Flying Officer Vincent Allan Jackson 'Heimar' Stuckey, RAF no. 41490
'Heimar' Stuckey was granted a short service commission as Acting Pilot Officer on probation on 14 December 1938 (gazetted on 27 December).
His appointment was confirmed with effect from 6 October 1939.
He served with 80 Squadron in Egypt before the outbreak of war with Italy.
When the war started in North Africa on 10 June 1940, 80 Squadron was commanded by Squadron Leader R. C. Jonas and based at Amriya. It had 22 Gladiators (mainly Mk.Is) and one Hurricane Mk.I (L1669 – nicknamed Collie’s Battleship) on hand. Its main role was the defence of Alexandria. The pilots were divided into three Flights.
‘B’ Flight included Flight Lieutenant Thomas 'Pat' Pattle, Flying Officer Greg Graham, Flying Officer John Lapsley, Pilot Officer Sidney Linnard, Pilot Officer Stuckey, Flight Sergeant Sidney Richens, Flight Sergeant Trevor Martin Vaughan and Flight Sergeant Charles Casbolt.
During the night of 21-22 June a formation of twelve Savoia Marchetti S.81 bombers of the 39o Stormo B.T. based on Rhodes, in the Aegean Islands, took off and attacked Alexandria in clear moonlight during the first hours of 22 June.
Five aircraft of 80 Squadron took off from Amriya, but failed to intercept and were fired on by their own anti-aircraft defences; the involved pilots were Flight Lieutenant 'Pat' Pattle, Flight Lieutenant R. V. Evers-Swindell, Flying Officer Stuckey, Flying Officer John Lapsley and Pilot Officer Wanklyn Flower.
On the return flight one of the Italian bombers exhausted all the fuel and was forced to ditch. It went down 45 miles south of Rhodes and the crew was rescued five hours later by an Italian flying boat.
At 17:00 on 8 August, Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli (CO of the 10o Gruppo) took off from El Adem T3 airfield with 15 other aircraft from the 9o and 10o Gruppi to patrol along the Egyptian border and to give indirect cover to five SM 79 bombers and a single reconnaissance Ro.37, which were out to patrol the same area. The five SM 79s were a formation from the 44a Squadriglia, 35o Gruppo, led by Capitano Giuseppe Pagliacci, which were out to bomb enemy vehicles and aircraft in the Bir El Chreigat area.
Participating pilots were Romagnoli, Capitano Giuseppe D’Agostinis (CO 91a Squadriglia), Tenente Enzo Martissa (91a Squadriglia), Sergente Aldo Rosa (91a Squadriglia), Tenente Giovanni Guiducci (CO 90a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Angelo Savini (90a Squadriglia), Capitano Luigi Monti (CO 84aSquadriglia), Tenente Vittorio Pezzè (CO 73a Squadriglia), Tenente Valerio De Campo (73a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Carlo Battaglia (73a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Alvaro Querci (73a Squadriglia), Maresciallo Norino Renzi (73a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Enrico Dallari (73a Squadriglia), Sergente Antonio Valle (73a Squadriglia), Sergente Santo Gino (73a Squadriglia) and Sergente Lido Poli (73a Squadriglia).
Immediately after take-off, Romagnoli started to climb, keeping the sun in the back. At 2500 meters over Gabr Saleh (around 65 kilometres south-east of El Adem and 35 kilometres east of Bir El Gobi, well inside the Italian territory) when the Italian formation was still climbing, Tenente Pezzè saw two formations of Gloster Gladiators higher and, after giving the alarm to the gruppo commander, tried to attack the enemy fighters frontally and from below.
Then, completely unseen by Pezzè and the other Italian pilots a third formation of Glosters attacked the 73a Squadriglia formation from above (the surviving Italian pilots estimated that each British formation was nine planes strong so, after the combat, they assessed that they fought against 27 enemy fighters for fifteen minutes).
The Gloster Gladiators were from 80 Squadron (‘C’ Flight had arrived at Sidi Barrani during the day, led by the commanding officer, Squadron Leader ‘Paddy’ Dunn). At 17:40, 14 Gladiators from the Squadron flew an offensive patrol in the neighbourhood of El Gobi since it had been reported by observers that large formations of CR.42s had been patrolling a triangle between El Adem, Sidi Omar and El Gobi fairly regularly twice a day at about 07:00 and 18:15 and it was decided to attempt to destroy a portion of this patrol. The mission had been suggested by Squadron Leader Dunn to the HQ as a reprisal and to re-establish “the moral superiority already gained previously by other Squadrons” after the gruelling engagement on 4 August. Tactics had been carefully discussed by Dunn and his Flight Commanders on the agreed assumption that if the engagement could be controlled for the initial two minutes, a decided advantage would be with the side in control. To do this, it was arranged (as it was expected to be seen as soon as, or even before being able to see the Italians) that a Sub-Flight of the formation (Sub-Flight one) should fly low (at 8,000 feet) and slightly in front to act as bait. These three Gladiators were flown (after that lots had been drawn) by Dunn (leader) (Gladiator K8009), Flying Officer Peter Wykeham-Barnes (K7916) and Pilot Officer Stuckey (K8022). The rest of the formation, divided in three Sub-Flights of three fighters with an independent aircraft between the lower Sub-Flights, would be stepped at 10,000, 12,000 and 14,000 feet. The independent machine was that of Flight Sergeant Trevor Martin Vaughan (K7903), who attacked with Sub-Flight one. It seems that Pilot Officer Anthony Hugh Cholmeley flew a fourteenth Gladiator but that he was forced to turn back early, probably with engine problems.
