Capitano Ezio Viglione Borghese
Ezio Viglione Borghese was born on 15 October 1914.
Viglione was commissioned (in Servizio Permanente Effettivo) on 24 June 1936.
Ezio Viglione Borghese took part in the Spanish Civil War where he served in the X Gruppo using the nom de guerre Vinetti .
He claimed a Tupolev SB-2 between Ibiza and the Spanish coast on 2 April 1937.
On 12 July 1940, the 9o Gruppo C.T. arrived at Tripoli from Comiso with thirty-three Fiat CR.42s under the command of Maggiore Ernesto Botto. The Gruppo consisted of 73a, 96a and 97a Squadriglie. The 97a Squadriglia included Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni (CO), Capitano Giuseppe Mauriello, Tenente Viglione Borghese, Sottotenente Jacopo Frigerio, Sottotenente Riccardo Vaccari, Sottotenente Giovanni Barcaro, Maresciallo Vanni Zuliani, Sergente Maggiore Raffaele Novelli, Sergente Maggiore Otello Perotti, Sergente Maggiore Massimo Salvatore, Sergente Francesco Putzu, Sergente Franco Sarasino, Sergente Alcide Leoni and Sergente Angelo Golino (assigned on 22 July).
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 17 September, Sottotenente Riccardo Vaccari (97a Squadriglia) flew a night patrol from El Adem in the Sidi el Barrani area. During this mission, thanks to the moonlight, he discovered a British naval formation steaming north-east of Sollum. Returning to El Adem he gave the alarm and two SM 79s torpedo-bombers flown by Tenente Carlo Emanuele Buscaglia ("278-3" with the crew of Tenente Carlo Copello, Aviere Scelto motorista Neroni and Primo Aviere Marconista Giuseppe Dondi) and Tenente Guido Robone (278-1; with the crew of Sergente Deodato, Tenente di Vascello Osservatore Marazio, Primo aviere Marconista Mauri and Primo Aviere Motorista Sabatini) of the 278a Squadriglia Autonoma Aerosiluranti took off at 21:55.
Occupying spare room in the bombers were in 278-3, Tenente Giuseppe Aurili (84a Squadriglia) and Sottotenente Viglione sharing one parachute and in 278-1, Sottotenente Aldo Gon (96a Squadriglia) without a parachute.
At 22:40, near the coast of Ras Azzaz they discovered the enemy ships, it was the heavy cruiser HMS Kent with its escort, bound to bombard Bardia.
With the moon on the right side, lighting the target, the two SM 79s attacked in single line (Robone after Buscaglia) with an approach of 50 degrees with regard to the course of the ship. At 22:45, they launched their torpedoes from a distance of 700 metres. One of the torpedoes hit HMS Kent's stern near the propellers. It was the first serious damage caused to a British ship by Regia Aeronautica, and indeed HMS Kent, towed to Alexandria in two days with great difficulties, was unfit for further service in the Mediterranean. At this moment, it was the only 8-inch cruiser of the fleet because the other one assigned to Cunningham's fleet (HMS York) was still on its way towards Suez.
Back at base Buscaglia's aircraft was late in landing and Colonnello Grandinetti treated Gon with imprisonment since he held him responsible of such a silly thing and the loss of two pilots of the importance of Aurili and Viglione. After half an hour Buscaglia landed safely and it all ended well for Gon.
The 9o Gruppo was busy during 27 September covering troop movements towards Giarabub (the extreme outpost of the Italian army near the Sahara region, 240km south of El Adem). The first mission was flown by six CR.42s of 73a Squadriglia led by Maggiore Ernesto Botto, and the second mission made by aircraft from the 96a Squadriglia led by Capitano Roberto Fassi. Both these missions went on uneventfully.
The next mission of the day was flown by six CR.42s from the 97a Squadriglia (Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni, Sergente Franco Sarasino, Sottotenente Giovanni Barcaro, Tenente Viglione, Tenente Riccardo Vaccari and Sergente Angelo Golino) to which a CR.42 of the 366a Squadriglia, 151o Gruppo (Tenente Mario Ferrero on the first mission for this unit over the North African front) was attached.
While circling over El Garn ul Grein (90 km south of Ridotta Maddalena) they spotted 14 bombers 500 meters above them heading towards the troops. The bombers were eleven Bristol Blenheims of 55 Squadron led by Flight Lieutenant R.B. Cox (acting Squadron Leader), which had taken off from Fuka at 12:00, to raid Italian M. T. concentrations near Giarabub. The Blenheims crossed the border 30 miles north of Giarabub and then followed the road southwards to this town. Not meeting any enemy, they attacked the fort at 13:45 where a direct hit caused a column of black smoke to rise from the building. After the attack, two aircraft from C Flight lagged behind the rest of the formation. They where L8394 piloted by Pilot Officer Godrich and L8454 piloted by Pilot Officer I. Hook. The Blenheims then proceeded up to the border road and when 40 miles north of Giarabub they discovered some M. T. resting. At the same moment, seven CR.42s were seen on the port side of the formation. The Fiats immediately attacked the two stragglers. The first four fighters were seen to come up behind L8394 while the other three waited above. The bomber was seen to catch fire and crash, one occupant thought to be the Air Gunner was seen to jump from the back and escape by parachute. The bomber fell victim of the first trio from the 97a Squadriglia composed of Capitano Larsimont, Sergente Sarasino and Sottotenente Barcaro. These pilots in fact claimed the right wingman of the rear section shot down in flames. Larsimont observed a crewmember parachute from the burning bomber while Barcaro claimed to have set one of the bombers engines on fire with his fire; totally they expended more than 2000 rounds of ammunition. 21-year old pilot Flying Officer Ambrose Sydney Barnard Godrich (RAF no. 40532), 28-year old Observer Sergeant William Clarke (RAF no. 562044) and 22-year old Wireless Operator/Air Gunner Sergeant William Thompson (RAF no. 550519) were all killed when L8394 crashed.
