Maggiore Giuseppe D’Agostinis
Giuseppe D’Agostinis was born in Cervignano del Friuli, in the province of Udine, on 17 July 1910.
He graduated as pilot officer from the Corso Grifo of the Accademia Aeronautica and received his commission (in Servizio Permanente Effettivo) on 1 October 1931.
In late 1933, he was posted to the 97a Squadriglia, IX Gruppo, 4o Stormo. At this time, the unit was equipped with the Fiat CR Asso.
In the following years, he took part to the Aerobatic team of the Stormo and these years are considered the Golden Age of the Regia Aeronautica.
During the second half of 1936, he was promoted to Capitano, and volunteered for service in the Spanish Civil War. During the Spanish Civil War he used the nome de guerre “Gatti” (literally ‘Cats’, but also a very common surname in Northern Italy).
By the end of August, after the first 12 CR.32s, and their pilots, had reached Melilla, three more had been sent to Majorca and nine were offloaded in the port of Vigo de Galicia, on Spain’s Atlantic coast, from the Spanish ship Ebro. The latter had been renamed Aniene in Italy so that it could run contraband under a flag of convenience.
The three CR.32s sent to Majorca were unloaded from the Italian steamer Emilio Morandi at Palma de Mallorca during the night of 27-28 August. The ship docked at 20:30 and during the night, the personnel and aircraft were transferred to Son San Juan airfield. Two of the pilots to the aircraft were Capitano D’Agostinis and Sergente Guido Carestiato.
At noon of the following day, the first Fiat, marked “Black 1”, was ready to fly, and Capitano D’Agostinis took off for a test flight.
At 12:30, Sergente Guido Carestiato took off in the same aircraft and headed to Cala Morlanda, where six Republican SIAI S.62s were riding at anchor. Carestiato fired on all of them and destroyed two; "S-5" of Enrique Pereira and "S-30" of Antonio Orejuela. As he was returning home, he saw another S.62 flying over the bay and he intercepted and shot it down. Carestiato landed at Son San Juan after just ten minutes with his aircraft slightly damaged by ground fire.
After an hour, the “Black 1” took off again with D’Agostinis in command. D’Agostinis attacked the seaplanes, which in the meanwhile had been pulled ashore, then, as he was returning home, spotted two more S.62s while taking off from Puerto Cristo Bay. He attacked one, which was forced to ditch. Capitano José Maria Freire and Capitano Fernando Beneito flew this aircraft and Freire was killed. The aircraft was claimed as destroyed but in fact, it was only damaged, and was later recovered by the Republican merchant ship Mar Negro. The second S.62 managed to escape since D’Agostinis had run out of ammunition.
The following days, the three CR.32s were strafing troops, trucks and boats, avoiding ground fire flying at 2000 m, then, after spotting the targets, going away, and returning to strafe at low level with sun behind them.
Three new CR.32s were delivered to Palma de Majorca on 7 September, thus doubling the number of Fiat fighters on the island. They formed the Squadriglia Mussolini, led by Capitano D’Agostinis. Later they became part of the 130a Squadriglia of the Aviazione delle Baleari. The aircraft were then used to defend the Nationalist-controlled island from Republican air attacks.
Although D’Agostinis was the CO, his personal aircraft wasn’t no. 1 (this was used by Guido Carestiato) but no. 4 (perhaps in honour to the 4o Stormo). On the starboard side, this aircraft had a personal insignia; a shield with an armoured reddish cat (after his nom de guerre and his reddish hair) wearing a sword, in a cartouche appeared the motto: OCIO CHE SGRAFA! (Venetian dialect – ‘Look out, he’ll scratch you!’).
During December, three more CR.32s joined the unit at Palma.
In May 1937, the unit officially became the 101a Squadriglia, and on 10 July, it formed the X Gruppo Aviazione Legionaria (CO Maggiore Pietro Scapinelli) together with the 102a Squadriglia.
At dawn on 31 May, a lone Potez 540, flown by the Czechoslovak pilot Jan Ferak, bombed Palma de Mallorca, causing about ten dead and about thirty wounded. On the return flight it was intercepted at 4000 m over the sea by Capitano D’Agostinis (‘4’), Sottotenente Ippolito Lalatta and Sottotenente Aurelio Vedovi, whom hit it with several bursts and set the left engine on fire. The bomber turned towards Mallorca and crashed near Andraitx.
During his time in Spain, D’Agostinis was decorated with two Medaglie d’Argento al valor militare.
On 16 July 1937, D’Agostinis was back at the 4o Stormo, and on 1 August he was appointed CO of the 91a Squadriglia, X Gruppo, after Capitano Ettore Foschini. The unit was equipped with Fiat CR.32s, and again D’Agostinis began the aerobatic activity.
Capitano D’Agostinis temporarily held the command of 10o Gruppo from 1 November 1937 when he replaced Maggiore Umberto Chiesa until 18 February 1938 when he was replaced by Maggiore Vincenzo Dequal.
On 10 August 1939, the Stormo was scheduled to convert to the new Macchi MC.200 I serie, but these proved to be unsatisfactory to the pilots; so, in September these were exchanged with CR.42s from the 54o Stormo based at Treviso.
On 5 June 1940, the 10o Gruppo was ordered to transfer to North Africa.
Two days later, the whole Gruppo took off from the home base at Gorizia and reached Catania. The following day, they were at Castel Benito (Lybia).
On 12 June, the 2o Stormo’s fighters in North Africa were joined by those of the 10o Gruppo (84a, 90a and 91a Squadriglie) of the Gorizia based 4o Stormo C.T.. The Gruppo was commanded by Tenente Colonnello Armando Piragino and started the war at Tobruk T2 with 27 CR.42s.
The 91a Squadriglia C.T. was composed of the following pilots: Capitano D’Agostinis (CO), Tenente Enzo Martissa, Sottotenente Ruggero Caporali, Maresciallo Raffaele Chianese, Maresciallo Vittorio Romandini, Sergente Maggiore Leonardo Ferrulli, Sergente Maggiore Lorenzo Migliorato, Sergente Maggiore Natale Fiorito, Sergente Maggiore Elio Miotto, Sergente Aldo Rosa, Sergente Alessandro Bladelli, Sergente Guido Scozzoli and Sergente Luigi Ferrario. They had ten CR.42s on strength (including Piragino’s).
On 19 June, Tenente Colonnello Armando Piragino, CO of 10o Gruppo, was shot down in combat by Peter Wykeham-Barnes and became POW.
Capitano D’Agostinis again took over the command of the Gruppo and held it until 11 July, when he passed it to the new CO, Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli.
On 28 June Capitano D’Agostinis of the 91a Squadriglia, Capitano Aldo Lanfranco of the 84a Squadriglia and Tenente Enzo Martissa of the 91a Squadriglia, 10o Gruppo, took off to attack enemy armoured vehicles in the Sidi Azeiz area.
Lanfranco suffered a mechanical breakdown and landed in Bu Amud. D’Agostinis and Martissa in the meantime discovered twelve enemy armoured cars hidden near the landing ground of Sidi Azeiz, recently recaptured by the Italian Army and attacked, destroying two of them; the other ten vehicles retired in the Sidi Omar direction.
During the morning on 4 August, 80 Squadrons ‘B’ Flight received a signal from the headquarters to provide four Gladiators to escort a Lysander from 208 Squadron flown by Pilot Officer Burwell, which was to observe enemy troops movement at Bir Taieb el Esem on the other side of the Libyan border. 'Pat' Pattle (Gladiator Mk.I K7910) decided to lead the escort and took with him Flying Officer Peter Wykeham-Barnes (L8009), Pilot Officer Johnny Lancaster (K7923) and Sergeant Kenneth George Russell Rew (RAF no. 526687) (Gladiator K7908). They took off at 17:15 and reached the rendezvous point in ten minutes where they found the Lysander circling at 6000 feet. Wykeham-Barnes and Rew took up a position about 3000 feet above and immediately behind the Lysander, whilst Pattle and Lancaster climbed 1000 feet higher on the starboard flank. The aircraft crossed the border a few miles south of Sidi Omar twenty minutes later and followed the sand tracks leading to their target.
During the same morning eleven CR.42s of the 97a Squadriglia went from Benghazi-Berka to El Adem T3 to participate, together with twelve other CR.42s from the 96a Squadriglia, which had arrived the previous day, and with nine CR.42s of the 10o Gruppo, in an aerial covering flight of the 2a Divisione Libica of Regio Esercito. This Division was marching from Bir el Gobi to Gabr Saleh.
In the meantime, a concentration of British armoured vehicles was discovered in the Bir Sheferzen area, around 30 kilometres south-west of Sollum, near the border where a logistic outpost of the Western Desert Force was located and consequently an air attack was planned.
