Biplane fighter aces


Colonnello Eugenio Leotta Medaglia d’oro al valor militare

– 25 October 1941

On 5 November 1936, Sottotenente Vittorio Pezzè took temporarily command over the 73a Squadriglia, IX Gruppo C.T. after Capitano Corradino Mancini.
He was relieved by Capitano Leotta on 21 December 1936.

Maggiore Eugenio Leotta took part in the Spanish Civil War using the nom de guerre ’Leonello’.

The VI Gruppo Caccia was formed on 3 May 1937 and was commanded by Maggiore Leotta. The Gruppo consisted of:

31a Squadriglia commanded by Capitano Luigi Borgogno (’Benigni’)
32a Squadriglia commanded by Capitano Ernesto Botto (’Cantini’)
This unit was originally named Gruppo Leonello, but it later became known as Diavoli Neri (Black Devils). The gruppo was brought to its full strength of three squadriglie with the addition of the 33a Squadriglia on 1 October of that same year.
The three Italian CR.32 gruppi in Spain were brought together under the control of 3o Stormo Caccia dell’Aviazione Legionaria, which was led by Tenente Colonnello Alberto Canaveri. The unit’s designation was derived from the code number ‘3’ which had been assigned as the aircraft identifier for the CR.32 in Nationalist service, for it was the third type of fighter to have been used by the air force following the Ni-H.52 and He 51.

On 23 August, ten CR.32s from the 32a Squadriglia (one of which was flown by VI Gruppo CO Maggiore Leotta and another by the CO of the 32a Squadriglia Capitano Ernesto Botto) fought I-15s near Ontaneda as the latter tried to defend Santander from being attacked. Italian pilots claimed three “Curtiss fighters” destroyed and three probables, and their demise was again collectively attributed to all participants from the 32a Squadriglia.
The only loss admitted by the Republicans, however, was the I-15 of Francisco De Antonio Sanz, who was shot down near Ontaneda but managed to return to Republican lines.

After the Republican offensive in the Aragon started on 24 August, the Nationalists immediately bolstered the aerial defence of the Aragon front by sending XXIII Gruppo Caccia to Saragossa-Sanjurjo. Led by Maggiore Andrea Zotti, the gruppo was comprised of 18a, 19a and 20a Squadriglie, led by Capitani Guido Nobili, Enrico Degli Incerti and Antonio Larsimont Pergameni, respectively.
On 25 August these units were joined by the CR.32s of capitán Joaquín García Morato’s Grupo 2-G-3 and Maggiore Giuseppe Casero’s XVI Gruppo, consisting of 24a, 25a and 26a Squadriglie, led by Capitani Bruno Brambilla and Armando François and Tenente Alfiero Mezzetti (CO from 3 August), respectively.
Finally, Maggiore Leotta’s VI Gruppo was also transferred from Villarcayo to Alfamèn on 28 August with its 31a and 32a Squadriglie, led by Capitani Luigi Borgogno and Ernesto Botto.
This was virtually all the CR.32s on mainland Spain with both the Spanish CR.32 Grupo and the whole 3o Stormo Caccia dell’Aviazione Legionaria.

Maggiore Leotta left the command of the VI Gruppo on 16 March 1938.

Leotta ended the Spanish Civil War with 3 shared biplane victories.

He continued to serve during the Second World War.

In the beginning of 1941, he served as CO of the 154o Gruppo CT, which was equipped with Fiat G.50bis.

On 10 February 1941, Italian bombers of all types made sustained attacks on Yanina. Fighters of both the EVA and the RAF patrolled and intercepted in a series of rather confused engagements. During the morning three formations of 47o Stormo Z.1007bis and five S.79s from the 104o Gruppo attacked Yanina. The latter formation were escorted by 154o Gruppo CT G.50bis fighters, led by Maggiore (CO) Leotta. This formation was intercepted by a trio of 21 Mira Gladiators, but the escort were on them like a shot, Maggiore Leotta claiming one shot down and his pilots a second in collaboration. The Greek unit only lost one aircraft when Anthyposminagos (Second Lieutenant) Anastassios Bardivilias was shot down and killed.
Three Gladiators of 80 Squadron ('Pat' Pattle, Greg Graham and P. T. Dowding) had chased five Z.1007bis bombers during mid-morning (probably a formation from 47o Stormo), but could not gain sufficient height to make an effective attack. Nevertheless they saw their fire strike two of the bombers, Flight Lieutenant Pattle claiming one damaged. During these morning raids bombs fell on the west and north sides of the airfield, but little damage was caused other than to one staff car.
The afternoon was practically a continual air raid alarm. Four S.79s of 104o Gruppo attacked under escort by a dozen 154o Gruppo G.50bis, the escort claiming a further Gladiator shot down when a single Allied fighter of this type intercepted. Ten more 47o Stormo Z.1007bis crews reported attack by ten Gladiators and seven PZLs, claiming four Gladiators shot down. However seven of the bombers were hit, one of them badly, and a number of aircrew were wounded. Fourteen RAF Gladiators, 12 from 80 Squadron and two from 112 Squadron, undertook defensive patrols, during one of which Flying Officer Nigel Cullen chased away one formation of five trimotors, then attacked five more head-on (identified as S.79s) and chased these out to sea, claiming to have shot one down into the sea south of Corfu. Another formation identified as BR.20s, but almost certainly the 47o Stormo Z.1007bis, was intercepted by Flight Lieutenant Pattle, Flight Lieutenant 'Timber' Woods and Sergeant Charles Casbolt, each of these pilots claiming one damaged, while Pilot Officer William Valecaught another which he reported crashed some 15 miles south-west of Yanina. At least five formations raided the airfield during the afternoon, an estimated 150 heavy bombs falling on or near the base. Three 80 Squadron Gladiators were damaged and one 21 Mira fighter was destroyed. In the nearby town much damage was caused and many civilians killed or injured.

