Biplane fighter aces


Capitano Saverio Gostini

7 November 1915 – 30 March 1942

Date Decoration Note
??/??/38 Medaglia d’argento al valor militare (1st) O.M.S.
??/??/39 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

Saverio Gostini was born on 7 November 1915 and was from Scilli (Ragusa).

He volunteered for service in the Spanish Civil War where he served in XXIII Gruppo flying CR.32s.

Gostini ended the Spanish Civil War with 2 biplane victories.

On 9 August 1940, 13 twin-engined Breda Ba.88 Lince (Lynx) fighter-bombers of the 7o Gruppo Combattimento arrived at Castle Benito near Tripoli. This was the first unit arriving in North Africa with this eagerly awaited type. The type had however suffered a very disappointing start and was plagued with reliability problems. The problems where well known but decision was nevertheless taken to deploy the Bredas in Libya, hoping to solve them quickly in the new African bases since ground attack aircraft were in great demand.
The unit was commanded by Maggiore Marcello Fossetta and its three Squadriglie were commanded by Tenente Valentino Festa (76a Squadriglia), Tenente Bruno Politi (86a Squadriglia) and Tenente Gostini (98a Squadriglia).
The Gruppo had taken off from its home-base of Lonate Pozzolo on 5 August with 20 aircraft. First stop was Capua airfield near Napoli where only seventeen planes arrived after engine failure on the aircraft flown by Sergente Maggiore Gatti, Maresciallo Giovanni Orofino and Tenente Sergio Maurer. Luckily all the crew survived the forced landings almost unhurt. In the afternoon of the same day the Gruppo proceeded for Sicily where it landed at Castelvetrano airfield losing another Breda when Tenente Elio Martire’s Breda was damaged in a landing accident while Tenente Bruno Politi succeeded in landing notwithstanding a broken engine. On 9 August, the Gruppo took off for the last part of the trip to Africa but in Castel Benito only thirteen aircraft arrived, the Bredas of Maresciallo Del Zotto and Sergente Maggiore Giardini force landed on the island of Pantelleria (engine breakdowns) while Tenente Maurer destroyed another plane in a landing accident caused by a faulty fuel supply system (Maurer and his gunner where wounded). The damaged aircraft were repaired and four spare Bredas where immediately sent to Africa to rise the strength of the Gruppo to twenty planes.
The Ba.88s was destined to never meet the enemy. After a month of acclimatisation, trying to work out their many problems, a desperate attempt to use them in action at least one time was made during the September offensive against Egypt.

On 14 October, the 7o Gruppo only had 10 or 11 Ba.88s flyable out of 29 on charge.
Notwithstanding the low efficiency, another effort was made to use the Bredas of the Gruppo operationally, when a three-plane formation of the 98a Squadriglia, led by Tenente Gostini was ordered to attack enemy armoured vehicles in the general area between Sidi Barrani and Bir Enba. This time the Ba.88s were at least able to reach the target area but the enemies were not located and they failed to draw first blood.

At 12:15 on 30 June 1941, six Hurricanes (including some new Hurricane IIcs) from 126 Squadron scrambled. On the Controller’s orders Flying Officer John Carpenter led the section up to 17,000 feet to the north of Malta from which vantage point three MC.200s were seen diving for home - apparently, part of a formation from the 7o Gruppo. These could not be caught, but on turning Flying Officer Carpenter saw six more behind, one of which he chased down to sea level. He reported:

“I chased one of them to sea level and caught up when I pulled the emergency boost. I gave a three-second burst at 250 yards. The Macchi did not attempt to pull out of its dive and went straight into the sea.”
Sergeant Alexander Mackie meanwhile had chased one fighter and reported:
“I climbed and chased one Macchi to 20 miles south of Sicily when I shot him down with a three-second burst from astern and below from 15,000 feet. The Macchi’s starboard undercarriage leg dropped about one foot and smoke issued from the engine and it went into a spiral dive straight into the sea without recovering.”
A third Macchi was claimed damaged by Sergeant John McCracken, who pursued it for about 40 miles out to sea:
“When I sighted this aircraft it was about 2,000 to 3,000 yards away, steaming very fast. I dived onto it from about 15,000 feet and closed range considerably after chasing it for about seven minutes. I was about 25 miles from Sicily and about 500 yards behind. I opened fire and saw the tracer going all round him. It appeared to strike him many times. All ammunition was fired.”
The 7o Gruppo reported the loss of Tenente Armando Cibin, who was shot down, but claimed two confirmed victories against Hurricanes by Capitano Gostini and Sergente Walter Omiccioli (86a Squadriglia), plus three probables by Tenente Sergio Maurer, Maresciallo Avellino De Mattia (98a Squadriglia) and Sergente Arnaldo Mauri (98a Squadriglia).

In the early hours of 26 July 1941, the Italians attempted a seaborne strike against Grand Harbour. The Italian Navy’s 1,568-ton sloop ’Diana’ approached the Malta area before midnight. On board were nine explosive MTM motor boats and their one-man pilots. The sloop also towed a smaller electric-powered MTL motor boat carrying two SLC human torpedoes and their four crewmen. Accompanying the vessels were two 60-foot motor torpedo-boats (MAS451 and 452), the latter towing a MTSM motor boat. ’Diana’ hove-to 20 miles north of Malta, from where the attack was to be launched. This was to coincide with a diversionary raid by BR20Ms.
The boats set off at 02:00, reaching the kilometre mark at 03:00 - behind schedule. Here it was found that SLC No.2 was defective, and Maggiore Tesei ordered it back. He was due to blow the net at 04:30, and pressed on. The diverting air raid came in 15 minutes early, and when an explosion was heard at 04:25 it was assumed to be Tesei’s SLC - it was in fact not, being caused by the bombing; Tesei was never seen again and his fate remains unknown. At once however, the barchini approached, and finding the net intact, Sottotenente di Vascello Carlo Bosio charged his explosive and leapt out. The boat, MTM No.1 hit the net and failed to explode. MTM No.2 was aimed at the net but hit the pier and blew up with the pilot still aboard, the force of the explosion bringing down the left-hand span of a steel bridge across the entrance to the harbour, which effectively blocked it. The defences now opened up and brought searchlights to bear; swiftly all the remaining MTMs were sunk by gunfire from the twin six-pounders of the Royal Malta Artillery, or deliberately by their pilots. Bosio climbed aboard MTM No.l again and set the destruct mechanism, but this blew up before he could get clear.
Dawn was now breaking and Hurricanes were scrambled by 126 and 185 Squadrons, passing over the fight at the harbour entrance to attack the four motor boats offshore. The sloop ’Diana’ (which had brought the small attack boats within striking distance to Malta) was already well away on the way home; MAS 451 and 452, the latter towing the MTMS, were heading after her when the Hurricanes caught them. Flight Lieutenant Lefevre (Z3498) of 126 Squadron attacked one with cannon fire, reporting that the crew signalled surrender, while other pilots from this unit shot up the other vessels with machine gun fire. Pilot Officer Gay Bailey (Z3522/GL-A) of 185 Squadron claimed one vessel sunk, while eight others from the same squadron attacked three vessels, all of which were claimed destroyed.
In fact, MAS 451 was hit hard, the crew leaping overboard as she blew up and killed four seamen. The survivors were later picked up by a British vessel, claiming that they had shot down one Hurricane. MAS 452 was also hit (probably by Flight Lieutenant Lefevre), Capitano de Fregata Moccagatta, Capitano di Corvetta Giobbe and six other members of the crew being killed. The eleven survivors transferred to the MTSM and escaped, subsequently re-joining the ’Diana’. It seems that the MTL was also sunk by the Hurricanes.
MC.200s of the 7o Gruppo had been ordered off from Comiso at dawn to escort the flotilla back, but arrived overhead to find the vessels already under attack by the Hurricanes. ‘Bouncing’ the latter, the Macchi pilots put in seven claims, which were apparently later reduced to three confirmed and two probables. Claiming pilots were Capitano Gostini (one destroyed), Sottotenente Giannoccarso (two destroyed), Sergente Maggiore Domenico Facchini (76a Squadriglia) and Sergente Walter Omiccioli (86a Squadriglia); other claims were reduced to damaged.
Pilot Officer Denis Winton (Z4946/GL-E) of 185 Squadron was shot down and baled out into the sea. but his aircraft was the only one lost.
As the Macchis attacked, Sergeant Alan Haley of 126 Squadron, an Australian from Sydney, broke away and dived to about 500 feet above the sea, getting behind one Italian fighter and putting four or five bursts into it before it dived into the sea ten miles from Sicily. At that point, his own aircraft was hit several times, and he found that another Macchi was on his tail. Turning south, he was pursued for some five minutes, but at that point Pilot Officer Peter Thompson (Z3456/GL-X) of 185 Squadron saw Haley under attack and fired at the Macchi, believing that he had shot it down into the sea. Sergeant Haley saw the second Hurricane put a burst across the nose of his pursuer which caused it to turn away, and swinging about, was able to get a short burst into the Macchi, which then crashed into the sea about 15 miles from Sicily. Whether both pilots hit the MC.200 or not is not certain, but each claimed its destruction so that total RAF claims were for three Macchis shot down. Two Macchi pilots were indeed shot down during this combat, Maresciallo Avellino De Mattia (98a Squadriglia) baling out and being rescued later, while Sergente Maggiore Ruggero Gallina (76a Squadriglia) was killed. Two more MC.200s from 76a Squadriglia returned with battle damage.
Pilot Officer Winton, after several hours in his dinghy, spotted the stationary MAS 452 nearby and swam to it, getting aboard to find it occupied only by the eight dead Italians. An Army rescue boat approached, but unsure of who was still aboard, contended itself to circle around; it was by then six hours since Winton had been shot down. Finally, a Swordfish floatplane landed alongside, flying Winton and the flag from the vessel back to Malta. MAS 452 was taken in tow by the rescue vessel ’Jade’ and brought into the harbour.
The raid had cost the Italians 15 dead and 18 captured (three officers and 15 ratings) - brave men all. The second SLC had finally limped ashore after five hours in the water, the crew of two being included amongst those captured. It had been a gallant effort, but it had achieved nothing.

