Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Sottotenente Vito Rinaldi

24 January 1917 – 11 March 1992

Rinaldi was born on 24 January 1917 and was from Cerignola, Foggia.

He enrolled the Regia Aeronautica as Allievo Sottufficiale Pilota di Complemento (Reserve Cadet Warrant Officer) on 1 June 1937 and was sent to the Enlistment Center at Pola.
He transfered to the Flight School of Lucca on 1 September 1937 and qualified to fly tourism aircraft with 1st degree civil licence on 9 February 1938.

He transferred to the Fighter School at Orvieto on 1 March 1939 and qualified as a military pilot with ministerial licence on 13 September 1938.
He was on the same date to the 2o Stormo Caccia at Benghazi (Cyrenaica).

The 13o Gruppo (77a, 78a and 82a Squadriglie) of the 2o Stormo C.T. 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 78a Squadriglia were: Capitano Giuseppe Dall’Aglio (CO), Tenente Ippolito Lalatta, Tenente Domenico Bevilacqua, Tenente Giovanni Beduz, Sottotenente Natale Cima, Sottotenente Italo Santavacca, Sottotenente Dario Magnabosco, Sergente Maggiore Giuseppe Frigo, Sergente Maggiore Salvatore Mechelli, Sergente Rovero Abbarchi, Sergente Cassio Poggi, Sergente Ernesto Taddia, Sergente Rinaldi, Sergente Marcello Della Rovere and Sergente Aldo Loioli. These pilots had twelve CR.42s (some still under assembly) and seven CR.32Qs (5 combat ready and the others already disassembled). The two types were both used at the beginning of the hostilities in patrol missions over Tripolitania (the last flight for the CR.32s was recorded on 17 June).

Rinaldi was later transferred to the 94a Squadriglia, 8o Gruppo.

Tenente Stefano Soprana (from the 90a Squadriglia) was assigned to command the Fighter School and Alarm Section of Castel Benito, Tripoli, on 3 September when the previous commander, Maggiore Travaglini, returned to Italy.
The school was equipped with a number of Fiat CR.32s, Fiat CR.42s and Fiat CR.30s two-seaters and had around fifteen cadets.
The school was later closed following a request from Soprana to Generale Francesco Pricolo (Commander in Chief of the Air Force) since Soprana thought that the pilots could be better trained in Italy without all the logistic problems of Castel Benito. The school closed and Soprano concentrated only on the Alarm Section, whose command he retained until the end of the year.
It is possible that Sergente Rinaldi was detached to this unit.

