Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Sottotenente Natale Cima

9 November 1915 - 17 December 1940

Natale Cima was born in Torino on 9 November 1915.

The 13o Gruppo (77a, 78a and 82a Squadriglie) of the 2o Stormo C.T. 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 78a Squadriglia were: Capitano Giuseppe Dall’Aglio (CO), Tenente Ippolito Lalatta, Tenente Domenico Bevilacqua, Tenente Giovanni Beduz, Sottotenente Cima, Sottotenente Italo Santavacca, Sottotenente Dario Magnabosco, Sergente Maggiore Giuseppe Frigo, Sergente Maggiore Salvatore Mechelli, Sergente Rovero Abbarchi, Sergente Cassio Poggi, Sergente Ernesto Taddia, Sergente Vito Rinaldi, Sergente Marcello Della Rovere and Sergente Aldo Loioli.

At 17:10 on 19 July, six CR.42s scrambled from T2. Three were from the 93a Squadriglia (Sottotenente Orlando Mandolini, Sergente Maggiore Italo Bertinelli and Sergente Maggiore Roberto Lendaro) and the other three were from the 78a Squadriglia (Tenente Ippolito Lalatta, Sottotenente Cima and Sergente Maggiore Salvatore Mechelli). They intercepted a formation of four British Blenheims. The three CR.42s from the 78a Squadriglia claimed damage to one of the Blenheims with the use of 500 rounds of ammunition. The Blenheim was later assessed as shot down over the sea off Marsa Lugh by land observers. Sottotenente Mandolini claimed damage to a bomber with the use of 150 rounds but it is not clear if it was the same as claimed by Tenente Lalatta, Sottotenente Cima and Sergente Maggiore Mechelli.
It seems probable that they had intercepted four aircraft of 211 Squadron since Blenheims from 202 Group were mounting a series of raids aimed at sinking the Italian cruiser Giovanni Dalle Bande Nere, which was believed to be in Tobruk. 211 Squadron participated in the day’s actions with nine Blenheims that took off in independent flights without being able to discover the Italian cruiser and instead bombed Tobruk harbour from 18:13 to 18:30. After that the enemy AA fire had stopped firing on them, the last flight of four aircraft was attacked by three CR.42s, which were 1000 feet above them. Two of the Italian fighters dived at the British leader in wide vic formation out of the sun from port quarter and appeared to overshoot. They continued their dive and lost so much height that they could not catch up again. The Italian leader (possibly the Spanish Civil War veteran Lalatta) did a very pretty half roll and dived vertically to the attack. Interestingly, the returning British pilots reported that in their opinion, this half-roll had been not necessary to bring the CR.42 on his target. The Italian leader didn’t continue his downward dive but zoomed sharply to a position under the wing of the No.2 machine. The gunner of No.3 Blenheim reported that it would be impossible to shoot down this enemy aircraft without grave risk of shooting down No.2 aircraft, and despite all efforts to dislodge the CR.42, it succeeded in staying in this spot. The face of the Italian pilot could be seen quite plainly. His intention obviously was to tilt the nose of his machine up so as to give the leader of the formation a burst, but the high speed of the Blenheims made this impossible without falling off into the range of the rear gunners. Finally, when Bardia was passed, he disengaged.
Another unit participating in attacks over Tobruk at around this hour was 55 Squadron (with eight aircraft), which didn’t record losses nor interceptions (four or five enemy fighters were seen taking off). It could also be possible that Blenheims from 113 Squadron were present.

At 16:10 on 9 December, three CR.42s from the 77a Squadriglia (Tenente Giulio Torresi, Sottotenente Gianmario Zuccarini and Tenente Eduardo Sorvillo) together with six more from the 78a Squadriglia (Capitano Giuseppe Dall’Aglio, Sottotenente Dario Magnabosco, Sergente Ernesto Taddia, Tenente Giovanni Beduz, Sottotenente Cima and Sottotenente Canneppele) took off to strafe enemy armoured vehicles on the road between Sidi El Barrani and Bir Enba. The attack was done under heavy AA fire and lasted 30 minutes. The attackers used 3000 rounds of ammunition and reportedly caused heavy damage.
Sorvillo was back at Gambut at 17:45 together with the 78a Squadriglia, while Torresi and Zuccarini landed at Menastir because of the growing darkness.

