Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Capitano Guglielmo Chiarini Medaglia d'oro al valor militare

10 November 1917 - 4 February 1941

Chiarini was born on 10 November 1917 at Florence; he studied at first in the Military College of Napoli, then in the Air Academy of Caserta. He graduated on 1938 and in the same year he volunteered for the War of Spain becoming a member of the "Falchi delle Baleari" bomber unit and being nicknamed "the public enemy number one of the Red's ports...", obtaining a Silver Medal, one Bronze Medal and a War Cross for his gallantry.

When he returned to Italy, he obtained to be passed to fighters in the 53 Stormo and operated shortly against France at the outbreak of the war.

He was then assigned to the 82a Squadriglia, 13o Gruppo, 2o Stormo C.T. on 9 June and sent to North Africa.

The 13o Gruppo (77a, 78a and 82a Squadriglie) was commanded by Maggiore Secondo Revetria and started the war based at Tripoli Castelbenito airfield with twenty-five CR.42s and eleven CR.32s on hand (the CR.32s, kept as a reserve, were later passed on to the 50o Stormo Assalto) to guard against a possible French attach from the west.
Pilots in the 82a Squadriglia were: Capitano Guglielmo Arrabito (CO), Tenente Chiarini, Sottotenente Giuseppe Bottà, Sottotenente Virgilio Vanzan, Sottotenente Giuseppe Timolina, Sottotenente Gilberto Cerofolini, Sergente Maggiore Dante Davico, Sergente Renato Giansante, Sergente Franco Porta, Sergente Francesco Nanin, Sergente Filippo Baldin, Sergente Riccardo Bonoli and Sergente Albino Falasco (arrived on 9 June).
Total strength of the Squadriglia was twelve CR.42s (three of them still under assembly), six CR.32quaters and one Breda Ba.25 for liaison. The CR.32s were used in patrol missions until 13 June.

On 26 June, four CR.42s from the 82a Squadriglia and one from the 78a Squadriglia took off at 08:45 to make a standing patrol over the 2nd Libyan Infantry division. The formation flew as far as Sollum but at 09:45 during the return flight, Sottotenente Italo Santavacca (78a Squadriglia) was forced to make an emergency landing at Sidi Azeiz due to the compete loss of engine oil. Tenente Chiarini landed near him but when returning to T2, he was obliged to force-land at Gambut for the same reason at 10:05. At 10:20, Sergente Filippo Baldin also had to perform the same for the same reason. Capitano Guglielmo Arrabito landed at Gambut to see what had happened to his pilots but when he took taking off again he had to force-land at Sidi Bu Amud before reaching Tobruk for the usual lack of oil at 10:40. There he found Sottotenente Gilberto Cerofolini who had already force-landed at 10:35. The formation completely failed to return! Adding insult to injury, the advancing enemy burned Santavacca’s CR.42 at Sidi Azeiz and the pilot was probably taken prisoner during the same raid.

At around 16:20 on 23 July, nine CR.42s from the 13o Gruppo (Maggiore Secondo Revetria (CO of the 13o Gruppo in a 77a Squadriglia CR.42), Tenente Giulio Torresi and Sergente Ernesto Paolini (77a Squadriglia), Capitano Guglielmo Arrabito, Tenente Chiarini and Sergente Franco Porta (82a Squadriglia), Capitano Giuseppe Dall’Aglio, Sergente Maggiore Salvatore Mechelli and Sergente Rovero Abbarchi (78a Squadriglia)) and nine from the 10o Gruppo (Capitano Luigi Monti, Tenente Giuseppe Aurili and Tenente Vincenzo Vanni (84a Squadriglia), Tenente Giovanni Guiducci, Sottotenente Neri De Benedetti, Sergente Bruno Bortoletti (90a Squadriglia),Tenente Enzo Martissa, Sergente Elio Miotto, Sergente Alessandro Bladelli (91a Squadriglia)) took off from El Adem to make a fighter sweep in the Bir El Gobi – Sollum – Bardia area.
At around 17:40, between Sidi Azeiz and Bardia, they intercepted a group of Blenheims escorted by Gladiators.
The 13o Gruppo attacked the Gladiators with height advantage and Tenente Chiarini and the other pilots of the 82a Squadriglia attacked a group of three Gladiators, which were flying in a wide formation. After ten minutes of combat Chiarini shot down one of these fighters. The enemy plane burned when crashing on the ground while the pilot parachuted near Sidi Azeiz and was seen to be rescued by British armoured cars. Tenente Torresi in the meantime claimed another Gladiator shot down using 150 rounds of ammunition. Post war Italian studies claimed that two additional bombers fell burning after the attack of other pilots from the 13o Gruppo, but the official records do not confirm this.
The 10o Gruppo formation in the meantime joined the combat. While Capitano Monti with five other pilots remained high to cover the other fighters (and estimating the enemy strength to only three fighters), Tenente Martissa, Sergente Miotto and Sergente Bladelli joined the combat and claimed a single Gloster shared with the 13o Gruppo pilots.
It looks as if this shared victory was one of the two previously claimed by Torresi and Chiarini because there are no shared victories claims in the records of 2o Stormo. An incongruity of this type, in the claims of Regia Aeronautica, during combined actions of different units is not unusual at all.
No Italian aircraft were lost but four CR.42s of the 13o Gruppo were damaged and especially Chiarini’s and Capitano Arrabito’s CR.42s were so damaged that they were not flyable when back at base at 18:20; Arrabito’s CR.42, in particular had suffered many hits in the wings and behind the pilot’s seat.
Presumably the Gladiator claims were made in combat with Gladiators from 33 Squadron. During the day Pilot Officer Preston (Gladiator N5774), flying one of three Gladiators of 33 Squadron, briefed to escort the bomb-carrying Lysander of Flight Lieutenant Legge, was shot down by three attacking CR.42s and forced to bale out south of Bardia. Preston suffered a slight concussion and once rescued he was sent to hospital in Alexandria. The 33 Squadron ORB is lacking the times of this combat but that of 208 Squadron recorded that Legge took off at 18:00 and landed at 19:40 and that one of the escorting fighters was shot down by CR.42s and the pilot escaped by parachute, so it seems highly likely that Preston’s Gladiator fell victim of Chiarini.
It seems that the British records are incomplete on this date since there are no claims for the damaged Italian fighters.

On 18 September, the readiness section at Tmini M2 (Tenente Chiarini of the 82a Squadriglia, Sergente Maggiore Leone Basso of the 77a Squadriglia and Sergente Franco Porta of the 82a Squadriglia) were flying to Gambut when they discovered a formation of nine Blenheims at 1500 metres, which was heading towards Tmini. The three CR 42s immediately started in pursuit but were only able to intercept the RAF bombers after that they had dropped their bombs over the airfield at 18:20.
The Blenheims were reportedly flying in three vics. The three aircraft in the first vic were the first to be attacked, Tenente Chiarini claimed the leader, Sergente Porta one of the wingmen while Sergente Maggiore Basso was machine-gunning the other. They then attacked the second vic, which split up and each Blenheim looking for safety on its own. In the meantime, the third vic remained manoeuvring in close formation and departed towards land while the remaining Blenheims tried to counter attack the CR.42s and were heavily machine-gunned. Now the three Italian pilots started in pursuit of the fleeing “vic”. Flying straight into the Blenheims (because whatever approaching manoeuvre would have meant loosing the chance of closing on the fast escaping enemy bombers), Chiarini ran in a shower of return fire and was wounded in the shoulder. He didn’t turn back immediately but when he realized the seriousness of his wound he had to leave the chase and return to home base but before leaving the combat zone he witnessed a fourth Blenheim machine gunned by Basso and very close to the sea with one engine smoking. Basso himself didn’t witnessed his opponent going down but estimated that it wouldn’t make it back because of the damage suffered, so he turned back home very low on fuel.
When the three Italian pilots landed, it was already dark but the light of the incendiary bombs released on the landing strip guided them. Once on the ground (in three damaged fighters) Chiarini claimed two bombers shot down (by him and Porta), one probable (Basso) and six heavily machine-gunned as shared. The final assessment of the outcome of the combat was made by the HQ of Va Squadra following the reports of land observers, the HQ fixed the number of enemy planes shot down to five; one each for Chiarini and Porta, two for Basso and a fifth shared. Considering the rather aggressive attitude of the Blenheims over Tmini it was assumed that they were “Bristol Blenheim Fighters”. For this action Chiarini, Basso and Porta all were decorated with the Medaglia d’argento al valor militare.
113 Squadron reported that they attacked at 19:20 with nine aircraft using 72 40lbs, 80 20lbs and 400 4lbs incendiary bombs. All the bombs where seen to fall within the target area except a single container of incendiary that overshot. Three Italian planes where observed in flames on the south side of the area and two where directly hit. A cement blockhouse was also hit and damaged. After the first run a reportedly 20 (!) CR.42s attacked the formation shooting down Blenheim Mk.IV T2048 in flames. Squadron Leader Gerald Barnard Keily DFC AFC baled out and was taken POW while the observer, 24-year-old Pilot Officer John Sisman Cleaver (RAF no. 78454) and the wireless operator/air gunner, 27-year-old Sergeant James Jobson (RAF no. 525052) were killed. 113 Squadron claimed to have destroyed one of their attackers and possibly a second. Two other Blenheims were unserviceable on landing but in fact not seriously damaged (possibly the rest of the first “vic”). Flight Lieutenant R. N. Bateson assumed temporarily command of the Squadron. It seems highly likely that Keily was shot down by Tenente Chiarini.

