Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Maresciallo Angelo Savini

When Italy declared war on the Great Britain and France on 10 June 1940, Sergente Maggiore Angelo Savini served in the 90a Squadriglia, 10o Gruppo, 4o Stormo C.T.

On 12 June, the 2o Stormo’s fighters in North Africa were joined by those of the 10o Gruppo (84a, 90a and 91a Squadriglie) of the Gorizia based 4o Stormo C.T.. The Gruppo was commanded by Tenente Colonnello Armando Piragino and started the war at Tobruk T2 with 27 CR.42s.
The 90a Squadriglia was composed of the following pilots: Capitano Renzo Maggini (CO), Tenente Franco Lucchini, Tenente Giovanni Guiducci, Sottotenente Neri De Benedetti, Sottotenente Alessandro Rusconi, Maresciallo Omero Alesi, Sergente Maggiore Savini, Sergente Amleto Monterumici, Sergente Silvio Crociati, Sergente Giovanni Battista Ceoletta, Sergente Alfredo Sclavo, Sergente Bruno Bortoletti, Sergente Paolo Guillet and Sergente Ernesto Keller. The last three pilots didn’t take part in the move to T2. The Squadriglia had nine Fiat CR.42s on strength.

At 17:00 on 8 August, Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli (CO of the 10o Gruppo) took off from El Adem T3 airfield with 15 other aircraft from the 9o and 10o Gruppi to patrol along the Egyptian border and to give indirect cover to five SM 79 bombers and a single reconnaissance Ro.37, which were out to patrol the same area. The five SM 79s were a formation from the 44a Squadriglia, 35o Gruppo, led by Capitano Giuseppe Pagliacci, which were out to bomb enemy vehicles and aircraft in the Bir El Chreigat area.
Participating pilots were Romagnoli, Capitano Giuseppe D’Agostinis (CO 91a Squadriglia), Tenente Enzo Martissa (91a Squadriglia), Sergente Aldo Rosa (91a Squadriglia), Tenente Giovanni Guiducci (CO 90a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Savini (90a Squadriglia), Capitano Luigi Monti (CO 84aSquadriglia), Tenente Vittorio Pezzè (CO 73a Squadriglia), Tenente Valerio De Campo (73a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Carlo Battaglia (73a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Alvaro Querci (73a Squadriglia), Maresciallo Norino Renzi (73a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Enrico Dallari (73a Squadriglia), Sergente Antonio Valle (73a Squadriglia), Sergente Santo Gino (73a Squadriglia) and Sergente Lido Poli (73a Squadriglia).
Immediately after take-off, Romagnoli started to climb, keeping the sun in the back. At 2500 meters over Gabr Saleh (around 65 kilometres south-east of El Adem and 35 kilometres east of Bir El Gobi, well inside the Italian territory) when the Italian formation was still climbing, Tenente Pezzè saw two formations of Gloster Gladiators higher and, after giving the alarm to the gruppo commander, tried to attack the enemy fighters frontally and from below.
Then, completely unseen by Pezzè and the other Italian pilots a third formation of Glosters attacked the 73a Squadriglia formation from above (the surviving Italian pilots estimated that each British formation was nine planes strong so, after the combat, they assessed that they fought against 27 enemy fighters for fifteen minutes).
The Gloster Gladiators were from 80 Squadron (‘C’ Flight had arrived at Sidi Barrani during the day, led by the commanding officer, Squadron Leader ‘Paddy’ Dunn). At 17:40, 14 Gladiators from the Squadron flew an offensive patrol in the neighbourhood of El Gobi since it had been reported by observers that large formations of CR.42s had been patrolling a triangle between El Adem, Sidi Omar and El Gobi fairly regularly twice a day at about 07:00 and 18:15 and it was decided to attempt to destroy a portion of this patrol. The mission had been suggested by Squadron Leader Dunn to the HQ as a reprisal and to re-establish “the moral superiority already gained previously by other Squadrons” after the gruelling engagement on 4 August. Tactics had been carefully discussed by Dunn and his Flight Commanders on the agreed assumption that if the engagement could be controlled for the initial two minutes, a decided advantage would be with the side in control. To do this, it was arranged (as it was expected to be seen as soon as, or even before being able to see the Italians) that a Sub-Flight of the formation (Sub-Flight one) should fly low (at 8,000 feet) and slightly in front to act as bait. These three Gladiators were flown (after that lots had been drawn) by Dunn (leader) (Gladiator K8009), Flying Officer Peter Wykeham-Barnes (K7916) and Pilot Officer 'Heimar' Stuckey (K8022). The rest of the formation, divided in three Sub-Flights of three fighters with an independent aircraft between the lower Sub-Flights, would be stepped at 10,000, 12,000 and 14,000 feet. The independent machine was that of Flight Sergeant Trevor Martin Vaughan (K7903), who attacked with Sub-Flight one. It seems that Pilot Officer Anthony Hugh Cholmeley flew a fourteenth Gladiator but that he was forced to turn back early, probably with engine problems.
Sub-Flight two included Flight Lieutenant Ralph Evers-Swindell (leader) (L8010), Flying Officer Wanklyn Flower (K8011) and Flying Officer P. T. Dowding (K7912). Sub-Flight three included Pilot Officer Harold Sykes (leader) (K8003), Sergeant Donald Gregory (K8051) and Flying Officer Sidney Linnard (K8017). Sub-Flight four at 14,000 feet included Flight Lieutenant 'Pat' Pattle (leader) (K7971), Flying Officer Greg Graham (L8008) and Flight Sergeant Sidney Richens (K7892). The plan was for Sub-Flight one to engage (or being engaged) by the Italians, do what it could until Sub-Flights two, three and four would be ordered to enter the combat on seeing the trend, the overall control being given to Sub-Flight four. All formations flew in a broad vic and it was the first time that the 80 Squadron operated at full operational strength.
Just after 18:00, the Squadron crossed the frontier south of Sidi Omar, and immediately changed course to head north towards Bir Taieb el Esem. At 18:25, as they were approaching Bir el Gobi, a formation of CR.42 flying in echelons was spotted by Flight Lieutenant Pattle. The Fiats were flying approximately parallel but reciprocal to the course of the British formation and they were at 2 o’clock and slightly (500 feet) below the lower Sub-Flight. With a careful turning on the right, ordered by radio, Pattle put the 80 Squadron’s formation behind the Italian one, up-sun and between it and its base at El Adem, then a full boast and throttle stern chase began to catch up with the fast cruising (in fact climbing) Italian fighters. Pilots in the lower Sub-Flights now began to see their opponents, dead ahead and lower. The ideal attack position! Squadron Leader Dunn counted 18 of them in four formations of seven, five, three and three; he was very close to the truth but later Sub-Flight four reported that an additional Italian formation of nine planes was present and it was incorrectly assessed that the Italians were 27, flying in nine sections of three aircraft. After an unobserved astern chase Sub-Flight one engaged the starboard flank of three aircraft and shot down all of them (they were probably part of the 73a Squadriglia). Squadron Leader Dunn later reported:

“(…) I followed my first target down, who rolled over slowly on to his back with smoke coming out: Observed P/O. Stuckey’s (No. 3 on my left) quarry in much the same condition and gave him a burst of my own, then pulled up and across the rear of the formation of 18 that was beginning to peel-off.”
Flying Officer Stuckey experienced a very successful combat:
“(…) our C.O. led the first Flight and attacked the right hand enemy flight.
I was No. 3 of the C.O.’s Flight and managed to get in a long burst with full deflection as my opposite aircraft stall turned out of his formation. (later the C.O. said that he followed this aircraft down giving it bursts and saw it crash.
Immediately after I attacked No. 3 aircraft of the farthest flight and gave it a short burst before that flight broke up as well.”
The third CR.42 of the section probably fell victim to Flight Sergeant Trevor Martin Vaughan. Flying Officer Peter Wykeham-Barnes confirmed the shooting down of all three Italian CR.42s of the section. Wykeham-Barnes seems to have claimed the first Italian aircraft, witnessed by Flight Lieutenant Evers-Swindell.
After the attack of this Sub-Flight, the Italian fighters started to break and Pattle ordered down the other two sections, while a wild low-altitude dogfight was beginning. Squadron Leader Dunn continued his report:
“(…) A C.R.42 did a steep diving turn away from his formation and I was easily able to give him a full deflection shot for about 8 seconds, he continued in a dive with smoke issuing from him but as the formation of 18 was approaching around about me with advantage of number and height, it was impossible to pursue him. I claimed it definitely shot down and consider it to be one of the five observed on the ground by Sub 4 before entering. Then followed a long period of loose play in which numerous targets offered themselves.
At the same time large numbers of enemy aircraft attacked me, chiefly from straight ahead and beam but not driving home determinedly. In one of them I throttled back and stall turned on the attacker’s tail before he was quite past me, he then rolled on to his back and dived down in the second half of a loop. I followed and gave this aircraft what I thought was an effective burst with the result that he did not recover and continued down with bluish smoke issuing from him.
The other flights had by now entered and attacked their opponents, and the number of enemy aircraft thinned down. Two or three enemy aircraft were still about ; I pulled up steeply to avoid one in particular who was dangerously near to my tail, having chased me down in the dive from the port quarter. In the ensuing black-out I have little knowledge of what he did but at the top of what was the first half of something like a rocket loop, I found myself going in the opposite direction with the aircraft climbing rapidly past me on my left and below, he then appeared ahead of me and did a slow roll, unfortunately, I was too surprised and failed to get him in my sight, whereupon he half rolled and dived out; another stall turn brought me on his tail, but he did a rapid dive, turned to the left and streamed off like a homing rabbit - next stop El Adem.
I engaged one more enemy aircraft but my guns failed to fire (after 300 rounds approx.) I tried to clear them but was only able to get one more short burst. I left the fight, gained height at 12,000 feet and returned to witness a dog-fight between three aircraft two of which were Gladiators. I then set off home and picked up two other Gladiators.”
In the end, Dunn was credited with two confirmed victories and 1 probable and reported that the Sub-Flight gained five confirmed victories and two unconfirmed.
Pilot Officer Stuckey was now in the middle of a whirling dogfight:
“I was then attacked from about 2 o’clock by the two flights that had already broken; I pulled away and down from them, and as I came up in a climbing turn saw a CR 42 following one of our Gladiators in a loop. While it was going up I gave it a long burst and saw it fall away and dive, the pilot jumped almost as soon as I attacked him. Another 42 came straight towards me while I was circling the parachute but I made a quick turn in the opposite direction and he passed just under my port wings. I then saw a 42 with a Gladiator on its’ tail and as I flew in on a beam attack the 42 flick rolled two or three times and continued doing so in a dive. I followed it all the way in a steep turn and dive giving a lot of short bursts and saw it crash. I was then at only about 3,000’ and when I had climbed to about 5,000’ joined in a dog-fight that ended when the 42 dived away and headed for Bir El Essem.”
Form 541 of 80 Squadron ORB credited Stuckey only with a single confirmed victory, probably his first victim was credited to his Commanding Officer who finished it off while of the last biplane he saw hitting the ground he wrote “(…) seen to crash but believed hit before I attacked it”. However, it seems that he later was credited with two destroyed and one probable.
Flight Sergeant Trevor Martin Vaughan (RAF no. 590381) overshot and was cut to pieces by the fire of a couple of CR.42s and killed. Form 541 credited him with a confirmed individual victory, obviously the third CR.42 of the first section.
The second and third Sub-Flights were in the meantime joining combat. Finding the Italians already alerted they fared slightly less well than the first Sub-Flight. Flight Lieutenant Evers-Swindell led his Sub-Flight into the centre formation of nine Italian aircraft, which were already scattered all over the sky:
“(…) I saw the leading formation attack the right hand formation of 9 E.A: so I put my sub flight into line astern expecting the E.A. to break up which they did as soon the first machine was shot down by No.2 of the leading formation. I led my sub flight into the centre formation of nine E.A. which by then were scattered all over the sky. I did a diving quarter attack on an E.A. up to about 50 feet, it turned over on its back and went down in a steep spiral. I was then attacked head on by another E.A. after this I looked down and saw the first one crash in flames. The pilot still in the cockpit. I managed to manoeuvre myself on to the tail of a third and after having given him a longish burst, saw him go down in the same way as the first, but was unable to follow him down as an explosive bullet took away one of my port flying wires and another burst on the starboard side of the instrument panel. I got in two more quick burst on two different E.A. but don’t think I did any damage. My engine then started to pour out smoke and soon afterwards cut out. I glided down in a series of steep turns and found no E.A. following. I looked round and saw nine a/c burning on the ground and one pilot coming down by parachute. I glided for about three miles and at about 200 feet the engine seized up I did not have time to inspect the engine so set the aircraft on fire (…).”
Evers-Swindell was credited of two unconfirmed victories. Flying Officer Wanklyn Flower was able to claim a probable, he reported:
“(…) I picked out a CR 42 flying in left hand turn ahead of me. I dropped in behind and fired three long bursts at close range – I last saw the aircraft diving vertically downwards. At this moment another C.R 42 fired a burst into my machine damaging the engine. I got away from him and, as there were no more enemy machines in sight, made for home (…)”
Flying Officer Dowding also claimed a probable:
“(…) Before we had reached them they had already been broken up before we joined amongst them.
I then saw a CR.42 coming towards me on port beam, it pulled its nose up and did a half roll to the left. I got my sights on to it, as it started to pull its nose up, and followed it round as it did the half roll, giving it a longish burst. It went into a spin, and went down a long way until I lost sight of it.
When I looked again there was an aircraft burning on the ground at approximately the position where the one went down, but I cannot say for certain whether it was the same as the one I saw go down.
I also saw at least four other aircraft burning on the ground, and three people descending by parachutes (…)”
Pilot Officer Sykes led his Sub-Flight into the right flank of the Italian formation:
“(…) I was leading sub 3 flight and putting the flight into echelon right turned on to their right flank. The enemy aircraft suddenly reeled of from their echelon formation probably owing to the fact that the leading flight had come into firing range and had opened fire. A general dog fight then commenced, I engaged a CR.42 which commenced a steep climbing turn, I commenced firing at the beginning of the climb and continued until I saw him fall and commence a flay spiral. I saw fragments or splinters falling from the centre section or the cockpit and saw the aircraft drop about 4-5000 feet and then engaged another which I followed in a steep turn firing all the time. This enemy aircraft went into a spin suddenly and saw one of our own aircraft follow it down. There were no more enemy aircraft in sight. During the action I saw several parachute open and several aircraft burning. I landed back on our aerodrome at 1915. One aircraft in my flight was forced to return just before the action because all its guns stopped.”
Sykes was credited with two unconfirmed victories. The returning aircraft was flown by Sergeant Gregory, who had had tested his gun before the attack, but found them all jammed and had been forced to withdraw. Flying Officer Linnard was more successful:
“(…) We were given R/T instructions by the top flight to enter the fight.
I slipped under my leader to the left and found myself in a mass of milling aircraft. I went to attack a CR.42 which was on a Gladiator’s tail when another CR.42 passed in front of me. I gave him deflection burst and got on to his tail – he pulled up in a loop. I followed him around giving him bursts and when he was upside down in the loop he baled out dropping past me, his parachute opening just below me. My range would be about 50 yards or less. I got on to another CR.42 and practically the same thing happened as before except that I did not get him and my engine cut as I was following him in the loop when I was in the vertical position. I saw the enemy aircraft diving past me but I was so close to him that he could not fire at me. I pushed my nose down and got my engine started and then saw a CR.42 diving down on me from vertically above but he did not hit me. I then saw a CR.42 practically head-on. I gave him a burst at very close range. The enemy aircraft turned over to the right on its back and went into a flat spin. I was at about 4,000 feet at this time. I watched the aircraft spin for about 1000 feet and then heard gunfire which I thought was from behind but there were no enemy aircraft within range of me. I then looked for the spinning aircraft but all I saw was an aircraft in flames on the ground beneath me. Another CR.42 dived past going very fast. I gave him a quick burst and saw some black smoke coming from him, but he kept straight on diving as fast as he could go towards Bir-el-Gobi. I did not follow him down. I then turned back towards where the fight had been but saw only one aircraft a Gladiator (P/O. Stuckey). We hung around a bit and then made for home. I caught up with F/Lt. Pattle and F/O. Graham and returned with them. I landed at 1910. I sustained no damage to self or aircraft except for one Fabric panel torn out.
I saw altogether 6 aircraft burning on ground and 4 parachutes dropping.”
Linnard was credited with two confirmed victories.
Finally, Flight Lieutenant Pattle, after having masterfully conducted the action, joined the fray:
“(…) I saw no’s 2 and 3 sections engage and before I brought my section into the fight I saw five crashed aircraft on the ground , three of which were in flames.
My own section then engaged those E.A. who were attempting to reach their own base and immediately became engaged in separate combats.
I engaged a CR 42 and, after a short skirmish, get into position immediately behind him. On firing two short bursts at about 50 yards range the E.A. fell into a spin and burst into flames on striking the ground. The pilot did not abandon his aircraft.
I then attacked 3 E.A. immediately below me. This action was indecisive as after a few minutes they broke away by diving vertically for the ground and pulling out at very low altitude.
Whilst searching for other E.A. I saw two more aircraft crash and burst into flames. Owing to the widespread area and the number of aircraft engaged it was impossible to confirm what types of aircraft were involved in these crashes or who shot them down.
The sky seemed clear of 42s’ although several Gladiators were still in the vicinity. I was about to turn for our base when a 42 attacked me from below. With the advantage of height I dived astern of him and after a short burst he spun into the ground into flames. As before the pilot didn’t abandon his aircraft. Flying Officer Graham confirms both my combats which ended decisively.
Seeing no further sign of Enemy Aircraft over the area, I turned towards our base. On my way home F/O Graham and P/O Linnard joined me in formation and my section landed at 19.10 hrs.”
Pattle’s two claims were confirmed by Flying Officer Graham, who claimed one victory (later downgraded to a probable). Flight Sergeant Richens claimed one probable while confirming Graham’s claim.
The British pilots returned with a multitude of claims. Because the large number of aircraft involved there is some confusion regarding these claims but it seems that they claimed 13 to 16 confirmed victories and 1 to 7 probables. Victories were claimed by Dunn (who also claimed one of the probables), Stuckey (who also claimed one of the probables), Evers-Swindell, Pattle, Linnard and Sykes, all six pilots claiming two destroyed each, while Wykeham-Barnes and Vaughan claimed one destroyed each. Additional probables were claimed by Dowding, Flower, Graham and Richens. This giving a total of 14 victories and 6 probables. All in exchange for two Gladiators shot down with Flight Sergeant Trevor Martin Vaughan, who was killed, and Fight Lieutenant Evers-Swindell, who reported:
“(…) set the aircraft on fire. First removing the water bottle and Very pistol. I walked for three hours away from the sun and then lay down to sleep. I slept till about 01.00 hours finding dense fog and myself wet through. I then dug a hole in some soft sand and buried my self. There I stayed till daylight. At about 06.30 next morning when the fog started to lift I started to walk into the sun until 15.00hrs. when I saw three armoured cars on the horizon. I fired three very light cartridges, the next thing I remember I was lying in the shade of the armoured car the crew told me I was about five miles from the wire.”
He had been picked up by three armoured cars of the 11th Hussars.
It seems that the 73a Squadriglia suffered most from the surprise attack, losing five aircraft when Sergente Enrico Dallari and Sergente Antonio Valle baled out (possibly shot down by Sykes and Linnard), Sottotenente Querci and Sergente Santo Gino force-landed and Maresciallo Norino Renzi failed to return. Sergente Lido Poli was hit early in the fight, being severely wounded in the left arm. Despite this, he continued to fight, claiming to have shot down one Gladiator before force-landing close to an infantry unit at the outskirts of T3 airfield. A patrol from the army immediately took him back to El Adem. Then he was send to the navy hospital of Tobruk where his arm was amputated. For this courageous display, he was awarded the Medaglia d'oro al valor militare. The official citation of his award stated that he “shared in the destruction of five enemy fighters”. His aircraft was recovered lightly damaged as also stated in the same citation: “he succeeded in landing his plane without damage”, forced only by the loss of blood caused by his wound.
Sergente Dallari and Sergente Valle were recovered by the 2a Divisione Libica (Libyan Division) and were back at base on the following days, while Querci’s and Gino’s fighters were recovered and sent to the SRAM of El Adem on 15 August.
Sergente Rosa was slightly wounded and baled out while Tenente Martissa force-landed wounded.