At sunset on 7 December, Sergente Rinaldi of the Nucleo Caccia Tripoli (Composite Fighter Group Tripoli) (although formally still part of the 93a Squadriglia, 8o Gruppo C.T.) was hurriedly scrambled when his airfield, Castel Benito, Tripoli, was attacked by enemy bombers. A lone CR.42 had already scrambled and was attacking the raiders that flew very low (no more than 800 metres). However there were problems starting Rinaldi’s aircraft and he kept on trying for ten minutes under the air attack before managing to take off (without wearing a parachute or goggles). After taking off he attacked an aircraft forcing it to drop its bombs prematurely. Despite several hits by defensive fire on his own aircraft, he kept attacking the enemy aircraft, which he correctly identified as a “Vickers Wellington” and left it only when he saw it losing height with the left engine burning. He then returned over his airfield and continued to attack a lone enemy aircraft for a short while because he soon finished his ammunition.
Finally, he returned and landed with the only light from the moon (he had no previous night-flying training on fighters). Back on ground, he was immediately surrounded by his comrades and superiors and complimented for his bravery.
He had been in combat with Wellingtons from 148 Squadrons on Malta and two aircraft from this unit were damaged during a double raid on Tripoli-Castel Benito during the night. Three Wellingtons of 148 Squadron were led by Squadron Leader A. Golding to attack coastal areas near Tripoli, while three more led by Squadron Leader P. S. Foss attacked Mellaha airfield, to the east of the city. A further five Wellingtons followed at 15 minutes intervals to bomb Castel Benito airfield in an attempt to prevent interceptors from taking off. However it seems that at least one CR.42 got into the air, attacking and damaging Foss’s aircraft, and wounding the rear gunner, Sergeant A. Hollingsworth; on return to Luqa, Malta, with starboard wing and tailplane damaged, the aircraft suffered a burst tyre and swung off the runway. Flying Officer P. W. de B. Forsyth’s ‘R’ (T2838) was also badly hit by the fighter and force-landed on return. They were apparently victims of Rinaldi and perhaps of the other CR.42 that took off before him.
The results of the bombing attacks were extremely good, especially considering the relatively small number of bombers involved. At Castel Benito, the SM 79s of the 60o Gruppo, 41o Stormo, had just landed back after a training flight over the Tarhùna bombing range when the British attack developed. Three SM 79s were hit by splinters and slightly damaged (RS), six more were damaged more seriously but still repairable in place (SRAM or Squadriglia) but three more S79s remained “RD” and three were completely destroyed. It seems that at last the first nine damaged planes were from the 60o Gruppo, but probably some of the other six were part of the resident 15o Stormo. The British bombers hit also two hangars full of Fiat fighters destroying a CR.30 (according with other sources it was a CR.42) and damaging (RS) nine CR.42s, two CR.32s and two G.50s, for a total of fifteen bombers and fourteen fighters put out of action definitely or momentarily. Moreover, the base suffered also one dead and seven wounded.
For this combat, he was decorated with the Medaglia d’argento al valor militare.

Subsequently he was transferred to a night fighter Gruppo in Sicily where he performed several strafing and night bombing missions against Malta airfields.

On the night of 13 September 1941 he scrambled from Gela after an alarm from the AA and was able to claim an enemy aircraft shot down in flames.
This claim can’t be verified with RAF losses.
For this combat he was decorated with the Medaglia di bronzo al valor militare.

The 171o Gruppo Caccia Notturna (Night Fighters) was officially formed on 1 October 1941 at Gela airfield (order no. 0052435), under the command of Maggiore Giovanni Buffa. Its duty was night intercept over Sicily and night interdiction on Malta airfields. Pilots assigned to the unit were Tenente De Angeli, Tenente Perozzi, Maresciallo Bertelli, Maresciallo Bolesani, Maresciallo Fornasari, Maresciallo Morittu, Maresciallo Campolo, Maresciallo Borselli, Maresciallo Migliavacca, Maresciallo Svanini, Maresciallo Rinaldi and Maresciallo Polato. These pilots were later joined by Tenente Pelliccioli, Sottotenente Lattanzi and Sergente Barbisoni.
The Gruppo was equipped with up to 17 CR.42s, of which no more than eight were efficient at the same time. However, only three were modified as night fighters (long exhaust tubes, underwing lamps, etc).

On 25 October, the 301a Squadriglia was formed (the 302a Squadriglia remained virtual), with Capitano Carlo Miani as CO from 19 November.

On 7 December he claimed a Blenheim between 03:10 - 04:10 at 3500 meters over Gela – Licata after a night scramble.
This aircraft was possibly claimed against Blenheims from 18 Squadron which attacked Catania on 8 December. No losses due to enemy aircraft reported, but two Blenheims were reported lost in a collision in bad weather over the target. One MC.200 of the 6o Gruppo was destroyed on the ground and three more slightly damaged.

On 17 December the 171o Gruppo was disbanded and its pilots and aircraft were passed to newly formed Sezioni Caccia Notturna at Palermo, Castelvetrano, Chinisia and Pantelleria.

On 1 January 1942 he was transferred to a night and day fighter Sezione.

On 10 August 1942 he was promoted to Sottotenente Pilota after a course at Regia Accademia Aeronautica in Caserta.

On 21 October 1942 he was decorated with the Deutsche Verdienstmedaillie Mit Schwerten by the Luftwaffe.

On 1 January 1943 he flew a convoy escort in a MC.200 between 11:00 – 13:00 at 4000 meters. During this mission he was involved in combat and claimed one enemy aircraft shot down.

