Biplane fighter aces


Sottotenente Giovanni Levi

Date Decoration Note
??/??/41 Medaglia di bronzo al valor militare 1940-43

Giovanni Levi was from Tripoli (Libya).

In June 1940, Sottotenente Giovanni Levi served in the 412a Squadriglia Autonoma Caccia in the Italian East Africa (Africa Orientale Italiana - AOI).

Nine Wellesleys of 223 Squadron took off from Summit on 12 June. These were flown by Squadron Leader Larking (L2714), Flying Officer Roden (L2695), Flying Officer Collier (L2673), Flight Lieutenant Roulston (L2715), Flying Officer Ross (K7747), Pilot Officer Gidney (L2711), Flight Lieutenant Cross (L2690), Pilot Officer Tuffs (L2698) and Pilot Officer Ellis (K7788). Flight Lieutenant Cross had to return prematurely because shreds of canvas had come off its wings. Therefore, Flight A and C reunited in a five-man formation. Holding off Asmara, at 17:30 they made their first pass over Gura, attacking the structures to the north of the airport. At the same time, while the anti-aircraft came into action, the five planes were attacked by the CR.42 of Tenente Elia Mussolin, returning from a patrol over Asmara, and then by Sergente Mario Perini and another FIAT, which had scrambled. Heading south-east, the bombers prepared for a second pass in a north-westerly direction, still pursued by the three fighters. In the meantime, B Flight reached its assigned target, the Officine Caproni-Toselli of Mai Edaga, located at the southern end of the Gura complex, but here it was repeatedly attacked by three other Italian fighters (Sottotenente Fiorindo Rosmino, Sottotenente Levi, who had taken off from Asmara, and, probably, Tenente Carlo Canella, possibly flying a CR.32). After the second pass, the first section of bombers descended, still pursued by Tenente Mussolin and Sergente Perini, while the third fighter turned to also attack B Flight. The low altitude limited the fighters’ manoeuvres, as they could not attack from below and were therefore more exposed to the defensive fire of the Lewis guns.
K7747/AO-K of Flying Officer Ross was repeatedly hit and the gunner Corporal Stevenson was wounded in the legs. Despite the damage, Ross' plane managed to return to base, but it was destroyed on landing due to undercarriage failure (it was officially decommissioned on 7 July). Over Áddi Úgri a second Wellesley, K7788 of Pilot Officer Ellis, the left wing wingman, was repeatedly hit in the outer wing tank and in the fuselage behind the pilot’s seat. The aircraft was badly damaged and, after landing, would also be declared out of service. The Squadron's gunners fired a total of 2115 rounds of .303 inch.
During the combat, it seems that Tenente Canella was credited with one Wellesley shot down (probably K7788). Mussolin’s plane was hit by a total of seven bullets in the lower right wing, two engine cylinders, the oil cooler and the left tyre. Mussolin nevertheless landed safely at 18:05 after firing 360 rounds of 12.7 mm, claiming one bomber probably destroyed (mistakenly identified as a ”Hampden” but most probably K7747) and the machine-gunning of the other four. His CR.42 MM4305 was judged repairable at SRAM. The other fighters, meanwhile, continued to attack B Flight and Sottotenente Levi fired 400 bullets and also claimed a probably downed aircraft (probably also K7788).
The British saw a biplane hitting the ground after being hit by several bullets. This was CR.42 MM5527 piloted by Sergente Perini, which crashed with the pilot wounded. On the Italian side, in addition, CR.42 MM5523 (pilot unknown) was also hit and the destruction of two pavilions and 15 aircraft engines was reported.
Although this air combat is one of the most documented on the Italian side to date, there remains some doubt as to the identity of the pilot credited with shooting down the Wellesley. The motivations with which the Medaglia d’argento al valor militare was awarded to Tenente Visintini attribute this victory over Gura to him, while in the similar decoration to Tenente Canella was officially recognised for the shooting down of a Wellesley the following 14 June over Massawa. However, from one of the first letters written by Visintini to his family immediately after the outbreak of the conflict, it is clear that in those days he never left Massawa; furthermore, according to the pilot and special war correspondent Leone Concato, Canella was ”directly responsible for the first British aircraft shot down over East Africa”, a circumstance also confirmed by Capitano Antonio Raffi. The victory of 12 June should therefore be attributed to Canella, and consequently to Visintini the one on 14 June.

At 12:50 on 30 September, three 45 Squadron Blenheim Is raided Gura, but, once there, all the bombers were attacked by CR.32s and CR.42s. Blenheim L6665 flown by 28-years-old Squadron Leader George Justin Bush (RAF No. 37061) was soon damaged in an engine by Tenente Mario Visintini who, with Sergente Lugi Baron and perhaps Sottotenente Levi, surrounded the bomber and ordered it by gestures to land. But the Blenheim couldn’t remain in the air with just one engine and crashed, killing Bush and his crew (20-years-old Observer Sergeant John C. Usher (RAF no. 580912) and 21-years-old Wireless Operator/Air gunner Sergeant James Corney DFM (RAF no. 541684)).

