Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Sergente Maggiore Luigi ”Gino” Baron

10 July 1917 - 6 February 1988

Luigi Baron was born on 10 July 1917 in Castelfranco Veneto.

He served with 412a Squadriglia, equipped with Fiat CR.42s, in the East African campaign of 1940-41.He ended the campaign as the second most successful of the Italian fighter pilots in the East Africa.

At 04:35 on 30 June 1940, five Wellesleys from 223 Squadron took off from Summit to attack the airfield of Massawa and fuel depots at Hirgigo, 3 km south of it. The formation reportedly met heavy AA fire and was attacked by one CR.32 and two CR.42s (flown by Tenente Mario Visintini and Sergente Baron; both from the 412a Squadriglia) at 07:50 (Italian time – GMT+3).
Tenente Visintini shot down Wellesley L2654 into the sea with the loss of the pilot 24-year-old Sergeant Bernard Poskitt (RAF no. 522475) and 20-year-old Leading Aircraftman Lewis Peter Jepp (RAF no. 550735).
Another Wellesley was officially credited to Sergente Baron, and a third to Massawa AA, but actually the remaining four bombers landed safely.

On 8 July, five Wellesleys of 47 Squadron were charged to bomb Zula airfield; since that target was obscured by clouds, they diverted to Massawa, where they were attacked between 15:00-15:15 by Tenente Mario Visintini and Sergente Baron, which claimed a shared probable kill.
Wellesley L2704 was indeed damaged and passed a couple of months under repair.

On 12 July, eleven Wellesleys from 14 and 47 Squadrons attacked Massawa airfield. Two Italian fighters (Tenente Mario Visintini and Sergente Baron intercepted them, Tenente Visintini shot down Sergeant Frederick “Freddy” Nelson (RAF No. 516778) of 47 Squadron, in K8520 at 15:00. The pilot was killed, but the rest of the crew was taken prisoner.
Italian Bulletin also claimed another probable (as a shared by both pilots between 15:00-15:10), the latter should have been Wellesley I (L2667) of 47 Squadron that managed to land at home, but was so damaged that it was considered written off.

On 22 July, he claimed a Wellesley over Harmil Island. British records can’t verify this claim but it is possible but it is possible that there is some confusions on the date since the next day (23 July) Wellesleys from 14 Squadron (four) and 223 Squadron (three) attacked Massawa and meet fighter opposition although no losses were suffered, one aircraft flown by Pilot Officer Ellis from 223 Squadron was damaged but returned to base.

Five Wellesleys of 223 Squadron were intercepted over the Eritrean coast on 23 July, when they were on their way home after having bombed Hirgigo plants. Between 14:20-14:45, they were chased by Tenente Mario Visintini and Sergente Baron.
Wellesley I (L2798) flown by Pilot Officer Ellis was attacked for 25 minutes, and suffered damage to the tailplane, main tank, bomb bay, geodetic frame, radio and hydraulic system. The latter failure made the lowering of undercarriage in flight. L2798 managed to return to base but with such damage that it was declared struck off charge.
Tenente Visintini and Sergente Baron returned claiming a shared probable due to the low speed and hanging undercarriage of the enemy aircraft.
The Italian Comando AOI Bulletin no. 44 stated: “Our fighters reaction chased effectively enemy action […] A hit enemy aircraft is reported to have fallen on our territory. A search is being held.”

At 10:35 on 4 August, ten Wellesleys of 14 and 47 Squadrons and three Blenheim Is of 45 Squadron attacked Hirgigo and the submarine base at Massawa. Tenente Mario Visintini, Sergente Baron and a third pilot scrambled and attacked them.
The Italians claimed one destroyed and one probable (as a shared between Visintini and Baron). Wellesley I L2676 of Sergeant Patey (14 Squadron) was badly damaged and crash-landed at landing, being later declared not repairable. Two more Wellesley Is (L2657 and L2645) were damaged too and went out of order for several weeks.

