Air Commodore Gordon Henry Steege DFC DSO, RAAF no. 213
Born in Chatswood, New South Wales, on 31 October 1917, Gordon Steege was educated at North Sydney High School. He joined the RAAF as an Air Cadet at Point Cook in July 1937, graduating as a Pilot Officer in July 1938, and being posted to 3 RAAF Squadron, flying Hawker Demons.
On the outbreak of war with Germany, the government took over two Qantas Empire flying boats for anti-submarine and surface raider patrol between Australia and Singapore. With two Seagull amphibians, these formed 11 RAAF Squadron, to which he was posted as Adjutant, based at Port Moresby, New Guinea.
On 5 May 1940 Flying Officer Steege was posted to 3 RAAF Squadron from 11 Squadron.
At this time 3 RAAF Squadron was based at Richmond, Australia.
On 15 July 1940, 3 RAAF Squadron embarked on RMS Orontes at Sydney for service overseas.
At this time the unit consisted of the following flying personnel:
Squadron Leader Ian McLachlan (CO).
Flight Lieutenant Steege (OC), Flying Officer Alan Gatward, Flying Officer Alan Boyd, Pilot Officer Peter Turnbull and Pilot Officer Wilfred Arthur.
Pilot Officer Charles Gaden (OC), Pilot Officer L. E. Knowles, Pilot Officer V. East, Flying Officer Alan Rawlinson and Flying Officer B. L. Bracegirdle.
Squadron Leader P. R. Heath (OC), Flight Lieutenant Blake Pelly, Pilot Officer J. M. Davidson, Flying Officer John Perrin and Pilot Officer M D. Ellerton.
Totally the squadron had 21 officers and 271 of other ranks on 24 July.
On 7 August RMS Orontes arrived at Bombay and the unit was transhipped the same day to HT Dilwara.
HT Dilwara sailed on 11 August and arrived at Suez on 23 August where the squadron disembarked.
On 19 September, 3 RAAF Squadron received instructions from H.Q.M.E. that four pilots with nine ground crew were to be attached to 208 Squadron in the Western Desert for operational duties. The pilots detailed for this duty were Flight Lieutenant Blake Pelly and Flying Officers Alan Rawlinson, Peter Turnbull and L. E. Knowles.
The pilots collected Gloster Gauntlets from 102 MU at Abu Sueir the same day and proceed to 208 Squadron the following day while the ground crew followed in a Bombay.
Flying Officer Turnbull was evacuated to hospital from the detached flight with 208 Squadron on 6 October. He was replaced by Flight Lieutenant Steege.
On 18 October, 3 RAAF Squadron had six Lysanders, 12 Gladiators and six Gauntlets.
The Gauntlets were on detached duty with 208 Squadron. The pilots on this duty were Flight Lieutenant Steege, Flight Lieutenant Blake Pelly, Flying Officer L. E. Knowles, Flying Officer Alan Rawlinson, Flying Officer John Perrin and Flying Officer J. M. Davidson.
Steege was to see action, flying Gladiators during the First Libyan Campaign, then Hurricanes during the retreat of spring 1941. He was Mentioned in Despatches and awarded a DFC during this period.
On 2 November 1940, squadron headquarters and ground personnel of ‘B’ and ‘C’ Flights of 3 RAAF Squadron moved by road from Helwan to Gerawla. The move started at 08:15 and was completed at 17:15 the next day.
Squadron Leader Ian McLachlan, Flying Officer Alan Gatward, Flying Officer M. D. Ellerton, Flying Officer Alan Boyd, Flight Lieutenant Charles Gaden, Flying Officer B. L. Bracegirdle, Flying Officer Peter Turnbull and Flying Officer Wilfred Arthur moved from Helwan to Gerawla by air on 3 November.
Flight Lieutenant Steege, Flight Lieutenant Blake Pelly and Flying Officer Alan Rawlinson left their attachments to 208 Squadron and rejoined 3 RAAF Squadron at Gerawla while Flying Officer John Perrin, Flying Officer L. E. Knowles and Flying Officer J. M. Davidson, who also had been attached to 208 Squadron returned to ‘A’ Flight at Helwan.
15 Air gunner/Wireless operators from 3 RAAF Squadron were attached to 208 Squadron.
After the completion of these movements the disposition of the squadron was that at Gerawla there were: Officers: 13 pilots, 1 crew, 6 non-flying and 2 (attached) air intelligence liaison.
Airmen: 185 non-flying, 6 (attached) air intelligence liaison and 1 (attached) Royal Corps Signalist.
Aircraft: 10 Gladiators and 4 Gauntlets (two Gauntlets had been left at 208 Squadron, Qasaba, being unserviceable and awaiting spares).
At Helwan (‘A’ Flight):
Officers: 3 pilots and 1 crew.
Airmen: 5 crews and 32 non-flying.
Aircraft: 6 Lysanders and 2 Gladiators (in reserve for ‘B’ and ‘C’ Flights).
Attached to 208 Squadron:
Officers: 2 crew.
Airmen: 5 crew and 15 non-flying.
Attached to 6 Squadron:
Airmen: 6 crew and 14 non-flying.
At Abu Sueir (on anti-gas course):
On 13 November, two Gladiators from 3 RAAF Squadron flew a tactical reconnaissance of enemy positions at Sofafi-Rabia-Bir Enba-Helegat-Nebiewa between 14:20 and 16:20. The mission was flown by Flight Lieutenant Steege (N5777) escorted by Flight Lieutenant Charles Gaden (N5780). Steege had received instructions to land at Minquar Quaim and report the details of his observations to the Air Intelligence Liaison Officer at HQ, Armoured Division. Steege mistook the landing ground, which bore no distinguishing marks and in landing, the aircraft was damaged. The pilot was uninjured. The aircraft was salvaged by No. 53 Repair & Salvage Unit to which it was allotted for repair.
Between 15:30 and 15:45 on 10 December, a formation from the whole 151o Gruppo took off from A3 to escort Ba.65s in the Bir Enba – Sidi Barrani area. The 366a and 367a Squadriglie flew direct cover of the assault aircraft while the 368a Squadriglia acted as top cover.
