Biplane fighter aces

Commonwealth

Squadron Leader Derrick Fitzgerald 'Gerald' 'Jerry' Westenra DFC and Bar, RAF no. 89782

29 April 1918 – 17 August 1999

Flight Lieutenant Westenra, probably in April 1942 when he just had left 112 Squadron.

Derrick Fitzgerald Westenra, always known as Gerald, was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, on 29 April 1918, into a pioneer settler family. He was educated in Christchurch and learned to fly during a spell in Kenya where he also served in the Kenya Auxiliary Air Unit. In February 1940 he joined the RNZAF. He arrived in England with the RNZAF during the year and was commissioned in the RAF in November 1940.

He was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in 1941, and within weeks of completing his training was posted to the Middle East. He joined 112 Squadron in time to fly Gladiators in Greece and Crete early in 1941.

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

On 5 May Ju 88s were intercepted over the Heraklion sector by two 112 Squadron Gladiators flown by Pilot Officer Len Bartley and Pilot Officer Westenra. Each pilot claiming a bomber damaged.

On 13 May a number of aircraft, identified as Bf 110s, attacked Heraklion airfield in a desultory fashion, which caused little damage and a few minor casualties to army personnel. Five Gladiators got off, two flown by 1430 Flight pilots, but only Pilot Officer Westenra was able to attack, fighting with six of the intruders and getting in several good bursts, though his own fighter was badly shot about, landing with four mainspars shot through, large areas of fabric missing and numerous bullet holes.
This action, witnessed by many of the defenders on the ground, proved to be quite a tonic to morale.

On 14 May about a dozen II/ZG 26 Bf 110s appeared over Heraklion. Two Gladiators were off, Flying Officer Stan Reeves of 1430 Flight and Pilot Officer Westenra getting airborne. Westenra bounced one of the low-flying Bf 110s, that flown by Oberleutnant Sophus Baagoe, a 14-victory ‘Experte’ from 5 Staffel, the aircraft falling into the sea just offshore, the pilot and his gunner, Oberfeldwebel Daniel Becker, being killed; this aircraft was also claimed by the Bofors gunners whose accurate fire brought down a second Bf 110, ‘3U+EM’ of 4 Staffel. The latter crash-landed half a mile from the airfield with the port propeller, fin and rudder all shot away. Gefreiter Adolf Ketterer and his gunner, Gefreiter Hans Bromba, were both captured. Returning Bf 110 pilots claimed four victories; Flying Officer Reeves’ Gladiator was badly damaged and force-landed. Two more Gladiators were damaged on the ground. Several of the Bf 110s had carried bombs, whilst others were seen to jettison long-range tanks over the coastline. Little serious damage resulted from the attack.

On 18 May 1941 two Hurricanes and two Gladiators from Heraklion were airborne and after an air attack on this field they were ordered to land instead at Retimo. The remaining Hurricane and Gladiators at Heraklion were no longer flyable. On arrival at Retimo the four pilots were ordered to evacuate to Egypt, and after refuelling, all took of. Flying Officer A R Costello and Sergeant W Bain flew the two Hurricanes, Flight Lieutenant Dennant and Pilot Officer Westenra the Gladiators. All arrived safely.

The unit retired to Palestine and then moved to the Canal Zone in Egypt where it re-equipped with Tomahawks. He flew in the Western Desert where he became a flight commander late in 1941. He is reputed to have been the instigator of the painting of the famous 'Sharks' Teeth' on the squadron's aircraft.

On 25 September, nine Tomahawks of 112 Squadron carried out a shipping patrol, being bounced out of the sun by two fighters while on the way back to base, Pilot Officer Westenra bailing out.
No Luftwaffe claim was made this day, but 112 Squadron identified their attackers as Bf 109s, and it is possible that there was a confusion of dates in records, this being the victory of Oberleutnant Gerhard Homuth of 3./JG 27, who claimed a P-40 (victory no. 26) at 14:40 the previous day.

At mid-afternoon on 25 November, a total of 23 Tomahawks of which 13 from 112 Squadron with ten of 3 RAAF Squadron (effectively only seven), and led by Wing Commander Peter Jeffrey (Tomahawk IIb AN337), took off at 15:25 (3 RAAF Squadron at 15:12), arriving just in time (about 15:40) to catch a large enemy formation of aircraft bombing and dive bombing our troops just north of Sidi Rezegh. Reportedly the enemy formation included between 60-80 enemy aircraft and before breaking up, the enemy formation appeared to be a top cover of 20-30 fighters of which very few Bf 109s, the balance G.50s at 15,000 feet. Below this about 20 medium bombers - mostly Bf 110s and a few Ju 88s at approximately 11,000ft. Also at lower level 15 Ju 87s escorted by five unidentified fighters.
3 RAAF Squadron, being above 112 Squadron, dived to attack the Bf 110s which were breaking up formation on spotting them. It seems that 3 RAAF Squadron chased the Bf 110s towards the sea, The Ju.87s dived westwards and made for home while the enemy fighters dived down to attack 112 Squadron.
3 RAAF Squadron landed back at 17:10 and claimed eight destroyed and eight damaged while losing one Tomahawk.
Sergeant Rex Wilson (AK506) clashed with Bf 110s, shooting one down and damaging two more, and then he engaged a Bf 109, which he claimed as a damaged and finally he shot down two Fi 156 Storch aircraft that were passing nearby.
Wing Commander Peter Jeffrey claimed one Bf 110 and another damaged.
Sergeant Frank Reid (AN408) claimed a Bf 110.
Flying Officer Edward Jackson (AM406) claimed a damaged Bf 110 but returned slightly wounded.
Sergeant M. Baillie (AK378) claimed a Bf 109E.
Flying Officer Robert Gibbes (AN374) claimed two G.50bis and three more damaged.
23-year-old Flying Officer Bruce Aitken Evans (RAAF No. 713) (AK343) was shot down and killed in action.
Of this hectic combat, Robert Gibbes later recorded:

“The Wing Leader led the squadrons down after the enemy aircraft as they dived out to sea, slightly east of Tobruk. I started to follow, but noticed quite a lot of fighters above us, so I changed my mind and climbed up alone after them. Luck was with me. They proved to be mainly Italians in G.50s and Macchi 200s who were flying in line astern, in groups of five aircraft, in each formation. They had watched our wing dive down after the bombers, and this appeared to have absorbed their interest, as I seemed to be almost unobserved. On each occasion, they had almost passed by me before I was seen, and the leader, by then, was so committed to his dive, that he was not able to do much about dealing with me, and I found that I was able to get good bursts at numerous machines, without once leaving myself open.
One team of five aircraft came down in a gentle dive, noticed me at the last moment, and the leader tried to pull round onto me. This put me into a very favourable position as I came in at them from the opposite direction on the inside of their turn, and I was able to have a crack at each of the five as they swept by, in line astern. The same thing happened three or four times and although I didn't do much noticeable damage, I did however, succeed in breaking up their formation considerably. Without doubt, I prevented a few co-ordinated attacks on the squadron below.
A G.50 came at me shooting madly. I returned his fire, crouching low behind the engine and feeling the size of a house. He made the mistake of breaking his attack too early, and turned away to starboard. I pulled off a little lead, and saw bits and pieces fly from his cockpit area. The aircraft rolled onto its back to the right and went into an uncontrolled spin, pouring black smoke. I turned my aircraft and watched it plummet down towards the sea below, and then with a jerk, realising my foolishness, I kicked on hard rudder and looked behind. I was just in time. Macchis and G 50s were coming at me from all directions. I gave the old Tommy everything, weaving my way through them, and climbed above. Suddenly, they all seemed to be so very harmless, like clueless children out on a Sunday jaunt, whose aunt had temporarily left them. My morale was terrific, and for the first time, no residue of fear remained. I saw a line of G.50s below my level and dived to attack. They were doing a gentle turn to port when I joined them, making the formation six, but only for a moment. My bullets concentrated around the tail-end aircraft and I don’t think he would have known what hit him. His aircraft shuddered, hesitated in its turn, bunted outwards, pulled up into a half loop, then fell away, obviously completely out of control leaving a spiral trail of black smoke behind it. It was probably flown by a dead pilot. I pulled around onto the next aircraft, and when I fired, it flicked onto its back and dived away, but it appeared to be under control. Maybe I didn’t damage it too much, but I certainly frightened hell out of the pilot.
The remainder of the flight broke up in all directions, and taking advantage of the superior performance of my aircraft, I climbed up above them, to avoid any tests of manoeuvrability, and to take stock of proceedings, and try to get my machine guns working again, as some had given up the ghost. I noticed a splash in the sea below, but didn’t know if it was my G.50 or not, but supposed that it was.
The fight went on and I am afraid that I was now behaving in a childish manner and I was whooping like a wild Indian on the warpath. I do not believe that I shot anything down after this, but things were moving at too fast and furious a rate to get time to observe the results of further attacks. Without doubt I hit the further odd machine as I was able to get into infallible positions. The air-space which had been full of stunting Italians, suddenly cleared like magic as seems to happen in air combat. I looked around and the only aircraft which I could see was a 109 below me. I chased after it at full throttle, climbed up into the sun and positioned myself for an attack. I then saw why the 109 was not more alert. His eyes were fastened on another prey in the form of two unsuspecting Tomahawks cruising in formation below him. He put his aircraft into a gentle dive heading south-west and behind the Tomahawks and I started my dive from the north to north-east, out of the sun, heading him off, coming in at right angles. I called a warning to the two Tommys, and on a converging course, I rapidly closed on the 109 which had now dropped slightly below them in order to stay out of sight. At last I had a complete drop on a 109.
My dreams had materialised and I had one exactly where I wanted it. At high speed, in range, fire. I pressed the trigger and my guns barked in response. By almost a sixth sense my German friend saw me at the last moment, and pulled his stick back making my fire pass below him. He then proceeded to pump-handle his joystick rapidly backwards and forwards, as if following the track of the switchback rail at Luna Park, and I didn't have a hope in hell of hitting him in my first attack. I overshot, pulled around, washing a lot of speed off, and got in an attack from the port rear quarter, which I believe hit him, but did not stop him. I fired again and again, but although he looked a bit sick in the end, he was nevertheless still flying and gradually pulled out of range. I had lost what should have been a certain kill. The Hun beat me by fast thinking and a trick which was too good for me. Full credit to him. I noted this trick and added it to my limited repertoire, and it was later to prove useful in getting out of a similar jam.”
112 Squadron also landed at 17:10 and claimed two destroyed and two more as probable while losing a Tomahawk.
