Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Capitano Mario Pinna

6 June 1909 -

Mario Pinna was born on 6 June 1909.

He served as a volunteer in the Spanish Civil War.

On 31 August 1938, CR.32s from the XVI Gruppo was indirectly escorting S.79 and BR.20 bombers to the front of Gandesa. At the end of the bombing, the fighters stayed in the area for interdiction. As in the previous week, the 25a Squadriglia had the duty to cover at 7,000m while the fighters from 26a and 24a Squadriglie flew at 5,500m.
The XVI Gruppo had taken off from Caspe at 16:30 and the eight CR.32s from the 25a Squadriglia flew in four sections of two aircraft:
1st section – Capitano Roberto Fassi (CO) and Tenente Raimondi
2nd section – Sottotenente Mario Visintini and Sergente Giuseppe Marini
3rd section – Sottotenente Bongiovanni and Sottotenente Pinna
4th section – Sottotenente Emilio Marchi and Maresciallo Acerbi
Around 18:00, Capitano Giuseppe Majone (CO 24a Squadriglia) spotted six SBs in two formations of three each heading from the Segre river towards Villalba.
They were soon attacked by the Italian fighters. Suddenly, a dozen of escorting I-16s dived on the CR.32s of the 24a Squadriglia, but they were in turn jumped by the 25a Squadriglia, which soon was joined by all the Fiats. In the ensuing dogfight Italians claimed two Ratas destroyed and one probable, that were officially shared among the three Squadriglie, though one of the kills was unofficially credited to Capitano Fassi. Sottotenente Visintini (25a Squadriglia) shot at four I-16s, one of which “effectively and by short distance” and saw a Rata falling in flames, which considering the place and the time should be the one shot down by Capitano Fassi. Visintini’s Fiat was however damaged in the action.
As a result, the commander of the XVI Gruppo, Tenente Colonnello Arrigo Tessari, proposed that each Squadriglia should be creited with one shared destroyed I-16.

On 30 December 1938, he was commissioned (in Servizio Permanente Effettivo).

Mario Pinna served in the 23o Gruppo during the whole Second World War but he also served in the Gruppo's three Squadriglias respectively, the 70a, 75a and 74a.

In June 1940 he served in the 74a Squadriglia, 23o Gruppo, 3o Stormo. This unit was equipped with Fiat CR.42s.

When the war started on 10 June 1940 the 3o Stormo was sent to the French border to take part in the attacks on southern France.

Pinna took part in the big attack on French airfields on 15 June.

In July 1940 the 23o Gruppo moved to Sicily and took part in the attacks on Malta.
On 9 July the 23o Gruppo became Autonomo and the first escort missions over Malta was flown on 12 July. At this time Pinna served in the 70a Squadriglia, which was based at Pantelleria.

Shortly after 09:00 on 16 July, a dozen CR.42s of 23o Gruppo appeared over Malta on a reconnaissance mission. Flight Lieutenant Peter Gardner Keeble in a Hurricane Mk.I (P2623) and Flight Lieutenant George Burges in a Gladiator had been scrambled, and dived on this formation. Keeble attacking one CR.42, but being attacked himself by two more flown by Tenente Pinna and Sottotenente Oscar Abello (both from 70a Squadriglia). After a long chase Keeble was hit and his aircraft dived out of control towards the south-east of the Island where it hit the ground near Wied il-Ghajn and blew up. It was immediately followed by a CR.42 flown by 24-year-old Tenente Mario Benedetti (MM4368) of the 74a Squadriglia, which crashed within 100 yards of the Hurricane. Keeble was killed outright but Benedetti survived the initial impact of his crash, but died soon afterwards at the civilian hospital at Vincenzo Bugeja without regaining conscious.
Burges made no claim on this occasion, and subsequently it was claimed that Benedetti’s aircraft was brought down with LMG fire by C Company headquarters, 1st Battalion The Dorsetshire Regiment. It is also possible Benedetti’s aircraft was the one attacked by Keeble.
Sergente Maggiore Renzo Bocconi claimed a second Hurricane, but this was not allowed by the 2a Squadra intelligence staff.
Keeble was the first of Malta's fighter pilots to lose his life in the defence of the island.