At 16:50, a formation of assault aircraft of the 50o Stormo took off together with an escorting group of Fiat CR.42 fighters of the 4o Stormo heading for it. The assault aircraft took off from Tobruk T2bis and were twelve aircraft of the resident 12o Gruppo Assalto. They included six Breda Ba.65/A80s of the 159a Squadriglia, armed with 2kg bombs (the Bredas could carry up to 168 of these small calibre bombs) commanded by the Squadriglia Commander Capitano Antonio Dell’Oro and flown by Tenente Adriano Visconti, Tenente Fioravante Montanari (who led the second section), Sergente Maggiore Giovanni Bianchelli, Sergente Maggiore Gianni Pappalepore and Sergente Maggiore Paolo Perno. The other six were Fiat CR.32quaters of the 160a Squadriglia, armed with eight 2kg bombs and divided in two groups of three. The first group led by Capitano Duilio Fanali (Squadriglia CO) included Sottotenente Giuseppe Mezzatesta and Sergente Maggiore Corrado Sarti as wingmen while the second group was lead by Sottotenente Giuseppe Rossi with Sottotenente Mirko Erzetti and Maresciallo Romolo Cantelli as wingmen.
The Italian fighter escort took off from El Adem T3 and was composed of 31 CR.42s (ten from the 97a Squadriglia, eleven from the 96a Squadriglia, one from the 73a Squadriglia and nine from the 10o Gruppo). At the head of the two formations were Maggiore Ernesto Botto (in the aircraft from the 73a Squadriglia) and Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli. Pilots from the 97a Squadriglia were Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni, Sottotenente Giovanni Barcaro, Sergente Franco Sarasino, Sottotenente Riccardo Vaccari, Sergente Angelo Golino, Sottotenente Jacopo Frigerio, Sergente Maggiore Otello Perotti, Maresciallo Vanni Zuliani, Sergente Maggiore Raffaele Novelli and Sergente Maggiore Massimo Salvatore. Pilots from the 10o Gruppo were apart from Maggiore Romagnoli, Capitano D’Agostinis, Tenente Enzo Martissa, Sottotenente Ruggero Caporali and Sergente Maggiore Lorenzo Migliorato from the 91a Squadriglia, Capitano Luigi Monti and Tenente Giuseppe Aurili from the 84a Squadriglia and Tenente Franco Lucchini and Sergente Amleto Monterumici from the 90a Squadriglia.
The two Italian formations met at a rendezvous point twenty kilometres east of El Adem and then headed for the target. The 4o Stormo’s aircraft flew at heights between 3500 and 4500 meters, the Fiat CR.32s at 1000 meters and the Bredas at 300 meters.
On the way towards the frontline, at 5000 m over Ridotta Capuzzo, they spotted a formation of nine Blenheims heading to El Adem, escorted by many Glosters Gladiators. Aircraft of the 96a Squadriglia and the 10o Gruppo attacked the bombers and then chased the fighters. In the fierce combat that followed, Tenente Lucchini claimed a Gladiator with the use of 385 rounds of ammunition. Pilots from the 91a Squadriglia claimed two Gladiators and three Blenheims as shared, with two additional Gladiators as shared probables (one of the Glosters was most probably the same claimed by Lucchini). Capitano Monti and Tenente Aurili claimed to have damaged two Blenheims each and then reported being credited with the three Blenheims shot down by the Stormo’s formation as shared. The pilots from the 90a Squadriglia claimed the same three Blenheims and a Gladiator jointly with the 96a Squadriglia and other pilots of the 10o Gruppo plus the individual victory of Lucchini and recorded “other Glosters shot down by pilots of 9o and 10o Gruppi”. At the end of the combat, Maggiore Botto, who personally claimed a damaged British bomber with the use of 200 rounds of ammunition, recorded ten enemy aircraft shot down together with other units. Apart from the five confirmed and two probables already detailed, the remaining victories should be those of the 50o Stormo, more prudently the 10o Gruppo’s Diary claimed only three Blenheims and a single Gloster shot down.
The 97a Squadriglia, covering at a higher altitude, spotted first six Blenheims, which were attacked by the other Squadriglie and then three other Blenheims that were heading towards Egyptian territory and dived to pursue them. Capitano Larsimont Pergameni and Sergente Sarasino chased them for a while, claiming hits on them.
The fighters from the 97a Squadriglia had most probably attacked a trio of Blenheim Mk.Is (L8667, L8391 and L8530) from 55 Squadron, which had been ordered on short notice to bomb up and meet two other flights from other squadrons over Ma’aten Bagush at 17:00 to attack an Italian M. T. convoy, 13 miles east of Bir El Gobi (obviously the Libyan division). Commanded by Pilot Officer T. O. Walker in L8667, they missed the rendezvous with the other Squadrons over Ma’aten Bagush and headed alone towards the front. After crossing the frontier, the trio spotted a big formation of about 25 CR.42s (4o Stormo’s formation). Twelve of these fighters started in pursuit as the Blenheims turned for home (the 97a Squadriglia formation). A running engagement, which lasted seven minutes started after which the Italian fighters broke off without having caused or suffered any damage. The other RAF Squadrons involved in this combat were 211 Squadron and most probably 112 and 113 Squadrons. 211 Squadron was up with two Blenheims piloted by Squadron Leader Bax (L8533) and Flight Lieutenant G. D. Jones (L8532), which were intercepted by a reportedly 40-50 fighters. Sergeant J. McIntosh, gunner of L8532, was wounded in the forearm and it seems that it was badly damaged and forced to land before reaching its base since it was salvaged by 51 RSU at Sidi Barrani on 10 August but Struck off Charge on 20 September. The total lack of records of 113 Squadron and the high level of incompleteness of those of 112 Squadron makes it quite difficult to reconstruct their contribution to the combat. It seems however probable that at least three Gladiators of 112 Squadron were around this area at the time, because it is known that Pilot Officers R. H. Clark, Homer Cochrane and B. B. E. Duff left Maaten Gerawla during the day for Sidi Barrani, with the task of patrolling over Sidi Omar (extremely close to the area where the evening combat developed). No encounters with the enemy are however recorded in the fragmentary reconstructed ORB of the unit.
The formation from the 50o Stormo continued alone towards the border, arriving over Bir Sheferzen (around thirty kilometres south and slightly east of the position where the escort left it) at 17:20, where they discovered numerous British vehicles that were immediately attacked by the Bredas and Fanali’s trio of CR.32s while Rossi’s stayed at 1000 meters as cover. The Italian aircraft performed two passes over the vehicles and while they were preparing the third the 208 Squadron Lysander and 80 Squadron Gladiators came into the area. The crew of the Lysander spotted the Italians first and alerted the escort with a red Very light before heading due east at low altitude to reach safety. Pilot Officer Burwell carried some bombs that he tried to aim at Italian transports that he saw in the vicinity but missed, then he was forced to return by the strong opposition encountered.
Pattle and Lancaster dived down but failed to spot any enemy aircraft. Wykeham-Barnes and Rew had also disappeared but a few seconds later Pattle heard Wykeham-Barnes over the radio ordering Rew to attack. Immediately afterwards Pattle saw a reported seven Breda Ba.65s in two separate flights - one containing three aircraft in vic formation and the other made up of two pairs, heading east hunting the Lysander.
Wykeham-Barnes and Rew attacked the formation of four Bredas before they could reach the Lysander and Wykeham-Barnes shot down one of them in flames immediately but at the same time was Rew shot down and killed. Pattle and Lancaster meanwhile attacked the other three Italians from astern. The Bredas dispersed and all four Gladiators separated as they each selected a different enemy machine as a target. Pattle attacked two aircraft, which kept close together and turned in a complete circle. The Bredas dropped to around 200 feet and each released two bombs. This reduced weight meant that they slowly began to creep away from Pattle’s slower Gladiator. Suddenly they however turned north towards the fighter base at El Adem. Pattle quickly cut inside their turn and closed in to 150 yards. He delivered a quarter attack on the nearest Breda but his two port guns almost immediately ceased firing. His aim had been good however and he had hit one of the Italians who slowed down considerably. He swung in directly astern of it and, after a few more bursts from his remaining two guns, saw a puff of white smoke from the starboard side of the engine. He continued to attack the Breda, which dropped lower and lower and finally force-landed on good grounds five miles further on. The second Breda got away. Lancaster had also been having trouble with his guns. After his initial burst, all four guns jammed and he spent the next ten minutes frantically pulling his Constantinescu gear pistons and aiming at various enemy aircraft, but without any further bullets leaving his guns. Eventually he was forced to go on to the defensive and got an explosive bullet in the left arm and shoulder. Because he feared the loss of blood would cause him to lose consciousness, he wriggled out of the fight and with his right thumb pressed tightly against his left radial artery, held the stick between his knees and waggled his way home. In spite of his wounds and the serious damage to his Gladiator, he made quite a smooth landing before losing consciousness. It is reported, that the fitter who came to examine the aircraft shortly afterwards pronounced it too damaged to repair in situ and ordered it to be burned forthwith! However, in fact it seems that even if 80 Squadron didn’t fly it any more, Gladiator Mk.I K 7923 was repaired and later in the year passed to the Greek Air Force.