Next day, 2 January, was a hectic day for Rinaldi. At 00:00 he made a night scramble in a CR.42 to 4000 meters but found nothing and landed again after 90 minutes.
Between 06:30 and 08:10 he took part in a ground attack sortie against enemy troops in a MC.200.
Between 10:00 – 12:00 he was involved in an air combat while flying an MC.200 at 4000 meters. During the combat three enemy aircraft were claimed as shared shot down.
Finally between 14:00 and 15:50 he flew a convoy escort in a MC.200 at 5000 meters.
In the evening, he ended the day with two short sorties in dual commando in a S.81 between 17:00 – 17:30 and 18:00 – 18:30.
Totally 8 hours in the air, in three different types of aircraft, in one day!

On 3 January he claimed two enemy aircraft during an air patrol in a MC.200 between 07:00 – 09:00 at 4000 meters.

At 00:30 on 4 January he made a night scrambled in a CR.42. He climbed to 3000 meters were he claimed a probable enemy aircraft before landing again at 02:20.

Totally during the first four days of January he flew for more than 24 hours (1450 minutes)!

Between 07:00 and 08:50 on 8 January he flew a convoy escort at 5000 meters in a MC.200. During the mission two enemy aircraft was claimed as shared.

Between 05:40 and 07:40 on 17 January he flew a convoy escort at 3500 meters in a MC.200. During the mission, he claimed one enemy aircraft shot down.

On 28 January he flew another convoy escort mission between 06:30 and 08:30 at 1500 meters in a MC.200. During the mission he claimed one enemy aircraft shot down.

It seems that Rinaldi operated in Greece during 1943. The only fighter unit of Comando Aeronautica Grecia in 1943 was the 385a Squadriglia Autonoma Caccia based at Araxos, and equipped with ten MC.200s and five G.50s, with a Sezione Intercettori with five CR.42s at Athens-Tatoi of over which Rinaldi held a temporarily command.
Officially, during the period 1 January to 8 September, five enemy aircraft were claimed shot down.

On 22 May he scrambled from Tatoi in a MC.200 at 13:20. At 2500 meters north of Milo he claimed a twin-engined enemy aircraft before returning to base and landing at 14:45.

On 2 July he scrambled from Tatoi in a MC.200 at 17:00. At 2000 meters, he claimed an enemy aircraft as a probable before returning to base and landing at 19:00.

During a convoy escort between 16:45 and 18:45 in a MC.200 on 21 July he claimed two shared enemy aircraft at 1000 meters.

During a patrol at 3000 meters on 22 July, he claimed two shared enemy aircraft while flying a MC.200.

On 4 September, he was sent on a special mission to Rome where he was surprised by the Italian Armistice on 8 September.

He escaped from Rome on 30 September and joined the Allied Command in Naples.

He was sent as Commander to the Bellavista detachment (an airfield in southern Italy used by the RAF) sorting under the 3rd RAF Air Base.

He retired after request on 1 September 1944.

Rinaldi ended the war with 2 biplane victories and a total of 9.
During the war he also claimed 9 shared victories. According to official papers he seems to have claimed 6 and 11 shared, which means that two of victories in the list bellow could be “shares”.
Totally he had flown 988 hours (of these were 547 hours combat missions and 373 hours by night).
He was qualified to fly the following fighters: CR.20, CR Asso, CR.32, CR.42, Breda Ba.65, Macchi MC.200, Macchi MC.202, Re.2000, Re.2001 and Macchi MC.205. He was qualified to fly the following tourism aircraft: Ca.100, Fn.109, SAIMAN 105 and Ba.25. He was qualified to fly the following German aircraft: Stuka, Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Fi156. He was qualified to fly the following multi-engine cargo aircraft: Caproni Ca.133 and Savoia Marchetti S.81.

Rinaldi passed away on 11 March 1992 after his last flight the day before.