Maresciallo Norino Renzi was born on 22 January 1912 in Russi (Ravenna). He joined the Regia Aeronautica in 1929. He was assigned to the 4o Stormo and received his military pilot’s license on 25 December 1930. He served with this unit until his death on 8 August 1940. Pre-war he was part of 4o Stormo’s aerobatics group.
Image kindly provided by Fulvio Chianese at Associazione Culturale 4o Stormo di Gorizia.

Martissa, who was initially missing, had force-landed his CR.42 with a hundred bullet holes in it, only 15 kilometres from El Adem. The wounded pilot claimed the individual destruction of two Gladiators (not confirmed in the official documents of his unit but later credited to him by post-war studies). In fact, Martissa was awarded with a third Medaglia d’argento al valor militare (in as many months) for this action. The official motivation of the award stated that he: ”shared in the destruction of five enemy planes together with other pilots”. He survived his ordeal by drinking dewdrops at dawn but after two days, he was becoming to expect the worst. One of the bullets, which had hit his aircraft, had pierced the griffin's head of Squadriglia's badge on the port wheel cover and Martissa wrote with a knife on the white background disc of the badge:

“You, little griffin, have been struck in the head. I would have suffered less if I had been likewise! I'm not mortally wounded, but I shall pass away, since I can't walk for 10-20 km to reach a track. And it will be by hunger and thirst.”
Martissa was found on 10 August by the XXII Compagnia Bersaglieri Motociclisti, led by Tenente Domenico Raspini, which was patrolling 80 km south of Tobruk. Raspini recalled:
"We saw an aircraft in the desert. We approached and found Tenente Martissa under a wing, with a leg almost torn off by an explosive bullet from a British fighter. We rescued him. He told us that if we didn't come [to save him], he'd shoot himself in the head with his gun, because he was dying of thirst.
We rescued the pilot and left the aircraft."


MM4306, flown by Tenente Enzo Martissa on 8 August, when it later served with the 84a Squadriglia of the 10o Gruppo.
Image kindly provided by Fulvio Chianese at Associazione Culturale 4o Stormo di Gorizia.

The Fiat CR.42 flown by Martissa (MM4306) was recovered and, in September 1940, assigned to the 84a Squadriglia of the 10o Gruppo as “84-4”.
Tenente Guiducci was also awarded with a Medaglia d’argento al Valor militare for this combat.
The Italians totally lost four aircraft while four more force-landed (it seems that all were later recovered). In return the Italian pilots claimed five Gladiators (three shared amongst the pilots of 10o Gruppo and two shared by the surviving 73a Squadriglia pilots) and two probables (the 90a Squadriglia’s Diary reported six victories). Remembering the combat for the press, the Italian leader (obviously Maggiore Romagnoli) recalled that even if the attack of the Gladiators was possibly the deadliest he had ever seen, the reaction of his pilots was ”miraculously immediate”. He had just heard the first bullets whistling around him when his right wingman already was breaking with a zoom. Then he saw in his gunsight, the belly of a Gladiator and shot this down (most likely Flight Sergeant Vaughan, who had overshot during the first bounce).
For this exploit, 80 Squadron received the Press honours as well as written congratulations from the RAF HQ Middle East. Dunn and his pilots had exploited the strong points of the Gladiator over the CR.42 to the maximum extent especially the radio equipment, which had permitted a coordinated attack, being also crucial for obtaining the initial surprise and the Gladiators superior low altitude overall performances.
During the combat, the Gladiator demonstrated another interesting characteristic: a markedly superior horizontal manoeuvrability over its opponent. On regard of this point, it is interesting to report the impressions of Flying Officer Stuckey and Flying Officer Linnard.

“With trimming gear slightly back, found I could easily out manoeuvre a/c attacking from rear. No blacking out.”
“No difficulty in keeping astern of enemy aircraft. Enemy invariably looped for evasive action.”
After this combat, morale, particularly among the 9o Gruppo’s pilots suffering their first African experiences, fell considerably. The 73a Squadriglia was considered the top gun unit of 4o Stormo, its pilots (notably among them Enrico Dallari, Renzi, Valerio De Campo and Vittorio Pezzè) were mostly part of the last Italian aerobatic team, which had performed with great success in Berlin Staaken on 23 June 1939, in honour of the returning Condor Legion’s pilots. However, this air battle demonstrated clearly, even in a pure biplane dogfight, that good tactics and sound flight discipline, enhanced by R/T communications were better than the pure aerobatic skill. However, despite this heavy beating, operations for the 9o Gruppo restarted the next day.

On 20 August, Tenente Giovanni Guiducci, Sergente Maggiore Savini and Sergente Amleto Monterumici (all from the 90a Squadriglia) scrambled against enemy intruders signalled over Tobruk but they failed to make contact. They were, however, almost shot down by the Italian AA defences, in particular the batteries of the cruiser San Giorgio.

On 11 September, the 9o and 10o Gruppo were still employed in standing patrols over the troops. During the second patrol of the day, at 17:45 in the Sidi Omar – Bardia area, a Blenheim was discovered at 6000 metres.
The Italian formation was escorting three CR.32s and was led by Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli. It was composed of seven CR.42s from the 84a Squadriglia (Capitano Luigi Monti, Capitano Vincenzo Vanni, Tenente Giuseppe Aurili, Sottotenente Paolo Berti, Sergente Roberto Steppi, Sergente Narciso Pillepich and Sergente Domenico Santonocito), five CR.42s from the 91a Squadriglia (Capitano Giuseppe D’Agostinis, Sottotenente Ruggero Caporali, Sergente Maggiore Leonardo Ferrulli, Sergente Elio Miotto and Sergente Alessandro Bladelli) and six CR.42s from the 90a Squadriglia (Tenente Giovanni Guiducci, Tenente Franco Lucchini, Sottotenente Neri De Benedetti, Maresciallo Omero Alesi, Sergente Maggiore Savini and Sergente Bruno Bortoletti).
Capitano Vanni, Tenente Aurili and Sergente Steppi attacked first, followed by other pilots of the formation. During the combat Vanni’s aircraft was hit by return fire and with the compressed air piping pierced, he was forced to turn back. His wingmen continued the pursuit and claimed the Blenheim shot down.
The bomber however was assigned as a shared to all the 10o Gruppo pilots presents (even if , for example, it is known that 90a Squadriglia pilots totally used only 140 rounds of ammunition so possibly only one of them was able to use his guns).
This claim can’t be verified with RAF sources but it is possible that it was a Blenheim from 113 Squadron since this unit’s ORB is lacking.