Pilots from 366a Squadriglia were Capitano Bernardino Serafini, Tenente Guglielmo Chiarini, Sottotenente Amedeo Guidi, Sottotenente Carlo Albertini, Sergente Maggiore Cesare Chiarmetta, Sergente Maggiore Fiorenzo Milella and Sergente Antonio Camerini. Pilots from the 368a Squadriglia were Capitano Bruno Locatelli, Sergente Maggiore Davide Colauzzi, Tenente Orfeo Paroli (aborted due to mechanical problems), Sergente Ottorino Ambrosi, Tenente Giuseppe Zuffi, Sergente Mario Turchi and Sottotenente Furio Lauri together with Marescaillo Giulio Cesare of the 366a Squadriglia. Not all the participating pilots from the 367a Squadriglia are known but included were Capitano Irzio Bozzolan, Sergente Maggiore Rodolfo Benco, Sergente Maggiore Gino Bogoni, Sergente Tolmino Zanarini, (plus possibly other three pilots).
After the attack of the Bredas, the close escort Squadriglie went down to strafe. The 366a Squadriglia did five passes and then it was the turn of the 367a Squadriglia. The weather in the meantime was again deteriorating and was not possible to maintain visual contact between the two covering Squadriglie and the strafing one.
Because of this, the 367a Squadriglia was surprised from astern by a formation of Glosters while intent in strafing. After a short combat the CR.42s were able to disengage, claiming only a probable victory by an unknown pilot but losing Sergente Bogoni’s CR.42 and getting Sergente Maggiore Benco’s (wounded in the right foot) and Sergente Zanarini’s fighters damaged. Capitano Bozzolan had a narrow escape when pursued by two Gladiators that damaged his engine; he was forced to land in the midst of the enemy armoured cars with a stopped engine. Suddenly the Fiat A74 engine restarted and Bozzolan was able to do a touch-an-go, just managing to return to A3.
They had run into Gladiators from 3 RAAF Squadron. Four Gladiators piloted by Squadron Leader Ian McLachlan, Flight Lieutenant Steege, Flying Officer Alan Gatward and Flying Officer B. L. Bracegirdle had taken off from ALG 74 at 15:40 to carry out an offensive patrol over Tummar. They reported encountering twelve CR.42s that were ground strafing Allied troops near Tummar West. The Gladiators attacked the enemy aircraft and in the ensuing battle, Squadron Leader McLachlan shot one down which he saw strike the ground whilst Flight Lieutenant Steege and Flying Officer Gatward each got a possible. These were later confirmed. All Gladiators returned to base at 17:10. According to some sources Steege and Flying Officer Gatward each claimed 1 and 1 probable CR.42 in this combat, but this can’t be verified with 3 RAAF Squadron’s Operations Record Book.
While this combat was taking place the other two Italian Squadriglie didn’t notice anything but the sand thunderstorm below them.
While coming back, the 368a Squadriglia intercepted a Hurricane that was strafing along the road between Sidi Barrani and Buq-Buq. It was shot at by Locatelli, Zuffi, Colauzzi, Ambrosi and Cesare and although clearly hit was seen to escape and was claimed only as a damaged. It seems possible that this was the Hurricane of 23-year-old Lieutenant Jacobus George Fischer (SAAF no. 202883), an SAAF pilot attached to 33 Squadron, which was lost during an evening reconnaissance of the road west of Sidi Barrani.
During the landing at Amseat, two Hurricanes attacked the Bredas, shooting at them and then retreating at full speed. The assault planes didn’t suffer serious damage. They were the three Ba.65s from the 159a Squadriglia flown by Tenente Adriano Visconti, Sergente Maggiore Pietro Scaramucci and Sergente Paolo Perno, which had reached A3 the same morning to operate with the 168a Squadriglia. Visconti was the one attacked by the British fighters but landed safely with his wingmen at 16:45. Back at base, they reported that the attack, done in awful weather conditions was met by heavy AA fire. Visconti used two 50 kilos bombs, seventy 2 kilos bombs, 320 rounds of 12,7 mm and 370 rounds of 7,7 mm ammunition. The identity of their attackers remains unsure but was probably Hurricanes from 33 Squadron.
On an early morning patrol on 13 December, six Gladiators (Flight Lieutenant Steege, Flight Lieutenant Charles Gaden, Flying Officers Lex D. Winten, Flying Officer Alan Boyd, Flying Officer Wilfred Arthur and Flying Officer Alan Gatward) from the Advanced Detached Flight of 3 RAAF Squadron took off at 08:00 to fly an offensive fighter patrol over Sollum – Fort Capuzzo – Halfaya area. They came across five SM 79s bombing troops at Sollum escorted by a reported eight CR.42s. Diving in to attack Flight Lieutenant Steege shot down one of the bombers and claimed a second as a probable. Before the Gladiators could reform for a second attack, the escorting CR.42s intervened. Flight Lieutenant Gaden (Gladiator N5765) was killed when his aircraft was shot down and crashed into the desert. It was believed that Gaden was shot down by rear gunners of the SM 79s. Flying Officer Winten was hit in the right hand by an explosive bullet and baled out. Flying Officer Boyd claimed two CR.42s before his aircraft had its port flying wire shot away causing him to force land. Flying Officer Gatward was also forced down. Flying Officer Arthur's Gladiator (N5752) was shot to pieces and he decided to bale out. As he clambered out of the cockpit, he became entangled in his oxygen tube. He managed to break free only to be caught up in the interplane bracing wires. Unable to free himself he waited for the inevitable, when at about 1,000 feet he was thrown clear and parachuted to the ground. Later back in the mess he produced from his pocket the ripcord of his parachute, which meant that he did not have to buy drinks all round. Flight Lieutenant Steege was separated from the remainder of the flight, ran out of ammunition and returned to base at 10:30.
