Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Generale di Divisione Corrado Santoro

11 November 1910 – 21 June 1988

Santoro at Diredawa, 1940.
Image kindly provided by Sergio Santoro

Corrado Santoro was born on 11 November 1910.

Santoro was a pre-war pilot and on 31 December 1931, he was promoted to Tenente di complemento.

On 31 December 1935, he was promoted to Tenente in spe (servizio permanente effettivo).

Between 10 October 1937 and 14 July 1938 he served as a volunteer in the Aviazione Legionaria in Spain using the nom de guerre 'Corrado Salvioli'. Here he belonged to the 31a Squadriglia Caccia under the command of Capitano Baylon.

On 10 December and in order to camouflage a planned Nationalist offensive towards Madrid on the Guadalajara, the Republican air forces were to be destroyed on their airfields east of Zaragoza. A Nationalist force of 88 bombers and 56 fighters took part in the operation. The slower bombers (SM.81s and Ju 52/3ms) were to attack the nearby airfields in the Barbastro zone; the faster bombers (SM.79s, Breguet 20s, He 111s and Do 17s) those at Sariñena, Bujaraloz, Candasnos, Puebla de Híjar, Selgua, Pomar, Lérida and Balaguer. The Condor Legion’s bombers, which had to operate from more distant bases, would require refuelling before making their return flight, and facilities were provided at Sanjurjo.
The attacks failed to achieve the desired success, however; the airfields were empty and about 70 fighters were waiting in the air. It must be said that the Republicans were very well prepared to deal with surprise air attacks. They had constructed a large number of airfields and at each was based at most a single squadron, its aircraft widely dispersed around the airfield perimeter. In addition they had built a number of decoy airfield on with mock-up aircraft.
At least, the VI and XVI Gruppi of the Aviazione Legionaria took part in this combat and Tenente Santoro of the 31a Squadriglia (VI Gruppo) took part in an escort mission to bombers attacking Sariñena and Sottotenente Mario Visintini of the 25a Squadriglia (XVI Gruppo) took part in his first combat, firing at some enemy aircraft but without claiming anything.
At the end of the battle, the Italians claimed eight I-15s shot down for just one CR.32 lost and its pilot KIA when Sottotenente Vittorio Barberis of the 32a Squadriglia, was killed in action near Alcubierre when his CR.32 collided with I-15 CC-022, flown by Soviet pilot Mikhail Vasilhevich Kotyhov from the 1a/26. The latter pilot also perished.
Group 2-G-3, which was flying below the Italians, climbed to their assistance and claimed seven I-15s without losses.
1.J/88 was airborne, with 15 Bf 109s flying deep into enemy territory. They were attacked by 30 enemy fighters. Oberleutnant Harro Harder recounted:

”Another major action on December 10. The Fiats patrolled the front, we flew deep into enemy territory with fifteen Bf 109s. Fifteen Curtisses and fifteen Ratas climbed up in close formation. There was nothing else to do, we attacked repeatedly, but so many aircraft immediately dove on us that we were happy just to escape in one piece.”
The German fighters didn’t claim anything during the day.
Totally, the Nationalist and the Italian fighters claimed to have together shot down 15 Chatos while losing only one aircraft.
It seems that Republicans lost two I-15s and two I-16s, while 21 other fighters returned with various damages to their bases.
The 2a/26 claimed to have downed five CR.32s, one of them falling to capitán Chindasvinto González García (CO). The remaining four were credited to teniente Nicomedes Calvo Aguilar and sargentos Vicente Castillo Monzó, Jaime Torn Roca and A. Martín García.
During an engagement on the Aragon front, teniente Miguel Zambudio Martínez and Antonio Britz Martínez of the 3a/26 (I-15) claimed a shared Legion Condor He 111. This seems to have been a He 111 from K/88, which was lost over Candasnos and the crew (Leutnant Friedrich-Karl Beucke, Leutnant Heinrich Klein, Feldwebel Anton Bergmann, Unteroffizier Fritz Brühl and Obergefreiter Alois Ehlen) were all KIA.

