Biplane fighter aces


Tenente Pietro Bonfatti

14 June 1915 - 22 November 1941

Pietro Bonfatti was born in Modena on 14 June 1915.

On 12 July 1940, the 9o Gruppo C.T. arrived at Tripoli from Comiso with 33 Fiat CR.42s under the command of Maggiore Ernesto Botto. The Gruppo consisted of 73a, 96a and 97a Squadriglie.
The 73a Squadriglia included Tenente Vittorio Pezzè (CO), Tenente Valerio De Campo, Tenente Giulio Reiner, Tenente Bonfatti (assigned in the end of July), Sottotenente Giuseppe Oblach, Sottotenente Carlo Battaglia, Sottotenente Alvaro Querci, Maresciallo Mario Ruffilli, Maresciallo Alberto Montanari, Maresciallo Norino Renzi, Maresciallo Corrado Ranieri, Sergente Maggiore Guglielmo Biffani, Sergente Maggiore Enrico Dallari, Sergente Maggiore Sergio Stauble, Sergente Maggiore Antonio Valle, Sergente Santo Gino, Sergente Lido Poli, Sergente Pasquale Rossi, Sergente Mario Guerci (still in training) and Sergente Armando Matacena (still in training).
Together with the 10o Gruppo they formed the 4o Stormo C.T.
The Gruppo’s Fiat CR.42s was wisely retrofitted with tropical kits for guns and engines, to avoid the problems suffered by the other Gruppi.

On 20 November, 208 Squadron despatched two Lysanders to reconnoitre an area bounded by Sollum, Sofali and Buq-Buq. They were L4724 piloted by Flight Lieutenant Burnard and L4728 piloted by Pilot Officer Waymark that took off from Qasaba at 14:20 and 14:15 landing back at 16:35 and 16:20 respectively (another Lysander, possibly L6874, an attached 6 Squadron aircraft piloted by Flying Officer T. H. Davison, was out in the same area). 33 Squadron provided nine Hurricanes (including Flying Officer Vernon Woodward (N2498), Flight Lieutenant Ernest Dean (P 3818), Flying Officer John Mackie (P3724), Squadron Leader Charles Ryley (P3970), Flight Sergeant Harry Goodchild (N2640), Flying Officer Frank Holman (P3724) and Pilot Officer Charles Dyson (N2640)) as escort. It is possible that the unaccounted pilots were one or two pilots from 274 Squadron since a quartet of Hurricanes from this Squadron, piloted by Flight Lieutenant R. V. Evers-Swindell, Pilot Officer Ernest Mason, Pilot Officer Thomas Patterson and Second Lieutenant Frederick Johannes Joubert, together with Pilot Officer Strange and Second Lieutenant Bester (who followed with the ground party) were detached on attachment to 33 Squadron on 14 November. On 21 November, Evers-Swindell, flew back from Fuka to have repairs on his fighter, reportedly damaged in a running fight with CR.42s. It seems almost sure that the “running fight” was the below described action, so it is possible that R. V. Evers-Swindell was present.
The escort took off from Fuka Satellite airfield at 14:15, with one section of three protecting each Lysander while a third section provided top cover. At the same time, a formation of six Gladiators from 112 Squadron would sweep the same general area.
East of Sidi Barrani, 18 CR.42s intercepted them and one Fiat half-rolled and dived away after being fired on by a Hurricane. It is possible that this aircraft later was credited as a destroyed to Flying Officer Mackie, who in a letter sent home to Canada on 4 December recalled:

“Just before I went on leave we had one of two bits of fun up here. On one occasion, you may have heard about it on the radio, fifteen of us got mixed up with sixty wop fighters. We lost none, and got at least eight of them. I got one of these, although not in a very convincing way from my point of view, as I didn’t see it go in. Another pilot saw the start and the finish of it. Anyhow, it sure was a mix-up. I have never seen so many machines milling around in such a small amount of sky.”
However, after this both sides started to guard each other without giving battle with the Italians uncertain to tangle with the faster Hurricanes and the British finding it difficult to close in on their more manoeuvrable opponents.
The Hurricanes of the two sections dealing with the direct escort of the Lysanders now started to brake off since they were being outmanoeuvred by their opponents and at this moment a huge formation of a reportedly 25-30 Italian fighters was seen higher. The top cover section of 33 Squadron climbed to engage but reportedly without avail because the Italian turned back towards Libya without engaging.
The Italian formation was composed by 18 aircraft from all three Squadriglie of the 9o Gruppo led by Maggiore Ernesto Botto (at the head of the 73a Squadriglia). Six of the CR.42s were from the 96a Squadriglia (Capitano Roberto Fassi leading Tenente Aldo Gon, Sottotenente Carlo Agnelli, Sottotenente Armando Moresi and Sergente Vittorio Pozzati together with 4o Stormo’s adjutant, Capitano Mario Pluda), five were from the 73a Squadriglia (Tenente Valerio De Campo, Tenente Bonfatti, Maresciallo Mario Ruffilli, Sergente Maggiore Antonio Valle and Sergente Santo Gino) and six were from the 97a Squadriglia (Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni, Tenente Ezio Viglione Borghese, Sottotenente Jacopo Frigerio, Maresciallo Rinaldo Damiani, Sergente Francesco Putzu and Sergente Franco Sarasino). They had taken off from El Adem at 14:40 to cover Italian troops in the Bir Enba area (and probably indirectly escorting a reconnaissance plane) when Botto discovered a Bristol Blenheim escorted by several Hurricanes flying lower and attacked.
At this moment, with the 9o Gruppo’s attention focused elsewhere, the 112 Squadron’s Gladiators intervened and managed to surprise the Italian formation over Sidi Barrani. They claimed eight of the Fiats without losses. All of the six pilots made claims and Flight Lieutenant R. J. Abrahams claimed one and one shared with Pilot Officer Richard Acworth, who also claimed one additional. Flying Officer R. J. Bennett claimed one, Pilot Officer Alfred Costello claimed one, Pilot Officer Leonard Bartley claimed two and Sergeant 'Paddy' Donaldson finally claimed one. 112 Squadron didn’t record any losses in this combat even if Pilot Officer Acworth in his memories spoke of a couple of planes obliged to force-land and the unit’s aircraft retuned to Fuka between 16:20 and 17:25. For this one-sided action, they were noted in the press for the first time.
Richard Acworth remembered this combat in a short story written in the 1960’s but never published.
“The Lysanders were to be ‘covered’ against enemy air attacks by six Gladiators from my squadron… three flying at 12,000 feet, and three, led by myself, at 15,000 feet. ‘Top cover’ was to be provided by six Hurricanes, flying at 20,000 feet. The Hurricanes had strict orders to beat a hasty retreat if they met with enemy aircraft in large numbers, as it was thought at that time that they would be ‘easy meat’ for the move manoeuvrable C.R. 42’s, the single-seater Italian opposite number of the Gladiator.
We had been patrolling for about 10 minutes, when I reported forty CR 42s, in eight sections of five, flying from the direction of Libya, at approximately 25,000 feet, 5,000 feet higher that the Hurricane ‘top-cover’. To my dismay, the Hurricanes were soon speeding home, with a CR 42 sitting neatly on each tail. Our six Gladiators were left to finish the fight, for the Lysanders, their task completed, were heading for home, too.
There was not a friendly cloud in the sky, and the powerful desert sun made the enemy aircraft very difficult to see. Forthwith, they carried out the German tactics of remaining aloft, and sending down their more experienced men to finish us off one by one….but it was not to be!
With the first attacks, we broke formation, and it was every man for himself. I soon found myself very much alone, until unfriendly tracer bullets from behind, passed through the space between my right wings. I immediately steep-turned to the left, and caught sight of my attacker as he completed his dive and prepared to re-join his pals up higher, by means of a roll off the top of a loop.
Seizing my chance, I opened full throttle and followed him to the top of his loop, half rolled in formation with him, and was just about to open fire, when my aircraft stalled and flicked into a spin….not enough speed! I decided my best means of survival was to continue the spin, in the hope that he would think I had been badly hit. This was a fighter tactic from World War I, and it worked! Whilst I was spinning, I looked upwards and caught a glimpse of my adversary circling at his original height, waiting for me to crash into the desert. I came out of the spin at about 8,000 feet, no doubt much to his surprise, and didn’t have to wait long for him to dive down to finish me off.
So started a long tail-chasing session. At first, my mouth became rather dry, but after a second or two, my mind became crystal clear, and I was determined to turn the tables on him. Slowly I began to gain ground, and soon part of his tail was in my sights, but I realized it would not have been great enough. When his engine came into my sights, I pressed the firing button, and was immediately cheered to see pieces of fabric or metal ripping off his fuselage, just behind the cockpit.
The Italian pilot turned so quickly in his mad effort to escape, that he pulled his aircraft into a spin, following a ‘high-speed stall’. I followed him down, and fired at him as he tried to recover, and he promptly went into another one. On recovering from his second spin, he must have pulled an emergency boost control to give him extra speed, for he left my Gladiator ‘standing’.
However, my opponent was not easily scared, and turned about a mile away to come back at me like a bull at a gate. We both opened fire, and when it seemed that a head-on collision was inevitable, he pulled out to my left in a climbing turn. For a second, I was able to fire at his exposed fuselage, and then, with throttle fully open, I climbed into the sun, into an advantageous position. To my horror, my engine stalled near the top of the climb, and I had to carry out the usual drill of closing the throttle and opening it again, slowly. Full power came back, and looking down, I could see my opponent looking for me. This time, I had the advantage of height, and I was nicely lining him up in my sights when he saw me, and tried to turn in underneath me.
Slowly twisting, and with the right deflection, I raked him with bullets from nose to tail, at almost point-blank range. I pulled out of my dive, to regain height, and saw him commence another spin from which he did not recover. I felt immensely relieved, somewhat shaken, and eventually joined up with two stray Gladiators, and returned to Mersa Matruh. I was pleased to learn later that seven aircraft had been shot down in the engagement, and that all the Gladiator pilots had survived the fight, although two had made forced landings.
I shall never forget that day. It was my first one-against-one air battle, and the longest time I had engaged a single enemy aircraft...”
The 9o Gruppo actually lost only three shot down and four damaged but two pilots were killed. The three shot down pilots were Sottotenente Carlo Agnelli of the 96a Squadriglia, who was killed, Sergente Francesco Putzu of the 97a Squadriglia, who was killed, and Tenente Gon (who usually flew CR.42 MM5605/96-2), who recalled:
“This day [strangely enough he recorded it as on 1 November but this is for certain an error] I lost the dearest of all my wingmen [Carlo Agnelli]. We were up with all the Gruppo and the three Squadriglie were stepped at different heights. The lowest escorting a reconnaissance plane, mine (96a Squadriglia) at 3000 metres while the third stay higher. The highest group had already engaged the enemy when I saw one of our planes diving almost vertically followed by a Gloster. I made a violent overturning that my wingmen were unable to follow [again without radio equipment the Italian formation was broken at the beginning of the combat and whatever numerical advantage was impossible to put into full use] when I reach a distance suitable to open fire I had to wait because there was the risk of hitting my comrade [with the same burst aimed at the fighter that was following him] I had to concentrate only on the aim [the wingmen were far away] so I couldn’t look around and was attacked by two Glosters. With the first burst of fire they shot away my propeller, so without propulsion I could only manoeuvre to avoid further damage. All the height lost I force-landed and the English pilots that had already stopped firing while I was gliding down for my final approach flew past me waving their hands.
[Gon, tried to burn his plane without success and succeeded to reach an Italian outpost the day after]
Back at base, I discovered that information about the missing pilots (we were three) were lacking.
A sergeant
[Sergente Francesco Putzu] was seen to jump with parachute and another of our planes was seen to crash after a hard fight, all believed it was mine because the other missing pilot (my dear wingman) was too “green” to be able to fight against three enemies as the pilot of the crashed plane did.
The encounter with Botto was tragicomically. I went to his room and he was waiting for me near the door and as just as he saw me he threw himself right into my arms through the three steps that divided us. But I was too weak and was unable to sustain him so we fell embraced on the ground.”
According to the official records of the 4o Stormo, however, it seems that during the dive Gon’s guns went out of synchronisation and when opening fire he cut his propeller with the first shots.
Seven confirmed and probable victories were credited to the pilots of the Gruppo after that they had landed at 16:30. This overclaiming was the result of that the Stormo’s records had to be re-recorded in 1941 after they had been lost. This re-recording was done by Tenente Giulio Reiner, who was then adjutant of the Gruppo. Obviously Reiner’s reconstruction was not as accurate as a complete debriefing immediately after the battle could be.
Roberto Fassi was credited with a Blenheim, a probable Gladiator and two damaged Gladiators. Pozzati, who was wounded on the right foot, was credited with a Gladiator while Gon was credited with a Gladiator (a victory that he didn’t mention at all in his memories). Pluda claimed another Gladiator and Moresi one probable Gladiator. The 73a and 97a Squadriglie claimed one Gladiator and two Hurricanes shot down and four fighters damaged, all shared. Final assessment of the combat was four Gladiators, two Hurricanes and a Blenheim confirmed and two Gladiators probably destroyed (the actual number of confirmed claims varies between the reconstructed Diari of the involved Squadriglias to seven or eight destroyed).

