Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Sottotenente Bruno Devoto

In December 1940, Sottotenente Bruno Devoto served in the 84a Squadriglia, 10o Gruppo C.T., in North Africa. This unit was at the time equipped with Fiat CR.42s.

On 10 December, eight CR.42s of the 84a Squadriglia (Capitano Luigi Monti, Sottotenente Paolo Berti, Sottotenente Luigi Prati, Sottotenente Devoto, Sergente Roberto Steppi, Sergente Ononrino Crestani, Sergente Luciano Perdoni and Sergente Piero Buttazzi) took off from Menastir at 15:00 to escort SM 79s out to attack enemy armoured vehicles in the Bir El Kreighat area.
Buttazzi and Devoto returned 15:45 after having lost the rest of the formation in bad visibility (Ghibli). During the landing, Devoto hit a parked CR.42 and both aircraft being written off even if the pilot remained unhurt. Monti and the other pilots were back at 16:25.
The bombers were a formation of six SM 79s from the 14o Stormo (two vics led by Capitano Brescianini and Tenente Varotto) plus five from the 33o Gruppo led by Capitano Loris Bulgarelli in Regia Aeronautica’s first bombing effort of the day. Over the target the bombers had to abort because sand clouds covered all the area, making aiming impossible.

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

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

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

The last Italian bombing mission of the day on 27 December was again against Sollum. Four SM 79s from the 41o Stormo under Tenente Colonnello D’Ippolito and four bombers from the 216a Squadriglia, 34o Stormo, led by Tenente Romanini took off from Tmini at 14:30.
They were escorted by fighters from the 23o Gruppo and 10o Gruppi. Maggiore Tito Falconi was at the head of the formation of the first unit, which also included Tenente Claudio Solaro, Sottotenente Oscar Abello and Sergente Ubaldo Marziali from the 70a Squadriglia, Tenente Mario Pinna, Sottotenente Milano Pausi and Sergente Giuseppe Sanguettoli from the 74a Squadriglia and Tenente Pietro Calistri, Tenente Ezio Maria Monti, Maresciallo Giovanni Carmello, Sergente Leo Mannucci and Sottotenente Leopoldo Marangoni from the 75a Squadriglia.
It seems that the bomber formation split and the 41o Stormo attacked British mechanized units in Halfaya and Gabr Bu Fares under heavy AA that damaged, although slightly, all the aircraft. The SM 79s of the 34o Stormo attacked ships in Sollum harbour and were intercepted by many Hurricanes. The SM 79s were totally unable to defend themselves because of icing on all the guns and one of them was shot down. This was Sottotenente Aldo Peterlini’s bomber and Peterlini was killed together with three of his crew (Sergente Maggiore Arturo Scagnetti (second pilot), Aviere Scelto Motorista Alcide Frizzera and Aviere Scelto Radiotelegrafista Gioacchino Scuderi). The other two members of the crew (Primo Aviere Armiere Ciancilla and Primo Aviere Montatore Fiore) where able to bale out. Tenente Pandolfi’s aircraft was riddled by enemy bullets (probably RD) while the other two SM 79s were less seriously damaged although suffering some wounded among their crews.
They had been intercepted by 33 Squadron which claimed three SM 79s and one probable and probably two CR.42s during offensive patrols performed by pairs of Hurricanes over Sollum. They also claimed one SM 79 and one CR.42 damaged. Vernon Woodward claimed one of the probable CR.42s and the damaged CR.42.
Falconi’s pilots recorded combat with many Hurricanes, one of which was claimed as probable by the 70a Squadriglia and six more were damaged. Tenente Solaro and Sottotenente Abello returned with damaged fighters. Solaro had been hit by AA fire and Sottotenente Abello by British fighters. Calistri and his men claimed a shared Hurricane and four more damaged. They landed back at 16:55. A shot down Hurricane was also recorded by the 74a Squadriglia, which also recorded a SM 79 shot down by AA fire.
The CR.42 escort from the 10o Gruppo was composed of seven fighters from the 90a Squadriglia (Tenente Giovanni Guiducci, Tenente Franco Lucchini, Sottotenente Alessandro Rusconi, Sottotenente Neri De Benedetti, Sergente Alfredo Sclavo, Sergente Bruno Bortoletti and Sergente Enrico Botti), six from the 84a Squadriglia (Capitano Luigi Monti, Tenente Antonio Angeloni, Sottotenente Devoto, Sergente Maggiore Salvatore Mechelli, Sergente Domenico Santonocito and Sergente Piero Buttazzi) and six from the 91a Squadriglia (Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli, Capitano Vincenzo Vanni, Sottotenente Andrea Dalla Pasqua, Sottotenente Orlando Mandolini, Sottotenente Ennio Grifoni and Sergente Elio Miotto). Tenente Guiducci reported that the heavy AA immediately hit one of the SM 79s, which was shot down. Then five monoplanes (Hurricanes and Spitfires(!)) tried to attack but were immediately counterattacked and one of them was shot down. Later, another attempt by a lone British fighter failed after the intervention of the Italian escort. The 90a Squadriglia pilots expanded 320 rounds of ammunition and it seems that in the end the victory was assigned to the whole formation as a Gruppo victory. It seems that it was the same aircraft claimed independently by the two Squadriglie of the 23o Gruppo.

