Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Maresciallo Giovanni Carmello

Giovanni Carmello served as a volunteer in the Spanish Civil War, where he served in the 18a Squadriglia, XXIII Gruppo.

On 12 October, the Republican Air Force intervened heavily to support International battalions and tanks in an attempt to break through the enemy lines at Fuentes del Ebro.
During the day, the VI Gruppo lost a good part of numerical, considering that part of the 31a Squadriglia had previously been detached to Córdoba. Therefore, immediately the same morning, the Comando dell’Aviazione Legionaria ordered the XXIII Gruppo to transfer to Sanjurio (Zaragoza).
At 10.30, 29 CR.32s led by Maggiore Andrea Zotti, took off from Almaluèz and arrived over Sanjurio around noon. However, before landing, Maggiore Zotti decided to lead his pilots to explore the area between Villafranca and Fuentes del Ebro. Here they spotted four Polikarpov RZ “Natachas” escorted by nine I-16s “Ratas” (above them) and 15 I-15 “Curtiss” (below them). The Italian fighters attacked the Republican aircraft and at the end of the dogfight, that lasted about fifteen minutes, the Italians claimed seven (eleven according to other sources) fighters destroyed for no losses, although several CR.32s were hit and damaged. Combat was very hard for the Italians because their fighters were weighted by pilots’ personal luggage. Pilots that scored, either individually or jointly, were Sergente Giuseppe Mottet (20a Squadriglia) (1 I-16), Sottotenente Giampiero Del Prete, Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni (CO of the 20a Squadriglia), Sergente Francesco Penna, Sottotenente Aldo Felici, Capitano Enrico Degli Incerti (CO of the 19a Squadriglia) (1 I-16), Sottotenente Pio Tomaselli (19a Squadriglia), Franco Lucchini (19a Squadriglia), Capitano Guido Nobili (CO of the 18a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Carmello, Sergente Carlo Dentis, Sottotenente Giuseppe Enrico Zuffi, Sergente Federico Tassinari (19a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Alfonso Mattei and Sottotenente Bruno Trevisan. It seems that Lucchini’s, Tassinari’s and Mattei’s claims was a shared between these three pilots.

In December 1940, Carmello served in the 75a Squadriglia, 23o Gruppo. This unit was equipped with Fiat CR.42s.

The last Italian bombing mission of the day on 27 December 1940 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 Pietro Calistri, Tenente Ezio Maria Monti, Maresciallo 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 11:00 on 5 January 1941, 202 Group HQ signalled to 274 Squadron to continue the patrols. In the meantime had Flight Lieutenant Peter Wykeham-Barnes (V7558) and Pilot Officer Wilson (N2624) already taken off at 10:30 and 10:45 respectively. They were followed by Flying Officer Arthur Weller (P2544), Flying Officer Ernest Mason (P3722), Second Lieutenant Robert Talbot (P3721) and Squadron Leader Patrick Dunn (P3723), taking off between 11:00 and 11:30. This group of pilots would experience a lot of action.
At 12:20 alternatively 12:30, Flying Officer Mason and Second Lieutenant Talbot arrived independently but keeping visual touch over Ain el Gazala. Mason, who was flying at 3500 feet, saw two CR.42s in a vic, 2000 feet below him and approached the leader unobserved. He hit him with a burst, seeing him stalling and diving vertically into the ground and bursting out in flames. The no. 2 in the meantime turned away and attempted to make a head on attack. A burst from the eight guns of Mason made him turn over and dive into the deck where the CR.42 burst into flames too. In the meantime, Talbot stayed higher and saw five CR.42s in a scattered formation, which looked as if they were diving on Mason. Unobserved he performed a stern attack on the leader who stalled and dived into the ground. When the two 274 Squadron pilots left the scene, three CR.42s were seen burning on the ground. Mason reported:

”in the afternoon we went there [Gazala airfield] again and circled over the aerodrome. Suddenly I saw two CR42s approaching to land. I dived down and came up behind. I gave the leader a burst and as I shot past him he turned slowly and dived straight in the middle of the aerodrome and exploded. In the meantime the other chap had turned and came for me head on. I gave him a short burst and he did the same thing. This time on the edge of the aerodrome. By then five more, also returning home, had seen me and were diving on me so Bob shot down the leader and they dispersed.”
Mason had shot down Sottotenente Oscar Abello and Sergente Pardino Pardini of the 70a Squadriglia, who were landing on Z1 coming from Benghazi at 11:20 (Italian time). The identity of the fighters attacked by Talbot remains unknown. Sottotenente Abello was a highly respected pilot, already credited with three victories (two of them Hurricanes over Malta). As recognition of his previous activity, he received a posthumous Medaglia d’oro al valor militare.
In the meantime, the rest of 274 Squadron formation was intercepting a formation of Italian bombers over the front. First to attack was Pilot Officer Wilson. At 12:40, he was flying at 18,500 feet in the vicinity of Sidi Azeiz when he discovered a formation of at least 3 SM 79s escorted by 20 CR.42s a mile north-east and 1000 feet below. The Fiats flew in scattered vics of three above and on the flanks of the bombers. Wilson intended attacking the bombers diving through the CR.42s but had no opportunity to do so because the fighters on the flanks climbed on observing his approach and then whipped on his tail as he passed through. Wilson was however able to fire a burst on a straggler in centre of the escort formation, definitely hitting it as it lurched off but then seven unobserved CR.42s dived on him and he was unable to observe further effects of his fire. After the attack, he dived in a right hand turn. When the fighters broke off, he turned and gave chase again but was unable to catch up with them because of the loss of height and shortage of petrol. He landed at 13:25, claiming a damaged CR.42.
At 12.45, over Great Gambut, Squadron Leader Patrick Dunn and Flight Lieutenant Peter Wykeham-Barnes intercepted more enemy aircraft. The 274 Squadron’s CO was flying at 8000 feet, 3000 feet below the Italian formation, which was 15 miles away and he estimated it composing five bombers and ten individually weaving fighters, which looked as if they had been split up by somebody else before (probably Flight Lieutenant Wykeham-Barnes). He tried to attack the bombers but after a long chase, the temperature of his engine became excessive, his cockpit filled with smoke and he was forced to fight with an open hood. Being unable to catch up with the SM 79s, he delivered a quarter attack from below and astern on one CR.42, which was separate and about three miles behind the main force. Dunn witnessed the Italian pilot (possibly wounded) baling out while his aircraft burned out on ground. Dunn landed at 14:15.
Wykeham-Barnes in the meantime was flying at 20,000 feet and was only ten miles from the Italian formation, which he reported as composed of five SM 79s and 17 CR.42s weaving behind and above the bombers. He wanted to deliver an astern attack on the bombers but the escort attacked at once with determination, repulsing his intended action so he was forced to turn round and above for an head on attack. The first attack on the SM 79s, which kept close formation, was believed successful because when he came back for a second head on attack the first aircraft had disappeared. Confirmation of this victory was however made difficult by the escort action. The second bomber instead was seen to dive straight into the ground at Bir Sacta(?) south-west of Tobruk. Wykeham-Barnes landed at 13:15 claiming one SM 79 confirmed and one probable (credited as a damaged).
Around the same time, 73 Squadron was active over the same general area with 23 fighters being despatched singly with 15 minutes intervals starting from 06:30 until 13:45. Flight Sergeant Alfred Marshall (V7562/TP-A) claimed his sixth SM 79 some 30 miles south-east of Gambut, watching the crew baling out. His action was witnessed by Pilot Officer Goord (TP-M), who caught another fighter 25 miles south-east of Tobruk, just south of the main road from Bardia. Finally Flight Sergeant Webster (V7551/TP-K) claimed a CR.42 in flames and damaged another ten miles south-east of Gambut. All these victories were achieved between 12:35 and 13:05.
Last victory of the day was claimed by Flight Lieutenant M. L. Beytagh (V7561/TP-X) from 73 Squadron, who claimed a CR.42 near Marsa Es Sahal, just west of Tobruk, at 14:20.