On 29 November Giuseppe Oblach (73a Squadriglia) flew a photoreconnaissance sortie at 400 meters height on the road Sidi el Barrani - Marsa Matruh together with Tenente Bonfatti. On their way back to base they strafed some enemy AAA sites.
During the sortie Oblach flew CR.42 MM4383/96-11, which was field-modified with an additional fuel tank behind the pilot's seat. The tank was installed through a door in the right side of the fuselage (45 cm wide). Later the tank was removed and an AC 81 vertical camera was installed.

At 06:30, a formation of five Blenheim Mk.IVs of 55 Squadron together with two Mk.Is of 11 Squadron took off from Fuka for a raid on El Adem with Squadron Leader Dudgeon leading them in T1995. The 11 Squadron’s machines missed the rendezvous and landed back immediately. One of the five Mk.IVs (T2180 flown by Flying Officer Singleton) became separated and bombed M.T. ten miles south of Bardia. He was then approached by two fighters (CR.42s) and retired out to sea, landing back at 09:50.
The four remaining Blenheims attacked El Adem from 15,500 feet at 08:41 but the bombs fell short of the target owing to the very high wind. While the Blenheims were leaving the target, a group of three CR.42s attacked, starting a running fight that lasted 25 minutes. The three Italian fighters were described as two forming a standing patrol joined by a third one scrambled from El Adem. They were reported as “very tenacious for Italians” because they followed the retreating bombers even through clouds, finally breaking off to starboard, while the Blenheims keeping out to sea returned to Fuka, landing at 10:05. They suffered no damage and were unable to estimate the eventual damage inflicted upon the CR.42s with their return fire.
They had been intercepted by four fighters of the 73a Squadriglia, 9o Gruppo (Tenente Bonfatti, Maresciallo Corrado Ranieri, Sergente Maggiore Enrico Dallari and Sergente Maggiore Sergio Stauble), which took off from El Adem at 08:30 and reportedly intercepted three Blenheims near the coast. The bombers were followed 70 kilometres out to sea and damaged by the fire of Bonfatti, who returned to claim one probable victory.

At 14:10 on 12 December, a formation of fighters from the 9o Gruppo (14 CR.42s) led by Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni took off to escort SM 79s and during the return journey ground strafed British vehicles on the Sollum-Buq-Buq road claiming four destroyed and four damaged.
Six CR.42s from the 73a Squadriglia (Tenente Valerio De Campo, Tenente Giulio Reiner, Tenente Bonfatti, Sottotenente Giuseppe Oblach, Sergente Maggiore Sergio Stauble and Sergente Pasquale Rossi) took part. It seems one aircraft from the 96a Squadriglia was lost after the action when Sergente Maggiore Giovanni Gallerani nosed over on landing and his fighters was written off during a clumsy recovery.

