Sottotenente Annibale Ricotti
Annibale Ricotti was born on 2 January 1913.
On the last day of August 1940, the 151o Gruppo C.T. (366a, 367a and 368a Squadriglie) was ordered to move in Libya with 30 CR.42s as a reinforcement for the attack against Sidi Barrani.
The unit under the command of Maggiore Carlo Calosso was one of the first equipped with CR.42s in 1939 and was based in Caselle Torinese near Turin, with sections and Squadriglie detached in different airbases of North Italy for local defence duties.
They departed Caselle Torinese in the morning of 6 September and at 18:20 on 8 September, the whole Gruppo landed in Tripoli Castel Benito.
The 366a Squadriglia formation was composed of ten aircraft: Capitano Bernardino Serafini (CO), Tenente Mario Ferrero (the Gruppo Adjutant), Sottotenente Amedeo Guidi, Maresciallo Giulio Cesare, Sergente Maggiore Fiorenzo Milella, Sergente Maggiore Dino Carta, Sergente Maggiore Roberto Marchi, Sergente Maggiore Cesare Chiarmetta, Sergente Antonio Camerini, Sergente Eugenio Cicognani. Tenente Piero Veneziani and Maresciallo Giovanni Accorsi followed in the unit’s hack Caproni Ca.133 together with five ground personnel.
The formation of 367a Squadriglia comprised the Gruppo Commander Maggiore Carlo Calosso, the 368a Squadriglia’s pilot Sergente Piero Hosquet and nine other pilots for a total of eleven. Among them were Capitano Simeone Marsan (the CO), Tenente Irzio Bozzolan, Tenente Aldo Bonuti, Sergente Maggiore Gino Bogoni and Sergente Tolmino Zanarini. The Squadriglia’s other six pilots were Tenente Giuseppe Costantini, Maresciallo Bruno Castellani, Sergente Maggiore Rodolfo Benco, Sergente Maggiore Bruno Celotto, Sergente Renato Mingozzi and Sergente Maggiorino Soldati.
The 368a Squadriglia formation was composed of nine aircraft: Capitano Bruno Locatelli (CO), Tenente Giuseppe Zuffi, Sottotenente Furio Lauri, Sergente Maggiore Davide Colauzzi, Sergente Maggiore Ricotti, Sergente Maggiore Alvise Andrich, Sergente Stefano Fiore, Sergente Ottorino Ambrosi, Sergente Mario Turchi. Tenente Orfeo Paroli and Maresciallo Guido Paparatti followed in the Ca.133 of the Squadriglia (Paroli and Fiore were just transferred from 367a Squadriglia).
On 25 September the 151o Gruppo transferred from Benghazi to El Adem where it replaced the 9o Gruppo C.T.
On 18 September, over Benghazi, an enemy shadower was discovered at 12:20. A section from the 368a Squadriglia, 151o Gruppo (Tenente Giuseppe Zuffi, Sergente Maggiore Ricotti and Sergente Maggiore Alvise Andrich) were scrambled. The three pilots identified their opponent as a Blenheim and attacked. The British aircraft started to dive after some bursts from Zuffi and Ricotti. The bomber was followed down for a while by Ricotti and Andrich, who clearly had the impression that their opponent’s dive was final.
Meanwhile Zuffi remained at height and after some time discovered another Blenheim and attacked. The enemy dived to ground level and retreated in eastward direction, fighting back. After some time Zuffi was forced to end his attacks after running low on fuel. He returned to clam this Blenheim as a damaged after having spent 300 12,7mm rounds and 450 7,7 mm rounds.
Capitano Bruno Locatelli took a car and started in search of the shot down enemy aircraft but found nothing. When asking some Bedouins it transpired that the Blenheim was not shot down in the first attack but its dive was only an evasive manoeuvre, while the bomber damaged by Zuffi was probably the same aircraft.
In fact, a 113 Blenheim sent over Benghazi at 13:05 was chased by fighters and obliged to turn back without completing its mission with the check of the damage inflicted upon Benina the day before. The reconnaissance aircraft however was able to discover two ships in flame inside the city’s harbour. They were probably the freighters Nirvo and Cherso sunk the previous days even if it is not completely clear if they were victim of the Swordfishes or of some form of night bombing.