The unlucky Italian units subjected to all these unwelcome attentions were an arrow of five SM 79s from the 34o Stormo commanded by Tenente Saladin and escorted by 17 CR.42s from the 23o Gruppo with six from the 70a Squadriglia (Maggiore Tito Falconi, Tenente Claudio Solaro, Sergente Maggiore Balilla Albani, Sergente Cesare Sironi, Sergente Ubaldo Marziali and Tenente Marino Commissoli), five from the 74a Squadriglia (Tenente Mario Pinna, Tenente Lorenzo Lorenzoni, Sottotenente Sante Schiroli, Sottotenente Milano Pausi and Sergente Emilio Stefani) and six from the 75a Squadriglia (Sottotenente Renato Villa, Sottotenente Leopoldo Marangoni, Sottotenente Giuseppe De Angelis, Maresciallo Carmello, Maresciallo Carlo Dentis and Maresciallo Luigi Pasquetti), which had taken off from Z1 at 11:15. The bombers had taken off from Benina at 09:50 to attack the British armoured units south of Sidi Azeiz in the Trigh Capuzzo area and despite the spirited defence offered by the Fiat biplanes some ten Hurricanes piloted by aces like Dunn, Wykeham-Barnes and Marshall where odds too big against them. Three of the Savoias failed to return. Tenente Lino Saladin’s SM 79s was shot down, and even if some crewmembers (Sottotenente Severino Sheimer, Sottotenente Puntatore Antonio Scarparo, Sergente Maggiore Radiotelegrafista Adelchi Lenissa, Primo Aviere Motorista Vito Bellomo and Primo Aviere Armiere Michelangelo Conti) were seen to parachute, they all perished. This bomber was almost certainly the victim of Marshall. Two other bombers force-landed, one of them close to Barce reportedly because of lack of fuel (most probably the victims of Wykeham-Barnes even if the returning pilots from the 23o Gruppo reported that one of the SM 79 had been brought down by the AA reaction). Only two bombers were able to escape back in Benina, landing at 14:45.
The Italian escort also suffered heavily. Tenente Lorenzo Lorenzoni was wounded but remained in the fight to the last minute before finally landing a heavily damaged fighter at T2. Unfortunately, the CR.42 overturned on landing. Sottotenente Schiroli was killed, falling with his fighter without being able to use his parachute. Finally, after claiming a Hurricane, Sottotenente Marangoni was shot down and parachuted, wounded in the right leg (possibly victim of Squadron Leader Dunn). Unluckily he fell on the wounded leg, completely shattering it, and was taken prisoner a short while after. Some weeks later, a British aircraft throw a message over the Italian lines, which contained a letter written by a British Army Officer (Antony McDonald) to Marangoni’s mother. The British Officer had been wounded close to the place where Marangoni had parachuted and had been recovered in a field hospital together with him. He told that Marangoni died for loss of blood on the first hours of the 6th and described the gallant behaviour maintained by him during his last hours. For this combat and for his precedent activity over Malta, Leopoldo Marangoni received a posthumous Medaglia d’Argento al valor militare “in the field”, which in 1942 was upgraded to the Medaglia d’oro al valor militare.
Tenente Mario Pinna, newly appointed commander of the 74a Squadriglia claimed a Hurricane with the use of 380 rounds of ammunition. Sergente Stefani claimed a damaged Hurricane with the use of 350 rounds and damaged Hurricanes were claimed also by Sottotenente De Angelis, Sottotenente Villa and Maresciallo Carmello. After the action, the Italian fighters landed directly at Tmini M2 at 13:35.
The loss of Marangoni, a quite popular person coming from the upper middle-class of Milan and the son of the owner of a small cork processing plant, was particularly felt by his mates. A sport cars driver and a volunteer, he could had avoided to reach the front line in Libya for health problems that arise in September but he decided for an operation and was back in his unit in middle November after a fast recovery. His sister Olga had married the CO of the 10o Gruppo, Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli, who in the day following his loss made many low level flights to look for him or at least to obtain information on his fate. His Squadriglia CO Pietro Calistri (who was not present during his last combat) credited him with an individual victory obtained in a frontal attack immediately before being shot down; this was recorded also in the 75a Squadriglia’s Diary. The description of the events given by his friend Marino Commissoli in a letter to Marangoni’s parents was slightly different:
“(…) targets that day were enemy troops close to Bardia. We were seventeen fighters and we escorted five bombers that had to attack the enemy positions. Enemy reaction was very strong and we had to stand three consecutive fights. It was during the second attack, just after leaving the target area over the desert west of Bardia that Leopoldo was surprised by a Hurricane and with him also his wingman. Both left formation. The attack was lightning-swift and they were unable to avoid it, as we were unable to help them or to follow their fate because the enemy’s precision was too high and we had to guard against new attacks. Back at base we hoped that someone of the missing pilots came back, perhaps landing in some advanced landing grounds. Two in fact came back later but we received no news of Leopoldo and his wingman (…) Only later, just before leaving Tripoli we knew his fate (…)”.

