Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Capitano Guido Bobba

30 December 1914 – 26 December 1940

Guido Bobba was born in Cigliano on 30 December 1914.

Bobba took part in the Spanish Civil War.

On 14 March 1938, he claimed a 'Curtiss'.

In December 1938, he was CO of the 74 Squadriglia, 23o Gruppo Caccia in Turin.

In February 1939 the 3o Stormo was under the command of Colonello Fortunato Rolando and equipped with Fiat CR.32s (complemented with a Ca.133 to each squadriglia for transports). The Stormo consisted of two Gruppi; 23o and 18o.
23o Gruppo was commanded by Maggiore Tito Falconi and based at Mirafori. The squadriglia commanders were Capitano Ottorino Fargnoli (70a Squadriglia), Capitano Bobba (74a Squadriglia) and Capitano Luigi Filippi (75a Squadriglia).
18o Gruppo was commanded by Maggiore Ferruccio Vosilla and based at Mondovì. The squadriglia commanders were Capitano Edoardo Molinari (83a Squadriglia), Capitano Giulio Anelli (85a Squadriglia) and Capitano Gino Lodi (95a Squadriglia).
In October 1939 the 23o Gruppo started to re-equip with Fiat CR.42s and from November the 18o Gruppo did the same.

When the war started on 10 June 1940 3o Stormo was sent to the French border to take part in the attacks on southern France.

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 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 Mario 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 Eudo Parmiggiani 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 Parmiggiani (MM4449) was shot down and parachuted to captivity, and Maresciallo Colombo (MM4366) was 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 Eudo Parmiggiani 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.

On 13 July 1940 eleven CR.42 of 23o Gruppo led by the unit commander Maggiore Tito Falconi made a reconnaissance sortie over Malta's principal ports. During the sortie the unit claimed two Hurricanes shot down. One was claimed by Capitano Guido Bobba and the other was claimed by Capitano Ottorino Fargnoli and Capitano Antonio Chiodi with Sergente Maggiore Celso Zemella and Sergente Maggiore Renzo Bocconi. Their opponents at this occasion had in fact been a single Hurricane and a Gladiator flown by Flight Lieutenant George Burges who had been on readiness when the order to scramble came at around 0200. The Hurricane (P2653), flown by Pilot Officer Dick Sugden of the Hal Far Fighter Flight, was only damaged during the engagement.

Newly arrived reinforcement of Hurricanes allowed a strong reception of a raid during the morning on 23 November 1940. Ten 34o Stormo S.79s escorted by eighteen CR.42s of 23o Gruppo raided Takali and eight Hurricanes scrambled to intercept the raid as it came over Fifla at 16,000 feet. George Burges in Hurricane V7548 attacked five of the bombers in company with a couple of fighters. He thought he hit one "pretty hard", and saw it going down, although he did not see it crash. He then shot pieces of another. Sergeant Robertson in V7474 (which had arrived on the island on the 17th November) also tried to attack the bombers, but was attacked himself by six CR.42s. He took evasive action, and fired at four, reporting that his fire tore the fabric from the top wing of one, which went into cloud. He claimed this as a probable, but it was only credited as a damaged. Meanwhile the Italian pilots were after the Hurricanes, Capitano Guido Bobba, Tenente Claudio Solaro and Sergente Pardini each claiming one shot down, while all the pilots of the 75a Squadriglia claimed a fourth between them. Flight Lieutenant H. F. R. Bradbury's aircraft was hit badly and he force-landed at Luqa. All the Italian fighters returned safely to their base.