Pilot Officer Neville Bowker (AK503), flying with 3 RAAF Squadron shot down a Bf 110 into the sea (confirmed by Wing Commander Jeffrey).
Flying Officer Peter Humphreys (AK505) claimed one CR.42 destroyed west of El Adem and a probable Bf 109F, last seen diving at high speed vertically, 500 feet from the sea off Tobruk Harbour (it was credited as a probable). Confirmation of this was expected from Tobruk as Pilot Officer Bowker and Wing Commander Jeffrey both saw an unidentified plane splash into the sea 5 miles north-west of Tobruk.
Flight Lieutenant Westenra clashed with ten G.50s that were flying lined up in pairs opposite him. He hit a G.50 that had left the defensive circle and left it spiralling down apparently out of control 5 miles south-west off Tobruk. This aircraft was claimed as a probable.
New Zealander and 20-year-old Sergeant Frederick Dunford Glasgow (RAF No. 402469) (AK461/A) of 112 Squadron flying with 3 RAAF Squadron was KIA.
Pilot Officer Bowker’s machine was hit by the machine gunner of the Bf 110, whose plane he had shot down, but repairable at unit and Flying Officer Humphreys’ machine was also hit and repairable, but not at unit.
Flying Officer Humphreys was 3 miles east of Tobruk at an altitude of 8000 feet at 16:00, when he spotted the enemy at a bearing of 12 o’clock, at a slightly higher altitude. He gained height and attacked the tail of a Bf 109:
“Put a 5 seconds burst into enemy starting at 200 yards to 500 yards as 109 F drew away after astern attack on myself when I was hit in the tail and wing root. After my attack I was attacked by another 109 and was forced to turn away, and looking back.
Saw E/A joined by another Me.110. Also saw E/A I had attacked then begin to dive steeply towards the sea ...”
At 16:30, Humphreys came down from a greater height and attacked the tail of a CR.42 at an altitude of 100ft above LG 122. He reported:
“E/A seen to wobble after first attack and after second attack dived towards ground and after breaking away after attack saw E/A crash land in cloud of dust.”
The Axis formation included both German and Italian aircraft and the force included 17 Ju 87s of I./StG 3, 15 of II./StG 2, 12 Bf 110s III./ZG 26 and 12 Bf 109s of I and II./JG 27. The German fighter pilots made six claims:
Oberleutnant Gustav Rödel of 4./JG 27 claimed one Hurricane I at 15:55 and one P-40 at 15:57; both were claimed north of Tobruk.
Oberfeldwebel Otto Schulz of 4./JG 27 claimed one P-40 north of Tobruk at 16:00.
Leutnant Hans Hufnagel of 9./ZG 26 (based at Derna) claimed one P-40 at 16:01.
Oberfähnrich Gerhard Endmann of 4./JG 27 claimed one P-40 north of Tobruk at 16.05.
Oberfeldwebel Albert Espenlaub of 1./JG 27 claimed one P-40 south-east of Tobruk at 16:05.
It seems that German losses were two Bf 110s from 8./ZG 26 when WNr. 3985 (Oberleutnant Dieter Bidlingmaier and Unteroffizier Gerhard Becker MIA) and WNr. 3181 (Leutnant Joern Scharf and Unteroffizier Hermann Bogler MIA; Scharf later reported to be PoW) both failed to return. The two Fi 156s shot down by Rex Wilson were both aircraft of II./JG 27 which had been unlucky in flying into the combat area when on the way to attend the funeral of Leutnant Scheppa. They were flown by Leutnant Gorny and Oberarzt Heydenreich, who subsequently reported that after crashing, their aircraft were strafed on the ground, Gorny suffering wounds.
The Italian aircraft included four G.50s of the 378a Squadriglia together with two of the 351a Squadriglia, 155o Gruppo, acting as close cover (15:00-16:30). Five G.50s of the 20o Gruppo (two of the 151a, one of the 352a and two of the 353a Squadriglie) provided top cover together with the Bf 109s. They were led by Capitano Riccardo Roveda (14:25-16:40). There were also eleven C.200s of the 153o and one of the 157a Gruppi; presumably they were the close cover. There were also four CR.42Ts (fighter bombers) of the 376a Squadriglia.
The G.50s were on patrol on line abreast at 4,000m, when the target was reached at 15:45. A formation of about ten Hurricanes and P-40s was spotted north of Bu Amud after the bombing and they were engaged in combat (probably over the sea). It would seem that only Capitano Roveda and Sottotenente Alcide Leonio of the 353a Squadriglia engaged the enemy fighters and they claimed to have shot down one P-40 each, firing 235 rounds. The pilots of the 155o Gruppo reported that they limited themselves to sticking close to the bombers without taking part in the combat.
The CR.42 took off at 14:45 and returned to base at 16:30. They encountered very heavy anti-aircraft fire, nevertheless the action was considered to have gone very well and they didn’t suffer any losses. The aircraft claimed as a CR.42 by 112 Squadron’s Flying Officer Humphreys, appears actually to have been a Ro.37bis of 129a Squadriglia. This had taken off at 15:50 to explore the El Adem-Sidi Rezegh-Hagfet El Haei-bir El Gobi zone but was attacked by a fighter and forced to crash-land at El Adem, and while Tenente Antonio Grillo and Tenente Giuseppe Conti survived unhurt, the biplane was a complete write-off.
It seems that this confusing combat took place when the aircraft were returning from the bomb attack. The Stukas, CR.42s and escort of the 153o and 155o Gruppi were probably not involved in the combat, even if identified by the Commonwealth fighter pilots.
It is interesting to note what was reported by 112 Squadron on the decision by the G.50s to form a defensive circle despite their superiority in numbers.
Totally, the Tomahawks of 3 RAAF and 112 Squadrons claimed ten enemy aircraft, two probable and eight damaged while losing two Tomahawks. The Axis fighters claimed eight Allied fighters shot down while losing two Bf 110s.