On an early morning patrol on 13 December, six Gladiators (Flight Lieutenant Gordon Steege, Flight Lieutenant Charles Gaden, Flying Officers Lex D. Winten, Flying Officer Alan Boyd, Flying Officer Wilfred Arthur and Flying Officer Alan Gatward) from the Advanced Detached Flight of 3 RAAF Squadron took off at 08:00 to fly an offensive fighter patrol over Sollum – Fort Capuzzo – Halfaya area. They came across five SM 79s bombing troops at Sollum escorted by a reported eight CR.42s. Diving in to attack Flight Lieutenant Steege shot down one of the bombers and claimed a second as a probable. Before the Gladiators could reform for a second attack, the escorting CR.42s intervened. Flight Lieutenant Gaden (Gladiator N5765) was killed when his aircraft was shot down and crashed into the desert. It was believed that Gaden was shot down by rear gunners of the SM 79s. Flying Officer Winten was hit in the right hand by an explosive bullet and baled out. Flying Officer Boyd claimed two CR.42s before his aircraft had its port flying wire shot away causing him to force land. Flying Officer Gatward was also forced down. Flying Officer Arthur's Gladiator (N5752) was shot to pieces and he decided to bale out. As he clambered out of the cockpit, he became entangled in his oxygen tube. He managed to break free only to be caught up in the interplane bracing wires. Unable to free himself he waited for the inevitable, when at about 1,000 feet he was thrown clear and parachuted to the ground. Later back in the mess he produced from his pocket the ripcord of his parachute, which meant that he did not have to buy drinks all round. Flight Lieutenant Steege was separated from the remainder of the flight, ran out of ammunition and returned to base at 10:30.
The Italians seems to have consisted of five SM 79s from the 60a Squadriglia, 33o Gruppo Autonomo BT, which had taken off from Z1 at 07:30. The formation was led by Tenente Colonnello Ferri Forte, who flew as second pilot in Capitano Loris Bulgarelli’s (CO of the 60a Squadriglia) SM 79 and they had been briefed to attack British troop concentrations in a desert area south of Sollum. The pilot of another bomber was Tenente Pastorelli and among his crew of five was Aviere Scelto Armiere Guido Reggiani. The bombers were escorted by ten CR.42s from the 9o Gruppo. The SM 79s were the first bombing effort of the day by the 5a Squadra and attacked a group of 30 British vehicles along the road Sollum-Buq-Buq at 08:45 and immediately after this, another group of 60 armoured vehicles south-east of Halfaya. The escort was led by Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni (temporary CO of the 9o Gruppo since 10 December) and included the 73a Squadriglia (Tenente Valerio De Campo, Tenente Bonfatti, Tenente Giuseppe Oblach, Sottotenente Giulio Reiner, Sergente Maggiore Sergio Stauble and Sergente Enrico Dallari) and the 97a Squadriglia (Capitano Ezio Viglione Borghese, Sergente Franco Sarasino and Sergente Maggiore Otello Perotti). After 45 minutes of flight, between Sidi Omar and Sollum, they spotted a formation of Gladiators that soon attacked the SM 79s. Aviere Scelto Armiere Reggiani recorded that after the bombing the formation was attacked by a group of ten Gloster Gladiators. The gunners of the Savoias claimed the shooting down of two of them before they were dispersed by a squadriglia of the 4o Stormo’s fighters. Capitano Larsimont chased the leader but, while shooting at him from a short distance, he collided with a British wingman that was trying to avoid his bursts. In the collision, the Gladiator lost its wings and fell. Larsimont, whose aircraft was badly damaged in the fuselage and rudders, made an emergency landing on the Menastir M airfield; unfortunately the airstrip was already abandoned by the Italians due to the proximity of the British infantry so Larsimont had to abandon his damaged plane, which became a total loss. It seems possible that Larsimont’s victim (the Gladiator surprised while chasing the Savoias and observed to fall minus its wings) was Flying Officer Arthur who later recalled:

”(...) I was chasing some Italian bombers, Savoia-Marchettis I think they were. They were quite a lot faster than our aircraft were which meant you only chance of really catching them was to cut the corner if they were foolish enough to turn very much. In...also, if you’re chasing somebody like that you’re concentrating very much on that and you are a sitting duck for somebody else. And, in fact, that’s what happened to me. Chasing these Savoias I suddenly realised I was being attacked by an Italian aircraft which almost immediately ... a shell went into the top mainplane – do you know what I mean by the top mainplane where it was a biplane - the top main plane tore straight away and swung back towards the tail and the bottom main plane sort of followed it but a bit behind and I had no control at all, just completely loose control column. So I got out quickly (...)
Arthur remembered that the whole affair lasted a short time:
”Probably only fifty seconds or seventy or something like that. I got out of the cockpit quite quickly but by that time the thing was nearly vertically downwards and I got stuck underneath one of the main planes that had folded back against the fuselage and I couldn’t get out of that. I was kicking and trying to get myself free when I was very close to the ground and finally did get free but hit the ground very hard because...well, because I hadn’t had enough time to slow up, I suppose (...)”.
Wilfred Arthur hit the ground facing the wrong way and got dragged for quite a while with the parachute because there was heavy wind. After collapsing the parachute and freeing himself again, he was circled by two Italian aircraft, which he thought would shoot at him but in fact they didn’t. After the two Italian left the area, he started walking and after only a couple of hours was found and picked up by a long-range desert patrol.
Viglione fired at several Glosters and claimed one of them (the British pilot was seen parachuting by Bonfatti) while Perotti claimed another in a head-to-head attack (not verified with the Squadriglia diaries). Sarasino claimed damage to several Gladiators. Meanwhile, another formation of Gladiators jumped the 73a Squadriglia from above but these had been alerted and could react properly and a long and harsh dogfight began. Bonfatti, Oblach and Stauble claimed one each, while De Campo, Reiner and Dallari claimed one probable each. Several other Glosters were claimed damaged. Reiner’s, Bonfatti’s and Oblach’s aircraft were slightly damaged in combat but returned to base safely.
The 60a Squadriglia suffered no losses but Capitano Bulgarelli was hit in the head and killed by a burst of fire from one of the Gladiators. The same burst of fire also wounded Tenente Colonnello Forte. The dead Bulgarelli fell over the controls and only after the help of Tenente Pier Luigi Meroni, who managed to rise Bulgarelli body, thus keeping it clear from the controls, was Ferri Forte able to nurse back the damaged Savoia. Meroni remained all the time in front of the broken skull of Bulgarelli with blood and pieces of brain close to his face. (After the war, Meroni became a pilot in civil aviation and was the pilot of the plane in which the then famous football team of Turin (winner of many Italian championships) crashed against the hill of Superga on 4 May 1949; the greatest tragedy in the history of Italian sport). Bulgarelli was a highly regarded leader and during the last days was always at the head of the 33o formations attacking the advancing British troops. He was awarded a posthumous Medaglia d’Oro al valor militare for bravery in this and previous actions. During the landing, back at base Bulgarelli’s SM 79 and another one suffered additional damage and were classified RD.
Boyd’s force-landed Gladiator was possible to repair on site and he returned to Gerawla at 11:10 with Gatward sitting on his knee.
Out of the six Gladiators that took part in the combat, four were lost and the remaining two were damaged but repairable in the unit.
Flight Lieutenant Gaden was found dead in the cockpit of his Gladiator by the 7th Hussars while they were on the march. He was buried by Lieutenant J. Napier.
It was one of the hardest day of the war for the Australians and Flight Lieutenant Peter Jeffrey, then the Signals Officer of the unit but later to became its CO remembered it this way:
“(…) we had a very bad day on 13th December, it was over Salum (…) we had an extraordinary bad day – ran into a very big lot of CR42s and Flight Lieutenant Gaiden [Gaden] was killed but Arthur, “Wilf” Arthur was shot down (…). Lex Witton [Winten] had an explosive round in one hand and he bailed out. Gatwood [Gatward] and Boyd both crash-landed. So we had five, and that was a really very bad day for the Squadron (…) It was a very traumatic sort of experience but the Squadron was very resilient and picked up very quickly and the people who’d – apart from Witton who was a casualty because of his hand - the others were back flying again next day or in a few days’ time. To a certain extent, you know, you expected these things but that was just a bit bigger than we normally expected. And seeing as we’d had so much success prior with virtually no casualties it hit us a bit hard for a start. But it was only a few days later on the 26th when we got our revenge back (…)”.
In the meantime, Larsimont, finding Menastir deserted, reached the nearby Balbia road and while waiting for a passing truck to stop, was shot at by a low flying Hurricane and had a narrow escape. After the collision, he was presumed dead by his pilots and so on the evening a message of condolences arrived from the HQ in Rome. In fact, he rejoined his unit the same day and at 15:05 was again at the head of his men.
It seems that another Italian fighter took part in this mission since Sottotenente Giuseppe Bottà of the 82a Squadriglia, 13o Gruppo, who was out on a “solo” reconnaissance over the front, discovered four Gladiators. These were attacking a patrol of SM 79s and he claimed to have forced the British fighter to disengage from the bombers with his intervention.

Following the morning’s adventure on 13 December, at 15:05, Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni again led a patrol with four CR.42s from the 97a Squadriglia (Tenente Ezio Viglione Borghese, Sergente Maggiore Raffaele Novelli and Sergente Alcide Leoni), eight from the 73a Squadriglia (Tenente Valerio De Campo, Tenente Bonfatti, Sottotenente Giuseppe Oblach, Sottotenente Alvaro Querci, Sergente Maggiore Enrico Dallari, Sergente Maggiore Sergio Stauble, Sergente Maggiore Antonio Valle and Sergente Santo Gino) and eight from the 96a Squadriglia to make a ground strafing against a British convoy in the Sollum-Buq-Buq area. While returning one Hurricane was attacked and claimed damaged, apparently by a 73a Squadriglia pilot. They returned to T3 at 17:05 claiming nine armoured vehicles (five in flames and four damaged).

