Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Tenente Giovanni Barcaro

On 12 July 1940, the 9o Gruppo C.T. arrived at Tripoli from Comiso with thirty-three Fiat CR.42s under the command of Maggiore Ernesto Botto. The Gruppo consisted of 73a, 96a and 97a Squadriglie.
The 97a Squadriglia included Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni (CO), Capitano Giuseppe Mauriello, Tenente Ezio Viglione Borghese, Sottotenente Jacopo Frigerio, Sottotenente Riccardo Vaccari, Sottotenente Barcaro, Maresciallo Vanni Zuliani, Sergente Maggiore Raffaele Novelli, Sergente Maggiore Otello Perotti, Sergente Maggiore Massimo Salvatore, Sergente Francesco Putzu, Sergente Franco Sarasino, Sergente Alcide Leoni and Sergente Angelo Golino (assigned on 22 July).
Together with the 10o Gruppo they formed the 4o Stormo C.T.
The Gruppo’s Fiat CR.42s was wisely retrofitted with tropical kits for guns and engines, to avoid the problems suffered by the other Gruppi.

The 9o Gruppo was busy during 27 September covering troop movements towards Giarabub (the extreme outpost of the Italian army near the Sahara region, 240km south of El Adem). The first mission was flown by six CR.42s of 73a Squadriglia led by Maggiore Ernesto Botto, and the second mission made by aircraft from the 96a Squadriglia led by Capitano Roberto Fassi. Both these missions went on uneventfully.
The next mission of the day was flown by six CR.42s from the 97a Squadriglia (Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni, Sergente Franco Sarasino, Sottotenente Barcaro, Tenente Ezio Viglione Borghese, Tenente Riccardo Vaccari and Sergente Angelo Golino) to which a CR.42 of the 366a Squadriglia, 151o Gruppo (Tenente Mario Ferrero on the first mission for this unit over the North African front) was attached.
While circling over El Garn ul Grein (90 km south of Ridotta Maddalena) they spotted 14 bombers 500 meters above them heading towards the troops. The bombers were eleven Bristol Blenheims of 55 Squadron led by Flight Lieutenant R.B. Cox (acting Squadron Leader), which had taken off from Fuka at 12:00, to raid Italian M. T. concentrations near Giarabub. The Blenheims crossed the border 30 miles north of Giarabub and then followed the road southwards to this town. Not meeting any enemy, they attacked the fort at 13:45 where a direct hit caused a column of black smoke to rise from the building. After the attack, two aircraft from ‘C’ Flight lagged behind the rest of the formation. They where L8394 piloted by Pilot Officer Godrich and L8454 piloted by Pilot Officer I. Hook. The Blenheims then proceeded up to the border road and when 40 miles north of Giarabub they discovered some M. T. resting. At the same moment, seven CR.42s were seen on the port side of the formation. The Fiats immediately attacked the two stragglers. The first four fighters were seen to come up behind L8394 while the other three waited above. The bomber was seen to catch fire and crash, one occupant thought to be the Air Gunner was seen to jump from the back and escape by parachute. The bomber fell victim of the first trio from the 97a Squadriglia composed of Capitano Larsimont, Sergente Sarasino and Sottotenente Barcaro. These pilots in fact claimed the right wingman of the rear section shot down in flames. Larsimont observed a crewmember parachute from the burning bomber while Barcaro claimed to have set one of the bombers engines on fire with his fire; totally they expended more than 2000 rounds of ammunition. 21-year old pilot Flying Officer Ambrose Sydney Barnard Godrich (RAF no. 40532), 28-year old Observer Sergeant William Clarke (RAF no. 562044) and 22-year old Wireless Operator/Air Gunner Sergeant William Thompson (RAF no. 550519) were all killed when L8394 crashed.
Meanwhile, Tenente Ferrero attacked the front section, joined moments later by Larsimont, Sarasino and Barcaro. Ferrero claimed a probable Blenheim after expending 400 rounds. He was less effective than he believed, returning crews from 55 Squadron reported that apart from the two stragglers, the main formation was chased rather half-heartedly and no damage was done while an air gunner claimed one of the Fiats shot down but this was unconfirmed.
Tenente Viglione, Tenente Vaccari and Sergente Golino attacked the left wingman of the rear section, which was seen to dive to ground level. They pursued it for 80 kilometres over Egypt, until it reportedly crashed burning into the ground. Viglione and his wingmen then damaged other bombers before being forced to return to base due to lack of fuel. They had in fact chased L8454 (Pilot Officer Hook, Observer Sergeant W. F. Bowker and Wireless Operator/Air Gunner Sergeant J. Rigby). This Blenheim was seen by its comrades to dive to ground level and to continue evasive tactics that in the end made the following fighters to break off. The machine however was badly shot up and the crew was reputed very lucky not to have been hit. The ten surviving aircraft from 55 Squadron landed at base at 15:40.
The claim of
Ferrero was due to a misunderstanding, because once back at base, from a telephone call from the Army, it was reported that after the Italian fighters had left the area another formation of bombers arrived. It was assumed that this was the 55 Squadron formation, less three aircraft, which was back over its intended target and for this reason a third plane was presumed shot down. In fact, it now transpires that 55 Squadron didn’t come back for a second raid and the second formation were in fact eight Blenheims of 211 Squadron under the lead of Squadron Leader Gordon-Finlayson bound for the same target. Five of the 211 Squadron’s bombers overshot while three others claimed hits in the target area.
The loss of L8394 was the first operational loss of 55 Squadron due to fighter opposition. On 30 September, men of an Egyptian Frontier Post found the wrecked L8394 with one body in it (Clarke?) and a pilot’s parachute together with helmet marked Godrich, outside the aircraft. Footsteps led away from the aircraft towards an Italian outpost, thus assuming that the pilot survived the crash and now was a POW. This was not the case and in fact, all three had been killed.
A fourth uneventful mission was flown later during the day by the 73a Squadriglia.

