Air Marshal Sir Peter Guy Wykeham-Barnes KCB DSO and Bar OBE DFC and Bar AFC, RAF no. 41092
13 September 1915 – 23 February 1995
Born on 13 September 1915 in Sandhurst, Surrey, Peter Wykeham-Barnes joined the RAF as an aircraft apprentice in 1932 at Halton.
Later he became a Cadet at the College at Cranwell. Commissioned in 1937, he was posted to join 80 Squadron, with which unit he went to Egypt early in 1938. Later that year he was despatched to Palestine for a month to operate against Arab dissidents, for which, he received a Certificate of Distinguished Conduct from the GOC, British Forces.
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.
‘C’ Flight included Flight Lieutenant Ralph Evers-Swindell, Flying Officer Wykeham-Barnes, Flying Officer Harold Sykes, Pilot Officer Frankie Stubbs, Pilot Officer Wanklyn Flower, Sergeant George Barker, Sergeant J. H. Clarke, Sergeant Edward Hewett and Sergeant Kenneth Russell Rew.
On 17 June, he was ordered to fly one of these forward to Mersa Matruh for a short detachment to 33 Squadron.
At 07:45 on 19 June, four Gladiators from 33 Squadron flown by Squadron Leader D. V. Johnson (N5782), Flight Lieutenant G. E. Hawkins (N5765), Flying Officer A. H. Lynch (N5764), and Sergeant Roy Leslie Green (L9043) accompanied by Flying Officer Wykeham-Barnes (Hurricane Mk.I P2639) of 80 Squadron and two Blenheim IFs from 30 Squadron took off from Mersa Matruh to patrol between Bug Bug and Sollum.
At 09:40, they sighted a formation of nine Fiat CR.42s (in other sources it is stated that it was five CR.42s and either seven CR.32s or Ro.37s). The Fiats were slightly below and to the port side of the British fighters, who were in an ideal position to make an attack.
Wykeham-Barnes shot down the leader of the Italian fighters whilst he was doing a vertical turn, with a short burst at full deflection. The Gladiators claimed two more CR.42s, but lost 24-year-old Sergeant Green (RAF No. 44754) when he was shot down despite some violent aerobatics.
The returning RAF pilots reported that although the enemy was superior in numbers, they lacked the aggression of the Gladiator pilots and gradually retreated towards the Libyan border. Wykeham-Barnes found it difficult to get his sights on the Fiats, because they were so very manoeuvrable, but eventually one of them made a mistake and he was able to get in a good burst of shells, which caused the CR.42 to dive away with smoke trailing behind it. He did not actually see it crash, but it was later confirmed as being destroyed by the ground forces. The Gladiators and the Hurricane were then forced to break off the combat by lack of petrol and ammunition. On their way back to Mersa Matruh they had to land at Sidi Barrani to refuel and rearm. The Gladiators were back at 10:10 and Wykeham-Barnes at 10:30.
The Italian aircraft had been from the Tobruk T2 based 10o Gruppo C.T. At 08:40, five aircraft of the 84a Squadriglia took off to escort a formation of five Breda Ba.65/A80s of the 159a Squadriglia, 12o Gruppo Assalto and nine CR.32s from the 8o Gruppo, heading to attack enemy vehicles between Sollum and Sidi El Barrani. The Bredas took off at 07:20, commanded by Capitano Duilio Fanali. The Italian fighters of the 84a Squadriglia were flown by Tenente Colonnello Armando Piragino, Capitano Luigi Monti, Sergente Maggiore Ugo Corsi, Sergente Giuseppe Scaglioni and Sergente Narciso Pillepich (almost certain MM5552). Monti, who was the pilot with the longer war experience insisted with his commander to increase the number of aircraft participating in the escort, but without avail. The assault planes were out in a search-and-destroy mission and firstly they had to find targets. In doing so they started with a pass between Amseat and Bardia, then a second one going beyond Sollum then a third one. In this way, a lot of time was lost and the RAF could scramble its aircraft. The Fiats were over the Bredas, turning at 2000 metres when a number of Glosters and Hurricanes (the Blenheims were not seen at all while the Hurricane was, as usual, misidentified as a Spitfire) suddenly attacked them. After a sharp engagement, three pilots came back to T2. The missing pilots were Corsi and Piragino. A CR.42s (Corsi, who was killed) was clearly seen to fall into the sea after being hit by a Hurricane, while nothing was known of the second CR.42. The Ba.65s came back safely, without seeing enemy planes that were obviously too busy with the 4o Stormo planes and didn’t engage them. However, returning to T2, the Breda flown by Sergente Maggiore Pietro Scaramucci suffered an engine breakdown and crash-landed, being written-off as a consequence.
Sergente Giuseppe Scaglioni returned claiming a Gladiator (probably Green) and a damaged Spitfire, Sergente Pillepich claimed two damaged Gladiators and Capitano Monti claimed a damaged Gladiator. The same evening a “British communiqué” advised that six (!) British fighters were lost in exchange for two Italians. So all participating pilots in this combat were credited with six shared victories because this was the only combat of the day for Italian units. Some days after, a British message dropped on Bardia informed that Piragino was wounded in a leg after crashing at Sollum and prisoner. Scaglioni described the combat:
“Over Bir el Gib we were surprised by a number of Glosters and a Hurricane that attacked with height advantage giving us a lot of trouble. I saw the commander doing a violent overturning while I was doing a break on the left, this manoeuvre put me behind a Gloster that I shot down with my 12,7 mm guns.
I lost sight of the commander immediately and after landing I knew he was missing. In the same combat we lost Sergente Maggiore Corsi shot down by a Hurricane that I attacked trying to distract it from its action but in vain. For sure Corsi was taken by surprise because he was considered a pilot of exceptional skill and the very best aerobatic pilot of the Stormo.”
During the morning on 4 August, 80 Squadrons ‘B’ Flight received a signal from the headquarters to provide four Gladiators to escort a Lysander from 208 Squadron flown by Pilot Officer Burwell, which was to observe enemy troops movement at Bir Taieb el Esem on the other side of the Libyan border. 'Pat' Pattle (Gladiator Mk.I K7910) decided to lead the escort and took with him Flying Officer Wykeham-Barnes (L8009), Pilot Officer Johnny Lancaster (K7923) and Sergeant Kenneth George Russell Rew (RAF no. 526687) (Gladiator K7908). They took of at 17:15 and reached the rendezvous point in ten minutes where they found the Lysander circling at 6000 feetWykeham-Barnes and Rew took up a position about 3000 feet above and immediately behind the Lysander, whilst Pattle and Lancaster climbed 1000 feet higher on the starboard flank. The aircraft crossed the border a few miles south of Sidi Omar twenty minutes later and followed the sand tracks leading to their target.
During the same morning eleven CR.42s of the 97a Squadriglia went from Benghazi-Berka to El Adem T3 to participate, together with twelve other CR.42s from the 96a Squadriglia, which had arrived the previous day, and with nine CR.42s of the 10o Gruppo, in an aerial covering flight of the 2a Divisione Libica of Regio Esercito. This Division was marching from Bir el Gobi to Gabr Saleh.
In the meantime, a concentration of British armoured vehicles was discovered in the Bir Sheferzen area, around 30 kilometres south-west of Sollum, near the border where a logistic outpost of the Western Desert Force was located and consequently an air attack was planned.
At 16:50, a formation of assault aircraft of the 50o Stormo took off together with an escorting group of Fiat CR.42 fighters of the 4o Stormo heading for it. The assault aircraft took off from Tobruk T2bis and were twelve aircraft of the resident 12o Gruppo Assalto. They included six Breda Ba.65/A80s of the 159a Squadriglia, armed with 2kg bombs (the Bredas could carry up to 168 of these small calibre bombs) commanded by the Squadriglia Commander Capitano Antonio Dell’Oro and flown by Tenente Adriano Visconti, Tenente Fioravante Montanari (who led the second section), Sergente Maggiore Giovanni Bianchelli, Sergente Maggiore Gianni Pappalepore and Sergente Maggiore Paolo Perno. The other six were Fiat CR.32quaters of the 160a Squadriglia, armed with eight 2kg bombs and divided in two groups of three. The first group led by Capitano Duilio Fanali (Squadriglia CO) included Sottotenente Giuseppe Mezzatesta and Sergente Maggiore Corrado Sarti as wingmen while the second group was lead by Sottotenente Giuseppe Rossi with Sottotenente Mirko Erzetti and Maresciallo Romolo Cantelli as wingmen.
