Biplane fighter aces


Colonnello Roberto Fassi

1 March 1910 -

Date Decoration Note
??/??/40 Medaglia d’argento al valor militare (1st) O.M.S.
??/??/40 Medaglia d’argento al valor militare (2nd) O.M.S.
??/??/41 Medaglia d’argento al valor militare (3rd) 1940-43
??/??/42 Medaglia d’argento al valor militare (4th) 1940-43
??/??/40 Medaglia di bronzo al valor militare O.M.S.
??/??/?? Croce al merito di guerra 1940-43
??/??/?? Medaglia commemorativa della campagna di Spagna (1936-1939) O.M.S.
??/??/?? Medaglia di benemerenza per i volontari della guerra Spagna O.M.S.

Roberto Fassi was born on 1 March 1910 and was from Ferrara.

On 1 October 1932, he was commissioned (in Servizio Permanente Effettivo).

On 1 May 1937, Tenente Roberto Fassi took command of the 84a Squadriglia, 4o Stormo, after Tenente Paolo Arcangeletti.

Fassi was promoted to Capitano on 1 July 1937.

He served as a volunteer in the Spanish Civil War using the nom de guerre Rodolfo Tassi.

On 17 January 1938, in a ceremony held at Saragossa-Sanjurjo airfield, command of XVI Gruppo Caccia passed from Maggiore Giuseppe Casero to the former leader of its 25a Squadriglia, newly promoted Maggiore Armando François.
Capitano Fassi became CO of the 25a Squadriglia after Maggiore François.

In the morning on 5 August, the XVI Gruppo was led into action by its CO, Maggiore Armando François when its three squadriglie, comprising some 30 CR.32s, intercepted six SBs from the 3a Escuadrilla “Katiuska”, escorted by 21 I-16s, approaching Nationalist positions from the northeast and crossing the river line over Cherta. During the battle that ensued Maggiore François and a section of Italian pilots shared in the destruction of an SB, whose crew escaped by parachute and landed in the Republican zone. Capitano Fassi (CO 25a Squadriglia) also shot up the I-16 flown by Leytenant Konovalov, who had to force-land at the Republican airfield of Reus.
No CR.32s were lost.

On 31 August, CR.32s from the XVI Gruppo was indirectly escorting S.79 and BR.20 bombers to the front of Gandesa. At the end of the bombing, the fighters stayed in the area for interdiction. As in the previous week, the 25a Squadriglia had the duty to cover at 7,000m while the fighters from 26a and 24a Squadriglie flew at 5,500m.
The XVI Gruppo had taken off from Caspe at 16:30 and the eight CR.32s from the 25a Squadriglia flew in four sections of two aircraft:
1st section – Capitano Fassi (CO) and Tenente Pietro Raimondi
2nd section – Sottotenente Mario Visintini and Sergente Giuseppe Marini
3rd section – Sottotenente Bongiovanni and Sottotenente Mario Pinna
4th section – Sottotenente Emilio Marchi and Maresciallo Luigi Acerbi
Around 18:00, Capitano Giuseppe Majone (CO 24a Squadriglia) spotted six SBs in two formations of three each heading from the Segre river towards Villalba.
They were soon attacked by the Italian fighters. Suddenly, a dozen of escorting I-16s dived on the CR.32s of the 24a Squadriglia, but they were in turn jumped by the 25a Squadriglia, which soon was joined by all the Fiats. In the ensuing dogfight Italians claimed two Ratas destroyed and one probable, that were officially shared among the three Squadriglie, though one of the kills was unofficially credited to Capitano Fassi. Sottotenente Visintini (25a Squadriglia) shot at four I-16s, one of which “effectively and by short distance” and saw a Rata falling in flames, which considering the place and the time should be the one shot down by Capitano Fassi. Visintini’s Fiat was however damaged in the action.
As a result, the commander of the XVI Gruppo, Tenente Colonnello Arrigo Tessari, proposed that each Squadriglia should be creited with one shared destroyed I-16.

In the morning on 5 September, CR.32s from both Aviazione Legionaria gruppi, as well as the Comando di Stormo, escorted S.81 bombers sent to attack Republican targets on the Gandesa front. XXIII Gruppo, in particular, stuck closely to the three flights of Italian tri-motors, thus deterring formations of I-15s and I-16s from attacking the S.81s. Some 50 Polikarpov fighters in two formations circling above were then spotted below the CR.32s by pilots from XVI Gruppo (which had taken off from Caspe at 09:00), which was indirectly supporting the operation. A large scale engagement involving more than 100 fighters then broke out, lasting over 30 minutes, this swirling mass of aircraft drifting east over Republican territory beyond Falset.
Pilots of XVl Gruppo were subsequently credited with shooting down four “Curtiss fighters” and four Ratas, while six other fighters were classified as probably destroyed. Individual victories were awarded to 24a and 25a Squadriglie commanders, Capitani Giuseppe Majone and Fassi. Sottotenente Mario Visintini (25a Squadriglia), whose aircraft was again hit, was credited with a I-15 destroyed, which fell in the Sierra de los Caballos, and three more I-15s and an I-16 as damaged.
It seems that the XXIII Gruppo claimed five “Curtiss fighters” and two Ratas.
The Republicans lost five I-15s and four I-16s, including a Type 10 from 2a Escuadrilla. Three more Type 10s returned to base with varying degrees of battle damage, the Spanish pilot of a 3a Escuadrilla machine making a wheels-up landing at Pla de Cabra airfield when wounds to his arm prevented him from manually lowering the fighter’s undercarriage. It is possible that one of the I-16 was flown by Ivan Galaktionovic Saulo who was killed on 5 or 6 September (Saulo had flown 13 missions and taken part in 6 combats at the time of his death).
Other known Republican fighter pilots killed in the Ebro area during the day were Manuel Araza Sabaté (killed in combat), José Correa Antón and Antonio Pascual Gaset (disappeared).
No losses were suffered by the CR.32s, although several pilots from XVI Gruppo returned with bullet holes in their aircraft.

