Biplane fighter aces


Tenente Franco 'Robur' Bordoni-Bisleri

Franco Bordoni-Bisleri at Atene-Tatoi in October 1941.

Franco Bordoni-Bisleri was born in Milan on 10 January 1913. He belonged to a family of industrials producing an, at the time, very famous Italian digestive liquor ("Ferro-China Bisleri"). The badge on the bottles was a lion and the wording "Robur" ("Strength" in Latin) so this was his nickname painted on most of his aircraft.

By the time he had completed his studies at the San Carlo College (one of the most exclusive private schools in the city), he had already shown himself to be a talented racing car driver.

He was rejected at his first attempt to enrol in the Regia Aeronautica owing to nose stenosys, so he obtained the licence for civil pilot in 1936 at his own expense and entered later via the course for reserve officers were he obtained his military license in 1937.

In 1937 he was assigned to the Bombardment School, then at the mixed "Aegean" Stormo, and at last at the 3o Stormo C.T. in 1938 as a Sottotenente. He was put on leave the same year.

He was recalled back in service on June 1940, when Italy entered the Second World War and assigned to Albenga Air Base and the 95a Squadriglia, 18o Gruppo, 3o Stormo C.T.

With the unit he fought on the Western front in the attack on France.

In August he ferried a CR.42 over the Mediterranean to Libya before his unit, 18o Gruppo, was re-assigned to the 56o Stormo in September 1940 and transferred to Belgium to be a part of the Corpo Aereo Italiano (C.A.I.). Here he flew a few sorties over the Channel front with Fiat CR.42s but was not involved in combat.

After the operations over the Channel he was transferred together with his unit to North Africa and Libya, arriving at Tripoli by air on 29 January 1941.

On 10 March 1941, Sottotenente Bordoni-Bisleri of the 95a Squadriglia scrambled together with his wingman Maresciallo Felice Longhi from Uadi Tamet airfield. After a chase of more than 100 km during which they climbed to 7000 metres Bordoni-Bisleri claimed a Blenheim shot down 100 kilometres east of Benghazi with Longhi delivering the ‘coup de grace’.
This claim can’t be verified with Commonwealth records.
Some sources claims that this claim was credited to Bordoni-Bisleri (as his first victory) while others claims that it was shared with Longhi while further sources claims that the victory was credited to Longhi.

On 7 April he was at Benghasi and inspected Derna on 10 April. On 11 April 83a and 95a Squadriglias transferred to Derna to replace 85a Squadriglia.

At 07:30 on 14 April, Tobruk harbour was attacked by an estimated 70 aircraft. These included Ju 87s of III./StG 1 and II./StG 2 plus seven from 96o Gruppo Autonomo BaT. These bombers were escorted by eight G.50bis of 155o Gruppo CT, four CR.42s of 18o Gruppo and five Bf 110s of III./ZG 26.
73 Squadron ha only eight serviceable Hurricanes, two of which were just on their way back from a patrol during which Flying Officer George Goodman (Hurricane I V7673/TP-P) and Flight Sergeant Herbert Garth Webster (RAF No. 519739) (V7553/TP-E) had claimed a lone Hs 126 (not verified with Luftwaffe records). They had just landed when Flight Sergeant Webster was ordered off again with Sergeant Ronald Ellis (V7299/TP-D) and two of the unit’s French pilots from ‘C’ Flight (Sous Lieutenants Albert Littolf (V7856) and James Denis (W9198)) to assist Flight Lieutenant James Duncan ‘Smudger’ Smith (P2652), who had taken off alone five minutes earlier to investigate reports of bombing at the harbour.
A number of Ju 87s were encountered over the harbour. Sergeant Ellis promptly shot down two but Flight Sergeant Webster, who had just latched onto the tail of another Stuka was attacked by two G.50bis flown by Tenente Carlo Cugnasca (MM6362) and Maresciallo Angelo Marinelli (MM6370) of the 351a Squadriglia. The blazing Hurricane crashed at 07:43 within the perimeter and taking Webster to his death. It seems probable that CR.42s also engaged the Hurricanes at this stage, Sottotenente Bordoni-Bisleri and Maresciallo Guido Fibbia of 95a Squadriglia each claiming one destroyed.
Observers on the ground then saw a Hurricane which was obviously Flight Lieutenant Smith, shoot down two Italian fighters and inflicting damage on a third before being shot down and killed by the 351a Squadriglia CO, Capitano Angelo Fanello, who had lost sight of Cugnasca’s and Marinelli’s G.50s after seeing them shooting down Webster’s Hurricane. These were clearly Smith’s victims, and both were killed. The 351a Squadriglia diary recorded:

“Capitano Fanello came back over the place of the combat and he saw, near the Hurricane in flames, two G.50s; one had flames near the engine and the other one, which perhaps had tried to land without undercarriage, was hidden by a cloud of sand.”
These were the aircraft of Tenente Cugnasca (who had flown in the C.A.I during the Battle of Britain) and Maresciallo Marinelli, who were posted missing.
While these events had been unfolding, the two French pilots had each claimed a Ju 87 shot down, Albert Littolf also claiming two more as probables. Out of ammunition, Sergeant Ellis had landed and leapt into another Hurricane which was armed and ready, taking off to re-join the battle and claim his third Ju 87 of the day. Apparently Elli’s former Hurricane was rapidly rearmed, allowing Flying Officer Richard Martin to take of in it; he met a Bf 110 which he claimed to have damaged.
RAF claimed 7 destroyed (5 Ju 87s and 2 G.50bis), 2 probables (Ju 87s) and 1 damaged (G.50bis) in this combat while the Axis lost 4 Ju 87s (during the day) and 2 G.50bis. Regia Aeronautica claimed 4 destroyed while RAF lost 2.

On the morning on 17 April, Sottotenente Bordoni-Bisleri scrambled alone after an alarm. He intercepted a Blenheim, which had been attacking Derna airfield, and shot it down. The British aircraft crash-landed 40 km east of Derna.
This attack had been performed by Blenheims from 45 and 55 Squadrons escorted by Hurricanes from 3 RAAF and 274 Squadron, which flew offensive patrols to protect the bombers. 55 Squadron lost Blenheim IV V5574 off Derna at 10:00. Flying Officer Blackmore and his crew was MIA.

In May he was promoted to Tenente and awarded his first Medaglia d'argento al valor militare and the German Iron Cross. At this time his unit was stationed in Benghasi.

On 2 June, Sottotenente Bordoni-Bisleri claimed a Blenheim over the port of Benghazi and a second Blenheim 20 km off the coast. His CR.42 was damaged by defensive fire during these interceptions and his windscreen was shattered and he suffered damage to the upper wing.
It seems that he actually had managed to bring down a long-range reconnaissance Blenheim IV L9318 of 203 Squadron where the crew became MIA.
For these claims he was awarded his second Medaglia d'argento al valor militare.

Also in June he took part in night interceptions and at one time he intercepted a Wellington, which he fired on, although without visible result.

Of this period Bordoni-Bisleri later wrote:

’The CR.42 was a good aircraft, easy to fly, strong and manoeuvrable, but it lacked sufficient speed and armament. It was possible to fight Gladiators, Blenheims and Wellingtons in this aircraft, but against other aircraft it was outclassed. The fighter pilots I flew against were generally very skilful, and the bomber crews were also good. Our allies, the German fighter pilots, were very brave and had a wonderful aircraft which they knew how to employ the right way, particularly making the best use of its good armament.’
On the evening of 28 July 1941 he and one other CR.42 took part in an attack on a British submarine south of Benghasi together with five Ju 87s.
It is possible that the submarine was the HMS Union, which were claimed to have been sunk.

On a night interception on the night of 3/4 August he had a near collision with a Wellington over Benghazi.

In August 1941 18o Gruppo returned to Italy and Bordoni-Bisleri was back there on 10 August.
In Italy they trained on Fiat G.50s, Macchi MC.200s and MC.202s before the unit was re-equipped with Macchi MC.200s.
With these aircraft they took part in the defence of Greece during the winter of 1941-42 before going back to Libya in May 1942.
Bordoni-Bisleri however, did not return to North Africa until July 1942.
On 14 July he flew from Torino to Caselle and then cross-country between 17-21 July (Rome-Ciampino, Naples-Capodichino, Gerbini (Sicily), Pantelleria, Castelbenito (Libya), Tamet, Benghasi and Derna.
On 23 July he arrived at Abu-Haggag (Egypt).

