Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Sergente Ernesto Pavan

– 2006

When Italy declared war on the Great Britain and France on 10 June 1940 Sergente Ernesto Pavan 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 Savoja, Sergente Maggiore Guglielmo Gorgone, Sergente Vito Copersino, Sergente Nadio Monti, Sergente 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 Alfonso 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.

14 June saw the first combats between opposing RAF and Regia Aeronautica fighters over North Africa. This was caused because the 11th Hussars (Prince Albert’s Own), joined by elements of 4th Armoured Brigade and 1st Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps, assaulted Fort Capuzzo and Fort Maddalena (the two most important Italian frontier posts). The offensive was supported by attacks by Blenheims from 45, 55, 113 and 211 Squadrons. To protect both bombers and ground forces, 33 Squadron flew offensive sweeps as far as Bardia, meeting the Regia Aeronautica two times in the morning and Pavan took part in the second engagement.
At 10:00, after refuelling the Gladiators, Dean (Gladiator L9046) and Woodward (Gladiator N5783) were off again, followed a few minutes later by Sergeant J. Craig (Gladiator N5768). Near Fort Capuzzo they intercepted two Caproni Ca.310Bs escorted by CR.32s. Dean shot down one of the CR.32s while Woodward and Craig jointly attacked one Caproni, setting one of the engines on fire. The Italian bomber crash-landed among British tanks near Fort Capuzzo. Woodward also attacked and claimed a second CR.32 (this claim is unconfirmed and no more Italian losses has been possible to verify) before retuning to base with a single bullet hole in one of the wings. Dean later told:

“Soon after being promoted to Flying Officer, I was posted to No 33 Squadron at Mersa Matruh. I had a good flight with Verne Woodward, Peter Wickham and Sergeant Craig. It wasn’t long after Italy declared war that we were moved to Sidi Barrani. We had no warning system at all of aircraft movement by the enemy, and only very sketchy and vague locations of both ours and their positions from the Army. We carried out the old traditions of patrolling along and over the border in the beginning in “vics” and pairs. Later, we flew bigger sweeps with more aircraft. The combat of 14 June near Fort Capuzzo was our very first encounter with the enemy. An inoffensive-looking light bomber was seen, and I detached Woodward and Sergeant Craig to attack, whilst I stayed aloft to cover. Within a short spell, I saw six aircraft in line astern heading from the west. I recognised them as CR 32s. I remember being quite calm, and wondering what the heck to do. I flew towards them, keeping them well to my right – with the thought of getting behind them (and shooting them down one by one – silly boy!).
Before I got close enough to them, they split in all directions and formed a ring around me – the sitting duck! I remembered somewhere about flying extraordinarily badly to present a very bad target. I throttled back, yawed and waffled up and down and around, and could hear the thump of their half-inch cannon at each pass, and as each came into my sights having a rapid squirt at them. This seemed to go on for ages, and eventually one of them dropped away and suddenly the remainder disappeared, and I was thankfully alone in the sky and flew back.
I heard upon my return to base that one CR 32 had been destroyed, apparently by me, whilst Woodward and Craig had shared the bomber. I did hear later that the pilot of the CR 32 had been struck by a single bullet through the heart.”

They had clashed with six CR.32s from the 8o Gruppo flown by Capitano Martino Zannier (CO 92a Squadriglia), Tenente Ranieri Piccolomini (92a Squadriglia), Tenente Gioacchino Bissoli (93a Squadriglia), Sergente Pavan (92a Squadriglia), Sergente Edoardo Azzarone (92a Squadriglia) and Sergente Roberto Lendaro (93a Squadriglia), which had been escorting three Caproni Ca.310s of the 159a Squadriglia, 12o Gruppo, 50o Stormo that had taken of at 09:30 to attack British armoured cars that were surrounding Amseat (Fort Capuzzo). The Italian fighters reported that they had chased seven (or nine) Gladiators and three of them were claimed shot down by Piccolomini, Pavan and Azzarone before Azzarone was shot down and killed (probably by Dean) over the British lines (according to some sources the Italian fighters only claimed two victories; one by Piccolomini and the second shared between Pavan and Azzarone). The Caproni shot down was flown by Sergente Maggiore Stefano Garrisi who parachuted together with Primo Aviere Montatore Alfio Ubaldi while gunner Aviere Scelto Armiere Giuseppe Pascali jumped too low and was killed (his body was recovered near Amseat on 26 December 1940). 130 rounds hit the Caproni of Tenente Mario Virgilio Corda and Sergente Maggiore Giovanbattista Trevisan was wounded. This was the second mission during the war for the 12o Gruppo and it revealed the unreliability of Ca.310s in this role. Breda Ba.65s soon replaced them.

