Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Sergente Franco Porta

21 August 1918 - 29 June 1941

Franco Porta was born on 21 August 1918 in Milano.

In 1939, Porta served in the 17o Gruppo.

The 13o Gruppo (77a, 78a and 82a Squadriglie) was commanded by Maggiore Secondo Revetria and started the war based at Tripoli Castelbenito airfield with twenty-five CR.42s and eleven CR.32s on hand (the CR.32s, kept as a reserve, were later passed on to the 50o Stormo Assalto) to guard against a possible French attach from the west.
Pilots in the 82a Squadriglia were: Capitano Guglielmo Arrabito (CO), Tenente Guglielmo Chiarini (arrived from 53o Stormo on 9 June), Sottotenente Giuseppe Bottà, Sottotenente Virgilio Vanzan, Sottotenente Giuseppe Timolina, Sottotenente Gilberto Cerofolini, Sergente Maggiore Dante Davico, Sergente Renato Giansante, Sergente Porta, Sergente Francesco Nanin, Sergente Filippo Baldin, Sergente Riccardo Bonoli and Sergente Albino Falasco (arrived on 9 June).
Total strength of the Squadriglia was twelve CR.42s (three of them still under assembly), six CR.32quaters and one Breda Ba.25 for liaison. The CR.32s were used in patrol missions until 13 June.

On 18 September, the readiness section at Tmini M2 (Tenente Guglielmo Chiarini of the 82a Squadriglia, Sergente Maggiore Leone Basso of the 77a Squadriglia and Sergente Porta of the 82a Squadriglia) were flying to Gambut when they discovered a formation of nine Blenheims at 1500 metres, which was heading towards Tmini. The three CR 42s immediately started in pursuit but were only able to intercept the RAF bombers after that they had dropped their bombs over the airfield at 18:20.
The Blenheims were reportedly flying in three vics. The three aircraft in the first vic were the first to be attacked, Tenente Chiarini claimed the leader, Sergente Porta one of the wingmen while Sergente Maggiore Basso was machine-gunning the other. They then attacked the second vic, which split up and each Blenheim looking for safety on its own. In the meantime, the third vic remained manoeuvring in close formation and departed towards land while the remaining Blenheims tried to counter attack the CR.42s and were heavily machine-gunned. Now the three Italian pilots started in pursuit of the fleeing “vic”. Flying straight into the Blenheims (because whatever approaching manoeuvre would have meant loosing the chance of closing on the fast escaping enemy bombers), Chiarini ran in a shower of return fire and was wounded in the shoulder. He didn’t turn back immediately but when he realized the seriousness of his wound he had to leave the chase and return to home base but before leaving the combat zone he witnessed a fourth Blenheim machine gunned by Basso and very close to the sea with one engine smoking. Basso himself didn’t witnessed his opponent going down but estimated that it wouldn’t make it back because of the damage suffered, so he turned back home very low on fuel.
When the three Italian pilots landed, it was already dark but the light of the incendiary bombs released on the landing strip guided them. Once on the ground (in three damaged fighters) Chiarini claimed two bombers shot down (by him and Porta), one probable (Basso) and six heavily machine-gunned as shared. The final assessment of the outcome of the combat was made by the HQ of Va Squadra following the reports of land observers, the HQ fixed the number of enemy planes shot down to five; one each for Chiarini and Porta, two for Basso and a fifth shared. Considering the rather aggressive attitude of the Blenheims over Tmini it was assumed that they were “Bristol Blenheim Fighters”. For this action Chiarini, Basso and Porta all were decorated with the Medaglia d’argento al valor militare.
113 Squadron reported that they attacked at 19:20 with nine aircraft using 72 40lbs, 80 20lbs and 400 4lbs incendiary bombs. All the bombs where seen to fall within the target area except a single container of incendiary that overshot. Three Italian planes where observed in flames on the south side of the area and two where directly hit. A cement blockhouse was also hit and damaged. After the first run a reportedly 20 (!) CR.42s attacked the formation shooting down Blenheim Mk.IV T2048 in flames. Squadron Leader Gerald Barnard Keily DFC AFC baled out and was taken POW while the observer, 24-year-old Pilot Officer John Sisman Cleaver (RAF no. 78454) and the wireless operator/air gunner, 27-year-old Sergeant James Jobson (RAF no. 525052) were killed. 113 Squadron claimed to have destroyed one of their attackers and possibly a second. Two other Blenheims were unserviceable on landing but in fact not seriously damaged (possibly the rest of the first “vic”). Flight Lieutenant R. N. Bateson assumed temporarily command of the Squadron. It seems highly likely that Keily was shot down by Tenente Chiarini.