The Italian fighter escort took off from El Adem T3 and was composed of 31 CR.42s (ten from the 97a Squadriglia, eleven from the 96a Squadriglia, one from the 73a Squadriglia and nine from the 10o Gruppo). At the head of the two formations were Maggiore Ernesto Botto (in the aircraft from the 73a Squadriglia) and Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli. Pilots from the 97a Squadriglia were Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni, Sottotenente Giovanni Barcaro, Sergente Franco Sarasino, Sottotenente Riccardo Vaccari, Sergente Angelo Golino, Sottotenente Jacopo Frigerio, Sergente Maggiore Otello Perotti, Maresciallo Vanni Zuliani, Sergente Maggiore Raffaele Novelli and Sergente Maggiore Massimo Salvatore. Pilots from the 10o Gruppo were apart from Maggiore Romagnoli, Capitano Giuseppe D’Agostinis, Tenente Enzo Martissa, Sottotenente Ruggero Caporali and Sergente Maggiore Lorenzo Migliorato from the 91a Squadriglia, Capitano Luigi Monti and Tenente Giuseppe Aurili from the 84a Squadriglia and Tenente Franco Lucchini and Sergente Amleto Monterumici from the 90a Squadriglia.
The two Italian formations met at a rendezvous point twenty kilometres east of El Adem and then headed for the target. The 4o Stormo’s aircraft flew at heights between 3500 and 4500 meters, the Fiat CR.32s at 1000 meters and the Bredas at 300 meters.
On the way towards the frontline, at 5000 m over Ridotta Capuzzo, they spotted a formation of nine Blenheims heading to El Adem, escorted by many Glosters Gladiators. Aircraft of the 96a Squadriglia and the 10o Gruppo attacked the bombers and then chased the fighters. In the fierce combat that followed, Tenente Lucchini claimed a Gladiator with the use of 385 rounds of ammunition. Pilots from the 91a Squadriglia claimed two Gladiators and three Blenheims as shared, with two additional Gladiators as shared probables (one of the Glosters was most probably the same claimed by Lucchini). Capitano Monti and Tenente Aurili claimed to have damaged two Blenheims each and then reported being credited with the three Blenheims shot down by the Stormo’s formation as shared. The pilots from the 90a Squadriglia claimed the same three Blenheims and a Gladiator jointly with the 96a Squadriglia and other pilots of the 10o Gruppo plus the individual victory of Lucchini and recorded “other Glosters shot down by pilots of 9o and 10o Gruppi”. At the end of the combat, Maggiore Botto, who personally claimed a damaged British bomber with the use of 200 rounds of ammunition, recorded ten enemy aircraft shot down together with other units. Apart from the five confirmed and two probables already detailed, the remaining victories should be those of the 50o Stormo, more prudently the 10o Gruppo’s Diary claimed only three Blenheims and a single Gloster shot down.
The 97a Squadriglia, covering at a higher altitude, spotted first six Blenheims, which were attacked by the other Squadriglie and then three other Blenheims that were heading towards Egyptian territory and dived to pursue them. Capitano Larsimont Pergameni and Sergente Sarasino chased them for a while, claiming hits on them.
The fighters from the 97a Squadriglia had most probably attacked a trio of Blenheim Mk.Is (L8667, L8391 and L8530) from 55 Squadron, which had been ordered on short notice to bomb up and meet two other flights from other squadrons over Ma’aten Bagush at 17:00 to attack an Italian M. T. convoy, 13 miles east of Bir El Gobi (obviously the Libyan division). Commanded by Pilot Officer T. O. Walker in L8667, they missed the rendezvous with the other Squadrons over Ma’aten Bagush and headed alone towards the front. After crossing the frontier, the trio spotted a big formation of about 25 CR.42s (4o Stormo’s formation). Twelve of these fighters started in pursuit as the Blenheims turned for home (the 97a Squadriglia formation). A running engagement, which lasted seven minutes started after which the Italian fighters broke off without having caused or suffered any damage. The other RAF Squadrons involved in this combat were 211 Squadron and most probably 112 and 113 Squadrons. 211 Squadron was up with two Blenheims piloted by Squadron Leader Bax (L8533) and Flight Lieutenant G. D. Jones (L8532), which were intercepted by a reportedly 40-50 fighters. Sergeant J. McIntosh, gunner of L8532, was wounded in the forearm and it seems that it was badly damaged and forced to land before reaching its base since it was salvaged by 51 RSU at Sidi Barrani on 10 August but Struck off Charge on 20 September. The total lack of records of 113 Squadron and the high level of incompleteness of those of 112 Squadron makes it quite difficult to reconstruct their contribution to the combat. It seems however probable that at least three Gladiators of 112 Squadron were around this area at the time, because it is known that Pilot Officers R. H. Clark, Homer Cochrane and B. B. E. Duff left Maaten Gerawla during the day for Sidi Barrani, with the task of patrolling over Sidi Omar (extremely close to the area where the evening combat developed). No encounters with the enemy are however recorded in the fragmentary reconstructed ORB of the unit.
The formation from the 50o Stormo continued alone towards the border, arriving over Bir Sheferzen (around thirty kilometres south and slightly east of the position where the escort left it) at 17:20, where they discovered numerous British vehicles that were immediately attacked by the Bredas and Fanali’s trio of CR.32s while Rossi’s stayed at 1000 meters as cover. The Italian aircraft performed two passes over the vehicles and while they were preparing the third the 208 Squadron Lysander and 80 Squadron Gladiators came into the area. The crew of the Lysander spotted the Italians first and alerted the escort with a red Very light before heading due east at low altitude to reach safety. Pilot Officer Burwell carried some bombs that he tried to aim at Italian transports that he saw in the vicinity but missed, then he was forced to return by the strong opposition encountered.
Pattle and Lancaster dived down but failed to spot any enemy aircraft. Wykeham-Barnes and Rew had also disappeared but a few seconds later Pattle heard Wykeham-Barnes over the radio ordering Rew to attack. Immediately afterwards Pattle saw a reported seven Breda Ba.65s in two separate flights - one containing three aircraft in vic formation and the other made up of two pairs, heading east hunting the Lysander.
Wykeham-Barnes and Rew attacked the formation of four Bredas before they could reach the Lysander and Wykeham-Barnes shot down one of them in flames immediately but at the same time was Rew shot down and killed. Pattle and Lancaster meanwhile attacked the other three Italians from astern. The Bredas dispersed and all four Gladiators separated as they each selected a different enemy machine as a target. Pattle attacked two aircraft, which kept close together and turned in a complete circle. The Bredas dropped to around 200 feet and each released two bombs. This reduced weight meant that they slowly began to creep away from Pattle’s slower Gladiator. Suddenly they however turned north towards the fighter base at El Adem. Pattle quickly cut inside their turn and closed in to 150 yards. He delivered a quarter attack on the nearest Breda but his two port guns almost immediately ceased firing. His aim had been good however and he had hit one of the Italians who slowed down considerably. He swung in directly astern of it and, after a few more bursts from his remaining two guns, saw a puff of white smoke from the starboard side of the engine. He continued to attack the Breda, which dropped lower and lower and finally force-landed on good grounds five miles further on. The second Breda got away. Lancaster had also been having trouble with his guns. After his initial burst, all four guns jammed and he spent the next ten minutes frantically pulling his Constantinescu gear pistons and aiming at various enemy aircraft, but without any further bullets leaving his guns. Eventually he was forced to go on to the defensive and got an explosive bullet in the left arm and shoulder. Because he feared the loss of blood would cause him to lose consciousness, he wriggled out of the fight and with his right thumb pressed tightly against his left radial artery, held the stick between his knees and waggled his way home. In spite of his wounds and the serious damage to his Gladiator, he made quite a smooth landing before losing consciousness. It is reported, that the fitter who came to examine the aircraft shortly afterwards pronounced it too damaged to repair in situ and ordered it to be burned forthwith! However, in fact it seems that even if 80 Squadron didn’t fly it any more, Gladiator Mk.I K 7923 was repaired and later in the year passed to the Greek Air Force.
After claiming the Breda, Wykeham-Barnes was attacked by the CR.32s. He claimed one of them before another, attacked him, which hit his Gladiator, in his Combat Fighter Report he recorded: “The left side of the instrument panel and most of the windscreen went and two bullets came through the back of the seat before I could close the throttle, and the CR 32 passed under me. My machine then fell into a dive and I abandoned it, landing me by parachute.” He had received a shrapnel wound. He was also to receive a swollen tongue and a pair of very painful blistered feet before being rescued by a detachment of 11th Hussars, who brought him back to Sidi Barrani.