Meanwhile, Tenente Ferrero attacked the front section, joined moments later by Larsimont, Sarasino and Barcaro. Ferrero claimed a probable Blenheim after expending 400 rounds. He was less effective than he believed, returning crews from 55 Squadron reported that apart from the two stragglers, the main formation was chased rather half-heartedly and no damage was done while an air gunner claimed one of the Fiats shot down but this was unconfirmed.
Tenente Viglione, Tenente Vaccari and Sergente Golino attacked the left wingman of the rear section, which was seen to dive to ground level. They pursued it for 80 kilometres over Egypt, until it reportedly crashed burning into the ground. Viglione and his wingmen then damaged other bombers before being forced to return to base due to lack of fuel. They had in fact chased L8454 (Pilot Officer Hook, Observer Sergeant W. F. Bowker and Wireless Operator/Air Gunner Sergeant J. Rigby). This Blenheim was seen by its comrades to dive to ground level and to continue evasive tactics that in the end made the following fighters to break off. The machine however was badly shot up and the crew was reputed very lucky not to have been hit. The ten surviving aircraft from 55 Squadron landed at base at 15:40.
The claim of Ferrero was due to a misunderstanding, because once back at base, from a telephone call from the Army, it was reported that after the Italian fighters had left the area another formation of bombers arrived. It was assumed that this was the 55 Squadron formation, less three aircraft, which was back over its intended target and for this reason a third plane was presumed shot down. In fact, it now transpires that 55 Squadron didn t come back for a second raid and the second formation were in fact eight Blenheims of 211 Squadron under the lead of Squadron Leader Gordon-Finlayson bound for the same target. Five of the 211 Squadron's bombers overshot while three others claimed hits in the target area.
The loss of L8394 was the first operational loss of 55 Squadron due to fighter opposition. On 30 September, men of an Egyptian Frontier Post found the wrecked L8394 with one body in it (Clarke?) and a pilot's parachute together with helmet marked Godrich, outside the aircraft. Footsteps led away from the aircraft towards an Italian outpost, thus assuming that the pilot survived the crash and now was a POW. This was not the case and in fact, all three had been killed.
A fourth uneventful mission was flown later during the day by the 73a Squadriglia.
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 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.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:
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..."
"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.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.
[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."
In the afternoon on 9 December, SM 79s were out to bomb British troops at the Sidi Barrani - Bir Enba area. They were to be escorted by 19 CR.42s of the 9o Gruppo led by Maggiore Ernesto Botto, which had taken off from El Adem at 14:55. The fighters included seven from the 73a Squadriglia (Tenente Valerio De Campo (CO), Tenente Giulio Reiner, Sottotenente Alvaro Querci, Sergente Maggiore Guglielmo Biffani, Sergente Maggiore Enrico Dallari, Sergente Maggiore Antonio Valle and Sergente Santo Gino) seven from the 97a Squadriglia (Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni (CO), Tenente Viglione, Sottotenente Riccardo Vaccari, Sergente Maggiore Otello Perotti, Sergente Maggiore Massimo Salvatore, Sergente Angelo Golino and Sergente Alcide Leoni) and four from the 96a Squadriglia (Tenente Aldo Gon and Sergente Giuseppe Tomasi together with two unknown pilots).
More Italian fighters were up to escort the bombers and at 15:10, Sergente Maggiore Fiorenzo Milella of the 366a, 151o Gruppo, attached to a formation of nine CR.42s of the 368a Squadriglia (Capitano Bruno Locatelli, Sergente Maggiore Davide Colauzzi, Sergente Ernesto De Bellis, Sottotenente Furio Lauri, Sergente Maggiore Annibale Ricotti, Tenente Orfeo Paroli, Sergente Piero Hosquet, Sergente Stefano Fiore, Sergente Ottorino Ambrosi) were out to escorted Italian bombers in the Bir Enba area.
The rendezvous with the bombers over A3 failed and after 20 minutes, the fighters of the 9o Gruppo arrived and together they proceeded towards the front on a free sweep. Three SM 79s were discovered and escorted for a while. Over Buq-Buq, a Hurricane strafing along the coastal road was discovered and the SM 79s were left to the 9o Gruppo while the CR.42s of the 151o Gruppo attacked the British fighter. The Hurricane was claimed shot down in flames and credited to the formation (but in fact only Locatelli, Lauri, Paroli and De Bellis fired their guns).
The 151a Gruppo fighters returned to base at 16:50.
