Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Maresciallo Virgilio Pongiluppi

23 October 1911 - 24 July 1943

Virgilio Pongiluppi was born in San Possidonio on 23 October 1911.

Pongiluppi served as a volunteer during the Spanish Civil War.

When the Nationalist attack on the Basque Country began in the end of March 1937, I Gruppo was moved north and 3a Squadriglia was stationed at Vitoria.
The 3a Squadriglia was commanded by Capitano Mario Viola (”Viotti”) who led the 1st Flight of five aircraft (with reserve pilots) usually including Tenente Luigi Mariotti, Ottorinio Cappellini, Giannoti (”Vitullo”), Curilli, Sartori and Romagnoli.
The 2nd Flight was led by Tenente Corrado Ricci and usually included (with reserve pilots) Tenente Giuseppe Mollo, Sergente Maggiore Guido Presel, Brunetto di Montegnacco, Eugenio Salvi, Galadini, Bernardino Serafini and Pongiluppi.

In April 1937, XVI Gruppo ”Cucaracha” was formed and included 24a (formerly 1a), 25a (formerly 2a) and 26a (formerly 3a) Squadriglie.

In June 1940, Sergente Maggiore Pongiluppi served in the 364a Squadriglia, 150o Gruppo C.T. This unit was at the time equipped with Fiat CR.42s.

On 15 June 1940, the Italian Headquarters ordered the 150o, 18o and 23o Gruppi C.T. to attack the French airfields in Le Cannet des Maures (2km south-east of Le Luc) and Cuers Pierrefeu (close to the naval base of Toulon), in Provence, with the purpose of destroying and disrupting the French fighter force on the ground.
Le Cannet des Maureswas the base of the GC III/6, which had arrived there on 3 June with its Morane Saulnier MS.406 fighters and was in the midst of converting from that type to the new Dewoitine D.520 (on 15 June 1940 the groupe had at least 13 D.520s on hand). The airfield of Cuers Pierrefeu was the base of the escadrille de chasse AC 3 of the Aéronautique Navale, equipped with eleven Bloch 151 fighters, and the escadrille de bombardement en piquè AB 3 of the Aéronautique Navale, equipped with eleven Vought 156 dive-bombers.
At noon 25 CR.42s from the 23o Gruppo departed from Cervere (a small town in Piedmont near the French border) to attack Le Cannet Des Maures airfield. The first group, under the command of Maggiore Tito Falconi (CO of the 23o Gruppo in a CR.42 from the 70a Squadriglia) was to make the strafing attack. The group was composed of Capitano Luigi Filippi (CO of the 75a Squadriglia), Tenente Mario Rigatti, Tenente Calogero Mazza, Sottotenente Malvezzi, Maresciallo Luigi Pasquetti, Sergente Maggiore Renzo Borro, Sergente Maggiore Davini, Sergente Maggiore Germano Gasperoni (all from the 75a Squadriglia), Capitano Guido Bobba (CO of the 74a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Arnaldo Sala and Sottotenente Domenico Tessera (all from the 74a Squadriglia). The rest of the formation, with fighters from all three Squadriglie, was to act as top cover. This formation was composed of Capitano Ottorino Fargnoli (CO of the 70a Squadriglia), Tenente Claudio Solaro (70a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Oscar Abello (70a Squadriglia), Tenente Ezio Monti (75a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Balilla Albani (70a Squadriglia), Sergente Carlo Scarselli (70a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Celso Zemella (70a Squadriglia), Tenente Lorenzo Viale (74a Squadriglia), Tenente Mario Benedetti (74a Squadriglia), Tenente Mario Pinna (74a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Renzo Bocconi (74a Squadriglia), Sergente Raffaele Marzocca (74a Squadriglia) and Sergente Emilio Stefani (74a Squadriglia).
They arrived over the target at 13:00 and attacked under heavy AA-fire. They claimed to have hit fifteen “Curtis” fighters and four old bombers that lay on the sides of the airstrip, in particular Capitano Bobba claimed hits on three aircraft as did Sottotenente Tessera while Sergente Sala claimed to have hit two aircraft on the ground (it seems that at least three D.520s were destroyed when Dewoitine D.520 nos. 257, 294 and 304 of GC III/6 went up in flames).