After some days of inactivity due to the incessantly blowing Ghibli wind, a big coordinated Italian action against Mersa Matruh was planned for 31 October. It was planned to use at least 50 SM 79s from the 9o Stormo, 14o Stormo and 33o Gruppo with an escort of 40 CR.42s from the 2o Stormo and 151o Gruppo to attack the British base and its different targets.
At 10:10, Menastir M was attacked by British bombers reported as ten Armstrong Whitworth Whitleys (in fact seven Blenheims from 55 Squadron and three from 84 Squadron). The bombers arrived from a northerly direction completely undetected and hit the parking area of the 93a Squadriglia with many small and medium calibre bombs launched from 3000 metres. The Squadriglia HQ hut was completely destroyed by a direct hit while four CR.42s were lightly damaged by splinters (RS) and one was heavily damaged (RD). The heavy damaged CR.42 was immediately taken to the S.R.A.M. of El Adem (according to other sources the RD Fiats were three and the RS Fiats were two). Luckily no losses were suffered by the personnel of 8o Gruppo.
At 10:15 (09:40 according with other sources), while the 9o Stormo formation was taxiing on Gambut airstrip, a formation of seven Blenheims from 211 Squadron led by Squadron Leader Gordon-Finlayson and two others from 84 Squadron suddenly appeared overhead. The British bombers had managed to approach undetected by gliding down from 3000 metres with turned off engines and bombed with extreme precision, destroying three bombers while three others remained RD and many others were less seriously damaged. Heavy were also the losses among 9o Stormo’s personnel, with two dead among 63a Squadriglia (Sergente Armiere Carlo Marchi and Primo Aviere Radiotelegrafista Eugenio Bonino).
Three fighters of the resident 82a Squadriglia scrambled after the bombers had turned on their Mercury engines. They were flown by Sottotenente Virgilio Vanzan, Sergente Maggiore Dante Davico and Sergente Nino Campanini but they were unable to intercept.
Three fighters of the 78a Squadriglia also scrambled at 10:00. These were flown by Tenente Ippolito Lalatta, Sottotenente Luigi Cannepele and Sergente Ernesto Taddia. These were also unsuccessful and they landed back at base at 10:45.
Sergente Maggiore Roberto Marchi and Sottotenente Carlo Albertini of the 366a Squadriglia scrambled from the nearby Amseat A3 for the British bombers. While in pursuit an enemy fighter, identified as a Hurricane, crossed the path of Albertini, who spent 420 rounds on it. The aircraft escaped smoking heavily and Albertini, who landed at 10:45, was credited with a probable victory.
At 10:25, three CR.42s from 92a Squadriglia, 8o Gruppo, scrambled from Menastir M. The three fighters were flown by Sottotenente Luigi Uguccioni Sergente, Mario Veronesi and Sergente Marcello Mosele. Veronesi intercepted a Hurricane which he claimed damaged with 150 rounds of ammunition. The three aircraft returned to base at 10:45.
It seems that both scrambles from 366a and 92a Squadriglie had been involved in combat with Hurricanes escorting the British bombers and in fact, 80 Squadron had put up eight Gladiators and two Hurricanes between 9.00 and 11.00 to patrol off Bardia at 15,000 feet and to cover bombers attacking Menastir and a target 38 miles west of Bardia (Gambut). The returning pilots didn’t report any encounter with Italian aircraft while returning 211 Squadron crews reported that an Italian CR.42 tried to follow them but after firing two bursts from 500 yards was set upon by a Gladiator and a Hurricane and last seen diving towards the ground with smoke trailing from it.
The Italian mission against Mersa Matruh was not cancelled and at 10:50 only ten SM 79s of 9o Stormo (that in the original intentions were to constitute the bulk of the formation) took off together with 11 SM 79s of the 14o Stormo and five from the 33o Gruppo. The bombers were escorted by 18 CR.42s from the 13o Gruppo, which flew as close escort, and 18 more from the 151o Gruppo, which was to fly an indirect support sweep.
At 11:45 two sections with six CR.42s of the 78a Squadriglia took off from Gambut G with Capitano Giuseppe Dall’Aglio leading Sottotenente Luigi Cannepele (a future posthumously Medaglia d’Oro al valor militare winner and inspirer of the famous “Gigi tre osei” symbol of the 150o Gruppo C.T.), Sergente Rovero Abbarchi, Tenente Ippolito Lalatta (leading the second section), Sergente Ernesto Taddia and Sergente Teresio Martinoli. They were followed at 11:55 by two sections from the 82a Squadriglia. The first section included Tenente Chiarini (section leader), Sottotenente Giuseppe Timolina and Sergente Maggiore Dante Davico while the second section included Tenente Gianfranco Perversi (section leader), Sergente Francesco Nanin and Sottotenente Virgilio Vanzan. Together with these six CR.42s, six more of the 77a Squadriglia took off with Capitano Domenico Bevilacqua leading Tenente Eduardo Sorvillo, Sottotenente Carmelo Catania, Sergente Maggiore Ernesto Scalet, Sergente Ernesto Paolini and Sergente Renato Gori. Capitano Giuseppe Dall’Aglio took command of the whole formation.
For the 151o Gruppo this was the first long range escort mission since arriving in Libya and they received the order to move at 11:00 and at 12:10 they took off from Amseat A3 to arrive over Mersa Matruh at the same time as the bombers. Participating pilots were from all three Squadriglie - 366a Squadriglia (Capitano Bernardino Serafini, Tenente Mario Ferrero, Tenente Piero Veneziani, Sergente Maggiore Fiorenzo Milella, Sergente Maggiore Roberto Marchi and Sergente Rosario Di Carlo), 367a Squadriglia (Capitano Simeone Marsan, Sergente Maggiore Renato Mingozzi, Sergente Maggiorino Soldati, Tenente Irzio Bozzolan, Sergente Maggiore Gino Bogoni and Sergente Bruno Celotto) and 368a Squadriglia (Capitano Bruno Locatelli, Sergente Maggiore Davide Colauzzi, Sergente Mario Turchi, Tenente Giuseppe Zuffi, Sergente Piero Hosquet and Sergente Ottorino Ambrosi).
The bombers gathered over Tmimi and then headed east in groups of five in arrow formations. The fighters from the 13o Gruppo flew in flights of three in echelon right formation at 5000 meters, directed to a rendezvous point 20 kilometres south-west of Mersa Matruh along the road that connected this base with Bir Kenayis, which they reached at 12:56.
After the bombers arrived over Mersa Matruh, each formation went for different targets but was attacked by British fighters while aiming for their targets.
At 12:46, the 14o Stormo, led by Tenente Colonnello Lidonici, attacked the airfield of Bir Kenayis but finding it empty they headed for an alternative target of enemy troops south-west of Mersa Matruh, who were hit at 13:01. In fact, 80 Squadron pilots on the ground noticed Italian bombers attacking the aerodrome of Bir Kenayis at 12:45 and reported that bombs fell to the south-west and some distance away, obviously they thought that the Savoias had missed their intended target of some miles. Gunners of the 14o Stormo claimed two Hurricanes and a Gladiator destroyed, and another Gladiator probable. One SM 79 crash-landed near Sidi Barrani and was written off while a second crash-landed in the desert near Tobruk and was also written off. Three more SM 79s returned at 14:40 so badly damaged that they were classified RD and another one went to the SRAM for major repairs. Among the crews there were three dead (Sottotenente pilota-puntatore (pilot aimer) Federico Tonizzo, Primo Aviere Montatore Mario Padalino, Primo Aviere Armiere Guerino Invorti) and two wounded (Tenete Beltramini (another aimer) and Tenente Martinelli (observer)). Of its 11 SM 79s, in the evening only five were still fit for further operations.
At 12:55 the 9o Stormo, led by Tenente Colonnello Italo Napoleoni, released its bombs on the railway near El Qasaba airfield. The diarist of 6 Squadron noted that Quasaba had been bombed at 13:05 by five Savoia SM 79s, dropping approximately 30-40 100kg bombs and that no casualties nor damage had been suffered by the Squadron’s detachment while the diarist of 208 Squadron reported that around 40 bombs of the 100kg type were dropped by 15 SM 79s and that four of them fell in the camp damaging three lorries and three tents while the remainder fell around the railway siding. Two SM 79s from the 11a Squadriglia, 26o Gruppo B.T. were shot down. The Squadriglia flew in a ‘V’ formation led by Tenente Giovanni Ruggiero and it was the two outer SM 79s that were shot down in flames by a Hurricane (Sottotenente Fulvio Fabiani, Sergente Arturo Bigliardi, Primo Aviere Fotografo Adorno Antonini, Primo Aviere Motorista Francesco Farina and Primo Aviere Armiere Vincenzo Scarinci) (Tenente Roberto Di Frassineto, Sergente Maggiore Armando Zambelli, Aviere Scelto Motorista Camillo Caiazzo, Primo Aviere Armiere Alfredo Pacifici and Aviere Scelto Radiotelegrafista Giuseppe Costa); all but Zambelli (POW) were killed. In an aircraft of the 13a Squadriglia was Primo Aviere Motorista Tommaso Giorgio killed and Aviere Scelto RT Canaponi was wounded by Hurricane bullets. A gunner in the SM 79 to the left of Tenente Ruggiero, at the time 22-years-old Aviere Scelto Armiere Cherubino Mariotti recalled, of this his first combat mission:

“On 31 October 1940 I was on a S79, first left wingmen of a five planes formation that was attacked by British fighters after bombing enemy troops near Mersa Matruh. We, gunners, were returning fire when I noticed that the two end wingmen of our formation were hit and were losing height in flames. Suddenly I centred in my gun sight a Hurricane that was closing to the last three planes shooting continuously at us. Arrived at the distance suitable to start the “famous” turn that permit it to fan with its eight guns its target, I was able to aim at its belly and saw my tracers entering it. Obviously hit, the plane directed towards the ground leaving a thick cloud of black smoke. In this way I avenged the ten dear friends lost in the two planes fell in flames.”
Sergente Pilota Armando Zambelli who was the only survivor of the SM 79 flown by Tenente Di Frassineto recalled:
“It was 31 October 1940, I was hospitalised in Derna infirmary when I heard that we were going to start for an important bombing mission. Today it can seem a bit excessive all the enthusiasm with which we wanted to take part in war missions, but twenty years old and with the high spirit of those days all seemed normal for us. I left the infirmary and reached the Squadriglia. When my Commander Capitano Giovanni Ruggiero asked me how I felt I told him: “Perfectly and I’m ready to start” [in fact, Tenente Ruggiero wasn’t promoted to Capitano until 15 November 1940].
My crew was composed by: Tenente Di Frassineto, me, Primo Aviere Fotografo Antonini, Primo Aviere Motorista Stramccioni and Aviere Scelto Armiere Costa
[Strangely enough, Zambelli here quotes among his crew, a member of the crew of Sottotenente Fabiani and an airman: Stramaccioni that neither is recorded among the casualties of 9o Stormo in WWII]. The action was one of the most important of the war so far and our forces were fifty S 79s with the escort of forty fighters started from an airstrip near Derna [It appears that the 9o Stormo was divided in two formations - one from the 26o Gruppo (11a and 13a Squadriglie), which started from Derna and the other from the 29o Gruppo (62a and 63a Squadriglie), which was surprised by the Blenheims at Gambut and was prevented to take part in the action] and after around an hour of flight we arrived over the airbase of Matruh.
Our section was composed by five planes disposed in arrow formation under command of Capitano Ruggero. We were almost on the target when a hand on my shoulder made me turning the head. It was the Motorista that told me that we were attacked by enemy fighters of which we had already shot down one
[the aircraft claimed by Mariotti], sadly the Hurricanes and Gloster Gladiators from a superior height continued to fire without respite and after a short while I saw the end wingman opposite to my position falling in flames; pilots were Tenente Fabiani from Rome and Sergente Bigliardi from Bologna. We succeeded in bombing the target but following another enemy’s burst of fire our plane started to burn and being made of wood and fabric it burned like a wax match.
I told the members of the crew to bale out but without avail because they tried to fight the fire. Enemy bullets continued to enter the plane and I saw the poor crewmembers hit by the bullets and reached by the flames. We decided to leave the plane, I opened the exit door on the top of the cockpit and immediately air suction threw me against the tail of the plane that was burning; I lost consciousness and I woke up when the parachute opened. I was descending under the area where our CR 42s and the Hurricanes were fighting. Moving my legs I tried to move towards the land to avoid falling into the sea but in that moment I lost consciousness again. When I woke up for the second time I was on a British vehicle between a bearded Shik driver and an English officer that pointed his gun on me. I was taken to the infirmary because I was burned in the face and in the hands and had a dislocated ankle; there I was left resting for a while. Subsequently I was examined by a General that told me that he was Canadian and that he had fought as our alley during the First World War
[Raymond Collishaw!]. He asked me, in an approximate Italian, if in Italy we thought that they killed the aviators that jumped with the parachute. […].”
An anonymous crewmember of a 13a Squadriglia SM 79 (the 13a Squadriglia composed the second arrow of the 9o Stormo) described the combat:
“Immediately after the bomb release a hard attack of Hurricanes […] immediately the plane took 116 hits […] one wing damaged, engines nacelles damaged, flaps and empennages damaged, bomb bay damaged, the three propellers hit, […] 1o Aviere Motorista Tommaso Giorgio, that was shooting back with the gun in the “hunk” died, […] his place was taken by Aviere Scelto Marconista Canaponi but after a short while he was wounded too […] finally Primo Aviere Fotografo Marcucci took the gun […].”
In the end the gunners of the SM 79 expended 1337 gun rounds, notwithstanding the damage suffered, the aircraft was back at base at around 15:00.
The first formation of five SM 79s from 33o Gruppo, led by Tenente Colonnello Ferri Forte was able to repel the attack of a reportedly three Gladiators. At 13:03 they hit with precision the new railway station of Mersa Matruh, built after the old one was definitely put out of action by the last months bombing attacks.
Totally the Italian War Bulletin reported that seven enemy planes were shot down by return fire from the bombers while in exchange for two bombers that failed to return. It is known that the 14o Stormo claimed two Hurricanes and a Gladiator plus another Gladiator as a probable. It seems that 33o Gruppo didn’t claim anything and so the other four claims should be credited to the 9o Stormo, one of them by the gunner Mariotti of the 11a Squadriglia (and following this deductive argument the other three were probably claimed by the gunners of the 13a Squadriglia).
The Italian escorting fighters arrived over Mersa Matruh at around 13:00 and immediately entered combat with enemy fighters that were already attacking the SM 79s.
The formation of the 368a Squadriglia first attacked three Hurricanes. One of them was claimed shot down in flames by Sergente Maggiore Davide Colauzzi while a second one was claimed by Sergente Mario Turchi. The third one, attacked by Capitano Bruno Locatelli was hit by a precise burst in the cockpit area and seen abandoning the fight (the pilot was reputedly wounded). Locatelli then headed towards the sea and encountered a lone Gladiator. He closed in on its tail and from close distance he hit it with a short burst. The Gladiator first emitted a cloud of black smoke and then exploded in mid air. The other section of the Squadriglia (Zuffi, Hosquet and Ambrosi) didn’t entered the combat since the fighters from the 13o Gruppo that were flying higher waded in and split the 368a formation, excluding Zuffi and his men from the ensuing combat. At 14:10, all the CR.42s were back at base.
The formation of the 367a Squadriglia didn’t obtain concrete results in the combat, which they described as started at 5500 metres of height. All its pilots were back at base at 14:10.
