In April 1944, the Kittyhawks of No. 239 Wing RAF fought two battles with the I./SG 4’s Focke-Wulf 190s over Rieti aerodrome in Central Italy.
The day's first major combat took place early in the afternoon when 60 Baltimores and 12 B-26s of Desert Air Force bombed the hydro-electric plant at Terni. They encountered enemy fighters, one Baltimore being seen to explode. This was probably the “Marauder” claimed by Uffz. Joachim Schemel of 5./JG 77 at 12.52 hours,10 km south east of Termi: at 4.000 m.
In their turn, the Spitfire escort claimed two Bf 109s destroyed for the loss of one of their own number. Unteroffizier Franz Kuntschar of 9./JG 53 was killed in fighter combat, crashing near Calvi (Bf 109 G-6, WNr. 161723, yellow 6). Feldwebel Leo Sliwa of 5./JG 77 and Uffz. Gerber-Schulz of the 4. Staffel each claimed a Spitfire while Uffz. Paul Mang of 9./JG 53 claimed a Kittyhawk north west of Rieti (in fact, none of this type was present, only Spitfires).
At 16.20 hrs, 12 Kittyhawk IIIs of No. 112 Squadron laden with long-range tanks and 40 lb bombs took off from Cutella on an armed reconnaissance of the Terni area. Their CO, S/L W.K. Watts had been lost to Flak the day before and so they were led by F/L Lance “Happy” Ahern.
Already that morning, No. 112 had sunk an auxiliary vessel of 500–1,000 tons at Porto Civitanova, F/O Matt Matthias scoring a direct hit. Over Rieti, the Squadron sighted 12-plus Fw 190s on the landing ground, two of them just taking off and three already airborne. In what Desert Air Force HQ called “a sharp scrap”, the Kittyhawk pilots claimed three Focke-Wulfs shot down and five damaged:
While approaching RIETI at 8,000 feet, aircraft sighted 12 plus aircraft taking off and 3 plus airborne. The leader told top six to stay up. F/L AHERN attacked aircraft taking off, seeing strikes and noticing that his No. 2, F/Sgt WARBURTON, was with him. F/S PETERS attacked this aircraft which still had its wheels down. This F.W. blew up and went in in flames just North East of L.G. at B.0428. F/Sgt COCKS attacked another F.W. taking off and it was seen to crash in flames at the edge of the L.G. F/Sgt COCKS made a stall turn to attack another F.W. but went into a spin and crashed 1 mile South East of L.G. B.0725, his aircraft and bombs exploding.
Meanwhile F/Lt AHERN had made 2 strafing attacks on 2 F.W. 190s which were on the ground. He saw strikes but makes no claims. He then chased another F.W. 190 down a valley seeing bits fly off as he fired. F/L AHERN made a head on attack at a second F.W. 190 at 1,000 feet and saw strikes.
There was another F.W. on his tail and he was shot up badly in wings, aileron and fuselage. F/O MATHIAS shot at 5 F.W. 190’s who were flying in formation over RIETI but makes no claims.
The top six aircraft then joined in. W/O DROWN leading shot at at another F.W. 190, seeing strikes along the fuselage and tail. LT. HANRECK attacked a FW at zero feet. The FW hit a tree, knocking his wing tip off. F/O GRAY made an attack on a FW, seeing bits fly off. F/SGT WARBURTON was not seen after initial attack but a pilot was heard to say “I have been hit” and it may have been him. A FW 190 was seen to crash in flames at A.9825 before the top six attacked but it is not known who shot it.
Intense Breda and 20 mm A/A opposition from from between L.G. and RIETI. There were six plus FW 190 in the air and six plus in the dispersals. Observed enemy aircraft had bad camouflage: dark green on top and light blue beneath. They could be seen from some distance.
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