Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Sergente Luigi Contarini

On 9 September 1940, Sottotenente Luigi Prati and Sergente Contarini were posted to the 90a Squadriglia, 10o Gruppo C.T. This unit was at the time equipped with Fiat CR.42s and operated in North Africa.

On 16 December and in a last futile attempt to help the garrison at Sidi Omar, six SM 79s from the 29o Gruppo led by Colonnello Mario Aramu took off from Derna at 14:40 for a low-level strike. The formation of what was to become one of the most famous ill-fated missions of the Regia Aeronautica was as follows:

  SM 79 from the 63a Squadriglia (shot down)
Colonnello Mario Aramu (KIA)
Sergente Maggiore Paolo La Torraca (KIA)
Capitano Pilota Victor Hugo Girolami (acting bomb aimer) (KIA)
Primo Aviere Motorista Bruno Zottarel (KIA)
Aviere Scelto Armiere Giorgio Menna (KIA)
Primo Aviere Radiotelegrafista Carlo Magno (KIA)
 
SM 79 from the 63a Squadriglia
Sottotenente Martemucci
Maresciallo Canini
Primo Aviere Motorista Galli
Primo Aviere Armiere Giuseppe Tassoni (KIA)
Primo Aviere Radiotelegrafista Malara
  SM 79 from the 63a Squadriglia (shot down)
Sottotenente Tonachella (POW)
Sergente Maggiore Filippo Cipriani (KIA)
Sergente Motorista Ugo Ferroni (KIA)
Primo Aviere Armiere Giovanni Musumeci (KIA)
Primo Aviere Radiotelegrafista Verna (KIA)
     
  SM 79 from the 62a Squadriglia (shot down)
Tenente Colonnello Guglielmo Grandjacquet (KIA)
Tenente Giacomo Padrone (POW)
Tenente Marco Sciavertini (KIA)
Aviere Scelto Motorista Luciano Lanzoni (KIA)
Primo Aviere Armiere Radames Medori (KIA)
Primo Aviere Radiotelegrafista Enrico Materazzo (KIA)
 
SM 79 from the 63a Squadriglia
Tenente Villa
Sottotenente Riva
Primo Aviere Motorista D’Angeli
Primo Aviere Armiere Giuseppe Vincenzi (KIA)
Primo Aviere Radiotelegrafista Diotallevi
  SM 79 from the 62a Squadriglia
Tenente Timolati
Sottotenente Malaspina
Aviere Scelto Motorista Cinti
Primo Aviere Armiere Bachini
Sergente Radiotelegrafista Ascione

The Savoias were intercepted by a reportedly 20 Hurricanes at 1200 meters altitude, in sight of their intended target, after an hour of flight. The two vics of SM 79s tightened up their formation, trying to fight back. The first to go down was the plane of Grandjacquet. The SM 79 of Tenente Timolati then closed formation with the leading vic only to witness the demise of Colonnello Aramu’s bomber and shortly after that Sottotenente Tonachella’s. The three surviving SM 79s fled towards the sea with Hurricanes on their tail and suffered the last damage, which caused the death of some crewmembers before the Hurricanes disengaged (due to the intervention of some fighters of the 10o Gruppo). The SM 79 then released their bomb-load into the open sea and returned to Derna where at 16:30 Sottotenente Martemucci’s bomber broke its landing gear and crash-landed, damaging the wing. Timolati reported that Aramu’s SM 79, the dorsal gunner was immediately killed and his place was taken by Capitano Girolami, who was killed soon after when a well placed burst hit the Savoia’s cockpit killing him and causing the demise of the aircraft. The returning crews claimed five Hurricanes in return.
Sottotenente Tonachella and Tenente Padrone were the only survivors of the missing SM 79s. They both escaped with parachute and were captured by British patrols. Padrone, back in Italy after the war left a description of the events:

“the morning of 16 December 1940 three SM79 planes led by Colonello Aramu (I don’t remember the left hand wingman but I was the right hand) attacked with small calibre bombs and strafed from very low level British mechanized vehicles south-west of Bardia.(…). Back at base, Aramu knew that another mission was to be flown in the afternoon, to attack armoured concentrations around Sollum. Two section of three planes in line astern one 500 metres from the other were to be employed. The overall formation had to be commanded by Tenente Colonnello Gradjacquet leading the first section while Capitano Girolami had to lead the second section. Aramu decided to take part also in this action so he took the lead of the first section with Girolami acting as a bomb aimer and Grandjacquet took the lead of the second section. The two sections could attack independently because they all had a bomb aimer. The formation took off at 15.00 and when over Tobruk waited without avail for some minutes for the escort fighters, then directed toward the target flying deep inside the desert to avoid interception. When in the area between Sidi Omar and Capuzzo, when I was preparing to turn on the intercom with the bomb aimer I heard the guns of our plane shooting so I understood that we were under attack. The enemy planes most likely arrived from astern because in front of us I could see only the section of Aramu. Immediately after a burst of fire hit our plane silencing the dorsal gun and also hitting the instrument panel. I tried to assess the damage suffered but saw Grandjacquet busy in flying the plane and the wingmen at their place. Then a fire started in the rudder pedals area. I tried to give the alarm shouting but nobody moved, neither Tenente Colonnello Grandjacquet that didn’t move even after I shook him (probably he was already dead and kept in position by the seat belts). Therefore, unable to take command of the plane because of the fire and fearing that the flames could ignite my clothes I open the emergency door on the roof and jumped with parachute. I immediately saw my plane falling on ground engulfed by flames, not so far two other planes were falling in flames. Once on ground I noticed two other parachutes (…). I walked in a north-westerly direction for two days and then I was captured by a British patrol. Two month later in Cairo a RAF Officer asked me about the fate of Colonnello Aramu, so I understood what happened to him, Capitano Girolami and their crew (…).
The loss of these three COs was a terrible blow for the bomber force of Va Squadra and in particular the loss of the forty-years-old Aramu. He was a beloved leader, previously part of the “Atlantici” having crossed the northern Atlantic under Italo Balbo in 1933. He had then fought during the Spanish Civil War where on 21 May 1937 he had disabled the Republican Battleship Jaime Io in Almeria harbour with a well-aimed salvo of bombs from 4000 metres. The three officers were immediately awarded posthumous Medaglie d’Oro al valor militare but in fact such was the severity of the loss suffered that 29o Gruppo was immediately ordered back to Italy.
Colonnello Aramu was not alone over this area because three SM 79s of 15o Stormo were up under Tenente Medun. (take-off from Z1 at 14:55 and landing at 16:35) and at 14:45 nine SM 79s of the 41o Stormo under Tenente Colonnello Draghelli and Capitano Ammannato took off from M2 for a low-level strike (900 metres). These bombers were attacked by RAF fighters for a long time but were effectively protected by CR.42s and landed back at 16:50 without suffering damage.
The CR.42s were 17 fighters from the 10o Gruppo, which had taken off from T4 at 14:40. At the head of the formation was as usual Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli, with him were four fighters from the 91a Squadriglia (Capitano Vincenzo Vanni, Sergente Maggiore Leonardo Ferrulli, Sergente Maggiore Lorenzo Migliorato and Sergente Maggiore Natale Fiorito), three from the 84a Squadriglia (Capitano Luigi Monti, Sottotenente Paolo Berti and Sottotenente Luigi Prati) and nine from the 90a Squadriglia (Tenente Giovanni Guiducci, Tenente Franco Lucchini, Sottotenente Neri De Benedetti, Sergente Maggiore Angelo Savini, Sergente Alfredo Sclavo, Sergente Contarini, Sergente Bruno Bortoletti, Sergente Luigi Bagato and Sergente Giovanni Battista Ceoletta). Capitano Monti and Maggiore Romagnoli didn’t record any action but the 90a Squadriglia formation was heavily engaged. Firstly four Hurricanes tried to attack the SM 79 formation but were prevented, then two more Hurricanes that had just successfully attacked another unescorted SM 79 formation were engaged and one of them was reputed probably shot down (later upgraded to confirmed in the unit’s documents) and assigned as shared to the whole formation. This shared victory is a bit strange considering that the complete Squadriglia uses only 820 round of ammunition during the prolonged actions, in fact it seems that it possibly was an individual victory of Tenente Lucchini. His biographer Antonio Trizzino described the action:
“in the fading light of twilight Lucchini discovered something on his port side, something like the striking of three wax matches. He left the formation and went in that direction. Gradually closing he better understood what had happened. Three S 79s were falling, burning like torches and four Hurricanes were orbiting over as if they were recomposing formation before turning back home. He attacked the last one and shot it down.”
The 10o Gruppo fighters were back at 16:40; Sergente Sclavo’s CR.42, damaged in the engagement, was classified R.S.
The British fighters responsible for this execution were ten Hurricanes from 274 Squadron accompanied by the four newcomers from 73 Squadron. The 274 Squadron pilots had taken off at 15 minutes interval starting from 12:20. The pilots included Pilot Officer Ernest Mason (Hurricane P3720) (13:00-15:40), Flying Officer Thomas Patterson (P2544/YK-T) (13:30-16:10), Flight Lieutenant Peter Wykeham-Barnes (V7293) (13:45-16:15), Sergeant Thomas Morris (V7300) (14:00-16:30) and Flying Officer H. C. Down (P2556). The four pilots from 73 Squadron were Flight Lieutenant J. D Smith, Pilot Officer McFadden, Sergeant Alfred Marshall and Sergeant Willis.
Back at base, the British pilots claimed six SM 79s shot down five miles south of Gambut between 15:35 and 15:45. Two by Flying Officer Patterson at 15:45, one by Flight Lieutenant Wykeham-Barnes at 15:35, two by Sergeant Marshall and one by Flight Lieutenant Smith. A CR.42 was damaged and claimed as “unconfirmed” at 15:20 by Pilot Officer Mason. Looking at the Italian losses (the three SM 79s of the 9o Stormo with a fourth that crash-landed and the other two damaged, plus Sergente Sclavo’s damaged CR.42), British claims seem really accurate.
Flight Lieutenant Wykeham-Barnes had been alone when he at 15:35 discovered a mixed formation of SM 79s and CR.42s with four more SM 79s scattered around. He was flying at 19,000 feet and the Italian aircraft were 1,500 feet lower and 15 miles away from him. He delivered an astern attack one an SM 79 that seems to have been part of the 9 the 9o Stormo’s formation already attacked by other British pilots. He reported:
“Arrived late in combat, 1 S79 fired on, guns silenced. A/c dropped and starboard engine set on fire. Confirmed shot down by Flight Lieutenant Smith. While attacking 79 1 CR 42 got on my tail and fired on me. Two other overhead. Didn’t see them approach. Obliged to break off [unreadable].”
Flying Officer Patterson was flying with another Hurricane (Sergeant Marshall) when at 15:45 they discovered six SM 79s flying in two vics of three (obviously Colonnello Aramu’s formation). He was flying at 17,000 feet while the bombers appeared to be at 4,000 feet. He approached unseen until he was half a mile away and delivered an astern attack while they return fire diving towards the ground. He reported:
“3 S79 shot down and burnt out on ground (confirmed by Sergeant Marshall) our casualties nil.”
Sergeant Marshall remembered:
“after breakfast and meeting Flying Officer Patterson of 274, we flew up to Sidi Barrani, where we refuelled and took off on an Offensive Patrol. I flew with Pat and at 17,000 feet west of Sollum we spotted some 79s at about 5000 feet. We dived and engaged them and I got two in flames, Pat two and Smithy 1. There were congratulations from Collishaw (AOC) on our return, but I still wished it was all over and I could get back to UK – my cold was still bad, which didn’t help, plus the food and conditions were awful with half a gallon of water per day per man (Perhaps!).”
They were highly likely the victors of Aramu, Grandjacquet and Tonachella.
Pilot Officer Mason was flying with Sergeant Willis when at 15:20 he saw a lone CR.42 below and ahead approaching. He was flying at 15,000 feet and the Italian biplane was 2,000 feet lower. He delivered a head-on attack from very close range. He reported:
“Enemy pulled up and spun. A further burst was fired by Sergeant Willis. Enemy observed to spin to a low height until lost sight of. Possible presence of other a/c precluded following down to see it hit the ground.”
Pilot Officer McFadden, was chased “up country” by two Italian CR.42s where he force-landed reportedly owing to lack of fuel. He returned to Sidi Haneish the day after and Sergeant Marshall noted:
“McFadden came back from Mersa after breaking his kite – What a prize pilot he is!”
Pilot Officer MacFadden’s Hurricane (V6737) was later recovered and repaired. Considering the 90a Squadriglia’s records it seems possible that the crash-landing of McFadden was not due only to lack of fuel but perhaps also to damage suffered from the fire of Tenente Lucchini.