The 366a Squadriglia were more successful. Immediately after the arrival over Matruh at 13:00, Capitano Serafini attacked a Gladiator that, damaged, escaped by diving. Sergente Maggiore Marchi followed it shooting until they were down at 2000 metres and the British fighter was considered shot down. Then Serafini discovered an “arrow” of five SM 79s with a Hurricane that was following at close distance. He gave full throttle trying to cut the path of the Hurricane but had to witness one of the Savoias being hit and falling in flames. Finally, he managed to overtake the Hurricane and hit it in the side. The RAF fighter went down immediately. AA fire at this moment was extremely intense and Serafini saw another SM 79 of the same formation that suddenly was engulfed by flames and went down. He was unable to understand if the aircraft was previously hit by the Hurricane or if it was hit by flak. Another Hurricane tried to attack the SM 79s but this time Serafini was quick in reacting and hit the Hawker that dived away smoking; Sergente Maggiore Colauzzi also took part in this last attack. In the meantime, Tenente Ferrero hit and damaged three Hurricanes before being forced to disengage with the guns jammed. While coming back he was attacked by another enemy plane but was able to outmanoeuvre it and land safely at base. The 366a Squadriglia were back at 14:00. It also seems that the 151o Gruppo claimed a probable Gladiator (possibly recorded as a Gruppo claim).
The CR.42 of the 13o Gruppo following the road between Bir Kenayis and Mersa Matruh arrived over the target at 13:00 and discovered the 151o Gruppo some 500 metres higher and then at a distance of 4 to 5 kilometres to the west, two formations of Italian bombers heading towards the frontier. The 78a Squadriglia opened the formation followed by the 77a Squadriglia and the 82a Squadriglia. A Gloster Gladiator was seen to heading towards the 78a Squadrigla fighters and was immediately counter-attacked by Capitano Bevilacqua and his section. In the meantime, the 78a Squadriglia was crossing the path of the bombers and discovered a Hurricane that was following them, but this aircraft escaped diving before the arrival of the Fiats. Meanwhile more fighters from the 78a and 82a Squadriglie joined the fight. Those of the 78a Squadriglia endeavoured to protect their comrade Sottotenente Luigi Canneppele, who because of problems with his propeller only was able to fly straight and level. Sergente Taddia was damaged in the process but remained in fight being credited with a probable Gloster while Sergente Martinoli (claimed as a destroyed in his logbook), Tenente Ippolito Lalatta and Sergente Abbarchi claimed damaged Gladiators. Bevilacqua in the meantime fought down to ground level, claiming two Gladiators in the process and while pursuing a third British machine witnessed another CR.42 that while trying to close on the same aircraft collided with it. It was the Fiat of Tenente Perversi of the 82a Squadriglia, who was killed. Before leaving the area, Bevilacqua saw two British parachutes (bright white in colour and hemispherical in shape) so he argued that Perversi had possibly shot down another British aircraft before colliding with the other. The rest of the 77a Squadriglia under Tenente Sorvillo and the 82a Squadriglia under Tenente Chiarini remained high and attacked British Hurricanes that were attacking the SM 79s. Sergente Gori damaged a Hurricane and Sergente Paolini a Gloster, which he left to other Falcos to finish it off. Tenente Chiarini and Sergente Nanin claimed a shared Spitfire that was attacking the SM 79s while Sergente Maggiore Davico claimed a second as a damaged. All the pilots were back between 14:05 and 14:20.
The Italian aircraft had been in combat with at least nine Gladiators from 112 Squadron and twelve Hurricanes from 33 Squadron.
112 Squadron’s Gladiators from Sidi Haneish carried out many patrols over Mersa Matruh during the morning, participating pilots were: Flight Lieutenant R. J. Abrahams, Flying Officer Joseph Fraser (Gladiator K7973), Flying Officer Robert Hugh Clark, Pilot Officer B. B. E. Duff and Second Lieutenant E. R. Smith (SAAF).
At 13:00, Pilot Officer Duff sighted a reported ten SM 79 and gave chase However, he failed to see the escorting fighters; six CR.42s, which was part of an 18 strong escort formation, dived on him and shot him down. Fortunately, he managed to escape by parachute, suffering only slight burns. The fighters were engaged by Flying Officer Lloyd Schwab, Second Lieutenant Smith and Pilot Officer Richard Acworth (who had just joined the patrol scrambling from readiness). Schwab claimed two CR.42s shot down after which he reported that his engine failed and he force-landed, later returning to his unit by a N.Z. Staff car. Acworth claimed a third CR.42. Acworth and Smith then collided and both had to bale out. Acworth being unhurt and Smith suffering from a dislocated collarbone (possibly after having been engaged by Bevilacqua’s and Perversi’s sections). Flying Officers Fraser and Clark (both also ordered on patrol from readiness) also engaged the bombers and Fraser managed to put one engine of an SM 79 out of action (from Fraser’s logbook it appears that this Savoia was credited to him as a “confirmed” victory). 24-year-old Clark (RAF no. 40513) was posted missing at the end of this engagement. When last seen he was engaging three SM 79s and he was presumed killed by return fire coming from them. Squadron Leader Harry Brown, Flight Lieutenant R. J. Abrahams, and Flying Officer Edwin Banks also took off but were unable to intercept.
33 Squadron with its new Hurricanes, which had taken off at 13:15 from Fuka, also encountered the Italian aircraft over Mersa Matruh and they reported meeting SM 79s escorted by 12 CR.42s, which caused the Hurricanes some inconvenience since they were intercepted during the climb up. Three of the bombers were claimed shot down. Two of them were seen to be shot down (“witnessed and confirmed by land troops”) by the 26-year-old Canadian Flying Officer Edmond Kidder Leveille (RAF no. 40837) who was then attacked by a reportedly four CR.42s. Leveille was forced to bale out but was killed when his parachute failed to deploy completely. The third SM 79 was claimed by Flying Officer Perry St Quintin (Hurricane P3724), who claimed a second as a probable, reportedly with the starboard engine on fire. St Quintin was however also shot down by the escort and he was forced to make a forced landing at Qasaba with a holed fuel tank. These victories were the CR.42s first over Hurricanes in the Western Desert. Flying Officer Frank Holman (Hurricane P3725) claimed a CR.42 between Matruh and Barrani after a running fight (possibly Tenente Ferrero) and another probable SM 79 was claimed Flying Officer Henry Starrett (Hurricane P3729). Flying Officer Littler’s Hurricane was considerably shot up and forced to turn back during the combat.
The combat was the most important since many weeks and received the press honours. An Egyptian newspaper reported:
Eight Italian Planes Down – Air Battle over Mersa Matruh. Cairo, Saturday.