On 14 December, El Adem T3 was abandoned by the two Gruppi of the 4o Stormo because of the presence of British armoured cars in the surroundings of the airfield. The new base for the 9o and the 10o Gruppo was Derna N1.
During the day, the whole 4o Stormo was employed to attack the advancing British forces of Operation Compass. In several attacks more than 123 trucks, 31 armoured cars and 31 other vehicles were destroyed in this single day!
At least seven CR.42s from the 73a Squadriglia (Tenente Valerio De Campo, Tenente Bonfatti, Sottotenente Giuseppe Oblach, Sergente Maggiore Enrico Dallari, Sergente Maggiore Antonio Valle and Sergente Maggiore Sergio Stauble), four from the 97a Squadriglia (Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni, Tenente Ezio Viglione Borghese, Sergente Maggiore Otello Perotti, Sergente Franco Sarasino) and four from the 96a Squadriglia taking part. They attacked between 13:10 and 15:00 and the 73a Squadriglia pilots claimed five armoured vehicles burned and four stopped. From this period Aldo Gon recorded:

“the period of the retreat was very hard and sad; very few of us were left with very few planes. Our most important task was ground strafing of enemy’s armoured vehicles and during one of these missions, I suffered my sixth flying accident. We had to take off from El Adem and land west of it, at Derna. After the ground strafing, while coming back and gaining height I discovered a Hurricane that was aiming at our Squadriglia from superior height and from the left. I was, as often happened to me, the leader of the last vic of three planes; I did immediately a sharp turn zooming and we shot at each other frontally, then I reversed course violently and started following it. In doing so I left behind my wingmen (as usual) that were unable to follow such a sharp manoeuvre and landed back at Derna claiming that I had shot down the enemy; I’ve never known if this was true, but I didn’t want to have the victory credited because the stresses inflicted to my body during the sharp action left me in a state of semi-consciousness.
My wingmen claimed the victory because from distance they saw my plane doing strange aerobatics, turnings and zooming as if I was celebrating a victory in fact I was half unconscious and when I saw the ground closing I pulled the stick to gain height. (…) Feeling I was near to loose consciousness I force land close to El Adem”.
The plane was only lightly damaged and Gon was later able to return to Derna, taking off directly from the place where he landed. The main reason for his accident was discovered to be the bad alimentation of the last period that left him in quite bad shape.

On 16 December the Stormo was transferred to Ain el Gazala T4 since N1 was overcrowded with men and aircraft.

On 17 December, five SM 79 of the 15o Stormo under Tenente Medun took off from Z1 at 09:15 and attacked enemy ships that were bombarding Bardia, with 45 100kg bombs. Gladiators intercepted the Savoias and one of them was reputed shot down. They landed at 11:10.
Their assailants were without doubt Gladiators from 112 Squadron, the unit’s ORB reported an offensive morning patrol by Squadron Leader Harry Brown, Flight Lieutenant R. J. Abrahams, Flight Lieutenant John Scoular, Flying Officer R. J. Bennett, Flying Officer Oliver Green, Flying Officer R. B. Whittington and Sergeant E. N. Woodward. The sketchy reconstructed ORB, however, lacks details of the engagement.
The SM 79s were escorted by 13 CR.42s of the 9o Gruppo; three from the 97a Squadriglia (Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni, Tenente Ezio Viglione Borghese and Sergente Maggiore Raffaele Novelli), four from the 73a Squadriglia (Tenente Valerio De Campo, Tenente Bonfatti, Tenente Giulio Reiner and Sergente Mario Guerci) and six from the 96a Squadriglia, which had taken off at 09:45. With them were two fighters from the 78a Squadriglia (Sottotenente Natale Cima and Sottotenente Dario Magnabosco) on the last mission of the campaign by the 2o Stormo.
The CR.42s didn’t notice the Gladiators but over Sollum, the 73a and the 78a Squadriglie entered combat with British monoplane fighters. Reiner and Bonfatti shared a Hurricane, which burned after crashing into the ground, and claimed another shared probable, which was seen returning home leaving a long smoke trail; two more were damaged by De Campo and Guerci. Meanwhile, Magnabosco and Cima were attacked by enemy fighters. Magnabosco claimed one Hurricane shot down with the use of 100 rounds of ammunition while Cima failed to return. The 9o Gruppo’s pilots landed at 11:45 and according with his unit’s documents Magnabosco landed at 11:30. Although not mentioned by the Squadriglia Diary, it seems that Magnabosco’s fighter was damaged (probably during this specific combat) and he was obliged to crash-land behind the British lines. In fact, the motivation for the Medaglia d’argento al valor militare he was awarded with for his overall activity during December states: ”In a violent dogfight against numerically superior enemy fighters, he shared in the shooting down of four monoplanes confirmed and two probables [most probably the combat on 14 December]. In another combat against monoplanes, although with his plane hit by enemy fire, he was able to shot down his adversary. Obliged to land behind enemy lines, he destroyed his plane after having removed the most precious instruments and regained our troops on foot (…)”
The identity of their opponents is not completely clear, but it is known that during the day 33 Squadron was busy ground strafing the Bardia-Tobruk road and during these missions, one CR.42s was claimed in flames with one probable. Eight Hurricanes of 274 Squadron took off in the morning, starting at 06:16 to patrol the line between Bardia and Gambut. The engine of Pilot Officer Wilson’s Hurricane (P3720; the fighter usually allocated to the famous ‘Imshi’ Mason) caught fire and his mission of was suspended before takeoff, while N2627 failed to return, with Pilot Officer Strong force landing 30 miles west of Matruh. All the other pilots came back without seeing enemy aircraft. It is however possible that Strong was involved in the combat against the 9o and the 13o Gruppi.

