Biplane fighter aces


Tenente Emilio Marchi

Sottotenente Emilio Marchi took part in the Spanish Civil War using the nom de guerre ’Emilio Marazzi’.
During his time in Spain he served in the 25a Squadriglia, XVI Gruppo.

On 31 August 1938, CR.32s from the XVI Gruppo was indirectly escorting S.79 and BR.20 bombers to the front of Gandesa. At the end of the bombing, the fighters stayed in the area for interdiction. As in the previous week, the 25a Squadriglia had the duty to cover at 7,000m while the fighters from 26a and 24a Squadriglie flew at 5,500m.
The XVI Gruppo had taken off from Caspe at 16:30 and the eight CR.32s from the 25a Squadriglia flew in four sections of two aircraft:
1st section – Capitano Roberto Fassi (CO) and Tenente Raimondi
2nd section – Sottotenente Mario Visintini and Sergente Giuseppe Marini
3rd section – Sottotenente Bongiovanni and Sottotenente Mario Pinna
4th section – Sottotenente Marchi and Maresciallo Acerbi
Around 18:00, Capitano Giuseppe Majone (CO 24a Squadriglia) spotted six SBs in two formations of three each heading from the Segre river towards Villalba.
They were soon attacked by the Italian fighters. Suddenly, a dozen of escorting I-16s dived on the CR.32s of the 24a Squadriglia, but they were in turn jumped by the 25a Squadriglia, which soon was joined by all the Fiats. In the ensuing dogfight Italians claimed two Ratas destroyed and one probable, that were officially shared among the three Squadriglie, though one of the kills was unofficially credited to Capitano Fassi. Sottotenente Visintini (25a Squadriglia) shot at four I-16s, one of which “effectively and by short distance” and saw a Rata falling in flames, which considering the place and the time should be the one shot down by Capitano Fassi. Visintini’s Fiat was however damaged in the action.
As a result, the commander of the XVI Gruppo, Tenente Colonnello Arrigo Tessari, proposed that each Squadriglia should be creited with one shared destroyed I-16.

During his time in Spain, Marchi was credited with one victory. He also claimed additional shared and probable victories.

He took part in the Second World War and in 1942 he served in the 17o Gruppo as a Tenente flying MC.202s in North Africa.

At 15:55 on 12 December 1941, eleven MC.202 of the 17o Gruppo (six from the 71a Squadriglia and five from the 80a Squadriglia), led by Capitano Aldo Felici, took off for troop protection between Gazala and Derna. At 16:00, at the height of 1500m., almost immediately after take-off, they clashed with an enemy formation estimated 30 Curtiss P-40 and Hurricanes strong, apparently directed to attack the landing ground of Martuba.
The Italians claimed no less than eight planes; one each by Capitano Clizio Nioi (80a Squadriglia), Tenente Glauco Vatta (71a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Renato Bagnoli (80a Squadriglia), Maresciallo Marcello Lui (71a Squadriglia), Maresciallo Pio Marsilli (80a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Mario Host (80a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Remo Broilo (71a Squadriglia) and Sergente Egidio Buogo (71a Squadriglia). Two more were claimed as probables by Nioi and Tenente Marchi (80a Squadriglia). Three MC.202 were hit in the cooling systems of which Capitano Nioi landed OK, Tenente Vatta (MM7871) crash-landed on base and Tenente Pierfranceco Conti (MM7861) belly-landed and was slightly wounded. A fourth Macchi was slightly damaged. The formation landed at 16:35 (or alternatively 16:55) and the Italian pilots had expended 3680 rounds of ammunition.
Three MC.202 of the 81a Squadriglia (6o Gruppo), led by Tenente Giorgio Falchi, scrambled at 16:10. Once they reached the height of 1,000m, at 16:20, they discovered ten Hurricanes strafing the German sector of Martuba. The Macchis jumped the enemies and Tenente Falchi damaged two of them using 80 rounds of ammunition and in turn he was hit by three rounds. The Italian fighters landed at 16:50.
Between 16:00 and 16:10, 14 Bf 109s from III/JG 53 claimed six Hurricanes and a P-40. These were claimed by Oberfeldwebel Hermann Neuhoff of 7./JG 53 (Hurricane at 16:00 and P-40 at 16:10), Unteroffizier Erich Schmidt of 7./JG 53 (Hurricane at 16:00), Leutnant Siegmund Hosnedl of 7./JG 53 (Hurricane at 16:00), Oberfeldwebel Werner Stumpf of 9./JG 53 (two Hurricanes at 16:03 and 16:05) and Leutnant Wolf Schaller of 9./JG 53 (Hurricane at 16:10).
On the Commonwealth side, it appears that at 15:15, nine Tomahawks of 4 SAAF and seven from 2 SAAF Squadron, had taken off as top and close cover respectively to a formation of six Blenheims from 14 Squadron targeting the Derna road (they later reported the attack to the escort with heavy losses of the latter). The South Africans of 4 SAAF Squadron were engaged for 30 minutes with twelve enemy fighters and three Bf 109s were claimed (Captain Andrew Bosman (2) and Lieutenant Douglas Golding) plus two damaged by Bosman, while Lieutenant Lewis Otto Beatty Player (SAAF no. 102848V) was lost (Tomahawk AN351; according to some sources, the Bf 109 that shot down Player was then shot down by Golding). Two more Tomahaks were damaged (including Bosman’s). 4 SAAF Squadron landed again at 16:55. Captain Bosman reported that while on top cover he sighted a number of Bf 109Fs:

‘I broke away to attack, I informed the Sqn. leader and a fight ensued.
I surprised 2 enemy aircraft and opened fire on each in turn. I am certain I inflicted a fair amount of damage to each of these aircraft. I was forced to rejoin our offensive circle.
One of our aircraft was shot from below. The pilot spun from for about 3000 feet and recovered. He tried to climb back and I circled below to assist him. At about the end of the engagement I was attacked and as the enemy aircraft zoomed past me, I pulled in behind him and opened up. He stood on his tail and flicked over into a spin from which he did not recover. I saw him burn on the hilly ground below.
We rejoined the Blenheims on their way back, and 2 of our A/C including the pilot who had been shot up earlier on were far apart and behind on either side of the bombers. They were attacked by Me.’s from below. I tried to ward off these attacks and on one occasion I peeled off on an aircraft and as he turned and dived I shot him up. He dived head on toward the sea and did not recover. At this stage I proceeded to take cover in the clouds and as I broke cover I was engaged from below, sustaining damage in the tail, dashboard and wing of my aircraft.’
2 SAAF Squadron reported only that they was jumped by six or eight Bf 109s, losing Lieutenant James Rattray Verster (AN353?) and Captain Piet Robbertse (AN422); both being both PoWs but Verster was rescued by the Army on 24 December. 2 SAAF Squadrons landed back at 15:55. According to some sources, the South Africans losses were all to Bf 109s.
At 15:30, ten Tomahawks of 3 RAAF Squadron and eight of 112 Squadron took off to attack Derna. At 16:00, above Tmimi, 112 Squadron was flying at an altitude of 1,200m when at three o’clock, between 2,750 and 4,600m, was seen a number of enemy aircraft already engaged with a friendly formation. The base layer of clouds was at 2,750m. Height was gained up to 3,000m toward the sun in order to carry out the attack from an ideal position. Thus, it may be assumed that the action of South African was merged with the latter, in line with the estimate number of opponents made by the pilots of the 17o Gruppo. The pilots from 112 Squadron reported:
Pilot Officer J. P. Bartle (Tomahawk AN372/Q):
“Fired long burst at 109 F and saw smoke or oil or both pour from his engine. He seemed to go in a long dive. Saw what appeared to be glass house break away from M.202 after burst. Two 109 Fs chased me down to 500 feet making alternate quarter attacks. I kept turning into each as he made his attack. E/A opened fire at very long rang, E/A broke away (possibly ran out of ammo).
I claim a 109 F probably destroyed and a M.202 damaged.”
Pilot Officer Eric Dickinson (AM459):
“Engaged one M.202 with PO Humphreys and had a violent dogfight, no hits observed. Then two others attacked me, I turned inside one and saw a flash inside his fuselage and he dived away. The other meanwhile had been engaged by another Tomahawk.
Claim one 202 damaged, self no damage. Macchi dived vertically and the climbed straight up into sun. Very hard to hold the climb.”
Sergeant Donald McQueen (Tomahawk AN303):
“Two enemy aircrafts attacked No.2 Red Section by diving from above. These two a/c followed line astern. I turned in, fired on both and followed one down. The first - a 109 F - appeared to be hit near the cockpit as a flash appeared. When about 4000’ lower was still on his back. After following and losing a 109 I climbed to 12000 feet and was jumped by a 109 E (a Macchi?) which chased me down to cloud cover.”
112 Squadron claimed a probable Bf 109 (Pilot Officer Bartle (AN372/Q) – according some sources credited as a destroyed), who also claimed a damaged MC.202. Two more Bf 109s were claimed by Pilot Officer Dickinson and Sergeant McQueen but they lost Pilot Officer Robert James Daniel Jeffries (AK413/K), Sergeant J. Alves (AK476) and Sergeant William Earl Houston (AK457) together with Flight Lieutenant P. H. Humphreys fighter damaged. Jeffries and Houston were killed while Alves was taken PoW. In the ORB, the 112 Squadron admitted its first serious setback.
3 RAAF Squadron reported combat between 16:00 and 16:15 and claimed one Me 110 (Flying Officer ‘Nicky’ Barr) and one Ju 87 (Flying Officer Robert Gibbes in AM374) damaged (apparently while coming back from the above described action), but lost Pilot Officer F. F. H. Eggleston (AN335), shot down after he had just recovered from a mid-air collision while the other fighters (Flying Officer Robin Gray) involved in the crash was able to return to base. Eggleston became a PoW. Flying Officer Barr (AN336/N) reported that he broke away to escort Gray and while doing so scored his first victory:
“While on offensive fighter sweep over Tmini area 1300 ft (sic) E/A were reported 9 o’clock below and climbing. During the formation turn two aircraft collided. One of these turned in the direction of the base and dived for a cloud layer at 3000 ft. I turned and dived to follow him. While catching Tomahawk to escort to base ME 110 was sighted above flying towards me. Cloud base was 3000 ft. and E/A was just beneath. Pulling around into his tail from beneath flames came from wing root and fuselage after two bursts. I then lost sight of the a/c.”
The Australians were back at 17:00.
From the documents consulted, it seems that 3 RAAF and 112 Squadrons arrived slightly after the South African units. It is not possible to corroborate exactly any claim but on seeing the intensity of the combat and the Italian losses it seems probable that the Italian pilots obtained sound results. The only hypothesis is that regarding Golding claiming the fighter that shot down Player (probably Nioi or Vatta), in addition to the absence of admitted German losses and the estimate of the clash against twelve enemy aircrafts; in conclusion 4 SAAF Squadron should have met only the Macchis.