Four of the Bredas were damaged and in particular that of Sergente Maggiore Perno, which was hit fifty times and the pilot was slightly wounded in the leg, before Fanali’s Fiats were able to intervene. In the meantime, it was the section of Sottotenente Rossi, which was waiting higher up for its turn to attack, that first fell over the RAF fighters, taking them by surprise. After the sharp initial attack of the Fiats the combat developed into a WW I style dogfight which lasted fifteen minutes. At the end all the Italian aircraft returned to base claiming three of the enemies; one by Fanali (probably Wykeham-Barnes) and two by Cantelli (probably Rew and Lancaster).
One of the damaged Bredas was piloted by Tenente Adriano Visconti who pressed home his attacks against the enemy armoured vehicles notwithstanding the enemy’s fighter opposition. The behaviour of Visconti in this particular combat deeply impressed his commander Capitano Dell’Oro who proposed him for a Medaglia d’argento al valor militare. The motivation of this award that Visconti received “in the field” stated that: ”During a strafing attack against enemy’s armoured vehicles he pressed home his attacks careless of an enemy fighter that was following him shooting at him from short distance (…) and with its last ammunitions he succeeded in burning one of the armoured cars of the enemy(…)”.
After Pattle had claimed the Breda he broke away while attempting, without much success, to clear his port fuselage gun. Immediately, he was attacked by five biplanes (identified as CR.42s) diving towards him from the direction of El Adem, which was approximately 10 miles north-west. He flew on, pretending that he had not seen the Italians, until they were almost in position to open fire and then, with a flick of the wrist and a sharp prod of the foot, shot up and away from the Fiats. The Italians split up and attacked him independently from all directions. The Fiats made repeated attacks simultaneously from the quarter and beam, using the speed they gained in the dive to regain altitude. After each attack Pattle was forced on to the defensive and turned away from each attack, occasionally delivering a short attack on the most suitably target as it dived past. One Fiat on completing its attack turned directly in front of his Gladiator, presenting him with an excellent deflection shot at close range. He fired a long burst with his remaining two guns, which caused the Italian fighter to turn slowly onto its back and then spin down towards the desert. Pattle last saw it spinning at 200 feet and didn’t claim it for sure, but was later credited with this victory. Soon after his starboard wing gun also jammed but fortunately, at the same time the remaining Italian fighters broke away. He was now 40 miles behind enemy lines with only one gun operational and he turned for home at 1000 feet altitude.
When some miles north-west of Bir Taieb El Essem, he was again spotted and attacked by twelve CR.42s and three Breda Ba.65s. The Bredas broke away after a few dives while the CR.42s attacked. They used the same tactics as the five earlier had used with quarter and beam attacks. Within a few seconds Pattle’s remaining gun jammed because of an exploded round in the breach, so he attempted to make the border by evasive tactics and heading east at every opportunity. He soon discovered that one of the Italian pilots was an exceptional shot who made repeated attacks using full deflection with great accuracy. Each time this particular Italian came in, he had to use all his skill and cunning to keep out of the sights of the Fiat. The remainder of the Italians as a whole lacked accuracy and did not press home their attacks to a decisive range. Nevertheless, their presence and the fact that he had to consider each attack made the work of the more determined pilot very much easier. He managed to keep this up for fully fifteen minutes before the determined Italian came out of a loop directly above Pattle’s Gladiator and opened fire. Pattle turned away to avoid the bullets, but flew straight into the line of fire from another Fiat. The rudder controls were shot away, so he could no longer turn. He pulled back on the control column, climbed to about 400 feet and jumped. As he fell the pilot parachute caught his foot, but he managed to kick it free and the main chute opened just in time for him to make a safe landing off the first swing. The time was now around 19:00. He started to walk towards what he thought was Egypt during the night but found out at dawn to his horror that he had actually walked in the opposite direction, deeper into Libya. He turned around and crossed the border at around midday. At 16:00 on 5 August, he was rescued by a detachment from 11th Hussars, which brought him back to Sidi Barrani.
It is possible that Pattle was shot down by Tenente Franco Lucchini.
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 Wykeham-Barnes (K7916) and Pilot Officer 'Heimar' 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 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.”
During the morning on 17 August, the Mediterranean Fleet was out for a raid in support of the Army. The battleships HMS Warspite, HMS Ramilles and HMS Malaya, supported by the cruiser HMS Kent and three flotillas of destroyers bombarded Bardia harbour and Fort Capuzzo, starting at 06:45 and continuing for 22 minutes. As the vessels headed back towards Alexandria a series of bombing attacks were launched against them by the Regia Aeronautica.
The RAF and the FAA provided escort for the fleet. HMS Eagle's Fighter Flight of three Sea Gladiators had been flown to Sidi Barrani airfield in Libya, and from here patrolled over the Fleet. 'B' and 'C' Flights of 80 Squadron provided air support with flights of four Gladiators over the ships from dawn to dusk. ‘A’ Flight of 112 Squadron was positioned at Z Landing Ground (Matruh West) while ‘C’ Flight of 112 Squadron was based at Y LG about 18 kilometres further west and they also took part in the covering missions.
At 08:20, Flying Officer Wykeham-Barnes and his three-aircraft section (Pilot Officer Frankie Stubbs as no.2 and Pilot Officer P. T. Dowding as no. 3) from ‘B’ flight of 80 Squadron took off on patrol over the fleet and climbed to 16,000 feet. At 09:10, they spotted a Cant Z.501 flying boat over Tobruk. The British pilots formed line astern and attacked from above and behind, using No. 1 Fighter attack. Wykeham-Barnes dived down through the clouds to attack it. As he was about to open fire his starboard gun came unmounted and ripped through the fuselage, severing a strut and damaging the leading edge of the tailplane. The Gladiator started to roll but he reacted quickly, put on full aileron to hold the mainplane and then continued the attack. It seems that Wykeham-Barnes had killed the gunner on the Italian flying boat since no more return fire was experienced. The three pilots made two passes each and the flying boat eventually fell in flames, crashed into the sea and sank immediately. The pilots returned to base at 10:00.
The Italian flying boat was a 143a Squadriglia Z.501 from Menalao, flown by Sottotente Cesare Como with Sottotenente di Vascello Renzo Monselesan as observer that was shot down; the crew perished.
He was one of the pilots chosen to help form 274 Squadron as an all-Hurricane unit when this unit was formed on 19 August by ten of the pilots from A Flight (the Hurricane Flight) of 80 Squadron under the command of Squadron Leader Patrick Dunn.
The first six operational Hurricanes were P2544, P2638, P2639, P2641, P2643 and P2651, while L1669 were used mainly for conversion and training duties.
On 29 November he was the first fighter pilot in North Africa to receive a DFC.
At around noon on 9 December, the second mission of the day by the 13a Divisione Aerea (the third S.79 mission by the Va Squadra Aerea) ended in tragedy.
Five S.79s of the 45o Gruppo, 14o Stormo under Capitano Profumi and three S.79s of the 44o Gruppo under Capitano Cialente that had taken off from Tmini, were intercepted reportedly by Spitfires, Hurricanes and Glosters before releasing their bombs at 12:30. The enemy fighters concentrated particularly against the “arrow” of Capitano Profumi, which desperately tried to fight back by closing formation to the maximum possible extent. The first to go down was the aircraft of Sottotenente Fortunato Del Dotto (co-pilot Sergente Maggiore Ragusa, Primo Aviere Radiotelegrafista Giusto Adori, Aviere Scelto Motorista Alfio Giuffrida and Aviere Scelto Armiere Giuseppe Speranza) of the 22a Squadriglia; the crew were all killed with the exception of Ragusa, who survived wounded. The second to be lost was also an aircraft from the 22a Squadriglia flown by Tenente Sergio Sartof, a very experienced pilot, who tried to maintain formation even with the aircraft in flames until it exploded in mid-air with the loss of whole crew (Sergente Franco Martinato, Primo Aviere Motorista Salvatore Bongiorno, Primo Aviere Armiere Enrico Saggese and Primo Aviere Radiotelegrafista Barbieri). Tenente Toni’s aircraft barely made it back to Amseat were it force-landed at around 13:00 in such bad condition that it was written off. Inside the battered S.79, Primo Aviere Armiere Salvatore Nicoletti, Primo Aviere Radiotelegrafista Francesco Orecchio and Aviere Scelto Montatore Michele Tortorella had died while the co-pilot Sergente Collini and Primo Aviere motorista Fornasari were wounded. The two surviving S.79s (Capitano Profumi and Tenente Zegrini, who was wounded) landed at Gambut with four wounded in their crews. Sartof was posthumously decorated with the Medaglia d’Oro al valor militare for his activity over the sector during the June-December period. The returning crews of the 45o Gruppo were credited with six enemy fighters shot down by their return fire and three more damaged.