On 19 December, the 9o Gruppo flew its last mission before retirement from North Africa. Taking off from Ain El Gazala T4 at 15:00, Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni led ten other aircraft from the 73a Squadriglia (Tenente Bonfatti, Sottotenente Giuseppe Oblach, Sergente Mario Guerci and Sergente Pasquale Rossi), 96a Squadriglia (Sergente Maggiore Dante Labanti, Sergente Maggiore Giovanni Gallerani and an unknown pilot) and 97a Squadriglia (Ezio Viglione Borghese, Sergente Maggiore Raffaele Novelli and Sergente Alcide Leoni) to an escort mission together with 14 CR.42s of the 10o Gruppo. These had taken off from the Z1 landing ground (ten kilometres south-east of T4 on the opposite side of the “litoranea” road) where they had transferred the same morning. The 10o Gruppo pilots were led by Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli and included five fighters from the 91a Squadriglia (Sottotenente Andrea Dalla Pasqua, Sergente Maggiore Leonardo Ferrulli, Sergente Maggiore Lorenzo Migliorato, Sergente Maggiore Natale Fiorito and Sergente Maggiore Giovanni Casero), six from the 90a Squadriglia (Tenente Giovanni Guiducci, Tenente Franco Lucchini, Sergente Luigi Contarini, Sergente Bruno Bortoletti, Sergente Alfredo Sclavo and Sergente Giovanni Battista Ceoletta) and two from the 84a Squadriglia (Sergente Domenico Santonocito and Sergente Piero Buttazzi).
They escorted twelve SM 79s of the 41o Stormo, which took off at 14:45 from Martuba M2 with Tenente Colonnello Draghelli and Tenente Colonnello d’Ippolito at their head. They were to attack Sollum harbour and then to proceed to attack vehicles 10 km off Ridotta Capuzzo aimed against the British supply system.
Some minutes after 15:45, above the Sollum area, they were surprised by a number of Hurricanes; Tenente Guiducci reported five of them, the 73a Squadriglia recorded the attack of about ten while some the 235a Squadriglia crews spoke of eight “Spitfires”. It seems that the Hurricanes were somewhat lately intercepted by the CR.42s from 73a and 96a Squadriglie and 10o Gruppo while the 97a Squadriglia stayed with the bombers. According to Guiducci, the reaction of the CR.42s saved the bombers, avoiding the interception but this was not the case.
In the following combat, the Italian claims were extremely confused. Sergente Maggiore Ferrulli was credited with a Hurricane destroyed (in one of the rare individual victories assigned by his unit) and another damaged, but his aircraft was hit in the engine, and he had to make an emergency landing near Bardia (he was unhurt and returned to his unit on 22 December). The 90a Squadriglia claimed two shared victories and two Hurricanes forced to flee with the use of 1328 rounds of ammo. The 84a Squadriglia claimed one individual and one probable victory shared with the whole 10o Gruppo. The 97a Squadriglia also claimed one Hurricane confirmed and one probable shared with the 10o Gruppo. The 73a Squadriglia claimed two shared individual and two probables. Post-war studies stated that one of the shared victories of 73a Squadriglia was in fact an individual of Tenente Bonfatti while Sergente Rossi got a damaged and Sottotenente Oblach one probable and one damaged. In fact, the Italian Bulletin of 20 December claimed that in a savage battle two Hurricanes were shot down in exchange for an Italian fighter that failed to return This suggests that all the Squadriglia Commanders at the end claimed the same two victories, from the original documents we can see that in fact one was an individual achievement of Ferrulli while the other was most probably a shared or possibly an individual of Bonfatti. The CR.42 reported as lost was obviously Ferrulli’s.
Sergente Buttazzi had to land at T5 because of an engine breakdown, while a fighter from the 73a Squadriglia was heavily damaged. The Italian formation landed back at 17:05.
At least seven of the bombers were hit. Capitano Meille (CO of the 233a Squadriglia) and Sottotenente Bresciani were wounded and the co-pilot Sergente Maggiore Musiani was forced to make an emergency landing at Tobruk T5. The SM 79 of Sottotenente Trolla force-landed (and was most probably lost) after being hit by 543 bullets; Primo Avieri Luigi Favale was killed while Primo Avieri De Pasquale and Primo Avieri Palmieri were wounded. Tenente Stancanelli’s (233a Squadriglia) aircraft received 162 hits and also made an emergency landing. Sergente Maggiore armiere Antonio Carta (part of Tenente Stancanelli’s crew), in the confusion of combat, erroneously believed that his aircraft was falling out of control, jumped with his parachute and became MIA. Tenente Colonnello Draghelli made an emergency landing at Tobruk T2bis with his co-pilot Tenente Premurù, Maresciallo motorista Scagliarini, Sergente Maggiore armiere Della Ciana and Sergente RT Maurelli injured. In addition, the SM 79 of Tenente Persico, which was the last to land at 16:45, was damaged. The bomber’s gunners spent about two thousand rounds of 7.7mm ammunition and five thousands of 12.7mm, claiming three British fighters and one probable.
They had been intercepted by Hurricanes from 274 and 33 Squadrons. The former unit was employed in patrols in the Sollum-Bardia-Gambut area. At 15:50, Flight Lieutenant John Lapsley (V7293) was alone, but another Hurricane was in the vicinity when, at 11,000 feet over Sollum, he discovered a mixed formation of 18 SM 79s plus CR.42s 12 miles ahead and slightly to starboard. He attacked the escort that engaged him mainly head on. He reported:

“one CR 42 dived into the ground about 30 miles west of Sollum. Being a bit late arriving after the bombing I found it impossible to engage the S79 due to the attentions of the CR 42s, about 30 CR 42s in vics of three making vics of nine both sides of the bombers and 3000 feet above them. The main force carried on being attacked by Flying Officer Weller 274 Squadron.”
As a special comment, he remarked: “Enemy attacked in a most determined manner.”
Flying Officer Arthur Weller (V7300) reported being up with another Hurricane later engaged by CR.42s (obviously Lapsley) and possibly another behind him (33 Squadron aircraft?). He was flying at 18,000 feet over the Sollum – Bardia road at 15:45 when he discovered SM 79s with CR.42 escort. He saw the fighters wheeling towards him while the bombers didn’t take any action. He reported:
“7 S79s fired at and damaged at least one engine on fire, one or two undercarriages fell out. Only noticed one formation of fighters to starboard of bombers [obviously Lapsley had drawn the attention of the rest of the escort] so attacked from port to line astern with plenty of extra speed. Took each sub leader in turn then his no 2. 7 aircraft altogether when work finished. Part of formation I had attacked was disorganized and impossible to see any missing. Owing to approach of CR 42s and no ammunition, I had to leave the fight. I noticed part of formation I had attacked to be in difficulties. Two a/c pulled up practically vertically and probably collided, impossible to see if any went down.”
He didn’t report suffering damage of any kind but back at base his machine was found riddled with bullets. Weller was subsequently credited with one damaged SM 79.
33 Squadron also flew an offensive patrol over the Sollum-Gambut area where they met SM 79s and CR.42s and there is little doubt that they engaged this Italian formation. The British pilots claimed three SM 79s and four CR.42s. Two of the fighters falling to Flying Officer Vernon Woodward, who attacked and shot them down apparently without the knowledge of the other Italians and two to Flying Officer Charles Dyson (P2499). It is not known who claimed the bombers. Considering the high level of accuracy of 151o Gruppo’s reports that recorded being attacked by six to seven British monoplanes earlier on the day it is possible that some of the claims of 33 Squadron (which also patrolled over the Gambut area) where in fact against them.

The Stormo was sent back to Italy on Christmas Day 1940 in order to commence its re-equipment with MC.200s.

On 16 January 1941, Capitano Valerio De Campo was replaced by Tenente Bonfatti as CO of the 73a Squadriglia, 9o Gruppo.

Capitano Mario Pluda took over command of the 73a Squadriglia from Tenente Bonfatti on 1 March at Gorizia airfield.

On 4 April 1941 the 73a Squadriglia (Capitano Mario Pluda (CO), Tenente Bonfatti, Sottotenente Giuseppe Oblach, Sottotenente Alvaro Querci, Maresciallo Mario Ruffilli, Sergente Antonio Valle, Sergente Santo Gino, Sergente Rossi, Sergente Mario Guerci, Sergente Maggiore Giovanni Gallerani (96a Squadriglia) and Sergente Maggiore Raffaele Novelli (97a Squadriglia)) was transferred to Alture di Pola.

On 9 April Capitano Mario Pluda, Tenente Bonfatti, Sottotenente Giuseppe Oblach, Maresciallo Mario Ruffilli and Sergente Santo Gino, protected by MC.200s of the 84a Squadriglia, attacked thirteen seaplanes at Slosella harbour (now Pirovac). Eight seaplanes were claimed as sunk and two more on the ground were damaged. AA fire damaged Pluda’s aircraft in the right wing and Bonfatti’s in the tail.

The mission was repeated two days later when Pluda led eight aircraft. Bonfatti, Oblach and Gino attacked the seaplanes while Pluda and the rest of the squadriglia strafed AA sites. Three seaplanes were burned and two were severely damaged.

On 13 April, while escorting a Fiat BR.20 on a reconnaissance mission at 1500 m over Zara (now Zadar), Sebenico and Divulje, Tenente Bonfatti spotted a flying boat riding at anchor at Divulje. Capitano Mario Pluda ordered him, Sottotenente Giuseppe Oblach and Sergente Antonio Valle to dive and strafe it, while Pluda, Alvaro Querci, Tenente Giulio Reiner and Sergente Santo Gino stayed beside the Fiat. The flying boat was sunk.
During the return flight, the BR.20 lowered to 500 m while the escort remained at 1500m. Over Sebenico the BR.20 was shot down by AA fire but the escort returned unhurt.

In July 1941, they re-equipped again with MC.202s.

On 27 September the whole 9o Gruppo left Gorizia and flew to Rome-Ciampino, where they two days later met Il Duce, Benito Mussolini, which greeted them. Later the same day they went to Comiso (Sicily) for a new tour of duty, this time against Malta.
At this time the 73a Squadriglia was composed of Capitano Mario Pluda (CO), Capitano Carlo Ivaldi, Tenente Bonfatti, Sottotenente Giuseppe Oblach, Sottotenente Felice Bussolin, Sottotenente Alvaro Querci, Sergente Maggiore Enrico Dallari, Sergente Santo Gino, Sergente Rossi, Sergente Mario Guerci, Sergente Maggiore Teresio Martinoli and Sergente Armando Angelini.