Meanwhile the fighters from the 9o Gruppo continued and 30 km south of Bir Enba they spotted some Gladiators at a lower level and dived on them, but suddenly the CR.42s were jumped by a reported two Squadrons of Hurricanes or Spitfires, attacking respectively the 73a Squadriglia and the 96a Squadriglia with the 97a Squadriglia. A large dogfight started and after 20 minutes of combat many claims were submitted by the Italian pilots
Tenente Vaccari fought alone against four Hurricanes, claiming one destroyed (as a Spitfire) and damaging the others before his Fiat was hit in the fuel tank and in the engine. He crash-landed near Sollum, the aircraft turning over and caught fire; he was burned in the face and hands. Sergente Maggiore Salvatore claimed a Spitfire and several damaged before being wounded in his left arm. He managed however to return to base. Sergente Golino was hit in his back, but managed to claim his attacker before being compelled to evade and land at Amseat A3. Sergente Maggiore Biffani (Fiat CR.42 MM5599/73-9) claimed a Hurricane but was at the same shot down by his victim and was captured. He recalled:
"In the afternoon of 9 December we were flying between Mersa Matruh and Buq-Buq, when my wingman, Sottotenente Alvaro Querci, warned me that we had enemies behind us. I alerted Botto by shooting a burst [Note that the CR.42 had no radio during this period], then I realized they were near my tail, so I made a 180-degree turn and I saw them pass: they were three Hurricanes. I climbed almost vertically and saw the 73a Squadriglia in front, the three Hurricanes behind it and 96a and 97a Squadriglia behind them, all in a vertical line that went down to the ground. Then I discovered a Hurricane that was breaking off from the combat, clearly he had seen the other Italian fighters on its tail. I continued to climb, now I was the highest fighter of them all, then I dived down at full throttle [towards the escaping Hurricane]. I arrived near it and then I reduced speed and put the revolutions between 1850 and 2250 because otherwise I would had cut my propeller as happened to Gon and others, because the airscrew went out of gear and the round was fired when it passed in front of the gun ( ) . When I closed to it, I opened fire. I aimed and saw the explosive bullets that exploded on the wing. Why didn t anything happen? Was there no fuel at all? I fired at the other wing but it was the same, the bullets exploded but nothing happened. I fired into the engine, nothing happened. I saw the tracers very well, and after all, it wasn t the first time I was shooting. At Gorizia I used to hit the target balloon with ten rounds only. In the meantime, I was losing speed and falling behind, O.K. Goodbye! It passed and turned towards me again -so I hadn t caused any damage to it- , and I did the same. We found ourselves face to face at a distance of around 500-600 metres. I started firing and saw my tracers hitting it, then its wings lit up and in the same moment my plane caught fire, it was just an instant. My plane was severely damaged and while I was trying to land I saw the Hurricane that dived into the ground and exploded. I saw no parachute. I force-landed among British MTs and was immediately taken prisoner. I went back home after 63 months of POW!"Additional Hurricanes were claimed by Botto, Sergente Dallari, Sergente Valle and an unknown pilot of the 73a Squadriglia (it is possible that this was a shared claim). It seems possible that also Sergente Maggiore Perotti claimed a victory (this claim is disallowed in the 97a Squadriglia diary, who only credits him with some Spitfires damaged).
"The enemy engaged in dogfight. Claim one E a/c for certain (saw it hit the ground). Attacked two in tight vic and was at 200 yards point blank range and fell certain must have killed pilots. Got another good and point blank deflection shot at another. Closed from optimum to point blank range at first. Must (?) have shot down the first two but could not spare time to confirm. 3rd point blank deflection shot likely and fourth adversary saw it hit the ground (claim 1 confirmed and 2 others which I feel certain about but must go down as unconfirmed)."Flight Lieutenant Lapsley (he delivered a head-on attack) reported:
"The enemy fired back. 1 CR 42 shot down and seen to hit the ground without burning. Several other machines were shot at individually. They can out manoeuvre a Hurricane but one can get away and then come back."Pilot Officer Mason (he was discovered during the approach and had to dogfight from the beginning) reported:
"The enemy tried to turn inside me. 1 CR 42 shot at short range from above into cockpit. Aircraft turned (unreadable) with sparks from it. Followed it down until attacked by others CR 42s. Using 15o flap climb (unreadable) but not quite equal to 42. Speed on level far superior. Possible when attacked from above to turn and deliver short head on burst."Flight Lieutenant Wykeham-Barnes reported:
"The enemy dog fought, during dogfight damaged two enemy and sent one down out of control but could not see it crash as another was in my tail. The enemy fairly aggressive."Flying Officer Patterson (he delivered a quarter attack from port side) reported:
"The enemy started a general dogfight. 1 CR 42 shot down and seen to burn out on the ground."The 274 Squadron Hurricanes all had landed at 17:00.
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 Pietro Bonfatti, Tenente Giuseppe Oblach, Sottotenente Giulio Reiner, Sergente Maggiore Sergio Stauble and Sergente Enrico Dallari) and the 97a Squadriglia (Capitano Viglione, 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.
"( ) 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.
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 Viglione, Sergente Maggiore Raffaele Novelli and Sergente Alcide Leoni), eight from the 73a Squadriglia (Tenente Valerio De Campo, Tenente Pietro 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 20 December, the 9o Gruppo was ordered to return to its home base at Gorizia, Italy. They left their surviving CR.42s to the 23o Gruppo of the 3o Stormo.
He was promoted to Capitano on 6 February 1941.
In February 1941, the unit was re-equipped with the Macchi MC.200.
On 1 April 1941, Capitano Viglione took command of the 96a Squadriglia after Capitano Roberto Fassi.
The Gruppo then took part in the attacks on Yugoslavia in April 1941.
In late afternoon on 10 April, Capitano Viglione, Sottotenente Giulio Reiner, Tenente Emanuele Annoni (96a Squadriglia), Sergente Bruno Biagini (96a Squadriglia) and Sergente Maggiore Raffaele Novelli (97a Squadriglia) made an offensive recon mission over the flying-boat station of Slosella (now Pirovac in Croatia), where they spotted some seaplanes, that were strafed. Reiner claimed the destruction of three of them while two more were damaged by the other pilots. Soon after they hit and burned the fuel storage of the station.
Operation against Yugoslavia ended on 17 April and between 17 and 20 April the 9o Gruppo returned to Gorizia.
In July 1941 the Gruppo re-equipped with MC.202s
The 9o Gruppo was sent to Sicily, arriving in the end of September 1941, to take part in the operations against Malta
Early in the morning of 14 October, six low-flying MC.202s from the 96a Squadriglia led by the CO Capitano Viglione strafed Luqa. They attacked in two pairs of three and it seems that they didn't inflict any damage to the airfield or its aircraft.
Five all-black MNFU Hurricanes took off to intercept, led by Flight Lieutenant Cassidy. Three each from 185 and 249 Squadrons followed them. 19-year-old Pilot Officer David Barnwell (RAF no. 61052) (Hurricane Z3512) of the MNFU was reported to claim one enemy fighter shot down, radioing "Tally-ho! Tally-ho! Got one! Got one!" as he fired at the MC.202. He was then bounced by Sottotenente Bruno Paolazzi, who shot the Hurricane off Annoni's tail. Five minutes later, Barnwell radioed "Bailing out, engine cut - am coming down in the sea". A rescue launch and aircraft searched all day until dark but found no trace of the pilot.