Around 25 October, Sottotenente Barcaro and Maresciallo Vanni Zuliani of the 97a Squadriglia had to return to Italy due to illness.

The 9o Gruppo returned from the desert and was re-equipped with Macchi MC.200s. In July 1941, they re-equipped again with MC.202s and were they were sent to Sicily, arriving in the end of September 1941, to take part in the operations against Malta

At 07:15 on 21 November 1941, five MC.200s of 54o Stormo and ten 9o Gruppo MC.202s strafed Hal Far, presumably attracted by the presence of 242 and 605 Squadron’s Hurricanes based there. Seven Hurricanes from 185 Squadron led by Squadron Leader Pike were scrambled to intercept. They attacked five Macchis initially (probably the MC.200s), five more then jumping the British fighters (probably some of the MC.202s). No firm claims were made by the Hurricane pilots, but it was believed that three of the Italian fighters had been damaged. Sergeant Bill Nurse’s Hurricane was badly hit in return.
The Italians reported fighting twelve Hurricanes and ‘Spitfires’, and claimed two ‘Spitfires’ shot down, one by Sottotenente Jacopo Frigerio, Sergente Maggiore Raffaele Novelli and Sergente Angelo Golino, and one by Sottotenente Barcaro and Sergente Massimo Salvatore (all of them from the 97a Squadriglia), while two more were claimed as probables. Four were claimed destroyed on the ground plus a Blenheim, damage to the latter being credited to Maresciallo Rinaldo Damiani. Two Macchis returned damaged.

On 22 November, 61 MC.200s and MC.202s from 9o Gruppo and 54o Stormo escorted ten Ju 87s from 101o Gruppo B.a’T. to attack Malta.
The close-escort MC.200s became uncoordinated and returned early, but the higher flying MC.202s, which were providing indirect cover reported engaging 40 British fighters (‘Spitfires’). They returned claiming eight Spitfires and three more as probables. Tenente Fernando Malvezzi (73a Squadriglia) (totally 10 victories) and Sottotenente Barcaro (97a Squadriglia) both claimed two while Capitano Ezio Viglione Borghese, Sottotenente Emanuele Annoni (96a Squadriglia) (totally 9 victories) and Sergente Maggiore Dante Labanti (73a Squadriglia) claimed one each. The eight Spitfire was claimed as a shared by the pilots from 9o Gruppo. Sergente Bruno Spitzl (96a Squadriglia), Sergente Gustavo Minelli (96a Squadriglia) and Sergente Maggiore Egeo Parodi (96a Squadriglia) claimed the three probables. One MC.202 (MM7748) was lost when Tenente Pietro Bonfatti (73a Squadriglia) (totally 6 victories) was shot down and killed.
In fact 21 Hurricanes from 126 and 249 Squadrons (all available machines) had been scrambled led by Wing Commander Rabagliatti. They saw a force of fighters north of Gozo at 26-30,000 feet, identified variously as 15 Macchis or 24 Macchis and Messerschmitts (there were no Bf 109s). Flight Lieutenant Carpenter of 126 Squadron led the top cover and returned reporting a damaged when he fired a five-second burst into a Macchi from which he saw the canopy and other parts fly off. The Macchi then did a very slow roll and disappeared. Sergeant Ted Copp attacked a Macchi, which was seen leaving smoking, and he reported it as a damaged. Pilot Officer Noel MacGregor and Flying Officer Jack Kay claimed one damaged each while Pilot Officer Rocky Main claimed two probables. None of the 126 Squadron pilots recorded any confirmed claims. Wing Commander Rabagliatti was attacked twice by flights of Macchis but he managed to escape. They all returned back to base without damages or losses.
Meanwhile the 249 Squadron, at a lower altitude, had better success as the Macchi MC.202s swooped down on them. Squadron Leader Barton (Z3764) claimed one eight miles north-east of Gozo. The enemy pilot was not seen to bale out. Flying Officer Davis claimed a second and then shared another probably destroyed with Sergeant Al Branch (BV156 GN-Q). No Hurricanes were lost and only Sergeant Skeet-Smith returned with a damaged Hurricane.

On 25 November, the 9o Gruppo (minus the 73a Squadriglia) returned to North Africa.