They had been in combat with six Hurricanes of 274 Squadron, which had taken off around 11:35. The Hurricanes were flown by Squadron Leader Patrick Dunn (P3723), Flight Lieutenant Wykeham-Barnes (P2638), Flying Officer Ernest ‘Imshi’ Mason (P3722), Pilot Officer P. H. Preston (P3720), Pilot Officer Stanley Godden (N2624) and Flight Sergeant Thomas Morris (V7300). The Hurricanes were stepped up in flights of three at between 13.500 and 16.000 feet. The S.79s were discovered at 2 o’clock slightly below the Hurricanes and approx five miles away. They were identified as five in a shallow vic and attacked from astern and above between 12:28 and 12:30. Godden claimed one S.79 shot down near Bir Zigdin El Hamra. One more was claimed near Sofafi while the remaining three were claimed damaged; these four were shared by Dunn, Wykeham-Barnes, Mason, Preston and Morris. On 15 December, news arrived from the Army that a third S.79 was shot down during this particular operation and one of the shared damaged bombers was consequently upgraded to a confirmed.
Pilot Officer Godden reported:
”[The enemy] returned fire and altered course by medium turn to left one E a/c on inside of turn broke formation and dropped its bombs. Two enemy a/c shot down and remaining three badly damaged. My own aircraft received […] damage by particles of E a/c which exploded in front of me. Return fire from E a/c exceptionally poor. I saw second enemy a/c exploded on the ground.”Flying Officer Preston reported:
”[The enemy] turned for home, result of engagement 2 (for formation).”Squadron Leader Dunn reported:
”[The enemy] altered course in medium turn. One E a/c broke formation. Two E a/c definitely shot down and remainder damaged. Nil casualties to our a/c but one Hurricane hit by bullets. (We showed) lack of coherence in attack which should disappear with experience. Several our fighters (Gladiators) were in engagement but did not join in chase.”Pilot Officer Mason reported:
”[The enemy] put nose down and turned. 2 E a/c shot down (for formation) no Hurricanes damaged. Shot at 4 a/c in turn. No result observed. When bombs were jettisoned, small bombs ? with parachute attached seen to drift.”Flight Lieutenant Wykeham-Barnes reported:
”[The enemy] jettisoned bombs and turned west diving at full speed. Enemy engaged. I shot at 4 a/c in turn from 200 yards range without apparent effect. I could see my bullets striking E a/c when out of ammo. I followed the enemy and saw Pilot Officer Godden attack the left hand bomber which exploded in midair. One parachutist seen descending with torn parachute.”Flight Sergeant Morris reported:
”[The enemy] jettisoned bombs, turned left and flew on. One E a/c exploded in flight. One E a/c seen diving steeply. A/c at which I had fired must have been extensively damaged as I saw incendiaries entering just under cockpit and particles of wood were also coming off.”The 274 Squadron Hurricanes all had returned by 13:20 without losses.
In the afternoon on the same day, SM 79s were out to bomb British troops at the Sidi Barrani - Bir Enba area. They were to be escorted by 19 CR.42s of the 9o Gruppo led by Maggiore Ernesto Botto, which had taken off from El Adem at 14:55. The fighters included seven from the 73a Squadriglia (Tenente Valerio De Campo (CO), Tenente Giulio Reiner, Sottotenente Alvaro Querci, Sergente Maggiore Guglielmo Biffani, Sergente Maggiore Enrico Dallari, Sergente Maggiore Antonio Valle and Sergente Santo Gino) seven from the 97a Squadriglia (Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni (CO), Tenente Ezio Viglione Borghese, Sottotenente Riccardo Vaccari, Sergente Maggiore Otello Perotti, Sergente Maggiore Massimo Salvatore, Sergente Angelo Golino and Sergente Alcide Leoni) and four from the 96a Squadriglia (Tenente Aldo Gon and Sergente Giuseppe Tomasi together with two unknown pilots).
More Italian fighters were up to escort the bombers and at 15:10, Sergente Maggiore Fiorenzo Milella of the 366a, 151o Gruppo, attached to a formation of nine CR.42s of the 368a Squadriglia (Capitano Bruno Locatelli, Sergente Maggiore Davide Colauzzi, Sergente Ernesto De Bellis, Sottotenente Furio Lauri, Sergente Maggiore Annibale Ricotti, Tenente Orfeo Paroli, Sergente Piero Hosquet, Sergente Stefano Fiore, Sergente Ottorino Ambrosi) were out to escorted Italian bombers in the Bir Enba area.
The rendezvous with the bombers over A3 failed and after 20 minutes, the fighters of the 9o Gruppo arrived and together they proceeded towards the front on a free sweep. Three SM 79s were discovered and escorted for a while. Over Buq-Buq, a Hurricane strafing along the coastal road was discovered and the SM 79s were left to the 9o Gruppo while the CR.42s of the 151o Gruppo attacked the British fighter. The Hurricane was claimed shot down in flames and credited to the formation (but in fact only Locatelli, Lauri, Paroli and De Bellis fired their guns).
The 151a Gruppo fighters returned to base at 16:50.
Meanwhile the fighters from the 9o Gruppo continued and 30 km south of Bir Enba they spotted some Gladiators at a lower level and dived on them, but suddenly the CR.42s were jumped by a reported two Squadrons of Hurricanes or Spitfires, attacking respectively the 73a Squadriglia and the 96a Squadriglia with the 97a Squadriglia. A large dogfight started and after 20 minutes of combat many claims were submitted by the Italian pilots
Tenente Vaccari fought alone against four Hurricanes, claiming one destroyed (as a Spitfire) and damaging the others before his Fiat was hit in the fuel tank and in the engine. He crash-landed near Sollum, the aircraft turning over and caught fire; he was burned in the face and hands. Sergente Maggiore Salvatore claimed a Spitfire and several damaged before being wounded in his left arm. He managed however to return to base. Sergente Golino was hit in his back, but managed to claim his attacker before being compelled to evade and land at Amseat A3. Sergente Maggiore Biffani (Fiat CR.42 MM5599/73-9) claimed a Hurricane but was at the same shot down by his victim and was captured. He recalled:
"In the afternoon of 9 December we were flying between Mersa Matruh and Buq-Buq, when my wingman, Sottotenente Alvaro Querci, warned me that we had enemies behind us. I alerted Botto by shooting a burst [Note that the CR.42 had no radio during this period], then I realized they were near my tail, so I made a 180-degree turn and I saw them pass: they were three Hurricanes. I climbed almost vertically and saw the 73a Squadriglia in front, the three Hurricanes behind it and 96a and 97a Squadriglia behind them, all in a vertical line that went down to the ground. Then I discovered a Hurricane that was breaking off from the combat, clearly he had seen the other Italian fighters on its tail. I continued to climb, now I was the highest fighter of them all, then I dived down at full throttle [towards the escaping Hurricane]. I arrived near it and then I reduced speed and put the revolutions between 1850 and 2250 because otherwise I would had cut my propeller as happened to Gon and others, because the airscrew went out of gear and the round was fired when it passed in front of the gun (…) . When I closed to it, I opened fire. I aimed and saw the explosive bullets that exploded on the wing. Why didn’t anything happen? Was there no fuel at all? I fired at the other wing but it was the same, the bullets exploded but nothing happened. I fired into the engine, nothing happened. I saw the tracers very well, and after all, it wasn’t the first time I was shooting. At Gorizia I used to hit the target balloon with ten rounds only. In the meantime, I was losing speed and falling behind, O.K. Goodbye! It passed and turned towards me again -so I hadn’t caused any damage to it- , and I did the same. We found ourselves face to face at a distance of around 500-600 metres. I started firing and saw my tracers hitting it, then its wings lit up and in the same moment my plane caught fire, it was just an instant. My plane was severely damaged and while I was trying to land I saw the Hurricane that dived into the ground and exploded. I saw no parachute. I force-landed among British MTs and was immediately taken prisoner. I went back home after 63 months of POW!"Additional Hurricanes were claimed by Botto, Sergente Dallari, Sergente Valle and an unknown pilot of the 73a Squadriglia (it is possible that this was a shared claim). It seems possible that also Sergente Maggiore Perotti claimed a victory (this claim is disallowed in the 97a Squadriglia diary, who only credits him with some Spitfires damaged).