At 09:10 on 4 December, 16 German Ju 87s and six Italian of the 239a Squadriglia took off to bomb concentrations of about 150 motor vehicles 20 km north-east of Bir El Gobi, with the top cover of ten Bf 109Fs and close cover of ten MC.200s of the 153o Gruppo, which had taken off at 09:30, and six of the 157o Gruppo. The targets were scattered but nevertheless the bombs were well aimed and a good result was expected.
Ten Tomahawks of 112 Squadron, led by Squadron Leader Morello, with ten Tomahawks of 250 Squadron, took off at 09:30 for a wing sweep over the El Adem and Sidi Rezegh area. Flying at 10,000 feet, with 250 Squadron as top cover, ahead and below was seen a mixed force of about 30 enemy machines.

“…On sighting the enemy, the C.O. ordered one section down to attack about 15 Ju.87s flying in three batches of 4 or 5 at approx. 6,000 ft. At the same time, the C.O. and the second section attacked a mixed bag of about 10 G.50 and Macchi C.200. However, these went down to level of the 87s and top section were attacked by about 5 Me 109E and F. 3 Macchi C.202 were seen but must have been attacked by No. 250 Sqn., who had climbed above us.
A general dogfight developed in the top section as a result of which Sgt. Christie claims a Me 109F probably destroyed and F.O. Humphreys a Me 109F damaged, whilst Sgt. Ferguson was badly shot up and it was a sterling effort to bring his machine back to base. F.Lt. Westenra, P.O. Bowker and P.O. Duke chased their quarries to the West, the latter finishing off a good show by driving a C.200 to earth inside the Tobruk defences, finally landing there before returning to base.
Enemy casualties:
2 G.50s destroyed by F.Lt. Westenra (AN 303)
1 G.50 and 1 Ju.87 destroyed by P.O. Bowker (AN372)
1 C.200 and 1 Ju.87 probably destroyed by P.O. Duke (AN337/F)
1 Me 109F probably destroyed by Sgt. Christie (AK354)
1 Me 109F damaged by P.O. Peter Humphreys (AK415)
Own casualties:
1 Tomahawk (Sgt Ferguson) damaged-airframe beyond repair, engine repairable by RSU.
1 Tomahawk (P.O. Bowker) damaged, but repaired at unit and flying same day.”
The claims of 112 Squadron was later somewhat updated when Flight Lieutenant Westenra claimed two G.50s, Pilot Officer Neville Bowker claimed a G.50 and a Ju 87, Pilot Officer Neville Duke claimed a MC.200, a probable Ju 87 and another damaged while a Bf 109F and a probable were claimed by Sergeant Ronald Christie and a damaged Bf 109F was claimed by Flying Officer Peter Humphreys.
Sergeant Christie reported:
“Type of attack delivered on enemy: dead astern climbing on one 109F. Enemy was attacking one of our sections in usual dive and away tactics. Heavy bursts into enemy at 100 yards. Saw shots entering the fuselage. Consider he was severely hit and as he broke away into a steep dive without further evasive action he was almost definitely destroyed. If destroyed, this aircraft should have landed at Point 420, 390, 300. I claim 1 109F probably destroyed. I also saw a Tomahawk going down in flames but do not think it was one of our Sqn.”
Pilot Officer Duke wrote:
“Oh, Boy, another! Encountered the Hun Circus of Ju 87s, 109s, Macchi 200s and G.50s. Got stuck into them. Came across five Ju 87s flying in close formation and sprayed them all. One broke away and went down in a gentle dive, smoking a bit. Couldn’t watch him as some 109s appeared and I don’t like them!
Pounced on a Macchi 200 and had a pretty good dog-fight. He started beetling off home and I chased him. Once he did a complete roll in front of me. My guns were all haywire and in the end only one cannon was going and I had to keep cocking that. Finally that stopped just as we came roaring over Tobruk at nought feet. The Macchi was still showing fight however, but he suddenly spun in off a steep turn and crashed. I was hoping he would land on the aerodrome as he had put up a good fight - nearly always at ground level, and once we went chasing out to sea. I was making dummy attacks on him as my guns had packed up.
I landed at Tobruk and had lunch. It had bucked the boys up no end to see the fight.”
The information relating to 250 Squadron is rather meagre; this unit together with 112 Squadron was carrying out an escort mission for reconnaissance Hurricanes between El Adem and Tobruk. Ten Tomahawks acting as the top cover of 112 Squadron were flying at an altitude of 13,000 feet, when they spotted a formation of enemy fighters at 10:30. They were crossing them at more or less the same altitude. Bf 109s, G.50s (obviously MC.200s) and Ju 87s were recognized. They were in an open or irregular formation. Finally also MC.202s were recognized.
Flight Lieutenant Ronald Bary attacked a Bf 109 from below hitting it with short bursts; therefore the Messerschmitt turned over losing altitude, with smoke coming from the wings and fuselage; it was claimed probable. Flight Lieutenant I. F. Rose also claimed a probable Bf 109. Pilot Officer Kenneth Hart got right near the tail of a MC.200 that strangely, even if the pilot was aware of coming under attack, limited itself to a slight turn to the right. Then the Macchi was seen to dive towards the ground with the pilot probably dead, in view of the rounds that had been fired into the cockpit. Hart also was credited with a damaged Bf 109.
The Messerschmitt pilots reported to have sighted 40 P-40s, declaring to have shot three down in the Bir El Gobi area between 10:16 and 10:20. There were no losses among the German planes. The victories were credited to Oberfeldwebel Otto Schultz (10:16 in the Bir el Gubi area), Oberleutnant Gustav Rödel (10:18 north-east of Bir el Gubi) and Unteroffizier Alfred Heidel (10:20 in the Bir el Gubi area), all of 4./JG27.
AIR 22.401 reported the loss of three Hurricanes, one of them a reconnaissance plane, and three Tomahawks during the day; in its turn AIR 22.364 in reporting the clashes at 09:00 mentions the loss of two Hurricanes and a P-40, but doesn't mention the damaged planes.
Taking into account the report given by Christie it seems that a Tomahawk was shot down in this action, presumably one of 250 Squadron, even if Form 540 doesn’t report it. Therefore the German claims had probably referred to this, as well as the bad damage done to Ferguson’s plane (that seems to have crash-landed on return). Finally the third could well have referred to the second Hurricane shot down; there is no trace of this in the 1 SAAF and 274 Squadron’s diaries but the reconnaissance Hurricane could have been lost in the same clash.
The diary of the 153o Gruppo reported that MC.200s had clashed with the Tomahawks and was hard hit; Tenente Mezzetti, who was slightly wounded on the right heel, landed at Gazala, while another four Macchis had been hit; nevertheless they had managed to protect the Stukas so that they could return to base undamaged. In fact it seems that the Stukas not even had been attacked. In any case they hadn’t lost any of their aircraft. Even if it is not reported in the diary of the 153o Gruppo, Sottotenente Arrigo Zancristofaro didn’t return to base (KIA). In the end also Tenente Vittorio Conti of the 157o Gruppo was shot down, he parachuted but he also didn’t return to base (PoW). The 153o Gruppo didn’t claim anything in this combat.
Eleven MC.202s of the 17o Gruppo (six of the 71a Squadriglia, three of the 72a Squadriglia, and two of the 80a Squadriglia), under the command of Tenente Colonnello Bruno Brambilla, took off at 09:45. They were also the top cover for the formation of attack of 09:30. Subsequently they had probably carried out a free sweep over Bir El Gobi. A pilot of the 80a Squadriglia returned to base early because his fighter developed engine trouble. The formation clashed with an enemy estimated to have been about thirty fighters divided between Curtiss P-40s and Hurricanes in poor weather over the target at an altitude of 4,000 metres at 10:20. The Italian pilots claimed eight victories; Capitano Pio Tomaselli (72a Squadriglia, one Hurricane), Sergente Maggiore Gabriele Romagna (72a Squadriglia, one Tomahawk), Sottotenante Renato Bagnoli (80a Squadriglia, one Hurricane), Tenente Colonnello Brambilla (one Hurricane), Capitano Pericle Baruffi (71a Squadriglia, one Tomahawk), Tenente Pierfrancesco Conti (71a Squadriglia one Tomahawk), Tenente Ottorino Cappellini (71a Squadriglia one Tomahawk) and Sergente Egidio Buogo (71a Squadriglia, one Tomahawk). Sergente Carlo Ermo(71a Squadriglia) claimed a probable Tomahawk.