It would seem that the Macchi attacked by Barnwell was flown by Sottotenente Emanuele Annoni, who was distracted by a jammed machine gun when he was attacked but despite two cannon shell strikes in the fuselage, he was able to fly it back to Comiso. Sottotenente Bruno Paolazzi and Maresciallo Manlio Olivetti made claims for two Hurricanes while Capitano Viglione claimed a damaged Hurricane. Sergente Maggiore Luigi Taroni and Sergente Gustavo Minelli also claimed a probable jointly.
Flying Officer "Tommy" Thompson recorded of the days event:
"My 21st birthday! Dawn - scramble! Low flying attack on Luqa by six Macchi 202s. Plt Off. Barnwell and myself jumped. Barnwell shot down one but failed to return himself"He then added:
"The action took place about dawn and 249 Squadron were also scrambled - Plt. Off. Leggett fired at me over Grand Harbour - I seem to remember it cost him at least a couple of beers!"
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 Viglione, 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 Pietro 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.
"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."
The British offensive Operation Crusader was launched in North Africa on 18 November 1941. Italian reinforcements were rushed to Libya including the 9o Gruppo (minus the 73a Squadriglia), which arrived at Martuba on 25 November with their MC.202s and Capitano Viglione as CO of the 96a Squadriglia.
On 26 November, the MC.202s of the 9o Gruppo made their combat debut in the Gruppo's second African tour. At 11:00, a formation of 10 MC.202s took off, led by Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni, for a free sweep over the Sidi Rezegh-Gambut area. They were split into two patrols of five aircraft each (one patrol from the 96a Squadriglia and one from the 97a Squadriglia).
After about 25 minutes of flight and at an altitude of about 5,000m, two enemy formations were seen; one composed of 12 Hurricanes at altitude of 3,500m and a second of P-40s (in fact Hurricanes also) at an altitude higher than 5,000m, which escorted the former. Both Macchi patrols attacked the lower formation, breaking it up. The higher formation intervened in the battle, which lasted about 10 minutes.
Capitano Larsimont got on the tail of an enemy aircraft and attacked it (firing 94 rounds) but was immediately set upon by another enemy fighter which hit him from behind. He managed to get away and bring home his damaged fighter. Maresciallo Raffaele Novelli (97a Squadriglia) fired on some enemy fighters in successive actions and claimed one shot down using a total of 675 rounds. Sottotenente Giovanni Barcaro (97a Squadriglia) fired on eight enemy aircraft in successive action. He got on the tail of a P-40 and hit it with a long burst. The aircraft came down and crashed into the ground. His MC.202 was shot on fuel so he landed at Tmimi to refuel before returning to base. He had used 275 rounds in the combat. Sottotenente Jacopo Frigerio (97a Squadriglia) fired on three enemy fighters over several clashes without being able to notice any visible effects, using 102 rounds. Sergente Maggiore Massimo Salvatore (97a Squadriglia) got on the tail on an enemy aircraft and shot it down after hitting it with a long burst. Then he fired on a second one, shooting this down as well. Totally he used 575 rounds before returning to base with the windshield of his fighter smeared with oil from the oil tank of one of the Hurricanes, he had shot down.
In the end of the combat, the Italian pilots claimed eight enemy fighters destroyed and an additional as probably destroyed using 3000 rounds of ammunition with two MC.202s damaged (Capitano Larsimont and Capitano Viglione). Four P-40s and a probable Hurricane were credited to the 96a Squadriglia; Capitano Viglione, Tenente Emanuele Annoni, Tenente Fernando Malvezzi, Maresciallo Manlio Olivetti and Maresciallo Dante Labanti (1 probable Hurricane).
Four enemy fighters were credited to the 97a Squadriglia; Sottotenente Barcaro (1 P-40), Maresciallo Novelli and Sergente Maggiore Salvatore (2 enemy fighters).
They had been in combat with Hurricanes from 229 and 238 Squadrons. The higher formation seems to have been 229 Squadron, which was carrying out a defensive patrol for the ground forces with 12 Hurricanes over Sidi Rezegh. They had taken off at 11:45 (landing 13:30). They encountered a reportedly 12 enemy fighters, thought to be Bf 109s, without losing any Hurricanes but claiming to have shot down two of the enemies; Pilot Officer J. H. Penny (Hurricane Z5302) and Sergeant Warminger (Z3146). Presumably they thought that they had shot down Capitano Larsimont and Capitano Viglione.
The lower formation seem to have been 238 Squadron (take off 11:45 and landing 13:15), which reported being attacked by 6-7 enemy fighters and suffering losses when 21-years-old Australian Sergeant Robert Arthur Knappett (RAAF no. 400146) (Hurricane Z2355/L) was KIA at 13:15, Flying Officer Kings (G) crash-landed (King removed the overcoat from a dead Italian soldier and then drove an abandoned tank all through the night to reach Tobruk!) while Sergeant Kay (BV170/N) was shot down (Kay returned on foot). Pilot Officer H. G. Currie's Hurricane (Z5222/Y) was wrecked on landing at Tobruk while Sergeant Fairbairn landed at Tobruk wounded and with his Hurricane (E) badly damaged.
It is possible that the RAF units also claimed two additional aircraft damaged in this combat.
On 1 December, 21 German Ju 87s and 8 Italian (from the 239a Squadriglia), were in action 20 km north-east of Gobi at 11:30. They were being escorted by ten Bf 109s and Italian fighters. Seven MC.200s of the 153o Gruppo provided the close cover (take off 11:30 and landing 13:30). This group's diary notes the attack south-east of Bir El Gobi. The top cover of twelve MC.202s from the 9o Gruppo six from the 96a Squadriglia and six from the 97a Squadriglia took off at 11:35 under the command of Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni. One of the 96a Squadriglia aircraft returned early because of engine trouble.