On 4 January 1938, he took part in a mission escorting bombers over Teruel.

On 8 June, he took part in an escort mission to bombers attacking Vistabella Choclos. 11 enemy aircraft was claimed shared destroyed (probably on the ground) by 22 Italian pilots.

Image taking during an escort to bombers over Spain.
Leading the formation is Maggiore Rossi and Santoro is flying in the CR.32 behind him.
Image kindly provided by Sergio Santoro

Santoro was promoted to Capitano on 31 December 1938.

On 8 April 1940 he was posted to the Italian East Africa (A.O.I.) as Commanding Officer of the 413a Squadriglia.

In June 1940, the 413a Squadriglia was based at Gondar in Ethiopia and equipped with Fiat CR.42s.

On 22 June three aircraft, believed being French, suddenly attacked Dire Dawa at 13:30 (12:15 according to the 410a diary), favoured by bad weather.
Sottotenente Komjanc tried to scramble, but his aircraft was hit and burned by a bomb before he could mount in it; he was luckily unhurt. The other pilot on alarm duty, Sergente Maggiore Gaetano Volpe of the 410a Squadriglia, was taking off, but a splinter stopped him by damaging the engine of his CR.32 MM4648. Another fighter was damaged, one of ground personnel was killed and two wounded. Capitano Corrado Ricci, CO of the 410a Squadriglia, recalled the episode:

“…We couldn’t start to have our lunch that a bomb rain, damned close, hurries us: who runs to recovery, who lies on ground, … windows glass shatters and breaks, roof vibrates and a rain of debris and powder covers us and our maccheroni, floor shatters and it seems that explosions never end.
Santoro is on the ground beside me, we’re flat as soles as we look on one another, while the hell continues: we’re both pale… As soon the explosions cease we jump up and run to the airport. There had been three bombers, absolutely unexpected: a driver is dead, hit by a splinter; Colonnello Pezzi shows me it, a few grams of iron, and says: “For this small bit of damned iron a life has gone… and I’ll have to write this to his mother!”
Two more airmen have been slightly wounded, a fighter burns at the end of the field, the oil sump of my engine has been penetrated from side to side. Sottotenente Komjanc was on alarm duty and was running towards his CR.42, which his engineer had soon started. While he was wearing his parachute, some bombs dropped nearby and the shock wave threw him on ground. As he rose up, he saw his fighter burning: he’s now telling this to Santoro, and he’s desperate for having lost an aircraft. It seems he still doesn’t realize of the extraordinary luck that protected him!”

Early in the morning on 20 August four Blenheims of 39 Squadron and one of 11 Squadron, RAF, attacked the Ala Littoria hangar at Diredawa. This target was hit and damaged; a S.81 under repair being burnt and splinters damaged a CR.32. While on the run-up to the target the bombers were attacked by two CR.42s of the 413a Squadriglia and 20-year-old Pilot Officer Paul Edwin Osborne Jago’s (RAF No. 40916) Blenheim Mk.I (L8474) was shot down in flames by Capitano Santoro, the crew being killed (Pilot Officer Jago, Sergeant John Astil Wilson-Law (RAF No. 580723) and Corporal John Herbert Wintle (RAF No. 519946)). Santoro also hit the 11 Squadron aircraft, which was badly damaged and crash-landed on return to Aden. Santoro's CR.42 was hit in the fuselage during this combat.

Santoro returning to Diredawa after his combat on 20 August 1940.
Image kindly provided by Sergio Santoro

Santoro managed to be evacuated from East Africa before it fell to the Commonwealth forces.

On 17 August 1941 he took command of the 370a Squadriglia Caccia, which was based at Monserrato near Cagliari, Sardegna (Sardinia).

In September the 24o Gruppo was equipped with Fiat G.50s and CR.42s. The biplanes were used for long-distance missions due to better range.