On 23 December, 17 CR.42s from the 10o Gruppo took off at 08:30 to escort ten bombers from the 15o Stormo, which had taken off from T4 and bound to attack armoured vehicles around Sidi Azeiz. The escort included five fighters from the 91a Squadriglia (Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli, Capitano Vincenzo Vanni, Maresciallo Giorgio Di Giulio, Sergente Maggiore Giovanni Casero and Sergente Luigi Ferrario), four from the 90a Squadriglia (Tenente Giovanni Guiducci, Tenente Franco Lucchini, Sergente Alfredo Sclavo and Sergente Contarini) and eight from the 84a Squadriglia (Capitano Luigi Monti, Tenente Antonio Angeloni, Sottotenente Luigi Prati, Sottotenente Bruno Devoto, Sergente Domenico Santonocito, Sergente Roberto Steppi, Sergente Corrado Patrizi and Sergente Piero Buttazzi).
The formation was attacked by six Hurricanes and the Italian pilots claimed one confirmed shot down, another as a probable and a third was obliged to force-land among its own armoured vehicles (the 90a Squadriglia’s pilots expended 455 rounds of ammo). The three victories were credited as shared among all the participating pilots. The Italian fighters landed back at Z1 at 11:05 with Sergente Ferrario’s aircraft damaged. The bombers (led by Colonnello Napoli) landed back at base at 10:30, with only one machine damaged by the Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes were from 274 Squadron, which was out on a morning patrol to cover a line Sidi Omar-Sollum-Buq-Buq with twelve machines taking off with 15 minutes intervals. From the reports of the returning pilots, it seems that fighters from 73 Squadron were present even if this is not reported in 73 Squadron documents.
Pilots taking part were Pilot Officer Stanley Godden (P2638) (06:15-09:15), Pilot Officer Ernest Mason (P3722) (06:30-09:30), Second Lieutenant Bester (N2624) (06:45-09:35), Flying Officer Thomas Patterson (P2544) (07:00-09:45), Flight Lieutenant John Lapsley (V7293) (07:20-09:50), Sergeant Dean (V7423 (07:30-10:30), Second Lieutenant Robert Talbot (P3721) (07:45-11:05), Pilot Officer Garland (P 3977) (08:10-11:15), Sergeant John Clarke (N2627) (08:20-11.00), Flying Officer C. F. Greenhill (P5176), Pilot Officer Strange (N2628) (09:50-12:50) and Flight Lieutenant Peter Wykeham-Barnes (P2638) (10:00-13:00).
Pilot Officer Mason had a field day; firstly, he intercepted ten SM 79s in two vics of five at 07:30 (strangely enough he wrote 09:30 in his CFR) when he was 10 miles south-west of Gambut at the height of 12,000 feet. He discovered the ten bombers 2000 feet below and dived from above, past the escort on no. 4 of the rear vic. He reported:

“ no4 of rear vic dropped back but later observed to rejoin formation. Small a/c seen burning on ground (unreadable) miles south of Bir Chleta. Believed to be CR 42 claimed by 2nd Lieutenant Talbot. 12 CR 42s in 4s and 2s were on port flank 1000 feet above and behind. After carrying out this attack I climbed above and carried out another attack.”
Now he was at 10,000 feet and dived from above on four SM 79s of the rear vic. He reported:
“enemy aircraft damaged. Unable to observe further as I got involved with the escort and was also fired on by our own troops. Burning S79 observed on ground in this approximate position by Pilot Officer McFadden no 73 Squadron. 12 CR 42s in 2s and 4s were 1000 feet above on port flank. The escort had observed my approach as this was my second attack and closed in on main force that jettisoned bombs. After breaking off attack I got involved with 2 of the escort at 1000 feet and was considerably embarrassed by tracers and pom-pom fire from our own troops.”
Then at 09:15, 20 miles north-east of El Gubbi, when flying at 17,000 feet together with another Hurricane, he discovered a Caproni Ca.310 at ground level that he attacked from astern.
“port engine caught fire a/c climbed to 200 feet and then hit ground with wheels and flaps up. Bounced twice and went on nose. I circled a/c (E) and only one man (pilot) emerged from front exit.”
It is possible that the two claims made by Mason the previous days are included in these combat reports and that he thus claimed two SM 79s, one damaged and one additional Ca.310 (in fact it seems that no SM 79s were shot down).
Second Lieutenant Talbot claimed a CR.42. He was flying alone at 15,000 feet at 10:00 when he discovered ten SM 79s in two vics and 24 CR.42s stepped up on either side. 15 miles ahead and 2,000 feet below. He delivered a quarter attack on the no.5 bomber of the second vic and then an head on attack on a CR.42, which attacked while he was making a second pass. He reported:
“1 CR 42 shot down later burst in flames 1 S79 initial attack dropped out of formation and did not rejoin. Determined attacks from escort prevented me from observing results of combats with S 79. While the CR 42s attacked immediately the main formation increased speed but kept formation and opened fire.”
During the engagement, Flying Officer Greenhill force landed south of Taifa Rocks, reportedly with engine trouble. From the overall description of the combats, it seems likely that bullets from the escorting Fiats caused the engine trouble.