At sunset on 24 November, six CR.42s of the 23o Gruppo C.T. from Comiso attacked the airfield of Luqa (called Mikabba by the Italians) on Malta. The pilots participating in the attack had been selected among the best of the unit (Maggiore Tito Falconi (Gruppo CO), Tenente Claudio Solaro, Capitano Bobba (CO 74a Squadriglia), Capitano Ottorino Fargnoli (CO 70a Squadriglia), Tenente Ezio Maria Monti and Sottotenente Domenico Tessera). They strafed from very low altitude, claiming one plane in flames for sure and additional damage. Back at base, the Italian War Bulletin credited them of three ground victories. They had in fact managed to burn Wellington “F” of 38 Squadron (the machine of Pilot Officer Timmins) in transit from Marham to Egypt, and according to post war British studies, they had possibly destroyed an additional machine of 148 Squadron. During the return journey, Tenente Monti became disoriented while escaping the attentions of a British night fighter and used all its fuel before reaching Comiso, being obliged to bale out over Stagnone di Marsala.
Pilot Officer Timmins was immediately sent back to England to collect a replacement machine.

The 23o Gruppo appeared over the island again on 26 November 1940, when three CR.42s appeared over Malta on a reconnaissance. They were intercepted by two Hurricanes and Sergeant Dennis Ashton, who had been informed the previous day that he had just become a father, shot down the CR.42 flown by Tenente Giuseppe Beccaria in flames. At once his own aircraft, N2701, was attacked by Capitano Bobba, and fell into the sea south of the island. Ashton did not survive and he was the third RAF pilot killed in combat over Malta. Beccaria's body was recovered from the sea and buried in St. Andrews's Cemetery.

On 28 November, the British ships of Operation MB 9 arrived off Malta and this brought a response from the Regia Aeronautica.
The first recorded mission was a visual reconnaissance carried out by two SM 79s of 34o Stormo in the Sicilian narrows.
Later during the morning, eight CR.42s of 23o Gruppo took off to reconnoitre the harbours of Malta in search of the British ships. Sergente Maggiore Arnaldo Sala of 74a Squadriglia was hit by AA when over the island and he tried to nurse home his damaged fighter, finally falling over open sea, 40 kilometres from Sicily. He and his plane were never found. Italian sources are quite clear in excluding any involvement of enemy fighters in the action but it is however possible that two machines of 261 Squadron were present, directed by the radar against a group of CR.42s that they attacked at 09:30. The reconnaissance however revealed the presence of enemy ships in harbour and consequently offensive missions were planned.
Six Ju 87Rs of the 97o Gruppo B.a’T. (a unit which had recently replaced the 96o Gruppo in Sicily) (four crews from the 238a Squadriglia and two from the 239a Squadriglia, among them Giuseppe Cenni) headed out towards Malta and the ships. The dive-bombers were covered by sixteen CR.42s of the 23o Gruppo under the command of the units Commander Maggiore Tito Falconi.
The Stukas attacked a Royal Navy formation off Malta, reporting that they were intercepted by Hurricanes, which were immediately counterattacked and dispersed by the escort and that while the first “kette” didn’t obtain hits the second probably hit the enemy’s ships. In fact, they had attacked the cruiser HMS Glasgow without success and were all back home without losses at 12:55.
The intercepting “Hurricanes” were in fact a group of six Fulmars from the HMs Illustrious’ squadrons, three planes from 805 Squadron and three from 806 Squadron. The two Fulmar sections attacked but the operational inexperienced 805 Squadron trio were unable to make contact. Even though the leader Sub Lieutenant R. F. Bryant expended some 3200 rounds in four bursts, he found the Fiats far too manoeuvrable to gain any hits. His observer, Lieutenant John Shuttleworth, recalls:

“During the engagement I fired ‘smoke puffs’ from the rear cockpit whenever CR.42s got on our tail…I certainly saw one if not two parachutes floating down.”
In the meantime, the more experienced 806 Squadron’s trio was fighting the CR.42s more successfully. Sub Lieutenant S. G. Orr claimed one CR.42 while Sub Lieutenant G. R. Golden and Sub Lieutenant W. H. Clisby claimed damage to two more. Clisby’s Fulmar (N1935) was hit in the fight, his TAG, Leading Aircraftman H. Phillips being wounded in the leg, hand and face by an explosive bullet, although not seriously hurt.
The CR.42s claimed four Hurricanes shot down, two confirmed and two probables. Six pilots of the 70a Squadriglia claimed the former jointly, while the other was claimed by Sergente Maggiore Raffaele Marzocca of the 74a Squadriglia, the two probables being credited to Capitano Bobba and Tenente Lorenzo Lorenzoni of this unit. The Fiats returned without losses.

