Friday, 29 June 2012

Gloster Gladiator: The First and the Last


During the first weeks of the war, the Luftwaffe started its offensive operations against Great Britain sending reconnaisance flights over Royal Navy bases. To counter this threat, No. 607 Sqn moved to Acklington with its Gloster Gladiators.
In the morning of 17 October 1939, Flt Lt J Sample, Flg Off G D Craig and Plt Off W H R Whitty of "B" flight were scrambled and directed towards an incoming enemy aircraft over the North Sea. The enemy was a Dornier DO 18 flying boat. 
Pilot Officer William Hubert Rigby "Nits" Whitty

The Gladiators  bounced on the Dornier, which went into a dive and levelled off 50 ft above the water, and then down to 20 ft. The three RAF fighters attacked in turn from the stern, hitting the Do 18 which soon started to pour fuel from its wing tanks. The pilot, Oblt zur See Seigfried Saloga, landed the plane in the water and was rescued, together with his crew, by a RN destroyer.

John Sample flew during the sortie K7995/AF-O, while Whitty was flying in K8026-L.
The Dornier DO 18 was "8L-DK", from 2./KuFlGr 606.


When Italy declared war on 10 June 1940, Gladiator-equipped No. 33 Sqn was based at Mersa Matruh. The unit flew combat patrols during the following days without seeing any enemy target. In order to be closer to the frontline, the squadron moved to Sidi Barrani on the 13th. 
On the following morning, three fighters took off to fly an offensive patrol west of Bardia. The three pilots were Flg Off E H "Dixie" Dean (N5782), Plt Off Vernon Woodward (N5783) and Sgt Craig (N5768).
Vernon Woodward

At that time, no radars or any other warning systems were available, so the fighters were tasked with patrolling along and over the frontline to report the enemy's movements. During that 14th June, the Gladiator-unit intercepted an Italian Caproni Ca.310 light bomber, escorted by six CR.32s.
Dixie Dean attacked the fighters but was soon embroiled in a dogfight when the Italians split up in all directions and formed a ring around him. Dean was forced to throttle back, yaw and waffle up and down to avoid each pass, being able to fire quick rounds every time the CR.32s came into his sight.

Ernest "Dixie" Dean
He escaped unscathed and, upon returning to base, he was notified of having destroyed one of the enemy fighters, while Woodward and Craig shared the bomber.


The honour of scoring the last Gloster Gladiator kill in history goes to Finnish pilot Hakan Stromberg. On 15 February 1943, after the sun had set and darkness was covering the Lake Ladoga front, 1 Lt Stromberg took off for a recce missions, flying over roads, airfields and stations along the Murmansk railway, between the White Sea and Lake Onega.
At 20:05 hrs, the Finnish pilot spotted an R-5 taking off from Karkijarvi airfiled. He gave chase and shot down the Soviet aircraft with two bursts. Stromberg was flying GL-273 for his sortie, and was killed with the same machine on 7 April, when he crashed at Karkijarvella.

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