Tenente Mario Benedetti
Mario Benedetti was born in Vercelli on 19 May 1917.
In June 1940, Tenente Mario Benedetti served in the 74a Squadriglia, 23o Gruppo C.T. This unit was at the time equipped with Fiat CR.42s.
On 15 June 1940, the Italian Headquarters ordered the 150o, 18o and 23o Gruppi C.T. to attack the French airfields in Le Cannet des Maures (2km south-east of Le Luc) and Cuers Pierrefeu (close to the naval base of Toulon), in Provence, with the purpose of destroying and disrupting the French fighter force on the ground.
Le Cannet des Maureswas the base of the GC III/6, which had arrived there on 3 June with its Morane Saulnier MS.406 fighters and was in the midst of converting from that type to the new Dewoitine D.520 (on 15 June 1940 the groupe had at least 13 D.520s on hand). The airfield of Cuers Pierrefeu was the base of the escadrille de chasse AC 3 of the Aéronautique Navale, equipped with eleven Bloch 151 fighters, and the escadrille de bombardement en piquè AB 3 of the Aéronautique Navale, equipped with eleven Vought 156 dive-bombers.
At noon 25 CR.42s from the 23o Gruppo departed from Cervere (a small town in Piedmont near the French border) to attack Le Cannet Des Maures airfield. The first group, under the command of Maggiore Tito Falconi (CO of the 23o Gruppo in a CR.42 from the 70a Squadriglia) was to make the strafing attack. The group was composed of Capitano Luigi Filippi (CO of the 75a Squadriglia), Tenente Mario Rigatti, Tenente Calogero Mazza, Sottotenente Malvezzi, Maresciallo Luigi Pasquetti, Sergente Maggiore Renzo Borro, Sergente Maggiore Davini, Sergente Maggiore Germano Gasperoni (all from the 75a Squadriglia), Capitano Guido Bobba (CO of the 74a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Arnaldo Sala and Sottotenente Domenico Tessera (all from the 74a Squadriglia). The rest of the formation, with fighters from all three Squadriglie, was to act as top cover. This formation was composed of Capitano Ottorino Fargnoli (CO of the 70a Squadriglia), Tenente Claudio Solaro (70a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Oscar Abello (70a Squadriglia), Tenente Ezio Monti (75a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Balilla Albani (70a Squadriglia), Sergente Carlo Scarselli (70a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Celso Zemella (70a Squadriglia), Tenente Lorenzo Viale (74a Squadriglia), Tenente Benedetti (74a Squadriglia), Tenente Mario Pinna (74a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Renzo Bocconi (74a Squadriglia), Sergente Raffaele Marzocca (74a Squadriglia) and Sergente Emilio Stefani (74a Squadriglia).
They arrived over the target at 13:00 and attacked under heavy AA-fire. They claimed to have hit fifteen “Curtis” fighters and four old bombers that lay on the sides of the airstrip, in particular Capitano Bobba claimed hits on three aircraft as did Sottotenente Tessera while Sergente Sala claimed to have hit two aircraft on the ground (it seems that at least three D.520s were destroyed when Dewoitine D.520 nos. 257, 294 and 304 of GC III/6 went up in flames).
During the strafing a number of French fighters identified as “four or five Morrane” or alternatively “Dewoitine” engaged the strafing Fiats. Capitano Filippi (MM4361), was shot down by Adjutant Pierre Le Gloan of GC III/6. Filippi baled out and was captured. Maresciallo Pasquetti claimed a “Morane” but was also hit, wounded (reportedly by AA fire but possibly by Le Gloan) and returned to Cervere despite large problems. He was later decorated with the Medaglia d’argento al valor militare in the field for this mission. Tenente Rigatti’s and Sottotenente Malvezzi’s fighters were also damaged (reportedly by AA). Among the pilots of the covering patrol, Sergente Stefani claimed a “Morrane”, Tenente Benedetti a probable “Morrane” and Sergente Marzocca a damaged “Morrane”. The pilots of the 70a Squadriglia reported an indecisive engagement with no losses caused or suffered and finally Tenente Viale had his fighter seriously damaged by an explosive bullet that hit the junction between the lower wing and the fuselage. Back at base the plane was declared RD (Riparabile in Ditta - Repairable but only in the manufacturer’s workshop) and sent to the Aeritalia-Fiat workshops in Turin.