During the strafing a number of French fighters identified as “four or five Morrane” or alternatively “Dewoitine” engaged the strafing Fiats. Capitano Filippi (MM4361), was shot down by Adjutant Pierre Le Gloan of GC III/6. Filippi baled out and was captured. Maresciallo Pasquetti claimed a “Morane” but was also hit, wounded (reportedly by AA fire but possibly by Le Gloan) and returned to Cervere despite large problems. He was later decorated with the Medaglia d’argento al valor militare in the field for this mission. Tenente Rigatti’s and Sottotenente Malvezzi’s fighters were also damaged (reportedly by AA). Among the pilots of the covering patrol, Sergente Stefani claimed a “Morrane”, Tenente Benedetti a probable “Morrane” and Sergente Marzocca a damaged “Morrane”. The pilots of the 70a Squadriglia reported an indecisive engagement with no losses caused or suffered and finally Tenente Viale had his fighter seriously damaged by an explosive bullet that hit the junction between the lower wing and the fuselage. Back at base the plane was declared RD (Riparabile in Ditta - Repairable but only in the manufacturer’s workshop) and sent to the Aeritalia-Fiat workshops in Turin.
The pilots of the 23o Gruppo observed that despite hits on aircraft on the ground they hadn’t burnt. This was found to have been caused by a defective batch of incendiary ammunition.
The formation from the 150o Gruppo departed from Villanova D’Albenga (in Liguria near the sea) at 12:00 and was composed of 27 Fiat CR.42s divided in three groups. Their target was the airfield of Cuers Pierrefeu and they arrived there at 13:00. A first group of eight aircraft commanded by Capitano Giorgio Graffer (CO of the 365a Squadriglia) and composed of Tenente Franco Gatti, Sottotenente Lorenzo Clerici, Maresciallo Felice Sozzi, Maresciallo Virginio Bodini, Sergente Maggiore Guido Fibbia, Sergente Maggiore Felice Squassoni and Sergente Bruno Zotti (all from the 365a Squadriglia) attacked the airfield of Cuers itself. A second group of nine fighters from the 363a Squadriglia led by the Gruppo CO Tenente Colonnello Rolando Pratelli (Capitano Luigi Mariotti (Squadriglia CO), Tenente Pietro Garfagnoli, Sottotenente Mario Daverio, Maresciallo Giuseppe Salvadori, Sergente Maggiore Natale Viola, Sergente Maggiore Bruno Benassi, Sergente Paolo Rossi, Sergente Antonio Lazzari) and a third group of eight aircraft from the 364a Squadriglia under command of the 53o Stormo commander Colonnello Arrigo Tessari (Capitano Nicola Magaldi (Squadriglia CO), Capitano Nino Caselli, Tenente Giuseppe Enrico Zuffi, Tenente Alberto Spigaglia, Maresciallo Delfino Fratini, Maresciallo Ugo Guidi, Sergente Maggiore Pongiluppi, Sergente Giovanni Negri and Sergente Achille Pacini) covered Graffer and his men during the strafing attack.
The covering group led by Colonnello Tessari engaged six French fighters, while Graffer’s group, after four or five strafing passes enter combat against “Morane fighters” while regaining height. All in all four Morane were claimed shot down (all Bloch 151s from AC 3 and confirmed with French records) and 15 Moranes were claimed on ground (in fact at least six Vought 156s of AB 3 were destroyed). The victories were credited as “shared” to all the pilots of the Gruppo.
The aircraft of Capitano Nino Caselli (MM5579) and Tenente Zuffi of the 364a Squadriglia (MM5590) were lost. Caselli’s Fiat was shot down by French fighters and he was killed, while Zuffi landed on Cuers Pierrefeu undamaged due to a breakdown of the throttle. Zuffi was taken prisoner and his undamaged fighter was taken by the French (the only aircraft captured by the Aéronautique Navale), which in the following days painted it with French colours and duly photographed this trophy with pilots posing near it. After the war the Italians had to do great efforts with the Vichy Authorities to finally have back the fighter in August. Additionally the Fiats of Graffer and Clerici were damaged by French fighters during the dogfight.
Finally, 15 Fiat CR.42s the 18o Gruppo took off from Villanova D’Albenga immediately after the 150o Gruppo. They patrolled along the direction of Cuers Pierrefeu - Cannet des Maures - Hyères (the latter an airfield 13 km east of Toulon) to prevent any interference from the French fighter force. Led by the 18o Gruppo’s CO Maggiore Ferruccio Vosilla the formation was composed by Capitano Giulio Anelli (CO of the 85a Squadriglia), Tenente Giulio Cesare Giuntella and Sergente Maggiore Giuseppe Ruzzin of the 85a Squadriglia, Capitano Gino Lodi (CO of 95a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Eugenio Salvi, Maresciallo Felice Longhi, Maresciallo Giovanni Ferrari and Sergente Maggiore Giacomo Grillo of the 95a Squadriglia (Vosilla flew with Salvi and Longhi as wingmen) and finally the 3o Stormo Commander Colonnello Fortunato Rolando in a 83a Squadriglia fighter with Maresciallo Francesco Colombo and Sergente Maggiore Evdo Formentini as wingmen together with Capitano Edoardo Molinari (CO of 83a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Carlo Lolli and Maresciallo Gaetano Bortolini.