The German operational report mentions the clash of Bf 109s with three Hurricane IIs being claimed shot down; Unteroffizier Hans Niederh fer of 5./JG 27 claimed one at 12:30 south-west of Sidi Rezegh, Oberleutnant Gustav R del of 4./JG 27 claimed one 12:40 south-west of El Adem and Hauptmann Wolfgang Redlich of 1./JG 27 claimed one at 12:55 over Bir El Gobi, at 12.55. No German fighters were lost and it seems that none suffered any damage.
According to the diaries of the 9o Gruppo the formation was getting ready to return when it sighted about 20 enemy fighters, divided between Hurricanes and Tomahawks, which were escorting bombers south of Bir El Gobi at 4,000m at 11:40. The commander manoeuvred to gain altitude and launched into the attack.
All in all the pilots of the 97a Squadriglia thought that they had definitely shot down four aircraft, probably another five and machine gunned ten. Capitano Larsimont machine gunned some enemy aircraft (using 155 rounds of ammunition). It was thought that one of them was hit by a long burst on the tail and was claimed as probably shot down. Maresciallo Rinaldo Damiani fired a burst at the tail of an enemy monoplane which then lost height leaving a long trail of smoke and crashed into the ground and was burnt up. He returned after having used 105 rounds of ammunition claiming two Hurricanes destroyed. Sottotenente Jacopo Frigerio fired a long burst at a Hurricane, saw it start to catch fire and claimed it as a destroyed. Subsequently he machine gunned another two without managing to notice any visible results (totally he used 249 rounds). Sergente Alfredo Bombardini machine gunned two enemy aircraft hitting them with effective bursts but without noticing any visible results and returned claiming both as probably destroyed with the use of 303 rounds. Sottotenente Giovanni Barcaro machine gunned three enemy aircraft in successive episodes but wasn t able to see any results. Subsequently he got on the tail of an enemy aircraft and hit it with long bursts until he saw it leaving a long trail of black smoke losing altitude in a spin. He then got on the tail of another Hurricane and machine gunned it with long bursts from close in. The enemy aircraft left a long trail of whitish smoke coming from the water radiator. He couldn't spend much time looking at the results of his bursts since he had to get clear of an enemy aircraft that was firing at him from behind. He noticed he had been hit on the water radiator and prepared to return to base, but was forced to make a crash landing with the undercarriage retracted because his plane's engine had seized up. This happened 12 km from Ain El Gazala at 13:05. He returned to base by car at night claiming one Hurricane and another as probable with the use of 630 rounds of ammunition. Finally, Maresciallo Otello Perotti machine gunned some enemy aircraft, hitting them with long bursts; one of them was believed to have probably been shot down with the use of 188 rounds.
The pilots of the 96a Squadriglia also claimed to have shot down four fighters (and a fifth damaged). Capitano Viglione (1 Hurricane), Tenente Fernando Malvezzi (1 Tomahawk), Maresciallo Dante Labanti (1 Hurricane), Tenente Emanuele Annoni (1 Tomahawk) and Sergente Maggiore Bruno Spitzl (1 damaged Tomahawk). Tenente Annoni's MC.202 was damaged during the combat. The battle lasted 10 minutes, during which 2250 rounds were fired altogether. The Macchis returned between 13:15 and 13:20.
The enemies were the escort of 23 Blenheims of the 14, 45, 84 and "Lorraine" Squadrons, which were heading west of El Adem. They were escorted by the Hurricanes of 1 SAAF Squadron (take off 11:45 - the second mission of the day) and 274 Squadron (take off 11:50). Subsequently the escort would carry out a free sweep above El Duda. 1 SAAF Squadron with twelve Hurricanes provided the close cover, while 274 Squadron with twelve Hurricanes provided top cover. When they were above the target they encountered a reportedly twenty fighters divided between Bf 109s and G.50s and a battle ensued with them.
274 Squadron declared three Bf 109s shot down, one probable and two damaged; Pilot Officer Wally Conrad (one and one probable Bf 109 in Hurricane IIb Z5064), Sergeant James Dodds (1 Bf 109 in Z5117), Sergeant Harrington (1 and 1 damaged Bf 109 in Z5347) and Pilot Officer R. N. Weeks (1 damaged Bf 109 in Z4008)). However they suffered three shot down Hurricanes and a fourth force-landing. Pilot Officer Weeks was shot down but was picked up by ground force and returned, Sergeant G. W. F. Pearse (Z2817) was shot down 25m south-west of El Adem at 13:00 and WIA (he was picked up by armoured cars and returned on 3 December) and Sergeant Alman (Z2510) was shot down and became MIA. Lieutenant W. H. Hoffe (Z5310) made a force-landing after that his Hurricane had been hit in the glycol tank, causing the engine to blow up. Flight Lieutenant Owen Tracey (BD821), one of the 274 Squadron flight commanders, landed and picked him up, flying him back to base.
1 SAAF Squadron pilots identified six G.50s, presumably the seven MC.200s of the 153o Gruppo, during the escort but didn t attack them because they were engaged in escorting the bombers; they noticed that not even the G.50s attacked, probably for the same reason. 1 SAAF Squadron returned at 13:10.
Considering 274 Squadron's difficult situation, it seems surprising that the close cover for the bombers didn t intervene, as had happened on several other occasions. The escort had probably been given very precise orders; these were, in fact, pilots who didn't hold back when called upon to take on the enemy.
274 Squadron would have spotted the Stuka escort: 20 divided between Bf 109s and Italian monoplanes with radial engines. However the latter divided between the close cover of Bf 109s and MC.202s were about 30 altogether. Therefore it would seem that 274 Squadron had clashed with only one formation of planes with in-line engines; either Bf 109s or MC.202s. At the same time the 9o Gruppo estimated that about 20 enemy planes had been encountered. It has been ascertained that the Macchis of the 9o Gruppo were engaged in a big battle; on the other hand it seems likely that the Bf 109s also were involved. There could have been the participation of a third Commonwealth unit, although documentation in this regard is missing. To back up this, during the day also AIR 22.401 reported the loss of 3 Tomahawks and of a fifth damaged Hurricane as well as a Beaufort.
