Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Sergente Maggiore Agostino Fausti Medaglia d’Oro al valor militare

2 August 1918 – 4 July 1940

Fausti was born in Bracciano (RM) on 2 August 1918.

The 13o Gruppo (77a, 78a and 82a Squadriglie) of the 2o Stormo C.T. was commanded by Maggiore Secondo Revetria and started the war based at Tripoli Castelbenito airfield with twenty-five CR.42s and eleven CR.32s on hand (the CR.32s, kept as a reserve, were later passed on to the 50o Stormo Assalto) to guard against a possible French attach from the west.
Pilots in the 77a Squadriglia were: Capitano Mario Fedele (CO), Tenente Eduardo Sorvillo (recently arrived from 4o Stormo), Tenente Giulio Torresi, Sottotenente Gianmario Zuccarini, Sottotenente Mario Fabbricatore, Sergente Maggiore Ernesto Scalet, Sergente Maggiore Leone Basso, Sergente Maggiore Fausti, Sergente Raoul Scodellari, Sergente Ernesto Paolini, Sergente Enrico Botti (recently arrived from 53o Stormo), Sergente Amedeo Benati and Sergente Vincenzo Campolo. These pilots had twelve CR.42s (including Maggiore Revetria’s and Colonnello Federici’s) (eight combat ready and three still under assembly) and four CR.32quaters.

On 18 June, the 77a Squadriglia moved to Tobruk T2.

At dawn on 29 June, Blenheims again bombed the airfield of Tobruk T2. Ten fighters from the alarm patrol of the 2o Stormo took off at 06:40 following the air alarm given by the Navy with two cannon shots and intercepted the Blenheims over the airfield. The intercepting fighters were four CR.42s from the 94a Squadriglia (Capitano Franco Lavelli, Sottotenente Nunzio De Fraia, Sergente Maggiore Alessandro Ruzzene and Sergente Maggiore Arturo Cardano), two CR.42s from the 92a Squadriglia (Maggiore Vincenzo La Carruba and Tenente Riccardo Marcovich, who possibly was using a borrowed aircraft from the 93a Squadriglia together with one of the pilots from the 94a Squadriglia) and four CR.42s of the 77a Squadriglia (Capitano Mario Fedele, Sottotenente Giulio Torresi, Sottotenente Gianmario Zuccarini, Sergente Maggiore Fausti). Fedele was slow in taking off because of engine problems and arrived when the combat was already finished but the others attacked the British formation, which was estimated to nine Blenheims.
Sottotenente
Torresi reached the bombers at six-o'-clock and attacked the last Blenheim, which, after three strafes, caught fire and fell. Then, avoiding defensive fire, he attacked another bomber and shot it down. In the meantime, Sottotenente Zuccarini claimed a bomber with a second as a probable while Sergente Maggiore Fausti continued to attack two stragglers that he finally caught over the open sea, shooting down both. Zuccarini, wounded in the knee and with the aircraft damaged in the oil tank by return fire, succeeded to return and force landed at the top of a cliff close to the sea, 25 kilometres from Tobruk, damaging also the landing gear in the process. Sottotenente De Fraia claimed a sixth bomber. Totally, the pilots from the 77a Squadriglia used 2200 rounds of ammunition while those of 94a Squadriglia used 500 rounds.
It seems that they had been involved in combat with Blenheims from 113 Squadron, which lost three aircraft. Blenheim Mk.IV L8436 flown by Pilot Officer D. Pike was reportedly damaged by flak and ditched; Pike, Sergeant R. Lidstone and Sergeant J. Taylor were rescued and taken PoWs. Blenheim Mk.I L8447 flown by 31-year-old Flying Officer Walter Ronald Price Knight Mason (RAF no. 70450) was shot down in flames by fighters and Mason, 28-year-old Sergeant James George Juggins (RAF no. 562162) and 21-year-old Sergeant George Kenneth Biggins (RAF no. 550227) were all killed. Enemy fighters also shot down Blenheim Mk.I L8522 flown by 27-year-old Flight Sergeant Ralph Harry Knott (RAF no. 590277) in flames and Knott, 22-year-old Sergeant James Douglas Barber (RAF no. 745841) and Leading Aircraftman James Patrick Toner (RAF no. 610188) were all killed.
Torresi, Zuccarini and Fausti (in the 77a Squadriglia’s and 13o Gruppo’s Diaries, Fausti is credited with two individual victories while the proposal of the Medaglia d’argento al valor militare speaks of a first plane shot down in cooperation with two unknown pilots and a second one individual) were all proposed to be awarded with the Medaglia d’argento al valor militare after this combat.
Zuccarini was recovered from the sea by a Navy team from a minesweeper but his aircraft was too far from whatever road and the coast was too high so it was probably abandoned. In fact it seems likely that the aviation historian Franco Pagliano, then an officer of the Air Force was charged with the recovery of this particular plane and told the story of this operation inside the short novel “The Abyss” in his 1969’s book “In cielo ed in terra”. According with this novel his mission that day was only to recover the most precious instruments, to asses the damage suffered by the plane and to destroy its guns. The recovery of the complete plane was judged too difficult. Pagliano was astonished by the skill demonstrated by the pilot that was able to land a plane in that position. Without deliberately crashing the landing gear the plane would probably had fallen down the escarpment that was only ten metres apart, causing the death of its occupant.

