Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Sergente Alfredo Sclavo

30 August 1920 - 27 June 1941

Alfredo Sclavo was born on 30 August 1940 in Pietra Ligure.

When Italy declared war on the Great Britain and France on 10 June 1940, Sergente Sclavo 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 Angelo Savini, Sergente Amleto Monterumici, Sergente Silvio Crociati, Sergente Giovanni Battista Ceoletta, Sergente 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.

On 1 August, Tenente Franco Lucchini, Sergente Sclavo and Sergente Bruno Bortoletti, all of the 90a Squadriglia went to Tmini M2 airfield (around 100km west of Tobruk near the Gulf of Bomba) on alarm duty.

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 Angelo Savini and Sergente 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 Angelo Savini, Sergente 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 23 December, 17 CR.42s from the 10o Gruppo took off at 08:30 to escort ten bombers from the 15o Stormo, which had taken off from T4 and bound to attack armoured vehicles around Sidi Azeiz. The escort included five fighters from the 91a Squadriglia (Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli, Capitano Vincenzo Vanni, Maresciallo Giorgio Di Giulio, Sergente Maggiore Giovanni Casero and Sergente Luigi Ferrario), four from the 90a Squadriglia (Tenente Giovanni Guiducci, Tenente Franco Lucchini, Sergente Sclavo and Sergente Luigi Contarini) and eight from the 84a Squadriglia (Capitano Luigi Monti, Tenente Antonio Angeloni, Sottotenente Luigi Prati, Sottotenente Bruno Devoto, Sergente Domenico Santonocito, Sergente Roberto Steppi, Sergente Corrado Patrizi and Sergente Piero Buttazzi).
The formation was attacked by six Hurricanes and the Italian pilots claimed one confirmed shot down, another as a probable and a third was obliged to force-land among its own armoured vehicles (the 90a Squadriglia’s pilots expended 455 rounds of ammo). The three victories were credited as shared among all the participating pilots. The Italian fighters landed back at Z1 at 11:05 with Sergente Ferrario’s aircraft damaged. The bombers (led by Colonnello Napoli) landed back at base at 10:30, with only one machine damaged by the Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes were from 274 Squadron, which was out on a morning patrol to cover a line Sidi Omar-Sollum-Buq-Buq with twelve machines taking off with 15 minutes intervals. From the reports of the returning pilots, it seems that fighters from 73 Squadron were present even if this is not reported in 73 Squadron documents.
Pilots taking part were Pilot Officer Stanley Godden (P2638) (06:15-09:15), Pilot Officer Ernest Mason (P3722) (06:30-09:30), Second Lieutenant Bester (N2624) (06:45-09:35), Flying Officer Thomas Patterson (P2544) (07:00-09:45), Flight Lieutenant John Lapsley (V7293) (07:20-09:50), Sergeant Dean (V7423 (07:30-10:30), Second Lieutenant Robert Talbot (P3721) (07:45-11:05), Pilot Officer Garland (P 3977) (08:10-11:15), Sergeant John Clarke (N2627) (08:20-11.00), Flying Officer C. F. Greenhill (P5176), Pilot Officer Strange (N2628) (09:50-12:50) and Flight Lieutenant Peter Wykeham-Barnes (P2638) (10:00-13:00).
Pilot Officer Mason had a field day; firstly, he intercepted ten SM 79s in two vics of five at 07:30 (strangely enough he wrote 09:30 in his CFR) when he was 10 miles south-west of Gambut at the height of 12,000 feet. He discovered the ten bombers 2000 feet below and dived from above, past the escort on no. 4 of the rear vic. He reported:

“ no4 of rear vic dropped back but later observed to rejoin formation. Small a/c seen burning on ground (unreadable) miles south of Bir Chleta. Believed to be CR 42 claimed by 2nd Lieutenant Talbot. 12 CR 42s in 4s and 2s were on port flank 1000 feet above and behind. After carrying out this attack I climbed above and carried out another attack.”
Now he was at 10,000 feet and dived from above on four SM 79s of the rear vic. He reported:
“enemy aircraft damaged. Unable to observe further as I got involved with the escort and was also fired on by our own troops. Burning S79 observed on ground in this approximate position by Pilot Officer McFadden no 73 Squadron. 12 CR 42s in 2s and 4s were 1000 feet above on port flank. The escort had observed my approach as this was my second attack and closed in on main force that jettisoned bombs. After breaking off attack I got involved with 2 of the escort at 1000 feet and was considerably embarrassed by tracers and pom-pom fire from our own troops.”
Then at 09:15, 20 miles north-east of El Gubbi, when flying at 17,000 feet together with another Hurricane, he discovered a Caproni Ca.310 at ground level that he attacked from astern.
“port engine caught fire a/c climbed to 200 feet and then hit ground with wheels and flaps up. Bounced twice and went on nose. I circled a/c (E) and only one man (pilot) emerged from front exit.”
It is possible that the two claims made by Mason the previous days are included in these combat reports and that he thus claimed two SM 79s, one damaged and one additional Ca.310 (in fact it seems that no SM 79s were shot down).
Second Lieutenant Talbot claimed a CR.42. He was flying alone at 15,000 feet at 10:00 when he discovered ten SM 79s in two vics and 24 CR.42s stepped up on either side. 15 miles ahead and 2,000 feet below. He delivered a quarter attack on the no.5 bomber of the second vic and then an head on attack on a CR.42, which attacked while he was making a second pass. He reported:
“1 CR 42 shot down later burst in flames 1 S79 initial attack dropped out of formation and did not rejoin. Determined attacks from escort prevented me from observing results of combats with S 79. While the CR 42s attacked immediately the main formation increased speed but kept formation and opened fire.”
During the engagement, Flying Officer Greenhill force landed south of Taifa Rocks, reportedly with engine trouble. From the overall description of the combats, it seems likely that bullets from the escorting Fiats caused the engine trouble.

On 25 December, the 23o Gruppo flew its first escorting missions after its arrival in the theatre, one of these was at 15:00 with 12 CR.42s in collaboration with 22 CR.42s from the 10o Gruppo, which had taken off at 14:35 to escort the 15o Stormo’s SM 79s bound to attack Sollum Harbour.
The fighters from the 23o included four from the 70a Squadriglia (Maggiore Tito Falconi, Tenente Claudio Solaro, Sottotenente Oscar Abello and Sergente Maggiore Balilla Albani), four from the 74a Squadriglia (Capitano Guido Bobba, Tenente Mario Pinna, Tenente Lorenzo Lorenzoni and Sergente Emilio Stefani) and four from the 75a Squadriglia (Tenente Pietro Calistri, Tenente Ezio Maria Monti, Sottotenente Giuseppe De Angelis and Maresciallo Giovanni Carmello). The fighters from the 10o Gruppo included six CR.42s from the 91a Squadriglia (Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli, Capitano Vincenzo Vanni, Sottotenente Ruggero Caporali, Sottotenente Andrea Dalla Pasqua, Sergente Maggiore Leonardo Ferrulli and Sergente Maggiore Lorenzo Migliorato), seven from the 90a Squadriglia (Tenente Giovanni Guiducci, Tenente Franco Lucchini, Sottotenente Alessandro Rusconi, Sottotenente Neri De Benedetti, Sergente Sclavo, Sergente Luigi Bagato and Sergente Enrico Botti) and nine from the 84a Squadriglia (Capitano Luigi Monti, Tenente Antonio Angeloni, Sergente Maggiore Salvatore Mechelli, Sergente Domenico Santonocito, Sergente Luciano Perdoni, Sergente Corrado Patrizi, Sergente Piero Buttazzi, Sergente Mario Veronesi and Capitano Mario Pluda (91a Squadriglia)).
The formation was attacked by some Hurricanes that were counter-attacked and obliged to flee. Two Hurricanes were claimed as probably shot down by the pilots of 90a and 91a Squadriglie (the 90a Squadriglia used 160 rounds of ammunition), which claimed them as shared with the 23o Gruppo even if the pilot from the 23o Gruppo in fact weren’t able to claim anything. Tenente Guiducci landed at T5 with engine trouble while the rest of the formation landed at Z1 between 16:50 and 17:00. No losses were suffered by the bombers, which claimed to have hit an aircraft carrier. In fact, they aimed their bomb load at a monitor, but it is not known if the ship was in fact hit.
The Hurricanes were probably machines of 33 Squadron with Flying Officer Peter Wickham and Flying Officer Vernon Woodward that encountered one SM 79 and one CR.42, damaging the CR.42. The action was however recorded in the morning.