Sub-Flight two included Flight Lieutenant Ralph Evers-Swindell (leader) (L8010), Flying Officer Wanklyn Flower (K8011) and Flying Officer P. T. Dowding (K7912). Sub-Flight three included Pilot Officer Harold Sykes (leader) (K8003), Sergeant Donald Gregory (K8051) and Flying Officer Sidney Linnard (K8017). Sub-Flight four at 14,000 feet included Flight Lieutenant 'Pat' Pattle (leader) (K7971), Flying Officer Greg Graham (L8008) and Flight Sergeant Sidney Richens (K7892). The plan was for Sub-Flight one to engage (or being engaged) by the Italians, do what it could until Sub-Flights two, three and four would be ordered to enter the combat on seeing the trend, the overall control being given to Sub-Flight four. All formations flew in a broad vic and it was the first time that the 80 Squadron operated at full operational strength.
Just after 18:00, the Squadron crossed the frontier south of Sidi Omar, and immediately changed course to head north towards Bir Taieb el Esem. At 18:25, as they were approaching Bir el Gobi, a formation of CR.42 flying in echelons was spotted by Flight Lieutenant Pattle. The Fiats were flying approximately parallel but reciprocal to the course of the British formation and they were at 2 o’clock and slightly (500 feet) below the lower Sub-Flight. With a careful turning on the right, ordered by radio, Pattle put the 80 Squadron’s formation behind the Italian one, up-sun and between it and its base at El Adem, then a full boast and throttle stern chase began to catch up with the fast cruising (in fact climbing) Italian fighters. Pilots in the lower Sub-Flights now began to see their opponents, dead ahead and lower. The ideal attack position! Squadron Leader Dunn counted 18 of them in four formations of seven, five, three and three; he was very close to the truth but later Sub-Flight four reported that an additional Italian formation of nine planes was present and it was incorrectly assessed that the Italians were 27, flying in nine sections of three aircraft. After an unobserved astern chase Sub-Flight one engaged the starboard flank of three aircraft and shot down all of them (they were probably part of the 73a Squadriglia). Squadron Leader Dunn later reported:
“(…) I followed my first target down, who rolled over slowly on to his back with smoke coming out: Observed P/O. Stuckey’s (No. 3 on my left) quarry in much the same condition and gave him a burst of my own, then pulled up and across the rear of the formation of 18 that was beginning to peel-off.”Flying Officer Stuckey experienced a very successful combat:
“(…) our C.O. led the first Flight and attacked the right hand enemy flight.The third CR.42 of the section probably fell victim to Flight Sergeant Trevor Martin Vaughan. Flying Officer Peter Wykeham-Barnes confirmed the shooting down of all three Italian CR.42s of the section. Wykeham-Barnes seems to have claimed the first Italian aircraft, witnessed by Flight Lieutenant Evers-Swindell.
I was No. 3 of the C.O.’s Flight and managed to get in a long burst with full deflection as my opposite aircraft stall turned out of his formation. (later the C.O. said that he followed this aircraft down giving it bursts and saw it crash.
Immediately after I attacked No. 3 aircraft of the farthest flight and gave it a short burst before that flight broke up as well.”
“(…) A C.R.42 did a steep diving turn away from his formation and I was easily able to give him a full deflection shot for about 8 seconds, he continued in a dive with smoke issuing from him but as the formation of 18 was approaching around about me with advantage of number and height, it was impossible to pursue him. I claimed it definitely shot down and consider it to be one of the five observed on the ground by Sub 4 before entering. Then followed a long period of loose play in which numerous targets offered themselves.In the end, Dunn was credited with two confirmed victories and 1 probable and reported that the Sub-Flight gained five confirmed victories and two unconfirmed.
At the same time large numbers of enemy aircraft attacked me, chiefly from straight ahead and beam but not driving home determinedly. In one of them I throttled back and stall turned on the attacker’s tail before he was quite past me, he then rolled on to his back and dived down in the second half of a loop. I followed and gave this aircraft what I thought was an effective burst with the result that he did not recover and continued down with bluish smoke issuing from him.
The other flights had by now entered and attacked their opponents, and the number of enemy aircraft thinned down. Two or three enemy aircraft were still about ; I pulled up steeply to avoid one in particular who was dangerously near to my tail, having chased me down in the dive from the port quarter. In the ensuing black-out I have little knowledge of what he did but at the top of what was the first half of something like a rocket loop, I found myself going in the opposite direction with the aircraft climbing rapidly past me on my left and below, he then appeared ahead of me and did a slow roll, unfortunately, I was too surprised and failed to get him in my sight, whereupon he half rolled and dived out; another stall turn brought me on his tail, but he did a rapid dive, turned to the left and streamed off like a homing rabbit - next stop El Adem.
