Biplane fighter aces


Capitano Ugo Drago

3 March 1915 – 22 April 2007

Photo kindly via Ferdinando D'Amico.

Date Decoration Note
??/??/41 Medaglia d’argento al valor militare (1st) 1940-43
??/??/42 Medaglia d’argento al valor militare (2nd) 1940-43
??/??/43 Medaglia d’argento al valor militare (3rd) 1940-43
??/??/?? Medaglia d’argento al valor militare (4th) 1943-45
??/??/40 Croce di guerra al valor militare 1940-43
??/??/?? Croce al merito di guerra (1st) 1940-43
??/??/?? Croce al merito di guerra (2nd) 1940-43
??/??/?? Croce al merito di guerra (3rd) 1940-43
??/??/?? Medaglia commemorativa della campagna di Albania Albania
07/03/42 Eisernes Kreuz 2. Klasse 1940-43

Ugo Drago was born in Arborio (Vercelli) on 3 March 1915.

He obtained a diploma from the Rome Accademia di Educazione Fisica (Academy of Physical Education) and worked for a time as an instructor.

On 27 June 1938, he obtained the Civil Pilot's Licence and on the following October he entered in the Regia Aeronautica Air Academy of Caserta as Sottotenente Pilota. He was trained to be a military pilot in the Flight School of Capua and later in the Fighter Pilot's School of Castiglione del Lago.

On 19 March 1939, he obtained the Military Pilot's Licence and on 16 May he was assigned to 363a Squadriglia, 150o Gruppo C.T.

Sottotenente Drago was in action since the first day of Italian involvement in the Second World War, taking part in the operations against France on 10 June 1940 and being awarded with the Croce di Guerra al valor militare on 13 June for his gallantry.

On 28 October, with 20 missions already accomplished, his unit was transferred to the Greek front and on 2 November 1940 Sottotenente Drago claimed his first victory.
He was leading a section of a formation of twelve Fiat CR.42s escorting ten S.79s headed to bomb Salonika. On the target Drago saw two Greek P.Z.L. P.24s attacking the bombers. While his wingman attacked one, Drago attacked the other. The combat started at 5.000 meters and ended at 2.000 meters with the enemy fighter crashing on fire into the ground.

On 14 November, Drago had a hectic day. The airfield at Koritza was near to the frontline and was attacked daily. On that day enemy Fairey Battles were bombing at low height and Drago took off during the bombing. He attacked one Battle and spent all his ammunitions but didn't manage to shoot it down.
On the same morning, after another failed interception, he had a dogfight alone against five P.Z.L. P.24s and barely managed to escape. While returning to Koritza he saw two more P.Z.L.s, attacked them, but was hit again and only the intervention of a second CR.42 allowed him to make it back to the airfield.

In the afternoon, while on a cover patrol over the airfields in the area, four CR.42s flown by Sottotenente Drago, Sottotenente Ernesto Trevisi, Sergente Augusto Manetti and Sergente Vittorio Pirchio intercepted two P.Z.L. P.24s, but they were a trap, as ten more enemy fighters were waiting higher. In the ensuing dogfight Drago claimed two enemy biplanes shot down individually and three more shared with the other three pilots.
The Greeks shot down Trevisi, who was killed, and Manetti, who baled out over Italian held territory, while Pirchio's aircraft was badly shot-up and he was wounded in the left foot; his fighter overturned on landing.
Epismingos Theodoropoulos and his pilots from 23 Mira submitted claims for eight CR.42s during the day. A number of PZLs may have been damaged, and some possibly shot down but no Greek pilots were killed or wounded during this engagement.
This action earned Drago a Medaglia d'argento al valor militare "in the field".

On 18 December, six 150o Gruppo CR.42s (including Sottotenente Drago) intercepted three Blenheim Is from 30 Squadron, which had taken off from Eleusis at 10:00. The Bombers were out on an offensive reconnaissance and to bomb Valona's harbour.
The port engine of L8462 was hit and set on fire as the bomber flew over Valona's harbour, the aircraft crashing into the sea 11km west of Sarande. 22-year-old Flying Officer Steven Paget (RAF no. 41530), 25-year-old Sergeant George Sigsworth (RAF no. 519458) and W.Op/Air Gunner 21-year-old Sergeant William Tubberdy (RAF no. 538072) were all killed.
The returning Italians claimed three probables and according to Drago's personal notes, he claimed a victory over Valona during the day, but his fourth "official" victory was scored on 13 February 1941 (see below).