At a height of 5500 meters over Beau Champ they were intercepted by enemy fighters, which suddenly appeared from a cloud bank. They were identified as “Morane 406 plus another type not sure” and in the ensuing combat three of them were claimed shot down plus four others hit without being able of ascertain the damage inflicted (these claims can’t be verified with French sources). It seems that no individual credit was given for these victories that went as shared to all the fifteen pilots participating in the mission. During the combat, two aircraft of the 83a Squadriglia were lost when Sergente Maggiore Formentini (MM4449) and Maresciallo Colombo (MM4366) both were shot down and killed (both were probably shot down by Le Gloan and Assolant of GC III/6, which had attacked the “vic” of the Stormo commander). All the fighters of the 85a Squadriglia suffered gun-jams and were forced to flee, Capitano Anelli, in particular, had to escaped into clouds to get away from enemy fighters, got lost and was obliged to force-land at Dorniella near Grosseto in Tuscany where his plane (MM4372) broke the landing gear and was heavily damaged (RD). Finally Maresciallo Gaetano Bortolini’s Fiat was hit by a cannon shell that opened a hole of 60 centimetres in the upper wing. Later during the day two more fighters were heavily damaged (RD) on landing back in Villanova D’Albenga returning from scrambles because of the bad conditions of the ground flooded by heavy rain but this was not connected with the above described combat.
The French reported that in the early hours of 15 June bad wheatear halted flight activities, then, at mid morning, it cleared up. At 10:00, a patrouille composed by Adjutant Diaz, Sergent Pimont and Sous-Lieutenant Stage took-off to cover the reconnaissance mission of a Potez 63. The mission was completed successfully.
At 11:40, the fighter control centre of Toulon signalled big formations of heavy fighters and bombers passing the border and heading south-west. Five minutes later a patrouille simple (three planes group) of Dewoitine D.520s (Adjutant Pierre Le Gloan, Capitaine Jacobi and Capitaine Assolant) of the 5th escadrille of groupe de chasse III/6 (GC III/6) took-off.
The patrouille made for Saint Raphael (on the coast, near the Italian border), where a group of fifteen enemy planes was signalled. Four minutes later (11:49), a second patrouille simple (Capitaine Guerrier, Adjutant Japiot, Sous-Lietuenant Capdeviolle), this time of the 6th escadrille, took off to help the first. However, it took off to late and didn’t participate in the combat.
After arriving over Saint Raphael, the patrouille of Le Gloan received by radio the order of going over Saint Tropez (around 30km south-west). At the same time, Capitaine Jacobi was forced to turn back with engine problems.
Le Gloan saw a formation of twelve Fiat CR.42s in the direction of Saint Tropez heading south-west. He reached them rapidly and attacked at 12:00. In a brief combat, Le Gloan and Assolant claimed two shared aircraft shot down. These were the last two aircraft of the Italian formation and one of the Italian fighters (Maresciallo Colombo of the 83a Squadriglia) was seen to go down in flames near Beauvallon (4km south of Grimaud) while the other went down in flames near Ramatuelle; the pilot was seen to bale out (probably Sergente Maggiore Evdo Formentini of the 83a Squadriglia).
At this moment the two pilots of the patrouille was split up. Le Gloan turned over Saint-Tropez and lost contact with the enemy while Capitaine Assolant attacked a third Italian fighter (perhaps Maresciallo Bortolini of the 83a Squadriglia), but his guns ceased to fire and he had to disengage coming back to Le Cannet des Maures.
Adjutant Le Gloan in the meantime, saw anti-aircraft fire in the direction of Hyères airfield (being over Saint Tropez this direction is quite close to the direction of Toulon-Cuers Pierrefeu that was under attack at that moment). Le Gloan flew in that direction and discovered a group of three Fiat CR.42s heading east. He attacked the right hand Fiat of the group and saw that after the first burst of fire it went down near Saint-Amèe, in the bay of Pampalonne. This claim is not confirmed with Italian records but perhaps claimed in combat with an aircraft from 150o Gruppo returning from the attack on Cuers or alternatively against stragglers of the 18o Gruppo formation. He was then attacked by eight Italian fighters and he disengaged by diving away.
