Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Sergente Maggiore Antonio Camerini

- 31 March 1943

On the last day of August 1940, the 151o Gruppo C.T. (366a, 367a and 368a Squadriglie) was ordered to move in Libya with 30 CR.42s as a reinforcement for the attack against Sidi Barrani.
The unit under the command of Maggiore Carlo Calosso was one of the first equipped with CR.42s in 1939 and was based in Caselle Torinese near Turin, with sections and Squadriglie detached in different airbases of North Italy for local defence duties.
They departed Caselle Torinese in the morning of 6 September and at 18:20 on 8 September, the whole Gruppo landed in Tripoli Castel Benito.
The 366a Squadriglia formation was composed of ten aircraft: Capitano Bernardino Serafini (CO), Tenente Mario Ferrero (the Gruppo Adjutant), Sottotenente Amedeo Guidi, Maresciallo Giulio Cesare, Sergente Maggiore Fiorenzo Milella, Sergente Maggiore Dino Carta, Sergente Maggiore Roberto Marchi, Sergente Maggiore Cesare Chiarmetta, Sergente Camerini, Sergente Eugenio Cicognani. Tenente Piero Veneziani and Maresciallo Giovanni Accorsi followed in the unit’s hack Caproni Ca.133 together with five ground personnel.
The formation of 367a Squadriglia comprised the Gruppo Commander Maggiore Carlo Calosso, the 368a Squadriglia’s pilot Sergente Piero Hosquet and nine other pilots for a total of eleven. Among them were Capitano Simeone Marsan (the CO), Tenente Irzio Bozzolan, Tenente Aldo Bonuti, Sergente Maggiore Gino Bogoni and Sergente Tolmino Zanarini. The Squadriglia’s other six pilots were Tenente Giuseppe Costantini, Maresciallo Bruno Castellani, Sergente Maggiore Rodolfo Benco, Sergente Maggiore Bruno Celotto, Sergente Renato Mingozzi and Sergente Maggiorino Soldati.
The 368a Squadriglia formation was composed of nine aircraft: Capitano Bruno Locatelli (CO), Tenente Giuseppe Zuffi, Sottotenente Furio Lauri, Sergente Maggiore Davide Colauzzi, Sergente Maggiore Annibale Ricotti, Sergente Maggiore Alvise Andrich, Sergente Stefano Fiore, Sergente Ottorino Ambrosi, Sergente Mario Turchi. Tenente Orfeo Paroli and Maresciallo Guido Paparatti followed in the Ca.133 of the Squadriglia (Paroli and Fiore were just transferred from 367a Squadriglia).
On 25 September the 151o Gruppo transferred from Benghazi to El Adem where it replaced the 9o Gruppo C.T.