Around 10:00 on 1 September, a single Wellesley (L2669) from 14 Squadron flown by Sergeant Norris made a photographic reconnaissance over Hermil Island, but was intercepted by three fighters of 412a Squadriglia scrambled from Massawa and it crash-landed on the island. The crew was taken prisoner, but the gunner, 22-years-old Leading Aircraftman Charles David Lampard (RAF No. 615948) had been badly wounded by Italian bullets and died soon after.
The aircraft was credited to Tenente Mario Visintini, who wrote to his parents about that his “fifth victory”, but it should be at least shared with Tenente Raimondo Di Pauli and Sergente Baron.

On 20 September, the Massawa section of 412a Squadriglia was called back to Gura. From the beginning of the war and until then, it was credited with 18 aerial combats, in which its pilots shot down 9 Wellesleys and four more probable.

At 12:50 on 30 September, three 45 Squadron Blenheim Is raided Gura, but, once there, all the bombers were attacked by CR.32s and CR.42s. Blenheim L6665 flown by 28-years-old Squadron Leader George Justin Bush (RAF No. 37061) was soon damaged in an engine by Tenente Mario Visintini who, with Sergente Baron and perhaps Sottotenente Giovanni Levi, surrounded the bomber and ordered it by gestures to land. But the Blenheim couldn’t remain in the air with just one engine and crashed, killing Bush and his crew (20-years-old Observer Sergeant John C. Usher (RAF no. 580912) and 21-years-old Wireless Operator/Air gunner Sergeant James Corney DFM (RAF no. 541684)).

On 2 October 1940, three Bleinheims of 45 Squadron, which had taken off from Wadi Gazouza at 02:30, approached Gura in an dawn attack, but were attacked short of target over Mai Edega by six 412a Squadriglia CR.42s, which concentrated on the leading aircraft, flown by the commanding officer, Squadron Leader John Dallamore. The Blenheim (L8452) at once began to burn and Dallamore were seen to jettison his bombs; the air gunner then bailed out, but the pilot remained at his controls to allow the observer to follow suit. Before Dallamore could himself get out, the aircraft hit the ground and exploded. The observer Pilot Officer A. Sheppard was taken PoW but the wireless operator/air gunner Sergeant Myles Mackenzie was killed.
The other two Blenheims broke formation and fled, chased by the fighters for some distance; Baron claimed to have shot down two Blenheims during this combat, and to have shared in the destruction of a third.

Having known since 13 October, by aerial reconnaissance, that a Flight of 47 Squadron had been detached to Al Qadarif (Gadaref), pilots of Regia Aeronautica planed a strafing attack on that field. On the 16 October, taking off at 06:00 from the Italian advanced field of Barentu, an S.79 flown by Generale Pietro Piacentini (CO of Settore Aeronautico Nord AOI) himself led in eight CR.42s of the 412a Squadriglia flown by Capitano Antonio Raffi, Tenente Mario Visintini, Tenente Carlo Canella, Tenente Di Pauli, Sottotenente Fiorindo Rosmino, Sottotenente Levi, Sergente Maggiore Baron, and Sergente Pietro Morlotti. Some sources say that nine CR.42s were involved in this strike, but possibly the ninth pilot, newly arrived Sergente Carlo Scarselli, was left to protect Barentu.
At 06:55, the Savoia dropped its bombs on the field, then the fighters strafed between 07:00-07:20 and totally destroyed all eight Wellesleys of 47 Squadron detachment (K7742, K7762, K7779, K7781, L2650, L2675, L2677 and L2688) and, personally by Capitano Raffi, two of 430 Flight’s Vincents (K4657 and K4731) while they were taking off, which were claimed as Gladiators shot down. An attempt to call the 1 SAAF fighter detachment at Azaza (some 20 kilometers north-east) was foiled, as the telephone line between Al Qadarif and Azaza was found to have been cut. Italian claims were quite accurate, eleven aircraft being claimed destroyed, together with a munitions dump, some lorries, a searchlight and, it seems, a Packard car, the latter fired on by Tenente Canella.
Capitano Raffi was decorated with a Medaglia d’argento al valor militare as the organizer of the attack, while the other pilots gained a Medaglia di bronzo al valor militare each.

