Sottotenente Paolo Berti
On 17 August 1940, the 4o Stormo received two new pilots when Sottotenente Berti was posted to the 84a Squadriglia, 8o Gruppo, while Sergente Maggiore Giovanni Casero was posted to the 91a Squadriglia, 10o Gruppo, around the same time; Casero had served as instructor in the Spanish Air Force until July 1940.
On 11 September 1940, the 9o and 10o Gruppo were still employed in standing patrols over the troops. During the second patrol of the day, at 17:45 in the Sidi Omar – Bardia area, a Blenheim was discovered at 6000 metres.
The Italian formation was escorting three CR.32s and was led by Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli. It was composed of seven CR.42s from the 84a Squadriglia (Capitano Luigi Monti, Capitano Vincenzo Vanni, Tenente Giuseppe Aurili, Sottotenente Berti, Sergente Roberto Steppi, Sergente Narciso Pillepich and Sergente Domenico Santonocito), five CR.42s from the 91a Squadriglia (Capitano Giuseppe D’Agostinis, Sottotenente Ruggero Caporali, Sergente Maggiore Leonardo Ferrulli, Sergente Elio Miotto and Sergente Alessandro Bladelli) and six CR.42s from the 90a Squadriglia (Tenente Giovanni Guiducci, Tenente Franco Lucchini, Sottotenente Neri De Benedetti, Maresciallo Omero Alesi, Sergente Maggiore Angelo Savini and Sergente Bruno Bortoletti).
Capitano Vanni, Tenente Aurili and Sergente Steppi attacked first, followed by other pilots of the formation. During the combat Vanni’s aircraft was hit by return fire and with the compressed air piping pierced, he was forced to turn back. His wingmen continued the pursuit and claimed the Blenheim shot down.
The bomber however was assigned as a shared to all the 10o Gruppo pilots presents (even if , for example, it is known that 90a Squadriglia pilots totally used only 140 rounds of ammunition so possibly only one of them was able to use his guns).
This claim can’t be verified with RAF sources but it is possible that it was a Blenheim from 113 Squadron since this unit’s ORB is lacking.
On 14 September, the 4o Stormo continued to protect the ground forces. A mixed formation of 23 CR.42s from the 9o Gruppo commanded by Maggiore Ernesto Botto with 15 CR.42s from the 10o Gruppo as high cover, took off at 10:25. At 11:00, over Sollum some 10o Gruppo pilots discovered a formation of four Bristol Blenheims. They attacked and claimed one shot down in flames. The bomber was credited as a shared to the whole formation from the 10o Gruppo (Tenente Giovanni Guiducci, Sottotenente Luigi Prati, Tenente Franco Lucchini and Sergente Bruno Bortoletti of the 90a Squadriglia and Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli, Capitano Giuseppe D’Agostinis, Sottotenente Andrea Dalla Pasqua, Sottotenente Ruggero Caporali, Sottotenente Carlo Albertini and Sergente Maggiore Leonardo Ferrulli of the 91a Squadriglia and Capitano Luigi Monti, Capitano Vincenzo Vanni, Tenente Giuseppe Aurili, Tenente Berti and Sergente Domenico Santonocito of the 84a Squadriglia).
Sottotenente Albertini later told that that the Blenheim had been left behind by its squadron and he fired at it all the rounds he had, but he could not destroy it. At the beginning, the bomber returned fire, but after being hit several times, they stopped and no sign of life could be noticed. He followed the bomber for a while, once finished his rounds, but nothing happened, and the Blenheim continued on the same route.
This clam can’t be verified with RAF records. The only known British actions for the day were a couple of afternoon bomber raids. Four Blenheims of 55 Squadron with others from 211 Squadron were ordered to attack Italian troops in the Sollum area in the first afternoon. The 55 Squadron quartet came back at 16:45 without suffering losses. Its pilots reported slight and ineffective AA fire and the presence of Italian fighters (but no interception occurred). Eight machines of 211 Squadron led by Gordon-Finalyson also attacked, claiming many hits in the target area. However, no Italian fighters were seen and all the bombers were back at around 17:10.
The serious damage suffered to Benghazi still required responses and another mission over Mersa Matruh was planned for 22 September and eleven SM 79s from 14o Stormo led by Colonnello Coppi, 19 bombers from 9o Stormo led by Colonnello Aramu and ten bomber from 15o Stormo led by Maggiore Cunteri attacked with a total of 357 bombs of 100 and 50 kilos. All bombers returned between 17:20 and 17:55. The AA fire was reported as strong and no enemy fighters were seen.
