Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Maresciallo GianLino 'Giri' Baschirotto


Sergente Maggiore Baschirotto in front of a MC.200 on Catania in August 1940.

GianLino Baschirotto was born on 15 August 1914 in Montagnana near Vicenza, in the province of Padova.
When he enrolled the Regia Aeronautica he had already obtained a pre-military pilot licence at Campoformido with a local Air Tourism Squadron.

In 1935 he earned his military wings at Aviano and was after this assigned as a Sergente to 1o Stormo C.T. 1o Stormo was Regia Aeronautica's oldest Stormo and it was regarded as a rare privilege to be assigned to this unit since it was regarded as a "aerobatics academy".

Baschirotto got basic operational training with the 88a Squadriglia of 6o Gruppo.

In August 1936 he volunteered, as one of the early pilots, for service in the Spanish Civil War using the nom de guerre ’Edoardo Giri’.

By the end of August, after the first 12 CR.32s, and their pilots, had reached Melilla, three more had been sent to Majorca and nine were offloaded in the port of Vigo de Galicia, on Spain’s Atlantic coast, from the Spanish ship Ebro. The latter had been renamed Aniene in Italy so that it could run contraband under a flag of convenience.

The nine CR.32s delivered to Vigo de Galicia were unloaded on the night of 27 August, although the presence of a British naval vessel in the port at the same time meant that this operation could not be completed in secrecy. Nine pilots under the command of Tenente Dante Olivero (from 6o Stormo) were also on board Aniene, and each of them had a false identity. Amongst the aviators were Sottotenente Adriano Mantelli (’Arrighi’) and Sergenti Brunetto di Montegnacco (’Antonio Romualdi’), Baschirotto (’Edoardo Giri’) and Raffaele Chianese, while five groundcrew provided technical support. The men and their machines then travelled by train southwards along the Vigo-Orense-Salamanca-Caceres-Seville route, which was controlled by Nationalist forces that had recently occupied the eastern Extremadura to unite the occupied zones of southern and north-western Spain. The reassembly of the nine aeroplanes, which were destined for the Segunda Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio (2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio), commenced after the three-day journey had ended in Tablada on 30 August.

The Italian fighter element grow rapidly and soon his unit was part of the XVI Gruppo 'la Cucaracha'.

On 13 September 1936, a patrulla of Aeronáutica Naval Vickers Vildebeests arrived at Getafe from Los Alcázares to reinforce the surviving Breguet XIXs of Grupo No 31. Heading for the Talavera de la Reína front, and escorted by two Ni-H.52s flown by teniente Felix Urtubi Ercilla (a former Nationalist pilot) of the Grupo de Caza No 11 and auxiliary naval pilot Carlos Colom Moliner, the Vildebeests were intercepted by three CR.32s led by capitán Joaquín García Morato and including Sergente Baschirotto and Sergente Vincenzo Patriarca.
The bombers managed to escape but Baschirotto quickly shot down one of the Ni-H.52s. The Republican pilot, teniente Felix Urtubi Ercilla, crashed on the Nationalist side and his body was never recovered nor was the wreckage of his aircraft ever found. Urtubi Ercilla was posthumously promoted to capitán.
Patriarca, meanwhile, got involved in combat with a second Ni-H.52 with which he collided. The Republican pilot, Aeronáutica Naval pilot Colom Moliner, was killed and the charred remains of his body were recovered and identified by his squadron mates. Patriarca, however, managed to parachute. As soon as he landed he was captured by Republican troops and was only saved from a summary execution by showing his American passport. He was later trailed and sentenced to death. Because of the uproar occasioned by the capture of an American citizen, the US State Department successfully applied pressure to the Republican government and Patriarca was released and sent back to the U.S. in November 1936.
Patriarca’s CR.32 was the only lost in combat during September-October 1936.
Legend soon had it that it was Félix Urtubi Ercilla who collided with the aircraft flown by Patriarca (perhaps due to his illustrious past). Following the release of a brief communique, government war correspondents asked for the name of the airman involved to be released so that ”all the Spanish people can engrave it on their hearts”.
The following day Republican newspapers named teniente Felix Urtubi Ercilla, and they attempted to give more details of the combat that had ended in his death. El Noroeste contained a reasonably accurate version of events:

“Five enemy aircraft - two tri-motors and three fighters - were sighted over the Navalmoral road, but the tri-motors quickly turned tail in the presence of a loyal fighter pilot, who opened intense machine gun fire. He hit one of the tri-motors and then, when the latter vanished, began a hair-raising pursuit in the clouds, trying to hunt down the three enemy fighters. The loyal fighter pilot hit another enemy aeroplane, which also escaped, but he then pounced on a third enemy aeroplane and almost broke it in two. It was a dreadful clash. The enemy pilot parachuted from his aircraft. Our fighter also crashed. Our brave pilot succumbed to his injuries. Teniente Félix Urtubi is the name of our hero.”
But the dead Republican pilot was not Félix Urtubi Ercilla. The remains were those of Aeronáutica Naval pilot Carlos Colom Moliner. This was made clear in the Madrid evening newspaper La Voz on 16 September. Under the heading ”Urtubi or Colom?” the paper reported:
“Today, we have been visited by two comrades from the Aeronáutica Naval who asked us to partially correct the information in the Madrid press on teniente Urtubi’s alleged death. The corpse of the airman recovered from the Toledo field is that of auxiliar naval Carlos Colom. The fact that Urtubi was also flying at the same time over the same spot and on the same mission created all the confusion.
Both airmen fought courageously, as we reported yesterday. It is thought that Carlos Colom succumbed when he attacked the enemy aeroplane with his aircraft. There is no news of Urtubi’s whereabouts. We hope that he will be found safe. Whatever happens, Felix Urtubi and Carlos Colom have written a new and heroic page in the feats of loyal aviators.”

On 16 September, capitán Joaquín García Morato and Sergente Baschirotto claimed a shared Potez 540 near Navalcarnero. The damaged Republican bomber crash-landed behind its own lines and only the wounded pilot survived. Morato claimed an additional Potez 540.

On 25 September the squadron moved from Cáceres to Talavera (Gamonal aerodrome) to be better located to participate in the advance on Toledo.
During the day, Sergente Baschirotto claimed a shared Potez 540 together with capitán Ángel Salas near Barciencie and Villamiel. The Potez crashed vertically into the ground near Rielves, killing the crew of seven.
The Republican aircraft, a Potez 540 c/n 4219, which was named ’Aqui le espero’ (I will wait for you here), was flown by capitán Joaquín Mellado Pasqual (CO of the Grupo Potez) and Lieutenant Moreno (who had been involved in the assassination of Calvo Sotelo). It had taken off from Getafe (Madrid) on an attack mission near Toledo.
This aircraft had gained some distinction three days before when it bombed the Canarias in Galician waters. It had also been involved in incidents across the whole of Spain from Asturias to Málaga. Mellado had, from the very beginning, been the most active pilot on his side, performing outstanding service at Seville, Madrid and in the Sierra.
Potez 540 c/n 4219 had been flown from Toulouse-Montaudran to Barcelona on 8 August 1936.


Potez 540 (c/n 4219) claimed by Ángel Salas and Baschirotto on 25 September 1936.
Photo kindly provided by AEROPORTO di GORIZIA "il QUARTO STORMO ed i PILOTI".

The unit moved to Torrijos on 1 November.