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

At 15:00 on 3 January 1941, Maggiore Tito Falconi led four CR.42s of the 70a Squadriglia (Tenente Claudio Solaro, Tenente Gino Battaggion, Sergente Maggiore Balilla Albani and Sergente Cesare Sironi), five of the 74a Squadriglia (Tenente Mario Pinna, Tenente Lorenzo Lorenzoni, Sottotenente Sante Schiroli, Sergente Maggiore Raffaele Marzocca and Sergente Giuseppe Sanguettoli) and seven of the 75a Squadriglia (Tenente Pietro Calistri, Tenente Ezio Maria Monti, Sottotenente Giuseppe De Angelis, Sottotenente Renato Villa, Maresciallo Giovanni Carmello, Maresciallo Luigi Pasquetti and Sergente Leo Mannucci) in an escort mission for SM 79s attacking mechanized vehicles around Bardia. Fighters from the 10o Gruppo were also present including Sottotenente Bruno Devoto, Sergente Mario Veronesi, Sergente Piero Buttazzi and Sergente Luciano Perdoni of the 84a Squadriglia and Sottotenente Neri De Benedetti, Sottotenente Orlando Mandolini, Sergente Luigi Contarini and Sergente Sclavo of the 90a Squadriglia. Hurricanes were intercepted and two of them were claimed damaged by the 70a Squadriglia’s pilots. During the return journey, the CR.42s went down to strafe, claiming three armoured vehicles.
They landed back at 17:20.

In early 1941, the 10o Gruppo moved back to Italy to re-equip with Macchi MC.200s.

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

During the late morning on 27 June, nine Hurricanes from 46 Squadron were scrambled, meeting one reconnaissance S.79 with an escort of an estimated 29 MC.200s between 20,000 and 25,000 feet over Takali. This seems to have been a formation composed of a S.79 from the 193a Squadriglia and 22 escorting Macchis. 20 MC.200s from the 10o Gruppo, 12 from the 7o Gruppo and nine from the 16o Gruppo had originally set out, but 19 had returned early.
Squadron Leader Sandy Rabagliati (Hurricane Z2593) led the Hurricanes in a stern chase of the formation, firing a two burst at the S.79, which he claimed damaged. He was then attacked by three MC.200s, turned into one head-on and fired a short burst from 100 yards. This aircraft burst into flames and crashed into the sea ten miles east of the island. He reported that he saw two more Macchis crash, one on the island and one in the sea nearby. Sergeant William Copp claimed:

“Engaged Macchi at 16,000 feet above Grand Harbour. Fired two two-second bursts (beam attack). Macchi went down in a dive. Engaged a second Macchi over the island at 12,000 feet. Fired a three second burst (beam attack). Macchi went down and pilot baled, chute did not open.”
The first was claimed as a probable while the second was Sergente Sclavo of the 90a Squadriglia who’s body was found near Ta’Karach, not far from Ghaxaq. He had been wounded in the face, but killed by the fall in which his parachute had not opened. His aircraft fell near Birzebbugia.
Pilot Officer Albert Anderson, who was flying as No.2 to Squadron Leader Rabagliati, claimed a MC.200:
“I got on the tail of a Macchi and got in several bursts into the cockpit as the Macchi was doing a stall turn. It spun down with smoke coming out. Seen to crash by Sgt Hackston.”
Meanwhile Pilot Officer Leslie Barnes, who was acting as ‘weaver’ 4,000 feet above the rest of the squadron, climbed to 27,000 feet and attacked the high escort which was stepped up to 26,000 feet, with two aircraft at approximately 30,000 feet. Diving from the beam on one Macchi, he closed to quarter astern and saw the aircraft go down in an inverted dive, watching it go straight into the sea as he circled down. He then attacked another at 23,000 feet head-on, seeing the pilot of this carry out a forced-landing on the sea. Barnes radioed the position, and the pilot, Sottotenente Neri De Benedetti, was picked up by a Swordfish floatplane from the Kalafrana Rescue Flight; Barnes later met his victim. Sergeant Arnold Jolly, on attachment from 185 Squadron, also claimed one MC.200 shot down and one probable during this action.
The 10o Gruppo reported that Capitano Luigi Monti of the 84a Squadriglia led five aircraft from the Squadriglia in an escort to three BR.20 at mid-morning with the purpose of scramble Malta’s fighter defence. They returned halfway to Malta. With the hope that the fighter defence over the island now was reduced, Tenente Colonnello Carlo Romagnoli led a formation of fighters from the 90a and 91a Squadriglie, which was escorting a photo-reconnaissance S.79. Other Italian fighters flew as an indirect escort to this sortie. Romagnoli was forced to return after 45 minutes due to a faulty propeller and when they tested their guns, Ruffato, Sergente Maggiore Natale Fiorito and Capitano Vincenzo Vanni were forced to return due to faulty machineguns. Sottotenente Andrea Dalla Pasqua, Maresciallo Leonardo Ferrulli, Sergente Maggiore Lorenzo Migliorato and Sergente Alessandro Bladelli of the 91a Squadriglia remained together with the fighters from 90a Squadriglia and a patrol led by Capitano Franco Lucchini with Sergente Luciano Perdoni and Sergente Piero Buttazzi from the 84a Squadriglia.
The S.79 finished its mission over Valetta but when it turned to return the Italian aircraft were attacked from above by RAF fighters. The fighters from the 91a Squadriglia doesn’t got involved in the combat and escorted the S.79 unharmed back to its base while the fighters from the 90a Squadriglia and Lucchini’s patrol engaged the enemy in a violent dogfight. The Italian fighters claimed three victories, one shared and four probables. The individuals were claimed by Tenente Giovanni Guiducci (90a Squadriglia), Lucchini and Perdoni while the shared was claimed by Lucchini, Perdoni, Tenente Stefano Soprana (90a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Virgilio Vanzan (90a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Neri De Benedetti (90a Squadriglia), Sergente Sclavo and Sergente Luigi Contarini (90a Squadriglia).
When returning to base, Sclavo and De Benedetti were missing. Lucchini took-off in a Fiat CR.42 to look for the missing pilots but they couldn’t be found. Only later did they received through the International Red Cross information that De Benedetti was a PoW and that Sclavo had been killed.