At 13:15 on 25 September, Sottotenente Gilberto Cerofolini, Sergente Porta and Sergente Luigi Giannotti of the 82a Squadriglia, 13o Gruppo, scrambled from Gambut to intercept returning enemy bombers that had just attacked Tobruk. The three pilots headed out over open sea and climbed to 4000 metres where they 20 minutes after take off spotted six enemy bombers heading east in two vics of three.
The British bombers tried to escape by diving but the Italian fighters caught up with the second vic. The two wingmen were attacked first, the left one was machine gunned and seen to hit the surface of the sea where the crash raised a high water column while the right one was seen to dive at sea level with the left engine on fire. Then it was the turn of the leader, which was heavily damaged and was last seen heading towards land with the aircraft trailing thick clouds of smoke.
The three pilots then continued to pursue the bombers of the first vic but when they were down at 500 metres they were unable to get closer and had to content themselves by emptying their guns from a distance without effect.
They returned to base with damaged fighters at 14:30. Back at base, it was assessed that the first two aircraft of the first “vic” were to be considered confirmed shot down and the third one probably shot down; all three credited as shared. Cerofolini, Porta and Giannotti had scrambled without lifejackets and followed their opponents 100 kilometres over open sea and back at base they were proposed for an immediate Medaglia d’argento al valor militare for bravery. For Porta this was the second time during the same week.
The Italian pilots had run across a wing formation of Bristol Blenheims, which had taken off at around 12:15 to attack Tobruk. It was composed by nine aircraft from 55 Squadron under Flight Lieutenant R. B. Cox that acted as Wing leader, nine aircraft from 113 Squadron led by Squadron Leader Bateson and nine from 211 Squadron led by Squadron Leader Gordon-Finlayson. The attack developed at 14:20 with the Blenheims arriving in subsequent vics. 55 Squadron’s bombs fell right across the town to the jetty. Further observation of damage inflicted became soon impossible due to high dust clouds rising. 113 Squadron’s crews reported direct hit on a barrack block. 55 Squadron escaped unscathed, landing back at 15:50 while 113 Squadron was intercepted by one flight of CR.42s during the return flight when 20 miles out to sea. An astern chase continued for 10 minutes, resulting in two aircraft being hit and landing at base unserviceable. It appears that also 211 Squadron’s aircraft were intercepted since Blenheim Mk.I L8523 of this unit crash-landed with the starboard engine on fire at Qasaba; Squadron Leader J. Gordon-Finlayson DFC, Sergeant Richmond and Sergeant Jones escaped uninjured. The aircraft was destroyed beyond repair. Gordon-Finlayson had just been promoted to command the Squadron, taking the place of Squadron Leader Bax.
The Regia Aeronautica suffered two dead and ten wounded during the attack on Tobruk town.

Porta was killed on 29 June 1941.

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

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
1 18/09/40 19:20- 1 Blenheim (a) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Tmini area 82a Squadriglia
  18/09/40 19:20- 1 Blenheim (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Tmini area 82a Squadriglia
  25/09/40 13:15-14:30 1/3 Blenheim (b) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Off Tobruk 82a Squadriglia
  25/09/40 13:15-14:30 1/3 Blenheim (b) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Off Tobruk 82a Squadriglia
  25/09/40 13:15-14:30 1/3 Blenheim (b) Shared probable Fiat CR.42   Off Tobruk 82a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 1 and 3 shared destroyed, 1 shared probably destroyed.
TOTAL: 1 and 3 shared destroyed, 1 shared probably destroyed.
(a) Claimed in combat with Blenheim Mk.IVs from 113 Squadron. Italian fighters claimed five but 113 Squadron only lost one aircraft when Blenheim Mk.IV T2048 was shot down in flames. Pilot Squadron Leader G. Keily was taken POW while the rest of the crew were KIA.
(b) Claimed in combat with Blenheims from 55, 113 and 211 Squadrons, which suffered one crash-landed (Blenheim L8523 from 211 Sq.) and two damaged bombers (from 113 Sq.).

Sources:
2o Stormo - Note storiche dal 1925 al 1975 - Gino Strada, 1975 USSMA, Rome, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Bristol Blenheim – Andrew Thomas, Warpaint Books, Luton, ISSN 1361-0369, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.
Diario Storico 82a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.
Fighters over the Desert - Christopher Shores and Hans Ring, 1969 Neville Spearman Limited, London
Il Savoia Marchetti S.M. 79 nel Secondo Conflitto Mondiale - Bombardamento Terrestre - Ricognizione Strategica - Aviazione Sahariana – Cesare Gori, 2003 USSMA, Rome, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.
L’8oGruppo caccia in due conflitti mondiali - Giuseppe Pesce, 1974 S.T.E.M. Mucchi, Modena, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.
L’aeronautica Italiana nella Seconda Guerra Mondiale I volume - Giuseppe Santoro, 1966 Second Edition, Editore Esse, Milano-Roma, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.

Ministero della Difesa
Stormi d'Italia - Giulio Lazzati, 1975 Mursia, Milan, ISBN 88-425-1946-4
The Bristol Blenheim: A complete history – Graham Warner, 2002 Crécy Publishing Limited, Manchester, ISBN 0-947554-92-0
Additional information kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro and Ludovico Slongo




Last modified 10 October 2011