Towards the end of October, Tenente Mario Visintini, Sergente Maggiore Baron and Sottotenente Levi moved to Bahir Dar, on the south side of Lake Tana, for operations in the Metema-Gallabat border front. Previously, another section led by Capitano Raffi himself had been transferred by Gura to Gondar airport, on the north side of the same lake.

On 24 October Baron claimed a Lysander over Metema. British records can’t verify this claim.

On 27 October he claimed a Gladiator over Metema. British records can’t verify this claim.

On 11 November, a reconnoitring Hardy of 237 (Rhodesian) Squadron bombed Italian lorries on the road to Gondar. Around 12:30 some Fiat fighters scramble to intercept it, but instead had a clash with three Gladiators which were patrolling the area.
Lieutenants John Coetzer, Andrew Duncan and Servaas de K. Viljoen of 1 SAAF Squadron had set off for Gallabat to intercept bombers. West of the town they ran into a reported eight enemy fighters instead. These were stepped up in echelon in three groups, 1524 meters above the three Gladiators. Despite tactical and numerical disadvantage, the South Africans attacked, chasing two of the Fiats down to ground level before they escaped, while the rest made one pass on the Gladiators and then fled. One Gladiator returned damaged by a single explosive bullet.
The Italians from 412a Squadriglia returned claiming a Gladiator destroyed (probably by Tenente Mario Visintini) and two more probables, the latter one each to Sottotenente Giovanni Levi and Sergente Maggiore Baron.

On 23 November, six CR.42s from the 412a Squadriglia (among them Capitano Antonio Raffi, Tenente Mario Visintini, Sottotenente Giovanni Levi and Sergente Maggiore Baron) returned to Gura, leaving at Gondar a section of another six fighters, commanded by Tenente Niso Provinciali.

On 25 December he claimed a Gladiator over Gallabat. British records can’t verify this claim but it is possible that this claim was made during an attack on Gedaref on 27 December although no Commonwealth losses were suffered during this attack.

He claimed a Gladiator over Gheru on 22 January 1941. British records can’t verify this claim.

On 11 February, 1 SAAF Squadron had 11 aircraft on patrols over Keren during the day. During the morning, two of them encountered three CR.42s flown by Tenente Mario Visintini, Tenente Ubaldo Buzzi and Sergente Maggiore Baron engaged in strafing British troops in front of Keren. After the first brief clash the Fiats hid in a thick cloud. Lieutenant Servaas de Kock Viljoen followed and failed to return. Running low on fuel, he had to land near a village, fortunately within territory in British hands. He obtained petrol, and attempted to take off next morning, but crashed. He returned to Akordat on foot. His aircraft was later recovered and repaired.
Tenente Buzzi and Sergente Maggiore Baron landed at ‘Sabarguma’ airstrip (Gahtelay, in the Wekiro river valley between Asmara and Massawa) due to bad weather, while Tenente Visintini had reached Asmara.
In the afternoon, Visintini took off to fly back to guide these pilots home. It seems that during the flight he was perhaps blown off course by high winds and while descending through clouds he crashed into the sides of Mount Bizen, near the hamlet of Nefasit, and was instantly killed.

On 17 February he claimed a Wellesley over Cheren. British records can’t verify this claim.

On 25 February he claimed a Gladiator over Cheren. British records can’t verify this claim.

On 1 March he claimed a Hurricane over Cheren. British records can’t verify this claim.

