3 Squadron Stories

3 Squadron RAAF HOME / Search

3 SQUADRON’S (CAPTURED!)
“ITALIAN AIR FORCE”

The Italian author Giovanni Massimello (who wrote the book Italian Aces of World War 2) recently contacted the Association to see if we had any information on the Italian aircraft captured and flown by 3 Squadron in Africa and Sicily.  Thanks to the excellent photographic collections of Slim Moore and Jim Kinnear, we were able to present Giovanni with the following package of text and images for his research... 

1941 - Thanks for the Loan of Your Aircraft!

Our Squadron History, "3 Squadron at War" includes the following note from early April, 1941 (during the Squadron's first retreat in front of Rommel):

"To the great regret of the Squadron, an Italian CR42 captured in January 1941 at Martuba, which had been flown by several pilots in the intervening months, had to be destroyed.  It had been the intention to preserve this trophy of war and later have it taken back to Australia for presentation to the War Museum in Canberra..."

 

1943...


There’s an interesting online newsreel available which shows the Italian aeroplanes
captured at Castel Benito in Libya. 

By 22 January 1943, the Allied advance saw 3 Squadron stationed at Castel Benito.  They'd made four advances since spending their Christmas at Marble Arch.  The deserted Italian aerodrome gave Danny Boardman the opportunity to clifty one of the aircraft that had been left there almost intact.

His was a two-seat biplane trainer, a Caproni 164… 

He referred to her as the "Kitten".  He wrote in this diary:

"Worked all day on the KITTEN and we have done well.  I test-flipped her [test -flew] during the afternoon and gave [some of the boys] a flip around the aerodrome.  It runs like a Swiss Watch and handles beautifully in the air. - Intend using it for giving the ground wallers a flip. 
- They've done a marvellous job and deserve some enjoyment."

For the next three weeks, Danny used his Kitten to fly on his off-duty hours until he received his next and very welcome orders: "Return to Australia!"

Very sadly, the Caproni trainer was later involved in a ground-crew fatality…

From our Roll of Honour:

...Whilst attempting to start the Caproni Ca164 on 20/4/43, the engine blew back, blowing petrol over Rex.  Tom Russell and Bob Dent put the flames out with their hands, but Rex was badly burned and died at 1135 on 21/4/43 at 21 Medical Receiving Station.

Sergeant (Electrical Fitter) Rex Ian Palmer, service number 21053, is buried at Enfidaville War Cemetery, Tunisia.  Plot II, row F, grave 25.  Age 30.  Son of Jack and Margaret Palmer; husband of Norma Palmer, of New Lambton, New South Wales, Australia.


Rex Palmer's temporary grave, Tunisia 1943. 
[From the photo collection of Medical Sgt Lou Kemp.]

 

Ken McRae [the Squadron's Engineering Officer] recalled: 

We seemed to be getting foreign aircraft by the ton.  Other squadrons just didn't bother; might have one, but we had half-a-dozen at one stage, especially after we started 'the push' [from Alamein to Tunis].

We had Me109s (Fs and a G) CR42s, Ca164 and Ghibli.  The Ghibli was probably the most used.  


Photo of 3 Squadron's Ghibli "Beer Bomber" [from the Jim Kinnear collection]

It was a flare-dropper for the Italians.  We took the flare tubes out and we found it could carry six bods, which meant it would pick up the new pilots, whether in Cairo or Alex.  Christmas time it could go and get beer.  It did a lot of work. - So much work in fact that our engines started to pack up.  

We were in Tripoli at the time, and I sent to lads into town, and I said, “Nose around the wharf and see if you can find a warehouse with engines.”  

And they came back later: “We found some.”  
- Gypsy-Major engines, it was just what we wanted; still in the case.  

So I said, “They wouldn't give you any?”  

And they said, “No, an officer had to sign for them.”  

So I said, “Oh well, we'll go in tomorrow.”

So, Danny Boardman had just finished his tour, we took his Ca164, it was a biplane, just like a Tiger Moth, and we flew in there, and the truck picked me up, took me around and I forget what I signed -“Ned Kelly” or what - but I did sign for two engines, and we got them.  And they brought me back to fly home with Danny and halfway up the strip the ruddy wind changed, and he didn't notice, and he was trying to pull it off, and at the boundary were two 44-gallon drums full of stones.  I could see this looming up, and I tucked my feet up and the next thing - we clobbered it!

...The aircraft wasn't badly damaged, we weren't hurt. 