“The enemy engaged in dogfight. Claim one E a/c for certain (saw it hit the ground). Attacked two in tight vic and was at 200 yards point blank range and fell certain must have killed pilots. Got another good and point blank deflection shot at another. Closed from optimum to point blank range at first. Must (?) have shot down the first two but could not spare time to confirm. 3rd point blank deflection shot likely and fourth adversary saw it hit the ground (claim 1 confirmed and 2 others which I feel certain about but must go down as unconfirmed).”Flight Lieutenant Lapsley (he delivered a head-on attack) reported:
“The enemy fired back. 1 CR 42 shot down and seen to hit the ground without burning. Several other machines were shot at individually. They can out manoeuvre a Hurricane but one can get away and then come back.”Pilot Officer Mason (he was discovered during the approach and had to dogfight from the beginning) reported:
“The enemy tried to turn inside me. 1 CR 42 shot at short range from above into cockpit. Aircraft turned (unreadable) with sparks from it. Followed it down until attacked by others CR 42s. Using 15o flap climb (unreadable) but not quite equal to 42. Speed on level far superior. Possible when attacked from above to turn and deliver short head on burst.”Flight Lieutenant Wykeham-Barnes reported:
“The enemy dog fought, during dogfight damaged two enemy and sent one down out of control but could not see it crash as another was in my tail. The enemy fairly aggressive.”Flying Officer Patterson (he delivered a quarter attack from port side) reported:
“The enemy started a general dogfight. 1 CR 42 shot down and seen to burn out on the ground”.The 274 Squadron Hurricanes all had landed at 17:00.
At 09:50 on 15 December, seven bombers from the 41o Stormo led by Colonnello Enrico Pezzi and Tenente Aramis Ammannato took off and attacked motor transports in the Sidi Azeiz area. They were intercepted by Hurricanes that shot down Sottotenente Sergio Cottarelli’s SM 79 in flames, killing the pilot and his crew (second pilot Sergente Maggiore Amerigo Carluccio, Sergente Motorista Giovanni Montalto, Sergente Armiere Giovanni Lamina and Primo Aviere motorista Giuseppe De Giorgi). Tenente Ammannato’s SM 79s was heavily damaged and had to force-land at Gambut where the bombers was torched and burnt out by the surviving members of the crew, three of which were wounded (Sergente Radiotelegrafista Melloni, Primo Aviere Armiere Genovesi and Aviere Allievo Motorista Taci). Four of the surviving Savoias were damaged and landed back at base (Tmini M2) at 11:30.
It seems that Italian fighters were also present since at 09:50 five CR.42s from the 77a Squadriglia (Tenente Colonnello Secondo Revetria, Tenente Giulio Torresi, Sottotenente Dario Nicoloso, Capitano Domenico Bevilacqua and Sergente Ernesto Paolini), five from the 82a Squadriglia (Capitano Guglielmo Arrabito, Sottotenente Giuseppe Bottà, Sergente Maggiore Dante Davico, Sergente Luigi Giannotti and Sergente Filippo Baldin) and possibly some from the 78a Squadriglia took off from T2 to protect Italian bombers in the Sidi Azeiz area. The 77a Squadriglia pilots returned at 11:50 without having seen any enemy aircraft while those of the 82a attacked a British monoplane that was efficiently machine-gunned by Sottotenente Bottà and Sergente Baldin. The CR.42s landed back at 11:50.
It seems that records of the units participating in the day’s combats are incomplete or wrong. In particular, no British units claimed any SM 79s during the day. In fact, 33 Squadron reported to have met two formations of SM 79s during a patrol of the Tobruk-Bardia road, but claimed only to have forced them to jettison their bombs. One Hurricane went missing after this engagement (possibly the plane claimed damaged by Bottà and Baldin). 274 Squadron on the other hand reported three of its fighters out in offensive patrols over forward troops with Flying Officer Patterson taking off at 09:30 and landing back at 13:50, Flight Lieutenant Wykeham-Barnes taking off at 09:50 and landing back at 14:10 and finally Lieutenant (or Pilot Officer) Bester that took off at 09:00 and force-landed west of Mersa Matruh for a unspecified reasons. Nobody however claimed the shooting down or even a combat against Italian bombers. Wykeham-Barnes (Hurricane V7300) instead claimed a confirmed CR.42, which was attacked over Bir Chleta at 10:40 and was part of an 18 aircraft strong formation made of threes dispersed in echelon that was escorting bombers. He was alone at 17,000 feet with the Italians flying 4,000 feet lower and delivered an astern attack on the rearmost fighter that probably didn’t discover his approach even if six other in the same formation did and in fact wheeled to attack before he was able to open fire. While his victim went down with smoke steaming from it, the other biplanes attacked indecisively. Wykeham-Barnes made several feints as if running away and then turned back but the enemies were not deceived. Again, it seems that the Italian fighters were those of the 13o Gruppo’s formation, which were the only ones that recorded actions in the morning.
On 16 December and in a last futile attempt to help the garrison at Sidi Omar, six SM 79s from the 29o Gruppo led by Colonnello Mario Aramu took off from Derna at 14:40 for a low-level strike. The formation of what was to become one of the most famous ill-fated missions of the Regia Aeronautica was as follows:
|SM 79 from the 63a Squadriglia (shot down)
Colonnello Mario Aramu (KIA)
Sergente Maggiore Paolo La Torraca (KIA)
Capitano Pilota Victor Hugo Girolami (acting bomb aimer) (KIA)
Primo Aviere Motorista Bruno Zottarel (KIA)
Aviere Scelto Armiere Giorgio Menna (KIA)
Primo Aviere Radiotelegrafista Carlo Magno (KIA)
|SM 79 from the 63a Squadriglia
Primo Aviere Motorista Galli
Primo Aviere Armiere Giuseppe Tassoni (KIA)
Primo Aviere Radiotelegrafista Malara
|SM 79 from the 63a Squadriglia (shot down)
Sottotenente Tonachella (POW)
Sergente Maggiore Filippo Cipriani (KIA)
Sergente Motorista Ugo Ferroni (KIA)
Primo Aviere Armiere Giovanni Musumeci (KIA)
Primo Aviere Radiotelegrafista Verna (KIA)
|SM 79 from the 62a Squadriglia (shot down)
Tenente Colonnello Guglielmo Grandjacquet (KIA)
Tenente Giacomo Padrone (POW)
Tenente Marco Sciavertini (KIA)
Aviere Scelto Motorista Luciano Lanzoni (KIA)
Primo Aviere Armiere Radames Medori (KIA)
Primo Aviere Radiotelegrafista Enrico Materazzo (KIA)
|SM 79 from the 63a Squadriglia
Primo Aviere Motorista D’Angeli
Primo Aviere Armiere Giuseppe Vincenzi (KIA)
Primo Aviere Radiotelegrafista Diotallevi
|SM 79 from the 62a Squadriglia
Aviere Scelto Motorista Cinti
Primo Aviere Armiere Bachini
Sergente Radiotelegrafista Ascione
The Savoias were intercepted by a reportedly 20 Hurricanes at 1200 meters altitude, in sight of their intended target, after an hour of flight. The two vics of SM 79s tightened up their formation, trying to fight back. The first to go down was the plane of Grandjacquet. The SM 79 of Tenente Timolati then closed formation with the leading vic only to witness the demise of Colonnello Aramu’s bomber and shortly after that Sottotenente Tonachella’s. The three surviving SM 79s fled towards the sea with Hurricanes on their tail and suffered the last damage, which caused the death of some crewmembers before the Hurricanes disengaged (due to the intervention of some fighters of the 10o Gruppo). The SM 79 then released their bomb-load into the open sea and returned to Derna where at 16:30 Sottotenente Martemucci’s bomber broke its landing gear and crash-landed, damaging the wing. Timolati reported that Aramu’s SM 79, the dorsal gunner was immediately killed and his place was taken by Capitano Girolami, who was killed soon after when a well placed burst hit the Savoia’s cockpit killing him and causing the demise of the aircraft. The returning crews claimed five Hurricanes in return.
