Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Maresciallo Aroldo Soffritti

5 April 1913 – 18 February 1977

Aroldo Soffritti was born on 5 April 1913 in Bondeno (Ferrara).

Soffritti received his military wings in October 1934. After a period of service in Libya and another in Gorizia in the ranks of 4o Stormo he apparently left active service to go to East Africa where he had obtained a lot of land in company with a farmer friend.

Here he was surprised by the war and rejoined the air force, initially in the bombers then in the 412a Squadriglia, which was equipped with Fiat CR.42s.

On 26 November 1940, six Blenheims IV of 14 Squadron went to bomb the Railway station at Nefasit, a town near Asmara on the road to Massawa. Three Fiats (Tenente Mario Visintini, Sergente Aroldo Soffritti and another pilot) intercepted them over the island of Dessei at 08:30, damaging the aircraft (R3593) of Flight Officer MacKenzie, which was forced to land on the coast north of Massawa. This claim seems to have been credited to Tenente Visintini. The leader of the flight, Squadron Leader Stapleton, landed alongside and recovered the crew.
In the same action, Sergente Soffritti claimed a damaged Blenheim.

At 14:00 on 29 January, 1 SAAF Squadron took off to attack Gura, with six Hurricanes (Major Lawrence Wilmot, Captain K. W. Driver, Lieutenants John Hewitson, Andrew Duncan, Hendrik Johannes Piet Burger and Leonard le Clues Theron) flying as top cover to five Gladiators, which would strafe. As they approached the Hurricanes run into several S.79s and a large number of CR.42s, which were seen over the airfield, the bombers having just returned from a raid over the front, and the fighters having scrambled at the approach of the South African aircraft. Captain Driver at once attacked an S.79 as it was going in to land, and shot it down in flames, two members of the crew baling out. The Gladiators then arrived, led by Captain Brian Boyle. These also met the Fiats, Lieutenant H. P. Smith (Gladiator N5851) and Lieutenant E. A. Jarvis each claiming one shot down.
Capitano Antonio Raffi, commander of the 412a Squadriglia, was above with two of his pilots, Tenente Luciano Cacciavillani and Maresciallo Soffritti (they scrambled at 15:20), and he saw the Hurricane shoot down the S.79 before he could intervene. He then spotted the Gladiators, which he believed to be six strong, and at once, a great dogfight begun, during which the South Africans saw many Fiats falling away. Driver meanwhile had seen Adi Ugri landing ground on which four S.81s were dispersed, and attacking these, he left one (claimed as a S.79) in flames.
On return to base the combat with the Fiats was fully discussed, and it was decided that five had been shot down, one each by Lieutenant Smith and Lieutenant Jarvis, the other three being impossible to allocate to individual pilots. All the SAAF aircraft returned safely, although one Gladiator (N5831) had been hit by a single bullet.
This proves how easy it was to overestimate the damage caused, and indeed the numbers involved, in a whirling dogfight. Although several CR.42s were hit and damaged, none was in fact shot down. Tenente Cacciavillani's CR.42 was badly damaged by 50 hits, and Maresciallo Soffritti's was also damaged. Capitano Raffi’s own aircraft was hit five times and he recorded that he took ten bullets in his parachute and lost the fabric in the fuselage close to the cockpit and the tail plane. It seems that Raffi’s fire hit and damaged Lieutenant Smith Gladiator, who landed unhurt. The Italians reported combat against four Hurricanes and six Gladiators and reported one Gladiator shot down. Tenente Cacciavillani fired 60 rounds of 7.7mm, and claimed a Gladiator probably destroyed (shared) (strangely enough, this claim has been cancelled by a pen line in his logbook).

On the Northern Front during the morning of 2 February 1941 a Lysander of 237 Squadron, N1206 flown by Flying Officer M. A. Johnson, was on tactical reconnaissance over the Scipitole-Tole road when it encountered three Ca.133s dropping supplies to troops at the front. Johnson at once attacked one of the bombers, forcing it to land and crash. Unknown to him however, the Capronis were escorted by three 412a Squadriglia CR.42s, and these now attacked the Lysander. Sergeant J.G.P. Burl fired three pans of ammunition at them with the rear gun, seeing smoke from the engine of one fighter, but he was wounded in the wrist. The Lysanders controls were shot through and it crash-landed violently to the east of Tole, the pilot being rendered unconscious. The aircraft was claimed shot down by Soffritti. Under the fire from the fighters, which were strafing the wreckage, Burl managed to pull Johnson clear, both members of the crew subsequently being decorated.

