Biplane fighter aces


Sergente Gustavo Minelli

On 12 July 1940, the 9o Gruppo C.T. arrived at Tripoli from Comiso with 33 Fiat CR.42s under the command of Maggiore Ernesto Botto. The Gruppo consisted of 73a, 96a and 97a Squadriglie.
The 96a Squadriglia included Capitano Roberto Fassi (CO), Tenente Alessandro Viotti, Tenente Aldo Gon, Tenente Emanuele Annoni, Sottotenente Bruno Paolazzi, Sottotenente Carlo Agnelli, Sergente Maggiore Dante Labanti, Sergente Maggiore Graziadio Rizzati, Sergente Maggiore Giovanni Gallerani, Sergente Bruno Spitzl, Sergente Vittorio Pozzati, Sergente Minelli, Sergente Bruno Biagini and Sergente Luigi Battaini. In fact, the Squadriglia moved to Libya with only seven non-commissioned officers (Battani was possibly the one who remained in Italy).
Together with the 10o Gruppo they formed the 4o Stormo C.T.
The Gruppo’s Fiat CR.42s was wisely retrofitted with tropical kits for guns and engines, to avoid the problems suffered by the other Gruppi.

At 08:26 on 9 December, a formation of eight Bristol Blenheims (five Mk.IVs and one Mk.I from 55 Squadron with one Mk.Is from 11 Squadron) bombed El Adem from 9,700 feet. Bombs were seen to fall on the buildings north of the hangars and some direct hits were claimed. Immediately after leaving the target three CR.42s intercepted. The engagement lasted five minutes and was indecisive. The Fiats attacked from long range and dead astern, finally breaking off to port. Back at Fuka at 10:45, only one bullet hole was discovered in one of the planes. The formation had taken off at 06:00, led by Squadron Leader Dudgeon in Blenheim Mk.I L4818.
The three Italian fighters were probably Tenente Aldo Gon, Sergente Maggiore Graziadio Rizzati and Sergente Minelli of the 96a Squadriglia, 9o Gruppo, who scrambled from T3 at 08:20 after a Blenheim, which they were unable to catch. They landed again at 08:50.

At 11:10 on 12 December, a mixed formation from the 4o Stormo took off for a free sweep in the Ogerin Bir El Kreighat area. After the sweep, they were to ground strafe targets of opportunity. Participating pilots from the 91a Squadriglia were Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli (CO 10o Gruppo), Capitano Vincenzo Vanni, Sottotenente Andrea Dalla Pasqua, Sergente Maggiore Leonardo Ferrulli, Sergente Maggiore Natale Fiorito and Sergente Maggiore Giovanni Casero. From 84a Squadriglia came Capitano Luigi Monti, Sottotenente Paolo Berti, Sottotenente Luigi Prati, Sottotenente Bruno Devoto, Sergente Roberto Steppi and Sergente Onorino Crestani.
Sergente Giovanni Battista Ceoletta of the 90a Squadriglia was part of a formation taking off at 11:40 while his squadriglia mates Sergente Maggiore Angelo Savini and Sergente Alfredo Sclavo suffered accidents on take off, which prevented them to take part (and probably wrote off the plane of Sclavo). Tenente Aldo Gon and Sergente Minelli from the 96a Squadriglia, 9o Gruppo also took part in this action.
Bad weather prevented the discovery of ground targets, so Romagnoli led his fighters to the Bir Enba area where a formation of Gladiators surprised the 84a Squadriglia formation. A long dogfight started after which the CR.42 of Onorino Crestani was missing and the remaining pilots claimed two victories. Crestani was taken prisoner.
According to the squadriglia diaries, the two confirmed victories were shared among the 91a Squadriglia pilots plus Ceoletta (who used 120 rounds of ammunition during the combat) and the pilots from the 9o Gruppo. Gon and Minelli in fact only claimed a shared probable in a combat against a reportedly six Gladiators, while the 10o Gruppo’s Diary downgraded the victories to two probables. Monti, Prati and Steppi were credited with a damaged each while Ceoletta also claimed two damaged Gladiators (according to some Italian historians one Gladiator was shared between Monti, Prati and Steppi and the second shared between Gon and Minelli, while one or two other Gladiators were considered probably shot down but there is however no trace of such claims in the official diaries).
They had run into five Gladiators from 3 RAAF Squadron, which had taken off from ALG 74 at 11:25 to carry out an offensive patrol around Sofafi. The patrol intercepted a reported 16 to 18 CR.42 six miles north-west of Sofafi. During the ensuing combat three of the Italian fighters were claimed shot down, one apiece being credited to Flying Officers Alan Boyd, Wilfred Arthur and Alan Gatward, without loss. The Gladiators returned to base at 13:05.

At around 15:30 on 16 December, T4 was bombed by British raiders that destroyed the 96a Squadriglia’s “hack” Ca.133 on the ground and damaged a CR.42 (presumably from the same Squadriglia). Sergente Minelli and Sergente Bruno Spitzl of the 96a Squadriglia were wounded. With the Caproni, the 96a Squadriglia’s War diary was lost (for the first time).

