Tenente Alvaro Querci
Alvaro Querci was born on 5 October 1917.
On 30 December 1940, he was commissioned (in Servizio Permanente Effettivo).
On 12 July 1940, the 9o Gruppo C.T. arrived at Tripoli from Comiso with 33 Fiat CR.42s under the command of Maggiore Ernesto Botto. The Gruppo consisted of 73a, 96a and 97a Squadriglie.
The 73a Squadriglia included Tenente Vittorio Pezzè (CO), Tenente Valerio De Campo, Tenente Giulio Reiner, Tenente Pietro Bonfatti (assigned in the end of July), Sottotenente Giuseppe Oblach, Sottotenente Carlo Battaglia, Sottotenente Querci, Maresciallo Mario Ruffilli, Maresciallo Alberto Montanari, Maresciallo Norino Renzi, Maresciallo Corrado Ranieri, Sergente Maggiore Guglielmo Biffani, Sergente Maggiore Enrico Dallari, Sergente Maggiore Sergio Stauble, Sergente Maggiore Antonio Valle, Sergente Santo Gino, Sergente Lido Poli, Sergente Pasquale Rossi, Sergente Mario Guerci (still in training) and Sergente Armando Matacena (still in training).
Together with the 10o Gruppo they formed the 4o Stormo C.T.
The Gruppo’s Fiat CR.42s was wisely retrofitted with tropical kits for guns and engines, to avoid the problems suffered by the other Gruppi.
After a period of acclimatization at Benghasi-Berka “K” airfield the whole Gruppo was called to front line duty on 7 August.
The next day the 73a Squadriglia arrived at El Adem T3 airfield, while Botto still was in Benghasi with the rest of the Gruppo.
At 17:00 on 8 August, Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli (CO of the 10o Gruppo) took off from El Adem T3 airfield with 15 other aircraft from the 9o and 10o Gruppi to patrol along the Egyptian border and to give indirect cover to five SM 79 bombers and a single reconnaissance Ro.37, which were out to patrol the same area. The five SM 79s were a formation from the 44a Squadriglia, 35o Gruppo, led by Capitano Giuseppe Pagliacci, which were out to bomb enemy vehicles and aircraft in the Bir El Chreigat area.
Participating pilots were Romagnoli, Capitano Giuseppe D’Agostinis (CO 91a Squadriglia), Tenente Enzo Martissa (91a Squadriglia), Sergente Aldo Rosa (91a Squadriglia), Tenente Giovanni Guiducci (CO 90a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Angelo Savini (90a Squadriglia), Capitano Luigi Monti (CO 84aSquadriglia), Tenente Vittorio Pezzè (CO 73a Squadriglia), Tenente Valerio De Campo (73a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Carlo Battaglia (73a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Querci (73a Squadriglia), Maresciallo Norino Renzi (73a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Enrico Dallari (73a Squadriglia), Sergente Antonio Valle (73a Squadriglia), Sergente Santo Gino (73a Squadriglia) and Sergente Lido Poli (73a Squadriglia).
Immediately after take-off, Romagnoli started to climb, keeping the sun in the back. At 2500 meters over Gabr Saleh (around 65 kilometres south-east of El Adem and 35 kilometres east of Bir El Gobi, well inside the Italian territory) when the Italian formation was still climbing, Tenente Pezzè saw two formations of Gloster Gladiators higher and, after giving the alarm to the gruppo commander, tried to attack the enemy fighters frontally and from below.
Then, completely unseen by Pezzè and the other Italian pilots a third formation of Glosters attacked the 73a Squadriglia formation from above (the surviving Italian pilots estimated that each British formation was nine planes strong so, after the combat, they assessed that they fought against 27 enemy fighters for fifteen minutes).
The Gloster Gladiators were from 80 Squadron (‘C’ Flight had arrived at Sidi Barrani during the day, led by the commanding officer, Squadron Leader ‘Paddy’ Dunn). At 17:40, 14 Gladiators from the Squadron flew an offensive patrol in the neighbourhood of El Gobi since it had been reported by observers that large formations of CR.42s had been patrolling a triangle between El Adem, Sidi Omar and El Gobi fairly regularly twice a day at about 07:00 and 18:15 and it was decided to attempt to destroy a portion of this patrol. The mission had been suggested by Squadron Leader Dunn to the HQ as a reprisal and to re-establish “the moral superiority already gained previously by other Squadrons” after the gruelling engagement on 4 August. Tactics had been carefully discussed by Dunn and his Flight Commanders on the agreed assumption that if the engagement could be controlled for the initial two minutes, a decided advantage would be with the side in control. To do this, it was arranged (as it was expected to be seen as soon as, or even before being able to see the Italians) that a Sub-Flight of the formation (Sub-Flight one) should fly low (at 8,000 feet) and slightly in front to act as bait. These three Gladiators were flown (after that lots had been drawn) by Dunn (leader) (Gladiator K8009), Flying Officer Peter Wykeham-Barnes (K7916) and Pilot Officer 'Heimar' Stuckey (K8022). The rest of the formation, divided in three Sub-Flights of three fighters with an independent aircraft between the lower Sub-Flights, would be stepped at 10,000, 12,000 and 14,000 feet. The independent machine was that of Flight Sergeant Trevor Martin Vaughan (K7903), who attacked with Sub-Flight one. It seems that Pilot Officer Anthony Hugh Cholmeley flew a fourteenth Gladiator but that he was forced to turn back early, probably with engine problems.
