Biplane fighter aces


Sergente Stefano Fiore

On the last day of August 1940, the 151o Gruppo C.T. (366a, 367a and 368a Squadriglie) was ordered to move in Libya with 30 CR.42s as a reinforcement for the attack against Sidi Barrani.
The unit under the command of Maggiore Carlo Calosso was one of the first equipped with CR.42s in 1939 and was based in Caselle Torinese near Turin, with sections and Squadriglie detached in different airbases of North Italy for local defence duties.
They departed Caselle Torinese in the morning of 6 September and at 18:20 on 8 September, the whole Gruppo landed in Tripoli Castel Benito.
The 366a Squadriglia formation was composed of ten aircraft: Capitano Bernardino Serafini (CO), Tenente Mario Ferrero (the Gruppo Adjutant), Sottotenente Amedeo Guidi, Maresciallo Giulio Cesare, Sergente Maggiore Fiorenzo Milella, Sergente Maggiore Dino Carta, Sergente Maggiore Roberto Marchi, Sergente Maggiore Cesare Chiarmetta, Sergente Antonio Camerini, Sergente Eugenio Cicognani. Tenente Piero Veneziani and Maresciallo Giovanni Accorsi followed in the unit’s hack Caproni Ca.133 together with five ground personnel.
The formation of 367a Squadriglia comprised the Gruppo Commander Maggiore Carlo Calosso, the 368a Squadriglia’s pilot Sergente Piero Hosquet and nine other pilots for a total of eleven. Among them were Capitano Simeone Marsan (the CO), Tenente Irzio Bozzolan, Tenente Aldo Bonuti, Sergente Maggiore Gino Bogoni and Sergente Tolmino Zanarini. The Squadriglia’s other six pilots were Tenente Giuseppe Costantini, Maresciallo Bruno Castellani, Sergente Maggiore Rodolfo Benco, Sergente Maggiore Bruno Celotto, Sergente Renato Mingozzi and Sergente Maggiorino Soldati.
The 368a Squadriglia formation was composed of nine aircraft: Capitano Bruno Locatelli (CO), Tenente Giuseppe Zuffi, Sottotenente Furio Lauri, Sergente Maggiore Davide Colauzzi, Sergente Maggiore Annibale Ricotti, Sergente Maggiore Alvise Andrich, Sergente Fiore, Sergente Ottorino Ambrosi, Sergente Mario Turchi. Tenente Orfeo Paroli and Maresciallo Guido Paparatti followed in the Ca.133 of the Squadriglia (Paroli and Fiore were just transferred from 367a Squadriglia).
On 25 September the 151o Gruppo transferred from Benghazi to El Adem where it replaced the 9o Gruppo C.T.