On 4 February, four Blenheims (Flight Lieutenant Paine, Flight Sergeant Overell, Pilot Officer Collins and Pilot Officer Allen) from 45 Squadron took off at 09:20 to bomb the railway station at Barce. Pilot Officer Collins and Pilot Officer Allen found no activity at all over the target and instead bombed motor transports between Barce and Tocra. Flight Lieutenant Paine and Flight Sergeant Overell were intercepted by Italian fighters and Paine’s Blenheim Mk.I L8538 was shot down. A few weeks later Paine returned to base stating that his crew (Sergeant Harry Cecil Thomas Holmans (RAF no. 581388) and 19-year-old Sergeant Colin Pryce Edwards (RAF no. 552544)) had both been shot and that after baling out, he had been helped by a friendly Senussi to escape through the Italian lines.
The Italian fighters were five CR.42s from the 368a Squadriglia (Tenente Giuseppe Zuffi, Sergente Mario Turchi, Sottotenente Furio Lauri, Sergente Maggiore Ezio Masenti and Sergente Maggiore Davide Colauzzi) and one from the 366a Squadriglia (Sergente Audibert). They had taken off at 07:25 to make an offensive reconnaissance over the front area. Near El Hamana, Tenente Zuffi and Sergente Turchi had strafed two armoured cars claiming one stopped, in fact 1Tp, “A” Sqn. of 11th Hussars was strafed at 08:15 by two CR 42s that holed the tank of the Rolls Royce armoured car. While coming back to base, Sottotenente Lauri discovered a British bomber and started in pursuit and claimed it shot down, reporting that one of the crew had been able to jump and had landed a few kilometres north-east of El Abiar (apparently Flight Lieutenant Paine). Some Hurricanes were in the meantime discovered higher and attacked by Tenente Zuffi, Sergente Turchi, Sergente Maggiore Colauzzi and Sergente Audibert, but the British monoplanes reportedly escaped on seeing the Italian fighters.
The CR.42 flown by Sergente Ezio Masenti, suffered big loss of oil from the engine and landed at Barce. British troops were in the area and, as soon as returning pilots reported on Masenti's plight, a Ca.133 being used as a hack by the 151o Gruppo CT took off from Agedabia in the hands of Maresciallo Giovanni Accorsi of the 366a Squadriglia, who was accompanied by an engineer, 1oAv Mot. Callerani. Three CR.42s of the 366a Squadriglia led by Tenente Guglielmo Chiarini and including Maresciallo Cesare and Sergente Camerini, volunteered to provide escort. Over Barce, the Ca.133 was intercepted at low-level by a section of 73 Squadron Hurricanes.
This was ‘B’ Flight’s second patrol and consisted of the leader Pilot Officer George Goodman (V7716/TP-U), Pilot Officer J. B. 'Chips' McColl (V7372/TP-W) and Pilot Officer Ken M. Millist (V7941). The Ca.133 was shot down by Pilot Officer McColl at about 500 feet above the ground. Maresciallo Accorsi notwithstanding the desperate situation caused by the heavy damage suffered by his Caproni, reportedly didn’t parachute but instead tried to crash-land the aircraft, with the aim of saving the life of Callerani. His gallant effort failed and they both died in the subsequent crash.
As the CR.42s dived down in a vain attempt to assist the doomed transport, the Hurricanes turned to engage. In the ensuing combat Chiarini was shot down in flames and killed by Pilot Officer George Goodman (victory number 7 of 10 totally), who claimed a CR.42 that was attacking McColl.
Meanwhile, Sergente Camerini succeeded in damaging a Hurricane that he last saw escaping trailing black smoke. The Hurricanes disappeared after the short combat while the Italians started to mourn two of their most valued pilots. Unknown to them, the Hurricane flown by Pilot Officer Millist had been shot down in a head-on attack.
Millist was posted missing at the end of the action, believed shot down because his mates had seen about five unidentified aircraft above him (!). His aircraft was hit in the engine and he made a forced-landing ten miles north-east of Benina, running far away from his aircraft to avoid capture. For two days, without food or water, Millist – known as ‘Tiny’ due to his height, in excess of six feet – walked and hid, being chased on one occasion by an Italian motorcyclist whom he successfully evaded. On the third day, he met an Australian army sergeant who gave him food and water before helping him to obtain a lift to Derna. He finally arrived at Gazala on 6 February. Of Millist’s plight, his colleague Pilot Officer Bill Eiby recalled:

“Tiny Millist was a short service Australian and when he was shot down by the vintage biplane everyone laughed their bloody heads off. He went in head-on. We were told not to tackle them head-on, but Tiny did and got hit in the radiator for his pains. He got back from that one.”
Camerini, who most probably shot down Millist, initially claimed the Hurricane as a probable.
Both Accorsi and Chiarini were posthumously awarded with the Medaglia d'oro al valor militare.
The unlucky Sergente Maggiore Masenti had to burn his fighter (368-4/MM6257) and left Barce with some armoured troops only to go missing during the following Italian retreat at Beda Fomm.

At 10:55 on 5 February, Tenente Carugno of the 217a Squadriglia took off from Agedabia to check the situation in Giarabub. Soon after takeoff a huge column of British motor transports was discovered in Antelat and ground strafed. When the SM 79 was leaving the scene, some Fiats were seen to join the action and start to strafe the same column. The S79 was back at 11:35 aborting its mission over Giarabub.
The Fiats were four 366a Squadriglia machines piloted by Tenente Mario Ferrero, Sottotenente Amedeo Guidi, Sergente Camerini and Sergente Imberti and three 367a Squadriglia machines piloted by Tenente Ceccotti, Sergente Ugo Fraternali and Sergente Stefano Fiore. They reported the attack against a hundred mechanized and armoured vehicles when they landed back at 12:00.