46 fighters escorted the bombers. 21 CR.42s were from the 2o Stormo and additional fighters of the 4o Stormo. The 4o Stormo’s 25 CR.42s had been deployed to Amseat A3 and Menastir M to reduce the distance to the target.
On taking off the plane of Sottotenente Berti of the 84a Squadriglia, 10o Gruppo, suffered an accident in bad visibility and was damaged.
In early 1941, the 10o Gruppo moved back to Italy to re-equip with Macchi MC.200s.
On 16 June 1941, the 10o Gruppo moved to Trapani, Sicily to take part in the attacks on Malta.
By the end of 1941, the 10o Gruppo re-equipped with MC.202s and returned to Sicily on 2 April 1942. The unit flew in to Castelvetrano from Rome/Ciampino with 26 new MC.202 led by Capitano Franco Lucchini.
During the morning on 17 May 1942, pairs and quartets of MC.202s patrolled over and around Malta. The 10o Gruppo flew two sorties and the first pair was led by Sottotenente Berti with Sergente Corrado Patrizi of the 84a Squadriglia. Three kilometres north of Valetta, they spotted a small cargo vessel, which they attacked.
On 19 May, 10o Gruppo flew their last mission over Malta.
Having tested their MC.202s in action, they returned to Italy to modify the fighters with sand filters, and on 26 May 1942, they left for a second tour of desert operations in North Africa.
Between 13:45-15:10 on 8 June, Capitano Franco Lucchini led ten MC.202s from the 10o Gruppo (six from the 84a Squadriglia, two from the 90a Squadriglia and two from the 91a Squadriglia) on a sweep over Bir Hacheim. At 14:20, a formation of 15 P-40s was spotted lower down from an altitude of 4,000m over Bir Hacheim. They were attacked and engaged in an air battle for ten minutes. In total, three P-40s were credited shot down, one probable, and three machine-gunned (1507 rounds). All the claims for destroyed P-40s were made by the 84a Squadriglia. One was claimed by Tenente Luigi Giannella (MC.202 MM7803), the second was claimed by Sergente Luciano Perdoni (MM7919; who also claimed the probable) while the third was shared between Capitano Lucchini (MM7797; he fired on three more P-40s), Tenente Berti (MM7937; he fired on three more P-40s) and Sergente Piero Buttazzi (MM7933).
It seems that the 10o Gruppo had encountered 233 Wing, that reported combat over Bir Hacheim when 2 SAAF Squadron with four Kittyhawks flew as the leader squadron on a wing sweep between 14:35-16:10. The fighters were flying at an altitude of between 8,000ft and 6,000ft but they broke away from the formation and were not involved in the fight. Eight Tomahawks of 5 SAAF Squadron (14:45-16:00) were top cover and were flying at 8,000ft with eight Tomahawks of 4 SAAF Squadron (14:30-16:15) as medium cover. 4 SAAF reported over twenty enemy aircraft and Lieutenant G. H. Kaufmann (4 SAAF Squadron) claimed a damaged Bf 109 at 15:30 but the back of his plane’s canopy was hit by a shell. This badly damaged the fighter (Cat. II) but the pilot was unhurt. At the same time was Lieutenant John Lindbergh (5 SAAF Squadron, Tomahawk IIb AN309/GL-O) was flying at 8,000ft when he saw seven Bf 109s attacking from above:
“... I saw Me.109s attacking left-hand section of medium cover. I gave warning by R/T and turned towards the EA. At this moment I saw another 109 coming almost head-on and slightly below. I aimed a bit in front of him and fired. Almost immediately he started smoking from the top of its cowling, near the nose. ... I saw another 109, about 1000’ below me climbing steeply. I intercepted his climb at my own level and fired a long burst, following him up. I saw the explosive ammunition hitting the 109’s rudder and starboard wing. As I was turning away I had to take violent avoiding action to avoid another 109 on my tail. … One Me. 109 damaged.”
Between 09:30-10:30 on 4 July, Capitano Franco Lucchini led five MC.202s of the 84a Squadriglia and six of the 90a Squadriglia on a free sweep over the El Alamein area. At 4,500 metres, they met 20 Bostons escorted by many P-40 and Spitfires; at a lower level flew a formation of Hurribombers (around 20 enemy fighters were reported). Led by Capitano Lucchini, the Italians attacked both formations with success. After a 30-minutes fight, claims for one Boston and a probable, one Hurricane, one P-40 and two Spitfires (plus two probables) were submitted by the Italian pilots. Many fighters were also claimed damaged. The claims were made by:
Maresciallo Angelo Savini (90a Squadriglia) one Boston destroyed
Sergente Maggiore Mario Veronesi (90a Squadriglia in MC.202 MM7789/84-5) one Boston probably destroyed and one Spitfire destroyed
Maresciallo Pietro Del Turco (90a Squadriglia) one Hurricane destroyed
Tenente Luigi Giannella (84a Squadriglia in MM7815/84-6) one Spitfire destroyed
Capitano Ranieri Piccolomini (90a Squadriglia) one Spitfire probably destroyed
Sottotenente Virgilio Vanzan (90a Squadriglia) one Spitfire probably destroyed
The P-40 was claimed as a shared between all twelve pilots.