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

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

In early 1941, the 10o Gruppo moved back to Italy to re-equip with Macchi MC.200s.

On 16 June 1941, the 10o Gruppo moved to Trapani, Sicily to take part in the attacks on Malta.

During the late morning on 27 June, nine Hurricanes from 46 Squadron were scrambled, meeting one reconnaissance S.79 with an escort of an estimated 29 MC.200s between 20,000 and 25,000 feet over Takali. This seems to have been a formation composed of a S.79 from the 193a Squadriglia and 22 escorting Macchis. 20 MC.200s from the 10o Gruppo, 12 from the 7o Gruppo and nine from the 16o Gruppo had originally set out, but 19 had returned early.
Squadron Leader Sandy Rabagliati (Hurricane Z2593) led the Hurricanes in a stern chase of the formation, firing a two burst at the S.79, which he claimed damaged. He was then attacked by three MC.200s, turned into one head-on and fired a short burst from 100 yards. This aircraft burst into flames and crashed into the sea ten miles east of the island. He reported that he saw two more Macchis crash, one on the island and one in the sea nearby. Sergeant William Copp claimed:

“Engaged Macchi at 16,000 feet above Grand Harbour. Fired two two-second bursts (beam attack). Macchi went down in a dive. Engaged a second Macchi over the island at 12,000 feet. Fired a three second burst (beam attack). Macchi went down and pilot baled, chute did not open.”
The first was claimed as a probable while the second was Sergente Alfredo Sclavo of the 90a Squadriglia who’s body was found near Ta’Karach, not far from Ghaxaq. He had been wounded in the face, but killed by the fall in which his parachute had not opened. His aircraft fell near Birzebbugia.
Pilot Officer Albert Anderson, who was flying as No.2 to Squadron Leader Rabagliati, claimed a MC.200:
“I got on the tail of a Macchi and got in several bursts into the cockpit as the Macchi was doing a stall turn. It spun down with smoke coming out. Seen to crash by Sgt Hackston.”
Meanwhile Pilot Officer Leslie Barnes, who was acting as ‘weaver’ 4,000 feet above the rest of the squadron, climbed to 27,000 feet and attacked the high escort which was stepped up to 26,000 feet, with two aircraft at approximately 30,000 feet. Diving from the beam on one Macchi, he closed to quarter astern and saw the aircraft go down in an inverted dive, watching it go straight into the sea as he circled down. He then attacked another at 23,000 feet head-on, seeing the pilot of this carry out a forced-landing on the sea. Barnes radioed the position, and the pilot, Sottotenente Neri De Benedetti, was picked up by a Swordfish floatplane from the Kalafrana Rescue Flight; Barnes later met his victim. Sergeant Arnold Jolly, on attachment from 185 Squadron, also claimed one MC.200 shot down and one probable during this action.
The 10o Gruppo reported that Capitano Luigi Monti of the 84a Squadriglia led five aircraft from the Squadriglia in an escort to three BR.20 at mid-morning with the purpose of scramble Malta’s fighter defence. They returned halfway to Malta. With the hope that the fighter defence over the island now was reduced, Tenente Colonnello Carlo Romagnoli led a formation of fighters from the 90a and 91a Squadriglie, which was escorting a photo-reconnaissance S.79. Other Italian fighters flew as an indirect escort to this sortie. Romagnoli was forced to return after 45 minutes due to a faulty propeller and when they tested their guns, Ruffato, Sergente Maggiore Natale Fiorito and Capitano Vincenzo Vanni were forced to return due to faulty machineguns. Sottotenente Andrea Dalla Pasqua, Maresciallo Leonardo Ferrulli, Sergente Maggiore Lorenzo Migliorato and Sergente Alessandro Bladelli of the 91a Squadriglia remained together with the fighters from 90a Squadriglia and a patrol led by Capitano Franco Lucchini with Sergente Luciano Perdoni and Sergente Piero Buttazzi from the 84a Squadriglia.
The S.79 finished its mission over Valetta but when it turned to return the Italian aircraft were attacked from above by RAF fighters. The fighters from the 91a Squadriglia doesn’t got involved in the combat and escorted the S.79 unharmed back to its base while the fighters from the 90a Squadriglia and Lucchini’s patrol engaged the enemy in a violent dogfight. The Italian fighters claimed three victories, one shared and four probables. The individuals were claimed by Tenente Giovanni Guiducci (90a Squadriglia), Lucchini and Perdoni while the shared was claimed by Lucchini, Perdoni, Tenente Stefano Soprana (90a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Virgilio Vanzan (90a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Neri De Benedetti (90a Squadriglia), Sergente Alfredo Sclavo and Sergente Contarini (90a Squadriglia).
When returning to base, Sclavo and De Benedetti were missing. Lucchini took-off in a Fiat CR.42 to look for the missing pilots but they couldn’t be found. Only later did they received through the International Red Cross information that De Benedetti was a PoW and that Sclavo had been killed.