On 31 July 1941, the 151o Gruppo's first operational tour in North Africa ended.

Once back in Italy, the 151o Gruppo was deployed to Treviso airfield, where it flew CR.42s and MC.200s.

After a short spell in Sardinia, the unit was ordered back to Africa on 18 November 1941, reaching Agedabia airfield on 25 November.

Nine CR.42s of the 151o Gruppo (four from the 366a Squadriglia and five of the 367a Squadriglia) took off from Agedabia at 15:15 on 26 November to escort CR.42 fighter bombers of the 160o Gruppo that were to attack the enemy’s motorised troop transports near the Oasis of Augila (Gialo area). One the CR.42s of the 160o Gruppo had reached the target, they dropped their bombs and went down to strafe the enemy vehicles.
Two 33 Squadron Hurricanes patrolling the area spotted the fighter bombers. Pilot Officer D. S. F. 'Bill' Winsland dived down for an attack but was immediately intercepted and shot down by the patrol from the 366a Squadriglia. The Hurricane went down in flames while Winsland (a veteran of the fighting in Greece and the Desert) parachuted. Flying Officer Clostre was also attacked and forced to abort his attack.
The Italian pilots thought that they had shot down both Hurricanes and were thus credited with both; the first was credited to Capitano Bernardino Serafini and Sergente Maggiore Camerini and the second to Tenente Amedeo Guidi and Maresciallo Paolo Montanari. 250 rounds had been fired.
The pilots of the 367a Squadriglia didn’t intervene in view of the small numbers of attackers and the quick resolution of the clash.
Pilot Officer Winsland returned to base the following day with a Blenheim from El Eng.
Winsland’s aircraft may well have been the last Hurricane Mk.I to be shot down by a CR.42. Victor and vanquished were reunited in 1984, due to the efforts of British air historian and writer Brian Cull and Italian air historian Nicola Malizia, and Serafini and Winsland have remained firm friends ever since.

A shipping escort flown on 31 March 1943, resulted in three pilots falling victim to bad weather. 366a Squadriglia CO Capitano Enrico Londei and Sergente Maggiore Camerini, both of 151o Gruppo, and Sergente Maggiore Manrico Mincuzzi of 153o Gruppo's 373a Squadriglia all perished.
The weather was no better the next day when Tenente Colonello Bruno Cudugnello, who had been 53o Stormo CO since 22 February, was lost while searching for the three missing pilots.
Cudugnello was temporarily replaced as CO by Tenente Colonello Andrea Favini, who in turn made way for Tenente Colonello Giro Aiello on 16 April.

At the time of his death, Camerini was credited with 1 biplane victory.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1941                
1 04/02/41   1 Hurricane (a) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   NE Benina 366a Squadriglia
  26/11/41 15:15- 1/2 Hurricane (b) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Augila area 366a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 1 and 1 shared destroyed and 3 shared destroyed on the ground.
TOTAL: 1 and 1 shared destroyed and 3 shared destroyed on the ground.
(a) Hurricane V7491 of 73 Squadron flown by Pilot Officer Ken M. Millist shot down. Millist survived and returned to his unit by foot.
(b) Claimed in combat with 2 Hurricanes from 33 Squadron of which 1 was shot down. 366a Squadriglia claimed 2 shot down.

Sources:
53o Stormo - Marco Mattioli, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-977-5
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
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
Fighters over the Desert - Christopher Shores and Hans Ring, 1969 Neville Spearman Limited, London
Hurricanes over Tobruk - Brian Cull with Don Minterne, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-11-X
La Battaglie Aeree In Africa Settentrionale: Novembre-Dicembre 1941 – Michele Palermo, IBN, ISBN 88-7565-102-7
Stormi d'Italia – Giulio Lazzati, 1975 Mursia, Milan, ISBN 88-425-1946-4, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro.
Additional information kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.




Last modified 21 May 2015