At the same time (around 12:15), he received by radio the order of coming back to Le Cannet des Maures which was under attack. He obeyed immediately, arriving over his airfield while the Italians were strafing it. He dived on a couple of fighters and with a single burst of cannon fire he shot down one of them (Capitano Filippi). This plane went down near the farm of the Thermes, just 1km from the airfield of Le Cannet. Continuing his patrol Le Gloan saw a Fiat BR.20 bomber flying a reconnaissance mission over Le Cannet des Maures, probably with the aim of checking the damage inflicted to the airfield. Le Gloan attacked it and, even with no more cannon ammunitions left, shot it down with five passes of his remaining four guns. The bomber fell down near the farm of the Moulin Rouge. This was Fiat BR.20 MM21873 of the 172a Squadriglia Ricognizione Strategica, which in fact went down over Le Luc. Two of the crew were killed; Aviere scelto motorista Giovanni Bonanno and Aviere scelto fotografo Egisto Di Croce. The rest of the crew were taken POWs; Maggiore Mario Salvadori (an intelligence Officer from the Air force HQ aboard as a passenger), Capitano Giorgio Parodi (the Squadriglia’s CO) and Aviere scelto armiere Attilio Imparato. Bonanno was posthumously decorated with the Medaglia d’Oro al valor militare for this action because he helped his commander, who was wounded, to jump out of the falling plane, but after that he was unable to jump himself and died in the subsequent crash.
At Cuers Pierrefeu (attacked by the 150o Gruppo), the French reported that the Italian fighters attacked the parked Voughts of AB 3 and destroyed six of them. A section of three fighters of AC 3 had taken took off just minutes before the Italian attack. It was commanded by the Enseigne de Vaisseau Carmeille and included Second-Maitres Saint Vanne and Heff. The section had to patrol between Le Luc en Provence and St Raphael. Near the first locality it became involved in combat with 15 Italian fighters (possibly the 18o Gruppo). The section didn’t claim anything and didn’t suffer any losses even if, later, it was credited with two shared Italian fighters shot down. After this combat, the three pilots went on patrolling over Toulon.
Two other sections of AC 3 took off while the Italians arrived over Cuers. The section commanded by the Lieutenant de Vaisseau Ziegler (CO AC 3) was composed by the Second-Maitres Miramont and Briet. Gaining altitude over Cuers the section was attacked by the Italian fighters. Ziegler had his Bloch 151 (numbered AC3.1, serial number 77) seriously damaged and wounded, he was forced to crash-land at base with his left landing gear cut in half. Briet was rapidly in difficulties under the attack of the numerically superior Italians, with the ailerons damaged and the reservoir holed he disengaged, rejoining the first section over Toulon. Miramont engaged combat north-east of the airfield, over the hills of Hyères. His Bloch 151 (numbered AC3.3, serial number 69) was seriously damaged, but in the heat of the fight, he found himself 50 meters behind a Fiat CR.42 (Capitano Nino Caselli) and with a single burst of his four MAC guns he shot it down. Miramont was not able to continue the fight after this and had to land at Hyères.
The third section of AC 3 suffered worst. It was commanded by the Adjutant Chef Hourcade (a pilot of the Armée de l’Air attached to the Aéronautique Navale since 1939) (Bloch 151 AC3.15 serial 51) and included Soulimont (Bloch 151 AC3.8 serial 348) and Second-Maitre Le Bihan (Bloch 151 AC3.9 serial 37). A few second after the take-off, Hourcade was shot down and killed by the marauding Fiats; Soulimont engaged the Italians but was immediately put out of action and obliged to force-land with his aircraft riddled with bullets. Le Bihan received a burst of fire in the engine and five minutes after took-off had to land in the narrow of Rocbaron. Unfortunately, his plane hit a tree and burst into flames hitting the ground. He succeeded in extricate himself from the burning wreck, but died five hours later at the hospital. Some time later Le Bihan was credited with an aerial victory obtained by collision, but looking in the initial reports of this combat there is no trace of this victory.
It is interesting to note that all of Le Gloan’s claims were homologated by the CO of the Zone D’Opérations Aériennes Alpes (ZOAA). (“L’homologation” was the definitive confirmation of an aerial victory corroborated by evidences, was a recognition quite difficult to obtain in the French Air Force). The victories were credited as follows:
Fiat CR.42 individual, Ramatuelle.
Fiat CR.42 shared with Assolant, Saint-Amé bay of Pampelonne.
Fiat CR.42 individual, Beauvallon.
Fiat CR.42 individual , ferme des Termes near Le Luc.
Fiat BR.20, ferme du Moulin-Rouge near Vidauban.