At 11:10 on 12 December, a mixed formation from the 4o Stormo took off for a free sweep in the Ogerin Bir El Kreighat area. After the sweep, they were to ground strafe targets of opportunity. Participating pilots from the 91a Squadriglia were Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli (CO 10o Gruppo), Capitano Vincenzo Vanni, Sottotenente Andrea Dalla Pasqua, Sergente Maggiore Leonardo Ferrulli, Sergente Maggiore Natale Fiorito and Sergente Maggiore Giovanni Casero. From 84a Squadriglia came Capitano Luigi Monti, Sottotenente Paolo Berti, Sottotenente Luigi Prati, Sottotenente Bruno Devoto, Sergente Roberto Steppi and Sergente Onorino Crestani.
Sergente Giovanni Battista Ceoletta of the 90a Squadriglia was part of a formation taking off at 11:40 while his squadriglia mates Sergente Maggiore Savini and Sergente Alfredo Sclavo suffered accidents on take off, which prevented them to take part (and probably wrote off the plane of Sclavo). Tenente Aldo Gon and Sergente Gustavo Minelli from the 96a Squadriglia, 9o Gruppo also took part in this action.
Bad weather prevented the discovery of ground targets, so Romagnoli led his fighters to the Bir Enba area where a formation of Gladiators surprised the 84a Squadriglia formation. A long dogfight started after which the CR.42 of Onorino Crestani was missing and the remaining pilots claimed two victories. Crestani was taken prisoner.
According to the squadriglia diaries, the two confirmed victories were shared among the 91a Squadriglia pilots plus Ceoletta (who used 120 rounds of ammunition during the combat) and the pilots from the 9o Gruppo. Gon and Minelli in fact only claimed a shared probable in a combat against a reportedly six Gladiators, while the 10o Gruppo’s Diary downgraded the victories to two probables. Monti, Prati and Steppi were credited with a damaged each while Ceoletta also claimed two damaged Gladiators (according to some Italian historians one Gladiator was shared between Monti, Prati and Steppi and the second shared between Gon and Minelli, while one or two other Gladiators were considered probably shot down but there is however no trace of such claims in the official diaries).
They had run into five Gladiators from 3 RAAF Squadron, which had taken off from ALG 74 at 11:25 to carry out an offensive patrol around Sofafi. The patrol intercepted a reported 16 to 18 CR.42 six miles north-west of Sofafi. During the ensuing combat three of the Italian fighters were claimed shot down, one apiece being credited to Flying Officers Alan Boyd, Wilfred Arthur and Alan Gatward, without loss. The Gladiators returned to base at 13:05.

On 16 December and in a last futile attempt to help the garrison at Sidi Omar, six SM 79s from the 29o Gruppo led by Colonnello Mario Aramu took off from Derna at 14:40 for a low-level strike. The formation of what was to become one of the most famous ill-fated missions of the Regia Aeronautica was as follows:

  SM 79 from the 63a Squadriglia (shot down)
Colonnello Mario Aramu (KIA)
Sergente Maggiore Paolo La Torraca (KIA)
Capitano Pilota Victor Hugo Girolami (acting bomb aimer) (KIA)
Primo Aviere Motorista Bruno Zottarel (KIA)
Aviere Scelto Armiere Giorgio Menna (KIA)
Primo Aviere Radiotelegrafista Carlo Magno (KIA)
 
SM 79 from the 63a Squadriglia
Sottotenente Martemucci
Maresciallo Canini
Primo Aviere Motorista Galli
Primo Aviere Armiere Giuseppe Tassoni (KIA)
Primo Aviere Radiotelegrafista Malara
  SM 79 from the 63a Squadriglia (shot down)
Sottotenente Tonachella (POW)
Sergente Maggiore Filippo Cipriani (KIA)
Sergente Motorista Ugo Ferroni (KIA)
Primo Aviere Armiere Giovanni Musumeci (KIA)
Primo Aviere Radiotelegrafista Verna (KIA)
     
  SM 79 from the 62a Squadriglia (shot down)
Tenente Colonnello Guglielmo Grandjacquet (KIA)
Tenente Giacomo Padrone (POW)
Tenente Marco Sciavertini (KIA)
Aviere Scelto Motorista Luciano Lanzoni (KIA)
Primo Aviere Armiere Radames Medori (KIA)
Primo Aviere Radiotelegrafista Enrico Materazzo (KIA)
 
SM 79 from the 63a Squadriglia
Tenente Villa
Sottotenente Riva
Primo Aviere Motorista D’Angeli
Primo Aviere Armiere Giuseppe Vincenzi (KIA)
Primo Aviere Radiotelegrafista Diotallevi
  SM 79 from the 62a Squadriglia
Tenente Timolati
Sottotenente Malaspina
Aviere Scelto Motorista Cinti
Primo Aviere Armiere Bachini
Sergente Radiotelegrafista Ascione

The Savoias were intercepted by a reportedly 20 Hurricanes at 1200 meters altitude, in sight of their intended target, after an hour of flight. The two vics of SM 79s tightened up their formation, trying to fight back. The first to go down was the plane of Grandjacquet. The SM 79 of Tenente Timolati then closed formation with the leading vic only to witness the demise of Colonnello Aramu’s bomber and shortly after that Sottotenente Tonachella’s. The three surviving SM 79s fled towards the sea with Hurricanes on their tail and suffered the last damage, which caused the death of some crewmembers before the Hurricanes disengaged (due to the intervention of some fighters of the 10o Gruppo). The SM 79 then released their bomb-load into the open sea and returned to Derna where at 16:30 Sottotenente Martemucci’s bomber broke its landing gear and crash-landed, damaging the wing. Timolati reported that Aramu’s SM 79, the dorsal gunner was immediately killed and his place was taken by Capitano Girolami, who was killed soon after when a well placed burst hit the Savoia’s cockpit killing him and causing the demise of the aircraft. The returning crews claimed five Hurricanes in return.
Sottotenente Tonachella and Tenente Padrone were the only survivors of the missing SM 79s. They both escaped with parachute and were captured by British patrols. Padrone, back in Italy after the war left a description of the events:

“the morning of 16 December 1940 three SM79 planes led by Colonello Aramu (I don’t remember the left hand wingman but I was the right hand) attacked with small calibre bombs and strafed from very low level British mechanized vehicles south-west of Bardia.(…). Back at base, Aramu knew that another mission was to be flown in the afternoon, to attack armoured concentrations around Sollum. Two section of three planes in line astern one 500 metres from the other were to be employed. The overall formation had to be commanded by Tenente Colonnello Gradjacquet leading the first section while Capitano Girolami had to lead the second section. Aramu decided to take part also in this action so he took the lead of the first section with Girolami acting as a bomb aimer and Grandjacquet took the lead of the second section. The two sections could attack independently because they all had a bomb aimer. The formation took off at 15.00 and when over Tobruk waited without avail for some minutes for the escort fighters, then directed toward the target flying deep inside the desert to avoid interception. When in the area between Sidi Omar and Capuzzo, when I was preparing to turn on the intercom with the bomb aimer I heard the guns of our plane shooting so I understood that we were under attack. The enemy planes most likely arrived from astern because in front of us I could see only the section of Aramu. Immediately after a burst of fire hit our plane silencing the dorsal gun and also hitting the instrument panel. I tried to assess the damage suffered but saw Grandjacquet busy in flying the plane and the wingmen at their place. Then a fire started in the rudder pedals area. I tried to give the alarm shouting but nobody moved, neither Tenente Colonnello Grandjacquet that didn’t move even after I shook him (probably he was already dead and kept in position by the seat belts). Therefore, unable to take command of the plane because of the fire and fearing that the flames could ignite my clothes I open the emergency door on the roof and jumped with parachute. I immediately saw my plane falling on ground engulfed by flames, not so far two other planes were falling in flames. Once on ground I noticed two other parachutes (…). I walked in a north-westerly direction for two days and then I was captured by a British patrol. Two month later in Cairo a RAF Officer asked me about the fate of Colonnello Aramu, so I understood what happened to him, Capitano Girolami and their crew (…).
The loss of these three COs was a terrible blow for the bomber force of Va Squadra and in particular the loss of the forty-years-old Aramu. He was a beloved leader, previously part of the “Atlantici” having crossed the northern Atlantic under Italo Balbo in 1933. He had then fought during the Spanish Civil War where on 21 May 1937 he had disabled the Republican Battleship Jaime Io in Almeria harbour with a well-aimed salvo of bombs from 4000 metres. The three officers were immediately awarded posthumous Medaglie d’Oro al valor militare but in fact such was the severity of the loss suffered that 29o Gruppo was immediately ordered back to Italy.
Colonnello Aramu was not alone over this area because three SM 79s of 15o Stormo were up under Tenente Medun. (take-off from Z1 at 14:55 and landing at 16:35) and at 14:45 nine SM 79s of the 41o Stormo under Tenente Colonnello Draghelli and Capitano Ammannato took off from M2 for a low-level strike (900 metres). These bombers were attacked by RAF fighters for a long time but were effectively protected by CR.42s and landed back at 16:50 without suffering damage.
The CR.42s were 17 fighters from the 10o Gruppo, which had taken off from T4 at 14:40. At the head of the formation was as usual Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli, with him were four fighters from the 91a Squadriglia (Capitano Vincenzo Vanni, Sergente Maggiore Leonardo Ferrulli, Sergente Maggiore Lorenzo Migliorato and Sergente Maggiore Natale Fiorito), three from the 84a Squadriglia (Capitano Luigi Monti, Sottotenente Paolo Berti and Sottotenente Luigi Prati) and nine from the 90a Squadriglia (Tenente Giovanni Guiducci, Tenente Franco Lucchini, Sottotenente Neri De Benedetti, Sergente Maggiore Savini, Sergente Alfredo Sclavo, Sergente Luigi Contarini, Sergente Bruno Bortoletti, Sergente Luigi Bagato and Sergente Giovanni Battista Ceoletta). Capitano Monti and Maggiore Romagnoli didn’t record any action but the 90a Squadriglia formation was heavily engaged. Firstly four Hurricanes tried to attack the SM 79 formation but were prevented, then two more Hurricanes that had just successfully attacked another unescorted SM 79 formation were engaged and one of them was reputed probably shot down (later upgraded to confirmed in the unit’s documents) and assigned as shared to the whole formation. This shared victory is a bit strange considering that the complete Squadriglia uses only 820 round of ammunition during the prolonged actions, in fact it seems that it possibly was an individual victory of Tenente Lucchini. His biographer Antonio Trizzino described the action:
“in the fading light of twilight Lucchini discovered something on his port side, something like the striking of three wax matches. He left the formation and went in that direction. Gradually closing he better understood what had happened. Three S 79s were falling, burning like torches and four Hurricanes were orbiting over as if they were recomposing formation before turning back home. He attacked the last one and shot it down.”
The 10o Gruppo fighters were back at 16:40; Sergente Sclavo’s CR.42, damaged in the engagement, was classified R.S.
The British fighters responsible for this execution were ten Hurricanes from 274 Squadron accompanied by the four newcomers from 73 Squadron. The 274 Squadron pilots had taken off at 15 minutes interval starting from 12:20. The pilots included Pilot Officer Ernest Mason (Hurricane P3720) (13:00-15:40), Flying Officer Thomas Patterson (P2544/YK-T) (13:30-16:10), Flight Lieutenant Peter Wykeham-Barnes (V7293) (13:45-16:15), Sergeant Thomas Morris (V7300) (14:00-16:30) and Flying Officer H. C. Down (P2556). The four pilots from 73 Squadron were Flight Lieutenant J. D Smith, Pilot Officer McFadden, Sergeant Alfred Marshall and Sergeant Willis.
Back at base, the British pilots claimed six SM 79s shot down five miles south of Gambut between 15:35 and 15:45. Two by Flying Officer Patterson at 15:45, one by Flight Lieutenant Wykeham-Barnes at 15:35, two by Sergeant Marshall and one by Flight Lieutenant Smith. A CR.42 was damaged and claimed as “unconfirmed” at 15:20 by Pilot Officer Mason. Looking at the Italian losses (the three SM 79s of the 9o Stormo with a fourth that crash-landed and the other two damaged, plus Sergente Sclavo’s damaged CR.42), British claims seem really accurate.
Flight Lieutenant Wykeham-Barnes had been alone when he at 15:35 discovered a mixed formation of SM 79s and CR.42s with four more SM 79s scattered around. He was flying at 19,000 feet and the Italian aircraft were 1,500 feet lower and 15 miles away from him. He delivered an astern attack one an SM 79 that seems to have been part of the 9 the 9o Stormo’s formation already attacked by other British pilots. He reported:
“Arrived late in combat, 1 S79 fired on, guns silenced. A/c dropped and starboard engine set on fire. Confirmed shot down by Flight Lieutenant Smith. While attacking 79 1 CR 42 got on my tail and fired on me. Two other overhead. Didn’t see them approach. Obliged to break off [unreadable].”
Flying Officer Patterson was flying with another Hurricane (Sergeant Marshall) when at 15:45 they discovered six SM 79s flying in two vics of three (obviously Colonnello Aramu’s formation). He was flying at 17,000 feet while the bombers appeared to be at 4,000 feet. He approached unseen until he was half a mile away and delivered an astern attack while they return fire diving towards the ground. He reported:
“3 S79 shot down and burnt out on ground (confirmed by Sergeant Marshall) our casualties nil.”
Sergeant Marshall remembered:
“after breakfast and meeting Flying Officer Patterson of 274, we flew up to Sidi Barrani, where we refuelled and took off on an Offensive Patrol. I flew with Pat and at 17,000 feet west of Sollum we spotted some 79s at about 5000 feet. We dived and engaged them and I got two in flames, Pat two and Smithy 1. There were congratulations from Collishaw (AOC) on our return, but I still wished it was all over and I could get back to UK – my cold was still bad, which didn’t help, plus the food and conditions were awful with half a gallon of water per day per man (Perhaps!).”
They were highly likely the victors of Aramu, Grandjacquet and Tonachella.
Pilot Officer Mason was flying with Sergeant Willis when at 15:20 he saw a lone CR.42 below and ahead approaching. He was flying at 15,000 feet and the Italian biplane was 2,000 feet lower. He delivered a head-on attack from very close range. He reported:
“Enemy pulled up and spun. A further burst was fired by Sergeant Willis. Enemy observed to spin to a low height until lost sight of. Possible presence of other a/c precluded following down to see it hit the ground.”
Pilot Officer McFadden, was chased “up country” by two Italian CR.42s where he force-landed reportedly owing to lack of fuel. He returned to Sidi Haneish the day after and Sergeant Marshall noted:
“McFadden came back from Mersa after breaking his kite – What a prize pilot he is!”
Pilot Officer MacFadden’s Hurricane (V6737) was later recovered and repaired. Considering the 90a Squadriglia’s records it seems possible that the crash-landing of McFadden was not due only to lack of fuel but perhaps also to damage suffered from the fire of Tenente Lucchini.

On 30 December, the 10o Gruppo didn’t carry out any operations during the day but Generale Felice Porro arrived to Z1 and personally decorated some pilots.
Giovanni Guiducci received a Medaglia d’argento al valor militare for bravery. The motivation spoke of at least one individual and six shared victories and the medal was granted in particular for his action on 8 August 1940.
Franco Lucchini, Savini and Giovanni Battista Ceoletta received the Medaglia di bronzo al valor militare for bravery. The motivation to Lucchini’s spoke of three victories obtained with other pilots in three combats (Buq-Buq 16 June, Tobruk 21 June and El Adem 28 July). Savini received his in particular for his behaviour on 8 August and Ceoletta received his for his overall activity over the front up to 15 September during which period he was credited with two shared victories.

In January 1941, the 10o Gruppo was withdrawn to Italy to re-equip with the Macchi MC.200 and in April they operated from Ronchi with 23 MC.200s against Yugoslavia.

On 16 June 1941, 10o Gruppo moved to Trapani, Sicily to take part in the attacks on Malta.