On 16 December 1940, the 23o Gruppo (previously part of 3o Stormo but now Autonomo) with 20 Fiat CR.42s (70a, 74a and 75a Squadriglie) and three hack Caproni Ca.133s arrived in Tripoli to help trying steam Operation Compass, which was mauling the Italian forces. The Gruppo had experienced brief (and quite unlucky) action at the beginning of the war against France, and then it had moved to Sicily where they had seen extensive action against Malta.
They were led by their CO, Maggiore Tito Falconi (a famous aerobatic pilot that had held the world record in inverted flight going in a Caproni 113 biplane racer from St. Louis to Chicago in 1933 and a veteran of the Abyssinian Campaign where he had gained some ground victories and of the Spanish Civil War where he had claimed many (mostly shared) aerial victories) in a 70a Squadriglia fighter.
Pilots in the 70a Squadriglia were Tenente Claudio Solaro (acting CO), Tenente Gino Battaggion, Sottotenente Oscar Abello, Sergente Ubaldo Marziali, Sergente Balilla Albani, Sergente Maggiore Celso Zemella and Sergente Cesare Sironi.
Pilots in the 74a Squadriglia were Capitano Guido Bobba (CO and already credited with one over Spain and three individual and a probable Hurricanes over Malta, which made him one of the top scoring Italian pilots up to that moment), Tenente Pinna, Sottotenente Sante Schiroli, Sergente Maggiore Raffaele Marzocca, Sergente Emilio Stefani, Sergente Giuseppe Sanguettoli and Sergente Manlio Tarantino.
Pilots in the 75a Squadriglia were Tenente Pietro Calistri (CO), Tenente Ezio Maria Monti, Sottotenente Giuseppe De Angelis, Sottotenente Renato Villa, Maresciallo Giovanni Carmello and Maresciallo Carlo Dentis.
The pilots in the Ca.133s were Tenente Marino Commissoli, Sergente Pardino Pardini (70a Squadriglia), Tenente Lorenzo Lorenzoni (74a Squadriglia), Tenente Milano Pausi, Sottotenente Leopoldo Marangoni (brother in law of Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli) and Sergente Leo Mannucci (75a Squadriglia)).
The Gruppo landed at Tripoli-Castel Benito at 17:15. Celso Zemella’s fighter was left behind at Pantelleria after an engine breakdown.

On 19 December, the 23o Gruppo moved to Z1 landing ground at Ain el Gazala.

Capitano Guido Bobba was killed in action on 26 December. He was replaced as CO of the 74a Squadriglia by Tenente Pinna.
Pinna was also promoted to Capitano during this period.

The last Italian bombing mission of the day on 27 December 1940 was again against Sollum. Four SM 79s from the 41o Stormo under Tenente Colonnello D’Ippolito and four bombers from the 216a Squadriglia, 34o Stormo, led by Tenente Romanini took off from Tmini at 14:30.
They were escorted by fighters from the 23o Gruppo and 10o Gruppi. Maggiore Tito Falconi was at the head of the formation of the first unit, which also included Tenente Claudio Solaro, Sottotenente Oscar Abello and Sergente Ubaldo Marziali from the 70a Squadriglia, Tenente Pinna, Sottotenente Milano Pausi and Sergente Giuseppe Sanguettoli from the 74a Squadriglia and Tenente Pietro Calistri, Tenente Ezio Maria Monti, Maresciallo Giovanni Carmello, Sergente Leo Mannucci and Sottotenente Leopoldo Marangoni from the 75a Squadriglia.
It seems that the bomber formation split and the 41o Stormo attacked British mechanized units in Halfaya and Gabr Bu Fares under heavy AA that damaged, although slightly, all the aircraft. The SM 79s of the 34o Stormo attacked ships in Sollum harbour and were intercepted by many Hurricanes. The SM 79s were totally unable to defend themselves because of icing on all the guns and one of them was shot down. This was Sottotenente Aldo Peterlini’s bomber and Peterlini was killed together with three of his crew (Sergente Maggiore Arturo Scagnetti (second pilot), Aviere Scelto Motorista Alcide Frizzera and Aviere Scelto Radiotelegrafista Gioacchino Scuderi). The other two members of the crew (Primo Aviere Armiere Ciancilla and Primo Aviere Montatore Fiore) where able to bale out. Tenente Pandolfi’s aircraft was riddled by enemy bullets (probably RD) while the other two SM 79s were less seriously damaged although suffering some wounded among their crews.
They had been intercepted by 33 Squadron which claimed three SM 79s and one probable and probably two CR.42s during offensive patrols performed by pairs of Hurricanes over Sollum. They also claimed one SM 79 and one CR.42 damaged. Vernon Woodward claimed one of the probable CR.42s and the damaged CR.42.
Falconi’s pilots recorded combat with many Hurricanes, one of which was claimed as probable by the 70a Squadriglia and six more were damaged. Tenente Solaro and Sottotenente Abello returned with damaged fighters. Solaro had been hit by AA fire and Sottotenente Abello by British fighters. Calistri and his men claimed a shared Hurricane and four more damaged. They landed back at 16:55. A shot down Hurricane was also recorded by the 74a Squadriglia, which also recorded a SM 79 shot down by AA fire.
The CR.42 escort from the 10o Gruppo was composed of seven fighters from the 90a Squadriglia (Tenente Giovanni Guiducci, Tenente Franco Lucchini, Sottotenente Alessandro Rusconi, Sottotenente Neri De Benedetti, Sergente Alfredo Sclavo, Sergente Bruno Bortoletti and Sergente Enrico Botti), six from the 84a Squadriglia (Capitano Luigi Monti, Tenente Antonio Angeloni, Sottotenente Bruno Devoto, Sergente Maggiore Salvatore Mechelli, Sergente Domenico Santonocito and Sergente Piero Buttazzi) and six from the 91a Squadriglia (Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli, Capitano Vincenzo Vanni, Sottotenente Andrea Dalla Pasqua, Sottotenente Orlando Mandolini, Sottotenente Ennio Grifoni and Sergente Elio Miotto). Tenente Guiducci reported that the heavy AA immediately hit one of the SM 79s, which was shot down. Then five monoplanes (Hurricanes and Spitfires(!)) tried to attack but were immediately counterattacked and one of them was shot down. Later, another attempt by a lone British fighter failed after the intervention of the Italian escort. The 90a Squadriglia pilots expanded 320 rounds of ammunition and it seems that in the end the victory was assigned to the whole formation as a Gruppo victory. It seems that it was the same aircraft claimed independently by the two Squadriglie of the 23o Gruppo.

