Biplane fighter aces


Capitano Elia Mussolin

Elia Mussolin was born in Megliadino S. Vitale (PD) on 1 December 1913.

On 30 September 1935 he joined the Regia Aeronautica receiving his wings on 28 April 1936 after 19 hours of flying in a Caproni Ca.100. He graduated as a military pilot on 30 August 1936. In total, he logged just under 50 hours of flight time during his training period.
On 16 September, he is assigned to the 152a Squadriglia, III Gruppo, 6o Stormo Caccia, based at Campoformido and commanded by Capitano Vincenzo La Carruba.

On 21 December, he was promoted to Sottotenente.

On 15 November 1937, he volunteered to serve in Spain as part of the 32a Squadriglia, VI Gruppo.

On 17 January 1938, he claimed a Curtiss and the machine gunning of a second one over Villalba Baja.

On 8 April, he took part in a second fight but without success.

On 8 June, over Lucena del Cid, Sottotenente Mussolin claimed a Curtiss individually and a Rata in collaboration with Tenente Forestieri. On this occasion Mussolin also claimed a damaged Curtiss.

His last combat in Spain took place on 13 July 1938 over Sarrión when Mussolin claimed four Rata and a Martin bomber in collaboration with 21 other pilots.

Mussolin returned to Italy on 20 September, having accumulated 294 hours of operational flying time.

For his service in Spain, he was decorated with the Medaglia d’argento al valor militare:

“A fighter pilot of magnificent military virtues, a valiant and indomitable fighter, a volunteer on a war mission for the affirmation of Fascist ideals, in many wartime actions he demonstrated his daring and rigid attachment to duty. In an arduous battle against numerous enemy fighter planes, he con-firmed his qualities as a fighter. Daring to enter the fray, he contributed to the shooting down of several enemy aircraft.”
In the sky of Spain, December 1937 - August 1938.

One month after his return, he was assigned to the 79a Squadriglia and then to the 80a Squadriglia, XVII Group, 1o Stormo Caccia at Campoformido.

On 10 August 1939, he embarked in Naples on the steamer Leonardo da Vinci, bound for Massaua, where he arrived on 19 August.
Here, the 80a Squadriglia was re-named 409a Squadriglia Autonoma Caccia, based in Gura.

His time in Spain earned him an appointment as a Sottotenente in SPE on 7 September 1939.
This was followed by his appointment as a Tenente by seniority on 15 January 1940.

Nine Wellesleys of 223 Squadron took off from Summit on 12 June. These were flown by Squadron Leader Larking (L2714), Flying Officer Roden (L2695), Flying Officer Collier (L2673), Flight Lieutenant Roulston (L2715), Flying Officer Ross (K7747), Pilot Officer Gidney (L2711), Flight Lieutenant Cross (L2690), Pilot Officer Tuffs (L2698) and Pilot Officer Ellis (K7788). Flight Lieutenant Cross had to return prematurely because shreds of canvas had come off its wings. Therefore, Flight A and C reunited in a five-man formation. Holding off Asmara, at 17:30 they made their first pass over Gura, attacking the structures to the north of the airport. At the same time, while the anti-aircraft came into action, the five planes were attacked by the CR.42 of Tenente Mussolin, returning from a patrol over Asmara, and then by Sergente Mario Perini and another FIAT, which had scrambled. Heading south-east, the bombers prepared for a second pass in a north-westerly direction, still pursued by the three fighters. In the meantime, B Flight reached its assigned target, the Officine Caproni-Toselli of Mai Edaga, located at the southern end of the Gura complex, but here it was repeatedly attacked by three other Italian fighters (Sottotenente Fiorindo Rosmino, Sottotenente Giovanni Levi, who had taken off from Asmara, and, probably, Tenente Carlo Canella, possibly flying a CR.32). After the second pass, the first section of bombers descended, still pursued by Tenente Mussolin and Sergente Perini, while the third fighter turned to also attack B Flight. The low altitude limited the fighters’ manoeuvres, as they could not attack from below and were therefore more exposed to the defensive fire of the Lewis guns.
K7747/AO-K of Flying Officer Ross was repeatedly hit and the gunner Corporal Stevenson was wounded in the legs. Despite the damage, Ross' plane managed to return to base, but it was destroyed on landing due to undercarriage failure (it was officially decommissioned on 7 July). Over Áddi Úgri a second Wellesley, K7788 of Pilot Officer Ellis, the left wing wingman, was repeatedly hit in the outer wing tank and in the fuselage behind the pilot’s seat. The aircraft was badly damaged and, after landing, would also be declared out of service. The Squadron's gunners fired a total of 2115 rounds of .303 inch.
During the combat, it seems that Tenente Canella was credited with one Wellesley shot down (probably K7788). Mussolin’s plane was hit by a total of seven bullets in the lower right wing, two engine cylinders, the oil cooler and the left tyre. Mussolin nevertheless landed safely at 18:05 after firing 360 rounds of 12.7 mm, claiming one bomber probably destroyed (mistakenly identified as a ”Hampden” but most probably K7747) and the machine-gunning of the other four. His CR.42 MM4305 was judged repairable at SRAM. The other fighters, meanwhile, continued to attack B Flight and Sottotenente Levi fired 400 bullets and also claimed a probably downed aircraft (probably also K7788).
The British saw a biplane hitting the ground after being hit by several bullets. This was CR.42 MM5527 piloted by Sergente Perini, which crashed with the pilot wounded. On the Italian side, in addition, CR.42 MM5523 (pilot unknown) was also hit and the destruction of two pavilions and 15 aircraft engines was reported.
Although this air combat is one of the most documented on the Italian side to date, there remains some doubt as to the identity of the pilot credited with shooting down the Wellesley. The motivations with which the Medaglia d’argento al valor militare was awarded to Tenente Visintini attribute this victory over Gura to him, while in the similar decoration to Tenente Canella was officially recognised for the shooting down of a Wellesley the following 14 June over Massawa. However, from one of the first letters written by Visintini to his family immediately after the outbreak of the conflict, it is clear that in those days he never left Massawa; furthermore, according to the pilot and special war correspondent Leone Concato, Canella was ”directly responsible for the first British aircraft shot down over East Africa”, a circumstance also confirmed by Capitano Antonio Raffi. The victory of 12 June should therefore be attributed to Canella, and consequently to Visintini the one on 14 June.