Early on 25 June a large incoming raid was plotted on the radar at Malta. Nine Hurricanes each from 46 and 249 Squadrons took off and climbed hard. Only 46 Squadron was to intercept the incoming formation, which was reported as one S.79 and 24 MC.200s at 21,000 feet, 15 miles south of Sicily. The force, which had left the coast of that island, included a lone S.79 of the 58a Squadriglia, 32o Gruppo B.T. flown by Colonnello Ranieri Cupini, the Stormo commander, with an escort of no less than 48 MC.200s, ten from the 10o Gruppo and 12 from the 16o Gruppo in the lead. Twelve of these fighters were forced to return almost at once with various technical troubles, but the bomber and the remaining 36 fighters continued.
Squadron Leader A. C. Rabagliati (Hurricane Z2481) led the attack straight into the formation, concentrating his own fire on the Savoia. Several pilots saw the undercarriage fall into the ‘down’ position and the bomber was last seen heading home, losing height and streaming oil; Rabagliati was credited with a probable.
Pilot Officer Anderson, flying No. 2 to Rabagliati, fired at one Macchi, then attacked two more, firing at them continually in a dive from 18,000 feet to sea level, where one crashed into the sea 20 miles south of Delimara Point. Sergeant Copp attacked an MC.200 at 10,000 feet, hitting it with a four-second burst from dead astern, and then a two-second burst from the starboard beam. The fighter turned hard to port, pulling its nose up high. This allowed Copp to get another good burst into the cockpit and it dropped “like a plummet, apparently out of control”. It was seen to go into the sea 11 miles south of Cap Religione. Meanwhile Pilot Officer Main, having fired at the Savoia briefly, dived on seven Macchis, firing many bursts from beam and astern at 250 yards’ range into one. He was then attacked by a second, but turned on this and chased it to within ten miles of the Sicilian coast. He last saw it going down steeply towards land at 8,000 feet after he had fired four short bursts into it, and he was awarded a confirmed destroyed for this bringing the number of Macchis believed to have been shot down to three.
Actually losses to the Italians amounted to two Macchis of the 16o Gruppo; Maresciallo Giovanni Bravin was killed, but Maresciallo Olindo Simionato came down in the sea 20 miles from the coast, and was rescued by a Z.506B. One Hurricanes was claimed as a shared by Tenente Franco Lucchini, Sottotenente Virgilio Vanzan, Sergente Maggiore Savini and Sergente Giovanni Battista Ceoletta, all from the 90a Squadriglia. Other pilots claimed a shared probable. On this occasion, no British losses were suffered.

By the end of 1941, the 4o Stormo re-equipped with Macchi MC.202s.

In early May 1942, the 4o Stormo was in Sicily with the duty of bomber escort over Malta.
On 22 May, the 10 Gruppo returned to North Africa and to Martuba 4 airfield for a second desert tour.

On 4 June, twelve Ju 87s of I. and II./StG 3 attacked to the north of Bir Hacheim (07:05-08:45) in the mornings second attack escorted by the I./JG 27 (take off 07:48). One of the Ju 87s was shot down by AA over the fortress (Ju 87D-1 WNr 2465 S7+KM; one was seen to bale out but both Leutnant Robert Hübel and Unteroffizier Fritz Müller were killed).
Seven Tomahawks each from 4 SAAF and 5 SAAF Squadrons with Kittyhawks of 2 SAAF Squadron, were ordered to patrol over Bir Hacheim where the South African pilots got in a good attack on the Stukas before the escort could interfere, claiming eight shot down.
The 5 SAAF Squadron claimed four Ju 87s when at 08:55, Lieutenant Basil Thornhill-Cook (Tomahawk IIb AK380/GL-R) claimed one shared with Lieutenant Kenneth Whyte (AN313/GL-X) north-west of Bir Hacheim while Major ‘Jack’ Frost (AM385/GL-W) claimed three over Bir Hacheim at 09:00.
Major Frost reported:

“…Stukas were seen diving. They released their bombs and carried on the dive right down to ground level. We followed the 4 Sqn. to the attack. I fired at and hit a 109 just above the Stukas without result. I then closed on a Ju.87 from the rear, gave one burst and he burst into flames and crashed. I then closed on another from the starboard quarter. He then turned towards me and I got in a burst with deflection. I then got very close to him, gave him another burst and he went down to the ground. I gave him another burst and set the AC alight. I then closed on another Stuka, gave him a good burst from astern and he went down and crash landed. Three Ju.87s destroyed.”
Major F. J. M. Meaker (AN388/GL-N), who was flying with 5 SAAF Squadron, had to force-land 16km south-east of Bir Hacheim at 09:25 when his aircraft was hit by the gunner in the Ju 87 he was attacking. He was picked up by Lieutenant C. J. C. Horne (AK415/I), and was flown back to base two-up in the Tomahawk.
Meanwhile, during the return flight, 5 SAAF Squadron flew through a heavy concentration of Flak, Lieutenant Thornhill-Cook being shot down and killed 15km south of Bir Hacheim. Lieutenant Whyte’s aircraft was shot-up although he was able to nurse it back to base.
The 4 SAAF Squadron claimed the other four when Captain Gordon Bayly (AM418/S) claimed one and one damaged over Bir Hacheim at 09:10, Major John Hewitson (AN452/KJ-M) claimed one 15m south-west of El Adem at 09:15, Captain Jeffrey Morphew (AN393) claimed one over Bir Hacheim at 09:15 and Lieutenant William John Wheeler (AN428/KJ-K) claimed one south-west of Bir Hacheim at 09:15. A second damaged was claimed over Bir Hacheim at 09:15 by Lieutenant Sydney Cohen (KJ-N).
Captain Bayly reported:
“…Attacked from out of the sun and caught up with the Stukas at about 1000’ heading west. I attacked one Stuka from above and behind which was lagging and saw my shots splinter his canopy. He appeared to lose control and fell back considerably. Stuka was seen to be badly damaged. My next attack was across the formation from the north. I made a full deflection attack fired early and saw the latter shots strike the engine which emitted flames and black smoke. Then the airscrew slowed down jerkily as 1 passed over him. …the AC appeared to be losing height. I turned west again caught up with the fight got a number of bursts but saw no convincing results.”
Major Hewitson reported:
“...Caught up with the Stukas about 15 miles west of Bir Hakeim and delivered attacks on two near Stukas one of which was hit in the engine and force-landed. I was then attacked by one 109F which I avoided. He flew past me and I delivered an attack from dead astern. No results observed. At end of fight only 4 or 5 Stukas were left in the formation. On the way home two of us fought a running fight with two 109s which eventually left us as we crossed into our territory.”
Lieutenant Cohen (KJ-N) stated:
“…Pulled off with rest of section into 12+ Stukas heading north-west after releasing bombs. Got in a long burst on one aircraft from ¼ astern and then overshot him. I did a steep turn and attacked the same ac again from ¼ frontal and then saw wisps of black smoke coming from underneath the fuselage. At this stage one of my cannons jammed and I did a few beam attacks on several other Stukas without observing any direct result. 1 then had to wrath off as my ammunition supply was exhausted. I made for home in the company of three ac of 5 SAAF. We were attacked by two Me.109s and in trying to evade them I lost the other three ac. I was then attacked continuously for 10 mins by one Me.109 but was not able to return his fire although I was able to outmanoeuvre him every time he attacked. He eventually broke away…”
Lieutenant Wheeler reported:
“…Got on the tail of one Stuka and gave him about four bursts. In the final attack I saw something break off which I thought came off the tail unit. At the same time black smoke started coming from below the root of the wings…”
During this fight 4 SAAF Squadron lost four aircraft. Captain Morphew (AN393) was shot down in combat with four Bf 109s to become a PoW (he escaped in 1943). 2nd Lieutenant K. H. Lawler (AN461) was also shot down by Bf 109s to become a POW. Lieutenant J. de la H. Lane (AN460) was shot down by the rear gunner of a Ju 87 south of Tobruk; he was later picked up by a Hurricane from 274 Squadron, flown by Pilot Officer George Keefer. A fourth Tomahawk (AK509) was lost over Bir Hacheim but without details.
Four of the Ju 87s went down, including that flown by the Gruppenkommandeur Hauptmann Heinrich Eppen (I./StG 3, Ju 87R-2 WNr 6146, S7+AB, combat with P-40s 15km WNW of Bir Hacheim), who lost his life with his gunner Oberfeldwebel Adalbert Betzler. The other three were Ju 87R-2 WNr 6163, S7+NH from l./StG 3, which was lost in combat with P-40s 15km WNW of Bir Hacheim (Unteroffizier Michael safe and gunner Heinz Schellenberg WIA), Ju 87R-4/Trop WNr 6306 S7+GK of 2./StG 3, which was lost in combat with P-40s 20km NW of Bir Hacheim (Leutnant Horst Heritsch and Gefreiter Beck both WIA) and Ju 87R-4 WNr 6205 S7+JK of 2./StG 3, which was lost in combat with P-40s 20km WNW of Bir Hacheim (gunner Obergefreiter Heinz Kaufold killed but the pilot safe; aircraft 60% damaged and crash-landed at Derna South).
The Tomahaks were then attacked by three Bf 109F trops of II./JG 27, which were out on a Freie Jagd. The German pilots claimed two shot down; one each by Oberleutnant Gustav Rödel (Stab II./JG 27), 3 km south-east of Bir Hacheim at 4500m (08:15) and Oberfähnrich Willy Kientsch (Stab II./JG 27), 10 km south-west of Mteifel Chebir (08:20).
Maggiore Paolo Maddalena (MC.202 MM7805/84-2) led a formation of nine Macchis of the 10o Gruppo (three from each Squadriglie) on a free sweep over Bir Hacheim (07:45-08:50). The formation consisted of two sections; one at 3500 metres led by Maddalena himself and one as top cover at 4000 metres, led by Tenente Orlando Mandolini (CO 91a Squadriglia). At 08:05, they were over the target when they spotted about 15 P-40s 200 metres below and the Macchis dived on them, surprising them south of Bir Hacheim. The pilots of the 91a Squadriglia reportedly clashed with seven P-40s and in total the Italian pilots were credited with five destroyed and two probables. The victories were claimed by Maresciallo Luigi Bignami (84a Squadriglia, MM7928/84-9), Maresciallo Leonardo Ferrulli (91a Squadriglia) (two P-40s), Maggiore Maddalena (CO 10o Gruppo; possibly shared destroyed) and Sergente Maggiore Savini (90a Squadriglia). The two probabels were claimed by Sergente Livio Barbere (84a Squadriglia, MM7814/84-5) and Capitano Ranieri Piccolomini (CO 90a Squadriglia).
2 SAAF Squadron, led by Major Human and flying top cover to the Tomahawks, became engaged with four Bf 109s at 09:10, Lieutenant ‘Porky’de Waal (Kittyhawk Ia AL126/DB-R) claiming one shot down 6m south-east of Bir Hacheim and damaging one south-east of Bir Hacheim, with a second claimed damaged by Lieutenant ‘Dingle’ Burdon (AK392/R) 2m south-east of Bir Hacheim. Burdon was then shot down and crash-landed south-west of Bir Hacheim at 09:25; he got clear before his aircraft exploded in flames, returning safely next day.
Lieutenant de Waal reported:
“I saw a 109F to port about 1000 feet below me and climbing. I peeled off, and got up speed, and started climbing after him. I closed rapidly and gave him a short burst at about 250 yards. He heeled over and I watched him go down. I looked away for a brief while and when I looked again I saw him go straight in and burst into flames.”
Lieutenant Burdon reported:
“I saw two Kittyhawks attacked to port. I peeled off to port and as the 109 climbed up I managed to get m a full deflection shot, a burst of about three seconds, the result of which was white smoke pouring from the 109. This being confirmed (damaged) later. After my first burst another 109 climbed up to attack. We engaged head on; I pulled the tit and not one gun fired. The 109 must have realized this, so gave me all he had. My engine burst into flames. I eventually slipped down, and crash-landed, my under cart would not function. I did not bale out as I was approximately 800/1000’ and thought this too low.”
260 Squadron claimed a Bf 109 destroyed and one damaged at 09:10, the latter aircraft crash-landing (unidentified pilots).