It was announced from Headquarters, RAF, Middle East on Friday, that a large force of enemy bombers (SM 79s) escorted by a dozen fighters (CR 42s) attempted an attack on targets in the Mersa Matruh area yesterday. Fighter aircraft of the RAF immediately engaged the enemy. In the ensuing battle, four SM 79s were shot down and four CR.42s were destroyed. In addition, four more enemy aircraft were so damaged that it is unlikely that they returned to their base. During the battle, two of our fighter aircraft collided, but the pilots landed safely by parachute. One of our fighters was shot down and one, which was last seen engaging three SM 79s making for home, has so far not returned to its base.

The Italian fighters totally claimed ten victories in this combat (Colauzzi, Turchi, Locatelli, Marchi, Serafini, Bevilacqua (2), Perversi (2) and Chiarini’s and Nanin’s shared) (post war studies raised this number to eleven considering the one claimed by Martinoli, which was not credited to him by his unit)while the bombers claimed seven for the loss of one CR.42 and two SM 79s (two more where write-offs after forced-landings). The British fighters claimed four CR.42s and three SM 79s (and one probable) for the loss of five Gladiators and two Hurricanes. 33 Squadron’s ORB in recording the presence of 112’s Gladiators claimed that they had shot down three CR.42s and two SM 79s.
The killed Tenente Di Frassineto was son of a senator, count Alfredo Di Frassineto, thus the notice of his loss required special cares. Therefore, on 21 November 1940 Generale Urbani, Chief of cabinet of the Air Ministry, wrote a personal letter to marquise Pierfranco Citterio, son in law of the father of the missing pilot:
“On 31 October, two S 79s of 11a Squadriglia failed to return from a bombing action done at 12.57 over enemy positions.
Crew chief of one of those planes was Tenente Di Frassineto.
It seems that coming back from the action the two planes were attacked by numerous enemy planes, together with them other eight planes of the same Gruppo; the two S 79s were seen to fall near Mersa Matruh, one of them presumably hit by the AA fire.
The other crewmembers were Sergente Maggiore Armando Zambelli, Aviere Scelto Motorista Camillo Caiazzo, Primo Aviere Armiere Alfredo Pacifici, Aviere Scelto Radiotelegrafista Giuseppe Costa.
All this personnel until now is considered missing in action.
We already started the procedures on the Red Cross, necessary to know the names of possible prisoners.”
The Italian fighters were rightly quite pleased with their performance, the 151o Gruppo started well and the 13o Gruppo confirmed that it was the best Italian unit in theatre. However, considering the ordeal of the SM 79s their Commander, Generale Matricardi, Commander in Chief of Va Squadra Aerea awaiting Felice Porro return from Italy, wasn’t satisfied. In a reserved note regarding the 31 October engagement Matriciardi commented:
“Indirect protection in the sky over the target was not reliable for the protection of big formations of S79s (…) so, it happened that the S79 had to fight hardly (…) while the fighters, in areas far from the fighting, (…) didn’t do nothing!”.
Looking at RAF losses the judgement of Matriciardi seems to be (undeservedly) too hard. But indeed, such were the losses of the bomber force that for some weeks after the 31 October daylight operations had to be curtailed.
This remarkable combat was remembered by Joseph Fraser and Richard Acworth with two short poems.
In the late 1960’s, Acworth wrote an unpublished short story about this combat as seen by him: The Unfinished Game by Richard Acworth DFC.

After the capture of Sidi Barrani on 16 September, the Italian Army formed a defensive line composed of big outposts separated by wide desert areas. From north to south there were the 1a Divisione Libica (1st Libyan infantry division) at Maktila, near the sea east of Sidi Barrani and the 4a Divisione Camice Nere (4th Black shirts Division) at Sidi Barrani. South of these were the 2a Divisione Libica (2nd Libyan infantry division) in three strong points called Alam El Tummar East, Alam El Tummar West and Point 90 (also called Ras El Dai). South of this was the motorised “Maletti Group” in the entrenched camp of Nibeiwa (strong points: Alam Nibeiwa and Alam El Iktufa). Then there were a gap of around thirty kilometres (called the Bir Enba gap) and at the extreme south of the Italian front the 63a Divisione di Fanteria (Italian Infantry division) “Cirene” in four strong points around the rocky hill of Bir Sofafi; Alam El Rabia, the crossroads at height 236, the crossroads at Qabe el Mahdi and Height 226 at Bir Sofafi.
This deployment was clearly lacking, in particular, the worst error seemed the wide gap between “Maletti” and “Cirene” a distance that allowed for encirclement of the forces south of Sidi Barrani and north of Bir Sofafi.
On 19 November, General O’Connor ordered a fully motorised support group to enter the gap and stay there as to mark the British supremacy over the important area (in fact he had already planned to use this zone to pass through his troops and attack Nibeiwa). Reconnaissance units of the “Maletti” Group signalled the dangerous presence of British armoured cars and a combined action was planned for the day after.
During the early morning, a formation of 17 fighters of the 151o Gruppo escorted a formation of Bredas attacking enemy troops in the Bir Enba area and a Ro.37bis reconnoitring in the same general area. The mission was uneventful and the 366a Squadriglia went down after the Bredas to strafe enemy vehicles.
Then an armoured column of the “Maletti” Group (420 troopers and 27 officers on 37 trucks with a strong of artillery of six anti-tank and six medium calibre guns and twenty seven M11/39 medium tanks) left Nibeiwa and a column of the 2a Divisione Libica (256 troopers and 17 officers on 29 trucks with four anti-tank and eight medium calibre guns) left Tummar. They had to rendezvous and then explore the Bir Enba gap. British forces opposing them are not known but Italian Intelligence estimated an armoured group of 60 to 70 tanks and armoured cars (the Italian Intelligence generally overestimated the actual force of the Commonwealth troops by a factor of between two to ten).
At 12:40, the “Maletti” group was attacked by the British forces and forced to do battle. Around half an hour later at 13:00 the 2a Libyan’s contingent arrived and together they forced the British forces to retreat. While they were coming back to base, the British returned and attacked again, starting a dangerous rearguard action.
At 13:00, 18 CR.42s from the 13o Gruppo were ordered off from Gambut G to patrol the Bir Enba area. After take-off a first group of 12 aircraft led by the newly promoted Tenente Colonnello Secondo Revetria stayed at 3000 meters while a second group of led by Tenente Chiarini covered them 2000 meters higher. Revetria’s formation included pilots from the 77a (Capitano Domenico Bevilacqua, Tenente Eduardo Sorvillo, Sottotenente Mario Nicoloso, Sergente Enrico Botti, Sergente Vincenzo Campolo and an unrecorded pilot), 78a (Sottotenente Natale Cima, Sergente Maggiore Salvatore Mechelli, Sergente Cassio Poggi and Sergente Teresio Martinoli) and 82a (Sottotenente Virgilio Vanzan) Squadriglie.
When they arrived over Bir Enba, Revetria made a first pass to better spot targets and observed an artillery duel between Italian guns and British tanks. Immediately the British vehicles, that were encircling the right flank of the Italian troops, stopped to fire and dispersed. Revetria and his eleven pilots attacked in single file causing a lot of damage among the enemies. After the strafing attack, the twelve 13o Gruppo pilots returned undamaged to base where they landed 14:50 after having spent 2200 rounds of 12,7 and 7,7 calibre ammunitions.
In the meantime, Chiarini’s formation was down to 4000 meters when they spotted a formation of a reported eight Gladiators that looked as they were trying to attack Revetria’s formation. Chiarini immediately attacked with height advantage and surprised the Gladiator. The first pass only managed to break the Gladiator formation without causing losses and then a long dogfight started (Chiarini recorded that it lasted for 25 minutes) after which six British Gladiators were claimed shot down in flames, all shared by the six pilots of the Italian formation; Tenente Chiarini, Sottotenente Gilberto Cerofolini, Sottotenente Giuseppe Bottà, Sottotenente Giuseppe Timolina, Sergente Nino Campanini and Sergente Francesco Nanin. A seventh Gladiator was claimed as seriously damaged and was last seen flying low towards Matruh smoking and without taking evasive actions being claimed as a shared probable and the last Gladiator was also claimed as a shared probable. It was reported that all the victories were confirmed by the Libyan land forces (Chiarini also reported that the wreck of one of the Gladiators was noted on the ground by his pilots). The six Italian fighters came back almost without fuel left, they had used 1595 rounds 12,7 calibre and 2330 round 7,7 calibre ammunitions. Only four of them were slightly damaged. The heaviest damage was suffered by Timolina’s aircraft, which landed at an advanced airbase (probably Sollum) and was flown back to base the day after. His aircraft was still not operational at the beginning of Operation “Compass” much more because of the inadequacy of the Italian repair organisation than because of the damage actually suffered.
It seems that the “eight Gladiators” were in fact a formation of four Gladiators from 3 RAAF Squadron. Flight Lieutenant Blake Pelly (N5753), had been ordered to undertake a reconnaissance over enemy positions in the Sofafi-Rabia-Bir Enba areas. Squadron Leader Peter Ronald Heath (N5750), and Flying Officers Alan Rawlinson (L9044) and Alan Boyd (N5752) provided his escort. The aircraft took off from Gerawla at 13:40. Flying at about 5,500 feet and with Pelly some 200 yards in front the escort, they headed for their objective. After about half an hour and about seven miles east of Rabia, 18 CR.42s were spotted below strafing British troops. In accordance to orders, the reconnaissance flight turned around and headed for home. They had barely turned around when they were attacked by the CR.42s. Pelly out in the lead found himself at the centre of attention from nine Fiats. His escort were likewise engaged with a similar number.
Boyd found himself being attacked from astern by three aircraft. By twisting and diving he found himself behind one of them and fired off a long burst into the cockpit area. The Fiat rolled over and dived towards the ground. Pulling up into a tight turn he was able to bring his sights to bear on another enemy fighter. Coming in for a quarter attack, the Fiat fell into an uncontrollable spin with thick black smoke pouring from the engine. With barely a pause Boyd pulled round and went after a third fighter, which was attacking one of the Gladiators. After hitting it with a short burst it fell away. As he was watching it fall away he was attacked from behind by yet another Fiat. Hauling hard back on the stick, he went straight up, with the engine on full power. This caused the enemy fighter to overshoot him. Rolling over, Boyd came down and fired directly into the engine and cockpit area, the Fiat then spun down towards the ground. Looking round, he saw another fighter and set off in pursuit. The Italian saw him and pulled up into a climb, Boyd followed but his engine stalled and he entered a spin, only pulling out when he was within 30 feet of the ground. As he pulled out he was attacked by yet another Fiat. To complicate matters further Boyd’s guns had jammed and he struggled with the mechanisms trying desperately to free them, all the while being pursued a few feet off the ground by an enemy fighter. At last he freed up the two fuselage guns and in a desperate measure he yanked back the stick and went up into a loop. Coming over the top, he saw the Fiat below him and at a range of less than 30 yards he let fly with his remaining guns. The cockpit of the Fiat erupted with bullet strikes and it fell away to the Desert floor.
With no more enemy aircraft in the vicinity, Boyd took stock of his situation. He had very little ammo left and only two working guns. In the distance, he saw one aircraft being pursued by two more. Turning in their direction he gained some altitude and closed in. He soon recognised Pelly’s Gladiator coming under attack from two Fiats. He immediately attack one which was firing on Pelly, who was about to land with a faltering engine, this aircraft rolled over and dived towards the ground which was only 30 feet away. It seems unlikely that it could have pulled out. Pelly’s engine had picked up again and he started to climb away from the area. The remaining Fiat turned on Boyd, whose guns had jammed again, and chased him at low level for about a mile before giving up and turning away. Boyd rejoined Pelly and both pilots made their way home. Along the way Pelly had to land at Minqar Qaim at 14:45 when his engine gave out. It was discovered that his oil tank had been hit and all the oil had drained out (the aircraft was flown back to Gerawla the next day). Boyd continued on his own back to base where he landed at 14:50.
During this combat was 26-year-old Squadron Leader Heath (RAAF no. 87) shot down in flames and killed. He was later buried beside his aircraft.
Boyd was credited with three CR.42s shot down and one probable, Pelly claimed one shot down and one damaged, while Rawlinson claimed a damaged.
Of the dogfight, Pelly wrote:

“While proceeding on reconnaissance to Sofafi area in company with an escort of 3 other Gladiators, I encountered two formations of CR42 aircraft, consisting of eight and nine respectively.
The formation of eight attacked my escort and the other formation cut me off and drove me southwards. The interception occurred at 1400 when I was 7 miles east of Rabia, and my escort were two miles NE of me. I was at 4,000 feet and my escort at 5,000 feet.
I could not get back to my escort, and the repeated attacks of the nine CR42s forced me southwards, and I worked eastwards.
Shortly after the commencement of the battle I found myself meeting one EA head on at 50 feet. We both opened fire and he dived under me and crashed into the ground.
About five EA must have broken off, but at least 3 pursued me and attacked determinedly until 1425 when I worked northwards and rejoined on of my escort (F/O A H Boyd). These three then broke off.
During the battle at approximately 1405 I turned at two EA who were attacking me from rear and got in one good burst. This aircraft issued black smoke, which increased in intensity until he finally broke away. I saw him flying away in a cloud of black smoke.”
After the war, Pelly also added that he was also shot at by his own escort during this hectic 25 minute battle. He also recalls being picked up by a Lysander and flown back to base.
This was 3 RAAF Squadron’s first combat.
At 13:35, three Gladiators from 3 RAAF Squadron took off from Gerawla for another tactical reconnaissance. The mission was flown by Flight Lieutenant Gordon Steege (N5780), Flying Officer East (N5765) and Flying Officer Alan Gatward (N5766) and intended to cover the Bir Dignaish area. At about 14:10 the three Gladiators encountered Flying Officer Alan Rawlinson returning to base. The reconnaissance was then abandoned and the four Gladiators returned to base in company and landed at 14:40.

When 2o Stormo was transferred back to Italy he volunteered to stay in North Africa and was assigned to the 366a Squadriglia, 151o Gruppo of the 53o Stormo CT "Ace of Spades" on 27 November 1940; this was a unit he had been assigned to earlier in his career.
The 151o Gruppo had been based at Amseat A3 airfield since 30 September and the 366a Squadriglia’s CO was Capitano Bernardino Serafini.

During the night to 9 December, the Gruppo Commander of the 151o Gruppo had been ordered to keep the unit at readiness until dawn.
Two aircraft of the 366a Squadriglia, flown by Sottotenente Carlo Albertini and Sergente Di Carlo, took off at 07:05 to perform a protection flight over the airfield.
At 07:25, after an air alarm over the phone call that warned about an enemy aircraft that was heading towards the airfield, Tenente Chiarini of the 366a Squadriglia scrambled from Amseat A3.
At 07:30, a Bristol Blenheim was seen high over the airfield and Sergente Maggiore Cesare Chiarmetta from the same unit immediately took off and pursued the enemy. Since the latter made a big turn over the airfield, Chiarmetta managed to reach the same height, but was too far away to shoot at it. The British aircraft, realizing that it was pursued, climbed easily into the cloud overcast that was covering almost the entire sky at 5000 m. Chiarmetta gave up the chase and landed back at base at 08:00.
Meanwhile, Chiarini had arrived over Sollum to try to intercept the enemy on the route to the target. Here he realized that the anti-aircraft artillery was firing. Following the bursts of the AA shells, he could see, at a higher level and at distance, a monoplane chased by a CR.42. He started after it, tenaciously trying to not lose sight of it. At some point the Bristol disappeared into the clouds and, when it appeared again Chiarini spotted it and attacked. After a few raking bursts in the belly, (145 7,7mm and 121 12,7 mm rounds), the enemy aircraft fell burning south-east of Rabia.
Chiarini landed back at base at 08:30 after having used 266 rounds of ammunition.
113 Squadron (whose records for the period are totally missing) lost Blenheim Mk.IV T2073 in the morning when it came down at Sidi Barrani, possibly due to enemy action. The Blenheim had taken off from LG 68 (also known as Waterloo) and Pilot Officer J. N. Owen was wounded and taken to Number 8 General Hospital. The Wireless Operator/Air Gunner Sergeant Joseph Crawford (RAF no. 648647) and Observer Sergeant Albert Michael Goldfeather (RAF no. 747841) were both KIA. In fact, Squadron HQ of “A” Squadron 11th Hussars reported that at 08:30 hours a Blenheim was shot down by a CR.42 approximately south east of Rabia and the pilot, injured, was picked up by the unit ,while the rest of the crew was killed, thus confirming the claim of Tenente Chiarini.