On 26 November, the MC.202s of the 9o Gruppo made their combat debut in the Gruppo’s second African tour. At 11:00, a formation of 10 MC.202s took off, led by Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni, for a free sweep over the Sidi Rezegh-Gambut area. They were split into two patrols of five aircraft each (one patrol from the 96a Squadriglia and one from the 97a Squadriglia).
After about 25 minutes of flight and at an altitude of about 5,000m, two enemy formations were seen; one composed of 12 Hurricanes at altitude of 3,500m and a second of P-40s (in fact Hurricanes also) at an altitude higher than 5,000m, which escorted the former. Both Macchi patrols attacked the lower formation, breaking it up. The higher formation intervened in the battle, which lasted about 10 minutes.
Capitano Larsimont got on the tail of an enemy aircraft and attacked it (firing 94 rounds) but was immediately set upon by another enemy fighter which hit him from behind. He managed to get away and bring home his damaged fighter. Maresciallo Raffaele Novelli (97a Squadriglia) fired on some enemy fighters in successive actions and claimed one shot down using a total of 675 rounds. Sottotenente Barcaro fired on eight enemy aircraft in successive action. He got on the tail of a P-40 and hit it with a long burst. The aircraft came down and crashed into the ground. His MC.202 was shot on fuel so he landed at Tmimi to refuel before returning to base. He had used 275 rounds in the combat. Sottotenente Jacopo Frigerio (97a Squadriglia) fired on three enemy fighters over several clashes without being able to notice any visible effects, using 102 rounds. Sergente Maggiore Massimo Salvatore (97a Squadriglia) got on the tail on an enemy aircraft and shot it down after hitting it with a long burst. Then he fired on a second one, shooting this down as well. Totally he used 575 rounds before returning to base with the windshield of his fighter smeared with oil from the oil tank of one of the Hurricanes, he had shot down.
In the end of the combat, the Italian pilots claimed eight enemy fighters destroyed and an additional as probably destroyed using 3000 rounds of ammunition with two MC.202s damaged (Capitano Larsimont and Capitano Ezio Viglione Borghese). Four P-40s and a probable Hurricane were credited to the 96a Squadriglia; Capitano Viglione, Tenente Emanuele Annoni, Tenente Fernando Malvezzi, Maresciallo Manlio Olivetti and Maresciallo Dante Labanti (1 probable Hurricane).
Four enemy fighters were credited to the 97a Squadriglia; Sottotenente Barcaro (1 P-40), Maresciallo
Novelli and Sergente Maggiore Salvatore (2 enemy fighters).
They had been in combat with Hurricanes from 229 and 238 Squadrons. The higher formation seems to have been 229 Squadron, which was carrying out a defensive patrol for the ground forces with 12 Hurricanes over Sidi Rezegh. They had taken off at 11:45 (landing 13:30). They encountered a reportedly 12 enemy fighters, thought to be Bf 109s, without losing any Hurricanes but claiming to have shot down two of the enemies; Pilot Officer J. H. Penny (Hurricane Z5302) and Sergeant Warminger (Z3146). Presumably they thought that they had shot down Capitano Larsimont and Capitano Viglione.
The lower formation seem to have been 238 Squadron (take off 11:45 and landing 13:15), which reported being attacked by 6-7 enemy fighters and suffering losses when 21-years-old Australian Sergeant Robert Arthur Knappett (RAAF no. 400146) (Hurricane Z2355/L) was KIA at 13:15, Flying Officer Kings (G) crash-landed (King removed the overcoat from a dead Italian soldier and then drove an abandoned tank all through the night to reach Tobruk!) while Sergeant Kay (BV170/N) was shot down (Kay returned on foot). Pilot Officer H. G. Currie’s Hurricane (Z5222/Y) was wrecked on landing at Tobruk while Sergeant Fairbairn landed at Tobruk wounded and with his Hurricane (E) badly damaged.
It is possible that the RAF units also claimed two additional aircraft damaged in this combat.