Sottotenente Lorenzo Chellini's (72a Squadriglia) MC.202 MM7864/72-3, was hit in the water radiator after machine gunning an enemy plane and was forced to make an emergency landing near El Duda, about 8 km south east of El Adem. The destruction of the fighter was reported even if from a photo it would seem that the Macchi made a good emergency landing. Maresciallo Marcello Lui (71a Squadriglia) (MM7874) had to land away from the airfield because of engine trouble Another two aircraft had been hit; Brambilla’s in the empennages and Conti’s in the control panel..
Altogether 2,195 rounds were fired, 387 of them by Pio Tomaselli and Romagna. The Macchis returned to base at 11:00.
The action involved the Hurricane lIs of 1 SAAF and 274 Squadrons, which belonged to the same Wing. Ten of the former took off at 09:15 (one of them returned early because of engine trouble), and twelve of the latter at 09:20.
The ORB of the first unit reported making a free sweep above El Adem, while the second refers to a defence patrol for its own armoured vehicles above Trigh Capuzzo. 1 SAAF Squadron, which was flying as top cover at a higher altitude when it encountered a loose formation of MC 202s at 10:20, 12 km south-west of El Adem. It appeared to be a decoy formation for when Captain C. A. van Vliet climbed to attack, the Italians attacked the flanks of the formation; only now above them were seen six more and above these were some 16 Macchis and Messerschmitts, the former dark-green, the latter identifiable by their square wingtips. The returning pilots claimed two destroyed, three probable and three damaged. All of the claims were MC.202s; Lieutenant Robert Kershaw (one probable and one damaged), 2nd Lieutenant Alan Maclean (one damaged), Lieutenant Vivian Penberthy (one destroyed in DG626), 2nd Lieutenant Lawrence Waugh (one destroyed, one probable and one damaged) and 2nd Lieutenant Charles Willson (one probable). 2nd Lieutenant Waugh caught one pulling out of its attack, half-rolled and sent it down smoking. Another pulling up in front of him went into a spiral and he saw it crash and finally he fired a long head-on burst on a third, which sent debris flying from it. 2nd Lieutenant Willson saw his victim stop a burst, flick onto its back and go down in a trail of black smoke. 2nd Lieutenant Thomas Albert Meek’s Hurricane was shot down 40 miles from base and he returned to base on foot next day.
“No 1 Sqn., SAAF, received instructions from 258 Wing RAF to carry out a wing sweep with No.274 Sqn., RAF, over our troops in area 4237, 4736 and 4533 (Purple grid map: 250.000 Egypt and Cyrenaica Sollum-Tobruk Sheet 3). The leaders of the formation of No. 1 and 274 Squadrons agreed that No. 1 should provide the top cover for the sweep. The Hurricane Mk.lls of No. 1 took off from L.G. 124 at 9.15 hrs. flying in formation, i.e. pairs in line abreast. They flew at 10.000 feet, and above No. 274 Squadron’s formation. Owing to engine (oil pressure dropping) one Hurricane returned at 9.45 hrs.
After approx. one hour ten minutes flying the leader of No. 1 (which was then flying in a northerly direction) observed about 8 E/A approaching. The E/A were to the left (about 10 O’clock) and slightly above our formation. The 8 E/A, which were in no particular formation, dived towards the rear of our formation and shot down a straggler
[2nd Lieutenant Meek]. Then they appeared to break up on either side of No. 1 and climbed into the base of the clouds, at 12000 feet, where they joined other E/A. Another large group of E/A (about 16) were seen to the right and slightly above.
These aircraft did not take part in the general dogfight for several minutes, but remained milling about on their own, while No. 1 was attacked on both flanks by single aircraft. Pilots estimated between 20 and 30 E/A. Most of them were C.202s, but some pilots identified Me109Es with their square wing tips.
Own Tactics.
The leader of No. 1 turned into the 8 E/A that attacked by a climbing turn to the left. But single E/A made attacks from both sides almost at the same time as the climbing turn was begun, and the formation broke up and general dog fighting took place.
Enemy tactics.
The attacks were made generally by single aircraft diving out the base of the clouds, between 12000 and 13000 feet. No enemy aircraft attempted a head-on attack.
The presence of a large group of E/A that remained for several minutes slightly above and to the right of our formation without taking part in the fight worried our pilots. This group of aircraft frequently distracted their attention from the single aircraft that were making repeated attacks from out of the clouds.
Several pilots commented on the astonishing aerobatics that the enemy pilots carried out during the dogfight. Several of them were seen to loop, stall turn, and roll off the top for no apparent reason. One C.202 was attacked when it was inverted at the top of a loop and the tail plane was shot to pieces
[possibly Brambilla claimed by Lieutenant Penberthy]. Another C.202 was shot down when it was in a stall turn. It is presumed, because of the aerobatics, that the enemy aircraft were flown by Italians. If they were Italians they had learned from the Germans how to take advantage of the clouds and to pounce immediately on any stragglers in a formation.
Description of the Macchi C.202.
The Macchis encountered were painted in a dark green livery and they had a wide broad white band round the fuselage towards the tail. The wings have rounded tips and the end of wings appears to be as broad as it is at the base. The cockpit is not set well back as on the Me 109 or Tomahawk, and has not therefore a pronounced nose.
Performance.
The C.202 is a highly manoeuvrable aircraft, but the general opinion of the pilots of No. 1 Sqn. who dog fought with them was that the Hurricane Mk. II could outturn them. One pilot dog fought one for several minutes, but neither aircraft fired because at no time could one of the pilots get the other in his sights. Three Hurricanes that chased a Macchi which had a start in a 5000 feet dive, failed to catch up with it. The A.I.S. of the Hurricane was 340 mph, but in the level chase at 2000 ft above the deck, the C.202 pulled away from it.
Armament.
Pilots saw lines of self-explosive cannon fire, which could have been fired through the spindle of the Macchi. This aircraft carries guns its wings, but not many, as the fire seen coming from the wings was not nearly as dense as that when an 8 gun Hurricane fires. One Hurricane of No. 1 which was hit and returned to base was damaged in the starboard wing by machine gun fire. Bullets similar to our new .303 were found in the wing.
Total number of rounds fired pilots of No. 1: 7595 (armour piercing, ball and tracer).”
274 Squadron reported having clashed with Bf 109s and MC.200s and to have claimed one MC.202 damaged (MacDonnell in BD821).
The South Africans, who were particularly pleased with the outcome, returned at 10:45 while 274 Squadron landed between 10:50 and 11:05.
Moreover it is likely that the MC.202s had also clashed with the Tomahawks of 250 Squadron, so that the 30 enemy fighters divided between Hurricanes and P-40s can be accounted for. The Macchis had almost certainly shot down 2nd Lieutenant Meek, but it can’t be counted out that they had shot down at least one of the other aircraft declared lost by 22.364 and 22.401.