At 17:20 on 11 February 1941, 17 CR.42s of the 150o Gruppo led by Capitano Luigi Mariotti (363a Squadriglia) took off to strafe Yanina's Katzika airfield. At 17:45 they attacked covered by 15 G50.bis of the 154o Gruppo.
Two Gladiators from 21 Mira flown by Anthiposminagos Anastasios Bardivilias and Episminias Nikolaos Kostorizos were scrambled but were quickly overwhelmed. Bardivilias’s Gladiator was shot down and the pilot killed while Kostorizos’ aircraft received many hits but the pilot managed to safely land at Yanina airfield.
The Italian pilots claimed two Gladiators shot down, one of them by Capitano Mariotti, who claimed one Gladiator as it was taking off. 364a Squadriglia pilots claimed three more biplanes slightly damaged on the ground. Three CR.42s of the 363a Squadriglia flown by Capitano Mariotti, Sottotenente Drago and Sergente Maggiore Bruno Benassi, made further strafing attacks, damaging another Gladiator. The three pilots then set fire to a lorry and damaged four others at Yanina. They also attacked a sailing ship spotted at Corfu. Totally three aircraft were claimed destroyed on the ground and 15 more damaged; three Gladiators were slightly damaged on the ground.
Ground AA fire claimed to have hit one of the CR.42s and it was believed to have crashed some miles to the south, but all in fact returned.

According to Drago's personal notes, he claimed a victory on 18 December over Valona, but his fourth "official" victory was scored on 13 February 1941, during a weather reconnaissance over Telepenë. While flying in the Argyrokastron valley, he saw a Fairey Battle, attacked it and shot it down, witnessing its crash on the mountainside.

Sottenente Drago in his CR.42. The photo is most probably taken in early 1940.
© Archive D'Amico-Valentini
Photo kindly via Ferdinando D'Amico.

After 150o Gruppo re-equipped with the Macchi C.200 during March 1941, the successful career of Drago continued, always in the 363a Squadriglia, and by the end of 1941 he had flown 150 missions.

On 31 December 1941, he advanced to the rank of Tenente.

Meanwhile, since mid-December his unit had been transferred to the North African front.