Sub-Flight two included Flight Lieutenant Ralph Evers-Swindell (leader) (L8010), Flying Officer Wanklyn Flower (K8011) and Flying Officer P. T. Dowding (K7912). Sub-Flight three included Pilot Officer Harold Sykes (leader) (K8003), Sergeant Donald Gregory (K8051) and Flying Officer Sidney Linnard (K8017). Sub-Flight four at 14,000 feet included Flight Lieutenant 'Pat' Pattle (leader) (K7971), Flying Officer Greg Graham (L8008) and Flight Sergeant Sidney Richens (K7892). The plan was for Sub-Flight one to engage (or being engaged) by the Italians, do what it could until Sub-Flights two, three and four would be ordered to enter the combat on seeing the trend, the overall control being given to Sub-Flight four. All formations flew in a broad vic and it was the first time that the 80 Squadron operated at full operational strength.
Just after 18:00, the Squadron crossed the frontier south of Sidi Omar, and immediately changed course to head north towards Bir Taieb el Esem. At 18:25, as they were approaching Bir el Gobi, a formation of CR.42 flying in echelons was spotted by Flight Lieutenant Pattle. The Fiats were flying approximately parallel but reciprocal to the course of the British formation and they were at 2 o’clock and slightly (500 feet) below the lower Sub-Flight. With a careful turning on the right, ordered by radio, Pattle put the 80 Squadron’s formation behind the Italian one, up-sun and between it and its base at El Adem, then a full boast and throttle stern chase began to catch up with the fast cruising (in fact climbing) Italian fighters. Pilots in the lower Sub-Flights now began to see their opponents, dead ahead and lower. The ideal attack position! Squadron Leader Dunn counted 18 of them in four formations of seven, five, three and three; he was very close to the truth but later Sub-Flight four reported that an additional Italian formation of nine planes was present and it was incorrectly assessed that the Italians were 27, flying in nine sections of three aircraft. After an unobserved astern chase Sub-Flight one engaged the starboard flank of three aircraft and shot down all of them (they were probably part of the 73a Squadriglia). Squadron Leader Dunn later reported:
“(…) I followed my first target down, who rolled over slowly on to his back with smoke coming out: Observed P/O. Stuckey’s (No. 3 on my left) quarry in much the same condition and gave him a burst of my own, then pulled up and across the rear of the formation of 18 that was beginning to peel-off.”Flying Officer Stuckey experienced a very successful combat:
“(…) our C.O. led the first Flight and attacked the right hand enemy flight.The third CR.42 of the section probably fell victim to Flight Sergeant Trevor Martin Vaughan. Flying Officer Peter Wykeham-Barnes confirmed the shooting down of all three Italian CR.42s of the section. Wykeham-Barnes seems to have claimed the first Italian aircraft, witnessed by Flight Lieutenant Evers-Swindell.
I was No. 3 of the C.O.’s Flight and managed to get in a long burst with full deflection as my opposite aircraft stall turned out of his formation. (later the C.O. said that he followed this aircraft down giving it bursts and saw it crash.
Immediately after I attacked No. 3 aircraft of the farthest flight and gave it a short burst before that flight broke up as well.”
“(…) A C.R.42 did a steep diving turn away from his formation and I was easily able to give him a full deflection shot for about 8 seconds, he continued in a dive with smoke issuing from him but as the formation of 18 was approaching around about me with advantage of number and height, it was impossible to pursue him. I claimed it definitely shot down and consider it to be one of the five observed on the ground by Sub 4 before entering. Then followed a long period of loose play in which numerous targets offered themselves.In the end, Dunn was credited with two confirmed victories and 1 probable and reported that the Sub-Flight gained five confirmed victories and two unconfirmed.
At the same time large numbers of enemy aircraft attacked me, chiefly from straight ahead and beam but not driving home determinedly. In one of them I throttled back and stall turned on the attacker’s tail before he was quite past me, he then rolled on to his back and dived down in the second half of a loop. I followed and gave this aircraft what I thought was an effective burst with the result that he did not recover and continued down with bluish smoke issuing from him.
The other flights had by now entered and attacked their opponents, and the number of enemy aircraft thinned down. Two or three enemy aircraft were still about ; I pulled up steeply to avoid one in particular who was dangerously near to my tail, having chased me down in the dive from the port quarter. In the ensuing black-out I have little knowledge of what he did but at the top of what was the first half of something like a rocket loop, I found myself going in the opposite direction with the aircraft climbing rapidly past me on my left and below, he then appeared ahead of me and did a slow roll, unfortunately, I was too surprised and failed to get him in my sight, whereupon he half rolled and dived out; another stall turn brought me on his tail, but he did a rapid dive, turned to the left and streamed off like a homing rabbit - next stop El Adem.
I engaged one more enemy aircraft but my guns failed to fire (after 300 rounds approx.) I tried to clear them but was only able to get one more short burst. I left the fight, gained height at 12,000 feet and returned to witness a dog-fight between three aircraft two of which were Gladiators. I then set off home and picked up two other Gladiators.”