After claiming the Breda, Wykeham-Barnes was attacked by the CR.32s. He claimed one of them before another, attacked him, which hit his Gladiator, in his Combat Fighter Report he recorded: “The left side of the instrument panel and most of the windscreen went and two bullets came through the back of the seat before I could close the throttle, and the CR 32 passed under me. My machine then fell into a dive and I abandoned it, landing me by parachute.” He had received a shrapnel wound. He was also to receive a swollen tongue and a pair of very painful blistered feet before being rescued by a detachment of 11th Hussars, who brought him back to Sidi Barrani.
Four of the Bredas were damaged and in particular that of Sergente Maggiore Perno, which was hit fifty times and the pilot was slightly wounded in the leg, before Fanali’s Fiats were able to intervene. In the meantime, it was the section of Sottotenente Rossi, which was waiting higher up for its turn to attack, that first fell over the RAF fighters, taking them by surprise. After the sharp initial attack of the Fiats the combat developed into a WW I style dogfight which lasted fifteen minutes. At the end all the Italian aircraft returned to base claiming three of the enemies; one by Fanali (probably Wykeham-Barnes) and two by Cantelli (probably Rew and Lancaster).
One of the damaged Bredas was piloted by Tenente Adriano Visconti who pressed home his attacks against the enemy armoured vehicles notwithstanding the enemy’s fighter opposition. The behaviour of Visconti in this particular combat deeply impressed his commander Capitano Dell’Oro who proposed him for a Medaglia d’argento al valor militare. The motivation of this award that Visconti received “in the field” stated that: ”During a strafing attack against enemy’s armoured vehicles he pressed home his attacks careless of an enemy fighter that was following him shooting at him from short distance (…) and with its last ammunitions he succeeded in burning one of the armoured cars of the enemy(…)”.
After Pattle had claimed the Breda he broke away while attempting, without much success, to clear his port fuselage gun. Immediately, he was attacked by five biplanes (identified as CR.42s) diving towards him from the direction of El Adem, which was approximately 10 miles north-west. He flew on, pretending that he had not seen the Italians, until they were almost in position to open fire and then, with a flick of the wrist and a sharp prod of the foot, shot up and away from the Fiats. The Italians split up and attacked him independently from all directions. The Fiats made repeated attacks simultaneously from the quarter and beam, using the speed they gained in the dive to regain altitude. After each attack Pattle was forced on to the defensive and turned away from each attack, occasionally delivering a short attack on the most suitably target as it dived past. One Fiat on completing its attack turned directly in front of his Gladiator, presenting him with an excellent deflection shot at close range. He fired a long burst with his remaining two guns, which caused the Italian fighter to turn slowly onto its back and then spin down towards the desert. Pattle last saw it spinning at 200 feet and didn’t claim it for sure, but was later credited with this victory. Soon after his starboard wing gun also jammed but fortunately, at the same time the remaining Italian fighters broke away. He was now 40 miles behind enemy lines with only one gun operational and he turned for home at 1000 feet altitude.
When some miles north-west of Bir Taieb El Essem, he was again spotted and attacked by twelve CR.42s and three Breda Ba.65s. The Bredas broke away after a few dives while the CR.42s attacked. They used the same tactics as the five earlier had used with quarter and beam attacks. Within a few seconds Pattle’s remaining gun jammed because of an exploded round in the breach, so he attempted to make the border by evasive tactics and heading east at every opportunity. He soon discovered that one of the Italian pilots was an exceptional shot who made repeated attacks using full deflection with great accuracy. Each time this particular Italian came in, he had to use all his skill and cunning to keep out of the sights of the Fiat. The remainder of the Italians as a whole lacked accuracy and did not press home their attacks to a decisive range. Nevertheless, their presence and the fact that he had to consider each attack made the work of the more determined pilot very much easier. He managed to keep this up for fully fifteen minutes before the determined Italian came out of a loop directly above Pattle’s Gladiator and opened fire. Pattle turned away to avoid the bullets, but flew straight into the line of fire from another Fiat. The rudder controls were shot away, so he could no longer turn. He pulled back on the control column, climbed to about 400 feet and jumped. As he fell the pilot parachute caught his foot, but he managed to kick it free and the main chute opened just in time for him to make a safe landing off the first swing. The time was now around 19:00. He started to walk towards what he thought was Egypt during the night but found out at dawn to his horror that he had actually walked in the opposite direction, deeper into Libya. He turned around and crossed the border at around midday. At 16:00 on 5 August, he was rescued by a detachment from 11th Hussars, which brought him back to Sidi Barrani.
It is possible that Pattle was shot down by Tenente Franco Lucchini.
At 17:00 on 8 August, Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli (CO of the 10o Gruppo) took off from El Adem T3 airfield with 15 other aircraft from the 9o and 10o Gruppi to patrol along the Egyptian border and to give indirect cover to five SM 79 bombers and a single reconnaissance Ro.37, which were out to patrol the same area. The five SM 79s were a formation from the 44a Squadriglia, 35o Gruppo, led by Capitano Giuseppe Pagliacci, which were out to bomb enemy vehicles and aircraft in the Bir El Chreigat area.
Participating pilots were Romagnoli, Capitano D’Agostinis (CO 91a Squadriglia), Tenente Enzo Martissa (91a Squadriglia), Sergente Aldo Rosa (91a Squadriglia), Tenente Giovanni Guiducci (CO 90a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Angelo Savini (90a Squadriglia), Capitano Luigi Monti (CO 84aSquadriglia), Tenente Vittorio Pezzè (CO 73a Squadriglia), Tenente Valerio De Campo (73a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Carlo Battaglia (73a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Alvaro Querci (73a Squadriglia), Maresciallo Norino Renzi (73a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Enrico Dallari (73a Squadriglia), Sergente Antonio Valle (73a Squadriglia), Sergente Santo Gino (73a Squadriglia) and Sergente Lido Poli (73a Squadriglia).
Immediately after take-off, Romagnoli started to climb, keeping the sun in the back. At 2500 meters over Gabr Saleh (around 65 kilometres south-east of El Adem and 35 kilometres east of Bir El Gobi, well inside the Italian territory) when the Italian formation was still climbing, Tenente Pezzè saw two formations of Gloster Gladiators higher and, after giving the alarm to the gruppo commander, tried to attack the enemy fighters frontally and from below.
Then, completely unseen by Pezzè and the other Italian pilots a third formation of Glosters attacked the 73a Squadriglia formation from above (the surviving Italian pilots estimated that each British formation was nine planes strong so, after the combat, they assessed that they fought against 27 enemy fighters for fifteen minutes).
The Gloster Gladiators were from 80 Squadron (‘C’ Flight had arrived at Sidi Barrani during the day, led by the commanding officer, Squadron Leader ‘Paddy’ Dunn). At 17:40, 14 Gladiators from the Squadron flew an offensive patrol in the neighbourhood of El Gobi since it had been reported by observers that large formations of CR.42s had been patrolling a triangle between El Adem, Sidi Omar and El Gobi fairly regularly twice a day at about 07:00 and 18:15 and it was decided to attempt to destroy a portion of this patrol. The mission had been suggested by Squadron Leader Dunn to the HQ as a reprisal and to re-establish “the moral superiority already gained previously by other Squadrons” after the gruelling engagement on 4 August. Tactics had been carefully discussed by Dunn and his Flight Commanders on the agreed assumption that if the engagement could be controlled for the initial two minutes, a decided advantage would be with the side in control. To do this, it was arranged (as it was expected to be seen as soon as, or even before being able to see the Italians) that a Sub-Flight of the formation (Sub-Flight one) should fly low (at 8,000 feet) and slightly in front to act as bait. These three Gladiators were flown (after that lots had been drawn) by Dunn (leader) (Gladiator K8009), Flying Officer Peter Wykeham-Barnes (K7916) and Pilot Officer 'Heimar' Stuckey (K8022). The rest of the formation, divided in three Sub-Flights of three fighters with an independent aircraft between the lower Sub-Flights, would be stepped at 10,000, 12,000 and 14,000 feet. The independent machine was that of Flight Sergeant Trevor Martin Vaughan (K7903), who attacked with Sub-Flight one. It seems that Pilot Officer Anthony Hugh Cholmeley flew a fourteenth Gladiator but that he was forced to turn back early, probably with engine problems.