On 14 February 1942, seven MC.202s of the 88a Squadriglia took off at 11:30, led by Maggiore Marco Larcher, to escort seven CR.42s of the 3o Gruppo and nine MC.200s of the 150o Gruppo (from the 364a and 365a Squadriglie) that were to attack enemy vehicles in the Bir Hacheim area. Six more MC.200s from the 363a Squadriglia, 150o Gruppo helped the Folgores in the escort duty. As usual, the Saettas were the close escort while the MC.202s were top cover.
Weather conditions gradually deteriorated so, over the target the couple of Macchis flying at superior height lost sight of the rest of the formation.
At 12:00, at the height of 2000m, a formation of around 20 P-40s that was trying to attack the other Italian aircraft was intercepted. Three victories were claimed by the pilots of the 88a Squadriglia (one by Tenente Gino Ramarini and two by Maresciallo Natalino Stabile), plus one probable (Maggiore Larcher) and ten damaged. Tenente Raffaele Giannuzzi-Savelli (MM7875) failed to return (KIA) while Sergente Maggiore Alfredo Bordin (MM7890) belly-landed reportedly with no fuel left. He was slightly wounded but the fighter was recovered. Maresciallo Stabile’s MM7784/88-10 had been damaged in combat and he made a belly-landing but the pilot was safe. Finally, a fourth MC.202 (MM7786) hit an aircraft on landing at Martuba and was damaged. The 88a Squadriglia landed back at 13:05 and had expended 1610 round of ammunition.
In the meantime, the six MC.200s of the close escort were having a very hard time. Sottotenente Maurizio Nicolis di Robilant and Sergente Bruno Dellai failed to return and two more pilots returned with their fighters damaged. To balance these losses, the 363a Squadriglia pilots could only claim to have damaged 15 Curtiss with the use of 2110 rounds.
The ground attack Macchis, which claimed to have hit 21 vehicles, leaving eight of them in flames, were reportedly not engaged by the enemy fighters but suffered many losses due to the AA fire. Tenente Armando Badessi (365a Squadriglia) was seen to parachute but was later reported as killed, Sergente Maggiore Mario Angeloni (364a Squadriglia) force-landed and later returned to base with his Macchi while a third Macchi (Maggiore Antonio Vizzotto, 150o Gruppo) was damaged. Additionally, a CR.42 was obliged to force-land and was later recovered.
The Italian formation had been attacked by ten Kittyhawks from 112 Squadron and eight from 3 RAAF Squadron. 112 Squadron reported that they scrambled with ten Kittyhawks led by Pilot Officer John Bartle together with eight aircraft of 3 RAAF Squadron to meet an approaching enemy formation. After flying to Tobruk, the Kittyhawks turned west over the Perimeter defences and climbed steadily until, over Acroma, 3 RAAF were at 8,000 ft with 112 Squadron slightly ahead and above, just below the cloud base at the ideal height for the Kittyhawk. At that moment they spotted about a dozen MC.200s and MC.202s in a loose vic formation 2,000 ft below. Pilot Officer Bartle warned the Australians who, however, were more interested in a formation of enemy bombers with a close escort flying lower than 2,000 ft. 112 Squadron concentrated on the fighters who by now were climbing to meet the attack. The Kitthawks dived into them all of the pilots from 112 Squadron made claims. Sergeant Burney, having dived through the Italian fighters found himself amongst enemy bombers and claimed one shot down (claimed as a Ba.65). His victim tried to evade but hit the ground and Burney strafed it. By the time he regained height aircraft were milling around everywhere. Sergeant Cordwell, in his first action, shot away about three-quarters of the wing of a Bf 109 F, which spun out of control south-west of Acroma. Sergeant Drew claimed two MC.200s south-west of Acroma, one of which he saw hit the ground. "It was easy as breakfast in bed" he is quoted as saying. Pilot Officer Duke attacked a MC.200 south-west of Acoma, which was seen to spin and crash by Sergeant Evans. He also attacked a second MC.200 at ground level from dead astern and it flew into the ground and burst into flames 20m south-east of Gazala. This was shared with Sergeant Reid of 3 RAAF Squadron. The Italians defensive tactic when evading was to drop down to ground level in rolls and vertical dives. Sergeant Leu attacked a MC.200, which blew up and another which flew into the ground south-east of Gazala. Sergeant Simonsen certainly got a MC.200, which he saw spin down and he probably damaged another. Pilot Officer Dickinson made a stern attack on a MC.200, which was enveloped in a sheet of flames at 1,000 ft. Sergeant Christie claimed two MC.200 and one damaged south-west of Acroma when he dived and gave one Macchi a heavy burst so that the aircraft pulled up steeply and then spiralled and crashed, bursting into flames. He then dived on a second, which stalled, pouring out black smoke and going into a dive. He had a go at a third and probably damaged it but without any visible effect. Sergeant Evans also attacked a MC.200, which was seen to lose about two feet off its starboard wing. It dived away so steeply that it seemed doubtful whether the pilot could have pulled out. Pilot Officer Bartle gave a MC.200 a long burst, which sent it down out of control and damaged a Bf 109, which he chased all the way to Tmimi.
Claiming pilots from 112 Squadron were Pilot Officer Eric Dickinson (AK804) (1 MC.200 at 12:15), Pilot Officer Neville Duke (AK578/GA-V) (1 and 1 shared MC.200), Pilot Officer Bartle (AK700/GA-B) (1 probable MC.202 and 1 damaged Bf 109), Sergeant Rudolf Leu (AK781) (2 MC.200s), Sergeant Henry Burney (AK702) (1 Ba.65), Sergeant Roy Drew (AK653) (2 MC.200s), Sergeant R. E. Simonsen (AK682/GA-U) (1 MC.200 and 1 damaged MC.200), Sergeant Ron Christie (AK761) (2 MC.200s and 1 damaged MC.200), Sergeant W. E. G. Cordwell (AK630) (1 Bf 109 F) and Sergeant R. B. Evans (AK637) (1 probable MC 200). 112 Squadron had taken off at 11:24 and landed again at 12:35, all claims were made south-west of Acroma.
3 RAAF Squadron reported that they scrambled at 11:45 and intercepted 32 enemy aircraft about 20 miles south-east of El Gazala at 12:00. They tried to attack the bombers but they spotted about six Bf 109s lurking close by. They wheeled round in time and in the ensuing dog-fight four enemy aircraft were destroyed and another damaged. Then, at last, they were able to concentrate on the enemy bombers. All Australians had landed again at 13:20.
Claiming pilots from 3 RAAF Squadron were Sergeant Walter Mailey (AK644) (2 Bf 109s and 1 damaged MC.200), Sergeant Brian Thompson (AK691) (1 shared MC.202), Flying Officer H. G. Pace (AK664) (1 shared MC.202 – with Sergeant Thompson), Sergeant Gordon White (AK605) (1 Bf 109 and 2 damaged Ju 87s), Flying Officer Peter Giddy (AK665) (2 MC.200s and 1 damaged MC.202), Sergeant F. B. Reid (AK689/CV-W) (1 and 1 shared MC.200 (with Pilot Officer Duke) and 1 damaged MC.200), Flying Officer Lou Spence (AK612) (1 Bf 109) and Flying Officer R. H. Gray (AK621) (1 damaged Bf 109).
Back at base, the Allied fighters reported that they engaged 32 enemy aircraft and totally they claimed 20 destroyed, 3 probables and 8 damaged without losses. Other Axis units were possibly involved in this combat since the Allied fighters made claims against Ba.65s and Ju 87s. The claims against Bf 109s were probably due to misidentification since no German fighter losses or claims are known for this date. Even if there was some overclaiming it seems that it was really a successful day for the Kittyhawks, which later christened it the “St. Valentine’s day massacre”. The success was helped by the use of RDF in one of the first documented cases in that part of the front, which directed the P-40s to intercept their quarries with height advantage. The Macchis and Fiats were also surprised because of the poor visibility due to bad weather.
Pilot Officer Duke of 112 Squadron recalled:

“Great Day. Best engagement yet. Got 16 Italian and Hun aircraft without a loss to ourselves. We intercepted some Macchi 200s and Breda 65s ground-strafing south-west of Acroma. Sighted them just as we came out of cloud at about 9,000 feet on our left. I was leading the left section and attacked ten Macchis just below us. Got on the tail of one straggling a bit and gave a long burst. He was hit around the engine and spun away. This was seen to crash by Sgt Evans.
A general dogfight started and I enjoyed myself more than I have ever done before. The cloud was just right and we dived down, had a squirt and climbed up into cloud again. 109 tactics! I finished up at ground level chasing a Macchi 200 with a chappie of 3 RAAF Squadron. After two or three attacks the Macchi crashed and burst into flames in an army camp where they had been strafing.”
Sottotenente Drago took part in the clash as section leader in the close escort formation of the 363a Squadriglia. He was able to shoot a Kittyhawk off the tail of Capitano Luigi Mariotti’s MC.200 and once back at base searched some sort of consolation claiming that the sacrifice of his Squadriglia avoided more losses to the ground attack units. In fact, this battle showed only as the old Saetta, notwithstanding the efforts of its pilots, at the beginning of 1942 was totally inadequate to tangle with its adversaries.

On 8 March, ten MC.200s from the 150o Gruppo, led by the 363a Squadriglia CO Capitano Luigi Mariotti, were providing close escort for 12 German Ju 87s in an attack on Tobruk harbour at 16:30 when they were attacked by 12 Kittyhawks (six each from 450 and 3 RAAF Squadrons) led by Flight Lieutenant ‘Nicky’ Barr of 3 RAAF Squadron. German Bf 109s were flying top cover, but for unknown reasons they did not intervene. The 150o Gruppo was hard hit and five MC.200s were lost and three pilots killed with two taken prisoners; Tenente Enea Atti (363a Squadriglia, KIA), Sergente Maggiore Enrico Micheli in MC.200 MM6490 (363a Squadriglia, POW), Sergente Maggiore Leopoldo Ierai in MM5333 (365a Squadriglia, POW), Sergente Raffaele Badalassi in MM5332 (363a Squadriglia, KIA) and Sergente Ugo Rodorigo in MM6661 (363a Squadriglia, KIA). Two badly damaged Macchis, one of them piloted by Tenente Drago, managed to land safely at Tmimi and Martuba.
The Australians reported that at around 17:00, six Kittyhawks each from 450 and 3 RAAF Squadron, led by Flight Lieutenant ‘Nicky’ Barr (Kittyhawk AK903/CV-L) took off on a freelance patrol over the battle area with the aircraft from 450 RAAF Squadron acting as top cover. Taking part from 3 RAAF Squadron were Flying Officer Peter Giddy (AK876), Pilot Officer Victor Curtis (AK622), Sergeant W. A. Beard (AK623), Flying Officer H. G. Pace (AK712) and Sergeant T. E. Packer (AK898). Pilots from 450 RAAF Squadron were Flying Officer Thompson (895/K), Sergeant F. W. Beste (493/W), Sergeant Raymond Shaw (AK592/DJ-P), Sergeant James (R641), Sergeant Donald McBurnie (AK717/V) and Sergeant Raymond Dyson (AK732/DJ-A).
Enemy aircraft were sighted 15 miles south of Tobruk and contact was made. The enemy were a reportedly 15 Ju 87s in vic formation with a close escort of nine MC.200s and MC.202s in a very tight formation made up of two echelons of five and four aircraft, and two Bf 109s over Tobruk. The Italians mistook the Kittyhawks for friendly fighters and were slaughtered. Initially the 450 RAAF Squadron remained as top cover and 3 RAAF Squadron attacked. Flight Lieutenant Barr claimed his ninth kill during this action when he accounted for a MC.202 northwest of Tobruk, with another claimed as a probable and two damaged MC.200s. Flying Officer Giddy claimed a Ju 87 and a MC.200 15 miles north of Tobruk while Flying Officer Pace claimed a MC.200. Pilot Officer Curtis claimed a Ju 87 and a MC.200 north-west of Tobruk while Sergeant Beard claimed a damaged MC.202.
450 RAAF Squadron reported that the contact was made at 17:25. In the ensuing engagement Sergeant Beste and Sergeant McBurnie each claimed a MC.200 over Tobruk while Sergeant Shaw claimed a MC.202. Sergeant Dyson claimed a probable MC.200 while Flying Officer Thompson claimed a damaged MC.200. It seems that the combat was fought on a low altitude since Sergeant McBurnie lost the wingtip on his Kittyhawk after contact with the sea. Another Kittyhawk (from 450 RAF Squadron with an unknown pilot) was damaged (Cat 1) by machinegun bullets. By 18:25 all the Australian fighters had returned to base.
112 Squadron reported that Flight Lieutenant Gerald Westenra led seven Kittyhawks on a sweep from El Adem to Gazala. At this point Ops (codename 'Blackbird') vectored the formation on some enemy aircraft five miles north-east. Flight Lieutenant Westenra spotted some MC.200s and with his No. 2, Sergeant R. B. Evans, dived to attack them. Flight Lieutenant Westenra claimed to have downed one, which flew into the sea, but as he was about to attack again, 15 Ju 87s appeared out of cloud flying north-west as fast as they could go. Sergeant Evans saw them and attacked one on the extreme port side firing three bursts. The Ju 87 crashed into the sea. Flying Officer Knapik spotted two Bf 109s but because his windscreen then became oiled up he was unable to join in. In the face of lack of opposition, it seems as this formation was the remnants of the one that had been mauled by 450 and 3 RAAF Squadrons. According to the Italians, all of the Ju 87s (Ju 87R-2 WNr 5995 S1+GL of 3./StG 3 was 20% damaged with gunner Unteroffizier Gustav Riegel wounded) managed to escape despite the attention of 112 Squadron.
In the wake of this devastating combat, Generale Rino Corso Fougier, Regia Aeronautica Chief of Staff, praised the 150o Gruppo pilots for their sacrifice which had allowed the Ju 87s to escape. But the Italians demanded better cooperation between their fighters and those flow by the Luftwaffe.