The Italians seems to have consisted of five SM 79s from the 60a Squadriglia, 33o Gruppo Autonomo BT, which had taken off from Z1 at 07:30. The formation was led by Tenente Colonnello Ferri Forte, who flew as second pilot in Capitano Loris Bulgarelli’s (CO of the 60a Squadriglia) SM 79 and they had been briefed to attack British troop concentrations in a desert area south of Sollum. The pilot of another bomber was Tenente Pastorelli and among his crew of five was Aviere Scelto Armiere Guido Reggiani. The bombers were escorted by ten CR.42s from the 9o Gruppo. The SM 79s were the first bombing effort of the day by the 5a Squadra and attacked a group of 30 British vehicles along the road Sollum-Buq-Buq at 08:45 and immediately after this, another group of 60 armoured vehicles south-east of Halfaya. The escort was led by Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni (temporary CO of the 9o Gruppo since 10 December) and included the 73a Squadriglia (Tenente Valerio De Campo, Tenente Pietro Bonfatti, Tenente Giuseppe Oblach, Sottotenente Giulio Reiner, Sergente Maggiore Sergio Stauble and Sergente Enrico Dallari) and the 97a Squadriglia (Capitano Ezio Viglione Borghese, Sergente Franco Sarasino and Sergente Maggiore Otello Perotti). After 45 minutes of flight, between Sidi Omar and Sollum, they spotted a formation of Gladiators that soon attacked the SM 79s. Aviere Scelto Armiere Reggiani recorded that after the bombing the formation was attacked by a group of ten Gloster Gladiators. The gunners of the Savoias claimed the shooting down of two of them before they were dispersed by a squadriglia of the 4o Stormo’s fighters. Capitano Larsimont chased the leader but, while shooting at him from a short distance, he collided with a British wingman that was trying to avoid his bursts. In the collision, the Gladiator lost its wings and fell. Larsimont, whose aircraft was badly damaged in the fuselage and rudders, made an emergency landing on the Menastir M airfield; unfortunately the airstrip was already abandoned by the Italians due to the proximity of the British infantry so Larsimont had to abandon his damaged plane, which became a total loss. It seems possible that Larsimont’s victim (the Gladiator surprised while chasing the Savoias and observed to fall minus its wings) was Flying Officer Arthur who later recalled:
”(...) I was chasing some Italian bombers, Savoia-Marchettis I think they were. They were quite a lot faster than our aircraft were which meant you only chance of really catching them was to cut the corner if they were foolish enough to turn very much. In...also, if you’re chasing somebody like that you’re concentrating very much on that and you are a sitting duck for somebody else. And, in fact, that’s what happened to me. Chasing these Savoias I suddenly realised I was being attacked by an Italian aircraft which almost immediately ... a shell went into the top mainplane – do you know what I mean by the top mainplane where it was a biplane - the top main plane tore straight away and swung back towards the tail and the bottom main plane sort of followed it but a bit behind and I had no control at all, just completely loose control column. So I got out quickly (...)Arthur remembered that the whole affair lasted a short time:
”Probably only fifty seconds or seventy or something like that. I got out of the cockpit quite quickly but by that time the thing was nearly vertically downwards and I got stuck underneath one of the main planes that had folded back against the fuselage and I couldn’t get out of that. I was kicking and trying to get myself free when I was very close to the ground and finally did get free but hit the ground very hard because...well, because I hadn’t had enough time to slow up, I suppose (...)”.Wilfred Arthur hit the ground facing the wrong way and got dragged for quite a while with the parachute because there was heavy wind. After collapsing the parachute and freeing himself again, he was circled by two Italian aircraft, which he thought would shoot at him but in fact they didn’t. After the two Italian left the area, he started walking and after only a couple of hours was found and picked up by a long-range desert patrol.
“(…) we had a very bad day on 13th December, it was over Salum (…) we had an extraordinary bad day – ran into a very big lot of CR42s and Flight Lieutenant Gaiden [Gaden] was killed but Arthur, “Wilf” Arthur was shot down (…). Lex Witton [Winten] had an explosive round in one hand and he bailed out. Gatwood [Gatward] and Boyd both crash-landed. So we had five, and that was a really very bad day for the Squadron (…) It was a very traumatic sort of experience but the Squadron was very resilient and picked up very quickly and the people who’d – apart from Witton who was a casualty because of his hand - the others were back flying again next day or in a few days’ time. To a certain extent, you know, you expected these things but that was just a bit bigger than we normally expected. And seeing as we’d had so much success prior with virtually no casualties it hit us a bit hard for a start. But it was only a few days later on the 26th when we got our revenge back (…)”.In the meantime Larsimont, finding Menastir deserted, reached the nearby Balbia road and while waiting for a passing truck to stop, was shot at by a low flying Hurricane and had a narrow escape. After the collision, he was presumed dead by his pilots and so on the evening a message of condolences arrived from the HQ in Rome. In fact, he rejoined his unit the same day and at 15:05 was again at the head of his men.
At 09:15 on 26 December, eight Gladiators from 3 RAAF Squadron took off from the LG south-west of Sollum to escort a Lysander doing artillery reconnaissance over Bardia. The Lysander failed to appear. At approximately 14:05 (obviously during a third patrol) two flights of five SM 79s escorted by a number of CR.42s were observed a few miles north-east of Sollum Bay. A separate formation of 18 CR.42s was following the bomber formation and escort 2,000 feet higher as top cover. Two Gladiators attacked the bomber formation whilst the remainder climbed to meet the higher formation. The attack on the bombers was broken off when the higher formation attacked the Gladiators. In the ensuing combat, Flight Lieutenant Steege and Flying Officer Wilfred Arthur each claimed a destroyed (seen to fall into the sea) and a damaged CR.42. Flying Officer Peter Turnbull, Flying Officer John Perrin and Flying Officer Alan Rawlinson each claimed one probable.