Sub-Flight two included Flight Lieutenant Ralph Evers-Swindell (leader) (L8010), Flying Officer Wanklyn Flower (K8011) and Flying Officer P. T. Dowding (K7912). Sub-Flight three included Pilot Officer Harold Sykes (leader) (K8003), Sergeant Donald Gregory (K8051) and Flying Officer Sidney Linnard (K8017). Sub-Flight four at 14,000 feet included Flight Lieutenant 'Pat' Pattle (leader) (K7971), Flying Officer Greg Graham (L8008) and Flight Sergeant Sidney Richens (K7892). The plan was for Sub-Flight one to engage (or being engaged) by the Italians, do what it could until Sub-Flights two, three and four would be ordered to enter the combat on seeing the trend, the overall control being given to Sub-Flight four. All formations flew in a broad vic and it was the first time that the 80 Squadron operated at full operational strength.
Just after 18:00, the Squadron crossed the frontier south of Sidi Omar, and immediately changed course to head north towards Bir Taieb el Esem. At 18:25, as they were approaching Bir el Gobi, a formation of CR.42 flying in echelons was spotted by Flight Lieutenant Pattle. The Fiats were flying approximately parallel but reciprocal to the course of the British formation and they were at 2 o’clock and slightly (500 feet) below the lower Sub-Flight. With a careful turning on the right, ordered by radio, Pattle put the 80 Squadron’s formation behind the Italian one, up-sun and between it and its base at El Adem, then a full boast and throttle stern chase began to catch up with the fast cruising (in fact climbing) Italian fighters. Pilots in the lower Sub-Flights now began to see their opponents, dead ahead and lower. The ideal attack position! Squadron Leader Dunn counted 18 of them in four formations of seven, five, three and three; he was very close to the truth but later Sub-Flight four reported that an additional Italian formation of nine planes was present and it was incorrectly assessed that the Italians were 27, flying in nine sections of three aircraft. After an unobserved astern chase Sub-Flight one engaged the starboard flank of three aircraft and shot down all of them (they were probably part of the 73a Squadriglia). Squadron Leader Dunn later reported:
“(…) I followed my first target down, who rolled over slowly on to his back with smoke coming out: Observed P/O. Stuckey’s (No. 3 on my left) quarry in much the same condition and gave him a burst of my own, then pulled up and across the rear of the formation of 18 that was beginning to peel-off.”Flying Officer Stuckey experienced a very successful combat:
“(…) our C.O. led the first Flight and attacked the right hand enemy flight.The third CR.42 of the section probably fell victim to Flight Sergeant Trevor Martin Vaughan. Flying Officer Peter Wykeham-Barnes confirmed the shooting down of all three Italian CR.42s of the section. Wykeham-Barnes seems to have claimed the first Italian aircraft, witnessed by Flight Lieutenant Evers-Swindell.
I was No. 3 of the C.O.’s Flight and managed to get in a long burst with full deflection as my opposite aircraft stall turned out of his formation. (later the C.O. said that he followed this aircraft down giving it bursts and saw it crash.
Immediately after I attacked No. 3 aircraft of the farthest flight and gave it a short burst before that flight broke up as well.”
“(…) A C.R.42 did a steep diving turn away from his formation and I was easily able to give him a full deflection shot for about 8 seconds, he continued in a dive with smoke issuing from him but as the formation of 18 was approaching around about me with advantage of number and height, it was impossible to pursue him. I claimed it definitely shot down and consider it to be one of the five observed on the ground by Sub 4 before entering. Then followed a long period of loose play in which numerous targets offered themselves.In the end, Dunn was credited with two confirmed victories and 1 probable and reported that the Sub-Flight gained five confirmed victories and two unconfirmed.
At the same time large numbers of enemy aircraft attacked me, chiefly from straight ahead and beam but not driving home determinedly. In one of them I throttled back and stall turned on the attacker’s tail before he was quite past me, he then rolled on to his back and dived down in the second half of a loop. I followed and gave this aircraft what I thought was an effective burst with the result that he did not recover and continued down with bluish smoke issuing from him.
The other flights had by now entered and attacked their opponents, and the number of enemy aircraft thinned down. Two or three enemy aircraft were still about ; I pulled up steeply to avoid one in particular who was dangerously near to my tail, having chased me down in the dive from the port quarter. In the ensuing black-out I have little knowledge of what he did but at the top of what was the first half of something like a rocket loop, I found myself going in the opposite direction with the aircraft climbing rapidly past me on my left and below, he then appeared ahead of me and did a slow roll, unfortunately, I was too surprised and failed to get him in my sight, whereupon he half rolled and dived out; another stall turn brought me on his tail, but he did a rapid dive, turned to the left and streamed off like a homing rabbit - next stop El Adem.
I engaged one more enemy aircraft but my guns failed to fire (after 300 rounds approx.) I tried to clear them but was only able to get one more short burst. I left the fight, gained height at 12,000 feet and returned to witness a dog-fight between three aircraft two of which were Gladiators. I then set off home and picked up two other Gladiators.”
“I was then attacked from about 2 o’clock by the two flights that had already broken; I pulled away and down from them, and as I came up in a climbing turn saw a CR 42 following one of our Gladiators in a loop. While it was going up I gave it a long burst and saw it fall away and dive, the pilot jumped almost as soon as I attacked him. Another 42 came straight towards me while I was circling the parachute but I made a quick turn in the opposite direction and he passed just under my port wings. I then saw a 42 with a Gladiator on its’ tail and as I flew in on a beam attack the 42 flick rolled two or three times and continued doing so in a dive. I followed it all the way in a steep turn and dive giving a lot of short bursts and saw it crash. I was then at only about 3,000’ and when I had climbed to about 5,000’ joined in a dog-fight that ended when the 42 dived away and headed for Bir El Essem.”Form 541 of 80 Squadron ORB credited Stuckey only with a single confirmed victory, probably his first victim was credited to his Commanding Officer who finished it off while of the last biplane he saw hitting the ground he wrote “(…) seen to crash but believed hit before I attacked it”. However, it seems that he later was credited with two destroyed and one probable.
“(…) I saw the leading formation attack the right hand formation of 9 E.A: so I put my sub flight into line astern expecting the E.A. to break up which they did as soon the first machine was shot down by No.2 of the leading formation. I led my sub flight into the centre formation of nine E.A. which by then were scattered all over the sky. I did a diving quarter attack on an E.A. up to about 50 feet, it turned over on its back and went down in a steep spiral. I was then attacked head on by another E.A. after this I looked down and saw the first one crash in flames. The pilot still in the cockpit. I managed to manoeuvre myself on to the tail of a third and after having given him a longish burst, saw him go down in the same way as the first, but was unable to follow him down as an explosive bullet took away one of my port flying wires and another burst on the starboard side of the instrument panel. I got in two more quick burst on two different E.A. but don’t think I did any damage. My engine then started to pour out smoke and soon afterwards cut out. I glided down in a series of steep turns and found no E.A. following. I looked round and saw nine a/c burning on the ground and one pilot coming down by parachute. I glided for about three miles and at about 200 feet the engine seized up I did not have time to inspect the engine so set the aircraft on fire (…).”Evers-Swindell was credited of two unconfirmed victories. Flying Officer Wanklyn Flower was able to claim a probable, he reported:
“(…) I picked out a CR 42 flying in left hand turn ahead of me. I dropped in behind and fired three long bursts at close range – I last saw the aircraft diving vertically downwards. At this moment another C.R 42 fired a burst into my machine damaging the engine. I got away from him and, as there were no more enemy machines in sight, made for home (…)”Flying Officer Dowding also claimed a probable:
“(…) Before we had reached them they had already been broken up before we joined amongst them.Pilot Officer Sykes led his Sub-Flight into the right flank of the Italian formation:
I then saw a CR.42 coming towards me on port beam, it pulled its nose up and did a half roll to the left. I got my sights on to it, as it started to pull its nose up, and followed it round as it did the half roll, giving it a longish burst. It went into a spin, and went down a long way until I lost sight of it.
When I looked again there was an aircraft burning on the ground at approximately the position where the one went down, but I cannot say for certain whether it was the same as the one I saw go down.
I also saw at least four other aircraft burning on the ground, and three people descending by parachutes (…)”
“(…) I was leading sub 3 flight and putting the flight into echelon right turned on to their right flank. The enemy aircraft suddenly reeled of from their echelon formation probably owing to the fact that the leading flight had come into firing range and had opened fire. A general dog fight then commenced, I engaged a CR.42 which commenced a steep climbing turn, I commenced firing at the beginning of the climb and continued until I saw him fall and commence a flay spiral. I saw fragments or splinters falling from the centre section or the cockpit and saw the aircraft drop about 4-5000 feet and then engaged another which I followed in a steep turn firing all the time. This enemy aircraft went into a spin suddenly and saw one of our own aircraft follow it down. There were no more enemy aircraft in sight. During the action I saw several parachute open and several aircraft burning. I landed back on our aerodrome at 1915. One aircraft in my flight was forced to return just before the action because all its guns stopped.”Sykes was credited with two unconfirmed victories. The returning aircraft was flown by Sergeant Gregory, who had had tested his gun before the attack, but found them all jammed and had been forced to withdraw. Flying Officer Linnard was more successful:
“(…) We were given R/T instructions by the top flight to enter the fight.Linnard was credited with two confirmed victories.
