80 Squadron
In March 1937, 80 Squadron, RAF was reformed at Kenley out of 'B' Flight 17 Squadron. At first the squadron was equipped with Gloster Gauntlets, but these were very quickly replaced by Gladiators, which were then just coming into service. One of the pilots, which joined this new unit, was Acting Plt Off M T St J Pattle. Pattle later went on to become the RAF's top scoring pilot of the war with over 50 victories to his credit. Training continued and the squadron soon became an integral part of Fighter Commands No11 Group.
A year later in March 1938 the squadron received news that it was being posted to Egypt. Aircraft establishment rose to 21, with a further 11 in reserve and 10 more available on a long-term basis. On 30 April 1938 the unit sailed on board the SS Lancashire and arrived at Alexandria, Egypt on 10 May.
The squadron's home was at Ismailia, and the first few weeks were spent unpacking and erecting the Gladiators. Training continued and at the end of July a full squadron formation of 18 aircraft flew to Cairo and back.
On the 26 July the accident occurred when Plt Off Pattle took off on a test flight in K8009. As the aircraft left the ground the engine cut, the aircraft hit the ground and bounced back into the air, where the engine restarted. Unfortunately the port wheel was ripped from the undercarriage. Pattle flew circuits until his fuel was almost gone; he came into land and skilfully kept the damaged undercarriage leg off the ground until the Gladiator had almost stopped. Very little damaged was caused to the aircraft and it was flying again within a couple of days.
During the latter part of 1938 Arab rebels in Palestine were causing unrest among the population. Pairs of Gladiators were sent to Ramleh to help the Army. During these forays the GOC; British Forces in Palestine and Transjordan presented Plt Off Wykeham-Barnes with a Certificate of Distinguished Conduct.
In Europe tension was mounting following Hitler's proposed occupation of Czechoslovakia and the annexation of the Sudetenland. British forces were brought to full readiness at both home and abroad. 80 Squadron was moved from Ismailia to its war station at Amriya. The Gladiators were camouflaged with light and dark brown distemper but still retained the aluminium undersides. Guns were fully loaded and all personnel placed at immediate readiness. Following the Munich Agreement in October the squadron returned to Ismailia. The aircraft were washed down and the water-soluble distemper removed.
In January 1939 the Fighter Wing HQ (33 and 80 Squadrons) moved from Ismailia to Helwan. Various air defence exercises were held over the next few months, and during one such exercise Plt Off R J Bartholemew failed to pull out of a dive and crashed on the Cairo-Alexandria road. In June two Royal Iraqi Air Force pilots Lts Ghani and Abdulla were attached to gain experience on modern fighters. They did not last long however as they quickly crashed two Gladiators on landing. Further exercises in August showed inadequacies in the Gladiators performance. During interceptions against Blenheims the Gladiators could only make one pass before the Blenheims superior speed enabled it to escape.
With the outbreak of the Second World War full mobilisation was ordered but this made little difference to life in Egypt. Training and exercises continued as before. On the 25 September Flt Lt C H Fry, 112 Squadron, arrived on attachment. He brought with him the very first Hurricane to be delivered to the Middle East. During an exercise on the 14 November two Gladiators collided killing both pilots, Plt Off K G Lamb and Sgt G A Brett.
1940 brought with it several more accidents, although none of them were fatal. The squadron was re-organised from a three-flight unit to a two-flight one. In April another mid-air collision occurred. Sgt Gregory hit his leader and had to bale out, while Fly Off Lapsley managed to fly back to base with damaged main planes and ailerons.
When the Germans launched their Blitzkreig on the Low Countries the Middle East squadrons increased their own patrols. More and more Italian aircraft had to be escorted back to the frontier. Exercises, practise alarms and scrambles increased and 80 Squadron reverted back to three-flights. When the Italians declared war on the eve of 10 June the squadron aircrew strength was as follows:
'A' Flight
Flt Lt E G Jones
Fly Off G W Kettlewell
Plt Off E M Mason
Plt Off A H Weller
Plt Off J H Lancaster
Plt Off P T Dowding
Flt Sgt T C Morris
Sgt D S Gregory
Sgt J C Hulbert
'B' Flight
Acting Flt Lt M T St J Pattle
Fly Off G F Graham
Fly Off J H Lapsley
Plt Off S Linnard
Plt Off V A J Stuckey
Flt Sgt S A Richens
Flt Sgt T M Vaughan
Sgt C E Casbolt
'C' Flight
Acting Flt Lt R V Evers-Swindel
Fly Off P G Wykeham-Barnes
Plt Off H U Sykes
Plt Off F H Stubbs, DFM
Ply Off H D W Flower
Sgt J H Clarke
Sgt G Barker
Sgt E W F Hewett
Sgt K R Rew
Aircraft complement stood at 22 Gladiators and 1 Hurricane.
