Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Capitano Mario Pluda

7 January 1910 - 8 November 1941

Mario Pluda was born in Brescia on 7 January 1910.

In the middle of November the 4o Stormo received a new adjutant, Capitano Mario Pluda. At this time the Stormo consisted of the 9o and 10o Gruppi C.T. and was equipped with Fiat CR.42s operating in North Africa.

On 20 November, 208 Squadron despatched two Lysanders to reconnoitre an area bounded by Sollum, Sofali and Buq-Buq. They were L4724 piloted by Flight Lieutenant Burnard and L4728 piloted by Pilot Officer Waymark that took off from Qasaba at 14:20 and 14:15 landing back at 16:35 and 16:20 respectively (another Lysander, possibly L6874, an attached 6 Squadron aircraft piloted by Flying Officer T. H. Davison, was out in the same area). 33 Squadron provided nine Hurricanes (including Flying Officer Vernon Woodward (N2498), Flight Lieutenant Ernest Dean (P 3818), Flying Officer John Mackie (P3724), Squadron Leader Charles Ryley (P3970), Flight Sergeant Harry Goodchild (N2640), Flying Officer Frank Holman (P3724) and Pilot Officer Charles Dyson (N2640)) as escort. It is possible that the unaccounted pilots were one or two pilots from 274 Squadron since a quartet of Hurricanes from this Squadron, piloted by Flight Lieutenant R. V. Evers-Swindell, Pilot Officer Ernest Mason, Pilot Officer Thomas Patterson and Second Lieutenant Frederick Johannes Joubert, together with Pilot Officer Strange and Second Lieutenant Bester (who followed with the ground party) were detached on attachment to 33 Squadron on 14 November. On 21 November, Evers-Swindell, flew back from Fuka to have repairs on his fighter, reportedly damaged in a running fight with CR.42s. It seems almost sure that the “running fight” was the below described action, so it is possible that R. V. Evers-Swindell was present.
The escort took off from Fuka Satellite airfield at 14:15, with one section of three protecting each Lysander while a third section provided top cover. At the same time, a formation of six Gladiators from 112 Squadron would sweep the same general area.
East of Sidi Barrani, 18 CR.42s intercepted them and one Fiat half-rolled and dived away after being fired on by a Hurricane. It is possible that this aircraft later was credited as a destroyed to Flying Officer Mackie, who in a letter sent home to Canada on 4 December recalled:

“Just before I went on leave we had one of two bits of fun up here. On one occasion, you may have heard about it on the radio, fifteen of us got mixed up with sixty wop fighters. We lost none, and got at least eight of them. I got one of these, although not in a very convincing way from my point of view, as I didn’t see it go in. Another pilot saw the start and the finish of it. Anyhow, it sure was a mix-up. I have never seen so many machines milling around in such a small amount of sky.”
However, after this both sides started to guard each other without giving battle with the Italians uncertain to tangle with the faster Hurricanes and the British finding it difficult to close in on their more manoeuvrable opponents.
The Hurricanes of the two sections dealing with the direct escort of the Lysanders now started to brake off since they were being out-manoeuvred by their opponents and at this moment a huge formation of a reportedly 25-30 Italian fighters was seen higher. The top cover section of 33 Squadron climbed to engage but reportedly without avail because the Italian turned back towards Libya without engaging.
The Italian formation was composed by 18 aircraft from all three Squadriglie of the 9o Gruppo led by Maggiore Ernesto Botto (at the head of the 73a Squadriglia). Six of the CR.42s were from the 96a Squadriglia (Capitano Roberto Fassi leading Tenente Aldo Gon, Sottotenente Carlo Agnelli, Sottotenente Armando Moresi and Sergente Vittorio Pozzati together with 4o Stormo’s adjutant, Capitano Pluda), five were from the 73a Squadriglia (Tenente Valerio De Campo, Tenente Pietro Bonfatti, Maresciallo Mario Ruffilli, Sergente Maggiore Antonio Valle and Sergente Santo Gino) and six were from the 97a Squadriglia (Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni, Tenente Ezio Viglione Borghese, Sottotenente Jacopo Frigerio, Maresciallo Rinaldo Damiani, Sergente Francesco Putzu and Sergente Franco Sarasino). They had taken off from El Adem at 14:40 to cover Italian troops in the Bir Enba area (and probably indirectly escorting a reconnaissance plane) when Botto discovered a Bristol Blenheim escorted by several Hurricanes flying lower and attacked.
At this moment, with the 9o Gruppo’s attention focused elsewhere, the 112 Squadron’s Gladiators intervened and managed to surprise the Italian formation over Sidi Barrani. They claimed eight of the Fiats without losses. All of the six pilots made claims and Flight Lieutenant R. J. Abrahams claimed one and one shared with Pilot Officer Richard Acworth, who also claimed one additional. Flying Officer R. J. Bennett claimed one, Pilot Officer Alfred Costello claimed one, Pilot Officer Leonard Bartley claimed two and Sergeant 'Paddy' Donaldson finally claimed one. 112 Squadron didn’t record any losses in this combat even if Pilot Officer Acworth in his memories spoke of a couple of planes obliged to force-land and the unit’s aircraft retuned to Fuka between 16:20 and 17:25. For this one-sided action, they were noted in the press for the first time.
Richard Acworth remembered this combat in a short story written in the 1960’s but never published.
“The Lysanders were to be ‘covered’ against enemy air attacks by six Gladiators from my squadron… three flying at 12,000 feet, and three, led by myself, at 15,000 feet. ‘Top cover’ was to be provided by six Hurricanes, flying at 20,000 feet. The Hurricanes had strict orders to beat a hasty retreat if they met with enemy aircraft in large numbers, as it was thought at that time that they would be ‘easy meat’ for the move manoeuvrable C.R. 42’s, the single-seater Italian opposite number of the Gladiator.
We had been patrolling for about 10 minutes, when I reported forty CR 42s, in eight sections of five, flying from the direction of Libya, at approximately 25,000 feet, 5,000 feet higher that the Hurricane ‘top-cover’. To my dismay, the Hurricanes were soon speeding home, with a CR 42 sitting neatly on each tail. Our six Gladiators were left to finish the fight, for the Lysanders, their task completed, were heading for home, too.
There was not a friendly cloud in the sky, and the powerful desert sun made the enemy aircraft very difficult to see. Forthwith, they carried out the German tactics of remaining aloft, and sending down their more experienced men to finish us off one by one….but it was not to be!
With the first attacks, we broke formation, and it was every man for himself. I soon found myself very much alone, until unfriendly tracer bullets from behind, passed through the space between my right wings. I immediately steep-turned to the left, and caught sight of my attacker as he completed his dive and prepared to re-join his pals up higher, by means of a roll off the top of a loop.
Seizing my chance, I opened full throttle and followed him to the top of his loop, half rolled in formation with him, and was just about to open fire, when my aircraft stalled and flicked into a spin….not enough speed! I decided my best means of survival was to continue the spin, in the hope that he would think I had been badly hit. This was a fighter tactic from World War I, and it worked! Whilst I was spinning, I looked upwards and caught a glimpse of my adversary circling at his original height, waiting for me to crash into the desert. I came out of the spin at about 8,000 feet, no doubt much to his surprise, and didn’t have to wait long for him to dive down to finish me off.
So started a long tail-chasing session. At first, my mouth became rather dry, but after a second or two, my mind became crystal clear, and I was determined to turn the tables on him. Slowly I began to gain ground, and soon part of his tail was in my sights, but I realized it would not have been great enough. When his engine came into my sights, I pressed the firing button, and was immediately cheered to see pieces of fabric or metal ripping off his fuselage, just behind the cockpit.