In January 1942, the Tomahawks in the squadron were replaced with Kittyhawks.

On 8 March 1942, ten MC.200s from the 150o Gruppo, led by the 363a Squadriglia CO Capitano Luigi Mariotti, were providing close escort for 12 German Ju 87s in an attack on Tobruk harbour at 16:30 when they were attacked by 12 Kittyhawks (six each from 450 and 3 RAAF Squadrons) led by Flight Lieutenant "Nicky" Barr of 3 RAAF Squadron. German Bf 109s were flying top cover, but for unknown reasons they did not intervene. Five pilots from the 150o Gruppo were killed; Tenente Enea Atti, Sergente Maggiore Enrico Micheli, Sergente Maggiore Leopoldo Jerai, Sergente Raffaele Badalassi and Sergente Ugo Rodorigo. Two badly damaged Macchis, one of them piloted by Tenente Ugo Drago, managed to land safely at Tmimi and Martuba.
The Australians reported that at around 17:00, six Kittyhawks each from 450 and 3 RAAF Squadron, led by Flight Lieutenant "Nicky" Barr (Kittyhawk AK903/CV-L) took off on a free lance patrol over the battle area with the aircraft from 450 RAAF Squadron acting as top cover. Taking part from 3 RAAF Squadron were Flying Officer Peter Giddy (AK876), Pilot Officer Victor Curtis (AK622), Sergeant Beard (AK623), Flying Officer H. G. Pace (AK712) and Sergeant Packer (AK898). Pilots from 450 RAAF Squadron were Flying Officer Thompson (K895), Sergeant F W Beste (W493), Sergeant Raymond Shaw (AK592/DJ-P), Sergeant James (R641), Sergeant Donald McBurnie (AK717/V) and Sergeant Raymond Dyson (AK732/DJ-A).
Enemy aircraft were sighted 15 miles south of Tobruk and contact was made. The enemy were a reportedly 15 Ju 87s in vic formation with a close escort of nine MC.200s and MC.202s in a very tight formation made up of two echelons of five and four aircraft, and two Bf 109s over Tobruk. The Italians mistook the Kittyhawks for friendly fighters and were slaughtered. Initially the 450 RAAF Squadron remained as top cover and 3 RAAF Squadron attacked. Flight Lieutenant Barr claimed his ninth kill during this action when he accounted for a MC.202 northwest of Tobruk, with another claimed as a probable and two damaged MC.200s. Flying Officer Giddy claimed a Ju 87 and a MC.200 15 miles north of Tobruk while Flying Officer Pace claimed a MC.200. Pilot Officer Curtis claimed a Ju 87 and a MC.200 north-west of Tobruk while Sergeant Beard claimed a damaged MC.202.
450 RAAF Squadron reported that the contact was made at 17:25. In the ensuing engagement Sergeant Beste and Sergeant McBurnie each claimed a MC.200 over Tobruk while Sergeant Shaw claimed a MC.202. Sergeant Dyson claimed a probable MC.200 while Flying Officer Thompson claimed a damaged MC.200. It seems that the combat was fought on a low altitude since Sergeant McBurnie lost the wingtip on his Kittyhawk after contact with the sea. Another Kittyhawk (from 450 RAF Squadron with an unknown pilot) was damaged (Cat 1) by machinegun bullets. By 18:25 all the Australian fighters had returned to base.
112 Squadron reported that Flight Lieutenant Westenra led seven Kittyhawks on a sweep from El Adem to Gazala. At this point Ops (codename 'Blackbird') vectored the formation on some enemy aircraft five miles north-east. Flight Lieutenant Westenra spotted some MC.200s and with his No. 2, Sergeant R. B. Evans, dived to attack them. Flight Lieutenant Westenra claimed to have downed one, which flew into the sea, but as he was about to attack again, 15 Ju 87s appeared out of cloud flying north-west as fast as they could go. Sergeant Evans saw them and attacked one on the extreme port side firing three bursts. The Ju 87 crashed into the sea. Flying Officer Knapik spotted two Bf 109s but because his windscreen then became oiled up he was unable to join in. In the face of lack of opposition it seems as this formation was the remnants of the one that had been mauled by 450 and 3 RAAF Squadrons. According to the Italians, all of the Ju 87s (one Ju 87 pilot from I/St.G 3 was wounded) managed to escape despite the attention of 112 Squadron.
In the wake of this devastating combat, Generale Rino Corso Fougier, Regia Aeronautica Chief of Staff, praised the 150o Gruppo pilots for their sacrifice which had allowed the Ju 87s to escape. But the Italians demanded better cooperation between their fighters and those flow by the Luftwaffe.