Three 'B' Flight Gladiators were scrambled to intercept a 'bogey'. Pattle soon identified the aircraft as an airliner belonging to the Egyptian Misr Airwork Company.
During the day three Hurricanes arrived. These were fitted with long range fuel tanks and had flown to Africa from the UK via France. An accompanying Hudson carried all their machine guns and other equipment.
An intruder, which was flying over Aboukir, escaped detection by a patrol from 'A' Flight but was spotted from the ground at Amriya.
Fly Off Wykeham-Barnes was on patrol in one of the Hurricanes over Sollum when he came across a formation of Fiat CR42s. Along with Wykeham-Barnes were four Gladiators from 33 Squadron. Attacking the leading Fiat Wykeham-Barnes shot it down into the sea. The pilot Serg Corsi did not survive. The Italian aircraft began a fighting withdrawal towards the frontier but not before another one fell to the guns of the Hurricane. The 33 Squadron pilots claimed two more for the loss of one Gladiator. With no ammo left and very little fuel the RAF pilots landed at Mersa Matruh.
Alexandria suffered its first air raid on the night of the 21st. Five Gladiators attempted to intercept but failed to find any targets. On the way back to their base they found a heavy ground mist. Only one aircraft was able to land three others landed at Dekheila and the other put down on a track southeast of Amriya.
Further Hurricanes had by now reached the squadron as well as two Morane-Saulnier MS406s, which had been visiting Egypt when the French surrendered. They were taken over by Free French pilots. It was decided to form a Hurricane flight Flt Lt Jones was put in charge. Other members were Flt Lt Pattle, Fly Off`s Wykeham-Barnes, Lapsley, Kettlewell, Plt Off Mason, Flt Sgt Moris and Sgt`s Clarke and Hulbert.
After a period of inactivity the Gladiators were in action on the 4th. Ten SM79s were spotted to the north of Alexandria and 'B' Flight was scrambled to intercept. On spotting the approaching fighters the bombers quickly withdrew. Only Plt Off Weller and Fly Off Graham were able to engage the tri-motors. It was believed that the aircraft they attacked went down and they were jointly credited with a probable.
Sqn Ldr Jones was posted to Malta and his place was taken over by Sqn Ldr P H 'Paddy' Dunn.
With little in the way of aerial activity training continued with as many pilots as possible receiving training on the Hurricanes. At the end of July 'B' Flight moved up to the front and undertook offensive patrols over the Libyan border on the same afternoon. These operations were to be undertaken with a flight of Gladiators from 112 Squadron and both units were to co-operate with the Lysanders from 208 Squadron.
In the early morning 'B' Flight was ordered to provide an escort for a 208 Squadron Lysander which was to carry out a reconnaissance of troop movements at Bir Taieb el Esem. Flt Lt Pattle, K7910, led Fly Off Wykeham-Barnes, L8009, Plt Off Lancaster and Sergeant Rew, K7908. At 1715hrs they took off and soon found their charge at 6,000 feet. Pattle and Lancaster took up position 4,000 feet above the Lysander and slightly to its starboard side. The other two Gladiators flew 1,000 feet below the top cover and positioned themselves behind the Lysander. This formation crossed the border and after going about thirty miles a Very light was observed coming from the Lysander. The top cover due of Pattle and Lancaster dived down to investigate but failed to spot anything unusual. It was then that Pattle heard Wykeham-Barnes over the radio telling Rew to attack the enemy aircraft. Pattle then saw several Breda Ba65`s in two formations, one of three and the other of four. These aircraft had earlier taken off with an escort of Fiat CR32`s to attack a British supply depot 25 miles southwest of Sollum. The Italians had completed their second pass over the target when they spotted the lone Lysander.
