Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Generale Romano Palmera

17 December 1915 -

Romano Palmera was born on 17 December 1915.

On 1 October 1935, he was commissioned (in Servizio Permanente Effettivo).

Romano Palemera acted as commander of 110a Squadriglia RT during the Ethiopian campaign in 1940-41. This unit was in the beginning of the campaign equipped with the Meridionali Ro37bis.

On 23 August three aircraft left Diredawa for Mogadishu to protect the southern sector. The rest of the unit followed during September, including the commanding officer Tenente Palmera (on 1 September).

In the afternoon on 18 December 1940 he made a reconnaissance over the El Wak area, seeing a column of vehicles and also a Hurricane, flown by Flight Lieutenant Robert Blake of 2 SAAF Squadron, which was just beginning its take-off run from Ndege’s Nest landing ground. Palmera swooped down to attack the Hurricane, which was hit by three bullets. He then made off, using the speed he had gained in his dive to escape at low level before the Hurricane could get fully airborne and attack him. Blake thought his attacker had been a CR.42, which had underestimated his take-off speed.

He was promoted to Capitano on 13 January 1941.

On 17 January 1941, 110a Squadriglia received four CR.42s to boost its low numbers. The first sorties with these were flown on 1 February.

Early in the morning on 13 February 1941 Captain O. G. Davies of the Maryland Detachment with 12 SAAF Squadron (a Junkers Ju86 Squadron) flew a reconnaissance mission over the Mogadishu area. He strafed a staff car on the Jelib-Mogadishu road, causing it to crash into some trees, and then fired on some lorries and two tankers near Brava. Seeing Vittorio d’Africa airfield he dived to attack five Ca.133s. He damaged two of them before he was attacked by a CR.42 flown by Palemera, who shot up the rear of Davies aircraft and caused considerable damage. Subsequently 732 holes were counted in the tail of the Maryland.

Seven days later the same pilots met again! During the day Davies again flew over Mogadishu and Brava, this time on a photographic mission. He once more went down to strafe on completion of his primary mission, but was again attacked by Palmera in a CR.42. This time Davies escaped with five explosive bullets in the starboard wing of his aircraft.

On 22 February Jelib was taken by Allied troops supported by 41 SAAF Squadron Hartbeestes, and the airfield there was quickly put into use. The Hartbeestes then began a series of attacks on Italian troops retreating from the area. They were joined in this task during the afternoon by three Battles of 11 SAAF Squadron, which bombed vehicles on the Lamma Garas - Duduma road, destroying eight. As the bombers turned for home one of the Battles was attacked and shot down by Palmera. The pilot, Lieutenant Bernard Sydney Mordaunt Hamilton (SAAF no. 102754), was killed but the gunner, Flight Sergeant John William Dixon (SAAF no. 47248) managed to bale out. He was taken prisoner and an Italian officer ordered a native NCO to escort him to headquarters. On the way Dixon apparently boasted of having taking part in recent raids on Mogadishu, where a lot of locals had been killed. His guard of locally recruited colonial troops at once sentenced him to death and shot him. Ironically, the raid, which had caused the causalities, had been carried out by the Royal Navy Albacores, and not by the South African Battles. Subsequently Imperial forces captured the Italian officer, and he was put on trial, accused of responsibility for Dixon’s death.

Next day on 23 February, Palmera was up again, this time together with Sottotenente Ildebrando Malavolta. They attacked a Hartbeeste of 41 SAAF Squadron between Jelib and Merca and engaged it in a seven-minute battle. Sergeant D. D. McWilliam, the gunner, stood in his cockpit returning fire and claimed to have hit the first attacker with a long burst, seeing a trail of grey smoke from the cockpit area as it left the combat. The second pressed home its attack, but overshot on its second pass, the pilot Lieutenant L. H. G. Shuttleworth, pulling up the nose and firing a long burst at it with the front guns. Both fighters then broke off, returning to base, neither of the Italian CR.42s had in fact been damaged. Palmera claimed the Hartbeeste as a probable. In fact the damaged biplane managed to return to Jelib.

