Biplane fighter aces


Maresciallo Giovanni Accorsi Medaglia d'oro al valor militare

18 July 1917 – 4 February 1941

Image via Stato Maggiore AMI.

Giovanni Accorsi was born in Ferrara on 18 July 1917.

Accorsi took part in the Spanish Civil War where he served in the 25a Squadriglia, XVI Gruppo.

During the morning on 24 December 1938, 22 CR.32s from XVI Gruppo clashed over the Lérida front with 26 I-15s and eight I-16s. Capitani Giuseppe Majone and Travaglini, leading 24a and 26a Squadriglie, dived headlong at the I-15s, which in turn fled towards the northern bank of the River Segre. The aerial battle continued between Serós and Castelldáns following the intervention of eight CR.32s from Capitano Meille’s 25a Squadriglia just as three I-15s that were hit as the combat commenced abandoned the fight. The I-16s also fled at this time, leaving close to 40 biplane fighters locked in a series of bitter duels from a height of 3500 ft all the way down to the ground between Castelldáns and Borjas Blancas.
The battle lasted more than 30 minutes, and upon returning to base the Italians claimed 14 ‘Curtiss fighters’ destroyed and four more as probables - two victories were awarded to Capitano Majone.
In reality, just five I-15s had actually been shot down by the CR.32s, including the fighter flown by the veteran commander of Grupo No 26, capitán Miguel Zambudio Martínez, who had been leading the Grupo No 26 on a sortie over the Serós bridgehead. Despite having suffered a serious bullet wound to his right leg including damage to the sciatic nerve, he managed to force land his aircraft in Republican territory and admitted to hospital in Barcelona. The remaining aircraft destroyed came from 1a and 4a Escuadrillas, and four more I-15s returned to base with battle damage.
In return, two CR.32s from 25a Squadriglia were shot down by I-15s between Castelldáns and Borjas Blancas. Sergente Giuseppe Marini was killed, while Sergente Accorsi crash-landed in Nationalist territory and emerged from the wreckage of his CR.32 with only a slight wound following the explosion of his fighter’s fuel tank.

On the last day of August 1940, the 151o Gruppo C.T. (366a, 367a and 368a Squadriglie) was ordered to move in Libya with 30 CR.42s as a reinforcement for the attack against Sidi Barrani.
The unit under the command of Maggiore Carlo Calosso was one of the first equipped with CR.42s in 1939 and was based in Caselle Torinese near Turin, with sections and Squadriglie detached in different airbases of North Italy for local defence duties.
They departed Caselle Torinese in the morning of 6 September and at 18:20 on 8 September, the whole Gruppo landed in Tripoli Castel Benito.
The 366a Squadriglia formation was composed of ten aircraft: Capitano Bernardino Serafini (CO), Tenente Mario Ferrero (the Gruppo Adjutant), Sottotenente Amedeo Guidi, Maresciallo Giulio Cesare, Sergente Maggiore Fiorenzo Milella, Sergente Maggiore Dino Carta, Sergente Maggiore Roberto Marchi, Sergente Maggiore Cesare Chiarmetta, Sergente Antonio Camerini, Sergente Eugenio Cicognani. Tenente Piero Veneziani and Maresciallo Accorsi followed in the unit’s hack Caproni Ca.133 together with five ground personnel.
The formation of 367a Squadriglia comprised the Gruppo Commander Maggiore Carlo Calosso, the 368a Squadriglia’s pilot Sergente Piero Hosquet and nine other pilots for a total of eleven. Among them were Capitano Simeone Marsan (the CO), Tenente Irzio Bozzolan, Tenente Aldo Bonuti, Sergente Maggiore Gino Bogoni and Sergente Tolmino Zanarini. The Squadriglia’s other six pilots were Tenente Giuseppe Costantini, Maresciallo Bruno Castellani, Sergente Maggiore Rodolfo Benco, Sergente Maggiore Bruno Celotto, Sergente Renato Mingozzi and Sergente Maggiorino Soldati.
The 368a Squadriglia formation was composed of nine aircraft: Capitano Bruno Locatelli (CO), Tenente Giuseppe Zuffi, Sottotenente Furio Lauri, Sergente Maggiore Davide Colauzzi, Sergente Maggiore Annibale Ricotti, Sergente Maggiore Alvise Andrich, Sergente Stefano Fiore, Sergente Ottorino Ambrosi, Sergente Mario Turchi. Tenente Orfeo Paroli and Maresciallo Guido Paparatti followed in the Ca.133 of the Squadriglia (Paroli and Fiore were just transferred from 367a Squadriglia).
On 25 September the 151o Gruppo transferred from Benghazi to El Adem where it replaced the 9o Gruppo C.T.