When the details of the battles were reported the Macchis always tried to put themselves on the tails of enemy planes, not an easy tactic but one that was thought to be essential to have any chance of shooting down an enemy fighter.
At 10:40 on 8 December, eight MC.202s from the 9o Gruppo led by Capitano Viglione (96a Squadriglia) commenced a patrol of the Ain el Gazala-Trigh Capuzzo-Tobruk area. They were followed by eleven MC.202s from the 17o Gruppo (six from the 71a Squadriglia, two from the 72a Squadriglia and three from the 80a Squadriglia), which took off at 11:30 to protect the coastal road between Ain el Gazala and Tobruk. These Macchis flew in vics disposed in echelon right at the height of 4000 metres.
It seems that both formations encountered the same Allied formation, which comprised 18 Blenheims drawn from two squadrons, escorted by Hurricanes from 274 and 1 SAAF Squadrons.
The situation at this time was very confusing. However, at 10:30, 84 Squadron Blenheims took off, targeting a very important concentration of vehicles in the area of El Adem. Cover was granted by eleven Hurricane IIB from 274 Squadron (take-off at 11:30), together while others from 1 SAAF Squadron (take-off at 11:30) were up to escort 18 Blenheims targeting the area of El Adem. The mission was considered very successful because 53 vehicles (of some 250 reported) were thought to be destroyed.
5-10 miles south-west of El Adem, 274 Squadron pilots saw a reported 30 Axis fighters; Bf 109s, MC.200s and MC.202s, coming from south-east while 1 SAAF Squadron continued to fly towards base with the bombers without seeing the enemy fighters. 274 Squadron, even if they thought to be heavily outnumbered, engaged the enemies. The Commonwealth pilots reported that the Macchis preferred to dogfight with the Hurricanes while the Bf 109s dove continuously.
The 9o Gruppo attacked first and back at base, they reported they had met a dozen Hurricanes that were strafing Italian vehicles. The head of the Italian formation led the attack and Sottotenente Jacopo Frigerio (97a Squadriglia) attacked four enemy fighters at several times; he then had to land at Z because his Macchi had run out of fuel. On spotting the enemy aircraft, Sottotenente Giovanni Barcaro (97a Squadriglia) closed in to Capitano Viglione to warn him and together they attacked and shot down one enemy aircraft in flames. He subsequently fired on four more aircraft (totally using 184 rounds) before landing at Z.2 for refuelling. Maresciallo Otello Perotti (97a Squadriglia) fired on two enemy aircraft (using 263 rounds) but couldn t observe the effects. He landed at Z for refuelling and claimed a probable Hurricane. Another two enemy aircraft were claimed by Sergente Maggiore Bruno Spitzl (96a Squadriglia) and Vittorio Pozzati (96a Squadriglia). Tenente Fernando Malvezzi (96a Squadriglia) hit a P-40 with a long burst but couldn t assess the result because he was attacked from behind by another P-40.
Altogether, the 9o Gruppo, which returned to base at 12:00, claimed four destroyed (Spitzl, Pozzati, Sergente Alfredo Bombardini (97a Squadriglia) and the shared between Capitano Viglione and Sottotenente Barcaro). Ten more Hurricanes were claimed as damaged (three by Sottotenente Barcaro, two by Maresciallo Perotti, four by Sottotenente Frigerio and one by Malvezzi). Sergente Bombardini's fighter (MM7739) was damaged and had to land at Ain el Gazala but the airfield had to be evacuated and the Macchi had to be destroyed there.
As 274 Squadron sought to return to base, they were hit by the 17o Gruppo, which had taken off at 11:30 with eleven MC.202 (six from the 71a Squadriglia, two from the 72a Squadriglia and three from the 80a Squadriglia) for a protective patrol of Axis troops retreating along the coastal strip between Ain el Gazala and Tobruk. The Macchis, keeping a wedge patrol formation on the right wing at an altitude of 4,000m, reported that they at 12:00 met a formation of fighters, claiming six of them shot down (Tenente Renato Talamini (80a Squadriglia) (Hurricane), Sottotenete Renato Bagnoli (80a Squadriglia) (Tomahawk), Tenente Mario Carini (72a Squadriglia) (Hurricane), Sottotenete Vittorio Bacchi Andreoli (71a Squadriglia) (Tomahawk), Maresciallo Achille Martina (71a Squadriglia) (Tomahawk) and Sottotenete Guido Modiano (72a Squadriglia) (Hurricane). Sottotenente Ottorino Capellini (71a Squadriglia) and Sergente Maggiore Mario Host (80a Squadriglia) claimed a probable Tomahawk each. Totally the 71a Squadriglia used 1270 rounds of ammunition while the 80a Squadriglia used 1870. Tenente Carini (MM7758), hit in the cooling system, crash-landed near Bir le Fa while Tenente Talamini's MC.202 was damaged in the left wing. The Italian fighters were back between 12:50 and 12:55.
The hard-pressed 274 Squadron claimed one Bf 109, one MC.202 (both by Sergeant James Dodds (Hurricane Z2835)) and two probables (Sergeant Robert Henderson (Z5367) and Sergeant R. H. N. Walsh (Z5435) and five damaged (between Squadron Leader Sidney Linnard (Z5064) (two MC.200s), Pilot Officer Patrick Moriarty (Z4015) (two MC.202s) and Pilot Officer George Keefer (BD880) (one Bf 109)).
Three Hurricanes were lost with one being seen going down vertically and one in flames. 26-year-old Flight Lieutenant Owen Vincent Tracey (RAF no. 42774) (Hurricane IIb BD885) and Sergeant Haines (Hurricane IIb Z5066) were missing while Sergeant John Paterson McDonnell was hit during the combat and crash-landed at Tobruk writing off his Hurricane IIb BE347. A fourth Hurricane IIb (Z5130) flown by Pilot Officer Thompson was also forced to land in Tobruk. 84 Squadron recorded that the escort lost four aircraft of the twelve present.
