Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Sottotenente Miroslav “Mirko” Komjanc

21 February 1914 – 2 May 1941


© Sergio Santoro

Miroslav Komjanc was born in Števerjan (now San Floriano del Collio), in the province of Gorica (now Gorizia), on 21 February 1914.
He was fourth among the eight sons of a wine producer. He was born in Slovenia, which at that time was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but at the end of World War I that territory was annexed by Italy, so he became Italian, though he also kept the original Slovenian language. He by then officially signed himself with the Italianized first name Miroslavo, but he was always nicknamed Mirko.

He graduated as an Electrician Expert in 1936, and by that year he began to teach at the school of Idria (now Idrija, Slovenia).

In 1937, he was called to arms. Being fascinated by Regia Aeronautica (Gorizia was then the home of the 4o Stormo), he asked to enter in it. He was licensed as pilot at Pola (now Pula, Croatia) in 1937 and went to the Officers’ School in Siena.
On 24 December 1938, he graduated as Sottotenente Pilota and was assigned to the 74 Squadriglia (CO Capitano Guido Bobba), 23o Gruppo Caccia in Turin.

In 1940, he volunteered to the AOI (Africa Orientale Italiana – Italian East Africa) and was assigned to the 413a Squadriglia Autonoma Caccia, led by Capitano Corrado Santoro and based at Gura, Eritrea. He went to Africa on 1 March.

Immediately before the beginning of the war, on 10 June 1940, the 413a Squadriglia was transferred to Assab, leaving at Gura the 412a and the 414a Squadriglie, both on CR.42s and some CR.32s they inherited by the disbanded 409a Squadriglia.

His first mission was on 11 June, when he scrambled at 12:45 to intercept four Blenheims that were believed going to bomb Assab airport; no results were officially claimed.
That first day of war, Blenheims I of 203 Squadron were just performing recons over Assab, Massawa, Diredawa, Harar, Jijiga and Dessie.

He made another scramble the following day, when nine Blenheims of 8 Squadron attacked Assab at 12:40, burning food and tire depots. No official claims were made by Italians, but on return Blenheim L6654 crash-landed at Ras Ara.

That same night, two bombing waves destroyed four barracks and a truck loaded with ammunition.

On 14 June, Assab was bombed twice, at 07:45 and 20:30, having the radio station destroyed. Two CR.42s chased the enemy with no results.

Another bombing on 15 June, early at 04:00, destroyed four buildings.
Later in the day, Assab airfields were mostly evacuated, the 413a Squadriglia going to Dire Dawa with three fighters detached to Addis Ababa.

On 22 June three aircraft, believed being French, suddenly attacked Dire Dawa at 13:30 (12:15 according to the 410a diary), favoured by bad weather.
Sottotenente Komjanc tried to scramble, but his aircraft was hit and burned by a bomb before he could mount in it; he was luckily unhurt. The other pilot on alarm duty, Sergente Maggiore Gaetano Volpe of the 410a Squadriglia, was taking off, but a splinter stopped him by damaging the engine of his CR.32 MM4648. Another fighter was damaged, one of ground personnel was killed and two wounded. Capitano Corrado Ricci, CO of the 410a Squadriglia, recalled the episode:

“…We couldn’t start to have our lunch that a bomb rain, damned close, hurries us: who runs to recovery, who lies on ground, … windows glass shatters and breaks, roof vibrates and a rain of debris and powder covers us and our maccheroni, floor shatters and it seems that explosions never end.
Santoro is on the ground beside me, we’re flat as soles as we look on one another, while the hell continues: we’re both pale… As soon the explosions cease we jump up and run to the airport. There had been three bombers, absolutely unexpected: a driver is dead, hit by a splinter; Colonnello Pezzi shows me it, a few grams of iron, and says: “For this small bit of damned iron a life has gone… and I’ll have to write this to his mother!”
Two more airmen have been slightly wounded, a fighter burns at the end of the field, the oil sump of my engine has been penetrated from side to side. Sottotenente Komjanc was on alarm duty and was running towards his CR.42, which his engineer had soon started. While he was wearing his parachute, some bombs dropped nearby and the shock wave threw him on ground. As he rose up, he saw his fighter burning: he’s now telling this to Santoro, and he’s desperate for having lost an aircraft. It seems he still doesn’t realize of the extraordinary luck that protected him!”