He was promoted to Tenente Colonnello and took command of the 4o Stormo.

Serie I and II MC.202s were delivered to the 9o Gruppo at Gorizia from 30 June 1941 through to early August 1941, with pilots quickly transitioning to the aircraft.

On 24 September, 31 C.202s of the 9o Gruppo departed Gorizia for Comiso, near Ragusa on Sicily. During the unit’s long journey south, its MC.202s made a brief stopover at Rome-Ciampino Sud airport so that they could be reviewed by Prime Minister Benito Mussolini on 29 September. Later that same day, the 9o Gruppo, led by the 4o Stormo CO, Colonnello Leotta, reached Comiso. Within 24 hours of their arrival, the MC.202 pilots would enter combat against the fighter force on Malta.

Around midday on 25 October, four Cant Z.1007bis from the 9o Stormo B.T. approached Grand Harbour, escorted by MC.200s of the 54o Stormo as close cover, with 20 MC.202 of the 9o Gruppo providing indirect support.
185 Squadron scrambled eight Hurricanes led by Flying Officer Gay Bailey (BD835), which dived to attack the bombers (identified as BR.20s). One Z.1007bis was hard hit, the port engine being seen to stop and it was classed as a probable. In fact the bomber managed to reach Sicily, where it crash-landed at Comiso with one dead and one wounded aboard. At this point the Hurricanes were bounced by the MC.202s and 20-year-old Sergeant Ernest G. Knight (RAF no. 1164161) (Z3456) was shot down, being listed as missing. Sergeant Cyril Hunton got a short burst into one MC.202, which poured black smoke; he claimed a probable, but wreckage of the fighter was later found floating in the sea. He had shot down the 4o Stormo’s commander, Tenente Colonnello Leotta (MM7728), who was posthumously awarded the Medaglia d’oro al valor militare. Two fighters were claimed shot down by Tenente Colonnello Minio Paulello, one by Maggiore Antonio Larsimont and one as a shared by Capitano Mario Pluda and Tenente Pietro Bonfatti, all on this occasion claimed as ‘Spitfires’.

At the time of his death, Leotta was credited with 3 shared biplane victories and a total of 1.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  23/08/37   1/10 I-15 (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.32   Ontaneda VI Gruppo
  23/08/37   1/10 I-15 (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.32   Ontaneda VI Gruppo
  23/08/37   1/10 I-15 (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.32   Ontaneda VI Gruppo
  23/08/37   1/10 I-15 (a) Probably shared destroyed Fiat CR.32   Ontaneda VI Gruppo
  23/08/37   1/10 I-15 (a) Probably shared destroyed Fiat CR.32   Ontaneda VI Gruppo
  23/08/37   1/10 I-15 (a) Probably shared destroyed Fiat CR.32   Ontaneda VI Gruppo
1 10/02/41 morning 1 Gladiator (b) Destroyed Fiat G.50bis   Yanina area 154o Gruppo

Biplane victories: 3 shared destroyed, 3 shared probably destroyed.
TOTAL: 1 and 3 shared destroyed, 3 shared probably destroyed.
(a) The 32a Squadriglia claimed 3 I-15 destroyed and 3 probables. Only 1 I-15 is confirmed with Republican records when Francisco De Antonio Sanz was shot down.
(b) Claimed in combat with Gladiators from 21 Mira, which lost 1 Gladiator. The 154o Gruppo claimed 2 Gladiators.

Courage Alone - Chris Dunning, 1998 Hikoki Publications, Aldershot, ISBN 1-902109-02-3
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
Macchi C.202/C.205V Units In Combat – Marco Mattioli, 2022 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-4728-5068-3
Malta: The Hurricane Years 1940-41 - Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-89747-207-1
Regia Aeronautica: The Italian Air Force 1923-1945 - An Operational History - Chris Dunning, 2009 Ian Allan Publishing, Hersham, Surrey, ISBN 978-1-906537-02-9

Last modified 21 June 2022