On 1 December, 21 German Ju 87s and 8 Italian (from the 239a Squadriglia), were in action 20 km north-east of Gobi at 11:30. They were being escorted by ten Bf 109s and Italian fighters. Seven MC.200s of the 153o Gruppo provided the close cover (take off 11:30 and landing 13:30). This group’s diary notes the attack south-east of Bir El Gobi. The top cover of twelve MC.202s from the 9o Gruppo – six from the 96a Squadriglia and six from the 97a Squadriglia – took off at 11:35 under the command of Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni. One of the 96a Squadriglia aircraft returned early because of engine trouble.
The German operational report mentions the clash of Bf 109s with three Hurricane IIs being claimed shot down; Unteroffizier Hans Niederhöfer of 5./JG 27 claimed one at 12:30 south-west of Sidi Rezegh, Oberleutnant Gustav Rödel of 4./JG 27 claimed one 12:40 south-west of El Adem and Hauptmann Wolfgang Redlich of 1./JG 27 claimed one at 12:55 over Bir El Gobi, at 12.55. No German fighters were lost and it seems that none suffered any damage.
According to the diaries of the 9o Gruppo the formation was getting ready to return when it sighted about 20 enemy fighters, divided between Hurricanes and Tomahawks, which were escorting bombers south of Bir El Gobi at 4,000m at 11:40. The commander manoeuvred to gain altitude and launched into the attack.
All in all the pilots of the 97a Squadriglia thought that they had definitely shot down four aircraft, probably another five and machine gunned ten. Capitano Larsimont machine gunned some enemy aircraft (using 155 rounds of ammunition). It was thought that one of them was hit by a long burst on the tail and was claimed as probably shot down. Maresciallo Rinaldo Damiani fired a burst at the tail of an enemy monoplane which then lost height leaving a long trail of smoke and crashed into the ground and was burnt up. He returned after having used 105 rounds of ammunition claiming two Hurricanes destroyed. Sottotenente Jacopo Frigerio fired a long burst at a Hurricane, saw it start to catch fire and claimed it as a destroyed. Subsequently he machine gunned another two without managing to notice any visible results (totally he used 249 rounds). Sergente Alfredo Bombardini machine gunned two enemy aircraft hitting them with effective bursts but without noticing any visible results and returned claiming both as probably destroyed with the use of 303 rounds. Sottotenente Barcaro machine gunned three enemy aircraft in successive episodes but wasn’t able to see any results. Subsequently he got on the tail of an enemy aircraft and hit it with long bursts until he saw it leaving a long trail of black smoke losing altitude in a spin. He then got on the tail of another Hurricane and machine gunned it with long bursts from close in. The enemy aircraft left a long trail of whitish smoke coming from the water radiator. He couldn't spend much time looking at the results of his bursts since he had to get clear of an enemy aircraft that was firing at him from behind. He noticed he had been hit on the water radiator and prepared to return to base, but was forced to make a crash landing with the undercarriage retracted because his plane’s engine had seized up. This happened 12 km from Ain El Gazala at 13:05. He returned to base by car at night claiming one Hurricane and another as probable with the use of 630 rounds of ammunition. Finally, Maresciallo Otello Perotti machine gunned some enemy aircraft, hitting them with long bursts; one of them was believed to have probably been shot down with the use of 188 rounds.
The pilots of the 96a Squadriglia also claimed to have shot down four fighters (and a fifth damaged). Capitano Ezio Viglione Borghese (1 Hurricane), Tenente Fernando Malvezzi (1 Tomahawk), Maresciallo Dante Labanti (1 Hurricane), Tenente Emanuele Annoni (1 Tomahawk) and Sergente Maggiore Bruno Spitzl (1 damaged Tomahawk). Tenente Annoni’s MC.202 was damaged during the combat. The battle lasted 10 minutes, during which 2250 rounds were fired altogether. The Macchis returned between 13:15 and 13:20.
The enemies were the escort of 23 Blenheims of the 14, 45, 84 and "Lorraine" Squadrons, which were heading west of El Adem. They were escorted by the Hurricanes of 1 SAAF Squadron (take off 11:45 - the second mission of the day) and 274 Squadron (take off 11:50). Subsequently the escort would carry out a free sweep above El Duda. 1 SAAF Squadron with twelve Hurricanes provided the close cover, while 274 Squadron with twelve Hurricanes provided top cover. When they were above the target they encountered a reportedly twenty fighters divided between Bf 109s and G.50s and a battle ensued with them.
274 Squadron declared three Bf 109s shot down, one probable and two damaged; Pilot Officer ‘Wally’ Conrad (one and one probable Bf 109 in Hurricane IIb Z5064), Sergeant James Dodds (1 Bf 109 in Z5117), Sergeant Harrington (1 and 1 damaged Bf 109 in Z5347) and Pilot Officer R. N. Weeks (1 damaged Bf 109 in Z4008)). However they suffered three shot down Hurricanes and a fourth force-landing. Pilot Officer Weeks was shot down but was picked up by ground force and returned, Sergeant G. W. F. Pearse (Z2817) was shot down 25m south-west of El Adem at 13:00 and WIA (he was picked up by armoured cars and returned on 3 December) and Sergeant Alman (Z2510) was shot down and became MIA. Lieutenant W. H. Hoffe (Z5310) made a force-landing after that his Hurricane had been hit in the glycol tank, causing the engine to blow up. Flight Lieutenant Owen Tracey (BD821), one of the 274 Squadron flight commanders, landed and picked him up, flying him back to base.
1 SAAF Squadron pilots identified six G.50s, presumably the seven MC.200s of the 153o Gruppo, during the escort but didn’t attack them because they were engaged in escorting the bombers; they noticed that not even the G.50s attacked, probably for the same reason. 1 SAAF Squadron returned at 13:10.
Considering 274 Squadron’s difficult situation, it seems surprising that the close cover for the bombers didn’t intervene, as had happened on several other occasions. The escort had probably been given very precise orders; these were, in fact, pilots who didn't hold back when called upon to take on the enemy.
274 Squadron would have spotted the Stuka escort: 20 divided between Bf 109s and Italian monoplanes with radial engines. However the latter divided between the close cover of Bf 109s and MC.202s were about 30 altogether. Therefore it would seem that 274 Squadron had clashed with only one formation of planes with in-line engines; either Bf 109s or MC.202s. At the same time the 9o Gruppo estimated that about 20 enemy planes had been encountered. It has been ascertained that the Macchis of the 9o Gruppo were engaged in a big battle; on the other hand it seems likely that the Bf 109s also were involved. There could have been the participation of a third Commonwealth unit, although documentation in this regard is missing. To back up this, during the day also AIR 22.401 reported the loss of 3 Tomahawks and of a fifth damaged Hurricane as well as a Beaufort.
When the details of the battles were reported the Macchis always tried to put themselves on the tails of enemy planes, not an easy tactic but one that was thought to be essential to have any chance of shooting down an enemy fighter.