Sottotenente Tonachella and Tenente Padrone were the only survivors of the missing SM 79s. They both escaped with parachute and were captured by British patrols. Padrone, back in Italy after the war left a description of the events:
“the morning of 16 December 1940 three SM79 planes led by Colonello Aramu (I don’t remember the left hand wingman but I was the right hand) attacked with small calibre bombs and strafed from very low level British mechanized vehicles south-west of Bardia.(…). Back at base, Aramu knew that another mission was to be flown in the afternoon, to attack armoured concentrations around Sollum. Two section of three planes in line astern one 500 metres from the other were to be employed. The overall formation had to be commanded by Tenente Colonnello Gradjacquet leading the first section while Capitano Girolami had to lead the second section. Aramu decided to take part also in this action so he took the lead of the first section with Girolami acting as a bomb aimer and Grandjacquet took the lead of the second section. The two sections could attack independently because they all had a bomb aimer. The formation took off at 15.00 and when over Tobruk waited without avail for some minutes for the escort fighters, then directed toward the target flying deep inside the desert to avoid interception. When in the area between Sidi Omar and Capuzzo, when I was preparing to turn on the intercom with the bomb aimer I heard the guns of our plane shooting so I understood that we were under attack. The enemy planes most likely arrived from astern because in front of us I could see only the section of Aramu. Immediately after a burst of fire hit our plane silencing the dorsal gun and also hitting the instrument panel. I tried to assess the damage suffered but saw Grandjacquet busy in flying the plane and the wingmen at their place. Then a fire started in the rudder pedals area. I tried to give the alarm shouting but nobody moved, neither Tenente Colonnello Grandjacquet that didn’t move even after I shook him (probably he was already dead and kept in position by the seat belts). Therefore, unable to take command of the plane because of the fire and fearing that the flames could ignite my clothes I open the emergency door on the roof and jumped with parachute. I immediately saw my plane falling on ground engulfed by flames, not so far two other planes were falling in flames. Once on ground I noticed two other parachutes (…). I walked in a north-westerly direction for two days and then I was captured by a British patrol. Two month later in Cairo a RAF Officer asked me about the fate of Colonnello Aramu, so I understood what happened to him, Capitano Girolami and their crew (…).The loss of these three COs was a terrible blow for the bomber force of Va Squadra and in particular the loss of the forty-years-old Aramu. He was a beloved leader, previously part of the “Atlantici” having crossed the northern Atlantic under Italo Balbo in 1933. He had then fought during the Spanish Civil War where on 21 May 1937 he had disabled the Republican Battleship Jaime Io in Almeria harbour with a well-aimed salvo of bombs from 4000 metres. The three officers were immediately awarded posthumous Medaglie d’Oro al valor militare but in fact such was the severity of the loss suffered that 29o Gruppo was immediately ordered back to Italy.
“in the fading light of twilight Lucchini discovered something on his port side, something like the striking of three wax matches. He left the formation and went in that direction. Gradually closing he better understood what had happened. Three S 79s were falling, burning like torches and four Hurricanes were orbiting over as if they were recomposing formation before turning back home. He attacked the last one and shot it down.”The 10o Gruppo fighters were back at 16:40; Sergente Sclavo’s CR.42, damaged in the engagement, was classified R.S.
“Arrived late in combat, 1 S79 fired on, guns silenced. A/c dropped and starboard engine set on fire. Confirmed shot down by Flight Lieutenant Smith. While attacking 79 1 CR 42 got on my tail and fired on me. Two other overhead. Didn’t see them approach. Obliged to break off [unreadable].”Flying Officer Patterson was flying with another Hurricane (Sergeant Marshall) when at 15:45 they discovered six SM 79s flying in two vics of three (obviously Colonnello Aramu’s formation). He was flying at 17,000 feet while the bombers appeared to be at 4,000 feet. He approached unseen until he was half a mile away and delivered an astern attack while they return fire diving towards the ground. He reported:
“3 S79 shot down and burnt out on ground (confirmed by Sergeant Marshall) our casualties nil.”Sergeant Marshall remembered:
“after breakfast and meeting Flying Officer Patterson of 274, we flew up to Sidi Barrani, where we refuelled and took off on an Offensive Patrol. I flew with Pat and at 17,000 feet west of Sollum we spotted some 79s at about 5000 feet. We dived and engaged them and I got two in flames, Pat two and Smithy 1. There were congratulations from Collishaw (AOC) on our return, but I still wished it was all over and I could get back to UK – my cold was still bad, which didn’t help, plus the food and conditions were awful with half a gallon of water per day per man (Perhaps!).”They were highly likely the victors of Aramu, Grandjacquet and Tonachella.
“Enemy pulled up and spun. A further burst was fired by Sergeant Willis. Enemy observed to spin to a low height until lost sight of. Possible presence of other a/c precluded following down to see it hit the ground.”Pilot Officer McFadden, was chased “up country” by two Italian CR.42s where he force-landed reportedly owing to lack of fuel. He returned to Sidi Haneish the day after and Sergeant Marshall noted:
“McFadden came back from Mersa after breaking his kite – What a prize pilot he is!”Pilot Officer MacFadden’s Hurricane (V6737) was later recovered and repaired. Considering the 90a Squadriglia’s records it seems possible that the crash-landing of McFadden was not due only to lack of fuel but perhaps also to damage suffered from the fire of Tenente Lucchini.
He totally claimed five and two shared victories and two probables during Wavell's First Libyan Campaign at the turn of the year, becoming a flight commander at the start of January 1941.
At 11:00 on 5 January 1941, 202 Group HQ signalled to 274 Squadron to continue the patrols. In the meantime had Flight Lieutenant Wykeham-Barnes (V7558) and Pilot Officer Wilson (N2624) already taken off at 10:30 and 10:45 respectively. They were followed by Flying Officer Arthur Weller (P2544), Flying Officer Ernest Mason (P3722), Second Lieutenant Robert Talbot (P3721) and Squadron Leader Patrick Dunn (P3723), taking off between 11:00 and 11:30. This group of pilots would experience a lot of action.
At 12:20 alternatively 12:30, Flying Officer Mason and Second Lieutenant Talbot arrived independently but keeping visual touch over Ain el Gazala. Mason, who was flying at 3500 feet, saw two CR.42s in a vic, 2000 feet below him and approached the leader unobserved. He hit him with a burst, seeing him stalling and diving vertically into the ground and bursting out in flames. The no. 2 in the meantime turned away and attempted to make a head on attack. A burst from the eight guns of Mason made him turn over and dive into the deck where the CR.42 burst into flames too. In the meantime, Talbot stayed higher and saw five CR.42s in a scattered formation, which looked as if they were diving on Mason. Unobserved he performed a stern attack on the leader who stalled and dived into the ground. When the two 274 Squadron pilots left the scene, three CR.42s were seen burning on the ground. Mason reported:
”in the afternoon we went there [Gazala airfield] again and circled over the aerodrome. Suddenly I saw two CR42s approaching to land. I dived down and came up behind. I gave the leader a burst and as I shot past him he turned slowly and dived straight in the middle of the aerodrome and exploded. In the meantime the other chap had turned and came for me head on. I gave him a short burst and he did the same thing. This time on the edge of the aerodrome. By then five more, also returning home, had seen me and were diving on me so Bob shot down the leader and they dispersed.”Mason had shot down Sottotenente Oscar Abello and Sergente Pardino Pardini of the 70a Squadriglia, who were landing on Z1 coming from Benghazi at 11:20 (Italian time). The identity of the fighters attacked by Talbot remains unknown. Sottotenente Abello was a highly respected pilot, already credited with three victories (two of them Hurricanes over Malta). As recognition of his previous activity, he received a posthumous Medaglia d’oro al valor militare.
“(…) targets that day were enemy troops close to Bardia. We were seventeen fighters and we escorted five bombers that had to attack the enemy positions. Enemy reaction was very strong and we had to stand three consecutive fights. It was during the second attack, just after leaving the target area over the desert west of Bardia that Leopoldo was surprised by a Hurricane and with him also his wingman. Both left formation. The attack was lightning-swift and they were unable to avoid it, as we were unable to help them or to follow their fate because the enemy’s precision was too high and we had to guard against new attacks. Back at base we hoped that someone of the missing pilots came back, perhaps landing in some advanced landing grounds. Two in fact came back later but we received no news of Leopoldo and his wingman (…) Only later, just before leaving Tripoli we knew his fate (…)”.
On 17 January, 274 Squadron was without orders from the Wing HQ owing to lack of R/T or even telephonic communications so its Hurricanes started to carry out the usual patrols over the front.
During one of these missions between 08:45 and 10:50, Flight Lieutenant Wykeham-Barnes (Hurricane P2641) and another pilot (possibly Flight Lieutenant Tulesne in V7423) met an Italian aircraft identified as a “S 81 or S 82 marked with red crosses” when ten miles west of Tobruk. Wykeham-Barnes reported that he fired no rounds against this aircraft but flew alongside it, ordering the pilot to land which he did at once. The Italian aircraft landed straight ahead, tipping slightly onto its nose and the crew of about six set it on fire before being captured by land forces.
Italian sources gave a slightly different version of the event, the ambulance S.81, an ex-bombing machine adapted and given in charge of the HQ of the Va Squadra Aerea together with four others, was flying towards Tobruk when reportedly shot down in flames with the loss of the crew (pilot, a medical officer and four crewmembers).
On 20 April 1941 he took command of the recently-arrived 73 Squadron, and was at once involved in the air defence of the invested port of Tobruk, from where the unit operated for a short time.
