Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Capitano Pietro Calistri

30 October 1914 - 28 April 1945

Pietro Calistri was born in Verona on 30 October 1914.

He served as a volunteer in the Spanish Civil War.

During the morning of 21 July 1940, three S.79s of 34o Stormo B.T. and six escorting CR.42 appeared over Malta. One of the bombers was hit by anti-aircraft fire and came down in the sea 30 kilometres from Cap Pressaro off the Sicilian coast. Believing that this indeed was the case, the RAF sent out a Swordfish floatplane (K8369 flown by Flight Lieutenant Leslie Gregory) shortly after midday, but this failed to return. A second Swordfish, which followed, reported finding only a number of oily patches. Meanwhile however Saro London K5261 piloted by Pilot Officer E. C. Minchinton, a Canadian in RAF, had found the wreckage of the S.79 floating in the sea 35 miles north of Malta, and took photographs of this. The aircraft was then attacked by two CR.42s while flying at only 300 feet, the gunners claiming one of these shot down, before returning undamaged. No CR.42 was however reported missing.
The Italian version of events differs considerably. The crew of the S.79 were subsequently rescued, reporting that after landing in the sea they had been attacked by a Saro London. This aircraft had in turn been attacked by a CR.42 of 72o Squadriglia, 17o Gruppo, flown by Tenente Calistri, who shot it down with ease. The British pilot, reported by the Italians as a 'Captain Leslye', "survives - our prisoner", was in fact the missing Swordfish pilot Flight Lieutenant Leslie Gregory, who was captured. His crew of Corporal Victor Alfred Kemp (RAF No. 550575) and AC1 F. C. Williams were unfortunately lost.
20-year-old Kemp, who was from Middlesex, is commemorated at the Malta Memorial and Williams is most probably still listed as MIA.

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

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

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

The last Italian bombing mission of the day on 27 December was again against Sollum. Four SM 79s from the 41o Stormo under Tenente Colonnello D’Ippolito and four bombers from the 216a Squadriglia, 34o Stormo, led by Tenente Romanini took off from Tmini at 14:30.
They were escorted by fighters from the 23o Gruppo and 10o Gruppi. Maggiore Tito Falconi was at the head of the formation of the first unit, which also included Tenente Claudio Solaro, Sottotenente Oscar Abello and Sergente Ubaldo Marziali from the 70a Squadriglia, Tenente Mario Pinna, Sottotenente Milano Pausi and Sergente Giuseppe Sanguettoli from the 74a Squadriglia and Tenente Calistri, Tenente Ezio Maria Monti, Maresciallo Giovanni Carmello, Sergente Leo Mannucci and Sottotenente Leopoldo Marangoni from the 75a Squadriglia.
It seems that the bomber formation split and the 41o Stormo attacked British mechanized units in Halfaya and Gabr Bu Fares under heavy AA that damaged, although slightly, all the aircraft. The SM 79s of the 34o Stormo attacked ships in Sollum harbour and were intercepted by many Hurricanes. The SM 79s were totally unable to defend themselves because of icing on all the guns and one of them was shot down. This was Sottotenente Aldo Peterlini’s bomber and Peterlini was killed together with three of his crew (Sergente Maggiore Arturo Scagnetti (second pilot), Aviere Scelto Motorista Alcide Frizzera and Aviere Scelto Radiotelegrafista Gioacchino Scuderi). The other two members of the crew (Primo Aviere Armiere Ciancilla and Primo Aviere Montatore Fiore) where able to bale out. Tenente Pandolfi’s aircraft was riddled by enemy bullets (probably RD) while the other two SM 79s were less seriously damaged although suffering some wounded among their crews.
They had been intercepted by 33 Squadron which claimed three SM 79s and one probable and probably two CR.42s during offensive patrols performed by pairs of Hurricanes over Sollum. They also claimed one SM 79 and one CR.42 damaged. Vernon Woodward claimed one of the probable CR.42s and the damaged CR.42.
Falconi’s pilots recorded combat with many Hurricanes, one of which was claimed as probable by the 70a Squadriglia and six more were damaged. Tenente Solaro and Sottotenente Abello returned with damaged fighters. Solaro had been hit by AA fire and Sottotenente Abello by British fighters. Calistri and his men claimed a shared Hurricane and four more damaged. They landed back at 16:55. A shot down Hurricane was also recorded by the 74a Squadriglia, which also recorded a SM 79 shot down by AA fire.
The CR.42 escort from the 10o Gruppo was composed of seven fighters from the 90a Squadriglia (Tenente Giovanni Guiducci, Tenente Franco Lucchini, Sottotenente Alessandro Rusconi, Sottotenente Neri De Benedetti, Sergente Alfredo Sclavo, Sergente Bruno Bortoletti and Sergente Enrico Botti), six from the 84a Squadriglia (Capitano Luigi Monti, Tenente Antonio Angeloni, Sottotenente Bruno Devoto, Sergente Maggiore Salvatore Mechelli, Sergente Domenico Santonocito and Sergente Piero Buttazzi) and six from the 91a Squadriglia (Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli, Capitano Vincenzo Vanni, Sottotenente Andrea Dalla Pasqua, Sottotenente Orlando Mandolini, Sottotenente Ennio Grifoni and Sergente Elio Miotto). Tenente Guiducci reported that the heavy AA immediately hit one of the SM 79s, which was shot down. Then five monoplanes (Hurricanes and Spitfires(!)) tried to attack but were immediately counterattacked and one of them was shot down. Later, another attempt by a lone British fighter failed after the intervention of the Italian escort. The 90a Squadriglia pilots expanded 320 rounds of ammunition and it seems that in the end the victory was assigned to the whole formation as a Gruppo victory. It seems that it was the same aircraft claimed independently by the two Squadriglie of the 23o Gruppo.

