Biplane fighter aces


Sergente Luigi Giannotti

In September 1940 Sergente Giannotti served in the 82a Squadriglia of the 13o Gruppo. This unit was based in North Africa and equipped with Fiat CR.42s.

At 13:15 on 25 September, Sottotenente Gilberto Cerofolini, Sergente Franco Porta and Sergente Giannotti of the 82a Squadriglia, 13o Gruppo, scrambled from Gambut to intercept returning enemy bombers that had just attacked Tobruk. The three pilots headed out over open sea and climbed to 4000 metres where they 20 minutes after take off spotted six enemy bombers heading east in two vics of three.
The British bombers tried to escape by diving but the Italian fighters caught up with the second vic. The two wingmen were attacked first, the left one was machine gunned and seen to hit the surface of the sea where the crash raised a high water column while the right one was seen to dive at sea level with the left engine on fire. Then it was the turn of the leader, which was heavily damaged and was last seen heading towards land with the aircraft trailing thick clouds of smoke.
The three pilots then continued to pursue the bombers of the first vic but when they were down at 500 metres they were unable to get closer and had to content themselves by emptying their guns from a distance without effect.
They returned to base with damaged fighters at 14:30. Back at base, it was assessed that the first two aircraft of the first “vic” were to be considered confirmed shot down and the third one probably shot down; all three credited as shared. Cerofolini, Porta and Giannotti had scrambled without lifejackets and followed their opponents 100 kilometres over open sea and back at base they were proposed for an immediate Medaglia d’argento al valor militare for bravery. For Porta this was the second time during the same week.
The Italian pilots had run across a wing formation of Bristol Blenheims, which had taken off at around 12:15 to attack Tobruk. It was composed by nine aircraft from 55 Squadron under Flight Lieutenant R. B. Cox that acted as Wing leader, nine aircraft from 113 Squadron led by Squadron Leader Bateson and nine from 211 Squadron led by Squadron Leader Gordon-Finlayson. The attack developed at 14:20 with the Blenheims arriving in subsequent vics. 55 Squadron’s bombs fell right across the town to the jetty. Further observation of damage inflicted became soon impossible due to high dust clouds rising. 113 Squadron’s crews reported direct hit on a barrack block. 55 Squadron escaped unscathed, landing back at 15:50 while 113 Squadron was intercepted by one flight of CR.42s during the return flight when 20 miles out to sea. An astern chase continued for 10 minutes, resulting in two aircraft being hit and landing at base unserviceable. It appears that also 211 Squadron’s aircraft were intercepted since Blenheim Mk.I L8523 of this unit crash-landed with the starboard engine on fire at Qasaba; Squadron Leader J. Gordon-Finlayson DFC, Sergeant Richmond and Sergeant Jones escaped uninjured. The aircraft was destroyed beyond repair. Gordon-Finlayson had just been promoted to command the Squadron, taking the place of Squadron Leader Bax.
The Regia Aeronautica suffered two dead and ten wounded during the attack on Tobruk town.

On 10 December, five CR.42s of the 77a Squadriglia (Tenente Colonnello Secondo Revetria, Tenente Eduardo Sorvillo, Sottotenente Mario Nicoloso, Sottotenente Carmelo Catania, Sergente Ernesto Paolini and Sergente Carlo Manfredi), six from the 78a Squadriglia (Capitano Giuseppe Dall’Aglio, Sottotenente Dario Magnabosco, Tenente Giovanni Beduz, Sergente Teresio Martinoli, Sottotenente Natale Cima and Sottotenente Luigi Canneppele) with six fighters from the 82a Squadriglia (Capitano Guglielmo Arrabito, Sottotenente Gilberto Cerofolini, Sottotenente Giuseppe Timolina, Sottotenente Giuseppe Bottà, Sottotenente Virgilio Vanzan and Sergente Giannotti) as top cover, took off from Gambut at 15:30 to escort S.79s out to attack enemy concentrations in the Bir Enba-Sidi El Barrani area.
Near Sidi el Barrani, Giannotti discovered a Bristol Blenheim, attacked and claimed it damaged.
The rest of the mission was uneventful and the fighters were back at 17:15. While returning, Tenente Sorvillo was forced to land at Menastir because of a broken engine while Sergente Martinoli had to abort because of another breakdown. Sorvillo arrived back at Gambut by car.
The bombers were a vic of three S.79s from the 63a Squadriglia led by Colonnello Aramu that at least were able to release their bomb load (50 kilos bombs) over the British concentrations.