The final battle of Tobruk occurred on 23 April. At 10:00 four aircraft of 73 Squadron took off to intercept twenty Ju 87s (including five from 236a Squadriglia led by Capitano Santinoni), thirty Bf 109s from JG 27 and ten Bf 110s. Squadron Leader Wykeham-Barnes (V7837) shot down a Bf 109 and a Ju 87, but was then hit and forced to bale out, his aircraft crashing in flames. He landed on the edge of the harbour wall with a strained leg. Pilot Officer Peter Haldenby (V7834) was shot down and killed, and Flying Officer R. F. Martin (a veteran of the fighting in France), baled out of his damaged Hurricane with a wounded arm.
Three more Hurricanes had taken off following the initial four, the surviving pilots claiming three Ju 87s shot down. Sergeant Alfred Marshall (V7353) claimed a Ju 87, which he saw crash 15 miles west of Tobruk. Pilot Officer Chatfield returned with the rudder of his Hurricane (W9299) damaged after having claimed a Ju 87, while Sous Lieutenant Littolf (V7728) claimed a Ju 87 and a Bf 110 after which he only escaped a pursuing Messerschmitt when it was driven off his tail by the Tobruk AA gunners. Nonetheless, his Hurricane had been badly damaged and he crash-landed at El Gobi, but the Bf 109 was hit by the Bofors gunners and crashed, Feldwebel Werner Lange of 1./JG 27 (Bf 109E-7 WNr 4163) being killed. Sergeant Laing recalled:
“We watched a ME 109 roar past at about 150 feet and the Bofors gunner got his deflection right with the fifth or sixth shot and blew the plane to pieces. In what wreckage we saw close by the field, all we found was a boot.”Sergeant Marshall landed to re-fuel but his Hurricane was attacked on the ground at 10:45 by Leutnant Hans-Jürgen von Möller of 1./JG 27, who claimed one additional Hurricane shot down east of Tobruk at 10:55. Marshall recalled:
“I was strafed in the cockpit by a ME 109, wounded in the head and shoulder. LAC Webster and another [LAC ‘Jock’ Boyd, who was hit nine times but survived] seriously injured at wing tips.”The RAF claims were claimed between 11:30-12:05.
This day’s action effectively brought an end to 73 Squadron’s defence of Tobruk and four days later the survivors flew out to allow the unit to reform.
On 25 April, HQ 258 Wing requested a nominal roll of 73 Squadron pilots and aircraft at El Gobbi. This showed only five Hurricanes serviceable, and the unit was ordered to withdraw to Sidi Haneish. First, however, four of these aircraft were scrambled after another raid early in the morning, comprised of 20 Bf 109s and some Italian Ju 87s. Flight Lieutenant Oliver decided that the odds were too great, and ordered the pilots to return to base.
By evening eight Hurricanes were flyable of which only half were operationally serviceable, and these left at 18:00, landing initially at Gerawla. The commanding officer with Flying Officer Goodman, Pilot Officer Humphreys and the intelligence officer had already gone ahead in a Blenheim. Of his short time at El Gobbi, Wykeham-Barnes later wrote:
“I was commanding officer of 73 Squadron in the spring of 1941, first inside Tobruk and later at Sidi Haneish. It was a very bad time, as we were outclassed by the 109s, heavily outnumbered, and hopelessly placed tactically. Our losses were very heavy, both inside and outside Tobruk. During my six months in command I lost 120% of my pilots, including four Flight Commanders.Since flying in on 9 April, 73 Squadron had claimed 31 aircraft shot down plus five probable in the air, and eight aircraft together with many motor vehicles of various types destroyed on the ground. This had been achieved with the loss of circa 25 Hurricanes, 15 of which had been shot down. Six pilots had been killed, two had become PoWs and four had been wounded. Since the arrival as ‘C’ Flight, Escadrille de Chasse N.1’s share of the total included ten confirmed and two probable claims in the air.
We shot down a number of Stukas and 109s. Few of these were confirmed as the battles were always over enemy territory, or over the small Tobruk perimeter. On the whole I think our losses were about the same as our victories, or somewhat more. The poor profit/loss ratio was increased by the fact that we did a lot of ground attacks on airfields, where we lost heavily to German light Flak. Our role was to keep up some appearance of participation, so that the Army should not feel deserted by the Air Force, but the heavy cost of this was known, and we were urged to hold out until the Desert Air Force could be reinforced with new fighter squadrons.”
At 13:10 on 25 May the First Battle Squadron (including HMS Queen Elisabeth, HMS Barham , HMS Formidable and eight destroyers) was 150 miles from the Kaso Strait when a formation of Ju 87s was detected approaching from the North African coast. These were from II/StG 2 led by Major Walter Enneccerus, which by chance stumbled upon the Squadron when searching for supply shipping making for Tobruk.
By chance Oberleutnant Bernhard Hamester’s 5 Staffel crews spotted Formidable and took advantage of the chance encounter to attack at once, followed by 4 Staffel (Oberleutnant Eberhard Jakob) and Oberleutnant Fritz Eyer’s 6 Staffel. Two direct hits were scored on the flight deck, fore and aft, as well as several near-misses, one of which created a gaping hole in the carrier’s starboard side underwater. Fires broke out, 12 men were killed and ten wounded – a relatively low number of casualties, given the severe damage inflicted.
Two Fulmars had been launched as the Stukas approached, but these had not gained sufficient altitude to intervene. Now, as the dive-bombers retired, they attacked. Believed flown by Lieutenant ’Pat’ Massy and Sub Lieutenant K. L. Wood, each pilot claimed one Ju 87 shot down and while Massy claimed two more as damaged. Only one Ju 87, an aircraft of 5 Staffel, was actually lost, the gunner, Oberfeldwebel Ewald Krüger, being wounded. One Fulmar, believed to have been Massy’s aircraft, was hit by return fire, Leading Aircraftman Colin Hearnshaw, the TAG, receiving four bullet wounds in one leg. Despite the damage on the carrier, both Fulmars were able to land on, and Hearnshaw was soon receiving attention to his wounds.
HMS Formidable was not the only ship hit, for the escorting destroyer HMS Nubian also had her bows blown off and her aft guns put out of action, 15 of her crew being killed and six others seriously wounded. As soon as the attack had developed, the carrier had sent out urgent signals requesting air cover, the initial response being the arrival of a solitary Blenheim IVF from 45 Squadron at Fuka, which remained on station for ten minutes. Three Hurricanes of 1 SAAF Squadron from Sidi Barrani then arrived, but were treated as hostile and met initially by a barrage of AA fire. These were relieved by three more Hurricanes from 274 Squadron at Gerawla, and then by three more from 73 Squadron at Sidi Haneish. Another three of this unit’s aircraft appeared an hour later, these engaging a Ju 88 which Squadron Leader Wykeham-Barnes managed to hit before his reflector sight failed at the crucial moment, allowing the reconnaissance aircraft to escape.
By 18:00 launches of Fulmars could commence from HMS Fomidable.
Formidable arrived at Alexandria the next day, departing via the Suez Canal two months later for more permanent and extensive repairs.
Wykeham-Barnes was awarded a Bar to his DFC on 8 August and remained with the unit until October.
In November 1941 he became Wing Commander Fighters, Western Desert, but was rested in February 1942, when he was sent to the USA as an air-fighting instructor.
Returning to the UK in May, he took command of 257 Squadron, which he converted, from Hurricanes to Typhoons during July. In November however, he took over 23 Squadron on Mosquito II night intruders, leading the unit out to Malta late in December to commence operations over Sicily.
Whilst with 23 Squadron his navigator was 116970 Flying Officer Geoffrey Ernest Palmer, DFC.
He was to gain his last victories here, and to receive an award of the DSO, but on 28 April 1943, while undertaking physical exercise which he strongly encouraged, he twisted his knee and tore the cartilage, requiring invaliding to England.
Having recovered, he became Sector Commander of the Kenley Sector in June 1943, flying Spitfires. However, in February 1944, after a spell in a staffjob at Air Ministry, he returned to Mosquitos - now Mark VI fighter-bombers - as commander of 140 Wing in 2nd TAF. With 140 Wing he led an attack on the Gestapo HQ at Bonncuil Matours on 14 July 1944, followed by a similar attack on the Aarhus HQ in Denmark on 31 October, for which he was awarded the Danish Order of Dannebrog. He was also to add a Bar to his DSO during the latter month.
In December 1944 he moved to the Operations Staff of 2 Group, 2nd TAF.
Wykeham-Barnes ended the war with 3 and 1 shared biplane victories and a total of 14 and 3 shared destroyed.
After the war, he subsequently returning to an Air Ministry post until 1948, when he became Chief Test Pilot at the Fighter Experimental Establishment.