At 08:18 on 27 September 1941 an Italian reconnaissance aircraft spotted a carrier and seven unidentified ships west of La Galite. Towards noon, the Comando Aeronautica della Sardegna received the following message from a Cant Z.506 of 287a Squadriglia (Sottotente Giovanni Del Vento in MM45252):

"At 37o43' – 8o55' - route 90o - speed 12 nm per hour: 1 battleship, 1 carrier, 4 cruiser, unspecified number of destroyers and steamboats. At 37o55' - 8o45' - route 90o - speed 18 nm per hours: 3 cruisers"
It was the convoy of Operation Halberd which included the carrier HMS Ark Royal, three battleships (HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Rodney and HMS Nelson), five cruisers (HMS Kenya, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Sheffield, HMS Hermione and HMS Euryalus), eighteen destroyers (Lance, Isaac Sweers, Gurkha, Duncan, Garland, Livery, Heytrop, Fury, Zulu, Cossack, Foresight, Forester, Laforey, Farndale, Lightning, Oribi, Piorun and Legion) and nine cargos (Ajax, Clan MacDonald, Imperial Star, Rowallan Castle, City of Calcutta, Clan Ferguson, Dunedin Star, Breconshire and City of Lincoln).
At 11:50, eleven S.79 torpedo-bombers of the 280a Squadriglia, 130o Gruppo (Capitano Franco Melley (CO), Tenente Alessandro Setti, Tenente Mario Giacopinelli and Tenente Carlo Deslex), 283a Squadriglia, 130o Gruppo (Capitano Giorgio Grossi (CO), Tenente Roberto Cipriani, Tenente Guido Focacci, Tenente Francesco Di Bella and Tenente Camillo Barioglio) and 278a Squadriglia Autonoma (Tenente Leonardo Venturini (actually belonging to the 280a Squadriglia) and Sottotenente Gaetano Bucceri) together with three S.84s of the 282a Squadriglia Autonoma (Capitano Marino Marini (CO), Tenente Antonio Cristiani and Sottotenente Saverio Mayer) scrambled from Cagliari-Elmas. They were escorted by two formations of CR.42s of the 24o Gruppo Autonomo which took off from Monserrato at 12:20. The first formation of twelve aircraft was led by the Gruppo CO, Tenente Colonnello Vincenzo Dequal while the rear formation of eight aircraft was led by Capitano Corrado Santoro.
In the rainy weather Santoro’s rear formation lost contact with the S.79s after a few minutes, so he decided to lead his aircraft directly to La Galite.
At 12:15 eleven S.84s of the 36o Stormo took off from Decimomannu. This was the Stormo’s first operative mission on this tour of operations. The 109o Gruppo (Capitano Bartolomeo Tomasino (CO) and Sottotenente Pier Vincenzo Morelli from the 258a Squadriglia and Maggiore Goffredo Gastaldi (Gruppo CO), Capitano Giusellino Verna (CO) and Tenente Mario Paccarié of the 259a Squadriglia) was led by the Stormo's CO, Colonnello Riccardo Helmuth Seidl (258-?/MM22845) while the 108o Gruppo (Tenente Remo Rossi of the 256a Squadriglia and Capitano Alfonso Rotolo (CO), Tenente Piercarlo Amante and Tenente Danilo Barro of the 257a Squadriglia) was led by Maggiore Arduino Buri (Gruppo CO) in "256-9". These aircraft, being faster than the S.79s, passed them. During the course, Tenente Morelli, who possibly had engine troubles, was slightly late and joined the 108o Gruppo, which was in the rear. The 108o Gruppo was also met by Santoro's Fiat CR.42s and S.84s of the 282a Squadriglia.
At 12:59 they were attacked by eight Fulmars of 808 Squadron from HMS Ark Royal. They were intercepted by the CR.42s, which miss-identified them as 12 Hurricanes and claimed one of them destroyed and two probables. Actually, a Fulmar was damaged, and by mistake shot down by HMS Prince of Wales' AA fire while returning to the carrier (29-year-old Lieutenant Malcom William Watson and 20-year-old Sub Lieutenant Paul Wilfrid Noel Couch both KIA). Sottotenente Morelli (MM22460) still lagging, was shot down jointly by the Fulmars of Lieutenant Lewin and Lieutenant Medland.
According to Santoro’s own logbook he claimed three Hurricanes shot down and three more as probables (according to other sources he claimed two Hurricanes) when he returned to base after 80 minutes.
The 108o Gruppo and the 282a Squadriglia were the first to spot the enemy, north of La Galite. Maggiore Buri split the formation and dived, covered by the fighters at 2500 meters, to attack the ships from both port and starboard. Before they could release the torpedoes, Capitano Rotolo (MM22476) was hit by AA fire and, out of control, collided with his right wingman, Tenente Barro (MM22486). Both S.84s crashed into the sea.
At 13:00 Maggiore Buri and Tenente Amante attacked HMS Rodney (Buri thought it was HMS Nelson) but their torpedoes narrowly missed the battleship. The same happened to Tenente Rossi who attacked a destroyer. At 13:03 Marini, Cristiani and Mayer attacked another destroyer and claimed to have hit it. These two destroyers, both missed, were HMS Lance and Dutch Isaac Sweers. While retreating from the attack the Italian aircraft were attacked for 15 minutes by Fulmars, two of which were believed shot down: one of them was credited to Mayer's gunner 1o Aviere armiere Domenico Mignosa, although the latter was mortally wounded. Lieutenant Firth and Sub Lieutenant Wardrop claimed a "BR 20" destroyed (i.e. Mayer's S.84, which landed safely), while Pilot Officer Leggott and Sub Lieutenant Magwood claimed another as damaged.