At 10:50 on 9 December, a formation of six CR.42s from the 366a Squadriglia (Capitano Bernardino Serafini, Tenente Piero Veneziani, Sottotenente Amedeo Guidi, Maresciallo Accorsi, Sergente Maggiore Roberto Marchi and Sergente Eugenio Cicognani) was ordered to attack enemy vehicles in the area between Bir Enba and Buq-Buq.
Over the target, Capitano Bernardino Serafini dived down and attacked, followed by the other five Fiats in line astern. All made six low-level filing passes and the pilots claimed an armoured car in flames and thirty other vehicles damaged. AA fire was reported as ineffective and they landed at 11:55.

At 08:10 on 14 December, a formation from the 151o Gruppo took off from Tobruk T2 for a free sweep in the Sollum area. Participating pilots were Tenente Guglielmo Chiarini, Sottotenente Amedeo Guidi, Maresciallo Accorsi and Sergente Rosario Di Carlo (in the only four combat ready CR.42s of the 366a Squadriglia), Capitano Giuseppe Costantini, Tenente Aldo Bonuti and Sergente Maggiore Bruno Celotto (367a Squadriglia), Capitano Bruno Locatelli, Tenente Giuseppe Zuffi, Maresciallo Guido Paparatti and Sergente Piero Hosquet (368a Squadriglia).
The formation was climbing in direction towards Bardia when, slightly lower, a formation of reportedly nine Bristol Blenheims was discovered heading for Bardia. The British bombers were immediately attacked. One of them was hit by the precise fire of Sottotenente Guidi and fell in flames. Another bomber was shot down immediately after (possibly credited as a shared) and all the other bombers, which in the meantime had released their bomb load in the sea, were damaged. Then a long pursuit started with another bomber claimed as probable (possibly another shared). Tenente Chiarini followed three bombers 100 km out over open sea, expending all his ammunition on the left side bomber before returning to base. Sergente Di Carlo, while returning to base, discovered and strafed a group of armoured cars, claiming three in flames.
While returning after the pursuit, Sottotenente Guidi discovered another formation of nine Blenheims and attacked, claiming one in flames and another damaged with the little remaining ammunitions. Tenente Zuffi also discovered this formation (reported as seven strong) but was unable to engage.
The CR.42s were back at 10:00, claiming three Blenheims, one probable and many damaged (plus three armoured cars in flames). The 366a Squadriglia’s pilots had expended 2411 rounds of ammunition. Capitano Locatelli used 200 12,7mm and 350 7,7mm rounds, Tenente Zuffi used 200 12,7mm and 325 7,7mm, Maresciallo Paparatti used 240 12,7mm and 150 7,7mm and Sergente Hosquet 50 12,7mm rounds.
The Italian fighters had met eight Blenheim Mk.IVs from 55 Squadron together with one from 11 Squadron, which had taken off from Fuka for a daylight attack on Bardia at 08:55.
Over Bardia they were attacked by a reportedly 50 (!) CR.42s. 55 Squadron had usually been successful in its encounters with the CR.42s, chiefly because of the use of clever hit-and-run tactics and a good flight discipline in case of attack of the Italian biplanes, but this time things went differently. Owing to poor visibility, a number of CR.42s commenced their unwelcome attentions before the Squadron could assume battle formation. One of the fighters made an unsuccessful head on attack on the leading machine of No.3 flight (Flying Officer Ellis in Blenheim T1872), while the gunner’s attention was directed to eleven other Fiats attacking from astern, resulting in the loss of the starboard airscrew and other damage. The Italian fighters destroyed T1872 beyond repair but the crew (Flying Officer K. Ellis DFC, Sergeant I. Brownrigg and Sergeant J. Perkins) survived unhurt. One of the enemy relaxing from an attack on the leading flight, in which Flying Officer Potter sustained damage on the starboard engine of his aircraft (Blenheim T2113), went down in flames after a burst from the rear gunner of a machine of No.3 Flight. Two aircraft of No.3 Flight were able to assume formation on the two remaining machines of the leading flight after a hurried run-up on a last minute objective. The results were unobserved as were those of the other bombs, which were jettisoned over the town. No.2 Flight took independent evasive action, and Pilot Officer Blignaut was later forced to land his aircraft (possibly T2049) at Bir El Rahman Itmah, south of Matruh, due to holed petrol tanks. Blenheim L8395 (a Mk.I) flown by Sergeant Bailey of 11 Squadron was badly hit and with the port engine out of action it belly-landed at Derawla, near Ma’aten Bagush (the aircraft was damaged beyond repair and Struck off Charge on 6 January 1941). Blenheim L8790 was seen to dive into the sea killing the crew; pilot 25-year-old Flying Officer Millin Selby Singleton (RAF no. 41482), observer 30-year-old Sergeant Eric Percy Chapman (RAF no. 747802) and gunner 21-year-old Sergeant Bernard Joseph Fox (RAF no. 544933).
Three Italian fighters were claimed shot down (one unconfirmed) by the gunners on the Blenheims. AA fire of indifferent quality was also encountered over the target at 14,000 feet. With such odds, it is scarcely surprising that one aircraft only remained unscathed when after 20 minutes running fight the enemy broke away. Holes from fifty bullets were later counted in one aircraft, one of which apparently explosive, expanded itself on the pilot’s armour, others had been deflected by that of the rear gunner. Several of the bombers were indeed damaged as reported I.S.O. Playfair :