He served as CO of the 25a Squadriglia, XVI Gruppo, until 7 September 1938.

During his time in Spain, he totally claimed three individual and six shared victories with three shared unconfirmed.

On 4 January 1938, Capitano Silvio Valente took command of the 84a Squadriglia, 4o Stormo, after Capitano Fassi.

On 1 November 1938, Capitano Fassi took command of the 96a Squadriglia after Tenente Vincenzo Lucertini.

In July 1940 Capitano Fassi served as commanding officer of the 96a Squadriglia, 9o Gruppo C.T., which was equipped with CR.42s. In the beginning of this month the 9o Gruppo was sent to Comiso, Sicily to fly missions in the assault on Malta.

On 12 July 1940, the 9o Gruppo C.T. arrived at Tripoli from Comiso with 33 Fiat CR.42s under the command of Maggiore Ernesto Botto. The Gruppo consisted of 73a, 96a and 97a Squadriglie.
The 96a Squadriglia included Capitano Fassi (CO), Tenente Alessandro Viotti, Tenente Aldo Gon, Tenente Emanuele Annoni, Sottotenente Bruno Paolazzi, Sottotenente Carlo Agnelli, Sergente Maggiore Dante Labanti, Sergente Maggiore Graziadio Rizzati, Sergente Maggiore Giovanni Gallerani, Sergente Bruno Spitzl, Sergente Vittorio Pozzati, Sergente Gustavo Minelli, Sergente Bruno Biagini and Sergente Luigi Battaini. In fact, the Squadriglia moved to Libya with only seven non-commissioned officers (Battani was possibly the one who remained in Italy).
Together with the 10o Gruppo they formed the 4o Stormo C.T.
The Gruppo’s Fiat CR.42s was wisely retrofitted with tropical kits for guns and engines, to avoid the problems suffered by the other Gruppi.

In October 1940, the unit was based at El Adem T3.

At 06:00 on 25 October, eight Blenheims; six from 55 Squadron and two from 84 Squadron, took off to take part in a wing raid on Tobruk north foreshore. Two aircraft from 55 Squadron aborted immediately for various breakdowns while the remaining six proceeded alone to the target having missed the rendezvous with nine Bristols from 113 Squadron (that attacked independently). The attack was made at 08:35 and hits on M. T. at the northern edge of Tobruk aerodrome were claimed. Twelve CR.42s were seen climbing towards the mixed formation of Blenheims from 55 and 84 Squadrons, but only two of these attacked from astern. The attack lasted 5 minutes, one attacking fighter being believed shot down. L8362 from 84 Squadron, flown by Sergeant Gordon was shot up by CR.42s, being damaged in the starboard engine (rendered U/S), both wings, fuselage and petrol tanks. The Blenheim force-landed among British forward troops with the observer slightly wounded in the back of the neck. The rest of the formation was back at 10:00. It is reported that the damaged Blenheim was sufficiently repaired next day to fly back to base, but this is not in corroboration with existing records.
The Blenheims had been intercepted by three fighters from the 96a Squadriglia flown by Capitano Fassi, Sottotenente Carlo Agnelli and Sergente Bruno Spitzl. Fassi had led them in a scramble following an air alarm and left Spitzl to orbit over El Adem. Together with Agnelli, he attacked six Blenheims, which were flying at 3500 metres over Tobruk and together they claimed two shared victories (one confirmed and one probable) while the two fighters returned damaged by return fire.
Nine machines from 211 Squadron together with three of the detached Flight of 84 Squadron were also to take part in this raid but instead bombed a perimeter camp south of Sidi Barrani.