In the morning on 7 February, two Wellesley IIs of 47 Squadron took off from Barentu and flew a recon mission over Adi Ugri (a town now called Mendefera). Capitano Mario Visintini took off from Asmara with Sergente Soffritti and shot down both.
The two Wellesleys were K8525 (F/O R. R Helsby PoW, 31-years-old Pilot Officer Ernest John Bainbridge (RAF 78988) KIA and 20-years-old Sergeant Arthur Harold Paine (RAF 794557) KIA) and K7759 (26-years-old Flight Sergeant Edwin Ellis Blofield (RAF 564554) KIA, 27-years-old Sergeant John Herbert Davies (RAF 563111) KIA and Sergeant L. Bird PoW).
It seems that Sergente Soffritti was credited with one of these Wellesleys.
On a later mission the same day, Soffritti claimed a Hurricane.

At dawn on 9 February, Capitano Mario Visintini led an attack on Akordat airfields and its satellite airfield with Tenente Carlo Canella, Tenente Raimondo Di Pauli, Sergente Soffritti and Sergente Pietro Morlotti (all from the 412a Squadriglia).
The attack was repeated in the same evening on Akordat and Bisha airfields.
A total of 16 aircraft were claimed by Italians in these two missions: 11 burned and 5 damaged including 5 Hurricanes, 5 Hawker biplanes, 2 Gladiators, 2 Wellesleys, 1 Valentia and 1 ‘Martin’ Lysander.
The 203 Group diary admitted 6 destroyed and 4 badly damaged in the morning, 1 burned and 4 damaged in the evening, for a total of 15 out-of-use aircraft. Destroyed aircraft included two Wellesleys (K7713 and L2665) of 47 Squadron, two Hardys (K5921 and K4319) and two Lysanders L1026 and R2044) of 237 Squadron.
At this point, Mario Visintini was granted with a Medaglia d’oro al valor militare for his outstanding combat record, while the other four pilots each gained a Medaglia d’argento al valor militare for the daring missions.

On 19 March 1941, two 1 SAAF Squadron Hurricanes were patrolling over the Keren area when they were attacked by three 412a Squadriglia CR.42s, Maresciallo Soffritti claiming to have shot down one of the South African fighters during a sortie between 15:00-17:20. Captain Brian Boyle’s aircraft was damaged but he returned safely to base.

Blenheims of 14 Squadron was attacking enemy targets in the Keren area in the evening on on 25 March 1941 when they were intercepted by three CR.42. Both were damaged but got back with their crews unhurt. The Italians claimed one shot down by Soffritti and the other badly damaged.

Between 07:10 and 08:30 on 28 March 1941, Soffritti claimed to have shot down a Hurricane in the Ad Teclesan area on the Northern Front.

Over Eritrea on 4 April 1941, Soffritti claimed to have shot down a British bomber between 07:30 and 08:05; no losses by the RAF appear to have been recorded.

On 26 April 1941, Soffritti was captured at Dessie, together with 10,000 men, including 6,000 Italians, 52 guns, 236 machine guns and 240 lorries, thus ending his part in the East African campaign.

At the time of his capture, Aroldo Soffritti was credited with 8 biplane victories, 5 probables, 11 shared destroyed on the ground.

During the war, he was decorated with two Medaglie d’argento al valor militare.

Soffritti returned to Italy in 1946.