In the beginning of October 1942 the 3o Stormo started to receive their first MC.202s as replacements for lost MC.200s.

He chased a Blenheim on 8 October, climbing to 6700 meters and firing on it but lost it in clouds.

On 20 October he claimed a twin-engined bomber over Fuka.
During the day a Baltimore was lost over El Daba and a Maryland from 203 Squadron was also lost and it is possible that Bordoni-Bisleri’s claim matches these losses.

At around 09:00 in the morning on 26 October, seven MC.202s of the 9o and 10o Gruppi (Tenente Giulio Reiner (leader), Tenente Vittorio Squarcia (73a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Giorgio Bertolaso (91a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Alessandro Bladelli, Sergente Ferruccio Terrabujo (91a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Vittorino Daffara (97a Squadriglia) and Sergente Maggiore Amleto Monterumici (90a Squadriglia)) took off to intercept a reportedly eighteen Bostons, escorted by thirty P-40s and ten Spitfires, heading to bomb Fuka. A few minutes earlier, at 08:50, twelve MC.202s of the 23o Gruppo, 3o Stormo, (four from the 70a Squadriglia, three of the 74a Squadriglia and five of the 75a Squadriglia) led by Capitano Mario Pinna (CO of the 75a Squadriglia) had taken off from Abu Aggag for a patrol mission (one of the aircraft was flown by Sottotenente Bordoni-Bisleri of the 83a Squadriglia, 18o Gruppo).
Both Italian formations spotted the enemy bombers at the same time and the attack of the 4o Stormo and the 23o Gruppo made the bombers aiming inaccurate, so most of the bombs fell out of the target. Daffara claimed the left wingman of the head formation of Bostons, and damaged two more. Reiner strafed the bomber leader, which began to slip out of formation sideways. He then climbed and found a Spitfire in front of him, fired and hitting it. The Spitfire exploded when hitting the ground 20 kilometres south-east Fuka. Another Spitfire was claimed as a probable by Bertolaso, who also damaged two Bostons. Squarcia, after having damaged several Bostons and a P-40, pursued another Curtiss together with pilots of the 23o Gruppo, and forced it to make a wheels-up landing south of El Daba (the pilot, Sergeant Emy Meredith, was subsequently rescued by the same Squarcia together with Maggiore Simeone Marsan in the Stormo's Fiesler Storch). Bladelli damaged four Bostons and a P-40, but was hit and had to made an emergency landing at Fuka. Another P-40, shared by many, was seen to explode when hitting the ground. Monterumici, after having fired at the bombers, was hit by three rounds from a P-40; one stopped against the head armour, one hit the armoured windshield and one destroyed the instrument panel. Monterumici recalled:

"A sharp overturn when my armoured windshield explode, whose splinters injured my face. Meanwhile, the canopy exploded too and I, while slowing down a bit to take breath, was attacked by five or six P-46 [Note: in the reports of the time, "P-46" probably meant the P-40F], that were firing at me from everywhere. Pieces of the rudder and of the right wing flew off, many bullets hit the fuselage. To escape, I decent to the ground until my propeller touched the ground. Then I shut off the engine, but the aircraft at 700 km per hour seemed to never end to skim over the desert; I'll never forget that endless run [...]"
Monterumici was rescued same day around 18:00 by a companion that was patrolling on a motorcycle, after being missed by an Italian Storch (probably that one of Squarcia).
From the 23o Gruppo formation Bordoni-Bisleri claimed one of the fighters, which crash-landed about 15 km south-east of Fuka and Pinna claimed one probable Boston and a damaged fighter while Sergente Antonio Franciosi claimed a probable Kittyhawk and two damaged Bostons. Sergente Maurizio Mandolesi damaged two fighters and two bombers and all of the Gruppo's pilots damaged twelve aircraft. Sergente Maggiore Celso Zemella jumped and parachuted in the El Quteifiya area due to an engine failure. According to some sources Bordoni-Bisleri’s victim was Sergeant J. G. Meredith of 344 Squadron (i.e. the same pilot as was claimed by Squarcia).
It is possible that the Allied fighters were those of 2 Squadron SAAF, whose Flight Lieutenant Pearson claimed a "Bf 109", Flying Officer Burlus claimed a MC.202, Pilot Officer Blignault claimed a probable "Bf 109", Pilot Officer Allen-White and Pilot Officer Lowens damaged respectively a "Bf 109" and a MC.202. It is also possible that 260 Squadron RAF encountered the Italian fighters of the 23o Gruppo and Pilot Officer Aitchison and Meredith claimed a shared MC.202.
Meredith was taken to Fuka but the same evening the 4o Stormo was obliged to hand him over to the Germans by an order coming directly from the HQ.
The Luftwaffe claimed only two planes in these combats (one Kittyhawk each by Unteroffizier Erich Krainik of III/JG 27 and Leutnant Jürgen Harder of III/JG 53).
The Desert Air Force reported a general attack in the Fuka and Daba areas conducted by twenty-four Kittyhawks of 260 Squadron and 2 SAAF covering twelve Bostons and six Baltimores bound for Fuka while twelve Kittyhawks of 112 Squadron escorted bombers. Ten Hurricanes of 274 Squadron covered by others of 127 Squadron, six Kittyhawks of 450 Squadron and seventeen Spitfires of 92 and 601 Squadron were also up, the Spitfire doing a “delousing” sweep. These large formations reported widespread combat with enemy fighters and while no bombers were reported lost five fighters failed to return, one Hurricane of 274 Squadron (Flying Officer Graves MIA), two Kittyhawks of 112 Squadron (Pilot Officer Wright wounded and 21-year-old Flying Officer Keith Ronald Gardener (RAF No. 103554) KIA), and two Kittyhawks of 260 Squadron (Flying Officer Meredith POW and 22-year-old Pilot Officer Charles Edwin Ody (RAF No. 135396) KIA). The RAF claimed eight Bf 109s (in fact only a Messerschmitt and one Macchis were lost).

A P-40 was claimed on 30 October over El Kattara in the El Alamein area when he was returning from a reconnaissance flight.

The next day he took part in an escort for Ju 87s. South-west of El Alamein they were intercepted and he fired on three P-40s but didn’t submit any claims.

Around this time he was also promoted to Tenente.

On the morning on 1 November 1942 he and his wingman Tenente Caetani encountered 15 P-40s over the road Sidi Barrani - Marsa Matruk. Bordoni-Bisleri claimed two P-40s and Caetani claimed a third.
For this achievement both Bordoni-Bisleri and Caetani were awarded the Medaglia d'argento al valor militare (Bordoni-Bisleri’s third).

At 06.00 on 4 November two MC.202s flown by Capitano Mario Pinna of 74a Squadriglia and Sergente Maggiore Francesco Cuscuna of 75a Squadriglia were scrambled. A little later a third MC.202 took off, flown by Tenente Bordoni-Bisleri of 18o Gruppo.
They intercepted three P-40 Kittyhawks and Bordoni-Bisleri shot down one of them near their airfield at Abu Smeit. This P-40 had moments before shot down
Pinna, who was forced to leave his aircraft with parachute badly wounded in his face and on his hands.
Pinna was picked up by soldiers from the Folgore Division and later collected by a Fiesler Storch. A Ca.133 Sanitario then picked him up and transported him to Marsa Matruk for treatment and recovery.
Cuscuna returned from this combat with a damaged aircraft.

After this the 3o was transferred from Abu Smeit to Bir el Astas and then to Bu Amud.