“I was then attacked from about 2 o’clock by the two flights that had already broken; I pulled away and down from them, and as I came up in a climbing turn saw a CR 42 following one of our Gladiators in a loop. While it was going up I gave it a long burst and saw it fall away and dive, the pilot jumped almost as soon as I attacked him. Another 42 came straight towards me while I was circling the parachute but I made a quick turn in the opposite direction and he passed just under my port wings. I then saw a 42 with a Gladiator on its’ tail and as I flew in on a beam attack the 42 flick rolled two or three times and continued doing so in a dive. I followed it all the way in a steep turn and dive giving a lot of short bursts and saw it crash. I was then at only about 3,000’ and when I had climbed to about 5,000’ joined in a dog-fight that ended when the 42 dived away and headed for Bir El Essem.”Form 541 of 80 Squadron ORB credited Stuckey only with a single confirmed victory, probably his first victim was credited to his Commanding Officer who finished it off while of the last biplane he saw hitting the ground he wrote “(…) seen to crash but believed hit before I attacked it”. However, it seems that he later was credited with two destroyed and one probable.
“(…) I saw the leading formation attack the right hand formation of 9 E.A: so I put my sub flight into line astern expecting the E.A. to break up which they did as soon the first machine was shot down by No.2 of the leading formation. I led my sub flight into the centre formation of nine E.A. which by then were scattered all over the sky. I did a diving quarter attack on an E.A. up to about 50 feet, it turned over on its back and went down in a steep spiral. I was then attacked head on by another E.A. after this I looked down and saw the first one crash in flames. The pilot still in the cockpit. I managed to manoeuvre myself on to the tail of a third and after having given him a longish burst, saw him go down in the same way as the first, but was unable to follow him down as an explosive bullet took away one of my port flying wires and another burst on the starboard side of the instrument panel. I got in two more quick burst on two different E.A. but don’t think I did any damage. My engine then started to pour out smoke and soon afterwards cut out. I glided down in a series of steep turns and found no E.A. following. I looked round and saw nine a/c burning on the ground and one pilot coming down by parachute. I glided for about three miles and at about 200 feet the engine seized up I did not have time to inspect the engine so set the aircraft on fire (…).”Evers-Swindell was credited of two unconfirmed victories. Flying Officer Wanklyn Flower was able to claim a probable, he reported:
“(…) I picked out a CR 42 flying in left hand turn ahead of me. I dropped in behind and fired three long bursts at close range – I last saw the aircraft diving vertically downwards. At this moment another C.R 42 fired a burst into my machine damaging the engine. I got away from him and, as there were no more enemy machines in sight, made for home (…)”Flying Officer Dowding also claimed a probable:
“(…) Before we had reached them they had already been broken up before we joined amongst them.Pilot Officer Sykes led his Sub-Flight into the right flank of the Italian formation:
I then saw a CR.42 coming towards me on port beam, it pulled its nose up and did a half roll to the left. I got my sights on to it, as it started to pull its nose up, and followed it round as it did the half roll, giving it a longish burst. It went into a spin, and went down a long way until I lost sight of it.
When I looked again there was an aircraft burning on the ground at approximately the position where the one went down, but I cannot say for certain whether it was the same as the one I saw go down.
I also saw at least four other aircraft burning on the ground, and three people descending by parachutes (…)”
“(…) I was leading sub 3 flight and putting the flight into echelon right turned on to their right flank. The enemy aircraft suddenly reeled of from their echelon formation probably owing to the fact that the leading flight had come into firing range and had opened fire. A general dog fight then commenced, I engaged a CR.42 which commenced a steep climbing turn, I commenced firing at the beginning of the climb and continued until I saw him fall and commence a flay spiral. I saw fragments or splinters falling from the centre section or the cockpit and saw the aircraft drop about 4-5000 feet and then engaged another which I followed in a steep turn firing all the time. This enemy aircraft went into a spin suddenly and saw one of our own aircraft follow it down. There were no more enemy aircraft in sight. During the action I saw several parachute open and several aircraft burning. I landed back on our aerodrome at 1915. One aircraft in my flight was forced to return just before the action because all its guns stopped.”Sykes was credited with two unconfirmed victories. The returning aircraft was flown by Sergeant Gregory, who had had tested his gun before the attack, but found them all jammed and had been forced to withdraw. Flying Officer Linnard was more successful:
“(…) We were given R/T instructions by the top flight to enter the fight.Linnard was credited with two confirmed victories.
I slipped under my leader to the left and found myself in a mass of milling aircraft. I went to attack a CR.42 which was on a Gladiator’s tail when another CR.42 passed in front of me. I gave him deflection burst and got on to his tail – he pulled up in a loop. I followed him around giving him bursts and when he was upside down in the loop he baled out dropping past me, his parachute opening just below me. My range would be about 50 yards or less. I got on to another CR.42 and practically the same thing happened as before except that I did not get him and my engine cut as I was following him in the loop when I was in the vertical position. I saw the enemy aircraft diving past me but I was so close to him that he could not fire at me. I pushed my nose down and got my engine started and then saw a CR.42 diving down on me from vertically above but he did not hit me. I then saw a CR.42 practically head-on. I gave him a burst at very close range. The enemy aircraft turned over to the right on its back and went into a flat spin. I was at about 4,000 feet at this time. I watched the aircraft spin for about 1000 feet and then heard gunfire which I thought was from behind but there were no enemy aircraft within range of me. I then looked for the spinning aircraft but all I saw was an aircraft in flames on the ground beneath me. Another CR.42 dived past going very fast. I gave him a quick burst and saw some black smoke coming from him, but he kept straight on diving as fast as he could go towards Bir-el-Gobi. I did not follow him down. I then turned back towards where the fight had been but saw only one aircraft a Gladiator (P/O. Stuckey). We hung around a bit and then made for home. I caught up with F/Lt. Pattle and F/O. Graham and returned with them. I landed at 1910. I sustained no damage to self or aircraft except for one Fabric panel torn out.