In the afternoon on 9 December, SM 79s were out to bomb British troops at the Sidi Barrani - Bir Enba area. They were to be escorted by 19 CR.42s of the 9o Gruppo led by Maggiore Ernesto Botto, which had taken off from El Adem at 14:55. The fighters included seven from the 73a Squadriglia (Tenente Valerio De Campo (CO), Tenente Giulio Reiner, Sottotenente Alvaro Querci, Sergente Maggiore Guglielmo Biffani, Sergente Maggiore Enrico Dallari, Sergente Maggiore Antonio Valle and Sergente Santo Gino) seven from the 97a Squadriglia (Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni (CO), Tenente Ezio Viglione Borghese, Sottotenente Riccardo Vaccari, Sergente Maggiore Otello Perotti, Sergente Maggiore Massimo Salvatore, Sergente Angelo Golino and Sergente Alcide Leoni) and four from the 96a Squadriglia (Tenente Aldo Gon and Sergente Giuseppe Tomasi together with two unknown pilots).
More Italian fighters were up to escort the bombers and at 15:10, Sergente Maggiore Fiorenzo Milella of the 366a, 151o Gruppo, attached to a formation of nine CR.42s of the 368a Squadriglia (Capitano Bruno Locatelli, Sergente Maggiore Davide Colauzzi, Sergente Ernesto De Bellis, Sottotenente Furio Lauri, Sergente Maggiore Annibale Ricotti, Tenente Orfeo Paroli, Sergente Piero Hosquet, Sergente Fiore, Sergente Ottorino Ambrosi) were out to escorted Italian bombers in the Bir Enba area.
The rendezvous with the bombers over A3 failed and after 20 minutes, the fighters of the 9o Gruppo arrived and together they proceeded towards the front on a free sweep. Three SM 79s were discovered and escorted for a while. Over Buq-Buq, a Hurricane strafing along the coastal road was discovered and the SM 79s were left to the 9o Gruppo while the CR.42s of the 151o Gruppo attacked the British fighter. The Hurricane was claimed shot down in flames and credited to the formation (but in fact only Locatelli, Lauri, Paroli and De Bellis fired their guns).
The 151a Gruppo fighters returned to base at 16:50.
Meanwhile the fighters from the 9o Gruppo continued and 30 km south of Bir Enba they spotted some Gladiators at a lower level and dived on them, but suddenly the CR.42s were jumped by a reported two Squadrons of Hurricanes or Spitfires, attacking respectively the 73a Squadriglia and the 96a Squadriglia with the 97a Squadriglia. A large dogfight started and after 20 minutes of combat many claims were submitted by the Italian pilots
Tenente Vaccari fought alone against four Hurricanes, claiming one destroyed (as a Spitfire) and damaging the others before his Fiat was hit in the fuel tank and in the engine. He crash-landed near Sollum, the aircraft turning over and caught fire; he was burned in the face and hands. Sergente Maggiore Salvatore claimed a Spitfire and several damaged before being wounded in his left arm. He managed however to return to base. Sergente Golino was hit in his back, but managed to claim his attacker before being compelled to evade and land at Amseat A3. Sergente Maggiore Biffani (Fiat CR.42 MM5599/73-9) claimed a Hurricane but was at the same shot down by his victim and was captured. He recalled:

"In the afternoon of 9 December we were flying between Mersa Matruh and Buq-Buq, when my wingman, Sottotenente Alvaro Querci, warned me that we had enemies behind us. I alerted Botto by shooting a burst [Note that the CR.42 had no radio during this period], then I realized they were near my tail, so I made a 180-degree turn and I saw them pass: they were three Hurricanes. I climbed almost vertically and saw the 73a Squadriglia in front, the three Hurricanes behind it and 96a and 97a Squadriglia behind them, all in a vertical line that went down to the ground. Then I discovered a Hurricane that was breaking off from the combat, clearly he had seen the other Italian fighters on its tail. I continued to climb, now I was the highest fighter of them all, then I dived down at full throttle [towards the escaping Hurricane]. I arrived near it and then I reduced speed and put the revolutions between 1850 and 2250 because otherwise I would had cut my propeller as happened to Gon and others, because the airscrew went out of gear and the round was fired when it passed in front of the gun (…) . When I closed to it, I opened fire. I aimed and saw the explosive bullets that exploded on the wing. Why didn’t anything happen? Was there no fuel at all? I fired at the other wing but it was the same, the bullets exploded but nothing happened. I fired into the engine, nothing happened. I saw the tracers very well, and after all, it wasn’t the first time I was shooting. At Gorizia I used to hit the target balloon with ten rounds only. In the meantime, I was losing speed and falling behind, O.K. Goodbye! It passed and turned towards me again -so I hadn’t caused any damage to it- , and I did the same. We found ourselves face to face at a distance of around 500-600 metres. I started firing and saw my tracers hitting it, then its wings lit up and in the same moment my plane caught fire, it was just an instant. My plane was severely damaged and while I was trying to land I saw the Hurricane that dived into the ground and exploded. I saw no parachute. I force-landed among British MTs and was immediately taken prisoner. I went back home after 63 months of POW!"
Additional Hurricanes were claimed by Botto, Sergente Dallari, Sergente Valle and an unknown pilot of the 73a Squadriglia (it is possible that this was a shared claim). It seems possible that also Sergente Maggiore Perotti claimed a victory (this claim is disallowed in the 97a Squadriglia diary, who only credits him with some Spitfires damaged).
Sergente Gino claimed a probable before his aircraft was badly damaged and he made an emergency landing near the frontline. Additional probables were claimed by Sottotenente De Campo and Reiner. Sergente Alcide Leoni together with other pilots claimed several damaged fighters. Capitano Larsimont Pergameni was attacked but was able to evade without claiming any hits on any enemy aircraft. Tenente Viglione was soon hit by a Hurricane, but manoeuvred to shoot at and damage it; however he was hit again in the engine by another enemy fighter, so he had to made an emergency landing near Buq-Buq.
Totally the Italian pilots claimed seven shot down (
Biffani’s claim was not initially credited since he was taken POW) and three probables (it’s possible that some of the probables were claimed as shared). The Gruppo’s Diary reduced these claims to four confirmed and three probables.
Totally during the combat one Fiat was shot down (Biffani POW) and three CR.42s carried out emergency landings (Viglione, Vaccari and Gino). Three pilots were wounded; Vaccari, Golino and Salvatore. Both Reiner’s and Valle’s aircraft returned lightly damaged while Tenente Aldo Gon and Sergente Giuseppe Tomasi landed at Amseat due to lack of fuel.
It seems that they had clashed with fighter from at least two RAF Squadrons. 12 Hurricanes from 33 Squadron had taken off with 10 minutes intervals to ground strafe the enemy’s rear areas, concentrating on troops and motor transports. They reportedly caused much damage before they were intercepted by three formations of CR.42s. During the day, 33 Squadron’s pilots claimed three Italian fighters and reported another going down out of control. One of the Squadron’s Hurricanes had to force-land but the pilot was saved (this was probably claimed by the 151o Gruppo pilots). Considering that one of the claims should relate to the loss of Sergente Francesco Nanin in the morning then the other two are probably connected with this specific engagement. It is also known that Flying Officer Vernon Woodward shot down two of the Fiats claimed by his unit, one of them in flames, and damaged a third.
The second Squadron was five Hurricanes (Squadron Leader Patrick Dunn (P3723), Flight Lieutenant John Lapsley (V7293), Flying Officer Thomas Patterson (P3720), Flight Lieutenant Peter Wykeham-Barnes (V7300) and Pilot Officer Ernest ‘Imshi’ Mason (P3722)) from 274 Squadron, which had taken off at 15:00. They were flying in two vics at 15,000 feet when they spotted 27 CR.42s in tight vics (four main formations of 8, 7, 6 and 6 aircraft) over the Sidi Barrani-Sofafi area at 16:08. The Italian fighters were discovered at 9 o’clock, 10-12 miles away and stepped so that they were slightly above and 2000 feet below. The RAF pilots succeeded in approaching unobserved and then delivered a multiple direction attack followed by a general dogfight. The Hurricane pilots reporting five confirmed victories and three probables for one Hurricane damaged. In the unit’s ORBs Form 541 victories were claimed by Flight Lieutenant Wykeham-Barnes (plus one probable), Squadron Leader Dunn (plus two probables), Flying Officer Patterson, Flight Lieutenant Lapsley and Pilot Officer Mason. However, in the unit’s ORB Form 540, the number of confirmed victories raises to six with three more CR 42s severely damaged; the identity of the claimant of this last victory, however remained unknown even if the CFRs of the action would suggest Squadron Leader Dunn.
Squadron Leader Dunn (he delivered an aster attack) reported:
“The enemy engaged in dogfight. Claim one E a/c for certain (saw it hit the ground). Attacked two in tight vic and was at 200 yards point blank range and fell certain must have killed pilots. Got another good and point blank deflection shot at another. Closed from optimum to point blank range at first. Must (?) have shot down the first two but could not spare time to confirm. 3rd point blank deflection shot likely and fourth adversary saw it hit the ground (claim 1 confirmed and 2 others which I feel certain about but must go down as unconfirmed).”
Flight Lieutenant Lapsley (he delivered a head-on attack) reported:
“The enemy fired back. 1 CR 42 shot down and seen to hit the ground without burning. Several other machines were shot at individually. They can out manoeuvre a Hurricane but one can get away and then come back.”
Pilot Officer Mason (he was discovered during the approach and had to dogfight from the beginning) reported:
“The enemy tried to turn inside me. 1 CR 42 shot at short range from above into cockpit. Aircraft turned (unreadable) with sparks from it. Followed it down until attacked by others CR 42s. Using 15o flap climb (unreadable) but not quite equal to 42. Speed on level far superior. Possible when attacked from above to turn and deliver short head on burst.”
Flight Lieutenant Wykeham-Barnes reported:
“The enemy dog fought, during dogfight damaged two enemy and sent one down out of control but could not see it crash as another was in my tail. The enemy fairly aggressive.”
Flying Officer Patterson (he delivered a quarter attack from port side) reported:
“The enemy started a general dogfight. 1 CR 42 shot down and seen to burn out on the ground”.
The 274 Squadron Hurricanes all had landed at 17:00.
It is also highly likely that 112 Squadron’s Gladiators were present. They were up, patrolling the Bir Enba area, and were noted and attacked by 9o Gruppo’s pilots. The Squadron flew at least two patrols during the day but the unit’s ORB don’t report any engagement.
The escorted bombers were three SM 79s of the 29o Gruppo (one of 11a Squadriglia and two of 63a Squadriglia) commanded by Colonnello Mario Aramu that attacked at around 16:40 while the RAF fighters were busy with the CR.42s of 9o Gruppo. Aramu noted the combat between Italian and Commonwealth fighters and claime an effective bombing from 3000 metres coming back at Gambut at 17:50 while the other formation were four SM 79s of the 6a Squadriglia, 44o Gruppo, commanded by Maggiore Andrea Bosi who had taken off at 14:25 from Tmini M2. Before the mission Bosi had received order not to press home his attack (but to turn back) in case he failed the rendezvous with the escorting fighters over Sollum, so when the rendezvous with the escort failed he turned back and landed at Tmini M2 at 16:40. His were the bombers that were discovered by 9o Gruppo flying back towards Libya.