On 7 November 1942 Tenente Bordoni-Bisleri and Maresciallo Felice Longhi took off and flew towards Sidi Barrani where they was to re-fuel their aircraft for a reconnaissance mission over Fuka. They, however, meet Allied Kittyhawks and after a short dogfight they claimed one each before being forced to return. Longhi also claimed additional hits on three more enemy aircraft in this dogfight.
In this combat Bordoni-Bisleri lost the windscreen of his aircraft after an initial steep dive.
The Italian claims were confirmed by Italian ground troops. Some sources claim that these victories were claimed in combat with 250 Squadron, who lost two aircraft during the day. Captain Calver and Pilot Officer Norman Richard Chap (RCAF)(who was killed) were shot down during the day. Other sources claim that these losses were in combat against Bf 109s.

He now had 12 claims, which made him the top scoring Italian fighter pilot throughout the Desert campaign.

On 19 November 1942 Bordoni suffered a car accident near Tamet and was wounded. He was sent back to Italy by a Hospital ship from Tripoli to Naples and in May 1943, after the convalescence, he returned to 3o Stormo C.T.

On 11 June 1943 he flew again for the first time after his convalescence when he took off in a Macchi MC.200.
On 14 June he flew a MC.205.

On 18 July he flew a Bf 109 from Cerveteri.

Between 19 to 21 July he made several scrambles but didn’t make any enemy contact.

On 30 July 1943 a formation of B-17s escorted by P-38s were intercepted over Rome. In the ensuing combat the Italian pilots claimed four B-17s. One was claimed by Tenente Marinoni, one by Tenente Melis and one by Tenente Bordoni-Bisleri (claim number 13)(some sources claims that this claim was shared with Sergente Mantelli) over Pratica di Mare while flying a C.205 and firing 800 rounds 12.7 mm ammunition. The fourth B-17 was claimed as a shared between Sergente Maggiore Francesco Cuscuna and Sergente Buogo. Two P-38 Lightnings were also claimed by Maresciallo Giannelli and Sergente Mantelli, which claimed one each. Sergente Buogo was however shot down and forced to leave his aircraft in parachute.

In two actions between 10.25 and 12.45 on 11 August he claimed two B-17s. The first fell in the sea near Civitavecchia and the second was shot down from 8500 meters and fell north-east of Bracciano lake.

He was again in combat with enemy formations on 12, 13, 15 and 19 August but without result. The unit was at this time without the MC.205s.

In the second engagement of the day on 19 August he claimed a B-26 off the coast at Ostia, in the Lazio region, while flying one of the older MC.202s.

On 20 August he was promoted to commander of the 83a Squadriglia.

In the afternoon on 21 August he claimed a B-17 while flying a MC.202. The enemy aircraft crashed near the railway station at Pomigliano d' Arco, Naples, and three parachutes were observed.
He landed back at base after having spent 630 rounds of 12.7mm ammunition.

On 29 August he again took in interceptions and fired on several aircraft without result. It is however possible that he shared some of the claims that were claimed by 3o Stormo during the day when they claimed one four-engined and three two-engined bombers.

On 30 August 1943 he claimed a B-17 near Viterbo while flying a MC.205. He landed after having spent 430 round of 20mm and 400 rounds of 12.7mm ammunition.
For this claim he was proposed his fourth Medaglia d'argento al valor militare but he was never awarded it.

He claimed his 19th and last victory on 5 September when he in the afternoon claimed a B-17 off the coast at Civitavecchia after having spent 330 round of 20mm and 415 rounds of 12.7mm ammunition.

Bordoni-Bisleri ended the war with 5 biplane victories and a total of 19 destroyed and 4 probables and possibly 18 shared. These had been claimed on 199 missions.
He had been awarded the Medaglia d'argento al valor militare (Silver medal for military valour) three times and the German Iron Cross 2nd Class.
Please note that all Bordoni-Bisleri's claims were and are unofficial, as up to date there isn't any official confirmed listing of Italian aces.

After the war, Bordoni became president of his family industry and he obtained several awards for his sports achievements (in car races he became Italian champion in 1953 for the "sport International" category).