I saw altogether 6 aircraft burning on ground and 4 parachutes dropping.”
“(…) I saw no’s 2 and 3 sections engage and before I brought my section into the fight I saw five crashed aircraft on the ground , three of which were in flames.Pattle’s two claims were confirmed by Flying Officer Graham, who claimed one victory (later downgraded to a probable). Flight Sergeant Richens claimed one probable while confirming Graham’s claim.
My own section then engaged those E.A. who were attempting to reach their own base and immediately became engaged in separate combats.
I engaged a CR 42 and, after a short skirmish, get into position immediately behind him. On firing two short bursts at about 50 yards range the E.A. fell into a spin and burst into flames on striking the ground. The pilot did not abandon his aircraft.
I then attacked 3 E.A. immediately below me. This action was indecisive as after a few minutes they broke away by diving vertically for the ground and pulling out at very low altitude.
Whilst searching for other E.A. I saw two more aircraft crash and burst into flames. Owing to the widespread area and the number of aircraft engaged it was impossible to confirm what types of aircraft were involved in these crashes or who shot them down.
The sky seemed clear of 42s’ although several Gladiators were still in the vicinity. I was about to turn for our base when a 42 attacked me from below. With the advantage of height I dived astern of him and after a short burst he spun into the ground into flames. As before the pilot didn’t abandon his aircraft. Flying Officer Graham confirms both my combats which ended decisively.
Seeing no further sign of Enemy Aircraft over the area, I turned towards our base. On my way home F/O Graham and P/O Linnard joined me in formation and my section landed at 19.10 hrs.”
“(…) set the aircraft on fire. First removing the water bottle and Very pistol. I walked for three hours away from the sun and then lay down to sleep. I slept till about 01.00 hours finding dense fog and myself wet through. I then dug a hole in some soft sand and buried my self. There I stayed till daylight. At about 06.30 next morning when the fog started to lift I started to walk into the sun until 15.00hrs. when I saw three armoured cars on the horizon. I fired three very light cartridges, the next thing I remember I was lying in the shade of the armoured car the crew told me I was about five miles from the wire.”He had been picked up by three armoured cars of the 11th Hussars.
Martissa, who was initially missing, had force-landed his CR.42 with a hundred bullet holes in it, only 15 kilometres from El Adem. The wounded pilot claimed the individual destruction of two Gladiators (not confirmed in the official documents of his unit but later credited to him by post-war studies). In fact, Martissa was awarded with a third Medaglia d’argento al valor militare (in as many months) for this action. The official motivation of the award stated that he: ”shared in the destruction of five enemy planes together with other pilots”. He survived his ordeal by drinking dewdrops at dawn but after two days, he was becoming to expect the worst. One of the bullets, which had hit his aircraft, had pierced the griffin's head of Squadriglia's badge on the port wheel cover and Martissa wrote with a knife on the white background disc of the badge:
“You, little griffin, have been struck in the head. I would have suffered less if I had been likewise! I'm not mortally wounded, but I shall pass away, since I can't walk for 10-20 km to reach a track. And it will be by hunger and thirst.”Martissa was found on 10 August by the XXII Compagnia Bersaglieri Motociclisti, led by Tenente Domenico Raspini, which was patrolling 80 km south of Tobruk. Raspini recalled:
"We saw an aircraft in the desert. We approached and found Tenente Martissa under a wing, with a leg almost torn off by an explosive bullet from a British fighter. We rescued him. He told us that if we didn't come [to save him], he'd shoot himself in the head with his gun, because he was dying of thirst.
We rescued the pilot and left the aircraft."
The Fiat CR.42 flown by Martissa (MM4306) was recovered and, in September 1940, assigned to the 84a Squadriglia of the 10o Gruppo as “84-4”.
Tenente Guiducci was also awarded with a Medaglia d’argento al Valor militare for this combat.
The Italians totally lost four aircraft while four more force-landed (it seems that all were later recovered). In return the Italian pilots claimed five Gladiators (three shared amongst the pilots of 10o Gruppo and two shared by the surviving 73a Squadriglia pilots) and two probables (the 90a Squadriglia’s Diary reported six victories). Remembering the combat for the press, the Italian leader (obviously Maggiore Romagnoli) recalled that even if the attack of the Gladiators was possibly the deadliest he had ever seen, the reaction of his pilots was ”miraculously immediate”. He had just heard the first bullets whistling around him when his right wingman already was breaking with a zoom. Then he saw in his gunsight, the belly of a Gladiator and shot this down (most likely Flight Sergeant Vaughan, who had overshot during the first bounce).
For this exploit, 80 Squadron received the Press honours as well as written congratulations from the RAF HQ Middle East. Dunn and his pilots had exploited the strong points of the Gladiator over the CR.42 to the maximum extent especially the radio equipment, which had permitted a coordinated attack, being also crucial for obtaining the initial surprise and the Gladiators superior low altitude overall performances.
During the combat, the Gladiator demonstrated another interesting characteristic: a markedly superior horizontal manoeuvrability over its opponent. On regard of this point, it is interesting to report the impressions of Flying Officer Stuckey and Flying Officer Linnard.
