Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Sergente Maggiore Aurelio Munich

In February 1941 Munich belonged to the 160o Gruppo C.T. At this time this unit took part in the Greek campaign and was equipped with Fiat CR.42s.

On 9 February 1941 18 S.79s from the 104o Gruppo were out to bomb in the Kelcyre-Tepelene area. These bombers were escorted by twelve Fiat G.50bis fighters from the 24o Gruppo led by Maggiore Eugenio Leotta, and twelve Fiat CR.42s from the 160o Gruppo, led by Tenente Edoardo Crainz. Four Greek Gladiators of 21 Mira (Sminagos Ioanis Kellas (CO of 21 Mira), Anthiposminagos Anastasios Bardivilias, Episminias Ilias Dimitrakopoulos and Episminias Nikolaos Kostorizos) and eight PZLs from 22 and 23 Mire intercepted the formation.
The Greek fighters didn’t manage to penetrate the fighter screen and a series of hectic dogfights started with the Italian escort. Overclaiming was heavy on both sides and the Greek pilots claimed eight enemy fighters, Kellas claimed two while Bardivilias, Dimitrakopoulos and Kostorizos claimed one enemy aircraft each. Episminas Epaminondas Dagoulas of 22 Mira claimed one fighter while Yposminagos Marinos Mitralexes from the same unit claimed one fighter over Berat; Mitralexes also claimed one additional fighter and a probable during the combat. The Greek Army confirmed the eight victories and this was also confirmed by a Mr. Roussos, a journalist of the newspaper ELEYTHERON BHMA, who was on the ground with the troops as a war correspondent. His report is a first hand account and also gives the enthusiasm of the Greek soldiers while the Italian planes fell to the ground.
The Gladiators flown by Kellas and Dimitrakopoulos were both hard hit during the combat but it was possible to repair these fighters. Yposminagos Kotronis was shot down, but he managed to force-land his PZL, totally destroying it in the process. He escaped, however, only lightly wounded. A second PZL was shot up by three fighters and Episminias (Sergeant) John Michopoulos of 22 Mira was wounded in the thigh, but he managed to get back to Salonika/Sedes and land. Other aircraft returned damaged.
The G.50bis pilots in return claimed one Gladiator and three PZLs shot down, while the pilots from the 160o Gruppo submitted claims for three Gladiators (one each by Tenente Crainz, Sergente Maggiore Luciano Tarantini and Sergente Maggiore Munich) and two PZLs (Sottotenente Raoul Francinetti and Sergente Antonio Crabbia).
It seems that no Italian fighters were lost on this occasion.

Six Beaufighters of 272 Squadron attacked Agedabia at 12:15 on 26 November. Flight Lieutenant Gillian Campbell (Beaufighter O), Pilot Officer J. H. Baker (K), Flying Officer G. W. Morris (S), Pilot Officer K. B. Orr (A), Sergeant N. A. J. Price (E) and Pilot Officer W. G. Snow (C) shot down a Ca.311 as well as destroying four CR.42s on the ground (they also reported strafing Ju 87s). Four CR.42s were then seen over a convoy, and one of these was claimed as a damaged by Flying Officer Campbell.
The Ca.311 claimed shot down was from the 15o Gruppo O.A. flown by Maresciallo Emenegildo Gius, which had taken off for a reconnaissance mission over Benghazi-Msus-Saunnu-Antelat-Solluch-Benghazi but had to land due to the action of enemy fighters 40 miles south of Sidi Magrun. There was one person wounded.
The damage done to the CR.42 unit at Agedabia was really grave: the 366a Squadriglia suffered one CR.42 (FU) damaged beyond repair and another was damaged, and a Ca.133 was slightly damaged while CR.42 MM7617 (of the 367a Squadriglia) was RD.
The Beaufighter piloted by Sergeant Price was shot down; according to 272 Squadron’s ORB this was by anti-aircraft fire. The diary of 160o Gruppo reported that at 12:30, two CR.42s of the 375a Squadriglia were on a defence patrol when they intercepted the Beaufighters that were strafing the airfield. Sottottenente Giuseppe Cantù claimed one of the attackers shot down in flames near the airfield and then successfully fired on a second Beaufighter together with Sergente Maggiore Munich. The Beaufighter made off trailing a lot of smoke and was credited as a shared probable. The crew of the shot down Beaufighter consisted of two non-commissioned officers, were taken PoW (Sergeant Price and Sergeant F. Southern).
It seems that the Beaufighter was shot down by the CR.42 but it can’t be excluded that it had been damaged by anti-aircraft fire since the fire from the ground was intense.