For his achievements in the operations between January and March 1942, he was awarded with a second Medaglia d'argento al valor militare and on 7 March, the Germans awarded him with the Ritterkreuz 2nd Class.

Capitano Luigi Mariotti left the command of the 363a Squadriglia, 150o Gruppo, in June 1942 when Tenente Drago took command of the unit.
Tenente Drago commanded the unit until the end of the war.

Flying a patrol over Benghazi between 18:20 and 19:30 on 12 July, Tenente Drago intercepted and fired 600 rounds at a Beaufort, claiming it damaged.

He returned with the 150o Gruppo to Italy on 10 November 1942 after a further 124 missions.

On 1 January 1943, Drago was appointed C.O. of 363a Squadriglia and with this rank he faced the Battle for Sicily that lasted from May to July 1943.

The whole 150o Gruppo Autonomo C.T. re-equipped with Messerschmitt Bf 109 Gs and during this period Drago flew thirty missions, with six combats.

On 9 June, Italian fighter pilots flew 24 sorties over Pantelleria.
All these sorties were preceded between 09:00 and 10:30 by reconnaissance flights by two MC.202s.
During the day, 550 Allied aircraft made 19 attacks on the Pantelleria.
Between 10:15 and 11:40, four Bf 109 Gs of 150o Gruppo, 14 MC.202s of 53o Stormo and some MC.205s from the 1o Stormo patrolled over Pantelleria. Near the coast the Italian pilots sighted an American formation of about 50 P-38s and Spitfires, which were promptly engaged. Six Spitfires were claimed shot, four probably and four damaged (14 according to other sources). Tenente Drago (CO 363a Squadriglia in Bf 109G WNr. 19359/363-7) claimed two Spitfires 20 km north-west of Pantelleria while the other four were claimed by pilots flying MC.202s when Sergente Lotari Bertoli (151o Gruppo) claimed one near Pantelleria, Capitano Natale Veronesi (374a Squadriglia) claimed one over Pantelleria, Maresciallo Augusto Brini (153o Gruppo) claimed one near Pantelleria and Sergente Paris Guberti (153o Gruppo) claimed one over Pantelleria. One of the probables was credited to Tenente Angelo Fornoncini (150o Gruppo) near Pantelleria as well two of the damaged.
Tenente Drago, Capitano Veronesi and Sottotenente Enrico Crabbia (53o Stormo) were all shot down and parachuted into the Mediterranean.
The Lightnings probably came from the 1st FG but they didn’t made any claims.
The Spitfires were from 308th FS, 301st FG, which flew a sortie 10:25-11:25. They reported that in a 20-minute battle 3 km north of Pantelleria they had downed five MC.202s and one Bf 109. Formation leader Captain Thomas B. Fleming (Spitfire IX) claimed two MC.202s, 1st Lieutenants Edwin ‘Ed’ Dalrymple (Spitfire IX) claimed one MC.202, Royal N. Baker (Spitfire V) claimed one Bf 109, Walter J. Overend (Spitfire IX) claimed one MC.202 and Merritt C. Wolfe (Spitfire IX) claimed one MC.202. 1st Lieutenant Stanley E. McMann was brought down near Pantelleria and was seen to bale out. However, he was later reported as KiA.
This was the only time during his career that Drago was shot down and he and the other two pilots were picked up from the sea by some fishermen from Pantelleria.
All three downed Italian pilots were later flown back to Palermo aboard an S.81 in a night flight only hours before the besieged island surrendered.

