Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Sergente Maggiore Ezio Masenti

In September 1940, Masenti served in the 78a Squadriglia, 13o Gruppo. This unit was at the time equipped with Fiat CR.42s and based in North Africa.

At 10:30 (11:20 in British documents) on 30 September, seven Blenheims from the 113 Squadron (it is possible that the formation also included two additional Blenheims from 45 Squadron) attacked Maraua, surprising some 15o Stormo aircraft, which were taxiing before take off. The AA defences mistook the Blenheims for Breda Ba.88s and didn’t open fire until it was too late. One S.79 took a direct hit and exploded, another aircraft was destroyed while two bombers were heavily damaged (RD) and four less seriously (RS). The airstrip remained out of service and many pilots died; Tenente D’Ignazio, Sottotenente Costanzo, Sergente Maggiore Marcantoni, Sergente Goggi together with two crewmembers were killed and six more were wounded. 113 Squadron’s crews accurately reported two buildings at the edge of the airport blown up, one Savoia S.79 in flames and two blown up with several believed damaged.
Tenente Giovanni Beduz, Sergente Maggiore Masenti and Sergente Rovero Abbarchi of the 78a Squadriglia, 13o Gruppo scrambled at 11:05 from Gambut G following an air alarm and flew in north-westerly direction for 100 kilometres until they intercepted three Blenheims over the sea. Tenente Beduz was credited with an individual victory while another bomber was shared among the three pilots. They used 1700 rounds of ammunition and returned to base between 12:30 and 13:00.
In fact, a flight of three Blenheims from 113 Squadron, which had been detached from the other, was intercepted 50 miles north of Tobruk. Two of the Blenhiems were damaged and rendered unserviceable while T2171 was shot down into the sea; Sergeant Leslie Cater (RAF no. 741384), Sergeant Kenneth Herbert Meadowcroft (RAF no. 581019) and 18-year-old Sergeant Bernard James Shelton (RAF no. 642942) were all killed. The returning crews reported that they were attacked by 15 (!) CR.42s and the defending gunners claimed two of the attacking fighters shot down and one badly hit.

In December the 2o Stormo left their few surviving CR.42s to 4o Stormo and returned to Italy.
It is possible that Masenti at this time was posted to the 368a Squadriglia, 151o Gruppo Autonomo CT in Cirenaica, since in the beginning of 1941 he was serving with this unit. The unit was at this time also equipped with Fiat CR.42s.

On 23 January 1941, Blenheims attacked Apollonia (two machines from 55 Squadron) and Maraua (probably Blenheims from 113 Squadron) landing grounds, claiming some damage but no decisive results. In fact, it seems that the first airbase didn’t suffer serious damage, while in Maraua a Ba.65 of the 12o Gruppo was hit and damaged at 07:40 in the morning.
Derna was targeted by three Blenheims from 45 Squadron led by Flight Lieutenant Haines, which had taken off at 05:55. It seems that Derna didn’t suffer any damage.
During the action, Sergente Maggiore Masenti claimed the shooting down of a Bristol Blenheim identified as a reconnaissance machine.