In the beginning of July the Gruppi of the 2o Stormo, were temporarily alone on the front line since the departure of the 10 Gruppo to Bengasi Berka “K” for the revision and refitting of its fighters. Part of the 8o Gruppo (total force unknown but comprising of elements of the 93a and 94a Squadriglie) was detached from “T2” to Menastir “M” airfield (that the British called Monastir) near the fortified village of Bardia.

At this time Fausti was on temporarily loan to the 93a Squadriglia, 8o Gruppo.

At 12:10 on 4 July, three fighters from the 93a Squadriglia (Colonnello Angelo Federici (the Stormo CO), Tenente Domenico Bevilacqua and Sergente Maggiore Fausti) joined the other fighters from the 2o Stormo at Menastir.

In the evening on the same day, at about 18:00, six 33 Squadron Gladiators flying in two sections escorted a Lysander from 208 Squadron flown by Flying Officer Brown over the Capuzzo-Bardia area. Nine CR.42s were seen taking off from Menastir Landing Ground west of Bardia and the Gladiators dived to attack. The No. 2 section, led by Flying Officer Gray-Worcester and including Flight Sergeant Cottingham and Pilot Officer Eric Woods, attacked just as the enemy fighters left ground and Gray-Worcester shot down four of them while Cottingham claimed two and Woods claimed one. The remaining two CR.42s made good their escape.
The British pilots reported that the Italians scrambled more fighters and five CR.42s were attempting to get airborne just as the other three Gladiators, all flown by 112 Squadron pilots (Flying Officer Price-Owen, Flying Officer R. H. Smith and Flying Officer R. J. Bennett), decided to join the fray. Taking the barely flying CR.42s by surprise Smith and Bennett each claimed one shot down.
Price-Owen was forced to leave his aircraft (Gladiator II N5751) after an explosion in the fuselage over Buq-Buq. He parachuted safely and came down 15 miles inside the Egyptian Border. Post war British studies suggested that his aircraft was possibly hit by own anti-aircraft but it seems this was not the case. In fact, Flight Lieutenant Joseph Fraser reported:

“During July 1940, pilots from 112 Squadron, on detachment at Sidi Barrani, were gaining operational experience rapidly and many dogfights resulted around the bay of Sollum between Gladiators and CR 42s, for the CR 42 pilot had not yet learnt to respect the Gladiator – his senior, with its greater manoeuvrability. It was during one of these flights that F/O Price-Owen was badly shot up, though uninjured himself, and then decided to bale out. However, unfortunately, he was wearing a parachute belonging to a friend of far greater stature and on pulling the rip cord, the loose harness gave him a very severe jerk between his legs which almost cost him his manhood – a very serious matter with Price-Owen. He was incapacitated for some time and posted from the Squadron.”
Here it is also interesting to note how the British pilots had quickly learned what were the advantage of their machine over the Italians, they however greatly overestimated the speed of their opponent: “(We tried) to get to grips with CR 42s who declined a fight with the feared and more manoeuvrable Gladiator which was outpaced at full throttle by a good 50 mph (!)”
The Italians reported that at 18:05, five CR 42s scrambled against a reported nine Gloster Gladiators that were already orbiting over the airstrip of Menastir. The Italian pilots were Capitano Franco Lavelli, Sottotenente Nunzio De Fraia and Sergente Maggiore Trento Cecchi from the 94a Squadriglia and Tenente Domenico Bevilacqua and Sergente Maggiore Fausti from the 93a Squadriglia. The Italian pilots started in a helpless position considering the height advantage of the Glosters and the fact that at sea level the Gladiator II had better overall performances than the CR.42, being more manoeuvrable with a top speed (flat) of 346 Km/h against the 342 Km/h of the Italian fighter and with a slightly higher climbing rate (in 1 minute and 25 seconds the Gladiator reached 1184 metres of height while in the same time the CR 42 only reached 1000 metres). In quick succession, Cecchi was shot down and killed and De Fraia was obliged to bale out, wounded, from his burning aircraft. Lavelli was the next to fall and then Bevilacqua, who, although slightly wounded, disengaged and landed a heavily damaged aircraft. Only Fausti remained in flight, fighting against the whole RAF formation. From ground it was seen that his fire hit two enemy fighters that were obliged to leave the combat area (no victories were claimed but one of them seems highly likely to have been Price-Owen) but the other Gladiators didn’t give him a chance, hitting his plane while he (probably already wounded) was trying a last evasive manoeuvre diving in westward direction towards the fading sun. Fausti died in his burning plane (Fiat CR.42 MM5543). His proposal for an Medaglia d’argento al valor militare from June was subsequently changed to a posthumous Medaglia d’Oro al valor militare for bravery. Again it was reported that almost all the fighters of the Italian formation suffered gun-jamming during the fight, in particular the plane of Capitano Lavelli was observed not to fire even when he reached very favourable positions. After landing back at base, Bevilacqua told that his guns had ceased to fire almost immediately; he had only managed to fire 57 rounds.
Capitano Lavelli, Sottotenente De Fraia and Sergente Maggiore Cecchi had just escorted a formation of Bredas over the front, landing back at 17:45. Together with a scramble they made at 15:55, this was their fourth mission of the day.
This was the blackest day of the whole war for the 8o Gruppo C.T. and totally they lost seven CR.42s destroyed and one more damaged, three pilots were killed, two were taken prisoners and two wounded.

At the time of his death, Fausti was credited with 2 biplane victories.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
1 29/06/40 06:40- 1 Blenheim (a) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Tobruk T2 77a Squadriglia
2 29/06/40 06:40- 1 Blenheim (a) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Tobruk T2 77a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 2 destroyed.
TOTAL: 2 destroyed.
(a) Probably claimed in combat with Blenheims from 113 Squadron. Italian fighters claimed six and one probable. 113 Squadron lost three aircraft. L8436 flown by Pilot Officer Pike was damaged by flak and ditched; the crew became PoWs. L8447 flown by Flying Officer W. R. P. K. Mason was shot down in flames by fighters and the crew was killed. L8522 flown by Flight Sergeant R. H. Knott was shot down in flames by fighters and the crew was killed.

Sources:
2o Stormo - Note storiche dal 1925 al 1975 - Gino Strada, 1975 USSMA, Rome, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
112 Sqn "Shark Squadron" 1939 - 1941 - Andre R. Zbiegniewski, 2003 Miniatury lotnicze 15, Kagero, Lublin, ISBN 83-89088-55-X
Centauri su Torino - Giancarlo Garello, 1998 Giorgio Apostolo Editore, Milan, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Desert Prelude: Early clashes June-November 1940 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2010 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-89450-52-4
Diario Storico 77a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.
Fighters over the Desert - Christopher Shores and Hans Ring, 1969 Neville Spearman Limited, London
Gloster Gladiator Aces - Andrew Thomas, 2002 Osprey Publishing, London, ISBN 1-84176-289-X
L’8oGruppo caccia in due conflitti mondiali - Giuseppe Pesce, 1974 S.T.E.M. Mucchi, Modena, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Shark Squadron - The history of 112 Squadron 1917-1975 - Robin Brown, 1994 Crécy Books, ISBN 0-947554-33-5
Stormi d'Italia - Giulio Lazzati, 1975 Mursia, Milan, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
The Bristol Blenheim: A complete history – Graham Warner, 2002 Crécy Publishing Limited, Manchester, ISBN 0-947554-92-0
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
The Desert Air War 1939 – 1945 – Richard Townshend Bickers, 1991 Leo Cooper, London, ISBN 0-85052-216-1, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Additional information kindly provided by Vincent Biondi, Chris Goss, Stefano Lazzaro and Ludovico Slongo




Last modified 19 March 2011