On 6 April 1942, the 6o and 17o Gruppi scrambled to intercept a raid of bombers escorted by fighters over Derna. The 6o Gruppo scrambled with six fighters (three from the 79a Squadriglia, two from the 81a Squadriglia and one from the 88o Squadriglia), which took off at 08:10 and returned between 09:10 and 09:15 while eight fighters from the 17o Gruppo (one from the 71a Squadriglia and seven from the 80a Squadriglia) scrambled at 08:20 and landed back at 09:40.
The fighters from the 6o Gruppo had barely taken off when the Commonwealth formation composed of twelve Bostons escorted by many fighters stepped at different heights released its bomb-load on Derna El Ftehja. Only Capitano Domenico Camarda (79a Squadriglia) and Capitano Dante Ocarso (88a Squadriglia) were able to reach the raiders at the height of 4000m. Capitano Ocarso reported that he reached the enemy formation over Gazala and attacked even if flying at inferior height and heavily outnumbered. He claimed a P-40 shot down and three damaged with the use of 730 rounds of ammunition, then he flew back to base without suffering any damage. Capitano Camarda claimed a damaged Hurricane with the use of 80 rounds.
Part of the 17o Gruppo formation was able to reach the Commonwealth Squadrons after a long chase at around 09:15 at the height of 6000 metres. They were Capitano Clizio Nioi, Sergente Maggiore Alvise Andrich (80a Squadriglia), Tenente Marchi (80a Squadriglia) and Tenente Renato Talamini (80a Squadriglia). One P-40 each was credited to Capitano Nioi and Sergente Maggiore while three more P-40s were damaged; claimed by Capitano Nioi, Tenente Marchi and Tenente Giovanni Ghiglia (80a Squadriglia). Tenente Saladini force landed with engine trouble. The pilots of 17o Gruppo had expended 1330 rounds.
The raid had been performed by the usual formation of twelve Bostons escorted by nine Kittyhawks of 94 Squadron (take off 08:20 and landing 09:50), Tomahawks IIb of 2 SAAF and 4 SAAF Squadrons and finally by five Kittyhawk of 260 Squadron (take off 08:35 and landing 10:10) as extra top cover. 4 SAAF Squadron joined the formation over El Adem. In the meantime, twelve Hurricanes of 274 Squadron (take off 08:55) made a delousing sweep over Gazala together with 33 Squadron.
94 Squadron was attacked during the return journey by Bf 109s and MC.202s (possibly the two machines of the 6o Gruppo). At 09:20, Pilot Officer G. L. Usher (Kittyhawk Ia AK741) and his wingman Sergeant W. T. Wallace discovered two Bf 109s and a Macchi over Martuba, while the bombers had just banked to return to base. Axis fighters had just taken off; in fact, they were 2,000 feet under the 94 Squadron that was flying at 18000 feet. Pilot Officer Usher recorded in his CFR:

“As the bombers turned to the left after dropping their bombs, I saw three E/A below on my left. I attacked straggling 109, which tried to avoid me by turning. I saw my bullets go into his left wing. This attack developed into dead astern and by time I was 30 yards behind him most of my guns had stopped firing. I noticed holes in his left wing and broke away in a dive to get under the bombers.
Ammunition expended 1100 rounds.”
Wallace instead chased a second Bf 109, off the tail of Usher, and forced it to flee. He fired some rounds but was unable to appreciate any result. A few minutes later, Wallace was in turn attacked by a Macchi that shot at him from long distance and hit his plane in the wing and in the propeller. Then a dogfight started and he was able to hit the Macchi in the wing with a four-second burst. The Macchi fled without losing control so Wallace was only credited with a damaged. Over Menelao, Sergeant Matthews engaged a Bf 109 that was on the tail of Flight Lieutenant Scott. He fired 150 rounds at it and saw it climbing, emitting a trail of black smoke but wasn’t credited with it. 25-years-old Flight Lieutenant Douglas Frederic Ommanney Shelford (RAF No. 72011) failed to return, presumed shot down over Gazala in Kittyhawk AK861.
Flight Lieutenant Charles Laubscher of the 2 SAAF Squadron separated from his formation during the return journey and had to fight his way towards the enemy aircraft, claiming a Bf 109 shot down east of Derna and a second damaged north-west of Gazala Bay. Lieutenant Eric Smith of the same unit claimed another Bf 109 north-west of Gazala Bay. Lieutenant ‘Newt’ Morton’s Tomahawk was slightly damaged in the wing by a Bf 109 but he was able to return to base safely.
Pilots of 4 SAAF Squadron, after appreciating the good results obtained by the bombers met ten Bf 109s on the return journey. Wing Commander Tristram Beresford claimed one shot down (not officially credited to him) while Captain Andrew Bosman “did a wonderful work” chasing four Bf 109s off the tails of his pilots. Three pilots were obliged to land early with engine trouble but were able to return to base.
On the flight back, Flight Sergeant Thomas Hindle of 260 Squadron damaged a Bf 109 between Derna and the coast, then over Menealao bay he dived on two Bf 109s aiming a four seconds burst on one of them but without apparent results. In the same place, two Bf 109s attacked Squadron Leader Hanbury. Sergeant William McKay met three Macchi MC.202s (possibly of the 17o Gruppo) west of Tobruk and shot up one of them seeing it flying towards the coastline losing height. One machine of 260 Squadron was damaged (Cat I).
Hurricanes of 274 Squadron engaged a patrol of Bf 109s and Macchi MC.202s (presumably machines of the 17o Gruppo). Sergeant Geoffrey Eagle claimed a Bf 109 shot down while Sergeant James Dodds claimed a probable MC.202 and a damaged Bf 109. A cannon shell hit Sergeant Bruckshaw’s Hurricane right into the cockpit unbeknown to the pilot but failed to explode and was discovered only once landed.
33 Squadron noted to have met six MC.202s and claimed one damaged without suffering any loss.
Finally, a reconnaissance Hurricane of 40 SAAF Squadron, which had taken off at 08:45 piloted by Lieutenant Egner, was shot down and pilot was captured.
The Luftwaffe took part to this combats with 15 Bf 109s and claimed four P-40s. These were claimed by Oberleutnant Gustav Rödel (4./JG 27) at the height of 800 m. over Tmini-Martuba at 08:23, Leutnant Alexander Kalista (5./JG 27) at the height of 50 m, 20km south-west of El Adem at 08:40 and Leutnant Karl von Lieres und Wilkau (2./JG 27) over Ain-el-Gazala at 08:30. Additionally Hauptmann Gerhardh Homuth (3./JG 27) claimed a Hurricane at 09:10 north-west of Tmini. A fifth P-40 was claimed as a probable by Feldwebel Alfred Heidel of 4./JG 27. No losses were recorded.
With the available data, it is not possible to know for sure who was responsible for the Commonwealth losses. It is also interesting to note the high number of units employed to escort the bombers.