In the morning of 1 October 1941, the 9o Gruppo undertook its first sorties over Malta with its new aircraft with seven MC.202s from the 73a Squadriglia led by Capitano Mario Pluda. Partaking pilots were Capitano Carlo Ivaldi, Tenente Bonfatti, Sottotenente Giuseppe Oblach, Sergente Maggiore Enrico Dallari, Sergente Santo Gino and Sottotenente Alvaro Querci (Querci was however forced to return due to problems with his oxygen supply).
At 11:50, eight Hurricanes from 185 Squadron scrambled after the incoming ‘bandits’, climbing to 24,000 feet. At this height, 48 kilometres north-east of the island, they were jumped by the Macchis while they were still climbing at 7500 meters altitude. The Squadron CO, 24-year-old Squadron Leader Peter ‘Boy’ Mould (RAF no. 33414) (Hurricane Z5265/GL-T) was shot down and killed (at this time Mould was credited with 8 and 3 shared victories). Capitano Ivaldi, Tenente Bonfatti and Sergente Maggiore Dallari claimed two Hurricanes shot down and two probables between them in this first pass; Bonfatti reported that he saw his opponent to jump and parachute (according to some sources the Italian pilots claimed three victories). Sergeant Ernie Knight got in a shot at the attackers, obtaining hits on Ivaldi’s aircraft (MM7723), which he claimed damaged. The Macchi had been hit in its main fuel tank, and with all fuel drained away, was obliged to force-land on a beach near Pozzzallo, on regaining the Sicilian coast.
Regarding the loss of Squadron Leader Mould, Flying Officer Peter Thompson provided an account:

“The CO was leading A Flight in a scramble after a +2. These he spotted and proceeded to give chase. As they were above him, he was compelled to lose speed in order to gain height. A further plot of +9 then appeared which he apparently did not hear about owing to R/T failure, and just when he was unfavourably placed - he had followed the +2 out of the sun - the formation was jumped by about a dozen Macchis and CR42s. F/O Murch was hit in the wing and several others, in an attempt to turn to engage, spun off. The situation was hopeless and our pilots broke off the engagement and returned to base - with one exception, the CO.
Immediately, the rescue services were put into operation - two motor boats, a float-fish
[Swordfish floatplane] and three Hurricanes led by P/O Veitch went to search in the area where the CO was presumed to have crashed. A patch of oil was reported. As time went on and still no further definite news arrived, the grave faces of the pilots at dispersal reflected the general feeling that little hope could be held for the CO’s rescue. Another three Hurricanes led by myself went out later in the afternoon but nothing was seen.
At about four o’clock Controller phoned Jeff and reported that Lt Eyres of the Rescue Service
[in the Swordfish floatplane] had seen the patch of oil with flourescence in the middle of it, and much against everyone’s will, the following conclusion had been reached - the CO had been killed. Everyone joins in offering their deepest sympathies to the CO’s wife. The tragedy of his death is beyond real expression. He was the most courageous, popular and beloved CO - we count it a privilege and an honour to have been associated with him.”

At 17:55 on 22 October, six 73a Squadriglia MC.202s, escorted by eight more, strafed Luqa. Nine Hurricanes of 249 Squadron were sent off to intercepts, the Macchis diving on them as they were climbing up over St. Paul’s Island. Sergeant Dave Owen (Hurricane GN-R), was shot down in flames, but managed to bale out before the fighter hit the sea. Sergeant Alf Branch (Z4016) noted in his logbook:

“Sgt Owen shot down into sea – circled him until picked up. Gave two short bursts head-on at a 202 – did not claim anything.”
Owen had been acting as a weaver in company with Pilot Officer R. H. ‘Bob’ Matthews whose aircraft (Z3756) was again hit, as he recorded in his diary:
“Just over St Paul’s Bay, when we were at about 15,000 feet, we saw the enemy aircraft - seven down, six above coming in very fast and diving apparently towards Takali. They were quite near when they turned towards us, still diving. They crossed us to the left of the formation and, as they came up, I pulled up my nose and gave a long burst so that the whole of the formation flew through it. They went over and all turned steeply to the left, while we nosed down and turned to the left also, trying to get some speed on the clock. We broke as they turned to fight and the whole sky filled up with aircraft milling around, and a few firing. Several Macchis stayed up and played the dive and climb tactics. As I circled after one Macchi, another jumped me and put a burst over my wings, both sides, so I turned and skidded away. I began circling to gain height, edging towards Valetta, which was darker than the west And just as I was turning towards a couple of Macchis, another jumped me from above and got in a burst which hit me pretty badly. I could smell the incendiary and explosive as they hit. And again I turned violently. As I did so, I saw a Hurricane go down steeply in flames and eventually hit the water. I did not see anyone get out.
Again I began the circling climb racket with several other Hurricanes with me. One came up behind and I shied away in case it was a Macchi. Then suddenly the Macchis went and we were left at about 12,000 feet in the growing gloom. I came in and landed, just avoiding a wing dip on account of my damaged (leading) edge. Of course, there was an inquest on the battle. I had bullets all over the place. One went into my left wing and smashed two ammo tanks, exploding a lot of ammunition in them. One went down the semi-armour plate on the cowling and burst when it hit the glycol filler cap cones, and blew it open. Another hit my mainspar about one foot from the wing-root and almost blew it apart - the wing surface was blown open about six inches on either side of the strike, The last went through the trailing edge - a clean hole. So that was another day of near shaves. I admit that I felt pretty fagged when I landed, and very upset. I could easily have been sick. The day after that I caught sandfly fever and went up to M’tarfa
[Hospital] for a week.”
This was the second time in the last two outings that Matthews and Owen had been targeted by the Macchis from the 73a Squadriglia, causing Pilot Officer Harry Moon to comment laconically:
“Sgt Owen and P/O Matthews (weavers) consistently shot up and down!”
The 73a Squadriglia pilots claimed heavily; two Hurricanes were credited to Tenente Bonfatti and one each to Capitano Mario Pluda, Sottotenente Alvaro Querci (according to some sources he was credited with two victories), Sergente Maggiore Teresio Martinoli and Sergente Mario Guerci, while probables went to Maggiore Antonio Larsimont and Capitano Carlo Ivaldi. One Macchi was damaged in the combat.

Around midday on 25 October, four Cant Z.1007bis from the 9o Stormo B.T. approached Grand Harbour, escorted by MC.200s of the 54o Stormo as close cover, with 20 MC.202 of the 9o Gruppo providing indirect support.
185 Squadron scrambled eight Hurricanes led by Flying Officer Gay Bailey (BD835) (11:35-12:30), which dived to attack the bombers (identified as BR.20s). Bailey reported:

“I was Red 1. When approaching Kalafrana from the south-east at 25,000 feet, I saw ack-ack bursts and then four enemy bombers. The e/a were heading towards us at about 20,000 feet. We dived for head-on attack. E/a turned and went out to sea. We caught them about six miles north-east of Grand Harbour. I opened fire on e/a on the left, fired one burst at 400 yards, and closed, firing. Broke off to the left and re-engaged and fired all my ammo. I noticed strikes on the starboard engine. Enemy fighters were circling above all the time. I was hit by a .5 bullet in fuselage.”
Red 2, Pilot Officer Oliver, fired at the same aircraft and reported obtaining a few hits on its port wing and engine, but broke away when Macchis dived at him. Blue Section followed, Sergeant Ream (Blue 1) only managing a short burst at the bomber before a Macchi attempted to get on his tail. His companion, Sergeant Bill Nurse (Blue 2), also attacked the bomber:
“I opened fire from 300 yards astern, my bullets entering the fuselage. I opened fire again from 200 yards, giving a six-second burst, and observed strikes on the fuselage and port engine. I closed in again, firing until my ammunition ran out, and again observed my bullets entering the port engine and wing-root. I broke away at 50 yards, and I think I stopped the port engine.”
Sergeant Trevor Bates, leading Yellow Section, fired at the unfortunate bomber until his guns stopped. He reported that ”something flew past me when I was about 100 feet away.” The Z.1007bis at the centre of all the attention was hit hard, its port engine being stopped, and it was considered to have been probably destroyed. In fact, the bomber managed to reach Sicily, where it belly-landed at Comiso with one dead and one wounded aboard.
At this point the Hurricanes were bounced by the MC.202s and Sergeant Ernest G. Knight (RAF no. 1164161) (Z3456) was shot down, being listed as missing. Sergeant Cyril Hunton got a short burst into one MC.202, which he claimed as a probable. He reported:
“I was flying as Yellow 2, when I saw on my starboard side, about five miles away, four enemy bombers. I followed my No1, who went in to attack one of the bombers. I was about 300 yards behind him when an enemy all-black fighter with an in-line engine came up to attack Sgt Bates and crossed my sight. I fired, and got on his tail, firing continually until I saw three Macchis attacking from above, when I broke off firing. As I turned towards the other fighters and fired, I ran out of ammunition. The first Macchi I attacked was leaving a thin trail of smoke when I broke off and came back.”
Italian search craft later found the wreckage of the fighter floating in the sea. Hunton had shot down the 4o Stormo’s commander, Tenente Colonnello Eugenio Leotta (MM7728), who was posthumously awarded the Medaglia d’oro al valor militare.
Two fighters were claimed shot down by Tenente Colonnello Minio Paulello, one by Maggiore Antonio Larsimont and one as a shared by Capitano Mario Pluda and Tenente Bonfatti, all on this occasion claimed as ‘Spitfires’.
Of the loss of Sergeant Knight, a 20-year-old from Birmingham, Flying Officer Peter Thompson wrote in the diary:
“Sgt Knight did not return from this engagement and in the subsequent search, which lasted all afternoon, no trace of him could be found. It is assumed that he was jumped by the fighter cover. Sgt Knight showed great promise as a fighter pilot. He was deservedly popular with everyone and it is with sincere regret that I have to record his death.
It has been impressed on pilots that they must maintain pair formation under all circumstances. No2s have been told to keep with their No Is. This also applies conversely: No1s must keep with their No2s. It so often happens that the No1 has the superior machine, and if he goes ‘balls out’, his No2 cannot keep up. It therefore behoves the leader of the section to maintain a speed which enables his No2 to hold formation comfortably. Sgt Knight, flying a heavy cannon machine, was probably left behind with the disastrous results that we all know.”