The 9o Gruppo returned from the desert and was re-equipped with Macchi MC.200s. In July they re-equipped again with MC.202s and were they were sent to Sicily, arriving in the end of September 1941, to take part in the operations against Malta

Early in the morning of 14 October, six low-flying MC.202s of the 9o Gruppo strafed Luqa. They attacked in two pairs of three and it seems that they didn’t inflict any damage to the airfield or its aircraft.
Five MNFU Hurricanes took off to intercept, led by Flight Lieutenant Cassidy. Three each from 185 and 249 Squadrons followed them. 19-year-old Pilot Officer David Barnwell (RAF no. 61052) (Hurricane Z3512) of the MNFU was reported to claim one enemy fighter shot down but then failed to return. A rescue launch and aircraft searched all day until dark, but found no trace of the pilot.
It would seem that the Macchi attacked by Barnwell was flown by Sottotenente Emanuele Annoni, but despite two cannon shell strikes in the fuselage, he was able to fly it back to Comiso. Sottotenente Bruno Paolazzi and Maresciallo Manlio Olivetti made claims for two Hurricanes while Capitano Ezio Viglione Borghese claimed a damaged Hurricane. Sergente Maggiore Luigi Taroni and Sergente Minelli also claimed a probable jointly.

On 22 November, 61 MC.200s and MC.202s from 9o Gruppo and 54o Stormo escorted ten Ju 87s from 101o Gruppo B.a’T. to attack Malta.
The close-escort MC.200s became uncoordinated and returned early, but the higher flying MC.202s, which were providing indirect cover reported engaging 40 British fighters (‘Spitfires’). They returned claiming eight Spitfires and three more as probables. Tenente Fernando Malvezzi (73a Squadriglia) (totally 10 victories) and Sottotenente
Giovanni Barcaro (97a Squadriglia) both claimed two while Capitano Ezio Viglione Borghese, Sottotenente Emanuele Annoni (96a Squadriglia) (totally 9 victories) and Sergente Maggiore Dante Labanti (73a Squadriglia) claimed one each. The eight Spitfire was claimed as a shared by the pilots from 9o Gruppo. Sergente Bruno Spitzl (96a Squadriglia), Sergente Minelli and Sergente Maggiore Egeo Parodi (96a Squadriglia) claimed the three probables. One MC.202 (MM7748) was lost when Tenente Pietro Bonfatti (73a Squadriglia) (totally 6 victories) was shot down and killed.
In fact 21 Hurricanes from 126 and 249 Squadrons (all available machines) had been scrambled led by Wing Commander Rabagliatti. They saw a force of fighters north of Gozo at 26-30,000 feet, identified variously as 15 Macchis or 24 Macchis and Messerschmitts (there were no Bf 109s). Flight Lieutenant Carpenter of 126 Squadron led the top cover and returned reporting a damaged when he fired a five-second burst into a Macchi from which he saw the canopy and other parts fly off. The Macchi then did a very slow roll and disappeared. Sergeant Ted Copp attacked a Macchi, which was seen leaving smoking, and he reported it as a damaged. Pilot Officer Noel MacGregor and Flying Officer Jack Kay claimed one damaged each while Pilot Officer Rocky Main claimed two probables. None of the 126 Squadron pilots recorded any confirmed claims. Wing Commander Rabagliatti was attacked twice by flights of Macchis but he managed to escape. They all returned back to base without damages or losses.
Meanwhile the 249 Squadron, at a lower altitude, had better success as the Macchi MC.202s swooped down on them. Squadron Leader Barton (Z3764) claimed one eight miles north-east of Gozo. The enemy pilot was not seen to bale out. Flying Officer Davis claimed a second and then shared another probably destroyed with Sergeant Al Branch (BV156 GN-Q). No Hurricanes were lost and only Sergeant Skeet-Smith returned with a damaged Hurricane.

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

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  12/12/40 11:10- 1/9 Gladiator (a) Shared probable Fiat CR.42   Bir Enba area 96a Squadriglia
  12/12/40 11:10- 1/9 Gladiator (a) Shared probable Fiat CR.42   Bir Enba area 96a Squadriglia
  14/10/41 morning ½ Hurricane (b) Shared probable MC.202   NE Valetta 96a Squadriglia
  22/11/41   1 Spitfire (c) Probable MC.202   Malta area 96a Squadriglia
  22/11/41   1 Spitfire (c) Shared destroyed MC.202   Malta area 96a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 2 shared probably destroyed.
TOTAL: 1 shared destroyed, 1 and 3 shared probably destroyed.
(a) Claimed in combat with Gladiators from 3 RAAF Squadron, which claimed 3 CR.42s without suffering losses. The 4o Stormo claimed 2 probables while losing one CR.42 (Sergente Crestani PoW).
(b) Possibly claimed in combat with Hurricanes from Malta MNFU, 185 and 249 Squadrons, which claimed one enemy aircraft while losing one aircraft. The 9o Gruppo claimed three victories while getting one aircraft damaged.
(c) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 126 and 249 Squadrons, which returned claiming 2 destroyed, 3 probables and 4 damaged MC.202s for one Hurricane damaged. The pilots from 9o Gruppo claimed 8 destroyed and 3 probables for the loss of one MC.202.

2o Stormo - Note storiche dal 1925 al 1975 - Gino Strada, 1975 USSMA, Rome, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
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
Diario Storico 84a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Diario Storico 90a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Diario Storico 91a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Fiat CR.42 Aces of World War 2 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2009 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-427-5
Quelli del Cavallino Rampante - Antonio Duma, 1981 Editore Dell'Ateneo, Roma kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Additional information kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo

Last modified 28 January 2012