Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Tenente Colonnello Tito Falconi

15 July 1907 -

Tito Falconi was born on 15 July 1907.

Falconi was commissioned (in Servizio Permanente Effettivo) on 1 October 1928.

Falconi was a famous aerobatic pilot that had held the world record in inverted flight going in a Caproni 113 biplane racer from St. Louis to Chicago in 1933 and a veteran of the Abyssinian Campaign where he had gained some ground victories and of the Spanish Civil War where he had claimed many (mostly shared) aerial victories) in a 70a Squadriglia fighter.

In February 1939 the 3o Stormo was under the command of Colonello Fortunato Rolando and equipped with Fiat CR.32s (complemented with a Ca.133 to each squadriglia for transports). The Stormo consisted of two Gruppi; 23o and 18o.
23o Gruppo was commanded by Maggiore Falconi and based at Mirafori. The squadriglia commanders were Capitano Ottorino Fargnoli (70a Squadriglia), Capitano Guido Bobba (74a Squadriglia) and Capitano Luigi Filippi (75a Squadriglia).
18o Gruppo was commanded by Maggiore Ferruccio Vosilla and based at Mondovì. The squadriglia commanders were Capitano Edoardo Molinari (83a Squadriglia), Capitano Giulio Anelli (85a Squadriglia) and Capitano Gino Lodi (95a Squadriglia).
In October 1939 the 23o Gruppo started to re-equip with Fiat CR.42s and from November the 18o Gruppo did the same.

When the war started on 10 June 1940 3o Stormo was sent to the French border to take part in the attacks on southern France.

Falconi took part in the big attack on French airfields on 15 June.

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

During the summer, Falconi was promoted to Tenente Colonello.

Around midday on 7 September, ten S.79s from the 36o Stormo with seventeen CR.42s of the 23o Gruppo raiding Valetta. Three Hurricanes and three Gladiators were up on this occasion, Flight Lieutenants Greenhalgh and Lambert, and Flying Officer Barber jointly shooting down a 258a Squadriglia, 109o Gruppo S.79; a second was claimed probably damaged by the A.A.. The unit commander Tenente Colonello Tito Falconi and Tenente Oscar Abello of the 23o Gruppo attacked two of the Hurricanes, claiming one shot down each, but both British aircraft escaped with only minor damage.

At sunset on 24 November, six CR.42s of the 23o Gruppo C.T. from Comiso attacked the airfield of Luqa (called Mikabba by the Italians) on Malta. The pilots participating in the attack had been selected among the best of the unit (Maggiore Falconi (Gruppo CO), Tenente Claudio Solaro, Capitano Guido Bobba (CO 74a Squadriglia), Capitano Ottorino Fargnoli (CO 70a Squadriglia), Tenente Ezio Maria Monti and Sottotenente Domenico Tessera). They strafed from very low altitude, claiming one plane in flames for sure and additional damage. Back at base, the Italian War Bulletin credited them of three ground victories. They had in fact managed to burn Wellington “F” of 38 Squadron (the machine of Pilot Officer Timmins) in transit from Marham to Egypt, and according to post war British studies, they had possibly destroyed an additional machine of 148 Squadron. During the return journey, Tenente Monti became disoriented while escaping the attentions of a British night fighter and used all its fuel before reaching Comiso, being obliged to bale out over Stagnone di Marsala.
Pilot Officer Timmins was immediately sent back to England to collect a replacement machine.