Back in Sicily, he and the rest of the 150o Gruppo by early July were forced to retreat to Italy with no operational aircraft left, all destroyed or damaged beyond repair on Sciacca airfield by the continuous Allied air bombardments.

After an adventurous attempt to put at least a section of 363a Squadriglia back in action in early September 1943, the Armistice was signed.

In the confusing days that followed Drago, after having ensured the safety of his men, tried to reach his home, but was arrested by German troops in Ferrara and brought to a concentration camp near Bologna. There, after Drago's refusal to join the Luftwaffe, he was put with many others on a train headed to the prison camps in Germany. He and others however, luckily managed to escape by jumping off the train just short of the Italian border.

After hiding for some time, only after hearing the call to arms by Colonello Ernesto Botto and the forming of the A.N.R., Drago presented himself to the Italian military authorities. He was soon appointed C.O. of 1a Squadriglia of the newly formed IIo Gruppo Caccia and from May 1944 to April 1945 he was back in action, flying 81 missions with 33 combats and claiming 11 more aerial victories.
The unit was at first equipped with Fiat G.55s for a short period before converting to the Bf 109 G.

In the afternoon on 26 July 1944, the IIo Gruppo scrambled eleven Bf 109s against a dozen P-47s of the 86th FS, 79th FG bombing a bridge north-west of Brescia. The opposing formations apparently met south of Piacenza at 17:30, the Americans reporting an attack by eleven ‘blue-nosed’ Bf 109s and both sides’ ensuing claims were wildly exaggerated.
The Italians credited themselves with three P-47s shot down (by Capitano Carlo Miani, Tenente Drago and Sergente Maggiore Rolando Ancillotti) for the loss of Ancillotti’s aircraft (2a Squadriglia) – he parachuted safely.
The 86th FS reported the mission from 15:10 to 18:00 with combat in the Brescia area and claimed six destroyed Bf 109s and two more damaged without losses. Claimants were 1st Lieutenant Charles Hancock (two and one damaged), 1st Lieutenant Billy Head (two destroyed), 2nd Lieutenant Richard Hilgard (one destroyed), Lieutenant Robert Steiner (one destroyed) and Lieutenant Warren Tallent (one damaged).

His great leadership was proved by the loss in action of only two pilots of his Squadriglia during the June 1944 to March 1945 period. This was acknowledged by the A.N.R. with the advancement to the rank of Capitano on 7 November 1944 and by the Germans with the award of the Ritterkreuz 1st class on 6 April 1945.

At noon on 16 November 1944 he led eight Bf 109 Gs from 1a Squadriglia off from Aviano. In the air, they noticed small groups of B-17s escorted by P-51s returning from a raid in Germany. Half an hour after take-off, at 24,000 feet, they intercepted a B-17 escorted by P-51s of the 332nd FG. The Italian fighters engaged the P-51s and Drago and Maresciallo Renato Mingozzi each claimed a P-51s shot down. Sergente Maggiore Guido Minardi claimed a B-17. The combat lasted some 10 minutes and ended down on the deck.

On 1 February 1945, the Italian units were renumbered to conform to the German system and 1a Squadriglia thus became 4a Squadriglia.

At 10.30 on 3 March 1945 twenty-two Bf 109s of 2o Gruppo scrambled from Aviano and Osoppo to intercept Marauders from 12, 24 and 30 SAAF Squadrons, who were attacking the Conegliano marshalling yards. The Italian fighters intercepted at 10.41 near Pordenone. The combat was confusing and over the Adriatic Sea a section of aircraft led by Capitano Drago (Bf 109 G-10/AS/U4, Werk. Nr. 491353, 'Black 7') took on a group of six bombers. Sottotenente Felice Squassoni ('Black 13') and Tenente Valenzano (Bf 109 G-10/AS, Werk. Nr. 491323, 'Black 3') each claimed a Marauder.
By 10.56 the Italians had been outdistanced over the sea and were back on the ground a quarter of an hour later.
The claims in this combat are very confusing. The Italians claimed 6 Marauders and 1 Spitfire. No Marauders were in fact lost (two were damaged) and the only loss for SAAF was Lieutenant Reim of the escorting 4 SAAF Squadron Spitfires, who were shot down. The SAAF pilots claimed 1 probable Bf 109 and four damaged (two of the identified as Fw190s). The Italians lost two Bf 109 (of which one was shot down a low altitude by German Panzers tragically killing the pilot) and got two damaged.