In the afternoon on 9 December, SM 79s were out to bomb British troops at the Sidi Barrani - Bir Enba area. They were to be escorted by 19 CR.42s of the 9o Gruppo led by Maggiore Ernesto Botto, which had taken off from El Adem at 14:55. The fighters included seven from the 73a Squadriglia (Tenente Valerio De Campo (CO), Tenente Giulio Reiner, Sottotenente Alvaro Querci, Sergente Maggiore Guglielmo Biffani, Sergente Maggiore Enrico Dallari, Sergente Maggiore Antonio Valle and Sergente Santo Gino) seven from the 97a Squadriglia (Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni (CO), Tenente Ezio Viglione Borghese, Sottotenente Riccardo Vaccari, Sergente Maggiore Otello Perotti, Sergente Maggiore Massimo Salvatore, Sergente Angelo Golino and Sergente Alcide Leoni) and four from the 96a Squadriglia (Tenente Aldo Gon and Sergente Giuseppe Tomasi together with two unknown pilots).
More Italian fighters were up to escort the bombers and at 15:10, Sergente Maggiore Fiorenzo Milella of the 366a, 151o Gruppo, attached to a formation of nine CR.42s of the 368a Squadriglia (Capitano Bruno Locatelli, Sergente Maggiore Davide Colauzzi, Sergente Ernesto De Bellis, Sottotenente Furio Lauri, Sergente Maggiore Ricotti, Tenente Orfeo Paroli, Sergente Piero Hosquet, Sergente Stefano Fiore, Sergente Ottorino Ambrosi) were out to escorted Italian bombers in the Bir Enba area.
The rendezvous with the bombers over A3 failed and after 20 minutes, the fighters of the 9o Gruppo arrived and together they proceeded towards the front on a free sweep. Three SM 79s were discovered and escorted for a while. Over Buq-Buq, a Hurricane strafing along the coastal road was discovered and the SM 79s were left to the 9o Gruppo while the CR.42s of the 151o Gruppo attacked the British fighter. The Hurricane was claimed shot down in flames and credited to the formation (but in fact only Locatelli, Lauri, Paroli and De Bellis fired their guns).
The 151a Gruppo fighters returned to base at 16:50.
Meanwhile the fighters from the 9o Gruppo continued and 30 km south of Bir Enba they spotted some Gladiators at a lower level and dived on them, but suddenly the CR.42s were jumped by a reported two Squadrons of Hurricanes or Spitfires, attacking respectively the 73a Squadriglia and the 96a Squadriglia with the 97a Squadriglia. A large dogfight started and after 20 minutes of combat many claims were submitted by the Italian pilots
Tenente Vaccari fought alone against four Hurricanes, claiming one destroyed (as a Spitfire) and damaging the others before his Fiat was hit in the fuel tank and in the engine. He crash-landed near Sollum, the aircraft turning over and caught fire; he was burned in the face and hands. Sergente Maggiore Salvatore claimed a Spitfire and several damaged before being wounded in his left arm. He managed however to return to base. Sergente Golino was hit in his back, but managed to claim his attacker before being compelled to evade and land at Amseat A3. Sergente Maggiore Biffani (Fiat CR.42 MM5599/73-9) claimed a Hurricane but was at the same shot down by his victim and was captured. He recalled:
"In the afternoon of 9 December we were flying between Mersa Matruh and Buq-Buq, when my wingman, Sottotenente Alvaro Querci, warned me that we had enemies behind us. I alerted Botto by shooting a burst [Note that the CR.42 had no radio during this period], then I realized they were near my tail, so I made a 180-degree turn and I saw them pass: they were three Hurricanes. I climbed almost vertically and saw the 73a Squadriglia in front, the three Hurricanes behind it and 96a and 97a Squadriglia behind them, all in a vertical line that went down to the ground. Then I discovered a Hurricane that was breaking off from the combat, clearly he had seen the other Italian fighters on its tail. I continued to climb, now I was the highest fighter of them all, then I dived down at full throttle [towards the escaping Hurricane]. I arrived near it and then I reduced speed and put the revolutions between 1850 and 2250 because otherwise I would had cut my propeller as happened to Gon and others, because the airscrew went out of gear and the round was fired when it passed in front of the gun (…) . When I closed to it, I opened fire. I aimed and saw the explosive bullets that exploded on the wing. Why didn’t anything happen? Was there no fuel at all? I fired at the other wing but it was the same, the bullets exploded but nothing happened. I fired into the engine, nothing happened. I saw the tracers very well, and after all, it wasn’t the first time I was shooting. At Gorizia I used to hit the target balloon with ten rounds only. In the meantime, I was losing speed and falling behind, O.K. Goodbye! It passed and turned towards me again -so I hadn’t caused any damage to it- , and I did the same. We found ourselves face to face at a distance of around 500-600 metres. I started firing and saw my tracers hitting it, then its wings lit up and in the same moment my plane caught fire, it was just an instant. My plane was severely damaged and while I was trying to land I saw the Hurricane that dived into the ground and exploded. I saw no parachute. I force-landed among British MTs and was immediately taken prisoner. I went back home after 63 months of POW!"Additional Hurricanes were claimed by Botto, Sergente Dallari, Sergente Valle and an unknown pilot of the 73a Squadriglia (it is possible that this was a shared claim). It seems possible that also Sergente Maggiore Perotti claimed a victory (this claim is disallowed in the 97a Squadriglia diary, who only credits him with some Spitfires damaged).