That is not in complete accordance with the reconstruction above. It is also interesting to note that the victories claimed by AC 3 were apparently not homologated.

At 10:25 on 21 December 1940, 80 Squadron took off from Yanina for the front in Greece. They were led by Squadron Leader William Hickey and flew in three sections. The first comprised four aircraft and was led by Hickey, the second of three was led by Flight Lieutenant ’Pat’ Pattle and the third trio was led by Flying Officer Sidney Linnard.
Near Argyrokastron three enemy trimotor bombers were seen. They were identified as SM 79s, and then three more aircraft with twin tails were seen, recognized in this case as Fiat BR.20s. All six were in fact Cant Z.1007bis aircraft from the 47o Stormo B.T. from Grottaglie. The Italian bombers were attacked by the Gladiators and Pattle believed that he had hit one.
At this moment however 15 CR.42s of the 160o Gruppo appeared on the scene. Maggiore Oscar Molinari, the Gruppo commander, was leading these Italian aircraft on an offensive reconnaissance over Yannina, Paramythia and Zitsa. Seeing the bombers under attack by an estimated 20 Gladiators, the Italian attacked, joined by six other CR.42s from the 150o Gruppo led by Capitano Luigi Corsini so that 80 Squadron pilots assessed the number of their opponents at 54!
After 25 minutes, the air battle broke up and eight of the British pilots returned to claim eight confirmed and three probably destroyed CR.42s and one probably destroyed BR.20.
Pattle (Gladiator II N5832) again wrote a long narrative of this combat:

“At 10.40 hours on the 21st December, 1940. 10 Gladiators led by S/Ldr. Hickey took off from Yannina to do an offensive patrol in the area between Tepelini area and the coast. The formation flew in one section of four and two sections of three echelon right, at a height of 10,000 feet.
On approaching the patrol line just North of Agyrokastron a formation of three enemy bombers were sighted, dead ahead. The “tally ho” was given and the Squadron prepared to attack, No. 1 Section leading. While approaching the bombers I (leading No. 2 Section) searched for escort fighters and in doing so, I saw a formation of three BR.20’s approaching the port beam. As these were in the more favourable position for attack I turned my section towards them at same time continuing to search for fighters. I saw the escort dead astern of us and about 10,000 feet above. I sent a warning over the R/T. giving the position of the fighters and opening up to full throttle attempted to engage the bombers before the escort intercepted us.
My section approached the bombers from quarter ahead attacking in line astern with each aircraft following his attack through the beam to quarter astern before breaking away. I gave the bomber a good burst but did not notice any damage as it continued on its way maintaining formation.
By time the C.R.42’s had arrived on the scene and as they dived down to attack us I counted nine sections of three aircraft. The aircraft of each section were in echelon right. Behind them another formation of approximately equal size was coming up making fifty four in all.
The fight then became a general melee and although I tried to keep touch with the rest of the Gladiators it was impossible to do so as I was forced to continuous evasive action against repeated attack of the 42’s in quick succession.
After each attack the enemy would climb for height while another would dive down to attack. In this way I was unable to climb up to their height as continuous evasive action made climbing impossible. At time two of these would attack together and very violent evasive action was necessary to prevent being shot up. For fully five minutes I was kept on the defensive without being able to fire a shot in return. I then noticed another Gladiator at the same height being harassed by a 42 on his tail. In between evading attacks from 42’s above me, I manoeuvred into a position behind this E.A. and fired at point blank range. The E.A. climbed vertically upwards, stalled and spun into the foothills a few miles North of Agyrokastron.
Realising that I was ineffective unless I reached the height at which the enemy were circling, I wriggled out of the fight and climbed to 20,000 feet south of Agyrokastron. With the sun behind me I approached nine 42’s who were circling the town at approximately 18,000 feet. I could not see any Gladiators and the fight seemed to be over.
I singled out the nearest 42 as my target but unfortunately when still about 300 yards away the pilot saw me and dived for the ground. I gave him a quick burst but did not do any noticeable damage.
The E.A. must have been on the point of leaving as the remainder by this time were on their way towards Tepelini. I circled Argyrokastron for a further five minutes but could not see any other aircraft so returned to base landing at 11.50 hours. On landing I discovered that Sgt. Gregory had received a wound in the right eye and F/O. Linnard was hit in the left leg. S/Ldr. Hickey and F/O. Ripley did not return from this engagement.
The Squadron confirmed 8 definitely shot down and 3 probable. The Greek forward troops however reported 19 42’s and 2 Gladiators crashed in the area North of Argyrokastron.”