Gladiator N5853 of 237 Squadron was operating over Keren on 25 March and the pilot saw two CR.42s, but was himself attacked by a Hurricane at that point, the biplane being damaged.
1 SAAF Squadron engaged CR.42s twice during the day, once in the morning when one was hit by Lieutenant Irvine, but no result seen (possibly the 237 Squadron Gladiator). In the afternoon engagements Lieutenants Robin Pare and White met two Fiat CR.42s from 412a Squadriglia at 15,000 feet, one of which Pare shot down in flames, but the other escaped from White. Pare went after this one also and caught it near Asmara where he reported that it blew up.
The Italians recorded one CR.42 shot down (Sergente Pietro Morlotti was killed) and a second so damaged as to be a write-off. Two more CR.42s were damaged in combat during the day, and both pilots were wounded. Two Hurricanes were claimed shot down. Baron claimed one of the Hurricanes before being shot down himself (probably by Pare) and safely baling out badly wounded in the calf of the left leg.

He was hospitalised and for two years was moved from hospital to hospital before being embarked on a ship bound for Italy (Duilio, which was used for the repatriation of civilians). The ship finally reached Italy after a two-month voyage.

During the war Baron was decorated with one Medaglia d'argento al valor militare and one Medaglia di bronzo al valor militare. He was also decorated with the German Iron Cross 2nd Class.

Luigi Baron ended the war with 12 biplane victories.

From 1970, he worked as instructor at the Air Club of Gorizia.

