Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Sergente Giuseppe Sanguettoli

On 16 December 1940, the 23o Gruppo (previously part of 3o Stormo but now Autonomo) with 20 Fiat CR.42s (70a, 74a and 75a Squadriglie) and three hack Caproni Ca.133s arrived in Tripoli to help trying steam Operation Compass, which was mauling the Italian forces. The Gruppo had experienced brief (and quite unlucky) action at the beginning of the war against France, and then it had moved to Sicily where they had seen extensive action against Malta.
They were led by their CO, Maggiore Tito Falconi (a famous aerobatic pilot that had held the world record in inverted flight going in a Caproni 113 biplane racer from St. Louis to Chicago in 1933 and a veteran of the Abyssinian Campaign where he had gained some ground victories and of the Spanish Civil War where he had claimed many (mostly shared) aerial victories) in a 70a Squadriglia fighter.
Pilots in the 70a Squadriglia were Tenente Claudio Solaro (acting CO), Tenente Gino Battaggion, Sottotenente Oscar Abello, Sergente Ubaldo Marziali, Sergente Balilla Albani, Sergente Maggiore Celso Zemella and Sergente Cesare Sironi.
Pilots in the 74a Squadriglia were Capitano Guido Bobba (CO and already credited with one over Spain and three individual and a probable Hurricanes over Malta, which made him one of the top scoring Italian pilots up to that moment), Tenente Mario Pinna, Sottotenente Sante Schiroli, Sergente Maggiore Raffaele Marzocca, Sergente Emilio Stefani, Sergente Sanguettoli and Sergente Manlio Tarantino.
Pilots in the 75a Squadriglia were Tenente Pietro Calistri (CO), Tenente Ezio Maria Monti, Sottotenente Giuseppe De Angelis, Sottotenente Renato Villa, Maresciallo Giovanni Carmello and Maresciallo Carlo Dentis.
The pilots in the Ca.133s were Tenente Marino Commissoli, Sergente Pardino Pardini (70a Squadriglia), Tenente Lorenzo Lorenzoni (74a Squadriglia), Tenente Milano Pausi, Sottotenente Leopoldo Marangoni (brother in law of Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli) and Sergente Leo Mannucci (75a Squadriglia)).
The Gruppo landed at Tripoli-Castel Benito at 17:15. Celso Zemella’s fighter was left behind at Pantelleria after an engine breakdown.

On 19 December, the 23o Gruppo moved to Z1 landing ground at Ain el Gazala.