The CR.42s were 14 fighters from the newly arrived 23o Gruppo led by the CO, Maggiore Tito Falconi and 22 CR.42s from the 10o Gruppo. The CR.42s from the 23o Gruppo included three from the 70a Squadriglia (Tenente Claudio Solaro, Sergente Pardino Pardini and Tenente Gino Battaggion), five from the 74a Squadriglia (Capitano Guido Bobba, Tenente Lorenzo Lorenzoni, Sottotenente Sante Schiroli, Sergente Maggiore Raffaele Marzocca (forced to return early due to a sudden illness) and Sergente Manlio Tarantino) and five from the 75a Squadriglia (Tenente Pietro Calistri, Tenente Ezio Monti, Sottotenente Renato Villa, Sottotenente Leopoldo Marangoni and Maresciallo Carlo Dentis). The fighters from the the 10o Gruppo included seven from the 91a Squadriglia (Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli, Capitano Vincenzo Vanni, Capitano Mario Pluda, Sottotenente Andrea Dalla Pasqua, Sottotenente Ruggero Caporali, Sergente Maggiore Lorenzo Migliorato and Sergente Elio Miotto), nine from the 84a Squadriglia (Capitano Luigi Monti, Tenente Antonio Angeloni, Sottotenente Luigi Prati, Sottotenente Bruno Devoto, Sergente Domenico Santonocito, Sergente Corrado Patrizi, Sergente Piero Buttazzi, Sergente Luciano Perdoni and Sergente Mario Veronesi) and six from the 90a Squadriglia (Tenente Giovanni Guiducci, Tenente Franco Lucchini, Sottotenente Alessandro Rusconi, Sottotenente Neri De Benedetti, Sergente Luigi Contarini and Sergente Giovanni Battista Ceoletta), which had taken off at 13:00.
They were escorting ten SM 79s from the 41o Stormo under Tenente Colonnello Draghelli and five SM 79s 216a Squadriglia, 53o Gruppo, 34o Stormo, led by Tenente Stringa. The SM 79s had taken off from M2 at 12:25 and attacked Sollum harbour’s jetty (reportedly hit) and two destroyers inside Sollum Bay (with poor results because of the heavy AA fire). AA from the ships hit four bombers from the 34o Stormo; one of them, piloted by Sottotenente Bellini had to force land close to Ain El Gazala with the central engine out of action. Returning pilots reported an attempt to intercept by some Gladiators but the escort repulsed the British fighters. They landed without further problems at 15:15.
Over the target, immediately after the bombing, the Italian fighters reported the interception of “enemy aircraft” alternatively “many Glosters” or “Hurricanes and Glosters”. The 70a Squadrigli pilots claimed a shared Hurricane, this was possibly an aircraft from 33 Squadron. This unit’s ORB reported that during the day’s patrols many SM 79s and CR.42s were intercepted with one CR.42 believed damaged. Two Gladiators confirmed and two probables were shared between the whole 10o Gruppo. Another Gladiator was assigned to the 23o Gruppo (in the documents of 75a Squadriglia but this is not confirmed by the other two Squadriglie). Many Glosters were claimed damaged by Tenente Lorenzoni, Sottotenente Schiroli, Sergente Tarantino, Sottotenente Marangoni, Tenente Calistri, Tenente Monti and Sottotenente Villa. The CR.42s were back between 14:30 and 15:05.
No Gladiators were lost even if three of them were damaged (all repairable within the unit). The Australians had done a very good job indeed, facing a formation four times more numerous (even if it seem improbable that all the Italian fighters were able to join the combat). From the Italian reports it seems that only the front sections of the escort (including the 74a, 75a and the 84a Squadriglie) were engaged in a sharp dogfight with the Gladiators. The Australians were able to shot down the CO of the 74a Squadriglia, Capitano Guido Bobba, who was killed when his fighter fell in flames into the sea and damaged Tenente Lorenzoni’s fighter, who landed at T2 (and came back to Z1 the day after). Three more CR.42s were damaged when Tenente Angeloni was forced to land at T5 before reaching Z1, Sergente Veronesi’s fighter was damaged and Sottotenente Prati was forced to make an emergency landing short of T2 (his fighter was reportedly undamaged and only suffering for a slight engine breakdown). Maggiore Falconi’s fighter was also heavily damaged but managed to return. The morning after Angeloni was able to return to Z1 with his aircraft.
Capitano Guido Bobba was awarded a posthumously Medaglia d’Argento al valor militare. He was replaced as CO of the 74a Squadriglia by Tenente Mario Pinna.
On 22 January 1941, 3 RAAF Squadron commenced the first step for the reequipping with Hurricanes.
Flying Officers Alan Gatward, Jackson and Saunders departed for Amiriya to join Flight Lieutenant Steege and Flying Officers John Perrin and Alan Boyd for the collection of the first flight of Hurricanes.
At 08:00 on 18 February, three Hurricanes piloted by Flight Lieutenant Steege (V6737), Flying Officer Saunders (V7770) and Flying Officer John Jackson (P5176) took off to carry out an offensive patrol over forward troops in the Agedabia – Agheila area. No enemy aircraft were encountered and the aircraft landed at Agedabia at 10:10.
At 14:40, they took off again to repeat the patrol and at approximately 16:10, whilst flying at 5000ft. near Marsa Brega, Flying Officer Jackson sighted a formation of a reportedly 10 or 12 Junker Ju 87s flying at approximately 1000ft. He dived to attack and the others quickly followed. The enemy aircraft dived to about 50ft and scattered in all directions. Jackson attacked three aircraft in turn, the first two which he damaged, whilst the third crashed in flames. Flight Lieutenant Steege attacked four aircraft in turn, all of which he damaged, and the last of which he chased 15-20 miles to sea. Flying Officer Saunders attacked two aircraft in turn and also damaged them.
Flying Officer Jackson reported:
“The Huns have been dive-bombing Agedabia, Agheila and other townships en route, and ground-strafing our forward troops, causing a number of casualties. We left here (Benina) and flew down south, about two hours ten minutes, and landed back at Agedabia to refuel. We went off again about 3 p.m. and on the return run sighted below us about 12 Ju 87s, though at first saw only three. I warned Gordon Steege and Johnny Saunders, who were in front of me. I was acting as swinger or hawk-eye, i. e. flying to and fro behind the main body of aircraft. You get good vision when you are flying nearly at right angles to the main flight, and can see all around, which the others cannot do. It’s a great idea and I believe it is done by all squadrons in England. Anyway, I turned around and dived to attack, and as I turned I spotted the other nine or ten aircraft following up the first three. We were about 4,000 ft, about 20 miles north-east of Agheila, near a place called Marsa Brega. I was very excited, as I realised we were unobserved. They were flying below at about 1,000 ft and had been dive-bombing and ground-strafing. They had actually dropped two bombs and shot up one of our trucks. Luckily the driver and passenger, Driver Batten and Sgt Quinton, escaped injury by jumping out and taking shelter on the ground. The truck was badly damaged, bullet and shrapnel holes all over it – they had a miraculous escape.Later reports received from Army sources confirmed that eight enemy aircraft had been shot down in this engagement – three each by Steege and Jackson and two by Saunders.
