Biplane fighter aces


Sottotenente Maurizio Nicolis di Robilant

26 September 1918 – 14 February 1942

Date Decoration Note
??/??/41 Medaglia d’argento al valor militare (1st) 1940-43
??/??/42 Medaglia d’argento al valor militare (2nd) 1940-43
??/??/43 Medaglia di bronzo al valor militare 1940-43
??/??/40 Croce di guerra al valor militare O.M.S.

Maurizio di Robilant was born on 26 September 1918 in Torino.

He served as a volunteer in Spain and was decorated for this.

Di Robilant served in the 363a Squadriglia of the 150o Gruppo during the Greek campaign. The unit was at this time equipped with Fiat CR.42s

On 15 November 1940, Sottotenente di Robilant, was sent off to escort a Ro.37 reconnaissance aircraft of the 72o Gruppo Autonomo O. A. While so engaged he encountered four Battles of 33 Mira, which just had attacked Koritza South airfield, and at once attacked these.
He shot down Battle B272 flown by Episminias Frangoulis Arnidis and B276 flown by Anthyposminagos Kondides. Both aircraft crashed in nearby mountains, with both pilots and one observer being killed. Di Robilant also seriously damaged Battle B274, flown by Sminagos Demetrius Pitsikas. The aircraft struggled back to base, however, where Pitsikas' observer, Anthyposminagos Aristofanes Papas, later succumbed to his severe leg wound.
Returning to base, di Robilant claimed all three shot down and received the press honors for this achievement.

On 30 December two Blenheim IVs from the Greek 32 Mira were lost, one failing to return from a sortie over the 2nd Army sector where it was intercepted by two CR.42s from 363a Squadriglia flown by Sottotenente di Robilant and Sergente Enrico Micheli, who reported that it fell near Valona.
Sminagos Cleanthes Hatziioannou and his crew were reported killed.

On 1 February 1942, while on a flight from Agedabia to Maraua aboard an SM.81 transport aircraft, Tenente Luigi 'Gigi' Caneppele of the 363a Squadriglia was killed when his aircraft crashed in a sandstorm near Benina. Caneppele was a pre-war Olympic glider pilot, who wore the glider pilot's badge of three stylised birds on his white flying suit throughout his time in the frontline, earning him the nickname Gigi Tre Osei ('Gigi Three Birds'). To preserve his memory one of his closest friends, Sottotenente Maurizio di Robilant, had a special badge painted on his Macchi fighter. It depicted a palm tree together with Caneppele's three birds, and featured the legend Gigi Tre Osei. From then on all the 150o Gruppo aircraft would display this badge. They still do.