Having known since 13 October, by aerial reconnaissance, that a Flight of 47 Squadron had been detached to Al Qadarif (Gadaref), pilots of Regia Aeronautica planed a strafing attack on that field. On the 16 October, taking off at 06:00 from the Italian advanced field of Barentu, an S.79 flown by Generale Pietro Piacentini (CO of Settore Aeronautico Nord AOI) himself led in eight CR.42s of the 412a Squadriglia flown by Capitano Antonio Raffi, Tenente Mario Visintini, Tenente Carlo Canella, Tenente Di Pauli, Sottotenente Fiorindo Rosmino, Sottotenente Levi, Sergente Maggiore Lugi Baron, and Sergente Pietro Morlotti. Some sources say that nine CR.42s were involved in this strike, but possibly the ninth pilot, newly arrived Sergente Carlo Scarselli, was left to protect Barentu.
At 06:55, the Savoia dropped its bombs on the field, then the fighters strafed between 07:00-07:20 and totally destroyed all eight Wellesleys of 47 Squadron detachment (K7742, K7762, K7779, K7781, L2650, L2675, L2677 and L2688) and, personally by Capitano Raffi, two of 430 Flight’s Vincents (K4657 and K4731) while they were taking off, which were claimed as Gladiators shot down. An attempt to call the 1 SAAF fighter detachment at Azaza (some 20 kilometers north-east) was foiled, as the telephone line between Al Qadarif and Azaza was found to have been cut. Italian claims were quite accurate, eleven aircraft being claimed destroyed, together with a munitions dump, some lorries, a searchlight and, it seems, a Packard car, the latter fired on by Tenente Canella.
Capitano Raffi was decorated with a Medaglia d’argento al valor militare as the organizer of the attack, while the other pilots gained a Medaglia di bronzo al valor militare each.

Towards the end of October, Tenente Mario Visintini, Sergente Maggiore Lugi Baron and Sottotenente Levi moved to Bahir Dar, on the south side of Lake Tana, for operations in the Metema-Gallabat border front. Previously, another section led by Capitano Raffi himself had been transferred by Gura to Gondar airport, on the north side of the same lake. In early November, Visintini joined them at Gondar.

On 11 November, a reconnoitring Hardy of 237 (Rhodesian) Squadron bombed Italian lorries on the road to Gondar. Around 12:30 some Fiat fighters scramble to intercept it, but instead had a clash with three Gladiators which were patrolling the area.
Lieutenants John Coetzer, Andrew Duncan and Servaas de K. Viljoen of 1 SAAF Squadron had set off for Gallabat to intercept bombers. West of the town they ran into a reported eight enemy fighters instead. These were stepped up in echelon in three groups, 1524 meters above the three Gladiators. Despite tactical and numerical disadvantage, the South Africans attacked, chasing two of the Fiats down to ground level before they escaped, while the rest made one pass on the Gladiators and then fled. One Gladiator returned damaged by a single explosive bullet.
The Italians from 412a Squadriglia returned claiming a Gladiator destroyed (probably by Tenente Mario Visintini) and two more probables, the latter one each to Sottotenente Levi and Sergente Maggiore Lugi Baron.

On 23 November, six CR.42s from the 412a Squadriglia (among them Capitano Antonio Raffi, Tenente Mario Visintini, Sottotenente Levi and Sergente Maggiore Lugi Baron) returned to Gura, leaving at Gondar a section of another six fighters, commanded by Tenente Niso Provinciali.

On 12 December, the 412a Squadriglia launched an airfield strafe on the advanced strip at Gaz Regeb, where 237 Squadron’s ‘B’ Flight was based.
In the morning, five aircraft took off led by a S.79 (Tenente Colonnello Liberati). At 06:10, three of them (Capitano Antonio Raffi, Tenente Carlo Canella and Tenente Mario Visintini) attacked the parked Hawker Hardys, destroying K4053, K4308, K4055 and K4307 while the other two CR.42s (Tenente Luciano Cacciavillani (detached from the 413a Squadriglia) and Sottotenente Levi) remained above as cover.
Capitano Raffi, CO of the 412a Squadriglia, made several attacks on one aircraft, which consistently refused to burn, but his own aircraft was then hit in the oil sump by fire from the Sudan Defence Force detachment guarding the airfield. Trailing smoke, he headed for his base, but the engine finally seized and stopped some 100 kilometres from the target and he force-landed east of Aroma, near the Atbarah River. Tenente Visintini landed alongside, took his CO aboard and seated on Raffi's knees after dispensing his parachute, took off and returned successfully. Once at Barentu, after refurbishing, Tenente Visintini, Tenente Cacciavillani and Sottotenente Levi returned to destroy Raffi's abandoned fighter to ensure its total destruction.
The Italian pilots claimed to have destroyed five Vickers Vincents on the ground at Qawz Rajab, together with three armoured cars near the downed Fiat.