On 4 February, four Blenheims (Flight Lieutenant Paine, Flight Sergeant Overell, Pilot Officer Collins and Pilot Officer Allen) from 45 Squadron took off at 09:20 to bomb the railway station at Barce. Pilot Officer Collins and Pilot Officer Allen found no activity at all over the target and instead bombed motor transports between Barce and Tocra. Flight Lieutenant Paine and Flight Sergeant Overell were intercepted by Italian fighters and Paine’s Blenheim Mk.I L8538 was shot down. A few weeks later Paine returned to base stating that his crew (Sergeant Harry Cecil Thomas Holmans (RAF no. 581388) and 19-year-old Sergeant Colin Pryce Edwards (RAF no. 552544)) had both been shot and that after baling out, he had been helped by a friendly Senussi to escape through the Italian lines.
The Italian fighters were five CR.42s from the 368a Squadriglia (Tenente Giuseppe Zuffi, Sergente Mario Turchi, Sottotenente Furio Lauri, Sergente Maggiore Masenti and Sergente Maggiore Davide Colauzzi) and one from the 366a Squadriglia (Sergente Audibert). They had taken off at 07:25 to make an offensive reconnaissance over the front area. Near El Hamana, Tenente Zuffi and Sergente Turchi had strafed two armoured cars claiming one stopped, in fact 1Tp, “A” Sqn. of 11th Hussars was strafed at 08:15 by two CR 42s that holed the tank of the Rolls Royce armoured car. While coming back to base, Sottotenente Lauri discovered a British bomber and started in pursuit and claimed it shot down, reporting that one of the crew had been able to jump and had landed a few kilometres north-east of El Abiar (apparently Flight Lieutenant Paine). Some Hurricanes were in the meantime discovered higher and attacked by Tenente Zuffi, Sergente Turchi, Sergente Maggiore Colauzzi and Sergente Audibert, but the British monoplanes reportedly escaped on seeing the Italian fighters.
The CR.42 flown by Sergente Masenti, suffered big loss of oil from the engine and landed at Barce. British troops were in the area and, as soon as returning pilots reported on Masenti's plight, a Ca.133 being used as a hack by the 151o Gruppo CT took off from Agedabia in the hands of Maresciallo Giovanni Accorsi of the 366a Squadriglia, who was accompanied by an engineer, 1oAv Mot. Callerani. Three CR.42s of the 366a Squadriglia led by Tenente Guglielmo Chiarini and including Maresciallo Cesare and Sergente Antonio Camerini, volunteered to provide escort. Over Barce, the Ca.133 was intercepted at low-level by a section of 73 Squadron Hurricanes.
This was ‘B’ Flight’s second patrol and consisted of the leader Pilot Officer George Goodman (V7716/TP-U), Pilot Officer J. B. 'Chips' McColl (V7372/TP-W) and Pilot Officer Ken M. Millist (V7941). The Ca.133 was shot down by Pilot Officer McColl at about 500 feet above the ground. Maresciallo Accorsi notwithstanding the desperate situation caused by the heavy damage suffered by his Caproni, reportedly didn’t parachute but instead tried to crash-land the aircraft, with the aim of saving the life of Callerani. His gallant effort failed and they both died in the subsequent crash.
As the CR.42s dived down in a vain attempt to assist the doomed transport, the Hurricanes turned to engage. In the ensuing combat Chiarini was shot down in flames and killed by Pilot Officer George Goodman (victory number 7 of 10 totally), who claimed a CR.42 that was attacking McColl.
Meanwhile, Sergente Antonio Camerini succeeded in damaging a Hurricane that he last saw escaping trailing black smoke. The Hurricanes disappeared after the short combat while the Italians started to mourn two of their most valued pilots. Unknown to them, the Hurricane flown by Pilot Officer Millist had been shot down in a head-on attack.
Millist was posted missing at the end of the action, believed shot down because his mates had seen about five unidentified aircraft above him (!). His aircraft was hit in the engine and he made a forced-landing ten miles north-east of Benina, running far away from his aircraft to avoid capture. For two days, without food or water, Millist – known as ‘Tiny’ due to his height, in excess of six feet – walked and hid, being chased on one occasion by an Italian motorcyclist whom he successfully evaded. On the third day, he met an Australian army sergeant who gave him food and water before helping him to obtain a lift to Derna. He finally arrived at Gazala on 6 February. Of Millist’s plight, his colleague Pilot Officer Bill Eiby recalled:

“Tiny Millist was a short service Australian and when he was shot down by the vintage biplane everyone laughed their bloody heads off. He went in head-on. We were told not to tackle them head-on, but Tiny did and got hit in the radiator for his pains. He got back from that one.”
Camerini, who most probably shot down Millist, initially claimed the Hurricane as a probable.
Both Accorsi and Chiarini were posthumously awarded with the Medaglia d'oro al valor militare.
The unlucky Sergente Maggiore Masenti had to burn his fighter (368-4/MM6257) and left Barce with some armoured troops only to go missing during the following Italian retreat at Beda Fomm.

At the time of his death, Masenti was credited with 1 biplane victory.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
  30/09/40 11:05-13:00 1/3 Blenheim (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   100km NW Gambut G 78a Squadriglia
  1941                
1 23/01/41 05:55- 1 Blenheim (b) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Derna area 368a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 1 and 1 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 1 and 1 shared destroyed.
(a) Claimed in combat with Blenheims from 113 Squadron, which got two damaged aircraft and lost Blenheim T2171 with its crew KIA (Sergeant Leslie Cater, Sergeant Kenneth Herbert Meadowcroft and Sergeant Bernard James Shelton) while claiming two CR.42s. Italian fighters from the 78a Squadriglia claimed one and one shared destroyed without losses.
(b) Claimed in combat with Blenheims from 45 Squadron, which didn’t suffer any losses.

Sources:
2o Stormo - Note storiche dal 1925 al 1975 - Gino Strada, 1975 USSMA, Rome, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Aces High - Christopher Shores and Clive Williams, 1994 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-00-0
Desert Prelude: Early clashes June-November 1940 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2010 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-89450-52-4
Desert Prelude: Operation Compass - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2011 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-61421-18-4
Fighters over the Desert - Christopher Shores and Hans Ring, 1969 Neville Spearman Limited, London
Hurricanes over Tobruk - Brian Cull with Don Minterne, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-11-X
Stormi d'Italia – Giulio Lazzati, 1975 Mursia, Milan, ISBN 88-425-1946-4, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro. The Bristol Blenheim: A complete history – Graham Warner, 2002 Crécy Publishing Limited, Manchester, ISBN 0-947554-92-0
Additional information kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro and Ludovico Slongo.




Last modified 14 April 2012