On 14 February 1942, seven MC.202s of the 88a Squadriglia took off at 11:30, led by Maggiore Marco Larcher, to escort seven CR.42s of the 3o Gruppo and nine MC.200s of the 150o Gruppo (from the 364a and 365a Squadriglie) that were to attack enemy vehicles in the Bir Hacheim area. Six more MC.200s from the 363a Squadriglia, 150o Gruppo helped the Folgores in the escort duty. As usual, the Saettas were the close escort while the MC.202s were top cover.
Weather conditions gradually deteriorated so, over the target the couple of Macchis flying at superior height lost sight of the rest of the formation.
At 12:00, at the height of 2000m, a formation of around 20 P-40s that was trying to attack the other Italian aircraft was intercepted. Three victories were claimed by the pilots of the 88a Squadriglia (one by Tenente Gino Ramarini and two by Maresciallo Natalino Stabile), plus one probable (Maggiore Larcher) and ten damaged. Tenente Raffaele Giannuzzi-Savelli (MM7875) failed to return (KIA) while Sergente Maggiore Alfredo Bordin (MM7890) belly-landed reportedly with no fuel left. He was slightly wounded but the fighter was recovered. Maresciallo Stabile’s MM7784/88-10 had been damaged in combat and he made a belly-landing but the pilot was safe. Finally, a fourth MC.202 (MM7786) hit an aircraft on landing at Martuba and was damaged. The 88a Squadriglia landed back at 13:05 and had expended 1610 round of ammunition.
In the meantime, the six MC.200s of the close escort were having a very hard time. Sottotenente di Robilant and Sergente Bruno Dellai failed to return and two more pilots returned with their fighters damaged. To balance these losses, the 363a Squadriglia pilots could only claim to have damaged 15 Curtiss with the use of 2110 rounds.
The ground attack Macchis, which claimed to have hit 21 vehicles, leaving eight of them in flames, were reportedly not engaged by the enemy fighters but suffered many losses due to the AA fire. Tenente Armando Badessi (365a Squadriglia) was seen to parachute but was later reported as killed, Sergente Maggiore Mario Angeloni (364a Squadriglia) force-landed and later returned to base with his Macchi while a third Macchi (Maggiore Antonio Vizzotto, 150o Gruppo) was damaged. Additionally, a CR.42 was obliged to force-land and was later recovered.
The Italian formation had been attacked by ten Kittyhawks from 112 Squadron and eight from 3 RAAF Squadron. 112 Squadron reported that they scrambled with ten Kittyhawks led by Pilot Officer John Bartle together with eight aircraft of 3 RAAF Squadron to meet an approaching enemy formation. After flying to Tobruk, the Kittyhawks turned west over the Perimeter defences and climbed steadily until, over Acroma, 3 RAAF were at 8,000 ft with 112 Squadron slightly ahead and above, just below the cloud base at the ideal height for the Kittyhawk. At that moment they spotted about a dozen MC.200s and MC.202s in a loose vic formation 2,000 ft below. Pilot Officer Bartle warned the Australians who, however, were more interested in a formation of enemy bombers with a close escort flying lower than 2,000 ft. 112 Squadron concentrated on the fighters who by now were climbing to meet the attack. The Kitthawks dived into them all of the pilots from 112 Squadron made claims. Sergeant Burney, having dived through the Italian fighters found himself amongst enemy bombers and claimed one shot down (claimed as a Ba.65). His victim tried to evade but hit the ground and Burney strafed it. By the time he regained height aircraft were milling around everywhere. Sergeant Cordwell, in his first action, shot away about three-quarters of the wing of a Bf 109F, which spun out of control south-west of Acroma. Sergeant Drew claimed two MC.200s south-west of Acroma, one of which he saw hit the ground. "It was easy as breakfast in bed" he is quoted as saying. Pilot Officer Duke attacked a MC.200 south-west of Acoma, which was seen to spin and crash by Sergeant Evans. He also attacked a second MC.200 at ground level from dead astern and it flew into the ground and burst into flames 20m south-east of Gazala. This was shared with Sergeant Reid of 3 RAAF Squadron. The Italians defensive tactic when evading was to drop down to ground level in rolls and vertical dives. Sergeant Leu attacked a MC.200, which blew up and another which flew into the ground south-east of Gazala. Sergeant Simonsen certainly got a MC.200, which he saw spin down and he probably damaged another. Pilot Officer Dickinson made a stern attack on a MC.200, which was enveloped in a sheet of flames at 1,000 ft. Sergeant Christie claimed two MC.200 and one damaged south-west of Acroma when he dived and gave one Macchi a heavy burst so that the aircraft pulled up steeply and then spiralled and crashed, bursting into flames. He then dived on a second, which stalled, pouring out black smoke and going into a dive. He had a go at a third and probably damaged it but without any visible effect. Sergeant Evans also attacked a MC.200, which was seen to lose about two feet off its starboard wing. It dived away so steeply that it seemed doubtful whether the pilot could have pulled out. Pilot Officer Bartle gave a MC.200 a long burst, which sent it down out of control and damaged a Bf 109, which he chased all the way to Tmimi.
Claiming pilots from 112 Squadron were Pilot Officer Eric Dickinson (AK804) (1 MC.200 at 12:15), Pilot Officer Neville Duke (AK578/GA-V) (1 and 1 shared MC.200), Pilot Officer Bartle (AK700/GA-B) (1 probable MC.202 and 1 damaged Bf 109), Sergeant Rudolf Leu (AK781) (2 MC.200s), Sergeant Henry Burney (AK702) (1 Ba.65), Sergeant Roy Drew (AK653) (2 MC.200s), Sergeant R. E. Simonsen (AK682/GA-U) (1 MC.200 and 1 damaged MC.200), Sergeant Ron Christie (AK761) (2 MC.200s and 1 damaged MC.200), Sergeant W. E. G. Cordwell (AK630) (1 Bf 109F) and Sergeant R. B. Evans (AK637) (1 probable MC 200). 112 Squadron had taken off at 11:24 and landed again at 12:35, all claims were made south-west of Acroma.
3 RAAF Squadron reported that they scrambled at 11:45 and intercepted 32 enemy aircraft about 20 miles south-east of El Gazala at 12:00. They tried to attack the bombers but they spotted about six Bf 109s lurking close by. They wheeled round in time and in the ensuing dog-fight four enemy aircraft were destroyed and another damaged. Then, at last, they were able to concentrate on the enemy bombers. All Australians had landed again at 13:20.
Claiming pilots from 3 RAAF Squadron were Sergeant Walter Mailey (AK644) (2 Bf 109s and 1 damaged MC.200), Sergeant Brian Thompson (AK691) (1 shared MC.202), Flying Officer H. G. Pace (AK664) (1 shared MC.202 – with Sergeant Thompson), Sergeant Gordon White (AK605) (1 Bf 109 and 2 damaged Ju 87s), Flying Officer Peter Giddy (AK665) (2 MC.200s and 1 damaged MC.202), Sergeant F. B. Reid (AK689/CV-W) (1 and 1 shared MC.200 (with Pilot Officer Duke) and 1 damaged MC.200), Flying Officer Lou Spence (AK612) (1 Bf 109) and Flying Officer R. H. Gray (AK621) (1 damaged Bf 109).
Back at base, the Allied fighters reported that they engaged 32 enemy aircraft and totally they claimed 20 destroyed, 3 probables and 8 damaged without losses. Other Axis units were possibly involved in this combat since the Allied fighters made claims against Ba.65s and Ju 87s. The claims against Bf 109s were probably due to misidentification since no German fighter losses or claims are known for this date. Even if there was some overclaiming it seems that it was really a successful day for the Kittyhawks, which later christened it the “St. Valentine’s day massacre”. The success was helped by the use of RDF in one of the first documented cases in that part of the front, which directed the P-40s to intercept their quarries with height advantage. The Macchis and Fiats were also surprised because of the poor visibility due to bad weather.
Pilot Officer Duke of 112 Squadron recalled:

“Great Day. Best engagement yet. Got 16 Italian and Hun aircraft without a loss to ourselves. We intercepted some Macchi 200s and Breda 65s ground-strafing south-west of Acroma. Sighted them just as we came out of cloud at about 9,000 feet on our left. I was leading the left section and attacked ten Macchis just below us. Got on the tail of one straggling a bit and gave a long burst. He was hit around the engine and spun away. This was seen to crash by Sgt Evans.
A general dogfight started and I enjoyed myself more than I have ever done before. The cloud was just right and we dived down, had a squirt and climbed up into cloud again. 109 tactics! I finished up at ground level chasing a Macchi 200 with a chappie of 3 RAAF Squadron. After two or three attacks the Macchi crashed and burst into flames in an army camp where they had been strafing.”
Sottotenente Ugo Drago took part in the clash as section leader in the close escort formation of the 363a Squadriglia. He was able to shoot a Kittyhawk off the tail of Capitano Luigi Mariotti’s MC.200 and once back at base searched some sort of consolation claiming that the sacrifice of his Squadriglia avoided more losses to the ground attack units. In fact, this battle showed only as the old Saetta, notwithstanding the efforts of its pilots, at the beginning of 1942 was totally inadequate to tangle with its adversaries.

At the time of his death, di Robilant was credited with 3 biplane victories.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 15/11/40   1 Battle Destroyed (a) Fiat CR.42   Koritza area 363a Squadriglia
2 15/11/40   1 Battle Destroyed (a) Fiat CR.42   Koritza area 363a Squadriglia
3 15/11/40   1 Battle Destroyed (a) Fiat CR.42   Koritza area 363a Squadriglia
  30/12/40   1 Blenheim (b) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Valona area 363a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 3 and 1 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 3 and 1 shared destroyed.
(a) Claimed in combat with Fairey Battles of 33 Mira, who lost two aircraft; B272 (Episminias Frangoulis Arnidis and his observer KIA) and B276 ( pilot Anthyposminagos Kondides KIA). B274 was severly damaged (observer Anthyposminagos Aristofanes Papas DOW).
(b) Blenheim IV from 32 Mira shot down. Sminagos Cleanthes Hatziioannou and his crew were reported killed.

53o Stormo - Marco Mattioli, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-977-5
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
Air war for Yugoslavia, Greece and Crete - Christopher Shores, Brian Cull and Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-948817-07-0
Ali d'Africa - Michele Palermo and Ludovico Slongo, 2009 IBN Editore, ISBN 88-7565-060-8
Elenco Nominativo dei Militari dell’ A. M. Decorati al V. M. Durante it Periodo 1929 - 1945 2 Volume M - Z
Fiat CR.42 Aces of World War 2 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2009 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-427-5
Ministero della Difesa
Additional information kindly provided by Michele Palermo and Ludovico Slongo.

Last modified 16 March 2022