Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Sergente Maggiore Walter Ratticchieri

In October 1940 Walter Ratticchieri belonged to 393a Squadriglia of 160o Gruppo Autonomo C.T., which was equipped with Fiat CR.42s. The unit was at this time operating over Greece.

On 30 October five CR.42s from 393a Squadriglia led by the 160o Gruppo commander Tenente Colonello Fernando Zanni intercepted a pair of Greek Henschel Hs126s from 3 Mira as they were making for the lines. Sergente Maggiore Ratticchieri at once attacked and shot down one, while Tenente Colonello Zanni gained hits on the other before it escaped into cloud, obviously heavily damaged.
Both Greek aircraft were lost. The one flown by Hiposminagos Evangelos Yiannaris crashed near the village of Vassiliada, where the pilot was killed. This was the Elleniki Vassiliki Aeroporia's (Royal Hellenic Air Force's) first official casualty of the war. The other Henschel also failed to return and Anthyposminagos Lazaros Papamichael and Corporal Constantinos Gemenetris being posted missing, fate unknown.
Several of the Fiats were damaged by return fire from the Henschel gunners.

On 14 November the Greek army launched an offensive against the whole front, which quickly begun to crumble the Italian defence. To support this the Elleniki Vassiliki Aeroporia (Royal Hellenic Air Force) made a maximum effort. Blenheims, Potez 63s and Battles from 31, 32 and 33 Miras made frequent attacks on the northern and southern airfields at Koritza, and on Argyrokastron.
At 09.45 two Blenheims (a third having become stuck in the mud and failed to take off) and two Battles attacked the southern airfield at Koritza. Here the Italian defences claimed two Blenheims shot down, one by AA and one shot down by Tenente Torquato Testerini.
Sminagos Demetrios Papageorgiou's Blenheim disintegrated in mid-air as the result of a direct AA hit, but the other Blenheim, damaged by the same explosion and attacked by a reported three CR.42s, managed to release its bombs on target and get back to Larissa with a shattered tailplane and more than 100 bullet holes in the airframe. The gunner claimed one of the attackers shot down.
Other 393a Squadriglia pilots then saw the two Battles taking off from a nearby Greek forward airfield, and one of these was claimed shot down by Sergente Maggiore Ratticchieri. In fact the bomber regained its base at Kouklaina, having suffered severe damage. During these operations the Greeks claimed to have destroyed ten Italian aircraft on the ground and damaged many others; the actuality was more prosaic.

Soon after 14:00 on 15 November three Blenheim bombers from 30 Squadron set off to attack positions north-east of Koritza were the Greek Army had cut off Italian units and surrounded them. Flight Lieutenant Alfred Bocking led the Blenheims with Flight Lieutenant ‘Bob’ Davidson on his right side and Sergeant Child on the left. During the attack, CR.42s attacked the bombers and shot down Child’s L1120 in flames, killing the crew; 22-year-old Sergeant Eric Borlase Child (RAF no. 566516), 23-year-old Corporal Donald Stott (RAF no. 526089) and 24-year-old Sergeant John George Stewart (RAF no. 566189).
They had been attacked by CR.42s from the 393a Squadriglia and Sergente Maggiore Ratticchieri and Sergente Maggiore Domenico Tufano claimed two of the Blenheims shot down.