I slipped under my leader to the left and found myself in a mass of milling aircraft. I went to attack a CR.42 which was on a Gladiator’s tail when another CR.42 passed in front of me. I gave him deflection burst and got on to his tail – he pulled up in a loop. I followed him around giving him bursts and when he was upside down in the loop he baled out dropping past me, his parachute opening just below me. My range would be about 50 yards or less. I got on to another CR.42 and practically the same thing happened as before except that I did not get him and my engine cut as I was following him in the loop when I was in the vertical position. I saw the enemy aircraft diving past me but I was so close to him that he could not fire at me. I pushed my nose down and got my engine started and then saw a CR.42 diving down on me from vertically above but he did not hit me. I then saw a CR.42 practically head-on. I gave him a burst at very close range. The enemy aircraft turned over to the right on its back and went into a flat spin. I was at about 4,000 feet at this time. I watched the aircraft spin for about 1000 feet and then heard gunfire which I thought was from behind but there were no enemy aircraft within range of me. I then looked for the spinning aircraft but all I saw was an aircraft in flames on the ground beneath me. Another CR.42 dived past going very fast. I gave him a quick burst and saw some black smoke coming from him, but he kept straight on diving as fast as he could go towards Bir-el-Gobi. I did not follow him down. I then turned back towards where the fight had been but saw only one aircraft a Gladiator (P/O. Stuckey). We hung around a bit and then made for home. I caught up with F/Lt. Pattle and F/O. Graham and returned with them. I landed at 1910. I sustained no damage to self or aircraft except for one Fabric panel torn out.
I saw altogether 6 aircraft burning on ground and 4 parachutes dropping.”
“(…) I saw no’s 2 and 3 sections engage and before I brought my section into the fight I saw five crashed aircraft on the ground , three of which were in flames.Pattle’s two claims were confirmed by Flying Officer Graham, who claimed one victory (later downgraded to a probable). Flight Sergeant Richens claimed one probable while confirming Graham’s claim.
My own section then engaged those E.A. who were attempting to reach their own base and immediately became engaged in separate combats.
I engaged a CR 42 and, after a short skirmish, get into position immediately behind him. On firing two short bursts at about 50 yards range the E.A. fell into a spin and burst into flames on striking the ground. The pilot did not abandon his aircraft.
I then attacked 3 E.A. immediately below me. This action was indecisive as after a few minutes they broke away by diving vertically for the ground and pulling out at very low altitude.
Whilst searching for other E.A. I saw two more aircraft crash and burst into flames. Owing to the widespread area and the number of aircraft engaged it was impossible to confirm what types of aircraft were involved in these crashes or who shot them down.
The sky seemed clear of 42s’ although several Gladiators were still in the vicinity. I was about to turn for our base when a 42 attacked me from below. With the advantage of height I dived astern of him and after a short burst he spun into the ground into flames. As before the pilot didn’t abandon his aircraft. Flying Officer Graham confirms both my combats which ended decisively.
Seeing no further sign of Enemy Aircraft over the area, I turned towards our base. On my way home F/O Graham and P/O Linnard joined me in formation and my section landed at 19.10 hrs.”
“(…) set the aircraft on fire. First removing the water bottle and Very pistol. I walked for three hours away from the sun and then lay down to sleep. I slept till about 01.00 hours finding dense fog and myself wet through. I then dug a hole in some soft sand and buried my self. There I stayed till daylight. At about 06.30 next morning when the fog started to lift I started to walk into the sun until 15.00hrs. when I saw three armoured cars on the horizon. I fired three very light cartridges, the next thing I remember I was lying in the shade of the armoured car the crew told me I was about five miles from the wire.”He had been picked up by three armoured cars of the 11th Hussars.
Martissa, who was initially missing, had force-landed his CR.42 with a hundred bullet holes in it, only 15 kilometres from El Adem. The wounded pilot claimed the individual destruction of two Gladiators (not confirmed in the official documents of his unit but later credited to him by post-war studies). In fact, Martissa was awarded with a third Medaglia d’argento al valor militare (in as many months) for this action. The official motivation of the award stated that he: ”shared in the destruction of five enemy planes together with other pilots”. He survived his ordeal by drinking dewdrops at dawn but after two days, he was becoming to expect the worst. One of the bullets, which had hit his aircraft, had pierced the griffin's head of Squadriglia's badge on the port wheel cover and Martissa wrote with a knife on the white background disc of the badge:
“You, little griffin, have been struck in the head. I would have suffered less if I had been likewise! I'm not mortally wounded, but I shall pass away, since I can't walk for 10-20 km to reach a track. And it will be by hunger and thirst.”Martissa was found on 10 August by the XXII Compagnia Bersaglieri Motociclisti, led by Tenente Domenico Raspini, which was patrolling 80 km south of Tobruk. Raspini recalled:
"We saw an aircraft in the desert. We approached and found Tenente Martissa under a wing, with a leg almost torn off by an explosive bullet from a British fighter. We rescued him. He told us that if we didn't come [to save him], he'd shoot himself in the head with his gun, because he was dying of thirst.
We rescued the pilot and left the aircraft."
The Fiat CR.42 flown by Martissa (MM4306) was recovered and, in September 1940, assigned to the 84a Squadriglia of the 10o Gruppo as “84-4”.
Tenente Guiducci was also awarded with a Medaglia d’argento al Valor militare for this combat.
The Italians totally lost four aircraft while four more force-landed (it seems that all were later recovered). In return the Italian pilots claimed five Gladiators (three shared amongst the pilots of 10o Gruppo and two shared by the surviving 73a Squadriglia pilots) and two probables (the 90a Squadriglia’s Diary reported six victories). Remembering the combat for the press, the Italian leader (obviously Maggiore Romagnoli) recalled that even if the attack of the Gladiators was possibly the deadliest he had ever seen, the reaction of his pilots was ”miraculously immediate”. He had just heard the first bullets whistling around him when his right wingman already was breaking with a zoom. Then he saw in his gunsight, the belly of a Gladiator and shot this down (most likely Flight Sergeant Vaughan, who had overshot during the first bounce).
For this exploit, 80 Squadron received the Press honours as well as written congratulations from the RAF HQ Middle East. Dunn and his pilots had exploited the strong points of the Gladiator over the CR.42 to the maximum extent especially the radio equipment, which had permitted a coordinated attack, being also crucial for obtaining the initial surprise and the Gladiators superior low altitude overall performances.
During the combat, the Gladiator demonstrated another interesting characteristic: a markedly superior horizontal manoeuvrability over its opponent. On regard of this point, it is interesting to report the impressions of Flying Officer Stuckey and Flying Officer Linnard.
“With trimming gear slightly back, found I could easily out manoeuvre a/c attacking from rear. No blacking out.”After this combat, morale, particularly among the 9o Gruppo’s pilots suffering their first African experiences, fell considerably. The 73a Squadriglia was considered the top gun unit of 4o Stormo, its pilots (notably among them Enrico Dallari, Renzi, Valerio De Campo and Vittorio Pezzè) were mostly part of the last Italian aerobatic team, which had performed with great success in Berlin Staaken on 23 June 1939, in honour of the returning Condor Legion’s pilots. However, this air battle demonstrated clearly, even in a pure biplane dogfight, that good tactics and sound flight discipline, enhanced by R/T communications were better than the pure aerobatic skill. However, despite this heavy beating, operations for the 9o Gruppo restarted the next day.
“No difficulty in keeping astern of enemy aircraft. Enemy invariably looped for evasive action.”
On 11 September, the 9o and 10o Gruppo were still employed in standing patrols over the troops. During the second patrol of the day, at 17:45 in the Sidi Omar – Bardia area, a Blenheim was discovered at 6000 metres.
The Italian formation was escorting three CR.32s and was led by Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli. It was composed of seven CR.42s from the 84a Squadriglia (Capitano Luigi Monti, Capitano Vincenzo Vanni, Tenente Giuseppe Aurili, Sottotenente Paolo Berti, Sergente Roberto Steppi, Sergente Narciso Pillepich and Sergente Domenico Santonocito), five CR.42s from the 91a Squadriglia (Capitano D’Agostinis, Sottotenente Ruggero Caporali, Sergente Maggiore Leonardo Ferrulli, Sergente Elio Miotto and Sergente Alessandro Bladelli) and six CR.42s from the 90a Squadriglia (Tenente Giovanni Guiducci, Tenente Franco Lucchini, Sottotenente Neri De Benedetti, Maresciallo Omero Alesi, Sergente Maggiore Angelo Savini and Sergente Bruno Bortoletti).