On 3 August, the Italians moved into British Somaliland, heavily supported by Regia Aeronautica with 25 CR.32s and CR.42s (410a, 411a and 413a Squadriglie), nine Ro.37s (110a Squadriglia), eleven S.79s (44o Gruppo), 19 S.81s (4o and 29o Gruppi) and 21 Ca.133s (27o Gruppo and Squadriglia Stato Maggiore Settore Ovest).

At 09:30 on 6 August, two Blenheims of 39 Squadron tried to bomb Regio Esercito columns near Hargeisa, but were jumped by CR.42s that made a dozen of attacks on them.
Comando Aeronautica AOI’s bulletin no. 58 claimed a bomber probably shot down. This was given as destroyed by Komjanc in the motivation of his first Medaglia d’argento al valor militare.

At 05:25 on 8 August, two CR.32s of the 410a Squadriglia (Capitano Corrado Ricci and Sergente Maggiore Giovanni Tellurio) and two CR.42s of the 413a Squadriglia (Tenente Luciano Cacciavillani and Sottotenente Komjanc) took off from Hargeisa (British Somaliland) advanced camp to attack Berbera airfield. Tenente Cacciavillani aborted the take-off. The remaining three aircraft arrived by surprise at Berbera at 06:00. Two 94 Squadron Gladiators were on the ground and the standby pilot had got into the cockpit of N5778, but had not got the engine started when the attack began, and as Capitano Ricci opened fire, he leapt out and ran to shelter. Failing to inflict telling damage in the first pass, Ricci returned for a second attack, and this time he set the Gladiator alight and it burned fiercely, being totally destroyed. The second Gladiator (N5890) was also set on fire by the attacks of Sergente Maggiore Tellurio and Sottotenente Komjanc, the rear fuselage and tail being burnt off. Next day the second Gladiator was dismantled and shipped back to Aden but it was considered destroyed beyond repair. Ricci recalled the mission:

"I was the first to take off, with Tellurio at my wing; soon after started Cacciavillani and Komjanc, but the first skipped on ground, and then stood with tail up: what could have happened to him? Komjanc joined us. I checked my compass with a pocket light to keep the course. After half an hour of flight, the light is coming, but we could not yet see Berbera; five minutes more: nothing again... I again checked the chart; the course is right, but I have no reference point on the ground because it is so flat; I know that the wind is strong, and its direction change as the sun rise, but I can't evaluate it. I continue a little bit on chance. At the end, I decide to turn 90-degrees left; after a few minutes, a sparkling ahead makes me happy: it's the sea! I start a light dive, and I increase it as we are approaching, so we find us to fly grazing to the yellowish sand: it's the only way to come unseen! I can see the town, it's small, whitish; there's a ship in the harbour. Here is the airfield: two dark aircraft, side by side, stand out. They are Gladiators. My wingmen close at me, and this bothers me; slowly, I gain speed and I put them away from me. We are skimming the ground and some small hills cover us to enemy's sight; just a little bit... Here we are! With a steep climb, I gain 500 m height, then I dive on the fighter at left; while I'm aiming a man leaves it and falls headlong... what a long-legged he is! I shoot: a strong wind disturbs my shoot, my rounds are on ground, but some hit the target. I pull hard, quite skimming the wing of the enemy aircraft; I hear behind my shoulders that Tellurio and Komjanc are firing too. The anti-aircraft weapons awake; bluish tracer shells, shrapnel explosions; the ships fires like a volcano, the machine-guns in their nest at the airfield's edge are shooting: the air is hot! A big turn: the other Gloster is burning, mine is not, but with a second burst, I get it burning too. We can go! I take a snapshot with my old camera that I bring with me at every flight: I have to prove the results of the action. We go away, with a grazing flight. A sand column rise just in front of me; here another and other around: they are the British grenades. I climb to 200 m altitude: black burst around us, some other sand gush here and there, then all is over."
The fighters landed at Jijiga at 07:25. A total of 252 x 7.7mm and 158 x 12.7mm rounds had been fired.