I did a diving attack on a Ju 87 and seemed to pepper it well and it eventually sheered away. I attacked another bloke by a shallow-dive quarter attack and peppered him until he also sheered away. Both looked as if they were going to land. Then I did a step astern attack on a third bloke and followed and peppered him until he started to break up in front of me and eventually crashed in flames, and I had to pull up over him, as by this time we were only at about 200 ft. I then encountered fairly heavy ack-ack and machine-gun fire from our own troops and climbed like billyo to get away, and lost sight of the other Huns.
Meanwhile, Gordon and John had chased a couple each, and thought they each got at least one, though did not actually see them go in. We have claimed: me one certain, two possibles; Gordon – one damaged, one probable; and John Saunders the same as Gordon. Hope we can get them all confirmed. I was a bit ahead of Gordon and John and lost sight of them and returned to Agedabia and landed, refuelled, and re-armed. The other two returned direct to Benina.”
Shortly after lunch on 3 April during the retreat at the end of the first Libyan Campaign, seven Hurricanes of 3 RAAF Squadron - now operating from a landing ground at Got es Sultan about 20 miles north-east of Benina, to where it had hurriedly withdrawn the previous night - accompanied by ‘B’ Flight of 73 Squadron, encountered eight Ju 87s of II./StG 2 about 15 miles south of Sceleidima, escorted by an equal number of Bf 110s of 7./ZG 26 led by the newly appointed Staffelkapitän, Hauptmann Georg Christl. The Stukas had been attacking British troops near Derna.
One section of RAAF Hurricanes led by Flight Lieutenant Alan Rawlinson (Hurricane V7772) and including Lieutenant G. K. Smith (P3980) and Flying Officer Jimmy Davidson (V7566) waded into the divebombers while Flight Lieutenant Steege's (P3937/OS-B) section, which included Flying Officer J. H. Jackson (V7770), Flying Officer John Saunders (V6737) and Flying Officer Peter Turnbull (V7492), engaged the escort. ‘B’ Flight of 73 Squadron did not become involved in this combat.
Flying Officer Jackson's journal provides an account of the ensuing series of engagements:
"About noon we went off on another patrol, about ten of us. We now have four or five pilots from 73 Squadron attached to us. We need them too, as some of our chaps are very war-weary and showing the effects of the strain. We got no distance south of Sceleidima when somebody spotted enemy aircraft. We were in three flights, Gordon Steege leading bottom flight with myself, John Saunders and Pete Turnbull, Alan Rawlinson leading middle flight about 1,000 feet above us, and a flight of 73 Squadron above them. The top flight did a wild goose chase after one of our Blenheims they spotted out on our starboard side, which happened to be returning from a reconnaissance, and they did not see the enemy which turned out to be about ten ME110s escorting about 15 Ju87s, which were dive-bombing and ground strafing our retreating ground forces. I only spotted two ME110s and didn't see any of the other enemy aircraft. I followed Gordon Steege into attack and got on the tail of a ME110, just after he had fired a few rounds at it and sheered away from it. I fired two bursts then my guns stopped – rotten luck. Just as I was getting in close, I saw a few bits and pieces and sparks flying from the ME110. Pete Turnbull followed me in on the same ME110 and gave it a burst also. Gordon Steege got credit for this kite as he attacked first and probably got in the best attack. Immediately my guns stopped I did a steep spiral to gain speed and went like hell to get out of the area as it was useless to remain without guns firing. I flew back to Benina, where I knew the CO was still waiting, and gave him news of the fight.Totally in this combat 3 RAAF Squadron claimed 5 destroyed and 3 damaged Bf 110s and 4 destroyed, 2 probables and 2 damaged Ju 87s. Steege claimed 1 destroyed and 3 damaged Bf110s, Turnbull claimed 2 destroyed and 2 probable Bf110s (these were later upgraded to 4 destroyed), Saunders claimed 1 damaged Ju 87, Rawlinson claimed 2 destroyed, 1 probable and 1 damaged Ju 87s, Davidson and Smith claimed 1 destroyed Ju 87 each while Jackson claimed a probable Ju 87.
Pete Turnbull had a go at two more ME110s and blew an engine out of one and bits off another, and fired at a couple of others. Smithy, one of the three South African pilots attached to us, attacked the Ju87s and blew the tail clean off one and sent it down in flames. Jimmy Davidson also claimed a Ju87 and Alan Rawlinson sent two 87s down in flames. Wish my guns hadn’t stopped, I was feeling very fit and enjoyed the bit I had. I’m satisfied ME110s are no match for a Hurricane – at low heights we can catch them and out-turn them without too much trouble. All our chaps returned safely to Sultan through some had bullet holes - both Pete Turnbull and Jimmy Davidson had holes through their ailerons and both were jamming badly – they were very fortunate to get back. Pete also had a bullet through one of his tyres and landed nicely with one flat tyre. Three ME110s and five Ju87s, about five of them down in flames, and possibly others damaged.”
On 8 April he was awarded a DFC.
In May 1941 he was posted to command the new 450 Squadron, RAAF, but as no pilots were available, the ground crew amalgamated with the pilots of 260 Squadron for operations over Syria in June and July as 260/450 Squadron. 450 Squadron then acted as a Hurricane OTU until the end of the year, when it moved to Egypt for operations, re-equipping with Kittyhawks.
On 28 March 1942, three MC.202s of the 6o Gruppo (one from the 79a Squadriglia and two from the 81a Squadriglia) led by Tenente Palazzeschi, scrambled at 13:35 (returning at 14:30) to intercept a formation of enemy bombers and fighters over the airfield. (this action is recorded by the Gruppo’s Diary only)
Between 13:35 and 13:40, twelve MC.202s from the 17o Gruppo (three from the 71a Squadriglia, four from the 72a Squadriglia and five from the 80a Squadriglia), led by Capitano Clizio Nioi, took off after the same enemy formation.