“The enemy engaged in dogfight. Claim one E a/c for certain (saw it hit the ground). Attacked two in tight vic and was at 200 yards point blank range and fell certain must have killed pilots. Got another good and point blank deflection shot at another. Closed from optimum to point blank range at first. Must (?) have shot down the first two but could not spare time to confirm. 3rd point blank deflection shot likely and fourth adversary saw it hit the ground (claim 1 confirmed and 2 others which I feel certain about but must go down as unconfirmed).”Flight Lieutenant Lapsley (he delivered a head-on attack) reported:
“The enemy fired back. 1 CR 42 shot down and seen to hit the ground without burning. Several other machines were shot at individually. They can out manoeuvre a Hurricane but one can get away and then come back.”Pilot Officer Mason (he was discovered during the approach and had to dogfight from the beginning) reported:
“The enemy tried to turn inside me. 1 CR 42 shot at short range from above into cockpit. Aircraft turned (unreadable) with sparks from it. Followed it down until attacked by others CR 42s. Using 15o flap climb (unreadable) but not quite equal to 42. Speed on level far superior. Possible when attacked from above to turn and deliver short head on burst.”Flight Lieutenant Wykeham-Barnes reported:
“The enemy dog fought, during dogfight damaged two enemy and sent one down out of control but could not see it crash as another was in my tail. The enemy fairly aggressive.”Flying Officer Patterson (he delivered a quarter attack from port side) reported:
“The enemy started a general dogfight. 1 CR 42 shot down and seen to burn out on the ground”.The 274 Squadron Hurricanes all had landed at 17:00.
Starting from 09:00 on 19 December, nine Hurricanes from 274 Squadron took off with fifteen minutes intervals during the morning. Then at least seven others took off for a second mission, this time taking off with 25 minutes intervals. Although explicitly ordered to keep clear of fighters they engaged CR.42s on two separate occasions during the day.
Second Lieutenant Talbot (P3721) claimed a confirmed victory over a CR.42. He was flying at 17,000 feet, 30 miles west of Bardia (Great Gambut) when at 13:05 he discovered two formations of six CR.42s stepped up to right and flying one mile to starboard. He approached unobserved and attacked a straggler of the formation. He reported:
“attacked by remainder of formation. 1 CR 42 spiralled down after attack and was later seen burning on the ground by Flying Officer Greenhill. CR 42s where on offensive patrol not escorting bombers.”Flying Officer Greenhill (P3822) reported the height of the Fiats (around 15,000 feet) and added:
“the CR 42s were 11 or 12 in a bunch (no formation). I delivered an attack from astern and the enemy immediately attacked, 1 CR 42 was badly damaged (probably shot down), 6 holes in own aircraft through main spar. Enemy a/c on offensive patrol showing determination. Holes in own aircraft about 303 size (1 e/a seen burning after engagement by 2nd Lieutenant Talbot).”They had met a formation from the 151o Gruppo, back in action after many days, out for an armed reconnaissance and to strafe targets of opportunity. The formation included four fighters from the 366a Squadriglia (Tenente Guglielmo Chiarini, Sottotenente Amedeo Guidi, Maresciallo Giulio Cesare and Sergente Maggiore Roberto Marchi), four from the 367a Squadriglia (Capitano Simeone Marsan (leading the sortie),Capitano Giuseppe Costantini, Sergente Maggiore Renato Mingozzi, and Sergente Tolmino Zanarini), three from the 368a Squadriglia (Capitano Bruno Locatelli, Sergente Maggiore Davide Colauzzi and Sergente Maggiore Ricotti) and a single fighter from the 70a Squadriglia (Tenente Gino Battaggion), which had taken off from N1 at 12:15. At 4,000 meters, south of Sidi Azeiz, six-seven British monoplanes (described as Spitfires and Hurricanes) attacked with height advantage. The Italian pilots reacted but many pilots (in particular those of the 366a Squadriglia) were unable to fire their guns because of stoppages caused by the insufficient maintenance of the previous days. Capitano Locatelli used 55 12,7mm and 90 7,7mm rounds of ammunition on two Hurricanes and in the end one fighter was claimed as probable and two-three shared damaged by the whole formation. The formation landed at Z1 at 14:15 and no losses were suffered but Fiat CR.42 MM4325 piloted by Sergente Maggiore Ricotti was damaged and landed unserviceable, having the tanks holed (in fact it was so badly damaged that it was written-off). Three more CR.42s were lightly damaged including Tenente Battaggion’s who claimed a damaged Hurricane in return. The 366a Squadriglia didn’t suffered combat damages but three out of four of its planes once on land were found u/s, two of them for excessive oil consumption and the other for the broken propeller speed regulator.