In the beginning of March 1942, Regia Aeronautica spotted Chad-based Free French forces led by Général Jacques-Philippe Leclerc intruding into the Fezzan desert area, in the southern part of Libya, to harass Italian garrisons in order to distract forces from the northern front. The Leclerc column was formed by four independent patrols, the aerial support being provided by the Groupe Bretagne, composed of Nates and Rennes Escadrilles. The former was led by Lieutenant Jean Mahé and had four Martin Marylands (ex-French Martin 167s, known simply as ‘Glenns’) and a Potez 540. The latter, commanded by Lieutenant Marcel Finance, had five Lysanders and three Potez 29s.
Leclerc had moved from Chad on 17 February and ten days later surprised and overwhelmed the small garrison of Uigh el Kebir. Here he established his command post and on 28 February his forces managed to capture the Gatrun and Tegerri garrisons, but a patrol led by Capitaine Jacques Massu met strong resistance at Umm el Araneb and was forced to retreat.
As a result of the French aerial activity in Fezzan, Maggiore Michele Mandara, CO 160o Gruppo CT, deployed four CR.42s to Sebha, led by Tenente Eduardo Sorvillo (394a Squadriglia). The other three pilots were Sergente Maggiore Duilio Bernardi (393a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Piero Bertonasso (375a Squadriglia) and Sergente Antonio Malavasi (394a Squadriglia). A single S.79 of 175a Squadriglia RST was also sent as reinforcement, flown by Tenente Giuseppe Pellizzotti.
The CR.42s undertook their first sortie from Sebha on 6 March, hunting French vehicles between there and Zuila, but without result.

On 7 March, the four CR.42s at Sebha moved to Umm el Araneb. After a reconnaissance to Gatrun, while on the ground at Umm el Araneb, they were bombed and strafed by the French Lysander P9197 of the Rennes Escadrilla, flown by Lieutenant Marcel Finance. The fighter of Tenente Sorvillo (MM7627/394-8) was set on fire, the pilot suffering severe injuries, while Sottotenente Bertonasso’s CR.42 was slightly damaged.
The pair of Fiats still serviceable took off immediately, flown by Sergente Maggiore Duilio Bernardi and Sergente Antonio Malavasi to hunt for the hostile aircraft. Sergente Maggiore Bernardi found the Lysander and fired at it repeatedly, forcing it to land in the desert trailing smoke. Lieutenant Finance took the gunner Sergent Chef Fernand Leroy, who had been wounded in the leg, out of the Lysander and sought the cover of the smoke. It proved only to be a smoke bomb hit by a bullet from Bernardi’s guns.
Meanwhile, Bernardi flew for some time over the grounded aircraft without attacking it further. Convinced that he had inflicted irreparable damage, he then departed. This allowed Finance, having got the gunner back on board, to take off and fly back to Uigh el Kebir.
At Umm el Araneb meantime, the wounded Sorvillo was put in an S.79 called to the spot and flown to Castel Benito.
The S.79 (MM21465) flown by Tenente Pellizzotti subsequently crashed at Sebha for unknown reasons, all crew being killed.

On 8 March, two more 160o Gruppo CR.42s were flown down to Sebha by Tenente Raoul Francinetti and Sergente Maggiore Munich to replace the two which had been destroyed. Meanwhile, however, all the French aircraft left the area, retiring to their base at Faya in Chad, leaving Leclerc’s patrol without air cover.
The next day, on 9 March, Tenente Francinetti and Sergente Maggiore Munich strafed Capitaine Massu’s patrol, leaving one vehicle in flames and others damaged. Francinetti’s CR.42 was slightly damaged by small-arms fire.
In the afternoon Tenente Francinetti, Sergente Malavasi and Sergente Maggiore Munich again attacked Massu’s troops, this time near Uigh el Kebir, ten small trucks were claimed destroyed and others damaged.
On 30 March an Italian patrol of 3o Compagnia Sahariana found the wreck of eight French vehicles. At this point the first Fezzan Campaign was at an end, French forces returning to Chad and the Italians garrisons being re-established.

Munich ended the war with 1 victory, this one claimed while flying Fiat CR.42s.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1941                
1 09/02/41   1 Gladiator (a) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Kelcyre-Tepelene area 160o Gruppo
  26/11/41 12:30 1/2 Blenheim (b) Shared probably destroyed Fiat CR.42   Agedabia 375a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 1 destroyed, 1 shared probably destroyed.
TOTAL: 1 destroyed, 1 shared probably destroyed.
(a) Claimed in combat with fighters from 21, 22, 22 Mire. The 24o and 160o Gruppi claimed five PZLs and four Gladiators without loss. The Greek fighters claimed eight enemy fighters for the loss of one PZL while several more were damaged.
(b) Claimed in combat with Beaufighters from 272 Squadron, which lost one aircraft with the crew PoW.

Sources:
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
Air war for Yugoslavia, Greece and Crete - Christopher Shores, Brian Cull and Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-948817-07-0
La Battaglie Aeree In Africa Settentrionale: Novembre-Dicembre 1941 – Michele Palermo, IBN, ISBN 88-7565-102-7
Additional information kindly provided by Dimitrios Vassilopoulos.




Last modified 13 August 2016