On 2 January 1941, the 23o Gruppo recorded an escort mission to SM 79s bombing Sollum Harbour. The fighters took off at 14:45 and the participating pilots were Maggiore Tito Falconi, Tenente Claudio Solaro, Tenente Gino Battaggion, Tenente Marino Commissoli, Sergente Maggiore Balilla Albani and Sergente Ubaldo Marziali of the 70a Squadriglia, Tenente Pinna, Tenente Lorenzo Lorenzoni, Sottotenente Sante Schiroli, Sottotenente Milano Pausi, Sergente Manlio Tarantino and Sergente Giuseppe Sanguettoli of the 74a Squadriglia and Tenente Pietro Calistri, Tenente Ezio Maria Monti, Sottotenente Renato Villa, Maresciallo Giovanni Carmello, Maresciallo Luigi Pasquetti and Sergente Leo Mannucci of 75a Squadriglia. Together with them were some CR.42s from the 10o Gruppo flown by Capitano Luigi Monti, Sottotenente Bruno Devoto, Sergente Domenico Santonocito, Sergente Piero Buttazzi, Sergente Corrado Patrizi and Sergente Mario Veronesi of the 84a Squadriglia, Tenente Giovanni Guiducci, Sottotenente Neri De Benedetti, Sergente Luigi Contarini and Sergente Alfredo Sclavo of the 90a Squadriglia and finally Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli, Capitano Vincenzo Vanni and Sergente Maggiore Lorenzo Migliorato of the 91a Squadriglia.
While coming back from the action Maggiore Falconi led his men in a strafing attack in the Capuzzo area, Tenente Pinna’s pilots claiming three armoured cars destroyed. Falconi’s CR.42 returned hit in many places by the AA reaction. All the fighters were back at 17:20.

At 15:00 on 3 January 1941, Maggiore Tito Falconi led four CR.42s of the 70a Squadriglia (Tenente Claudio Solaro, Tenente Gino Battaggion, Sergente Maggiore Balilla Albani and Sergente Cesare Sironi), five of the 74a Squadriglia (Tenente Pinna, Tenente Lorenzo Lorenzoni, Sottotenente Sante Schiroli, Sergente Maggiore Raffaele Marzocca and Sergente Giuseppe Sanguettoli) and seven of the 75a Squadriglia (Tenente Pietro Calistri, Tenente Ezio Maria Monti, Sottotenente Giuseppe De Angelis, Sottotenente Renato Villa, Maresciallo Giovanni Carmello, Maresciallo Luigi Pasquetti and Sergente Leo Mannucci) in an escort mission for SM 79s attacking mechanized vehicles around Bardia. Fighters from the 10o Gruppo were also present including Sottotenente Bruno Devoto, Sergente Mario Veronesi, Sergente Piero Buttazzi and Sergente Luciano Perdoni of the 84a Squadriglia and Sottotenente Neri De Benedetti, Sottotenente Orlando Mandolini, Sergente Luigi Contarini and Sergente Alfredo Sclavo of the 90a Squadriglia. Hurricanes were intercepted and two of them were claimed damaged by the 70a Squadriglia’s pilots. During the return journey, the CR.42s went down to strafe, claiming three armoured vehicles.
They landed back at 17:20.