Additional damaged fighters were claimed by Sergente Livio Barbera (84a Squadriglia), Tenente Berti (90a Squadriglia), Capitano Lucchini (temporarily CO 10o Gruppo) and Sottotenente Sforza Libera (90a Squadriglia), who in his first combat mission, damaged a Spitfire.
The Italian pilots returned without losses.
It seems that they at least had encountered Hurricane IIcs from 33 Squadron, which reported combat with MC.202 at 09:15 in the El Alamein area. Flight Lieutenant F. J. Aldrige (Hurricane IIc BE134/Y) claimed one MC.202 destroyed and two more were claimed as shared probably destroyed by five pilots of the flight. However, Hurricane IIc BE469 was shot down and 19-year-old Pilot Officer Anthony George Merritt (RAF No. 108955) was KiA. Three more Hurricanes were damaged but the pilots Pilot Officer K. C. Rolls (BN348/E), Pilot Officer H. S. Woods (BN473) and Sergeant Wilson (BN358) were safe.
No Bostons were lost during the day.
Between 16:00-17:30, the MC.202 from the 10o Gruppo were again in the air when six aircraft of the 84a Squadriglia led by Capitano Franco Lucchini and six of the 90a Squadriglia led by Capitano Ranieri Piccolomini, covered CR.42s of the 50o Stormo, following which they were to undertake a free sweep over the El Alamein area. These pilots reported a formation of about 20 fighters, the 84a Squadriglia claiming two P-40s (one by Capitano Lucchini (MC.202 MM7896/84-8) and one shared between Tenente Berti (MM7803/84-1) and Sergente Corrado Patrizi (MM7789)) shot down and a third probably (Tenente Luigi Giannella (MM7815/84-6)). All MC.202s landed safely at Fuka.
At 12:30 on 9 July, Capitano Franco Lucchini (MM7789/84-5) led 12 MC.202s from the 10o Gruppo to cover CR.42s active in the Kalakh area. Near El Alamein 12 fighter-bombers were encountered; these were protected by a strong formation of about 35 fighters. Capitano Lucchini and his pilots attacked and claimed a P-40 shared among four of the pilots from 84a Squadriglia after a 15-minute combat. Claimants in this shared was Lucchini, Sergente Livio Barbera (MM7933/84-10), Tenente Berti (MM7803/84-1) and Domenico Santonocito (MM7805/84-2).
Tenente Giuseppe Ferazzani, a pilot just arrived from Italy, was hit and wounded.
It seems that no Allied fighters were lost in this combat.
In the late afternoon on 15 July, MC.200s of the 13o Gruppo escorted an S.79 flown by Benito Mussolini personally on a visit to front-line units. During this he awarded the Medaglie d’Argento for outstanding acts of valour in North Africa to Tenente Giorgio Savoia, Tenente Camillo Luglio and Sottotenante Raffaele Velenzano. Several 4o Stormo pilots were also awarded decorations: notably, Capitano Franco Lucchini, Tenenente Luigi Giannella, Tenente Berti, Maresciallo Leonardo Ferrulli, Tenenente Emanuele Annoni, Sottotenante Alvaro Querci and Tenenente Fernando Malvezzi.
On 16 July, Capitano Franco Lucchini led MC.202s of the 84a Squadriglia (Sottotenente Luigi Giannella, Sottotenente Berti, Sergente Maggiore Mario Veronesi, Maresciallo Luigi Bignami and Sergente Corrado Patrizi), of the 90a Squadriglia (Capitano Ranieri Piccolomini, Sottotenente Renato Baroni, Sottotenente Sforza Libera, Sergente Maggiore Amleto Monterumici and Sergente Sergente Giambattista Ceoletta) and of the 91a Squadriglia (Tenente Paolo Benedicti) to escort CR.42s. Over Deir el Qattara they intercepted ten Hurribombers flying at 500 m, escorted by ten P-40s at 2000 m, with fifteen of the same type at 5000 m and six Spitfires at 6000 m. The returning Italians claimed four P-40s; Berti and Veronesi one each, one shared by Lucchini, Giannella, Berti and Benedicti while the fourth also was claimed as a shared by Bignami, Veronesi, Piccolomini, Baroni and Monterumici. Many others were damaged. Baroni was wounded in the combat and with his MC.202 damaged, made an emergency landing at El Daba. Bignami was hit in the wings and on the windscreen. Berti was attacked by P-40s while returning home, but escaped. Lucchini’s aircraft was hit by five bullets, one of them piercing a fuel tank in left wing root but he was able to land at El Quteifiya, although stunned by fuel vapour.