On 16 December 1940, the 23o Gruppo (previously part of 3o Stormo but now Autonomo) with 20 Fiat CR.42s (70a, 74a and 75a Squadriglie) and three hack Caproni Ca.133s arrived in Tripoli to help trying steam Operation Compass, which was mauling the Italian forces. The Gruppo had experienced brief (and quite unlucky) action at the beginning of the war against France, and then it had moved to Sicily where they had seen extensive action against Malta.
They were led by their CO, Maggiore Tito Falconi (a famous aerobatic pilot that had held the world record in inverted flight going in a Caproni 113 biplane racer from St. Louis to Chicago in 1933 and a veteran of the Abyssinian Campaign where he had gained some ground victories and of the Spanish Civil War where he had claimed many (mostly shared) aerial victories) in a 70a Squadriglia fighter.
Pilots in the 70a Squadriglia were Tenente Claudio Solaro (acting CO), Tenente Gino Battaggion, Sottotenente Oscar Abello, Sergente Ubaldo Marziali, Sergente Balilla Albani, Sergente Maggiore Celso Zemella and Sergente Cesare Sironi.
Pilots in the 74a Squadriglia were Capitano Bobba (CO), Tenente Mario Pinna, Sottotenente Sante Schiroli, Sergente Maggiore Raffaele Marzocca, Sergente Emilio Stefani, Sergente Giuseppe Sanguettoli and Sergente Manlio Tarantino.
Pilots in the 75a Squadriglia were Tenente Pietro Calistri (CO), Tenente Ezio Maria Monti, Sottotenente Giuseppe De Angelis, Sottotenente Renato Villa, Maresciallo Giovanni Carmello and Maresciallo Carlo Dentis.
The pilots in the Ca.133s were Tenente Marino Commissoli, Sergente Pardino Pardini (70a Squadriglia), Tenente Lorenzo Lorenzoni (74a Squadriglia), Tenente Milano Pausi, Sottotenente Leopoldo Marangoni (brother in law of Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli) and Sergente Leo Mannucci (75a Squadriglia)).
The Gruppo landed at Tripoli-Castel Benito at 17:15. Celso Zemella’s fighter was left behind at Pantelleria after an engine breakdown.

On 19 December, the 23o Gruppo moved to Z1 landing ground at Ain el Gazala.

