Biplane fighter aces


Sergente Maggiore Salvatore Mechelli

The 13o Gruppo (77a, 78a and 82a Squadriglie) of the 2o Stormo C.T. was commanded by Maggiore Secondo Revetria and started the war based at Tripoli Castelbenito airfield with twenty-five CR.42s and eleven CR.32s on hand (the CR.32s, kept as a reserve, were later passed on to the 50o Stormo Assalto) to guard against a possible French attach from the west.
Pilots in the 78a Squadriglia were: Capitano Giuseppe Dall’Aglio (CO), Tenente Ippolito Lalatta, Tenente Domenico Bevilacqua, Tenente Giovanni Beduz, Sottotenente Natale Cima, Sottotenente Italo Santavacca, Sottotenente Dario Magnabosco, Sergente Maggiore Giuseppe Frigo, Sergente Maggiore Mechelli, Sergente Rovero Abbarchi, Sergente Cassio Poggi, Sergente Ernesto Taddia, Sergente Vito Rinaldi, Sergente Marcello Della Rovere and Sergente Aldo Loioli.

At 17:10 on 19 July, six CR.42s scrambled from T2. Three were from the 93a Squadriglia (Sottotenente Orlando Mandolini, Sergente Maggiore Italo Bertinelli and Sergente Maggiore Roberto Lendaro) and the other three were from the 78a Squadriglia (Tenente Ippolito Lalatta, Sottotenente Natale Cima and Sergente Maggiore Mechelli). They intercepted a formation of four British Blenheims. The three CR.42s from the 78a Squadriglia claimed damage to one of the Blenheims with the use of 500 rounds of ammunition. The Blenheim was later assessed as shot down over the sea off Marsa Lugh by land observers. Sottotenente Mandolini claimed damage to a bomber with the use of 150 rounds but it is not clear if it was the same as claimed by Tenente Lalatta, Sottotenente Cima and Sergente Maggiore Mechelli.
It seems probable that they had intercepted four aircraft of 211 Squadron since Blenheims from 202 Group were mounting a series of raids aimed at sinking the Italian cruiser Giovanni Dalle Bande Nere, which was believed to be in Tobruk. 211 Squadron participated in the day’s actions with nine Blenheims that took off in independent flights without being able to discover the Italian cruiser and instead bombed Tobruk harbour from 18:13 to 18:30. After that the enemy AA fire had stopped firing on them, the last flight of four aircraft was attacked by three CR.42s, which were 1000 feet above them. Two of the Italian fighters dived at the British leader in wide vic formation out of the sun from port quarter and appeared to overshoot. They continued their dive and lost so much height that they could not catch up again. The Italian leader (possibly the Spanish Civil War veteran Lalatta) did a very pretty half roll and dived vertically to the attack. Interestingly, the returning British pilots reported that in their opinion, this half-roll had been not necessary to bring the CR.42 on his target. The Italian leader didn’t continue his downward dive but zoomed sharply to a position under the wing of the No.2 machine. The gunner of No.3 Blenheim reported that it would be impossible to shoot down this enemy aircraft without grave risk of shooting down No.2 aircraft, and despite all efforts to dislodge the CR.42, it succeeded in staying in this spot. The face of the Italian pilot could be seen quite plainly. His intention obviously was to tilt the nose of his machine up so as to give the leader of the formation a burst, but the high speed of the Blenheims made this impossible without falling off into the range of the rear gunners. Finally, when Bardia was passed, he disengaged.
Another unit participating in attacks over Tobruk at around this hour was 55 Squadron (with eight aircraft), which didn’t record losses nor interceptions (four or five enemy fighters were seen taking off). It could also be possible that Blenheims from 113 Squadron were present.

On 23 December, Sergente Maggiore Mechelli and Sergente Mario Veronesi were assigned to the 84a Squadriglia, 10o Gruppo.

