Biplane fighter aces


Sergente Maggiore Filippo Baldin

The 13o Gruppo (77a, 78a and 82a Squadriglie) was commanded by Maggiore Secondo Revetria and started the war based at Tripoli Castelbenito airfield with twenty-five CR.42s and eleven CR.32s on hand (the CR.32s, kept as a reserve, were later passed on to the 50o Stormo Assalto) to guard against a possible French attach from the west.
Pilots in the 82a Squadriglia were: Capitano Guglielmo Arrabito (CO), Tenente Guglielmo Chiarini (arrived from 53o Stormo on 9 June), Sottotenente Giuseppe Bottà, Sottotenente Virgilio Vanzan, Sottotenente Giuseppe Timolina, Sottotenente Gilberto Cerofolini, Sergente Maggiore Dante Davico, Sergente Renato Giansante, Sergente Franco Porta, Sergente Francesco Nanin, Sergente Baldin, Sergente Riccardo Bonoli and Sergente Albino Falasco (arrived on 9 June).
Total strength of the Squadriglia was twelve CR.42s (three of them still under assembly), six CR.32quaters and one Breda Ba.25 for liaison. The CR.32s were used in patrol missions until 13 June.

On 13 June, the 2o Stormo performed numerous patrols and scrambles, taking off from Tripoli Castel Benito and from the advanced landing ground at Bir El Bhera.
After an afternoon scramble by the 82a Squadriglia’s alarm patrol at Bir El Bhera, Sergente Baldin experienced engine problems and overturned on landing at the emergency strip at El Assab. Baldin was unhurt but the fighter was heavily damaged (RD).

On 26 June, four CR.42s from the 82a Squadriglia and one from the 78a Squadriglia took off at 08:45 to make a standing patrol over the 2nd Libyan Infantry division. The formation flew as far as Sollum but at 09:45 during the return flight, Sottotenente Italo Santavacca (78a Squadriglia) was forced to make an emergency landing at Sidi Azeiz due to the compete loss of engine oil. Tenente Guglielmo Chiarini landed near him but when returning to T2, he was obliged to force-land at Gambut for the same reason at 10:05. At 10:20, Sergente Baldin also had to perform the same for the same reason. Capitano Guglielmo Arrabito landed at Gambut to see what had happened to his pilots but when he took taking off again he had to force-land in Sidi Bu Amud before reaching Tobruk for the usual lack of oil at 10:40. There he found Sottotenente Gilberto Cerofolini who had already force-landed at 10:35. The formation completely failed to return! Adding insult to injury, the advancing enemy burned Santavacca’s CR.42 at Sidi Azeiz and the pilot was probably taken prisoner during the same raid.

During a patrol over Gambut at 15:30 on 9 December, Sergente Baldin discovered and attacked two Blenheims, which escaped into clouds.
The Blenheims were flown by Flight Lieutenant Rixon and Flight Sergeant Grant from 45 Squadron and they reported being attacked over Gambut for two minutes by one CR.42 . They also claimed that their bombs fell short of the target.

At 14:00 on 14 December, eight or nine Hurricanes from 274 Squadron took off with 10 minutes intervals, refuelling at Sidi Barrani aerodrome to carry out an offensive patrol west of Sollum, as information was received that waves of Italian aircraft were attacking British forward troops. Participating pilots were Flight Lieutenant Peter Wykeham-Barnes (V7300) (14:00-16:00), Flight Lieutenant John Lapsley (V7293) (14:00-16:10), Pilot Officer Charles Laubscher (P3720) (14:00-16:00), Squadron Leader Patrick Dunn (P5176), Flying Officer C. F. Greenhill (N2627), Pilot Officer Strong (P2652), Pilot Officer Garland (P2627), Flying Officer Lynch (P2556) and probably Pilot Officer Ernest Mason (P3722).
Between 16:05 and 16:08 and 25 miles west of Bardia they met a formation of CR.42s described as three in vic first seen but about nine seen later (or 9-12 eventually engaged). They engaged the Italian formation and returned claiming five of them. Two were claimed by Squadron Leader Dunn, two by Flight Lieutenant John Lapsley and the fifth was credited to Flying Officer Greenhill 30 miles west of Bardia while Pilot Officer Mason claimed one probable.
Flying Officer Greenhill reported that he was flying at 12,000 feet in vic with two other Hurricanes and saw the CR.42s at 3 o’clock 12 miles away and 2,000 feet below when in a position 30 miles west of Bardia. He delivered an astern attack:

[The enemy engaged] in dogfight, 1 CR 42 shot down and crashed (seen by F/Lt Lapsley) 1 CR 42 damaged our casualties nil. The formation of 3 CR 42 were taken by surprise after which other CR 42s appeared and attempted to engage us but unsuccessfully.”
Flight Lieutenant Lapsley reported that he was flying at 12,000 feet in vic with two other Hurricanes and saw the CR 42s at 3 o’clock 12 miles away and 2,000 feet below when in a position over the Bardia- Tobruk road. He delivered an astern attack:
[The enemy] turned and a dogfight ensued. 2 CR 42s shot down. 1 crashed after initial attack. The others smoked and crashed in flames. Came in and get away tactics used quite successfully. The enemy seemed more determined than in my previous engagements.”
Squadron Leader Dunn reported that he was flying at 12,500 feet in vic with two other Hurricanes and saw the CR 42s at 4 o’clock 8 miles away and 4,000 feet below when in a position over Bardia. He delivered an astern attack:
[The enemy did] the usual action. Five CR 42’s shot down by flight. Self 2. E a/c were not flying in such tight formation and must have been part of a well planned larger formation which I did not see when attacking original target.”
Pilot Officer Mason later wrote:
“…two of us met a CR 42 which attacked head on but I gave him a long burst and he went down in a spin. We didn’t see him smoke or burn or hit the ground so he is unconfirmed. I have also been doing a lot of ground strafing. I fly down a road at nought feet and fire at motors and things. Interesting to fire at the back of a van full of troops. You see your bullets hitting the sand and you just move the cloud of sand up towards and past the lorry. You then see dozens of chaps pile out like nobody’s business. Some run away – some can’t!”
Squadron Leader Dunn’s Hurricane was hit and he force-landed. He returned safely the next day after having riding part of the way back on an Italian motorcycle. Pilot Officer Strong and Flying Officer Greenhill didn’t either land back at base (probably short of fuel), they were however back the next day with their fighter.
The British fighters had run across a formation of ten Fiat CR.42s from the 13o Gruppo, which had taken off from T2 at 15:20 to make a standing patrol over Sidi Azeiz to cover the SM 79s attacking the area. The formation was composed of five fighters from the 77a Squadriglia (Capitano Eduardo Travaglini, Tenente Eduardo Sorvillo, Sottotenente Gianmario Zuccarini, Sottotente Mario Nicoloso and Sergente Renato Gori), one from the 82a Squadriglia (Sergente Baldin) and four from the 78a Squadriglia (this Squadriglias diary from 14 to 16 December is missing but it seems that Sottotenente Dario Magnabosco was part of this formation).
When they arrived over Sidi Azeiz, the formation was split in into two groups of five. One, under Capitano Travaglini remained at 500 metres to cover closely the Savoias that arrived in subsequent waves. The other group with the same numerical strength and under Tenente Sorvillo climbed to 3500 metres. Pilots in this last formation included Sergente Gori, Sergente Baldin and someone from the 78a Squadriglia. It was this group that was attacked from superior height by a reportedly six Hurricanes. From the description of the returning Italian pilots, it seems that the Hurricanes tried to turn with the Fiat and were quickly outmanoeuvred. After a brief but harsh dogfight, four Hurricanes were claimed with the other two as probables, all without loss to the Italian fighters.
Tenente Sorvillo used 250 rounds of 12,7mm ammunition and 300 rounds of 7,7mm, Sergente Gori used 70 rounds 12,7mm ammunition and 80 rounds of 7,7mm. Sergente Baldin was the only pilot positively credited of an individual victory in the Squadriglie diaries and landed an heavily damaged plane, while according with the official history of 2o Stormo (written post-war) other individuals went to Tenente Sorvillo and Sergente Gori with the other victories shared among the pilots of the high covering section.