At 07:45 on 19 June, four Gladiators from 33 Squadron flown by Squadron Leader D. V. Johnson (N5782), Flight Lieutenant G. E. Hawkins (N5765), Flying Officer A. H. Lynch (N5764), and Sergeant Roy Leslie Green (L9043) accompanied by Flying Officer Peter Wykeham-Barnes (Hurricane Mk.I P2639) of 80 Squadron and two Blenheim IFs from 30 Squadron took off from Mersa Matruh to patrol between Bug Bug and Sollum.
At 09:40, they sighted a formation of nine Fiat CR.42s (in other sources it is stated that it was five CR.42s and either seven CR.32s or Ro.37s). The Fiats were slightly below and to the port side of the British fighters, who were in an ideal position to make an attack.
Wykeham-Barnes shot down the leader of the Italian fighters whilst he was doing a vertical turn, with a short burst at full deflection. The Gladiators claimed two more CR.42s, but lost 24-year-old Sergeant Green (RAF No. 44754) when he was shot down despite some violent aerobatics.
The returning RAF pilots reported that although the enemy was superior in numbers, they lacked the aggression of the Gladiator pilots and gradually retreated towards the Libyan border. Wykeham-Barnes found it difficult to get his sights on the Fiats, because they were so very manoeuvrable, but eventually one of them made a mistake and he was able to get in a good burst of shells, which caused the CR.42 to dive away with smoke trailing behind it. He did not actually see it crash, but it was later confirmed as being destroyed by the ground forces. The Gladiators and the Hurricane were then forced to break off the combat by lack of petrol and ammunition. On their way back to Mersa Matruh they had to land at Sidi Barrani to refuel and rearm. The Gladiators were back at 10:10 and Wykeham-Barnes at 10:30.
The Italian aircraft had been from the Tobruk T2 based 10o Gruppo C.T. At 08:40, five aircraft of the 84a Squadriglia took off to escort a formation of five Breda Ba.65/A80s of the 159a Squadriglia, 12o Gruppo Assalto and nine CR.32s from the 8o Gruppo, heading to attack enemy vehicles between Sollum and Sidi El Barrani. The Bredas took off at 07:20, commanded by Capitano Duilio Fanali. The Italian fighters of the 84a Squadriglia were flown by Tenente Colonnello Armando Piragino, Capitano Luigi Monti, Sergente Maggiore Ugo Corsi, Sergente Giuseppe Scaglioni and Sergente Narciso Pillepich (almost certain MM5552). Monti, who was the pilot with the longer war experience insisted with his commander to increase the number of aircraft participating in the escort, but without avail. The assault planes were out in a search-and-destroy mission and firstly they had to find targets. In doing so they started with a pass between Amseat and Bardia, then a second one going beyond Sollum then a third one. In this way, a lot of time was lost and the RAF could scramble its aircraft. The Fiats were over the Bredas, turning at 2000 metres when a number of Glosters and Hurricanes (the Blenheims were not seen at all while the Hurricane was, as usual, misidentified as a Spitfire) suddenly attacked them. After a sharp engagement, three pilots came back to T2. The missing pilots were Corsi and Piragino. A CR.42s (Corsi, who was killed) was clearly seen to fall into the sea after being hit by a Hurricane, while nothing was known of the second CR.42. The Ba.65s came back safely, without seeing enemy planes that were obviously too busy with the 4o Stormo planes and didn’t engage them. However, returning to T2, the Breda flown by Sergente Maggiore Pietro Scaramucci suffered an engine breakdown and crash-landed, being written-off as a consequence.
Sergente Giuseppe Scaglioni returned claiming a Gladiator (probably Green) and a damaged Spitfire, Sergente Pillepich claimed two damaged Gladiators and Capitano Monti claimed a damaged Gladiator. The same evening a “British communiqué” advised that six (!) British fighters were lost in exchange for two Italians. So all participating pilots in this combat were credited with six shared victories because this was the only combat of the day for Italian units. Some days after, a British message dropped on Bardia informed that Piragino was wounded in a leg after crashing at Sollum and prisoner. Scaglioni described the combat:

“Over Bir el Gib we were surprised by a number of Glosters and a Hurricane that attacked with height advantage giving us a lot of trouble. I saw the commander doing a violent overturning while I was doing a break on the left, this manoeuvre put me behind a Gloster that I shot down with my 12,7 mm guns.
I lost sight of the commander immediately and after landing I knew he was missing. In the same combat we lost Sergente Maggiore Corsi shot down by a Hurricane that I attacked trying to distract it from its action but in vain. For sure Corsi was taken by surprise because he was considered a pilot of exceptional skill and the very best aerobatic pilot of the Stormo.”

The nine CR.32s from the 8o Gruppo had taken off at 08:25. The formation included six CR.32s of the 92a Squadriglia (Capitano Martino Zannier, Tenente Ranieri Piccolomini, Tenente Giorgio Savoja, Sergente Maggiore Guglielmo Gorgone, Sergente Nadio Monti and Sergente Pavan) and three from the 94a Squadriglia (Capitano Franco Lavelli, Sottotenente Giacomo Maggi and Sottotenente Nunzio De Fraia), which took off loaded with two-kilo bombs with the dual role of escorting the Bredas from the 159a Squadriglia and ground attack.
The formation of the 92a Squadriglia was back at 10:35 claiming the destructions of many trucks (left in flames) with the use of 2765 rounds of ammunition and 96 two-kilo bombs. Tenente Savoja’s aircraft was damaged by AA fire but no enemy planes were noted. Lavelli’s group was back at 10:55 without suffering losses. They claimed the destruction of Sollum’s electrical station by the use of 36 two-kilo bombs but noted enemy fighters that had attacked them. It seems that they also had been engaged by the Gladiators from 33 Squadron, the 80 Squadron Hurricane and the two Blenheims from 30 Squadron.
This was 80 Squadron's first action during the Second World War.

On 21 June, six CR.32s of the 92a Squadriglia (Capitano Martino Zannier, Tenente Ranieri Piccolomini, Sergente Maggiore Guglielmo Gorgone, Sergente Vito Copersino, Sergente Nadio Monti and Sergente Pavan) and three from the 93a Squadriglia (Tenente Alberto Argenton, Sergente Italo Bertinelli and Sergente Roberto Lendaro) took off at 09:40 and attacked enemy vehicles south of Bir El Gobi, escorted by CR.42s from the 13o Gruppo. The fire from the CR.32s, which attacked in single file, stopped an enemy armoured car and forced two other armoured cars of the same formation, less seriously damaged, to flee.
They were back at base at 11:00, where Copersino’s fighter was found damaged in the fuel tank by AA. The 92a Squadriglia formation expended 1756 rounds and 96 two-kilo bombs.

At 13:40 on 4 September, Sergente Pavan scrambled alone from Derna in a Fiat CR.42 to intercept two Bristol Blenheims. The first was downed and crashed near Derna airfield (crew POW) while the second was followed for some miles and finally claimed shot down over the sea. Squadron Leader Bax of 211 Squadron flew the first Blenheim. Bax and his crew (Sergeant R. A. Bain and Aircraftman 1st Class L. E. C. Wise) force-landed in the desert in enemy territory and reported that the Blenheim Mk.I (L8376) was shot up while on the ground by fighters. The British crew was taken prisoner shortly after. The other Blenheim was L8471 piloted by Flight Sergeant Marpole, which force-landed at Sidi El Barrani at 16:25 with an oil leak in the port tank, 7-8 bullet holes in the port wing and damage to the port tailplane tip. The crew was safe. Bax was replaced as CO of 211 Squadron by acting Squadron Leader James Richmond Gordon-Finlayson.
Sergente Pavan landed back at base at 14:20. He had expended 1000 rounds of ammunition and his aircraft was damaged by return fire from the Blenheims.