At 09:15 on 26 December, eight Gladiators from 3 RAAF Squadron took off from the LG south-west of Sollum to escort a Lysander doing artillery reconnaissance over Bardia. The Lysander failed to appear. At approximately 14:05 (obviously during a third patrol) two flights of five SM 79s escorted by a number of CR.42s were observed a few miles north-east of Sollum Bay. A separate formation of 18 CR.42s was following the bomber formation and escort 2,000 feet higher as top cover. Two Gladiators attacked the bomber formation whilst the remainder climbed to meet the higher formation. The attack on the bombers was broken off when the higher formation attacked the Gladiators. In the ensuing combat, Flight Lieutenant Gordon Steege and Flying Officer Wilfred Arthur each claimed a destroyed (seen to fall into the sea) and a damaged CR.42. Flying Officer Peter Turnbull, Flying Officer John Perrin and Flying Officer Alan Rawlinson each claimed one probable.
The CR.42s were 14 fighters from the newly arrived 23o Gruppo led by the CO, Maggiore Tito Falconi and 22 CR.42s from the 10o Gruppo. The CR.42s from the 23o Gruppo included three from the 70a Squadriglia (Tenente Claudio Solaro, Sergente Pardino Pardini and Tenente Gino Battaggion), five from the 74a Squadriglia (Capitano Bobba, Tenente Lorenzo Lorenzoni, Sottotenente Sante Schiroli, Sergente Maggiore Raffaele Marzocca (forced to return early due to a sudden illness) and Sergente Manlio Tarantino) and five from the 75a Squadriglia (Tenente Pietro Calistri, Tenente Ezio Monti, Sottotenente Renato Villa, Sottotenente Leopoldo Marangoni and Maresciallo Carlo Dentis). The fighters from the the 10o Gruppo included seven from the 91a Squadriglia (Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli, Capitano Vincenzo Vanni, Capitano Mario Pluda, Sottotenente Andrea Dalla Pasqua, Sottotenente Ruggero Caporali, Sergente Maggiore Lorenzo Migliorato and Sergente Elio Miotto), nine from the 84a Squadriglia (Capitano Luigi Monti, Tenente Antonio Angeloni, Sottotenente Luigi Prati, Sottotenente Bruno Devoto, Sergente Domenico Santonocito, Sergente Corrado Patrizi, Sergente Piero Buttazzi, Sergente Luciano Perdoni and Sergente Mario Veronesi) and six from the 90a Squadriglia (Tenente Giovanni Guiducci, Tenente Franco Lucchini, Sottotenente Alessandro Rusconi, Sottotenente Neri De Benedetti, Sergente Luigi Contarini and Sergente Giovanni Battista Ceoletta), which had taken off at 13:00.
They were escorting ten SM 79s from the 41o Stormo under Tenente Colonnello Draghelli and five SM 79s 216a Squadriglia, 53o Gruppo, 34o Stormo, led by Tenente Stringa. The SM 79s had taken off from M2 at 12:25 and attacked Sollum harbour’s jetty (reportedly hit) and two destroyers inside Sollum Bay (with poor results because of the heavy AA fire). AA from the ships hit four bombers from the 34o Stormo; one of them, piloted by Sottotenente Bellini had to force land close to Ain El Gazala with the central engine out of action. Returning pilots reported an attempt to intercept by some Gladiators but the escort repulsed the British fighters. They landed without further problems at 15:15.
Over the target, immediately after the bombing, the Italian fighters reported the interception of “enemy aircraft” alternatively “many Glosters” or “Hurricanes and Glosters”. The 70a Squadrigli pilots claimed a shared Hurricane, this was possibly an aircraft from 33 Squadron. This unit’s ORB reported that during the day’s patrols many SM 79s and CR.42s were intercepted with one CR.42 believed damaged. Two Gladiators confirmed and two probables were shared between the whole 10o Gruppo. Another Gladiator was assigned to the 23o Gruppo (in the documents of 75a Squadriglia but this is not confirmed by the other two Squadriglie). Many Glosters were claimed damaged by Tenente Lorenzoni, Sottotenente Schiroli, Sergente Tarantino, Sottotenente Marangoni, Tenente Calistri, Tenente Monti and Sottotenente Villa. The CR.42s were back between 14:30 and 15:05.
No Gladiators were lost even if three of them were damaged (all repairable within the unit). The Australians had done a very good job indeed, facing a formation four times more numerous (even if it seem improbable that all the Italian fighters were able to join the combat). From the Italian reports it seems that only the front sections of the escort (including the 74a, 75a and the 84a Squadriglie) were engaged in a sharp dogfight with the Gladiators. The Australians were able to shot down the CO of the 74a Squadriglia, Capitano Bobba, who was killed when his fighter fell in flames into the sea and damaged Tenente Lorenzoni’s fighter, who landed at T2 (and came back to Z1 the day after). Three more CR.42s were damaged when Tenente Angeloni was forced to land at T5 before reaching Z1, Sergente Veronesi’s fighter was damaged and Sottotenente Prati was forced to make an emergency landing short of T2 (his fighter was reportedly undamaged and only suffering for a slight engine breakdown). Maggiore Falconi’s fighter was also heavily damaged but managed to return. The morning after Angeloni was able to return to Z1 with his aircraft.
Capitano Bobba replaced as CO of the 74a Squadriglia by Tenente Mario Pinna.
Maggiore Tito Falconi wrote a proposal for a posthumous Medaglia d'oro al valor militare for Capitano Bobba. In this proposal, Bobba was credited with one individual Gladiator and three more damaged in his last combat (thus making Bobba an 'ace').However, Bobba only gained a third posthumous Medaglia d'argento al valor militare.