The last Italian bombing mission of the day on 27 December was again against Sollum. Four SM 79s from the 41o Stormo under Tenente Colonnello D’Ippolito and four bombers from the 216a Squadriglia, 34o Stormo, led by Tenente Romanini took off from Tmini at 14:30.
They were escorted by fighters from the 23o Gruppo and 10o Gruppi. Maggiore Tito Falconi was at the head of the formation of the first unit, which also included Tenente Claudio Solaro, Sottotenente Oscar Abello and Sergente Ubaldo Marziali from the 70a Squadriglia, Tenente Mario Pinna, Sottotenente Milano Pausi and Sergente Giuseppe Sanguettoli from the 74a Squadriglia and Tenente Pietro Calistri, Tenente Ezio Maria Monti, Maresciallo Giovanni Carmello, Sergente Leo Mannucci and Sottotenente Leopoldo Marangoni from the 75a Squadriglia.
It seems that the bomber formation split and the 41o Stormo attacked British mechanized units in Halfaya and Gabr Bu Fares under heavy AA that damaged, although slightly, all the aircraft. The SM 79s of the 34o Stormo attacked ships in Sollum harbour and were intercepted by many Hurricanes. The SM 79s were totally unable to defend themselves because of icing on all the guns and one of them was shot down. This was Sottotenente Aldo Peterlini’s bomber and Peterlini was killed together with three of his crew (Sergente Maggiore Arturo Scagnetti (second pilot), Aviere Scelto Motorista Alcide Frizzera and Aviere Scelto Radiotelegrafista Gioacchino Scuderi). The other two members of the crew (Primo Aviere Armiere Ciancilla and Primo Aviere Montatore Fiore) where able to bale out. Tenente Pandolfi’s aircraft was riddled by enemy bullets (probably RD) while the other two SM 79s were less seriously damaged although suffering some wounded among their crews.
They had been intercepted by 33 Squadron which claimed three SM 79s and one probable and probably two CR.42s during offensive patrols performed by pairs of Hurricanes over Sollum. They also claimed one SM 79 and one CR.42 damaged. Vernon Woodward claimed one of the probable CR.42s and the damaged CR.42.
Falconi’s pilots recorded combat with many Hurricanes, one of which was claimed as probable by the 70a Squadriglia and six more were damaged. Tenente Solaro and Sottotenente Abello returned with damaged fighters. Solaro had been hit by AA fire and Sottotenente Abello by British fighters. Calistri and his men claimed a shared Hurricane and four more damaged. They landed back at 16:55. A shot down Hurricane was also recorded by the 74a Squadriglia, which also recorded a SM 79 shot down by AA fire.
The CR.42 escort from the 10o Gruppo was composed of seven fighters from the 90a Squadriglia (Tenente Giovanni Guiducci, Tenente Franco Lucchini, Sottotenente Alessandro Rusconi, Sottotenente Neri De Benedetti, Sergente Alfredo Sclavo, Sergente Bruno Bortoletti and Sergente Enrico Botti), six from the 84a Squadriglia (Capitano Luigi Monti, Tenente Antonio Angeloni, Sottotenente Bruno Devoto, Sergente Maggiore Mechelli, Sergente Domenico Santonocito and Sergente Piero Buttazzi) and six from the 91a Squadriglia (Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli, Capitano Vincenzo Vanni, Sottotenente Andrea Dalla Pasqua, Sottotenente Orlando Mandolini, Sottotenente Ennio Grifoni and Sergente Elio Miotto). Tenente Guiducci reported that the heavy AA immediately hit one of the SM 79s, which was shot down. Then five monoplanes (Hurricanes and Spitfires(!)) tried to attack but were immediately counterattacked and one of them was shot down. Later, another attempt by a lone British fighter failed after the intervention of the Italian escort. The 90a Squadriglia pilots expanded 320 rounds of ammunition and it seems that in the end the victory was assigned to the whole formation as a Gruppo victory. It seems that it was the same aircraft claimed independently by the two Squadriglie of the 23o Gruppo.

It seems that Mechelli later was transferred to the 73a Squadriglia of the 9o Gruppo.

On 20 May 1942 the 9o Gruppo, with twenty-eight MC.202s, took off for a third tour of duty in North Africa. After a call in Pantelleria, they reached Castel Benito.
The following day, after intermediate landings at Tamet and Benghasi K3, they reached their new base at Martuba 4.