On 17 July 1942, Pavan was returning from an off-coast patrol in a MC.200 when he met two torpedo-bombers (probably Blenheims) 20 km north-west of Menastir. He attacked them and returned claiming one.

Pavan ended the war with 3 biplane victories and a total of 3.

Ernesto Pavan died in 2006.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
1 14/06/40 09:30- 1 Gladiator (a) Destroyed Fiat CR.32   near Fort Capuzzo 92a Squadriglia
2 04/09/40 13:40-14:20 1 Blenheim (b) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Derna area 92a Squadriglia
3 04/09/40 13:40-14:20 1 Blenheim (c) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Derna area 92a Squadriglia
  1942                
4 17/07/42   1 Blenheim Destroyed MC.200   20 km NW Menastir 92a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 3 destroyed.
TOTAL: 4 destroyed.
(a) Claimed in combat with three Gladiators from 33 Squadron. 33 Squadron claimed one and one unconfirmed CR.32s and one Ca.310 without losses. The 8o Gruppo claimed three victories (or two) for the loss of one CR.32 (Sergente Edoardo Azzarone, 93a Squadriglia, killed). According to some sources Pavan’s claim was a shared with Sergente Azzarone.
(b) Blenheim Mk.I L8376 from 211 Squadron. Squadron Leader Bax and his crew POWs.
(c) Blenheim Mk. I L8471 from 211 Squadron, which force-landed at Sidi El Barrani.

Sources:
2o Stormo - Note storiche dal 1925 al 1975 - Gino Strada, 1975 USSMA, Rome, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
50o Stormo d'Assalto - Nino Arena, 1979 STEM Mucchi, Modena kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Adriano Visconti Asso di Guerra - Giuseppe Pesce and Giovanni Massimello, 1997 Albertelli Edizioni Speciali, Parma, ISBN 88-85909-80-9, 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
Diario Storico 92a Squadriglia C.T. kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.
Diario Storico 93a Squadriglia C.T. kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.
Diario Storico 94a Squadriglia C.T. 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
Fighters over the Desert - Christopher Shores and Hans Ring kindly provided by Santiago Flores
Gloster Gladiator - Alex Crawford, 2002 Mushroom Model Publications, ISBN 83-916327-0-9
Gloster Gladiator Aces - Andrew Thomas, 2002 Osprey Publishing, London, ISBN 1-84176-289-X
Hurricanes over Tobruk - Brian Cull with Don Minterne, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-11-X
Il Fiat CR 32 poesia del volo - Nicola Malizia, 1981 Edizioni dell’Ateneo, Roma, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
L'8o Gruppo Caccia in due conflitti mondiali - Giuseppe Pesce, 1974 STEM Mucchi, Modena kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
La Regia Aeronautica - volume I: Dalla non belligeranza all'intervento – Nino Arena, 1981 USSMA, Rome kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Operation Compass 1940 - Jon Latimer, 2000 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 1-85532-967-0, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
The Bristol Blenheim: A complete history – Graham Warner, 2002 Crécy Publishing Limited, Manchester, ISBN 0-947554-92-0
The Desert Air Force - Roderick Owen, 1948 Hutchinson, London, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
The Desert Air War 1939 – 1945 – Richard Townshend Bickers, 1991 Leo Cooper, London, ISBN 0-85052-216-1, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
The Gloster Gladiator - Francis K. Mason, 1964 Macdonald & Co. Ltd. London
Woody - A Fighter Pilot's Album - Hugh A. Halliday, 1987 Canav Books, Toronto, ISBN 0-9690703-8-1
Additional information kindly provided by Don Clark, Stefano Lazzaro and Ludovico Slongo.




Last modified 25 September 2010