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

On 5 January, the HQ of the 14a Brigata Aerea Rex passed orders to the 10o Gruppo to retreat back to Italy. The fighters were handed over to the 23o Gruppo while the section at T5 (with Sottotenete Devoto) remained temporarily detached there (they followed back to Italy on 8 January). Pilots and aircraftmen moved from Ain el Gazala Z1 to Benghazi during the same morning.
For the 4o Stormo, the first North African campaign was definitely over. From the official documents collected in the proposal for the Medaglia d’argento al valor militare to be assigned to the Stormo for its first tour of duty, the unit from 10 June 1940 to 31 December 1941 claimed 95 British planes in 5480 sorties and 40 combats. Considering that in the short period up to 4 January the Stormo claimed another 5 victories in 101 sorties and four combats and that one of the claims (although possibly a “probable”) was made over Malta the total score for the Stormo in Africa was reputed between 99 and 100 confirmed victories. “Top gun” of the unit was the 91a Squadriglia’s Sergente Maggiore Leonardo Ferrulli with a total of seven victories while one of the pilots, Sergente Lido Poli, was awarded the Medaglia d’Oro al valor militare as one of the very few such medals not awarded posthumously. The unit’s grand total looks for sure overestimated but together with the ten pilots killed (seven of them in action), four taken prisoners and 17 wounded (mainly in action) gives a clear indication of the intensity of the air combats to which the unit participated. Several of victories and combat took place at unknown time and places, this is mainly due to the general incompleteness and sometimes low accuracy of the unit’s record that were reconstructed in 1941 after the loss of the original documents during the sinking of the merchant vessel Città di Messina, which was returning the crewmen of the Stormo to Italy.

Devoto ended the war with 4 shared biplane victories.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
  23/12/40 08:30-11:05 1/17 Hurricane (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Sidi Azeiz area 84a Squadriglia
  23/12/40 08:30-11:05 1/17 Hurricane (a) Shared probable Fiat CR.42   Sidi Azeiz area 84a Squadriglia
  23/12/40 08:30-11:05 1/17 Hurricane (a) Shared damaged Fiat CR.42   Sidi Azeiz area 84a Squadriglia
  26/12/40 13:00-15:05 1/22 Gladiator (b) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 84a Squadriglia
  26/12/40 13:00-15:05 1/22 Gladiator (b) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 84a Squadriglia
  26/12/40 13:00-15:05 1/22 Gladiator (b) Shared probable Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 84a Squadriglia
  26/12/40 13:00-15:05 1/22 Gladiator (b) Shared probable Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 84a Squadriglia
  27/12/40 14:30- 1/19 Hurricane (c) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 84a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 4 shared destroyed, 3 shared probables, 1 shared damaged.
TOTAL: 4 shared destroyed, 3 shared probables, 1 shared damaged.
(a) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 274 Squadron, which claimed one CR.42 while suffering one damaged Hurricane. 10o Gruppo claimed one, one probable and one damaged Hurricanewhile suffering one damaged CR.42.
(b) Claimed in combat with Gladiators from 3 RAAF Squadron, which claimed 2 and 3 probables without any losses, and possibly Hurricanes from 33 Squadron, which claimed a damaged CR.42 during the day. The 23o Gruppo claimed 1 Hurricane and 1 Gladiator and the 10o Gruppo claimed 2 and 2 probable Gladiators while losing one CR.42 and getting five more damaged.
(c) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 33 Squadron, which claimed two probable CR.42s and one damaged without losses. The 10o and 23o Gruppi claimed 3 Hurricanes and 1 probably shot down with another 10 damaged while suffering 3 damaged CR.42s.

Sources:
2o Stormo - Note storiche dal 1925 al 1975 - Gino Strada, 1975 USSMA, Rome, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Desert Prelude: Early clashes June-November 1940 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2010 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-89450-52-4
Desert Prelude: Operation Compass - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2011 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-61421-18-4
Quelli del Cavallino Rampante - Antonio Duma, 1981 Editore Dell'Ateneo, Roma kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Additional information kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo




Last modified 05 May 2012