At 10:40 on 8 December, eight MC.202s from the 9o Gruppo led by Capitano Ezio Viglione Borghese (96a Squadriglia) commenced a patrol of the Ain el Gazala-Trigh Capuzzo-Tobruk area. They were followed by eleven MC.202s from the 17o Gruppo (six from the 71a Squadriglia, two from the 72a Squadriglia and three from the 80a Squadriglia), which took off at 11:30 to protect the coastal road between Ain el Gazala and Tobruk. These Macchis flew in vics disposed in echelon right at the height of 4000 metres.
It seems that both formations encountered the same Allied formation, which comprised 18 Blenheims drawn from two squadrons, escorted by Hurricanes from 274 and 1 SAAF Squadrons.
The situation at this time was very confusing. However, at 10:30, 84 Squadron Blenheims took off, targeting a very important concentration of vehicles in the area of El Adem. Cover was granted by eleven Hurricane IIB from 274 Squadron (take-off at 11:30), together while others from 1 SAAF Squadron (take-off at 11:30) were up to escort 18 Blenheims targeting the area of El Adem. The mission was considered very successful because 53 vehicles (of some 250 reported) were thought to be destroyed.
5-10 miles south-west of El Adem, 274 Squadron pilots saw a reported 30 Axis fighters; Bf 109s, MC.200s and MC.202s, coming from south-east while 1 SAAF Squadron continued to fly towards base with the bombers without seeing the enemy fighters. 274 Squadron, even if they thought to be heavily outnumbered, engaged the enemies. The Commonwealth pilots reported that the Macchis preferred to dogfight with the Hurricanes while the Bf 109s dove continuously.
The 9o Gruppo attacked first and back at base, they reported they had met a dozen Hurricanes that were strafing Italian vehicles. The head of the Italian formation led the attack and Sottotenente
Jacopo Frigerio (97a Squadriglia) attacked four enemy fighters at several times; he then had to land at Z because his Macchi had run out of fuel. On spotting the enemy aircraft, Sottotenente Barcaro (97a Squadriglia) closed in to Capitano Viglione to warn him and together they attacked and shot down one enemy aircraft in flames. He subsequently fired on four more aircraft (totally using 184 rounds) before landing at Z.2 for refuelling. Maresciallo Otello Perotti (97a Squadriglia) fired on two enemy aircraft (using 263 rounds) but couldn’t observe the effects. He landed at Z for refuelling and claimed a probable Hurricane. Another two enemy aircraft were claimed by Sergente Maggiore Bruno Spitzl (96a Squadriglia) and Vittorio Pozzati (96a Squadriglia). Tenente Fernando Malvezzi (96a Squadriglia) hit a P-40 with a long burst but couldn’t assess the result because he was attacked from behind by another P-40.
Altogether, the 9o Gruppo, which returned to base at 12:00, claimed four destroyed (Spitzl, Pozzati, Sergente Alfredo Bombardini (97a Squadriglia) and the shared between Capitano Viglione and Sottotenente Barcaro). Ten more Hurricanes were claimed as damaged (three by Sottotenente Barcaro, two by Maresciallo Perotti, four by Sottotenente Frigerio and one by Malvezzi). Sergente Bombardini’s fighter (MM7739) was damaged and had to land at Ain el Gazala but the airfield had to be evacuated and the Macchi had to be destroyed there.
As 274 Squadron sought to return to base, they were hit by the 17o Gruppo, which had taken off at 11:30 with eleven MC.202 (six from the 71a Squadriglia, two from the 72a Squadriglia and three from the 80a Squadriglia) for a protective patrol of Axis troops retreating along the coastal strip between Ain el Gazala and Tobruk. The Macchis, keeping a wedge patrol formation on the right wing at an altitude of 4,000m, reported that they at 12:00 met a formation of fighters, claiming six of them shot down (Tenente Renato Talamini (80a Squadriglia) (Hurricane), Sottotenete Renato Bagnoli (80a Squadriglia) (Tomahawk), Tenente Mario Carini (72a Squadriglia) (Hurricane), Sottotenete Vittorio Bacchi Andreoli (71a Squadriglia) (Tomahawk), Maresciallo Achille Martina (71a Squadriglia) (Tomahawk) and Sottotenete Guido Modiano (72a Squadriglia) (Hurricane). Sottotenente Ottorino Capellini (71a Squadriglia) and Sergente Maggiore Mario Host (80a Squadriglia) claimed a probable Tomahawk each. Totally the 71a Squadriglia used 1270 rounds of ammunition while the 80a Squadriglia used 1870. Tenente Carini (MM7758), hit in the cooling system, crash-landed near Bir le Fa while Tenente Talamini’s MC.202 was damaged in the left wing. The Italian fighters were back between 12:50 and 12:55.
The hard-pressed 274 Squadron claimed one Bf 109, one MC.202 (both by Sergeant James Dodds (Hurricane Z2835)) and two probables (Sergeant Robert Henderson (Z5367) and Sergeant R. H. N. Walsh (Z5435) and five damaged (between Squadron Leader Sidney Linnard (Z5064) (two MC.200s), Pilot Officer Patrick Moriarty (Z4015) (two MC.202s) and Pilot Officer George Keefer (BD880) (one Bf 109)).
Three Hurricanes were lost with one being seen going down vertically and one in flames. 26-year-old Flight Lieutenant Owen Vincent Tracey (RAF no. 42774) (Hurricane IIb BD885) and Sergeant Haines (Hurricane IIb Z5066) were missing while Sergeant John Paterson McDonnell was hit during the combat and crash-landed at Tobruk writing off his Hurricane IIb BE347. A fourth Hurricane IIb (Z5130) flown by Pilot Officer Thompson was also forced to land in Tobruk. 84 Squadron recorded that the escort lost four aircraft of the twelve present.
It is necessary to point out that the combat area reported in the documents of 274 Squadron and the 17o Gruppo are different, however errors and misidentifications of locations were always possible and there were no matching German claims. For this reasons it seems likely that 274 Squadron fought against the 17o Gruppo. The identification of Italian fighters as the opponents of 274 Squadron during this combat seems to be corroborated also by the account of Squadron Leader Linnard who while engaged by a Bf 109, saw a MC.200 attacking a Hurricane, both aircraft making steep turns and losing height. Linnard shook free from his own combat and tried to shot the Macchi off the other Hurricane’s tail, but was too late, bullets from the Italian fighter, which was turning inside the Hurricane, striking the area of the cockpit. The stricken aircraft then turned over at low level and dived into the ground several miles south of El Adem, bursting into flames. A little later squadron personnel met South African soldiers who reported that they had found a grave beside a wrecked Hurricane, and that on this was a flying helmet and the identity disc of Flight Lieutenant Tracey; it therefore seems probable that he had been the victim of the Macchi. The 20o and 153o Gruppi, which flew radial engined fighters, didn’t meet any Commonwealth fighter during the day even if they escorted Stukas three times and the MC.202 was a new machine in North Africa skies, easy to be confused with other types. It is interesting that 1 SAAF Squadron wasn’t aware of the combat. The number of enemy fighters estimated by 274 Squadron leads to think that probably other Axis fighters were up together with the MC.202s, in fact they could had been 15 Bf 109s that at taken off at 11:45 to escort Ju 87 even if they didn’t record encounters with enemy fighters.
It is also possibly that 80 Squadron was involved in this combat since Hurricane IIs of 80 Squadron had taken off at 10:55 from LG 133 to attack axis vehicles in the Acroma area. 40 of them, going west, were discovered and bombed by all Hurricanes. Afterwards six of these dived for strafing while the rest of the formation remained high to give cover. This high section attacked a formation of twelve enemy fighters (Bf 109s and MC.202s) protecting fighter-bombers that could go on with their action. Back at base the returning pilots were very pleased by the outcome of the action where they had claimed two Bf 109Fs confirmed (Flying Officer R. Reynolds (Z4801) and Sergeant Frank Mason (Z4786)) and a MC.202 probable and two damaged (Sergeant G. H. Whyte (Z4714)) without suffering any loss. It is possible that these were in combat with the 9o Gruppo, which reported ground-strafing Hurricanes.