At 11:00 on 5 January 1941, 202 Group HQ signalled to 274 Squadron to continue the patrols. In the meantime had Flight Lieutenant Peter Wykeham-Barnes (V7558) and Pilot Officer Wilson (N2624) already taken off at 10:30 and 10:45 respectively. They were followed by Flying Officer Arthur Weller (P2544), Flying Officer Ernest Mason (P3722), Second Lieutenant Robert Talbot (P3721) and Squadron Leader Patrick Dunn (P3723), taking off between 11:00 and 11:30. This group of pilots would experience a lot of action.
At 12:20 alternatively 12:30, Flying Officer Mason and Second Lieutenant Talbot arrived independently but keeping visual touch over Ain el Gazala. Mason, who was flying at 3500 feet, saw two CR.42s in a vic, 2000 feet below him and approached the leader unobserved. He hit him with a burst, seeing him stalling and diving vertically into the ground and bursting out in flames. The no. 2 in the meantime turned away and attempted to make a head on attack. A burst from the eight guns of Mason made him turn over and dive into the deck where the CR.42 burst into flames too. In the meantime, Talbot stayed higher and saw five CR.42s in a scattered formation, which looked as if they were diving on Mason. Unobserved he performed a stern attack on the leader who stalled and dived into the ground. When the two 274 Squadron pilots left the scene, three CR.42s were seen burning on the ground. Mason reported:

”in the afternoon we went there [Gazala airfield] again and circled over the aerodrome. Suddenly I saw two CR42s approaching to land. I dived down and came up behind. I gave the leader a burst and as I shot past him he turned slowly and dived straight in the middle of the aerodrome and exploded. In the meantime the other chap had turned and came for me head on. I gave him a short burst and he did the same thing. This time on the edge of the aerodrome. By then five more, also returning home, had seen me and were diving on me so Bob shot down the leader and they dispersed.”
Mason had shot down Sottotenente Oscar Abello and Sergente Pardino Pardini of the 70a Squadriglia, who were landing on Z1 coming from Benghazi at 11:20 (Italian time). The identity of the fighters attacked by Talbot remains unknown. Sottotenente Abello was a highly respected pilot, already credited with three victories (two of them Hurricanes over Malta). As recognition of his previous activity, he received a posthumous Medaglia d’oro al valor militare.
In the meantime, the rest of 274 Squadron formation was intercepting a formation of Italian bombers over the front. First to attack was Pilot Officer Wilson. At 12:40, he was flying at 18,500 feet in the vicinity of Sidi Azeiz when he discovered a formation of at least 3 SM 79s escorted by 20 CR.42s a mile north-east and 1000 feet below. The Fiats flew in scattered vics of three above and on the flanks of the bombers. Wilson intended attacking the bombers diving through the CR.42s but had no opportunity to do so because the fighters on the flanks climbed on observing his approach and then whipped on his tail as he passed through. Wilson was however able to fire a burst on a straggler in centre of the escort formation, definitely hitting it as it lurched off but then seven unobserved CR.42s dived on him and he was unable to observe further effects of his fire. After the attack, he dived in a right hand turn. When the fighters broke off, he turned and gave chase again but was unable to catch up with them because of the loss of height and shortage of petrol. He landed at 13:25, claiming a damaged CR.42.
At 12.45, over Great Gambut, Squadron Leader Patrick Dunn and Flight Lieutenant Peter Wykeham-Barnes intercepted more enemy aircraft. The 274 Squadron’s CO was flying at 8000 feet, 3000 feet below the Italian formation, which was 15 miles away and he estimated it composing five bombers and ten individually weaving fighters, which looked as if they had been split up by somebody else before (probably Flight Lieutenant Wykeham-Barnes). He tried to attack the bombers but after a long chase, the temperature of his engine became excessive, his cockpit filled with smoke and he was forced to fight with an open hood. Being unable to catch up with the SM 79s, he delivered a quarter attack from below and astern on one CR.42, which was separate and about three miles behind the main force. Dunn witnessed the Italian pilot (possibly wounded) baling out while his aircraft burned out on ground. Dunn landed at 14:15.
Wykeham-Barnes in the meantime was flying at 20,000 feet and was only ten miles from the Italian formation, which he reported as composed of five SM 79s and 17 CR.42s weaving behind and above the bombers. He wanted to deliver an astern attack on the bombers but the escort attacked at once with determination, repulsing his intended action so he was forced to turn round and above for an head on attack. The first attack on the SM 79s, which kept close formation, was believed successful because when he came back for a second head on attack the first aircraft had disappeared. Confirmation of this victory was however made difficult by the escort action. The second bomber instead was seen to dive straight into the ground at Bir Sacta(?) south-west of Tobruk. Wykeham-Barnes landed at 13:15 claiming one SM 79 confirmed and one probable (credited as a damaged).
Around the same time, 73 Squadron was active over the same general area with 23 fighters being despatched singly with 15 minutes intervals starting from 06:30 until 13:45. Flight Sergeant Alfred Marshall (V7562/TP-A) claimed his sixth SM 79 some 30 miles south-east of Gambut, watching the crew baling out. His action was witnessed by Pilot Officer Goord (TP-M), who caught another fighter 25 miles south-east of Tobruk, just south of the main road from Bardia. Finally Flight Sergeant Webster (V7551/TP-K) claimed a CR.42 in flames and damaged another ten miles south-east of Gambut. All these victories were achieved between 12:35 and 13:05.
Last victory of the day was claimed by Flight Lieutenant M. L. Beytagh (V7561/TP-X) from 73 Squadron, who claimed a CR.42 near Marsa Es Sahal, just west of Tobruk, at 14:20.
The unlucky Italian units subjected to all these unwelcome attentions were an arrow of five SM 79s from the 34o Stormo commanded by Tenente Saladin and escorted by 17 CR.42s from the 23o Gruppo with six from the 70a Squadriglia (Maggiore Tito Falconi, Tenente Claudio Solaro, Sergente Maggiore Balilla Albani, Sergente Cesare Sironi, Sergente Ubaldo Marziali and Tenente Marino Commissoli), five from the 74a Squadriglia (Tenente Pinna, Tenente Lorenzo Lorenzoni, Sottotenente Sante Schiroli, Sottotenente Milano Pausi and Sergente Emilio Stefani) and six from the 75a Squadriglia (Sottotenente Renato Villa, Sottotenente Leopoldo Marangoni, Sottotenente Giuseppe De Angelis, Maresciallo Giovanni Carmello, Maresciallo Carlo Dentis and Maresciallo Luigi Pasquetti), which had taken off from Z1 at 11:15. The bombers had taken off from Benina at 09:50 to attack the British armoured units south of Sidi Azeiz in the Trigh Capuzzo area and despite the spirited defence offered by the Fiat biplanes some ten Hurricanes piloted by aces like Dunn, Wykeham-Barnes and Marshall where odds too big against them. Three of the Savoias failed to return. Tenente Lino Saladin’s SM 79s was shot down, and even if some crewmembers (Sottotenente Severino Sheimer, Sottotenente Puntatore Antonio Scarparo, Sergente Maggiore Radiotelegrafista Adelchi Lenissa, Primo Aviere Motorista Vito Bellomo and Primo Aviere Armiere Michelangelo Conti) were seen to parachute, they all perished. This bomber was almost certainly the victim of Marshall. Two other bombers force-landed, one of them close to Barce reportedly because of lack of fuel (most probably the victims of Wykeham-Barnes even if the returning pilots from the 23o Gruppo reported that one of the SM 79 had been brought down by the AA reaction). Only two bombers were able to escape back in Benina, landing at 14:45.
The Italian escort also suffered heavily. Tenente Lorenzo Lorenzoni was wounded but remained in the fight to the last minute before finally landing a heavily damaged fighter at T2. Unfortunately, the CR.42 overturned on landing. Sottotenente Schiroli was killed, falling with his fighter without being able to use his parachute. Finally, after claiming a Hurricane, Sottotenente Marangoni was shot down and parachuted, wounded in the right leg (possibly victim of Squadron Leader Dunn). Unluckily he fell on the wounded leg, completely shattering it, and was taken prisoner a short while after. Some weeks later, a British aircraft throw a message over the Italian lines, which contained a letter written by a British Army Officer (Antony McDonald) to Marangoni’s mother. The British Officer had been wounded close to the place where Marangoni had parachuted and had been recovered in a field hospital together with him. He told that Marangoni died for loss of blood on the first hours of the 6th and described the gallant behaviour maintained by him during his last hours. For this combat and for his precedent activity over Malta, Leopoldo Marangoni received a posthumous Medaglia d’Argento al valor militare “in the field”, which in 1942 was upgraded to the Medaglia d’oro al valor militare.
Tenente Pinna, newly appointed commander of the 74a Squadriglia claimed a Hurricane with the use of 380 rounds of ammunition. Sergente Stefani claimed a damaged Hurricane with the use of 350 rounds and damaged Hurricanes were claimed also by Sottotenente De Angelis, Sottotenente Villa and Maresciallo Carmello. After the action, the Italian fighters landed directly at Tmini M2 at 13:35.
The loss of Marangoni, a quite popular person coming from the upper middle-class of Milan and the son of the owner of a small cork processing plant, was particularly felt by his mates. A sport cars driver and a volunteer, he could had avoided to reach the front line in Libya for health problems that arise in September but he decided for an operation and was back in his unit in middle November after a fast recovery. His sister Olga had married the CO of the 10o Gruppo, Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli, who in the day following his loss made many low level flights to look for him or at least to obtain information on his fate. His Squadriglia CO Pietro Calistri (who was not present during his last combat) credited him with an individual victory obtained in a frontal attack immediately before being shot down; this was recorded also in the 75a Squadriglia’s Diary. The description of the events given by his friend Marino Commissoli in a letter to Marangoni’s parents was slightly different:
“(…) targets that day were enemy troops close to Bardia. We were seventeen fighters and we escorted five bombers that had to attack the enemy positions. Enemy reaction was very strong and we had to stand three consecutive fights. It was during the second attack, just after leaving the target area over the desert west of Bardia that Leopoldo was surprised by a Hurricane and with him also his wingman. Both left formation. The attack was lightning-swift and they were unable to avoid it, as we were unable to help them or to follow their fate because the enemy’s precision was too high and we had to guard against new attacks. Back at base we hoped that someone of the missing pilots came back, perhaps landing in some advanced landing grounds. Two in fact came back later but we received no news of Leopoldo and his wingman (…) Only later, just before leaving Tripoli we knew his fate (…)”.