On 26 April 1945, when his unit was disbanded, he co-operated with the Partisan forces to maintain order in the area.

Drago ended the war with 4 biplane victories and a total of 17. These victories were claimed during 385 missions. 5 of his claims are with the Regia Aeronautica and 11 with the A.N.R. Please not that out of the latter eleven claims, those confirmed after a thorough research are only a handful, but it would not be fair to an outstanding pilot and Commander like Drago if we would not underline that the only the A.N.R. period has been subject to extensive research, cross-checking between sources and the official documents of all the countries involved. Until this work will be done for the whole Second World War period concerning Italian claims, judging the ability of a pilot only by the number of his claims (confirmed or not yet checked), will be a futile exercise.

Drago was awarded a third Medaglia d'argento al valor militare and a second Croce di Guerra al valor militare before the Armisitce and a fourth Medaglia d'argento al valor militare while serving with the A.N.R.

Capitano Drago having breakfast at Aviano airfield in 1945, when he was C.O. of 4a Squadriglia. "Gigi Tre Osei" of IIo Gruppo Caccia A.N.R.
© Archive D'Amico-Valentini
Photo kindly via Ferdinando D'Amico.

Post-war he emigrated to Argentina and found employment as a flight instructor.

In 1953, he returned home to join the Italian Flagship Company "Alitalia", and flying the Boeing 747 operationally as Captain before his retirement.