Capitano Vanni, Tenente Aurili and Sergente Steppi attacked first, followed by other pilots of the formation. During the combat Vanni’s aircraft was hit by return fire and with the compressed air piping pierced, he was forced to turn back. His wingmen continued the pursuit and claimed the Blenheim shot down.
The bomber however was assigned as a shared to all the 10o Gruppo pilots presents (even if , for example, it is known that 90a Squadriglia pilots totally used only 140 rounds of ammunition so possibly only one of them was able to use his guns).
This claim can’t be verified with RAF sources but it is possible that it was a Blenheim from 113 Squadron since this unit’s ORB is lacking.
On 14 September, the 4o Stormo continued to protect the ground forces. A mixed formation of 23 CR.42s from the 9o Gruppo commanded by Maggiore Ernesto Botto with 15 CR.42s from the 10o Gruppo as high cover, took off at 10:25. At 11:00, over Sollum some 10o Gruppo pilots discovered a formation of four Bristol Blenheims. They attacked and claimed one shot down in flames. The bomber was credited as a shared to the whole formation from the 10o Gruppo (Tenente Giovanni Guiducci, Sottotenente Luigi Prati, Tenente Franco Lucchini and Sergente Bruno Bortoletti of the 90a Squadriglia and Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli, Capitano D’Agostinis, Sottotenente Andrea Dalla Pasqua, Sottotenente Ruggero Caporali, Sottotenente Carlo Albertini and Sergente Maggiore Leonardo Ferrulli of the 91a Squadriglia and Capitano Luigi Monti, Capitano Vincenzo Vanni, Tenente Giuseppe Aurili, Tenente Paolo Berti and Sergente Domenico Santonocito of the 84a Squadriglia).
Sottotenente Albertini later told that that the Blenheim had been left behind by its squadron and he fired at it all the rounds he had, but he could not destroy it. At the beginning, the bomber returned fire, but after being hit several times, they stopped and no sign of life could be noticed. He followed the bomber for a while, once finished his rounds, but nothing happened, and the Blenheim continued on the same route.
This clam can’t be verified with RAF records. The only known British actions for the day were a couple of afternoon bomber raids. Four Blenheims of 55 Squadron with others from 211 Squadron were ordered to attack Italian troops in the Sollum area in the first afternoon. The 55 Squadron quartet came back at 16:45 without suffering losses. Its pilots reported slight and ineffective AA fire and the presence of Italian fighters (but no interception occurred). Eight machines of 211 Squadron led by Gordon-Finalyson also attacked, claiming many hits in the target area. However, no Italian fighters were seen and all the bombers were back at around 17:10.
In the beginning of December 1940, there was some rotation among the commanders of the 10o Gruppo due to some unforeseen incidents. On 2 December, Capitano Renzo Maggini, was forced to return command of the 90a Squadriglia, 10o Gruppo, to Tenente Giovanni Guiducci for a second time and prepared to return to Italy after a relapse of his wounds from 28 June.
Capitano Giuseppe Aurili (formerly of the 84a Squadriglia) arrived back from Italy after a period of illness on 7 December to take command of the 90a Squadriglia but suffered a car accident on 8 December together with Capitano Maggini, Maggini died while Aurili remained critically wounded so Tenente Guiducci resumed command for the third time on 9 December.
Capitano Luigi Monti returned as CO of the 84a Squadriglia on 7 December after two months in Italy due to illness to relieve Capitano Vincenzo Vanni who instead replaced Capitano D’Agostinis as CO of the 91a Squadriglia , when D’Agostinis was forced to return to Italy due to illness.
On 1 March 1941 he was appointed Aiutante Maggiore of the 4o Stormo.
During April he was administratively in charge of the 97a Squadriglia, 9o Gruppo.
On 30 September, the 9o Gruppo began a new duty tour against Malta. They were based at Comiso, flying on the brand-new Macchi MC.202s.
D’Agostinis performed some patrol missions, apparently without having contact with the enemy.
On 16 December 1941, D’Agostinis was promoted to Maggiore.
On 13 January 1942, Maggiore D’Agostinis replaced Maggiore Giovanni Borzoni as commander of the 22o Gruppo Autonomo C.T. (359a, 362a, 369a and 371a Squadriglie). This unit was at the time taking part in the Russian campaign and was based at Stalion airfield (some parts of the 359a Squadriglia was based at Saporoskje in present Ukraine) with Macchi C.200s.
D’Agostinis had a rather difficult travel to reach his new unit. He went comfortably to Bucharest by train, but here abundant snowfalls prevented the planes to take off, so, after some days of wait, he had to continue by train. He reached Leopolis aboard a shaking troop-train, at a speed of a few miles per day. Ten days later, he arrived, aching all over, to Dnjeprotrowskij. From here, he reached Stalino airfield on a tossing military supplies truck, on 13 January, after another very uncomfortable trip.
When he arrived at his unit, he inherited Maggiore Borzoni’s aircraft; C.200 369-1 (probably MM5311), identified by a thin white band forward of the tail.
On 28 February, a mixed formation from the 362a Squadriglia (Capitano Germano La Ferla, Tenente Giovanni Beduz, Tenente Oberdan Militano, Tenente Giulio Torresi and Tenenente Frank Passerini), 369a Squadriglia (Capitano Giovanni Cervellin, Tenente Walter Benedetti, Sottotenente Giuseppe Biron and Maresciallo Romano Pesavento) and 359a Squadriglia (Capitano Vittorio Minguzzi) led by the 22o Gruppo’s CO, Maggiore D’Agostinis (on his first mission over the Eastern front) flew a fighter sweep. At 15:00, they intercept ten Soviet fighters identified as "I-26s" (probably Yak-1s) and "I-27s" (probably Yak-7s at 4,500 meters over Alexandrowka. Two "I-26s" were claimed as shared by the pilots from 362a and 369a Squadriglie together with Maggiore D’Agostinis. Capitano Minguzzi claimed one and one probable "I-27". Two C.200s were damaged in the combat but managed to return to Stalino airfield.
On 3 March, Maggiore D’Agostinis together with Capitano Giovanni Cervellin, Tenente Giovanni Bond and Sottotenente Adriano Moresi of the 369a Squadriglia and Tenente Edgardo Vaghi and Sottotenente Dino Signorini of the 362a Squadriglia fought with “I-180” fighters over Debalzewo-Olikowatka. The combat ended with uncertain results, but probably were several Soviet aircraft damaged.
At 09:45 on 17 March, 14 C.200s of the 22o Gruppo took off from Stalino for a strafing mission on Luskotowa airfield, escorted by two Luftwaffe Bf 109F-4s from 1./JG 77. Among the participating pilots were Maggiore D’Agostinis, Capitano Germano La Ferla, Tenente Edgardo Vaghi, Tenente Giulio Torresi, Tenenente Frank Passerini, Sergente Maggiore Fausto Fornaci (362a Squadriglia, 9 victories in WWII) and Sergente Attilio Sanson (362a Squadriglia, 12 victories in WWII). According to D’Agostinis were no less than ten I-16s destroyed on the ground.
From 12 March, the 22o Gruppo was gradually withdrawn to Italy leaving their worn-out C.200s in Russia and being replaced by the 21o Gruppo (356a, 361a, 382a and 386a Squadriglie) from early May.
The 22o Gruppo flew 68 missions, took part in 19 air combats and flew 11 ground attack missions in Russia.
The Gruppo was credited with 66 destroyed, 16 probables and 45 damaged and awarded a Medaglia d’argento al valor militare.
After this tour in on the Eastern front, D’Agostinis returned to the 4o Stormo.
After the death of Maggiore Paolo Tito Maddalena (he became MIA on 3 July 1942), Maggiore D’Agostinis took command of the 10o Gruppo on 18 July relieving Capitano Franco Lucchini from his temporary command.. This Gruppo had returned to North Africa for a second desert tour in May 1942. At this time, the unit was based at Fuka and equipped with Macchi MC.202s. This was an intense period, during which he led his Gruppo several times against British forces.
In order to support Rommel’s last advance, at 05:25 on 31 August, twenty MC.202s of the 10o Gruppo took off to strafe three enemy airfields in the Burg el Arab area, 60 km beyond the frontline. The plan was for eight pilots to strafe, while the others were to cover them. The eight pilots were Maggiore D’Agostinis with Capitano Franco Lucchini (CO), Tenente Luigi Giannella, Tenente Ezio Bevilacqua and Sergente Livio Barbera of the 84a Squadriglia, Capitano Carlo Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa (CO) and Tenente Orlando Mandolini of the 91a Squadriglia, and Sottotenente Vittorino Daffara of the 97a Squadriglia, 9o Gruppo.