“With trimming gear slightly back, found I could easily out manoeuvre a/c attacking from rear. No blacking out.”After this combat, morale, particularly among the 9o Gruppo’s pilots suffering their first African experiences, fell considerably. The 73a Squadriglia was considered the top gun unit of 4o Stormo, its pilots (notably among them Enrico Dallari, Renzi, Valerio De Campo and Vittorio Pezzè) were mostly part of the last Italian aerobatic team, which had performed with great success in Berlin Staaken on 23 June 1939, in honour of the returning Condor Legion’s pilots. However, this air battle demonstrated clearly, even in a pure biplane dogfight, that good tactics and sound flight discipline, enhanced by R/T communications were better than the pure aerobatic skill. However, despite this heavy beating, operations for the 9o Gruppo restarted the next day.
“No difficulty in keeping astern of enemy aircraft. Enemy invariably looped for evasive action.”
On 12 December, ten fighters from the 9o Gruppo under the command of Capitano Roberto Fassi were attacked by a Hurricane that damaged the CR.42 of Sottotenente Querci before escaping.
At 15:05 on 13 December, Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni again led a patrol with four CR.42s from the 97a Squadriglia (Tenente Ezio Viglione Borghese, Sergente Maggiore Raffaello Novelli and Sergente Alcide Leoni), eight from the 73a Squadriglia (Tenente Valerio De Campo, Tenente Pietro Bonfatti, Sottotenente Giuseppe Oblach, Sottotenente Querci, Sergente Maggiore Enrico Dallari, Sergente Maggiore Sergio Stauble, Sergente Maggiore Antonio Valle and Sergente Santo Gino) and eight from the 96a Squadriglia to make a ground strafing against a British convoy in the Sollum-Buq-Buq area. While returning one Hurricane was attacked and claimed damaged, apparently by a 73a Squadriglia pilot. They returned to T3 at 17:05 claiming nine armoured vehicles (five in flames and four damaged).
The Stormo was sent back to Italy on Christmas Day 1940 in order to commence its re-equipment with MC.200s.
On 4 April 1941 the 73a Squadriglia (Capitano Mario Pluda (CO), Tenente Pietro Bonfatti, Sottotenente Giuseppe Oblach, Sottotenente 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.
In July 1941, they re-equipped again with MC.202s.
On 27 September, the whole 9o Gruppo 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 Mario Pluda (CO), Capitano Carlo Ivaldi, Tenente Pietro Bonfatti, Sottotenente Giuseppe Oblach, Sottotenente Felice Bussolin, Sottotenente Querci, Sergente Maggiore Enrico Dallari, Sergente Santo Gino, Sergente Rossi, Sergente Mario Guerci, Sergente Maggiore Teresio Martinoli and Sergente Armando Angelini.
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 Mario Pluda, Sottotenente 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.
In the afternoon on 21 November eighteen MC.202 from the 9o Gruppo were out to strafe Hal Far. On their way they met four Hurricanes from 185 Squadron, which were engaged in a convoy patrol. The Italians reported meeting twelve Hurricanes and claimed five of these shot down into the sea, one each by Maggiore Antonio Larsimont, Sergente Raffaello Novelli, Maresciallo Rinaldo Damiani, Sottotenente Querci and Sergente Maggiore Pasquale Rossi, plus two probables by Sottotenente Pietro Bonfatti and Tenente Jacopo Frigerio. They then carried on completing their strafe, returning without loss.
One Hurricane was in fact lost, 20-year-old Flight Sergeant Richard Cousens (RAF no. 970365) being killed in Hurricane Z2813 “GL-L”.
On 22 November the 9o Gruppo’s 96a and 97a Squadriglie (eighteen fighters in all) were hurriedly ordered to transfer to Martuba, North Africa, to counter the British advance. The 73a Squadriglia remained at Comiso to perform photo reconnaissance missions over Malta.
On 23 November, Querci claimed a damaged Hurricane over the Sicilian Channel.
This was possibly a Hurricane from 126 Squadron. Five Hurricanes from this unit carried out a fighter-bomber raid on Comiso during the day. Flight Sergeant was brought down and he crash-landed Z2941/HA-D and was taken POW. His aircraft was salvaged by the Italians and stored in a hangar.
On 3 December the 73a flew to Udine to re-equip with brand new MC.202s.
They were joined by the 96a and 97a Squadriglie in the last days of December.
On 23 April 1942, the 9o Gruppo was back on Sicily and based at Sciacca, for a third tour against Malta.
On 29 April 1942, the new CO of 73a, Capitano Aldo Gon made an emergency landing near Agrigento after a mission over Malta during which his MC.202 was damaged and he was badly injured.
Temporarily command was taken over by Tenente Giuseppe Oblach.
In the afternoon on 4 May 1942, five Cant Z.1007bis from 211a Squadriglia, escorted by five 9o Gruppo MC.202s and ten Bf 109s, bomber Grand Harbour.
The Italians reported that three Spitfires attempted to attack the bombers, and that two of these were claimed shot down by Sottotenente Querci and Sergente Teresio Martinoli of 73a Squadriglia, one of which they believed crashed into the sea. They may have attacked Sergeant J. N. McConnell’s BR187/O, one of four 601 Squadron Spitfires which had taken off. McConnell crash-landed at Luqa after the radiator of his aircraft sustained damage – though reportedly following an attack by a Messerschmitt.