On 8 November 1941, Tenente Bonfatti temporarily took command over the 73a Squadriglia after Capitano Mario Pludas death in combat the same day.
Tenente Bonfatti was relieved by Capitano Carlo Ivaldi on 22 November.

In the afternoon on 21 November, 18 MC.202 from the 9o Gruppo were out to strafe Hal Far. On their way, they met four Hurricanes from 185 Squadron, which were engaged in a convoy patrol. The Italians reported meeting twelve Hurricanes and claimed five of these shot down into the sea, one each by Maggiore Antonio Larsimont (97a Squadriglia), Sergente Raffaele Novelli (97a Squadriglia), Maresciallo Rinaldo Damiani (97a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Alvaro Querci (73a Squadriglia) and Sergente Maggiore Pasquale Rossi (73a Squadriglia), plus two probables by Tenente Bonfatti (73a Squadriglia) and Tenente Jacopo Frigerio (97a Squadriglia).
One Hurricane was in fact lost; 20-year-old Flight Sergeant Richard Cousens (RAF no. 970365) being killed in Hurricane Z2813/GL-L.
The Italian fighters then carried on completing their strafe on Luqa, returning without loss.
At Luqa Corporal John Alton recalled:

“Four Hurricanes were scrambled and, as was customary, the fitters and riggers sat around on the starter trollies awaiting the return of the aircraft. Four aircraft were seen approaching, which at a glance looked like our Hurricanes. This was a gross mistake, because they were Macchi 202s and, before anyone could move, explosive bullets were churning up the ground. Then, just as quickly, they were gone. Not a soul was so much as scratched.”

In the afternoon on 22 November 1941, 61 MC.200s and MC.202s from 9o Gruppo and 54o Stormo escorted ten Ju 87s from 101o Gruppo B.a’T. to attack Malta.
The close-escort MC.200s became uncoordinated and returned early, but the higher flying MC.202s, which were providing indirect cover reported engaging 40 British fighters (‘Spitfires’). They returned claiming eight Spitfires and three more as probables. Tenente Fernando Malvezzi (96a Squadriglia) and Sottotenente Giovanni Barcaro (97a Squadriglia) both claimed two while Capitano Ezio Viglione Borghese, Sottotenente Emanuele Annoni (96a Squadriglia) and Sergente Maggiore Dante Labanti (73a Squadriglia) claimed one each. The eight Spitfire was claimed as a shared by the pilots from 9o Gruppo. Sergente Bruno Spitzl (96a Squadriglia), Sergente Gustavo Minelli (96a Squadriglia) and Sergente Maggiore Egeo Parodi (96a Squadriglia) claimed the three probables. One MC.202 (MM7748) was lost when Tenente Bonfatti (73a Squadriglia) was shot down and killed. Pilots reported seeing wreckage from one Italian fighter flying through the air. With the wreckage was an object swathed in white – as though the pilot had abandoned his aircraft and become entangled in the folds of his parachute.
In fact, 21 Hurricanes from 126 and 249 Squadrons (all available machines) had been scrambled led by Wing Commander Takali ‘Sandy’ Rabagliatti after that a large incoming raid had been detected. They saw a force of fighters north of Gozo at 7900-9100 meters, identified variously as 15 Macchis or 24 Macchis and Messerschmitts (there were no Bf 109s). Flight Lieutenant J. M. V. ‘Chips’ Carpenter of 126 Squadron led the top cover and returned reporting:

”While flying as Yellow 1 and escorting 249 Squadron, we were told that bandits were coming in from the north at heights varying from 20,000 to 32,000 feet [6100-9800 m]. I was doing high cover for my own Squadron with a section of three. I saw the two squadrons engage in a dogfight so I stayed above for some time. When I was sure there were no enemy aircraft to come down on them, I joined in the dogfight. I engaged the last Macchi in a formation of four, in line astern. He was straggling and I got in a five-second burst at 200 yards [180 m] dead astern. His hood fell off and something else I could not distinguish. I thought he was going to bale out so I kept on firing just in case. He did a very slow roll and disappeared.”
He was unable to follow as he now became engaged in another violent dogfight. Meanwhile, W. E. ‘Ted’ Copp attacked a Macchi in a steep turn, whereupon it began to pour smoke. Pilot Officer A. N. C. ‘Sandy’ MacGregor and Flying Officer Jack Kay claimed one damaged each while Pilot Officer B. W. ‘Rocky’ Main claimed two probables. None of the 126 Squadron pilots recorded any confirmed claims. Wing Commander Rabagliatti was attacked twice by flights of Macchis but he managed to escape. They all returned to base without damages or losses.
Pilot Officer Joe Crichton recalled:
”We intercepted 16-plus Macchi 202s. Three of us were top cover at 32,000 feet [9800 m] and we got jumped. Had one on my tail and could not turn inside him nor could he get a shot at me – finally lost him in cloud at 17,000 feet [5200 m]. Climbed back up but couldn’t get high enough before they headed for home. There sure was a great dogfight going on and not a bullet hole in any of our aircraft.”
Meanwhile the 249 Squadron, at a lower altitude, had better success as the Macchi MC.202s swooped down on them. Squadron Leader Robert Barton (Z3764) claimed one 13 km north-east of Gozo. The enemy pilot was not seen to bale out. Flying Officer C. C. H. Davis claimed a second and then shared another probably destroyed with Sergeant Alf Branch (BV156/GN-Q). Sergeant Branch noted:
”Sqn Ldr Barton was leading us when we intercepted 12 Macchi 202s at 18,000 feet [5500 m]. Flg Off Davis and myself shared a probable 202. Sgt Skeet-Smith got shot up in the tail and spun down out of control. Machine levelled out and he landed OK.”
No Hurricanes were lost and only Sergeant Skeet-Smith returned with a damaged Hurricane. Pilot Officer Bob Matthews also participated in this fight:
”I was, as usual, bottom weaver. We saw the bandits, who split up, one lot going north, the other south, both climbing- We turned north, then west, then south; the bandits attacked. But before this I had spotted a bandit coming up behind us. When he was 400 yards [366 m] away, I turned away from the rest of the formation and attacked him head-on; he turned down and away at once and I lost him. By now, I was some way below the formation, so I followed them weaving violently. The sky was empty, then full, all machines milling around. I saw a Hurricane on the tail of a Macchi about ten yards [9 m] away, going down. I took a look as the Macchi went down and saw the Hurricane barely miss another machine below. A Macchi dived down across my nose. I followed him round, keeping inside his turn and getting good deflection. When I got enough [deflection] I opened up and gave a long burst, allowing myself to come down dead astern of him. He jerked over on his back and went straight down through the cloud and I did not follow. I weaved around a little and then we were recalled, so I pancaked. It was a good day for us, three destroyed, two probables, five damaged [sic]. Our losses nil with one machine damaged.”

During his career he was decorated with two Medaglie d’argento al valor militare and one Medaglia di bronzo al valor militare.