Fly Off Wykeham-Barnes and Sgt Rew attacked the formation of 4 Ba65s, which were heading for the Lysander. Wykeham-Barnes shot down one of the Bredas in flames but he was then attacked by a CR32. He managed to shot down one of the fighters before baling out of his badly damaged aircraft. Rew was last seen attacking one of the Bredas, but he failed to return. He was probably shot down by Cap Duilio Fanali, who claimed a Gladiator shot down during the initial combat.
Pattle and Lancaster went after the other three Bredas. Pattle went for two Bredas which were flying in close formation. Dropping down to about 200 feet the Bredas dropped their bombs and slowly began to outpace the slower Gladiator. However, the Italians made the fatal mistake of turning to the north which allowed Pattle to cut the corner and close the range to 150 yard. He came in for a quarter attack, which slowed the Italian down. Two of his guns then jammed, but undetered Pattle continued to attack and the Breda finally went down to crash in a cloud of dust. By this time the second Breda had escaped.
In the middle of a melee Lancaster had the discomfort of having all four guns jam. He was then hit and wounded in the left arm and shoulder. Fearing he might pass out due to loss of blood he managed to evade his attackers and with his right hand stemming the blood flow he managed to fly his badly damaged aircraft back to Sidi Barrani were he landed and was rushed off to hospital. His Gladiator was later declared a write off.
Pattle meanwhile, had come under attack from the escorting Fiats. More fighters had joined the fray, these being identified as CR42`s. Turning into 5 attacking aircraft he hit one from close range whereupon it rolled onto its back and crashed into the ground. Breaking free from the others he headed for friendly territory only to find his way barred by at least 12 enemy aircraft. At this point his remaining guns jammed and for 15 minutes he was able to avoid any major damage. His controls were then hit and he was forced to bale out.
After landing on the ground Pattle set out on foot towards the front lines. He was later rescued by elements of the 11th Hussars and taken back to Sidi Barrani. It was thought that all three pilots had been lost, but then Pattle returned, as did Wykeham-Barnes, who was also picked up by the 11th Hussars.
On the 8th it was decided to operate 14 Gladiators over the El Gobi area where large formations of Italian fighters had been operating over lately. It was planned to lure the Italians into thinking there was only a small formation of Gladiators. To do this three aircraft were to act as bait. Accordingly three Gladiators were to fly at 8,000 feet, with three more at 10,000 feet. Four flew at 12,000 feet and the final four at 14,000 feet. All formations flew in a broad vic, which was the standard formation at this stage of the desert war.
The leader of the highest formation controlled the formation. A mixed formation of CR42`s and Ro37`s were soon spotted at 6,00 feet. Leading the Gladiators into the sun he ordered the lower sub-formation to attack. As this formation reached the Italian fighters the other sections were ordered down. It was a complete surprise and in no time at all 9 Italians were claimed shot down with 6 more probables. Claims were submitted by, Pattle, Linnard, Stuckey and Dunn, for two each. One each for Wykeham-Barnes and Evers-Swindell. Probables were claimed by Graham, Dowding, Flower-Wanklyn, Stuckey Sykes and Cholmely. Two Gladiators were lost, Flt Sgt Vaughan, K7903, and Flt Lt Evers-Swindel, although the 11th Hussars picked up the latter. One of these aircraft was claimed by Sergg Lido Poli. His Fiat was badly shot up and he suffered severe wounds to his arm. He stayed in the fight and brought down the Gladiator before he had to land himself due to his injuries. He was picked up by British troops and he had to have his arm amputated. When the Italian Authorities heard of this he was awarded the Italian Gold Medal for Military Valour. The Italians admitted the loss of 7 aircraft and claimed 5 Gladiators in return.
No more enemy aircraft were encountered until the 17th, when 'B' and 'C' Flights provided air support for naval vessels bombarding Bardia and Capuzzo. Wykeham-Barnes dived down through the clouds and attacked a Cant Z501 flying boat. The flying boat eventually fell in flames and crashed into the sea after several passes by Wykeham-Barnes and Fly Off Dowding.
Lapsley was flying one of the Hurricanes over the warships when he came across a formation of four SM79s. Attacking from astern he quickly shot down three of the bombers, all the losses being admitted to by the Italians. One of these aircraft was salvaged and put on display at Alexandria.