I engaged one more enemy aircraft but my guns failed to fire (after 300 rounds approx.) I tried to clear them but was only able to get one more short burst. I left the fight, gained height at 12,000 feet and returned to witness a dog-fight between three aircraft two of which were Gladiators. I then set off home and picked up two other Gladiators.”
“I was then attacked from about 2 o’clock by the two flights that had already broken; I pulled away and down from them, and as I came up in a climbing turn saw a CR 42 following one of our Gladiators in a loop. While it was going up I gave it a long burst and saw it fall away and dive, the pilot jumped almost as soon as I attacked him. Another 42 came straight towards me while I was circling the parachute but I made a quick turn in the opposite direction and he passed just under my port wings. I then saw a 42 with a Gladiator on its’ tail and as I flew in on a beam attack the 42 flick rolled two or three times and continued doing so in a dive. I followed it all the way in a steep turn and dive giving a lot of short bursts and saw it crash. I was then at only about 3,000’ and when I had climbed to about 5,000’ joined in a dog-fight that ended when the 42 dived away and headed for Bir El Essem.”Form 541 of 80 Squadron ORB credited Stuckey only with a single confirmed victory, probably his first victim was credited to his Commanding Officer who finished it off while of the last biplane he saw hitting the ground he wrote “(…) seen to crash but believed hit before I attacked it”. However, it seems that he later was credited with two destroyed and one probable.
“(…) I saw the leading formation attack the right hand formation of 9 E.A: so I put my sub flight into line astern expecting the E.A. to break up which they did as soon the first machine was shot down by No.2 of the leading formation. I led my sub flight into the centre formation of nine E.A. which by then were scattered all over the sky. I did a diving quarter attack on an E.A. up to about 50 feet, it turned over on its back and went down in a steep spiral. I was then attacked head on by another E.A. after this I looked down and saw the first one crash in flames. The pilot still in the cockpit. I managed to manoeuvre myself on to the tail of a third and after having given him a longish burst, saw him go down in the same way as the first, but was unable to follow him down as an explosive bullet took away one of my port flying wires and another burst on the starboard side of the instrument panel. I got in two more quick burst on two different E.A. but don’t think I did any damage. My engine then started to pour out smoke and soon afterwards cut out. I glided down in a series of steep turns and found no E.A. following. I looked round and saw nine a/c burning on the ground and one pilot coming down by parachute. I glided for about three miles and at about 200 feet the engine seized up I did not have time to inspect the engine so set the aircraft on fire (…).”Evers-Swindell was credited of two unconfirmed victories. Flying Officer Wanklyn Flower was able to claim a probable, he reported:
“(…) I picked out a CR 42 flying in left hand turn ahead of me. I dropped in behind and fired three long bursts at close range – I last saw the aircraft diving vertically downwards. At this moment another C.R 42 fired a burst into my machine damaging the engine. I got away from him and, as there were no more enemy machines in sight, made for home (…)”Flying Officer Dowding also claimed a probable:
“(…) Before we had reached them they had already been broken up before we joined amongst them.Pilot Officer Sykes led his Sub-Flight into the right flank of the Italian formation:
I then saw a CR.42 coming towards me on port beam, it pulled its nose up and did a half roll to the left. I got my sights on to it, as it started to pull its nose up, and followed it round as it did the half roll, giving it a longish burst. It went into a spin, and went down a long way until I lost sight of it.
When I looked again there was an aircraft burning on the ground at approximately the position where the one went down, but I cannot say for certain whether it was the same as the one I saw go down.
I also saw at least four other aircraft burning on the ground, and three people descending by parachutes (…)”
“(…) I was leading sub 3 flight and putting the flight into echelon right turned on to their right flank. The enemy aircraft suddenly reeled of from their echelon formation probably owing to the fact that the leading flight had come into firing range and had opened fire. A general dog fight then commenced, I engaged a CR.42 which commenced a steep climbing turn, I commenced firing at the beginning of the climb and continued until I saw him fall and commence a flay spiral. I saw fragments or splinters falling from the centre section or the cockpit and saw the aircraft drop about 4-5000 feet and then engaged another which I followed in a steep turn firing all the time. This enemy aircraft went into a spin suddenly and saw one of our own aircraft follow it down. There were no more enemy aircraft in sight. During the action I saw several parachute open and several aircraft burning. I landed back on our aerodrome at 1915. One aircraft in my flight was forced to return just before the action because all its guns stopped.”Sykes was credited with two unconfirmed victories. The returning aircraft was flown by Sergeant Gregory, who had had tested his gun before the attack, but found them all jammed and had been forced to withdraw. Flying Officer Linnard was more successful:
“(…) We were given R/T instructions by the top flight to enter the fight.Linnard was credited with two confirmed victories.