At 18.10 on 10 May 1942, five Z.1007bis again were out to attack Malta. The Italian bombers, which came from 50o Gruppo B.T., were escorted by twenty MC.202s from 4o Stormo and ten Re.2001s from 2o Gruppo (making their combat debut over Malta). Twenty Ju 87s of III/StG3 and Ju 88s followed the Italian aircraft with a large escort of Bf 109s.
At 17.40 ten Spitfires from 601 Squadron had been scrambled to intercept the incoming raid and these aircraft attacked the Italian aircraft.
In the ensuing melee, Squadron Leader Bisdee leading an attack on Tenente Domenico Robillotta’s 211a Squadriglia bomber (MM23417), which blew up, the wreckage crashing into a field near Kalkara; three of the crew were killed and one injured, whilst a fifth was seen to bale out and fall into Grand Harbour when his parachute failed to open properly. Sergeant Farfan claimed a second bomber as probably destroyed, and Sergeant Jim Innes damaged a third; one of these, MM23400, was hit hard and landed at Gela airfield with two members of the crew wounded, one dying later in hospital. One of the Macchis was shot down by Pilot Officer Wally Caldwell (BR344/4-H), in which Capitano Roberto Dagasso, commander of 97a Squadriglia lost his life. Two Re.2001s sustained combat damage but were able to return to Sicily. 601 Squadron suffered no losses despite claims by the Italian pilots for six enemy fighters shot down.
The Italian aircraft claimed six fighters, two probables and two damaged as well as one Beaufighter. Pilots of 4o Stormo claimed three, one by Sergente Teresio Martinoli, another by Tenente Mario Massa (identified as a Defiant!), the third (also identified as a Defiant) jointly by Sottotenente Querci (73a Squadriglia), Tenente Emanuele Annoni (96a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Leo Boselli (97a Squadriglia) and Sergente Maggiore Massimo Salvatore (97a Squadriglia). According to some sources is Capitano Dagasso also included in this shared. 2o Gruppo pilots claimed the remainder. Tenente Remo Cazzolli and Maresciallo Olindo Simionato each claimed one, while a third was shared by Capitano Roberto Fassi and Maresciallo Antonio Patriarca, the latter also claiming a probable; Tenente Carlo Seganti claimed the Beaufighter (probably a transit aircraft encountered over the sea) while two Spitfires were reported damaged by Capitano Salvatore Teja and Sergente Giuseppe Baraldi, and another pilot was awarded a probable.
On 11 May, Sottotenente Querci took temporarily commander of the 73a Squadriglia after that Tenente Giuseppe Oblach had to leave the command due to illness.
At 09:15 on 15 May 1942, three S.84bis of 4o Gruppo BT, escorted by 30 MC.202s of 4o Stormo CT, were out to attack barracks at St Paul’s Bay, Malta (probably Fort Cambell). A dozen Spitfires from 249 and 603 Squadron were scrambled and engaged the formation shortly after it had bombed. Flight Lieutenant N. W. Lee and from 249 Squadron each claimed damaged to one of the Savoias. The Italians reported that five Spitfires attacked over the target and Capitano Franco Lucchini claimed one shot down and one damaged. Other Spitfires then came in over Gozo, and three of these were claimed by Tenente Jacopo Frigerio, Tenente Ferruccio Zarini and Sergente Maggiore Mario Guerci; the latter and Sottotenente Querci also each claimed one probably destroyed. The two pilots from the 73a Squadriglia reported that they fired on two Spitfires, which dived towards the sea, leaving smoke trails. The two pilots were engaged in the battle, and they couldn’t follow the Spitfires until the end, so these were considered probably destroyed. None of the Spitfires were however seriously hit. Pilot Officer Lawrie Verrall of 249 Squadron shot down one MC.202, killing the 91a Squadriglia commander Capitano Alberto Argento (MM7813).
On 20 May, the 9o Gruppo, with 28 MC.202s, took off for a third tour of duty in North Africa. After a call in Pantelleria, they reached Castel Benito.
The following day, after intermediate landings at Tamet and Benghasi K3, they reached their new base at Martuba 4.
On 24 May, the 54 MC.202s of the 4o Stormo C, which had been operating over Malta, arrived at Martuba, led by Tenente Colonnello Armando François.
They joined 1o Stormo (CO Colonnello Alfredo Reglieri), forming a force of more than 100 MC.202s, the largest concentration of these fighters ever to be achieved in Libya.
Next day a Comando Caccia (Fighter Command) was established at Martuba under the 1o Stormo commander, to co-ordinate the activities of the four MC.202-equipped units:
6o Gruppo (1o Stormo); CO Maggiore Mario Larcher
17o Gruppo (1o Stormo); CO Maggiore Domenico Sciaudone
9o Gruppo (4o Stormo); CO Maggiore Antonio Larsimont Pergameni
10o Gruppo (4o Stormo); CO Maggiore Paolo Maddalena
The three squadriglie of the newly arrived 9o Gruppo were led by Sottotenente Querci (73a Squadriglia), Capitano Ezio Viglione Borghese (96a Squadriglia) and Sottotenente Jacopo Frigerio (97a Squadriglia), who would be replaced by Tenente Fernando Malvezzi on 1 June. The commanders of the three squadriglie of 10o Gruppo were Capitano Franco Lucchini (84a Squadriglia), Capitano Ranieri Piccolomini (90a Squadriglia) and Tenente Orlando Mandolini (91a Squadriglia).