The Hurricane flight was removed from the squadron and used to form 274 Squadron. Sqn Ldr Dunn, Flt Lt Evers-Swindel, Fly Offs Wykeham-Barnes and Lapsley, Plt Off Mason and the Free French pilots with their aircraft were posted to this new squadron. It was brought up to strength by posting in pilots from 33 Squadron. Flt Lt Jones assumed temporary command of 80 Squadron until Sqn Ldr W J Hickey arrived on the 27th.
Gladiators of 80 Squadron joined 274 and 30 Squadrons in attacking a formation of SM79s that were attacking Sidi Barrani. Fly Off Stuckey claimed one of the tri-motors shot down. Fly Off Lapsley of 274 Squadron shot down two more of the bombers. This brought his total of claims to five, making him the first ace in the Middle East.
Sqn Ldr Hickey took off at night to intercept a lone bomber attacking Mersa Matruh. As it was being illuminated by searchlights he was able to fire a couple of burst at it but failed to observe any results.
As the Italian forces advanced into Egypt the Gladiators escorted Lysanders over the area on reconnaissance missions. When it became apparent that they were heading for Sidi Barrani the squadron was ordered back to Sidi Haneish.
On the 15th the squadron moved to a new location simply known as 'Y' landing ground. From here 10 Gladiators took off to patrol the sea ward side of Sidi Barrani. Nothing was seen and the squadron split up into sections. The section lead by Plt Off Cholmeley came across five SM79s approaching from the northeast. The Gladiators attacked forcing the bombers to turn back, but return fire hit Cholmeley`s aircraft and it fell into the sea.
The Italian offensive had ground to a halt and things came to a stalemate. Numerous patrols were flown but no enemy aircraft were encountered. In October 'B' Flight moved to Bir Kenayis, 40 miles south west of Mersa Matruh. By this time the MkIs were being replaced with MkIIs.
Fly Off R N Cullen, who had joined the squadron from 267 Squadron, surprised some Ba65`s. He dived in amongst them and saw one make off trailing black smoke.
On the 17 October 'B' Flight returned from Bir Kenayis, their place being taken over by 'A' Flight. By the 8 November all the replacement MkIIs had arrived and the squadron was informed of their move to Greece. After a brief leave 'B' Flight flew to Greece from Sidi Haneish on the 17 November. They stopped off on Crete to refuel and arrived safely at Eleusis airfield later in the day. 'A' Flight followed the next day.
Early in the morning nine Gladiators from 'B' Flight moved from Eleusis to Trikkala. They then flew a patrol over the Greek-Albanian border in the afternoon, led by three Greek PZLs. Here several formations of Italian aircraft were encountered and the Gladiator pilots made claims for 9 destroyed and 2 probables. Pattle claimed two CR42`s, a G50 and a CR42 were claimed by Fly Off Graham, while singles were claimed by Plt Offs Stuckey and Vale, Fly Off Cooper and Sgt Casbolt. Fly Off Linnard claimed the two probables. During one of the combats Stuckey was hit in the shoulder and leg and after landing was taken to the Greek Red Cross Hospital in Athens. The Italians claimed one Gladiator shot down and two more as probables. Actual losses suffered by the Italians were three CR42s and one G-50.
On the 23rd 'A' Flight arrived at Trikkala, where heavy rains had waterlogged most of the airfield.
Patrols continued over Koritza and Yannina, but little was seen of the Italians.
A section of 12 Gladiators were detached to Yannina.
Nine Gladiators, led by Sqn Ldr Hickey took off from Trikkala and patrolled to the north of Yannina. Three SM79s were seen, escorted by CR42s from 1500 Gruppo. The RAF pilots promptly attacked these and two of the Fiats went down. Flt Lt Jones, N5816, and Sgt Gregory, N5776, were the two successful pilots. Cap Nicola Magaldi was killed and Serg Negri has his aircraft very badly shot up, he was able to crash land back at his base. The Italian pilots made no claims.