I slipped under my leader to the left and found myself in a mass of milling aircraft. I went to attack a CR.42 which was on a Gladiator’s tail when another CR.42 passed in front of me. I gave him deflection burst and got on to his tail – he pulled up in a loop. I followed him around giving him bursts and when he was upside down in the loop he baled out dropping past me, his parachute opening just below me. My range would be about 50 yards or less. I got on to another CR.42 and practically the same thing happened as before except that I did not get him and my engine cut as I was following him in the loop when I was in the vertical position. I saw the enemy aircraft diving past me but I was so close to him that he could not fire at me. I pushed my nose down and got my engine started and then saw a CR.42 diving down on me from vertically above but he did not hit me. I then saw a CR.42 practically head-on. I gave him a burst at very close range. The enemy aircraft turned over to the right on its back and went into a flat spin. I was at about 4,000 feet at this time. I watched the aircraft spin for about 1000 feet and then heard gunfire which I thought was from behind but there were no enemy aircraft within range of me. I then looked for the spinning aircraft but all I saw was an aircraft in flames on the ground beneath me. Another CR.42 dived past going very fast. I gave him a quick burst and saw some black smoke coming from him, but he kept straight on diving as fast as he could go towards Bir-el-Gobi. I did not follow him down. I then turned back towards where the fight had been but saw only one aircraft a Gladiator (P/O. Stuckey). We hung around a bit and then made for home. I caught up with F/Lt. Pattle and F/O. Graham and returned with them. I landed at 1910. I sustained no damage to self or aircraft except for one Fabric panel torn out.
I saw altogether 6 aircraft burning on ground and 4 parachutes dropping.”
“(…) I saw no’s 2 and 3 sections engage and before I brought my section into the fight I saw five crashed aircraft on the ground , three of which were in flames.Pattle’s two claims were confirmed by Flying Officer Graham, who claimed one victory (later downgraded to a probable). Flight Sergeant Richens claimed one probable while confirming Graham’s claim.
My own section then engaged those E.A. who were attempting to reach their own base and immediately became engaged in separate combats.
I engaged a CR 42 and, after a short skirmish, get into position immediately behind him. On firing two short bursts at about 50 yards range the E.A. fell into a spin and burst into flames on striking the ground. The pilot did not abandon his aircraft.
I then attacked 3 E.A. immediately below me. This action was indecisive as after a few minutes they broke away by diving vertically for the ground and pulling out at very low altitude.
Whilst searching for other E.A. I saw two more aircraft crash and burst into flames. Owing to the widespread area and the number of aircraft engaged it was impossible to confirm what types of aircraft were involved in these crashes or who shot them down.
The sky seemed clear of 42s’ although several Gladiators were still in the vicinity. I was about to turn for our base when a 42 attacked me from below. With the advantage of height I dived astern of him and after a short burst he spun into the ground into flames. As before the pilot didn’t abandon his aircraft. Flying Officer Graham confirms both my combats which ended decisively.
Seeing no further sign of Enemy Aircraft over the area, I turned towards our base. On my way home F/O Graham and P/O Linnard joined me in formation and my section landed at 19.10 hrs.”
“(…) set the aircraft on fire. First removing the water bottle and Very pistol. I walked for three hours away from the sun and then lay down to sleep. I slept till about 01.00 hours finding dense fog and myself wet through. I then dug a hole in some soft sand and buried my self. There I stayed till daylight. At about 06.30 next morning when the fog started to lift I started to walk into the sun until 15.00hrs. when I saw three armoured cars on the horizon. I fired three very light cartridges, the next thing I remember I was lying in the shade of the armoured car the crew told me I was about five miles from the wire.”He had been picked up by three armoured cars of the 11th Hussars.
Martissa, who was initially missing, had force-landed his CR.42 with a hundred bullet holes in it, only 15 kilometres from El Adem. The wounded pilot claimed the individual destruction of two Gladiators (not confirmed in the official documents of his unit but later credited to him by post-war studies). In fact, Martissa was awarded with a third Medaglia d’argento al valor militare (in as many months) for this action. The official motivation of the award stated that he: ”shared in the destruction of five enemy planes together with other pilots”. He survived his ordeal by drinking dewdrops at dawn but after two days, he was becoming to expect the worst. One of the bullets, which had hit his aircraft, had pierced the griffin's head of Squadriglia's badge on the port wheel cover and Martissa wrote with a knife on the white background disc of the badge:
“You, little griffin, have been struck in the head. I would have suffered less if I had been likewise! I'm not mortally wounded, but I shall pass away, since I can't walk for 10-20 km to reach a track. And it will be by hunger and thirst.”Martissa was found on 10 August by the XXII Compagnia Bersaglieri Motociclisti, led by Tenente Domenico Raspini, which was patrolling 80 km south of Tobruk. Raspini recalled:
"We saw an aircraft in the desert. We approached and found Tenente Martissa under a wing, with a leg almost torn off by an explosive bullet from a British fighter. We rescued him. He told us that if we didn't come [to save him], he'd shoot himself in the head with his gun, because he was dying of thirst.