Pilot Officer William Vale (N5784) claimed three, one of them in flames (according to Pattle this was the fighter that shot down F/Lt Ripley). Vale’s own aircraft was riddled by explosive bullets during the combat. Vale reported:
“At 1050, ten Gladiators took off from Yannina on an offensive patrol, flying in three flights of four, three, and three aircraft. I was flying in No.3 in the third flight led by F/O Linnard.
On reaching the patrol line “Tally-ho!” was immediately given for three bombers seen going from west to east. The leading flight led by S/L Hickey immediately went into action. At the same moment three more bombers were seen approaching from our port beam. The leader of the second flight, F/L Pattle, immediately turned left and carried out a head-on attack, and my flight leader followed. I was able to get in a short burst before breaking away. On turning to follow, I observed a large formation of enemy C.R.42’s diving down from above. We immediately climbed to attack and a general dog fight started. I singled out one enemy aircraft who tried to dive away and dived down firing a burst at long range. He pulled up and I got in a full deflection shot from underneath and noticed flames coming from underneath his engine. The enemy aircraft went down out of control and finally hit the ground in flames. I then noticed a single Gladiator low down in a valley being attacked by five C.R.42’s. I dived down and engaged two of them and managed to get behind one and fire a long burst until it suddenly spun down out of control and crashed into the valley.
I was then attacked by more C.R.42’s who carried out frontal quarter attacks on me with the superior speed that could out-climb me. I carried out evasive action and noticed that the Gladiator below me was on fire and spinning down out of control
[this was Squadron Leader Hickey’s aircraft]. I dived down towards it and saw the pilot leave the aircraft and use his parachute. I was again fired at by a C.R.42 from above who carried out his attack and then headed away North. When I again looked down I saw the Gladiator in flames on the ground with the pilot going down in his parachute. At the same time I saw a C.R.42 dive on the pilot and twin streams coming from behind his aircraft. I dived down and managed to get in a surprise attack, as he pulled away from the parachutist. I got on his tail and fired a long burst from a single fuselage gun until he turned over out of control and went straight down to crash in the valley. As I pulled up another C.R.42 came down very close to my machine, out of control, and crashed quite near to the burning Gladiator. I gained altitude and saw another Gladiator circling above me, and as I was short of ammunition, I joined formation and found the other pilot to be F/S. Richens, who had shot the C.R.42, which went past me. I noticed the position of the crashed Gladiator in respect to Argyrokastron and then returned to base. On landing I inspected my aircraft and found that my lower and upper starboard mainplanes had been hit twice by explosive bullets One of which had entered the wing ammunition tank and had exploded inside but had done no apparent damage to the structure of the mainplane. The fuselage was hit in several places but with no structural damage.”
Flight Sergeant Sidney Richens (N5825) claimed one CR.42 and reported:
“On December, 1940, I was No.2 in second flight of squadron of ten Gladiators led by S/Ldr. Hickey. At approximately 11.00 hours F/L. Pattle saw three enemy bombers to the North and three more approaching us from the West and endeavoured to lead his flight, of which I was right man, in a head on attack against the latter. Accordingly to plan, we went line astern and turned into them. They frustrated us by turning slightly right so we were forced to make a line astern front quarter round to the rear quarter attack. The escort on which we had been keeping a watchful eye then attacked. The Fiats came down in batches and eventually I found myself at about 4,000 ft. with two more Gladiators about 2,000 ft. below. Approximately seven C.R.42s were milling around, I saw one Gladiator go down in flames the pilot baling out. I then managed to pull round inside a 42 that came in front of me in a climbing turn. I gave him a very long burst and he went down in a very slow spiral. P/O. Vale confirms the destruction of this aircraft. The E.A. were rapidly dispersing and as there were none in the vicinity I joined P/O. Vale and returned to base.”
Sergeant Charles Casbolt (N5817) claimed one CR.42 during the combat, which blew up and another, which spun down (later downgraded to a probable). Casbolt reported:
“On 21.12.40. a formation of ten Gladiators in three flights vic led by S/Ldr. Hickey, left Yannina to carry out an offensive patrol over the front.
I was flying No.3 in the second flight, led by F/Lt. Pattle.
As we arrived in the Agyrokastron area, two formations of three enemy aircraft were observed, one approaching from the West and one formation from the North.
As previously arranged we went into line astern, and F/Lt. Pattle lead in a head on attack at the three approaching from the West.
As we approached the enemy I observed the leading formation led by S/Ldr. Hickey heading for the other three bombers and also that the E.A. were escorted by about 27 C.R.42’s.