It is necessary to point out that the combat area reported in the documents of 274 Squadron and the 17o Gruppo are different, however errors and misidentifications of locations were always possible and there were no matching German claims. For this reasons it seems likely that 274 Squadron fought against the 17o Gruppo. The identification of Italian fighters as the opponents of 274 Squadron during this combat seems to be corroborated also by the account of Squadron Leader Linnard who while engaged by a Bf 109, saw a MC.200 attacking a Hurricane, both aircraft making steep turns and losing height. Linnard shook free from his own combat and tried to shot the Macchi off the other Hurricane's tail, but was too late, bullets from the Italian fighter, which was turning inside the Hurricane, striking the area of the cockpit. The stricken aircraft then turned over at low level and dived into the ground several miles south of El Adem, bursting into flames. A little later squadron personnel met South African soldiers who reported that they had found a grave beside a wrecked Hurricane, and that on this was a flying helmet and the identity disc of Flight Lieutenant Tracey; it therefore seems probable that he had been the victim of the Macchi. The 20o and 153o Gruppi, which flew radial engined fighters, didn t meet any Commonwealth fighter during the day even if they escorted Stukas three times and the MC.202 was a new machine in North Africa skies, easy to be confused with other types. It is interesting that 1 SAAF Squadron wasn t aware of the combat. The number of enemy fighters estimated by 274 Squadron leads to think that probably other Axis fighters were up together with the MC.202s, in fact they could had been 15 Bf 109s that at taken off at 11:45 to escort Ju 87 even if they didn t record encounters with enemy fighters.
It is also possibly that 80 Squadron was involved in this combat since Hurricane IIs of 80 Squadron had taken off at 10:55 from LG 133 to attack axis vehicles in the Acroma area. 40 of them, going west, were discovered and bombed by all Hurricanes. Afterwards six of these dived for strafing while the rest of the formation remained high to give cover. This high section attacked a formation of twelve enemy fighters (Bf 109s and MC.202s) protecting fighter-bombers that could go on with their action. Back at base the returning pilots were very pleased by the outcome of the action where they had claimed two Bf 109Fs confirmed (Flying Officer R. Reynolds (Z4801) and Sergeant Frank Mason (Z4786)) and a MC.202 probable and two damaged (Sergeant G. H. Whyte (Z4714)) without suffering any loss. It is possible that these were in combat with the 9o Gruppo, which reported ground-strafing Hurricanes.
In the end of December, the 9o Gruppo returned to Italy.
On 24 May 1942, the 54 MC.202s of the 4o Stormo C, which had been operating over Malta, arrived at Martuba, led by Tenente Colonnello Armando Fran ois.
They joined 1o Stormo (CO Colonnello Alfredo Reglieri), forming a force of more than 100 MC.202s, the largest concentration of these fighters ever to be achieved in Libya.
Next day a Comando Caccia (Fighter Command) was established at Martuba under the 1o Stormo commander, to co-ordinate the activities of the four MC.202-equipped units:
6o Gruppo (1o Stormo); CO Maggiore Mario Larcher
17o Gruppo (1o Stormo); CO Maggiore Domenico Sciaudone
9o Gruppo (4o Stormo); CO Maggiore Antonio Larsimont Pergameni
10o Gruppo (4o Stormo); CO Maggiore Paolo Maddalena
The three squadriglie of the newly arrived 9o Gruppo were led by Sottotenente Alvaro Querci (73a Squadriglia), Capitano Viglione (96a Squadriglia) and Sottotenente Jacopo Frigerio (97a Squadriglia), who would be replaced by Tenente Fernando Malvezzi on 1 June. The commanders of the three squadriglie of 10o Gruppo were Capitano Franco Lucchini (84a Squadriglia), Capitano Ranieri Piccolomini (90a Squadriglia) and Tenente Orlando Mandolini (91a Squadriglia).
Between 17:15 and 18:25 on 31 May, Capitano Viglione (96a Squadriglia) led nine MC.202s from the 9o Gruppo (seven of the 96a Squadriglia and two of the 97a Squadriglia) on a free sweep over Bir El Harmat-Bir Hacheim. Over Bir El Harmat around 17:40 about twenty enemy aircraft split between Spitfires, Hurricanes, and P-40s were spotted. They were attacking Stukas after they had dropped their bombs. The Macchis intervened and engaged the enemy in a violent air combat so that the Stukas could disengage. The Italian pilots were credited with the destruction of a Spitfire, a P-40, and two Hurricanes in addition to two P-40s and two Hurricanes as probables with others fired at. Tenente Emanuele Annoni (96a Squadriglia) claimed a P-40, as did Sergente Maggiore Massimo Salvatore (97a Squadriglia) while Capitano Viglione claimed a probable Hurricane and fired at two more. Totsal use of ammunition was 1050 rounds.
Information from the German side are very scarce: three Ju 87s attacked motor vehicles over Acroma between 17:05-18:30 and one was lost (possibly Ju 87R-2 WNr 5995 S7+GL from 3./StG 3 shot down by P-40s 25km south-west of Acroma. Unteroffizier Johann Krieger WIA and Gefreiter Josef Jennen PoW). 18 Ju 87s and ten Bf 110s attacked concentrations of enemy vehicles between Acroma-Tobruk-Bir Hacheim. 2./JG 27 escorted Stukas over Acroma between 17:47-19:00.
Ten Hurricane IIcs of 33 Squadron (probably top cover) together with five others of 274 Squadron were on a free sweep between Acroma, El Adem, and Bir Hacheim between 18:00-19:25. They came across a formation of 15 Ju 87s and at least twelve Bf l09s. 274 Squadron attacked the Stukas and the Hurricanes were in their turn attacked by Bf l09s. Sergeant M. M. Bruckshaw damaged a Stuka while Pilot Officer Wilfred Herbert Ismay (RCAF No. J/6816) was shot down and lost his life. In his turn, 33 Squadron was attacked by the escort and Sergeant W. H. Swan claimed a damaged Bf l09 damaged while Pilot Officer Woods Hurricane was slightly damaged. It is not clear if the Stuka had been shot down by Sergeant Bruckshaw or by anti-aircraft fire.
