On the evening of 4 August 1940, three Gladiators of No 80 Sqn left their advanced base at Sidi Barrani, on the Egyptian coast, to escort a Lysander of No 208 Sqn that had been ordered to conduct a reconnaissance over flight of Italian positions in the Bir Taieb el Esem area, some 30 miles inside the Libyan border. As the formation approached Sidi Omar, they found action, as recalled afterwards by Flg Off Peter Wykeham-Barnes: Peter Wykeham-Barnes was one of the most successful fighter pilots of the early stages of the air war in North Africa, downing a number of Italian aircraft in the second half of 1940 'I flew at about 3000 ft above and behind the Lysander, with Sgt Rew on my right. About 4000 ft above and behind me were Flt Lt Pattle and Plt Off Lancaster. We reached our objective at approximately 1815 hrs, and as the Lysander turned over the enemy convoy, it was fired on, and dived away to the east. I attempted to locate the aircraft which had fired at it, but was unable to do so. I therefore turned east, and a moment or two later saw six Breda 65s flying west. I shouted "Tally Ho!" and dived on the rearmost flight, engaging the left hand man. Sgt Rew dived with me and engaged the right hand man of the same formation. I last saw him diving after his Breda, which had broken formation, and my Breda began to fall away to the left. At this moment two CR.32’s came at me from above and in front, and at the same moment I thought I saw the remaining two Gladiators attacking. A general dogfight now took place, and I had shots at CR.32s from dead ahead and at every type of deflection. After about five minutes I got a CR.32 ahead of me, and was giving it a long burst, when my rudder went slack. I looked around and saw a CR.32 coming in on my beam, firing hard. A moment later my elevators went slack, and the machine fell onto an even keel, with no control. The CR.32 fell in behind me, and in a long burst from close range finished my aircraft off. The left side of the instrument panel and most of the windscreen went, and two bullets came through the back of the seat before I could close the throttle, and the CR.32 passed underneath me. My machine fell into a dive and I abandoned it, landing by parachute. On the way down, the Fiat passed within a few feet of me and fired, but I think not at me. (Below)No 80 Sqn's first Gladiator kill was claimed by Flg Off Peter Wykeham-Barnes on 4 August 1940 in this aircraft (L8009/YK-I) when he downed a Ba.65 and a CR.32, before being shot down himself (Above)Gladiator I K8011 was also on strength with No 80 Sqn during Peter Wykeham-Barnes' time with the unit. Regularly flown by fellow ace Flg Off John Lapsley, it is seen here during a formation practice flight over Egypt in the spring of 1940 When I picked myself up the Fiat was circling overhead at about 500 ft, but took no further action. I ran for about a mile from the machine, thinking I was in enemy territory, and on the way saw another Gladiator spinning down, the pilot bailing out (this must have been Flt Lt "Pat" Pattle - author) at about 500 ft. He landed about two miles away and I did not see him again. I remained hidden until darkness, and then returned to the wreck to look for the water bottle, which was smashed. Retaining only my gun and overalls, I then set out on an easterly course, keeping away from the road. I crossed the wire at about 2230 hrs, and at dawn altered course north and picked up the track. At 0730 hrs I identified a Hussar convoy, which picked me up and took me back to their HQ. I rejoined my unit at 1800 hrs that day.' The Gladiators and solitary Lysander had encountered seven Ba.65s of 159a Squadriglia, 12° Gruppo Assalto of 50° Stormo, escorted by CR.32s of 160a Squadriglia. Wykeham-Barnes, flying Gladiator I L8009, had quickly despatched a single Ba.65, which became No 80 Sqns first kill of World War 2. Moments later, however, his wingman, Sgt Kenneth Rew, was shot down and killed by the CR.32 formation leader, Capitano Duilio Fanali. Wykeham-Barnes then engaged the Fiat fighters and claimed one shot down, before falling victim to Maresciallo Romolo Cantelli. Aces in waiting! Three of No 80 Sqns most notable pilots are seen in this photograph, taken at Amiriya, in Egypt, just before the outbreak of war with Italy. They are Tap' Jones (left), 'Pat' Pattle (centre) and Peter Wykeham-Barnes (right). Between them, these three aces would claim over 70 victories, of which around 50 were credited to South African Pattle, thus making him the most successful Commonwealth fighter pilot by some margin Pilot Biography - Peter Wykeham-Barnes Peter Wykeham-Barnes was born on 13 September 1915 at Sandhurst in Surrey, and