On 13 November, 14 Fiat CR.32s escorted five ”Junkers” and three ”Romeos”. Over the Paseo de Rosales (Madrid) they were surprised by 16 I-15s led by Starshiy Leytenant Pavel Rychagov, which dived on them from above out of the sun. Despite immediately being on the defensive, the Fiat pilots managed to protect the bombers as the air battle broke up into a series of individual combats.
The Soviet pilots claimed six victories (three of them fell in Republican territory) while two I-15s were lost when Karp Kovtun and Petr A. Purtov were shot down by Fiats and killed. Kovtun’s death was witnessed by Starshiy Leytenant Georgiy Zakharov, who also took part in this combat.
On their return flight, the Nationalist pilots encountered five Katiuskas, bombing Getafe and Cuatro Vientos from a height of 5000m. Capitán Ángel Salas damaged one so severely that the crew had to take to their parachutes, and capitán Joaquín García Morato damaged three others.
Totally the CR.32 pilots were credited with ten victories (nine “Curtisses” and one SB). Sergente Baschirotto (who reported that the I-15 was seen falling out of the sky smoking) and Corrado Ricci were among the Italians to be awarded a “Curtiss” each while Capitano Guido Nobili was credited with a probable. A Soviet fighter, whose pilot escaped by parachute, was shot down by Capitano Goliardo Mosca. The latter was in turn badly wounded in his right thigh and forced to limp back to Talavera, where he crash-landed. Capitano Mariotti force-landed outside the airfield at Getafe, but without damaging his aircraft. Capitán Morato claimed one I-15 (plus three damaged SBs), capitán Salas damaged three I-15s (plus one SB destroyed) and Julio Salvador claimed another I-15.
Capitán Morato recounted:

“Fiat Squadriglia. Bomber escort. “Junkers” and “Romeos” bombing Rosales (Madrid) clashed with 13 “Curtiss fighters”. I shot down one that caught fire in the air, and then machine gunned three “Sophias” till my ammunition ran out. Saw Anti-aircraft fire.
Total flying time 1 hour 30 minutes.”
Capitán Salas recalled:
“Fiat number 128. 1 hour 30 minutes.
Torrijos to Madrid, escorting five Junkers. Fourteen Fiats attacked 13 “Curtiss fighters” – three combats, one frontal, fired on the second while banking, and on the third from behind. Noticed several hits on the fuselage of one aircraft, but could not follow him due to the presence of others. Remained alone throughout, and eventually saw five “Martin bombers” attacking Getafe and Cuatro Vientos from 5000 metres. I fired at them twice until my guns stopped. On landing, Noreña, Celier and Betancour told me that one of the bombers I had attacked lost a wing and fell to the ground, its crew escaping by parachute.”

On 4 December, Polikarpov R-5 SSSs attacked Torrijos airfield. They were however intercepted by patrolling CR.32s and two of them were shot down. One R-5 SSS was claimed by Sergente GianLino Baschirotto.

He claimed a Polikarpov I-16 on 17 July 1937 over the outskirts of Madrid..

On 25 July he claimed a Polikarpov I-15.

During his eighteen months in Spain he totally claimed 5 and 6 shared victories.
During his time in Spain he was decorated with two Medaglie d'argento al valor militare and one Medaglia di bronzo al valor militare for military valour.

He returned to Italy in February 1938 and returned back to 88a Squadriglia, 6o Gruppo, where he was to spend the whole Second World War.

When the Second World War started the 6o Gruppo was equipped with Macchi MC.200s and based at Sicily (6o Gruppo was the first unit to receive this aircraft when the received the first 29 on 1 November 1939).
The unit at once took part in the attacks on Malta.

On 16 June Baschirotto, who had been promoted to Maresciallo, claimed a shared Gladiator together with eight other pilots over Malta. The Malta Gladiator however managed to escape safely.

At the end of July 1940 the 6o Gruppo was assigned to the 1o Stormo.

In October 1941, the unit returned to Italy to re-equip with Macchi MC.202s (series 3 aircraft) and was then sent to Libya.
The unit started to operate over the North African front in January 1942.

On 9 January 1942, eight MC.202s of the 88a Squadriglia took off at 08:10, led by Capitano Ocarso, for a free sweep over Agedabia. When over the airstrip of the town, Maresciallo Baschirotto went down to strafe an aircraft that he considered to have damaged.
North of the town, some vehicles were discovered and attacked. Some of them were claimed damaged with the use of 1260 rounds of ammunition. The Macchis were back at base at 09:35.

In April 1942, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel decorated him with the German Iron Cross 2nd Class at Martuba.