He was awarded a DFC in March 1942 for five victories, his tour then ending.

Image courtesy of New Zealand Fighter Pilots Museum

Early in 1943 he joined 601 Squadron, equipped with Spitfire Mk.Vcs, as a Flying Officer, soon becoming a Flight Lieutenant again, and seeing action throughout the advance into Tunisia. He remained with the unit until 15 September 1943, after the invasions of Sicily and Italy, when he was posted to command 93 Squadron equipped with Spitfire Mk.IXs.

On 1 January 1944, he transferred back to the RNZAF, and in February left 93 on posting to the UK. Here in March he was given command of 65 Squadron on Mustangs, leading this unit throughout the Normandy invasion until 9 July.

He was awarded a Bar to his DFC in September, and it is presumed that he then returned to New Zealand. No details of his subsequent service are available.

Westenra ended the war with 2 biplane victories and a total of 8 and 3 shared destroyed.

After the war, he returned to New Zealand to work the family farm at Camla, one of the earliest settlements on the Canterbury Plain.

His low-level flying expertise proved invaluable on the farm, notably for feeding pellets to the sheep from a Tiger Moth biplane - in which, as he liked to demonstrate to passengers, he could soar over Mount Cook with the engine switched off, relying on upward draughts from the Tasmanian Sea.

Tall, gentle, humorous and handsome, Westenra inspired great confidence in his squadron crews - and affection in his friends. His interests included golf, croquet, sea fishing, growing kiwi fruit and avocados, and skimming the shallows of the Selwyn River in an early jet-powered boat.

