Dogfight over the Libyan desert

A Messerschmitt Me 109 from JG 27, based in North Africa, receives a new coat of paint .

In August 1941 Royal Australian Air Force pilot Clive Caldwell was still perfecting his combat technique:

By mid-1941, Caldwell had flown about 40 operational sorties, but had only one confirmed kill – a Bf 109. He was perplexed by the fact that he had trouble scoring hits on enemy aircraft. Whilst returning to base one day, he noted his squadron’s aircraft casting shadows on the desert below. He fired a burst of his guns and noted the fall of shot relative to his shadow. He realised this method allowed for the assessment of required deflection to hit moving targets. Further experimentation lead him to acquire the knowledge to assess deflection needed for a range of speeds. Within a couple of weeks he had attained four further kills and a half share. Caldwell’s method of “shadow shooting” became a standard method of gunnery practice in the Middle East.

On 29 August 1941 Clive Caldwell was attacked by two Bf 109s North-West of Sidi Barrani. One of his attackers was the Bf 109 E-7 “black 8” of 2./JG 27 piloted by one of Germany’s top aces, Leutnant Werner Schroer who was credited with 114 Allied planes in only 197 combat missions.

Caldwell’s P-40 “Tomahawk” of 250 Squadron was riddled with more than 100 rounds of 7.9 mm slugs, plus five 20 mm cannon strikes which punctured a tyre and rendered the flaps inoperative. In the first attack Caldwell suffered bullet wounds to the back, left shoulder, and leg. In the next pass one shot slammed through the canopy, causing splinters which wounded him with perspex in the face and shrapnel in the neck. Two cannon shells also punched their way through the rear fuselage just behind him and the starboard wing was badly damaged. Despite damage to both himself and the aircraft, Caldwell, feeling, as he remembers, “quite hostile” turned on his attackers and sent down one of the Bf 109s in flames.

The pilot of the second Messerschmitt, the renowned Leutnant Schroer, shocked by this turn of events, evidently made off in some haste. Caldwell’s engine had caught fire, however he managed to extinguish the flames with a violent slip. He then nursed his flying wreck back to base at Sidi Haneish.

Clive Caldwell was on the road to becoming one of the aces of the Desert Air war, becoming known as ‘Killer Caldwell’.

Details courtesy Century of Flight

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Christopher Short November 15, 2014 at 10:23 pm

My 92 year old father in law flew ME109E’s JG27 in the North African desert in 1942 before becoming a prisoner of war in Canada. He can still tell a good tale.

David Vernon August 29, 2011 at 9:58 pm

Clive Caldwell never liked his nickname ‘Killer’ and went on to shoot down 28 aircraft (20 German/Italian) and 8 Japanese. More information and photos:

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