On 25 May, ten MC.202 of the 6o Gruppo (four from the 79a Squadriglia and six from the 88a Squadriglia) took off at 16:20, led by Maggiore Marco Larcher, for a free sweep between Gazala and Bir Hakeim.
At 16:45, south-east of Gazala, at the height of 5000 metres a formation of 20 enemy fighters (identified as P-40s and Spitfires) was discovered at inferior height. Making use of the tactical advantage given by the height, the Italians attacked, broke the Commonwealth formation and followed them deep inside enemy territory. At the end, nine P-40s were claimed shot down together with 13 P-40s and Spitfires damaged. A single Macchi was reported damaged in return when the Italian pilots landed at 17:40, recording the use of 3600 rounds of ammunition. Two victories each were assigned to 88a Squadriglia’s Maresciallo Baschirotto and Maresciallo Natalino Stabile, while one victory went to Capitano Domenico.Camarda (CO 79a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Alfredo Civetta (88a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Roberto Sgorbati (88a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Ferrazza (79a Squadriglia ) and Sergente Maggiore Paroli (79a Squadriglia). Thanks to these two victories Maresciallo Stabile reached the total of six confirmed individual victories and was thus the second pilot of the Stormo to became an ace.
The Italians had probably met twelve Hurricane II of 274 Squadron over Gazala, which had taken off from Tobruk at 17:05 being directed over Gazala at the height of 12000 feet, where it was expected to find four enemy fighters. The British pilots returned at 17:40 claiming to have probably shot down two Bf 109s by Flight Lieutenant George Keefer (BE229) and Sergeant John Neil (not officially credited to him) and one damaged by Pilot Officer Frank Samuel. They lost one Hurricane when Flight Lieutenant ”Bags” Playford was forced to belly-land and was slightly wounded while Flight Lieutenant Parbury was obliged to force-land two miles west of base due to lack of fuel (however to an Italian pilot it could have seemed a aircraft shot down).
In the same area, there was also 260 Squadron, flying at 12000 feet but it didn’t record any action and only reported to have seen three enemy planes taking off. The number of opponents estimated by the Italians led to think that there could have been some other unit present – perhaps equipped with P-40s.

On 10 June, the 6o Gruppo and the 17o Gruppo jointly carried out a free sweep in the Bir Hakeim - Bir el Harmat area.
Between 14:50 and 14:55 six planes of the 6o Gruppo drawn two each from the three Squadriglie had taken off under Capitano Domenico Camarda (79a Squadriglia). At 15:00 they were followed by six planes of the 17o Gruppo led by Capitano Clizio Nioi (80a Squadriglia).
At 15:20, while flying at 5000 metres east of Bir Hakeim, a mixed formation of Hurricanes and P-40s was attacked. According with the 6o Gruppo the enemies were around twenty while according with the 17o Gruppo they were fifteen.
Six P-40s were claimed by the pilots of the 6o Gruppo with 14 more damaged with the use of 2625 rounds of ammunition. Credit for the victories went to Capitano Camarda, Sergente Amedeo Benati (79a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Luigi Morosi (81a Squadriglia), Maresciallo Baschirotto (two) (88a Squadriglia) and Sergente Maggiore Anano Borreo (88a Squadriglia).
Only four pilots of the 17o Gruppo were able to join the combat. Sergente Maggiore Alvise Andrich (80a Squadriglia) claimed a P-40, while a second was shared among Capitano Nioi, Tenente Ghiglia (80a Squadriglia) and Sergente Maggiore Aldo Bersani (80a Squadriglia); the four pilots had used 1760 rounds of ammunition.
The running fight lasted for a long time and went as far as El Adem. All the Italian pilots came back unscathed, the 6o Gruppo between 16:00 and 16:05 while the 17o Gruppo returned at 16:20.
It seems that the 1o Stormo’s pilots had met a mixed formation of 73 Squadron and 213 Squadron. At 15:40, some Hurricane IIC of 73 Squadron, (possibly twelve), covered by eleven Hurricane II from 213 Squadron (that had taken off at 15:35), had taken off for a protective cruise over Bir Hakeim. South-west of El Adem at a height between 8000 and 11000 feet, the pilots of 73 Squadron reported being jumped by a formation of twelve Bf 109 and Macchi C.202 despite the escort of 213 Squadron. They claimed to have probably shot down one of the attackers (Sergeant Ronald Baker in Hurricane BN402 claimed a probable Bf 109F) and to have damaged two more (Squadron Leader Derek Ward in Hurricane BN131/P and Sergeant Henry) while losing the plane of Sergeant Alan Stuart Wilson, who jumped with parachute but without suffering any additional loss. 213 Squadron reported being attacked by four Bf 109s (possibly the Macchis of the 17o Gruppo) and claimed one of them damaged and two probably damaged. One Hurricane was slightly damaged. 73 Squadron was back at 17:00.
33 Squadron, was up with 274 Squadron (take-off at 17:15) in the same area (Knightbridge), and recorded being attacked by six Bf 109s and MC.202s that heavily damaged a Hurricane (Sergeant Menzies whose plane was Cat.II) during a dogfight. Despite the identification of Italian fighters and the “dogfight” it seems unlikely that they had met 1o Stormo because of the timing. 274 Squadron recorded additionally a high cover of four Spitfires of 145 Squadron flying at 19000 feet while as usual the take-off time for 33 Squadron is unrecorded.
It is worth to note that only 33 Squadron recorded the combat while nothing happened for 274 Squadron.

