Biplane fighter aces


Sergente Francesco Cuscuna

© Archive D'Amico-Valentini
Photo kindly via Ferdinando D'Amico.

Francesco Cuscuna belonged to 75a Squadriglia of 23o Gruppo Autonomo CT.

In July 1940, the 23o Gruppo moved to Sicily and took part in the attacks on Malta.
On 9 July the 23o Gruppo became Autonomo and the first escort missions over Malta was flown on 12 July.

1 November 1940 was the blackest day of war for 228 Squadron when Sunderland N9020/W was intercepted and shot down off Sicily by a couple of Macchi MC.200s from the 88a Squadriglia, 6o Gruppo C.T. piloted by Tenente Luigi Armanino and Sergente Maggiore Natalino Stabile. The experienced crew of the Sunderland disappeared with it (Squadron leader Guy Lambton Menzies, Flying Officer Stuart Maxwell Farries, Sergeant Elias Dawes, Sergeant Frederick Harris, Sergeant George Arthur Stamp, Sergeant Edward Louis Setterfield, Leading Aircraftman Benjamin Edwin Nicholas, Leading Aircraftman Leslie Charles Major Hale and Leading Aircraftman Ronald Fletcher).
At 15:30 on the same afternoon, Sunderland L5806/Q piloted by Flight Lieutenant E. M. Ware was intercepted when only 32 miles from Malta by two more 6o Gruppo Macchis piloted by Tenente Pesaola and Tenente Pio Tomaselli and a couple of CR.42s of the 75a Squadriglia, 23o Gruppo piloted by Tenente Ezio Monti and Sergente Cuscuna. Two men of the Sunderland’s crew were wounded. Mattresses and clothing in aircraft were set on fire by the Italian’s explosive bullets and burning articles were thrown out from the rear door. Flame floats and practise bombs (four of each) were set off by explosive bullets and caused the aircraft to fill with smoke, hindering the amidships gunners in their firing. The rear turret was put partially out of action by having the starboard control handle shot away. The Sunderland was badly holed below waterline and was taken up slip immediately on return to Kalafrana to avoid its sinking. Despite all this damaged the aircraft was back in action on 22 November. The Italian pilots came back reporting that the big flying boat had adsorbed hundreds of rounds apparently without suffering particular problems even if Tenente Tomaselli in one of his attacks had gone so close to it that had almost collided with its empennages. The Sunderland was finally seen to land in Marsaxlokk Bay, without particular problems. Back at base, the Italian pilots argued that the plane had been fitted with some sort of special armour.
Flight Lieutenant Ware later received the DFC for this and other sorties, whilst one of the air gunners, L. A. C. Barton received the DFM. Although wounded in the leg, Barton had continued to operate his gun throughout. With these two losses 228 Squadron practically ceased to exist having no operational plane left. Reinforcement were on their way however and would soon taken to full strength the Squadron.

In August 1941, the 23o Gruppo was based at Pantelleria, Sicily, and still equipped with Fiat CR.42s.

On the afternoon of 30 August 1941, Cuscuna was part of a two-plane escort to a convoy. The two pilots reported that three Wellingtons attempted to attack the ships. Cascuna attacked one, which dived into the sea after he had hit the engines while Sottotenente Wisdor Pederzoli claimed a second in flames, the third was claimed as a probable between them. On this day a Wellington (W5559) of the Overseas Delivery unit, flying from Gibraltar to Malta was shot down eight miles south of Lampedusa, presumably the victim of 23o Gruppo.

On 15 November 1941 Pantelleria-based CR.42s from 23o Gruppo intercepted a passing Blenheim, Maresciallo Germano Gasperoni, Sergente Luigi Sacchi and Sergente Cuscuna claiming to have obtained hits on this. The damaged OADU Blenheim crash-landed on arrival at Luqa.

At 06.00 on 4 November 1942 two MC.202s flown by Capitano Mario Pinna of 74a Squadriglia and Sergente Maggiore Francesco Cuscuna of 75a Squadriglia were scrambled. A little later a third MC.202 took off, flown by Tenente Franco Bordoni-Bisleri of 18o Gruppo.
They intercepted three P-40 Kittyhawks and Bordoni-Bisleri shot down one of them near their airfield at Abu Smeit. This P-40 had moments before shot down Pinna, who was forced to leave his aircraft with parachute badly wounded in his face and on his hands.
Pinna was picked up by soldiers from the Folgore Division and later collected by a Fiesler Storch. A Ca.133 Sanitario then picked him up and transported him to Marsa Matruk for treatment and recovery.
Cuscuna returned from this combat with a damaged aircraft.