The last Italian bombing mission of the day on 27 December 1940 was again against Sollum. Four SM 79s from the 41o Stormo under Tenente Colonnello D’Ippolito and four bombers from the 216a Squadriglia, 34o Stormo, led by Tenente Romanini took off from Tmini at 14:30.
They were escorted by fighters from the 23o Gruppo and 10o Gruppi. Maggiore Tito Falconi was at the head of the formation of the first unit, which also included Tenente Claudio Solaro, Sottotenente Oscar Abello and Sergente Ubaldo Marziali from the 70a Squadriglia, Tenente Mario Pinna, Sottotenente Milano Pausi and Sergente Sanguettoli from the 74a Squadriglia and Tenente Pietro Calistri, Tenente Ezio Maria Monti, Maresciallo Giovanni Carmello, Sergente Leo Mannucci and Sottotenente Leopoldo Marangoni from the 75a Squadriglia.
It seems that the bomber formation split and the 41o Stormo attacked British mechanized units in Halfaya and Gabr Bu Fares under heavy AA that damaged, although slightly, all the aircraft. The SM 79s of the 34o Stormo attacked ships in Sollum harbour and were intercepted by many Hurricanes. The SM 79s were totally unable to defend themselves because of icing on all the guns and one of them was shot down. This was Sottotenente Aldo Peterlini’s bomber and Peterlini was killed together with three of his crew (Sergente Maggiore Arturo Scagnetti (second pilot), Aviere Scelto Motorista Alcide Frizzera and Aviere Scelto Radiotelegrafista Gioacchino Scuderi). The other two members of the crew (Primo Aviere Armiere Ciancilla and Primo Aviere Montatore Fiore) where able to bale out. Tenente Pandolfi’s aircraft was riddled by enemy bullets (probably RD) while the other two SM 79s were less seriously damaged although suffering some wounded among their crews.
They had been intercepted by 33 Squadron which claimed three SM 79s and one probable and probably two CR.42s during offensive patrols performed by pairs of Hurricanes over Sollum. They also claimed one SM 79 and one CR.42 damaged. Vernon Woodward claimed one of the probable CR.42s and the damaged CR.42.
Falconi’s pilots recorded combat with many Hurricanes, one of which was claimed as probable by the 70a Squadriglia and six more were damaged. Tenente Solaro and Sottotenente Abello returned with damaged fighters. Solaro had been hit by AA fire and Sottotenente Abello by British fighters. Calistri and his men claimed a shared Hurricane and four more damaged. They landed back at 16:55. A shot down Hurricane was also recorded by the 74a Squadriglia, which also recorded a SM 79 shot down by AA fire.
The CR.42 escort from the 10o Gruppo was composed of seven fighters from the 90a Squadriglia (Tenente Giovanni Guiducci, Tenente Franco Lucchini, Sottotenente Alessandro Rusconi, Sottotenente Neri De Benedetti, Sergente Alfredo Sclavo, Sergente Bruno Bortoletti and Sergente Enrico Botti), six from the 84a Squadriglia (Capitano Luigi Monti, Tenente Antonio Angeloni, Sottotenente Bruno Devoto, Sergente Maggiore Salvatore Mechelli, Sergente Domenico Santonocito and Sergente Piero Buttazzi) and six from the 91a Squadriglia (Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli, Capitano Vincenzo Vanni, Sottotenente Andrea Dalla Pasqua, Sottotenente Orlando Mandolini, Sottotenente Ennio Grifoni and Sergente Elio Miotto). Tenente Guiducci reported that the heavy AA immediately hit one of the SM 79s, which was shot down. Then five monoplanes (Hurricanes and Spitfires(!)) tried to attack but were immediately counterattacked and one of them was shot down. Later, another attempt by a lone British fighter failed after the intervention of the Italian escort. The 90a Squadriglia pilots expanded 320 rounds of ammunition and it seems that in the end the victory was assigned to the whole formation as a Gruppo victory. It seems that it was the same aircraft claimed independently by the two Squadriglie of the 23o Gruppo.

On 2 January 1941, the 23o Gruppo recorded an escort mission to SM 79s bombing Sollum Harbour. The fighters took off at 14:45 and the participating pilots were Maggiore Tito Falconi, Tenente Claudio Solaro, Tenente Gino Battaggion, Tenente Marino Commissoli, Sergente Maggiore Balilla Albani and Sergente Ubaldo Marziali of the 70a Squadriglia, Tenente Mario Pinna, Tenente Lorenzo Lorenzoni, Sottotenente Sante Schiroli, Sottotenente Milano Pausi, Sergente Manlio Tarantino and Sergente Sanguettoli of the 74a Squadriglia and Tenente Pietro Calistri, Tenente Ezio Maria Monti, Sottotenente Renato Villa, Maresciallo Giovanni Carmello, Maresciallo Luigi Pasquetti and Sergente Leo Mannucci of 75a Squadriglia. Together with them were some CR.42s from the 10o Gruppo flown by Capitano Luigi Monti, Sottotenente Bruno Devoto, Sergente Domenico Santonocito, Sergente Piero Buttazzi, Sergente Corrado Patrizi and Sergente Mario Veronesi of the 84a Squadriglia, Tenente Giovanni Guiducci, Sottotenente Neri De Benedetti, Sergente Luigi Contarini and Sergente Alfredo Sclavo of the 90a Squadriglia and finally Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli, Capitano Vincenzo Vanni and Sergente Maggiore Lorenzo Migliorato of the 91a Squadriglia.
While coming back from the action Maggiore Falconi led his men in a strafing attack in the Capuzzo area, Tenente Pinna’s pilots claiming three armoured cars destroyed. Falconi’s CR.42 returned hit in many places by the AA reaction. All the fighters were back at 17:20.

