Losses and Aviation Safety

The incredible story of Marinos Mitralexis, the Greek pilot who brought down an enemy bomber by ramming its tail and arrested its crew

Mitralexis, who had already shot down one bomber, aimed the nose of his PZL P. 24 right into an enemy bomber’s tail, smashing the rudder and sending the bomber out of control.

Marinos Mitralexis (Greek: Μαρίνος Μητραλέξης, 1916–1948) was a Greek Air Force pilot during World War II. He became legendary when he managed to bring down an enemy bomber by ramming its tail, on Nov. 2, 1940.

Marinos D. Mitralexis was born at the village of Mila Messinias on 1916. He enlisted at Hellenic Air Force Academy and graduated as Second Lieutenant in summer 1938. In the following Greek-Italian War (Oct. 28, 1940 to Apr. 7, 1941), he was posted to the 22nd Pursuit Squadron, based on the airfield of Thessaloniki.

On Nov. 2, a squadron of 15 Italian CANT Z.1007 bombers, with Fiat CR.42 fighter escorts, headed towards Thessaloniki. Soon they were spotted and intercepted by Greek PZL P.24 fighters of the 22nd Squadron. During the dogfights, three of the bombers were shot down, while the rest reached their targets, and then started to return to their base in Albania. Mitralexis, who had already shot down one bomber, was now out of ammunition, so he aimed the nose of his PZL P. 24 right into an enemy bomber’s tail, smashing the rudder and sending the bomber out of control. He then had to make an emergency landing close to the crashed bomber, near the town of Lagadas, 20 km north of Thessaloniki. Having landed, Mitralexis spotted the four surviving crew members of the enemy bomber and after he saluted them honorably, he captured them using his pistol. The fifth crew member of the Italian bomber, was unfortunately died during the crash.

The pilot of the downed bomber, Brussolo Garibaldo said:”Our Squadron, consisting of five bombers, accompanied by a pursuer, received an order to carry out the bombing of Thessaloniki. It was November 2, 1940. As we approached the target, we came across a heavy anti-aircraft fire barrier, which shot down one of our bombers. But when we flew over Lagadas, we could see three Greek PZL. They chased us, so one of our bombers hit the gas tank, drove away from the Squadron and crashed near the Greek-Albanian borders. The formation of the other three of our planes was disbanded, chased by the Greek pursuers. My plane was attacked by a Greek pursuer and when it’s pilot exhausted all his ammunition, he rushed against and with the propeller of the plane destroyed the tail rudder of mine which could no longer be controlled. As we were at an altitude of 7.000 feet, we managed to use our parachutes and land in a field in the area of Lagadas. A short distance from us, a little later, due to a serious damage to the propeller of his plane, our opponent, who rushed toward us and told us that his name was Mitralexis. After he saluted us, he shook my hand in a very friendly and comradely way. I handed over to Mitralexis, who during our transfer to Thessaloniki, did not fail to tell me that he is happy for our acquaintance, I admire his self sacrifice, kindness and generosity and in return for his kind feelings, as a souvenir of our acquaintance, my personal ID card.”

For this extraordinary feat, Mitralexis was promoted and awarded a number of medals, including Greece’s highest award for bravery, the Gold Cross of Valour. He was the only Air Force officer to be awarded it during the war. When Greece capitulated to Germany (April 1941) he and the rest of the surviving Greek Air Force personnel and aircraft escaped to North Africa to join the Allied forces there.

Sadly, Marinos Mitralexis died after a crash in September 1948, during a routine training flight in an Airspeed Oxford, in the south Aegean Sea.


Photo credit:

Theophilos Kontos

Fascinated with aviation engineering since he can remember, Kontos S. Theophilos visited some of the most important aviation museums in the world, including Smithsonian National Air and Space at Virginia USA, Speyer Technik Museum in Germany and Le Bourget Air and Space Museum at France. Furthermore, as a Military Vehicle Engineer he flies from time to time aboard military aircraft.

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