In the end of December, the 9o Gruppo returned to Italy.

9o Gruppo enjoyed a brief winter rest from fighting, before returning to operations over Malta in the spring and early summer of 1942.

Around 09:00 on 8 May 1942, six Ju 88s of KGr 806 and 15 Ju 87s of III/StG 3 with a large escort (including six MC.202s from the 97a Squadriglia as close escort and eight more from the 10o Gruppo as indirect cover) approached Malta. Bobms fell on Hal Far, Kalafrana and Luqa, where a reservoir was damaged. In Kalafrana Bay the damaged petrol storage barge, C-42, had been moved to confuse further attempts at attack, the older lighter Edith replacing her. The ploy apparently succeeded, for now two Jabo Bf 109s appeared and bombed Edith, one direct hit passing right through her and exploding in the water!
Seven 229 Squadron Hurricanes and four Spitfires flown by 126 Squadron pilots had taken off at 09:00, followed by four more Hurricanes of 185 Squadron some 40 minutes later. The first formation made contact, Sergeant Potts of 229 Squadron claiming damage to a Ju 88, whilst Pilot Officer Tilley and Pilot Officer John Mejor jointly damaged a Bf 109. Capitano Franco Lucchini’s flight of the 10o Gruppo Macchis went to the aid of the Ju 87s, which were being pursued by five fighters identified as Spitfires, while Capitano Roberto Dagasso’s 9o Gruppo fighters engaged others which were attacking the Ju 88s. Tenente Luigi Giannella of the 10o Gruppo claimed two Spitfires shot down and also reported seeing a German aircraft in difficulties, watching the pilot bale out into the sea near Pozzallo. Two more Spitfires were claimed shot down by Capitano Dagasso and Tenente Ado Bonuti (97a Squadriglia).
The successful RAF pilots were actually those from the 185 Squadron flight, which had taken off later; Sergeant Boyd (Z4942/Y) reported:

“I led our flight. We jumped six Ju 88s out of the sun at 18,000 feet. I got one, both engines, etc. Mixed it with ten Macchi 202s; came down, mixed it with 109s at zero feet. Hit in engine by cannon, glycol tank blew up. Drenched me. Belly-landed Takali.”
There is little doubt that Boyd had shot down M7+KL of 3./KGr 806, flown by Unteroffizier Gerhard Andrea, which ditched near Pozzallo – possibly the aircraft seen by Giannella; Andrea and his crew were posted missing. Sergeant Wilbert Dodd, meanwhile, attacked a Macchi at 17,000 feet, five miles south of the Island, firing a three-second burst from 100 yards and seeing strikes all over it. He reported that it turned over and went straight down, and it was claimed as probably destroyed. His victim was probably Tenente Barcaro, whose aircraft was hit by a 20mm shell; although wounded in the right arm, Barcaro succeeded in reaching his base.
Sergeant Tweedale (GL-F) was also mixing it with the escorting fighters, having first attacked a Ju 88 which he claimed probably destroyed; he may have attacked the same aircraft as Boyd. When the Messerschmitts intervened he reported shooting down one and probably a second. It seems likely that one of his victims was ’Black 3’ of 8.JG 53 which crashed on Marsa racetrack, Unteroffizier Heinrich Becker bailing out and landing safely, although it would seem that this aircraft was also claimed by AA gunners. The aerial battle was being watched by Flight Lieutenant Barnham, who recorded that Bofors shells blew the tail off a Messerschmitt as it passed over low down, and it hit the ground ”in a pillar of smoke near the brewery chimney”. Possibly the gunners hit the fighter after it had been abandoned by Becker following Tweedale’s attack. The fourth pilot of the flight, Sergeant Finlay, was attacked whilst approaching to land, being obliged to belly-land BD789 at Takali.
The AA gunners had also been having a successful day, and apart from claiming Becker’s Messerschmitt, had shot down one of the Ju 87s, S7+HN flown by Feldwebel Walter Obermailander falling into the sea two miles off St. Paul’s Bay; neither the pilot nor his gunner, Unteroffizier Albert Westphalen, survived.