At 15:00 on 3 January, Maggiore Tito Falconi led four CR.42s of the 70a Squadriglia (Tenente Claudio Solaro, Tenente Gino Battaggion, Sergente Maggiore Balilla Albani and Sergente Cesare Sironi), five of the 74a Squadriglia (Tenente Mario Pinna, Tenente Lorenzo Lorenzoni, Sottotenente Sante Schiroli, Sergente Maggiore Raffaele Marzocca and Sergente Sanguettoli) and seven of the 75a Squadriglia (Tenente Pietro Calistri, Tenente Ezio Maria Monti, Sottotenente Giuseppe De Angelis, Sottotenente Renato Villa, Maresciallo Giovanni Carmello, Maresciallo Luigi Pasquetti and Sergente Leo Mannucci) in an escort mission for SM 79s attacking mechanized vehicles around Bardia. Fighters from the 10o Gruppo were also present including Sottotenente Bruno Devoto, Sergente Mario Veronesi, Sergente Piero Buttazzi and Sergente Luciano Perdoni of the 84a Squadriglia and Sottotenente Neri De Benedetti, Sottotenente Orlando Mandolini, Sergente Luigi Contarini and Sergente Alfredo Sclavo of the 90a Squadriglia. Hurricanes were intercepted and two of them were claimed damaged by the 70a Squadriglia’s pilots. During the return journey, the CR.42s went down to strafe, claiming three armoured vehicles.
They landed back at 17:20.

On 29 January, Flying Officer Laurence Trevor Benson (RAF no. 40876) in a 208 Squadron Hurricane (N2611) took off from Tmini at 08:00 and being briefed to carry out a reconnaissance over Slonte and then drop a message with information regarding Sergente Cesare Sironi from the 70a Squadriglia, 23o Gruppo, who had been MIA since 24 January. The chivalrous behaviour of Benson was not granted however, in fact, one hour later, when over Benghazi K2 he was intercepted by a CR.42 flow by Sergente Sanguettoli of the 74a Squadriglia and shot down with the use of 300 rounds of ammunition. Sanguettoli was part of a formation from the 23o Gruppo, which already had concluded an uneventful mission in the Mechili-Slonta area.
Only later did the Italians realize that their victim was the same plane that had dropped the message. Two days later an Italian plane dropped a message over the HQ of 7th Armoured Division apologizing and referring that Benson had been buried with full military honours.
Benson had previously survived being shot down by a CR.42 on16 November 1940 while flying a Lysander. His gunner, despite a leg wound, managed to shoot down their assailant.

During March 1941 23o Gruppo CT moved back to Sicily to take part in the raids against Malta again.

On 20 April 1941 nine CR.42s of 23o Gruppo and fifteen MC.200s of 17o Gruppo escorted three S.79s of the 87o Gruppo BT over Valetta. They were intercepted by two 261 Hurricane MK.IIs led by Flying Officer Charles Laubscher with Pilot Officer John ‘Tiger’ Pain (in Hurricane Mk.II Z3032) on his wing, who flew top cover for the rest of the squadron. Laubscher reported:

“ I think we had reached about 11,000 feet when the barrage opened up over Valetta and, against the white puffs, I saw seven biplanes heading directly towards us in a shallow vic formation. CR.42s! This was literally Manna from Heaven! For once we had height advantage, possibly only 300 or 400 feet, but sufficient, I believe, for their top mainplanes to conceal us from their pilot’s sight. I wheeled left towards them and called ‘Tiger’ on the R/T to take the outside man on their port flank while I took the leader. We closed rapidly and I opened fire at about 800 yards sighting a little high at first to allow for the distance and then dropping my bead to centre on the machine. Things happen fast in a head-on attack and two or three seconds we had passed directly over them. I immediately went into a steep turn to port to attack them again. I saw to my great satisfaction that the centre of the vic was empty and there were only planes on their left, which probably meant that ‘Tiger’s’ target had also gone down. At the same moment two Bf 109s which had obviously stationed themselves too high to catch us in our initial attack, flashed past in a steep dive and the I was within range of the remaining Italian pilots again.
The five survivors in the CR.42 formation were swinging to their right towards and bellow me, which made it difficult to attack the three planes nearest me, so I chose the outer of the planes on their left, laid off a deflection and opened fire again. My tracer passed in line with the machine but behind it, and rather than stop firing, I pulled back steadily on my control column until the tracers crept along the rear of the machine and into the cockpit. I knew immediately that the pilot was finished and stopped firing. The CR.42 hung on its side for a moment and then slipped gently into a dive. I did not watch him all the way but looked for another target. The sky now seemed clear except for a CR.42 going down in a spin ahead of me. I gave him a full deflection burst for good measure and then my ammunition ran out. It was time to return home so I jerked the machine into a spiral dive, just in case the remaining CR.42s or the two Bf 109s were still in the vicinity, flattened out at about 800 feet and jinked my way back to Takali. It was a wonderful feeling to put up an affirmative two fingers as the mechanics helped me taxi in. That night Operations confirmed my claim for two CR.42 shot down. ‘Tiger’ also had his victory confirmed and the A.A. batteries claimed another – four out of seven destroyed – not a bad effort, we felt, particularly since the squadron had spent their time in a defensive circle!”
These were Laubscher’s two first victories (he ended the war with 4 and 2 shared destroyed). John Pain was credited with one CR.42 confirmed (victory number 5 of a total of 7) and one unconfirmed during this combat. Italian records shows only one CR.42 missing on this date and it was Sergente Sanguettoli of the 74a Squadriglia who was seen leaving his aircraft in parachute over the sea. He was however never found.
The pilots of the 23o Gruppo claimed one Hurricane shot down between them. The Bf 109s mentioned by both Laubscher and Pain were probably the MC.200s of 17o Gruppo of which one of the pilots claimed a damaged Hurricane.

At the time of his death, Sanguettoli was credited with 1 victory, this one claimed while flying the Fiat CR.42.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
  27/12/40 14:30- 1/3 Hurricane (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 74a Squadriglia
  1941                
  02/01/41 14:45-17:20 1/6 Armoured car Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Capuzzo area 74a Squadriglia
  02/01/41 14:45-17:20 1/6 Armoured car Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Capuzzo area 74a Squadriglia
  02/01/41 14:45-17:20 1/6 Armoured car Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Capuzzo area 74a Squadriglia
1 29/01/41 09:00 1 Hurricane (b) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Benghazi K2 74a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 1 and 1 shared destroyed, 3 armoured cars shared destroyed on the ground.
TOTAL: 1 and 1 shared destroyed, 3 armoured cars shared destroyed on the ground.
(a) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 33 Squadron, which claimed two probable CR.42s and one damaged without losses. The 10o and 23o Gruppi claimed 3 Hurricanes and 1 probably shot down with another 10 damaged while suffering 3 damaged CR.42s.
(b) Probably Flying Officer Laurence Benson of 208 Squadron, who was lost on this day in Hurricane N2611.

Sources:
3o Stormo, storia fotografica - Dai biplani agli aviogetti - C. Lucchini and E. Leproni, 1990 Gino Rossato Editore kindly provided by Jean Michel Cala with translations kindly provided by Birgitta Hallberg-Lombardi
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
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
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 Ludovico Slongo.




Last modified 10 June 2012