1 SAAF Squadron took off at 10:05 on 5 August as top cover to 127 Squadron, followed 50 minutes later by 80 Squadron, which provided top cover for the whole formation. Eight Bf 109s reportedly attacked the latter unit near El Alamein, which lost one aircraft which crash-landed; 29-year-old Pilot Officer Peter Douglas Keeping (RAF No. 134508) in Hurricane IIc BP187 was badly wounded and died later in the l8th Field Hospital. Pilot Officer E. Hill (BN870) attacked one fighter, but this turned on him and he was shot down also, carrying out a force-landing. Sergeant Christopher House (BE350) was cut off from the squadron and forced out over the sea by four fighters but managed to return safely, claiming one shot down and one damaged. His Hurricane received Cat. I damaged in the wing during the combat. The South Africans reported that near the end of the patrol a lone MC.202 dived on the squadron and this was claimed to have been damaged by Lieutenant Barry Haynes (Hurricane BP350/Z). It seems that there was some confusion during this engagement as to whether the Axis fighters were Messerschmitts or Macchis - or both. A Kittyhawk Ia was also badly damaged by reportedly MC.202s over El Alamein during the day but Pilot Officer E. G. Aitchison was safe.
After an alarm from the Freya radar in the morning, Capitano Franco Lucchini (CO 84a Squadriglia) and Capitano Ranieri Piccolomini (CO 90a Squadriglia) scrambled at 09:40 with twelve MC.202s to intercept bombers. The fighters were radio-guided eastward over the sea, until 20 km from Alexandria, without having found any aircraft. On the way home, they met fifteen Hurricanes and P-40s at 4000 meters in the El Hammam - El Amirya area and attacked them. Capitano Lucchini (MC.202 MM7905), Capitano Piccolomini and Sottotenente Berti (84a Squadriglia in MM7803/84-1) claimed a P-40 each. A fourth was claimed as a shared between Sergente Natale Molteni (90a Squadriglia in MM7803), Tenente Luigi Giannella (84a Squadriglia in MM7815), Sergente Maggiore Domenico Santonocito (84a Squadriglia in MM7805/84-2), Sergente Maggiore Corrado Patrizi (84a Squadriglia in MM7919) and Sergente Livio Barbera (84a Squadriglia in MM7789). Tenente Luigi Giannella also claimed a P-40 as a probable. 10o Gruppo landed back at 11:20 without suffer any losses in this combat.
Meantime, two Bf 109s of 4./JG 27 had scrambled to intercept 12 bombers and 20 fighters near Alam el Halfa, Oberfeldwebel Karl-Heinz Bendert claiming one P-40 shot down at 10:08.
In order to support Rommel’s last advance, at 05:25 on 31 August, twenty MC.202s of the 10o Gruppo took off to strafe three enemy airfields in the Burg el Arab area, 60 km beyond the frontline. The plan was for eight pilots to strafe, while the others were to cover them. The eight pilots were Maggiore Giuseppe D’Agostinis with Capitano Franco Lucchini (CO), Tenente Luigi Giannella, Tenente Ezio Bevilacqua and Sergente Livio Barbera of the 84a Squadriglia, Capitano Carlo Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa (CO) and Tenente Orlando Mandolini of the 91a Squadriglia, and Sottotenente Vittorino Daffara of the 97a Squadriglia, 9o Gruppo.
During the approach, off El Alamein and at 4000 m over the sea, Giannella saw that Bevilacqua, Lucchini’s wingman, had a water leakage in his cooler. Giannella notified Bevilacqua this by gestures (the Italian Allocchio-Bacchini radios were unreliable) and Bevilacqua turned back. Giannella decided to lead him home, so he gestured to his own wingman, Barbera, to continue to follow the Gruppo. However, Barbera misunderstood this communication, and he too followed Giannella. The engine on Bevilacqua’s fighter sized after a couple of minutes and he and parachuted from 600 m into the sea; he swam westward for three hours and reached the shore seven kilometres inside friendly lines. Unaware of this, Giannella landed at Fuka with Barbera (perhaps mistaking him for Bevilacqua).