During the approach, off El Alamein and at 4000 m over the sea, Giannella saw that Bevilacqua, Lucchini’s wingman, had a water leakage in his cooler. Giannella notified Bevilacqua this by gestures (the Italian Allocchio-Bacchini radios were unreliable) and Bevilacqua turned back. Giannella decided to lead him home, so he gestured to his own wingman, Barbera, to continue to follow the Gruppo. However, Barbera misunderstood this communication, and he too followed Giannella. The engine on Bevilacqua’s fighter sized after a couple of minutes and he and parachuted from 600 m into the sea; he swam westward for three hours and reached the shore seven kilometres inside friendly lines. Unaware of this, Giannella landed at Fuka with Barbera (perhaps mistaking him for Bevilacqua).
With the strafing force reduced to five, Maggiore D’Agostinis went inland well before the target. Sottotenente Paolo Berti (84a Squadriglia) spotted two Spitfires below them, but the enemy fighters didn’t attack. The Italians first strafed the southern airfield, finding only few aircraft but an intense ground fire. Subsequently they attacked the other two fields with three passes, each one from a different direction, managing to make the last pass in northern direction towards the sea, in order to minimize ground reaction. Five Lysanders, five P-40s, three Gladiators, an Albacore and an unidentified monoplane were severely damaged, and a lot of material and trucks was destroyed. British fighters scrambled from Alexandria airfields and tried uneventfully to reach the intruders.
On the return flight, the 10o Gruppo’s pilots met and attacked two P-40s, one of which was damaged.
Early in the morning on 2 September, the 4o Stormo was back in action. At 06:10, Maggiore D’Agostinis led 18 MC.202s of the 10o Gruppo over Bir Mseilik area. A formation of twelve Spitfires was intercepted and subsequently two large formations of Bostons, Spitfires and P-40s were met. The combat developed into many individual dogfights, lasting about 15 minutes. Six Spitfires and one Boston were claimed for the loss of Maresciallo Pietro Del Turco (MM7785) from 90a Squadriglia. Claiming pilots were Capitano Franco Lucchini (84a Squadriglia; MC.202 MM7901/84-3), who claimed one Spitfire and one Boston, Capitano Carlo Ruspoli (91a Squadriglia) one Spitfire, Maggiore D’Agostinis (flying an MC.202 from 91a Squadriglia) one Spitfire, Sottotenente Luciano Barsotti (91a Squadriglia) one Spitfire, Maresciallo Leonardo Ferrulli (91a Squadriglia) one Spitfire and finally Capitano Ranieri Piccolomini and Tenente Luigi Padovani (both 91a Squadriglia), which claimed one Spitfire as a shared. The Italian fighters were back at base at 07:45.
Ten Spitfire Vcs of 92 Squadron took off on an offensive sweep at 07:20, meeting MC.202s of the 10o Gruppo in the El Alamein area. Lieutenants “Bill” Rabie (BR475/QJ-A) and J. M. Faure (BR479/QJ-E), both on attachment from 1 SAAF Squadron, claimed an MC.202 and a Bf 109F respectively. Rabie was then shot down, baling out from 15,000 feet; Rabie arrived back with the squadron during the afternoon. Flight Sergeant R. Hempstead (BR573/QJ-T) claimed one Bf 109 damaged while Flight Lieutenant John Morgan (BR525/QJ-S) claimed two more Bf 109s as damaged. The Canadian, Pilot Officer Louis Bavincourt (RCAF no. J/15767) was killed in combat when he failed to return (Spitfire Vc BR515/QJ-D).
The Italian pilots were clearly delighted with their success, claiming six Spitfires shot down as well as a Boston; there is no record of a Boston being lost on this date, however.
The combat appears to have been witnessed by eight Messerschmitt pilots of III./JG 53, who were escorting Stukas and reported seeing a British bomber formation with a strong escort, including four Spitfires as top cover. They recorded that as they watched, one Spitfire crashed
Shortly after lunch on 3 September a number of engagements took place in the El Alamein area with Italian fighters involved.
Seven Bf 109s of III./JG 53 escorted Jabos at 12:25, fighting 20 British fighters near El Alamein. Twelve Macchis suddenly appeared and made a reportedly spirited attack, but without success.
Six Kittyhawks of 3 RAAF Squadron and five of 450 Squadron (13:52-15:09) escorted 18 Baltimores to Deir el Raghil at 13:55 but were attacked by 16 Bf 109s and 13 MC.202s, Sergeant W. W. Thomas of 3 RAAF being severely wounded and his aircraft (Kittyhawk I EV167) badly damaged, but he reached base where he crash-landed. Flight Sergeant Raymond Dyson (EV158) and Sergeant H. R. Hannaford (EV367) of 450 Squadron each claimed to have probably shot down a Bf 109E, but Hannaford was also wounded, and his aircraft damaged, crash-landing at base like Thomas.
MC.202s of the 10o Gruppo were involved in actions between 11:40-13:20. Maggiore D’Agostinis (CO) led 13 fighters on a free sweep mission over the El Alamein area; a formation of 12 Hurricanes, covered by ten P-40s was engaged and two ‘Hurribombers’ were claimed. One of them was credited to Tenente Luigi Padovani south-east of El Alamein and the second was credited over El Alamein as a shared between eight pilots including Capitano Franco Lucchini (MM7901/84-3). At the end of this combat another formation was encountered comprising 12 Bostons escorted by ten P-40s and eight Spitfires. A long fight followed and two P-40s were claimed by Maggiore D’Agostinis and Sergente Maggiore Giovanni Battista Ceoletta (90a Squadriglia) plus one Boston probable by Tenente Luigi Giannella (84a Squadriglia), for no losses.
Following an uneventful morning sortie 19 MC.202s of the 23o Gruppo had taken off again at 12:40 to patrol over the front line. A large formation of 18 twin-engined bombers, identified as Bostons, escorted by about 35 P-40s, was reported and three of the fighters were claimed as destroyed, plus two probables. Attacks were made on several others and one more was claimed damaged. Three of the claims were made by the 75a Squadriglia 30 kilometres south of El Alamein when Sergente Luigi Bozzolan claimed one destroyed, Maggiore Luigi Filippi one damaged and Sergente Aldo Orsucci a second destroyed. 70a Squadriglia made two claims over El Alamein when Sergente Carlo Papa claimed one probable and Capitano Claudio Solaro claimed one destroyed. The last claim, also over El Almein, was claimed as a probable by Tenente Giorgio Solaroli di Briona of 70a Squadriglia. The MC.202 flown by Sergente Papa was damaged and force-landed south of El Alamein. The 23o Gruppo landed again at 14:25
It is possible that 3 RAAF Squadron took part in this engagement since Sergeant G. G. Scribner (Kittyhawk Ia AL167/F) claimed a probable MC.202 over Deir el Raghil at 14:30.
Around this time seven Bf 109s of II./JG 27 carried out a Freie Jagd, first engaging ten Curtiss fighters, followed by 15 more Curtiss or Hurricanes, and 15 Spitfires. Oberleutnant Sinner claimed one P-40 at 14:25 south of El Hammam and a Spitfire south of Bir Ibrahim at 14:35.
Three Kittyhawks of 4 SAAF Squadron provided top cover to 15 Bostons and six B-25s, 260 and the 66th US Squadron flying close and medium covers. Six plus enemy aircraft were reported and three were seen, Pilot Officer J. C. Joerns (Kittyhawk I EV352) failing to return, his aircraft last being seen going down at 15:15 pouring black smoke. He was reported safe in hospital next day.
As of 8 November 1942 (on the launch of Operation Torch in North Africa), Maggiore D’Agostinis served as CO of the 10o Gruppo CT. The unit was based at Martuba, Libya, and equipped with MC.202s.
After the battle of El Alamein, the Axis forces gradually retreated. In early December, the 10o Gruppo was at Castelbenito to be sent back to Italy; the last pilots to leave, on 12 December, were Maggiore D’Agostinis, Tenente Luigi Giannella and Capitano Ranieri Piccolomini (CO 90a Squadriglia).
During the period January 1942 – January 1943, the 4o Stormo flew 7202 hours on missions, took part in 133 combats, claimed 289 aircraft destroyed (totally 501 from the beginning of the war) and lost 24 pilots KIA or MIA with 29 wounded and 2 POWs.
After a period of rest, on 24 February 1943, pilots of the 10o Gruppo rejoined to reorganize the unit at Bresso airfield, under the command of Maggiore D’Agostinis.