Generale Matriciardi again blamed the fighters for their ineffectiveness “it seems clear that bomber protection have to be realized through a single close formation of fighters and bombers” and then criticised the escort believed absent. From the reports from the British pilots and of the losses suffered, this was indeed unfair comments.

He was promoted to Capitano on 6 February 1941.

At the beginning of 1942, the 23o Gruppo joined the 18o Gruppo to establish the 3o Stormo again. The units reassembled at Mirafori to be re-equipped with Macchi MC.202s.

The unit returned to North Africa and took part of the Axis offensive into Egypt during the summer and fall of 1942.

On 31 August 1942 two Italian formations from 23o Gruppo flew a fighter sweep over the front-line to protect Italian and German troops.
One eight-plane formation was led by Maggiore Luigi Filippi and the other ten-plane formation was led by Capitano Claudio Solaro.
The Italian fighters intercepted a dozen of Boston bombers escorted by two squadrons Kittyhawks. Maggiore Filippi and his formation attacked the main enemy formation while Capitano Solaro and his formation attacked a smaller group of British aircraft. The combat was fierce but lasted only a few minutes. In fact it was so short that Tenente Giorgio Solaroli who led the Italian top-cover, never got any opportunities to intervene.
During the combat Capitano Solaro, Sergente Maggiore Albani and Sergente Maggiore Celso Zemella each claimed Kittyhawks (even if Zemella claimed that his opponent had been a Spitfire). Maggiore Filippi and Capitano Pinna claimed a fourth Kittyhawk together.

On 20 October he shared in the destruction of two P-40s with Sergente Mandolesi and Capitano Giorgio Solaroli.
One of the Allied reported missing this day was Sergeant Stebbings of 260 Squadron.