[During Compass casualties to aircraft were relatively light] but the rate of unserviceability was very high, due to the intensity of the air operations, to the climatic conditions of the desert, and to enemy’s use of explosive bullets. For example, during an attack on Bardia on December the 14th, nine Blenheims of No 55 Squadron encountered a patrol of some 50 enemy fighters and, although only one aircraft was lost [in fact they were three], no less than seven were severely damaged by these explosive bullets.”

At 12:05 on 25 January 1941, Maraua was again targeted by eight British Blenheims from 55 Squadron, which hit a truck on which the Ba.65/A80 damaged on 23 January was loaded and ready to be sent to Benghazi. This time the aircraft was totally lost. Sergente Stefano Fiore of the 367a Squadriglia attacked the formation of reportedly seven Vickers Wellingtons over Maraua. Squadron Leader Dudgeon reported a single CR.42 doing a series of half-hearted attacks on No.2 of the second flight then going away without inflicting any damage. Italian pilots from the 358a Squadriglia on the ground claimed that a lone CR.42 had shot down one of the British raiders.
Shortly after, Maresciallo Accorsi of the 367a Squadriglia intercepted a lone Bristol Blenheim reputed to be a reconnaissance machine and claimed it probably shot down. Accorsi landed at 14:05.
More Blenheims targeting Barce were forced to turn back by the fighter defence (most likely from the 75a Squadriglia) while Derna was attacked by three Blenheims from 45 Squadron, which had taken off at 14:35 and encountering considerable AA fire.