On 19 November 1940, 'B' Flight of 80 Squadron, which recently had arrived to Greece to reinforce the Greek fighter forces, flew up to Trikkala during the morning. After refueling, nine Gladiators took off at 14:10, led by three Greek PZL P.24s (23 Mira), for an offensive patrol over the Koritza area. Squadron Leader William Hickey led the Gladiators.
When they neared the Italian airfield at Koritza the PZLs were obliged to turn back due to their short range. The Gladiators flew over Koritza were Italian anti-aircraft opened up. Flight Lieutenant 'Pat' Pattle, who were leading the second section, sighted four Fiat CR.42s climbing towards them from the starboard beam.
It had been arranged beforehand that the Gladiators would not use their radiotelephones unless it was absolutely essential, because they had discovered in the desert that the CR.42s used a similar wavelength; by listening in to the Gladiators, the Italians received prior information of an attack. Pattle warned Hickey of the presence of the CR.42s simply by diving past the Commanding Officer's section and pointing his Gladiator towards the Italian aircraft. Hickey acknowledged that he understood by waggling his wing and Pattle withdrew to his position at the head of his section.
As Hickey’s section dived towards the four CR.42s, Pattle noticed a second group of two more CR.42s and took his section, consisting of Pilot Officer 'Heimar' Stuckey and Sergeant Charles Casbolt, to engage these. Pattle went for the leading CR.42, which attempted to evade the attack by diving steeply and slipping from side to side. Pattle followed, closing in rapidly, but he didn't fire until the CR.42 straightened out and thereby offered a steadier target. From 100 yards astern, he lined up the CR.42 in his sight and opened fire. The CR.42 steepened its dive; the pilot had apparently been hit, because he fell forward over the control column. Pattle pulled away, as the CR.42 went straight down to crash about two miles west of Koritza, bursting into flames on striking the ground. Stuckey, following close behind Pattle's Gladiator, smiled and gave a thumbs-up signal to Pattle signifying confirmation of the victory.
The two Gladiators, now completely alone, climbed up to 15,000 feet immediately over the airfield, and saw a dogfight in progress a few miles to the north. Heading in that direction, they were soon engaged by five CR.42s and two G.50s. One of the G.50s came at Pattle in a head-on attack, but broke away much too early, the tracers passing yards below the Gladiator. A CR.42 had a go next, but Pattle quickly snap-rolled, up and over the Italian aircraft, and came down perfectly in position fifty yards behind the CR.42. A short burst and the cockpit of the CR.42 became a mass of flames and it fell away burning furiously. After this combat he noticed that his air pressure were so low that he couldn't fire his guns and he soon returned to base.
Totally in this combat the British pilots claimed nine and two probables shot down. Apart from Pattle's two CR.42s, Stuckey claimed one G.50, which crashed, and one CR.42, Flight Lieutenant Greg Graham claimed one G.50 and one CR.42, Pilot Officer Samuel Cooper claimed one shared CR.42 with Pilot Officer William Vale, who also claimed one additional CR.42, Sergeant Charles Casbolt claimed one G.50 and finally Flying Officer Sidney Linnard claimed two CR.42s as probables.
Pilot Officer Stuckey was hit in the combat by CR.42s and wounded in the right shoulder and leg. He was saved from being finished off by Squadron Leader Hickey, who managed to driving away the CR.42s and then escort him back to Trikkala from where he would be dispatched to the Greek Red Cross hospital in Athens.
Pilot Officer Vale reported:

"Nine Gladiators and three PZLs took off from Trikkala in four flights of three aircraft to carry out an offensive patrol over Koritza. I was flying in the second flight as No.2 to F/Lt Pattle. We arrived over the area at approximately 1440 hours and after patrolling for about five minutes two CR42s were seen approaching our formation at 14,000 feet from starboard ahead. The signal for line astern was given by the flight leader, who immediately attacked the enemy aircraft, which broke formation. F/Lt Pattle engaged one CR42 and after a shot dogfight shot it down out of control, with smoke coming from the engine.
The other CR42 was engage by No.1 Flight. I tried to regain my flight but finally attached myself to two Gladiators in formation, which I found out to be No.1 Flight led by S/Ldr Hickey. We carried on the patrol at about 10,000 feet over Koritza, where we met fairly accurate AA fire. ‘Tally-ho!’ was then given when three CR42s in formation were seen at about 6,000 feet. The formation split up and I dived on a CR42 which was attempting to escape to the north. I carried out a quarter attack and then slid in to an astern position, which I held while the enemy pilot did evasive tactics. He then carried out a manoeuvre which appeared to be a downward roll and I noticed that smoke was coming from his engine. I carried on firing in short bursts until he went between two hills through a small cloud. I followed over the cloud but no enemy aircraft appeared and so I went below into the valley and saw wreckage in a copse – at the same time getting fired at by enemy troops.
I climbed up immediately and at 6,000 feet saw a shiny monoplane with radial engine diving down. I gave chase but was out-distanced and so gave up after firing a short burst at about 400 yards. I gained altitude and observed a Gladiator and a CR42 in a dogfight very low down over the hill, and also noticed that the enemy pilot was attempting to lead the Gladiator over a group of enemy ground forces. I waited until the Gladiator pilot had manoeuvred into an astern attack and then carried out a quarter attack. I noticed that first white smoke and then black was coming from the engine of the e/a before I opened fire. I carried out quarter attacks until the other Gladiator pilot pulled away and then slid into an astern attack.
I remained in that position until very low over the main road and then the CR42 turned over and slid into the side of a hill. The aircraft did not burst into flames. While pulling up I fired at the enemy ground troops. I gained altitude and waggled my wings for the other Gladiator pilot to join me and then found the other pilot was P/O Cooper, who had apparently run out of ammunition. I then set course for home and finally landed at Eleusis, where I refuelled, before proceeding to the base aerodrome. I inspected my aeroplane and found that I had one bullet hole in my tail plane, which had done no damage. In each encounter with CR42s I found that both pilots used the downward roll manoeuvre at high speed for evasive action."
80 Squadron had been involved in combat with Fiat CR.42s of 160o Gruppo Autonomo C.T., which were patrolling over this area, and with G.50bis from 24o Gruppo Autonomo C.T., which were escorting bombers in the same area.
In fact, when the British aircraft arrived over the front there were four CR.42s of the 160o Gruppo led by Tenente Torquato Testerini (CO 393a Squadriglia) and two G.50bis of the 24o Gruppo led by Tenente Attilio Meneghel (355a Squadriglia) in the air. The Fiat of Sergente Maggiore Natale Viola (363a Squadriglia) was attacked by a reportedly “20 Glosters and three PZL” and shot down, the pilot being killed while Meneghel attacked six Glosters alone before being shot down himself and killed. It is possible that Sergente Maggiore Viola was shot down by Flight Lieutenant Pattle.
From Koritza airfield, the eight remaining combat ready CR.42s of the 160o Gruppo were scrambled at 15:25 to help their comrades. They were led by Capitano Paolo Arcangeletti but were taken at disadvantage while climbing by the aggressive Glosters losing two more of their numbers when Maresciallo Giuseppe Salvadori (363a Squadriglia) and Sergente Maggiore Arturo Bonato (393a Squadriglia) were killed. Sergente Maggiore Ratticchieri was hit early in the fight and wounded in both legs being however able to return to base and land.
Totally three CR.42s (Viola, Salvadori and Bonato) and one G.50bis (Meneghel ) were lost and one CR.42 was damaged (Ratticchieri). Sergente Maggiore Luciano Tarantini claimed a Gladiator shot down, two more being claimed as probables, one by Capitano Paolo Arcangeletti, the other by a G.50bis pilot.

Ratticchieri ended the war with 3 biplane victories.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940              
1 30/10/40 1 Hs126 (a) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Greece 393a Squadriglia
2 14/11/40 1 Fairey Battle (b) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Koritza area 393a Squadriglia
3 15/11/40 1 Blenheim (c) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   NE Koritza 393a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 3 destroyed.
TOTAL: 3 destroyed.
(a) Italian pilots claimed one destroyed and one damaged Henschel Hs126. 3 Mira lost two aircraft when one Hs126 flown by Hiposminagos Evangelos Yiannaris crashed near the village of Vassiliada, where the pilot was killed and the other Hs126 also failed to return with Anthyposminagos Lazaros Papamichael and Corporal Constantinos Gemenetris being posted missing, fate unknown.
(b) Claimed in combat with Battles from 33 Mira. The Greek aircraft returned to base severely damaged.
(c) Claimed in combat with Blenheims from 30 Squadron. Two were claimed but only one was lost when Sergeant E. B. Child's L1120 went down in flames with the loss of the crew.

Sources:
Ace of Aces: M T StJ Pattle - E C R Baker, 1992 Crécy Books, Somerton, ISBN 0-947554-36-X
Air war for Yugoslavia, Greece and Crete - Christopher Shores, Brian Cull and Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-948817-07-0
Fiat CR.42 Aces of World War 2 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2009 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-427-5
Gladiator Ace: Bill 'Cherry' Vale, the RAF's forgotten fighter ace - Brian Cull with Ludovico Slongo and Håkan Gustavsson, 2010 Haynes Publishing, ISBN 978-1-84425-657-0
Hurricanes over the sands: Part One - Michel Lavigne and James F. Edwards, 2003 Lavigne Aviation Publications, Victoriaville, ISBN 2-9806879-2-8
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission




Last modified 11 October 2010