The pilots of the 23o Gruppo observed that despite hits on aircraft on the ground they hadn’t burnt. This was found to have been caused by a defective batch of incendiary ammunition.
The formation from the 150o Gruppo departed from Villanova D’Albenga (in Liguria near the sea) at 12:00 and was composed of 27 Fiat CR.42s divided in three groups. Their target was the airfield of Cuers Pierrefeu and they arrived there at 13:00. A first group of eight aircraft commanded by Capitano Giorgio Graffer (CO of the 365a Squadriglia) and composed of Tenente Franco Gatti, Sottotenente Lorenzo Clerici, Maresciallo Felice Sozzi, Maresciallo Virginio Bodini, Sergente Maggiore Guido Fibbia, Sergente Maggiore Felice Squassoni and Sergente Bruno Zotti (all from the 365a Squadriglia) attacked the airfield of Cuers itself. A second group of nine fighters from the 363a Squadriglia led by the Gruppo CO Tenente Colonnello Rolando Pratelli (Capitano Luigi Mariotti (Squadriglia CO), Tenente Pietro Garfagnoli, Sottotenente Mario Daverio, Maresciallo Giuseppe Salvadori, Sergente Maggiore Natale Viola, Sergente Maggiore Bruno Benassi, Sergente Paolo Rossi, Sergente Antonio Lazzari) and a third group of eight aircraft from the 364a Squadriglia under command of the 53o Stormo commander Colonnello Arrigo Tessari (Capitano Nicola Magaldi (Squadriglia CO), Capitano Nino Caselli, Tenente Giuseppe Enrico Zuffi, Tenente Alberto Spigaglia, Maresciallo Delfino Fratini, Maresciallo Ugo Guidi, Sergente Maggiore Virgilio Pongiluppi, Sergente Giovanni Negri and Sergente Achille Pacini) covered Graffer and his men during the strafing attack.
The covering group led by Colonnello Tessari engaged six French fighters, while Graffer’s group, after four or five strafing passes enter combat against “Morane fighters” while regaining height. All in all four Morane were claimed shot down (all Bloch 151s from AC 3 and confirmed with French records) and 15 Moranes were claimed on ground (in fact at least six Vought 156s of AB 3 were destroyed). The victories were credited as “shared” to all the pilots of the Gruppo.
The aircraft of Capitano Nino Caselli (MM5579) and Tenente Zuffi of the 364a Squadriglia (MM5590) were lost. Caselli’s Fiat was shot down by French fighters and he was killed, while Zuffi landed on Cuers Pierrefeu undamaged due to a breakdown of the throttle. Zuffi was taken prisoner and his undamaged fighter was taken by the French (the only aircraft captured by the Aéronautique Navale), which in the following days painted it with French colours and duly photographed this trophy with pilots posing near it. After the war the Italians had to do great efforts with the Vichy Authorities to finally have back the fighter in August. Additionally the Fiats of Graffer and Clerici were damaged by French fighters during the dogfight.
Finally, 15 Fiat CR.42s the 18o Gruppo took off from Villanova D’Albenga immediately after the 150o Gruppo. They patrolled along the direction of Cuers Pierrefeu - Cannet des Maures - Hyères (the latter an airfield 13 km east of Toulon) to prevent any interference from the French fighter force. Led by the 18o Gruppo’s CO Maggiore Ferruccio Vosilla the formation was composed by Capitano Giulio Anelli (CO of the 85a Squadriglia), Tenente Giulio Cesare Giuntella and Sergente Maggiore Giuseppe Ruzzin of the 85a Squadriglia, Capitano Gino Lodi (CO of 95a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Eugenio Salvi, Maresciallo Felice Longhi, Maresciallo Giovanni Ferrari and Sergente Maggiore Giacomo Grillo of the 95a Squadriglia (Vosilla flew with Salvi and Longhi as wingmen) and finally the 3o Stormo Commander Colonnello Fortunato Rolando in a 83a Squadriglia fighter with Maresciallo Francesco Colombo and Sergente Maggiore Evdo Formentini as wingmen together with Capitano Edoardo Molinari (CO of 83a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Carlo Lolli and Maresciallo Gaetano Bortolini.