On 26 January, 274 Squadron had a field day. After an uneventful morning sortie, five Hurricanes took off in the afternoon for an offensive patrol from the Martuba-Mechili area to the coast. Pilots taking part were Flight Lieutenant Peter Wykeham-Barnes (P2638), Flying Officer Thomas Patterson (P3723), Flying Officer Ernest Mason (P3722), Flight Lieutenant J. D. Smith (V7477) and Pilot Officer Garland (V7484), which all took off at 13:45.
At about 15.10 when one mile south of Derna aerodrome, Flying Officer Patterson discovered a group of three Fiat G.50s 2000 feet below him that were ground strafing Commonwealth troops. The Italian aircraft were escorted by twelve CR.42s in four vic of three 8000 feet above them. Patterson was with Wykeham-Barnes, who reportedly drove off the escort while he attacked from astern, claiming two G.50s shot down and seen to burn out on ground and the third machine damaged by deflection shots (Wykeham-Barnes confirmed his victories).
In the meantime, Flying Officer Mason was flying alone at 6,000 feet, ten miles west of Martuba when he discovered seven CR.42s in two formations of five and two, ahead of him and at the same height. Mason attacked single handed, starting a general dogfight down to 2000 feet, which ended with himself claiming three CR.42s crashed into the ground without burning and confirmed by troops of 2/4 Battalion of the 19th Australian Brigade over whom the fight took place. In his C.F.R. Mason didn’t mention that he was shot down during the combat, however, in a letter to his parents he described the action in this way:
“I had a quick dogfight with them all round me. The first one I fired at went down and crashed without burning. The second and third each turned slowly over and dived straight in and exploded. All this was over in two or three minutes. By the time the third one was down the others had disappeared which was very fortunate as my motor cut and I had to force land (…) I landed next to a blazing CR 42 amidst crowds of wildly enthusiastic Australians (about 30 miles south-west of Gazala). Unfortunately the ground was very rough and I burst a tyre and went up on my nose, wrecking the poor old aircraft with which I had got all my victories.It seems possible that P3722 later was salvaged by the efficient recovery teams of the RAF because even if not more flown by 274 Squadron during February and March it is recorded as finally lost on El Adem on 22 April 1941 some days after that the Afrika Korps had invested that airbase.
After I force-landed I learnt that one of the CR42 pilots had tried to bale out but his parachute had not opened. So I had a look at him. He was about 200 yards from his still-blazing machine. I had got him in the right shoulder so he had not been able to open his chute. I went through his pockets and found a lot of interesting snapshots and a lot of letters. Before I left I covered him with his parachute and weighted it down with stones. I hitchhiked by road and air, back to the Squadron. When I arrived there I was accosted by several press representatives who made me pose for photographs.”
On 23 December 1941, he was commissioned (in Servizio Permanente Effettivo) and promoted to Sottotenente.
In 1943, he served in the 54o Stormo.
Ricotti ended the war with 1 victory, this one claimed while flying the Fiat CR.42.
|Kill no.||Date||Time||Number||Type||Result||Plane type||Serial no.||Locality||Unit|
|18/09/40||12:20-||1||Blenheim (a)||Shared damaged||Fiat CR.42||Benghazi area||368a Squadriglia|
|09/12/40||15:10-16:50||1/10||Hurricane (b)||Shared destroyed||Fiat CR.42||Buq-Buq||368a Squadriglia|
|19/12/40||12:15-14:15||1/11||Hurricane (c)||Shared probable||Fiat CR.42||MM4325||S Sidi Azeiz||368a Squadriglia|
|19/12/40||12:15-14:15||1/11||Hurricane (c)||Shared damaged||Fiat CR.42||MM4325||S Sidi Azeiz||368a Squadriglia|
|19/12/40||12:15-14:15||1/11||Hurricane (c)||Shared damaged||Fiat CR.42||MM4325||S Sidi Azeiz||368a Squadriglia|
|1||26/01/41||15:45-||1||Hurricane (d)||Destroyed||Fiat CR.42||30m SW Gazala||368a Squadriglia|
Aces High - Christopher Shores and Clive Williams, 1994 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-00-0
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
Desert Prelude: Operation Compass - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2011 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-61421-18-4
Hurricanes over Tobruk - Brian Cull with Don Minterne, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-11-X
Additional information kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.