At 09:50 on 15 December, seven bombers from the 41o Stormo led by Colonnello Enrico Pezzi and Tenente Aramis Ammannato took off and attacked motor transports in the Sidi Azeiz area. They were intercepted by Hurricanes that shot down Sottotenente Sergio Cottarelli’s SM 79 in flames, killing the pilot and his crew (second pilot Sergente Maggiore Amerigo Carluccio, Sergente Motorista Giovanni Montalto, Sergente Armiere Giovanni Lamina and Primo Aviere motorista Giuseppe De Giorgi). Tenente Ammannato’s SM 79s was heavily damaged and had to force-land at Gambut where the bombers was torched and burnt out by the surviving members of the crew, three of which were wounded (Sergente Radiotelegrafista Melloni, Primo Aviere Armiere Genovesi and Aviere Allievo Motorista Taci). Four of the surviving Savoias were damaged and landed back at base (Tmini M2) at 11:30.
It seems that Italian fighters were also present since at 09:50 five CR.42s from the 77a Squadriglia (Tenente Colonnello Secondo Revetria, Tenente Giulio Torresi, Sottotenente Dario Nicoloso, Capitano Domenico Bevilacqua and Sergente Ernesto Paolini), five from the 82a Squadriglia (Capitano Guglielmo Arrabito, Sottotenente Giuseppe Bottà, Sergente Maggiore Dante Davico, Sergente Luigi Giannotti and Sergente Baldin) and possibly some from the 78a Squadriglia took off from T2 to protect Italian bombers in the Sidi Azeiz area. The 77a Squadriglia pilots returned at 11:50 without having seen any enemy aircraft while those of the 82a attacked a British monoplane that was efficiently machine-gunned by Sottotenente Bottà and Sergente Baldin. The CR.42s landed back at 11:50.
It seems that records of the units participating in the day’s combats are incomplete or wrong. In particular, no British units claimed any SM 79s during the day. In fact, 33 Squadron reported to have met two formations of SM 79s during a patrol of the Tobruk-Bardia road, but claimed only to have forced them to jettison their bombs. One Hurricane went missing after this engagement (possibly the plane claimed damaged by Bottà and Baldin). 274 Squadron on the other hand reported three of its fighters out in offensive patrols over forward troops with Flying Officer Patterson taking off at 09:30 and landing back at 13:50, Flight Lieutenant Peter Wykeham-Barnes taking off at 09:50 and landing back at 14:10 and finally Lieutenant (or Pilot Officer) Bester that took off at 09:00 and force landed west of Mersa Matruh for a unspecified reasons. Nobody however claimed the shooting down or even a combat against Italian bombers. Wykeham-Barnes (Hurricane V7300) instead claimed a confirmed CR.42, which was attacked over Bir Chleta at 10:40 and was part of an 18 aircraft strong formation made of threes dispersed in echelon that was escorting bombers. He was alone at 17,000 feet with the Italians flying 4,000 feet lower and delivered an astern attack on the rearmost fighter that probably didn’t discover his approach even if six other in the same formation did and in fact wheeled to attack before he was able to open fire. While his victim went down with smoke steaming from it, the other biplanes attacked indecisively. Wykeham-Barnes made several feints as if running away and then turned back but the enemies were not deceived. Again, it seems that the Italian fighters were those of the 13o Gruppo’s formation, which were the only ones that recorded actions in the morning.

In December, the 2o Stormo left their few surviving CR.42s to 4o Stormo and returned to Italy.
The 2o Stormo had in the period 11 June - 19 December totally claimed 45 enemy aircraft during 2403 missions. They had lost 13 aircraft, ten pilots KIA and two pilots POW.

1941 found the 13o Gruppo split into local defence sections around the industrial cities of northern Italy and later tackling the Royal Navy in the Ligurian Sea.

The re-equipped with Macchi MC.200s in October 1941 and returned to North Africa in February 1942.

On 8 July 1942 the 13o Gruppo was based at Bu Amud, Tobruk, and still equipped with MC.200s.

On 29 November, Sottotenente Gianmario Zuccarini claimed two shared B-24s together with Sergente Maggiore Baldin and Sergente Turchetti.
During this sortie, at least
Zuccarini was flying a MC.202.

Baldin ended the war with 1 biplane victory.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 14/12/40 15:20- 1 Hurricane (a) Destroyed CR.42   25m W Bardia 82a Squadriglia
  14/12/40 15:20- 1/4 Hurricane (a) Shared destroyed CR.42   25m W Bardia 82a Squadriglia
  14/12/40 15:20- 1/4 Hurricane (a) Shared probable CR.42   25m W Bardia 82a Squadriglia
  14/12/40 15:20- 1/4 Hurricane (a) Shared probable CR.42   25m W Bardia 82a Squadriglia
  15/12/40 09:50-11:50 ½ Hurricane (b) Shared damaged CR.42   Sidi Azeiz area 82a Squadriglia
  29/11/42   1/3 B-24 Shared destroyed Macchi   North Africa 82a Squadriglia
  29/11/42   1/3 B-24 Shared destroyed Macchi   North Africa 82a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 1 and 1 shared destroyed, 2 shared probables, 1 shared damaged.
TOTAL: 1 and 3 shared destroyed, 2 shared probables, 1 shared damaged.
(a) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 274 Squadron. The 13o Gruppo claimed four and two probables with one CR.42 damaged. 274 Squadron claimed five and one probable while losing one Hurricane (Squadron Leader
Dunn safe).
(b) Possibly claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 33 or 274 Squadrons. 33 Squadron suffered one missing Hurricane while 274 Squadron suffered one force-landed Hurricane for unknown reasons.

2o Stormo - Note storiche dal 1925 al 1975 - Gino Strada, 1975 USSMA, Rome, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
274 Squadron Operations Record Book
Diario Storico 77a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Diario Storico 78a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Diario Storico 82a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Fighters over the Desert - Christopher Shores and Hans Ring, 1969 Neville Spearman Limited, London
Hurricanes over Tobruk - Brian Cull with Don Minterne, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-11-X
Additional information kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo

Last modified 01 November 2009