The Italian pilot turned so quickly in his mad effort to escape, that he pulled his aircraft into a spin, following a ‘high-speed stall’. I followed him down, and fired at him as he tried to recover, and he promptly went into another one. On recovering from his second spin, he must have pulled an emergency boost control to give him extra speed, for he left my Gladiator ‘standing’.
However, my opponent was not easily scared, and turned about a mile away to come back at me like a bull at a gate. We both opened fire, and when it seemed that a head-on collision was inevitable, he pulled out to my left in a climbing turn. For a second, I was able to fire at his exposed fuselage, and then, with throttle fully open, I climbed into the sun, into an advantageous position. To my horror, my engine stalled near the top of the climb, and I had to carry out the usual drill of closing the throttle and opening it again, slowly. Full power came back, and looking down, I could see my opponent looking for me. This time, I had the advantage of height, and I was nicely lining him up in my sights when he saw me, and tried to turn in underneath me.
Slowly twisting, and with the right deflection, I raked him with bullets from nose to tail, at almost point-blank range. I pulled out of my dive, to regain height, and saw him commence another spin from which he did not recover. I felt immensely relieved, somewhat shaken, and eventually joined up with two stray Gladiators, and returned to Mersa Matruh. I was pleased to learn later that seven aircraft had been shot down in the engagement, and that all the Gladiator pilots had survived the fight, although two had made forced landings.
I shall never forget that day. It was my first one-against-one air battle, and the longest time I had engaged a single enemy aircraft...”
The 9o Gruppo actually lost only three shot down and four damaged but two pilots were killed. The three shot down pilots were Sottotenente Carlo Agnelli of the 96a Squadriglia, who was killed, Sergente Francesco Putzu of the 97a Squadriglia, who was killed, and Tenente Gon (who usually flew CR.42 MM5605/96-2), who recalled:
“This day [strangely enough he recorded it as on 1 November but this is for certain an error] I lost the dearest of all my wingmen [Carlo Agnelli]. We were up with all the Gruppo and the three Squadriglie were stepped at different heights. The lowest escorting a reconnaissance plane, mine (96a Squadriglia) at 3000 metres while the third stay higher. The highest group had already engaged the enemy when I saw one of our planes diving almost vertically followed by a Gloster. I made a violent overturning that my wingmen were unable to follow [again without radio equipment the Italian formation was broken at the beginning of the combat and whatever numerical advantage was impossible to put into full use] when I reach a distance suitable to open fire I had to wait because there was the risk of hitting my comrade [with the same burst aimed at the fighter that was following him] I had to concentrate only on the aim [the wingmen were far away] so I couldn’t look around and was attacked by two Glosters. With the first burst of fire they shot away my propeller, so without propulsion I could only manoeuvre to avoid further damage. All the height lost I force-landed and the English pilots that had already stopped firing while I was gliding down for my final approach flew past me waving their hands.
[Gon, tried to burn his plane without success and succeeded to reach an Italian outpost the day after]
Back at base, I discovered that information about the missing pilots (we were three) were lacking.
A sergeant
[Sergente Francesco Putzu] was seen to jump with parachute and another of our planes was seen to crash after a hard fight, all believed it was mine because the other missing pilot (my dear wingman) was too “green” to be able to fight against three enemies as the pilot of the crashed plane did.
The encounter with Botto was tragicomically. I went to his room and he was waiting for me near the door and as just as he saw me he threw himself right into my arms through the three steps that divided us. But I was too weak and was unable to sustain him so we fell embraced on the ground.”
According to the official records of the 4o Stormo, however, it seems that during the dive Gon’s guns went out of synchronisation and when opening fire he cut his propeller with the first shots.
Seven confirmed and probable victories were credited to the pilots of the Gruppo after that they had landed at 16:30. This overclaiming was the result of that the Stormo’s records had to be re-recorded in 1941 after they had been lost. This re-recording was done by Tenente Giulio Reiner, who was then adjutant of the Gruppo. Obviously Reiner’s reconstruction was not as accurate as a complete debriefing immediately after the battle could be.
Roberto Fassi was credited with a Blenheim, a probable Gladiator and two damaged Gladiators. Pozzati, who was wounded on the right foot, was credited with a Gladiator while Gon was credited with a Gladiator (a victory that he didn’t mention at all in his memories). Pluda claimed another Gladiator and Moresi one probable Gladiator. The 73a and 97a Squadriglie claimed one Gladiator and two Hurricanes shot down and four fighters damaged, all shared. Final assessment of the combat was four Gladiators, two Hurricanes and a Blenheim confirmed and two Gladiators probably destroyed (the actual number of confirmed claims varies between the reconstructed Diari of the involved Squadriglias to seven or eight destroyed).

