Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Sottotenente Giovanni Levi

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

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 Italian pilot, 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.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
  16/10/40 07:00-07:20 1/8 Wellesley (a) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Al Qadarif 412a Squadriglia
  16/10/40 07:00-07:20 1/8 Wellesley (a) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Al Qadarif 412a Squadriglia
  16/10/40 07:00-07:20 1/8 Wellesley (a) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Al Qadarif 412a Squadriglia
  16/10/40 07:00-07:20 1/8 Wellesley (a) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Al Qadarif 412a Squadriglia
  16/10/40 07:00-07:20 1/8 Wellesley (a) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Al Qadarif 412a Squadriglia
  16/10/40 07:00-07:20 1/8 Wellesley (a) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Al Qadarif 412a Squadriglia
  16/10/40 07:00-07:20 1/8 Wellesley (a) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Al Qadarif 412a Squadriglia
  16/10/40 07:00-07:20 1/8 Wellesley (a) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Al Qadarif 412a Squadriglia
  16/10/40 07:00-07:20 1/8 Wellesley (a) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Al Qadarif 412a Squadriglia
  16/10/40 07:00-07:20 1/8 Gladiator (a) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Al Qadarif 412a Squadriglia
  16/10/40 07:00-07:20 1/8 Gladiator (a) Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Al Qadarif 412a Squadriglia
  11/11/40 12:30 ca 1 Gladiator (b) Probably destroyed Fiat CR.42   Metema 412a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 1 probably destroyed, 11 shared destroyed on the ground.
TOTAL: 1 probably destroyed, 11 shared destroyed on the ground.
(a) 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.
(b) 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.

Sources:
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
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
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 04 December 2014