At the end of June 1942 the 1o Stormo returned to Italy for a period of rest.

After the rest they were sent to Decimomannu (Sardinia), reinforcing units of the 'Aeronautica della Sardegna'.

From this new base Baschirotto completed several escort missions over the Mediterranean, often heading to Bona, Algeria, at the limits of the aircraft range.

From Sardinina the Stormo was transferred to Pantelleria to operate over Tunisia.
During this time Baschirotto flew a MC.202 with the numbers "88-9".

On 31 January 1943, he claimed a Beaufighter, while escorting a naval convoy transferring men and goods to Tunisia.

During this time the 1o Stormo started to re-equip with the Macchi MC.205Vs.

On 20 April, he claimed he claimed a Spitfire off Pantelleria.
During this combat The Regia Aeronautica claimed 15 victories and admitted losses of 3 aircraft while the RAF claimed 11 victories and didn't admit any losses at all.

On 8 June, he made his last claim when he at 19:35 took from Chinisia and claimed a shared Spitfire north-west of Pantelleria.
This claim was shared with Tenente Levrini, Tenente Zatti, Sottotenente Sgorbati and Sergente Saiani.

On 24 June the 1o Stormo was retired to Campoformido due to large losses.
The unit was still reorganising when the armistice was announced on 8 September 1943.

During the war Baschirotto had flown more than 1000 hours of combat and been awarded two additional Medaglie d'argento and a German Iron Cross, Second Class.

Baschirotto was the only Italian pilot who became an ace both in the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War.

Baschirotto ended the war with 5 biplane victories and a total of 11.

After the war, having been commissioned for war merits, he flew with the first post-war aerobatics team, equipped with Spitfire Mk.Ixs.
Then came the jet age where he first flew Vampires, Thunderjets and Thunderstreaks.
After this he assumed many commanding roles and retired from active service in 1970 as a Colonello.