Gostini was killed on 30 March 1942

At the time of his death, Gostini was credited with 2 biplane victories and a total of 5.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 ??/??/3?   1 Enemy aircraft Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Spain XXIII Gruppo
2 ??/??/3?   1 Enemy aircraft Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Spain XXIII Gruppo
3 30/06/41 12:15- 1 Hurricane (a) Destroyed MC.200   Malta 7o Gruppo
4 26/07/41 dawn 1 Hurricane (b) Destroyed MC.200   off Malta coast 7o Gruppo
5 ??/??/4?   1 Enemy aircraft Destroyed        

Biplane victories: 2 destroyed.
TOTAL: 5 destroyed.
(a) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 126 Squadron, which claimed 2 MC.200s and 1 damaged without losses. The 7o Gruppo claimed 2 Hurricanes and 3 probables while losing 1 MC.200 (pilot KIA).
(b) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 126 and 185 Squadrons, which claimed 3 MC.200s while losing 1 Hurricane (pilot safe). The 7o Gruppo claimed 3 Hurricanes and 2 probables while losing 2 MC.200s (1 pilot KIA) and getting 2 more damaged.

Air War over Spain - Jesus Salas Larrazabal, 1974 Ian Allan Ltd, Shepperton, Surrey, ISBN 0-7110-0521-4
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
Elenco Nominativo dei Militari dell’ A. M. Decorati al V. M. Durante it Periodo 1929 - 1945 1 Volume A - L
Fiat CR.32 Aces of the Spanish Civil War - Alfredo Logoluso, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-983-6
Hurricanes over Malta - Brian Cull and Frederick Galea, 2001 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-91-8
Malta: The Hurricane Years 1940-41 - Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-89747-207-1

Last modified 26 May 2023