On 16 December 1940, the 23o Gruppo (previously part of 3o Stormo but now Autonomo) with 20 Fiat CR.42s (70a, 74a and 75a Squadriglie) and three hack Caproni Ca.133s arrived in Tripoli to help trying steam Operation Compass, which was mauling the Italian forces. They were led by their CO, Maggiore Falconi.
Pilots in the 70a Squadriglia were Tenente Claudio Solaro (acting CO), Tenente Gino Battaggion, Sottotenente Oscar Abello, Sergente Ubaldo Marziali, Sergente Balilla Albani, Sergente Maggiore Celso Zemella and Sergente Cesare Sironi.
Pilots in the 74a Squadriglia were Capitano Guido Bobba (CO and already credited with one over Spain and three individual and a probable Hurricanes over Malta, which made him one of the top scoring Italian pilots up to that moment), Tenente Mario Pinna, Sottotenente Sante Schiroli, Sergente Maggiore Raffaele Marzocca, Sergente Emilio Stefani, Sergente Giuseppe Sanguettoli and Sergente Manlio Tarantino.
Pilots in the 75a Squadriglia were Tenente Pietro Calistri (CO), Tenente Ezio Maria Monti, Sottotenente Giuseppe De Angelis, Sottotenente Renato Villa, Maresciallo Giovanni Carmello and Maresciallo Carlo Dentis.
The pilots in the Ca.133s were Tenente Marino Commissoli, Sergente Pardino Pardini (70a Squadriglia), Tenente Lorenzo Lorenzoni (74a Squadriglia), Tenente Milano Pausi, Sottotenente Leopoldo Marangoni (brother in law of Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli) and Sergente Leo Mannucci (75a Squadriglia)).
The Gruppo landed at Tripoli-Castel Benito at 17:15. Celso Zemella’s fighter was left behind at Pantelleria after an engine breakdown.

On 19 December the 23o Gruppo moved to Z1 landing ground at Ain el Gazala.

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 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 Bruno 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 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 Bruno 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.

On 2 January 1941, the 23o Gruppo recorded an escort mission to SM 79s bombing Sollum Harbour. The fighters took off at 14:45 and the participating pilots were Maggiore Falconi, Tenente Claudio Solaro, Tenente Gino Battaggion, Tenente Marino Commissoli, Sergente Maggiore Balilla Albani and Sergente Ubaldo Marziali of the 70a Squadriglia, Tenente Mario Pinna, Tenente Lorenzo Lorenzoni, Sottotenente Sante Schiroli, Sottotenente Milano Pausi, Sergente Manlio Tarantino and Sergente Giuseppe Sanguettoli of the 74a Squadriglia and Tenente Pietro Calistri, Tenente Ezio Maria Monti, Sottotenente Renato Villa, Maresciallo Giovanni Carmello, Maresciallo Luigi Pasquetti and Sergente Leo Mannucci of 75a Squadriglia. Together with them were some CR.42s from the 10o Gruppo flown by Capitano Luigi Monti, Sottotenente Bruno Devoto, Sergente Domenico Santonocito, Sergente Piero Buttazzi, Sergente Corrado Patrizi and Sergente Mario Veronesi of the 84a Squadriglia, Tenente Giovanni Guiducci, Sottotenente Neri De Benedetti, Sergente Luigi Contarini and Sergente Alfredo Sclavo of the 90a Squadriglia and finally Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli, Capitano Vincenzo Vanni and Sergente Maggiore Lorenzo Migliorato of the 91a Squadriglia.
While coming back from the action Maggiore Falconi led his men in a strafing attack in the Capuzzo area, Tenente Pinna’s pilots claiming three armoured cars destroyed Falconi’s CR.42 returned hit in many places by the AA reaction. All the fighters were back at 17:20.

At 15:00 on 3 January, Maggiore 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 Bruno 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.

He was promoted to Tenente Colonnello on 5 January 1941.

On 1 March 1941, Tenente Colonnello Falconi and Tenente Claudio Solaro of the 23o Gruppo flew two S.79s which they had found at Tripoli, to Ciampino, carrying most of the unit’s pilots back to Italy.

During March 1941, the 23o Gruppo CT moved back to Sicily to take part in the raids against Malta again.

While commanding 23o Gruppo, Falconi also carried out night fighter interceptions in the defence of Palermo, flying an all black MC.200. These missions was carried out together with Tenente Claudio Solaro. In this task, they used an all black MC.200.