At 13:00 on 6 June, Capitano Viglione (MC.202 MM7822/96-1) led nine MC.202s from the 9o Gruppo on a free sweep. After having roamed about in search for enemy aircraft, they picked out large concentrations of mechanized vehicles (they were then recognized as the British 7th Armoured Division). They attacked, strafing them. The heavy anti-aircraft fire hit Viglione, forcing him to crash-land.
An attempt was made to rescue him with a Ca.164 protected by eight MC.202s, but without success because the intense fire from the ground. Viglione was therefore taken prisoner.
Tenente Emanuele Annoni took command of the 96a Squadriglia after Viglione.
During his career, he was decorated with three Medaglie d argento al valor militare, the Medaglia di bronzo al valor militare, the Croce al merito di Guerra, the Medaglia commemorativa della campagna di Spagna and the Medaglia di benemerenza per i volontari della guerra Spagna.
Viglione ended the war with 2 biplane victories and a total of 5.
|El Garn ul Grein area
|Sidi Barrani area
|Sidi Barrani area
|Sidi Barrani area
|Enemy fighter (b)
|Sidi Barrani area
|Enemy fighter (b)
|Sidi Barrani area
|Enemy fighter (b)
|Sidi Barrani area
|Enemy fighter (b)
|Sidi Barrani area
|30 km S Bir Enba
|Sidi Omar - Sollum
|Shared damaged on the ground
|Shared damaged on the ground
|Bir el Gobi area
|Ain el Gazala-Tobruk
Biplane victories: 2 and 4 shared destroyed, 1 and 4 shared damaged.
TOTAL: 5 and 6 shared destroyed, 1 probably destroyed, 1 and 4 shared damaged, 2 shared damaged on the ground.
(a) Blenheim Mk.I L8454 from 55 Squadron badly shot up but managed to return to base. The crew was safe.
(b) 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.
(c) Probably claimed in combat between 9o and 151o Gruppi and 33 and 274 Squadrons. 9o Gruppo claimed eight shot down, three probables and several damaged while losing two CR.42s and four force-landed. The 151o Gruppo claimed one Hurricane without losses. 33 and 274 Squadrons claimed seven or eight CR.42s and three probables while one Hurricane (33 Squadron) had to force-land and a second (274 Squadron) was damaged.
(d) Claimed in combat with Gladiators from 3 RAAF Squadron, which claimed one SM 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 SM 79s from the 60a Squadriglia claimed two Gladiators without losses (the CO was however killed).
(e) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from MNFU and 185 and 249 Squadron, which claimed 1 destroyed MC.202 while losing 1 Hurricane (pilot KiA). The 96a Squadriglia claimed 2 destroyed1 1 probable and 1 damaged Hurricanes while suffering 1 damaged MC.202.
(e) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 185 and 249 Squadrons, which claimed 2 MC.202s, 3 probables and 4 damaged while suffering 1 damaged Hurricane (pilot safe). 9o Gruppo claimed 8 'Spitfires' and 3 probables while losing 1 MC.202 (Tenente Bonfatti KiA).
(g) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 229 and 238 Squadrons, which claimed 2 destroyed enemy fighters (and perhaps 2 more damaged) while losing 4 Hurricanes. 9o Gruppo claimed 8 enemy fighters and 1 probable while suffering 2 damaged MC.202s.
(h) 274 Squadron claimed 3 destroyed, 1 probable and 2 damaged for the loss of four Hurricanes (1 pilot MIA). Axis fighters claimed 11 destroyed, 5 probables and 1 damaged in this combat while getting 2 MC.202s damaged.
(i) Possibly claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 80 and or 274 Squadron, which claimed 4 enemy fighters, 3 probables and 7 damaged while losing 4 aircraft. The 9 and 17o Gruppi claimed 10 fighters, 2 probables and 10 damaged while losing 1 MC.202 and getting two damaged.
(j) Possibly claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 33 and 274 Squadrons, which claimed 1 damaged Bf 109 and 1 damaged Ju 87 while losing 1 Hurricane (pilot KIA). The 9o Gruppo claimed 4 destroyed and 4 probables 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
A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945: Volume One Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello with Russell Guest, 2012 Grub Street, London, ISBN 978-1908117076
A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945: Volume Two Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello with Russell Guest, Frank Olynyk & Winfried Bock, 2012 Grub Street, London, ISBN-13: 9781909166127
Ali d'Africa - Michele Palermo and Ludovico Slongo, 2009 IBN Editore, ISBN 88-7565-060-8
Annuario Ufficiale Delle Forze Armate Del Regno D Italia Anno 1943. Part III Regia Aeronautica 1943 Istituto Poligrafico Dello Stato, Roma
Assi Italiani Della Caccia 1936-1945 - 1999 Aerofan no. 69 apr.-giu. 1999, kindly provided by Jean Michel Cala
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 - H kan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2010 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-89450-52-4
Desert Prelude: Operation Compass - H kan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2011 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-61421-18-4
Diario Storico 73a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Diario Storico 97a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Eagles over Gazala: Air Battles in North Africa May-June 1942 Michele Palermo, IBN Editore, ISBN (10) 88-7565-168-X
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
Hurricanes over Tobruk - Brian Cull with Don Minterne, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-11-X
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 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 Battaglie Aeree In Africa Settentrionale: Novembre-Dicembre 1941 Michele Palermo, IBN, ISBN 88-7565-102-7
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
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 Bristol Blenheim: A complete history Graham Warner, 2002 Cr cy Publishing Limited, Manchester, ISBN 0-947554-92-0
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
The Mediterranean and Middle East, volume I "The early successes against Italy (to May 1941)" - Major-General I. S. O. Playfair, 1954 Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London
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, Michele Palermo, Ondrej Repka and Ludovico Slongo.