On 30 July 1943 a formation of B-17s escorted by P-38s were intercepted over Rome. In the ensuing combat the Italian pilots claimed four B-17s. One was clamed by Tenente Marinoni, one by Tenente Melis and one by Tenente Franco Bordoni-Bisleri (claim number 18)(some sources claims that this claim was shared with Sergente Mantelli). The fourth B-17 was claimed as a shared between Sergente Maggiore Cuscuna and Sergente Buogo. Two P-38 Lightnings were also claimed by Maresciallo Giannelli and Sergente Mantelli, which claimed one each. Sergente Buogo was however shot down and forced to leave his aircraft in parachute.

After the Italian capitulation in September 1943 he served in the 1a Squadriglia of the Italiana Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana (ANR).

1a Squadriglia flew their first operational mission on 3 January 1944. Around 12:00, they scrambled from their base at Mirafiori on a very precise heading and quickly climbed to break the cloud base at 3000 metres. Within ten minutes, they made visual contact with an enemy force, which at 8000 metres, was clearly visible from the vapour trail they produced. They intercepted the large formation of B-17 Flying Fortress from the 99th BG USAAF in the Torino area. P-38 Lightnings positioned well below the bomber force escorted the American bombers.
The Squadriglia commander Maggiore Adriano Visconti signalled his men to direct themselves towards the fighters in strict combat formation in a wide turn with the intention of forcing the P-38s to climb in protection of the bombers and hit them from below in the process. The plan worked to perfection and within the space of a few seconds, three Allied fighters were shot down in flames south of Cuneo. The first fell to the 20mm cannon fire of Sergente Cuscuna, followed by those of Visconti himself and Sottotenente Remo Lugari. The 1a Squadriglia returned to their base without any losses.
These victories were ANR's first claims in combat.

On 25 April, 117 B-24s of the 304th Wing USAAF, escorted by 45 P-47s of the 325th FG, attacked the Aeritalia aircraft factory in Turin.
24 MC.205s from 1o Gruppo ANR intercepted them and Sergente Maggiore Cuscuna claimed a P-47 at 12:15 at 4.500 meters over Monte Cimone. Maggiore Adriano Visconti and Maresciallo Carlo Cucchi from the same unit claimed a P-38 each over La Spezia at the same time.
Seven G.55s and two MC.205s of the “Montefusco-Bonet” Gruppo scrambled at 12:40 from Venaria Reale to intercept the US bombers. They were led by Capitano Giulio Torresi and included Sergente Maggiore Lucio Biagini, Biron, Celentano, Franco Sarasino and Maresciallo Ennio Tarantola. Comoni and Morettin probably also took part in this scramble. Biron was forced to abort the scramble after technical problems on his MC.205.
At 13:05, while attacking the bombers at 22,000 feet over Turin, the ANR fighters were jumped by the escorting P-47s. Three G.55s were shot down and Biagini (G.55 serie 0 “Yellow 13” MM91074) was killed after having spent at least eighty 20mm and one hundred-twenty 12.7mm rounds claiming a B-17 over Turin while Torresi (G.55 serie I “Yellow 1”? MM91100) parachuted from his burning aircraft at 13:20, lightly wounded in the head after having been attacked by enemy fighters. Tarantola (G.55 serie I “Yellow 8” MM91101) also parachuted badly wounded.
Franco Sarasino (G.55 “Yellow 5” MM91087) scrambled late due to engine troubles and arrived on the scene when his companions were attacked by Thunderbolts. He tried to help them (spending twenty 20mm and thirty 12.7mm rounds), but was soon chased by two P-47s that forced him to escape westwards; he was left by them in the Val di Susa area, so he could return to his base at Venaria Reale.
In his logbook Torresi claimed two Liberators, one Boeing and one Thunderbolt probably shot down.
Totally it seems, however, that only two B-24s from the 304th Wing were lost during the day; one B-24 (42-52214) from 744th BS of the 456th BG (MACR 5640) and one B-24 (42-52195) from 453th BG (MACR 4632). The 325th FG didn’t sustain any losses.
Of the 45 P-47s from 325th FG only 17 reached Turin (4 aborted and 24 released their drop tanks when engaged with the ANR fighters over Genova). They claimed two G.55s and one damaged. Torresi was probably shot down by Second Lieutenant Donald J. McDonald (P-47 42-75823) of the 318th FS, who claimed a G.55 at 13:05 over Turin. The other claims were made by First Lieutenant Benjamin H. Emmert Jr. of the 318th FS (P-47D-15RE 42-75671), who claimed a G.55 south of Turin at 13:05 and Second Lieutenant Joseph W. Harper (P-47 42-75803/#90) of the 318th FS, who claimed a damaged G.55 at 13:00.
The three Fiat wrecks were recovered respectively on 30 March 2000 (MM91074), 5 August 2000 (MM91100) and 22 February 2003 (MM91101).