On 20 November, 208 Squadron despatched two Lysanders to reconnoitre an area bounded by Sollum, Sofali and Buq-Buq. They were L4724 piloted by Flight Lieutenant Burnard and L4728 piloted by Pilot Officer Waymark that took off from Qasaba at 14:20 and 14:15 landing back at 16:35 and 16:20 respectively (another Lysander, possibly L6874, an attached 6 Squadron aircraft piloted by Flying Officer T. H. Davison, was out in the same area). 33 Squadron provided nine Hurricanes (including Flying Officer Vernon Woodward (N2498), Flight Lieutenant Ernest Dean (P 3818), Flying Officer John Mackie (P3724), Squadron Leader Charles Ryley (P3970), Flight Sergeant Harry Goodchild (N2640), Flying Officer Frank Holman (P3724) and Pilot Officer Charles Dyson (N2640)) as escort. It is possible that the unaccounted pilots were one or two pilots from 274 Squadron since a quartet of Hurricanes from this Squadron, piloted by Flight Lieutenant R. V. Evers-Swindell, Pilot Officer Ernest Mason, Pilot Officer Thomas Patterson and Second Lieutenant Frederick Johannes Joubert, together with Pilot Officer Strange and Second Lieutenant Bester (who followed with the ground party) were detached on attachment to 33 Squadron on 14 November. On 21 November, Evers-Swindell, flew back from Fuka to have repairs on his fighter, reportedly damaged in a running fight with CR.42s. It seems almost sure that the “running fight” was the below described action, so it is possible that R. V. Evers-Swindell was present.
The escort took off from Fuka Satellite airfield at 14:15, with one section of three protecting each Lysander while a third section provided top cover. At the same time, a formation of six Gladiators from 112 Squadron would sweep the same general area.
East of Sidi Barrani, 18 CR.42s intercepted them and one Fiat half-rolled and dived away after being fired on by a Hurricane. It is possible that this aircraft later was credited as a destroyed to Flying Officer Mackie, who in a letter sent home to Canada on 4 December recalled:

“Just before I went on leave we had one of two bits of fun up here. On one occasion, you may have heard about it on the radio, fifteen of us got mixed up with sixty wop fighters. We lost none, and got at least eight of them. I got one of these, although not in a very convincing way from my point of view, as I didn’t see it go in. Another pilot saw the start and the finish of it. Anyhow, it sure was a mix-up. I have never seen so many machines milling around in such a small amount of sky.”
However, after this both sides started to guard each other without giving battle with the Italians uncertain to tangle with the faster Hurricanes and the British finding it difficult to close in on their more manoeuvrable opponents.
The Hurricanes of the two sections dealing with the direct escort of the Lysanders now started to brake off since they were being out-manoeuvred by their opponents and at this moment a huge formation of a reportedly 25-30 Italian fighters was seen higher. The top cover section of 33 Squadron climbed to engage but reportedly without avail because the Italian turned back towards Libya without engaging.
The Italian formation was composed by 18 aircraft from all three Squadriglie of the 9o Gruppo led by Maggiore Ernesto Botto (at the head of the 73a Squadriglia). Six of the CR.42s were from the 96a Squadriglia (Capitano Fassi leading Tenente Aldo Gon, Sottotenente Carlo Agnelli, Sottotenente Armando Moresi and Sergente Vittorio Pozzati together with 4o Stormo’s adjutant, Capitano Mario Pluda), five were from the 73a Squadriglia (Tenente Valerio De Campo, Tenente Pietro Bonfatti, Maresciallo Mario Ruffilli, Sergente Maggiore Antonio Valle and Sergente Santo Gino) and six were from the 97a Squadriglia (Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni, Tenente Ezio Viglione Borghese, Sottotenente Jacopo Frigerio, Maresciallo Rinaldo Damiani, Sergente Francesco Putzu and Sergente Franco Sarasino). They had taken off from El Adem at 14:40 to cover Italian troops in the Bir Enba area (and probably indirectly escorting a reconnaissance plane) when Botto discovered a Bristol Blenheim escorted by several Hurricanes flying lower and attacked.
At this moment, with the 9o Gruppo’s attention focused elsewhere, the 112 Squadron’s Gladiators intervened and managed to surprise the Italian formation over Sidi Barrani. They claimed eight of the Fiats without losses. All of the six pilots made claims and Flight Lieutenant R. J. Abrahams claimed one and one shared with Pilot Officer Richard Acworth, who also claimed one additional. Flying Officer R. J. Bennett claimed one, Pilot Officer Alfred Costello claimed one, Pilot Officer Leonard Bartley claimed two and Sergeant 'Paddy' Donaldson finally claimed one. 112 Squadron didn’t record any losses in this combat even if Pilot Officer Acworth in his memories spoke of a couple of planes obliged to force-land and the unit’s aircraft retuned to Fuka between 16:20 and 17:25. For this one-sided action, they were noted in the press for the first time.
Richard Acworth remembered this combat in a short story written in the 1960’s but never published.
“The Lysanders were to be ‘covered’ against enemy air attacks by six Gladiators from my squadron… three flying at 12,000 feet, and three, led by myself, at 15,000 feet. ‘Top cover’ was to be provided by six Hurricanes, flying at 20,000 feet. The Hurricanes had strict orders to beat a hasty retreat if they met with enemy aircraft in large numbers, as it was thought at that time that they would be ‘easy meat’ for the move manoeuvrable C.R. 42’s, the single-seater Italian opposite number of the Gladiator.
We had been patrolling for about 10 minutes, when I reported forty CR 42s, in eight sections of five, flying from the direction of Libya, at approximately 25,000 feet, 5,000 feet higher that the Hurricane ‘top-cover’. To my dismay, the Hurricanes were soon speeding home, with a CR 42 sitting neatly on each tail. Our six Gladiators were left to finish the fight, for the Lysanders, their task completed, were heading for home, too.
There was not a friendly cloud in the sky, and the powerful desert sun made the enemy aircraft very difficult to see. Forthwith, they carried out the German tactics of remaining aloft, and sending down their more experienced men to finish us off one by one….but it was not to be!
With the first attacks, we broke formation, and it was every man for himself. I soon found myself very much alone, until unfriendly tracer bullets from behind, passed through the space between my right wings. I immediately steep-turned to the left, and caught sight of my attacker as he completed his dive and prepared to re-join his pals up higher, by means of a roll off the top of a loop.
Seizing my chance, I opened full throttle and followed him to the top of his loop, half rolled in formation with him, and was just about to open fire, when my aircraft stalled and flicked into a spin….not enough speed! I decided my best means of survival was to continue the spin, in the hope that he would think I had been badly hit. This was a fighter tactic from World War I, and it worked! Whilst I was spinning, I looked upwards and caught a glimpse of my adversary circling at his original height, waiting for me to crash into the desert. I came out of the spin at about 8,000 feet, no doubt much to his surprise, and didn’t have to wait long for him to dive down to finish me off.
So started a long tail-chasing session. At first, my mouth became rather dry, but after a second or two, my mind became crystal clear, and I was determined to turn the tables on him. Slowly I began to gain ground, and soon part of his tail was in my sights, but I realized it would not have been great enough. When his engine came into my sights, I pressed the firing button, and was immediately cheered to see pieces of fabric or metal ripping off his fuselage, just behind the cockpit.
The Italian pilot turned so quickly in his mad effort to escape, that he pulled his aircraft into a spin, following a ‘high-speed stall’. I followed him down, and fired at him as he tried to recover, and he promptly went into another one. On recovering from his second spin, he must have pulled an emergency boost control to give him extra speed, for he left my Gladiator ‘standing’.
However, my opponent was not easily scared, and turned about a mile away to come back at me like a bull at a gate. We both opened fire, and when it seemed that a head-on collision was inevitable, he pulled out to my left in a climbing turn. For a second, I was able to fire at his exposed fuselage, and then, with throttle fully open, I climbed into the sun, into an advantageous position. To my horror, my engine stalled near the top of the climb, and I had to carry out the usual drill of closing the throttle and opening it again, slowly. Full power came back, and looking down, I could see my opponent looking for me. This time, I had the advantage of height, and I was nicely lining him up in my sights when he saw me, and tried to turn in underneath me.
Slowly twisting, and with the right deflection, I raked him with bullets from nose to tail, at almost point-blank range. I pulled out of my dive, to regain height, and saw him commence another spin from which he did not recover. I felt immensely relieved, somewhat shaken, and eventually joined up with two stray Gladiators, and returned to Mersa Matruh. I was pleased to learn later that seven aircraft had been shot down in the engagement, and that all the Gladiator pilots had survived the fight, although two had made forced landings.
I shall never forget that day. It was my first one-against-one air battle, and the longest time I had engaged a single enemy aircraft...”
The 9o Gruppo actually lost only three shot down and four damaged but two pilots were killed. The three shot down pilots were Sottotenente Carlo Agnelli of the 96a Squadriglia, who was killed, Sergente Francesco Putzu of the 97a Squadriglia, who was killed, and Tenente Gon (who usually flew CR.42 MM5605/96-2), who recalled:
“This day [strangely enough he recorded it as on 1 November but this is for certain an error] I lost the dearest of all my wingmen [Carlo Agnelli]. We were up with all the Gruppo and the three Squadriglie were stepped at different heights. The lowest escorting a reconnaissance plane, mine (96a Squadriglia) at 3000 metres while the third stay higher. The highest group had already engaged the enemy when I saw one of our planes diving almost vertically followed by a Gloster. I made a violent overturning that my wingmen were unable to follow [again without radio equipment the Italian formation was broken at the beginning of the combat and whatever numerical advantage was impossible to put into full use] when I reach a distance suitable to open fire I had to wait because there was the risk of hitting my comrade [with the same burst aimed at the fighter that was following him] I had to concentrate only on the aim [the wingmen were far away] so I couldn’t look around and was attacked by two Glosters. With the first burst of fire they shot away my propeller, so without propulsion I could only manoeuvre to avoid further damage. All the height lost I force-landed and the English pilots that had already stopped firing while I was gliding down for my final approach flew past me waving their hands.
[Gon, tried to burn his plane without success and succeeded to reach an Italian outpost the day after]
Back at base, I discovered that information about the missing pilots (we were three) were lacking.
A sergeant
[Sergente Francesco Putzu] was seen to jump with parachute and another of our planes was seen to crash after a hard fight, all believed it was mine because the other missing pilot (my dear wingman) was too “green” to be able to fight against three enemies as the pilot of the crashed plane did.
The encounter with Botto was tragicomically. I went to his room and he was waiting for me near the door and as just as he saw me he threw himself right into my arms through the three steps that divided us. But I was too weak and was unable to sustain him so we fell embraced on the ground.”
According to the official records of the 4o Stormo, however, it seems that during the dive Gon’s guns went out of synchronisation and when opening fire he cut his propeller with the first shots.
Seven confirmed and probable victories were credited to the pilots of the Gruppo after that they had landed at 16:30. This overclaiming was the result of that the Stormo’s records had to be re-recorded in 1941 after they had been lost. This re-recording was done by Tenente Giulio Reiner, who was then adjutant of the Gruppo. Obviously Reiner’s reconstruction was not as accurate as a complete debriefing immediately after the battle could be.
Fassi was credited with a Blenheim, a probable Gladiator and two damaged Gladiators. Pozzati, who was wounded on the right foot, was credited with a Gladiator while Gon was credited with a Gladiator (a victory that he didn’t mention at all in his memories). Pluda claimed another Gladiator and Moresi one probable Gladiator. The 73a and 97a Squadriglie claimed one Gladiator and two Hurricanes shot down and four fighters damaged, all shared. Final assessment of the combat was four Gladiators, two Hurricanes and a Blenheim confirmed and two Gladiators probably destroyed (the actual number of confirmed claims varies between the reconstructed Diari of the involved Squadriglias to seven or eight destroyed).