At around 09:00 in the morning on 26 October seven MC.202s of the 9o and 10o Gruppi (Tenente Giulio Reiner (leader), Tenente Vittorio Squarcia (73a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Giorgio Bertolaso (91a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Alessandro Bladelli, Sergente Ferruccio Terrabujo (91a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Vittorino Daffara (97a Squadriglia) and Sergente Maggiore Amleto Monterumici (90a Squadriglia)) took off to intercept a reportedly eighteen Bostons, escorted by thirty P-40s and ten Spitfires, heading to bomb Fuka. A few minutes earlier, at 08:50, twelve MC.202s of the 23o Gruppo, 3o Stormo, (four from the 70a Squadriglia, three of the 74a Squadriglia and five of the 75a Squadriglia) led by Capitano Pinna (CO of the 75a Squadriglia) had taken off from Abu Aggag for a patrol mission (one of the aircraft was flown by Sottotenente Franco Bordoni-Bisleri of the 83a Squadriglia, 18o Gruppo).
Both Italian formations spotted the enemy bombers at the same time and the attack of the 4o Stormo and the 23o Gruppo made the bombers aiming inaccurate, so most of the bombs fell out of the target. Daffara claimed the left wingman of the head formation of Bostons, and damaged two more. Reiner strafed the bomber leader, which began to slip out of formation sideways. He then climbed and found a Spitfire in front of him, fired and hitting it. The Spitfire exploded when hitting the ground 20 kilometres south-east Fuka. Another Spitfire was claimed as a probable by Bertolaso, who also damaged two Bostons. Squarcia, after having damaged several Bostons and a P-40, pursued another Curtiss together with pilots of the 23o Gruppo, and forced it to make a wheels-up landing south of El Daba (the pilot, Sergeant Emy Meredith, was subsequently rescued by the same Squarcia together with Maggiore Simeone Marsan in the Stormo's Fiesler Storch). Bladelli damaged four Bostons and a P-40, but was hit and had to made an emergency landing at Fuka. Another P-40, shared by many, was seen to explode when hitting the ground. Monterumici, after having fired at the bombers, was hit by three rounds from a P-40; one stopped against the head armour, one hit the armoured windshield and one destroyed the instrument panel. Monterumici recalled:

"A sharp overturn when my armoured windshield explode, whose splinters injured my face. Meanwhile, the canopy exploded too and I, while slowing down a bit to take breath, was attacked by five or six P-46 [Note: in the reports of the time, "P-46" probably meant the P-40F], that were firing at me from everywhere. Pieces of the rudder and of the right wing flew off, many bullets hit the fuselage. To escape, I decent to the ground until my propeller touched the ground. Then I shut off the engine, but the aircraft at 700 km per hour seemed to never end to skim over the desert; I'll never forget that endless run [...]"
Monterumici was rescued same day around 18:00 by a companion that was patrolling on a motorcycle, after being missed by an Italian Storch (probably that one of Squarcia).
From the 23o Gruppo formation Bordoni-Bisleri claimed one of the fighters, which crash-landed about 15 km south-east of Fuka and Pinna claimed one probable Boston and a damaged fighter while Sergente Antonio Franciosi claimed a probable Kittyhawk and two damaged Bostons. Sergente Maurizio Mandolesi damaged two fighters and two bombers and all of the Gruppo's pilots damaged twelve aircraft. Sergente Maggiore Celso Zemella jumped and parachuted in the El Quteifiya area due to an engine failure. According to some sources Bordoni-Bisleri’s victim was Sergeant J. G. Meredith of 344 Squadron (i.e. the same pilot as was claimed by Squarcia).
It is possible that the Allied fighters were those of 2 Squadron SAAF, whose Flight Lieutenant Pearson claimed a "Bf 109", Flying Officer Burlus claimed a MC.202, Pilot Officer Blignault claimed a probable "Bf 109", Pilot Officer Allen-White and Pilot Officer Lowens damaged respectively a "Bf 109" and a MC.202. It is also possible that 260 Squadron RAF encountered the Italian fighters of the 23o Gruppo and Pilot Officer Aitchison and Meredith claimed a shared MC.202.
Meredith was taken to Fuka but the same evening the 4o Stormo was obliged to hand him over to the Germans by an order coming directly from the HQ.
The Luftwaffe claimed only two planes in these combats (one Kittyhawk each by Unteroffizier Erich Krainik of III/JG 27 and Leutnant Jürgen Harder of III/JG 53).
The Desert Air Force reported a general attack in the Fuka and Daba areas conducted by twenty-four Kittyhawks of 260 Squadron and 2 SAAF covering twelve Bostons and six Baltimores bound for Fuka while twelve Kittyhawks of 112 Squadron escorted bombers. Ten Hurricanes of 274 Squadron covered by others of 127 Squadron, six Kittyhawks of 450 Squadron and seventeen Spitfires of 92 and 601 Squadron were also up, the Spitfire doing a “delousing” sweep. These large formations reported widespread combat with enemy fighters and while no bombers were reported lost five fighters failed to return, one Hurricane of 274 Squadron (Flying Officer Graves MIA), two Kittyhawks of 112 Squadron (Pilot Officer Wright wounded and 21-year-old Flying Officer Keith Ronald Gardener (RAF No. 103554) KIA), and two Kittyhawks of 260 Squadron (Flying Officer Meredith POW and 22-year-old Pilot Officer Charles Edwin Ody (RAF No. 135396) KIA). The RAF claimed eight Bf 109s (in fact only a Messerschmitt and one Macchis were lost).