Between 16:00-17:30 on 9 June, Maggiore Antonio Larsimont Pergameni led 15 MC.202s from the 9o Gruppo (six from the 73a Squadriglia, six from the 96a Squadriglia and two from the 97a Squadriglia) on a free sweep over Bir Hacheim. At 16:30, they came up against three enemy formations at altitudes of 3000, 3500, and 4000 metres respectively over Bir Hacheim with a total of 30 fighters, split between P-40s and Hurricanes (a very precise estimate). After the ensuing air combat, the Italian pilots claimed five P-40s and one Hurricane destroyed with two P-40s and two Hurricanes probably shot down and 19 machine-gunned (3839 rounds).
It was reported that Sergente Maggiore Teresio Martinoli (73a Squadriglia) easily shot down two P-40s, setting them afire in addition to damaging a third one; his MC.202 was in turn hit and slightly damaged. As usual, he flew at the top of the formation because of his outstanding eyesight.
Sergente Mario Guerci (73a Squadriglia) shot down one P-40 and fired at a second from close distance. He saw a black smoke trail coming from it. He didn’t follow it (it was credited as a probable), engaged as he was in the midst of the dogfight. His MC.202 was also hit and slightly damaged.
Tenente Vittorio Squarcia (73a Squadriglia) fired at the tail of an P-40 at very close range (credited as probably destroyed) but couldn’t finnish it off since his own aircraft was slightly damaged.
Sergente Maggiore Mechelli (73a Squadriglia), who was following Tenente Squarcia, fired on two Hurricanes, hitting the cockpit of one; he saw it heel over and then assumed an anomalous trim with the nose pointing down. He then followed it, hitting it again. But then he had to desist because a P-40 was on his tail. Her was credited with one destroyed Hurricane and another as a probable.
Sottotenente Alvaro Querci (73a Squadriglia) claimed a P-40 and fired at a second (credited as damaged). His MC.202 was also hit but not badly.
Sergente Bruno Biagini (96a Squadriglia) claimed a destroyed P-40 and a probable Hurricane.
Tenente Emanuele Annoni (96a Squadriglia) fired at four planes.
21-year-old Sergente Maggiore Pasquale Rossi (MC.202 MM7831/’73-11’) failed to return and became MiA.
The enemy formations, on patrol over Bir Hacheim were ten Kittyhawks of 260 Squadron (16:55-18:35) with 2 and 4 SAAF Squadrons (but the first would break away from the other two), and twelve Hurricane IIcs of 213 Squadron (16:50-18:50) as top cover for another eleven of 73 Squadron (17:00-18:30), which also were on patrol over Bir Hacheim and searching for possible enemy bombers. Additionally, four Spitfires of 145 Squadron (17:00-18:30) were top cover for the Hurricanes but probably were separated because nothing was reported.
The first to meet with the Italians was 260 Squadron who lost 20-years-old Sergeant Harold Clark (RAF no. 1266027) who became MiA (and later KIA). Subsequently 213 and 73 Squadrons were engaged.
213 Squadron was at 15,000ft when it saw a formation of Kittyhawks (260 Squadron) returning east, which warned the Hurricanes that bandits were heading south-east 20 miles south-east of Gazala. Then ground control sent the warning that bandits were behind and to port 10 miles east of Bir Hacheim. The Commonwealth formation was at 15,000ft when it turned against a reportedly twelve Bf 109s and MC.202s in vic formation 500-1,000ft above. Six peeled off in line astern and dived to attack the Hurricanes. Individual combats followed with one Bf 109 claimed destroyed and a Bf 109 and a MC.202 damaged 10 miles north-west of Bir Hacheim. Only two Hurricanes were slightly damaged; one received a strike in the petrol tank and another in the aileron. One Bf 109 was seen going down in flames and hit the deck (probably Sergente Maggiore Rossi) but no Ju 88s were sighted. The Hurricanes formed into a defensive circle to the left, everyone weaving. The enemy aircraft practically attacked in a vertical dive and then pulled up. Four more enemy aircraft joined the fight. Pilot Officer W. R. Henderson (Hurricane IIc BN128/K) claimed a destroyed Bf 109F while Flight Lieutenant C. B. Temlett (BM981/G) (100 Ball, 100 HE/Inc) claimed a damaged Bf 109F and Flying Officer F. A. W. J. Wilson (BN136/S) claimed a damaged MC.202.
W. C. Fenton (BN157) led the eleven Hurricanes IIcs of 73 Squadron. At 17:50 they were flying at an altitude of 12,000ft 10 miles west of Bir Hacheim when they were jumped by five to six Bf 109s and Macchis coming down from 3000ft above. In the ensuing combat, they were credited with one probable MC.202 and one probable Bf 109F. The probable MC.202 was credited to Flight Lieutenant ‘Robin’ Johnston (BF272) 5 miles east of Bir Hacheim while the BF 109F (!) was credited to Flight Sergeant E. L. Joyce (BN156/QO-L) 12 miles west of Bir Hacheim. Joyce reported:

“…Our A flight was jumped by 5 Macchis and 109s. A mix up followed and I climbed to 14000 (from 10-11000). A Me l09 dived on a Hurricane. I half rolled, losing my No.2 and pulled up waiting for him (the 109) to pull up, which he did about 300 yards in front of me, climbing on an angle of 45o. I fired and as I did, he turned slightly left. I changed my aim and blew about 2 square feet off his left wing. He went down in a vertical dive, left hand, and I watched him for about 5000 feet, when I was attacked by a Macchi 202. …I then climbed to 15000 feet and made several attacks.... I took evasive action and evaded an attack by an Me.109, which was coming from the sun, about 400 yards behind me.... There was one Kittyhawk, which belly landed about 10-12 miles east of Bir Hakeim. I claimed one probably destroyed. 53 balls, 52 He total 147-145.”
The Italian formation was subdivided in two sections, one at 5,000m with 96a Squadriglia and another at 4,000m. It was 260 Squadron that was met first, separated as it was from the South Africans, and it was briefly engaged (it is not known why it was not pursued). The Macchis then came up against the Hurricanes that, being in difficulty, formed a defensive circle. There must have been two separated clashes of the two squadrons with the two sections of 9o Gruppo. Notwithstanding the big battle and the difficulties of the enemy formations, the Macchis did not manage to do much damage and indeed lost a pilot, despite the large number of rounds fired by their Bredas and the large number of victories claimed.

Following the Axis advance the 9o Gruppo transferred to El Adem on 23 June, then to Sidi el Barrani two days later and finally to Fuka on 1 July.

On 16 September sixteen aircraft of the 9o Gruppo (seven from the 73a Squadriglia, one from the 96a Squadriglia and eight from the 97a Squadriglia) led by the CO Maggiore Roberto Fassi were flying a free hunt mission at 6500 meters east of El Alamein when they spotted a huge formation of P-40s. As they were manoeuvring for an advantageous position they were jumped from above by twenty Spitfires. In the following dogfight, which lasted about ten minutes, Sergente Maggiore Mechelli claimed a Spitfire destroyed, Maresciallo Paolo Perno (96a Squadriglia) another probable and Sergente Maggiore Teresio Martinoli severely damaged a P-40. Tenente Giuseppe Oblach, Tenente Vittorio Squarcia (73a Squadriglia), Maresciallo Rodolfo Stoppani (73a Squadriglia) and other pilots claimed several Spitfires and P-40s damaged. Four MC.202s were damaged in this combat but all returned to base.

Mechelli ended the war with 2 shared biplane victories and a total of 1.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  19/07/40 17:10- 1/3 Blenheim (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   off Marsa Lugh 78a Squadriglia
  27/12/40 14:30- 1/19 Hurricane (b) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 84a Squadriglia
1 09/06/42 16:30-17:30 1 Hurricane (c) Destroyed MC.202   Bir Hacheim 73a Squadriglia
  09/06/42 16:30-17:30 1 Hurricane (c) Probably destroyed MC.202   Bir Hacheim 73a Squadriglia
2 26/06/42 14:30-15:30 1 P-40 Destroyed MC.202   Bir el Astas 73a Squadriglia
3 16/09/42   1 Spitfire Destroyed MC.202   E El Alamein 73a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 2 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 3 and 2 shared destroyed, 1 probably destroyed.
(a) Probably claimed in combat with Blenheims from 211 Squadron, which didn’t suffer any losses.
(b) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 33 Squadron, which claimed two probable CR.42s and one damaged without losses. The 10o and 23o Gruppi claimed 3 Hurricanes and 1 probably shot down with another 10 damaged while suffering 3 damaged CR.42s.
(c) Probably claimed in combat with P-40s and Hurricanes from 260, 213 and 74 Squadrons, which claimed 1 destroyed, 2 probably destroyed and 2 damaged while losing 1 Kittyhawk (pilot KIA) and getting 2 Hurricanes damaged. The 9o Gruppo claimed 6 destroyed, 4 probables and 2 damaged while losing 1 MC.202 (pilot KIA).

2o Stormo - Note storiche dal 1925 al 1975 - Gino Strada, 1975 USSMA, Rome, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
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
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
La Battaglie Aeree In Africa Settentrionale: Novembre-Dicembre 1941 – Michele Palermo, IBN, ISBN 88-7565-102-7
Quelli del Cavallino Rampante - Antonio Duma, 1981 Editore Dell'Ateneo, Roma kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Additional information kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro and Ludovico Slongo

Last modified 11 June 2018