More action followed the next day. A force of 20 CR42`s were encountered over Delvinakion by six Gladiators. The Gladiators were able to gain the upper hand and several claims were made. Sgt Gregory claimed three of the fighters, and Flt Lt Jones, N5816, shot down two of the tails of Gladiators before being wounded in the neck, his Gladiator was badly damaged but he was able to land without further mishap. Fly Off Sykes, N5812, collided with one of the Fiats, flown by Serg Corrado Mignani, and both pilots were killed. Fly Off Wanklyn Flower had his aircraft, N5854, badly shot up, but he believed he had shot down one of the biplanes. Fly Off Price-Owen, N5788, and Fly Off Hosken, N5786, also had their Gladiators damaged. Actual losses were three CR42 lost and two more damaged. In return the Italians claimed four Gladiators shot down with one probable.
The Gladiators were off from Yannina on an escort mission on the 29th. Blenheims were sent to bomb the Italian supply dumps near Tepelene. The Gladiators then carried out a search for the wreckage of Fly Off Sykes` aircraft lost the previous day. A formation of unescorted Z1007bis` were spotted. Attacking these Pattle and Vale damaged one each.
The weather closed in and no operations were flown until the 2 December.
While on a weather test Pattle encountered a Ro37 and shot it down in flames near Argyrokastron. Serg Luigi Del Manno and his observer Ten Michele Milano were both killed. During an afternoon patrol over Premet by 12 Gladiators, two more Ro37s were seen below them. Pattle and Cooper dived down to attack and both were shot down on flames.
During the day the RAF passed on some Gladiators to the Greek Air Force. Among them were five 80 Squadron aircraft, K7892, K7923, K7973, K8017 and L8011.
The detachment at Yannina left for Larissa during the day, the ground crew being transported in Greek Junkers G-24s. Here they would be joined the next day by the rest of the squadron as well as four 112 Squadron Gladiators, which had arrived from Egypt and were on detachment to 80 Squadron.
Eleven of 80 Squadron and the four 112 Squadron Gladiators returned to Yannina on detachment. In the late evening they were out escorting Blenheims bombing Italian Communication centres and Wellingtons dropping supplies to Greek units. Over Tepelene the Gladiators engaged an estimated 27 Italian fighters. These were actually 12 CR42s from 1500 Gruppo and 10 G-50s from 1540 Gruppo. Pattle shot down one into a hillside near Delvinakion, one in flames from which the pilot baled out, and a third from which the pilot also baled out. He also claimed one more and a CR32 as probables. During these combats his aircraft was hit in the fuel tank and in one wing strut. Other claims were submitted by Sgt Hewett for two CR42s and a G50, Plt Off Vale, Sgts Barker and Gregory each claimed one CR42 apiece. Italian claims were for two Gladiators shot down, against actual losses of two CR42s.
After returning to Larissa on the 5th the squadron was taken out of the front line for much needed rest and overhaul. New aircraft were ferried over from Egypt. For the next two weeks all was relatively quiet as the weather made flying virtually impossible. This enabled the ground crews to give all the aircraft a complete service.
During a patrol over Tepelene by 13 Gladiators five SM79s were encountered, one of which was claimed as a probable. Fly Off Cooper was wounded by return fire and he baled out of his damaged aircraft, N5785. Sgt Hewett was hit by AA fire and he landed some distance from Yannina, his aircraft was later salvaged. Sqn Ldr Hickey thought he had shot down one of the escorting G-50s. He then landed in a waterlogged field and went to look for Cooper. He was eventually found and taken to a hospital in Argyrokastron, where he succumbed to his wounds.
In the morning Pattle led nine Gladiators up on a patrol over Tepelene. Here they came across nine SM79s. Pattle at once attacked and shot down Ten Andrea Berlingers aircraft, which crashed into a mountainside and blew up. The crew all baled out but were reported as missing by the Italians. A second tri-motor was also damaged. One Gladiator was reported damaged by the gunners, and in actual fact two were hit by return fire and returned to Yannina. Continuing on their patrol, they were over Kelcyre when six SM81s, escorted by G-50s, was spotted. Pattle attacked the middle aircraft of the lead section. Firing into the starboard engine, which started to stream fuel, the aircraft started losing height and came down 15 miles to the north of Kelcyre. Vale, in N5784, claimed a second tri-motors shot down. One SM81 landed back at Berat in a damaged condition with three dead crewmembers including the pilot, Cap Giulio Beccia. The remaining members of the crew only just got out before the aircraft exploded. A second SM81 returned with all its crew wounded. It appears that the escorting G-50s ignored the Gladiators and continues on with their patrol.