On 17 December, five SM 79 of the 15o Stormo under Tenente Medun took off from Z1 at 09:15 and attacked enemy ships that were bombarding Bardia, with 45 100kg bombs. Gladiators intercepted the Savoias and one of them was reputed shot down. They landed at 11:10.
Their assailants were without doubt Gladiators from 112 Squadron, the unit’s ORB reported an offensive morning patrol by Squadron Leader
Harry Brown, Flight Lieutenant R. J. Abrahams, Flight Lieutenant John Scoular, Flying Officer R. J. Bennett, Flying Officer Oliver Green, Flying Officer R. B. Whittington and Sergeant E. N. Woodward. The sketchy reconstructed ORB, however, lacks details of the engagement.
The SM 79s were escorted by 13 CR.42s of the 9o Gruppo; three from the 97a Squadriglia (Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni, Tenente Ezio Viglione Borghese and Sergente Maggiore Raffaello Novelli), four from the 73a Squadriglia (Tenente Valerio De Campo, Tenente Pietro Bonfatti, Tenente Giulio Reiner and Sergente Mario Guerci) and six from the 96a Squadriglia, which had taken off at 09:45. With them were two fighters from the 78a Squadriglia (Sottotenente Cima and Sottotenente Dario Magnabosco) on the last mission of the campaign by the 2o Stormo.
The CR.42s didn’t notice the Gladiators but over Sollum, the 73a and the 78a Squadriglie entered combat with British monoplane fighters. Reiner and Bonfatti shared a Hurricane, which burned after crashing into the ground, and claimed another shared probable, which was seen returning home leaving a long smoke trail; two more were damaged by De Campo and Guerci. Meanwhile, Magnabosco and Cima were attacked by enemy fighters. Magnabosco claimed one Hurricane shot down with the use of 100 rounds of ammunition while Cima failed to return. The 9o Gruppo’s pilots landed at 11:45 and according with his unit’s documents Magnabosco landed at 11:30. Although not mentioned by the Squadriglia Diary, it seems that Magnabosco’s fighter was damaged (probably during this specific combat) and he was obliged to crash-land behind the British lines. In fact, the motivation for the Medaglia d’argento al valor militare he was awarded with for his overall activity during December states: ”In a violent dogfight against numerically superior enemy fighters, he shared in the shooting down of four monoplanes confirmed and two probables [most probably the combat on 14 December]. In another combat against monoplanes, although with his plane hit by enemy fire, he was able to shot down his adversary. Obliged to land behind enemy lines, he destroyed his plane after having removed the most precious instruments and regained our troops on foot (…)”
The identity of their opponents is not completely clear but it is known that during the day 33 Squadron was busy ground strafing the Bardia-Tobruk road and during these missions, one CR.42s was claimed in flames with one probable. Eight Hurricanes of 274 Squadron took off in the morning, starting at 06:16 to patrol the line between Bardia and Gambut. The engine of Pilot Officer Wilson’s Hurricane (P3720; the fighter usually allocated to the famous ‘Imshi’ Mason) caught fire and his mission of was suspended before takeoff, while N2627 failed to return, with Pilot Officer Strong force landing 30 miles west of Matruh. All the other pilots came back without seeing enemy aircraft. It is however possible that Strong was involved in the combat against the 9o and the 13o Gruppi.

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

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
  19/07/40 17:10- 1/3 Blenheim (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   off Marsa Lugh 78a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 1 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 1 shared destroyed.
(a) Probably claimed in combat with Blenheims from 211 Squadron, which didn’t suffer any losses.

Sources:
2o Stormo - Note storiche dal 1925 al 1975 - Gino Strada, 1975 USSMA, Rome, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Diario Storico 77a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Diario Storico 78a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Ministero della Difesa - Banca Dati sulle sepolture dei Caduti in Guerra
Additional information kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo




Last modified 16 August 2010