At the time of his death Bonfatti was credited with 2 biplane victories and a total of 6.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  20/11/40 14:40-16:30 1/12 Gladiator (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Sidi Barrani area 73a Squadriglia
  20/11/40 14:40-16:30 1/12 Hurricane (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Sidi Barrani area 73a Squadriglia
  20/11/40 14:40-16:30 1/12 Hurricane (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Sidi Barrani area 73a Squadriglia
  20/11/40 14:40-16:30 1/12 Enemy fighter (a) Shared damaged Fiat CR.42   Sidi Barrani area 73a Squadriglia
  20/11/40 14:40-16:30 1/12 Enemy fighter (a) Shared damaged Fiat CR.42   Sidi Barrani area 73a Squadriglia
  20/11/40 14:40-16:30 1/12 Enemy fighter (a) Shared damaged Fiat CR.42   Sidi Barrani area 73a Squadriglia
  20/11/40 14:40-16:30 1/12 Enemy fighter (a) Shared damaged Fiat CR.42   Sidi Barrani area 73a Squadriglia
  10/12/40 08:41-10:05 1 Blenheim (b) Probably destroyed Fiat CR.42   70km off El Adem 73a Squadriglia
1 13/12/40 08:45- 1 Gladiator (c) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Sidi Omar - Sollum 73a Squadriglia
  17/12/40 09:45-11:45 ½ Hurricane (d) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 73a Squadriglia
  17/12/40 09:45-11:45 ½ Hurricane (d) Shared probable Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 73a Squadriglia
2 19/12/40 15:45 1 Hurricane (e) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 73a Squadriglia
  13/04/41   1/3 Flying boat Shared destroyed on the sea MC.200   Divulje 73a Squadriglia
  01/10/41 11:50- 1/3 Hurricane (f) Shared destroyed MC.202   48km NE Malta 73a Squadriglia
  01/10/41 11:50- 1/3 Hurricane (f) Shared destroyed MC.202   48km NE Malta 73a Squadriglia
  01/10/41 11:50- 1/3 Hurricane (f) Shared probable MC.202   48km NE Malta 73a Squadriglia
  01/10/41 11:50- 1/3 Hurricane (f) Shared probable MC.202   48km NE Malta 73a Squadriglia
3 22/10/41 17:55 1 Hurricane (g) Destroyed MC.202   St. Paul’s Island 73a Squadriglia
4 22/10/41 17:55 1 Hurricane (g) Destroyed MC.202   St. Paul’s Island 73a Squadriglia
  25/10/41 11:35-12:30 1/2 ’Spitfire’ (h) Shared destroyed MC.202   Grand Harbour area 73a Squadriglia
  21/11/41 p.m. 1 Hurricane (i) Probably destroyed MC.202   off Malta 73a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 2 and 4 shared destroyed, 1 and 1 shared probably destroyed, 4 shared damaged.
TOTAL: 6 and 7 shared destroyed, 2 and 3 shared probably destroyed, 4 shared damaged, 1 shared destroyed on the sea.
(a) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 33 and 274 Squadrons and Gladiators from 112 Squadron. 9o Gruppo claimed seven victories and two probables while losing three CR.42s, getting four more damaged and losing two pilots KIA. 112 Squadron claimed eight victories for no losses, 274 Squadron possibly suffered one damaged Hurricane while 33 Squadron possibly claimed a CR.42 without losses.
(b) Claimed in combat with Blenheims from 55 Squadron, which didn’t suffer any damage.
(c) Claimed combat with Gladiators from 3 RAAF Squadron, which claimed one S.79 and one probable and two CR.42s for the loss of four Gladiators destroyed and one force-landed. The 9o Gruppo claimed six Gladiators and three probables for four Fiats damaged (one of them was lost). The S.79s from the 60a Squadriglia claimed two Gladiators without losses (the CO was however killed).
(d) Possibly claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 33 or 274 Squadron, which claimed one CR.42 and another probable while one Hurricane force-landed. The Italian fighters claimed two Hurricanes, one probable and two damaged while losing one CR.42 and getting a second damaged.
(e) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 33 and 274 Squadrons, which claimed 5 CR.42s while getting 1 Hurricane from 274 Squadron damaged. The 9o and 10o Gruppi claimed at least 2 Hurricanes, 1 probable and 2 damaged while suffering 2 damaged CR.42s.
(f) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 185 Squadron, which claimed 1 damaged MC.202 while losing 1 Hurricane (pilot KiA). The 73a Squadriglia claimed 2 destroyed and 2 probable Hurricanes while suffering 1 damaged MC.202.
(g) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 249 Squadron. 73a Squadriglia claimed 6 destroyed and 2 probables while 249 Squadron lost 1 aircraft and got a second damaged.
(h) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 185 Squadron, which claimed 1 probable bomber and 1 MC.202 while losing 1 Hurricane (Sgt. E. Knight KIA). The 9o claimed 4 enemy fighters while losing 1 MC.202.
(i) Claimed in combat with 4 Hurricanes from 185 Squadron, which didn’t claim anything while losing 1 Hurricane (pilot KiA). 9o Gruppo claimed 5 Hurricanes destroyed and 2 probably without losses.

3o Stormo, storia fotografica - Dai biplani agli aviogetti - Carlo Lucchini and Leproni Enrico, 1990 Gino Rossato Editore
9o Stormo da Bombardamento Terrestre (1934-1943) - Giovanni Tonicchi, 1997, Tarquinia kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
33 Squadron Operations Record Book
Assi Italiani Della Caccia 1936-1945 - Giovanni Massimello, 1999 Aerofan no. 69 apr.-giu. 1999, Giorgio Apostolo Editore, Milan
Buscaglia e gli Aerosiluranti - Orazio Giuffrida, 1994 Ufficio Storico Aeronautica Militare, Rome kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Dai Biplani agli Aviogetti - Carlo Lucchini and Enrico Leproni, 1990 Gino Rossato Editore, Valdagno kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Desert Prelude: Early clashes June-November 1940 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2010 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-89450-52-4
Diario Storico 73a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Diario Storico 97a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Fighters over the Desert - Christopher Shores and Hans Ring, 1969 Neville Spearman Limited, London
Hurricanes over Malta - Brian Cull and Frederick Galea, 2001 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-91-8
Hurricanes over the sands: Part One - Michel Lavigne and James F. Edwards, 2003 Lavigne Aviation Publications, Victoriaville, ISBN 2-9806879-2-8
Il 5o Stormo - Giuseppe Pesce and Nicola Malizia, 1984 STEM Mucchi, Modena kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Il 23o Gruppo Caccia - Nicola Malizia, 1974 Bizzarri, Roma kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Il 101o Gruppo Tuffatori - Giuseppe Pesce, 1975 STEM Mucchi, Modena kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Il Caccia Re 2000 e la storia delle "Reggiane" - Sergio Govi, 1983 Giorgio Apostolo Editore, Milan kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Il caccia RE 2001 - Sergio Govi, 1982 Giorgio Apostolo Editore, Milan kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Il Fiat CR 42 l’ultimo biplano da caccia Italiano – Nicola Malizia, 2003 Editrice Innocenti, Grosseto, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Il Savoia Marchetti S.M. 79 nel Secondo Conflitto Mondiale - Bombardamento Terrestre - Ricognizione Strategica - Aviazione Sahariana – Cesare Gori, 2003 USSMA, Rome
Il Walzer del 102o Gruppo - Giuseppe Pesce, 1976 STEM Mucchi, Modena, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Italian Aces of World War 2 - Giovanni Massimello and Giorgio Apostolo, 2000 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 1-84176-078-1
La Regia Aeronautica - volume I: Dalla non belligeranza all'intervento – Nino Arena, 1981 USSMA, Rome kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Macchi C.202/C.205V Units In Combat – Marco Mattioli, 2022 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-4728-5068-3
Malta: The Hurricane Years 1940-41 - Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-89747-207-1
Messerschmitt Bf 109 - Gregory Alegi and Marco Gueli, 2002 Ali Straniere in Italia no. 1, La Bancarella Aeronautica, Turin, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Ministero della Difesa - Banca Dati sulle sepolture dei Caduti in Guerra
National Archives of Australia
Quelli del Cavallino Rampante - Antonio Duma, 1981 Editore Dell'Ateneo, Roma kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Storia degli Aerosiluranti Italiani - Carlo Unia, 1974 Edizioni Bizzarri, Rome, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Stormi d'Italia - Giulio Lazzati, 1975 Mursia, Milan kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
The Messerschmitt 109 in Italian service 1943-1945 - Ferdinando D'Amico and Gabriele Valentini, 1989 Monogram Aviation Publication, Boylston, ISBN 0-914144-30-8, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Additional information kindly provided by Ian Acworth, Russell Guest, Stefano Lazzaro, Ondrej Repka and Ludovico Slongo.

Last modified 19 January 2024