Biplane fighter aces


Sergente Luigi Ferrario

When Italy declared war on the Great Britain and France on 10 June 1940, Sergente Luigi Ferrario served in the 91a Squadriglia, 10o Gruppo, 4o Stormo C.T.

On 12 June, the 2o Stormo’s fighters in North Africa were joined by those of the 10o Gruppo (84a, 90a and 91a Squadriglie) of the Gorizia based 4o Stormo C.T.. The Gruppo was commanded by Tenente Colonnello Armando Piragino and started the war at Tobruk T2 with 27 CR.42s.
The 91a Squadriglia C.T. was composed of the following pilots: Capitano Giuseppe D’Agostinis (CO), Tenente Enzo Martissa, Sottotenente Ruggero Caporali, Maresciallo Raffaele Chianese, Maresciallo Vittorio Romandini, Sergente Maggiore Leonardo Ferrulli, Sergente Maggiore Lorenzo Migliorato, Sergente Maggiore Natale Fiorito, Sergente Maggiore Elio Miotto, Sergente Aldo Rosa, Sergente Alessandro Bladelli, Sergente Guido Scozzoli and Sergente Ferrario. They had ten CR.42s on strength (including Piragino’s).

At 16:00 on 24 July, a formation of eleven CR.42s from the 10o Gruppo, backed by six more from the 13o Gruppo took off to patrol the Bir el Gobi – Sidi Omar – Sollum – Bardia area. Leading the 10o Gruppo formation was Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli (using an aircraft from the 91a Squadriglia) and with him were Tenente Franco Lucchini, Maresciallo Omero Alesi and Tenente Giovanni Guiducci of the 90a Squadriglia, Capitano Luigi Monti, Capitano Aldo Lanfranco, Tenente Vincenzo Vanni and Tenente Giuseppe Aurili of the 84a Squadriglia, Tenente Enzo Martissa, Sergente Maggiore Lorenzo Migliorato and Sergente Ferrario of the 91a Squadriglia. Pilots from the 13o Gruppo were Tenente Giulio Torresi, Tenente Eduardo Sorvillo and Sergente Maggiore Ernesto Scalet of the 77a Squadriglia, Sergente Francesco Nanin of the 82a Squadriglia and Capitano Giuseppe Dall’Aglio with Sottotenente Dario Magnabosco of the 78a Squadriglia.
During the patrol they met a British formation estimated to nine Blenheims, which was attacking Bardia, escorted by 15 Gladiators. The CR.42s attacked the bombers and were in turn attacked by the British escort. Tenente Lucchini was the first to enter combat and damaged three of the British bombers by using 510 rounds of ammunition while the others were dispersed. Tenente Guiducci claimed a Gladiator using 90 rounds of ammunition. The CR.42s of the 84a Squadriglia remained manoeuvring in close formation until a 90a Squadriglia aircraft (Lucchini?) drove them against the enemies breaking their formation. Three aircraft from the Squadriglia returned to base one by one. Tenente Giuseppe Aurili met three Gladiators and damaged one. Capitano Lanfranco became isolated and, attacked by a reported three enemy fighters, was shot down and obliged to bale out in the Sidi Azeiz area. A British patrol took him prisoner a little later. Lanfranco was one of the oldest pilots of the 4o and a few days later a British message was thrown down near Tobruk, telling that he was wounded in Alexandria hospital. Tenente Martissa forced an enemy fighter to force-land then, coming back to base, saw his wingman in difficulties against the determined attack of an enemy fighter and, even with his guns jammed, attacked it, forcing the Gladiator to break away. Sergente Ferrario returned to base with a damaged fighter. According to some sources Tenente Lucchini is credited with an additional Gladiator during the day, but this can’t be verified with the Squadriglie’s Diaries.
Tenente Torresi claimed another Gladiator with 250 rounds of ammunition. No losses were suffered by the 13o Gruppo formation, which landed back at base between 17:25 and 18:05.
It seems that the Italian formation had been involved in combat with eight Blenheims from 55 Squadron tasked to attack targets in the Bardia area and five Gladiators from ‘B’ Flight of the 33 Squadron flown by Flying Officer Ernest Dean (Gladiator L9046), Pilot Officer Alfred Costello (N5776), Pilot Officer Vernon Woodward (N5768), Sergeant Ronald Slater (N5783) and Sergeant Shaw (N5775), which had taken off from Sidi Barrani at 17:40 and met a reported 18 CR.42s over Sollum at 18:30. In the combat Woodward claimed one of the enemy aircraft shot down and a second as a probable. Slater claimed a second CR.42 destroyed while Costello claimed a third. One more CR.42 was claimed by the other pilots and since Dean doesn’t seems to have claimed anything during the day it is possible that this was claimed by Shaw but it haven’t been possible to verify this. During the return flight Shaw was forced to land east of Buq-Buq with engine trouble probably caused by combat damage (probably the aircraft claimed by Martissa). Enemy bombing the day after destroyed his aircraft on the ground, although he rejoined his unit unharmed after a long walk across the desert. The other pilots from 33 Squadron landed back at base between 18:55 and 19:35.
Returning crews from 55 Squadron reported that after releasing their bomb load at 18:20, ‘A’ Flight was attacked by a single CR.42, which was part of a very open formation that didn’t attack. The Italian biplane attacked from out of the sun, damaging slightly Blenheim L8667 flown by Sergeant Vignaux. The British bomber was hit by two bullets (one explosive), one in each mainplane. At 18:35, ‘B’ Flight was also attacked by a single CR.42. The attack was made from above and astern twice but none of the British aircraft were hit. It seems that one or both of these attacks were made by Tenente Lucchini.

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

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

Ferrario ended the war with 1 shared biplane victory.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  23/12/40 08:30-11:05 1/17 Hurricane (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Sidi Azeiz area 91a Squadriglia
  23/12/40 08:30-11:05 1/17 Hurricane (a) Shared probable Fiat CR.42   Sidi Azeiz area 91a Squadriglia
  23/12/40 08:30-11:05 1/17 Hurricane (a) Shared damaged Fiat CR.42   Sidi Azeiz area 91a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 1 shared destroyed, 1 shared probably destroyed, 1 shared damaged.
TOTAL: 1 shared destroyed, 1 shared probably destroyed, 1 shared damaged.
(a) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 274 Squadron, which claimed one CR.42 while suffering one damaged Hurricane. 10o Gruppo claimed one, one probable and one damaged Hurricanewhile suffering one damaged CR.42.

2o Stormo - Note storiche dal 1925 al 1975 - Gino Strada, 1975 USSMA, Rome, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Desert Prelude: Early clashes June-November 1940 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2010 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-89450-52-4
Diario Storico 84a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Diario Storico 90a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Diario Storico 91a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Fiat CR.42 Aces of World War 2 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2009 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-427-5
Quelli del Cavallino Rampante - Antonio Duma, 1981 Editore Dell'Ateneo, Roma kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Additional information kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo

Last modified 30 January 2011