Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Tenente Franco De Micheli

Franco De Micheli served with 413a Squadriglia, equipped with Fiat CR.42s, in the East African campaign of 1940-41.

On the evening of 29 December 1940, four Hurricanes of ‘B’ Flight, 2 SAAF Squadron, led by Flight Lieutenant Robert Blake (Hurricane V7283) and including Lieutenant J. A. Kok (Hurricane R4104), Captain A. Q. Masson and Lieutenant A. M. Colenbrander raided Bardera airfield. During the attack one S.81 was set on fire and two more were possibly badly damaged.
Three CR.42s, which were at a satellite strip, were scrambled. Tenente De Micheli and Sottotenente Osvaldo Bartolozzi got off first, but Sergente Strano had to wait for the dust they had raised to subside before he could follow. This same dust brought the Hurricanes down on him as he begun his run and one attacked him, firing two bursts. The first of these hit the left side of the aircraft and put 17 splinters into his body, also damaging the throttle control, while the second burst struck the right side, puncturing the compressed air cylinder. Strano continued his run, however, taking off under attack. Without compressed air he was unable to operate his guns and had to manoeuvre wildly to escape being shot down. He later landed with the tyres flat and the fabric stripped completely from the rear fuselage. The Hurricanes meanwhile continued their strafing, unaware that two CR.42s had already got into the air. Flying cover, Blake saw the Italian fighters climbing up, but as the Hurricanes were not as this stage fitted with radio, was unable to warn either his wingman, Lieutenant J. A. Kok, or the other Hurricane pilots who were now making their third strafe. Although Blake made a dummy pass on Kok’s aircraft in an effort to attract his attention, the latter did not catch on in time, and Tenente De Micheli was enable to engage Kok in a dogfight, while Bartolozzi similarly engaged Blake. The fight continued, according to observers on the ground, for around seven to nine minutes, De Micheli then shooting down Kok’s Hurricane in flames; the pilot baled out and became a prisoner, having been slightly wounded. Bartolozzi finally managed to get a good burst into Blake’s Hurricane from below, wounding the pilot in the foot and setting fire to the fuel tank. Burned around the waist and legs, Blake was unable to climb out of his cockpit, so he turned his aircraft on its back and fell out at 700 feet. On landing by parachute he was almost immediately surrounded by ‘banda’, followed soon after by an Italian officer, and taken prisoner. Blake was removed to the airfield sick quarters where Sergente Strano just had been brought in. Blake was now in bad shape from his wounds and was later moved to the town hospital for more extensive treatment, as the wound to his foot was quite severe. He remained in the hospital for some time.

In March 1941, De Mecheli was promoted to commander of the 413a Squadriglia.

In the afternoon on 28 March, Tenente Luciano Cacciavillani with four other CR.42s led by Tenente De Micheli, patrolled the railway Moggio-Awash and landed at Ganami.

At this airfield, the following day, on 29 March, all the five CR.42s of the 413a Squadriglia (Tenente De Micheli, Tenente Luciano Cacciavillani, Sergente Maggiore Danesin and two more pilots) and two CR.32s of the 410a Squadriglia (Sottotenente Silvano and Sergente Maggiore Antonio Giardinà) took off at 06:05.
At 07:00, four of the aircraft (including Cacciavillani) strafed the main landing ground of Jijiga airport while the other three circled overhead as top cover. In the first pass a Ju 52/3m (No. 660), a Valentia (No. 264) and a Hartbeeste were set on fire; two of the Ju 52/3ms that were damaged in an attack on the 26th were also shot up again (three was claimed by the Italian pilots as damaged according to Cacciavillani's logbook), as was a Leopard Moth of the Communcation Squadron (not claimed by the Italian pilots).
The Italians did not discover the fighter satellite strip and two stand-by Hurricanes of 3 SAAF Squadron flown by Captain S van Breda Theron and Lieutenant Venter at once took off. Theron was no sooner in the air than his aircraft received a bullet in the cooling system (from an airfield defence Lewis gun, it was suspected); he went in to land again, but as he did so he was attacked by Sergente Maggiore Antonia Giardinà in a CR.32. The Hurricane was set on fire and Theron was wounded in the leg. As soon as Giardinà saw Theron leap out on to the wing, which he did the moment his Hurricane touched the ground, the Fiat pilot ceased firing. A CR.42 then arrived on the scene and opened fire on the Hurricane, although to the personnel on the ground it appeared that it was the fleeing pilot who was the target.
Tenente Cacciavillani reported being attacked by Hurricanes and at the end of the fight, he claimed two of them destroyed and one more probable shared.
Lieutenant Venter meanwhile was attacked by three Fiats and his aircraft was riddled with bullets, but he managed to shot down one Fiat, which fell in flames and crashed, the pilot, Sottotenente Silvano (This aircraft was claimed as a CR.42, but was in fact one of the CR.32s). AA gunners of the 5th Battery, SAA, claimed to have shot down a CR.42 also, but only Silvano’s aircraft was lost during the attack. During the attack on the main airfield a 41 SAAF Squadron gunner had climbed into the rear cockpit of a Hartbeeste to return fire, while more Hurricanes were now scrambling, giving chase as the enemy fighters sped away towards the hills around Diredawa. Captain Frost chased two CR.42s flown by De Micheli and Sergente Maggiore Danesin, following them through valleys and over peaks, finally getting close enough to them without being seen, to shoot down Danesin’s aircraft, the pilot being killed.

De Mecheli ended the war with 1 biplane victory.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
? 29/12/40   1 Hurricane (a) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Bardera 413a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 1 destroyed.
TOTAL: 1 destroyed.
(a) Hurricane of ‘B’ Flight, 2 SAAF Squadron, flown by Lieutenant J.A. Kok, destroyed. Kok became POW.

Sources:
Luciano Cacciavillani's personal logbook courtesy of Cacciavillani family (Luciano jr and Alberto)
Dust Clouds in the Middle East - Christopher Shores, 1996 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-37-X
Springbok Fighter Victory: East Africa Volume 1 1940 – 1941 – Michael Shoeman, 2002 African Aviation Series No. 11, Freeworld Publications CC, ISBN 0-958-4388-5-4
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Additional info kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro, Michele Palermo and Ludovico Slongo.




Last modified 13 December 2010