Generale Matriciardi again blamed the fighters for their ineffectiveness “it seems clear that bomber protection have to be realized through a single close formation of fighters and bombers” and then criticised the escort believed absent. From the reports from the British pilots and of the losses suffered, this was indeed unfair comments.

Carmello ended the war with 2 shared biplane victories.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1937                
  12/10/37 10:30- 1 Enemy fighter Shared destroyed Fiat CR.32   Villafranca-Fuentes del Ebro 18a Squadriglia
  1940                
  27/12/40 14:30-16:55 1/5 Hurricane (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 75a Squadriglia
  27/12/40 14:30-16:55 1/5 Hurricane (a) Shared damaged Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 75a Squadriglia
  27/12/40 14:30-16:55 1/5 Hurricane (a) Shared damaged Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 75a Squadriglia
  27/12/40 14:30-16:55 1/5 Hurricane (a) Shared damaged Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 75a Squadriglia
  27/12/40 14:30-16:55 1/5 Hurricane (a) Shared damaged Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 75a Squadriglia
  1941                
  05/01/41 11:15-13:35 1 Hurricane (b) Damaged Fiat CR.42   Gambut area 75a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 2 shared destroyed, 1 and 4 shared damaged.
TOTAL: 2 shared destroyed, 1 and 4 shared damaged.
(a) 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.
(b) Claimed in combat with either 274 Squadron or 73 Squadron, which didn’t suffer any losses.

Sources:
Ali in Spagna - Giuseppe Federico Ghergo and Angelo Emiliani, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Ali nella tragedia - Giulio Lazzati, 1970 Mursia, Milan, ISBN 88-425-2132-9, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Aviatori Italiani - Franco Pagliano, 1964 Longanesi Milano, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Aviobrigada X - Alfredo Lagoluso, 2001 no. 97, 98 and 99 of Storia Militare (October-December 2001), kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
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
Guerra di Spagna e Aviazione Italiana - Ferdinando Pedriali, 1992 USSMA, Rome, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Il 23o Gruppo Caccia - Nicola Malizia, 1974 Bizzarri, Roma, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Le giovani aquile – Antonio Trizzino, 1972 Longanesi Milano, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Quelli del Cavallino Rampante - Antonio Duma, 1981 Editore Dell'Ateneo, Roma, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Additional information kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro and Ludovico Slongo.




Last modified 17 June 2012