At 06.00 on 4 November two MC.202s flown by Capitano Pinna of 74a Squadriglia and Sergente Maggiore Francesco Cuscuna of 75a Squadriglia were scrambled. A little later a third MC.202 took off, flown by Tenente Franco Bordoni-Bisleri of 18o Gruppo.
They intercepted three P-40 Kittyhawks and Bordoni-Bisleri shot down one of them near their airfield at Abu Smeit. This P-40 had moments before shot down Pinna, who was forced to leave his aircraft with parachute badly wounded in his face and on his hands.
Pinna was picked up by soldiers from the Folgore Division and later collected by a Fiesler Storch. A Ca.133 Sanitario then picked him up and transported him to Marsa Matruk for treatment and recovery.
Cuscuna returned from this combat with a damaged aircraft.

In 1943, he still served in the 3o Stormo.

During the war, he was decorated with two Medaglie d'argento al valor militare, one Medaglia di bronzo al valor militare, the Croce al merito di guerra, the Medaglia commemorativa delle campagne di Libia, the Medaglia commemorativa della campagna di Spagna and the Medaglia di benemerenza per i volontari della guerra Spagna.

Pinna ended the war with 1 biplane victory and a total of 5 destroyed.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1938                
  31/08/38 18:00- 1/8 I-16 Shared destroyed Fiat CR.32   Gandesa 25a Squadriglia
  1940                
  16/07/40   1/2 Hurricane (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   over Malta 70a Squadriglia
  27/12/40 14:30- 1/3 Hurricane (b) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 74a Squadriglia
  1941                
  02/01/41 14:45-17:20 1/6 Armoured car Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Capuzzo area 74a Squadriglia
  02/01/41 14:45-17:20 1/6 Armoured car Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Capuzzo area 74a Squadriglia
  02/01/41 14:45-17:20 1/6 Armoured car Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Capuzzo area 74a Squadriglia
1 05/01/41 11:15-13:35 1 Hurricane (c) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Gambut area 74a Squadriglia
  1942                
  31/08/42   1/2 Kittyhawk Shared destroyed MC.202   North Africa 74a Squadriglia
  20/10/42   1/3 P-40 Shared destroyed MC.202   North Africa 74a Squadriglia
  20/10/42   1/3 P-40 Shared destroyed MC.202   North Africa 74a Squadriglia
  26/10/42   1 Boston Probable MC.202   Fuka area 74a Squadriglia
  26/10/42   1 Enemy fighter Damaged MC.202   Fuka area 74a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 1 and 3 shared destroyed, 3 armoured cars shared destroyed on the ground.
TOTAL: 5 and 6 shared destroyed, 1 probably destroyed, 1 damaged, 3 armoured cars shared destroyed on the ground.
(a) Flight Lieutenant Peter Gardner Kebble of Hal Far Fighter Flight, flying in Hurricane (P2623); shot down and killed.
(b) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 33 Squadron, which claimed two probable CR.42s and one damaged without losses. The 10o and 23o Gruppi claimed 3 Hurricanes and 1 probably shot down with another 10 damaged while suffering 3 damaged CR.42s.
(c) Claimed in combat with either 274 Squadron or 73 Squadron, which didn’t suffer any losses.

Sources:
3o Stormo, storia fotografica - Dai biplani agli aviogetti - C. Lucchini and E. Leproni, 1990 Gino Rossato Editore kindly provided by Jean Michel Cala with translations kindly provided by Birgitta Hallberg-Lombardi
Annuario Ufficiale Delle Forze Armate Del Regno D’Italia Anno 1943. Part III Regia Aeronautica – 1943 Istituto Poligrafico Dello Stato, Roma
Assi Italiani Della Caccia 1936-1945 - 1999 Aerofan no. 69 apr.-giu. 1999, kindly provided by Jean Michel Cala
Battle over Malta - Anthony Rogers, 2000 Sutton Publishing Limited, Gloucestershire, ISBN 0-7509-2392-X
Courage Alone - Chris Dunning, 1998 Hikoki Publications, Aldershot, ISBN 1-902109-02-3
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
Hurricanes over Malta - Brian Cull and Frederick Galea, 2001 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-91-8
Hurricanes over Tobruk - Brian Cull with Don Minterne, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-11-X
In cielo e in terra - Franco Pagliano, Longanesi & Co., Milano, 1969 kindly provided by Alfredo Logoluso
Italian Aces of World War 2 - Giovanni Massimello and Giorgio Apostolo, 2000 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 1-84176-078-1
Malta: The Hurricane Years 1940-41 - Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-89747-207-1
Additional information kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro and Ludovico Slongo.




Last modified 14 December 2014