We rescued the pilot and left the aircraft."
The Fiat CR.42 flown by Martissa (MM4306) was recovered and, in September 1940, assigned to the 84a Squadriglia of the 10o Gruppo as “84-4”.
Tenente Guiducci was also awarded with a Medaglia d’argento al Valor militare for this combat.
The Italians totally lost four aircraft while four more force-landed (it seems that all were later recovered). In return the Italian pilots claimed five Gladiators (three shared amongst the pilots of 10o Gruppo and two shared by the surviving 73a Squadriglia pilots) and two probables (the 90a Squadriglia’s Diary reported six victories). Remembering the combat for the press, the Italian leader (obviously Maggiore Romagnoli) recalled that even if the attack of the Gladiators was possibly the deadliest he had ever seen, the reaction of his pilots was ”miraculously immediate”. He had just heard the first bullets whistling around him when his right wingman already was breaking with a zoom. Then he saw in his gunsight, the belly of a Gladiator and shot this down (most likely Flight Sergeant Vaughan, who had overshot during the first bounce).
For this exploit, 80 Squadron received the Press honours as well as written congratulations from the RAF HQ Middle East. Dunn and his pilots had exploited the strong points of the Gladiator over the CR.42 to the maximum extent especially the radio equipment, which had permitted a coordinated attack, being also crucial for obtaining the initial surprise and the Gladiators superior low altitude overall performances.
During the combat, the Gladiator demonstrated another interesting characteristic: a markedly superior horizontal manoeuvrability over its opponent. On regard of this point, it is interesting to report the impressions of Flying Officer Stuckey and Flying Officer Linnard.
“With trimming gear slightly back, found I could easily out manoeuvre a/c attacking from rear. No blacking out.”After this combat, morale, particularly among the 9o Gruppo’s pilots suffering their first African experiences, fell considerably. The 73a Squadriglia was considered the top gun unit of 4o Stormo, its pilots (notably among them Enrico Dallari, Renzi, Valerio De Campo and Vittorio Pezzè) were mostly part of the last Italian aerobatic team, which had performed with great success in Berlin Staaken on 23 June 1939, in honour of the returning Condor Legion’s pilots. However, this air battle demonstrated clearly, even in a pure biplane dogfight, that good tactics and sound flight discipline, enhanced by R/T communications were better than the pure aerobatic skill. However, despite this heavy beating, operations for the 9o Gruppo restarted the next day.
“No difficulty in keeping astern of enemy aircraft. Enemy invariably looped for evasive action.”
On 3 September, Stuckey was promoted to Flying Officer (gazetted on 12 November).
On 10 September, ten SM 79s of the 33o Gruppo (including some borrowed crews of the 33o Stormo) attacked Mersa Matruh at 17:00. This time, after some days of ineffective interceptions, the British fighters were up in full strength with twelve Gladiators of 80 Squadron, helped by two Hurricanes of 274 Squadron (Flying Officer John Lapsley and Sergeant Clarke, who had flown up from Alexandria on attachment to 112 Squadron) and two Blenheim fighters of 30 Squadron. The Gladiators were from ‘B’ Flight and recently back from Sidi Haneish.
After the bombing (reportedly scoring direct hits) the SM 79s were intercepted at 5000 metres by the RAF fighters and a running battle began after which two Italian bombers failed to return. The returning Italian bomber crews claimed two Hurricanes and two Gladiators, which were later downgraded to two fighters confirmed and two probables.
The RAF pilots totally claimed four SM 79s. Flying Officer John Lapsley claimed two, Flight Lieutenant Frank Marlow (Blenheim K7096 with gunner Sergeant Lord) claimed one while the fourth was claimed by Pilot Officer Stuckey of 80 Squadron. The guns of Clarke jammed when he was in a very favourable position. In another combat later in the afternoon, Lapsley’s Hurricane got its windscreen completely shattered by return fire from the Italian bombers. Marlow recorded that after having taken off at 12:50, he joined Gladiators and Hurricanes in attacking six SM 79s in two flights of three. The leading aircraft of the second formation was shot down and the other two became stragglers. He attacked the starboard aircraft until he saw it falling into the sea. Pilot Officer Stuckey was up with Pilot Officer Samuel Cooper and Sergeant Donald Gregory when at 15:00, they intercepted a formation of five SM 79s in two sub-Flights of three and two, which was already under attack of a Hurricane. Gregory had to disengage with engine trouble while Cooper and Stuckey attacked the port aircraft of the sub-section of two SM 79s, which was damaged, seen to lose steadily height and finally followed in its final ditching at 15:20. Stuckey circled the wreck until it sunk 25 minutes later, and saw the five surviving members of the crew in their rubber boat, also giving them a thumbs up sign. During the attack his gun ceased to fire after he had silenced the rear and side gunners so he tried to hit the Savoia from short distance shooting at it with four Very lights. From the very detailed description given by Stuckey and his wingmen it seems highly likely that one of Savoias of the 33o Stormo fell to his fire (perhaps double-claimed by a Hurricane pilot).