Baschirotto died in 1986 in Vicenza.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1936                
1 13/09/36   1 Ni-H.52 (a) Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Toledo area 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio
  16/09/36   1/2 Potez 540 Shared destroyed Fiat CR.32   Navalcarnero area 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio
  25/09/36   1 Potez 540 (b) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.32   Barciencie-Villamiel 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio
2 13/11/36   1 I-15 (c) Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Madrid area 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio
3 04/12/36   1 R-5 SSS Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Torrijos airfield 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio
  1937                
4 17/07/37   1 I-16 Destroyed Fiat CR.32   outskirts of Madrid 24a Squadriglia
5 25/07/37   1 I-15 Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Spain 24a Squadriglia
  1940                
  16/06/40   1/9 Gladiator (d) Shared destroyed Macchi MC.200   Malta 88a Squadriglia
  1942                
  09/01/42 08:10-09:35 1 Enemy aircraft Damaged on the ground Macchi MC.202   Agedabia area 88a Squadriglia
6 25/05/42 16:45-17:40 1 P-40 (e) Destroyed Macchi MC.202   SE Gazala 88a Squadriglia
7 25/05/42 16:45-17:40 1 P-40 (e) Destroyed Macchi MC.202   SE Gazala 88a Squadriglia
8 10/06/42 15:20 1 Hurricane (f) Destroyed Macchi MC.202   Bir Hakeim - Bir el Harmat 88a Squadriglia
9 10/06/42 15:20 1 Hurricane (f) Destroyed Macchi MC.202   Bir Hakeim - Bir el Harmat 88a Squadriglia
  1943                
10 31/01/43   1 Beaufighter Destroyed Macchi MC.202   Mediterranean 88a Squadriglia
11 20/04/43   1 Spitfire (g) Destroyed Macchi MC.205V   off Pantelleria 88a Squadriglia
  08/06/43   1 Spitfire Shared destroyed Macchi MC.205V   NW Pantelleria 88a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 5 and 6 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 11 and 8 shared destroyed, 1 damaged on the ground.
(a) Tenienté Felix Urtubi Ercilla of the Grupo de Caza No 11 KIA.
(b) Potez 540 c/n 4219 shot down killing the crew including capitán Joaquín Mellado Pasqual (CO of the Grupo Potez) and Lieutenant Moreno.
(c) Nationalist forces claimed nine I-15s and 1 SB while losing 1 CR.32 and 1 force-landed. Republican forces claimed 6 CR.42 while losing 2 I-15s (Karp Kovtun and Petr A. Purov) and 1 SB (reportedly to AA fire).
(d) No RAF Gladiator was lost over Malta during this day.
(e) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 274 Squadron, which claimed 2 probables and 1 damaged while losing two aircraft (1 due to lack of fuel). The 6o claimed nine P-40s and 13 P-40s and Spitfires damaged while suffering one damaged MC.202.
(f) Claimed in combat with RAF fighters from 73 and 213 Squadron which claimed 1 probable, 3 damaged and 2 probably damaged while suffering one Hurricane shot down (73 Squadron) and one damaged (213 Squadron). 1o Stormo claimed 8 Hurricanes and 14 damaged without losses.
(g) During this combat The Regia Aeronautica claimed 15 victories and admitted losses of 3 aircraft while the RAF claimed 11 victories and didn't admit any losses at all.

Sources:
AEROPORTO di GORIZIA "il QUARTO STORMO ed i PILOTI"
Air War over Spain - Jesus Salas Larrazabal, 1974 Ian Allan Ltd, Shepperton, Surrey, ISBN 0-7110-0521-4
Ali d'Africa - Michele Palermo and Ludovico Slongo, 2009 IBN Editore, ISBN 88-7565-060-8
Assi Italiani Della Caccia 1936-1945 - 1999 Aerofan no. 69 apr.-giu. 1999 kindly provided by Jean Michel Cala
Courage Alone - Chris Dunning, 1998 Hikoki Publications, Aldershot, ISBN 1-902109-02-3
Due Volte Asso - Giovanni Massimello, 1997 Storia Militare Nr. 49 Ottobre 1997 kindly provided by Massimo Cappone
Fiat CR.32 Aces of the Spanish Civil War - Alfredo Logoluso, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-983-6
GianLino Baschirotto (Galleria degli Assi) - Giovanni Massimello, 1999 Aerofan nr. 68 Jan.-Mar. 1999 kindly provided by Massimo Cappone
Italian Aces of World War 2 - Giovanni Massimello and Giorgio Apostolo, 2000 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 1-84176-078-1
Spanish Republican Aces – Rafael A Permuy López, 2012 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84908-668-4
Additional information kindly provided by Michele Palermo and Ludovico Slongo.




Last modified 7 July 2013