At the time of his death, Bobba was credited with 5 biplane victories.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1938                
1 14/03/38   1 'Curtis' Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Spain  
  1940                
  13/07/40 13:00- 1 Enemy aircraft Destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Le Cannet Des Maures airfield 74a Squadriglia
  13/07/40 13:00- 1 Enemy aircraft Destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Le Cannet Des Maures airfield 74a Squadriglia
  13/07/40 13:00- 1 Enemy aircraft Destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Le Cannet Des Maures airfield 74a Squadriglia
2 13/07/40   1 Hurricane (a) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Malta 74a Squadriglia
3 23/11/40   1 Hurricane (b) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Fifla 74a Squadriglia
  24/11/40 sunset 1/6 Enemy aircraft (c) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Luqa 74a Squadriglia
  24/11/40 sunset 1/6 Enemy aircraft (c) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Luqa 74a Squadriglia
  24/11/40 sunset 1/6 Enemy aircraft (c) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Luqa 74a Squadriglia
4 26/11/40   1 Hurricane (d) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   south Malta 74a Squadriglia
  28/11/40 a.m. 1 Hurricane (e) Probable Fiat CR.42   Malta 74a Squadriglia
5 26/12/40 -15:05 1 Gladiator (f) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 74a Squadriglia
  26/12/40 -15:05 1 Gladiator (f) Damaged Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 74a Squadriglia
  26/12/40 -15:05 1 Gladiator (f) Damaged Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 74a Squadriglia
  26/12/40 -15:05 1 Gladiator (f) Damaged Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 74a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 5 destroyed, 1 probable destroyed, 3 damaged, 3 and 3 shared destroyed on the ground.
TOTAL: 5 destroyed, 1 probable destroyed, 3 damaged, 3 and 3 shared destroyed on the ground.
(a) Two Hurricanes claimed destroyed by Regia Aeronautica. Only one Hurricane (P2653), flown by Pilot Officer Dick Sugden of the Hal Far Fighter Flight, was damaged during the engagement.
(b) Regia Aeronautica claimed four Hurricanes during this combat. Only one, of 261 Squadron flown by Flight Lieutenant H. F. R. Bradbury, was damaged on this occasion.
(c) The 23o Gruppo claimed three destroyed on the ground but only one Wellington of 148 Squadron was destroyed.
(d) Hurricane N2701 of 261 Squadron flown by Sergeant Dennis Ashton shot down, pilot killed.
(e) Claimed in combat with Fulmars from 806 Squadron, which claimed 1 CR.42 and two more damaged while suffering one damaged Fulmar. The Regia Aeronautica claimed two destroyed and two probables without losses.
(f) Claimed in combat with Gladiators from 3 RAAF Squadron, which claimed 2 and 3 probables without any losses, and possibly Hurricanes from 33 Squadron, which claimed a damaged CR.42 during the day. The 23o Gruppo claimed 1 Hurricane and 1 Gladiator and the 10o Gruppo claimed 2 and 2 probable Gladiators while losing one CR.42 and getting five more damaged.

Sources:
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
Aces High - Christopher Shores, 1994, Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-00-0
Aces High Volume 2 - Christopher Shores, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-03-9
Desert Prelude: Operation Compass - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2011 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-61421-18-4
Gloster Gladiator Home Page - Alexander Crawford.
Hurricanes over Tobruk - Brian Cull with Don Minterne, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-11-X
Malta: The Hurricane Years 1940-41 - Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-89747-207-1
Ministero della Difesa - Banca Dati sulle sepolture dei Caduti in Guerra
National Archives of Australia
Additional information kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.




Last modified 10 June 2012