The E.A. turned slightly right as we approached, and the attack developed into a quarter ahead to quarter astern. I fired a long burst at close range but with no apparent effect.
I then followed my leader away and the Fiats came down in what appeared to be an undisciplined mass.
A Fiat then dived past me to attack my leader. I was able to get astern of him and at about 50 yards range fired a long burst, smoke appeared, and then the aircraft burst into flames, and dived steeply to earth.
The enemy aircraft the attacked singly, coming from above, but turning into them they were easily avoided and a position astern of them obtained as they dived past. On several occasions short bursts were fired in this manner at a range of about 300 yards.
One on occasion a Fiat appeared in front of me pointing vertically upwards and almost stalled, I fired a long burst with very little deflection closing rapidly to about 50 yards, the enemy went into a spin and was last seen spinning, and leaving a long trail of black smoke about 3,000 feet below.
As I left the scene of action I noticed three Fiats still circling at about 20,000 feet.”
The second probably destroyed CR.42 was claimed by Flying Officer Waldo Barker Price-Owen:
“On the 21.12.40 ten Gladiators took off from Yannina at 10.30 hours to carry out an offensive patrol.
I was flying No.4 in the leading flight of 4 Gladiators. After about 30 minutes when over the Argyrokastron area I sighted three bombers dead ahead some 6 or 7 miles away. We went into line astern and carried out a beam attack on the nearest bomber. This did not seem to effect it very much. In the meantime the other two flights of Gladiators were attacking three more bombers some two miles away on our port quarter, when they in turn were attacked by about 50 C.R.42s. We left the three bombers who were now heading towards Albania and went to the assistance of the other Gladiators, who were now dog fighting with the CR.42s.
I attacked a CR42, firing several long bursts into it from about 100 yards range. It ceased taking evasive action, turned slowly over and went down in a spiral dive. I watched it go down about 3,000 feet but was then attacked by three or four more CR.42s, and consequently did not see it hit the ground, so I was unable to confirm it.
A hectic dog fight ensued with the other CR.42s. I was attacked from head on and quarter at the same time. As soon as I got anywhere near a 42s tail I was attacked by one or two others, and had to break it off to avoid their fire. I fired long bursts into most of them from somewhat awkward positions, they appeared more reluctant after this. I had now finished my ammunition so as soon as an opportunity arose I dived very steeply and returned to base.”
Sergeant Donald Gregory claimed another two, again one in flames, but his own aircraft was badly shot up with the engine and the undercarriage damaged by a series of frontal attacks from a CR.42s that had also wounded him in the right eye and was barely able to save himself. He however managed to return to Yannina and reported:
“I was flying in No.1 flight in No.3 position, after we had attacked a bomber formation of 3 B.R.20’s we broke away to find that Nos. 2 and 3 flights had already been attacked by escorting C.R.42’s. At this time there must have been two squadrons of 27 each attacking six Gladiators.
Diving down astern with my leader I observed a formation of three C.R.42 in vic diving towards the fight. I pulled up and trained my sights on the leader, as the range closed I put a long burst into the 42 until I had to put my nose down to go under the formation.
Turning round in a “stall turn” I observed the leader diving vertically whilst the remaining two had split, No.2 going up, No.3 down. As I had the advantage over the lower aircraft I decided to attack this first. He attempted to come up under me but as I was near to stalling, I had no difficulty in bringing my sight round to get in a deflection shot and then astern on him.
I followed him down, at the same time I observed the leading aircraft crash on a hill and burst into flames. This dive was very steep, so much so, that I very nearly hit the ground with the 42. When I pulled up sharply out of this dive the third 42 came past and then pulled up underneath me into such a position that we could both get in quick deflection shots.
This happened three times and each time we missed colliding by inches, so that after each attack I had to find him again, quite naturally this developed into a head on attack, the first of which I slid out of, but as the following attack was head on also I became rather worried and brought him into my sights, fired, ducked down behind my engine for cover, at the same time pulling back on the control column.
Immediately after this my right eye became warm and I found I had lost my sight in this eye. It took me some seconds to get used to this, as I would try to look towards the rear on the right side, but all I saw was the extensive damage to the centre section, starboard lower plane and a flying wire that had broken. I seem to remember at this point that he came at me from below and we had another deflection shot at each other, but as I had seen him so often in this position it may have stuck in my mind. However I do remember I decided that my position was desperate and I weighed up the ground that was to receive me below, then I was overcome by a wave of determination, possibly due to the fact that when I was hit and saw the blood I turned my oxygen on at full. I pulled up in a loop and rolled off the top into a tight turn back into the direction I had come from. I looked at my compass but it appeared blurred, although I could see the sun, I could not convince myself which direction to fly.