West of Tobruk, only Tenente Bruno Ganda of the 81a Squadriglia was able to engage the enemy and claimed a P-40 shot down with the use of 250 rounds of ammunition.
Five pilots of the 17o Gruppo engaged, claiming a P-40 by Capitano Nioi who also damaged a bomber west of Tobruk and three P-40s damaged by three other pilots (two of them subsequently upgraded to probables with the use of 1050 rounds of ammunition). The pilots of the 17o Gruppo believed that the enemy bomber formation, escorted by around 30 P-40s, returned individually. The enemy aircraft were a formation of nine Bostons from 12 SAAF Squadron, escorted by nine Kittyhawks of 94 Squadron (take off 12:40 and landing 14:15-14:35) as middle cover, twelve Kittyhawks of 450 Squadron as top cover and finally a close cover of Kittyhawks of 2 SAAF Squadron. Martuba West was bombed from 11,000 feet; 35 bombs hit the target area and some of them exploded near planes dispersed on ground. A storage was set on fire. AA was intense and precise; two Bostons were heavily damaged and two more were slightly damaged while Observer Lieutenant Ian Ross was killed.
Immediately after the bomb release the formation was attacked by at least twelve Bf 109s, 450 Squadron suffered the loss of Sergeant Halliday (AK695/G); the pilot made a wheels-up landing in no man’s land wounded and was later recovered by the Army, 94 Squadron lost Pilot Officer 22-year-old Pilot Officer James Aitken Crosbie (RAF no. 101493), who was wounded, his fighter was later recovered and classified Cat. II. During the combat, Flight Sergeant Eddie Edwards (FZ-V) saw frantic activity above him. He watched as the Bf 109s dived down and then pulled upward again. While most stayed high, some of them continued their dive into the path of 94 Squadron. As two passed in front of him, he fired several bursts of ammunition. The first Bf 109 made a steep climb and the other rolled over and headed west. He thought he might have hit the second Bf 109 but he made no claims, as he was not sure. 450 Squadron suffered two more fighters heavily damaged (Cat.II) plus a third obliged to force-land reportedly due to lack of fuel. (Cat II) while Squadron Leader Steege (AK692/C) and Sergeant Shillabeer (AK799/R) claimed a Bf 109 probable each; that of Steege was subsequently upgraded to confirmed. Sergeant Ian Nursey (AK668/H) claimed a probable MC.202 and Pilot Officer Kelsall (AK895/K) a damaged Bf 109. The pilots of 450 Squadron recorded being engaged from their arrival over the target until the return to base.
One of the two damaged machine was that of Sergeant Quirk, who returned and landed without flaps at 150 mph, with a big chunk of the left wing close to the flap lacking. Quirk was probably hit by a cannon shell from a Bf 109.
Strangely, 2 SAAF Squadron didn’t report any action even if the Macchis had reached the bombers. Feldwebel Günther Steinhausen of 1./JG 27 claimed a P-40 at 13:40 near Tmimi (possibly Halliday), so at least one victory was obtained by the 1o Stormo’s pilots who were most likely the main responsible for the heavy opposition experienced that day by the Commonwealth units. At the end of the day 3 Wing ORB summed up: “A raid on Martuba is no longer a profitable transaction”.
The wounded Pilot Officer Crosbie was later reported to be with a field ambulance, and was said to be only slightly wounded, but on 5 April the news was received that he had died on the 4th.
On 3 April, both Gruppi of 1o Stormo scrambled to intercept a formation of bombers escorted by fighters heading for Derna.
Nine MC.202s of the 6o Gruppo (seven from the 79a Squadriglia, one of the 81a Squadriglia and one of the 88a Squadriglia) took off at 10:15 led by Capitano Domenico Camarda (CO of the 79a Squadriglia). Flying at the height of 4000 meters over Gazala, four Macchis reached the enemy formation and engaged the escort (whose planes were identified as P-46s – but obviously Kittyhawks. Three of them were claimed damaged, one was claimed shot down by Tenente Angelo Cattaneo (79a Squadriglia) who saw his opponent landing hurriedly in Gazala and another was claimed probably shot down. Maresciallo Bertinelli (79a Squadriglia) was shot down in flames the Bomba area and lost his life. The other pilots landed back between 10:50 and 11:15 after having used 1345 rounds of ammunition.
Eight MC.202s of the 17o Gruppo (three from the 71a Squadriglia and five of the 80a Squadriglia) led by Capitano Clizio Nioi, took off at 10:30. Five of them succeeded in engaging twelve P-40s claiming four shot down confirmed and one probable. The confirmed victories went to Capitano Nioi, (who also claimed the probable), Maresciallo Castellani (80a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Mario Host (80a Squadriglia) and Sergente Maggiore Alvise Andrich (80a Squadriglia). A sixth plane was damaged. The Italian pilots were back at 11:20 and they had expended 1690 rounds of ammunition.
With this victory Capitano Clizio Nioi qualified as an ace, as the first pilot of the Stormo to reach this status during the conflict.
Twelve Bostons of 12 SAAF Squadron were in action over Derna escorted by four Squadrons. 2 SAAF and 4 SAAF Squadrons, each with six Tomahawks formed the close cover, 94 Squadron acted as top cover (they had taken off between 10:30 and 10:45 and returned between 11:50 and 12:10); and finally eight Kittyhawks of 260 Squadron, which had taken off at 10:30, as an extra top cover. Additionally twelve Kittyhawks of 450 Squadron had taken off at 10:40 to cover the returning bombers. They were divided in two formations, one at 19000 feet and a second at 17500 feet. They directed over Bu El Bergasi, Gazala then stationed over Menelao bay waiting for the bombers. Finally, ten Hurricane IIBs of 274 Squadron had taken off at 10:50 for a diversionary sweep over Gazala, two of them had to return early for engine problems.
4 SAAF Squadron recorded that the bombing attack, performed on a east-west course from the height of 14000 feet was quite accurate. 45 well dispersed enemy aircraft were counted on the airfield. In particular in the northeastern corner of Derna were more than 20 enemy aircraft dispersed and the bombs were seen to fall south of them.