At 11:25 on 11 December, Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni together with Sottotenente Jacopo Frigerio and Sergente Maggiore Raffaele Novelli (all from the 97a Squadriglia) took off from El Adem as part of a Gruppo formation, which possibly also included fighters from the 10o Gruppo. They attacked British armoured cars claiming two destroyed in flames and four damaged. They returned at 13:45.
It is also known that Capitano Fassi of the 96a Squadriglia, with eight CR.42s made a successful strafing attack on armoured vehicles in the Der el Hamra area (along the escaping route of the Cirene Division).
The efforts of the 9o Gruppo were successful. According to the British Historian, Barrie Pitt:

“Cirene soldiers were harried during the early part of their flight by a Squadron of 11th Hussars, but the Hussars themselves were caught about noon by two excellently led and conducted flights of 5th Squadra fighters. The second flight was using armour-piercing explosive bullets which effectively put the Hussars out of action for the time being and allowed Sofafi garrison the rest of the day to continue a virtually uninterrupted retreat”.

The 9o Gruppo returned from the desert to Italy and was re-equipped with Macchi MC.200s.

On 1 April 1941, Capitano Ezio Viglione Borghese took command of the 96a Squadriglia after Capitano Fassi.

Capitano Fassi was posted to the 150a Squadriglia, 2o Stormo Autonomo CT.

The 2o Stormo Autonomo CT arrived on Sicily from mainland Italy on 4 May 1942, equipped with 18 of the new Re.2001s. They flew into Caltagirone airfield, in preparation for operations over Malta. The Reggiane, powered by the German Daimler-Benz DB601 A engine, was untried and untested, but its pilots were keen and confident. It included three squadriglie:
150a Squadriglia commanded by Capitano Fassi
152a Squadriglia commanded by Capitano Salvatore Teja
358a Squadriglia commanded by Capitano
Annibale Sterzi

At 18:10 on 10 May 1942, five Z.1007bis again were out to attack Malta. The Italian bombers, which came from 50o Gruppo B.T., were escorted by twenty MC.202s from the 9o Gruppo and ten Re.2001s from 2o Gruppo (making their combat debut over Malta). Twenty Ju 87s of III./StG3 and Ju 88s followed the Italian aircraft with a large escort of Bf 109s.
At 17:40, ten Spitfires from 601 Squadron had been scrambled to intercept the incoming raid and these aircraft attacked the Italian aircraft.
In the ensuing melee, Squadron Leader J. D. Bisdee leading an attack on Tenente Domenico Robillotta’s 211a Squadriglia bomber (MM23417), which blew up, the wreckage crashing into a field near Kalkara; three of the crew were killed and one injured, whilst a fifth was seen to bale out and fall into Grand Harbour when his parachute failed to open properly. Sergeant F. W. Farfan claimed a second bomber as probably destroyed, and Sergeant ‘Jim’ Innes damaged a third; one of these, MM23400, was hit hard and landed at Gela airfield with two members of the crew wounded, one dying later in hospital. One of the Macchis was shot down by Pilot Officer Walter ‘Wally’ Caldwell (BR344/4-H), in which Capitano Roberto Dagasso, commander of the 97a Squadriglia lost his life. Two Re.2001s sustained combat damage but were able to return to Sicily. 601 Squadron suffered no losses.
On board another of the Cant Z.1007bis was Antonio Ferri:

”I’ll never forget that mission. We were told at briefing to expect trouble; that the Germans had run into heavy opposition earlier in the day. There was anxiety as we put on our flying gear. None of the crew said much, but you could cut the tension with a knife. The squadron commander tried to relax us, pointing out we’d have dozens of fighters escorting us, but it did little good. I remember sitting on the grass under the wing of our plane, waiting for the signal to take off. It was so peaceful. The three engines had been tested, then turned off. The only sound was of the birds. You could see a donkey grazing nearby and you could smell the blossoms. It was about 5pm, so it wasn’t terribly hot. The tranquillity of the scene, and the knowledge of what lay ahead, made me ache for life, if I can put it that way.
We snapped on our parachutes and life jackets, the guns were checked, oxygen masks were hooked up and our pilot glanced over at Mount Etna to see which way the wind was blowing its smoke plume. At this point there was a nervous energy that was almost intoxicating. Then the engines roared into life and we taxied into position for take-off. You could see the grass being beaten down by the whirling propeller blades. Then we were off, with five other Cants coming just behind us. As we neared Malta we could see dust in the distance, where the British planes were taking off to intercept us. We looked around and could see our own fighters high above us in the sun. Flying over enemy territory always gave me a queer feeling. You knew they could see you, that people who hated you were running to their flak guns and planes, getting ready to try to kill you. Somebody suddenly shouted, ”There they are!” It never ceased to amaze me how quickly the Spitfires and Hurricanes would appear. One moment you were alone in the sky and the next second there they were, coming at you head-on, with guns blazing. When I first saw the guns winking on British fighters I thought they were turning their landing lights on. But by this time I was experienced enough to know better.”
Ferri saw Tenente Robillotta’s Z.1007bis about 100 metres ahead of him suddenly explode in an orange fireball:
”It went straight down; I didn’t see anyone get out. That got your attention very quickly. Another Cant was hit and fell away, but the rest of us pressed on. By this time our fighters were mixing it up with the English so we were left alone for the moment. That’s when the flak came up at us. You could see muzzle flashes all over Malta, or at least it seemed that way to me. Our plane was hit in the starboard wing and in the fuselage but none of the crew was hurt. We dropped our bombs and, as always, you could feel the old Cant rise up involuntarily as the extra weight of the bombs fell away. We turned for home, but half a dozen Spitfires were after us. I think there were so many that they got in each other’s way, because they only put one cannon shell into our rudder. Our rear gunner was firing back for all he was worth. You could smell the gunpowder all over the plane. Somehow, we got the hell out of there. I was OK while we were airborne but after I got into my quarters I was shaking like a leaf and started to cry. I swore I wouldn’t go to Malta again, but of course I did. None of us had any choice in the matter. If you refused to fly you could be shot.”
The Italian fighters claimed six fighters, two probables and two damaged as well as one Beaufighter. Pilots of 9o Gruppo claimed three, one by Sergente Teresio Martinoli (73a Squadriglia), another by Tenente Mario Massa (73a Squadriglia) (identified as a Defiant!), the third (also identified as a Defiant) jointly by Sottotenente Alvaro Querci (73a Squadriglia), Tenente Emanuele Annoni (96a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Leo Boselli (97a Squadriglia) and Sergente Maggiore Massimo Salvatore (97a Squadriglia). According to some sources is Capitano Dagasso also included in this shared. The 2o Gruppo pilots claimed the remainder. Tenente Remo Cazzolli (152a Squadriglia) and Maresciallo Olindo Simionato (150a Squadriglia) each claimed one, while a third was shared by Capitano Fassi (150a Squadriglia) and Maresciallo Antonio Patriarca (358a Squadriglia), the latter also claiming a probable. Tenente Carlo Seganti (358a Squadriglia) claimed the Beaufighter (probably a transit aircraft encountered over the sea) while two Spitfires were reported damaged by Capitano Salvatore Teja (152a Squadriglia) and Sergente Giuseppe Baraldi (152a Squadriglia), and another pilot was awarded a probable.

At 18:00 on 30 May, four Spitfires of 185 Squadron, followed by four of 126 Squadron, were ordered off to intercept three S.84s of the 4o Gruppo, escorted by 22 Re.2001s and a dozen Bf l09s. Luqa was the target, where one Spitfire was slightly damaged on the ground.
Flight Sergeant D. L. Ferraby (BP876) of 185 Squadron reported gaining strikes on a Messerschmitt, then attacked a bomber - identified variously as a Z.1007 or a Breda 20 (BR20) - which was also attacked by Pilot Officer W. J. ‘Bill’ Johnson (‘J’), newly commissioned Pilot Officer A. P. ‘Tim’ Goldsmith (‘C’), and Flight Sergeant W. H. L. Milner of 126 Squadron. The tri-motor was claimed destroyed and Pilot Officer Johnson wrote in his logbook:

”Three Breda 20s [sic] and fighter cover attacked by Red Section from below and abeam. One Breda probably destroyed. Had to attack while still being attacked by Macchis. Later confirmed destroyed – 1/4 share.”
The other three 185 Squadron pilots all reported cannon stoppages as they attempted to attack, but Flight Sergeant Thurne ‘Tommy’ Parks of 126 Squadron managed to gain strikes on a bomber – probably the same aircraft as that attacked by the others.
Only the leading Savoia of the trio had been hit hard, the pilot landing his badly damaged aircraft at Catania with one crewman dead and another wounded.
Pilot Officer Goldsmith, who also was credited with a destroyed Re.2001 reported:
”Had a squirt at a BR20 (or something), then attacked a Reggiane. Knocked off his radiator. Landed at Takali as Luqa was u/s.”
No Reggianes were lost but Capitano Fassi’s aircraft apparently suffered engine trouble, though despite this handicap, when pursued by two Spitfires he claimed to have shot one down. A second Spitfire was claimed as a shared by Tenente Agostino Celentano and Maresciallo Giovanni Treggia (both 150a Squadriglia). The 2o Gruppo pilots also considered they had damaged 15 more!

Fassi was promoted to Maggiore on 8 June 1942.

On 4 July 1942, Maggiore Fassi took command over the 9o Gruppo after Capitano Luigi Mariotti.

MC.202s of 9o Gruppo were in the air at 18:05 on 15 July, led by Maggiore Fassi, to cover CR.42s of the 50o Stormo over the El Alamein lines. Six patrolled at 17,000 feet and six at 20,000. A large formation of about 30 P-40s was sighted and attacked, one P-40 being claimed shot down by an unknown pilot.
The Italian pilots landed again at 19:05. This claim can’t be verified with Commonwealth records.

At 21:00 on 26 August, the CO of the 9o Gruppo, Maggiore Fassi took off in a CR.42 on loan to the 96a Squadriglia to intercept some raiders approaching Fuka. At about 900m, he sighted two intruders and fired on the repeatedly, claiming both damaged.
He landed again at 22:20.

Between 16:40-18:35 on 1 September, Maggiore Fassi led eleven MC.202s of 9o Gruppo over the area south of El Alamein. Three formations were encountered over Deir El Agram, flying at different altitudes, from 3,700 to 7,300 meters. An intense fight followed during which two Spitfires and one P-40 were claimed by the Italian pilots. The Spitfires were claimed by Capitano Fassi and Tenente Fernando Malvezzi (97a Squadriglia) while the P-40 was claimed by Tenente Jacopo Frigerio (97a Squadriglia). Three more fighters were claimed as probables by unknown pilots (again two Spitfires and a P-40).

As of 8 November 1942 (on the launch of Operation Torch in North Africa), Maggiore Fassi served as CO of the 9o Gruppo CT. The unit was based at Martuba, Libya, and equipped with MC.202s.

Fassi left the command of the 9o Gruppo on 24 June 1943 to Capitano Mariotti.

He is known to have claimed a total of 4 victories during the Second World War, thus giving him a total of 7.

Fassi ended the war with 4 biplane victories and a total of 7.

At the Armistice, the 10o Gruppo was at Castrovillari and commanded by Maggiore Fassi, who continued to serve after the Armistice.

After the Armistice, he took temporarily command of the 4o Stormo.

On 9 January 1944 Tenente Colonello Luigi Monti took command of the 4o Stormo after Maggiore Fassi.

He commanded the S.V.L. (Scuola Volo Lecce – Lecce Flying School) from February 1946.

Fassi took command of the 51a Stormo in September 1948.
Later he served another period as commander of this unit when he took again took command of it on 8 January 1955. At this time, he had the rank of Colonnello.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  05/08/38 morning 1 I-16 (a) Damaged Fiat CR.32   Gandesa area 25a Squadriglia
? 31/08/38 18:00- 1 I-16 (b) Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Gandesa 25a Squadriglia
  31/08/38 18:00- 1/8 I-16 Shared destroyed Fiat CR.32   Gandesa 25a Squadriglia
1 ??/??/38   1 Enemy aircraft Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Spain 25a Squadriglia
2 ??/??/38   1 Enemy aircraft Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Spain 25a Squadriglia
3 05/09/38 09:30 ca 1 I-16 (c) Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Gandesa area 25a Squadriglia
  ??/??/38   1 Enemy aircraft Shared destroyed Fiat CR.32   Spain 25a Squadriglia
  ??/??/38   1 Enemy aircraft Shared destroyed Fiat CR.32   Spain 25a Squadriglia
  ??/??/38   1 Enemy aircraft Shared destroyed Fiat CR.32   Spain 25a Squadriglia
  ??/??/38   1 Enemy aircraft Shared destroyed Fiat CR.32   Spain 25a Squadriglia
  ??/??/38   1 Enemy aircraft Shared destroyed Fiat CR.32   Spain 25a Squadriglia
  ??/??/38   1 Enemy aircraft Shared destroyed Fiat CR.32   Spain 25a Squadriglia
  ??/??/38   1 Enemy aircraft Shared probably destroyed Fiat CR.32   Spain 25a Squadriglia
  ??/??/38   1 Enemy aircraft Shared probably destroyed Fiat CR.32   Spain 25a Squadriglia
  ??/??/38   1 Enemy aircraft Shared probably destroyed Fiat CR.32   Spain 25a Squadriglia
  25/10/40 08:35-10:00 1/2 Blenheim (d) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Tobruk area 96a Squadriglia
  25/10/40 08:35-10:00 1/2 Blenheim (d) Shared probably destroyed Fiat CR.42   Tobruk area 96a Squadriglia
4 20/11/40 14:40-16:30 1 Blenheim (e) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Sidi Barrani area 96a Squadriglia
  20/11/40 14:40-16:30 1 Gladiator (e) Probably destroyed Fiat CR.42   Sidi Barrani area 96a Squadriglia
  20/11/40 14:40-16:30 1 Gladiator (e) Damaged Fiat CR.42   Sidi Barrani area 96a Squadriglia
  20/11/40 14:40-16:30 1 Gladiator (e) Damaged Fiat CR.42   Sidi Barrani area 96a Squadriglia
  10/05/42 18:10- 1/2 Spitfire (f) Shared destroyed Re.2001   Malta area 150a Squadriglia
5 30/05/42 18:00- 1 Spitfire (g) Destroyed Re.2001   Malta 150a Squadriglia
  26/08/42 21:00-22:20 1 Enemy aircraft (h) Damaged Fiat CR.42   Fuka 96a Squadriglia
  26/08/42 21:00-22:20 1 Enemy aircraft (h) Damaged Fiat CR.42   Fuka 96a Squadriglia
6 01/09/42 16:40-18:35 1 Spitfire Destroyed MC.202   Deir El Agram 96a Squadriglia
7 ??/??/4?   1 Enemy aircraft Destroyed        