At a height of 5500 meters over Beau Champ they were intercepted by enemy fighters, which suddenly appeared from a cloud bank. They were identified as “Morane 406 plus another type not sure” and in the ensuing combat three of them were claimed shot down plus four others hit without being able of ascertain the damage inflicted (these claims can’t be verified with French sources). It seems that no individual credit was given for these victories that went as shared to all the fifteen pilots participating in the mission. During the combat, two aircraft of the 83a Squadriglia were lost when Sergente Maggiore Formentini (MM4449) and Maresciallo Colombo (MM4366) both were shot down and killed (both were probably shot down by Le Gloan and Assolant of GC III/6, which had attacked the “vic” of the Stormo commander). All the fighters of the 85a Squadriglia suffered gun-jams and were forced to flee, Capitano Anelli, in particular, had to escaped into clouds to get away from enemy fighters, got lost and was obliged to force-land at Dorniella near Grosseto in Tuscany where his plane (MM4372) broke the landing gear and was heavily damaged (RD). Finally Maresciallo Gaetano Bortolini’s Fiat was hit by a cannon shell that opened a hole of 60 centimetres in the upper wing. Later during the day two more fighters were heavily damaged (RD) on landing back in Villanova D’Albenga returning from scrambles because of the bad conditions of the ground flooded by heavy rain but this was not connected with the above described combat.
The French reported that in the early hours of 15 June bad wheatear halted flight activities, then, at mid morning, it cleared up. At 10:00, a patrouille composed by Adjutant Diaz, Sergent Pimont and Sous-Lieutenant Stage took-off to cover the reconnaissance mission of a Potez 63. The mission was completed successfully.
At 11:40, the fighter control centre of Toulon signalled big formations of heavy fighters and bombers passing the border and heading south-west. Five minutes later a patrouille simple (three planes group) of Dewoitine D.520s (Adjutant Pierre Le Gloan, Capitaine Jacobi and Capitaine Assolant) of the 5th escadrille of groupe de chasse III/6 (GC III/6) took-off.
The patrouille made for Saint Raphael (on the coast, near the Italian border), where a group of fifteen enemy planes was signalled. Four minutes later (11:49), a second patrouille simple (Capitaine Guerrier, Adjutant Japiot, Sous-Lietuenant Capdeviolle), this time of the 6th escadrille, took off to help the first. However, it took off to late and didn’t participate in the combat.
After arriving over Saint Raphael, the patrouille of Le Gloan received by radio the order of going over Saint Tropez (around 30km south-west). At the same time, Capitaine Jacobi was forced to turn back with engine problems.
Le Gloan saw a formation of twelve Fiat CR.42s in the direction of Saint Tropez heading south-west. He reached them rapidly and attacked at 12:00. In a brief combat, Le Gloan and Assolant claimed two shared aircraft shot down. These were the last two aircraft of the Italian formation and one of the Italian fighters (Maresciallo Colombo of the 83a Squadriglia) was seen to go down in flames near Beauvallon (4km south of Grimaud) while the other went down in flames near Ramatuelle; the pilot was seen to bale out (probably Sergente Maggiore Evdo Formentini of the 83a Squadriglia).
At this moment the two pilots of the patrouille was split up. Le Gloan turned over Saint-Tropez and lost contact with the enemy while Capitaine Assolant attacked a third Italian fighter (perhaps Maresciallo Bortolini of the 83a Squadriglia), but his guns ceased to fire and he had to disengage coming back to Le Cannet des Maures.