Between 16:35-17:45 on 27 May, 19 MC.200s of the 8o Gruppo were out to strafe armoured vehicles in the Acroma-el Mrassas area. Top cover was provided by eight MC.202s of the 17o Gruppo (five from the 71a Squadriglia, two from the 72a Squadriglia; one of which returned earlier because of engine trouble, and three from the 80a Squadriglia) led by Tenente Mario Ligugnana (71a Squadriglia).
While the MC.202s were at an altitude of 4,500m over el Mrassas, a formation of about 15 P-40s tried to prevent the ground attack of the MC.200s. The pilots of the 17o Gruppo launched the attack, hitting eleven enemy planes. Three of these were believed to have been shot down. Maresciallo Andrea Stella (71a Squadriglia) probably shot down a P-40, and fired at two more; his plane was in its turn hit in the cooling system area and so he had to land it at Timini (MM7863/71-5, engine to be replaced). The other twp probables were claimed by Tenente Marchi (80a Squadriglia; with the use of 512 rounds) and Sergente Maggiore Carlo Ermo (71a Squadriglia). Tenente Ligugnana fired at two P-40s and Tenente Sergio Morandi (71a Squadriglia), fired at one P-40 while Tenente Mario Carini (72a Squadriglia) fired 132 rounds. In total, they fired 1192 rounds.
Meanwhile, many MC.200s were hit by anti-aircraft fire and Capitano Orfeo Cecchet of the 94a Squadriglia (MM8331) was forced to land away from the airfield but within friendly lines.
Six Tomahawk IIbs of 5 SAAF Squadron had scrambled to between Tobruk and Gazala (17:25-18:45). The Tomahawks were searching for seven enemy aircraft when they were attacked. Second Lieutenant Frederick Louis Stevens (AN263/GL-V) was jumped by a reported Bf 109 at 15,000ft over Tobruk and hit. He recalled:

“I was jumped by a Me.109. My cockpit was filled with smoke and flames, and I thought my machine was on fire, and after trying to open my hood, which would not budge, I tried to jettison it. Eventually I managed to open it, and when the smoke cleared, I was relieved to notice that I wasn’t on fire. I then had a good look about the sky to try and locate the rest of the Squadron and also any sign of enemy AC. I then noticed that my engine was overheating. I throttled right back, and started gliding in an easterly direction, watching my tail all the time. My engine would not cool off, and at 2000 feet, I noticed a lot of tracks and I decided to land on one of them, which I did without damaging the AC. I then tried to contact out R/T controlling station without any results ... I noticed three soldiers approaching ... and told me “hands up”... “
Stevens was taken prisoner but after a few hours he found himself taken in the midst of a tank battle and managed to escape, returning the next day. Seven Tomahawks of 4 SAAF Squadron were also over Bir Hakeim (17:45-19:00) when they sighted two Macchis. Captain Gordon Goodenough Bayly was jumped by one of them while he was alone, but ”the Macchi would not stay to fight”.

Marchi ended the war with one biplane victory.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  31/08/38 18:00- 1/8 I-16 Shared destroyed Fiat CR.32   Gandesa 25a Squadriglia
1 ??/??/3?   1 Enemy aircraft Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Spain 25a Squadriglia
  12/12/41 16:00-16:35 1 Tomahawk (a) Probably destroyed MC.202   Gazala area 80a Squadriglia
  06/04/42 08:20-09:40 1 P-40 (b) Damaged MC.202   Ain el Gazala 80a Squadriglia
  27/05/42 16:35-17:35 1 P-40 (c) Probably destroyed MC.202   el Mrassas 80a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 1 and 1 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 1 and 1 shared destroyed, 2 probably destroyed, 1 damaged.
(a) Claimed in combat with P-40s from 2 SAAF, 4 SAAF, 3 RAAF and 112 Squadrons, which claimed 6 and 5 damaged while losing 7 and 3 damaged P-40s. Axis fighters claimed 15, 2 probables and 2 damaged while losing 2 and 2 damaged fighters.
(b) In this confusing combat it seems that Allied fighters claimed 3 destroyed, 1 probable and 6 damaged while losing 2 and getting 2 damaged. Axis fighters claimed 7 destroyed, 1 probable and 7 damaged while getting 1 aircraft damaged.
(c) Probably claimed in combat with Tomahawk IIbs from 5 SAAF Squadron, which lost 1 Tomahawk IIb (pilot safe). The MC.202 from 17o Gruppo claimed 3 P-40s probably destroyed while getting 1 MC.202 damaged.

A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945: Volume One – Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello with Russell Guest, 2012 Grub Street, London, ISBN 978-1908117076
A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945: Volume Two – Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello with Russell Guest, Frank Olynyk & Winfried Bock, 2012 Grub Street, London, ISBN-13: 9781909166127
Courage Alone - Chris Dunning, 1998 Hikoki Publications, Aldershot, ISBN 1-902109-02-3
Eagles over Gazala: Air Battles in North Africa May-June 1942 – Michele Palermo, IBN Editore, ISBN (10) 88-7565-168-X
Fiat CR.32 Aces of the Spanish Civil War - Alfredo Logoluso, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-983-6
La Battaglie Aeree In Africa Settentrionale: Novembre-Dicembre 1941 – Michele Palermo, IBN, ISBN 88-7565-102-7
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 30 October 2016