During the attack, eight Bf 109s were seen to take off from the southwestern corner of Derna, apparently alerted by heliograph signals from Martuba. 2 SAAF Squadron also noted the take off of enemy fighters from Martuba but the two South African units weren’t engaged.
Immediately after the bombing attack, 94 Squadron was engaged by three Bf 109 of I/JG27, and Pilot Officer Usher possibly shot down the Messerschmitt of Leutnant Wildau, while the Squadron didn’t suffer any loss.
Subsequently, over Menelao bay, five miles north-west of Bomba, 260 Squadron claimed two Bf 109s (one by Flight Sergeant Thomas Hindle and one shared between Squadron Leader Osgood Hanbury (AK867) and Sergeant Carlisle). Then Flight Sergeant Hindle engaged a MC.202, 30 miles south south-west of Gazala and claimed it probably shot down. The 6o Gruppo was possibly involved in this combat together with some Bf 109s, with the loss of Maresciallo Bertinelli while the Germans lost Leutnant Rainer who was obliged to force-land. After this, close to Gazala, Hindle was attacked by two Macchi MC.202s (probably from the 6o Gruppo); the first one, after the attack headed west while the second engaged in a inconclusive dogfight. Finally, over El Adem, Hindle was attacked by two Bf 109, being able to shot at one of them without claiming any damage.
The fighters of 260 Squadron landed at 12:15 without reporting any damage at all even if the ORB of 4 SAAF Squadron noted that a Kittyhawk of 260 Squadron was heavily shot up but succeeded in landing back at base.
In the Gazala area, 94 Squadron lost 19-year-old Pilot Officer Richard Warwick Martin Moon (RAF no. 106647), who failed to return and the fighter of Sergeant Musker, who was wounded, while Sergeant Ray Matthews (AK735) was obliged to force-land near Gazala due to engine problems in a situation that matched that described by Tenente Cattaneo, a fact that suggest the presence of the 6o Gruppo in the combat.
In the meantime, 450 Squadron discovered the bombers that were coming back to base and saw higher two Bf 109s that failed to intervene. South of Gazala the Squadron headed south towards a combat already ongoing (possibly the already described action involving 260 and 94 Squadrons) and two of its pilots engaged two MC.202s and one was claimed damaged by Sergeant Ian Nursey (AK606/OK-B).
Between El Adem and Tobruk, 450 Squadron’s CO, Squadron Leader Steege (AK717/V), discovered three MC.202s flying lower and led his unit to attack. Two of the Italian fighters were claimed damaged (one claimed by Steege). All the fighters of 450 Squadron returned unscathed even if one of them had been forced to return early with engine problems.
Then it was the turn of 274 Squadron, which engaged Bf 109s and MC.202s, claiming two probable Bf 109s by Pilot Officer Hunter and Sergeant Garwood and a Macchi damaged, but suffering the loss of the plane of Sergeant Howell, who was wounded but was saved.
The diary of Sergeant William Marsh who was flying Hurricane IIB BD820/D recorded only Macchis (possibly the formation of the 17o Gruppo):
“1 Macchi 202 damage: engaged by 6+, one of which turned on to Sgt. Presse, my No. 1. Pukka dog-fight for ten minutes, 202 looping and rolling, got in snap shots at bottom of loops. Broke off combat when a second 202 appeared – my ammo finished too. Sgt. “Tiny” Howell shot down.”This combat seems to be against the Macchis of the 17o Gruppo, so they should be responsible for the loss of Howell.
In May 1942 he was posted to the Middle East Staff School at Haifa, and then back to Australia at the end of the year. Here he was promoted Wing Commander and in May 1943 took command of 73 Wing with three squadrons of Kittyhawks, and one each of Spitfires, Beaufighters and Bostons. He led the Kittyhawk squadrons in strafing operations from Kiriwina, and then the Kittyhawks and Spitfires to the Admiralty Islands in March 1944. Here he was awarded a DSO and promoted Group Captain.
In mid-1944 he led three Kittyhawk squadrons to Los Negros to form 81 Wing, attacking Japanese forces in Dutch New Guinea until the end of 1944. He then returned to Australia to become SASO, HQ, Eastern Area, Sydney.
Steege ended the war with 3 biplane victories and a total of 8 destroyed.
From May 1945 to January 1946 he attended the US Army and Navy Staff College, then becoming Director of Operations at RAAF HQ in Melbourne. Late in 1946 he resigned his commission and became a Patrol Officer and Assistant District Officer in Papua New Guinea for four years.
At the end of 1950 he rejoined the RAAF as a Wing Commander during the Korean emergency, becoming a part of the Mission to Malaya, and then commanding 77 RAAF Squadron in Korea on Meteor 8s. In 1953 he was a member of a Military Mission to the French in Indo-China, and then he became Assistant Secretary of the Defence Committee. Promoted Group Captain, he commanded the base at Canberra, where a DC-3 Transport Wing was located.
He was the Australian Military Adviser's Representative at the Military Planning Office, SEATO HQ, Bangkok, 1959-60, and then for four years, Director, Joint Service Plans, at RAAF HQ, Canberra. As an Air Commodore he then commanded RAAF bases at Auberley, Queensland (Canberras), Butterworth, Malaysia (Mirages) and Edinburgh, South Australia (P-3B Orions). Finally he became SASO, HQ, Operational Command until his retirement in October 1972.
Since then he has lived in Palm Beach, New South Wales, where in 1983 he became Australian consultant for Martin Marietta Overseas Corporation, a US Aerospace company.
Late in life, Steege was the Patron of the 450 Squadron RAAF Association Inc.