At 08:10 on 14 December, a formation from the 151o Gruppo took off from Tobruk T2 for a free sweep in the Sollum area. Participating pilots were Tenente Chiarini, Sottotenente Amedeo Guidi, Maresciallo Giovanni Accorsi and Sergente Rosario Di Carlo (in the only four combat ready CR.42s of the 366a Squadriglia), Capitano Giuseppe Costantini, Tenente Aldo Bonuti and Sergente Maggiore Bruno Celotto (367a Squadriglia), Capitano Bruno Locatelli, Tenente Giuseppe Zuffi, Maresciallo Guido Paparatti and Sergente Piero Hosquet (368a Squadriglia).
The formation was climbing in direction towards Bardia when, slightly lower, a formation of reportedly nine Bristol Blenheims was discovered heading for Bardia. The British bombers were immediately attacked. One of them was hit by the precise fire of Sottotenente Guidi and fell in flames. Another bomber was shot down immediately after (possibly credited as a shared) and all the other bombers, which in the meantime had released their bomb load in the sea, were damaged. Then a long pursuit started with another bomber claimed as probable (possibly another shared). Tenente Chiarini followed three bombers 100 km out over open sea, expending all his ammunition on the left side bomber before returning to base. Sergente Di Carlo, while returning to base, discovered and strafed a group of armoured cars, claiming three in flames.
While returning after the pursuit, Sottotenente Guidi discovered another formation of nine Blenheims and attacked, claiming one in flames and another damaged with the little remaining ammunitions. Tenente Zuffi also discovered this formation (reported as seven strong) but was unable to engage.
The CR.42s were back at 10:00, claiming three Blenheims, one probable and many damaged (plus three armoured cars in flames). The 366a Squadriglia’s pilots had expended 2411 rounds of ammunition. Capitano Locatelli used 200 12,7mm and 350 7,7mm rounds, Tenente Zuffi used 200 12,7mm and 325 7,7mm, Maresciallo Paparatti used 240 12,7mm and 150 7,7mm and Sergente Hosquet 50 12,7mm rounds.
The Italian fighters had met eight Blenheim Mk.IVs from 55 Squadron together with one from 11 Squadron, which had taken off from Fuka for a daylight attack on Bardia at 08:55.
Over Bardia they were attacked by a reportedly 50 (!) CR.42s. 55 Squadron had usually been successful in its encounters with the CR.42s, chiefly because of the use of clever hit-and-run tactics and a good flight discipline in case of attack of the Italian biplanes, but this time things went differently. Owing to poor visibility, a number of CR.42s commenced their unwelcome attentions before the Squadron could assume battle formation. One of the fighters made an unsuccessful head on attack on the leading machine of No.3 flight (Flying Officer Ellis in Blenheim T1872), while the gunner’s attention was directed to eleven other Fiats attacking from astern, resulting in the loss of the starboard airscrew and other damage. The Italian fighters destroyed T1872 beyond repair but the crew (Flying Officer K. Ellis DFC, Sergeant I. Brownrigg and Sergeant J. Perkins) survived unhurt. One of the enemy relaxing from an attack on the leading flight, in which Flying Officer Potter sustained damage on the starboard engine of his aircraft (Blenheim T2113), went down in flames after a burst from the rear gunner of a machine of No.3 Flight. Two aircraft of No.3 Flight were able to assume formation on the two remaining machines of the leading flight after a hurried run-up on a last minute objective. The results were unobserved as were those of the other bombs, which were jettisoned over the town. No.2 Flight took independent evasive action, and Pilot Officer Blignaut was later forced to land his aircraft (possibly T2049) at Bir El Rahman Itmah, south of Matruh, due to holed petrol tanks. Blenheim L8395 (a Mk.I) flown by Sergeant Bailey of 11 Squadron was badly hit and with the port engine out of action it belly-landed at Derawla, near Ma’aten Bagush (the aircraft was damaged beyond repair and Struck off Charge on 6 January 1941). Blenheim L8790 was seen to dive into the sea killing the crew; pilot 25-year-old Flying Officer Millin Selby Singleton (RAF no. 41482), observer 30-year-old Sergeant Eric Percy Chapman (RAF no. 747802) and gunner 21-year-old Sergeant Bernard Joseph Fox (RAF no. 544933).
Three Italian fighters were claimed shot down (one unconfirmed) by the gunners on the Blenheims. AA fire of indifferent quality was also encountered over the target at 14,000 feet. With such odds, it is scarcely surprising that one aircraft only remained unscathed when after 20 minutes running fight the enemy broke away. Holes from fifty bullets were later counted in one aircraft, one of which apparently explosive, expanded itself on the pilot’s armour, others had been deflected by that of the rear gunner. Several of the bombers were indeed damaged as reported I.S.O. Playfair :

[During Compass casualties to aircraft were relatively light] but the rate of unserviceability was very high, due to the intensity of the air operations, to the climatic conditions of the desert, and to enemy’s use of explosive bullets. For example, during an attack on Bardia on December the 14th, nine Blenheims of No 55 Squadron encountered a patrol of some 50 enemy fighters and, although only one aircraft was lost [in fact they were three], no less than seven were severely damaged by these explosive bullets.”

Starting from 09:00 on 19 December, nine Hurricanes from 274 Squadron took off with fifteen minutes intervals during the morning. Then at least seven others took off for a second mission, this time taking off with 25 minutes intervals. Although explicitly ordered to keep clear of fighters they engaged CR.42s on two separate occasions during the day.
Second Lieutenant Talbot (P3721) claimed a confirmed victory over a CR.42. He was flying at 17,000 feet, 30 miles west of Bardia (Great Gambut) when at 13:05 he discovered two formations of six CR.42s stepped up to right and flying one mile to starboard. He approached unobserved and attacked a straggler of the formation. He reported:

“attacked by remainder of formation. 1 CR 42 spiralled down after attack and was later seen burning on the ground by Flying Officer Greenhill. CR 42s where on offensive patrol not escorting bombers.”
Flying Officer Greenhill (P3822) reported the height of the Fiats (around 15,000 feet) and added:
“the CR 42s were 11 or 12 in a bunch (no formation). I delivered an attack from astern and the enemy immediately attacked, 1 CR 42 was badly damaged (probably shot down), 6 holes in own aircraft through main spar. Enemy a/c on offensive patrol showing determination. Holes in own aircraft about 303 size (1 e/a seen burning after engagement by 2nd Lieutenant Talbot).”
They had met a formation from the 151o Gruppo, back in action after many days, out for an armed reconnaissance and to strafe targets of opportunity. The formation included four fighters from the 366a Squadriglia (Tenente Chiarini, Sottotenente Amedeo Guidi, Maresciallo Giulio Cesare and Sergente Maggiore Roberto Marchi), four from the 367a Squadriglia (Capitano Simeone Marsan (leading the sortie),Capitano Giuseppe Costantini, Sergente Maggiore Renato Mingozzi, and Sergente Tolmino Zanarini), three from the 368a Squadriglia (Capitano Bruno Locatelli, Sergente Maggiore Davide Colauzzi and Sergente Maggiore Annibale Ricotti) and a single fighter from the 70a Squadriglia (Tenente Gino Battaggion), which had taken off from N1 at 12:15. At 4,000 meters, south of Sidi Azeiz, six-seven British monoplanes (described as Spitfires and Hurricanes) attacked with height advantage. The Italian pilots reacted but many pilots (in particular those of the 366a Squadriglia) were unable to fire their guns because of stoppages caused by the insufficient maintenance of the previous days. Capitano Locatelli used 55 12,7mm and 90 7,7mm rounds of ammunition on two Hurricanes and in the end one fighter was claimed as probable and two-three shared damaged by the whole formation. The formation landed at Z1 at 14:15 and no losses were suffered but Fiat CR.42 MM4325 piloted by Sergente Maggiore Ricotti was damaged and landed unserviceable, having the tanks holed (in fact it was so badly damaged that it was written-off). Three more CR.42s were lightly damaged including Tenente Battaggion’s who claimed a damaged Hurricane in return. The 366a Squadriglia didn’t suffered combat damages but three out of four of its planes once on land were found u/s, two of them for excessive oil consumption and the other for the broken propeller speed regulator.