Both lost SM 79s were from the 46a Squadriglia, 33o Stormo (Tenente Felice Scandone, Sottotenente Alfonso Colpi, Sergente Maggiore Radiotelegrafista Francesco Minicillo, Primo Aviere Fotografo Ubaldo Spallone, Aviere Scelto Motorista Riccardo Leghissa and Aviere Scelto Armiere Ferdinando Muto) (Sottotenente Alfonso Magliacane, Sergente Maggiore Manfredo Fucile, Primo Aviere Motorista Ugo Rizzotto, Primo Aviere Armiere Ubaldo Esposito, Primo Aviere Radiotelegrafista Orazio Minotta and Allievo Aviere Fotografo Antonio Ferrero –a cadet) with both crews becoming MIA.
According with all existing British Squadron’s ORBs, the successful interception occurred at around 14:00. This is not consistent with Italian records, which didn’t record any action before that just described, which reportedly occurred later, at 17:00. The possibility of a gap in Italian records, however, remains.
Near Ain El Gazala the eight returning bombers were involved in an air battle between Bristol Blenheims ( most likely from 113 Squadron) and 2o Stormo’s fighters. In the ensuing confusion CR.42s of the 13o Gruppo (77a and 78a Squadriglie) also attacked the SM 79 in error. In one of the first documented cases of “friendly fire” between units of Regia Aeronautica, Sottotenente Mario Fabbricatore of the 77a Squadriglia attacked and before realising his error the SM 79 flown by Sottotenente Barion (second pilot Sergente Benvenuti) caught fire. In panic, two members (Primo Aviere Luigi Martini and Allievo Aviere Armiere Pietro Pinna) baled out of the burning aircraft but, being too low both were killed when they hit the ground. The rest of the crew was able to fight the fire and force-landed fifteen kilometres short of base.
In the end landing at Benina (just attacked by British bombers) was considered too dangerous and Tenente Pastorelli turned back and brought its surviving planes directly to Tmini.
A board of inquiry was immediately installed by the Comando di Squadra, its conclusions are not known, apart from that it was found that the Italian bombers too often had crews unnecessarily large and this increased the losses on the - ever difficult to replace - personnel.
The British raid over Ain El Gazala caused no damage.
80 Squadron was ordered to Greece and on 18 November the ‘B’ Flight of 80 Squadron left Egypt and reached Athens with at least nine Gladiator IIs led by Squadron Leader William Hickey and including Flight Lieutenant 'Pat' Pattle, Flying Officers Greg Graham and Sidney Linnard, Pilot Officers Samuel Cooper, Stuckey and William Vale and Sergeant Charles Casbolt.
“A” Flight of 80 Squadron led by Flight Lieutenant Edward Jones left Egypt for Greece on 23 November.
On 19 November 1940, 'B' Flight of 80 Squadron, which recently had arrived to Greece to reinforce the Greek fighter forces, flew up to Trikkala during the morning. After refueling, nine Gladiators took off at 14:10, led by three Greek PZL P.24s (23 Mira), for an offensive patrol over the Koritza area. Squadron Leader William Hickey led the Gladiators.
When they neared the Italian airfield at Koritza the PZLs were obliged to turn back due to their short range. The Gladiators flew over Koritza were Italian anti-aircraft opened up. Flight Lieutenant 'Pat' Pattle, who were leading the second section, sighted four Fiat CR.42s climbing towards them from the starboard beam.
It had been arranged beforehand that the Gladiators would not use their radiotelephones unless it was absolutely essential, because they had discovered in the desert that the CR.42s used a similar wavelength; by listening in to the Gladiators, the Italians received prior information of an attack. Pattle warned Hickey of the presence of the CR.42s simply by diving past the Commanding Officer's section and pointing his Gladiator towards the Italian aircraft. Hickey acknowledged that he understood by waggling his wing and Pattle withdrew to his position at the head of his section.
As Hickey’s section dived towards the four CR.42s, Pattle noticed a second group of two more CR.42s and took his section, consisting of Pilot Officer Stuckey and Sergeant Charles Casbolt, to engage these. Pattle went for the leading CR.42, which attempted to evade the attack by diving steeply and slipping from side to side. Pattle followed, closing in rapidly, but he didn't fire until the CR.42 straightened out and thereby offered a steadier target. From 100 yards astern, he lined up the CR.42 in his sight and opened fire. The CR.42 steepened its dive; the pilot had apparently been hit, because he fell forward over the control column. Pattle pulled away, as the CR.42 went straight down to crash about two miles west of Koritza, bursting into flames on striking the ground. Stuckey, following close behind Pattle's Gladiator, smiled and gave a thumbs-up signal to Pattle signifying confirmation of the victory.