At 15:00 on 3 January 1941, Maggiore Tito Falconi led four CR.42s of the 70a Squadriglia (Tenente Claudio Solaro, Tenente Gino Battaggion, Sergente Maggiore Balilla Albani and Sergente Cesare Sironi), five of the 74a Squadriglia (Tenente Mario Pinna, Tenente Lorenzo Lorenzoni, Sottotenente Sante Schiroli, Sergente Maggiore Raffaele Marzocca and Sergente Giuseppe Sanguettoli) and seven of the 75a Squadriglia (Tenente Calistri, Tenente Ezio Maria Monti, Sottotenente Giuseppe De Angelis, Sottotenente Renato Villa, Maresciallo Giovanni Carmello, Maresciallo Luigi Pasquetti and Sergente Leo Mannucci) in an escort mission for SM 79s attacking mechanized vehicles around Bardia. Fighters from the 10o Gruppo were also present including Sottotenente Bruno Devoto, Sergente Mario Veronesi, Sergente Piero Buttazzi and Sergente Luciano Perdoni of the 84a Squadriglia and Sottotenente Neri De Benedetti, Sottotenente Orlando Mandolini, Sergente Luigi Contarini and Sergente Alfredo Sclavo of the 90a Squadriglia. Hurricanes were intercepted and two of them were claimed damaged by the 70a Squadriglia’s pilots. During the return journey, the CR.42s went down to strafe, claiming three armoured vehicles.
They landed back at 17:20.

On 4 January, he shot down a Hurricane near Bardia. This was 26-year-old Flight Sergeant Joseph Charles Hulbert (RAF No. 564868) of 274 Squadron in N2625, who was killed.
Hulbert, who was from Hampshire, is commemorated at the Alamein Memorial, Egypt.

On 6 February 1941, he was promoted to Capitano.

During March 1941 23o Gruppo CT moved back to Sicily to take part in the raids against Malta again.

During the early summer of 1941 a test batch of Reggiane Re.2000bis were issued to a Sezione Sperimentale of the 23o Gruppo Autonomo C.T. at Comiso, Sicily. In July 1941 these were formed into an autonomous 377a Squadriglia under command of Calistri at Trapani. This command was later passed on to Tenente Giorgio Solaroli.

Calistri was later transferred to 76a Squadriglia, 7o Gruppo, 54o Stormo C.T.

On 24 June 1942 Mussolini flew in at the controls of his personal S.81, from Elmas, Sardinia, to San Pietro, Sicily, to decorated aviators. In the presence of the Chief of general staff of the Aeronautics, Generale S. A. Rino Corso Fougier (commander of the C.A.I. during the Battle of Britain), Capitano Calistri and Sergente Domenico Facchini, both from 76a Squadriglia, were decorated by the ”Duce”.

In August 1942, the 54o Stormo operated from Pantelleria.

On 17 August 1942, an Italian convoy departed from Naples. The convoy had air cover provided by two CR.42s, two MC.200s and four MC.202s from 54o Stormo CT, in addition to at least four Ju 88s. At 16.00 the convoy was located 35 miles west of Lampedusa by six torpedo-carrying Beauforts from 86 Squadron. The Beauforts were covered by two Beaufighters of 235 Squadron whilst eight long-range Spitfires f 126 and 185 Squadrons provided high level fighter protection. All of the RAF units came from Malta. The Ju 88s attempted to intercept the Beauforts, but they claimed damage to one of the Junkers and one Macchi. In return Calistri claimed one Beaufort probably destroyed and Sergente Romano one damaged. As the action unfolded at low-level, the covering Spitfires were not ordered down into the fray and consequently failed to engage.

