Biplane fighter aces

Italy

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.

In the morning on 4 July, Capitano Franco Lucchini led six MC.202s of the 84a Squadriglia and six of the 90a Squadriglia over El Alamein. At 4500 m they met twenty Bostons escorted by many P-40 and Spitfires; at a lower level flew a formation of Hurribombers. Led by Lucchini, the Italians attacked both formations with success. Lucchini claimed a P-40, Sergente Maggiore Angelo Savini a Boston, Maresciallo Pietro Del Turco a Hurricane, Sottotenente Luigi Giannella a Spitfire, Sergente Maggiore Mario Veronesi another Spitfire and a probable Boston, while a P-40 was shared by all in the Gruppo. In addition Capitano Ranieri Piccolomini and Sottotenente Virgilio Vanzan claimed a fighter probable each while Lucchini, Berti and Sergente Livio Barbera damaged many others. Sottotenente Sforza Libera (90a Squadriglia) in his first combat mission, damaged a Spitfire.

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 Renalto 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.

After an alarm from the Freya radar in the morning on 5 August, Capitano Franco Lucchini (CO of the 84a Squadriglia) scrambled with twelve MC.202s of the 84a and 90a Squadriglie 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. Lucchini and Sottotenente Berti (84a Squadriglia) claimed a P-40 each; a third was claimed as shared by all the pilots. Capitano Ranieri Piccolomini, Sergente Maggiore Natale Molteni (90a Squadriglia) and a pilot of the 84a Squadriglia claimed a probable P-40 each.

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

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
  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
  1942                
  04/07/42 morning 1/12 P-40 (c) Shared destroyed MC.202   El Alamein area 84a Squadriglia
  04/07/42 morning 1 Enemy fighter (d) Damaged MC.202   El Alamein area 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 morning 1 P-40 Destroyed MC.202   El Hammam - El Amirya 84a Squadriglia
  05/08/42 morning 1/12 P-40 Shared destroyed MC.202   El Hammam - El Amirya area 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: 2 and 7 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) Claimed as a shared by the whole 10o Gruppo.
(d) Several were claimed damaged.

Sources:
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.




Last modified 17 December 2013