I’ve only been able to verify 1 of Rinaldi’s claims. The other claims all comes from his own logbook, which however is signed by respectively commanding officer.
Any addition or comments are most welcome.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
1 07/12/40 18:30-20:00 1 Enemy aircraft (a) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Castel Benito area 94a Squadriglia
  1941                
2 13/09/41   1 Enemy aircraft (b) Destroyed        
3 07/12/41 03:10-04:10 1 Blenheim (c) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Gela-Licata 301a Squadriglia
  1943                
4 01/01/43 11:00-13:00 1 Enemy aircraft (d) Destroyed MC.200      
  02/01/43 10:00-12:00 1 Enemy aircraft (e) Shared destroyed MC.200      
  02/01/43 10:00-12:00 1 Enemy aircraft (e) Shared destroyed MC.200      
  02/01/43 10:00-12:00 1 Enemy aircraft (e) Shared destroyed MC.200      
5 03/01/43 07:00-09:00 1 Enemy aircraft (f) Destroyed MC.200      
6 03/01/43 07:00-09:00 1 Enemy aircraft (f) Destroyed MC.200      
  04/01/43 00:30-02:20 1 Enemy aircraft (g) Probable Fiat CR.42      
  08/01/43 07:00-08:50 1 Enemy aircraft (h) Shared destroyed MC.200      
  08/01/43 07:00-08:50 1 Enemy aircraft (h) Shared destroyed MC.200      
7 17/01/43 05:40-07:40 1 Enemy aircraft (i) Destroyed MC.200      
8 28/01/43 06:30-08:30 1 Enemy aircraft (j) Destroyed MC.200      
9 22/05/43 13:20-14:45 1 Enemy aircraft (k) Destroyed MC.200   N Milo 385a Squadriglia
  02/07/43 17:00-19:00 1 Enemy aircraft (l) Probable MC.200   Tatoi area 385a Squadriglia
  21/07/43 16:45-18:45 1 Enemy aircraft (m) Shared destroyed MC.200     385a Squadriglia
  21/07/43 16:45-18:45 1 Enemy aircraft (m) Shared destroyed MC.200     385a Squadriglia
  22/07/43   1 Enemy aircraft (n) Shared destroyed MC.200     385a Squadriglia
  22/07/43   1 Enemy aircraft (n) Shared destroyed MC.200     385a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 2 destroyed, 1 probable.
TOTAL: Temporarily 9 and 9 shared destroyed, 2 probables.
(a) Claimed in combat with Wellingtons from 148 Squadron, which suffered two damaged aircraft.
(b) This claim can’t be verified with RAF losses.
(c) Possibly claimed against Blenheims from 18 Squadron which attacked Catania on 8 December. No losses due to enemy aircraft reported. Only claimed in his logbook and not verified with official records.
(d) Only claimed in his logbook and not verified with official records.
(e) Only claimed in his logbook and not verified with official records.
(f) Only claimed in his logbook and not verified with official records.
(g) Only claimed in his logbook and not verified with official records.
(h) Only claimed in his logbook and not verified with official records.
(i) Only claimed in his logbook and not verified with official records.
(j) Only claimed in his logbook and not verified with official records.
(k) Only claimed in his logbook and not verified with official records.
(l) Only claimed in his logbook and not verified with official records.
(m) Only claimed in his logbook and not verified with official records.
(n) Only claimed in his logbook and not verified with official records.

Sources:
Desert Prelude: Operation Compass - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2011 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-61421-18-4
La Caccia Notturna Italiana 1940-1942 - Giancarlo Garello, 1996 Aerofan no. 57 (XIV) April-June 1996, Giorgio Apostolo Editore, Milan, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro.
La Caccia Notturna nella Regia Aeronautica (part I) - Umberto Postiglioni and Riccardo Rovere, 1977 Aerei, 7/8 (V) July-August 1977, Delta Editrice, Parma, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro.
Malta: The Hurricane Years 1940-41 - Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-89747-207-1
Additional information kindly provided by Andrea Angiolino, Stefano Lazzaro, Giovanni Massimello, Vanni Rinaldi and Ludvico Slongo.




Last modified 04 September 2016