On 12 December the 9o Gruppo started to retreat and transferred to Derna.

On 18 December, Capitano Pluda and Sergente Maggiore Enrico Dallari passed from the 73a Squadriglia, 9o Gruppo, to the 91a Squadriglia, 10o Gruppo.

At 09:15 on 26 December, eight Gladiators from 3 RAAF Squadron took off from the LG south-west of Sollum to escort a Lysander doing artillery reconnaissance over Bardia. The Lysander failed to appear. At approximately 14:05 (obviously during a third patrol) two flights of five SM 79s escorted by a number of CR.42s were observed a few miles north-east of Sollum Bay. A separate formation of 18 CR.42s was following the bomber formation and escort 2,000 feet higher as top cover. Two Gladiators attacked the bomber formation whilst the remainder climbed to meet the higher formation. The attack on the bombers was broken off when the higher formation attacked the Gladiators. In the ensuing combat, Flight Lieutenant Gordon Steege and Flying Officer Wilfred Arthur each claimed a destroyed (seen to fall into the sea) and a damaged CR.42. Flying Officer Peter Turnbull, Flying Officer John Perrin and Flying Officer Alan Rawlinson each claimed one probable.
The CR.42s were 14 fighters from the newly arrived 23o Gruppo led by the CO, Maggiore Tito Falconi and 22 CR.42s from the 10o Gruppo. The CR.42s from the 23o Gruppo included three from the 70a Squadriglia (Tenente Claudio Solaro, Sergente Pardino Pardini and Tenente Gino Battaggion), five from the 74a Squadriglia (Capitano Guido Bobba, Tenente Lorenzo Lorenzoni, Sottotenente Sante Schiroli, Sergente Maggiore Raffaele Marzocca (forced to return early due to a sudden illness) and Sergente Manlio Tarantino) and five from the 75a Squadriglia (Tenente Pietro Calistri, Tenente Ezio Monti, Sottotenente Renato Villa, Sottotenente Leopoldo Marangoni and Maresciallo Carlo Dentis). The fighters from the the 10o Gruppo included seven from the 91a Squadriglia (Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli, Capitano Vincenzo Vanni, Capitano Pluda, Sottotenente Andrea Dalla Pasqua, Sottotenente Ruggero Caporali, Sergente Maggiore Lorenzo Migliorato and Sergente Elio Miotto), nine from the 84a Squadriglia (Capitano Luigi Monti, Tenente Antonio Angeloni, Sottotenente Luigi Prati, Sottotenente Bruno Devoto, Sergente Domenico Santonocito, Sergente Corrado Patrizi, Sergente Piero Buttazzi, Sergente Luciano Perdoni and Sergente Mario Veronesi) and six from the 90a Squadriglia (Tenente Giovanni Guiducci, Tenente Franco Lucchini, Sottotenente Alessandro Rusconi, Sottotenente Neri De Benedetti, Sergente Luigi Contarini and Sergente Giovanni Battista Ceoletta), which had taken off at 13:00.
They were escorting ten SM 79s from the 41o Stormo under Tenente Colonnello Draghelli and five SM 79s 216a Squadriglia, 53o Gruppo, 34o Stormo, led by Tenente Stringa. The SM 79s had taken off from M2 at 12:25 and attacked Sollum harbour’s jetty (reportedly hit) and two destroyers inside Sollum Bay (with poor results because of the heavy AA fire). AA from the ships hit four bombers from the 34o Stormo; one of them, piloted by Sottotenente Bellini had to force land close to Ain El Gazala with the central engine out of action. Returning pilots reported an attempt to intercept by some Gladiators but the escort repulsed the British fighters. They landed without further problems at 15:15.
Over the target, immediately after the bombing, the Italian fighters reported the interception of “enemy aircraft” alternatively “many Glosters” or “Hurricanes and Glosters”. The 70a Squadrigli pilots claimed a shared Hurricane, this was possibly an aircraft from 33 Squadron. This unit’s ORB reported that during the day’s patrols many SM 79s and CR.42s were intercepted with one CR.42 believed damaged. Two Gladiators confirmed and two probables were shared between the whole 10o Gruppo. Another Gladiator was assigned to the 23o Gruppo (in the documents of 75a Squadriglia but this is not confirmed by the other two Squadriglie). Many Glosters were claimed damaged by Tenente Lorenzoni, Sottotenente Schiroli, Sergente Tarantino, Sottotenente Marangoni, Tenente Calistri, Tenente Monti and Sottotenente Villa. The CR.42s were back between 14:30 and 15:05.
No Gladiators were lost even if three of them were damaged (all repairable within the unit). The Australians had done a very good job indeed, facing a formation four times more numerous (even if it seem improbable that all the Italian fighters were able to join the combat). From the Italian reports it seems that only the front sections of the escort (including the 74a, 75a and the 84a Squadriglie) were engaged in a sharp dogfight with the Gladiators. The Australians were able to shot down the CO of the 74a Squadriglia, Capitano Guido Bobba, who was killed when his fighter fell in flames into the sea and damaged Tenente Lorenzoni’s fighter, who landed at T2 (and came back to Z1 the day after). Three more CR.42s were damaged when Tenente Angeloni was forced to land at T5 before reaching Z1, Sergente Veronesi’s fighter was damaged and Sottotenente Prati was forced to make an emergency landing short of T2 (his fighter was reportedly undamaged and only suffering for a slight engine breakdown). Maggiore Falconi’s fighter was also heavily damaged but managed to return. The morning after Angeloni was able to return to Z1 with his aircraft.
Capitano Guido Bobba was awarded a posthumously Medaglia d’Argento al valor militare. He was replaced as CO of the 74a Squadriglia by Tenente Mario Pinna.