Luigi Baron passed away in Udine on 6 February 1988.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
1 30/06/40 07:50 1 Wellesley (a) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Massawa 412a Squadriglia
  08/07/40 15:00-15:15 1/2 Wellesey (b) Shared probably destroyed Fiat CR.42   Massawa 412a Squadriglia
  12/07/40 15:00-15:10 1/2 Wellesey (c) Shared probably destroyed Fiat CR.42   Massawa 412a Squadriglia
2 22/07/40   1 Wellesley (d) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Harmil Island 412a Squadriglia
  23/07/40 14:20-14:45 1/2 Wellesey (e) Shared probably destroyed Fiat CR.42   Eritrean coast, N Massawa 412a Squadriglia
  04/08/40 10:35- 1/2 Wellesey (f) Shared probably destroyed Fiat CR.42   Hirgigo 412a Squadriglia
3 02/10/40 02:30- 1 Bleinheim (g) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Gura 412a Squadriglia
4 02/10/40 02:30- 1 Bleinheim (g) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Gura 412a Squadriglia
  02/10/40 02:30- 1 Bleinheim (g) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Gura 412a Squadriglia
  16/10/40 07:00-07:20 1/8 Wellesley (h) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Al Qadarif 412a Squadriglia
  16/10/40 07:00-07:20 1/8 Wellesley (h) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Al Qadarif 412a Squadriglia
  16/10/40 07:00-07:20 1/8 Wellesley (h) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Al Qadarif 412a Squadriglia
  16/10/40 07:00-07:20 1/8 Wellesley (h) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Al Qadarif 412a Squadriglia
  16/10/40 07:00-07:20 1/8 Wellesley (h) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Al Qadarif 412a Squadriglia
  16/10/40 07:00-07:20 1/8 Wellesley (h) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Al Qadarif 412a Squadriglia
  16/10/40 07:00-07:20 1/8 Wellesley (h) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Al Qadarif 412a Squadriglia
  16/10/40 07:00-07:20 1/8 Wellesley (h) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Al Qadarif 412a Squadriglia
  16/10/40 07:00-07:20 1/8 Wellesley (h) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Al Qadarif 412a Squadriglia
  16/10/40 07:00-07:20 1/8 Gladiator (h) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Al Qadarif 412a Squadriglia
  16/10/40 07:00-07:20 1/8 Gladiator (h) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Al Qadarif 412a Squadriglia
5 24/10/40   1 Lysander (i) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Metema 412a Squadriglia
6 27/10/40   1 Gladiator (j) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Metema 412a Squadriglia
  11/11/40 12:30 ca 1 Gladiator (k) Probably destroyed Fiat CR.42   Metema 412a Squadriglia
7 25/12/40   1 Gladiator (l) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Gallabat 412a Squadriglia
  1941                
8 22/01/41   1 Gladiator (m) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Gheru 412a Squadriglia
9 17/02/41   1 Wellesley (n) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Cheren 412a Squadriglia
10 25/02/41   1 Gladiator (o) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Cheren 412a Squadriglia
11 01/03/41   1 Hurricane (p) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Cheren 412a Squadriglia
12 25/03/41   1 Hurricane (q) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Cheren 412a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 12 and 1 shared destroyed, 1 and 4 shared probably destroyed, 11 shared destroyed on the ground.
TOTAL: 12 and 1 shared destroyed, 1 and 4 shared probably destroyed, 11 shared destroyed on the ground.
(a) 412a Squadriglia claimed 2 Wellesleys and AA a third. Wellsley (L2694) of 223 Squadron flown by Flight Sergeant Poskitt failed to return. The crew was MIA.
(b) Claimed probably destroyed, shared with Tenente Visintini. Wellesley (L2704) of 47 Squadron damaged and under repair for a couple of months.
(c) 412a Squadriglia claimed one destroyed and one shared probable in a formation of eleven Wellesleys from 14 and 47 Squadrons. Officially, only Sergeant F. Nelson in K8520 was admitted shot down, but Wellesley L2667, though returned home, was later struck off charge due to enemy fighters’ damage. These were both by 47 Squadron.
(d) This claim can’t be verified with British records.
(e) Claimed as a shared probably destroyed with Tenente Mario Visintini. Wellesley L2798 from 223 Squadron damaged, later struck off charge due to enemy fighters damage.
(f) Claimed probably destroyed, shared with Tenente Visintini. Wellesley (L2676) from 14 Squadron damaged, later struck off charge due to enemy fighters damage.
(g) Regia Aeronautica claimed at least 3 destroyed; RAF losses was one Blenheim (L8452) of 45 Squadron, flown by 27-year-old Squadron Leader John Walter Dallamore (RAF no. 36074); the observer Pilot Officer A. Sheppard parachuted and taken PoW but the wireless operator/air gunner 23-year-old Sergeant Myles Mackenzie (RAF no. 531722) was killed. Dallamore was killed on impact when aircraft crashed.
(h) According to British sources eight Wellesleys of 47 Squadron (L2650, L2675, L2677, L2688, K7742, K7762, K7779 and K7781) and two Vincents of 430 Flight (K4657 and K4731) were burned on ground, against claims for nine Wellesley destroyed on the ground and two Gladiators shot down during take-off. The latter were unofficially credited to Capitano Antonio Raffi.
(i) This claim can’t be verified with British records.
(j) This claim can’t be verified with British records.
(k) Claimed in combat with three fighters of 1 SAAF. Italians claimed a Gladiator destroyed and two probable. Official 1 SAAF documents are missing for this period, but it seems that just one Gladiator suffered mild damage.
(l) This claim can’t be verified with British records. It s possible that this claim was made on 27 December.
(m) This claim can’t be verified with British records.
(n) This claim can’t be verified with British records.
(o) This claim can’t be verified with British records.
(p) This claim can’t be verified with British records.
(q) Most probably claimed in combat with 1 SAAF Squadron, which didn’t suffer any losses.

Sources:
Assi Italiani Della Caccia 1936-1945 - 1999 Aerofan no. 69 apr.-giu. 1999
Dust Clouds in the Middle East - Christopher Shores, 1996 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-37-X
GORIZIA ed il QUARTO STORMO
Italian Aces of World War 2 - Giovanni Massimello and Giorgio Apostolo, 2000 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 1-84176-078-1
RAF 1939-45 - D. Richards and H. St. Georges Saunders kindly provided by Alfredo Logoluso.
Royal Air Force Bomber Losses in the Middle East and Mediterranean, Volume 1: 1939-1942 - David Gunby and Pelham Temple, 2006 Midland Publishing, ISBN 1-85780-234-9
The Bristol Blenheim: A complete history – Graham Warner, 2002 Crécy Publishing Limited, Manchester, ISBN 0-947554-92-0
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Additional info kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro, Alfredo Logoluso, Giovanni Massimello and Ludovico Slongo.




Last modified 02 February 2015