Biplane fighter aces


Sergente Maggiore Renzo Bocconi

Bocconi served in the 75a Squadriglia, 23o Gruppo, 3o Stormo. This unit was equipped with Fiat CR.42s.

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

Bocconi took part in the big attack on French airfields on 15 June.

On 9 July the 23o Gruppo became Autonomo.

On 12 July the recently arrived 9o Gruppo C.T. was ordered to leave Sicily to fly on to Libya, to operate in the desert. To replace the unit two new gruppi of fighter flew in to Sicily; the autonomous 23o and the 17o from 1o Stormo C.T.
The 23o Gruppo flew its first escort missions over Malta the same day.

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 together 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.

Shortly after 09:00 on 16 July, a dozen CR.42s of 23o Gruppo appeared over Malta on a reconnaissance mission. Flight Lieutenant Peter Gardner Keeble in a Hurricane Mk.I (P2623) and Flight Lieutenant George Burges in a Gladiator had been scrambled, and dived on this formation. Keeble attacking one CR.42, but being attacked himself by two more flown by Tenente Mario Pinna and Sottotenente Oscar Abello (both from 70a Squadriglia). After a long chase Keeble was hit and his aircraft dived out of control towards the south-east of the Island where it hit the ground near Wied il-Ghajn and blew up. It was immediately followed by a CR.42 flown by 24-year-old Tenente Mario Benedetti (MM4368) of the 74a Squadriglia, which crashed within 100 yards of the Hurricane. Keeble was killed outright but Benedetti survived the initial impact of his crash, but died soon afterwards at the civilian hospital at Vincenzo Bugeja without regaining conscious.
Burges made no claim on this occasion, and subsequently it was claimed that Benedetti’s aircraft was brought down with LMG fire by C Company headquarters, 1st Battalion The Dorsetshire Regiment. It is also possible Benedetti’s aircraft was the one attacked by Keeble.
Sergente Maggiore Bocconi claimed a second Hurricane, but this was not allowed by the 2a Squadra intelligence staff.
Keeble was the first of Malta's fighter pilots to lose his life in the defence of the island.

On 24 August, six S.79s of 192a and 193a Squadriglia, 87o Gruppo, 30o Stormo B.T., led by Tenente Colonello Schiaretta and Capitano Verrascina, again raided Hal Far and Kalafrana, escorted by 17 CR.42s of the 23o Gruppo. Four Hurricanes of 261 Squadron was once more scrambled led by Flight Lieutenant George Burges (P3731), who attacked three of the bombers. He saw a few bits fly from one of these, which headed for Sicily losing height rapidly. He was then set upon by CR.42s and his aircraft was hit by fire from Tenente Mario Rigatti of the 75a Squadriglia. Visibility was poor and Burges managed to escape, but on landing, the undercarriage of his Hurricane collapsed (due to combat damage?). Of the British pilots, Flying Officer Frederick Taylor claimed one CR.42 shot down and Pilot Officer Thomas Balmforth a second as a probable. Sergente Maggiore Bocconi of the 75a Squadriglia baled out of his stricken CR.42 and was rescued from the sea to become a prisoner of war. Taylor probably shot him down. Tenente Rigatti was also hit after attacking Burges’s Hurricane, returning to Comiso seriously wounded and with his aircraft (MM4382) badly damaged, claiming one British fighter shot down. He was later awarded the Medaglia d’Oro. It seems almost certain that he had been flying the aircraft attacked by Balmforth.
The returning Italian pilots claimed three more victories in this combat. One was claimed by Maresciallo Luigi Pasquetti, one by the shot down Sergente Maggiore Bocconi and finally one shared between Tenente Ezio Monti and Sergente Leo Mannucci.

Bocconi ended the war with 1 biplane victory.

Kill no. Date Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  13/07/40 1/4 Hurricane (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Malta 75a Squadriglia
1 24/08/40 1 Hurricane (b) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Malta 75a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 1 and 1 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 1 and 1 shared destroyed.
(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) 75a Squadriglia claimed four aircraft in this combat but 261 Squadron only got one damaged.

Hurricanes over Malta - Brian Cull and Frederick Galea, 2001 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-91-8
Malta: The Hurricane Years 1940-41 - Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-89747-207-1
Additional information kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.

Last modified 26 October 2009