In the morning on 13 March a Hurricane of 3 SAAF Squadron flown by Lieutenant A. S. Venter became lost during an escort mission and forced to land 50 miles east of Dogabur. In the afternoon when Venter had been located, Captain S. van Breda Theron took of in another Hurricane to located him. When he spotted Venter’s aircraft, he landed alongside and siphoned off some of the fuel in his own tanks into the stranded Hurricane. They took off together and flew back to their airfield at Dogabur. When they approached the saw Lieutenant Leighton Rex Dudley (SAAF no. 102839) taking off and being attacked by two CR.42s. The Hurricane crashed and burst into flames, killing the 24-year-old Dudley. He had been shot down by Palmera, who with his wingman, Sergente Maggiore Tominello (of 413a Squadriglia), now went on to try to shoot up six Hartbeestes on the airfield. At the approach of the other two Hurricanes, both CR.42s tried to climb away, but Theron pulled up behind Tominello who had entered a loop, and shot him down. Tominello crashed straight into the ground in flames from 1,000 feet. Venter then shot down Palmera’s aircraft, also in flames, but he was luckier and managed to bale out. Palmera was picked up by troops of the 11th African Division and handed over to the pilots of the two squadrons at Dogabur, who entertained him in their mess for the rest of the day before he was evacuated to Mogadishu and a POW camp.

At the time of his capture Palemera was credited with 2 biplane victories.
During the war, he was decorated with the Medaglia d'argento al valor militare.


Two Italian unit commanders pictured at Assab. To the left is Capitano Lucertini, commanding officer of 414a Squadriglia and to the right Palmera.

Palmera continued to serve in the Air Force after the war and became Chief of Personnel when another ex-East African pilot, Corrado Ricci, retired.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
  18/12/40   1 Hurricane (a) Damaged Ro37bis   Ndege’s Nest 110a Squadriglia
  1941                
  13/02/41   1 Maryland (b) Damaged CR.42   Vittorio d’Africa airfield 110a Squadriglia
  20/02/41   1 Maryland (b) Damaged CR.42   Mogadishu area 110a Squadriglia
1 22/02/41 (c)   1 Battle (d) Destroyed CR.42   Lamma Garas – Duduma road 110a Squadriglia
  23/02/41   1 Hartbeeste (e) Probable CR.42   Jelib – Merca 110a Squadriglia
2 13/03/41   1 Hurricane (f) Destroyed CR.42   Dogabur 110a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 2 destroyed, 1 probable, 3 damaged.
TOTAL: 2 destroyed, 1 probable, 3 damaged.
(a) Hurricane of 2 SAAF Squadron flown by Flight Lieutenant Robert S. Blake hit by three bullets.
(b) Maryland of detachment with 12 SAAF Sq., flown by Captain O. G. Davies, damaged (both times!).
(c) According to some sources this claim was made on 21 February 1941.
(d) Battle of 11 SAAF Squadron shot down. The pilot, Lieutenant Bernard Sydney Mordaunt Hamilton (SAAF no. 102754), was killed but the gunner, Flight Sergeant John William Dixon (SAAF no. 47248) managed to bale out. Dixon was later executed.
(e) Hartbeeste of 41 SAAF Squadron, flown by Lieutenant L. H. G. Shuttleworth with gunner Sergeant D. D. McWilliam, damaged.
(f) Hurricane of 3 SAAF Squadron shot down. Pilot Lieutenant L. R. Dudley killed.

Sources:
Annuario Ufficiale Delle Forze Armate Del Regno D’Italia Anno 1943. Part III Regia Aeronautica – 1943 Istituto Poligrafico Dello Stato, Roma
Courage Alone - Chris Dunning, 1998 Hikoki Publications, Aldershot, ISBN 1-902109-02-3
Dust Clouds in the Middle East - Christopher Shores, 1996 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-37-X
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Additional information kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.




Last modified 13 September 2011