During the war he was decorated with two Medaglie d'argento al valor militare.

Cuscuna ended the war with at least 1 biplane victory and a total of 5 destroyed (2 of them claimed while serving with the ANR).

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  01/11/40 15:30 1 Sunderland (a) Shared damaged Fiat CR.42   off Malta 75a Squadriglia
? 30/8/41 p.m. 1 Wellington (b) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   off Lampedusa 75a Squadriglia
  30/8/41 p.m. ½ Wellington (b) Shared probable Fiat CR.42   off Lampedusa 75a Squadriglia
  15/11/41   1/3 Blenheim (c) Shared damaged Fiat CR.42   off Pantelleria 75a Squadriglia
  30/07/43   1/3 B-17 Shared destroyed MC.202   Rome 75a Squadriglia
4 03/01/44 ~12:00 1 P-38 Destroyed MC.205   S Cuneo 1a Squadriglia
5 25/04/44 12:15 1 P-47 (d) Destroyed MC.205   Torino area 1a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: At least 1 destroyed, 1 shared probable, 2 shared damaged.
TOTAL: 5 destroyed, 1 shared probable, 2 shared damaged.
(a) Sunderland L5806/Q of 228 Squadron, flown by Flight Lieutenant E. M. Ware damaged.
(b) One Wellington was lost during the day when Wellington W5559 of the Overseas Delivery unit, flying from Gibraltar to Malta was shot down eight miles south of Lampedusa.
(c) Damaged Blenheim from O.A.D.U.; crash-landed on arrival at Luqa.
(d) Claimed in combat with P-47s from the 325th FG, which didn’t suffer any losses.

3o Stormo, storia fotografica - Dai biplani agli aviogetti - C. Lucchini and E. Leproni, 1990 Gino Rossato Editore kindly provided by Jean Michel Cala with translations kindly provided by Birgitta Hallberg-Lombardi
25 Aprile 1944 – Ferdinando Pedriali, 2004 Storia Militare no. 129 (XII) June 2004 kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro.
Army Air Forces
Assi Italiani Della Caccia 1936-1945 - 1999 Aerofan no. 69 apr.-giu. 1999, kindly provided by Jean Michel Cala
Centauri su Torino - Giancarlo Garello, 1998 Giorgio Apostolo Editore, Milan, ISBN 88-87261-04-0 kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Dal Reggiane 2002 al 2005 - Sergio Govi, 1984 Giorgio Apostolo Editore, Milan kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
G 55 e MC 205 a difesa di Torino - Ferdinando Pedriali, 2003 Storia Militare no. 116 (XI) May 2003 kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Il Carmagnolese
In cielo e in terra - Franco Pagliano, Longanesi & Co., Milano, 1969 kindly provided by Alfredo Logoluso
Italian Air Forces 1943-1945 - The Aviazone Nazionale Repubblicana - Richard J Caruana, 1989 Modelaid International Publication, kindly provided by Jean Michel Cala
Luftwaffe Claims Lists - Tony Wood
L'ultimo volo del mitico "Banana" – Roberto Ferrarese, 2003 Aerofan no. 87 Oct-Dec 2003, Giorgio Apostolo Editore, Milan, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Malta: The Hurricane Years 1940-41 - Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-89747-207-1
Stars & Bars - Frank Olynyk, 1995 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-17-5
Additional info kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro, Stefano Mencarelli, Ondrej Repka and Ludovico Slongo.

Last modified 04 August 2013