 [They ended up with the two engines and the tiny biplane being carried back home on the back of the truck!]

Brian Eaton had another rather hair-raising experience, trying to fly the Ghibli into Sicily:

I had an old Ghibli, an old Italian transport aircraft we'd captured.  We used to send them down the desert and fill it up with grog.  I flew that over with mail and a few troops and landed at Pantelleria and then landed in Sicily.  And as I came over I was greeted with ack-ack and Spitfires came up, and I thought I'd nearly jump out of the Ghibli, I got such a fright.

No radio communication...  I just waggled my wings and they saw I had the roundels on the aircraft and they didn't shoot me.

 

Ken McRae continues:
…Later on when we were in Sicily, [Pachino airstrip] - no foreign aircraft.  Our CO Brian Eaton had gone off to have an operation on his left arm, and we knew he wouldn't get back until we got into Italy.  So I said to the blokes to chase around to see if there were enemy aircraft we could use.  And they came back saying that in the harbour there's a flying boat and a float-plane.  So we got down, slapped our CV on…


Augusta, Sicily, Italy. c. September 1943.  Airmen of No. 3 (Kittyhawk) Squadron RAAF
 (all Australian Fighter Bomber Squadron) launching an Italian Breda BE-25 Float-plane
which was captured intact when the port of Augusta was occupied by Allied Forces.
The Breda was flown by the squadron.  [AWM MEA0299]


Sicily, Italy. c. September 1943. Pilot Officer John Hooke of Melbourne, Vic, of No. 3 (Kittyhawk) Squadron RAAF,
aboard an Italian CRDA Cant Z.501 Gabbiano float plane found intact on occupation. 
Serviced by No. 3 Squadron but when serviceable was ordered to hand it and the floatplane to the Free French.
[AWM MEA0311]

We worked for a ruddy two or three weeks, just got it to taxiing stage, the big flying boat, and we got orders we had to hand them over to the Free French!  So I went crook at the CO we had, who was standing in.  [Reg Stevens.]  He'd gone from Sergeant up to Squadron Leader in one swipe because he had been in the desert, he knew the ropes.  - But I don't think he'd argued with them.  I said to him the first thing Brian will say when he comes back: “What foreign aircraft have you got for me to fly?” 

Brian Eaton arrives two days later, after we'd handed them over. 

First thing he said: “Where are the foreign aircraft?” 

I said, “You should have been here a couple of days ago!” 

So he lamented that - “I was hoping you'd have some different ones for the log book.”  So, whilst we were there talking, the Adjutant sung out that Catania had just fallen.  Brian said, “That's for us.  Hop in the car.”

…Four of us went up to Catania where there was a lovely-looking Macchi.  Anyhow we checked it over, and ran it half up; that was OK.  So Brian hops in and half-way down the runway, he slaps the ruddy brakes on, gets out, and he says, “She's on fire”. 
- And that's the worst thing can happen to a pilot, a fire. 

So he got in and chocks it.  He took it right up to revs, and one of the lads who drove up with me said, “It's OK.  It's not fire - it's mist.”

It had a glycol leak and it was coming out as mist.  So we fixed that up and Brian went off.  We wended our way back home. 

Well, Brian flew it a couple of times and the Flight Commander who flew it [Arthur Dawkins] had shot down one MC202.  At dinner that night, after he'd flown it, Arthur said, “I don't know how I shot that down.”

And I said - “I know!”

He said, “How?”

I said, “The pilot was reading Ginger Meggs!”

He went, “Oh…”  (Ginger Meggs was syndicated in the Italian papers.  Same as we had, only of course in Italian.  So he thought that was a ruddy insult, he didn't speak to me any more…)


Arthur Dawkins in the Macchi MC205 at Pachino, Sicily.  [Photos: Slim Moore Collection]


A close-up of Arthur in the cockpit.

Another Notable Find in 1944:


Guidonia, Italy. c. June 1944.  Ground crew members of No. 3 (Kittyhawk) Squadron RAAF, inspect a Savoia amphibian aircraft abandoned by the enemy on an Italian airfield some miles from Rome.  On its fuselage is emblazoned an RAAF badge with the words "Pt. Cook" [the name of the famous RAAF flying school, located near Melbourne] beneath it.  The discovery excited much speculation until an Italian explained that the Savoia had been flown out to Australian in 1926 by the Italian aviator Di Pinedo.  [AWM MEA1800]

Compiled by James Oglethorpe, 2010.

3 Squadron STORIES

3 Squadron RAAF HOME / Search