Tenente Mussolin took off from Gura on alert on 18 June and intercepted an aircraft that he identified as an SM.83 of LATI (Linee Aeree Transcontinentali Italiane). It was probably an aircraft belonging to the 615a Squadriglia Nucleo Comunicazioni LATI, with code 615-1.

Five Wellesleys of 14 Squadron and five from 47 Squadron took off at dawn on 26 June from their respective bases and, after gathering at Port Sudan, headed for Gura. Pilots from 14 Squadron taking part were Squadron Leader Selway (L2647), Pilot Officer Matthew (K7757), Sergeant Patey (L2676/D), Flying Officer Soderholm (L2710) and Pilot Officer Le Cavalier (L2689). Participating pilots from 47 Squadron were Wing Commander Elton, Flight Lieutenant Magill, Pilot Officer Mair, Sergeant Osbourn and Sergeant Wragg. The squadrons formed up with 47 Squadron leading and 14 Squadron further back and at a lower altitude.
At 08:45 the formation attacked Gura from the northwest. The 47 Squadron hit and, amidst intense anti-aircraft reaction, dropped its load of bombs on the airport buildings. Four fighters already in the air intercepted the British formation from the beginning of their dive until after the drop and one of them chased them for 20 minutes up to 18km north of Massawa. Behind them, 14 Squadron, report being attacked by seven CR.42s:

“The CR.42s made tail and flank attacks, firing tracers. One of them slammed under my plane and half-looped up a little further, straight ahead. At the apex of the turn, while still upside down, he came towards me [...] He - or one of the others - must have been a pretty good shot. There was suddenly a strong smell of petrol and Mildren warned: 'Sir, there's fuel going into the bottom of the fuselage from who knows where and it's already at ankle height! [...]”
The machine gunners of 14 Squadron fired a total of 2040 rounds of .303 inch, one of which reached Tenente Mussolin hitting between the shoulder blades and the spinal column. Fortunately, he managed to bring his CR.42 MM4455 back despite the serious wound and heavy bleeding.
The British bombers damaged an overhead fuel tank (half-empty), two pavilions of the non-commissioned officers’ mess and the pavilion of the fixed workshop, with machinery remaining intact, while three pavilions of the ILVA M.S.A. were destroyed and a driver was wounded. British gunners claimed to have seen a CR.42 (Mussolin’s) fall to the ground in a spin and another emit a trail of smoke, but in fact no other Italian fighter was hit.
The AOI Aviation Operations Bulletin No. 17 speaks only of ”an enemy aircraft certainly hit by our fighter”, but this statement underestimates the damage actually inflicted on the British formation: in addition to Selway’s L2647, which was initially declared unrepairable, the Wellesley K7785 of Flight Lieutenant Magill (47 Squadron) was destroyed on landing back at base due to the damage caused by the enemy damage to the hydraulic circuit, and would be decommissioned the following 17 July.
Tenente Mussolin was credited with a damaged Wellesley and decorated with the Medaglia d’argento al valor militare.
The aggressiveness of the Italian fighters was stated by Selway, who ended his report by stating:
“The action showed [...] that it is not really appropriate for slow daylight bombers to carry out daytime attacks on fields with fighter presence.”

He was decorated with a second Medaglia d’argento al valor militare “in the field”:

“Alone, with magnificent daring, he attacked a formation of five enemy aircraft, seriously damaging one. He persisted in the attack until he was seriously wounded in the scapula and spine and still had the strength to land, without causing damage to the aircraft.”
In the sky of Gura, 26 June 1940 - XVIII.

He left the A.O.I. on 23 September aboard an SM.82 bound for Rome, where he arrived the following day.

