Biplane fighter aces


Sottotenente Antonio Crabbia

In February 1941, Crabbia belonged to the 160o Gruppo C.T. At this time this unit took part in the Greek campaign and was equipped with Fiat CR.42s.

On 9 February 1941 18 S.79s from the 104o Gruppo were out to bomb in the Kelcyre-Tepelene area. These bombers were escorted by twelve Fiat G.50bis fighters from the 24o Gruppo led by Maggiore Eugenio Leotta, and twelve Fiat CR.42s from the 160o Gruppo, led by Tenente Edoardo Crainz. Four Greek Gladiators of 21 Mira (Sminagos Ioanis Kellas (CO of 21 Mira), Anthiposminagos Anastasios Bardivilias, Episminias Ilias Dimitrakopoulos and Episminias Nikolaos Kostorizos) and eight PZLs from 22 and 23 Mire intercepted the formation.
The Greek fighters didn’t manage to penetrate the fighter screen and a series of hectic dogfights started with the Italian escort. Overclaiming was heavy on both sides and the Greek pilots claimed eight enemy fighters, Kellas claimed two while Bardivilias, Dimitrakopoulos and Kostorizos claimed one enemy aircraft each. Episminas Epaminondas Dagoulas of 22 Mira claimed one fighter while Yposminagos Marinos Mitralexes from the same unit claimed one fighter over Berat; Mitralexes also claimed one additional fighter and a probable during the combat. The Greek Army confirmed the eight victories and this was also confirmed by a Mr. Roussos, a journalist of the newspaper ELEYTHERON BHMA, who was on the ground with the troops as a war correspondent. His report is a first hand account and also gives the enthusiasm of the Greek soldiers while the Italian planes fell to the ground.
The Gladiators flown by Kellas and Dimitrakopoulos were both hard hit during the combat but it was possible to repair these fighters. Yposminagos Kotronis was shot down, but he managed to force-land his PZL, totally destroying it in the process. He escaped, however, only lightly wounded. A second PZL was shot up by three fighters and Episminias (Sergeant) John Michopoulos of 22 Mira was wounded in the thigh, but he managed to get back to Salonika/Sedes and land. Other aircraft returned damaged.
The G.50bis pilots in return claimed one Gladiator and three PZLs shot down, while the pilots from the 160o Gruppo submitted claims for three Gladiators (one each by Tenente Crainz, Sergente Maggiore Luciano Tarantini and Sergente Maggiore Aurelio Munich) and two PZLs (Sottotenente Raoul Francinetti and Sergente Crabbia).
It seems that no Italian fighters were lost on this occasion.

Later 160o Gruppo C.T. returned to Italy for a rest and at the end of 1941 the unit was in North Africa on ground attack duties.

At daylight on 27 January 1942 Blenheims of 21 Squadron were sent off from Malta to search for an enemy convoy, Squadron Leader C. A. White leading a sweep from east of the Gulf of Gabes, to Zuara. Some 20 miles off Zaezis, a freighter of an estimated 5000 tons was located, escorted by a destroyer and three CR.42s of 160o Gruppo Autonomo C.T. As White manoeuvred his formation, seeking an opportunity to strike, one of the patrolling fighters, flown by Sergente Crabbia, broke away and latched onto two of the Blenheims, forcing the formation to scatter and, hence, the leader to call off the attack. Both Pilot Officer Booth’s Z7288/S and Sergeant G. R. Cameron’s Z7341/X were hit; the latter aircraft had its cupola shot away, Sergeant George Hancock, the Welsh air gunner, narrowly escaping injury.

Later in the war Crabbia was transferred to the 151o Gruppo and promoted to Sottotenente.