The 109o Gruppo, which had run into bad weather and been forced to fly around a storm, spotted the fleet at 13:15. They were forced to do a 270o turn ahead of the fleet to attack it from the starboard side. They surprised the ships at 13:30 and Colonnello Seidl and Tenente Tomasino (MM22444) attacked HMS Nelson, which was hit by a torpedo (probably Seidl's) on the portside prow, making a hole of 3,5 x 5 meters, while the second torpedo missed the target. HMS Nelson was out of commission for six months due to the damages suffered. Soon after this however, Seidl and Tomasino were shot down by AA fire from HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Sheffield. Of the second group, Capitano Verna (MM22458) was shot down by Fulmars before he could release his torpedo, while Maggiore Gastaldi and Tenente Paccarié attacked a destroyer or a cruiser (possibly HMS Euryalus. During this action, another Fulmar was shot down by "friendly fire" of HMS Rodney, but luckily this time the crew (Sub Lieutenant Percy Guy and Leading Airman Jones) was rescued.
The S.79s of the 130o Gruppo, escorted by Dequal’s twelve fighters, had spotted the enemy at 13:20. The formation split up to perform an attack from various directions: the 280 and the 282a Squadriglie from north, the 283a Squadriglia from south, the 278a Squadriglia and Tenente Deslex from west. Before they could attack, they were chased by six Fulmars, but the CR.42s managed to claim one of them shot down; actually a reconnaissance Swordfish was severely damaged, but managed to make an emergency landing on the carrier. The north-coming torpedo-bombers, partially covered by bad weather, surprised the enemy. Tenente Deslex (MM24077) tried to attack HMS Ark Royal at sea level, but was shot down by AA fire before having released the torpedo. Venturini and Bucceri attacked HMS Ark Royal and HMS Cossack at 13:58, missing both (even if both claimed hits on a cruiser each). Soon after they were chased for 20 minutes by a "Beaufighter" (actually Fulmars), which killed Venturini's radio operator, 1o Aviere marconista Antonio Cilla. The 280a Squadriglia’s Melley and Setti believed to have shared a hit on a light cruiser (probably HMS Lightning, which had a narrow miss), as did Giacopinelli, whose S.79 was riddled by bullets. The 283a Squadriglia, due to the good weather by its side, was soon discovered by the ships. Intense AA fire and the attack by some Fulmars prevented them to aim at the ships. At this point (13:59), Sergente Maggiore Luigi Valiotti of the 354a Squadriglia, in an attempt to divert the AA from the torpedo-bombers, began to perform aerobatic manoeuvres over the heads of the astounded gunners, which after a while started to shoot at him. Valiotti avoided the shells for six minutes before being killed when his CR.42 (MM7195) crashed into the sea. Notwithstanding Valiotti's sacrifice, Capitano Grossi, after several unsuccessful attempts, realized he could never pass such a barrage and deciided to return to base. They landed at 15:50, still attacked by Fulmars, which in addition strafed the airport, damaging ten seaplanes and injuring three of the ground personnel.
Italian Intelligence stated that, apart from HMS Nelson, also HMS Ark Royal and a destroyer was damaged, and another destroyer, a cargo ship (Imperial Star) and a cruiser did not enter in Valetta harbour. The British admitted that HMS Nelson was damaged and that Imperial Star was sunk (damaged in a later attack by two S.79s of the 278a Squadriglia from Pantelleria at 21:10, and then scuttled) and the loss of three aircraft (the two Fulmars erroneously shot down respectively by HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Rodney and (possibly) the Swordfish) while claiming three torpedo-bombers and a CR.42 destroyed by AA fire, and two torpedo-bombers (identified as BR.20s), one CR 42 and two Z.506 shot down by fighters.
Seidl (currently the 36o Stormo of the Aeronautica Militare Italiana is entitled after him), Tomasino and Verna were posthumously awarded with the Medaglia d'oro al valor militare. Of all of the crew of the seven torpedo-bombers shot down, only one surely survived; Aviere marconista Guerrino Soravia, Capitano Tomasino's radio operator, who was rescued by HMS Forester with a broken leg and becoming a POW. According to some sources also 1o Aviere motorista Pietro Panettieri and Aviere Sc. Ugo Vernacotola, of the same aircraft, also survived.