The Stormo was sent back to Italy on Christmas Day 1940 in order to commence its re-equipment with MC.200s.

Capitano Pluda took over command of the 73a Squadriglia from Tenente Pietro Bonfatti on 1 March at Gorizia airfield.

On 4 April 1941 the 73a Squadriglia (Capitano Pluda (CO), Tenente Pietro Bonfatti, Sottotenente Giuseppe Oblach, Sottotenente Alvaro Querci, Maresciallo Mario Ruffilli, Sergente Antonio Valle, Sergente Santo Gino, Sergente Rossi, Sergente Mario Guerci, Sergente Maggiore Giovanni Gallerani (96a Squadriglia) and Sergente Maggiore Raffaello Novelli (97a Squadriglia)) was transferred to Alture di Pola.

On 9 April Capitano Pluda, Tenente Pietro Bonfatti, Sottotenente Giuseppe Oblach, Maresciallo Mario Ruffilli and Sergente Santo Gino, protected by MC.200s of the 84a Squadriglia, attacked thirteen seaplanes at Slosella harbour (now Pirovac). Eight seaplanes were claimed as sunk and two more on the ground were damaged. AA fire damaged Pluda’s aircraft in the right wing and Bonfatti’s in the tail.

The mission was repeated two days later when Pluda led eight aircraft. Bonfatti, Oblach and Santo Gino attacked the seaplanes while Pluda and the rest of the squadriglia strafed AA sites. Three seaplanes were burned and two were severely damaged.

On 13 April, while escorting a Fiat BR.20 on a reconnaissance mission at 1500 m over Zara (now Zadar), Sebenico and Divulje, Tenente Pietro Bonfatti spotted a flying boat riding at anchor at Divulje. Capitano Pluda ordered him, Sottotenente Giuseppe Oblach and Sergente Antonio Valle to dive and strafe it, while Pluda, Alvaro Querci, Tenente Giulio Reiner and Sergente Santo Gino stayed beside the Fiat. The flying boat was sunk.
During the return flight, the BR.20 lowered to 500 m while the escort remained at 1500m. Over Sebenico the BR.20 was shot down by AA fire but the escort returned unhurt.

In July 1941, they re-equipped again with MC.202s.

On 27 September, the whole 9o Gruppo, now equipped with brand new Macchi MC.202s, left Gorizia and flew to Rome-Ciampino, where they two days later met Il Duce, Benito Mussolini, which greeted them. Later the same day they went to Comiso (Sicily) for a new tour of duty, this time against Malta.
At this time the 73a Squadriglia was composed of Capitano Pluda (CO), Capitano Carlo Ivaldi, Tenente Pietro Bonfatti, Sottotenente Giuseppe Oblach, Sottotenente Felice Bussolin, Sottotenente Alvaro Querci, Sergente Maggiore Enrico Dallari, Sergente Santo Gino, Sergente Rossi, Sergente Mario Guerci, Sergente Maggiore Teresio Martinoli and Sergente Armando Angelini.

In the morning of 1 October 1941, the 9o Gruppo undertook its first sorties over Malta with its new aircraft, seven MC.202s from 73a Squadriglia led by Capitano Pluda taking part. Partaking pilots were Capitano Carlo Ivaldi, Tenente Pietro Bonfatti, Sottotenente Giuseppe Oblach, Sergente Maggiore Enrico Dallari, Sergente Santo Gino and Sottotenente Alvaro Querci (Querci was however forced to return due to problems with his oxygen supply).
At 11:50, eight Hurricanes from 185 Squadron scrambled after the incoming ‘bandits’, climbing to 24,000 feet. At this height, 30 miles north-east of the island, they were jumped by the Macchis and 24-year-old Squadron Leader Peter ‘Boy’ Mould (RAF no. 33414) (Hurricane Z5265/GL-T) was shot down and killed (at this time Mould was credited with 8 and 3 shared victories). Capitano Carlo Ivaldi Macchi, Tenente Bonfatti and Sergente Maggiore Dallari claimed two Hurricanes shot down and two probables between them in this first pass; Bonfatti reported that he saw his opponent to jump and parachute (according to some sources the Italian pilots claimed three victories). Sergeant Ernie Knight got in a shot at the attackers, obtaining hits on Ivaldi’s aircraft (MM7723), which he claimed damaged. The Macchi had been hit in its main fuel tank, and with all fuel drained away, was obliged to force-land on a beach near Pozzzallo, on regaining the Sicilian coast.