Levi ended the war with 1 probable biplane victory.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  12/06/40 17:30 1 Wellesley (a) Probably destroyed Fiat CR.42   Gura 412a Squadriglia
  16/10/40 07:00-07:20 1/8 Wellesley (b) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Al Qadarif 412a Squadriglia
  16/10/40 07:00-07:20 1/8 Wellesley (b) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Al Qadarif 412a Squadriglia
  16/10/40 07:00-07:20 1/8 Wellesley (b) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Al Qadarif 412a Squadriglia
  16/10/40 07:00-07:20 1/8 Wellesley (b) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Al Qadarif 412a Squadriglia
  16/10/40 07:00-07:20 1/8 Wellesley (b) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Al Qadarif 412a Squadriglia
  16/10/40 07:00-07:20 1/8 Wellesley (b) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Al Qadarif 412a Squadriglia
  16/10/40 07:00-07:20 1/8 Wellesley (b) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Al Qadarif 412a Squadriglia
  16/10/40 07:00-07:20 1/8 Wellesley (b) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Al Qadarif 412a Squadriglia
  16/10/40 07:00-07:20 1/8 Wellesley (b) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Al Qadarif 412a Squadriglia
  16/10/40 07:00-07:20 1/8 Gladiator (b) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Al Qadarif 412a Squadriglia
  16/10/40 07:00-07:20 1/8 Gladiator (b) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Al Qadarif 412a Squadriglia
  11/11/40 12:30 ca 1 Gladiator (c) Probably destroyed Fiat CR.42   Metema 412a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 2 probably destroyed, 11 shared destroyed on the ground.
TOTAL: 2 probably destroyed, 11 shared destroyed on the ground.
(a) Claimed in combat with 8 Wellesleys of 223 Squadron, which suffered 2 Wellesleys written-off while claiming 1 CR.42 shot down. 412a Squadriglia claimed 1 destroyed bomber and 2 probables while losing 1 CR.42 and getting 2 damaged.
(b) According to British sources eight Wellesleys of 47 Squadron (L2650, L2675, L2677, L2688, K7742, K7762, K7779 and K7781) and two Vincents of 430 Flight (K4657 and K4731) were burned on ground, against claims for nine Wellesley destroyed on the ground and two Gladiators shot down during take-off. The latter were unofficially credited to Capitano Raffi.
(c) Claimed in combat with three fighters of 1 SAAF. Italians claimed a Gladiator destroyed and two probable. Official 1 SAAF documents are missing for this period, but it seems that just one Gladiator suffered mild damage. Lacking official sources by Italian side too, an attribution of this claim to Mario Visintini is an educated guess.

Luciano Cacciavillani's personal logbook courtesy of Cacciavillani family (Luciano jr and Alberto)
Giovanni Levi’s personal logbook, courtesy of Michele Palermo
Fiorindo Rosmino’s personal logbook, courtesy of Rossella Baron
Aroldo Soffritti’s personal logbook, courtesy of Ariella Soffritti
Various documents belonged to Luigi Baron, courtesy of Rossella Baron
Various documents belonged to Antonio Raffi, courtesy of Alide Comba
Collection of Comando Aeronautica AOI War Bulletins, USSMA, Rome, kindly provided by Michele Palermo
I Cavalieri Erranti - Ludovico Slongo, Stefan Lazzaro, Eugenio Eusebi, Michele Palermo and Danilo Ventura, 2023, ISBN 978-88-87952-37-7
410a Squadriglia war diary (1940) kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro.
Comando Aeronautica Africa Orientale 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
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
Guerra di Spagna e Aviazione Italiana – Ferdinando Pedriali, 2nd ed., 1992 Ufficio Storico Stato Maggiore Aeronautica, Rome, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
In cielo e in terra - F. Pagliano, 1969 editore Longanesi, Milan, kindly provided by Alfredo Logoluso.
Mario Visintini. Storia e Leggenda di un Asso Italiano – Gianni Bianchi, Associazione Culturale Sarasota, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Le Vittorie Aeree di Mario Visintini in Africa Orientale – Eugenio Eusebi, Stefano Lazzaro, Ludovico Slongo, in: Storia Militare no. 246 (XXII), March 2014, Albertelli Edizioni Speciali, Parma, ISSN 1122-5289
Spanish Republican Aces – Rafael A. Permuy López, 2012 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84908-668-4
Springbok Fighter Victory: East Africa Volume 1 1940 – 1941 – Michael Shoeman, 2002 African Aviation Series No. 11, Freeworld Publications CC, ISBN 0-958-4388-5-4
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
The Story of no. 1 Squadron SAAF – Vivian Voss, 1952 Mercantile Atlas (Pty.) Ltd., Cape Town, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.
Visintini, il Pilota Solitario - Silvio Platen, 1942 editore Rizzoli, Rome, kindly provided by Alfredo Logoluso.
Additional info kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro, Alfredo Logoluso and Ludovico Slongo.

Last modified 03 November 2023