Pilots in the 84a Squadriglia were Capitano Franco Lucchini (CO) (hospitalized), Tenente Luigi Giannella, Tenente Alessandro Mettimano, Sottotenente Francesco De Seta, Sottotenente Ugo Picchiottini, Maresciallo Luigi Bignami, Sergente Maggiore Domenico Santonocito, Sergente Maggiore Corrado Patrizi, Sergente Maggiore Piero Buttazzi, Sergente Maggiore Luciano Perdoni and Sergente Livio Barbera.
Pilots in the 90a Squadriglia were Capitano Ranieri Piccolomini (CO), Sottotenente Sforza Libera, Sottotenente Renato Baroni, Sottotenente Luigi Cima, Sergente Maggiore Massimo Salvatore, Sergente Maggiore Bruno Bortoletti, Sergente Maggiore Giovanni Battista Ceoletta, Sergente Maggiore Amleto Monterumici and Sergente Maggiore Natale Molteni.
Pilots in the 91a Squadriglia were Capitano Luigi Mariotti (CO), Tenente Giuseppe Ferazzani, Tenente Alvaro Bondi, Sottotenente Leonardo Ferrulli, Sottotenente Elio Miotto, Sottotenente Guerriero Silvestri, Sottotenente Vittorino Daffara, Maresciallo Alessandro Bladelli, Maresciallo Lamberto Martelli, Sergente Maggiore Ferruccio Terrabuio, Sergente Ambrogio Rusconi and Sergente Giulio Fornalé.
On 20 April, the Gruppo transferred to Ciampino Sud for the defence of Rome.
On 20 June 1943, Maggiore D’Agostinis passed the command of the 10o Gruppo to Capitano Franco Lucchini.
After this Maggiore D’Agostinis held non-combat commands in the Regia Aeronautica.
D’Agostinis ended the war with 1 biplane victory and a total of 3.
Post-war, with the rank of Tenente Colonnello, he commanded the 4o Stormo Caccia, equipped with North American F-51D Mustangs, from early 1948 to December 1949, and the 3o Stormo, equipped with Lockheed P-38/F-5 from September 1951 to January 1954.
During his career he was decorated with three Medaglie d’argento al valor militare, one Croce al merito di guerra, one Medaglia commemorativa della campagna di Spagna and one Medaglia di benemerenza per i volontari della guerra Spagna
|Kill no.||Date||Time||Number||Type||Result||Plane type||Serial no.||Locality||Unit|
|1||28/08/36||1||S.62 (a)||Destroyed||Fiat CR.32||’Black 1’||Puerto Cristo Bay||Squadriglia Mussolini|
|31/05/37||1/3||Potez 540 (b)||Shared destroyed||Fiat CR.32||’4’||Mallorca area||101aSquadriglia|
|04/08/40||16:50-||1||Gladiator (c)||Shared destroyed||Fiat CR.42||Ridotta Capuzzo area||91a Squadriglia|
|04/08/40||16:50-||1||Gladiator (c)||Shared destroyed||Fiat CR.42||Ridotta Capuzzo area||91a Squadriglia|
|04/08/40||16:50-||1||Blenheim (c)||Shared destroyed||Fiat CR.42||Ridotta Capuzzo area||91a Squadriglia|
|04/08/40||16:50-||1||Blenheim (c)||Shared destroyed||Fiat CR.42||Ridotta Capuzzo area||91a Squadriglia|
|04/08/40||16:50-||1||Blenheim (c)||Shared destroyed||Fiat CR.42||Ridotta Capuzzo area||91a Squadriglia|
|04/08/40||16:50-||1||Gladiator (c)||Shared probable||Fiat CR.42||Ridotta Capuzzo area||91a Squadriglia|
|04/08/40||16:50-||1||Gladiator (c)||Shared probable||Fiat CR.42||Ridotta Capuzzo area||91a Squadriglia|
|08/08/40||18:00-||1/7||Gladiator (d)||Shared destroyed||Fiat CR.42||Gabr Saleh area||91a Squadriglia|
|08/08/40||18:00-||1/7||Gladiator (d)||Shared destroyed||Fiat CR.42||Gabr Saleh area||91a Squadriglia|
|08/08/40||18:00-||1/7||Gladiator (d)||Shared destroyed||Fiat CR.42||Gabr Saleh area||91a Squadriglia|
|11/09/40||1/19||Blenheim (e)||Shared destroyed||Fiat CR.42||Sidi Omar - Bardia area||91a Squadriglia|
|14/09/40||11:00-||1/15||Blenheim (f)||Shared destroyed||Fiat CR.42||Sollum area||91a Squadriglia|
|28/02/42||15:00||1/10||I-26 (g)||Shared destroyed||MC.200||Alexandrowka||22o Gruppo|
|28/02/42||15:00||1/10||I-26 (g)||Shared destroyed||MC.200||Alexandrowka||22o Gruppo|
|2||02/09/42||06:10-07:45||1||Spitfire (h)||Destroyed||MC.202||Bir Mseilikh area||10o Gruppo|
|3||03/09/42||11:40-13:20||1||P-40||Destroyed||MC.202||SE El Alamein||10o Gruppo|
Biplane victories: 1 and 11 shared destroyed, 2 shared probables.
TOTAL: 3 and 13 shared destroyed, 2 shared probables.
(a) Republican S.62 forced to ditch; Capitano José Maria Freire killed and Capitano Fernando Beneito safe. The aircraft was claimed as destroyed but in fact, it was only damaged, and was later recovered by the Republican merchant ship Mar Negro.
(b) Potez 540 flown by Czechoslovak pilot Jan Ferak shot down.
(c) Claimed in combat with bombers probably from 55 and 211 and/or 113 Squadrons and probably Gladiators from 112 Squadron. One Blenheim from 211 Squadron seems to have force-landed and was lost in this combat. None of other RAF units reported any losses or claims. The Italian fighters from the 9o and 10o Gruppi totally claimed 3 Blenheims and 2 and 2 probable Gladiators.
(d) Claimed in combat with 80 Squadron, which lost 2 Gladiators and 1 pilot while claiming 14 and 6 probably destroyed. 9o and 10o Gruppi C.T. claimed 5 and 2 probably destroyed Gladiators while losing 4 CR.42s, 4 fighters force-landed (it seems that all were later recovered) and one pilot KIA.
(e) This claim can’t be verified with RAF sources.
(f) This claim can’t be verified with RAF records.
(g) I-26 = Yak-1.
(h) Probably claimed in combat with Spitfire Vcs from 92 Squadron, which claimed 1 MC.202 and 1 Bf 109 destroyed and 3 Bf 109s damaged while losing 2 Spitfires (1 pilot KIA). 10o Gruppo claimed 6 Spitfires and 1 Boston while losing 1 MC.202 (pilot KIA).
55 Squadron Operations Record Book
Ace of Aces: M T StJ Pattle - E C R Baker, 1992 Crécy Books, Somerton, ISBN 0-947554-36-X
Aces High - Christopher Shores and Clive Williams, 1994 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-00-0
Aces High Volume 2 - Christopher Shores, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-03-9
A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945: Volume Two – Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello with Russell Guest, Frank Olynyk & Winfried Bock, 2012 Grub Street, London, ISBN-13: 9781909166127
A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945: Volume Three – Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello with Russell Guest, Frank Olynyk & Winfried Bock, 2016 Grub Street, London, ISBN-13: 9781910690000
Ali Sulla Steppa: La Regia Aeronautica nella campagna di Russia – Nicola Malizia, 2008 IBN Editore, Roma, ISBN 88-7565-049-7
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 84a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Diario Storico 90a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Diario Storico 91a 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
GORIZIA ed il QUARTO STORMO
Gloster Gladiator - Alex Crawford, 2002 Mushroom Model Publications, ISBN 83-916327-0-9
Gloster Gladiator Home Page - Alexander Crawford.
Guerra di Spagna e Aviazione Italiana - Ferdinando Pedriali, 1992 USSMA, Rome, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Hurricanes over Tobruk - Brian Cull with Don Minterne, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-11-X
I caccia delle Baleari - Alessandro Santarelli, 1999 Aerofan no. 70 (XVII), Jul-Sept 1999, Giorgio Apostolo Editore, Milan, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Le Giovani Aquile – Antonino Trizzino, 1972 Longanesi, Milano, (narration by Guglielmo Biffani at GORIZIA ed il QUARTO STORMO) kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Quelli del Cavallino Rampante - Antonio Duma, 1981 Editore Dell'Ateneo, Roma, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Storia Aeronautica Italiana
Stormi d'Italia - Giulio Lazzati, 1975 Mursia, Milan, ISBN 88-425-1946-4, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
The Desert Air War 1939 – 1945 – Richard Townshend Bickers, 1991 Leo Cooper, London, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Additional information kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro, Petr Lukes, Ondrej Repka and Ludovico Slongo