Adjutant Le Gloan in the meantime, saw anti-aircraft fire in the direction of Hyères airfield (being over Saint Tropez this direction is quite close to the direction of Toulon-Cuers Pierrefeu that was under attack at that moment). Le Gloan flew in that direction and discovered a group of three Fiat CR.42s heading east. He attacked the right hand Fiat of the group and saw that after the first burst of fire it went down near Saint-Amèe, in the bay of Pampalonne. This claim is not confirmed with Italian records but perhaps claimed in combat with an aircraft from 150o Gruppo returning from the attack on Cuers or alternatively against stragglers of the 18o Gruppo formation. He was then attacked by eight Italian fighters and he disengaged by diving away.
At the same time (around 12:15), he received by radio the order of coming back to Le Cannet des Maures which was under attack. He obeyed immediately, arriving over his airfield while the Italians were strafing it. He dived on a couple of fighters and with a single burst of cannon fire he shot down one of them (Capitano Filippi). This plane went down near the farm of the Thermes, just 1km from the airfield of Le Cannet. Continuing his patrol Le Gloan saw a Fiat BR.20 bomber flying a reconnaissance mission over Le Cannet des Maures, probably with the aim of checking the damage inflicted to the airfield. Le Gloan attacked it and, even with no more cannon ammunitions left, shot it down with five passes of his remaining four guns. The bomber fell down near the farm of the Moulin Rouge. This was Fiat BR.20 MM21873 of the 172a Squadriglia Ricognizione Strategica, which in fact went down over Le Luc. Two of the crew were killed; Aviere scelto motorista Giovanni Bonanno and Aviere scelto fotografo Egisto Di Croce. The rest of the crew were taken POWs; Maggiore Mario Salvadori (an intelligence Officer from the Air force HQ aboard as a passenger), Capitano Giorgio Parodi (the Squadriglia’s CO) and Aviere scelto armiere Attilio Imparato. Bonanno was posthumously decorated with the Medaglia d’Oro al valor militare for this action because he helped his commander, who was wounded, to jump out of the falling plane, but after that he was unable to jump himself and died in the subsequent crash.
At Cuers Pierrefeu (attacked by the 150o Gruppo), the French reported that the Italian fighters attacked the parked Voughts of AB 3 and destroyed six of them. A section of three fighters of AC 3 had taken took off just minutes before the Italian attack. It was commanded by the Enseigne de Vaisseau Carmeille and included Second-Maitres Saint Vanne and Heff. The section had to patrol between Le Luc en Provence and St Raphael. Near the first locality it became involved in combat with 15 Italian fighters (possibly the 18o Gruppo). The section didn’t claim anything and didn’t suffer any losses even if, later, it was credited with two shared Italian fighters shot down. After this combat, the three pilots went on patrolling over Toulon.
Two other sections of AC 3 took off while the Italians arrived over Cuers. The section commanded by the Lieutenant de Vaisseau Ziegler (CO AC 3) was composed by the Second-Maitres Miramont and Briet. Gaining altitude over Cuers the section was attacked by the Italian fighters. Ziegler had his Bloch 151 (numbered AC3.1, serial number 77) seriously damaged and wounded, he was forced to crash-land at base with his left landing gear cut in half. Briet was rapidly in difficulties under the attack of the numerically superior Italians, with the ailerons damaged and the reservoir holed he disengaged, rejoining the first section over Toulon. Miramont engaged combat north-east of the airfield, over the hills of Hyères. His Bloch 151 (numbered AC3.3, serial number 69) was seriously damaged, but in the heat of the fight, he found himself 50 meters behind a Fiat CR.42 (Capitano Nino Caselli) and with a single burst of his four MAC guns he shot it down. Miramont was not able to continue the fight after this and had to land at Hyères.