Drago passed away in Rome on 22 April 2007.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 02/11/40   1 P.Z.L. P.24 Destroyed Fiat CR.42   near Salonika 363a Squadriglia
2 14/11/40   1 P.Z.L. P.24 Destroyed (a) Fiat CR.42   Koritza 363a Squadriglia
3 14/11/40   1 P.Z.L. P.24 Destroyed (a) Fiat CR.42   Koritza 363a Squadriglia
  14/11/40   1/4 P.Z.L. P.24 Shared destroyed (a) Fiat CR.42   Koritza 363a Squadriglia
  14/11/40   1/4 P.Z.L. P.24 Shared destroyed (a) Fiat CR.42   Koritza 363a Squadriglia
  14/11/40   1/4 P.Z.L. P.24 Shared destroyed (a) Fiat CR.42   Koritza 363a Squadriglia
  18/12/40   1 Enemy aircraft (b) Destroyed Fiat CR.42     363a Squadriglia
  11/02/41 07:45- 1/3 Gladiator Shared damaged on the ground Fiat CR.42   Katzika airfield 363a Squadriglia
4 13/02/41   1 Fairey Battle (c) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Argyrokastron valley 363a Squadriglia
  12/07/42 18:20-19:30 1 Beaufort Damaged MC.200   nr Benghazi 363a Squadriglia
5 09/06/43 10:15-11:40 1 Spitfire (d) Destroyed Bf 109 G WNr. 19359/363-7 off Pantelleria 363a Squadriglia
5 09/06/43 10:15-11:40 1 Spitfire (d) Destroyed Bf 109 G WNr. 19359/363-7 off Pantelleria 363a Squadriglia
7 24/06/44   1 P-47 (e) Destroyed Bf 109 G   south of Ovada 1a Squadriglia
8 14/07/44   1 B-25 (f) Destroyed Bf 109 G     1a Squadriglia
9 20/07/44   1 B-24 (g) Destroyed Bf 109 G   Udine-Aviano 1a Squadriglia
10 21/07/44   1 B-24 (h) Destroyed Bf 109 G   Pola 1a Squadriglia
11 26/07/44 17:30 1 P-47 (i) Destroyed Bf 109 G   S Piacenza 1a Squadriglia
12 16/11/44 noon 1 P-51 (j) Destroyed Bf 109 G   Aviano area 1a Squadriglia
13 26/12/44   1 P-51 (k) Destroyed Bf 109 G     1a Squadriglia
14 06/02/45   1 P-47 (l) Destroyed Bf 109 G     4a Squadriglia
15 12/02/45   1 B-25 (m) Destroyed Bf 109 G   Legnago 4a Squadriglia
16 12/03/45   1 F-5E (n) Destroyed Bf 109 G   north of Padua 4a Squadriglia
17 23/03/45   1 P-47 (o) Destroyed Bf 109 G   Campoformido 4a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 4 and 3 shared destroyed, 1 shared damaged on the ground.
TOTAL: 17 and 3 shared destroyed, 1 damaged, 1 shared damaged on the ground.
(a) Claimed in combat with PZL P.24s from 23 Mira. Italian fighters claimed eight P.24s over Koritza during the day while losing two aircraft and getting a third damaged. 23 Mira claimed eight CR.42s. A number of PZLs may have been damaged, and some possibly shot down but no Greek pilots were killed or wounded during this engagement.
(b) Not official credited to him and therefore not included in his total.
(c) Greek Fairey Battle lost over Trebeshinj.
(d) Claimed in combat with Spitfires from 308th FS, 31st FG, claimed 5 MC.202s and 1 Bf 109 while losing 1 Spitfire (pilot KiA). The Regia Aeronautica claimed 6 Spitfires destroyed, 4 probables and 4 damaged while losing 1 Bf 109 and 2 MC.202s (pilots safe).
(e) Claimed in combat with Groupe de Chasse II/5 "Lafayette". A.N.R. claimed two P-47s but none were lost during this combat.
(f) Claimed in combat with 340th BG. A.N.R. claimed two B-25s but none were lost during this combat.
(g) Claimed in combat with 485th BG. A.N.R. claimed one B-24 and four damaged but 485th BG lost two B-24s during this combat.
(h) Claimed in combat with 455th BG. This claim is confirmed with USAAF sources.
(i) Claimed in combat with P-47s from 86th FS, which claimed 6 Bf 109s and 2 damaged without losses. The IIo Gruppo claimed 3 P-47s while losing one Bf 109.
(j) Claimed in combat with 332nd FG. This claim is not confirmed with USAAF sources.
(k) Claimed in combat with 3 Sqn RAAF. 1 P-51 shot down by Tenente Keller. Drago's claim is not confirmed.
(l) Claimed in combat with 522 FS, 27th FG. During this combat, A.N.R. claimed two P-47s but none were lost (however they were both badly damaged) and USAAF claimed three Bf 109s but only one was lost.
(m) Claimed in combat with 310th BG. The B-25 only badly damaged and Drago was forced to abandon the attack after his aircraft was hit.
(n) Claimed in combat with 32nd PRS at 12.43. F-5E flown by Lieutenant Clyde T. Allen only damaged.
(o) Claimed in combat with 85th FS, 79th FG at 09.25. A.N.R. claimed two and one probable P-47s but only one was lost. It seems that this P-47 flown by 2nd Lieutenant Jack Faires, who parachuted safely, was shot down by Drago.

Most information kindly provided by Ferdinando D'Amico
Additional information from:
53o Stormo - Marco Mattioli, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-977-5
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
History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945: Volume Four – Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello with Russell Guest, Frank Olynyk, Winfried Bock and Wg Cdr Andy Thomas, 2018 Grub Street, London, ISBN-13: 9781911621102
Air war for Yugoslavia, Greece and Crete - Christopher Shores, Brian Cull and Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-948817-07-0
Air War Italy 1944-45 - Nick Beale, Ferdinando D'Amico and Gabriele Valentini, 1996 Airlife Publishing, Shrewbury, ISBN 1-85310-252-0
Ali d'Africa - Michele Palermo and Ludovico Slongo, 2009 IBN Editore, ISBN 88-7565-060-8
Elenco Nominativo dei Militari dell’ A. M. Decorati al V. M. Durante it Periodo 1929 - 1945 1 Volume A - L
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
Gli Assi Italiani Della Regia Aeronautica - Givanni Massimello, 2023 Difesa Servizi SpA Edizioni Rivista A Italian Aces of World War 2 - Giovanni Massimello and Giorgio Apostolo, 2000 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 1-84176-078-1
National Archives of Australia
Royal Air Force Bomber Losses in the Middle East and Mediterranean, Volume 1: 1939-1942 - David Gunby and Pelham Temple, 2006 Midland Publishing, ISBN 1-85780-234-9
Shark Squadron - The history of 112 Squadron 1917-1975 - Robin Brown, 1994 Crécy Books, ISBN 0-947554-33-5
Spitfires over Sicily – Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia and Frederick Galea, 2000 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-32-2
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
USAAF (Mediterranean Theater) Credits For The Destruction Of Enemy Aircraft In Air-To-Air Combat World War 2 - Frank Olynyk, 1987 Victory List No.6
Additional information kindly provided by Michele Palermo, Pierpaolo Maglio, Manlio Palmieri and Ludovico Slongo.

Last modified 16 February 2024