Soffritti passed away in Milan on 18 February 1977.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
  26/11/40 08:30 1 Blenheim (a) Damaged Fiat CR.42   I. Dessi 412a Squadriglia
  1941                
? 02/02/41   1 Lysander (b) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   E Tole 412a Squadriglia
? 07/02/41 morning 1 Wellesley (c) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Adi Ugri 412a Squadriglia
? 07/02/41   1 Hurricane (d) Destroyed Fiat CR.42     412a Squadriglia
  09/02/41 Dawn 1/5 Hurricane (e) Shared destroyed on ground Fiat CR.42   Akordat 412a Squadriglia
  09/02/41 Dawn 1/5 Hurricane (e) Shared destroyed on ground Fiat CR.42   Akordat 412a Squadriglia
  09/02/41 Dawn 1/5 Valentia (e) Shared destroyed on ground Fiat CR.42   Akordat 412a Squadriglia
  09/02/41 Dawn 1/5 Hardy (e) Shared destroyed on ground Fiat CR.42   Akordat 412a Squadriglia
  09/02/41 Dawn 1/5 Hardy (e) Shared destroyed on ground Fiat CR.42   Akordat 412a Squadriglia
  09/02/41 Dawn 1/5 Hardy (e) Shared destroyed on ground Fiat CR.42   Akordat 412a Squadriglia
  09/02/41 Dawn 1/5 Hardy (e) Shared damaged on ground Fiat CR.42   Akordat 412a Squadriglia
  09/02/41 Dawn 1/5 Gladiator (e) Shared destroyed on ground Fiat CR.42   Akordat 412a Squadriglia
  09/02/41 Dawn 1/5 Wellesley (e) Shared destroyed on ground Fiat CR.42   Akordat 412a Squadriglia
  09/02/41 Dawn 1/5 Wellesley (e) Shared destroyed on ground Fiat CR.42   Akordat 412a Squadriglia
  09/02/41 Dawn 1/5 Lysander (e) Shared destroyed on ground Fiat CR.42   Akordat 412a Squadriglia
  09/02/41 Evening 1/5 Hurricane (e) Shared damaged on ground Fiat CR.42   Akordat 412a Squadriglia
  09/02/41 Evening 1/5 Hurricane (e) Shared damaged on ground Fiat CR.42   Akordat 412a Squadriglia
  09/02/41 Evening 1/5 Hurricane (e) Shared damaged on ground Fiat CR.42   Akordat 412a Squadriglia
  09/02/41 Evening 1/5 Gladiator (e) Shared destroyed on ground Fiat CR.42   Bisha 412a Squadriglia
  09/02/41 Evening 1/5 Hardy (e) Shared damaged on ground Fiat CR.42   Bisha 412a Squadriglia
? 19/03/41 15:00-17:20 1 Hurricane (f) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Keren area 412a Squadriglia
? 25/03/41 16:30-18:20 1 Blenheim (g) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Keren area 412a Squadriglia
? 28/03/41 07:10-08:30 1 Hurricane (h) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Ad Teclesan area 412a Squadriglia
? 04/04/41 07:30-08:05 1 enemy bomber (i) Destroyed Fiat CR.42     412a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 8 destroyed, 5 probably destroyed, 1 damaged, 11 shared destroyed on the ground, 5 shared damaged on the ground.
TOTAL: 8 destroyed, 5 probably destroyed, 1 damaged, 11 shared destroyed on the ground, 5 shared damaged on the ground.
(a) Claimed in combat with Blenheims from 14 Squadron which suffered one loss while the 412a Squadriglia claimed 1 destroyed and 1 damaged Blenheim.
(b) Lysander (N1206) of 237 Squadron, flown by Flying Officer M. A. Johnson; destroyed, crew survived the crash.
(c) Wellesleys from 47 Squadron, flown by Flight Officer Helsby (Wellesley K8525) and Sergeant E.E. Blofield (Wellesley K7759); both shot down and Blofield killed. Possibly shared with Capitano Mario Visintini.
(d) This claim isn’t confirmed with British sources.
(e) 412a Squadriglia claimed 11 aircraft destroyed and 5 damaged on the ground (i.e. 2 Hurricanes, a Valentia, 3 Hardys, 2 Gladiators, 2 Wellesleys and a Lysander burned, 3 Hurricanes and 2 Hardys damaged). Actual losses were: in the morning, two Wellesleys (K7713 and L2665) of 47 Squadron, two Hardys (K5921 and K4319) and two Lysanders (L1026 and R2044) of 237 Squadron all burned, and four not specified aircrafts damaged at Akordat; in the evening, a Hurricane burned and two more damaged at Akordat, and a Vincent and a Gladiator damaged at Bisha, for a grand total of 15 destroyed or damaged aircrafts.
(f) Claimed as destroyed but only damaged as Captain Boyle of 1 SAAF Squadron managed to fly his damaged Hurricane safely back to base.
(g) Regia Aeronautica claimed on destroyed and one damaged; two Blenheims of 14 Squadron damaged, but returned safely to base.
(h) This claim isn’t confirmed with British sources.
(i) This claim isn’t confirmed with British sources.

Sources:
Luciano Cacciavillani's personal logbook courtesy of Cacciavillani family (Luciano jr and Alberto)
Assi Italiani Della Caccia 1936-1945 - 1999 Aerofan no. 69 apr.-giu. 1999, kindly provided by Jean Michel Cala
Dust Clouds in the Middle East - Christopher Shores, 1996 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-37-X
Italian Aces of World War 2 - Giovanni Massimello and Giorgio Apostolo, 2000 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 1-84176-078-1
Additional information kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro, Andrea Melis, Michele Palermo, Ludovico Slongo, Pelham Temple and Ariella Soffritti.




Last modified 20 January 2015