Biplane fighter aces

The Commonwealth

Squadron Leader James Watson AFC, RAF nos. 590089 (NCO); 45116 (Officer)

27 November 1909 – 5 September 1978

Picture kindly provided by Ehsan Roudiani.

James Watson was born on 27 November 1909.

Sergeant Watson served in 3 Squadron in 1937.

He was promoted to Temporary Warrant Officer on 2 January 1941 with seniority from 1 October 1940 (gazetted 21 January 1941).

In April 1941, seizing the opportunity of Allied reverses in Greece and in North Africa, a pro-Axis coup led by Rashid Ali took place in Iraq.
Invoking longstanding agreements Imperial troops were landed at Basra at the head of the Red Sea. In reprisal on 29 April, a 9000-strong Iraqi force invested the large RAF base at Habbaniya, to the west of Baghdad.
At this time some reinforcements of the flying training school there had taken place, including the delivery of six Gladiator Mk.Is (from stocks in Egypt) that joined three other Mk.Is on 19 April in a Fighter Flight under the command of Flight Lieutenant R. S. May. The Fighter Flight was to operate from the base’s Polo Field.

Following the refusal of the Iraqi troops to withdraw from Habbaniya on 1 May, Air Vice Marshal H. G. Smart, Air Officer Commanding in Iraq, on receiving confirmation that the Foreign Office in London considered the Iraqi action as an act of war, now decided that he would attack the Iraqi forces at dawn on 2 May without prior warning.

At 16:35 on 7 May 1941, Pilot Officer J. Watson in the Fighter Flight’s Gladiator K7947 escorted two Blenheims (flown by Squadron Leader pike and Flying Officer Gordon-Hall) and a formation of Audaxes and Oxfords of the Air Striking Force for an attack on Baquba.
At Baquba, all the British aircraft bombed and strafed, the trainers destroying three aircraft and damaging others, while the Blenheims set another three on fire.
Watson engaged an Iraqi Gladiator from astern at point blank range. The Iraqi Gladiator rolled over onto its back and dived towards the ground. As the altitude was 15-200 meters it is doubtful if the Iraqi pilot recovered, although Watson could only claim a probable as he did not actually see it crash.
It is possible that this was Lieutenant Lufty Ahmed al-Jameel from 4 Squadron even if this combat was reported by Iraqi sources as on 8 May and that al-Jameel had been shot down by their own air defence while trying to land at Rashid airbase.
Watson wrote in his logbook that the mission took 2 hours.

On 7 June, Watson was promoted to the war substantive rank of Flying Officer on probation (gazetted on 27 June 1941). This rank was confirmed on 1 October 1941 (gazetted 6 June 1942).

In June 1941, he was part of ‘X’ Flight, which had formed at Habbaniya on 6 June. This unit was equipped with Gloster Gladiators under the command of Flying Officer K. H. O. Young and had been formed to take part in Operation’Exporter’, which was an invasion in French-held Syria.

On 7 June the unit flew to Amman in Transjordan.

By 15 June ‘X’ Flight had begun making use of an advanced landing ground at Mafraq, to which six Gladiators flew each morning at daybreak for their scheduled patrol activity.
On this morning the six were all on patrol over Kissoué at 8000 feet when they entered the same airspace as a ‘patrouille double’ with Dewoitine D.520s from GC III/6, which had taken off at 08.30 to patrol over the Ezraa-Soueida area, led by Sous Lieutenant Pierre Le Gloan. At 09.30 three of the Gladiators were spotted below, Le Gloan leading Capitaine de Rivals-Mazeres and Sergeant Chef Mertzisen down in a dive on them, at once shooting down 35-year-old Flying Officer John Norman Craigie (RAF no. 43477) in Gladiator K7947, which crashed straight into the ground east of Ezraa, killing the pilot. A confusing engagement followed, during which Flying Officer Jeffrey and Sergeant Appleby each claimed a Dewoitine shot down.
Sergeant Chef Mertzisen’s No. 367 was badly hit and he came down in British-held territory at Sanamein but managed to return back home with the help of a Bedouin. Capitaine de Rivals-Mazeres claimed another Gladiator, which he claimed exploded on hitting the ground (he had probably also been firing on Craigie’s aircraft). Le Gloan attacked a second, claiming a probable, but then ran out of ammunition. His No. 277 was hit repeatedly, and he was pursued back towards Rayak by two Gladiators, crash-landing on the airfield with fighter in write-off condition.
A second patruille had meanwhile joined the fight, Sergeant Chef Elmlinger and Sergeant Mequet reporting a further victory between them, but incorrectly stating that the pilot had baled out. Either they or Le Gloan had hit Flying Officer Watson’s K7914, damaging it severely, causing him to fly directly to Amman.
The other four Gladiators landed safely at Mafraq.

On 30 September 1941, Watson was decorated with the Air Force Cross.

He was promoted to the war substantive rank of Flight Lieutenant on 15 May 1942 (gazetted 16 June 1942).

Watson ended the war with 1 probable biplane victory.

He continued to serve in the RAF after the war and on 1 January 1947, he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant and at the same time was transferred to the Aircraft Control Branch with effect from 20 July 1947 (gazetted 23 March 1948). The rank of Flight Lieutenant became permanent on 2 December 1948 (gazetted on 19 April 1949).

On 1 July 1950, he was promoted to Squadron Leader (gazetted 4 July 1950).

Watson died on 5 September 1978.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 07/05/41 16:35 1 Gladiator (a) Probable Gladiator I K7947 Baquba area Fighter Flight

Biplane victories: 1 probably destroyed.
TOTAL: 1 probably destroyed.
(a) Possibly Lieutenant Lufty Ahmed al-Jameel from 4 Squadron RIrAF.

Dust Clouds in the Middle East - Christopher Shores, 1996 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-37-X
Gloster Gladiator - Alex Crawford, 2002 Mushroom Model Publications, Redbourn, ISBN 83-916327-0-9
Gloster Gladiator Aces - Andrew Thomas, 2002 Osprey Publishing, London, ISBN 1-84176-289-X
Gloster Gladiator Home Page - Alexander Crawford.
Wings of Iraq: Volume 1: The Iraqi Air Force, 1931-1970 – Milos Sipos and Tom Cooper, 2020 Helion & Company Limited, ISBN 978-1-913118-74-7
Much information kindly provided by Ehsan Roudiani.
Additional info kindly provided by Alexander Crawford

Last modified 14 November 2023