73 Squadron continued to carry out missions throughout 1 February, 18 Hurricanes in all were despatched but no further Italian aircraft were encountered until late afternoon. At 17:30, Sergeant Marshall (TP-P) and Sergeant W. C. Wills (V7544/TP-S) were strafing an Italian convoy near Cyrene when they encountered seven CR.42s and Wills claimed one of them destroyed south-west of Cyrene.
The Italian aircraft were seven CR.42s of the 366a Squadriglia that had taken off at 16:00 to carry out a reconnaissance of the El Mechili-Apollonia area. Tenente Chiarini and Sergente Maggiore Roberto Marchi flew the mission at low altitude, while Capitano Bernardino Serafini, Tenente Mario Ferrero, Sottotenente Amedeo Guidi, Sergente Maggiore Dino Carta and Sergente Rosario Di Carlo covered them from higher altitude. Together with them was also Sergente Ernesto De Bellis from the 368a Squadriglia.
Near Apollonia, Chiarini and Marchi surprised and machine-gunned two Hurricanes, which were ground-strafing Italian troops. The two Hawkers escaped but Serafini jumped them again from higher altitude, claiming one shot down. The surviving Hurricane was again hit and damaged by Serafini and Sergente Maggiore Carta, who just arrived on the scene. The Italian formation was back at base at 18:20 even if Sergente Rosario Di Carlo ran out of fuel and force-landed before reaching the base.

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 Chiarini and including Maresciallo Cesare and Sergente Antonio 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 Antonio 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 the time of his death Chiarini was credited with a total of 5 biplane victories.

His name was given to the 53o Stormo of the Aeronautica Militare Italiana on 15 October 1971. The unit's badge on the fins of the F-104s is the same "Ace of Spades" of the former 151o Gruppo.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
1 23/07/40 17:40-18:20 1 Gladiator (a) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Sidi Azeiz - Bardia 82a Squadriglia
2 18/09/40   1 Blenheim (b) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Tmini area 82a Squadriglia
  18/09/40   1 Blenheim (b) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Tmini area 82a Squadriglia
  31/10/40 13:00-14:20 ½ ’Spitfire’ (c) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Mersa Matruth 82a Squadriglia
  19/11/40   1/6 Gladiator (d) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Bir Emba - Bir Mella 82a Squadriglia
  19/11/40   1/6 Gladiator (d) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Bir Emba - Bir Mella 82a Squadriglia
  19/11/40   1/6 Gladiator (d) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Bir Emba - Bir Mella 82a Squadriglia
  19/11/40   1/6 Gladiator (d) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Bir Emba - Bir Mella 82a Squadriglia
  19/11/40   1/6 Gladiator (d) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Bir Emba - Bir Mella 82a Squadriglia
  19/11/40   1/6 Gladiator (d) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Bir Emba - Bir Mella 82a Squadriglia
? 09/12/40 07:25-08:30 1 Blenheim (e) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   SE Alam Rabia 366a Squadriglia
  14/12/40 08:10-10:00 1 Blenheim (f) Damaged Fiat CR.42   off Bardia 366a Squadriglia
  14/12/40 08:10-10:00 1/11 Blenheim (f) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Bardia area 366a Squadriglia
  14/12/40 08:10-10:00 1/11 Blenheim (f) Shared probable Fiat CR.42   Bardia area 366a Squadriglia
  19/12/40 12:15-14:15 1/11 Hurricane (g) Shared probable Fiat CR.42   S Sidi Azeiz 366a Squadriglia
  19/12/40 12:15-14:15 1/11 Hurricane (g) Shared damaged Fiat CR.42   S Sidi Azeiz 366a Squadriglia
  19/12/40 12:15-14:15 1/11 Hurricane (g) Shared damaged Fiat CR.42   S Sidi Azeiz 366a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 5 and 9 shared destroyed, 2 shared probably destroyed, 1 and 2 shared damaged.
TOTAL: 5 and 9 shared destroyed, 2 shared probably destroyed, 1 and 2 shared damaged.
(a) Probably claimed in combat with Gladiators from 33 Squadron, which lost one when Pilot Officer Preston baled out. The 13a Gruppo claimed two Gladiators while getting four CR.42s damaged. The 10a Gruppo claimed one shared Gladiator without losses.
(b) Claimed in combat with Blenheim Mk.IVs from 113 Squadron. Italian fighters claimed five but 113 Squadron only lost one aircraft when Blenheim Mk.IV T2048 was shot down in flames. Pilot Squadron Leader G. Keily was taken POW while the rest of the crew were KIA.
(c) Claimed in combat with Gladiators from 112 Squadron and Hurricanes from 33 Squadron. 112 Squadron and 33 Squadron claimed 4 CR.42s, 3 S.79s, 2 probable S.79s and 1 damaged S.79 while losing 4 Gladiators and 2 Hurricanes. The Italian fighters totally claimed 11 victories while the bombers claimed 7, while losing 1 CR.42 and 2 S.79 (2 more S.79 being damaged beyond repair).
(d) Claimed in combat with 3 RAAF Squadron, which claimed four CR.42s, one probable and two damaged while losing one Gladiator and getting one damaged. The 82a Squadriglia claimed six shared Gladiators and one damaged while suffering four lightly damaged fighters.
(e) Blenheim T2073 from 113 Squadron shot down and the crew KIA.
(f) Claimed in combat with Blenheims from 55 and 11 Squadrons. 151o Gruppo claimed three, one probable and many damaged Blenheims (plus three armoured cars in flames) without losses. 2 Blenheim from 55 Squadron was lost and 2 damaged while 11 Squadron lost 1 Blenheim. The RAF bombers claimed 2 and 1 probable CR.42s shot down.
(g) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 274 Squadron, which claimed 1 and 1 probable CR.42 without losses. 151o Gruppo claimed 1 probable and 2 damaged Hurricanes while suffering 1 badly damaged CR.42 and 2 lightly damaged. The 70a Squadriglia claimed 1 damaged Hurricane while suffering 1 damaged CR.42.

Sources:
2o Stormo - Note storiche dal 1925 al 1975 - Gino Strada, 1975 USSMA, Rome, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Aces High - Christopher Shores and Clive Williams, 1994 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-00-0
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
Diario Storico 77a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Diario Storico 78a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Diario Storico 82a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Fiat CR.42 Aces of World War 2 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2009 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-427-5
Fighters over the Desert - Christopher Shores and Hans Ring, 1969 Neville Spearman Limited, London
Gloster Gladiator – Bartlomiej Belcarz and Robert Peczowski, 1996 Monografie Lotnicze no. 24, AJ press, Gdynia
Gloster Gladiator Aces - Andrew Thomas, 2002 Osprey Publishing, London, ISBN 1-84176-289-X
Hurricanes over Tobruk - Brian Cull with Don Minterne, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-11-X
Il Savoia Marchetti S.M. 79 nel Secondo Conflitto Mondiale - Bombardamento Terrestre - Ricognizione Strategica - Aviazione Sahariana – Cesare Gori, 2003 USSMA, Rome, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
L’8oGruppo caccia in due conflitti mondiali - Giuseppe Pesce, 1974 S.T.E.M. Mucchi, Modena, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.
Quelli del Cavallino Rampante - Antonio Duma, 1981 Editore Dell'Ateneo, Roma, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Shark Squadron - The history of 112 Squadron 1917-1975 - Robin Brown, 1994 Crécy Books, ISBN 0-947554-33-5
Stormi d'Italia – Giulio Lazzati, 1975 Mursia, Milan, ISBN 88-425-1946-4, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro.
The Bristol Blenheim: A complete history – Graham Warner, 2002 Crécy Publishing Limited, Manchester, ISBN 0-947554-92-0
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
The Gloster Gladiator - Francis K. Mason, 1964 Macdonald & Co. Ltd. London
Woody - A Fighter Pilot's Album - Hugh A. Halliday, 1987 Canav Books, Toronto, ISBN 0-9690703-8-1
Additional information kindly provided by Ian Acworth, Ferdinando D'Amico, Stefano Lazzaro and Ludovico Slongo




Last modified 22 September 2013