On 4 February, four Blenheims (Flight Lieutenant Paine, Flight Sergeant Overell, Pilot Officer Collins and Pilot Officer Allen) from 45 Squadron took off at 09:20 to bomb the railway station at Barce. Pilot Officer Collins and Pilot Officer Allen found no activity at all over the target and instead bombed motor transports between Barce and Tocra. Flight Lieutenant Paine and Flight Sergeant Overell were intercepted by Italian fighters and Paine’s Blenheim Mk.I L8538 was shot down. A few weeks later Paine returned to base stating that his crew (Sergeant Harry Cecil Thomas Holmans (RAF no. 581388) and 19-year-old Sergeant Colin Pryce Edwards (RAF no. 552544)) had both been shot and that after baling out, he had been helped by a friendly Senussi to escape through the Italian lines.
The Italian fighters were five CR.42s from the 368a Squadriglia (Tenente Giuseppe Zuffi, Sergente Mario Turchi, Sottotenente Furio Lauri, Sergente Maggiore Ezio Masenti and Sergente Maggiore Davide Colauzzi) and one from the 366a Squadriglia (Sergente Audibert). They had taken off at 07:25 to make an offensive reconnaissance over the front area. Near El Hamana, Tenente Zuffi and Sergente Turchi had strafed two armoured cars claiming one stopped, in fact 1Tp, “A” Sqn. of 11th Hussars was strafed at 08:15 by two CR 42s that holed the tank of the Rolls Royce armoured car. While coming back to base, Sottotenente Lauri discovered a British bomber and started in pursuit and claimed it shot down, reporting that one of the crew had been able to jump and had landed a few kilometres north-east of El Abiar (apparently Flight Lieutenant Paine). Some Hurricanes were in the meantime discovered higher and attacked by Tenente Zuffi, Sergente Turchi, Sergente Maggiore Colauzzi and Sergente Audibert, but the British monoplanes reportedly escaped on seeing the Italian fighters.
The CR.42 flown by Sergente Ezio Masenti, suffered big loss of oil from the engine and landed at Barce. British troops were in the area and, as soon as returning pilots reported on Masenti's plight, a Ca.133 being used as a hack by the 151o Gruppo CT took off from Agedabia in the hands of Maresciallo Accorsi of the 366a Squadriglia, who was accompanied by an engineer, 1oAv Mot. Callerani. Three CR.42s of the 366a Squadriglia led by Tenente Guglielmo Chiarini and including Maresciallo Giulio Cesare and Sergente Antonio Camerini, volunteered to provide escort. Over Barce, the Ca.133 was intercepted at low-level by a section of 73 Squadron Hurricanes.
This was ‘B’ Flight’s second patrol and consisted of the leader Pilot Officer George Goodman (V7716/TP-U), Pilot Officer J. B. 'Chips' McColl (V7372/TP-W) and Pilot Officer Ken M. Millist (V7941). The Ca.133 was shot down by Pilot Officer McColl at about 500 feet above the ground. Maresciallo Accorsi notwithstanding the desperate situation caused by the heavy damage suffered by his Caproni, reportedly didn’t parachute but instead tried to crash-land the aircraft, with the aim of saving the life of Callerani. His gallant effort failed and they both died in the subsequent crash.
As the CR.42s dived down in a vain attempt to assist the doomed transport, the Hurricanes turned to engage. In the ensuing combat Chiarini was shot down in flames and killed by Pilot Officer George Goodman (victory number 7 of 10 totally), who claimed a CR.42 that was attacking McColl.
Meanwhile, Sergente Antonio Camerini succeeded in damaging a Hurricane that he last saw escaping trailing black smoke. The Hurricanes disappeared after the short combat while the Italians started to mourn two of their most valued pilots. Unknown to them, the Hurricane flown by Pilot Officer Millist had been shot down in a head-on attack.
Millist was posted missing at the end of the action, believed shot down because his mates had seen about five unidentified aircraft above him (!). His aircraft was hit in the engine and he made a forced-landing ten miles north-east of Benina, running far away from his aircraft to avoid capture. For two days, without food or water, Millist – known as ‘Tiny’ due to his height, in excess of six feet – walked and hid, being chased on one occasion by an Italian motorcyclist whom he successfully evaded. On the third day, he met an Australian army sergeant who gave him food and water before helping him to obtain a lift to Derna. He finally arrived at Gazala on 6 February. Of Millist’s plight, his colleague Pilot Officer Bill Eiby recalled:

“Tiny Millist was a short service Australian and when he was shot down by the vintage biplane everyone laughed their bloody heads off. He went in head-on. We were told not to tackle them head-on, but Tiny did and got hit in the radiator for his pains. He got back from that one.”
Camerini, who most probably shot down Millist, initially claimed the Hurricane as a probable.
Both Accorsi and Chiarini were posthumously awarded with the Medaglia d'oro al valor militare.
The unlucky Sergente Maggiore Masenti had to burn his fighter (368-4/MM6257) and left Barce with some armoured troops only to go missing during the following Italian retreat at Beda Fomm.

At the time of his death, Accorsi was credited with 1 shared biplane victory.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  14/12/40 08:10-10:00 1/11 Blenheim (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Bardia area 366a Squadriglia
  14/12/40 08:10-10:00 1/11 Blenheim (a) Shared probable Fiat CR.42   Bardia area 366a Squadriglia
  25/01/41 -14:05 1 Blenheim Probable Fiat CR.42   North Africa 366a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 1 shared destroyed, 1 and 1 shared probable destroyed.
TOTAL: 1 shared destroyed, 1 and 1 shared probable destroyed.
(a) Claimed in combat with Blenheims from 55 and 11 Squadrons. 151o Gruppo claimed three, one probable and many damaged Blenheims (plus three armoured cars in flames) without losses. 2 Blenheim from 55 Squadron was lost and 2 damaged while 11 Squadron lost 1 Blenheim. The RAF bombers claimed 2 and 1 probable CR.42s shot down.

Aces High - Christopher Shores and Clive Williams, 1994 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-00-0
Desert Prelude: Early clashes June-November 1940 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2010 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-89450-52-4
Desert Prelude: Operation Compass - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2011 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-61421-18-4
Hurricanes over Tobruk - Brian Cull with Don Minterne, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-11-X
Storia Aeronautica Italiana
Stormi d'Italia – Giulio Lazzati, 1975 Mursia, Milan, ISBN 88-425-1946-4, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro.
Additional information kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.

Last modified 16 August 2016