On 17 July 1941, 49 MC.200s from the 7o, 10o and 16o Gruppi set off mid morning to escort one reconnaissance Z.1007bis over Malta. En route the 16o Gruppo fighters became separated and returned to base, but the rest of the formation reached the island where eight Hurricanes of 249 Squadron and eleven from 185 Squadron had been scrambled. The aircraft from the former unit made contact, Squadron Leader Robert Barton (Hurricane Z3262) claiming one MC.200 shot down in flames, while Pilot Officer P. G. Leggett claimed a second and Flying Officer C. C. H. Davis one damaged. Two MC.200s of the 10o Gruppo were in fact lost when Sergente Maggiore Enrico Botti (MC.200 MM6500) and Sergente Maggiore Natale Fiorito (MC.200 MM5217) where killed. In return the pilots of the 10o Gruppo claimed four Hurricanes and two probables. Tenente Colonnello Carlo Romagnoli and Capitano Franco Lucchini each claimed one Hurricane shot down and Sergente Maggiore Elio Miotto two. Maresciallo Leonardo Ferrulli and Sergente Contarini each claimed probables. One Hurricane was lost when 22-year-old Sergeant Maurice Guest (RAF No. 920596) of 249 Squadron in Hurricane Z2818 failed to return.

Contarini ended the war with 4 shared biplane victories and a total of 5 shared.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
  16/12/40 14:40-16:40 1/9 Hurricane (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Bardia area 90a Squadriglia
  23/12/40 08:30-11:05 1/17 Hurricane (b) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Sidi Azeiz area 90a Squadriglia
  23/12/40 08:30-11:05 1/17 Hurricane (b) Shared probable Fiat CR.42   Sidi Azeiz area 90a Squadriglia
  23/12/40 08:30-11:05 1/17 Hurricane (b) Shared damaged Fiat CR.42   Sidi Azeiz area 90a Squadriglia
  26/12/40 13:00-15:05 1/22 Gladiator (c) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 90a Squadriglia
  26/12/40 13:00-15:05 1/22 Gladiator (c) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 90a Squadriglia
  26/12/40 13:00-15:05 1/22 Gladiator (c) Shared probable Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 90a Squadriglia
  26/12/40 13:00-15:05 1/22 Gladiator (c) Shared probable Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 90a Squadriglia
  1941                
  27/06/41 morning 1/7 Hurricane (d) Shared destroyed MC.200   Valetta area 90a Squadriglia
  17/07/41 mid-morning 1 Hurricane (e) Probable MC.200   Capo Passero 90a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 4 shared destroyed, 3 shared probably destroyed, 1 shared damaged.
TOTAL: 5 shared destroyed, 1 and 3 shared probably destroyed, 1 shared damaged.
(a) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 274 and 73 Squadron. 90a Squadriglia claimed one shot down Hurricane for one damaged CR.42. The RAF claimed one damaged CR.42 while suffering one force-landed Hurricane (V6737) from 73 Squadron due to lack of fuel.
(b) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 274 Squadron, which claimed one CR.42 while suffering one damaged Hurricane. 10o Gruppo claimed one, one probable and one damaged Hurricanewhile suffering one damaged CR.42.
(c) Claimed in combat with Gladiators from 3 RAAF Squadron, which claimed 2 and 3 probables without any losses, and possibly Hurricanes from 33 Squadron, which claimed a damaged CR.42 during the day. The 23o Gruppo claimed 1 Hurricane and 1 Gladiator and the 10o Gruppo claimed 2 and 2 probable Gladiators while losing one CR.42 and getting five more damaged.
(d) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 46 Squadron, which claimed five victories without losses. The 10o Gruppo claimed three and one shared Hurricanes and four probables while losing two MC.200s.
(e) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 249 and 185 Squadrons. 10o Gruppo totally claimed four Hurricanes and two probables for the loss of two MC.200s. 249 Squadron claimed two MC.200 destroyed and one damaged for the loss of one Hurricane from 249 Squadron; Sergeant Maurice Guest (Hurricane Z2818) being killed.

Sources:
2o Stormo - Note storiche dal 1925 al 1975 - Gino Strada, 1975 USSMA, Rome, 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
Hurricanes over Malta - Brian Cull and Frederick Galea, 2001 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-91-8
Malta: The Hurricane Years 1940-41 - Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-89747-207-1
Quelli del Cavallino Rampante - Antonio Duma, 1981 Editore Dell'Ateneo, Roma
Additional information kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro and Ludovico Slongo




Last modified 01 April 2012