The two Gladiators, now completely alone, climbed up to 15,000 feet immediately over the airfield, and saw a dogfight in progress a few miles to the north. Heading in that direction, they were soon engaged by five CR.42s and two G.50s. One of the G.50s came at Pattle in a head-on attack, but broke away much too early, the tracers passing yards below the Gladiator. A CR.42 had a go next, but Pattle quickly snap-rolled, up and over the Italian aircraft, and came down perfectly in position fifty yards behind the CR.42. A short burst and the cockpit of the CR.42 became a mass of flames and it fell away burning furiously. After this combat he noticed that his air pressure were so low that he couldn't fire his guns and he soon returned to base.
Totally in this combat the British pilots claimed nine and two probables shot down. Apart from Pattle's two CR.42s, Stuckey claimed one G.50, which crashed, and one CR.42, Flight Lieutenant Greg Graham claimed one G.50 and one CR.42, Pilot Officer Samuel Cooper claimed one shared CR.42 with Pilot Officer William Vale, who also claimed one additional CR.42, Sergeant Charles Casbolt claimed one G.50 and finally Flying Officer Sidney Linnard claimed two CR.42s as probables.
Pilot Officer Stuckey was hit in the combat by CR.42s and wounded in the right shoulder and leg. He was saved from being finished off by Squadron Leader Hickey, who managed to driving away the CR.42s and then escort him back to Trikkala from where he would be dispatched to the Greek Red Cross hospital in Athens.
Pilot Officer Vale reported:
"Nine Gladiators and three PZLs took off from Trikkala in four flights of three aircraft to carry out an offensive patrol over Koritza. I was flying in the second flight as No.2 to F/Lt Pattle. We arrived over the area at approximately 1440 hours and after patrolling for about five minutes two CR42s were seen approaching our formation at 14,000 feet from starboard ahead. The signal for line astern was given by the flight leader, who immediately attacked the enemy aircraft, which broke formation. F/Lt Pattle engaged one CR42 and after a shot dogfight shot it down out of control, with smoke coming from the engine.80 Squadron had been involved in combat with Fiat CR.42s of 160o Gruppo Autonomo C.T., which were patrolling over this area, and with G.50bis from 24o Gruppo Autonomo C.T., which were escorting bombers in the same area.
The other CR42 was engage by No.1 Flight. I tried to regain my flight but finally attached myself to two Gladiators in formation, which I found out to be No.1 Flight led by S/Ldr Hickey. We carried on the patrol at about 10,000 feet over Koritza, where we met fairly accurate AA fire. ‘Tally-ho!’ was then given when three CR42s in formation were seen at about 6,000 feet. The formation split up and I dived on a CR42 which was attempting to escape to the north. I carried out a quarter attack and then slid in to an astern position, which I held while the enemy pilot did evasive tactics. He then carried out a manoeuvre which appeared to be a downward roll and I noticed that smoke was coming from his engine. I carried on firing in short bursts until he went between two hills through a small cloud. I followed over the cloud but no enemy aircraft appeared and so I went below into the valley and saw wreckage in a copse – at the same time getting fired at by enemy troops.
I climbed up immediately and at 6,000 feet saw a shiny monoplane with radial engine diving down. I gave chase but was out-distanced and so gave up after firing a short burst at about 400 yards. I gained altitude and observed a Gladiator and a CR42 in a dogfight very low down over the hill, and also noticed that the enemy pilot was attempting to lead the Gladiator over a group of enemy ground forces. I waited until the Gladiator pilot had manoeuvred into an astern attack and then carried out a quarter attack. I noticed that first white smoke and then black was coming from the engine of the e/a before I opened fire. I carried out quarter attacks until the other Gladiator pilot pulled away and then slid into an astern attack.
I remained in that position until very low over the main road and then the CR42 turned over and slid into the side of a hill. The aircraft did not burst into flames. While pulling up I fired at the enemy ground troops. I gained altitude and waggled my wings for the other Gladiator pilot to join me and then found the other pilot was P/O Cooper, who had apparently run out of ammunition. I then set course for home and finally landed at Eleusis, where I refuelled, before proceeding to the base aerodrome. I inspected my aeroplane and found that I had one bullet hole in my tail plane, which had done no damage. In each encounter with CR42s I found that both pilots used the downward roll manoeuvre at high speed for evasive action."
Stuckey was hospitalized and returned to his unit on 27 December.
On 20 January 1941, 80 Squadron was still maintaining a detachment at Eleusis for the defence of Athens and at 12.20 three Gladiators were ordered off to patrol over Piraeus, as Italian bombers were reported approaching from the west. Two minutes later two more Gladiators, with Flight Lieutenant 'Timber' Woods in the lead, were ordered off to patrol 15 miles to the south-west, and two of 30 Squadron's Blenheim IFs were also scrambled.
At 13.30 four Cant Z.1007bis from 47o Stormo B.T. appeared over Athens and bombed from 13.000 feet, escaping interception, as the trio of Gladiators were patrolling at 10.000 feet and had no chance of reaching the bombers, although they did chase them out to sea.