Diving down into the valley seemed to be the only means of escape. I was unable to look behind, as this brought on pain to my eye. At one period my sight was so blurred that I could not decide whether I was being chased by 42 or if it was anti-aircraft fire. Fortunately it was the latter. I discovered my position to be 10 miles north of Valona at 4,000 feet. As I could use only 1600 revs due to damage to rocker arm, causing excessive vibration, it took 40 minutes to return to base, where a landing was made under difficulties due to damage to eyesight and to undercarriage.”
Sergeant Gregory was recommended for an immediate DFM. The third probable was claimed by Flying Officer Frederick William Hosken (N5811). However Flight Lieutenant Henry Derek Ripley (RAF no. 70575) in N5854 was seen to be shot down in flames and killed, while Squadron Leader Hickey was spotted bailing out of N5816; sadly his parachute caught fire, and he died from injuries soon after reaching the ground. Greek troops recovered the bodies of both pilots. Of Hickey’s death, Pilot Officer Vale reported:
“The Gladiator was flat-spinning too. Suddenly the pilot hurled out of the cockpit like a black ant and the white burst of his parachute spreading in a puff … the parachute burst into flames and the sudden black smudge as its slow speed became a lightning streak of charred smoke and the black figure of the Gladiator pilot hurtling two thousand feet down to the black earth.”
Flying Officer Linnard’s aircraft (N5834) was also badly hit and he was hit in the left calf by an explosive bullet and was taken to hospital after landing at Yannina. Flight Lieutenant Pattle noted:
“Enemy fighters used a definite plan of attack. Attacking from superior height they maintained that height by attacking the Gladiators singly and in quick succession and climbing after each attack. The Gladiators, forced to evade, were unable to climb.”
In return the 160o Gruppo pilots claimed six Gladiators, two each by Maggiore Molinari and Tenente Edoardo Crainz (in CR.42 '394-7'), and one apiece by Tenente Eber Giudici (his aircraft was damaged by enemy fire) and Capitano Paolo Arcangeletti. Probables were claimed by Tenente Torquato Testerini, Sergente Maggiore Francesco Penna and Sergente Maggiore Domenico Tufano. The 150o Gruppo pilots claimed two more Gladiators when Capitano Luigi Corsini claimed one Gladiator and a probable while Sergente Maggiore Pongiluppi claimed one Gladiator; both pilots were from the 364a Squadriglia. The 47o Stormo gunners claimed one more and a probable. As in the case of the British fighters, actual Italian losses totalled only two aircraft, Tenente Mario Gaetano Carancini and Tenente Mario Frascadore of the 160o Gruppo being lost, while Maggiore Molinari was wounded in the right foot and force-landed near Tepelene in a dry river-bed with a damaged engine (it seems that the aircraft was written off).

Maresciallo Pongiluppi was killed on 24 July 1943. At the time he was serving in the 51o Stormo.

At the time of his death, Pongiluppi was credited with 1 biplane victory.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
  15/06/40 13:00- 1 ”Morane” (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Cuers area 364a Squadriglia
  15/06/40 13:00- 1 ”Morane” (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Cuers area 364a Squadriglia
  15/06/40 13:00- 1 ”Morane” (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Cuers area 364a Squadriglia
  15/06/40 13:00- 1 ”Morane” (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Cuers area 364a Squadriglia
1 21/12/40 11:00 1 Gladiator (b) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Argyrokastron area 364a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 1 and 4 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 1 and 4 shared destroyed.
(a) Claimed in combat with Bloch 151s from AC 3, which lost four aircraft and got two damaged.
(b) The fighters from the Regia Aeronautica claimed 8 and 4 probables while suffering 2 aircraft lost (2 pilot KIA) and 1 force-landed. The 80 Squadron claimed 8 and 3 probables while suffering 2 aircraft lost (2 pilots KIA) and 3 damaged.

Sources:
Fiat CR.32 Aces of the Spanish Civil War - Alfredo Logoluso, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-983-6
L’Aéronautique navale francaise de septembre 1939 à juin 1940 (Hors série Avions nr.1) - Lucien Morareau, January 1994 Le La Presse, Boulogne sur Mer, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
La campagne de France, les combars franco-italiens 10 juin-25 juin (Batailles Aeriennes nr. 11) - Matthieu Comas, January 2000 Le La Presse, Boulogne sur Mer, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Ministero della Difesa - Banca Dati sulle sepolture dei Caduti in Guerra
Additional information kindly provided by Alfredo Logoluso and Ludovico Slongo.




Last modified 16 January 2020