He claimed a probable P-40 over Bir Haftach on 8 June.

On 17 June, Capitano Franco Lucchini (84a Squadriglia) claimed a P-40 over Sidi Rezegh while Sergente Maggiore Savini claimed two more in the same area.

On 1 July, the 10o Gruppo transferred to Fuka.

At 11:25 on 3 July, 14 MC.202s from the 10o Gruppo; seven from the 84a Squadriglia (Capitano Franco Lucchini, Sottotenente Luigi Giannella, Maresciallo Luigi Bignami, Sergente Maggiore Mario Veronesi, Sergente Luciano Perdoni, Sergente Piero Buttazzi and Sergente Livio Barbera) and seven from the 90a Squadriglia (Capitano Ranieri Piccolomini, Sottotenente Virgilio Vanzan, Maresciallo Pietro Del Turco, Maresciallo Savini, Sergente Maggiore Bruno Bortoletti, Sergente Maggiore Amleto Monterumici and Sergente Maggiore Elio Trevisan), led by Maggiore Paolo Maddalena (CO), took off from Fuka to escort 15 CR.42s of the 158o Gruppo. Flying in pairs, the new formation which was now replacing the traditional vic, was at 14,000 feet when 19 P-40s flying at lower altitude bounced, four of these being claimed shot down after a 20-minute combat. The claims were made by Maresciallo Savini, Maresciallo Luigi Bignami (MM7803), Sergente Maggiore Veronesi (MM7901) and Sergente Livio Barbera (MM7905). Many others were fired at but Maddalena (MC.202 MM7797/84-0(?)) failed to return after having crash-landed in the Burg el Arab area and the pilot becoming MiA. The remaining pilots was back at base at 13:00.
In the meantime, the 158o Gruppo attacked vehicle concentrations in the El Qasimiya-El Ruweisat area. Here at 12:10 a lone twin-engined aircraft was encountered and claimed shot down by Sergente Maggiore Vittorio Albanello (387a Squadriglia), who identified it as a Beaufighter. Three of the biplanes failed to return when Tenente Mario Porta (236a Squadriglia) became MiA, Sergente Giacomo Laini (387a Squadriglia in CR.42 MM4307) was KiA and Sottotenente Giancarlo Cocchi (388a Squadriglia) became MiA. In the absence of RAF claims, they may have all fallen to ground fire, none of the pilots returning.
At 11:10, eight Kittyhawks of 3 RAAF Squadron bombed and strafed south of Mukheisin, Pilot Officer R. V. P. Feiffer (Kittyhawk I ET482/X) was hit by Flak at 11:50 and crash-landed north of Amiriya (the pilot was safe). A few minutes later eight more Kittyhawks from 2 SAAF Squadron (11:25-12:40) provided top cover for Bostons, but while the formation was turning to return from the raid, a lone fighter attacked (reportedly a Bf 109), Lieutenant M. McLeod (Kittyhawk I AK853/E) being slightly wounded and his aircraft badly damaged (Cat. II). During the day, this unit carried bombs on its Kittyhawks for the first time. Meanwhile, at 11:45 six fighter-bombers and six fighter Hurricanes of 274 Squadron took off from LG 92 to bomb gun positions. They were attacked by three MC.202s, Sergeant H. Garwood (Hurricane IIc BE669/C) claiming one shot down at 12:10 west of Bir Makhhad.

Between 09:30-10:30 on 4 July, Capitano Franco Lucchini led five MC.202s of the 84a Squadriglia and six of the 90a Squadriglia on a free sweep over the El Alamein area. At 4,500 metres, they met 20 Bostons escorted by many P-40 and Spitfires; at a lower level flew a formation of Hurribombers (around 20 enemy fighters were reported). Led by Capitano Lucchini, the Italians attacked both formations with success. After a 30-minutes fight, claims for one Boston and a probable, one Hurricane, one P-40 and two Spitfires (plus two probables) were submitted by the Italian pilots. Many fighters were also claimed damaged. The claims were made by:
Maresciallo Savini (90a Squadriglia) one Boston destroyed
Sergente Maggiore Mario Veronesi (90a Squadriglia in MC.202 MM7789/84-5) one Boston probably destroyed and one Spitfire destroyed
Maresciallo Pietro Del Turco (90a Squadriglia) one Hurricane destroyed
Tenente Luigi Giannella (84a Squadriglia in MM7815/84-6) one Spitfire destroyed
Capitano Ranieri Piccolomini (90a Squadriglia) one Spitfire probably destroyed
Sottotenente Virgilio Vanzan (90a Squadriglia) one Spitfire probably destroyed
The P-40 was claimed as a shared between all twelve pilots.
Additional damaged fighters were claimed by Sergente Livio Barbera (84a Squadriglia), Tenente Paolo Berti (90a Squadriglia), Capitano Lucchini (temporarily CO 10o Gruppo) and Sottotenente Sforza Libera (90a Squadriglia), who in his first combat mission, damaged a Spitfire.
The Italian pilots returned without losses.
It seems that they at least had encountered Hurricane IIcs from 33 Squadron, which reported combat with MC.202 at 09:15 in the El Alamein area. Flight Lieutenant F. J. Aldrige (Hurricane IIc BE134/Y) claimed one MC.202 destroyed and two more were claimed as shared probably destroyed by five pilots of the flight. However, Hurricane IIc BE469 was shot down and 19-year-old Pilot Officer Anthony George Merritt (RAF No. 108955) was KiA. Three more Hurricanes were damaged but the pilots Pilot Officer K. C. Rolls (BN348/E), Pilot Officer H. S. Woods (BN473) and Sergeant Wilson (BN358) were safe.
No Bostons were lost during the day.

On 10 July, the 9th Australian Division launched an attack in the northern sector of the El Alamein line. This was backed by all the Commonwealth Wings that targeted ground targets and the airfields of LG 20, LG 21 and LG 102, which resulted in heavy aerial fighting.
Twelve MC.202s of 10o Gruppo led by Capitano Ranieri Piccolomini (CO 90a Squadriglia) took off at 18:00 for a free sweep over El Alamien. At 6,000 meters over El Alamein, they met eight Hurribombers covered by 15 P-40s and four Spitfires, which they engaged. They claimed two confirmed victories, one by Sergente Maggiore Alessandro Bladelli (91a Squadriglia) and the second by Maresciallo Savini (90a Squadriglia) and one probable by Capitano Piccolomini. After around 20 minutes the combat ended due to lack of ammunitions and impending dark. The Macchis landed back at 19:30.
It seems that 10o Gruppo met 274 and 80 Squadrons. Nine Hurricane IIs of the former had taken off at 19:10 to cover eight Hurribombers of 80 Squadron over the frontline (19:05-20:10). Ten miles west of Alamein at the height of 10,000ft they discovered a mixed patrol of Bf 109s and Macchis and the two formations charged frontally. The Macchis opened fire from long distance damaging the left wing of Hurricane II Z5337/D of Sergeant R MacFarlane from 274 Squadron. The 274 Squadron then assumed a defensive position regaining its territory and coming back at 20:15. 80 Squadron according with Form 541, wasn’t apparently engaged and just recorded eight Spitfires clashing against Bf 109s.