With the strafing force reduced to five, Maggiore D’Agostinis went inland well before the target. Sottotenente Berti (84a Squadriglia) spotted two Spitfires below them, but the enemy fighters didn’t attack. The Italians first strafed the southern airfield, finding only few aircraft but an intense ground fire. Subsequently they attacked the other two fields with three passes, each one from a different direction, managing to make the last pass in northern direction towards the sea, in order to minimize ground reaction. Five Lysanders, five P-40s, three Gladiators, an Albacore and an unidentified monoplane were severely damaged, and a lot of material and trucks was destroyed. British fighters scrambled from Alexandria airfields and tried uneventfully to reach the intruders.
On the return flight, the 10o Gruppo’s pilots met and attacked two P-40s, one of which was damaged.
Capitano Franco Lucchini was shot down again on 24 October 1942 and wounded after shooting down a P-40 and a B-25 bomber together with Tenente Francesco De Seta and Tenente Paolo Berti. During this mission Capitano Lucchini was flying MC.202 MM7919 ‘84-12’.
Berti ended the war with 2 shared biplane victories and a total of 2.
After the war, Berti got an engineering degree, and later on he became the CEO of Impregilo, a major Italian Company for building constructions, with bases spread all over the world
|Kill no.||Date||Time||Number||Type||Result||Plane type||Serial no.||Locality||Unit|
|11/09/40||17:45-||1/19||Blenheim (a)||Shared destroyed||Fiat CR.42||Sidi Omar - Bardia area||84a Squadriglia|
|14/09/40||11:00-||1/15||Blenheim (b)||Shared destroyed||Fiat CR.42||Sollum area||84a Squadriglia|
|08/06/42||14:20-15:10||1/3||P-40 (c)||Shared destroyed||MC.202||MM7937||Bir Hacheim||84a Squadriglia|
|04/07/42||09:30-10:30||1/12||P-40 (d)||Shared destroyed||MC.202||El Alamein area||84a Squadriglia|
|04/07/42||09:30-10:30||1||Enemy fighter (d)||Damaged||MC.202||El Alamein area||84a Squadriglia|
|04/07/42||16:00-17:30||1/2||P-40 (e)||Shared destroyed||MC.202||MM7803/84-1||El Alamein area||84a Squadriglia|
|09/07/42||12:30-14:00||1/4||P-40 (f)||Shared destroyed||MC.202||MM7803/84-1||El Alamein||84a Squadriglia|
|1||16/07/42||1||P-40||Destroyed||MC.202||Deir el Qattara area||84a Squadriglia|
|16/07/42||1/4||P-40||Shared destroyed||MC.202||Deir el Qattara area||84a Squadriglia|
|2||05/08/42||09:40-11:20||1||P-40 (g)||Destroyed||MC.202||MM7803/84-1||El Hammam - El Amirya||84a Squadriglia|
|24/10/42||1/3||P-40||Shared destroyed||MC.202||W El Alamein||84a Squadriglia|
|24/10/42||1/3||B-25||Shared destroyed||MC.202||W El Alamein||84a Squadriglia|
Biplane victories: 2 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 3 and 9 shared destroyed, 1 damaged.
(a) This claim can’t be verified with RAF sources.
(b) This clam can’t be verified with RAF records.
(c) Probably claimed in combat with Tomahawks from 4 and 5 SAAF Squadrons, which claimed 2 damaged while getting 1 P-40 damaged. The 10o Gruppo claimed 3 P-40s and 1 probable without losses.
(d) Claimed in combat with at least Hurricanes from 33 Squadron, which claimed 1 and 2 probable MC.202s while losing 1 Hurricane (pilot KiA) and getting 3 more damaged. 10o Gruppo claimed 4 fighters, 2 probables and at least 4 damaged without losses.
(e) Not verified with Allied records.
(f) This claim can’t be verified with Allied records.
(g) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 1 SAAF and 80 Squadrons and Kittyhawks from 260 Squadron, which lost 2 Hurricanes and got 1 more Hurricane and 1 Kittyhawk damaged while claiming 1 enemy fighter destroyed, 1 probably and 4 damaged. 10o Gruppo and 4./JG 27 claimed 5 P-40s and 1 probably without losses.
A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945: Volume Two – Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello with Russell Guest, Frank Olynyk & Winfried Bock, 2012 Grub Street, London, ISBN-13: 9781909166127
Desert Prelude: Early clashes June-November 1940 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2010 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-89450-52-4
Diario Storico 84a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Diario Storico 90a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Diario Storico 91a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
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, Stato Maggiore dell'Aeronautica Ufficio Storico, Roma
Additional info kindly provided by Manuel de Benedetti and Ludovico Slongo.