On 9 June, the Italian fighter pilots flew 47 sorties over Sicily but lost two aircraft; while a further 24 sorties were made over Pantelleria. All these sorties were preceded between 09:00 and 10:30 by reconnaissance flights by two MC.202s. During the course of the day 550 Allied aircraft made 19 attacks on the island. In the morning a Spitfire of the 308th FS, 31st FG, piloted by 1st McMann, was brought down near Pantelleria by Bf 109G 363-7 flown by Tenente Ugo Drago, CO of the 363a Squadriglia.
A rescue mission was mounted by 31st FG pilots, who went out to search for their squadron mate, and he was later picked up by an Allied rescue craft.
Between 10:15 and 11:40, four Bf 109Gs of the 150o Gruppo and 14 MC.202s of the 53o Stormo set off on a caccia libera mission over Pantelleria. Near the coast the Italian fighter pilots sighted an American formation of about 50 P-38s and Spitfires, which were promptly engaged. The Lightnings were probably come from the 1st FG, while the Spitfires probably were those searching for the downed 1st Lieutenant McMann. The Italian pilots claimed to have shot down four Spitfires, with four more as probables (one credited to Tenente Fornoncini) and 14 others damaged (two to Tenente Fornoncini). Of the four Spitfires reported to have been downed, one was claimed by Tenente Drago and another by Tenente Giovanni Chiale (although this is not noted in his flight book). The other two were jointly credited to 374a Squadriglia pilots, who claimed to have attacked 11 Spitfires.
Pilots of the 31st FG reported that in a 20-minute battle between 10:25-11:25 they had downed five MC.202s and one Bf 109 2 miles north of Pantelleria for no loss against a mixed force of an estimated 16-20 MC.202s. All the claiming pilots were from the 308th FS and formation leader Captain Thomas Fleming claimed two MC.202s while 1st Lieutenants Edwin Dalrymple, Walter Overend and Merritt Wolfe each claimed a single MC.202. The Bf 109 was claimed by 1st Lieutenant Royal Baker.
However, only two MC.202s from the 151o Gruppo, piloted by Capitano Bruno Veronesi (151o Gruppo CO) and Sottotenente Crabbia (151o Gruppo), had actually been shot down. So too had Bf 109G 363-7 of the 363a Squadriglia’s Tenente Drago. The three pilots all bailed out safely into the sea.
This was the only time during his career that Drago was shot down and he and the other two pilots were were picked from the sea by some fishermen from Pantelleria.
All three downed Italian pilots were later flown back to Palermo aboard an S.81 only hours before the besieged island surrendered.

Crabbia ended the war with 1 victory, this one claimed while flying Fiat CR.42s.

Kill no. Date Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 09/02/41 1 PZL P.24 (a) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Kelcyre-Tepelene area 160o Gruppo
  27/01/42 1 Blenheim (b) Damaged Fiat CR.42   20 miles off Zaezis 160o Gruppo
  27/01/42 1 Blenheim (b) Damaged Fiat CR.42   20 miles off Zaezis 160o Gruppo

Biplane victories: 1 destroyed, 2 damaged.
TOTAL: 1 destroyed, 2 damaged.
(a) Claimed in combat with fighters from 21, 22, 22 Mire. The 24o and 160o Gruppi claimed five PZLs and four Gladiators without loss. The Greek fighters claimed eight enemy fighters for the loss of one PZL while several more were damaged.
(b) Blenheims Z7288/S (Pilot Officer Booth) and Z7341/X (Sergeant G. R. Cameron) of 21 Squadron damaged.

53o Stormo - Marco Mattioli, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-977-5
Air war for Yugoslavia, Greece and Crete - Christopher Shores, Brian Cull and Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-948817-07-0
Malta: The Spitfire Year 1942 - Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia, 1991 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-948817-16-X
Spitfires over Sicily – Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia and Frederick Galea, 2000 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-32-2
USAAF (Mediterranean Theater) Credits For The Destruction Of Enemy Aircraft In Air-To-Air Combat World War 2 - Frank Olynyk, 1987 Victory List No.6
Additional information kindly provided by Dimitrios Vassilopoulos.

Last modified 25 October 2011