In 1950 he was seconded to the USAF in Korea, where he flew seven night intruder sorties in B-26 Invaders of the 90th Bomber Group, USAF, and was awarded the US Air Medal.
Subsequently he commanded RAF stations at North Weald and Wattisham, 1951-53, and then served in NATO, 1953-56.
Staff appointments for the next three years were followed by command of 38 Group, Transport Command, as an Air Commodore, 1960-61. He had dropped the Barnes from his name in 1955, and in 1962 became Director of the Joint Warfare Staff at Ministry of Defence until 1964, when he took command of Far East Air Force.
His final role was as Deputy Chief of the Air Staff from 1967-69, when he retired as Air Marshal Sir Peter Wykeham, KCB, DSO and Bar, OBE, DFC and Bar, AFC.
He was made a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society in 1968.
He then became a technical consultant and Chairman of Slingsby Aviation plc, Wykehams Ltd and Anglo-European Liaison Ltd. He became a FRAeS in 1968 and was the author of Fighter Command (1960) and Santos-Dumont (1962).
Sir Peter Wykeham died on 23 February 1995.
|Kill no.||Date||Time||Number||Type||Result||Plane type||Serial no.||Locality||Unit|
|1||19/06/40||1||CR.42 (a)||Destroyed||Hurricane I||P2639||Sollum||80 Squadron|
|2||19/06/40||1||CR.42 (a)||Destroyed||Hurricane I||P2639||Sollum||80 Squadron|
|3||04/08/40||1||Ba.65 (b)||Destroyed||Gladiator I||L8009||Bir Taeib el Esem||80 Squadron|
|4||04/08/40||1||CR.32 (b)||Destroyed||Gladiator I||L8009||Bir Taeib el Esem||80 Squadron|
|5||08/08/40||18:00-||1||CR.42 (c)||Destroyed||Gladiator I||K7916||El Gobi||80 Squadron|
|17/08/40||08:20-10:00||1/3||Z.501 (d)||Shared destroyed||Gladiator I||K8051||off Tobruk||80 Squadron|
|09/12/40||11:35-13:15||1/5||S.79 (e)||Shared destroyed||Hurricane I||P2638||Libyan frontier||274 Squadron|
|09/12/40||11:35-13:15||1/5||S.79 (e)||Shared destroyed||Hurricane I||P2638||Libyan frontier||274 Squadron|
|09/12/40||11:35-13:15||1/5||S.79 (e)||Shared damaged||Hurricane I||P2638||Libyan frontier||274 Squadron|
|09/12/40||11:35-13:15||1/5||S.79 (e)||Shared damaged||Hurricane I||P2638||Libyan frontier||274 Squadron|
|6||09/12/40||16:08-17:00||1||CR.42 (f)||Destroyed||Hurricane I||V7300||Barrani-Sofafi||274 Squadron|
|09/12/40||16:08-17:00||1||CR.42 (f)||Probable||Hurricane I||V7300||Barrani-Sofafi||274 Squadron|
|7||15/12/40||10:40||1||CR.42 (g)||Destroyed||Hurricane I||V7300||Bir Galata||274 Squadron|
|8||16/12/40||15:35-15:45||1||S.79 (h)||Destroyed||Hurricane I||V7293||Bardia||274 Squadron|
|9||05/01/41||12:45-13:15||1||S.79 (i)||Destroyed||Hurricane I||V7558||SW Tobruk||274 Squadron|
|05/01/41||12:45-13:15||1||S.79 (i)||Probable||Hurricane I||V7558||SW Tobruk||274 Squadron|
|10||17/01/41||1||S.82 (ji)||Destroyed||Hurricane I||P2641||SW Tobruk||274 Squadron|
|11||23/04/41||11:30-12:05||1||Bf 109 (k)||Destroyed||Hurricane I||V7837||Tobruk||73 Squadron|
|12||23/04/41||11:30-12:05||1||Ju 87||Destroyed||Hurricane I||V7837||Tobruk||73 Squadron|
|25/05/41||14:30-||1||Ju 88||Damaged||Hurricane I||V7012||over ships||73 Squadron|
|13||7-8/03/43||1||Ju 88 (l)||Destroyed||Mosquito II||DZ230 'YP-A'||Catania||23 Squadron|
|14||9-10/04/43||1||u/i e/a (m)||Destroyed||Mosquito II||Catania||23 Squadron|
|19-20/04/43||1||Do24||Damaged||Mosquito II||DZ230 'YP-A'||E Syracuse||23 Squadron|
Biplane victories: 3 and 1 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 14 and 3 shared destroyed, 2 probable, 2 and 2 shared damaged.
(a) RAF claimed four destroyed CR.42s in this combat for the loss of Sergeant Roy Leslie Green (RAF No. 44754) of 33 Squadron, who was shot down and killed. 84a Squadriglia lost two with Sergente Maggiore Ugo Corsi being killed and the other, the Gruppo commander Tenente Colonnello Armando Piragino, taken prisoner while claiming six victories.
(a) Claimed in combat with 6 Ba.65s of the 159a Squadriglia and 6 CR.32s of the 160a Squadriglia. The Italian aircraft claimed three Gladiators while only suffering four damaged Ba.65s. 80 Squadron claimed two Ba.65s, one CR.32 and one CR.42 for the loss of three Gladiators and 1 damaged.
(c) 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.
(d) Z.510 from the 143a Squadriglia Z.501 from Menalao, flown by Sottotente Cesare Como with Sottotenente di Vascello Renzo Monselesan as observer shot down with the loss of the crew.
(e) Claimed in combat with S.79s from the 44o and 45o Gruppi, which lost two S.79 and got three more damaged (one was written-off) while claiming six enemy fighters and three more damaged. 274 Squadron claimed three S.79 and two more damaged without losses.
(f) Probably claimed in combat between 9o and 151o Gruppi and 33 and 274 Squadrons. 9o Gruppo claimed eight shot down, three probables and several damaged while losing two CR.42s and four force-landed. The 151o Gruppo claimed one Hurricane without losses. 33 and 274 Squadrons claimed seven or eight CR.42s and three probables while one Hurricane (33 Squadron) had to force-land and a second (274 Squadron) was damaged.
(g) Possibly claimed in combat with CR.42s from 13o Gruppo, which didn't suffer any losses.
(h) Claimed in combat with S.79s from 9o Stormo B.T., which lost three aircraft and got three more damaged (one crash-landed) while claiming 5 Hurricanes. 274 and 73 Squadrons claimed 6 destroyed without suffering any losses to the bombers.
(i) SM.79s from 34o Stormo, which lost 3 bombers against RAF claims for 2 and 1 probable.
(j) A S.81 from the HQ of the Va Squadra Aerea, which was obliged to land; the crew then set fire to the aircraft before being captured.
(k) Claimed in combat with Bf 109s from I./JG 27, which didn’t suffer any corresponding loss.
(l) Ju 88 of II/LG1.
(m) Ju 88 of III/KG76.
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
Adriano Visconti Asso di Guerra - Giuseppe Pesce and Giovanni Massimello, 1997 kindly provided by Vincent Biondi
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
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
Desert Prelude: Operation Compass - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2011 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-61421-18-4
Diario Storico 92a Squadriglia C.T. kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.
Diario Storico 94a Squadriglia C.T. kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.
Ernesto Botto, Gamba di Ferro - Ferdinando Pedriali, Storia Militare no. 96 (IX), September 2001 kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
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
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
Il Breda 65 e l'Aviazione d'Assalto - Giancarlo Garello, 1980 Ed. dell'Ateneo & Bizzarri, Rome, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Il Fiat CR 42 l’ultimo biplano da caccia Italiano – Nicola Malizia, 2003 Editrice Innocenti, Grosseto, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Il Savoia Marchetti S.M. 79 nel Secondo Conflitto Mondiale - Bombardamento Terrestre - Ricognizione Strategica - Aviazione Sahariana – Cesare Gori, 2003 USSMA, Rome, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Italy's Breda Ba.65 (World War II November 1996) - Jon Guttman, 1996
L’8oGruppo caccia in due conflitti mondiali - Giuseppe Pesce, 1974 S.T.E.M. Mucchi, Modena, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
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 Stefano Lazzaro
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
The Desert Air War 1939 – 1945 – Richard Townshend Bickers, 1991 Leo Cooper, London, ISBN 0-85052-216-1, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
The Gloster Gladiator - Francis K. Mason, 1964
Those Other Eagles – Christopher Shores, 2004 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-904010-88-1
Woody - A Fighter Pilot's Album - Hugh A. Halliday, 1987 Canav Books, Toronto, ISBN 0-9690703-8-1
Additional information kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro and Ludovico Slongo.