On 29 May, Sergente Teresio Martinoli claimed a P-40 and Sottotenente Querci claimed a P-40 badly damaged over Acroma.
On 9 June, Sergente Teresio Martinoli claimed two P-40s and Sottotenente Querci claimed a P-40 destroyed and another one badly damaged over Bir Hacheim.
Querci claimed a P-40 southeast of Mersa Matruh on 29 June.
On 3 July, Sottotenente Querci and Sergente Teresio Martinoli claimed a shared probable P-40 over Il Imayid.
Querci was promoted to Tenente on the same day, 3 July 1942.
On 6 July, Capitano Luigi Mariotti temporarily took command over the 73a Squadriglia after Tenente Querci.
On 10 July, 12 MC.202s from the 9o Gruppo led by Maggiore Roberto Fassi escorted five CR.42s from the 50o Stormo out to attack enemy troops in the El Alamein area and 30km south of El Daba. The fighters were two from the 73a Squadriglia, four from the 96a Squadriglia and six from the 97a Squadriglia. In the target area they spotted three stepped up enemy formations with eight P-40s at 2,000 meters altitude protected by 10 Hurricanes and 6 Spitfires at 5,000 meters.
Capitano Luigi Mariotti attacked and claimed one P-40 while Tenente Querci and Maresciallo Rodolfo Stoppani (both from the 73a Squadriglia) claimed three shared damaged P-40s. The last duo couldn’t finish the attacks since they were attacked by more enemy fighters.
The combat last for 20 minutes and the pilots from the 9o Gruppo returned claiming six enemy aircraft; three P-40s and three Hurricanes. The claims were made by Mariotti, two by Capitano Fernando Malvezzi (97a Squadriglia) and one by Sottotenente Antonio Canfora (97a Squadriglia). The last two were claimed as shared by all the present pilots. Two more were claimed as probables. Five MC.202s are damaged but not seriously.
Following the Axis advance, the 9o Gruppo transferred to El Adem on 23 June, then to Sidi el Barrani two days later and finally to Fuka on 1 July.
During 1943, he took part in the defence of Sicily and Italy.
In the morning on 6 July, in spite of the intense activity and the losses of the previous days, a good number of Macchis from the 4o Stormo were combat ready. After some scrambles from the three airstrips without contact with the enemy, Capitano Luigi Giannella (CO of the 84a Squadriglia) together with five others pilots of the 84a and the 90a Squadriglie scrambled. One of the pilots had to return due to a failing engine but the remaining intercepted a formation of bombers, which they attacked. Capitano Giannella, Sottotenente Ugo Picchiottini and Sottotenente Francesco Palma (84a Squadriglia) together attacked a four-engined bomber and jointly claimed it probably shot down when they saw it leaving its formation streaming smoke. Another four-engined bomber was claimed as a probable shared victory by Tenente Fabio Clauser (90a Squadriglia) and Sergente Maggiore Giovanni Battista Ceoletta.
While the Italian fighters were up, the airstrip at S. Salvatore was attacked.
Later in the morning, Capitano Giulio Reiner scrambled from Finocchiara with five MC.202s and four MC.205s from the 73a and the 96a Squadriglie and intercepted an estimated 60 aircraft (two formations of four-engined bombers and one of Marauders) over Scordia escorted by many Spitfires and P-38s.
The Macchis attacked and Reiner, while firing on a damaged four-engined bomber, was hit in an oil pipe by return fire and he was forced to return to base. Tenente Querci claimed a four-engined bomber, Sottotenente Pier Ugo Gobbato (73a Squadriglia) and Sergente Ettore Chimeri (73a Squadriglia) damaged two others, while Sergente Teresio Martinoli and pilots of the 96a Squadriglia damaged two P-38s and two Spitfires.
When the Macchis from the 73a and 96a Squadriglie returned to base, it had been attacked by Marauders, which due to the strong wind fortunately hasn’t hit the centre of the airstrip at Finocchiara.
In the evening there was another scramble from Finocchiara and Tenente Querci, Sottotenente Bruno Paolazzi, Sottotenente Gabbato took off followed by Capitano Reiner, Tenente Vittorio Squarcia (73a Squadriglia) and Sergente Martinoli. The fighters, however didn’t make contact with any enemy bombers and Reiner, Martinoli and Squarcia were first to return and land. They have just landed when the airfield was attacked again and Reiner and Martinoli dived into a trench together with the ground crew with bombs exploding nearby. Reiner’s Macchi was hit by falling debris from the bombers and the engine was torn away while two more Macchis also were damaged. Squarci managed to land clear of danger. The three remaining pilots returned after a few minutes and Paolazzi and Gobbato landed in the area hit during the morning’s raid but managed to stay away from any damage to the airstrip. Querci, however, hit a bomb crater in speed while landing and his aircraft turned over. Gobbato and Paolazzi extracted the unconscious Querci from the wreck and he was taken to hospital.
Later in the war Querci served in the 96a Squadriglia.
Querci ended the war with 2 shared biplane victories and a total of 6.