At the time of his death, Sclavo was credited with 3 shared biplane victories and a total of 4 shared.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
  16/12/40 14:40-16:40 1/9 Hurricane (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Bardia area 90a Squadriglia
  23/12/40 08:30-11:05 1/17 Hurricane (b) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Sidi Azeiz area 90a Squadriglia
  23/12/40 08:30-11:05 1/17 Hurricane (b) Shared probable Fiat CR.42   Sidi Azeiz area 90a Squadriglia
  23/12/40 08:30-11:05 1/17 Hurricane (b) Shared damaged Fiat CR.42   Sidi Azeiz area 90a Squadriglia
  25/12/40 14:35-17:00 1/13 Hurricane (c) Shared probable Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 90a Squadriglia
  25/12/40 14:35-17:00 1/13 Hurricane (c) Shared probable Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 90a Squadriglia
  27/12/40 14:30- 1/19 Hurricane (d) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 90a Squadriglia
  1941                
  27/06/41 morning 1/7 Hurricane (e) Shared destroyed MC.200   Valetta area 90a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 3 shared destroyed, 3 shared probables, 1 shared damaged.
TOTAL: 4 shared destroyed, 3 shared probables, 1 shared damaged.
(a) 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.
(b) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 274 Squadron, which claimed one CR.42 while suffering one damaged Hurricane. 10o Gruppo claimed one, one probable and one damaged Hurricane while suffering one damaged CR.42.
(c) Possibly claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 33 Squadron, which claimed one damaged CR.42 without any losses. The CR.42s from 10o claimed two probables without losses.
(d) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 33 Squadron, which claimed two probable CR.42s and one damaged without losses. The 10o and 23o Gruppi claimed 3 Hurricanes and 1 probably shot down with another 10 damaged while suffering 3 damaged CR.42s.
(e) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 46 Squadron, which claimed five victories without losses. The 10o Gruppo claimed three and one shared Hurricanes and four probables while losing two MC.200s.

Sources:
2o Stormo - Note storiche dal 1925 al 1975 - Gino Strada, 1975 USSMA, Rome, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Desert Prelude: Early clashes June-November 1940 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2010 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-89450-52-4
Desert Prelude: Operation Compass - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2011 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-61421-18-4
Fiat CR.42 Aces of World War 2 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2009 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-427-5
Hurricanes over Malta - Brian Cull and Frederick Galea, 2001 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-91-8
Malta: The Hurricane Years 1940-41 - Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-89747-207-1
Ministero della Difesa
Stormi d'Italia - Giulio Lazzati, 1975 Mursia, Milan, ISBN 88-425-1946-4
Quelli del Cavallino Rampante - Antonio Duma, 1981 Editore Dell'Ateneo, Roma
Additional information kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro and Ludovico Slongo




Last modified 25 June 2012