Biplane fighter aces


Sottotenente Alfonso Notari

Date Decoration Note
??/??/41 Medaglia di bronzo al valor militare 1940-43

Alfonso Notari was from Carpi (Modena).

When Italy declared war on the Great Britain and France on 10 June 1940, Sottotenent Alfonso Notari served in the 92a Squadriglia of the 8o Gruppo, 2o Stormo C.T. in Libya.
The 8o Gruppo (92a, 93a and 94a Squadriglie) was commanded by Maggiore Vincenzo La Carruba and started the war based at Tobruk T2 airfield with a full complement of 25 Fiat CR.32Qs.
Pilots in the 92a Squadriglia on 11 June were: Capitano Martino “Nino” Zannier (CO), Tenente Riccardo Marcovich (Gruppo Adjutant), Tenente Ranieri Piccolomini, Tenente Giorgio Savoia, Sergente Maggiore Guglielmo Gorgone, Sergente Vito Copersino, Sergente Nadio Monti, Sergente Ernesto Pavan and Sergente Bruno Salvi. These pilots had nine CR.32quaters (including Maggiore La Carruba’s) and one S.81 (piloted by Savini during the transfer) available on 11 June. On strength, there was also Sergente Giovanni Sessa but he hadn’t left Tripoli. A number of pilots had been assigned to the squadriglia before the start of the hostilities; Sottotenente Notari (from the 4o Stormo on 8 June), Sergente Augusto Mannu (from 53o Stormo on 8 June), Sergente Guido Piazza (from 53o Stormo on 10 June) and Sergente Clemente Bonfanti (from 53o Stormo on 10 June); these pilots however remained at Tripoli.

On 4 September, the 92a Squadriglia flew four protective patrols and made four scrambles over and around Derna. Twice they met British bombers, which attacked Derna six times with formations of two aircraft without causing casualties among the personnel but were able to hit and damage some aircraft of the 10o Stormo.
The first engagement happened at around 09:20, when a covering patrol composed by Sottotenente Notari and Sergente Nadio Monti intercepted two British bombers coming back from a raid on Derna. The two bombers were followed 30 kilometres inside their own lines and finally left in a cloudbank.
Sottotenente Notari claimed one Blenheim probably shot down and one heavily damaged with the use of 1000 rounds of ammunition. One the British bomber was reported as having one engine on fire.
Even if records of 113 Squadron for this day is completely lost it is known that the Squadron was ordered to raid Derna with four pairs of bombers and an Mk.I nicknamed “the old un” was hit by fighters that killed the pilot, 24-year-old Pilot Officer John Harry ‘Mouse’ Reynolds (RAF no. 41803). With the aircraft in a shallow dive and its wings rocking, the two Leading Aircraftmen that made up the rest of the crew hauled the dead pilot out of his seat, and took command of the aircraft. They were Leading Aircraftsman Hutchinson and Acting Sergeant Ian “Jock” Blair. Blair, who was an armourer/air gunner, flew the Blenheim 350 miles back to Maaten Bagush and made a very good landing, earning the DFM. Later he became a pilot and would survive the war as a Flight Lieutenant. It seems that this was one of the bombers attacked by Sottotenente Notari.
In February 2009, Blair retold the story:

“I was briefed to carry out a bombing raid on Derna Landing Ground. The track was to be a two legged with a final approach to the Target on a East to West approach. Bomb load was 20 & 40 lb. Fragmentation bombs carried in small bomb containers, (SBC) 4 in number, this required the removal of the Bomb doors of the Blenheim, and accounted for the low Indicated Air Speed (IAS).
The aircraft was airborne at 0820 hrs. As usual the weather was good, the flight was uneventful. At 0917 hrs the log shows an alteration of course was made to bring the aircraft on to the target at a height of 16,000 ft.
[4900 m] having let down from 19,000ft [5800 m]. This latter 40 minutes were used in part to make the necessary settings on the bomb sight, and to position myself by the bomb sight, in my case, I always knelt on the floor with my chest resting on the bomb aimers folding seat (dropped down to the horizontal position from the starboard side of the aircraft, approximately in line with the control column). I found that in this position my hands were free to adjust the bombsight levels and compass (red on red) and obtain a good line of sight in order to track the target.
I had just released my bombs when there was a loud bang on the Port side and when I looked round in the direction of the noise, I saw the pilot was slumped forward on the controls, and out of the port window I saw a CR 42 breaking off as if he was preparing for another attack.
My aircraft was beginning to dive, I struggled to my feet grabbed at the yoke of the control column and as I pulled it back with some difficulty against the weight of the pilot, I was able to exert some right pressure and turn the aircraft to starboard in a northerly direction, I concluded the hostile aircraft would not follow us very far, as it had very limited duration. I had gained a little height, but was having difficulty from my standing position and the added weight of the pilot against the control column.
I called to my air gunner and asked him to assist in the removal of the pilot from his seat, “Hank” had to crawl from the turret through the aircraft “well” to get to the front cockpit, the pilot was carefully removed and placed on the floor of the aircraft, his parachute remained in situ, which I needed in order to see over the instruments etc. Hank returned to the turret, and when I realised the aircraft was O.K. I set a course for base, aiming to make a landfall near Mersa Matruh. I was unable to maintain my navigators log from this point on.
It was a long flight back, I had plenty of time to consider the options, I discussed with Hank what we should do, did he wish to bail out over base, or to stay in the aircraft, he opted to stay with the aircraft.
I outlined my plan to him which was, to make a circuit on arrival at base, and a long approach from east to west, high over the boundary “fence” which was a line of telephone cables on poles, I had no wish to run into these.
The return flight took about 1- 3/4 hours I understand that the W/Op Hank sent a message to base by W/T telling them of our plight, in consequence there was a very large party of spectators and crash vehicles awaiting our “touchdown” on arrival. I was unaware that a message had been sent.
I made landfall not far from Mersa, it was a short time before I reached my base Maten Bagush, which was about 3 miles inland and also Headquarters 202 Group, the message sent by W/op generated a very large crowd of spectators.
I did a very wide circuit of the LG, there were no other aircraft visible in the circuit as far as I could see, even if there had been any pilot giving me assistance on the approach I doubt if I should have taken much notice or be aware of what he was trying to indicate, there was no communication R/T.
From my observations of my skipper's flying, we had done many hours together, I knew that I had to, change pitch of the propeller, engage rich mixture control, and when the wheels went down there would be a lot of vibration, and loss of speed which I would have to compensate for with increased revs, all of these actions were carried out on the down wind leg, and on the final approach I kept at about 85 mph
[137 km/h], knowing that there would be a marked change of aircraft attitude when the flaps were lowered, I trimmed the aircraft tail heavy, (too much,) as it happened, because I had to exert forward stick pressure on the control column in order to maintain my approach path and speed, being aware of the telephone poles and lines at the touch down end of the strip. As soon as I passed over the telephone lines, I throttled back and because the tail trim was tail heavy, the aircraft flared out nicely and sat on the ground. I kept the stick hard backwards with all my strength and eventually the aircraft came to a halt in a cloud of dust.
I do not remember shutting off the engines but they were stopped.
First aboard as I stood up on the seat, was the Medical Officer, I exchanged a few words about the pilot, the MO looked at me and sent me off to sick quarters.
It is alleged that the AOC who witnessed the landing said “If that airman can fly an aircraft without a training course, it time he was sent on one”.
I note from my service record, dated 20/5/40 that I had been ”recommended for training airman pilot“ following the normal selection and interview procedure. I was taken off operational flying after the incident and subsequently posted to Elementary Flying Training School, my record shows the date as 4 November 1940, when I arrived in Nairobi.
For the two months approximately that I remained with 113 Squadron no one involved in the incident or any Court of Enquiry, approached me for any further explanations of the flight, or was I aware that there was an investigation of any kind into the demise of my pilot. It is reported somewhere that the pilot was killed by a bullet fired by the air gunner; it is not possible for the Air Gunner to fire his guns forward for a variety of technical reasons.
I always maintained that the pilot of my aircraft was killed by a random shot, which entered low down on the port side in an upward direction, and I presume went out through the open cockpit roof.”
The award of a Distinguished Flying Medal was gazetted on 24 September 1940:
“550006 Acting Sergeant John BLAIR.
In September, 1940, during operations over Derna when the pilot of the aircraft was killed instantaneously by enemy action Sergeant Blair, the observer, succeeded in getting the aircraft under control and taking evasive action while the air gunner fought off the enemy aircraft. Assisted by the air gunner, he then removed the' dead pilot from his seat and, without previous flying experience, achieved a safe landing after a flight of 350 miles
[563 km]. By his courage, devotion to duty and determination he saved the lives of both himself and the air gunner as well as saving the aircraft.”

Notari ended the war with 1 probable biplane victory.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  04/09/40 09:20 1 Blenheim (a) Probable Fiat CR.42   Derna area 92a Squadriglia
  04/09/40 09:20 1 Blenheim (a) Damaged Fiat CR.42   Derna area 92a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 1 probably destroyed, 1 damaged.
TOTAL: 1 probably destroyed, 1 damaged.
(a) No corresponding RAF losses are reported but it is possible that this engagement was against Blenheims from 113 Squadron, which suffered one damaged bomber.

2o Stormo - Note storiche dal 1925 al 1975 - Gino Strada, 1975 USSMA, Rome, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
113 Squadron
Desert Prelude: Early clashes June-November 1940 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2010 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-89450-52-4
Diario Storico 92a Squadriglia C.T. kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.
Elenco Nominativo dei Militari dell’ A. M. Decorati al V. M. Durante it Periodo 1929 - 1945 2 Volume M - Z
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 kindly provided by Santiago Flores
Hurricanes over Tobruk - Brian Cull with Don Minterne, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-11-X Additional information kindly provided by Iain Blair and Ludovico Slongo.

Last modified 03 October 2022