When a second formation of bombers approached however, the Gladiators had climbed to 15.000 feet and were well placed to intercept, making a head-on attack as the bombers turned east for their target. Pilot Officer Stuckey, who flew as no. 3 in the first trio, then broke away and made an individual quarter attack closing to very short range; his Gladiator was struck by return fire and he broke away, diving to sea level and going in to land at a newly-constructed airfield at Hassani, just south of Athens. As he approached another aircraft was in his way, and he was forced circuit again. However, as he glided in over the hangars, flames were see coming from the underside fuel tank of K7902, and next moment the Gladiator was engulfed, crashing into the ground; Stuckey was killed instantly.
In the meantime Woods attacked the same bomber at which Stuckey had been firing, joined by one of the Blenheim IFs flown by Flight Sergeant D. J. Innes-Smith. After Woods’ second attack the big Cant trimotor also burst into flames and four members of the crew baled out just before it crashed into the sea ten miles south of Athens, exploding on impact. Three of the crew landed safely but the fourth was killed when his parachute failed to open.
The other four bombers in the formation all suffered damage from the fighters' attacks, one of them having also been hit by Innes-Smith.
Stuckey was buried the following afternoon in the Municipal Cemetery in Athens, but only one pilot was able to pay his last respect since the rest of the pilots already were on their way to Yanina.
Stuckey was credited with 5 victories at the time of his death, all of the claimed while flying Gladiators.
|Kill no.||Date||Time||Number||Type||Result||Plane type||Serial no.||Locality||Unit|
|1||08/08/40||18:00-||1||CR.42 (a)||Destroyed||Gladiator I||K8022||El Gobi||80 Squadron|
|2||08/08/40||18:00-||1||CR.42 (a)||Destroyed||Gladiator I||K8022||El Gobi||80 Squadron|
|08/08/40||18:00-||1||CR.42 (a)||Probable||Gladiator I||K8022||El Gobi||80 Squadron|
|3||10/09/40||15:20||1||S.79 (b)||Destroyed||Gladiator||off Sidi Barrani||80 Squadron|
|4||19/11/40 (c)||14:10-||1||CR.42 (d)||Destroyed||Gladiator II||Koritza area||80 Squadron|
|5||19/11/40 (c)||14:10-||1||G.50 (d)||Destroyed||Gladiator II||Koritza area||80 Squadron|
|20/01/41||1/3||Z.1007 (e)||Shared destroyed||Gladiator II||K7902||10m S Athens||80 Squadron|
Biplane victories: 5 and 1 shared destroyed, 1 probable.
TOTAL: 5 and 1 shared destroyed, 1 probable.
(a) Claimed in combat with 9o and 10o Gruppi C.T., which lost 4 CR.42s, 4 fighters force-landed (it seems that all were later recovered) and one pilot KIA while claiming 5 and 2 probable Gladiators. 80 Squadron claimed 14 and 6 probably destroyed while losing 2 Gladiators and 1 pilot.
(b) RAF claimed four S.79s shot down in this combat without losses. The 46a Squadriglia, 33o Stormo lost two S.79, with both crews KIA. The Italian bombers claimed two fighters and two probables.
(c) Some sources give this date to 11 November, but this is most probably wrong.
(d) Claimed in combat with CR.42s from the 160o Gruppo and G.50bis from the 24o Gruppo, which lost 3 CR.42s and 1 G.50bis and 1 damaged CR.42 while claiming 1 and 2 probable Gladiators. 80 Squadron claimed 6 destroyed and 2 probables CR.42s and 3 G.50bis destroyed with 1 damaged Gladiator.
(e) Cant Z.1007bis of 47o Stormo B.T., which blew up on hitting sea. Three of the crew became POWs.
Ace of Aces: M T StJ Pattle - E C R Baker, 1992 Crécy Books, Somerton, ISBN 0-947554-36-X
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
Air war for Yugoslavia, Greece and Crete - Christopher Shores, Brian Cull and Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-948817-07-0
Desert Prelude: Early clashes June-November 1940 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2010 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-89450-52-4
Fiat CR.42 Aces of World War 2 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2009 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-427-5
Fighters over the Desert - Christopher Shores and Hans Ring, 1969 Neville Spearman Limited, London
Gladiator Ace: Bill 'Cherry' Vale, the RAF's forgotten fighter ace - Brian Cull with Ludovico Slongo and Håkan Gustavsson, 2010 Haynes Publishing, ISBN 978-1-84425-657-0
Gloster Gladiator - Alex Crawford, 2002 Mushroom Model Publications, ISBN 83-916327-0-9
Gloster Gladiator Home Page - Alexander Crawford.
GORIZIA ed il QUARTO STORMO
Hurricanes over Tobruk - Brian Cull with Don Minterne, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-11-X
Le Giovani Aquile – Antonino Trizzino, 1972 Longanesi, Milano, (narration by Guglielmo Biffani at GORIZIA ed il QUARTO STORMO) kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Quelli del Cavallino Rampante - Antonio Duma, 1981 Editore Dell'Ateneo, Roma, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
The Desert Air War 1939 – 1945 – Richard Townshend Bickers, 1991 Leo Cooper, London, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
The London Gazette
Additional information kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro and Ludovico Slongo