His greatest passion, though, was gliding. He represented New Zealand in the world gliding championships, and in the mid-1960s came within a hair's breadth of beating the world distance gliding record. Out driving a tractor, he would keep an eye on cloud formations over the Southern Alps, ready to head southwards with his glider trailer in tow in the hope of flying to the northern tip of North Island.

He was twice married and had five children, one of whom died in infancy.

Gerald Westenra passed away at Omokoroa on 17 August 1999.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1941                
1 11/03/41   1 G.50 (a) Destroyed Gladiator II   Boussi area, Greece 112 Squadron
  05/05/41   1 Ju 88 Damaged Gladiator II   Heraklion, Crete 112 Squadron
  13/05/41   1 Bf 110 (b) Damaged Gladiator II   Heraklion, Crete 112 Squadron
2 14/05/41   1 Bf 110 (c) Destroyed Gladiator II   Heraklion, Crete 112 Squadron
  25/11/41 15:40 ca 1 G.50 (d) Probable Tomahawk IIb AN303 5m SW Tobruk 112 Squadron
3 04/12/41 09:35-10:55 1 G.50 (e) Destroyed Tomahawk IIb AN303 El Adem-Sidi Rezegh 112 Squadron
4 04/12/41 09:35-10:55 1 G.50 (e) Destroyed Tomahawk IIb AN303 El Adem-Sidi Rezegh 112 Squadron
  22/12/41   ½ Ju 87 Shared destroyed Tomahawk IIb AN303 Magrun airfield 112 Squadron
  22/12/41   1 Ju 87 Damaged Tomahawk IIb AN303 Magrun airfield 112 Squadron
  1942                
5 08/03/42 17:00- 1 MC.200 (f) Destroyed Kittyhawk Ia AK762 off Tobruk 112 Squadron
  1943                
  14/01/43   1 Bf 109 Damaged Spitfire Vc ER280 NW Ghaddahia 601 Squadron
  01/05/43   1 Bf 109 Probable Spitfire Vc EP693 Cap Bon 601 Squadron
  04/05/43   ½ Bf 109 Shared destroyed Spitfire Vc EP693 Kelibia 601 Squadron
6 05/05/43   1 Bf 109 Destroyed Spitfire Vc EP693 Cap Bon area 601 Squadron
  1944                
  17/05/44   1/3 Bf 109 Shared destroyed Mustang III ER280 Aalborg area 65 Squadron
7 17/05/44   1 Ju 88 Destroyed Mustang III ER280 Aalborg area 65 Squadron
8 08/06/44   1 Fw190 Destroyed Mustang III FZ120 Gace-Dreux 65 Squadron

Biplane victories: 2 destroyed, 2 damaged.
TOTAL: 8 and 3 shared destroyed, 2 probable, 4 damaged.
(a) Claimed in combat with G.50bis from 24o Gruppo. 112 Squadron claimed seven shot down, one probable and seven damaged without loss. 24o Gruppo lost four aircraft (Maggiore Cesare Valente and Sergente Luigi Spallacci were killed and Sergente Bruno Fava and Sergente Maggiore Ermes Lucchetta were wounded) while claiming a Blenheim and one Gladiator shot down.
(b) Westenra's Gladiator was heavily damaged in this engagement.
(c) Bf 110 of II/ZG 26, crashed offshore in the sea; Oberleutnant Sophus Baagoe and gunner, Oberfeldwebel Daniel Becker, killed. Also fired on and claimed by Bofors gunners.
(d) In this combat the Tomahawks of 3 RAAF and 112 Squadrons claimed ten enemy aircraft, two probable and eight damaged while losing two Tomahawks. The Axis fighters claimed eight Allied fighters shot down while losing two Bf 110s.
(e) 112 and 250 Squadrons claimed 7 destroyed, 4 probables and 3 damaged while getting 2 P-40s damaged. Axis fighters claimed 3 destroyed while losing 2 MC.200s and getting 5 MC.200s damaged.
(f) Claimed in combat with fighters from the 150o Gruppo, which lost 5 fighters and got 2 damaged without claiming anything. 3 and 450 RAAF Squadrons and 112 Squadron claimed 8 fighters destroyed, 2 probables and 4 damaged without losses (1 P-40 damaged). 3 Ju 87s were also claimed as destroyed but no Ju 87s were lost.

Sources:
53o Stormo - Marco Mattioli, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-977-5
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
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
Eagles Strike - James Ambrose Brown kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.
Fighters over the Desert - Christopher Shores and Hans Ring, 1969 Neville Spearman Limited, London
La Battaglie Aeree In Africa Settentrionale: Novembre-Dicembre 1941 – Michele Palermo, IBN, ISBN 88-7565-102-7
Luftwaffe Claims Lists - Tony Wood
National Archives of Australia
New Zealand Fighter Pilots Museum
Shark Squadron - The history of 112 Squadron 1917-1975 - Robin Brown, 1994 Crécy Books, ISBN 0-947554-33-5
Tomahawk and Kittyhawk Aces of the RAF and Commonwealth - Andrew Thomas, 2002 Osprey Publishing, London, ISBN 1-84176-083-8
Those Other Eagles – Christopher Shores, 2004 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-904010-88-1
Obituary from Daily Telegraph, 25 September 1999 kindly provided by Ernie Burton.
Additional information kindly provided by Michele Palermo and Ludovico Slongo.




Last modified 14 October 2014