The Gladiators were up at 1030hrs on an offensive patrol over Argyrokastron. Flying in three sections, one of four led by Hickey, a second of three with Pattle in command and the third of three led by Linnard, two formations of Italian bombers were spotted. The Gladiators immediately attacked and only Pattle could get in some shots before enemy fighters arrived. These were 15 CR42s from 1600 Gruppo, led by Magg Oscar Molinari. More Italian fighters joined the fray until, according to the RAF pilots, 54 enemy fighters were in the air.
During the ensuing dogfight Pattle noticed that the Fiats would dive down in a vic of three, open fire at long range continue to dive and then zoom back up to gain altitude before repeating the process again. As the next three Fiats came down Pattle took the initiative. When the Italians continued in their dive and before they pulled up, Pattle with his two wingmen, dived down after them. As they pulled up to gain height Pattle closed in to point-blank range and fired a burst into one of the CR42`s. It reared up and shedding pieces of wing, crashed into the ground.
During this battle eight Italians were claimed shot down with three probables. Claims were made by Sgts Casbolt and Gregory for two each, Pattle, Fly Off Price-Owens and Flt Sgt Richens one each, while Vale claimed three, one in flames. There was a price to pay however, Fly Off Ripley, N5854, was shot down in flames and killed and Sqn Ldr Hickey baled out of N5816. Unfortunately his parachute caught fire and he died from his injuries. Two weeks later a DFC was awarded to Hickey. Sgt Gregory was wounded in the right eye and returned to base with a very badly shot up aircraft. Linnard was hit in the leg by several bullets and his aircraft, N5834, was badly damaged.
The 1600 Gruppo pilots claimed six Gladiators shot down, two by Magg Molinari and Ten Edoardo Crainz and one each by Ten Eber Giudici, Cap Paolo Arcangeletti. Ten Torquato Testerini, Serg Maggs Francesco Penna and Domenico Tufano eacxh claimed probables. 1500 Gruppo pilots claimed two more shared with the gunners aboard the bombers. Actual Italian losses amounted to just two fighters.
As Christmas approached 21 Mira, EVA relieved the squadron. The squadron had a well-earned rest and they celebrated the festive season. On the 27th Flt Lt Jones was promoted to led the squadron.
Three Gladiators from the detachment at Larissa were scrambled at 1040hrs, but one had to land early due to engine problems. Another raid was reported approaching from the north west, at this point ten Gladiators from Athens were overhead. They were signalled to look out for these raiders. Fly Off Cullen spotted a three-engined aircraft out to sea. He went to investigate and found a SM81, which he attacked and claimed to have brought down into the sea to the west of the Kassandra peninsula.
The bad weather continued into early January. The start of the month also brought some reinforcements in the shape of two MkIs and two MkIIs, one of these was flown by Flt Lt E L 'Timber' Woods, DFC, who had served with some distinction on Malta. The squadron made various moves. The detachment at Larissa moved to Yannina and was settled in by the 18th, although the weather conditions prevented any flying.
Three Gladiators from Eleusis were ordered up to protect a convoy as it was being unloaded. Blenheims from 30 Squadron were also in the air at this time to provide additional protection. Four Italian bombers attacked Athens at 1330hrs from around 13,000ft and were able to escape without being intercepted. A second formation was not so fortunate and was meet head on by the three Gladiators. Fly Off Stuckey closed to very short range before opening fire. Unfortunately he was hit and broke off the attack and attempted to land on a small strip to the south of Athens. As he was coming in to land another aircraft came in to land and Stuckey had to go round again. As he came in for his second approach flames were seen coming out from the bottom of the Gladiator, K7902, which then exploded and crashed, killing Stuckey.
Meanwhile another section of Gladiators arrived on the scene and attacked the bombers, along with a Blenheim. Flt Lt Woods latched on to a straggler, which had been damaged by one of the Blenheims. After several passes the bomber fell blazing into the sea, four of the crew were able to bale out. The bomber was later identified as a Cant Z1007bis. A second Cant was reported to have crashed as well and this was credited to Stuckey.