The following day, 9 August, the mission was repeated. At 05:25, Tenente Elio Pesce (410a Squadriglia), Tenente. Ubaldo Buzzi (411a Squadriglia, in a CR.32 from the 410a) and Sottotenente Komjanc took off from Hargeisa.
At 06:00 they arrived at Bardera, where they found the relics of Gladiators destroyed in the mission the previous day, so a number of trucks (and another aircraft according to the 410a Squadriglia’s diary) were strafed, spending a total of 156 x 7.7mm and 174 x 12.7mm rounds. Again, a hard AAA fire was encountered. Pesce and Komjanc landed at Hargeisa at 06:55 while Buzzi landed at Jijiga at 07:30.

On 19 August, victorious Italian troops entered in Berbera. In 16 days of operations the Regia Aeronautica lost four aircraft and claimed 14 destroyed in the air or on ground.

Since most part of documents from the next period is lost, little is known about his action during the time.

On 3 February 1941, Sottotenente Komjanc was leading a section of two CR.42s to escort three Ca.133 bombers over Dif, at the border between Kenya and Somalia, to bomb the camp of Transvaal Scottish.
Captain J. E. Frost of 3 SAAF Squadron had scrambled in a Hurricane from Aligabe airfield for the third time that day. Having spotted the Capronis while on way home, he made a dive attack on them, soon chased by CR.42s either by front and rear. Captain Frost eluded them by flying eastbound ahead of the bombers for seven miles, and then turned back, again chased by FIATs in a front attack. Frost shot at a CR.42 and saw it to climb, then to crash into the ground. After that, he attacked the bombers, of which two crash-landed and one crashed. Italian sources states a Caproni emergency-landed and two missing, while the aircraft of Komjanc was riddled of bullets. On the other side, Italian bulletins claimed that a pilot (Komjanc?) shot down a Hurricane and another probable. Indeed, for this mission, Komjanc was posthumously awarded with a second Medaglia d’argento al valor militare.

With the heavy fighter pilot losses on the Northern front, in the battle of Keren, in February/March several pilots were transferred to the 412a Squadriglia, among them Sottotenente Komjanc. In April, when the unit retreated to Ethiopia, he was charged to command a fighter section of the 412a Squadriglia at Jimma.

On 2 May 1941, Sottotenente Komjanc took off from Jimma, probably against British sorties against Shashamanna. Due to poor visibility in the mist, he crashed against the windsock bar of the airport and was killed.

He is buried in Italian War Cemetery in Addis Abeba.

At the time of his death, Komjanc is credited with 2 biplane victories.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
1 06/08/40 09:30 1 Blenheim (a) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Hargeisa area 413a Squadriglia
  08/08/40 05:25-07:25 ½ Gladiator (b) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Berbera airfield 413a Squadriglia
  1941                
2 03/02/41   1 Hurricane (c) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Dif area 413a Squadriglia
  03/02/41   1 Hurricane (c) Probably destroyed Fiat CR.42   Dif area 413a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 2 destroyed, 1 probably destroyed, 1 shared destroyed on the ground.
TOTAL: 2 destroyed, 1 probably destroyed, 1 shared destroyed on the ground.
(a) Claimed in combat with Blenheims from 39 Squadron.
(b) Gladiator N5890 from 94 Squadron destroyed beyond repair.
(c) Probably claimed in combat against a single Hurricane from 3 SAAF Squadron, which didn’t suffer any damage.

Sources:
410a Squadriglia war diary (June-December 1940) kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro.
Comando Aeronautica AOI war diary (June 1940) kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro.
Dust Clouds in the Middle East - Christopher Shores, 1996 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-37-X
La romantica Squadriglia – Corrado Ricci, 1961 Edizioni Cielo, Rome
Regia Aeronautica War Bulletins by East Africa (1940-41) kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro.
Vita di Pilota - Corrado Ricci, 1976 Mursia, Milan
Family archive f the Komjac family kindly provided by Nikolaj Simon Komjanc and Ida Komjanc via Stefano Lazzaro.
Additional information kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro, Sergio Santoro and Ludovico Slongo.




Last modified 23 February 2014