Towards the end of May the whole 4o Stormo returned to Africa to take part in Rommel’s great offensive.
The aces of the 4o Stormo - Franco Lucchini, Leonardo Ferrulli, Luigi Giannella, Mario Veronesi, Fernando Malvezzi, Giulio Reiner, Emanuele Annoni and Barcaro, along with Teresio Martinoli - claimed the lion’s share of their victories during this period of near-constant retreat for the Allies.

On 22 October 1942, Tenente Barcaro took command of the 97a Squadriglia after Capitano Fernando Malvezzi.

Barcaro returned command of the 97a Squadriglia to Capitano Malvezzi on 7 December.

On 15 June 1943, Tenente Barcaro again took command of the 97a Squadriglia after Capitano Fernando Malvezzi.

During a late morning raid on Catania by USAAF B-17s on 4 July 1943, a total of 42 Spitfire Mk.Vs and Mk.IXs (ten from 72 Squadron, ten from 154 Squadron, fourteen from 232 Squadron and eight from 243 Squadron) provided close escort while two Mk.IXs from 72 Squadron and two more from 243 Squadron flew top cover. Six of the escort were obliged to return early with various problems while the bombers droned eastwards to their target, flying at 22,000 feet. Bombs were seen to fall in the south-west corner of the aerodrome, and hits were also seen on hangars. South of the target area Bf 109Gs and MC.202s were encountered by 243 Squadron, two BF109s being claimed destroyed by Squadron Leader Mackie (JK715/SN-A) and Flying Officer F. S. Banner (JK189/SN-L), the latter’s victim falling in flames about five miles north-east of Catania. The last he saw of it was an oily mass on the water over which a floatplane and another Bf 109 were orbiting. Meanwhile, Flying Officer S. I. Dalrymple (JK614/SN-C) damaged a third Bf 109 about ten miles north-east of Cape Passero, and Flight Lieutenant K. F. MacDonald (EN148/SN-E) reported probably destroying a Macchi which was attacking two Spitfires in the same area. Finally, a second Macchi was claimed damaged by Sergeant D. J. Schmitz RCAF (JK666/SN-V), who found himself alone with four of the Italian fighters. He managed to get in a telling shot at one before making good his escape. One Spitfire sustained damage during the action though the pilot was unhurt and returned safely to Hal Far, possibly the victim of Messerschmitt pilot Tenente Plinio Santini of the 154a Squadriglia, 3o Gruppo, who claimed a Spitfire shot down. Squadron Leader Mackie reported:

“As the Fortress bombers turned to starboard, I saw approximately six ME109s at 26,000 feet, which attacked myself and my No2. After evasive action I found myself in a suitable position to attack a 109 which was approaching from starboard. I fired three deflection bursts, the last from approximately 70 yards range. I saw cannon and MG strikes all over the cockpit and fuselage. The e/a immediately burst into flames. I last saw it at 25,000 feet going down vertically in flames with black smoke pouring from it.”
Bf 109s of 5/JG 53 engaged the Spitfires, Oberfeldwebel Herbert Rollwage (at 11:14, 15km east of Catania at 4,000m) and Unteroffizier Hermann Witt (at11:15, 18km east of Catania at 4,500m) each claiming a victory.
II/JG 77 scrambled 34 Bf 109s on the approach of the raid. Four B-17Fs were claimed by Feldwebel Fritz Naegele of 6 staffel (at 11:20, 110km. east of Augusta at 1,500m), Unteroffizier Winkler of 6 staffel (at 11:22, 100km. east of Augusta at 1,500 m), Unteroffizier Fritz Walter of 5 staffel (at 11:29, 50 km east-south-east of Syracuse at 2,500 m) and Oberfeldwebel Maximilian Volke of 5 staffel (at 11:30, 110km east of Syracuse at 2,000m). Three Spitfires also being claimed, one each being credited to Oberleutnant Franz Hrdlicka, 5 staffel’s Kapitän (at 11:28, 90km east Syracuse at 2,500m), Unteroffizier Gräff of 5 staffel (at 11:30, 80 km east-south-east of Syracuse at 1,500m) and Gruppenkommandeur Hauptmann Freytag (at 11:38, at 1,000m altitude). II Gruppe lost three Bf 109Gs in the action, one pilot reportedly being shot down and killed by B-17 gunners while two others fell into the sea, one aircraft (WkNr. 15486) crashing south of Scicli, the other (WkNr. 19672) east of Syracuse, possibly victims of 243 Squadron; neither pilot was killed so presumably both pilots baled out and were rescued.
Nine MC.205Vs and 26 MC.202s of the 4o Stormo also scrambled from Sigonella, San Salvatore and Finocchiata and reported meeting 60 bombers and 30 Spitfires, claiming one bomber shot down and a second shared with a German pilot, while Sergente Corrado Patrizi of the 84a Squadriglia claimed a Spitfire. Two more were claimed by Sergente Maggiore Natale Molteni of the 90a Squadriglia before his own aircraft, one of the MC.205Vs, was hit in the engine by another and he was wounded; nonetheless, he managed to carry out a force-landing. A Spitfire was also claimed as probably destroyed by Sergente Alfredo Bombardini of the 97a Squadriglia, while a second Macchi from the same unit was shot down from which Tenente Barcaro baled out safely, possibly another victim of 243 Squadron.