The previous day the Eleusis detachment had flown up to rejoin the squadron at Yannina. During the afternoon 15 Gladiators took off to fly an offensive patrol over the Kelcyre-Premet area. During an engagement with four 370 Stormo BR20s and five 350 Stormo Z1007s. Pattles section took on one of the Cants, which fell in flames, only two parachutes were seen. Pattle and Trollip went after the BR20s one of which was claimed as a probable. Casbolt attacked the formation of Cants again and claimed one as damaged. He also damaged a third bomber. Also during this combat Cullen reported shooting down a Z1007 which blew up in mid air. Actual losses were one Cant Z1007.
Heavy rains prevented any flying in the first week of February but the second week saw some of the heaviest fighting yet encountered. Five BR20s made an abortive attempt to bomb the airfield in the early morning. Thirteen Gladiators were on patrol, fourteen had taken off but one turned back with a seized engine, over Tepelene when a trio of SM79s were seen, but lost in cloud. Two further Gladiators suffered engine problems and Jones and Wanklyn Flower were forced to return to Yannina. Pattle took over the flight and a little while later an estimated 30-40 CR42s were encountered.
A fierce melee took place between Tepelene and Argyrokastron. Pattle hit one Fiat and saw it crash in the outskirts of Tepelene, while Cullen fired four short bursts into another and saw it crash into a hillside. The RAF pilots returned and claimed four destroyed and three probables. These three were confirmed the next day when the wreckage of 7 Italian aircraft was found. Among the victors were Pattle, Vale, Cullen, Kettlewell, Gregory and Tulloch. Plt Off Hosken had to bale out of his aircraft, N5811, when the controls were shot away and Kettlewell, N5858, landed 70 miles away from base, although his aircraft was undamaged.
The Italians lost four fighters, Sergs Romano Maionica and Barolo were both killed, while Ten Rovetta was wounded and crashed on landing. Cap Travaglini put his aircraft down near Tirana. Four Gladiators were claimed shot down by the Italians and a further nine damaged.
The end of the day was brought to a close by the announcement of the DFC for Pattle, whose score now stood at over 15. Further reinforcements arrived in the form of five 112 Squadrons Gladiators up on detachment.
Gladiators from both squadrons were up on defensive patrols against further raids by Italian bombers. The Gladiators chased off one formation of five Z1007s. The Gladiators could not keep up with the faster bombers, but never the less two were seen to be hit by their fire. One was claimed damaged by Pattle.
In the afternoon three formations of bombers totalling ten BR20s and fifteen SM79s, with an escort of twenty CR42s raided Yannina. One 21 Mira Gladiator was burned on the ground and three 80 Squadron Gladiators were hit by splinters. In the air Cullen shot down an SM79, which crashed into the sea south of Corfu. A further formation of Z1007s was intercepted by Pattle, Woods and Casbolt, who each claimed one damaged. Vale sent down one Z1007, which was reported to have crashed 12 miles southwest of Yanina.
Further raids were carried out against Yannina on the 11th. The first was a strafe by 15-20 CR42s. A Gladiator from 21 Mira was shot down as it tried to take off, and three of 80 Squadrons Gladiators were slightly damaged. It was thought that the AA guns had shot down one of the Fiats, as an aircraft was reported to have crashed into the hill not far from the airfield. Standing patrols were initiated for the rest of the day and no further attacks developed. During the night however, three CR42s carried out a strafe, but only one aircraft was slightly damaged.
Flt Lt Kettlewell was sent to Athens to test a number of Hurricanes that had been promised for the squadron. Frequent patrols were flown from Yannina but little was seen of the enemy for several days. On the 14th four pilots were sent to Athens to collect some of the Hurricanes. Six of these aircraft arrived at Paramythia on the 17th, where they were to stay as the airfield at Yannina was virtually under water. Rain continued for several days and the Hurricanes stayed on the ground until the 20th.
The Gladiators were in the air for most of the day escorting various formations of Blenheims. During one mission in the afternoon the bombers came under attack but the Gladiators did not see the enemy fighters so continued on their way to strafe Italian positions at Tepelene. Ground fire was intense and Sgt Barkers aircraft, N5761, was hit in the engine. He made a force landing 40 miles north of Yanina, the Gladiator was written off in the crash. He was unhurt and returned to the unit that night.