He became President of the Milano-Bresso Aeroclub and died in a flight accident on 15 September 1975, while coming back to Milan from Rome aboard of his SIAI Marchetti SF.260 I-LALA (Con. No. 2-30) tourism plane. He was caught by a thunderstorm and crashed into Mount Anchetta (part of the Apennine Mountains) near Chiavari, together with his 10-year-old son, Francesco, and a friend, Giovanni Allegri.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 10/03/41   1 Blenheim (a) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   100 km E Benghasi 95a Squadriglia
2 14/04/41 07:25- 1 Hurricane (b) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Tobruk 95a Squadriglia
3 17/04/41 10:00 1 Blenheim (c) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   40 km E Derna 95a Squadriglia
4 02/06/41   1 Blenheim (d) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Benghazi harbour 95a Squadriglia
5 02/06/41   1 Blenheim (d) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   off Benghazi harbour 95a Squadriglia
6 20/10/42   1 Twin-engined bomber Destroyed Macchi C.202   Fuka 83a Squadriglia
7 26/10/42 09:00- 1 P-40 Destroyed Macchi C.202   15 km SE Fuka 83a Squadriglia
8 30/10/42   1 P-40 Destroyed Macchi C.202   El Kattara 83a Squadriglia
9 01/11/42   1 P-40 Destroyed Macchi C.202   Sidi Barrani - Marsa Matruk 83a Squadriglia
10 01/11/42   1 P-40 Destroyed Macchi C.202   Sidi Barrani - Marsa Matruk 83a Squadriglia
11 04/11/42   1 P-40 Destroyed Macchi C.202   Abu Smeit area 83a Squadriglia
12 07/11/42   1 P-40 Destroyed Macchi C.202   Bu Amud - Sidi Barrani 83a Squadriglia
13 30/07/43   1 B-17 Destroyed Macchi C.205   Pratica di Mare 83a Squadriglia
14 11/08/43   1 B-17 Destroyed Macchi C.205   near Civitavecchia 83a Squadriglia
15 11/08/43   1 B-17 Destroyed Macchi C.205   NE Bracciano lake 83a Squadriglia
16 19/08/43   1 B-26 Destroyed Macchi C.202   off Ostia 83a Squadriglia
17 21/08/43   1 B-17 Destroyed Macchi C.202   Pomigliano d' Arco 83a Squadriglia
18 30/08/43   1 B-17 Destroyed Macchi C.205   Viterbo 83a Squadriglia
19 05/09/43   1 B-17 Destroyed Macchi C.205   off Civitavecchia 83a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 5 destroyed.
TOTAL: 19 destroyed, 4 probables and possibly 18 shared.
(a) This claim is most probably a shared between Bordoni-Bisleri and
Felice Longhi who both in different sources are credited with this victory. The claim can’t be verified with Commonwealth records.
(b) Claimed in combat with 73 Squadron, which claimed 2 G.50s and 1 damaged while losing 2 Hurricanes. The 18o (CR.42) and 155o (G.50bis) Gruppi claimed 4 Hurricanes while losing 2 G.50bis.
(c) Blenheim IV V5574 of 55 Squadron shot down; Flying Officer Blackmore and his crew MIA.
(d) Blenheim IV L9318 of 203 Squadron and crew MIA.

3o Stormo, storia fotografica - Dai biplani agli aviogetti - C. Lucchini and E. Leproni, 1990 Gino Rossato Editore kindly provided by Jean Michel Cala with translations kindly provided by Birgitta Hallberg-Lombardi
Ace's aircraft, Two Aces of 18 Gruppo - Christopher Shores, 1972 Aero Album Volume 5 Number 1 Spring 1972 kindly provided by Santiago Flores
A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945: Volume One – Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello with Russell Guest, 2012 Grub Street, London, ISBN 978-1908117076
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
Fighters over the Desert - Christopher Shores and Hans Ring, 1969 Neville Spearman Limited, London
Hurricanes over Tobruk - Brian Cull with Don Minterne, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-11-X
In cielo e in terra - Franco Pagliano, Longanesi & Co., Milano, 1969 kindly provided by Alfredo Logoluso
Italian Aces of World War 2 - Giovanni Massimello and Giorgio Apostolo, 2000 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 1-84176-078-1
SF.260 Web page - Hendrik van der Veen
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Additional Information kindly provided by Ferdinando D'Amico and Stefano Lazzaro.

Last modified 08 June 2015