During the war he was decorated with the Medaglia d’argento al valor militare and the Medaglia di bronzo al valor aeronautica.
|Kill no.||Date||Time||Number||Type||Result||Plane type||Serial no.||Locality||Unit|
|08/08/40||18:00-||1/8||Gladiator (a)||Shared destroyed||Fiat CR.42||Gabr Saleh area||73a Squadriglia|
|08/08/40||18:00-||1/8||Gladiator (a)||Shared destroyed||Fiat CR.42||Gabr Saleh area||73a Squadriglia|
|1||22/10/41||p.m.||1||Hurricane (b)||Destroyed||MC.202||St. Paul’s Island||73a Squadriglia|
|2||21/11/41||p.m.||1||Hurricane (c)||Destroyed||MC.202||off Malta||73a Squadriglia|
|23/11/41||1||Hurricane (d)||Damaged||MC.202||Sicilian Channel||73a Squadriglia|
|3||04/05/42||p.m.||1||Spitfire (e)||Destroyed||MC.202||Grand Harbour||73a Squadriglia|
|10/05/42||18:10-||1/4||’Defiant’ (f)||Shared destroyed||MC.202||Malta area||73a Squadriglia|
|15/05/42||09:15-||1||Spitfire (g)||Probable||MC.202||Gozo area||73a Squadriglia|
|4||09/06/42||1||P-40||Destroyed||MC.202||Bir Hacheim||73a Squadriglia|
|09/06/42||1||P-40||Damaged||MC.202||Bir Hacheim||73a Squadriglia|
|5||29/06/42||1||P-40||Destroyed||MC.202||SE Mersa Matruh||73a Squadriglia|
|03/07/42||½||P-40||Shared probable||MC.202||Il Imayid||73a Squadriglia|
|10/07/42||1||Enemy fighter||Shared destroyed||MC.202||El Alamein area||73a Squadriglia|
|10/07/42||1||Enemy fighter||Shared destroyed||MC.202||El Alamein area||73a Squadriglia|
|10/07/42||½||P-40||Shared damaged||MC.202||El Alamein area||73a Squadriglia|
|10/07/42||½||P-40||Shared damaged||MC.202||El Alamein area||73a Squadriglia|
|10/07/42||½||P-40||Shared damaged||MC.202||El Alamein area||73a Squadriglia|
|6||06/07/43||morning||1||Enemy bomber (h)||Destroyed||Scordia area||73a Squadriglia|
Biplane victories: 2 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 6 and 5 shared destroyed, 1 and 1 shared probably destroyed, 3 shared damaged.
(a) Claimed in combat with 80 Squadron, which lost 2 Gladiators and 1 pilot while claiming 14 and 6 probably destroyed. 9o and 10o Gruppi C.T. claimed 5 and 2 probably destroyed Gladiators while losing 4 CR.42s, 4 fighters force-landed (it seems that all were later recovered) and one pilot KIA.
(b) 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.
(c) Claimed in combat with four Hurricanes from 185 Squadron. 9o Gruppo claimed five Hurricanes and two probable without losses. 185 Squadron lost one Hurricane (Flight Sergeant Cousens killed) but didn’t claim any opponents.
(d) Possibly claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 126 Squadron, which didn’t suffer any losses to enemy fighters.
(e) Claimed in combat with 601 Squadron. 73a Squadriglia claimed two Spitfires while 601 Squadron lost one aircraft (Spitfire BR187/O) in a crash-landing. The pilot Sergeant J. N. McConnell was unharmed.
(f) Claimed in combat with Spitfires from 601 Squadron, which claimed one Italian fighter withour suffering any losses. The 4o Stormo and the 2o Gruppo claimed six fighters, two probables and two damaged for the loss of one MC.202.
(g) 4o Stormo claimed four Spitfires, 2 probables and one damaged. RAF didn’t suffer any losses in this combat.
(h) This claim can’t be verified with any American losses.
Ace of Aces: M T StJ Pattle - E C R Baker, 1992 Crécy Books, Somerton, ISBN 0-947554-36-X
Aces High - Christopher Shores and Clive Williams, 1994 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-00-0
Aces High Volume 2 - Christopher Shores, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-03-9
A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945: Volume Two – Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello with Russell Guest, Frank Olynyk & Winfried Bock, 2012 Grub Street, London, ISBN-13: 9781909166127
Annuario Ufficiale Delle Forze Armate Del Regno D’Italia Anno 1943. Part III Regia Aeronautica – 1943 Istituto Poligrafico Dello Stato, Roma
Desert Prelude: Early clashes June-November 1940 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2010 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-89450-52-4
Fighters over the Desert - Christopher Shores and Hans Ring, 1969 Neville Spearman Limited, London
GORIZIA ed il QUARTO STORMO
Gloster Gladiator - Alex Crawford, 2002 Mushroom Model Publications, ISBN 83-916327-0-9
Gloster Gladiator Home Page - Alexander Crawford.
Hurricanes over Tobruk - Brian Cull with Don Minterne, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-11-X
Hurricanes over Malta - Brian Cull and Frederick Galea, 2001 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-91-8
Le Giovani Aquile – Antonino Trizzino, 1972 Longanesi, Milano, (narration by Guglielmo Biffani at GORIZIA ed il QUARTO STORMO) kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Malta: The Hurricane Years 1940-41 - Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-89747-207-1
Malta: The Spitfire Year 1942 - Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia, 1991 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-948817-16-X
Quelli del Cavallino Rampante - Antonio Duma, 1981 Editore Dell'Ateneo, Roma
Spitfires over Malta – Brian Cull with Frederick Galea, 2005 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-904943-30-6
Storia Aeronautica Italiana
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
The Desert Air War 1939 – 1945 – Richard Townshend Bickers, 1991 Leo Cooper, London, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Additional information kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro and Ludovico Slongo