At 10:15 on 12 December, five CR.42s of the 82a Squadriglia (Capitano Guglielmo Arrabito, Sottotenente Gilberto Cerofolini, Sottotenente Giuseppe Timolina, Sergente Maggiore Dante Davico and Sergente Giannotti) took off from Gambut to escort a formation of seven SM 79s from the 9o Stormo led by Colonnello Mario Aramu, which were to attack enemy troops near Halfaya.
Capitano Arrabito formed his fighters on the left of the bombers and 2000 metres higher. When over Bu Giallach he discovered an enemy monoplane that looked as if was moving into position for an attack on the SM 79s and he immediately dived on it. He damaged it, forcing it to flee (possibly Flight Sergeant Morris from 274 Squadron). Then he identified a Bristol Blenheim that was ground strafing the already empty landing ground of A3 and claimed it shot down (individually) in flames. This was probably Blenheim Mk.I L8465 of 45 Squadron that was shot-down during a raid on Sollum, killing the crew; Pilot Officer Patrick Cullimore Traill-Smith (RAF no. 42451), Pilot Officer Vincent Dennis Fry (RAF no. 43055) and Sergeant Tom Osborn Liggins (RAF no. 630475).
After the attack, Arrabito tried to turn back to his escort duty but the engine of his CR.42 failed and he had to force-land among Italian troops near Mu Said. He was driven back to Tobruk in a car and during the return journey had to witness many nuisance attacks by the Hurricanes ground strafing the road.
Giannotti suffered almost the same fate after succeeding in landing at Amseat after engine troubles (his fighter was most probably lost here). Timolina and Davico discovered that their engines too were not working properly and immediately turn back to Gambut leaving the lone Cerofolini to escort the SM 79s. Cerofolini went with the Savoias as far as Buq-Buq. While doing this he was attacked twice by British monoplanes but each time he was able to evade and returned safely to T2.
The bombers returned to Gambut at 10:40 without losses.
274 Squadron reported that from 06:15 to 09:45, 15 Hurricanes took off individually. After refuelling at LG 70, they attacked transports and troops west of Sollum. The purpose of this operation was to turn the Italian retreat into a route and to demoralise the enemy communication during the retreat.
All aircraft were back safely except for Flight Sergeant Morris that force-landed Hurricane Mk.I P3723 30 miles west of Mersa Matruh. Returning to base the day after, he claimed the destruction of two SM 79s, in a position 2-3 miles SSE of Capuzzo and reported:

“At 9.30 hours 12.12.40 I took off from Sidi Heneish to carry out ground strafing WEST of SOLLUM. I landed at an advanced Landing Ground, refuelled and proceeded to target area. I passed just SOUTH of FORT CAPUZZO at 11,000 feet and selected vehicles on the CAPUZZO - BARDIA ROAD as my objective. When at 8,000 feet I saw below at 4,000 feet , and at 5 o’clock, 6 aircraft proceeding S.S.E. I dived to investigate and when behind at 2,000 feet above them I identified them as 3 SM 79s in close vic escorted by 3 CR 42s. The escort being 500 feet above and just to the left of the S79s. I selected the right hand SM 79 (No.2) as my first target. I closed to within 150 yards astern and slightly above it. I gave it a burst of about 50 rounds and it immediately did an half roll to the right and went down almost vertically. I watched it almost down to ground level which was obscured by dust. It did not drop its bombs on being attacked so that it must have been completely surprised. As the CR 42s still maintained their position I closed to about 100 yards behind and slightly above the leader (No.1). I gave this one a burst of 50 rounds and this also went down to the right in a terrific side-slip still maintaining its original course. I watched this one descend until it was close to the ground and then the remaining bomber did a medium turn to the left right underneath the fighter escort and did a shallow dive towards FORT CAPUZZO which was on the reciprocal course. I did not follow this bomber due to the reception I should receive from the Fort. I was now at 1,000 feet and turned back and saw the three C.R. 42s circling at about 5,000 feet above the scene of the original action. Apparently they were searching for the bombers, the split up of which must have been entirely unobserved by them. I then decided to attack them also, so I climbed in a large circle around them in order to get into the sun. When in position at 5,500 feet I dived on them hoping to cover all three machines by a long burst from the beam or quarter. When I was about 1000 yards from them my approach must have been observed as they made off at full speed to the west diving fairly steeply. As my advantage of surprise was lost and I could not follow them very far, I decide to carry on with my original intention of ground strafing. I was still in the vicinity of FORT CAPUZZO and again located my target. This time on my way down I see a landing ground about three miles NORTH of the Fort on the west side of the road. I circled the landing ground and reduced height to about 1000 feet and saw 10 aircraft dispersed on and around it, of these at least one was a Breda 65, others were CR 42s. Full identification was impossible owing to the dust storm in the vicinity. I attacked and in two dives covered two of the CR 42s with my fire; when breaking away I looked down into some slit trenches but could not see no personnel. As now I had just enough petrol to return to base I climbed out of the dust and when at about 1,300 feet I observed three CR 42s patrolling about 2,000 feet above me slightly to the EAST. My approach was observed and I had to turn NORTH towards BARDIA in order to avoid combat being at great disadvantage. The CR 42s remained to the EAST of me and flew on a parallel course still maintaining their advantage of height.
Just SOUTH of BARDIA I turned EAST went down to 50 feet into the dust and eluded my pursers. Owing to this last action I did not have enough petrol to return to base, so endeavoured to find L.G. 74. This landing ground was totally obscured by dust so I continued on my course to Base. Thirty miles WEST of MATRUH my fuel supply was very low so I forced landed successfully. Petrol was sent to me and I returned to base the following day, 13.12.40. At no time during the whole of this trip did I experience enemy fire.”

Giannotti ended the war with 2 shared biplane victories.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  25/09/40 13:15-14:30 1/3 Blenheim (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Off Tobruk 82a Squadriglia
  25/09/40 13:15-14:30 1/3 Blenheim (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Off Tobruk 82a Squadriglia
  25/09/40 13:15-14:30 1/3 Blenheim (a) Shared probable Fiat CR.42   Off Tobruk 82a Squadriglia
  10/12/40   1 Blenheim Damaged Fiat CR.42   Sidi el Barrani area 82a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 2 shared destroyed, 1 shared probably destroyed, 1 damaged.
TOTAL: 2 shared destroyed, 1 shared probably destroyed, 1 damaged.
(a) Claimed in combat with Blenheims from 55, 113 and 211 Squadrons, which suffered one crash-landed (Blenheim L8523 from 211 Sq.) and two damaged bombers (from 113 Sq.).

2o Stormo - Note storiche dal 1925 al 1975 - Gino Strada, 1975 USSMA, Rome, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Bristol Blenheim – Andrew Thomas, Warpaint Books, Luton, ISSN 1361-0369, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.
Diario Storico 77a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Diario Storico 82a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.
L’aeronautica Italiana nella Seconda Guerra Mondiale I volume - Giuseppe Santoro, 1966 Second Edition, Editore Esse, Milano-Roma, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.
The Bristol Blenheim: A complete history – Graham Warner, 2002 Crécy Publishing Limited, Manchester, ISBN 0-947554-92-0
Additional information kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo

Last modified 21 June 2009