he joined the RAF as a Halton apprentice in 1932. He was then selected to become a Cadet at the RAF College, Cranwell, and graduated in 1937. Wykeham-Barnes was posted to No 80 Sqn, and moved with the unit to Egypt in 1938. Later that year he was detached to Palestine, where he saw action against Arab dissidents, for which he received a Certificate of Distinguished Conduct. When war began in Egypt in June 1940, Wykeham-Barnes flew the only Hurricane (P2639) in North Africa forward to Mersa Matruh on attachment to No 33 Sqn. Flying P2639 on a patrol near Solium with four No 33 Sqn Gladiators, he engaged a formation of nine Fiat CR.42s and quickly shot down the leader with a short burst at full deflection while the Italian pilot was performing a vertical turn. In the fierce fight which ensued, Wykeham-Barnes hit a second, which was also confirmed -the first of his 17 kills, three of which were shared. On returning to No 80 Sqn, he resumed flying the Gladiator, gaining two more victories on 4 August, when he himself was obliged to bail out. Engaging the Italians once again four days later, he brought down yet another CR.42 with his Gladiator, and in the process become an ace. Soon afterwards Wykeham-Barnes became a founder member of No 274 Sqn, formed as the first all-Hurricane unit in Egypt - he made his first claims with the squadron on 9 December. Shortly before leaving No 80 Sqn, he had become the first fighter pilot in North Africa to receive a DFC. Wykeham-Barnes continued to claim regularly throughout the desert fighting, and in April 1941 he assumed command of No 73 Sqn, with whom he made his final claims in the Hurricane. Receiving a Bar to his DFC in August, he became Wing Commander Fighters, Western Desert, in November, until being rested and then sent to the USA as an air-fighting instructor. Wykeham-Barnes later commanded No 257 Sqn when it converted, from Hurricanes to Typhoons, and in 1942 took over No 23 Sqn -flying Mosquito II intruders - which he led to Malta, where he gained his final victories. After staff tours in the UK, he joined the 2nd Tactical Air Force, commanding a Mosquito Wing with distinction. Wykeham-Barnes remained in the RAF post-war, serving with the Central Fighter Establishment and on exchange with the USAF during the Korean War, where he flew B-26 Invaders in combat. Returning to the UK, he commanded several jet fighter stations and filled staff appointments, all the while being regularly promoted. Head of the Far East Air Force from 1964 to 1967, his final appointment was as Deputy Chief of Air Staff. Peter Wykeham-Barnes passed away in 1995. Gladiator I L8009 of Flg Off Peter Wykeham-Barnes, No 80 Sqn, Sidi Barrani, Egypt, August 1940 Wykeham-Barnes attacked and shot down a Ba.65 of 159° Squadrigilia on 4 August 1940 to claim No 80 Sqn's first victory of World War 2. SPECIFICATION TYPE: single-engined biplane fighter ACCOMMODATION: pilot DIMENSIONS: length 27 ft 5 in (8.36 m) wingspan 32 ft 3 in (9.83 m) height 10 ft 4 in (3.15 m) WEIGHTS: empty 3450 lb (1565 kg) maximum take-off 4750 lb (2155 kg) PERFORMANCE: maximum speed 253 mph (407 kmh) range 428 miles (689 km) powerplant Bristol Mercury VIIIA/AS or IX output 840 hp (626 kW) ARMAMENT: four BSA Colt Browning 0.303-in machine guns on the sides of the forward fuselage and under the wings FIRST FLIGHT DATE: 12 September 1934 OPERATORS: Belgium, China, Egypt, Eire, Finland, Greece, Iraq, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Sweden, UK PRODUCTION: 768 The ultimate (and final) British biplane fighter of them all, the Gladiator started life as a company private venture, Gloster basing its new SS.37 (as the Gladiator was designated) very much on its predecessor, the Gauntlet. Although equipped with four guns, the design still embraced the 'old' technology of doped fabric over its wood and metal ribbed and stringered fuselage and wings. Following its first flight in September 1934, the Gladiator I was swiftly put into production, with Gloster eventually building 231 examples. It made its service debut in January 1937, and went on to fly with 26 RAF fighter squadrons. The later Mk II was fitted with the Bristol Mercury VIIIA engine, and 252 new-build machines were delivered, a number of Mk Is were also upgraded to this specification through the fitment of the later powerplant. Sixty arrestor-hooked Sea Gladiators were also built for the Royal Navy, plus a further 165 Mk l/lls for foreign export customers. A considerable number of Gladiators were still in service when war broke out in September 1939, and although obsolete, they gave a good account of themselves in North Africa, the Middle East, over Malta and in East Africa.