Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Sergente Enrico Micheli

- 8 March 1942

Enrico Micheli served in the 363a Squadriglia of the 150o Gruppo during the Greek campaign. The unit was at this time equipped with Fiat CR.42s

On 24 December, five Blenheim Is from 211 Squadron bombed Valona airfield, destroying two 150o Gruppo CR.42s and damaged a third.
Three 363a Squadriglia CR.42s flown by Sottotenente Romeo Della Costanza, Sergente Micheli and Mario Scagliarini were scrambled and duly caught the raiders. Costanza claimed a probable while Micheli fired at another.
It seems that Italian AA defenders also claimed one Blenheim probably shot down.
No bombers were lost by 211 Squadron. One of the observers, Pilot Officer Eric Bevington-Smith recalled:

"We assembled five crews and set off for Valona. The weather was appalling, with a cloud base below 2,000 feet and we flew along the Gulf of Corinth and up to Valona, where the cloud base was 1,700 feet ... we just managed to slip through in line astern, went up into cloud again, and by good luck came out of the cloud over Valona and dropped our bombs. The AA had not yet woken up, so we put our noses down and went flat out for the harbour entrance. When we were about 500 feet we met an Italian cruiser and destroyer coming in for Christmas. We turned our front machine guns on and dived on the ships, and as we passed our rear gunners sprayed the decks. It worked; we were at least two miles away before shellfire started bursting around us, and a quick change of course to the south got us away. If only those Italian gunners had not assumed that the entrance to the harbour of their home port, they were safe!"

On 30 December two Blenheim IVs from the Greek 32 Mira were lost, one failing to return from a sortie over the 2nd Army sector where it was intercepted by two CR.42s from 363a Squadriglia flown by Sottotenente Maurizio Nicolis di Robilant and Sergente Micheli, who reported that it fell near Valona.
Sminagos Cleanthes Hatziioannou and his crew were reported killed.

On 8 March 1942, ten MC.200s from the 150o Gruppo, led by the 363a Squadriglia CO Capitano Luigi Mariotti, were providing close escort for 12 German Ju 87s in an attack on Tobruk harbour at 16:30 when they were attacked by 12 Kittyhawks (six each from 450 and 3 RAAF Squadrons) led by Flight Lieutenant "Nicky" Barr of 3 RAAF Squadron. German Bf 109s were flying top cover, but for unknown reasons they did not intervene. Five pilots from the 150o Gruppo were killed; Tenente Enea Atti, Sergente Maggiore Micheli, Sergente Maggiore Leopoldo Jerai, Sergente Raffaele Badalassi and Sergente Ugo Rodorigo. Two badly damaged Macchis, one of them piloted by Tenente Ugo Drago, managed to land safely at Tmimi and Martuba.
The Australians reported that at around 17:00, six Kittyhawks each from 450 and 3 RAAF Squadron, led by Flight Lieutenant "Nicky" Barr (Kittyhawk AK903/CV-L) took off on a free lance patrol over the battle area with the aircraft from 450 RAAF Squadron acting as top cover. Taking part from 3 RAAF Squadron were Flying Officer Peter Giddy (AK876), Pilot Officer Victor Curtis (AK622), Sergeant Beard (AK623), Flying Officer H. G. Pace (AK712) and Sergeant Packer (AK898). Pilots from 450 RAAF Squadron were Flying Officer Thompson (K895), Sergeant F W Beste (W493), Sergeant Raymond Shaw (AK592/DJ-P), Sergeant James (R641), Sergeant Donald McBurnie (AK717/V) and Sergeant Raymond Dyson (AK732/DJ-A).
Enemy aircraft were sighted 15 miles south of Tobruk and contact was made. The enemy were a reportedly 15 Ju 87s in vic formation with a close escort of nine MC.200s and MC.202s in a very tight formation made up of two echelons of five and four aircraft, and two Bf 109s over Tobruk. The Italians mistook the Kittyhawks for friendly fighters and were slaughtered. Initially the 450 RAAF Squadron remained as top cover and 3 RAAF Squadron attacked. Flight Lieutenant Barr claimed his ninth kill during this action when he accounted for a MC.202 northwest of Tobruk, with another claimed as a probable and two damaged MC.200s. Flying Officer Giddy claimed a Ju 87 and a MC.200 15 miles north of Tobruk while Flying Officer Pace claimed a MC.200. Pilot Officer Curtis claimed a Ju 87 and a MC.200 north-west of Tobruk while Sergeant Beard claimed a damaged MC.202.
450 RAAF Squadron reported that the contact was made at 17:25. In the ensuing engagement Sergeant Beste and Sergeant McBurnie each claimed a MC.200 over Tobruk while Sergeant Shaw claimed a MC.202. Sergeant Dyson claimed a probable MC.200 while Flying Officer Thompson claimed a damaged MC.200. It seems that the combat was fought on a low altitude since Sergeant McBurnie lost the wingtip on his Kittyhawk after contact with the sea. Another Kittyhawk (from 450 RAF Squadron with an unknown pilot) was damaged (Cat 1) by machinegun bullets. By 18:25 all the Australian fighters had returned to base.
112 Squadron reported that Flight Lieutenant Gerald Westenra led seven Kittyhawks on a sweep from El Adem to Gazala. At this point Ops (codename 'Blackbird') vectored the formation on some enemy aircraft five miles north-east. Flight Lieutenant Westenra spotted some MC.200s and with his No. 2, Sergeant R. B. Evans, dived to attack them. Flight Lieutenant Westenra claimed to have downed one, which flew into the sea, but as he was about to attack again, 15 Ju 87s appeared out of cloud flying north-west as fast as they could go. Sergeant Evans saw them and attacked one on the extreme port side firing three bursts. The Ju 87 crashed into the sea. Flying Officer Knapik spotted two Bf 109s but because his windscreen then became oiled up he was unable to join in. In the face of lack of opposition it seems as this formation was the remnants of the one that had been mauled by 450 and 3 RAAF Squadrons. According to the Italians, all of the Ju 87s (one Ju 87 pilot from I/St.G 3 was wounded) managed to escape despite the attention of 112 Squadron.
In the wake of this devastating combat, Generale Rino Corso Fougier, Regia Aeronautica Chief of Staff, praised the 150o Gruppo pilots for their sacrifice which had allowed the Ju 87s to escape. But the Italians demanded better cooperation between their fighters and those flow by the Luftwaffe.

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

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
  30/12/40   1 Blenheim (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Valona area 363a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 1 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 1 shared destroyed.
(a) Blenheim IV from 32 Mira shot down. Sminagos Cleanthes Hatziioannou and his crew were reported killed.

Sources:
53o Stormo - Marco Mattioli, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-977-5
Air war for Yugoslavia, Greece and Crete - Christopher Shores, Brian Cull and Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-948817-07-0
Fiat CR.42 Aces of World War 2 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2009 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-427-5
Fighters over the Desert - Christopher Shores and Hans Ring, 1969 Neville Spearman Limited, London
National Archives of Australia
Shark Squadron - The history of 112 Squadron 1917-1975 - Robin Brown, 1994 Crécy Books, ISBN 0-947554-33-5




Last modified 22 August 2011