On 20 March 1942, four boats of the 3rd Motor Launches Flotilla (ML126, ML129, ML130 and ML132) left Gibraltar towards Malta. The following day they were spotted by an Italian recon aircraft.
At 11:50 on 21 March, six CR.42s of the 24o Gruppo took off from Monserrato led by Capitano Alberto Brondi (CO of the 355a Squadriglia) and armed with bombs. As they found the boats in the Gulf of Bona, they dive-bombed them. The CR.42s didn’t score any direct hits due to evasive manoeuvres by the boats, but the bombs exploded close to their targets and damaged two of them. The CR.42s then strafed the boats before returning and landing safely at 15:10.
At 15:30, Capitano Santoro took off with six CR.42s (Tenente Giorgio Moretti and Tenente Francesco Rocca of the 354a Squadriglia, Sottotenente Franco Mazzariol and Sergente Maggiore Edoardo Lion of the 355a Squadriglia and Sottotenente Renato Luziani of the 370a Squadriglia).
They found two of the motor-boats (ML129 and ML132), which probably had been damaged by the previous attack. As they strafed them, ML129 exploded and sunk, while ML132 reached the Tunisian coasts and stopped near the Bona pier.
Santoro’s aircraft was hit in the engine by defensive fire and he had to land at Bona. The others landed safely at 18:15.
Italians claimed a boat sunk and another damaged. Actually, ML132 was so damaged that it was declared damaged beyond repair.

On 15 July he took part in dive bombing of an enemy cruiser sailing at 37o 23’ lat and 8o 25’ long.

On 13 November 1942 Santoro was promoted to Maggiore.

Santoro left the command of the 370a Squadriglia on 31 March 1943.

Santoro ended the war with 4 victories, these being claimed while flying Fiat CR.42s.
During his career he was decorated with two Medaglie d’argento al valor militare, one Medaglia di bronzo al valor militare and one Croce di guerra al valor militare. He also received two promotions on war merits.