The third section of AC 3 suffered worst. It was commanded by the Adjutant Chef Hourcade (a pilot of the Armée de l’Air attached to the Aéronautique Navale since 1939) (Bloch 151 AC3.15 serial 51) and included Soulimont (Bloch 151 AC3.8 serial 348) and Second-Maitre Le Bihan (Bloch 151 AC3.9 serial 37). A few second after the take-off, Hourcade was shot down and killed by the marauding Fiats; Soulimont engaged the Italians but was immediately put out of action and obliged to force-land with his aircraft riddled with bullets. Le Bihan received a burst of fire in the engine and five minutes after took-off had to land in the narrow of Rocbaron. Unfortunately, his plane hit a tree and burst into flames hitting the ground. He succeeded in extricate himself from the burning wreck, but died five hours later at the hospital. Some time later Le Bihan was credited with an aerial victory obtained by collision, but looking in the initial reports of this combat there is no trace of this victory.
It is interesting to note that all of Le Gloan’s claims were homologated by the CO of the Zone D’Opérations Aériennes Alpes (ZOAA). (“L’homologation” was the definitive confirmation of an aerial victory corroborated by evidences, was a recognition quite difficult to obtain in the French Air Force). The victories were credited as follows:
Fiat CR.42 individual, Ramatuelle.
Fiat CR.42 shared with Assolant, Saint-Amé bay of Pampelonne.
Fiat CR.42 individual, Beauvallon.
Fiat CR.42 individual , ferme des Termes near Le Luc.
Fiat BR.20, ferme du Moulin-Rouge near Vidauban.
That is not in complete accordance with the reconstruction above. It is also interesting to note that the victories claimed by AC 3 were apparently not homologated.
In July 1940 the 23o Gruppo moved to Sicily and took part in the attacks on Malta.
On 9 July the 23o Gruppo became Autonomo and the first escort missions over Malta was flown on 12 July.
Shortly after 09:00 on 16 July, a dozen CR.42s of 23o Gruppo appeared over Malta on a reconnaissance mission. Flight Lieutenant Peter Gardner Keeble in a Hurricane Mk.I (P2623) and Flight Lieutenant George Burges in a Gladiator had been scrambled, and dived on this formation. Keeble attacking one CR.42, but being attacked himself by two more flown by Tenente Mario Pinna and Sottotenente Oscar Abello (both from 70a Squadriglia). After a long chase Keeble was hit and his aircraft dived out of control towards the south-east of the Island where it hit the ground near Wied il-Ghajn and blew up. It was immediately followed by a CR.42 flown by 24-year-old Tenente Benedetti (MM4368) of the 74a Squadriglia, which crashed within 100 yards of the Hurricane. Keeble was killed outright but Benedetti survived the initial impact of his crash, but died soon afterwards at the civilian hospital at Vincenzo Bugeja without regaining conscious.
Burges made no claim on this occasion, and subsequently it was claimed that Benedetti’s aircraft was brought down with LMG fire by C Company headquarters, 1st Battalion The Dorsetshire Regiment. It is also possible Benedetti’s aircraft was the one attacked by Keeble.
Sergente Maggiore Renzo Bocconi claimed a second Hurricane, but this was not allowed by the 2a Squadra intelligence staff.
Keeble was the first of Malta's fighter pilots to lose his life in the defence of the island.
At the time of his death, Benedetti was credited with 1 probable biplane victory.
|Kill no.||Date||Time||Number||Type||Result||Plane type||Serial no.||Locality||Unit|
|15/06/40||13:00-||1||”Morane” (a)||Probable||Fiat CR.42||Le Cannet Des Maures area||74a Squadriglia|
Biplane victories: 4 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 4 shared destroyed.
(a) Probably claimed in combat with Dewoitine D.520s from the GC III/6, which didn’t suffer any losses.
L’Aéronautique navale francaise de septembre 1939 à juin 1940 (Hors série Avions nr.1) - Lucien Morareau, January 1994 Le La Presse, Boulogne sur Mer, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
La campagne de France, les combars franco-italiens 10 juin-25 juin (Batailles Aeriennes nr. 11) - Matthieu Comas, January 2000 Le La Presse, Boulogne sur Mer, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Ministero della Difesa - Banca Dati sulle sepolture dei Caduti in Guerra
Additional information kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.