During the afternoon on 22 October, six 73a Squadriglia MC.202s, escorted by eight more, strafed Luqa twice. Nine Hurricanes of 249 Squadron were sent off to intercepts, the Macchis diving on them as they were climbing up over St. Paul’s Island. Sergeant Dave Owen (‘GN-R’), was shot down in flames, but managed to bale out before the fighter hit the sea. Pilot Officer R. H. ‘Bob’ Matthews (Z3756) was also hit, the wing of his Hurricane and the fuselage near the glycol tank suffering damage. Sergeant Alf Branch (Z4016) noted in his logbook: ”Sgt Owen shot down into sea – circled him until picked up. Gave two short bursts head-on at a 202 – did not claim anything.”
The 73a Squadriglia pilots claimed heavily; two Hurricanes were credited to Tenente
Pietro Bonfatti and one each to Capitano Pluda, Sottotenente Alvaro Querci (according to some sources he was credited with two victories), Sergente Maggiore Teresio Martinoli and Sergente Mario Guerci, while probables went to Maggiore Antonio Larsimont and Capitano Carlo Ivaldi. One Macchi was damaged in the combat.

Around midday on 25 October, four Cant Z.1007bis from the 9o Stormo B.T. approached Grand Harbour, escorted by MC.200s of the 54o Stormo as close cover, with 20 MC.202 of the 9o Gruppo providing indirect support.
185 Squadron scrambled eight Hurricanes led by Flying Officer Gay Bailey (BD835), which dived to attack the bombers (identified as BR.20s). One Z.1007bis was hard hit, the port engine being seen to stop and it was classed as a probable. In fact the bomber managed to reach Sicily, where it crash-landed at Comiso with one dead and one wounded aboard. At this point the Hurricanes were bounced by the MC.202s and 20-year-old Sergeant Ernest G. Knight (RAF no. 1164161) (Z3456) was shot down, being listed as missing. Sergeant Cyril Hunton got a short burst into one MC.202, which poured black smoke; he claimed a probable, but wreckage of the fighter was later found floating in the sea. He had shot down the 4o Stormo’s commander, Tenente Colonnello Eugenio Leotta (MM7728), who was posthumously awarded the Medaglia d’oro al valor militare. Two fighters were claimed shot down by Tenente Colonnello Minio Paulello, one by Maggiore Antonio Larsimont and one as a shared by Capitano Pluda and Tenente Pietro Bonfatti, all on this occasion claimed as ‘Spitfires’.

On 8 November, about eighteen MC.200s and MC.202s from the 4o Stormo escorted four Cant Z.1007bis over Malta at midday, four Hurricanes from 126 Squadron intercepting them. The enemy bombers were misidentified when the three-engined bombers were seen from above, and they were thought to be Cant Z.506B floatplanes!. The British fighters, led by Flight Lieutenant Carpenter, made for the bombers but were attacked by the MC.202s (the pilots of which identified their opponents as ‘Spitfires’ on this occasion). Carpenter claimed one Macchi shot down while and Sergeant Tom Worrall claimed a probable. The Australian Sergeant Allan Haley (Hurricane Z3033) reported:

“As we were going for the bombers the Macchis dived on us. I counted sixteen of them and as I went after one of them I could see the rest of the Hurricanes were having excitement of their own… I put a few squirts into one I was after and it started to smoke. Then another attacked me from astern. I turned and saw this other chap and flew straight at him. Bits were flying off his machine as I fired at him. I expected him to turn away but he didn’t. Maybe the pilot was killed. I flew right into him and the Macchi broke up in the air. There were pieces all over the place. I am told one of my wings and the tail broke off, but I don’t know for I didn’t see the Hurricane again. I was in a spin and opened the lid. I didn’t need to jump. I just opened thelid and I was out. I was at about 20,000 feet at the time. I thought I might have a broken leg. As I came down over the island I saw that I was going to land on a village. I hit the wall of a house and landed on a flat roof right on top of a dog. The dog let out a terrific yelp and jumped off the roof and bolted up the road still yelling. For all I know he is still travelling.”
Haley was credited with one Macchi destroyed and one damaged.
Meanwhile Pilot Officer Pat Lardner-Burke (BD789/G) had attacked another MC.202, which he claimed shot down, but his own aircraft was hit and he was shot through the back. He was however able to return to his airfield where he at once was removed to hospital (he was later awarded a DFC for this combat). Capitano Mario Pluda (Macchi MC.202 MM7744) and Sergente Maggiore Luigi Taroni (96a Squadriglia)(MM7736) were both killed in this combat. The Italian fighter claimed only one victory as a shared by the pilots from the 96a Squadriglia plus two damaged.
It seems that Pluda was the one that collided with Haley. Haley’s aircraft crashed near the AA gun position at Halq Dieri, west of Zebbug, while Pluda’s Macchi came down at Wied Qasrun, one mile north-west of Dingli, the impact throwing up a cloud of dust and debris several hundred feet into the air.
Tenente
Pietro Bonfatti temporarily took command over the 73a Squadriglia after Capitano Pluda’s death.

At the time of his death, Pluda was credited with 1 biplane victory and a total of 2.

Pluda is buried in Cimitero Maggiore di Musocco, Milan.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940              
1 20/11/40 14:40-16:30 1 Gladiator (a) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Sidi Barrani area 73a Squadriglia
  26/12/40 13:00-15:05 1/22 Gladiator (b) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 91a Squadriglia
  26/12/40 13:00-15:05 1/22 Gladiator (b) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 91a Squadriglia
  26/12/40 13:00-15:05 1/22 Gladiator (b) Shared probable Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 91a Squadriglia
  26/12/40 13:00-15:05 1/22 Gladiator (b) Shared probable Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 91a Squadriglia
  1941                
2 22/10/41   1 Hurricane (c) Destroyed MC.202   St. Paul’s Island 73a Squadriglia
  25/10/41   1 ’Spitfire’ (d) Shared destroyed MC.202   Grand Harbour area 73a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 1 and 2 shared destroyed, 2 shared probably destroyed.
TOTAL: 2 and 2 shared destroyed, 2 shared probably destroyed.
(a) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 33 and 274 Squadrons and Gladiators from 112 Squadron. 9o Gruppo claimed seven victories and two probables while losing three CR.42s, getting four more damaged and losing two pilots KIA. 112 Squadron claimed eight victories for no losses, 274 Squadron possibly suffered one damaged Hurricane while 33 Squadron possibly claimed a CR.42 without losses.
(b) Claimed in combat with Gladiators from 3 RAAF Squadron, which claimed 2 and 3 probables without any losses, and possibly Hurricanes from 33 Squadron, which claimed a damaged CR.42 during the day. The 23o Gruppo claimed 1 Hurricane and 1 Gladiator and the 10o Gruppo claimed 2 and 2 probable Gladiators while losing one CR.42 and getting five more damaged.
(c) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 249 Squadron. 73a Squadriglia claimed 6 destroyed and 2 probables while 249 Squadron lost 1 aircraft and got a second damaged.
(d) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 185 Squadron, which claimed one probable bomber and one MC.202 while losing one Hurricane (Sgt. E. Knight KIA). 9o claimed four enemy fighters while losing one aircraft.

Sources:
33 Squadron Operations Record Book
Diario Storico 73a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Diario Storico 97a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Hurricanes over Malta - Brian Cull and Frederick Galea, 2001 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-91-8
Hurricanes over the sands: Part One - Michel Lavigne and James F. Edwards, 2003 Lavigne Aviation Publications, Victoriaville, ISBN 2-9806879-2-8
Malta: The Hurricane Years 1940-41 - Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-89747-207-1
Ministero della Difesa - Banca Dati sulle sepolture dei Caduti in Guerra
Quelli del Cavallino Rampante - Antonio Duma, 1981 Editore Dell'Ateneo, Roma, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Additional information kindly provided by Ian Acworth, Stefano Lazzaro, Ludovico Slongo and Gianmaria Spagnoletti.




Last modified 18 January 2011