Santoro remained in the Air Force after the war and was promoted to Tenente Colonnello on 1 December 1945.

On 31 August 1953 he was promoted to Colonnello.

Between 1955 and 1956 he served as Commander of the 4th Aerobrigata.

He was promoted to General di Brigata on 31 December 1961.

When he retired he was promoted to Generale di Divisione.

Santoro passed away in Frascati (Rome) on 21 June 1988.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
1 20/08/40   1 Blenheim (a) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Diredawa 413a Squadriglia
  20/08/40   1 Blenheim (b) Damaged Fiat CR.42   Diredawa 413a Squadriglia
  1941                
2 27/09/41   1 Hurricane (c) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   200km off Sardinia 370a Squadriglia
3 27/09/41   1 Hurricane (c) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   200km off Sardinia 370a Squadriglia
4 27/09/41   1 Hurricane (c) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   200km off Sardinia 370a Squadriglia
  27/09/41   1 Hurricane (c) Probable Fiat CR.42   200km off Sardinia 370a Squadriglia
  27/09/41   1 Hurricane (c) Probable Fiat CR.42   200km off Sardinia 370a Squadriglia
  27/09/41   1 Hurricane (c) Probable Fiat CR.42   200km off Sardinia 370a Squadriglia
  1942                
  21/03/42   1 Torpedo boat (d) Shared destroyed on the water Fiat CR.42   Gulf of Bona 370a Squadriglia
  21/03/42   1 Torpedo boat (d) Shared destroyed on the water Fiat CR.42   Gulf of Bona 370a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 4 destroyed, 3 probably destroyed, 1 damaged, 2 shared destroyed on the water.
TOTAL: 4 destroyed, 3 probably destroyed, 1 damaged, 2 shared destroyed on the water.
(a) Blenheim L8474 of 39 Squadron shot down. The pilot Pilot Officer P. E. O. Jago and his crew killed.
(b) Blenheim of 11 Squadron badly damaged and crash-landed on return.
(c) Claimed in combat with Fulmars from HMS Ark Royal which lost two Fulmars from 808 Squadron, reportedly shot down by friendly AA fire. Only claimed in his logbook. According to other sources Santoro only claimed two Hurricanes.
(d) ML129 and ML132 of the 3rd Motor Launches Flotilla sunk.

Sources:
Luciano Cacciavillani's personal logbook courtesy of Cacciavillani family (Luciano jr and Alberto)
36o Stormo, Storia fotografica 1938-1996 - Carlo Lucchini, 1996 Giorgio Apostolo Editore, 2nd edition, Milan, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro.
410a Squadriglia war diary (1940) kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro.
Buscaglia e gli Aerosiluranti - Orazio Giuffrida, 1994 Ufficio Storico Aeronautica Militare, Rome, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro.
Dust Clouds in the Middle East - Christopher Shores, 1996 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-37-X
Il contrasto aereo italiano all'operazione "Halberd" - Antonio Maraziti, 2003 Storia Militare no. 115 (XI), April 2003 kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro.
Inferno su Malta - Nicola Malizia, 1976 Mursia, Milan, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro.
L'Aeronautica Italiana nella Seconda Guerra Mondiale - Prima Parte - Giuseppe Santoro, 1950 Danesi, Rome, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro.
La Regia Aeronautica 1939-1943, Vol. II: 1942, L'anno della riscossa - Nino Arena, 1982 Ufficio Storico Aeronautica Militare, Rome, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro.
Storia degli Aerosiluranti Italiani - Carlo Unia, 1974 Edizioni Bizzarri, Rome, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Un aviatore racconta le sue battaglie 1940-1943 - Francesco Aurelio Di Bella, 1950 Renna, Palermo kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro.
Most information kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro Michele Palermo, Sergio Santoro and Ludovico Slongo.




Last modified 07 September 2014