At 12:05 on 25 January 1941, Maraua was again targeted by eight British Blenheims from 55 Squadron, which hit a truck on which the Ba.65/A80 damaged on 23 January was loaded and ready to be sent to Benghazi. This time the aircraft was totally lost. Sergente Fiore of the 367a Squadriglia attacked the formation of reportedly seven Vickers Wellingtons over Maraua. Squadron Leader Dudgeon reported a single CR.42 doing a series of half-hearted attacks on No.2 of the second flight then going away without inflicting any damage. Italian pilots from the 358a Squadriglia on the ground claimed that a lone CR.42 had shot down one of the British raiders.
Shortly after, Maresciallo Giovanni Accorsi of the 367a Squadriglia intercepted a lone Bristol Blenheim reputed to be a reconnaissance machine and claimed it probably shot down. Accorsi landed at 14:05.
More Blenheims targeting Barce were forced to turn back by the fighter defence (most likely from the 75a Squadriglia) while Derna was attacked by three Blenheims from 45 Squadron, which had taken off at 14:35 and encountering considerable AA fire.

At 10:55 on 5 February 1941, Tenente Carugno of the 217a Squadriglia took off from Agedabia to check the situation in Giarabub. Soon after take off a huge column of British motor transports was discovered in Antelat and ground strafed. When the SM 79 was leaving the scene, some Fiats were seen to join the action and start to strafe the same column. The S79 was back at 11:35 aborting its mission over Giarabub.
The Fiats were four 366a Squadriglia machines piloted by Tenente Mario Ferrero, Sottotenente Amedeo Guidi, Sergente Antonio Camerini and Sergente Imberti and three 367a Squadriglia machines piloted by Tenente Ceccotti, Sergente Ugo Fraternali and Sergente Fiore. They reported the attack against a hundred mechanized and armoured vehicles when they landed back at 12:00.

Fiore ended the war with 1 shared biplane victory, this one claimed while flying the Fiat CR.42.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  09/12/40 15:10-16:50 1/10 Hurricane (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Buq-Buq 368a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 1 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 1 shared destroyed.
(a) Probably claimed in combat between 9o and 151o Gruppi and 33 and 274 Squadrons. 9o Gruppo claimed eight shot down, three probables and several damaged while losing two CR.42s and four force-landed. The 151o Gruppo claimed one Hurricane without losses. 33 and 274 Squadrons claimed seven or eight CR.42s and three probables while one Hurricane (33 Squadron) had to force-land and a second (274 Squadron) was damaged.

Aces High - Christopher Shores and Clive Williams, 1994 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-00-0
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
Hurricanes over Tobruk - Brian Cull with Don Minterne, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-11-X
Additional information kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.

Last modified 19 February 2012