Barcaro again returned command of the 97a Squadriglia to Capitano Malvezzi on 14 July.

After the Italian surrender in September 1943, Barcaro joined the A.N.R. (Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana).

He served as commander of the 7a Squadriglia of the A.N.R.

Barcaro ended the war with one shared biplane victory and a total of 9.
During the war he had been decorated with two Medaglie d’argento al valor militare.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
  27/09/40   1/3 Blenheim (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   El Garn ul Grein area 97a Squadriglia
  1941                
  21/11/41   1/2 ’Spitfire’ (b) Shared destroyed MC.202   Hal Far area 97a Squadriglia
? 22/11/41   1 Spitfire (c) Destroyed MC.202   Malta area 97a Squadriglia
? 22/11/41   1 Spitfire (c) Destroyed MC.202   Malta area 97a Squadriglia
  22/11/41   1 Spitfire (c) Shared destroyed MC.202   Malta area 97a Squadriglia
? 26/11/41 11:25- 1 P-40 (d) Destroyed MC.202   Sidi Rezegh 97a Squadriglia
? 01/12/41 11:35-13:20 1 Hurricane (e) Destroyed MC.202   Bir el Gobi area 97a Squadriglia
  01/12/41 11:35-13:20 1 Hurricane (e) Probably destroyed MC.202   Bir el Gobi area 97a Squadriglia
  08/12/41 11:00-12:00 1/2 Hurricane (f) Shared destroyed MC.202   Ain el Gazala-Tobruk 97a Squadriglia
  08/12/41 11:00-12:00 1 Hurricane (f) Damaged MC.202   Ain el Gazala-Tobruk 97a Squadriglia
  08/12/41 11:00-12:00 1 Hurricane (f) Damaged MC.202   Ain el Gazala-Tobruk 97a Squadriglia
  08/12/41 11:00-12:00 1 Hurricane (f) Damaged MC.202   Ain el Gazala-Tobruk 97a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 1 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 9 and 4 shared destroyed, 1 probably destroyed, 3 damaged.
(a) Blenheim Mk.I L8394 from 55 Squadron shot down and the crew KIA.
(b) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 185 Squadron. The 97a Squadriglia claimed two ‘Spitfires’ and two probables while two Macchis were damaged. 185 Squadron claimed three damaged Macchis while Sergeant Bill Nurse’s Hurricane was badly hit in return.
(c) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 126 and 249 Squadrons, which returned claiming 2 destroyed, 3 probables and 4 damaged MC.202s for one Hurricane damaged. The pilots from 9o Gruppo claimed 8 destroyed and 3 probables for the loss of one MC.202.
(d) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 229 and 238 Squadrons, which claimed 2 destroyed enemy fighters (and perhaps 2 more damaged) while losing 4 Hurricanes. 9o Gruppo claimed 8 enemy fighters and 1 probable while suffering 2 damaged MC.202s.
(e) 274 Squadron claimed 3 destroyed, 1 probable and 2 damaged for the loss of four Hurricanes (1 pilot MIA). Axis fighters claimed 11 destroyed, 5 probables and 1 damaged in this combat while getting 2 MC.202s damaged.
(f) Possibly claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 80 and or 274 Squadron, which claimed 4 enemy fighters, 3 probables and 7 damaged while losing 4 aircraft. The 9 and 17o Gruppi claimed 10 fighters, 2 probables and 10 damaged while losing 1 MC.202 and getting two damaged.

Sources:
A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945: Volume One – Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello with Russell Guest, 2012 Grub Street, London, ISBN 978-1908117076
Ali d'Africa - Michele Palermo and Ludovico Slongo, 2009 IBN Editore, ISBN 88-7565-060-8
Assi Italiani Della Caccia 1936-1945 - Giovanni Massimello, 1999 Aerofan no. 69 apr.-giu. 1999, Giorgio Apostolo Editore, Milan
Desert Prelude: Early clashes June-November 1940 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2010 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-89450-52-4
Fiat CR.42 Aces of World War 2 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2009 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-427-5
Fighters over the Desert - Christopher Shores and Hans Ring, 1969 Neville Spearman Limited, London
Hurricanes over Malta - Brian Cull and Frederick Galea, 2001 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-91-8
Hurricanes over Tobruk - Brian Cull with Don Minterne, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-11-X
La Battaglie Aeree In Africa Settentrionale: Novembre-Dicembre 1941 – Michele Palermo, IBN, ISBN 88-7565-102-7
Luftwaffe Claims Lists - Tony Wood
Malta: The Hurricane Years 1940-41 - Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-89747-207-1
Malta: The Spitfire Year 1942 - Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia, 1991 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-948817-16-X
Quelli del Cavallino Rampante - Antonio Duma, 1981 Editore Dell'Ateneo, Roma
Spitfires over Malta – Brian Cull with Frederick Galea, 2005 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-904943-30-6
Spitfires over Sicily - Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia and Frederick Galea, 2000 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-32-2
The Bristol Blenheim: A complete history – Graham Warner, 2002 Crécy Publishing Limited, Manchester, ISBN 0-947554-92-0
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Additional information kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro, Michele Palermo and Ludovico Slongo.




Last modified 19 March 2017