In the afternoon the weather cleared sufficiently for 17 Gladiators, eight from 80 Squadron and nine from 112 Squadron, to escort two Wellingtons and a Greek Junkers G24 that were to drop food and other supplies to Greek troops at the frontline. The Hurricanes were up escorting 18 Blenheims due to attack Berat airfield in Albania. Over the target a number of Fiat G50s attacked the bombers damaging one before the Hurricanes could intervene. The Hurricane pilots quickly claimed four of the fighters shot down, two by Casbolt and one each by Pattle and Woods. The RAF aircraft were followed at a distance by the remaining Italian fighters, who were joined by some CR42s, only to run into the Gladiators north of Klysoura. After a short sharp fight the Gladiators claimed came out on top. Cullen claimed one of each, with Kettlewell and Trollip each claiming a G50 as a probable. Cullens Gladiators was hit in return, but the damage was slight. Of this combat Cullen wrote:
'The leader came into close range and then flicked over on its back and dived down. I did a half-roll and got into position dead astern. Four long bursts and the enemy caught fire and crashed into a snow-covered hill. Then engaged another G.50 and got in some good deflection shots. Saw two formations of biplanes, thought they were Glads and went to take a look at them. They were CR42s. Got on the tail of one, gave him a burst, and he went down on his back, and the pilot baled out. The others made off at once. Just as well - I hadn't any ammo left.'
Cullens Gladiator was damaged in these combats and he had his right hand grazed by a bullet. It appears that only two Fiats were actually lost. Ten Alfredo Fusco was killed and Ten Livio Bassi was wounded. While attempting to land at Berat his G-50 flipped over and caught fire. Bassi later died in hospital from his injuries. At the time Bassi had seven victories to his credit and he was awarded the posthumous Medaglia d`Oro.
The persistent rain continued for most of the following week. There was very little flying done by both sides. The only action of note was on the 23rd when Cullen was ordered of in a Gladiator to search for a seaplane reported on the sea south of Praga. The aircraft was finally located to the south of Andipaxoi Island attempting to take off. As he carried out his attack a white flag was seen being waved by one of the crewmembers. He circled the aircraft, which started to move again still with the white flag flying. As Cullen flew over it he was met by gunfire so he continued his attack and eventually the aircraft, identified as a Cant Z506B, sank.
During the end of February all the Gladiators from 80 and 112 Squadrons were moved to Paramythia. More reinforcements from Egypt had arrived in the form of 33 Squadron, flying Hurricanes. The Hurricanes were in action on the 27th escorting Blenheims to Valona airfield in Albania. Italian fighter's rose to meet them and the Hurricanes claimed 7 shot down, while two more were seen to collide.
The weather cleared up on the 28th and in the afternoon a large formation of Gladiators (8 from 80 Squadron and 11 from 112 Squadron) and Hurricanes (5 and 4 respectively) took off for an offensive patrol over the Tepelene-Dukati area. An escorted formation of BR20 was soon encountered and the Hurricanes dove into attack. Pattle claimed two shot down, while Cullen and Flower each claimed one. At this point the escorts intervened, and Pattle, whose windscreen was covered in oil, was only able to escape after much twisting and diving. He returned to base and immediately took off in another Hurricane and headed back towards the fray. Over Valona he came across three CR42s and after a brief skirmish he claimed two shot down and the third a probable.
Further formation of Italian aircraft were seen and Cullen claimed a further two SM79s and two CR42s. Vale claimed an SM79 and one G-50, while two more CR42s were claimed by 'Tap' Jones. The commander of Western Wing, Wg Cdr 'Paddy' Cootes had borrowed an 80 Squadron Gladiator and went along on the mission. At the end of the day he put in a claim for a CR42 shot down. Pilots of 80 Squadron made further claims for three CR42s and two G-50s.
When the 112 Squadron pilots added in their claims the total stood at 26 shot down and 9 probables. All this for the loss of one 112 Squadron Gladiator, the pilot of which baled out.
Italian claims were for two Gladiators shot down and three probables. The gunners on the bombers claimed a further two Gladiators as shot down.
The number of aircraft claimed by the RAF on this day has always been denied by the Italians, yet they have never put forward an exact figure for their losses.
This was to be the last claims made by the squadrons Gladiators. During the first week in March the squadron was totally equipped with Hurricanes. The Gladiators were passed on to 112 Squadron.
Click the next button for a list of claims and Gladiators.