Biplane victories: 4 and 8 shared destroyed, 1 and 4 shared probably destroyed, 5 damaged.
TOTAL: 7 and 9 shared destroyed, 1 and 4 shared probably destroyed, 3 damaged.
(a) I-16 flown by Leytenant Konovalov.
(b) Only credited to him unofficially.
(c) XVI Gruppo claimed 4 I-15s and 4 I-16s and 6 others as probable without losses. XXIII Gruppo claimed 5 I-15 and 2 I-16 without losses. The Republicans lost 5 I-15s and 4 I-16s and 3 damaged I-16s.
(d) Claimed in combat with Blenheims of 55 and 84 Squadrons. Blenheim L8362 of 84 Squadron force-landed but was repaired next day.
(e) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 33 and 274 Squadrons and Gladiators from 112 Squadron. 9o Gruppo claimed seven victories and two probables while losing three CR.42s, getting four more damaged and losing two pilots KIA. 112 Squadron claimed eight victories for no losses, 274 Squadron possibly suffered one damaged Hurricane while 33 Squadron possibly claimed a CR.42 without losses.
(f) Claimed in combat with Spitfires from 601 Squadron, which claimed 1 Italian fighter without suffering any losses. The 9o and 2o Gruppi claimed 6 fighters, 2 probables and 2 damaged for the loss of 1 MC.202.
(g) Claimed in combat with Spitfires from 126 and 185 Squadrons, which claimed 1 Re.2001 and 1 bomber destroyed and 1 damaged without losses. The 2o Gruppo claimed 2 Spitfires destroyed and 15 damaged without losses. 1 bomber was damaged.
(h) Can’t be verified with any Allied losses.

33 Squadron Operations Record Book
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
Annuario Ufficiale Delle Forze Armate Del Regno D’Italia Anno 1943. Part III Regia Aeronautica – 1943 Istituto Poligrafico Dello Stato, Roma
Assi Italiani Della Caccia 1936-1945 - Giovanni Massimello, 1999 Aerofan no. 69 apr.-giu. 1999, Giorgio Apostolo Editore, Milan
Desert Prelude: Early clashes June-November 1940 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2010 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-89450-52-4
Diario Storico 73a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Diario Storico 97a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Elenco Nominativo dei Militari dell' A. M. Decorati al V. M. Durante it Periodo 1929 - 1945 2 Volume M - Z
Fiat CR.32 Aces of the Spanish Civil War - Alfredo Logoluso, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-983-6
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
Hurricanes over the sands: Part One - Michel Lavigne and James F. Edwards, 2003 Lavigne Aviation Publications, Victoriaville, ISBN 2-9806879-2-8
Macchi C.202/C.205V Units In Combat – Marco Mattioli, 2022 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-4728-5068-3
Malta: The Spitfire year 1942 - Christopher Shores, Brian Cull and Nicola Malizia, 1991 Grub Street, London
Quelli del Cavallino Rampante - Antonio Duma, 1981 Editore Dell'Ateneo, Roma
Spitfire International – Helmut Terbeck, Harry van der Meer and Ray Sturtivant, 2002 Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd, Kent, ISBN 0-85130-250-5
Spitfires over Malta – Brian Cull with Frederick Galea, 2005 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-904943-30-6
Stormi d'Italia - Giulio Lazzati, 1975 Mursia, Milan, ISBN 88-425-1946-4
Additional information kindly provided by Ian Acworth, Stefano Lazzaro, Alfredo Logoluso and Ludovico Slongo

Last modified 17 April 2024