Gordon Steege passed away on 1 September 2013.
|Kill no.||Date||Time||Number||Type||Result||Plane type||Serial no.||Locality||Unit|
|1||10/12/40||15:40-17:10||1||CR.42 (a)||Destroyed||Gladiator II||near Tummar West||3 RAAF Squadron|
|10/12/40||15:40-17:10||1||CR.42 (b)||Probable||Gladiator II||near Tummar West||3 RAAF Squadron|
|2||13/12/40||08:00-10:30||1||S.79 (c)||Destroyed||Gladiator II||N5782 (d)||Sollum area||3 RAAF Squadron|
|13/12/40||08:00-10:30||1||S.79 (c)||Probable||Gladiator II||N5782 (d)||Sollum area||3 RAAF Squadron|
|3||26/12/40||14:05||1||CR.42 (e)||Destroyed||Gladiator II||NE Sollum Bay||3 RAAF Squadron|
|26/12/40||14:05||1||CR.42 (e)||Damaged||Gladiator II||NE Sollum Bay||3 RAAF Squadron|
|4||18/02/41||16:10-||1||Ju 87 (f)||Destroyed||Hurricane I||V6737||Marsa Brega area||3 RAAF Squadron|
|5||18/02/41||16:10-||1||Ju 87 (f)||Destroyed||Hurricane I||V6737||Marsa Brega area||3 RAAF Squadron|
|6||18/02/41||16:10-||1||Ju 87 (f)||Destroyed||Hurricane I||V6737||Marsa Brega area||3 RAAF Squadron|
|7||03/04/41||13:00||1||Bf 110 (g)||Destroyed||Hurricane I||P3937/OS-B||Scelediema||3 RAAF Squadron|
|03/04/41||13:00||1||Bf 110 (g)||Damaged||Hurricane I||P3937/OS-B||Scelediema||3 RAAF Squadron|
|03/04/41||13:00||1||Bf 110 (g)||Damaged||Hurricane I||P3937/OS-B||Scelediema||3 RAAF Squadron|
|03/04/41||13:00||1||Bf 110 (g)||Damaged||Hurricane I||P3937/OS-B||Scelediema||3 RAAF Squadron|
|8||28/03/42||13:35-||1||Bf 109 (h)||Destroyed||Kittyhawk I||AK692/C||Martuba-base||450 Squadron|
|03/04/42||10:40-||1||MC.202 (i)||Damaged||Kittyhawk I||AK717/V||El Adem-Tobruk||450 Squadron|
Biplane victories: 3 destroyed, 2 probables, 1 damaged.
TOTAL: 8 destroyed, 2 probables, 5 damaged.
(a) This claim can’t be verified with 3 RAAF Squadron’s Operational Record Book. Claimed in combat with the 367a Squadriglia, 151o Gruppo, which lost 1 aircraft and got 3 damaged while claiming 1 probable. 3 RAAF Squadron claimed 1 and 2 probables without losses.
(b) Claimed in combat with the 367a Squadriglia, 151o Gruppo, which lost 1 aircraft and got 3 damaged while claiming 1 probable. 3 RAAF Squadron claimed 1 and 2 probables without losses.
(c) Claimed in combat with CR.42s from the 9o Gruppo and S.79s from the 60a Squadriglia. The fighters claimed six Gladiators and three probables for four Fiats damaged (one of them were lost). The bombers claimed two Gladiators without losses (the CO was however killed). 3 RAAF Squadron claimed one S.79 and one probable and two CR.42s for the loss of four Gladiators destroyed and one force-landed.
(d) Both Steege and Alan Boyd are reported to have flown N5782 in this combat. It seems that one of the pilots however flew N5764 which returned so damaged that it was Struck off Charge on 16 December.
(e) Claimed in combat with CR.42s from the 23o Gruppo, which claimed 1 Hurricane and 1 Gladiator and the 10o Gruppo, which claimed 2 and 2 probable Gladiators while losing one CR.42 and getting five more damaged. 3 RAAF Squadron claimed 2 and 3 probables without any losses while Hurricanes from 33 Squadron possibly claimed a damaged CR.42 during the day.
(f) Claimed in combat with Ju 87s of I/StG1. 3 RAAF Squadron claimed 8 victories but only Werk. Nr. 3351 flown by Feldwebel Hans Drolshagen and with the gunner Unteroffizier Wolfgang Schaefer was lost.
(g) Claimed in combat with 8 Bf 110s from 7./ZG 26 and 8 Ju 87s from II./StG 2. 3 RAAF Squadron claimed 5 destroyed and 3 damaged Bf110s and 4 destroyed, 2 probable and 2 damaged Ju 87s without losing any of their aircraft. 1 Bf 110 and 2 Ju 87s were lost. The Bf 110s claimed 3 Hurricanes.
(h) Claimed in combat with MC.202s from 1o Stormo and Bf 109s from I/JG 27. The Axis fighters claimed 2 P-40s destroyed, 2 probables and 1 damaged and 1 damaged Boston without suffering no losses (at least not Italian). The Allied fighters claimed 1 destroyed, 2 probables and 1 damaged while suffering 1 destroyed and four damaged P-40s (one pilot DoW).
(i) Claimed in combat with Axis fighters from the o Stormo and JG 27, which claimed 9 destroyed, 2 probables and five damaged for the loss of 3 fighters (at least 1 pilot KIA). P-40s from 2 SAAF, 4 SAAF, 94, 260 and 450 Squadrons and Hurricanes from 274 Squadron claimed 3 destroyed, 3 probables, 4 damaged for the loss of 3 aircraft (1 pilot KIA) and three damaged.
3 RAAF Squadron Association
3o Stormo, storia fotografica - Dai biplani agli aviogetti - C. Lucchini and E. Leproni, 1990 Gino Rossato Editore kindly provided by Jean Michel Cala with translations kindly provided by Birgitta Hallberg-Lombardi
450 RAAF Squadron
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
A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945: Volume One – Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello with Russell Guest, 2012 Grub Street, London, ISBN 978-1908117076
Desert Prelude: Early clashes June-November 1940 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2010 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-89450-52-4
Fighters over the Desert - Christopher Shores and Hans Ring, 1969 Neville Spearman Limited, London
Gloster Gladiator Home Page - Alexander Crawford.
Hurricanes over Tobruk - Brian Cull with Don Minterne, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-11-X
National Archives of Australia
Quelli del Cavallino Rampante - Antonio Duma, 1981 Editore Dell'Ateneo, Roma, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Those Other Eagles – Christopher Shores, 2004 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-904010-88-1
Additional information kindly provided by Russell Guest, Stefano Lazzaro, Doug Norrie, Michele Palermo and Ludovico Slongo.