lieutenant Andrew Duncan, Lieutenant Robin Pare, Lieutenant Servaas de K. Viljoen and Lieutenant Smith) took off again at 11:45 to strafe airfields in the Gondar area, to the south. A landing site was spotted to the south of Azozo on which five Ca.133s were bombed up. The Gladiators attacked and claimed all five in flames. The Italians reported only one as actually destroyed in this attack.
Seeing CR.42s scrambling from Azozo, they flew over to investigate and Boyle, Pare, Viljoen and Smith claimed a shared damaged S.81 on the ground there when they reported that they had shot the wing off it while Lieutenant Duncan chased after a CR.42. The Gladiators were then attacked by Fiats and a big dogfight began. In the combat Captain Boyle claimed a Fiat shot down. Boyle reported that his claim was made towards the end of the dogfight and he was so close to the Fiat that he saw the enemy pilot clearly as he tried to bale out before crashing into the mountains.
Sergente Maggiore Enzo Omiccioli was shot down and killed in this combat. Reportedly he had scrambled alone.
The Gladiators then carried out a reconnaissance in the area, looking for reported Italian movements. On return, Lieutenant Smith crashed on landing at Azaza when starboard tyre burst and the aircraft slewed onto its side while Boyle suffered a flat tyre from the fight.

Smith continued to serve in the Squadron until 22 June 1941 when he returned to South Africa.

Smith ended the war with 1 biplane victory.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1941                
1 29/01/41 15:20- 1 CR.42 (a) Destroyed Gladiator II   Gura airfield 1 SAAF Squadron
  03/02/41 11:45- 1/5 Ca.133 (b) Shared destroyed on the ground Gladiator   S Azozo 1 SAAF Squadron
  03/02/41 11:45- 1/5 Ca.133 (b) Shared destroyed on the ground Gladiator   S Azozo 1 SAAF Squadron
  03/02/41 11:45- 1/5 Ca.133 (b) Shared destroyed on the ground Gladiator   S Azozo 1 SAAF Squadron
  03/02/41 11:45- 1/5 Ca.133 (b) Shared destroyed on the ground Gladiator   S Azozo 1 SAAF Squadron
  03/02/41 11:45- 1/5 Ca.133 (b) Shared destroyed on the ground Gladiator   S Azozo 1 SAAF Squadron
  03/02/41 11:45- 1/4 S.81 Shared damaged on the ground Gladiator   Azozo 1 SAAF Squadron

Biplane victories: 1 destroyed, 5 shared destroyed on the ground, 1 shared damaged on the ground.
TOTAL: 1 destroyed, 5 shared destroyed on the ground, 1 shared damaged on the ground.
(a) Claimed in combat with three CR.42s from the 412a Squadriglia, which all were damaged but no losses were suffered. 1 SAAF Squadron claimed five CR.42s while suffering one lightly damaged Gladiator.
(b) The Italians reported only one as actually destroyed in this attack.

Sources:
Luciano Cacciavillani's personal logbook courtesy of Cacciavillani family (Luciano jr and Alberto)
Dust Clouds in the Middle East - Christopher Shores, 1996 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-37-X
Springbok Fighter Victory: East Africa Volume 1 1940 – 1941 – Michael Shoeman, 2002 African Aviation Series No. 11, Freeworld Publications CC, ISBN 0-958-4388-5-4
Additional info kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro, Michele Palermo and Ludovico Slongo.




Last modified 13 December 2010