After the Italian surrender in September 1943, he joined the the Italiana Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana (ANR).

In April 1945, Capitano Calistri belonged to the 1o Gruppo Caccia.

On 28 April 1945, it seems that he was one of the Italians captured by Italian partisans at the same time as Benito Mussolini. 15 of the prisoners were selected by the partisans to be executed together with Mussolini and Calistri was one of these (even if it seems that he had no connection with Mussolini).

At the time of his death, Calistri was credited with 2 biplane victories.
During his career, he was decorated with the Medaglia d’argento al valor militare, Croce al merito di guerra, Medaglia commemorativa della campagna di Spagna and Medaglia di benemerenza per i volontari della guerra Spagna.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
1 21/07/40   1 Saro London (a) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   35 miles north Malta 72a Squadriglia
  26/12/40 -15:05 1/13 Gladiator (b) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 75a Squadriglia
  27/12/40 14:30-16:55 1/5 Hurricane (c) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 75a Squadriglia
  27/12/40 14:30-16:55 1/5 Hurricane (c) Shared damaged Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 75a Squadriglia
  27/12/40 14:30-16:55 1/5 Hurricane (c) Shared damaged Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 75a Squadriglia
  27/12/40 14:30-16:55 1/5 Hurricane (c) Shared damaged Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 75a Squadriglia
  27/12/40 14:30-16:55 1/5 Hurricane (c) Shared damaged Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 75a Squadriglia
  1941                
2 04/01/41   1 Hurricane (d) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   near Bardia 75a Squadriglia
  1942                
  17/08/42   1 Beaufort Probable ? (e)   35m W Lampedusa 76a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 2 and 2 shared destroyed, 4 shared damaged.
TOTAL: 2 and 2 shared destroyed, 1 probable, 4 shared damaged.
(a) No Saro London was destroyed or damaged during this combat. The aircraft was most probably a Swordfish floatplane (K8369 flown by Flight Lieutenant Leslie Gregory) that went missing this day. The Italians captured the pilot but the rest of the crew of Corporal V. A. Kemp and AC1 F. C. Williams were unfortunately lost.
(b) Claimed in combat with Gladiators from 3 RAAF Squadron, which claimed 2 and 3 probables without any losses, and possibly Hurricanes from 33 Squadron, which claimed a damaged CR.42 during the day. The 23o Gruppo claimed 1 Hurricane and 1 Gladiator and the 10o Gruppo claimed 2 and 2 probable Gladiators while losing one CR.42 and getting five more damaged.
(c) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 33 Squadron, which claimed two probable CR.42s and one damaged without losses. The 10o and 23o Gruppi claimed 3 Hurricanes and 1 probably shot down with another 10 damaged while suffering 3 damaged CR.42s.
(d) Flight Sergeant J. C. Hulbert of 274 Squadron in Hurricane Mk.I N2625, who was killed.
(e) It has not been possible to verify what kind of aircraft Calistri used at this combat. 76a Squadriglia was equipped with CR.42s, MC.200s and MC.202s at this time.

Sources:
1o Gruppo Caccia - 1998 Aerofan no. 67 oct.-dec. 1998 kindly provided by Jean Michel Cala
Adriano Visconti Asso di Guerra - Giuseppe Pesce and Giovanni Massimello, 1997 kindly provided by Jean Michel Cala.
Annuario Ufficiale Delle Forze Armate Del Regno D’Italia Anno 1943. Part III Regia Aeronautica – 1943 Istituto Poligrafico Dello Stato, Roma
Courage Alone - Chris Dunning, 1998 Hikoki Publications, Aldershot, ISBN 1-902109-02-3
Desert Prelude: Early clashes June-November 1940 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2010 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-89450-52-4
Desert Prelude: Operation Compass - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2011 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-61421-18-4
Hurricanes over Tobruk - Brian Cull with Don Minterne, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-11-X
Light Blue 'Stringbags' - The Fairey Swordfish in RAF service - 1998 Air Enthusiast no. 78 nov/dec 1998 kindly provided by Jean Michel Cala
Malta: The Hurricane Years 1940-41 - Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-89747-207-1
Malta: The Spitfire Year 1942 - Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia, 1991 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-948817-16-X
Ministero della Difesa - Banca Dati sulle sepolture dei Caduti in Guerra
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
The Italian Campaign
Additional information kindly provided by Ivan Martens and Ludovico Slongo.




Last modified 10 June 2012