During the summer of 1942 23 Gruppo returned to North Africa.

On 11 January 1943 MC.200s from 13o Gruppo attacked British airfields in the Uadi Tamet area. These fighter-bombers were escorted by MC.202 from 18o Gruppo. Acting as close escort on this mission were four aircraft from 95a Squadriglia under the command of Capitano Giorgio Solaroli. A little bit higher up were Maggiore Gustavo Garetto with six aircraft. As top cover at 6000 to 7000 metres were six MC.202s from 23o Gruppo under the command of Capitano Mario Rigatti and above these were six more under the command of Tenente Colonello Falconi.
The Italian aircraft were attacked by RAF and 18o Gruppo managed with difficulties to defend the fighter-bombers. During the combat were Sotto Tenente Telleschi and Maggiore Garetto shot down together with a MC.200 from 13o Gruppo. All three pilots managed to escape by parachute. The pilot from 13o Gruppo managed to reach the Italian lines but the other two pilots were captured. It is probable that Telleschi and Garetto were claimed by the British ace Flying Officer Neville Duke of 92 Squadron in Spitfire Mk.Vb EP338 'QJ-S' (victory 8 and 9).
The Italian attack were however a success and a fuel depot, a transport aircraft, which was surprised while taxiing, and several parked aircraft were destroyed in the British airfield. Also six British Spitfires were claimed in the combat. One of them were claimed by Solaroli, one by Sergente Luigi Gorrini (who also claimed one damaged) and a third by Maresciallo Felice Longhi, who returned with his aircraft damaged by enemy fire on several places. The Italians also claimed hits on 9 additional enemy aircraft.

In 1943, he served as CO of the 3o Stormo.

Falconi ended the war with 1 biplane victory.
During his career, he was decorated with three Medaglie d’argento al valor militare, the Medaglia di bronzo al valor militare, the Medaglia di bronzo al valor aeronautico, two Croci al merito di Guerra, the Medaglia commemorativa operazioni militari in A. O. I., the Medaglia commemorativa della campagna di Spagna and the Medaglia di benemerenza per i volontari della guerra A. O. I. e Spagna, the Medaglia commemorativa della campagna di Albania.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
1 07/09/40   1 Hurricane (a) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Valetta 23o Gruppo
  24/11/40 sunset 1/6 Enemy aircraft (b) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Luqa 23o Gruppo
  24/11/40 sunset 1/6 Enemy aircraft (b) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Luqa 23o Gruppo
  24/11/40 sunset 1/6 Enemy aircraft (b) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Luqa 23o Gruppo
  26/12/40 -15:05 1/13 Gladiator (c) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 23o Gruppo
Biplane victories: 1 and 1 shared destroyed and 3 shared destroyed on the ground.
TOTAL: 1 and 1 shared destroyed and 3 shared destroyed on the ground.
(a) Regia Aeronautica claimed two Hurricanes in this combat but both British aircraft escaped with only minor damage.
(b) The 23o Gruppo claimed three destroyed on the ground but only one Wellington of 148 Squadron was destroyed.
(c) 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.

Sources:
3o Stormo, storia fotografica - Dai biplani agli aviogetti - C. Lucchini and E. Leproni, 1990 Gino Rossato Editore kindly provided by Jean Michel Cala with translations kindly provided by Birgitta Hallberg-Lombardi
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 One – Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello with Russell Guest, 2012 Grub Street, London, ISBN 978-1908117076
Annuario Ufficiale Delle Forze Armate Del Regno D’Italia Anno 1943. Part III Regia Aeronautica – 1943 Istituto Poligrafico Dello Stato, Roma
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
Gloster Gladiator Home Page - Alexander Crawford.
Hurricanes over Tobruk - Brian Cull with Don Minterne, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-11-X
Malta: The Hurricane Years 1940-41 - Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-89747-207-1
National Archives of Australia
Additional information kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.




Last modified 12 January 2014