At 06:45 on 18 July, eight MC.202s; four of the 84a Squadriglia (Capitano Franco Lucchini, Sottotenente Luigi Giannella, Sergente Maggiore Mario Veronesi and Sergente Piero Buttazzi) and four of the 90a Squadriglia (Capitano Ranieri Piccolomini, Sottotenente Virgilio Vanzan, Sergente Maggiore Savini and Sergente Maggiore Amleto Monterumici), led by Lucchini, took off from Bu Amud for a "free hunt" mission. Over the front, they spotted nine P-40s escorted by eleven Hurricanes. The P-40s jettisoned their bombs over the El Qasaba area and tried to escape home eastward. The Italian fighters caught the Allied aircraft over Burg el Arab, 50 km east of El Alamein. A P-40 was claimed as a shared destroyed by Lucchini and Buttazzi, a second was claimed as a shared by Giannella and Veronesi, a third was claimed by Savini and a fourth was claimed jointly by Piccolomini, Vanzan and Monterumici.

On 11 September twelve Folgores from the 90a and the 91a Squadriglie, led respectively by Capitano Ranieri Piccolomini and Capitano Carlo Maurizio Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa, intercepted fifteen bomb-laden P-40s at 2000 m, covered by ten Spitfires at 4000 m over El Alamein-El Hammam. While the 91a Squadriglia attacked the P-40s (which jettisoned their bombs in the sea) and the 90a Squadriglia attacked the Spitfires, eight other Spitfires dived unseen on them from 6000 m. A hard fight began and lasted for over twenty minutes until 60 km east of El Alamein. Piccolomini, Sergente Maggiore Giovanni Silvestri (91a Squadriglia) and Sottotenente Luciano Barsotti (91a Squadriglia) claimed a P-40 each, while Sottotenente Orlando Mandolini (91a Squadriglia) claimed a Spitfire. Another Spitfire was claimed as a shared probable by Tenente Luigi Padovani, Sergente Maggiore Savini, Sottotenente Sforza Libera and Sergente Maggiore Bruno Bortoletti (all from the 90a Squadriglia). Many others were claimed damaged. Five Macchis were hit, but returned back to base; Savini’s, Libera’s and Sergente Maggiore Leonardo Ferrulli’s aircraft were damaged, as was Barsotti’s, who also was lightly wounded, as was Padovani, who received a bulled in his left leg. Bortoletti, with his Folgore riddled by a Spitfire, made an emergency landing near Hisiyet Busata.

Savini ended the war with 5 shared biplane victories and a total of 7.
During the war he was decorated with the Medaglia d’argento al valor militare and two Medaglie di bronzo al valor militare.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
  08/08/40 18:00- 1/7 Gladiator (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Gabr Saleh area 90a Squadriglia
  08/08/40 18:00- 1/7 Gladiator (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Gabr Saleh area 90a Squadriglia
  08/08/40 18:00- 1/7 Gladiator (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Gabr Saleh area 90a Squadriglia
  11/09/40 17:45- 1/19 Blenheim (b) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Sidi Omar - Bardia area 90a Squadriglia
  16/12/40 14:40-16:40 1/9 Hurricane (c) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Bardia area 90a Squadriglia
  1941                
  25/06/41   1 Hurricane (d) Shared destroyed MC.200   Malta 90a Squadriglia
  1942                
1 04/06/42 08:05-08:50 1 P-40 (e) Destroyed MC.202   S Bir Hacheim 90a Squadriglia
  08/06/42   1 P-40 Probable MC.202   Bir Haftach 90a Squadriglia
2 17/06/42   1 P-40 Destroyed MC.202   Sidi Rezegh 90a Squadriglia
3 17/06/42   1 P-40 Destroyed MC.202   Sidi Rezegh 90a Squadriglia
4 03/07/42 11:30-13:00 1 P-40 (f) Destroyed MC.202   El Qasimija-El Ruweisat area 90a Squadriglia
5 04/07/42 09:30-10:30 1 Boston (g) Destroyed MC.202   El Alamein area 90a Squadriglia
  04/07/42 09:30-10:30 1/12 P-40 (h) Shared destroyed MC.202   El Alamein area 90a Squadriglia
6 10/07/42 18:00-19:30 1 P-40 (i) Destroyed MC.202   El Alamein area 90a Squadriglia
7 18/07/42   1 P-40 Destroyed MC.202   Burg el Arab area 90a Squadriglia
  11/09/42   1/4 Spitfire Shared probable MC.202   El Alamein-El Hammam area 90a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 5 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 7 and 7 shared destroyed, 1 and 1 shared probable.
(a) Claimed in combat with 80 Squadron, which lost 2 Gladiators and 1 pilot while claiming 14 and 6 probably destroyed. 9o and 10o Gruppi C.T. claimed 5 and 2 probably destroyed Gladiators while losing 4 CR.42s, 4 fighters force-landed (it seems that all were later recovered) and one pilot KIA.
(b) This claim can’t be verified with RAF sources.
(c) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 274 and 73 Squadron. 90a Squadriglia claimed one shot down Hurricane for one damaged CR.42. The RAF claimed one damaged CR.42 while suffering one force-landed Hurricane (V6737) from 73 Squadron due to lack of fuel.
(d) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 46 Squadron, which claimed three victories without suffering any losses. The Italian fighter claimed one and one probalbes while losing two MC.200s.
(e) Claimed in combat with fighters from 2, 4 and 5 SAAF Squadrons and 260 Squadron, which claimed 2 and 3 damaged Bf 109s, while losing 7 P-40s (2 by Ju 87s and 1 by AA). Fighters from 10o Gruppo and II./JG 27 claimed 7 P-40s and 2 probables without losses.
(f) Probably claimed in combat with Kittyhawks from 3 RAAF and 2 SAAF Squadrons and Hurricanes from 274 Squadron, which claimed 1 destroyed MC.202 while losing 1 Kittyhawk and one damaged. The 10o Gruppo claimed 4 P-40s while losing 1 MC.202 (pilot KIA).
(g) Not verified with Allied records.
(h) Claimed in combat with at least Hurricanes from 33 Squadron, which claimed 1 and 2 probable MC.202s while losing 1 Hurricane (pilot KiA) and getting 3 more damaged. 10o Gruppo claimed 4 fighters, 2 probables and at least 4 damaged without losses.
(i) Probably claimed in combat with 80 and 274 Squadrons, which didn’t suffer any losses.

Sources:
2o Stormo - Note storiche dal 1925 al 1975 - Gino Strada, 1975 USSMA, Rome
Ace of Aces: M T StJ Pattle - E C R Baker, 1992 Crécy Books, Somerton, ISBN 0-947554-36-X
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
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
Ali d’Africa - Michele Palermo and Ludovico Slongo, 2009 IBN Editore, ISBN 88-7565-060-8
Desert Prelude: Early clashes June-November 1940 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2010 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-89450-52-4
Diario Storico 84a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Diario Storico 90a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Diario Storico 91a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Eagles over Gazala: Air Battles in North Africa May-June 1942 – Michele Palermo, IBN Editore, ISBN (10) 88-7565-168-X
Fiat CR.42 Aces of World War 2 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2009 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-427-5
Fighters over the Desert - Christopher Shores and Hans Ring, 1969 Neville Spearman Limited, London
GORIZIA ed il QUARTO STORMO
Gloster Gladiator - Alex Crawford, 2002 Mushroom Model Publications, ISBN 83-916327-0-9
Gloster Gladiator Home Page - Alexander Crawford.
Hurricanes over Tobruk - Brian Cull with Don Minterne, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-11-X
Le Giovani Aquile – Antonino Trizzino, 1972 Longanesi, Milano, (narration by Guglielmo Biffani at GORIZIA ed il QUARTO STORMO) kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Malta: The Hurricane Years 1940-41 - Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-89747-207-1
Quelli del Cavallino Rampante - Antonio Duma, 1981 Editore Dell'Ateneo, Roma, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Storia Aeronautica Italiana
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
The Desert Air War 1939 – 1945 – Richard Townshend Bickers, 1991 Leo Cooper, London, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Additional information kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro and Ludovico Slongo




Last modified 09 October 2017