After a period of training at the Deposito Centrale Forza Assente, he was assigned to the 168a Squadriglia, 16o Gruppo on 18 June 1941. This unit was based in western Sicily (Gela, Comiso, Sciacca) and equipped with Macchi C.200s.

On 17 August 1941 he promoted to Capitano.

With the 168a Squadriglia he took part in numerous convoy escort actions and missions over Malta, claiming 25 Hurricanes in collaboration during the confused fighting over the skies of the British stronghold.

On 27 February 1942 he was became CO of the 169a Squadriglia, 16o Gruppo, which moved, for operational needs, between Castelvetrano, Crotone, Reggio Calabria and Lecce.

He received a third decoration, this time a Medaglia di bronzo al valor militare "in the field":

“Participated, as commander of a fighter squadron, in the luminous victory of the Italian Wing on 14 and 15 June 1942 in the Mediterranean. In an air attack against a strongly escorted enemy convoy, he led his formation against enemy fighters who tried to hinder our action in the battle sky, putting them to flight and ensuring the dominance of the sky for the duration of the mission entrusted to our bombers.”
In the sky of the Mediterranean, 14 June 1942 - XX.

On 21 January 1943, he relinquished command of the 169a Squadriglia and was transferred to the Rimini and Levaldigi flying schools, working both in the flying departments and in the classroom.

On 1 September, he had just been reassigned to the 3o Stormo when the Armistice arrived, catching him at Abano Terme where he had just begun a period of treatment.
He enlisted in the Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana (ANR) and was assigned to the Recruitment Office.

Mussolin ended the war with two biplane victories.

In February 1946 he was removed from the Regia Aeronautica rolls for his membership of the ANR. This was cancelled in August 1947 (effective from October 1946) and in January 1948 he took the oath of allegiance to the Republic. He was nevertheless given a one-year disciplinary suspension for the above reason. As a result of these events and the consequences of his wounds sustained in the war, he left the Air Force.

Mussolin died prematurely of a heart attack in Padua on 16 October 1966.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 17/01/38   1 I-15 Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Villalba Baja 32a Squadriglia
  17/01/38   1 I-15 Damaged Fiat CR.32   Villalba Baja 32a Squadriglia
2 08/06/38   1 I-15 Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Lucena del Cid 32a Squadriglia
  08/06/38   1/2 I-16 Shared destroyed Fiat CR.32   Lucena del Cid 32a Squadriglia
  08/06/38   1 I-15 Damaged Fiat CR.32   Lucena del Cid 32a Squadriglia
  13/07/38   1/22 I-16 Shared destroyed Fiat CR.32   Sarrión 32a Squadriglia
  13/07/38   1/22 I-16 Shared destroyed Fiat CR.32   Sarrión 32a Squadriglia
  13/07/38   1/22 I-16 Shared destroyed Fiat CR.32   Sarrión 32a Squadriglia
  13/07/38   1/22 I-16 Shared destroyed Fiat CR.32   Sarrión 32a Squadriglia
  13/07/38   1/22 SB Shared destroyed Fiat CR.32   Sarrión 32a Squadriglia
  12/06/40 17:30 1 Wellesley (a) Probably destroyed Fiat CR.42 MM4305 Gura 412a Squadriglia
  26/06/40 08:45- 1 Wellesley (b) Damaged Fiat CR.42 MM4455 Gura 412a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 2 and 6 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 2 and 6 shared destroyed, 1 probably destroyed, 1 damaged.
(a) Claimed in combat with 8 Wellesleys of 223 Squadron, which suffered 2 Wellesleys written-off while claiming 1 CR.42 shot down. 412a Squadriglia claimed 1 destroyed bomber and 2 probables while losing 1 CR.42 and getting 2 damaged.
(v) Claimed in combat with Wellesleys of 14 and 47 Squadrons, which claimed 1 destroyed CR.42 and 1 damaged while getting 1 destroyed Wellesley and 1 damaged. 412a Squadriglia claimed 1 damaged Wellesley while getting 1 CR.42 damaged (Tenente Mussolin WiA).

I Cavalieri Erranti - Ludovico Slongo, Stefan Lazzaro, Eugenio Eusebi, Michele Palermo and Danilo Ventura, 2023, ISBN 978-88-87952-37-7
Aerial War in Spain: Chronicle of air battle 1936-1939 – Sergey Abrosov, 2008
Air War over Spain - Jesus Salas Larrazabal, 1974 Ian Allan Ltd, Shepperton, Surrey, ISBN 0-7110-0521-4
Fiat CR.32 Aces of the Spanish Civil War - Alfredo Logoluso, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-983-6
Polikarpov I-15, I-16 and I-153 Aces - Mikhail Maslov, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-981-2
Soviet airmen in the Spanish civil war 1936-1939 - Paul Whelan, 2014 Schiffer Publishing Ltd, ISBN 978-0-7643-0
Spanish Republican Aces – Rafael A. Permuy López, 2012 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84908-668-4

Last modified 01 December 2023